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Medieval fair swells to a fare-thee-well

Armed knights, royalty indulging in extra-large turkey drumsticks, robed wizards and strolling minstrels will bring the 14th century back to life from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through Sunday at the 19th annual Medieval Fair at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota.

The fair, which opened Thursday, includes jousting matches, a human chess match, period foods and more than 180 artisans. New to this year's lineup are the comic swordfighting duo of Guido Crescendo and Dirk Perfect, the musical Minstrels of Mayhem, Double Indemnity (magic/comedy) and the Children's Realm.

The human chess match and jousting events have become the fair's most popular events. The chess match is played out with armed combatants, each sporting medieval-style weaponry. Each role-plays a different chess piece _ king, queen, pawn and the like _ in a larger-than-life game played out on a field.

In another area of the fairgrounds, armed combatants mount their steeds and charge down the Tournament Field, attempting to unseat their opponents in the fair's daily jousting tournaments. After a knight is knocked off his horse, the "fight to the finish" continues on foot, with the warriors battling with lances, shields and broadswords.

The Children's Realm includes an obstacle course, Knight School, the Dragon's Lair Maze and a variety of crafts, rides and games.

While taking in the ambiance of this romantic fantasy, visitors can feast like kings on a variety of foods, including turkey drumsticks, roasted sweet corn, hot bread pudding and apple fritters.

The 1976 inaugural Medieval Fair was intended to be no more than a brief afternoon medieval frolic, with dancers, archers, jugglers and mimes. But the event was such a success that it grew, with a marketplace, food booths and a human chess match added the next year. Expanding attendance forced the fair to move to its current 38-acre location in 1980.

Organizers expect some 55,000 to attend this year's fair.

Admission to the fair, which is open rain or shine, is $10.95; children age 6-12, $4; children under 6, free. Discounts for groups of 15 or more are available through the office. Free parking and shuttle service. For information, call (813) 351-8497.