It was the afternoon lull at the Meadow Braiding Booth of the Maryland Renaissance Festival. It's always crazy in the morning in the Meadow, but we tend to have a few quiet hours in the afternoon before people start passing us on their way home.
This day had been crazier than usual, and I was savoring a moment's solitude while sitting at the hostess station and keeping an eye on our book.
I spotted a family coming up the hill. Two long-haired teenage girls, dad, and two little boys. One was dressed as a knight, the other as a pirate. Not brothers, but obviously best friends. The girls quietly approached and shyly started flipping through the pages of braiding designs. I barely had time to greet them and let them know they were free to ask me any questions when the little knight walked right up to me. With a pickle in one hand and a wooden sword in the other, his chest practically touching my knees, he looked up at me with pride and declared, "I'm a knight!" This was the kind of boy whose personality is three times too big for his body.
"Why yes! Yes you are! And a mighty defender of the realm."
"I got a new sword!" he added.
"Me too!" chimed in little pirate.
"Very nice! That will come in very handy on your adventures."
"What's that?" asked little knight, pointing at my little gel holder that I keep on my belt. A very practical tool in a hairbraider's arsenal. Dad shot me an apologetic look. One that said, 'I'm sorry he's bothering you.' But I just shook my head and smiled. 'It's ok.'
"It's dragon snot."
"Mmm. Hmm. It helps me to braid hair."
"Could you braid my hair?"
"I don't think so. Your hair is too short to braid, even with the help of dragon snot. But maybe I could spike it up for you. Want me to try?"
He smiled from ear to ear and nodded. So I dipped my fingers into my gel, and ran my fingers vigorously through his hair. His hair was way too short for it to make a difference, but I've discovered that little boys care more about the fact that they've been infused with dragon snot, and less about the outcome of their hair.
Little pirate had been getting closer during this whole exchange. As soon as I finished with little knight's hair, I asked "Would you like dragon snot in your hair too?" Unsurprisingly, this question was met with a nod and a smile and I happily obliged.
"Did it work?" asked the little knight.
"Umm, not really."
He looked at me a little skeptically. "Do you really have a dragon?"
"Of course! We just don't let him come into the village."
"Well, for one thing, he's a little shy. Especially because he has a cold. Plus, if he sneezed, with all this straw on the ground, he might catch the village on fire. That wouldn't be good at all."
"So where is he?"
I pointed past the far shops and the big blue organ stage to the woods. "Back there."
He paused and considered what I'd said. Then to my complete surprise, this valiant little knight turned in the direction I'd pointed, squared his shoulders and shouted, "DRAGON! Show yourself!" After a moment he added, "We have pickles!" He raised his half-eaten pickle toward the woods as both evidence and offering.
Emboldened by his friend, little pirate stepped up behind him and shouted "Yeah! We have pickles!"
Sadly, our dragon was not moved to appear, even for such a tempting morsel. Little knight held his pose for a few seconds, then dropped his hand and turned and looked back toward me.
I was doing my best to keep a straight face and not dissolve into giggles. Dragons are serious business after all. Their challenge had been witnessed by everyone in a 20-ft radius though, and not all those who heard were as successful at holding back their laughter. Even Dad was grinning broadly.
"I'm sorry." I said.
He shrugged, then a grin broke across his face and he surprised me for a second time.
"En guard!" He cried. Taking up a fighting stance and raising his new sword at me. I suppose in lieu of a dragon, a hairbraider would have to do.
Little pirate was not to be left out. "En guard!" he added. Jumping to position and grinning at me from ear to ear.
What do I do now? In a moment of inspiration, I reached into our pick jar and pulled out a silver comb. "En guard!" I replied, taking up my own sword fighting stance.
And somehow a conversation about hair gel had transformed into a three-way sword fight between a knight, a pirate, and a hairbraider.
In the end, we all emerged victorious. The girls didn't end up getting braids that day, but everyone left with a smile on their face, and a little more joy in their heart. It was a reminder to always look at the world not as it is, but as it could be...with a little bit of magic (and a little bit of confidence).
"Dragon! Show yourself! We have pickles!"
I'll never forget that little boy.