Author's Note:  This story is copyright to me.  Please do not use it without my permission.  All constructive criticism is happily welcomed.  If you find anything lacking, please do not hesitate to tell me, and I will try to address it.  On the other hand, if you love it, please tell me that too.  Enjoy!

Rena Sinclair's fingers beat out the pulsing rhythm of the lively medieval estampie that played loudly over the CD system of her silver Taurus as she drove down the desolate country highway; winding past cows lazing in their fields, barely visible in the heavy morning fog of the river valley, and the occasional house with two or three ancient cars, in various stages of rust, parked out front.

The track finished and she hit the back button on the dash, starting the estampie again, listening intently to the complex trills and runs of the recorder part.  In just a few hours she would have to play that very tune, and the tricky fingerings were still giving her fits.  No matter how many times she practiced it, first at half time, then picking up speed with each pass, as soon as she got close to performance tempo, it was as if her normally competent fingers became webbed, incapable of cleanly hitting the holes on her beautiful new boxwood recorder.

What a gorgeous instrument it was.  A warm orangey red, only two pieces, instead of the more standard three of baroque instruments.  It had been a present for her twenty-first birthday, and she couldn't have been happier.  Her old instrument, a decent one, to be sure, was finicky.  If played for too long, the condensation in the bore hollowed out the sound to the point where it was like blowing through a dense fog.  Outdoor performance only exacerbated the problem, and since most of her performance was indeed outdoors, it had been a growing frustration.

Not this year, she thought fiercely.  This year is going to be different.

For the past five summers she had worked as a minstrel at the Canterbury Village Medieval Faire.  She had been only sixteen years old when she started, wide eyed with excitement at the idea of dressing up in beautiful gowns, playing music and actually getting paid for it, and hoping to catch the eye of one of the actors.

Once the summer actually began, her eager enthusiasm began to wane.  The beautiful dresses turned out to be much simpler than she had been expecting.  What she had seen in her daydreams were the fancy corseted Elizabethan creations, frilly with lace, made of sumptuous materials, lots of petticoats.  Canterbury Village, however, was set in the mid-1300's, well before such finery came around.  As a minstrel, her garb could not be as rich as that of the Lords and Ladies.  She would not have had enough wealth for velvet or brocade.

Instead, her costume consisted of a simple linen underdress, much like a fitted nightgown, with long tapered sleeves, and an overdress that was in the style dubbed "gates of hell".  From the shoulder, the arm opening was wide all the way to the middle of her hips, leaving open to view the contours of her waist, which were accentuated by a thin rope tied about the underdress, with a pouch hanging from the ends, outside the overdress.

After getting over her initial disappointment, Rena had been forced to admit that it really was for the best.  As the summer sun pounded down upon them, with little place to hide, she realized that she would have fainted dead away with heat exhaustion in the Renn Faire dresses that many of the guests wore.  Not only did she play three shows a day, her small ensemble, Soleil de Matin, also led dancing in the Village Square three times daily.

Especially difficult was the dancing set at one-thirty, after the tournament.  The sun was so high in the sky that not a drop of shade fell over the Square, and as she shouted out the steps, leading the guests in circles and long lines, she felt that she would melt clean away.  Her underdress was a deep navy blue, which served to attract the heat and hold it tight against her body.  In fact, the part of her that was doubly covered by the paler periwinkle of her overdress was actually cooler than her arms and sides, where the sun had full access to the dark color.

Rena again became aware of the road as her turn approached, marked by a small sandwich board, with the name Canterbury Village Medieval Faire, and an arrow pointing left.  The first year she had come out it had taken her three tries to find the place.  The signage got better with each subsequent summer.

Not a soul was in the oncoming lane as far as she could see, so she hardly slowed as she swung onto the road that led up out of the river valley, towards the wooded area where the Faire was situated.

With frustration, Rena realized that her CD was now two whole tracks ahead, and she jabbed her finger into the back button.  If she couldn't focus on the blasted estampie, then there was no way she was going to be able to play it well by the time the Faire opened its gates just before noon.

She was quite early, even for a performer.  It was only eight-thirty.  Ginny and Noel wouldn't be coming until ten, and since Ginny had all the instruments that would need tuning, Rena would have little to do but get dressed and practice until her friends arrived.

Five years!  And this was the first time that she had truly taken the time to put in extra practice.  For all of the previous seasons Soleil de Matin had gotten by on a moderate amount of skill and Ginny's engaging personality.  Noel and Rena provided a foil for Ginny's comedic banter, looking exaggeratedly sheepish when they made a mistake, allowing their friend to make scathing, hilarious comments about them to the audience, playing up their humor rather than their competence.

It had been very successful.  The crowd always loved them, and they were easily the most popular of the musical acts at the Faire.  Still, Rena had finally been bitten by the bug of guilt and she had practiced faithfully, almost religiously, for the past three months.  Ginny and Noel were startled by her newfound fervor, but they smilingly gave her more of the lead parts on the songs, encouraging her to better herself and to tag along for the ride.

As she drove the Taurus higher up the hillside the heavy mist lifted, revealing the startling beauty of the country.  Maple trees mingled with the more prevalent pine and cedar, just allowing the morning sun to filter down in dappled beams, flashing brightly across Rena's windshield.

A broad smile split her face, as she drank in her surroundings.  Truly, the scenery was one of the reasons she kept coming back.  The scenery, and that little part of her that had never given up her childish longing to be a princess.  Working at Canterbury Village allowed her to come close to living that dream.  True, the work was surprisingly exhausting, and the commute was long, but while she was there, she was in a different world.  Polite conversation was the rule, with every person deserving of a title when addressed.  She would never tire of being called Lady Rowena.  Rowena was, in fact, her given name, but it felt so out of place in the real world that she kept it shortened, not wanting to be any more conspicuous than she already was.

At five feet four inches she was short, but not as short as many.  Still, her sparrow thin bones made her look much smaller than she was.  The number of times she was still mistaken for a child frustrated her to no end.  Her body was that of a woman, so why did nobody seem to notice, until she let her hair down?

Her hair was an unusual color.  Indoors, or on cloudy days it was a simple dark brown, deep enough to not be boring, but nothing spectacular.  However, when in direct sunlight, bright copper strands caught the light, glinting it back in highlights of fiery red.  It was not fine.  In fact, the strands were so thick and coarse that they felt to her almost like a brillo pad, but what it lacked in softness it made up for with its enthusiastic body and volume.  Left to its own devices it fell in large, heavy waves over shoulders and down to her mid-back.  Rena swore that she looked like a Barbie doll and felt ridiculous, so she usually wore it in a long tight braid down her back.  Only at Canterbury Village did she wear it down, with a chaplet of wildflowers laid over her brow.

To complete her unusual appearance, her eyes were a deep midnight blue, resting in a small face.  Her chin came to a point and her cheekbones were high, leaving room for her slow, broad smile.  Her eyebrows and lashes were almost black, and the brows arched high, giving her a wide-eyed, innocent look.

Ginny and Noel teased her incessantly about her less than standard appearance.  "You look like an elf or something," Ginny had laughed.  "Are you sure you don't have pointy ears?"

Rena pretended to laugh along with them, but she truly was uncomfortable with her appearance.  Any time she allowed her hair loose she was approached by men, intent on "getting to know her better."  Canterbury was the only place that she felt safe.  There were very strict rules of courtly conduct in the Middle Ages, and she knew that no one would be able to take advantage of her there.

In her five years, she had made firm friends among the staff.  Many of the vendors returned each year, along with a few actors, although they tended to rotate through more quickly.  There were other musicians as well, but there was little chance to socialize with them, since they were usually playing when the others were on break, and vice-versa.

With a smile, Rena thought back on the previous year when a particularly drunken lout had cornered her against the back exterior wall of the scribe shop, his hands on the daub walls around her shoulders, trying to "kiss the sweetest mouth in merry England."

Rod, the sword-maker had strolled by, one of his broadswords in hand, and asked, "Is anything amiss, Lady Rowena?"

The drunk had looked up to see who was speaking and the blood rushed from him face.  Rod was indeed impressive.  He was not as tall as some, but his shoulders were broad from the forge, and his long blonde hair falling down his back did nothing to counteract the air of strength and power that went with him.  The broadsword was the last straw, although, of course, Rod would never use it, and the drunk had staggered off, muttering under his breath.

Rena wondered whether Rod would be back.  He had not been there her first year, but had been for every subsequent summer.  Well, she would find out soon enough, as well as what sort of actors were cast in the roles this year.  Flipping her left blinker, she turned off the road and under the green and yellow pennons of the Canterbury Village main gate.