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Fantasy festival delights for second year

The charming trio known as Chaste Treasure entertains the audience as they conduct the Best Beard Contest on Saturday afternoon at the second annual Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival.

From pirates and peasants to fairies and gentlefolk from the days of legend and lore, hundreds came from every direction to be a part of the second Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival last weekend.

Music, comedy, contests and centuries-old crafts such as soap making, glass blowing, inkle weaving and historic cooking provided plenty of entertainment and educational opportunities for those in attendance.

The three-day event saw numerous big yellow buses, vans and cars arrive with students, teachers and parents for Friday’s inaugural School Day.

Several eager youngsters gathered around North Carolina potter Kara Wright’s table on Friday morning, learning about the craft of hand-built pottery and how the dried clay is glazed and fired in a kiln “to keep it from crumbling to dust.”

This was Wright’s first event of this type, and she admitted she didn’t quite know what to expect from the experience.

“I think it turned out amazing. Everyone was so kind and hospitable,  and the patrons were fun to meet and talk to,” Wright said.

Monroeville resident Ginny Bordeaux, who took on the identity of elf Rehn Sagewind for the faire, assisted Wright with the visiting students.

“I am a volunteer member of the hospitality guild here in the Kingdom of Dragon Croft—that means I roam from place to place, making sure all the vendors and guests are taken care of,” Bordeaux explained.

Bordeaux said Friday’s School Day might have been the most rewarding of this year’s festival experience for her. “I loved interacting with all the guests—and I had as much fun, if not more than the children did!”

One of the most popular events at ALMFF was the jousting, with a large number of visitors from all ages crowding the embankment above the field before each scheduled tournament. The onlookers were divided into two groups, with each group encouraged to cheer on their assigned knight before and during the joust. The performers engage in tongue-in-cheek banter with their audience before and after the competition.

One of the knights, known as Sir Christopher, came up to meet his fans and pose for photos after the event. The knight, who was unseated by his opponent during the Saturday afternoon joust, admitted one of the toughest parts of playing the role is the historically correct costume. The performers wear an extra 80 pounds of battle armor while riding on horseback and wielding a jousting stick.

They also participate in mock sword fights, with the metallic clang of weapon striking weapon ringing through the green hills and dales. “And then add in the 15 pounds of the helmet—yeah, there really is a lot of weight concentrated on my head and shoulders,” Sir Christopher explained.

Visitors got the chance to test their own strength and agility with knife and ax throwing, show off their hirsute faces during the Best Beard Contest, satisfy their appetites with huge pretzels carried on long poles by costumed vendors, and to query the many musicians scattered throughout the site about favorite songs and the history of their instruments.

There were fairy teas, opportunities to serve as ladies-in-waiting to the queen and chances for young squires to be knighted. For shoppers, there was a plethora of possibilities: everything from hand-crafted soaps and pretty parasols to custom-made weapons, chain mail and complete period and fantasy outfits.

And there were plenty of eye-catching costumes displayed by volunteers and visitors, including the one created by Asheville, North Carolina’s Ty Baka. Baka says is a DIY kind of girl when it comes to her fantasy garb, which included a multi-hued wool wig and professional level makeup.

“I’ve always been inspired by fantasy creatures and magical worlds. My parents raised me with a lot of dragons and fairies around the house,” Baka said.

“I made my wig myself through felting raw wool together and dying it with Kool-Aid. I’ve been practicing makeup for about 10 years and the fantasy makeup I’ve focused on the last couple of years.”

As for her dress, accessories and shoes—“those are largely hand-me-downs from my mother and friends. I am super thrifty . . . I find having a small budget really encourages your creativity muscles to grow strong.”

Ginny Boudreaux, who first learned about the festival last February through a friend, says she is absolutely thrilled to have a faire so close to her own hometown.

“I hope to next year see more local (and not-so-local) members of the community become involved with the festival as volunteers. Before festival’s end we began collecting lists of suggestions and improvements that will make the Kingdom of Dragon Croft an even better experience for everyone,” Boudreaux said. “We would like to encourage anyone who has a suggestion or is interesting in volunteering to reach out to us at www.almff.com or at our Facebook page.”