It was hard to get started today, for some reason. But I dood it. Turned out long, too. Sorry about that.
Bluer Than Blue
by Marian Allen
Lady Olivia DeHaverly (mundane name, Debbie Carson) had to park on the street. She’d never seen the University of Louisville Red Barn’s lot full, but it was full this morning. There might have been a place somewhere in there, but she was afraid she hit something, gawking. Gawking was better done afoot.
So she parked on the street, swung her legs out and her feet to the ground, let the heavy folds of her blue cotton gown, which she had needed to gather into her lap so it wouldn’t interfere with driving, fall free. Wrinkles are period, she remembered someone saying. Good thing.
She locked up, dropped her keys into her pocket – a kind of bag hanging off her belt – and got to gawking.
The license plates came from Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and, of course, Kentucky. The vehicles ranged from VWs to RVs. And the bumper stickers:
Magic is afoot.
My other car is a horse.
Arthur Pendragon for president.
She wondered how many mundanes would know Arthur Pendragon was King Arthur. Then she wondered how many mundanes would know who King Arthur was. But that was kind of the point of being in the Society for Creative Anachronism, wasn’t it: knowing something not everybody knew?
Her bestie, Brooke – Lady Agatha Bollinbroke, rather – met her just inside the door. “Get in line, they’re starting to get up.”
The event’s hosts, the Barony of the Flame, had a breakfast buffet set up, one table covered with fruit, breads, toasters, and spreads, another with non-period electric griddles and Flamers ready to make pancakes and omelets to order.
Lady Olivia was nearly overcome with nostalgia. She hadn’t been to a SCA event since before her (now) failed marriage to Nolan. He had found SCA “stupid” and had smothered her pleasure in it with heavy mockery. Now, the sight of sleeping bags almost wall to wall, of bleary-eyed hulks accompanying their children to the bathroom, and women taking their hair down and rebraiding it took her back ten years. The smell of hot breakfast mingled with the tang of iron from the fighters’ chain mail and the rich odor of a room filled with bodies that had had a long Friday and no Saturday shower.
Lady Agatha dragged her to the “cookery station,” where she was greeted with flattering enthusiasm by old friends and introduced to new members of the Flame. Paper plates and paper napkins and plastic flatware were jarring, when the people using them wore tunics, leggings, shifts, tabards, floor-length gowns, and coats of mail. But it was apparently still a tradition of the Flame that breakfast was too early for authenticity.
A knot of purists huddled in one corner, eating boiled eggs, bread, cheese, and fruit, giving everybody else the stink-eye. Lady Olivia grinned and waved at them. One of the women – Lady Joelle Mottern, she thought – rolled her eyes and waved back.
It was the kind of thing people said in SCA.
She turned and came face-to … well, not face. Face-to-chest. The man who had spoken was at least two feet taller than she was, with an undyed tunic of rough cloth thrown over his torso. The front was cut in a deep V, exposing a hairless chest decorated with blue body paint in swirls and Celtic knots.
He tapped one of the patterns. “This is woad. Is that what you used to dye your gown? It looks like woad.”
“It is.” She couldn’t keep her eyes off that chest. Er, those intricate patterns of paint.
“Do you make your own?”
This, she hadn’t missed. Most SCAniks loved research and recreation but acknowleged the press of Real Life and accepted the Creative and the Anachronism in the Society’s name. Others were authenticity police who not only made their own garb, but carded their own wool and spun and dyed and wove their own cloth. Probably sheared their own sheep.
A bit smugly, she said, “I do, actually.”
“Awesome. My mom makes mine.”
She finally looked at his face. Thank you, Jesus. He was older than that last remark had made her think: Somewhere in his late twenties, probably, with a strand or two of silver hair glinting among the shoulder-length black curls, and faint crinkles around his blue eyes. Younger than she was, but not jail bait.
“Is your mom here?” Let him say no. Let him say no.
“No. She isn’t into the Society. She does fabric art. Natural fibers and natural dyes and stuff.”
Lady Agatha joined them, balancing a full paper plate on top of a foam tumbler of coffee.
“I see you’ve met Bronwen. He’s part of our entertainment for tonight’s feast.”
Lady Olivia took a deep slug of her own coffee to hide her expression.
Bronwen said, “I do this fire thing. I juggle it, swallow it, dance with it. You know.”
She spent the day renewing old friendships and forging new ones. It had been years since she had had anybody but Brooke – Lady Agatha – to talk to about SCA stuff. She had dropped out of the loop, even off the Society’s internet presence. It was too dissonant, trying to maintain a totally mundane lifestyle, if she was also immersed in historical recreation.
“How does it feel to be back?” Lady Agatha asked her, as they watched two men in armor bash at one another with rattan sticks wrapped in duct tape.
How did it feel? “Exciting. I had forgotten how zingy it felt.”
That tenor voice said, “Zingy. That’s good. I like that word.”
Bronwen hadn’t exactly been stalking her all day, but he had crossed her path with what had to be deliberation. As the Barn had heated up with the day and the activity, he had shed his tunic and “provided casual entertainment,” as he called it, by dancing to Lady Lydia’s ocarina music, wearing nothing but a sort of leather Speedo and his swirls of blue paint. He often looked to see if she was watching. She always was.
By the time the evening’s feast was over, she was so keyed up, she wondered if she shone in the darkness.
When she told Bronwen that no, she wasn’t camping out at the Barn, she was going home for the night, it was understood that he would be going with her. That was one of the things about Events: By the time you’d been through a day together, you felt like you’d known one another for years. Immersion concentrated experience, distilled it, gave it to you unadulterated and uncut by anything that might have diluted it.
Lady Agatha, also heading home, her SCAnik husband with her, gave Lady Olivia a thumbs up.
“My real life name is Debbie Carson,” she said, feeling salacious as she pulled her skirts up over her knees so she could drive.
His eyes on her calves, Bronwen said, “I’m Paul Stewart.”
They shook hands, then kissed.
She started the car. My first date since the divorce. Will it be the start of something solid, or will it be a one-night stand? “One-night stand.” It sounds so trashy. Do I dare hope for another chance at a lasting relationship?
Bronwen stroked the back of her neck. “Thank you,” he murmured huskily. “Having a beautiful woman like you invite me to share her bed is good for my poor ego. I’m usually the woad less taken.”
Oh, dear God in heaven and sweet little baby Jesus. I’ll be a good girl forever and ever; just please let this be a one-night stand.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, the Society for Creative Anachronism