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Leave Yourself at the Entrance
“I cannot believe I let you talk me into going to a renaissance fair,” Shae eyed the large rusty gate skeptically. Avery chuckled and then sensing her anxiety, sighed. “Shae you are about to have the experience of a lifetime. There is nothing quite as riveting as stepping into another reality. I mean the possibilities are endless, despite the fact they must be feasible in the middle ages.” His brows furrowed together. “That statement was a bit contradictory wasn’t it?”
“Careful now, your geek is showing,” she teased. The boy grinned. “You say that as if it were a bad thing.”
The two friends made their way through the gates and stopped at the entrance where a knight stood guard. A man in his mid-thirties, the knight regarded the teenagers with mild interest. His beady eyes skimmed Shae from head to toe. It made her feel uncomfortable and exposed.
Taking two steps forward the armored man began to recite his speech:
“Weary travelers, you have found yourself upon the kingdom of Nightingale. A land ruled by the honorable and just King Alder, the second of his name. You will be accommodated in our humble kingdom, so long as you pledge your allegiance to His Grace. Once you have made the oath you will leave yourself at the entrance and enter Nightingale a man reborn. The wheel of chance will determine your new life and may the fates have mercy. You will not return to nor mention your old self until 9:30 tonight when you have left the kingdom. Do you here by swear to adhere to these laws?”
Avery spoke first, bowing his head humbly, “You have my word.”
The Knight turned to Shae expectantly. “Yeah sure,” she mumbled. If he had disliked her reply he did not show it. Behind the man a large wheel was being tended to by a jester. His mischievous eyes twinkled as they approached him. When they were close enough he broke into song.
“Welcome to a land so bright,
With sweet summer days,
And crisp winter nights.
Be welcome my fair youth,
To the most generous kingdom,
Where we speak only truth.
Gaze upon the decider of your fate,
T’is the grand wheel of chance,
Your new life it shall create.”
Shae did not much like the song and her feelings toward the singer weren’t any better. Avery on the other hand looked entranced. His eyes were transfixed on the man in his strange green leotard. The jester stared back, sizing him up.
“Come on boy; try your luck on the Wheel of Chance.” Avery did as he was bid. The wheel was split into several sections, each section then split into two subsections one designed for a male and the other for a female. With as much strength as his skinny arms could muster, Avery spun the wheel. It seemed to spin for an eternity as they stood there waiting in silence. Eventually it slowed down and for a moment it seemed as if it were about to land on village fool but it lasted just a millisecond longer, landing surprisingly on prince.
Avery whooped whilst doing a little dance, his glee was contagious and Shae found herself smiling. The jester bowed before him. “The fates have landed in your favor my prince. As of now your name shall be Rowan, the first of his name. You will be given your new garbs soon enough. Upon your entrance you shall be escorted to the castle to fulfill your duty to your realm.”
Shae could feel the weight of their eyes on her. “It would seem that it is your turn my fair lady,” the jester said.
Next thing she knew Shae was spinning the wheel and watching anxiously as it passed princess, then lady of the court and landed on merchant’s daughter. It could be worse she told herself, eyeing slave, a position she was dangerously close to landing on. Avery patted her back kindly though the pity was apparent in his eyes. Already it’s getting to his head, she mused. She couldn’t help but wonder what the day had in store for them.
“Not bad my lady; your name from this point on shall be Helena, of the honest family Terrowin. I believe you shall find your father Tybalt at his splendid stand in the perpetually crowded bazaar.”
“How do I know which booth is his?”
The jester smiled wide, exposing his decaying teeth. “Just follow the scent.”
Grunting the jester managed to shove the large entrance door open and reveal the world on the other side. A brown path lay before them leading them to changing rooms. Shae was given a modest blue dress made of silk, simple yet with quality. Avery emerged wearing an expensive looking green tunic, black tights, a shimmery black cloak, a jade encrusted belt and an elegant gold crown. He did in fact seem very princely in that moment. The tunic brought out the green in his eyes and Shae had to admit he looked rather handsome. He smiled at her shyly and mouthed “have fun” as he was led off by an entourage of knights. She couldn’t help but notice that none of them acknowledged her presence or that she had nothing more but a map to guide her. Yet this was Avery’s thing, not hers and she couldn’t begrudge him his happiness.
“What in the…” Shae mumbled as she left the dressing center. With lands that seemed to stretch on forever, hundreds of modest houses and too many people to count, Nightingale was definitely not what she had expected. Far across the land she could make out the castle, even from this distance its size could not be denied. But alas that was not her destination. Despite the kingdom’s unmistakable otherworldly magnificence, she couldn’t help but feel strange. Goosebumps rose on her flesh and she felt as if she had literally stepped in to another time period. Map in hand Shae made her way to the bazaar.
In truth the parchment wasn’t needed to find the place. Shae smelled it then heard it long before she reached it. Booth after booth covered an area as large as two football fields. All around her people were bargaining aggressively and shouting obscenities at one another. She could feel a headache coming on and almost wished she had never agreed to any of this.
“Come over here milady! I have plenty a wine to sell, the finest to ever be found on this side of the ocean.” The old man made to grab her arm but Shae dodged him and hurried away. Scowling he made his way back to his booth, pausing only to give her a look of disgust. He’s taking this much too seriously, she thought. The girl had no idea which stand she was meant to go to. “Follow the scent”, the jester had said but there were so many different aromas mingling together. Which one was she supposed to go after?
Naked toddlers and skinny dogs ran throughout the marketplace, bumping into her more than once. Suddenly she smelled a sharp fragrance among the sweat and meat; it reminded her of Old Spice but a bit sweeter. Following it she came upon a large booth filled with dozens of decorated flasks. The liquids were in every imaginable color, some of them even seemed to glow. Shae was sniffing some of the scents when a small man walked up behind her, quiet as a mouse.
“There you are,” he said in a soft pleasant voice. Startled, Shae turned to face the man. He was plump, stood no more than five feet and had waves of white hair with a trimmed beard to match.
Shae smiled at him. “You must be Tybalt, my name is Sh-”. He cut her off. “Helena you silly girl get back to work. We have much to sell today my sweet; I’ve just got word that my shipments from the Islands of Copal have arrived. I shall return in a few hours. Take care that none of those wretched thieves slip off with any scents.” He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and was on his way before Shae could reply.
What was she to do now? The safest option seemed to be sitting down on the stool behind the booth. She watched chickens run around, their owners chasing them cursing. Flies circled near the butcher’s booth but the many noisy customers kept them at bay. People around her were engaging in conversations of lands far away, and great kings long dead. This all seemed so real. Were renaissance fairs always like this? She wondered what her friend was up to.
A homely youth interrupted her thoughts. “May I have a word milady?” He seemed courteous enough. “How may I be of service to you?” She asked, attempting to play the part. “Would you be so kinds as to sell me that green scarf behind you?” The scarf in question must have belonged to her “father” and she did not think it was for sale. “I shouldn’t,” she responded apologetically. His distress was written all over his pox-marked face. “I beg of you milady, it’s a gift for my sister she is to marry today and I cannot find a gift both lovely and of a reasonable coin.” His eyes pleaded with her, they seemed to be his only handsome feature. Her heart went out to this boy and for a moment she forgot that he was only playing a part. “I’m feeling rather generous today.” She smiled at him. He handed her three gold coins in exchange for the silk scarf. In all honesty she had no idea whether that was a fair trade.
Suddenly, two knights came barreling down on their horses. The bazaar seemed to quiet down as they rode past the rows of booths. Shae could feel the tension thick in the air. Her heart beat a little faster when they pointed at her booth. Squealing, the boy used the scarf to cover his face but it was too late. He sprinted away with the knights close on his trail. They had him cornered in a heartbeat. “Mercy,” he cried visibly shaking. “You deserve no such thing.” The statement came from a man huffing beside the knights. He pointed a fat finger at the boy, “You stole from me boy, five chicken legs he snatched. I spend all night plucking, cleaning and then roasting them. How dare you take them?”
By then an angry crowd had gathered, growing larger by the second. “He stole my leather pouches” one man yelled. “Off with his hands” another cried. The crowd took up those last four words, chanting it louder and louder. Tears streamed like an endless rain down the boy’s scarred cheeks. He had soiled himself. Shae should have been frightened but rage sent her pushing through the crowd to the boy’s aid.
“Stop it! What is wrong with you people?” Her face was splotchy, an unfortunate characteristic of her pale skin. “He’s committed a crime ma’am,” the knight on the left said, “by the king’s law he must be punished.” Shae was horror stricken, had these people lost their minds. It was almost as if they forgot they were only acting the part. Her next words brought a brief moment of shocked silence. “Screw the King’s law this only a game you freaks!” All around her people gasped and spat at her feet. “The wench has gone mad,” the butcher proclaimed. “It’s that Tybalt’s daughter, those Terrowin’s have always been strange.” “It’s the fragrances they be smelling all day, it done something with their minds!” She no longer knew who was speaking; the mob had become one large beast closing in on its prey. “Treason,” an old woman proclaimed and when they took up the new chant, all h*ll broke loose. Shae turned uselessly in circles looking for an escape. She bumped into the boy and when he turned around it was to give her a smirk and then he was weaving through the crowd, already forgotten.
A hand grabbed her by the arm and lifted her atop the horse and for just a second she thought she was home free. Her stomach dropped when the other knight placed a cloth bag over her head and chained her hands. “Let go of me,” she sobbed, “I’m not playing this game anymore.” The knight spoke as if he hadn’t heard her. “You are accused of treason and shall stand before the king for your crimes.” Treason? She was only trying to protect that horrible boy, she should have ignored him. She should have stayed at home.
They rode to the castle in silence. One of the knights felt merciful and lifted the bag off her but the chains remained. Every villager they passed on the way stopped to give Shae a cold glance; somehow they all knew of her crime.
The inside of the castle was even more beautiful than the outside but unfortunately she had no time to admire the amount of detail put into it. She was led to a large room with what seemed like hundreds of people seated in chairs along the wall. A platform in the front of the room was the focus of their attention before she had entered. Upon it sat the king, an old man with an impassive face and dark eyes. The queen was as young and beautiful as all the fairytales had always promised. Shae was forced to stand before them as her crimes were read aloud.
“Helena Terrowin, daughter to Tybalt Terrowin and Alys Cloven. You stand before the honorable King Alder Riverdale the second of his name, accused of treason. Do you deny this?”
“You know,” she began, “I’m pretty sure this is illegal and I hope you all have excellent lawyers.”
“Mercy my child, beg for mercy! Your foolish words are folly. ” Tybalt Terrowin stood a few feet to her left, blocked off by other knights. Apparently he had gotten word of his “daughter’s” crime and came rushing back. Tears streamed freely down his splotchy face as he called out to her. You’d think we really were related, she thought.
“I am a merciful ruler,” the king said in a calm voice, “and shall give you one more chance to speak for your life. Precede wisely girl.” The second time she scanned the platform her eyes fell upon Avery, he stood to his “father’s” left and a young girl no older than seven to the king’s right.
“Are you having fun Avery? Because when you were talking about other realities I never imagined I’d end up in one run by lunatics.” Her friend showed no hint of recognition. What’s wrong with him, Shae wondered. It was as if he, like the rest of them, confused this twisted world for reality. She remembered the times they stayed up watching movies, when they’d learned to ride bikes and even the countless times she’d protected him from bullies. Yet in this bizarre moment of need, he shunned her. Playing the part or no Shae had lost respect for her friend.
“It is Prince Rowan to you wench,” one of the audience members shouted. Pretty soon they were all shouting cruel words at her; some even went as far as to throw things. With just one raised hand, King Alder managed to silence his people. He studied her whilst stroking his bear, “It would seem that you have decided your fate. May your end be swift Helena of Terrowin, the first of her name.”
The way Shae saw it the sooner she “died” the sooner she would be out of strange realm but that was before she saw the noose. Her captors led her outside and made the girl climb up a ladder facing the window where the King and his audience sat. Shae began to panic; this all seemed much too real. The prospect of death was now more ominous than an out from this game. Cheers erupted from the crowd when the noose was placed around her neck. Her whole body was shaking as they shoved her closer and closer to the edge. “This is only a game,” she whispered under her breath. Suddenly she remembered what the knight at the entrance had told her. Until 9:30 he had said and then the fair would end. The tips of her feet were past the edge. Quickly, Shae brought her wrist to her face. She had concealed her watch under the sleeve of her dress, though that was a violation. She was now balancing on the platform with the balls of her feet. Her heart dropped when she saw that it was only 8:30.
And then Shae Anderson was falling.