Penny likes being a wench. She’s not adhering as closely to the original costumes of the period as she could be (Leonard burned all of his linen pillowcases), but she’s getting a lot of attention, which she likes. Sheldon keeps shooting jealous glances her way, which she really likes.
Every time Leonard sees a look pass between them he seems a little more confused, but then he’s almost as confused by Raj and Amy (sharing a corn dog) and Howard and Bernadette (married two months and neither of them dead or begging for divorce).
They haven’t done too bad a job of getting used to each other again. Leonard is living in Howard and Bernadette’s spare room now he’s home from India, which is not the most ideal of situations, but he can’t move back in with Sheldon, and Raj is over at Amy’s—and the two are still in the overly demonstrative early stage of their relationship—often enough that taking her spare room isn’t an option. Penny thinks it’s enough of a step forward that Leonard can talk to her about it instead of avoiding her.
For the sake of making sure that the girls don’t get dragged off to anybody’s cave (“because some people regress further than the medieval era”, Sheldon sniffs), all of them stick together, contrary to the guys’ usual M.O. of looking at their favorite parts of the Faire first.
After a couple of heated rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, they end up at the light armored fighting first.
“I want to hit people with sticks,” Penny breathes in awe, standing right up against the barrier between the arena and the crowd.
Sheldon shakes his head, but he’s smiling. “You’re not hitting anyone with sticks,” he says, and Penny pouts, and they both laugh.
Howard joins them, looking a little rattled. “Bernie wants to learn light fighting.”
“See?” Penny says triumphantly. “Bernadette and I can learn together.”
Sheldon and Howard exchange a Look. Penny can see that it’s a listen-to-the-silly-girls Look and briefly wants to smack them both, but it’s a rare moment when Sheldon and Howard are on the same wavelength, so she leaves them be.
Ten minutes later she has a leather breastplate on over her dress, leather arm things strapped to her forearms, and a brawny woman coaching her on the best way to swing her stick. Across from her, Bernadette is wielding her own stick and has similar armor on over her court jester costume (Penny needs to have a word with her about that).
Raj is eating popcorn and sharing it with Amy. Both of them seem to take great delight in sharing food just to make Sheldon twitch. Howard’s biting his lip nervously; they usually start beginners out with Nerf weapons, but Penny insisted and Bernadette backed her up on the sticks. And Sheldon—
Sheldon is waving her over to him. He’s torn a ragged strip off the sleeve of his carefully made monk’s robe, and ties it around her upper arm.
“A knight traditionally wears his lady’s colors into battle. In this day and age of creative anachronism, I suppose it can work the other way around.”
Penny leans over the barrier to plant a fairly chaste kiss square on his lips. Howard whoops at them lasciviously. “Aren’t you worried about your vow of celibacy?” she asks, lifting the cross around his neck and running the beads through her fingers. “People might get ideas.”
Sheldon goes pink. “Let them,” he says softly.
Penny grins and goes to meet her doom.
Bernadette fights well—and dirty. She’s got a way of jabbing her stick at Penny’s legs that throws Penny off-balance. But Penny’s determined to win, and she manages to score the first touch on Bernadette’s upper left arm, meaning that Bernadette has to fight one-handed.
They circle and circle and Penny can feel herself overheating under the armor. She wishes she didn’t have to wear it. Finally Bernadette scores a touch on her, sweeping her stick into Penny’s stomach when Penny’s just a little too slow to block her, and Penny’s grateful for the armor after all. The way Bernadette grins ferociously at her, she looks like a tiny Amazon. She gets in a second blow to Penny’s thigh while Penny’s still reeling. Penny’s hopping now, and as she turns to retaliate she sees tears of laughter streaming down Leonard’s cheeks.
She gets a second hit in, and Bernadette’s forced to fight doubled over. The next touch will end the bout, and Penny’s not good at losing.
The problem is her damn skirt. It’s really in the way as she hops. Bernadette’s grinning as if she’s convinced that she’s already won; jester’s tights are a lot easier to maneuver in.
Penny glances down at the strip of cloth tied around her arm and goes for it, pressing Bernadette with a flurry of blows that Bernadette can’t do anything but try to block. Howard’s screaming Bernadette’s name and jumping up and down. Sheldon’s leaning as far forward as he can over the barrier, even though the marshals keep trying to shoo him back.
Bernadette rallies and starts going after Penny’s one good leg. Penny side-hops, lets the swing go by, almost falls, and brings her own stick down on Bernadette’s right shoulder. Bernadette drops her stick and starts pretending that there’s blood spurting out of her arm before she falls to the ground to “die”. Maybe she should be the actress.
While the crowd are cheering and laughing, Penny gratefully puts her foot on the ground and then goes to jump the barrier, never mind the gate. Sheldon’s there to lift her over; he helps her and then holds her, kissing her harder than he’s ever kissed her in public before. They’ve been taking it so slowly that even the brief lick of his tongue between her lips is enough to send a rush of desire through her.
“Wow!” she says when the kiss is over, and she’s not talking about winning the fight.
“Yes,” Sheldon says, and he might or might not mean her win. She thinks maybe he means both. He helps her unbuckle the breastplate and arm coverings; she feels as if she’s being stripped bare, and shivers. She can’t help but notice that although Amy and Bernadette are staring at them and whispering, Raj and Leonard are pointedly looking away. (Howard, being Howard, is leering.)
She gets awarded a glittery plastic medal, which she hangs around her neck. It keeps tumbling down between her breasts, poking her wenchy cleavage.
“I need a drink,” Bernadette says, brushing dirt off her tights.
Penny would prefer a shower, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. She slings an arm around Bernadette’s shoulders. “To the tavern!”
“The tavern!” the others echo. Even Sheldon.
The tavern is a messy complex of tents and tarps, a barbecue cooking burgers off to one side and numerous hay bales to sit on at long trestle tables. Penny and Bernadette go to get drinks while the others claim space to sit.
As they approach the bar—more trestle tables—Penny hears a yelp of recognition in a familiar voice.
Ky gets a look of admonishment from her mobcapped supervisor when she ducks under the “bar” to come out and hug Penny.
“Anna, I’m going on my break,” she announces.
Anna just nods curtly at this, but when Ky shoves her sleeves up and starts loading plastic cups of ale and cider onto a tray, she can’t hold her tongue any longer. “Kyla, a real lady does not show her forearms!”
“A real lady doesn’t tend bar, either,” Ky grins, handing off one tray to Penny while Bernadette, attempting to look as though she has nothing to do with this social scandal, pays for the drinks.
They squeeze onto the benches and hand the drinks around. Penny’s really starting to feel gross and sweaty from her fighting bout, but the homemade cider helps; she presses the cup to her forehead to let the condensation cool it and feels the drops running down her face. Bernadette copies her. Howard, in a typical ultra-classy Wolowitz move, pops an ice cube in his mouth to suck the ale off it and then drops it into Bernadette’s cleavage.
“What’s next?” Amy asks. “There’s meant to be archery later this afternoon. I think that would be interesting.”
“You guys should totally come to dance,” Ky says. “There’s exhibition stuff happening in the evening but they run classes during the day.” She flicks a glance over at Anna, who is studiously ignoring her. “I bet I can get away and come with you. It’s a lot of fun.”
Penny pulls at her dress and makes a face. “I’m already boiling.”
“Oh, no problem, I can find you something else to wear, I brought extra.”
“What about me?” Bernadette is decidedly not Penny or Ky sized.
“There’s always something. Besides, this way you two won’t frighten small children.”
Well, at least that saves Penny the task of finding a tactful way of telling Bernadette and Howard that matching court jester costumes were a bad idea.
Penny and Bernadette change costumes first before the group make a move for the archery field. Ky has her own tent set up and sneaks the two of them in through the back, because out the front she has a sign up declaring that the fortune teller will return in five minutes.
“You’ve been away more than five minutes already,” Bernadette says, stripping off her tights and sighing with relief.
“Yeah, but it’s way easier to get a spot if I have a stall than if I say ‘hey, guys, I just want room for my big-ass tent’,” Ky explains, tossing a bundle of green cloth at Penny and blue at Bernadette. “I’m also the unofficial spare costumes person.”
“Convenient,” Penny says, pulling her dress off and fanning herself. The dress Ky has given her is mostly satin, a dancing dress if she’s ever seen one, with a neckline that definitely means she’s going to retain her status as a wench. Ky has never been subtle about her hints. She puts it on and then helps Bernadette into a smaller blue variant on the same dress that has beautiful hand-embroidered cuffs and hem, Celtic knots that repeat around to join up with themselves.
There’s a decidedly anachronistic message bleep from somewhere in Ky’s costume and she pulls her phone out of the little bag hanging from her belt. “See,” she says. “Get decent, ladies; one of the heavy fighters split his trousers and needs a replacement.” She starts looking through the heap of clothes that take up about a quarter of the tent. “I may have to skip the dancing, but you guys have fun.”
“What about our stuff?” Bernadette eyes her stack of sweaty jester costume.
“In your case? There’s a bonfire at sunset. That is cotton, right?”
The archery is impressive, but doesn’t move Penny to try it the way the fighting did. Apart from anything else she doesn’t want to pester Ky for another change of clothing. As well as that, she sees what happens when one of the beginning archers angles the bowstring just that little bit wrong and ends up with it scraping along her arm; the face the woman makes is more than enough to convince her not to bother.
To her surprise, Sheldon and Leonard both step up to the mark with a group of others, borrowed bows in hand, and take aim at the targets. Someone yells for the field to be cleared, and then for the group to take their first shots. Leonard’s arrow lands solidly in the third circle from the center; Sheldon’s, on the line between second and third. They both step back to the next mark when asked.
“What, did you think all we did was eat?” Raj asks when Penny gives him a raised eyebrow. She raises the other eyebrow, this time at the cup of popcorn in his hand, and he just grins at her. Considering he’s holding Amy’s hand with the hand not holding the popcorn (how does that even work when it’s time to eat it?) and they’re all out together for once, she can’t blame him for being happy, even if she is a little bit jealous that Amy has someone so free with his affections and she herself has a man who’s even dressed as a celibate monk.
Leonard’s second shot goes wide of the target and he’s out of the competition. Sheldon’s arrow barely sticks in the second circle; he’s still in, and Penny sees him bite his lip.
“I didn’t know all that practice on the Wii would be so useful,” she says with a laugh when Leonard joins them, shaking his head.
Leonard steals some of Raj’s popcorn. “Not every Sunday’s paintballing.”
“Yeah. Sheldon’s determined to make sure we’re prepared for any eventuality. He’s probably painted escape routes in your apartment by now.”
“Shut up for a second, you guys.” There are only six people ranged along the line marked on the ground now. The targets seem an impossible distance away. What the hell is Raj talking about, painting escape routes? There’s only one way out of her apartment, unless she goes out of a window.
The call goes up for the archers to loose their arrows, bringing her back to what is currently reality. Penny watches as the six arrows thunk solidly into the wooden targets.
Sheldon’s out. By an inch.
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Penny says when he rejoins them.
“I just need to practice more.” It’s the most blasé she’s seen him about anything ever, but she can imagine that the next time he’s able to he’ll be out shooting arrow after arrow into a real target or a Wii target.
Despite saying he’s all right, he still seems annoyed as they make their way toward the dance pavilion. The entire faire resonates with music from flautists and pipers and lute-players, but the dance pavilion is where it all comes together, the very best musicians taking turns to keep the dancers moving on the wide wooden floor.
“We can go home, if you want,” she says to him softly.
Sheldon looks down at her. “I think you’ll like this part,” is all he says in response.
The dancing is complicated. The funny thing is that the music doesn’t seem half as hard as the steps that go with it. The two of them sit on the sidelines just watching for a little while as Sheldon explains the different kinds of steps, most of which seem to be accelerated and done sideways during this particular dance. The eight dancers doing it move without a misstep, but Penny thinks she lacks the ability to not step on someone’s foot, and says so.
“This is a more advanced dance,” Sheldon says. “And besides, your spatial coordination is excellent from waitressing. I know you never spilt a drink on anyone unless you meant it.”
(She can’t exactly admit that that’s solid truth.)
The dance finishes, the dancers doing a last bow or curtsy before two of them just flop onto the floor and all eight of them start laughing.
“I hate Newcastle so much,” one of the two on the floor, a brunette woman wearing blue, says. She flaps at her face with her trailing bell-sleeve.
“You did fine,” the others hasten to reassure her.
“That was amazing,” Penny chimes in from her seat, and the woman turns to look at her.
“Hey, thanks.” She looks at Sheldon and smiles. “You haven’t been here before, but he has... new girlfriend?”
“Yeah, that,” Penny says. “Are all of the dances as hard as that?”
“Nah.” The woman scrambles off the floor and holds out her hand. “Mary.”
“Penny.” They shake.
“Excuse me,” Sheldon breaks in, “but I was going to teach her.”
“Oh, sure, no problem. Let me go tell Etienne there’re newbies and we can do a basse danse or a pavane or something.” Mary hurries over to the end of the dance floor, where the musicians are having a tuning break, and speaks briefly to them.
“A what or a what?” Penny asks.
“Just follow us,” Raj says, already on his feet with Amy beside him.
“Does Amy know what she’s doing?” Sheldon asks.
“We’ve been practicing,” Raj says smugly.
“I’ll bet that’s not all you’ve been practicing,” Penny says for the sake of making the pair of them blush.
Howard and Bernadette fall in behind Sheldon and Penny, and Mary sizes up the situation with a glance before offering her hand to Leonard, who takes it. They move to the front of the line. A couple of the other dancers line up behind Howard and Bernadette, but most of them are happy to sit one out to recover. Penny sees cups of water and bottles of beer circulating along the benches.
“I asked Etienne for a very basic basse dance, which is from Italy—the one we just did was from England. This one’s really slow and elegant, and it also gives the dancers an opportunity to check out who else is in the room, because you really don’t have to think about what your feet are doing, so you can look and see if the lady who slapped you last week is here again,” Mary says.
“Does that happen a lot?” Penny asks, intrigued.
“Sometimes,” Howard mumbles from behind her. “The other name for it's a pavane. I didn't realize it didn't mean 'perve-on'.”
Despite what Mary said about the dance being super easy, Penny does have to focus on her feet for the first few repetitions. But after that she finds it’s not nearly as difficult as she thought. Apart from anything else, she’s not carrying four dinner plates and worrying about falling over wayward toddlers.
When she does get the nerve up to look anywhere but down at the wood under her feet, she studies the faces of her friends. Leonard has quit giving her and Sheldon weird looks, smiling at Mary as they step out and in to meet again. Raj and Amy clearly have been practicing, because they’re looking at each other. Howard’s eyes are wandering; Bernadette looks like she might be the lady who slaps him this week.
And Sheldon... Sheldon is looking at her, and in this he’s graceful, in a way he never quite manages in daily life, monk’s robe or not.
“Cotillion when I was a child,” he says without her asking. “The body has a way of remembering.”
The dance goes on for a little while, enough for them to do two full circuits of the dance floor and for Penny to get used to the slow stately movement and not trip over her dress. Then the music flourishes and ends, Mary hisses, “Révérence!” down the line, and Penny catches on in time to dip into a curtsy as Sheldon bows to her.
“We’ll follow that up with Goddesses,” Etienne announces. “Anyone not dancing, please clear the floor. Tybalt will call the dance.”
“Tybalt?” Penny whispers to Sheldon.
“A lot of people adopt a different persona for the faire, and that includes a new name.”
“You never told me that!” Penny thumps his arm. “Do you have one?”
“Do you really think I need a more medieval-sounding name than ‘Sheldon’?”
“That’s true,” Penny concedes.
She realizes belatedly that they have not in fact cleared the floor as Amy reaches out to pull her into the line of women that’s formed. They face their male partners across the floor.
“I apologize in advance for the Renaissance period’s innate gender binarism,” Tybalt says. “Ladies and gentlemen, Goddesses.”
The band strikes up a lively tune, led by the pipers, and Tybalt calls out the instructions without disrupting the music. Mary and Leonard lead them in steps up and down the floor. Penny’s about to ask how this is different to the basse dance apart from being a little faster when Sheldon drops her hand and follows Raj as the guys circle around the girls. Then she’s following Amy as Tybalt calls, “Ladies, circle your gentlemen.”
The next bit’s even weirder because the guys hold hands and do a little dance in a circle by themselves, Tybalt calling, “Slips left, gentlemen... slips right, gentlemen.” She can see how Sheldon kind of shuffles his feet instead of taking a full step, although that’s probably not fair and if she tells him he looked like he was shuffling she’ll be, like, exiled or something.
Then Amy and Bernadette are pulling her into a circle with Mary and they do the same shuffling steps, left then right.
“One circle, please, slips left,” Tybalt calls, and their circle joins back up with the guys and Penny’s feet are doing what Tybalt says even though her brain is basically going what the fuck? “Slips right... looking good!” He says this just as Amy does an extra slip left and elbows Penny in the ribs.
“Sorry,” Amy says.
“It’s okay,” Penny says. “Were you practicing something else with Raj instead of slips?”
Amy just goes pink and smiles slightly.
“Now, hey for the gentlemen!” Tybalt makes a hand gesture and the guys break off into their own line again and weave around each other and hell, she’s not sure she can do that even if she is getting used to this, and what the fuck did Tybalt call it?
“Hey for the ladies!”
They would totally fuck it up if not for having watched the guys and for having Mary lead them. She’s patient and doesn’t yell when Penny crosses around Bernadette the wrong way and collides with her, although she does look like she wants to laugh. Like anything else, though, it’s rude to laugh at the newbies. Probably even more so at any venue that has so many weapons, fake or otherwise, lying around.
“Double hey, ladies and gentlemen!” Tybalt’s sweating even though he’s not the one dancing; she notices his gleaming forehead before she gets swept into the double hey, which turns out to be all of them doing the weaving around each other thing, and she’s not sure if it’s awesome to be doing this with friends who won’t care if she screws up, or totally mortifying.
After that it’s a relief when he says, “Final cast off, everyone,” because final means it’s the end. Penny walks behind Amy; they circle round back into the original line, and Sheldon takes her hand, dropping to one knee along with the other guys in a fancier révérence than the first. Penny flares her skirt out with her free hand, dipping a curtsy, and feels Sheldon’s lips on the back of her hand.
There’s a moment of silence as the band stops playing, and then a round of applause from the people seated around the dance floor. Mary beams a wide, wide smile at all of them, as if she did all the teaching by herself. One of the band members shakes a tambourine at them.
“Wasn’t that fun?” Sheldon enthuses, standing up.
“I think I need a drink,” Penny says, wobbling to the nearest bench and flopping on it. While she was moving it was easier to disregard the heat, but now she’s stopped she feels like sweat just simultaneously popped out of all her pores.
“Are you all right? You’re not going to pass out, are you?” Mary kneels beside her and takes her hand, checking her pulse.
“Why? Do you have to get me a fainting couch?”
“No, doll, I’m one of the first aid officers on site.”
“Just water,” Penny says, but Sheldon’s already bringing it.
The dancing continues, and Amy and Raj do a lot of it, but Penny stays on the sidelines for the rest of the time they spend there, drinking a lot of water. Sheldon sits beside her, arm along the back of the bench behind her, fingertips on her shoulder. Howard and Bernadette come and go; at one point Bernadette takes Leonard out to dance to give Howard a break.
“A break from stepping on my toes,” she adds.
“I only do it because you don’t know where to put your feet!” Howard retorts. To her back. Quietly.
“Have you had fun?” Sheldon asks Penny again after she’s had time to catch her breath.
“Yeah, I have.” Now that she can breathe again. And to think she’s only danced in this dress. It’s not like she’s gone through a whole day in it. She is so looking forward to going home and putting on yoga pants and a t-shirt.
“Do you want to stay for the bonfire?”
“Honestly, Sheldon, I’m kind of tired.”
He doesn’t complain or even pout. He just says, “Howard, we’re heading home,” and Howard nods, his attention fixed on Bernadette.
They retrace their steps back to the car park via Ky’s costume tent, where Penny looks at her sweaty wench outfit, looks at her sweaty dance outfit, and elects to stay in what she’s wearing.
They drop in to the tavern so she can let Ky know she’s borrowing the dress to go home in, but Ky’s not there, so Penny leaves a message with Anna, resolving to text Ky herself when they get back to her car and her phone. She still can’t quite believe that she let Sheldon talk her into leaving the phone in the car, but she’s also sure that Ky wasn’t the only one who had a phone, and Mary explained to her that the first aid officers carry phones and walkie-talkies, opening the little round bag tied at her waist to show off a conglomeration of electronics.
“Do you want me to drive?” Sheldon asks when they reach the car, after a brief detour to pat horses. (Her, not Sheldon. Sheldon is not a horse fan.)
“Are you serious? You hate driving.”
“I know. But you’re tired, and I’m not, and while Rajesh and Amy may have been practicing dance steps to impress people, I’ve been paying visits to driving school.”
“Get out!” She swats his arm with the bundle she’s made of her wench clothes. Sheldon just smiles.
There’s a little fiddling around as he adjusts the seat and mirrors. Mirrors plural—there’s no way that Matt at City College was ever going to let her get away with only having one side mirror; it was one of the first things he made her fix. Penny curls into the passenger seat and watches Sheldon’s lips move as he talks himself through whatever set of steps he’s decided are necessary before actually turning the key.
She yawns suddenly, a jaw-cracking yawn, and Sheldon glances at her and says, “You can nap, if you want to.”
Like hell, Penny thinks, remembering the first time, and actually the only other time, Sheldon drove her anywhere. She remembers feeling like she was going to dislocate her other shoulder as well.
But then Sheldon starts the car and turns the radio on low, and it is about a half hour’s drive home the way Sheldon creeps along, and...
Penny yawns again, and her head droops, and she’s asleep by the time they get on I-210 west, with Sheldon and the radio to sing her there, to sleep and to home.