Chapter One: The Best Man
"Might as well get married, 'cause we are not yet wed."
A tent was set up in a clearing, on the edge of a forest and near a swamp and about halfway to Camelot, filled with happy, merry knights and ladies gathered together for a double wedding. Couples milled around on the dance floor as King Arthur's court musicians fought to be heard over the guests' cries and peals of laughter. A man behind a bar served drinks, and several peasants in suits wandered around offering pigs in blankets on wide silver platters. One bride and groom, King Arthur and the newly crowned Queen Guinevere, stood at the tent's very front, chatting jovially with Sir Galahad and a few Laker Girls. Any passerby could have noted easily that Galahad's face was redder the cross on his armor, but for some reason the newlyweds didn't seem to notice, or at the very least, they were far too absorbed with each other to care.
Near the back of the tent, Sir Lancelot's best man lounged lazily in his chair, a martini in one hand and the other moving animatedly as he chattered away to one of his minstrels. He was a fairly short man, not fat and not thin, and his skin was very pale, which contrasted wonderfully with his shoulder-length, strawberry-blonde mane of hair. He was clothed in an expensive, blinding white tailcoat and matching top hat, with a green, sparkling, checkered vest underneath that was reminiscent of the pattern on his old knight's outfit. His minstrel, dressed from head to toe in a flashy shade of lime, nodded every few minutes, sure that not one moment of the exciting escapade the best man was retelling was in the least bit truthful. But the minstrel nodded and gasped in the right places all the same. It wouldn't do to upset her master by proclaiming him a liar, especially not at a king's wedding, where causing conflict could be fatal.
A tall, buff man dressed in a ceremonial robe over his knight's suit shoved his way through the crowd until he reached the seats at the back. It had taken him a ridiculously long time to shake off Prince Herbert, his new husband, but after King Arthur had given him a certain tip-off, nothing seemed to matter but finding that certain someone. When he pushed aside the last guest and spied the chairs set up in the back, Lancelot's face broke into a wide grin.
"And then, the biggest lion I've ever seen comes rushing out of the bushes straight at my face, and most people would have been wet-their-pants-scared, you hear what I'm saying, but you know me, always the bravest knight around, so cool as can be I yield him off with my sword—"
"Robin! I've been looking all over for you!"
Sir Robin's head whipped around as his tale of bravery came to an abrupt end. Though he had to admit he was quite disappointed—he had just been about to tell the best part, too!—a small smile still flitted across his face at the arrival of his friend. Who knew, maybe Lancelot would like to hear the story as well. "Lance, hey! Congratulations!" He raised his glass in a toast to the newly-wed knight.
Lancelot gave a small shrug. "Yeah, well. Thanks." He chuckled nervously and scratched the back of his head. He was slightly stunned by the comment and momentarily forgot the reason he'd even sought Robin out in the first place—it certainly wasn't to hear some hare-brained story about how brave Robin was, that's for sure. In the past hour or so, whenever someone had come up and congratulated Lancelot on his marriage, it had always taken him a moment to realize what on earth they were talking about. This was all so new to him, and it had been sprung on him so fast. After all, only a few days earlier Lancelot would have claimed he was straight as a person can be, and now here he was married off to… well, to a man. Craftily changing the subject, Lancelot brought up what he'd really wanted to talk about, effectively remembering at exactly the right moment. "You know, Robin, there are some rumors going around about you up front." He doubted that the subject would be veered away from his marriage for too long, but the comment would cause a momentary distraction at the least.
To Lancelot's surprise, it worked quite well. Instantly Robin forgot about everything but himself. "There are?" he asked delightedly, sounding a little too eager for his own good. But Robin couldn't help wondering. Had his stories spread that quickly? Did everyone know about his adventures with the lion by now? On one hand, that was absolutely superb, but on the other, now that people had already heard the story, they wouldn't be asking him to retell it anymore. Maybe they'd hear it from their friends as a rumor, though, and come to him to clarify it. Yes, that would make sense, Robin thought, smiling jovially at the idea of informing the entire wedding with his creative, thrilling stories of chivalry. "What kind of rumors?" he asked passionately. "It is that one about me fighting a lion? Because I can assure you that that one's tr—"
"No, no." Lancelot waved it away with one hand, positive that whatever story Robin was spouting, it didn't have a single seed of truth planted inside it. Robin looked disappointed at this, but a smirk flitted across Lancelot's face as he distinctly saw the minstrel roll her eyes. "It's nothing to do with a lion. People are saying you're going to quit the knighthood!"
"Oh. That. Yes." Robin sighed and leaned back in his chair. Well, his stories weren't spreading like the wildfire he'd meant them to be, that was for sure. It had been worth a shot. At least the stories that were spreading about him weren't hurtful lies, like some of the ones he'd heard about Prince Herbert last week.
"So it's true?" Lancelot persisted incredulously. Like those dumb, uncreative rumors he'd heard a few days ago about his new husband, he'd assumed that this rumor would be false as well. Apparently, however, it was truthful after all. Somehow he thought he preferred the ones about Herbert. How could Robin be quitting so soon after he'd enlisted? Lancelot felt hurt and betrayed somehow at this knowledge, though he couldn't quite put his finger on why. "You're really leaving then? You're not going to be a knight anymore?"
"Nope." Robin smiled pompously, a very irritating expression replacing his usually warm features.
"But—but why?" spluttered Lancelot. No, this couldn't be happening. Robin might have been a self-centered coward, but he was still Lancelot's best man, the only one of King Arthur's knights who had actually ever taken him seriously. Now, he would never see Robin, possibly ever again? The pain welling up inside him doubled, and he could barely meet Robin's eyes.
"I'm surprised you haven't left already, Lance, with your new husband and all," Robin said, chuckling slightly. "But didn't you hear? The Broadway casting lad wrote me back. Seems I got the part after all."
Lancelot gaped. "WHAT?! But… but why didn't you tell me earlier?" Weren't he and Robin supposed to be best friends? Shouldn't he have been the first person Robin told? He'd made Robin his best man, for God's sake, and this was how he was repaid?
"Sorry, Lance." Robin chuckled again, with a look on his face that suggested he thought he was the greatest thing that had ever lived. Lancelot could have slapped him. "I guess it just didn't cross my mind. He only called about an hour ago."
"He… he called you at my wedding?" spat Lancelot, his outrage growing with every passing second. What kind of jerk was Robin going to work for to call someone at a wedding? More importantly, at a wedding where they were the best man?! Especially since cell phones hadn't even been invented yet! The nerve of some people!
Robin shrugged slightly. "He didn't know it was your wedding. What was I supposed to do, hang up on him? I need that part, Lance. It's who I am." Apparently Robin wasn't as thick as he looked, though, as he noticed the definite droop to his friend's posture at the news. "Hey, don't look so down, Lance," Robin said cheerfully, too cheerfully for someone who was practically being screamed at. "Some things are more important than marriage."
As expected, Robin's next comment stung Lancelot's very soul, but he hadn't anticipated it hurting like this. The pain was almost unbearable. Lancelot averted his eyes. "Well, congratulations," he said thickly, through gritted teeth, straining every muscle in his body to be polite and civil to this monster who'd replaced Robin. "You found your grail." Instead, his bitter thoughts could only scream Who are you, and what have you done with my best man?!
"Yeah, I sure did." Robin smiled sickeningly and drained his martini, dumping his glass rudely into his minstrel's arms. With a nod from Robin she set off for the bar, most likely to get it refilled. Lancelot vaguely wondered how many Robin had had so far.
"Lance? Are you… okay?"
Lancelot's head jerked up from the ground and he met Robin's eyes. For a split-second, he was lost in the luscious green orbs that matched Robin's suit so well, that he had grown to love so much… But Lancelot closed his eyes tightly and when he opened them again the paradise was gone, and though the eyes staring him down were still a bright, vivid green, it wasn't Robin's warmth that powered them. His face was too slack, too sure of himself, too unafraid. This wasn't the Robin that Lancelot knew. "I'm… fine." Lancelot pointedly stared off into the masses. "I should be going. I have a lot of guests to greet." He didn't, but that was all right. Anything to get away from this… this… who was this…?
Robin craned his neck behind him, to the bar where his minstrel was waiting patiently while the bartender refilled a glass. Robin sighed impatiently and drummed his fingers on the side of his chair. "Hurry up," he mumbled, rolling his eyes in a performance worthy of a teenage drama queen.
"Don't you harass him," snapped Lancelot. "He's going as fast as he can." He barely noticed the words leave his lips. In reality, he couldn't care less about the bartender's feelings. But until now he hadn't noticed that his own feelings weren't an urge to get away from it all—it was an urge to cause a scene, to call Robin out for the fraud he really was. Because it wouldn't be hurting Robin. Whoever—whatever—was inhabiting his best man at this moment couldn't possibly the man he'd grown to lov—to be his best friend.
Robin looked startled for only an instant before he laughed, a nauseating, reverberating noise that sounded nothing like who he really was. "Lance, calm down. It's your wedding. Kick back. Relax. Have a good time." As he spoke, he pulled his arms from the chair's armrests and placed them lazily behind his head.
"You've certainly done that," said Lancelot accusingly. "Have you even got up once since you sat down here?"
Robin frowned, his eyes flashing dangerously. He removed his arms from their comfortable position and raised to his full height, but even then, he was a good head shorter than Lancelot was. Lancelot saw, out of the corner of his eye, that the minstrel had gotten Robin's drink already, but was lingering near the bar to avoid returning on such heated ground. Robin grabbed the front of Lancelot's robe and crushed it into a ball inside his fist. "Are you looking for a fight, Lancelot?"
Lancelot's knuckles were killing him. He hadn't noticed that his hands were fists as well. "That would be stupid," he hissed, swinging his curled-up hands dangerously close to Robin's face, "because I'd trounce you before you even drew your sword."
Robin's face was as red as his hair as a hand darted to his sword hilt. "You don't know what I can do, Lancelot. You don't know what I'm capable off."
Despite himself, Lancelot laughed. "You're kidding me, right? The only thing you're capable of is going through three pairs of pants in one battle."
"How… dare… you." Robin's eyes narrowed and his grip on the sword tightened, but after a moment's thought and some difficulty he pulled his arm back to his side. Even this crazed anti-Robin seemed to know his limits. "Consider yourself lucky I have decided to spare you because it's your wedding day. In any other circumstance, by now I would be standing on your grave."
"Yeah, well, I'll believe that when I see it," muttered Lancelot, drawing color to Robin's cheeks. "You're all talk, you know that? A coward, that's what you are, Robin."
"That's… that's Sir Robin to you!" cried Robin, now in hysterics, his eyes wild and untamed.
"No, you're not," corrected Lancelot. He wasn't scared of Robin. He wasn't scared of anything. "The 'sir' title is only for knights, a luxury you gave up long ago."
Robin gave Lancelot a deathly glare, but it was clear he saw that he'd been beat. With a girly flip of his hair, Robin sauntered off towards the other side of the tent, only to fall flat on his face on the way. And that's when it hit Lancelot, clear as day.
"You're drunk!" cried Lancelot. "You're completely drunk!"
Robin situated himself surprisingly fast, standing after only seconds, but now Lancelot saw a definite sway to his gait as he smashed his top hat under a foot without ever noticing he'd done so. With one last livid look in Lancelot's direction, Robin hurried out of the tent and off towards the woods, swerving dangerously near to a lake as he failed to keep balance properly.
Lancelot winced. His best man had run off. What a day.
At the sound of his name and the soft touch of a hand on his shoulder, Lancelot nearly jumped a foot into the air. When he turned, however, it was only Prince Herbert, frowning sympathetically at his husband's predicament.
"H-Herb… ert…" Lancelot smiled awkwardly, hoping Herbert hadn't seen the whole thing. Where had he come from, anyway? Lancelot hadn't noticed him walk up. Maybe that was part of the weird aura of mystery that encircled the prince's every motion. Or maybe Lancelot had just been too busy mourning over Robin to notice.
"Good fortune can go to people's heads," Herbert said quietly.
Lancelot snorted bluntly and made no attempt to hide it. "Yeah, Robin's sure proof of that." When he thought about it, Robin was usually all talk. Sure, he'd boast of being able to beat you in a duel, but when it actually came time to fight, Robin was usually fleeing from the scene as swiftly as possible. Initiating a fight in the first place was very unlike him. But then, after all, he had been drunk. Lancelot had only seen Robin on alcohol once before, back in Camelot, and the results hadn't been pretty. Just one glass of ale had sent the knight bouncing off of walls and provoking knights twice his size. Robin's body wasn't good with strong liquor. That had probably been his first martini, too. It couldn't have been more than his second, or by now he'd already have conked out in the grass. Why had he even drunk anything in the first place? Judging by the way Robin's body worked, it seemed a very stupid thing to do. Maybe something had been troubling him. As much of a jerk Robin had been today, Lancelot still couldn't help worrying about the wellbeing of his best man.
"He'll come around," Herbert suggested wisely, squeezing Lancelot's hand in a comforting sort of way. "Don't worry. They all do sooner or later. I've lost friends before."
"Thanks," said Lancelot automatically, trying to give Herbert an appreciative grin. But his face didn't seem to remember how to move its muscles to smile. Far from being consoling, all Herbert had really done was to worsen the knot in his stomach and assure him that he would never see Robin again. Herbert would never understand. He hadn't known Robin the way Lancelot had.
Here he was, thinking in the past tense. Robin was, not is. Because whoever was sitting in that chair today in Robin's suit and Robin's body was definitely not him. It couldn't have been.
The minstrel returned, rather confused as to whom she should give Robin's martini to.
Lancelot was more concerned about rather he'd married the right person after all.