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Princesses, Knights and ... Bacon? The Characters at Open Fields School Medieval Festival

  • Eleora Santor, 7, of Thetford, right, interacts with Prince Pepperoni, a marionette operated by Dan Baginski of the No Strings Maronette Company after the prince interupted a game of tug-of-war between Santor and Oliver Krivitzky, 7, of Norwich, middle, by walking on the rope during the Open Fields School Medieval Festival on the green in Thetford Hill, Vt., Saturday, May 27, 2017. The festival is a fund raiser for scholarships to the school during which graduates of the sixth grade class are recognized in a knighting ceremony. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Derek Williamson, of Bradford, ties a head band on for his daughter Zafina Williamson, 7, during the Open Fields School Medieval Festival on the green in Thetford Hill, Vt., Saturday, May 27, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/28/2017 12:35:23 AM
Modified: 5/28/2017 12:48:51 AM

Thetford — Moments after the girls in their slate-colored tunics finished dancing to the fiddler’s music, a tall bearded man wearing a crown and robes stood up from his throne, and commanded a youth in the crowd to come closer.

“Advance and kneel before us, kind Aidan Cronan,” said the man, with as graven a face as he could muster to match the pomp and circumstance of the occasion.

The boy, Aidan, stepped a few paces closer, and knelt on the grassy field before the man and his wife, who wore a golden dress.

Recounting the experience afterward, Aidan said he’d approached the impending royal encounter with a fair amount of trepidation.

“I was very scared about it,” the 13-year-old said, wearing a black-and-yellow herald costume while shifting his weight and pushing at his sandy hair. “I was very nervous, I mean. I had thought I was going to stutter, or that I might fall down and everyone would laugh at me.”

It was late Saturday morning at the Open Fields School Medieval Festival, held at the Thetford Green located right across Academy Road, which was lined with signs reading “No Parking: By Royal Decree.”

The annual festival helps the small private school raise about $8,500 for a scholarship fund, said Nellie Pennington, a Strafford resident who has been serving as the school director for the past six years.

Roughly 800 attendees show up each year, spending $7 to get in the door and then deciding whether to open their purse strings to buy such goods and services as a tarot reading, a candle making session or, at the “Food Court,” a $4 serving of “rat on a stick” (the skewers are sold out by 2  p.m. and smell suspiciously like chicken).

Pennington said the medieval period just has an innate allure for adults and children alike.

“I think people like to dress up,” she said. “And here we have princesses and swords and dragons.”

And many in the crowd had taken full advantage of promotional materials encouraging costumes. One man wore a 25-pound chain mail shirt made of actual interwoven metal links, while green-and-gold-clad belly dancers whirled in circles with scimitars balanced on their heads. A young prince wore a crown over Robin-Hood-green tights and a tunic, and there were various people in bodices, armor made of glittered cloth, wrinkled, loose-fitting white shirts, robes and staffs. One boy was, for no immediately obvious reason, carrying around a wooden sword while dressed as a giant piece of bacon.

They milled through a series of booths and organized activities — felting, beekeeping, labyrinths and marionettes, a kung fu demonstration, and a Highland pony to pet. An educational station about medieval forms of punishment had examples of public stocks, which seemed significantly less punishing than the medieval forms of dentistry as explained at a dentist-operated educational station across the green.

But of all the hundreds of attendees who came to the festival, only a select few had an experience like Aidan, the boy who knelt on the grass and looked up expectantly at the face of the king and queen.

“Aidan,” said the king, “thou art a gentle soul. ...Though thou feeleth most at home immersed in the natural world, thou also hast an affinity for monster trucks.”

Aidan is one of three students who are graduating out of Open Fields sixth-grade class this year. Being knighted by the king and queen — Open Fields parents Josh and Kimberly Kol — has become a rite of passage, a ceremony recognizing their competence to meet the next stage of life’s challenges.

“Thou canst put away an impressive amount of fish and chips,” said Kol. After touching Aidan lightly on the shoulder with his sword, he told Aidan to rise, under his new name of Sir Goldenheart.

“The kingdom of Open Fields shall never forget thy beneficent presence,” Kol said. Aidan smiled as the crowd clapped and cheered.

After the ceremony, Kol said that many of the kids that he’s knighted in previous years have come back to the festival to reminisce with him about the experience.

“They just feel a special connection to us,” he said. “Sometimes they’ll warn us that other kids are coming to dethrone us or attack us.”

Aidan said he also recognized it as a special experience, one which reminded him of a school that he’d enjoyed attending. Aidan’s mother, Stephanie Cronan, said the moment is bittersweet for her.

“It’s tough,” she said.

Aidan, who is wrestling with some learning disabilities, has had difficult times in other educational settings. Open Fields’ alternative approach to education — children are not broken up by age, and every student learns at his or her own pace — had helped him to achieve his potential.

“Their overriding philosophy seems to be acceptance,” she said. “It really feels like a family here.”

For Aidan, the meaning behind his new knight name seemed obvious.

“I have a big heart,” he said, with a serious expression. He was also serious about how the day’s ceremony might look when he’s an adult, thinking his way back across a chasm of decades.

“I don’t know whether I’ll remember it,” he said, glancing around at all the youthful color and energy buzzing around him. “But I hope I will.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at or 603-727-3211.

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