TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 4 of Wands

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Chimera

“Chimera was a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the rump of a dragon. Bellerophon slew it by shooting arrows while flying on Pegasus’s back.” 

Alan pouted and nodded. Jennifer had dragged him to this lecture, which, in retrospect, was not as boring as Alan had imagined. 

He glanced at Jennifer beside him. She listened intent on the story, her forefinger pressed against her pursed lips, her pale blond hair in a tight bun and her blouse buttoned to the top, exuding ice and snobbery. 

I’m sitting next to Chimera, thought Alan and almost laughed out loud. 

Jennifer was beautiful, and she had many other qualities that had attracted Alan once but had now faded away so he only saw the monster beside him. The lion clawed, scratched and snarled at everything he did or said; the dragon scorched all his accomplishments to cinders, and the goat bleated love and honey trying to soothe his mangled self.  

He sighed and caught a whiff of Jennifer’s garlic breath, courtesy of the shrimp scampi she’d ordered for lunch. Alan hated garlic breath, and every time they spent an evening together, she ate something garlicky. She breathes fire too, Alan could barely contain himself as he caught yet another fume. Jennifer leaned over to say something and Alan, caught between laughter and disgust, struggled to keep his composure. 

“How interesting,” she breathed, “what an enthralling lecture.” 

Damn Jennifer and her H’s! She had the most annoying way of sounding every H as she exhaled so that the garlic hit Alan full on. He was on the verge of losing control and howling with laughter amidst Bellerophon’s tragic end. The room felt stuffy despite the air-conditioning and all Alan wanted was to escape. 

“You okay?” Jennifer whispered and Alan almost gagged.

He rose, “Yes, bathroom,” he mumbled and shuffled his way to the aisle. 

Outside the lecture hall the air was cool; Alan gasped, leaned against a wall and guffawed. As the laughter died down and he wiped tears from his eyes, he steadied himself with each breath. He inhaled deep and slow—his mind racing with the memory of Jennifer’s good qualities now lost to time—and exhaled, letting go of Jennifer the Garlic-Breathing Chimera, part growling lion, part vicious dragon. Alan smiled, he knew his time with Jennifer had ended, and the realization lifted him up like Bellerophon on Pegasus.

UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: Queen of Pentacles

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A Plateful of Stories

The decorative plate had stood on display above the mantelpiece for as long as Christy could remember. It had a quaint little picture of a farmhouse with a picket fence and pine trees flanking the entrance; smoke billowed from the painted chimney. It wasn’t much to look at, but to Christy, it was the most beautiful painting in the world. 

As a child, she’d spend hours gazing at it and imagining the scene on it. Notebook on her lap she’d scribble the stories and fantasies the plate “showed her”. She wrote about princesses and villains, dragons and wizards. As she grew older, the stories became more mundane, often reflecting bits and pieces of her own private and school life. 

Christy finished high school, left for college and, upon graduation moved out, yet the plate remained above the mantelpiece. It witnessed Christy’s first toy, her first lipstick, her first crush. Her high school and college diplomas flanked it with pride. 

The family fell on hard times; first Dad died, then Mom fell ill. Christy moved back in with her, and soon, what with the demands of being the sole caregiver, she was laid-off from her job. They were scraping by, and yet, through the hardship, the plate remained on the mantelpiece and it became Christy’s anchor and her crutch. Gazing at it gave her a sense of inner peace and she found enlightenment in its painted scene, because, as before, the stories flowed from her and spilled onto her notebook. 

“Maybe it’s time to sell it,” Mom whispered one day, her voice so weak she could hardly raise it above a murmur. 

“Not yet,” Christy said with tears in her eyes. 

“This was the wedding gift your great-great-great-grandfather gave your great-great-great-grandma,” Mom wheezed, “he used to sail with the East India Trading Company and one day, he showed up at her doorstep with it and a marriage proposal. It’s been handed down for generations. No one knows how he came by it but there were rumors he stole it from a wealthy Dutch family, or that he won it in a card game. I remember my grandmother used to say she liked the story of the Duke of Wellington giving it to him as a wedding present.”

Mom coughed and continued, “it’s been with us all this time, through the fat years and now the lean years, and perhaps, it’s time to let it go.”

Christy shook her head through the tears. Mom was right, but not yet, she thought, not yet, please God, don’t take my inspiration just yet. 

Instead He took Mom and left Christy alone in the house she loved so much with nothing but debt and despair. 

God, please help me, Christy prayed every night, but the next day only dawned bleaker.

God was silent when the repo men came and she held on to the plate for dear life. She sat on Grandpa’s tattered high-backed chair which not even the creditors wanted and held on to the plate. One noticed the plate and told her to hand it over. Christy looked up, clutching it to her chest and shook her head, tears streaming down her face. Her expression of abject hopelessness softened him; he did a soulless job, but he wasn’t heartless. He put his finger to his lips and gave her a slight nod. The men left, and she clutched the plate closer to her. 

Poverty forced Christy to move in with her cousin Janice and work as their housekeeper and nanny for a small wage. She arrived with two suitcases, one filled with clothes and the other replete with old dog-eared notebooks, and the plate. 

“You should auction it,” said Janice, but Christy shook her head. 

“It’s been in the family much too long now, I can’t, not yet.” 

“Do you even know how much it’s worth?” 

Christy shook her head, “I know it’s worth something, Dad always said it would help us out of a jam, but I just can’t do it.”

Janice understood; her fondest childhood memories were of Christy reading her the stories the plate inspired. 

One day, Janice entered Christy’s bedroom meaning to ask her something, and upon noticing the room empty, crossed it to the small adjacent bathroom and knocked. No answer. Janice shrugged her shoulders and turned to leave, stubbing her toe on a suitcase by the door. The suitcase was open and Janice saw it was full of notebooks. Curious, and hating herself for it, she picked one up and opened it. She thought it would be a diary, but she beamed when she realized it was full of the stories of dragons and knights Janice remembered Christy scribbled when they were children. Janice’s eyes lit up with the sudden spark of an idea, one akin to an epiphany, and took the notebook. 

A few days later, Janice snuck into Christy’s bedroom, returned the notebook and snatched another. Janice swapped notebook after notebook for months and Christy was none the wiser. One day a letter from an agent arrived for Christy; the stories she submitted interested him and a publisher offered her an advance on a book. Janice hid the letter and answered it herself. She knew it was wrong, even a crime, but she also knew Christy was so mired in misery she was now unwilling to fight the stagnation. Christy lived day in day out caring for others and never minding how to move on herself. Her one escape was the plate and the stories it inspired, so Janice, however inappropriate, lent her cousin a hand, or rather, gave her a push. 

When the check with the advance came, Janice deposited it in an account she’d opened in Christy’s name. Christy was unaware that at night, Janice had been transcribing her stories for months, and was now working with the agent, presenting herself as Christy’s assistant. They published a book of twelve stories and the royalties went into Christy’s account, money trickling into it like pennies from heaven. The publisher wanted more. 

Janice knew there were thousands of stories in those notebooks, but her conscience was gnawing at her. She had to tell Christy. Christy had to know she had enough money to restart her life, and with the royalties and the unpublished stories it was possible that Christy never need worry about money again. Christy needed to know the fat years were here at last. 

“What’s this?” Christy asked when Janice put a book in front of her at the kitchen table. 

“It’s a first edition,” smiled Janice, “and I was hoping I’d be the first person to have an autographed copy.”

Christy was perplexed. The title read A Plateful of Stories and it was written by… Christy McIntyre! 

“What?” Christy looked at Janice.

Janice took a deep breath, “First, I want to apologize, I invaded your privacy when I found your notebooks, but honey, you were so stuck I had to do something. I hadn’t seen you smile in years, so I took them, one by one, and I transcribed them, and I sent one story to an agent, and he wanted more, and now they’re published and people want more.”

“But…”

Janice slid a bank statement across to Christy, “I opened an account for you and you’ve been getting royalties. This book (she laid her hand on the cover) is number one on the bestseller list, and you have so many more stories to sell, you’ll never be poor again. I know that plate is your inspiration, and you don’t have to part with it anymore. Every penny here is all yours.”

Christy burst into tears, the statement showed thousands and thousands of dollars. Janice’s lips quivered and tears rolled down her cheeks as she moved her chair to Christy’s side and put her arms around her. They held each other and cried, their tears wetting the pristine, perfect book. 

“Thank you,” Christy blubbered, “thank you.”

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: XIV Art

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Artsy-Fartsy

Marian was bored to tears at Kelly’s dinner party. The small gathering of budding artists had turned into a major drag with Percival’s arrival. The man was a pompous ass with and encyclopedic knowledge of everything under the sun, and, like all windbags, loved to hear himself talk.

Benny mentioned he was trying his hand at cubism so Percival recited every fact on Picasso known to man. When Kelly asked Parvati how her book was going, Percival remarked the importance of grammar, style and a good agent. The self-publishing thing was only a fad, he assured her. Percival spared no one—not even mild and affable Sonny—his judgment, condescension and pretentiousness. 

“So what brings you here?” Percival turned to Marian who was stifling a yawn, “I understand you’re a mathematician. How are you acquainted with these pseudo-artistes?”

“Marian is an excellent singer,” Kelly interjected, her smile tight as if she’d swallowed a SweetTart, “she has a beautiful voice and trained in opera, but works in Math instead. Her father was a musician.”

“Oh,” Percival smirked, “have I heard of him?”

“Only if you’ve heard of Hangman,” Marian answered with an air of pride she didn’t always show, “he was the frontman and main artistic force of the band.”

“Is that so? What genre did they play?”

“Heavy metal.”

Percival scoffed; Marian pursed her lips.

“Do you, um, like heavy metal?” Percival sneered, he seemed not to realize he ruffled people’s feathers.

“Oh yes, I love it,” Marian was sincere, “I’m the vocalist in a band—we’re not professional. I love music and the mathematics helped me understand it better and appreciate it from a different point of view.”

“Ah, so you know all about overtones, scales, harmonics and such.”

“Of course.”

Percival’s tone was not only mocking but highfalutin. The jerk was undermining her father’s achievements. Hangman was a very successful band and Marian had witnessed the struggle and exhaustion the constant touring, playing and recording caused.
Dad loved to write music and Marian recalled happy days when he would sit with her and compose. She co-wrote many of Hangman’s songs and appeared on the credits as M. “Written by Eric Noose and M” graced the titles of Hangman’s greatest hits. Rumors circulated among the fan base about the mysterious M. Some thought M was Eric Noose’s mistress, and others that M was a celebrity musician who preferred to stay an anonymous collaborator, such as Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger. Few people knew M stood for Marian.

“I dislike popular music, but maybe Mary here can enlighten us on the hidden wonders of heavy metal and prove that it’s indeed music and not just noise.” Percival’s nagging voice brought her back to the moment.

“Marian,” she looked him in the eye.

“Pardon?”

“My name is Marian, not Mary, and I have so much to say we’d be here till next week. I could tell you all about heavy metal from a musical, mathematical and cultural standpoint but I don’t want to monopolize the party.”

Besides, she thought, the heavy metal life is not for me. She knew rocker’s devils were booze and drugs and did not wish to meet either.

“Why don’t you tell us all about your favorite musical style,” Marian continued. Kelly and Parvati glared daggers at her, but Marian’s smile was sweet and innocent.

“Yes, well, in my humble opinion, classical music is the only music worth listening to…” Percival was off on a snooty rant which began with the history of music. On and on he talked, oblivious to people glancing at their watches, yawning or checking their phones.

“And,” Percival looked around the room with an air of haughty defiance, “do you know why Beethoven’s music is so magnificent?”

“Because it’s composed of the same notes, but jumbled?” Marian exuded honeyed snark.

Everyone roared with laughter. Percival turned bright red and looked like he wanted to slap the sneer off her face. Instead he stood up, said goodnight through gritted teeth and, with his nose way up in the air, stormed out the door.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Ace of Cups

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Let Them Eat Cake

“Martha!” Mom called from the hallway, “I’ll be back soon!”

“Okay, bye!” Martha listened to the lock click on the door and the car drive away.

Half an hour later Martha was hungry and ambled to the kitchen hoping to find something to munch. A bowl of fruit lay on the table. Martha looked at it and winced. She didn’t much like fruit, it was too… fruity. Martha preferred not to eat fruit because it was boring, and because it was always available.

The bowl had oranges (too acid), apples (meh), pears (too mushy) and raspberries (way too tart).

Martha opened the fridge. A big cake filled most of the rack. Martha licked her lips; it was a lava cake, and she knew what that meant: chocolate, with chocolate filling and oozing chocolate! A post-it stuck to the top of the plastic cover read: “DO NOT EAT THIS, MARTHA, I MEAN IT!”

Martha sighed. She was aware she’d gained weight and kids at school called her fatty now. I’m not fat, she kept telling herself, and it was true, Joan Perkins was much fatter—at least a size L—but it was small comfort.

Martha set the cake next to the fruit-bowl; she lifted the cover and smelled it, the delicious scent of chocolate caressed her nostrils. She looked at the bowl of fruit and the apples and oranges seemed to wilt right before her eyes. It looked sad compared to the decadent cake in front of her. The catch: no way she could take a slice with no one noticing.

Martha longed for the cake and wondered at its existence. Mom always tried to eat healthy, so why buy it? She put her hands on her waist, pensive. She could now squeeze the tender little rolls that, of late, spilled over the waistband of her pants, which, regardless of style or material, fit tighter too. Martha gazed down at herself, she was no longer a member of the itty bitty titty committee and her bra was uncomfortable.

Martha put the cake back in the fridge and grabbed an apple. She bit into it, its cool sweetness pouring over her tongue, but Martha only noticed it was mealy. Martha sighed and returned to her room, her downtrodden footsteps sounding over the empty house.

Going from a size extra-small to a size small isn’t so bad, she told herself. Yet she was always hungry now. What was happening? Mom said it was hormones, and she should accept herself as she is. But her body was changing too fast for her liking.

Martha finished her yucky apple and plunked on her bed. Moments later she was fast asleep.

She dreamt of the cake. Its chocolaty goodness bursting in her mouth, the syrup oozing down her throat. Then, the cake turned to dirt and Heather Carmichael held Martha’s head while pushing muck in her mouth.

“Eat it, Fatso!” Heather yelled as Martha struggled.

She tried to push Heather away, but her arms were spaghetti-like and weak. Heather stuffed a big ball of mud into Martha’s mouth and it turned into an apple. Martha was on a spit, hands and feet tied in front while Heather and her gang of stick-figure mean girls danced and whooped around in leopard-skin bras and skirts.

“Stuff the pig!” They yelled. 

Martha tried to scream but only muffled sounds emerged. The surrounding fire closed in and she felt herself suffocating. She gasped and the sudden intake of breath brought her back to her bedroom.

Damn! She thought, I need to lose weight.

She resolved to eat healthy and to deny herself that delicious cake in the fridge. She wouldn’t have a bite. Maybe it wasn’t for them, maybe it was for Mom’s work, someone was always having a birthday at her office.

That’s it, Martha thought, no more cake, only fruit from now on.

She rolled out of bed and shuffled downstairs, intending to eat an orange.

“Surprise!” Mom yelled, “Look who’s here!”

Her favorite cousin Lizzy sat at the kitchen island in front of the cake Mom was about to slice.

Martha hugged Lizzy and noticed that she wasn’t as bony. She gazed into Lizzy’s face and noticed her cheeks were fuller.

“It’s okay, there’s no shame in going from a size five to a seven, as long as we don’t overdo it. Aunt here was telling me how taller you are, it’s so true! My mom says it’s part of growing up, but being careful doesn’t mean we can’t have our cake and eat it too! Well, sometimes.” Lizzy winked.

“I say we enjoy this delicious lava cake and go buy you beautiful girls new clothes that fit your fabulous bodies!” Mom set out three slices of decadence.

Martha smiled and reflected on how fruit wasn’t so bland, but today, it could wait. One slice of lava cake wouldn’t turn Martha into a heifer, and Lizzy’s presence would help her turn a deaf ear to Heather’s bullying…

Bah, let Heather Carmichael eat cake.

GOLDEN TAROT: Knight of Swords

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One Good Man

Ronnie loved to admire the paintings, images and stained-glass windows that decorated the nave, the altar, and the aisles at church. His grandmother would take him every Sunday and instead of paying attention to the priest or the liturgy, Ronnie’s eyes would wander over every saint and every niche. The homily often went over his head, and as long as Ronnie sat still and quiet, Grandma didn’t much care if he listened. His appreciation of art pleased her.

Ronnie’s favorite stained-glass window depicted Saint George and the Dragon and Grandma always sat across it so that Ronnie could enjoy it. They had once sat beneath it, but Ronnie later told her it was too difficult to look at from that spot. On sunny days, the light shone through that window in a burst of color: green dragon, gray armor, white horse, red blood, blue sky; the colors tickled Ronnie’s eyes and drew his mind to them. On those Sundays Ronnie would daydream, imagining he was the great knight fighting the dragon.

“You know the dragon represents The Devil, right?” Grandma said when Mass concluded.

“Yes,”  Ronnie said.

“Have you ever heard someone say ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing’?”

Ronnie shook his head.

“Well, I can’t remember who said it, and I think people have misquoted it many times anyway, but when I see that window of Saint George, I remember that quote. I think it’s what the story means. It was only necessary was for one good man to slay the evil dragon. Don’t forget that Ronnie, I’ve always thought there’s a Saint George in all of us, and we all have the strength and the will to fight evil, we just need to look inside ourselves.”

Ronnie let the words sink in and nodded.

The next day, during recess, Ronnie heard a commotion coming from the swings. Freddy Kruger, the school bully was holding Marty Martens by the shirt collar. Marty was meek, chubby and wore thick glasses that made him look bug-eyed. Freddy raised his fist and Marty fell down with a thud.

Ronnie remembered Grandma’s words and the image of the stained-glass window flashed in his mind. Freddy’s green shirt reminded him of dragon scales and his own dark gray Batman sweatshirt felt like armor. He pulled on the hood with the bat ears; it sat low on his forehead, like a cowl. 

Ronnie ran to the swings and pushed Freddy catching him by surprise so he didn’t have time to put his hands out. Freddy looked up from the ground with a bleeding lip.

“Leave him alone!” Ronnie yelled. The sun was behind him and all Freddy Kruger could see was the Batman silhouette.

Freddy hated Batman and thought DC Comics were dumb.

“Make me!” Freddy stood up in a flash and hit Ronnie.

Ronnie, dazed and scared, he would not stand down. Freddy sometimes bullied him too. If he wasn’t going after Marty, he bullied Sarah or Mike or Ronnie, and Ronnie was fed up.

“Good people only have to do something,” he thought. He stood up and wiped the blood from his nose.

“You wanna hit me again, you go ahead!” He stared Freddy down, “I’m not scared of you!”

A crowd of kids had gathered.

“Yeah, and if you hit him again, you’ll deal with me!” Mike stepped next to Ronnie.

“And me!” Marty’s timid voice rang out loud and clear over the schoolyard for the first time. He too stood by Ronnie, defiant.

“Me too!” Sarah shouted.

One by one kids huddled around Ronnie, Mike, Marty, and Sarah. They faced Freddy Kruger, the school bully. Freddy looked from one scowl to another, turned on his heel and ran towards the building.

At the door he paused, turned to the crowd and yelled, “I’ll get you for this! You’ll see!”

Ronnie snickered, “That’s what they all say!”

Everyone laughed and resumed their recess play until the bell rang.

Miss Georgios, the third grade teacher and recess monitor, stood cross-armed watching over the schoolyard and smiled to herself. She too was sick of Freddy Kruger’s bullying — every day she reprimanded and scolded him — but there was only so much she could do. Freddy’s parents weren’t affable and they’d make a big stink once they found out Ronnie pushed their “precious angel”, but Miss Georgios would defend Ronnie.

THE GODDESS TAROT: Three of Staves

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Stagnation

Natalie looked out from the small and rectangular window that sat just below the ceiling and only afforded her a view of the sky. Across there was a bigger window with three bars running down it, which she detested because, despite the bars, she could behold life outside while she remained imprisoned. Squirrels often peeked in the big window as did foxes and raccoons. It afforded her an almost unobstructed view of the world and reminded her she no longer played a part in it.

Through the small window she watched the birds fly and the clouds drift. The sun shone through in the mornings and it warmed her face. The moon’s silver rays glimmered at night and lit the darkened room. Prison to her right, freedom to her left and Natalie in the middle.

The wind rustled the leaves outside the big window that evoked her prison and Natalie did her best not look through it, but her neck turned and she looked at the green fields and the trees that surrounded her house. Tears rolled down her cheek. How long had it been since she’d climbed those trees? Sat on the grass?

“Forever,” she whispered and shut her eyes.

She dreamt of Aramis, her big beautiful horse, running through the fields, her hair trailing behind her, not a sound in the world but his hoofbeats and the howls of the wind as they sped through it. Now, Aramis was gone, as shattered as her life. 

When Natalie woke up twilight surrounded her and the first stars peeked in through the small window, her freedom window. She was hungry and thirsty and hoped her father would not be long.

“Today is market day,” she said to the walls, “I hope all went well. Today we’ll have bread and beer for dinner.”

She heard noises and Natalie expected her bedroom door to open at any moment. Footsteps on the wooden floor approached. The click of the latch and the door swung open. Between her blanketed feet Natalie discerned her father’s figure appear through the threshold.

He smiled, illuminated by twilight. It was a sad smile. Natalie remembered happy days when things had been better, Aramis had been with them, and she could still ride him.

Father gazed into Natalie’s eyes and his face fell; through one eye she glimpsed the past, with the other the present, and resentment shown through both. Perhaps it would have been better if he hadn’t found her in time; better if she’d gone with her beloved Aramis.

“How was your day, Father,” Natalie smiled at him, following as he sat beside her and lit the oil lamp on the bedside table, “are there any news?”

He was old now, working beyond his years. That stormy day had intertwined their fates far more than she could have imagined, it had joined them so she would live only as long as he did. He took her hand and held it in his for a moment, then bent and kissed her forehead. She watched him pat her hand and set it beside her. He covered her with Mother’s quilt and adjusted her pillows while Natalie followed every movement with her wistful eyes.

“Mrs. Winston has a new baby, and Gerald lost a lamb when it wandered into the river and the current took it.”

“Oh no!”

“Yes,” he unwrapped a loaf of bread, “John baked this for you. Said he and Emily might drop in tomorrow if the weather allows.”

He broke off a piece and held it up to Natalie’s lips. He contemplated in silence while she chewed.

Natalie was not the only one stagnate in nostalgia. Five years ago he’d found her at the bottom of that ravine. Aramis’s frightened eyes as he breathed his last burned forever in his memory. For five years they’d lived a life in suspended animation, Natalie imprisoned in this room, held captive in a body that would never move again.

BRUEGEL TAROT: Knight of Wands

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Faire

It was Sandra’s first time at a Renaissance Faire and she was both amazed and aghast at her surroundings. Amazed at the setting, the costumes, the activities, the food. It seemed she’d stepped through time. There were ax-throwing booths, archery contests and many medieval sports and activities. People in Renaissance garb sold their wares from booths made of cloth tents. It’s all so Arthurian, she thought. But she was aghast at the time and money people spent on their costumes, not just the vendors—after all, it was their job—but the guests too. There were princesses, minstrels, bards, jesters, and yeomen; fantasy themes were also abundant and people dressed as fawns, wizards and even elves—the Tolkien kind. The costumes fascinated her; they were top-notch and made of the best materials, not the homemade sheet-with-eyeholes type she’d worn on Halloween.

“Gosh,” Sandra turned to Kate, “did you ever imagine this?”

“No, I feel like I’ve stepped into Geekdom, but this is awesome!”

“I don’t know whether I should be amused or appalled. It’s supposed to be a Renaissance Faire, and everything’s like from the Middle Ages!”

Kate threw her head back and laughed. They’d been best friends since Kindergarten and had always wondered what these Faires were like. For the first time they’d attended one, and it didn’t disappoint.

They browsed from tent to tent and admired the fantasy-themed jewelry and the medieval-style pottery and crafts. The weapons vendor’s wares were plastic, but some weapons locked in a glass curio cabinet looked real.
The food dismayed though, the vendors sold pretzels, fries, corn dogs and all matter of American fast food. Sandra had expected something more old world and had been rather excited at the prospect of tasting Renaissance-style fare.

“Maybe Shakespeare ate burgers and fries,” joked Kate, taking a bite out of a salted pretzel.

“Well, you can have a turkey leg,” Sandra giggled, “they look right out of Ye Olde England.”

“I don’t think it would fit in my mouth!” Kate laughed as a large blacksmith passed by eating a turkey leg so big the man’s face looked small.

They sat down at one of the large wooden picnic benches and enjoyed their snacks. Sandra observed the people around them and Kate made witty comments.

* * *

Rob straightened his belt and remembered Julia. He had gotten into this mess because of her. He’d never considered himself a geek, but after meeting Julia… She had slowly changed him into a person he hardly recognized, not that he hated it, in many ways, he liked himself better. She had pushed him to try out new things, visit museums, go to concerts, poetry readings and whatnot, but when they’d sampled medieval sports, Rob, always the jock, had found his talent and passion. Julia had bolted soon after even though it had been her idea. It was ironic that she’d left him for a gym trainer, someone who wasn’t such a geek, she’d said. 

Rob shook himself from his reverie and got ready. This was his first Faire appearance and he trusted he would impress everyone. It had surprised him that these sports came natural to him, no one could ride like him, handle the lance like him or wield the sword like him. In the short time he’d taken up the pastime people in the circuit had even called him Lancelot.

“It’s just a game,” he muttered to himself, though he knew this was his chance to prove himself. But to whom? The absent Julia who preferred to look at that pea-brained muscle-man do squats?

Rob flexed his own muscles. He’d always been an athlete, and at least through Julia he’d learned he wasn’t pea-brained. Now it was time to prove that brains and brawn aren’t incompatible.

Rob took a deep breath and stepped out into the sunlight.

* * *

Trumpets sounded all over the campground-turned-Faire.

“Hear ye, hear ye!” A skinny youth dressed in puffy knee-length pants and tights addressed the crowd, “The tourney shall begin!”

Sandra and Kate rushed to a fenced-in field where the players were getting ready. There were horses and knights and banners! It was to be a joust! They laughed and giggled at the sight.

Kate snickered, “Can you believe this?”

“This is so awesome!” Sandra replied.

Just then, one knight caught her eye. He dressed in medieval armor, but had not put on his helmet. He was tall and muscular, with black hair and neat, trimmed beard. His posture showed confidence. He was talking to a man dressed like a squire. Sandra saw he was quite handsome and elbowed Kate.

“Oh hello,” Kate murmured when she followed Sandra’s gaze.

The knight turned in their direction and their eyes met. Sandra liked his bright blue eyes and fine nose, her knees weakened and her stomach fluttered; bashful, she smiled and the knight turned bright red.

“Ooh-la-la,” Kate teased and they giggled like little girls.

* * *

Rob and Jerry, his squire, readied the horse; good ole Gawain (yes, like the Knight of the Round Table) was strong and reliable. They could count on him not to spook and to stay the course; he was the perfect jousting horse.

Rob’s mind was all on the tourney. He’d learned long ago not to heed the crowd before a competition. His mind must be clear and his eyes on the prize, but the wind carried the sound of women’s laughter and he turned. Watching him were the most beautiful green eyes he’d ever seen. Julia’s light brown did not compare. These eyes were piercing emerald and, despite himself, Rob blushed right up to the tip of his ears. His heart skipped in a way it hadn’t since his adolescence; not even Julia’s classical beauty had provoked such a reaction. The face that framed those eyes was exotic, open and friendly. And the smile! Oh that smile promised a thousand nights of… well, everything. Love, companionship, sensuality, comfort, everything irradiated from that smile. Rob didn’t want to turn away.

The tourney began. A lot of fanfare, the crier gave his spiel and the audience oohed and aahed when the horses cantered. Sandra noted the handsome knight carried the blue and white banner.

The archery contest came first, then the buffoons and jugglers.

Rob kept his composure through the opening activities, but he found it hard not to glance in the woman’s direction. For the first time he understood what it meant for the knights of old to vie for the damsel’s heart. He wanted to win this so much more now that those eyes had captivated him. He knew this was his chance to elevate himself to her and be more than just the nerd in the cheesy armor. He wanted to be Lancelot.

It was time for the joust.

Sandra watched the handsome knight mount his horse; the squire handed him the lance. Rob couldn’t help sneaking a peek at the beautiful woman following him intently from the crowd. The opposing knight with the red banner made himself ready at the other end of the list.

  Off they went! They galloped towards each other and as Rob passed by, Sandra yelled, “Go, blue and white!”

The handsome knight heard her and did a double-take (Kate later called it rubbernecking). He was looking in Sandra’s direction as the red knight’s masterful blow struck Rob’s shield and threw him off his mount. Sandra gasped and covered her mouth while the handsome knight remained motionless on the ground. That was the end of that. He’d been the knight favored to win but one flash of emerald had turned the tables.

Winded and embarrassed, Rob’s his pride shattered into a million pieces. How would he ever look into those eyes again?

Squire Jerry helped Rob to his feet. Abashed and eyes fixed on the ground, Rob limped to his tent; Gawain snorted and, head held high, trotted beside him.

Rob plunked himself down on the wooden chair in the safety of his tent. Jerry mumbled words of encouragement; this was his first tourney, and Sir James was an excellent opponent, he shouldn’t be so downtrodden. Rob sneered and said nothing. Those bright green eyes had a name, and after this spectacle, he was certain he’d never know it. He covered his face with his hands.

Rob was unaware that Sandra and Kate huddled and giggled by the tent with the blue and white banner, waiting for the handsome knight to emerge.