In which a certain really old man becomes lost
"You really are getting soft in your old age."
The words, muttered in solitude inside a medieval-style encampment tent, were incongruous with the young face they came out of. The man, dark-haired, dark-eyed, with a rather prominent nose that gave his face a vaguely classical outlook, was dressing up into a dark green velvet doublet, decorated with an embroidered coat of arms on the front and golden stitches at the hems. On a low bench next to him lay a sheathed sword emblazoned with an identical coat of arms on the cross guard: a unicorn and a gryphon; sided by two sprawling lions on the sword, standing on its own on the clothes, which were apparently fashioned after the sword. The clothes were new; the sword showed signs of use.
"Mag!" he cried out after a while of unsuccessful fumbling with the doublet.
A young woman dressed in a red houppelande entered the tent.
"Need help?" she asked, smirking in a friendly manner.
"Yes! How am I supposed to tie this on? It's so... tight."
"I hope not!" she said, worry flashing across her face. "You'd have to put on a lot more weight for it to be tight, I am sure."
"Well," he conceded, "not really tight, but look, you know me; I'm wearing oversized sweaters all the time."
"And trenches," she added. "Yes, I can see where you're coming from."
She started smoothing out the doublet on him and tying it at the places he could not reach himself. When she was finished, she stepped back to admire her work.
"Put on the belt and sword," she said.
He obliged her.
"You know, you look good in these clothes," she said. "The fit's good, if I say so myself; much better than your usual thrifted stuff."
"It's custom fit; of course it's good," he said and smiled at her, rather self-consciously.
"Come on, Adam," she said. "This is your big day; show some enthusiasm!"
"You make it sound like I'm the bride," he said. She burst out laughing.
"If you are, the father of the bride's a grizzled old man," she said. "A friend of yours is waiting outside, saying I should tell you it's Joe."
"Joe!" he cried out, panic entering his face and voice. "Oh, no."
"What's going on?" she frowned at him in surprise. "Not a friend?"
"No, no, definitely a friend, one of the best. It's just... He can be very snarky."
"That must be what he has in common with you, then," she said. "Relax. You're not this panicked normally."
"Normally, I am not about to be knighted," he said. "The idea of the sword laid next to my neck is freaking me out, if you really want to know."
She looked at him curiously.
"It's blunt," she said.
"It's still a sword," he shrugged. "Mag, I'm sorry if I'm freaking you out, too. I certainly do not want this to affect you badly in any way, but... I'm beginning to wonder why I agreed to this whole thing in the first place."
She rolled her eyes at him.
"Definitely the bride," she told him.
"Do not mock me, Mag," he said. "I do not want to break courtesy with you."
"Now, that's better," she grinned. "And remember, from now on it's Lady Marguerite de la Mer, and you are going to be Lord Peridan. I go tell your friend Joe you are ready."
She left the tent. He watched her go, still wondering why he had agreed to this. Why had he let his identity of Adam Daniels, student of history, draw him into the world of re-enacting and "creative anachronism"? Why had he let Mag, Margaret, Marguerite talk him into it?
On her part, it was the sword, he knew. She had dropped onto him one late evening, trying to drag him to some party, and seen the sword lying next to his bed. And being the re-enacting nerd she was, instead of getting a fit about a guy who had a naked (and sharp) sword lying next to his bed, she fell in love. Not with him, thankfully; she was in a very happy relationship with a fellow re-enactor (she did medieval, he did Civil War and the War of 1812, they accompanied each other to events – no one cared that none of these periods really applied to the Seacouver area). She fell in love with the sword and demonstrated terrifyingly detailed knowledge of its kind and use, even for a student of history. And talked him into joining her re-enacting group.
Which was the part Methos could not make head or tails of.
Being able to carry his sword in public again was a sweet pleasure for a man who had done so for about fifty centuries only to be stopped by modern age. He did not go into fights willingly, not these days; but a sword had always also been something of a status symbol, and as much as he liked to keep a low profile, he sometimes missed the more straightforward approach of his earlier days. So yes, that was a plus. The company was also a plus – they sure were nerds, and some of them were borderline crazy, but both could be applied to him as well, so he saw no harm in that. And Mag and her friends had really been stellar, helping him along, introducing him to people, finding second-hand costume parts for him; it culminated with Mag making these ceremonial clothes for him. They were very well made, he had to admit. He could not recall having worn anything quite so well-made in the Middle Ages; he had never had enough time to accumulate that sort of wealth back then.
But there were downsides to this new lifestyle, too. Like the visitors and vendors at the events. Some time ago, this group had decided to go public, and he unfortunately only got in after the decision had been made. There was now a Ren Faire quality to the events, the fact that what was meant to be a diverting manner of hands-on education (or at least that was the vague idea he got) was somehow withering into an amusement park sort of entertainment at the edges.
And there was the matter of chivalry. It all revolved around chivalry. He did not have that much of a problem setting into the habits at first, because all the ladies in the group were nice, fun to be around and clever and the gentlemen were very much the same; but he found it hard to keep his knightly demeanour about some of the visitors. Besides, he had never been such a huge fan of chivalry to begin with. He was much more comfortable with the modern practice (though not entirely the idea) of equality. It provided him an easier approach to life that unified and surpassed all the incongruous approaches of the past, his past. He thought chivalry to be way too limiting in that respect.
And as well-made and, admittedly, comfortable his new clothes were, he felt very self-conscious in them. The coat of arms that came from his sword really had nothing to do with him. The sword was a modern creation, a design by a Spanish manufacturer; he had made it decades ago as a functional prototype for them and then kept it as his fighting sword. It was, in a way, one of a kind, sturdier and much better weighted than those that followed it in production, truly made for fight instead of display; but it was a modern sword nonetheless, a romantic vision. The coat of arms was purely arbitrary. So was the name the re-enactors gave him, derived in some mysterious way from his surname – why did everyone have to have a different name here anyway? Methos was used to switching identities, but this was crazy, bordering on schizophrenic, even for him. Why should Adam Daniels suddenly become Lord Peridan for a day or two? And it was not quite like acting either. They meant it.
What particularly made him feel self-conscious about his doublet was the fact that he could not conceal a dagger in it. Not without Mag knowing, anyway, and as cool as she had been about his sword, this was something he did not want her to know.
The fact that Joe and MacLeod enjoyed this turn of events in his life immensely and came to every event he had been to so far did not help matters very much.
Nor did that affair of knighting he was facing now. There were very few people he trusted with a sword at his neck. Only one, really, and it was not the "king" of the Seacouver area, nice chap that he was.
Oh well. Better face it now. He should not keep Joe and Mag waiting. No matter that he wished for the ground to open and swallow him up (but not permanently, thank you very much); he could not let his friends down, now that he did have friends.
And so he drew aside the flap of his tent and stepped out.
Into a forest.
At first he just stared. Then he blinked. Then he stared some more.
Then he turned around to go back inside, only to find out the tent was gone. He was not very surprised now to see that he was surrounded by forest.
Almost. He saw that where the tent's central pole had been, an old-fashioned, 19th century gas streetlamp was standing now.
That was when he swore. He swore heavily and for a very long time. He went from Sumerian, through a number of other ancient Middle East languages, ancient Greek (three dialects mixed indiscriminately), Etruscan, Vulgar Latin, medieval French, Old English and medieval Lithuanian to the modern English he had been using most recently, and he threw some Navajo, Finnish, and Slovak into the mix for a good measure.
The streetlamp was still standing there, blinking serenely at him in the middle of a forest, in full daylight.
He swore in Gaelic, thinking fondly of the Highlander and wondering whether he'd ever see him again. That took the edge off his oath, but it still sounded good; Gaelic was an expressive language.
So were the others, which was why he had used them in the first place after all. He felt slightly better for having expressed himself.
The classic rule of thumb for the situations when you got lost in a forest was to find a body of water, preferably running water which you could follow into populated places. There were bound to be some sooner or later somewhere near water; what he was worried about were the cases when it was later. He had no idea where he was or how he had got there. After what Mac had told him about his brush with alternate realities, Methos suspected he could be absolutely anywhere. Or any time.
It took him almost an hour before he found a stream, and after that hour Mag's beautiful doublet was a bit worse for wear, smudged and scratched by low-hanging branches. Still, getting lost in a forest was not half as bad as getting lost in a desert. Dehydration and heatstroke counted among the less pleasant causes of death. But then, so did death by wild animals, did it not?
Death by sword and arrow and bullet was far more preferable - in terms of expediency -, unless the sword cut off your head.
Because that was definitely a sound of hoofs he was hearing now from the wood he had come from, above the stream. It did not sound like running deer. And those were definitely shouts. Shouts in English. At least he spoke the language and could explain himself – if only he knew the explanation.
"He went here!"
That, admittedly, did not sound very reassuring.
He briefly considered running away, but one thing he had learned very well during his time as a Horseman – one of the things he had learned back then and found fates or Providence or God pursuing him with later on - was that pedestrians did not stand a chance in a race with horses.
Or, as the case may be, centaurs.
When the creature emerged from the forest he bit his lower lip, in a move substituting the pinching of the back of his hand. He did not dare pinch the back of his hand: the centaur was aiming an arrow at him. He did not have to say "don't move." That was self-explanatory.
They stared at each other for a while and each seemed surprised and confused by the other's appearance.
Okay, Methos, so this is an alternate reality with centaurs. Which means it can quite possibly also be an alternate reality with unicorns and gryphons – mighty handy for you to carry them around on your chest, is it not? - Calm down. Observe and record. - The centaur had a chestnut horse's body, and his face was graced by a matching copper-coloured beard; he possessed a wild yet classic sort of beauty. But the thing Methos was really transfixed by was the bow and arrow. Centaurs were bad enough, but centaurs aiming at him really pushed it, and made calming down just a bit more difficult.
This is the point where explanations are in line. First rule of thumb in such situations: lie as little as possible. Lies are easy to catch; half truths less so. The complete and utter truth will probably not serve you well here, though. He's going to ask you who you are. The complete and utter truth rarely works. You're Adam Daniels, student of history.
"Who are you, son of Adam?" the centaur asked.
Oh, dash it. So much for the name Adam.
"My name is Peridan," he said, clutching to the chronologically nearest of his names that did not involve Adam. So Lord Peridan it is; how would a Lord Peridan behave in such a situation?
More people appeared, streaming out of the forest to the clearing at the brook. He noticed, with relief, that some of them were humans on horses. The others crushed that relief almost immediately, though. There were two more centaurs; two fauns and five dwarfs on ponies. And animals other than the horses, seemingly larger-than-life, walking on hind legs and carrying bows and crossbows just like everyone else in the group. Three bears. Two leopards. What appeared to be a beaver. Beaver?!
"I mean no harm," Methos said. "I became lost."
"So it appears," the centaur said and lowered the arrow. Not enough for Methos' comfort; now it was just aimed at his bowels instead of his chest. Still, it was a move suggesting more trust on the centaur's side, and he appreciated that. "What are you doing here in Narnia? I have not seen you before. Sons of Adam still count low in our land."
Methos shrugged. Again, a half truth. Neither "I don't know," nor "What do you think it looks like? I'm just trying to find my way out of these gorram woods!" did seem like a good idea. Whatever and wherever Narnia was, this seemed to be a company that would not appreciate that sort of language. He was Peridan; so he'd stick to Peridan's story.
"I was on my way to the king," he said, thinking frantically how to go on. But he did not have to. One of the riders came forth – a dark-haired boy of about twelve years of age.
"Then you are not lost after all, Peridan, for you have found me," he said. "I am King Edmund."