Sunday, August 28, 2011

Wagons East: Knight to Remember

We had talked about going out to dinner Tuesday night with some of our Mimico chums for quite a while, but only as the dinner hour drew nigh did the girls begin to express any interest as to exactly where we were eating. Since Audrey and I had decided early on to make it a surprise, I took no small measure of enjoyment in refusing to directly answer their inquiries, and instead agreed to answer 20 yes or no questions.

"So, let me see if I have this right," Fenya summarized afterwards. "We are going somewhere to eat old-fashioned Spanish food, with our hands, in dim lighting, and where there is entertainment while we eat, right?"

I worried that perhaps we had given it away. "That's correct," I told her.

Fenya shook her head. "I have totally no idea."

A moment later we drove into the parking lot near the CNE grounds and they saw the billboards and began to squeal with delight: "Medieval Times!"  They also found the toll free number (1-888-WE JOUST) to be delightful.

In case you have never seen the movie The Cable Guy or are otherwise unfamiliar with the Medieval Times concept, it is a chance to chow down Henry-VIII-style on chicken and ribs while watching costumed actors on horseback joust and duel in an ersatz tournament. It is more than a little cheesy, and it is not so much a reenactment as it is a hybrid of a commercialized renaissance fair and professional wrestling.

I love it. In fact, this was the fourth time I had attended. The first time was in Los Angeles, when Audrey and I were on our honeymoon. We had arrived later than I would have liked, and I was completely underwhelmed by the plastic artifice of the whole affair, and the colour coded cardboard crown that designated both your seating area and which of the six knights you would be cheering for.

Ten minutes later I was cheering with the rest of the crowd and having the time of my life, and I explained this to Fenya, as she was looking very uncertain about things in the way only a girl on the cusp of adolescence can muster. She very quickly grabbed on to the core concept that one can either be a jaded spectator or engaged participant, and sure enough, ten minutes in, she turned to me and said, "Okay, this is cool."

For the third time in four visits, I found myself cheering for the douty black and white night. His backstory speaks of him as being a warrior-priest of sorts, and between my fondness of the cleric class in D&D and the fact that we were attending with friends we'd met at church, that seemed altogether appropriate. He was also the only one of the six with a proper haircut instead of flowing locks (which Rimmer from Red Dwarf will inform you makes one historically predisposed to victory), which disappointed a number of the women in our party.

There was a bit of plot given to add spice and context to the tournament, which involved the King's son being ambushed and kidnapped by the perpetually villainous and disdainful green knight of Lyonne (which was boisterously dramatized by the players) and then the royal family and their chancellor opened the tournament.

Prior to the commencement of combat, there are a number of contests displaying the very real skill of these stuntmen and actors, including mounted spear throwing and using a lance to hit a two inch ring suspended by a string, while galloping the length of the arena. It serves as a nice reminder that even staged fights require both ability and practice.

After each contest, the princess tosses some flowers to each successful competitor, which they then dutifully toss to the ladies in the crowd. I fully thought Glory was going to burst when she caught one, and she immediately went from admiring our black and white knight to being pretty much smitten. "He's so dashing," she hammed it up later.

There are also a couple of very impressive demonstrations of horsemanship, including Andalusians brought through their paces using the long reins, and an excellent display of falconry that had a gorgeous and swift bird of prey soaring within a few feet of our heads; close enough, in fact, that I found myself hoping it couldn't smell the chicken on my plate.

Soon, though, the knights reappeared arrayed for battle, and the jousting commenced.

Although the fighting is all clearly staged and bloodless, there is still an exhilaration to be felt as the competing knights thunder towards one another at a full gallop, their lances shattering upon each others shields. The first knight unhorsed then has to defend himself against a mounted opponent for a pass or two, but every match seems to end with both combatants on foot, fighting with swords, maces, flails and even a halberd.

Unfortunately, our gallant black and white knight (Huzzah!) was the first to fall to the unscrupulous green knight (Hisss!), but in the end, this villain was defeated by the yellow knight, the kidnapped prince rescued, and peace returned to the realm.

Everyone enjoyed themselves greatly, and I certainly wouldn't object to returning to Medieval Times for a fifth time if the opportunity presented itself.  I did find myself wondering what it might be like to present the evening's entertainment in a Game of Thrones setting, with characters like Gregor Clegane, Jaime Lannister and perhaps even Brienne of Tarth battling it out.  Pseudo-historical Spain is probably a safer bet though, and if a couple of starstruck kids come away with a bit of an interest in history or a hankering to read Ivanhoe, so much the better.

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