The sound of pounding hooves reverberates through the earth.
Two champions race towards each other, each led by the point of a lance.
The horses beneath them charge with muscles rippling and nostrils wide. Their fear replaced with a duty for destruction.
A glint of sun from steel armor pierces through the shade of the tree as we watch, transfixed, by the spectacle before us.
The gap narrows and I throw a quick glance to my wife. My face says, “This is fake right?”, but she is too intent on the scene to respond.
I look back in time to see wood splinter on shield and an eruption of “Huzzah!” to my right.
I hold the turkey leg in my mouth to clap as my sons wave their wooden swords in the air.
This is the joust.
This is the Renaissance Faire.
And if you ever need a break from reality…
We walk across the parking lot that held a Monster Truck Rally mere weeks before. A cheap wooden wall separates the sea of minivans and Jeeps from the reconstructed medieval village. The experience begins immediately after you pay (it’s hard to envision the Dark Ages where ApplePay is present), and a strange intriguing world assaults the senses.
Jesters sell ice cream, blacksmiths pound the anvil and gypsies tell your fortune. My sons immediately want wooden swords and shields and their battles extend the length of the dusty paths crisscrossing the grounds.
Corset mashed bosoms spill at every turn.
I can’t help but be impressed by the dedication of the actors. The day is hot and they stay in character though velvet capes drape from their shoulders and chain-mail hangs from their chests.
Maybe this is why feudalism died. There had to be a knight or lady-in-waiting that was like, “We must cast offeth these sweltering garments from May through early October!” #ladygodivamayhavejustbeenwarm
My son has me hold his wallet. He wants to use his money to buy something good, and he’s squandered many a birthday twenty. There’s certainly a lot to choose from and the merchants are ruthless, especially to easily swayed eight year olds.
We pass by bows and homemade arrows. Horns hang from straps aching for lip and lung to produce their call for battle. Elixirs in ornate glasses catch the sunlight just so, and the smell of grilled meats hangs in the air. I, myself, run a hand over a few leather bound journals with more than a bit of longing. He’s tempted several times, but holds on, waiting for the perfect memento.
“I’ve got just what you’re looking for young sir,” says the man.
The pendant twists in the sun from the end of a long chain. It looks like the tooth of a metal dragon, curved and covered in runes.
Mike approaches the tent, not in the mad rush of a kid with money to burn, but in the measured hypnotic steps of a thief coming face to face with a jewel of legend.
“You see, young sir, this necklace is magic. Open it up and whisper your wish inside. It will keep all of your secrets safe, just don’t let anyone else open it.”
Mike cups his hands and raises them to the dangling bauble. Are his fingers trembling? I can see in his eyes that this is the prize we will leave with.
The price almost wipes out his wallet, but the exchange is made and the merchant disappears with a flourish.
I hold back a scoff as I look over the purchase. I know it will be broken by the end of the week and the plastic “gem” on the top is one little-brother-grab away from disappearing beneath the couch.
Still, I don’t dare open it, lest the magic be true, and Mike seems content as he places it around his neck. He doesn’t say a word.
We throw axes and watch Benny knock a lady off a log with a pillow. “Huzzah!” he yells to the delight of the actors. I pay for Mike to “Smite the Knight!” and take a long boring video of him taking swings with a padded stick. Mike sticks his head in the pillory and Ben pretends to chop his head off. It’s dark, but it makes for a great photo.
We feel the sunburn of late September and money is running low. It’s time to go.
We make it to the car and I’m grumpy. I can’t put my finger on why until I look in the rearview mirror. Mike is holding his necklace and staring at it. He’s transfixed by cheap jewelry and the lies of a cunning salesman. I look back into the mirror and see myself. I look angry. “What do you think these people do in their real jobs?” asks my wife.
When does it happen?
When do the costumes start to look cheap? When do we stop believing the man on the horse is an actual knight, or that dragons exist?
I miss the days of magic and the suspension of my disbelief. Will I ever get it back? Will I ever hear the ring of sword against sword and feel the call to adventure and the unknown?
“Dad, whatever you do, don’t open this. You heard the guy.”
I throw him a wink in the mirror. He clutches it hard to his chest. Ben is almost asleep in the chair next to him. He’s still holding his shield.
A sad smile crosses my face. The magic isn’t gone. It’s simply been passed on.
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