“This is ridiculous!” Sarah yelled as Mrs. Haney pulled the corset strings tight. “Nothing exciting ever happens to good girls with good parents.”
“You can’t hang around waiting for prince charming,” Mrs. Haney said. “You ain’t a princess in a castle miss, but a servin’ wench in a tavern. You gotta make your own luck.” She patted Sarah’s shoulder consolingly.
“Gee, thanks for the sympathy,” Sarah retorted.
Mrs. Haney shrugged her shoulders. “This ain’t a fairy tale, just a renaissance festival. And I ain’t no fairy godmother.”
Sarah adjusted her skirts and laced her shoes. She turned to Mrs. Haney. “Well? Everything in the right place?”
Mrs. Haney’s eyes traveled up her green skirts and over her red corset. Sarah had left her hair down today—her waist-long butterscotch-colored hair was her best feature. Mrs. Haney smiled. “A right proper serving wench you be! Now, get out there and serve those ales.”
Sarah stuck her tongue out playfully at Mrs. Haney and stepped through the dressing room door and into the raucous tavern. It was only noon and yet the faire patrons were already wild in their cups. Some of them got so wrapped up in the pretend-ness of it all that they actually believed they were in the sixteenth century. She was constantly fighting off grabbing hands and suggestive words. But the tips were worth it.
It was dim and warm in the tavern, with a small fire built up in the hearth to ward off the autumn chill. She was filling the cups of a bunch of rowdy college boys when she noticed the knight enter.
He filled the doorway with his broad, armored shoulders and paused, assessing the crowd. Then he pushed back his hood. The daylight framing him shone off his chestnut brown hair, which flowed in waves over his shoulders. His surcoat was a brilliant blue with a large crescent moon over his heart. The sleeves of his hauberk shone like polished silver. Sarah was struck dumb. He looked authentic. She wondered where he got his suit of mail—surely work that good didn’t come from Donny and Phil and their “Mailboys” booth.
Sarah felt a push from behind. “Go on,” Mrs. Haney whispered. “There’s something exciting.”
Stumbling forward, Sarah made her way through the crowd toward the knight. She giggled. It struck her as funny calling him a knight. She wondered what he really was—a carpenter, an engineer, a grocery bagger. He could be anything in real life and sometimes it was shocking to hear what faire patrons really did during the week. “You seem a bit lost, sir knight. May I help you find a seat? A cup of ale perhaps?”
The knight bowed his head. “You are most gracious, Milady.” He reached for her hand and placed his soft lips above her knuckles. Sarah caught her breath and the knight looked up. His green eyes searched her face.
“I’m not a lady,” Sarah stuttered. “Just a serving wench.” She laughed nervously and pulled away.
“You are too beautiful to just be a serving wench,” the knight said. “What else are you?”
“Flabbergasted.” Sarah sighed.
“That is your surname? Flabbergasted?” The knight’s eyebrows knit together.
Sarah laughed again. “Oh, no. My surname is Hampton.”
“A royal line for sure.” The knight looked over her shoulder.
Sarah turned and scanned the room. “Are looking for someone? Your comrades in arms or your girl friend, perhaps?”
“Girl friend?” The knight had a puzzled look on his face.
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Your lady, I meant. Are you looking for your lady?”
“I seem to be in the wrong place.” The knight shook his head. “I don’t really remember how I came to be here.”
Sarah put her arm through his and led him to an empty booth. “Maybe you were hit a little hard when you were jousting. You sit right here. I’ll walkie the medics.”
“You speak strangely. What is a walkie?”
Sarah rolled her eyes again. People working the faire were always so uppity about keeping it real. “I beg your pardon, knight. I shall keep my tongue in check and speak the language of the King.”
He nodded. “May I have an ale? Perhaps it will help clear my head.”
“Sit tight.” Sarah pushed her way to the dressing room and grabbed the walkie-talkie. It crackled as she pushed the button. “This is Sarah from the Man O’War Tavern. We need a medic. I think we have a knight who’s knocked himself silly. He can’t remember how he got here.”
“You sure you didn’t get him drunk?” Gary, the medic on duty cackled into the radio.
Sarah pushed the button in with a sigh. “I haven’t even served him yet.”
Hooting laughter came through the radio. “Sure! I know how you tavern wenches are!”
“Are you coming or not, Gary?”
“I’ll be there in two shakes of a wench’s tail,” Gary answered.
Sarah slammed the radio into its charger. It didn’t matter if they were shit muckers or doctors—men were all the same. She took a deep breath and walked back into the tavern. Pulling a ceramic mug from a hook she filled it with ale from the tap and carried it over to the knight. “You never told me your name.”
The knight pushed his hair from his face and smiled. “Brannock.”
“Is that your first name or your surname?”
“Michael, is what my mother called me.”
“Great.” Sarah flung her tresses over her shoulder. “Well, Michael, the medic is coming to take a look at you. We’ll see if you have a concussion from the joust.”
“But I wasn’t jousting.” He shook his head, a dreamy look clouding his face.
“What were you doing then, before you came in the tavern?” Sarah slid into the other side of the booth, facing the knight. She would just sit here until Gary showed up.
“I was riding on a path through the forest outside the castle, patrolling the borders. I had just passed the crumbling section of a stone wall when I heard a cry. So I dismounted and stepped through the open section of the wall and followed the cry into the forest.”
“And then?” Sarah prompted. She’d been watching his face as he spoke, wracking her brain for the signs of a concussion—weren’t his pupils supposed to be really small? Really big? She couldn’t remember. What was taking Gary so long?
“And then I came out into a clearing and found myself in front of the tavern.” Michael drained the ale and set the mug down on the table. He ran his thumb over the smooth pottery. “This is fantastic workmanship. Do you have your own potter?”
“No, they just come from some catalog.” Sarah waved her hand in dismissal.
“Catalog?” The knight raised his brows in askance.
“Yeah, you know. Like the Museum Replica catalog or something.”
The knight shook his head. “I must have traveled to the land of the fae. And now I’m stuck because I drank the ale. Tell me, are you a nymph? Will you change from your beautiful form and make me your slave now that you have me trapped?”
“That isn’t a bad idea,” Sarah said, “but alas, I have no magical powers.”
His gaze was intense, as if he found her fascinating. He must have knocked himself loony. That was the only answer for his behavior.
What year is it?” Sarah blurted out.
“It is the reign of Edward III, about 1348 in the year of our Lord.”
She stood abruptly and knocked her hipbone on the table. “Shit!” Her hands went to her hip and pressed the spot. She was going to have a nice bruise.
Michael stood and caught her arms. “Are you alright, Milady?”
“I’ll be fine. Man! That hurt.”
The tavern door swung open and Gary strolled in, whistling.
“Finally!” Sarah yelled.
Gary grinned as he pushed his way through the crowd, his black leather bag swaying in his hand. “Couldn’t wait to see me, eh?”
Michael straightened his shoulders and squared up to the medic. “You should take a look at Milady first. She took a great hit from the table.”
Gary raised his eyebrows and turned to Sarah. “Oh? A rough one already?”
“Shut up, Gary. I just hit my hip on the table corner.” She pointed to the knight. “This is Michael. He says he wasn’t jousting but he doesn’t know how he got here.” Sarah paused. She wasn’t sure if she should tell him the rest. It might be important though. She decided to leave the fairies out of it. “And he thinks the year is 1348.”
“Does it look like 1348 to you?” Gary asked Michael.
“I admit, there are some strange things in this village.”
Gary put his hand on the knight’s shoulder and guided him back into the booth. He set his bag on the table and unzipped it. After rummaging around a bit he pulled out an ophthalmoscope and shined the light in the knight’s eyes.
Michael pulled back and flung his arms up over his face. “What kind of devilry is this?”
Gary laughed. “You can put away the rennie antics. It’s just a light so I can see how your pupils react.”
Michael looked as if he was about to jump over the table and flee for his life. Sarah sat on the tabletop and reached for his hand. His face turned to her, searching for understanding.
“The light is a tool that doctors use to see how your eyes react to the light. Have you never been to an optometrist?”
Michael shook his head.
“Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt.” She sat up straight. “Gary, do it to me first, so he can see what will happen.”
“You’re joking right?” Gary smirked.
Sarah pinched her lips together. “No, I’m not joking! Do it!”
She sat still as Gary flashed the light in her face, his cinnamon breath gently touching her cheeks as he peered into her eyes.
“See?” Sarah said to Michael. “Not a big deal. Will you let Gary look at yours now?”
The knight shifted uncomfortably in the booth. “You won’t be putting any spells on me, sorcerer?”
Gary and Sarah exchanged a grin. “No spells, you have my word,” Gary said.
Michael pulled himself forward in the booth. Gary bent and peered into his eyes. “Hmm . . . interesting.”
“What?” asked Sarah.
“No sign of a concussion.”
“Were you expecting one?”
Gary stood up and dropped his light in his bag. “You weren’t?”
Sarah shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t really believe in magic or time travel or any of that fantasy stuff, although it was fun to pretend. Something about Michael though didn’t strike her as pretending.
“I’ll need you to take off some of that mail. Do you need help removing it?” Gary asked the knight.
Michael stood and pulled off his surcoat. Sarah reached for it. The material was heavy. She scrutinized the stitching of the moon. Finely spaced stitches were worked with gold thread. Who ever made this surcoat, knew what they were doing. The knight’s hauberk dropped with a rasping clang to the wooden floor. Michael wore a dark blue jupon underneath. It looked as if it had seen better days. The tight fitting sleeveless shirt was frayed at the shoulders and stained heavily. He looked at Sarah with an apologetic look. “My newer jupon was with the laundress.”
“And your mantle? Was that with the laundress as well?” Gary teased him.
“I threw it over my horse before when I dismounted. I didn’t want it to get tangled in the forest briars.”
“Didn’t you read the signs that said to stay on the path?” Gary asked.
“There was no path in the forest I was in,” Michael said, an indignant tone entering his voice. “Anyway, a knight of the Garter wanders where he pleases.”
“A knight of the Garter?” Gary smirked. “Well, we are aiming high aren’t we? Lift your arms.”
Michael lifted his arms and rolled his head back in exasperation. “There is nothing wrong with me. I feel perfectly healthy.”
Sarah’s gaze traveled to Michael’s legs. Encircling his left knee was a blue belt made of silk. She knelt and ran her fingers over its gilt buckles and admired the finely worked gold embroidery. Michael had the greatest costumer ever. Even the tiniest details were true to history. The hair on the back of her nape rose. What if he wasn’t pretending? What if he truly was a companion of the Black Prince Edward?
“Well, I agree,” Gary said.
Sarah stood abruptly and suddenly felt a bit woozy. Was Gary reading her mind?
“You are the picture of perfect health,” the medic continued. “And a superb actor.”
Sarah slumped into the booth her head in her hands. This couldn’t be happening. Mrs. Haney’s words rang in her ears. This isn’t a fairy tale.
Gary zipped his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He turned and the crowd parted for him. “Nice to meet you, Michael, of the Order of the Garter. Carry on!”
Michael pulled his coat of mail over his head and settled it onto his shoulders. “Is something the matter, Milady?” He crouched in front of her and when Sarah lifted her head his brow was creased with worry.
“You really aren’t from here are you?”
“I was born in St. Albans, just north of London. But now I live near the castle at Windsor on a small estate granted to me by Prince Edward.”
“Could you retrace your steps through the forest? I’d like to see where you turned off.” Sarah stood and held out Michael’s surcoat. He smiled and let her guide it over his head and mailed arms.
“I’d be delighted to take a turn with you.” He held out his hand and Sarah placed her hand in his. She could feel the rough callouses on his palms and the strength in his fingers as he led her across the tavern.
“Hey! Sarah!” Mrs. Haney yelled across the room. “Yer shift ain’t over till 7!”
Sarah waved and smiled. “Just taking a walk, Mrs. Haney. I’ll be back in a bit!”
The wind raced through the shop facades and trees scattered about the faire grounds. A wedding party was just coming out of the chapel and the courtyard stage was full of guests enjoying the juggling troupe. The faire really was a magical place.
“Is it always so busy here in this village?” Michael asked.
Sarah grinned. “Yes, unless it is pouring rain. Then everything turns to mud and the patrons stay at home and we don’t make any money.”
“I don’t think I’d like to live in such a busy place, but I can see the charm for a tavern mistress. Crowds do mean profits.”
“Yes, but you are right. I do dream of a quiet home on a rolling pasture. I’m not like most of the girls who dream of marrying a prince. I’d rather have the fire-hardened blacksmith or the wind-blown sailor.”
“Not a knight?” Michael asked.
Sarah lowered her eyes. A blush ran up her neck to settle in her cheeks. “A knight would do too.”
Michael smiled and drew her onto the path that led to the patron parking lots. “This is where I came through to your village.” The knight pointed up the path a bit to a tree that was decorated with many bits and baubles of shining glass. “There. At the witch’s tree. That’s where I came out of the forest.”
Michael led her to the witch’s tree and pointed to the trampled brush. “See, you can see my path.”
She grasped the knight’s arm tighter. Would she allow herself to believe in fairy tales? “Can you take me to see the castle?”
“Of course.” He led her through the forest, following his brushy trail. Sarah heard a whicker and the blowing breath of a horse and when the forest opened up into a small sunlit meadow a white horse grazed at the long grass. A blue mantle was hanging across his back.
“This can’t be real,” Sarah murmured. She stroked the velvet nose of the horse. It was warm and damp. It felt real.
“Shall we, Milady?” Michael was holding the mantle open, expecting to wrap her in its folds. His face had a genuine expression of kindness.
Sarah let him clasp the heavy mantle around her shoulders. She bit her lip in disbelief as he easily lifted her up into the saddle. Climbing up behind her, she nestled into the knight’s warm chest. His clicked his tongue and the horse walked to the edge of the meadow and over a crumbled stone wall.
She had been wrong. Exciting things did happen to good girls with good parents.
Jennifer Carson is an award-winning fantasy artist and author. Her publishing credits include two children’s novels, To Find A Wonder (2009) and Hapenny Magick (2011), and a short story in Timeless: An Anthology of Young Adult Romance (2012). To Find A Wonder was also scripted and produced as a musical in 2010. Jennifer is currently working on a sequel to Hapenny Magick titled Tangled Magick. She holds a Bachelors in Creative Writing.