Tegan woke to the morning with a better feeling about meeting a new day. The herb-and-straw scent of the bed and the fluffiness of the quilted bedspread over her warm little niche were delightful, but at last she was eager to get up. She could feel the Doctor’s weight on their bed, and she peeped out of the covers at him. He lay still, hands folded over his chest, his fair hair fallen back from his brow. His eyelids drooped low but did not close.
She blew in his ear.
No reaction. Ah, well, she’d seen this trance before. He’d get up when he had a mind to. She leaned over, meaning to drop a kiss on his forehead, then paused. Then bent, kissed, a brief fervent press of lips. “Madman,” she murmured, then slid from the bed, snatching up her robe and settling it around her. She glanced out the grated window. It wasn’t far past dawn and the chimneys of Melnarey were smoking. She stoked up her own hearth. Tea, then a general tidying-up, would put her mark on their space.
And then… oh, she’d try to find Alfya and do something useful in the house. Get as public as she was allowed, listen, think. Any safety this room promised her was an illusion. It could all be taken away.
She put together breakfast, and after setting aside a portion for the Doctor, sat down to eat. She had grown accustomed to the local cuisine. It was all human enough. Of the most common seasonings, one reminded her of dill and another was like paprika. Thank heavens she’d never been fussy about food. Some Melnarey butcher had done up some fine sausage, whatever it was.
The Doctor did not move.
She cleaned up breakfast and started in on tidying the room. The bed was right out, there was a tranced Time Lord in it. So very still and, without a Zero Room cabinet, quite unmovable short of dumping him on the floor.
“Tempting.” But no. She twitched the bedspread into place.
So still. Tegan rested her hand against his throat. So chill. She’d seen this trance, early in their acquaintance. He’d given her the oxygen mask and sunk into this same deep silence to minimize his need to breathe.
She gave in and pressed her ear against his chest. Two hearts, let one beat!
Was that it? She strained her hearing, shifted position slightly. Waited, oh, forever. But finally, one sullen heart relented and admitted its existence and continuing function. She stood straight and deliberately calmed her own pulse. Just a trance. Something was cooking behind that fair, broad brow. She slid her fingers into his hair and felt for the wound. There was still scabbing, but plainly his physical healing was going well. But his mind? He’d lost centuries. What buried treasures was he hunting? Or was he unearthing graves?
Trying to keep her words untranslated, she thought consciously in English as she spoke. “The sad thing is, that this fake marriage is the best relationship I’ve ever had.” She smoothed his ruffled hair.
So still. A statue could never be so still: no one expects a statue to move. She lingered to see if the next instant would see him blink his eyes and stir; see him turn to her. The temptation to shake him awake trembled her reaching hand.
What would Nyssa do?
Tegan let her hand drop and turned away. She needed to get out of this room and find out what was going on. She swiftly donned the hated but necessary outer robe and pulled up the hood.
She got as far as her own threshold. Just down the hall, Menmenthnal was driving Zhial down the stairs. Calay followed behind with one of the spongy flowers, ritually cleansing each step Zhial took. They were too focused on their own affairs to heed Tegan as she stood frozen. She waited until they were well away, before heading down the hall. She could hear a woman laughing, the first time she had heard it in this house.
As she drew nearer, the voice became familiar. She knocked on a door. “Alfya?”
After a pause, then the sound of steps, the door opened. It was indeed Alfya, but transformed. She smiled easily, and though she still looked weary, her entire posture spoke of comfort. “There you are. I would have come looking for you soon.”
A soft giggle caught Tegan’s ear. Down on the floor was the child sanguinary, Laokin. He was peeking at her from behind the door.
Tegan grinned back at him. Again he giggled and swooped away, his feet pounding the floor out of Tegan’s sight. “So you are his attendant now?”
“I will attend you both, with no other duties. Jedorn has spoken.” Alfya’s face glowed with the force of her smile. “Come in. How is your husband?”
“His wound troubles him a little. He is resting.” She walked into the room. It had a bed that was low as a child’s should be, but broad. Alfya must sleep there with him. Otherwise it was much like her own.
The little boy was lying on the floor in the barred sunshine from a louvered window. The shadows fell like tiger stripes on his hair and on the fur of his stuffed animal. He was making, “Rawr! Rawr!” noises for it, his little fist clenched around its neck as it hopped and pounced on imaginary prey.
Tegan tilted her head towards Alfya. “Does he get to play outside?”
“Yes, but only with his guards.”
“What about with other children?”
“They must be taught how to respect his rank.”
Tegan remembered the raucous playgrounds of her childhood. Respect had not been easily found there.
“The guards will be here soon. Omayarth. It is time your skin was tended to. We will do that while the sanguine Laokin is outside.” She tugged at Tegan’s elbow to pull her farther away from the door. Tegan resisted a moment, but then she heard the heavy tread of men that must have alerted Alfya. Willing now, she moved to a far, shadowy corner of the room, sinking into the cave of her hood.
They didn’t bother to knock, the two men who came in. Laokin looked up from his toy. “Taraffon! Did you bring the ball?”
“The tanner is working on it now. Come and see.” Taraffon and the other man did not address Alfya. Nor did they speak to Tegan, but they shot her those sidelong, fascinated glances that made her hands fist. Only that; then they swept back out with the excited child.
It had been weeks since Tegan last had to submit to being oiled up like a fair-bound pig. She tried to let herself fall back into the thoughtless routine of it. When she paid too little attention, Alfya would pinch her.
“Keom’s attic was no fitting place for you. You have fallen into slack ways.”
Alfya’s own attitude was perfunctory. With her new role, she could consider Tegan’s needs of lesser importance — Tegan was fine with that.
“They’re probably glad to have their house back. Who tends the hearth in this house?”
“Hendathay. The tall woman with grey hair in a knot and no teeth in front.”
Tegan had never spoken to the woman — she looked as hard and unfriendly as the knot in her hair. “So to get food, I should speak to her?”
Alfya smiled. “No, you ask me. I arrange for food. It gets sent up from the kitchen in a hoist. You have seen the big water jar in the hall? Let me know whenever it is close to empty.” She went on to explain to Tegan all the aspects of the domestic economy required for a house with a high priest, a sanguinary and his attendants, the incarnadine and her husband, and a passel of carmines. It was a lecture that went on for quite a while, and featured many ‘I’ statements. Alfya seemed well on her way to petty tyranny. As annoying as it was, Tegan didn’t have the heart to resent Alfya’s new status. They had clung to each other, but now Alfya no longer needed Tegan or their alliance.
The full treatment involved binding Tegan up with bandage like strips of cloth to keep the ointments pressed to her skin. She drowsed, accepting sips of water, while her skin heated, then cooled with sweat. Like a lady mummy she was, wrapped up, left to stew, then unwrapped revealing magical youth that had to be renewed by drinking the souls of men.
Tegan blinked her eyes open hard. What a horrible thing to find lurking in her mind. Oh, it was stupid old movies and this beastly world, but she had. Been places. Seen things. She rubbed hard at her forearm where her skin crawled, where there had once been a snake.
“Christ!” She rolled hard to one side and tried not to vomit. She was free. These feelings were just … just dirt in her mind. The bandages were pinching her; she began squirming free. Alfya was crouching over her, plucking at the strips of cloth rather uselessly. “Tegan, are you pregnant?”
“What? No… it’s not that.” She peered up into Alfya’s face, disquieted by its avid expression. The incarnadine, pregnant, would be such a lovely nugget of gossip for Jedorn. "I’ve only been done with my period a couple of days, remember? It was a dream, a rotten old dream I hoped I’d forgotten.”
Alfya sat back on her heels. “That is true, you would not show signs of it for many days. Your courses are irregular. You will need Khiav’s blessing to conceive,” she observed dourly.
Tegan restrained a smart-arsed reply. In silence, the two women finished unwrapping the damp bandages and rolling them up again. Alfya concluded the treatment by sponging Tegan down with cool water, then patting every inch of her dry with a soft cloth. Tegan tried to channel her inner Nyssa and submit to the intrusive tedium with grace. Such perfect posture. Such beautiful manners; such civilized principles. Traken’s memory was honored by its last survivor. Surely she was transforming Terminus into a refuge of healing. The girl who had lost everything would become the woman who helped people find their way back into life or meet a peaceful end. Nyssa would never let what the Master had done to her make her less than she was.
She knelt, for once absolutely still, while Alfya stroked the ritual colors onto her face then fastened on the incarnadine’s robes. “Thank you, Alfya.” She spoke without thinking, only to have the other woman stare at her in shock.
“It was commanded to be done.”
“And you have done it well.” She got up, trying to mask the complaint of her knees, and went to peer out the window. Her treatment had taken hours; it was after noon now. “Aren’t you hungry?”
“I must go see if the sanguinary has had dinner,” Alfya said, donning her cloak.
“I will go see if my husband needs me.” Tegan had to grind out the words. She knew in her gut that anything she did would sound justified if she were doing it for a man; she hated saying it; worse, she hated knowing it so intimately. Alfya didn’t even blink; did not nod. Tegan didn’t need her permission to serve a man.
It was small relief to return to her own quarters, to the comfort and privacy of its barred windows. The Doctor was still lying as she had left him. Again, she listened to his hearts; she set her fingertips to trap the elusive pulse in his neck. His skin felt warm to the touch. That was not a good sign. She applied cool compresses to his forehead and his wrists. That would certainly fix his Time Lord brain.
“Get a grip, woman. Do what you can, cope with the rest.”
There were heavy footsteps in the hall. It had taken them long enough to come looking. She’d known someone must come. Poise. Calm. Nyssa! She replaced the hood.
Tegan opened the door when Menmenthnal was still a few steps away. It was the cherry on top of the bad morning that she wished it had been Jedorn instead. And that she was glad her hood was up. “My husband feels ill today. His rest must not be disturbed.” She kept her voice low. She kept her body occupying the doorway.
He moved in close enough to loom over her. He could stand to clean his teeth more often. “Is he indeed within?” Menmenthnal inquired in jocular tones.
“He is.” Tegan stared resolutely at his elbow.
“And how do I know this is true? Perhaps he commanded you to lie for him.” It was an innuendo in this language the way it was in English.
Elbow. Answer the question asked. “He was struck on the head. He is not made of stone, that he never suffers pain. I wish that Feldun might come to him.”
He breathed a little loudly, as if congested. Elbow. She could feel the heat of his body. Stone, she wished she was.
From past his shadow, she heard Laokin laugh and his footsteps pattering up the stairs. Menmenthnal turned like the passing of an eclipse. The little boy scampered towards his room, stark naked. Alfya bustled up after him, wielding a clean loin cloth. “Go warm yourself at the hearth,” she pleaded. At the head of the stairs she stopped and stared down at the tableau of priest and incarnadine. “Priest, is something amiss?”
Menmenthnal growled. Despite herself, Tegan shrank back, but the priest simply turned away. “Tend your charges, carmine,” he snapped at Alfya then headed downstairs.
Tegan drew a deep breath then stepped out, closing the door behind her. “My husband still feels ill. I told the priest that I wished Feldun would come see him.” She and Alfya did not need the TARDIS to translate women’s speech.
Alfya handed her the loincloth. “Dress the sanguinary. I will bring the food.”
Laokin had wrapped himself in a fur and was rolling around on the warm floor by the hearth, pretending this time himself to be the animal. “Rawr!” he said and pounced on her ankle. “Beastses don’t wear clothes!” He peeked up at her, grinning.
“Beastses don’t get their dinner brought to them. They have to go out in the cold and wet and find it.” She wrestled him into the cloth and wrapped him in the fur again.
“I could be a ruark. Rawrk! Rwuaaaark!” He was clearly trying to imitate a specific animal.
“I’ve never seen one. Sounds fierce.”
Alfya brought dinner in. It took them both, over the meal, to explain to Tegan about ruarks. It might have taken less long if her attention hadn’t been given over to listening for footsteps on the stairs.
Laokin napped after his meal. The women worked around him to tidy the room. Tegan was glad of the necessary silence. She didn’t want Alfya to ask her questions; she didn’t want to break into nervous chattering. This was not a place or people that ran by the clock. Feldun would come when he came, if he did come. If he did not, whoever else came would come when he came. Was this why the Doctor so often seemed impatient? If only it were in her power to time travel to that postponed but inevitable when.
Alfya worked on the handloom. Tegan wound yarn for her.
When the stair treads finally groaned their welcome, Tegan’s whole body stilled with listening. The steps turned away from Alfya’s door, went down the corridor, and straight into her room without knocking. Her breath hissed loudly through her teeth; she found herself on her feet.
“They will come for you if they want you,” Alfya told her, but Tegan was already reaching for the door. Her response was to pull her hood forward. Out she went. It was Feldun and Menmenthnal, she saw by the backs of them. She kept going, hearing Alfya come up behind her. Alfya was better at her back that no one at all, she hoped.
“I have seen this before,” Feldun was saying to Menmenthnal. “When he was first injured he spent many hours like this, as long as two days.” He peeled away the dry compresses.
“Jedorn needs him to work on the aqueduct.”
“He will return to it when he is ready. It was his idea, after all. Do you know another man who walked and spoke again after having cracked his skull in such manner? And married to an incarnadine,” he added, glancing at Tegan, “Can it be that such a man does not have Khiav’s blessing?”
Menmenthnal glared at them both. “Jedorn will hear of this.”
“Shall I come with you to report to him?” If Feldun was making fun of Menmenthnal, he did it so subtly that there was no twinkle in his eyes or wryness in his voice. He sounded impatient.
“Come,” Menmenthnal swept out of the room imperiously, Jedorn-style, or somewhat so, Feldun on his heels.
“I will stay with my husband. I will not leave the room.”
Alfya nodded and hurried out, back to Laokin. Tegan closed the door behind her. She changed the compresses. She sat by the Doctor, and tried once more to calculate when Turlough might return. It was no use asking Lensordan, even if it wasn’t also risky to seek out a man.
The Doctor’s lips looked dry. She pressed a spoon against his lips and saw him swallow at the water. His eyes focused–on her–transfixing. He spoke, and she found herself at the hearth brewing up a cup of tea, or the closest herb to it this world had. It was quite decent, really, had a natural sweetness to it.
She knew how he liked it brewed by now.
Tegan slid behind him, cradling his heavy brainy head on her thigh. She cupped his chin and tilted the scant cupful against his lips. “Your tea, Doctor. Since you wanted it so much.” He drank that down in little gulps. She gave him the second cup that she’d readied, then leaned back against the headboard. “In a civilized place, where they have tea time, they’d have a better tea time. If that doesn’t suit, supper will be along–that is, if men who don’t do a day’s work get supper.”
He lay quite still. Again.
“The sea is calm tonight. The moon lies fair upon the straits. The cliffs of England stand, shimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Bugger, that’s not quite right. Stupid free verse. Maybe if Mr. Arnold had troubled himself to rhyme it I could remember it all.”
Tears dripped down her cheeks. She let them, but tried not to cry more of them. She petted the Doctor’s soft silky hair, that long sweep that sometimes fell forward like a child’s bangs.
“Brave heart, Tegan.” The voice was rusty, the eyes were dusty; they blinked, cleared, and gazed up.
“Nice nap, Doc?”
“I’m feeling quite my old self.” He sat up and swung acres of leg off the bed.
“I told them you needed a day off. Feldun came around and had a look at you; he backed me up.” She smeared the back of her hand across her cheeks and got to her feet. She only had to look slightly away to hide her face with the hood.
“The tide is full.”
“What? Oh. Well thank goodness you woke up for that. I thought it was all over for me if I couldn’t recite that blasted poem. You have a wash up, I’ll… get your tea.”
She kept her back to him. She’d seen every inch of him: it was her face she hid.
“Who has been by, other than Feldun?”
“Oh, Alfya, Menmenthnal, I could have charged a fee. I’ll remember that for next time.”
“Himself trouble himself to come upstairs himself and have a gander at you his very own self? He did not. If you want more than toast and the potted meat, I’ll have to go speak to Alfya.”
“Don’t bother, this will do nicely. Thank you, Tegan.” He reached for the toast on the plate she held, but at the last second his hand cupped her chin and tipped her face to his. He looked at her keenly.
She could see now that he had put on his own clothes, the cricket sweater and striped trousers. She lifted the plate hintingly. “It will get cold.”
“Do you want to come out with me?”
She handed him the plate and reached for the fur cloak and her shoes. By the time she was dressed to go out, he’d finished the toast and was hovering by the door.
“Where are we off to?”
“Why, to see himself ourselves! Where else?” He lifted an eyebrow then opened the door, holding it for her.
They didn’t go to Jedorn’s office. The Doctor escorted her along Melnarey’s main (and only) street, taking her arm as if they were walking through Kensington Gardens. If the Doctor had wished to cause a nine-day wonder, he’d certainly made a start on day one. The stares! The gapes! Tegan was glad of her hood, but she kept her head high and risked letting it fall back. The Doctor restrained his long legs to her pace. He greeted people cheerfully and ignored their bemusement. Tegan was silent, but at each meeting, graciously inclined her head. Yet another attempt at WWN(yssa)D. In this fashion, they perambulated along the course of the aqueduct. Now the Doctor addressed her, pointing out the various features and commenting on the progress of the construction.
It took Tolannes to halt their progress. “So you are alive, Doctor. How delightful. Taking a little air to clear the murk of the sickroom?” He offered a courtly bow.
“One might say that. And are you out for a constitutional before the evening meal?”
“I was enjoying the sights of Melnarey.”
The few seconds he spent ogling Tegan were enough to make her grit her teeth. She was almost as covered up as a bear, but it didn’t seem to matter.
“Don’t let us keep you,” the Doctor replied urbanely.
There was a pause. It was so loud that Tegan peeped out from under the hood to see why it was so silent, but it was over.
“Of course,” Tolannes murmured. His face was twisted as if he tasted something but he couldn’t recognize the flavor, or decide if he liked it. The Doctor patted her hand, the signal that they were continuing to walk.
“–So I had them bring ewers of water from all nine aqueducts and use it to brew cups of calda, which is basically watered down mulled wine, and Nero and I tried them all so he could see what a difference it made. Of course we shared the cups, because he was afraid of poison. After the fire–“
“The one where he fiddled while Rome burned?”
“Yes–no, it was the lyre–and not while--anyway, he did love to play. I was posing as a famous lyre player, but it was rather tricky since back then I could not play. I’ve picked it up since then.”
“So you never got called on to play the lyre?”
“Oh, yes. Everyone was quite impressed.”
“By your… not playing?”
“Exactly, my dear Tegan, exactly!”
The distinctive thip thippa of drangi hooves drew near. She and the Doctor turned to see Jedorn coming up behind them with a small mounted troop. The ruddy afternoon light glowed as it hit the gold chain on his chest. He gripped the crest of his drangi’s neck and shook it with rough affection. “Good afternoon, friend Doctor. My heart bounds like a drangi colt to see you have risen from what I am told was surely your death bed. Is this a custom of your land, to rise where others fall?”
Tegan could not help it. She could not! A little snort of laughter escaped her, and Jedorn joined in with a chortle that made his mount toss its head and hop in place. Some of the men behind him laughed feebly.
The Doctor tucked her arm through his again. “Every day is precious that is spent in learning, and my people prize nothing beyond knowledge. But knowledge that is not put to use may as well be buried as the dead.”
“Action is the test of one’s knowledge. All battles are won here!” He tapped his broad forehead, grinning fierce and white.
“And lost, along with the head,” the Doctor observed.
Jedorn laughed again. “True!” He gathered up the reins; his drangi pranced expectantly in that rocking front feet back feet hop. “Since you are well enough to set the town’s tongues wagging, you shall join me for supper. Bring your wife! Her hands will serve you best, I am thinking.”
The men chuckled freely now, as if relieved of tension.
The Doctor was all courtesy. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
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