After the final step into the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, the gravel ground and the October air no longer belonged to our modern world. We stepped foot into a realm that intertwined history with fantasy. Here a sixteenth-century harvest festival exists in a mythical domain, and casual disputes are settled through jousts. In its twenty-third year, the fair is a popular family attraction where patrons are encouraged to dress the part. It took great effort to decipher the difference between actor and guest within the masses. They all mingled in a flit of velvet gowns and embroidered tunics.
A line of booths continued down the trail and up the winding hill of the Lebanon County fairground. Along the way were stages for interactive performances, small grounds for axe-throwing, archery, and knight training.
A man clad in a dark green tunic, lined with delicate details along the hems, trotted down the path. His inviting smile was rimmed by a short, white beard. He was neither actor nor guest, but Eric Tetreault, the owner and marketing director of the fair. After a brief introduction of the ground’s layout, Tetreault says how the first fair was a small event in Putnam, Connecticut, that was met with immediate success. “We outgrew it immediately,” Tetreault says. The fair’s original location, The King’s Inn, is no longer open. “We’ve been trying to find a really good place to be and this is that place.”
The idea to start the event began when the owners were fourteen years old. After attending a Renaissance fair, Tetreault and his partners kept the dream alive in their imaginations until they had children of their own. “And as we were getting older, we had kids and were like, ‘Ya know, there’s nothing like this in Connecticut.’ So we decided we were going to bring it to Connecticut.” The goal is to keep the costs low so that more families can attend the festivities.
My friends Michaela and Abbey purchased tickets for only fifteen dollars. Beckoning them to join our conversation, Tetreault became interested in our own experience with Renaissance fairs. Our discussion eventually spiraled into Dungeons and Dragons and the Netflix series, The Witcher. Realizing our mutual interest in fantasy adventures, Tetreault pulled a scroll from his hands.
“So, I have a quest for you three…because you love Dungeons and Dragons, you clearly like to dress up.” He gestured to our attire of corsets, blouses, and Michaela’s long skirt with flowers lost in a sea of purple.
We were discreetly told to search for a tent named Myth and hand the scroll to the female caretaker. Little detail followed those instructions, leaving mystery to trail behind it. We were encouraged to admire fair sights rather than run past them.
And with that, we began our trek down the long gravel path.
Vendors lined the sides of the dirt road in permanent wooden storefronts, mimicking an English village. A woman paced within her small shop, swathed in different-colored fabric. She passed by the racks of gowns on display for purchase. Catching a customer’s eye, she commented that she had hand-stitched the gowns herself. Down further, another salesman was fixated at the front of his shop, feet planted firmly in the ground and hands tucked behind his bare back. Ancient symbols had been tattooed over his shoulders and chest as if he were an immortal warlord. Displayed behind him were a variety of leather chest plates, gauntlets, and faulds for sale.
Continuing down the center of the village, small portions of the grounds had been sectioned off for activities such as Test of Strength, Escape Room, and Fight the Knight. Families, fabled species of elves, orcs, and halflings were invited to wield faux swords and cross through mazes. We stopped along a tent selling crystals, intrigued by the wide selection and the vendor who offered a wide smile to those passing. Thick flowers crowned her head and added to the light of the woman’s grin. A violet blush stroked over the width of her cheeks and around her nose, dazzled with white freckles.
Inside the crystal tent, Mel, who also goes by the stage name of Trout, gave insight into her involvement with the Fair. In recent years, she had been an actress amongst the crowd. “I love it so much. The energy here is so high. Everyone looks out for each other.” Her eyes cast to the booth nearby and to the actors interacting with guests, as she recalled her experience in both positions. She folded her hands over her stomach, where a leather corset was tightened over her floral blouse and white skirt.
Noticing Abbey’s strayed gaze on the crystals, she encouraged her to explore each of them. To accurately find which ones she resonated with. “All crystals have their own vibrations. You, me, we have our own thoughts and needs…whatever calls to you, calls to you.” Her eyes strayed to the array of crystals neatly laid out on the table. It was as though she could trace the energy radiating from each pile. Selenite wands rested in a small wooden box, and illuminating amethyst chunks awaited a resonant hand to grab it and put its unique properties to use.
Not too far down, we discovered the Myth tent. Abbey took the serious role of repeating the message that Eric had given to her: “Message for you. Your hands only.” We were met with a lady donned in armor. She mapped out the overall idea of LARP (live action role play) and explained to us how we could get involved with the events. She laid out the entire structure: what roles one could take on, how to build a team, and activities played throughout the event. For completing our quest, she gave us a special coin with intricate details carved onto it. Odd lettering had been engraved around the coin, leaving the true meaning to be a mystery.
More and more booths came into view as we traveled up the short hill. Stages for different sorts of entertainment were placed in between booths. However, our attention quickly drifted to the Axe and Dagger Throw. Three dollars for seven throws. I ran to get in line. A worker in costume offered me advice on how to hit the target. “Put your opposing leg forward.” Standing next to the man, I mirrored each of his steps. He raised his axe over his head, with his free hand out to stabilize himself. Metal axes whirled by, slicing through the air in swift rotations. Wooden targets thunked from the impact and quivered at the sheer force of certain trained hands. From ten feet away, a hefty wood cutout stood with five circles painted to the bull’s-eye. The small hand axe felt heavy in my hand. The brazen weapon was a bit discolored on the handle from countless prior attempts. I took the advice from the man in line and solidified my stance. Out of the seven throws, four drove home into the wood along the three outer circles.
Back down the hill, long lines stretched across the road as the scent of freshly smoked meats sizzled into the air. Small children waddled away from the stands with chicken legs nearly as big as their heads.
Tetreault told us about the two jousts hosted each day, the Joust of Peace and the Joust of War. The latter was said to be more intense and hosted later in the day. We took our seats in the bottom row, upon a long wooden bench that looked to be made from a fallen tree. Before the true fun began, the two knights were to complete simple tasks to earn points. They caught thrown rings with their lance and sliced apart pickles with swords. All the while, a captain led our side of the crowd to lavish applause and praise for our chosen knight, Lady Ellery. Chain mail spilled down her refined posture and a black cape tugged at her neck as it flew behind her. Her hardened expression showed her intensity as she raced back and forth on horseback. In unison, we cheered her name and followed with a typical echo of claps. “La-dy El-le-ry!” However, we didn’t even call the name of our opponent, Lord Morgan, and instead offered the same shout of, “Miss! Miss! Miss!”
After countless challenges, the true joust began and we watched on the edge of our bench as the two knights raced toward another. Lances splintered across wooden shields and horses heaved to dart forth. Despite our loss in the first two rounds, our side of the arena shouted for Lady Ellery. Words of optimism speared through the air and fueled the final round. Both horses sprinted on their respective sides, with their riders steering and reeling their weapons. Ellery lost to Lord Morgan. To our camp’s dismay, Ellery declared a rematch: a Joust of War. Lord Morgan gleefully accepted, satisfied with his victory.
Lady Ellery’s loyal subjects went shopping to soften feelings of defeat. Michaela lightened her sorrow by purchasing a crown. The glimmering trinket did the trick of bringing its own illumination to the day. Flashing jewels winked beneath the sunlight and thrived atop the delicate sea of curls on Michaela’s head. The lady selling the glorious gem was even kind enough to help set it on her head and secure it with a handful of bobby pins. Take that, Lord Morgan! We marched off on our final trek through the fair.
The fair’s motto is, “Laugh with us, play with us, spend the whole day with us. Come as our guest, leave as our friend.” Our exit down the gravel paths brimmed with farewells from knights and villagers. We were indeed among friends. Except, perhaps, for Lord Morgan.
Header Photo Credit: Stefania Calafiore
Stefania Calafiore is a Staff Writer for The Blue Muse Magazine.