Outside the gates of the Maryland Renaissance Festival yesterday, a choral troupe's rendition of "In These Delightful Pleasant Groves" seemed fitting for the 16th century Tudor English village set among the trees in Crownsville.
A little girl standing nearby noticed a caroler's floor-length gown and pointed hat and asked, "Are you a wench?"
"I'm not a wench," answered the indignant songstress. "I'm a princess. Are you a wench? You look more like a princess."
The troupe launched into its next song, but not before the woman warned visitors passing through the gates, "Be sure and curtsy when you see the king and queen."
Inside the gate, the king was nowhere to be found. But his cook, Winifred, had taken a break from making roasted capon and swan neck pudding to direct children to pony rides and expound upon the royal eating habits.
"The king is not a fussy eater," said Winifred, who is known on other days as Judy Smith of Arnold. "The queen is very picky. They would not eat vegetables, poultry or dairy products. That's for the common man."
The 16th annual festival, which opened Saturday and has already drawn more than 21,000 visitors, takes festival-goers back to a time of kings, peasants, swordsmen, jousting and chivalry.
It's a place where all visitors are addressed as Milady, Milord, Lass or Lad, where craftsman display leather, jewelry, pottery, wooden flutes and glass blowing, where more than 300 performers in period costume sing, dance, juggle and perform magic and mime.
Dana Gayner, who had driven two and a half hours from New Jersey, watched at one booth as her 10-year-old daughter had her hair twisted into an elaborate braid.
"We come every year," said Mrs. Gayner, an art teacher.
Lucille Hoffstetter, of Winter Park, Fla., was a long way from home, too. "We have these in Florida, but it's on a much smaller scale," she said. "The food is delicious and the entertainment is real cute."
Nearby, Dirk Perfect, a swordsman who cut a striking figure in a black plumed hat, was instructing children in the Art of Gentlemanly Behavior.
This means knowing when to bow, when to kiss a lady's hand and when to get into a good sword fight, said Mr. Perfect, otherwise known as Douglas Mumaw, a performer from Harrisonburg, Va.
Annapolis resident Hope Shakya sat at one booth sewing blank pages into hand-bound journals she said would last for almost two centuries.
"This is almost a lost art," she said. "Even at shows, I don't see people doing this."
Jules Smith, general manager of the weekend festival that runs through Oct. 18, said 9,000 visitors came through the gates Saturday. And by 7 p.m. last night, he estimated, more than 12,000 would have stopped in.