Watching knights of the dinner table

The Baltimore Sun

Let me begin by saying how lucky we are to live in an area where you can visit a replica of an 11th-century castle and feast on hunks of roasted chicken while knights on horseback joust and sword fight and a comely wench keeps coming up to your table and saying: "More to drink, sire?"

Until the other night, however, I had not availed myself of this particular pleasure, owing to one major factor: Tickets are $50.95 each for adults. And I'm too cheap to fork over that kind of iron for anything less than Springsteen singing while I eat.

Then Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, the company that puts on these feasting-and-fighting extravaganzas in nine cities around the country, held a "Media Night" at its sprawling Arundel Mills site to preview its new show, billed as a "spell-binding evening of royal entertainment!"

And since the term "Media Night" is generally synonymous with the term "freebie," I told the Medieval Times flack to count me in.

There are some who recoil in horror at the mention of the words "dinner theater," and if they were to sit down to a meal while men in costume were swinging battle axes and horses were thundering around, their first reaction would be: "Check, please."

But not me.

You could parade 2,000 Andalusian stallions and re-enact the entire Crusades in front of my table and I wouldn't care, as long as the food came on time and there was a full-service bar nearby, which there was.

The new show's story line involves a brave prince captured in some sort of sneak attack, and somehow he gets freed -- the details are fuzzy -- and fights a villain in a death match. The whole thing wraps up after coffee and dessert.

But mainly the show is two hours of pageantry and knights duking it out in battles that look like what you'd get if you crossed World Wrestling Entertainment with the sacking of Constantinople. And all this takes place as the "noble guests" -- the people who'd just had their VISA and MasterCard mauled for the entry fee -- are served a four-course banquet by "serfs" and "wenches."

"This is the only place you can call a lady a wench and not get slapped," said Rae Ann Cinquanto, Medieval Times' marketing manager. I made a note of that.

The Arundel Mills castle holds 1,000 "noble guests." There were about 700 on hand, many of them young kids with their parents.

We dined on garlic bread, tomato bisque soup, roasted chicken, spare ribs and herb-basted potato, all of which you have to eat with your hands, because there was no silverware back in medieval Spain.

But here's something I didn't know: Apparently they had Handi Wipes back then, because each of us received one, which really comes in handy when you're waving a drumstick in the air and bellowing for your favorite knight to bludgeon another knight.

Oh, that's another thing I should mention: You're supposed to cheer for one of the six "Knights of the Realm," depending on where you're seated in the arena.

I was seated in the red-and-yellow section, and therefore instructed to cheer for the knight wearing red and yellow, who looked very young, like the Doogie Howser of knights, to tell you the truth.

Our "serf," by the way, introduced himself as Max, but said we were to call him "Serf Maximus." He was a terrific serf, very cheerful and efficient. He called each of us "sire" or "my lady" and didn't spill a drop of soup or coffee, even while knights on Andalusian stallions were duking it out 10 feet in front of him.

He was constantly exhorting us to cheer, too.

"Give it up for the red-and-yellow guy!" he would yell.

Or: "Boo the green knight! We hate the green knight! Boooo!"

I'm not sure they actually cheered like that in the 11th century, but I would defer to Max's knowledge, which seemed vast.

Anyway, everyone seemed to have a nice time. The Andalusian stallions, who charge or prance on command, were a crowd favorite, but so was a master falconer who had his falcon swooping around the arena in tight figure-eight turns.

I was sure the falcon was going to swoop down and snatch someone's chicken drumstick and make a scene, possibly with Max beating him with his server's tray. But that didn't happen.

The highlight of the show is the climactic final scene, where the prince comes back from wherever he was being held captive and battles the nefarious green knight, and good triumphs over evil.

Then the lights come up and you tip your serfs and wenches, another thing I didn't know they did back in medieval times.

After that, you do what every noble guest did in those days after an evening of feasting and fighting: You head to the gift shop for a souvenir T-shirt or court jester's cap.

Some traditions never seem to change.

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