One of the perks of working at the Oklahoma Ren Fair is the opportunity to camp just off the castle grounds Saturday night, for easier set-up Sunday morning. Camping! The beauty of nature! The great outdoors! The late nights spent laughing around a fire with dear friends --
"What was that?!"
-- and their young children.
"That would be a truck," I said.
In the glow of a lamp, I commiserated with the women while the men raided Walmart for snack cakes. Our feminine discussions of Ren Fair dresses and Firefly were only occasionally interrupted by Noah, age 4, the only wakeful child remaining, curled in the camp chair next to mine.
Around us, other vendors and actors camped in tents and RVs. From the parking area on the other side of a copse of trees, another vehicle engine roared. "It sounded like the dragon!" Noah protested.
A “life-sized” fiberglass dragon is one of the highlights of the Fair. I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Of course it's not the dragon," I said. "The dragon is sleeping. So should you be."
I tried to pay attention to the women’s conversation, but Noah spoke again: "What if it woke up?"
"Impossible,” I said briskly, “All dragons sleep at night."
"All night. Every night.” I focused again on the adults.
I had not completely lost the thread of a discussion of favorite quotes from Firefly. I was about to share mine (“I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.”) when Noah said, "Even robot dragons?"
"Ye- what?” Lords of Kobol, I thought. I can’t lie to a child about the inherent superiority of robots. “No,” I sighed. “Robots don't sleep, that’s what makes them so devious.” Martyrdom sucks. I wondered aloud, “Where does one even begin to find a robot dragon?”
“The basement,” Noah said.
Logical. If I had a robot dragon, that’s where I’d keep it. With all my other toys that aren’t currently working. With that in mind, I said "The batteries are probably dead. Robots get horrible battery life."
The sound of yet another vehicle roared through the trees. “Then what’s making that noise?” Noah asked, eyes wide.
“Probably just a cow,” I said.
“A monster cow?”
“No.” The mournful cry of a peacock filled the night. I had no hope of rejoining the girls’ conversation by now. I resigned myself to the topic at hand. “Where would a monster cow live anyway?”
Noah cocked his head in thought then said, “In the basement.”
“With the robot dragon? Are they roommates?”
“I'd love to see the lease agreement,” I muttered, then said, “We're nowhere near a basement. We’re in the woods. You can sleep without fear of either robot dragons or monster cows.”
Noah gasped at the sputtering of still another engine somewhere. Where were these people going at this time of night? I thought. Didn’t they know there were cows about?
“What about the real dragon?” Noah asked.
“What real dragon?” I asked, derailed by the introduction of a real dragon at this stage of the conversation.
Noah gave me the exact look my physics-educated husband gives me when I’ve missed something obvious about quantum tunneling. “If the robot dragon is in the basement, the one over there must be real,” he said.
Thinking quickly, I said, “You don’t have to worry because real dragons don't eat little boys.” Here, I realized that the girls’ conversation had stopped because they were listening intently to mine. Why were they not steering the narrative back to Firefly? “They eat sheep,” I said. “At dragon restaurants, they serve the finest woolly steaks and fuzzy stews. Lots of white fluffy things. Sheep and cauliflower. Dragons love cauliflower.”
“We should go fight the dragon!”
“Loving cauliflower is hardly a punishable offense,” I said.
“We should kill it while it’s sleeping!”
Break into the locked gate surrounding the castle grounds to fight a fictional dragon? Hell no, I thought. Out loud, I said, “That wouldn’t be chivalrous! We’ll get a good night's sleep and set out in the morning when we're refreshed.”
“But what if the dragon attacks us at night?” Noah said, as the men were returning from the store. Matt, my husband, tossed me an oatmeal cream pie.
Noah’s dad, Charley, unloaded a grocery bag into an ice chest. “Wait, what? Who’s attacking us?” he said.
“No one is attacking us,” I said to Noah, “Because your father has valiantly volunteered to set a watch on the camp. That's where he’s been all this time, scouting the terrain and making preparations. Go ahead, boys: tell him how you were bravely shoring up our defenses against nocturnal dragon attacks.”
“Sure,” said Matt around a mouthful of snack cake. “Of course that's what we were doing.”
“Okay,” Noah said. “We’ll kill the dragon in the morning.” He kissed his parents, said, “Good night,” then ducked into his tent.
In the silence that followed, Charley blinked in the lamp light. “What?” he asked.
“Dude,” Matt said, patting his shoulder. “Just let it go.”