“You know,” Ian said, peering through the window’s iron grating and into the villa, “I don’t think anybody’s home!”
The Doctor tutted, and Barbara sighed. And the prospect of food (or directions) had been such a relief! They’d been walking for hours without coming to any town, despite the cheerful assurances of a man passing by in a mule-cart, who told them that Assisium was ‘not far at all’. Vicki had protested when the Doctor recommended they turn back; it was her first trip into the past, and she’d been so excited to see a real Roman town. Barbara had been excited too, so she’d suggested they stop at that villa they’d passed before they gave up on ancient Rome entirely. The Doctor had given its main door three purposeful raps, but no one answered. Now that it appeared to be empty, they all felt dejected.
“So much for that idea,” Barbara commented ruefully.
“Or maybe not,” said Vicki. She walked up to the door, gave it a mighty push, and it gave way easily. She giggled as she ran inside.
“Vicki!” the Doctor called after her in surprise. “Now wait just a minute my dear!”
Vicki’s head popped back into view from around the doorframe.
“But Doctor,” she explained mischievously, “it isn’t trespassing if the door isn’t locked!”
The Doctor, Ian, and Barbara all looked at each other. They felt perhaps they ought to admonish, but they couldn’t help chuckling instead.
“There’s a girl after your own heart, eh, Doctor?” Ian teased.
“Quite so! Quite so!” came the Doctor’s delighted reply. He reached out to put an arm around Vicki’s shoulder. “Now, let us investigate this place together, hmm?”
The four of them stepped inside, and immediately began to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at what they saw. A skylight overhead filled the atrium with golden afternoon sunlight. The water-filled basin below it made dancing patterns of light that reflected brilliantly off the brightly painted walls. Beyond it, another doorway led to a verdant courtyard, which the Romans called a ‘peristyle’, as Barbara dutifully informed them. Other doorways led into more colorfully frescoed and expensively furnished rooms. They wandered from one to the other, marveling at the beauty, but never meeting a single soul.
“Where is everyone?” Barbara wondered aloud. “We ought to have encountered the household staff by now. What’s taken everyone away? What could have made them want to leave such a beautiful place?”
“Perhaps they didn’t want to,” Ian suggested. “Perhaps a fickle emperor chopped someone’s head off, or a plague killed them all.”
Barbara and Vicki’s eyes went wide at the mention of a plague, but the Doctor waved a dismissive hand.
“A plague would leave bodies!” he reminded them cheerfully. “No, no, I’m sure we’re quite safe!”
“Oh look, Doctor!” Vicki interrupted. “It’s a map!”
She scooped a sheet of papyrus off a table, and brought it to her companions.
“Look!” she said excitedly, pointing. “This map shows where we are, and this is the town! We were almost there after all! It’s so close, we’ve got to go! Can we, please?”
The Doctor took the map for a closer look, but Barbara and Ian were skeptical.
“I think it’s getting late Vicki,” Barbara suggested gently. “We’ve got someplace to stay now that we’ve found this villa, I’d say we ought to wait till tomorrow.”
“Yes, and maybe we’ll find something to eat still in the larder,” added Ian.
“Well then,” responded Vicki, “you two can stay here and explore the villa, and the Doctor and I can go and explore the town!”
“The child makes an excellent suggestion, I think,” declared the Doctor, looking up from the map. “You have a thorough look round this place, and I can make discreet inquiries in town about what happened to its inhabitants. And Vicki can have her adventure! Now, doesn’t that sound reasonable?”
Both Ian and Barbara were still skeptical. Splitting up had never yielded a positive outcome in their travels, and there were many times when the Doctor had sounded reasonable that hadn’t quite turned out. In fact, there had been quite a few times when things had turned out very badly indeed. But since neither of them could come up with more than vague foreboding as a reason for saying no, they agreed.
To this Vicki gave a shout of ‘hurrah!’, grabbed the arm of a highly amused Doctor, and practically pulled him out of the villa and toward the road to town.
Ian and Barbara laughed fondly as they watched the two disappear in the distance, then turned their attention back to the beautiful house around them.
“Well,” Ian said, looking up at a statue in a niche, then down at a mosaic on the floor, “the TARDIS has certainly landed us in the lap of luxury this time. We’d better enjoy it while it lasts!”
“I don’t know, seems too good to be true to me,” Barbara admitted. “I half expect a Dalek to leap out at us from behind the topiary!”
Ian grinned and nodded. “Life with the Doctor has certainly taught us that nothing’s impossible. Still, I think the universe owes us something after all we’ve been through; a little rest in a Roman villa is no more than we deserve. Shall we continue our appraisal?”
Ian held out a hand to Barbara.
“Yes, of course,” she replied with a smile, taking the proffered hand. “While one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, we should at least have a look at the kitchen.”
So they strolled hand in hand through the house, the gardens, the outbuildings. Everything was peaceful, idyllic, serene. Until Barbara got absorbed in examining a clever trompe l’oeil fresco, and didn’t notice that Ian had gone off in the other direction. Suddenly, the silence was shattered by an urgent shout.
Her heart leapt into her throat at the sound of Ian’s voice. Of course it had been too good to be true!
“Ian! Where are you?!” she called out, frantically looking every which way. This always happened when they split up! Oh why on Earth did they ever split up?! Honestly, they should have known better by now!
“Barbara! Down here, quickly!”
She followed the sound of his voice along the corridor and down a flight of stairs. Oh, she just knew it! She’d get to the bottom and find him faced with bloodthirsty bandits, or a vicious attack animal, or a whole platoon of Daleks, guns pointing and suckers… doing whatever they did!
At last she reached the bottom, caught sight of him standing in the middle of the room, and flung her arms around him, clutching him desperately.
“Ian! Ian, what’s the matter?! What is it?!”
“Barbara!” He grasped her tightly by the shoulders and stared into her eyes urgently. “Barbara… it’s… it’s the wine cellar!”
He turned her around sharply, and made a sweeping gesture toward rows of shelves lined with amphorae labeled ‘vino’.
“Just look at it, Barbara!” he urged, squeezing her shoulder as a euphoric smile lit his face.
Barbara was dumbstruck for a moment.
“Yes, but… Ian, I thought it was something important! I thought you were being killed or something!”
“Being killed? Of course not! Didn’t I tell you this place was our much-deserved reward? And now look! Alcohol! Lots of it! It’s like the gods are smiling on us! Can you even remember the last time you had a drink?”
“Well, no,” Barbara admitted, a little more longingly than she’d expected. In a villa like this, it was likely to be rather good wine, too.
“It’s not our wine though,” she pointed out. “We can’t just take it for ourselves if it belongs to someone else.”
“We were going to take their food,” Ian countered. “What’s the difference?”
“Food’s a necessity, and it spoils. Wine is a luxury that keeps.”
“Trust me, after more than a year of fighting Daleks, and Aztecs, and being thrown into prisons, and dungeons, and nearly killed in more ways than I can count, wine is a necessity. Besides,” he leaned in conspiratorially, “isn’t the historian in you the least bit curious to find out what real ancient Roman wine tasted like?”
She knew him too well not to realize he was goading her, but still, his arguments were highly persuasive.
“Well, I suppose, in the name of scholarly investigation…”
“Yes, Barbara! Yes!”
“And they do have quite a lot of it here, but we’d only be taking a little bit…”
“That’s the spirit!”
“And you know what… you’re right! It could be the universe is rewarding us! We might be slapping away the hand of God if we didn’t drink this wine!”
“Precisely, Barbara, precisely!”
Ian gleefully squeezed her shoulder and kissed her cheek. “And who are we to slap away the hand of God? Come on!”
Barbara surrendered herself to the spirit of the venture, and joined Ian in grabbing up an amphora with great enthusiasm. They laughed like naughty schoolchildren, and dashed up the stairs with their prize as fast as their legs could carry them.
Dusk was falling as the Doctor and Vicki approached the villa once again. The Doctor had to struggle to keep up with his young charge, who was still full of energy and excitement.
“Oh Doctor, won’t Barbara and Ian be pleased when we tell them the villa’s owner got posted to Gaul, and we can stay as long as we like? And I can’t wait to show them our new Roman clothes! And- Doctor, do you hear… singing?”
They stopped to listen, and the Doctor thought he heard the faint strains of a ditty that contained the lyric ‘yes, we have no bananas’. He frowned, not quite sure what to make of it.
“Come along, my child, let’s find out what the others are up to.”
As they neared the villa, they became sure there was singing coming from two people inside, and it dissolved into laughter as they stepped through the front door. They followed the sound until they found its source: Ian and Barbara, each lounging on a divan, giant silver goblets in hand, babbling and laughing away. The pair looked up when the Doctor and Vicki entered.
“Hey! Look! You’re back!” Ian exclaimed with a drowsy grin. He raised his glass. “To your good health!”
As he drank, Barbara pointed at the Doctor with a giggle.
“Doctor! You’re in a dress!”
“I am in a toga, young lady,” the Doctor corrected sharply, “and I would expect you of all people to know that! Just what sort of sorry state have you got yourselves into now, hmm?”
The Doctor cast a disapproving eye over the room. There were cushions strewn all over the floor, as well as Ian’s tie, and Barbara’s shoes, which looked as though they had been kicked off with abandon, since they now rested several feet apart, on the opposite side of the room from their owner. But it was the empty, overturned amphora on the table that explained it all.
“Ooh, so serious, Doctor!” Barbara chided through more giggles as she sipped from her goblet.
“Maybe that’s his name!” Ian laughed. “Doctor Serious!”
“No, Doctor Grumpy!”
The two teachers howled with laughter at their joke, while Vicki looked perplexed, and slightly alarmed.
“Doctor,” she whispered urgently, “what’s the matter with them?”
“They’re drunk as skunks!” The Doctor replied loudly and irritably. “That’s what’s the matter with them!”
Ian looked up at the Doctor with the drowsy grin again. “I’m drunk? Oh. How very nice!”
“I am certainly not drunk,” Barbara declared with great importance, struggling unsuccessfully to sit upright without spilling her goblet. “I am never drunk. And if my friend Beryl tries to tell you different, she’s a rotten liar!”
“Yes, I’ve read about this,” Vicki said, pityingly. “Of course, alcoholic beverages are banned in most places on Earth in the 25th century, but we learned all about it in our history courses. How it impairs judgment and motor functions and such. What do we do about it?”
“Try to get them to bed is all we can do, and let them sleep it off!”
The Doctor took the goblet from Ian’s hand, and pulled him to his feet. “Come along, Chesterton, you’ve had quite enough!”
But Ian didn’t seem to hear a word the Doctor said. Instead, he draped an arm around the Doctor’s shoulder, rooting him to where he stood.
“You know Doctor,” he began earnestly, squinting at him through bleary eyes, “you’re not a bad egg, really. Oh, you’re completely crazy of course, and I seriously question most of your life-choices, but really, on the whole, I’m awfully glad we’re friends.”
Ian then attempted to give the Doctor a hug, but since Ian was much taller, and much less stable on his feet just then, he nearly knocked him down in the process.
“Steady on, my boy!” The Doctor shouted in alarm as the two of them began to topple over. “Help, Vicki!”
“I’m coming, Doctor!”
Vicki sprang into action, grabbing the back of Ian’s jacket, and pulling him by the arm.
“What? What’s the matter?” Ian asked vacantly as the Doctor and Vicki pulled him to his feet.
“You should be in bed!” Vicki informed him as she and the Doctor managed to get him supported between them.
“Nonsense!” he replied lightly, before closing his eyes and losing consciousness in his friends’ arms.
“Get him into that chair!” The Doctor directed with urgency as they struggled under his now dead weight.
With effort, they succeeded in dumping him into the chair. He slumped limply like a rag-doll, but he was in one piece, and the Doctor decided that was good enough. He turned his attention to Barbara next, but she had already passed out, draped over a cushion on her divan, the contents of her goblet dripping onto the floor.
“Oh dear,” Vicki said, looking from Ian to Barbara, and over the disastrous room.
“Oh dear indeed!” agreed the Doctor, with a snort. “We’ll just have to leave them like this!”
Then the Doctor took Vicki’s hand, and his tone became lighter. “Come child, let’s each find a bedroom for ourselves, and get some much needed rest.”
Vicki nodded in assent, and as they walked out, the Doctor glanced back at his two besotted, dozing companions, adding, acerbically: “They can sort themselves out in the morning!”
Ian opened his eyes. Light, painful blinding light! Everywhere! Was he dead? No. He just wished he was. He shut his eyes again as he became aware of a terrible throbbing in his head, and snatches of the previous night’s excesses spun round in his mind.
Somewhere close by, he heard a soft, high voice groan piteously. Barbara. He opened his eyes again, and saw her sitting up with one hand clutching her stomach, the other her forehead. She squinted at the room around her.
“Oh no,” she said, looking horrified, and very green at the gills.
Voices floated in to them from elsewhere in the villa:
“But I don’t understand, Doctor! The owner’s in Gaul! You said we could stay as long as we liked!”
“Well I’ve changed my mind! Now go and change into your other clothes, we’re leaving!”
Footsteps sounded on the tile, getting closer, until the Doctor appeared in the doorway. He had a scowl on his face as he looked at his companions.
“Well,” he pronounced sternly, “I’m sure the pair of you are feeling quite sorry for last night, but you’ll have plenty of time to ruminate on that in the TARDIS. We’re leaving immediately!”
“Oh but Doctor,” Barbara protested, “we’ve only just got here! And Ian and I could certainly use a quiet place to rest just now.”
She emphasized this last point by sinking back onto her cushions miserably.
“And I just heard Vicki say the owner of this place is in Gaul,” Ian added groggily, attempting to sit up. “Why should we leave, then?”
“Why?” the Doctor looked incredulous. “Why, you ask? Look around you, my boy! Look at yourselves! Your shocking display last night makes it abundantly clear that you cannot be trusted to resist the temptations of a place like this!”
“Now Doctor, that’s unfair,” Barbara countered, sitting up again, despite looking as though the effort might finish her off. “We certainly overdid it last night, I don’t deny that! But I hardly think one lapse in judgment proves that we’re somehow morally deficient.”
“Oh no?” the Doctor peered down his nose at them sententiously. “Well then, I think you’re just plain inconsiderate!”
Ian was puzzled. “Inconsiderate? How?”
“What else should I call it when two people, who are supposedly my friends, take all the wine for themselves, and don’t leave even a single drop for me? Hmm? Hmm?”
The two teachers stared at the old man in amazement, then at one another. That couldn’t have been what was behind his sudden disapproval… could it?
“Doctor,” Barbara ventured, “there’s plenty more wine, you know, we certainly didn’t drink it all.”
The Doctor’s frown softened a little. “What’s this, then?”
“There’s a whole store-room full,” explained Ian. “Enough to last for a very long time.”
Almost at once the Doctor’s face took on a more benevolent expression, and excitement rose in his voice as he stroked his chin thoughtfully.
“A whole store-room, you say? Hmm… well, well! That’s very interesting! Very interesting indeed! Perhaps I’ve been a little hasty in my decision to leave- the Roman Empire is a fascinating civilization, after all. We oughtn’t to miss such a fine opportunity to educate ourselves about it… yes, yes! Education, that’s it! We’ll need at least a week to properly absorb the culture, possibly two. Or perhaps even a month! Hoo hoo!”
Ian and Barbara exchanged glances as the Doctor walked out of the room, happily prattling away to himself.
“Vicki, my girl!” they heard him say, “What are you doing in those clothes? You’ll never blend in like that! Go and change at once!”
Ian rolled his eyes, and Barbara couldn’t help chortling softly.
“Oh well!” she shrugged.
Ian never ceased to be astonished. That was the Doctor for you!
Crisis averted, Barbara leaned back on her cushion with a yawn, and Ian was about to close his eyes again, when the Doctor reappeared in the doorway.
“Just one thing, Chesterton,” said he, thoughtfully, “I must say, I find it quite touching to know that you feel that way about me. Yes, yes, quite touching indeed.”
They had just time to catch sight of the roguish smile that was spreading across the Doctor’s face, before he turned on his heel, and vanished into the next room.
Ian stared after him, mouth agape in surprise, before turning to Barbara curiously.
“Barbara,” he asked, cautiously, “what happened last night, precisely?”
“I wish I knew!” Barbara replied, trying not to laugh, lest her headache worsen. She put her hand to her forehead. “But now I do know why the ancient Romans used to water down their wine! We probably should have done that too… come to think of it…”
Ian’s eyes went wide. “WHAT?! NOW you tell me?!”
“Oh Ian, I’m sorry! But we learned our lesson, at any rate.”
“I’ll say!” Ian leaned forward, rubbing his throbbing temples. “Next time, for God’s sake, Barbara: When in Rome, let’s bloody well do as the Romans do!”
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