We've all seen movies about the Middle Ages. Renaissance fairs around the country play off of our desire to act like King Arthur. Therefore, I started wondering what would happen if someone who had no knowledge of the past except for what they'd seen at such events actually took a trip to that time period. My guess is that it wouldn't go as planned.
Clinton stepped out of the time machine and coughed. Smoke from the currents of history overloaded the circuits and nearly caused them to flame out.
"Dude, that was totally awesome!" he declared.
Steve pushed his way out of the machine and stared into the sun as more smoke cleared. "Yeah, except for almost incinerating. Other than that, totally awesome."
"Stop being such a downer," Clinton rebuked. "We made it!"
They looked around at the field they'd made it to. It was brown and green, with small piles of hay littering every 50 feet. The other thing that littered the ground was manure...a lot of it.
Steve straightened out his tunic and checked on the sword in his belt. "I hope we blend in."
"You kidding? We wear this stuff every year to the Renaissance Fair. It'll get us by until we can find more period-appropriate clothes. If nothing else, this trip will help us get better for next year."
Steve nodded and grinned. He and Clinton were graduate physics prodigies. The time machine was the culmination of their work, and it would show those stuffy professors who laughed at them a thing or two. Dr. Morris had called the pair brilliant...and flaky. It wasn't a label either took kindly to.
"Well," Clinton ventured, "shall we head into town?"
"Are we in the right year? You're sure we're near York?"
"Of course I'm sure. The temporal coordinates were spot on. It's 998 and the city should be about three miles that way." He pointed to a series of hills to their east.
"Then away we go."
Being the middle of July, the sun beat into them. Steve was thin as a rail, and Clinton was portly, but neither was in very good shape. It wasn't too long before sweat darkened the armpits of their tunics and the bold red colors turned to maroon. After a mile or so through thin woods and more fields of hay, they found a couple of ruts in the ground that indicated a road.
Panting, Clinton said, "We should follow this. I think it'll take us straight into York."
"Not much of a road," Steve observed.
"Yeah, but the main roads are probably south towards London. We can go there after we grab something to eat."
As they traipsed down the road, a small figure approached from the other direction. The man was hunched and carrying a bundle of something on his back. The man's clothes were brown and gray. As he got closer, dirt along his face was easily visible. He stared at the pair from out of time, his eyes moving from their faces to their belts and back again.
"Swence drotohb ou nied guosweord? Sy dael guocearu?"
The young men stared at each other, baffled expressions on their faces. Steve finally shrugged before turning to the man and saying, "Kind sir, can thou tellest us wherest the nearest town be?"
Now it was the other man's turn to appear baffled. He squinted at Steve and said, "Hweat beon ou segen?"
Out of the corner of his mouth, Steve said, "You have any idea what this guy is saying?"
"Not a clue," Clinton muttered. "I thought they spoke English here."
"This doesn't sound like anything we use at the fair." To the man, he pointed and simply asked, "York?"
"Gese," the man said while nodding.
The boys exchanged glances again and moved away from the peasant. Dodging the occasional patch of green and black manure, they moved closer to their destination. A stench rose from the air that clogged their nostrils, and each looked at the other as if he was trying to hold a bug with his upper lip.
After a while, they traipsed into the city of York. Or what they thought would be a city but turned out more to be a series of huts and wooden buildings that belched acrid smoke into the air.
"This is...small," Steve ventured.
"Yeah," Clinton muttered. "Where are the city walls?"
"I dunno. They ain't gonna keep out William Wallace with this kind of open space."
They crept down the dirt path that ran through the center of the city, their eyes darting back and forth to the locals who were eyeing them with a growing mix of curiosity and what can only be describde as incredulity.
"They don't seem very friendly," Clinton said out of the side of his mouth.
"We're outsiders. It's on us to engage them if we want to make friends." He sashayed over to a dirty older man tending a horse and said, "Forsooth good man. Wherest canst thy find sustenance in this fine village?"
The man's lip curlde and he stared at Steven for a second or three before replying with, "Vat dos eoel cidan ou stefan?"
Clinton wadlled over and whispered, "It's that same gobbeldy gook that dude on the road was jabbering at us."
"If you can figure out a way to talk to them, I'm all ears."
Clinton cleared his throat and said, "We seek a hearty meal good peasant. Kindly make way for our rumbling bellies, if thou wouldest be of such nature."
"Ou ar sott," the man replied.
Turning back to Steve, Clinton said, "Man, I ain't leaving here until I get to chow down on a turkey leg or mutton shank." He turned back to the man and started motioning to his mouth with his hands. Although he still regarding the pair with wary eyes, the old man finally pointed across the way to a rickety wooden building with a horse post out front.
"That's gotta be where the grub is," Clinton said.
"Sure as heck hope so."
The pair sauntered across the road as the eyes of everyone in the street followed them. As they reached the tavern, Steve pulled hard on the door, which creaked as he yanked on it. Inside sunlight flooded the room, along with a stifling heat and rancid stench that hit the pair.
"Wow, you think they'd open a window," Clinton said.
"Or throw out whatever died," Steve said as he swiped at the air. The flies were everywhere.
There were only a few people in the tavern. Three looked up at Steve and Clinton as they came in, while two others stayed hunched over their bowls. The pair from out of time selected a long wooden table and sat down. Before long, a small boy of seven or eight came over.
"Ou fadung, leof?"
Steve had given up by this point in trying out his renaissance fair speech and instead pointed to one of the bowls close by. Clinton, on the other hand, made a motion like he was eating a turkey leg and ripping the flesh from the bone. The little boy furrowed his tiny brow at the portly man before heading off.
"See, they finally get it," Clinton said.
However, he didn't act very pleasant when the bowls arrived. Both he and Steve got small wooden bowls of a milky white paste with a few bean sprouts sticking from it. On the side were a pair of wooden mugs containing water that looked like it had been fished from a porta-pottie.
"Oh my god!" Clinton exclaimed. "It smells like a toilet. Where's my mutton?" He glared at the boy and made the same gesture as before.
The boy, however, just stared back at him before declaring, "Dael sy naut aet." The boy then stormed off.
"I think you should eat it. They might be insulted."
"I want my genuine medieval mutton shank or turkey leg!"
"I get the feeling they may not have it. Look around - you see anyone eating meat?"
Sure enough, when the pair looked around the tiny room, no one had anything but the bowl of paste and a mug of liquid. Steve grabbed at the tiny spoon and scooped up some of the porridge. "Bottoms up!"
No sooner had it touched his tongue than he gagged. After another effort, he finally managed to get some down his throat. "It tastes like wallpaper paste," he declared.
"I don't normally drink, but I could use a beer over this toilet water." No sooner had Clinton made the statement than the boy reappeared with another mug. The smell was still strong, but it was much more palatable than the water he had before.
Clinton picked up the mug and hesitated before finally slamming down a couple of gulps. The bitter taste nearly forced his eyes from his sockets, and he coughed loudly, much to the delight of the boy.
"Glad to see we're entertaining," Clinton said.
Steve was nearly finished with his porridge by this time, even though his stomach was clenching. The boy appeared again at tableside and said, "Seofon scillingrin."
"I think he's asking for money," Steve said.
"Probably. Good thing we came prepared." Clinton pulled out a tiny gold bar they'd saved up for this occasion. He knew everyone here would love the gold.
The boy, on the other hand, just stared at it. "Bes nawiht! Faeder!"
Another second ewnt by and a man with a scruffy beard and tan shirt appeared. "Baecern sy min feoh?"
"Uh, I don't think they like the gold," Steve said, his voice clenching with both nervousness and something in his gut."
"Don't be absurd. Gold is universal."
But the man turned to his son and said, "Sib feccan se staeller." And the boy disappeared again.
Steve's stomach rumbled loudly enough to be heard across the bar, and he soon doubled over. Clinton rushed to his side when the tavern door opened and a rugged looking man wearing a helmet walked in. He looked at the pair and asked, "Forhwy ou inca guosweord?"
When Clinton just stared at him, the man soon grabbed Clinton by the scruff of the neck and picked him up. He did the same to Steve, but when he did, Steve let loose with a fart that Clinton thought could be heard in London, a sound that greatly amused the man.
"Oferlad carcern," the man chuckled.
Neither Steve nor Clinton had any idea what was happening, but the catcalls of the patrons at the tavern told them they weren't welcome. Steve continued to fart the whole way out, and Clinton followed out of nothing but instinct. His heart fell when he saw the iron bars of the local jail.
Tossed inside a dirt floor cell with straw in the corner, Steve continued to stay doubled over and began to groan. Just as the cell door shut, Clinton said, "I guess we shouldn't have gotten our history from the renaissance fair.