“A hole in the universe,” said the Doctor, trying not to sound too worried about the situation.
“There's a lot of that going about,” said Romana. “Do you think we should do something about it?”
“Ah,” said the Doctor, “I may have... already done something about it. With the cracks, and with people building guns that punch holes in reality.”
“Yes, why are you so interested in violent women?” she asked.
“She was only trying to get back to see me!” he protested.
“I can't imagine why.” She pulled her coat tighter around herself and stepped aside to avoid something left behind by the local fauna. “What universe is this anyway?”
“No idea,” said the Doctor. “I hope it's one where they use cake as currency, I'm starving.”
“You should have thought of that before we left the TARDIS.” Romana kicked a stone out of her path. “You realise we're stuck here if we can't find some way to refuel her?”
“Yes, I did realise that,” said the Doctor, irritably. He stopped walking and waited for Romana to stop as well. She didn't, so he ended up running after her. “I'm getting the sense here that you're blaming me for this predicament.”
“It was quite a large hole in the universe. Not something I would think you could have missed.”
“We all have our off-days,” he snapped. “Besides, I really doubt we're stuck. I think we'll be lucky. I'm a lucky person.”
“I don't believe in luck,” said Romana.
“I don't either,” said the Doctor, eager to regain the conversational upper hand.
Romana stopped walking and the Doctor paused as well, if only because he'd fall over her otherwise.“I think we should split up.”
The Doctor stared at her. “What? Over this? One tiny little hole in the universe and you want to call it all off? After all that's happened?”
“It was a large hole, and I meant we should walk in different directions so that we're more likely to at least find out where we are.”
“Oh,” said the Doctor. “That's what I thought you meant.”
“Didn't sound like it.”
“Then perhaps you weren't really listening to me.” He pointed back the way they came. “I'll follow the path back that way. You go the other way and we'll meet back at the TARDIS at sunset.”
“Alright. Just don't run off with any violent women.”
“And then,” said the Doctor to his new best friend, “she told me not to run off with another woman. As if I would. By the way, are you by any chance a knight in shining armour? It's just that you're very... shiny.”
The man smiled. “Have you been knocked on the head again, perchance? Or have you imbibed some magical concoction that renders the mind foggy?” He nudged the less-important looking man he was with. “Or is it merely too much ale that plagues you thus?”
“And why are you talking like Chrétien de Troyes wrote your dialogue? Are we in Medieval World?” The Doctor looked round the mostly-empty tavern. “This looks like the Dark Ages crossed with the early Renaissance. It's not very accurate, is it?”
The knight chuckled. “Is this one of your games? Are we perhaps being tested?”
The Doctor had a sudden horrible suspicion. “Do you know me?”
“Of course. I doubt there is a knight in all the land who doesn't.”
The Doctor leaned forward across the table. “What's my name?”
“Ah, definitely a test! What would you have me answer this time?”
“What do you normally call me?”
“Why, you are Merlin, of course.”
“Right,” said the Doctor, standing up suddenly, “it's time I was off. Nice to meet you, Galahad.”
“Merlin, I am Gawain. Do you truly not know me?” The knight's companion moved to draw his sword and Gawain stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Merlin?”
“Could you stop calling me that, please?” The Doctor looked round in something of a daze. He wanted to leave but he wasn't entirely sure where he'd go if he did. “I need to find my friend. The one I was telling you about.”
“The ungrateful wench who stole your heart?”
“Yes, that's the one.”
The two knights conferred quietly. Finally Gawain stood. “First,” he said, “I think I shall take you to see the King.”
Romana, also known as The Ungrateful Wench, had problems of her own. She'd managed to get herself captured after wandering into a castle. Something about “trespassing,” which was a very silly concept when you thought about what it entailed. Of all the things for people to get upset about, really...
“Who are you?” asked the man in the black armour.
“I'm Romana,” she said, then added, “Lady of Gallifrey, Daughter of Time, Third-but-one Heir to the House of Dvora,” because that seemed like the sort of thing someone who lived in a castle might be impressed by.
Indeed it appeared that the black knight was impressed, because he leaned forwards on his throne and said “Gallifrey? The estate of the Lords of Time?”
“Yes,” she said grandly, “I see you've heard of us.”
The knight beckoned one of his entourage over. “Inform the Queen that a Lady of Gallifrey is in the castle.” He turned back to Romana as the man left the room. “Do go on, my Lady. What news of Gallifrey? Are the Lords of Time in good health?”
“You certainly don't hear them complaining,” she said, which was technically true. “Would you mind telling me your name? I do so hate being at a conversational disadvantage.”
He smiled at her in what was probably intended as a friendly manner. “I am Mordred, heir to these lands.”
Romana sniffed. “An unelected system of government? How very quaint.”
“Oh,” said Mordred, “you're one of those people.”
The Doctor waited impatiently for the King of the Britons to arrive. It was already near sunset and Romana would be wondering where he was when she got back to the TARDIS. He told himself that it was fairly unlikely that dragons had eaten her. He wasn't even sure if this universe had dragons, though it seemed like the sort of place that would have stupid things like that.
A door opened at the end of the room and the assembled audience adopted submissive postures.
“No need to...” he started, then realised that it probably wasn't him they were bowing to. “Oh.” He turned round and got his first glimpse of the living King Arthur. The King was disappointingly shorter than he'd imagined him being, but the Doctor rather envied his ginger hair and beard. The Doctor had yet to get over discovering that he himself looked rubbish with a beard.
Someone important-looking coughed significantly. The Doctor shrugged. “I don't bow, sorry. I've got a bad back.”
“Liar,” said Arthur with a wide grin. He waved his entourage away and headed for his throne. “One day you will show me the proper respect, Merlin.”
“I wouldn't bet on it,” said the Doctor.
Arthur sat down. “I see you still have thoughts of replacing me with demons.”
The Doctor translated that in his head. “Despite the name, democracy isn't about demons. Though you do get Conservatives, which are similar.”
“Ah, Merlin,” said Arthur, “I have missed your strange prattling.” He sat back and looked at the Doctor critically. “Why do you wear the aspect of a child?”
“Can people please stop going on about that? It's not like I did it on purpose.”
“As you wish,” said Arthur generously. “But tell me, what is the meaning of the bow on your neck? Is it perhaps a talisman?”
“It's another thing I wish people would shut up about. Your majesty,” he added, in case he'd gone a bit far. “Well,” said the Doctor, backing away, “it was lovely to see you but I do have certain things I should be getting on with.”
“But surely you are here to aid us in our battle with Morgaine?”
“Morgaine the Sunkiller? About so high, red hair, looks a bit like you?”
“Aye, the cruel-hearted whore of decay and wastage.”
“Will it take long?” asked the Doctor, getting a sense of the inevitable.
“We meet in battle in two days,” said Arthur. “Fear not, your ship of time is being brought to Camelot as we speak.”
“I'm supposed to be meeting a friend there!” the Doctor protested.
“Then someone will wait for him.”
“Her,” the Doctor corrected.
Arthur smiled knowingly. “Your face may have changed, but your interest in the wenches remains.”
“It's not like that. Well, no, it is like that. But it usually isn't. And I wouldn't call her a wench if I were you, she might get upset.”
“A Time Lord.”
Arthur nodded. “A woman of science, then. Good. Perhaps she can aid us in our fight against Morgaine's old magic.”
The Doctor frowned. “I thought you liked magic.”
Arthur shifted in his seat, exchanged glances with one of his servants. “Things have changed here, Merlin. We must discuss this later, in private.”
“Does private mean fewer than twenty people in the room?” asked the Doctor.
“It means,” said Arthur, “that first we must eat.”
The Doctor's stomach perked up at that. “I don't suppose you have any fish fingers?” he asked hopefully.
Romana finished her food and pushed her plate away. She smiled at the servant who lifted it from the table, but he didn't seem to appreciate the gesture.
“Well,” she said, “this has all been delightful, but I really must be going.”
Morgaine smiled and shook her head. “Now we must discuss more important matters. Firstly, do you know Time Lord who calls himself the Doctor?”
“In the Biblical sense?” asked Romana, who wasn't really very good with anachronistic archaic English.
Morgaine waved a hand. “In any sense.”
“Yes,” said Romana, “he's my companion.”
Morgaine chuckled. “I knew there had to be a woman behind his might.”
Romana smiled. “Well, yes.”
“I have such problems with men,” said Morgaine. “My brother has decided that the women of this land are too powerful, and seeks to take our inheritance from us.”
Romana felt a revolution coming on. “How dreadful. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“We make battle soon, I would not decline your assistance, Lady Romana.”
“Oh, just Romana will do.”
“As you please.”
“And can I call you Morgaine?”
“No,” she smiled.
“You,” said Arthur, “placed the idea in my mind last we met. With science behind us, we can rid this land of witches and wizards for all time.”
“Um,” said the Doctor.
“Yourself excepted,” said Arthur, “though you always did protest the title of wizard.”
“Don't worry, I still do.” He looked down at the plans and notes on the table between them. “So you... want me to build you some war-machines?”
“I would that you could make what we have work!” cried Arthur. “My alchemists are unsuited to the tasks I have set for them.”
“You're in a magical universe, Arthur,” said the Doctor, “you can't just get rid of magic.”
“I can if it will rid me of Morgaine!” Arthur exclaimed. The Doctor was starting to get the sense that the king tended to a trait that might be termed reality-challenged.
He was also starting to understand how annoyed River must be every time she ran into a spoiler situation. “I'm not sure that'll work,” he said. “What's a hero without a villain?”
There was a knock at the door. Arthur waited for the Doctor to answer it, then sighed as he realised the worthlessness of rank in the room. He spoke quietly with whoever was there and then returned to the table. “Doctor,” he said, “I have grave news.”
“Is it about your wife, because frankly -”
“Our spies report that your woman has been captured by the Sunkiller.”
“What a surprise,” said the Doctor, realising that he really should have seen that coming. “Is she hurt?”
“Not yet, as far as we know.” Arthur slapped the Doctor on the back. “We can always find you another.”
The Doctor rubbed his eyes. “Arthur, if you ever say anything like that again I'm going to... well, I'll do something you won't like.”
Arthur nodded like he understood. “She has stolen your heart.”
“She happens to be a Time Lord,” said the Doctor. “And she's probably almost as clever as I am. So you've got as many problems here as I have.”
Arthur's eyes lit up. “A Lady of Time! A fair damsel, doubtless in distress! Doctor, we must win this battle and free this maiden!”
“Not so much a maiden,” said the Doctor before he could stop himself.
Arthur nudged him conspiratorially. “I would expect nothing less of you.”
Yet again the Doctor wondered what his future self saw in this man.
“I think,” said Romana, “that you can help us with the TARDIS. After we've won the battle, of course.”
Morgaine looked over her battle-plans at Romana. “Your ship is not a beast of science?”
Romana shrugged. “If magic works then it might as well be science. It's not what I was brought up with, but it takes all sorts to make a multiverse.”
Morgaine looked at Romana as though sizing her up. “There is... information I have withheld,” she said finally.
“Arthur holds the Doctor hostage, and has styled him Merlin. He plans to use him to win this war.”
Romana closed her eyes. “Oh, Doctor, what trouble have you got yourself into this time?”
Morgaine placed a hand on her arm. “Arthur will not kill him, at least not until the battle. You need not worry, not if we are to be victorious.”
“I really should try to rescue him.”
Morgaine considered this. “Arthur will have influenced him by now. He will have fed his mind with lies and deceit. I know my brother well.”
“Oh, the Doctor's almost as clever as I am, I'm sure he'll see through it.” She looked down at the map of the kingdom. “Besides, I worry about what he might do if he ends up on the wrong side of a war.”
Morgaine shook her head. “I cannot allow you to place yourself in danger, Lady Romana.”
Romana nodded and tried to work out the best way to leave the castle after nightfall.
The Doctor fell and landed on something soft and familiar.
“I was coming to rescue you,” he said.
“I was coming to rescue you!”
“Yes, well we've rescued each other now, haven't we?” He stood up and helped Romana to her feet. “Are you alright?”
“I'm fine. Did Arthur hurt you?”
“Of course not. What about Morgaine?”
“She was very accommodating.”
“Accommodating? She's evil!”
Romana glared at him in the dark. “I wouldn't expect you of all people to fall for misogynist propaganda.”
“What? What's she been telling you?”
Romana thought for a moment. “You know, I rather suspect we've both been lied to.”
“That does seem likely,” said the Doctor. “Shall we go back and try to sabotage the whole thing?”
Romana shook her head, then remembered that he couldn't see her. “No. I think we need Morgaine's help to power the TARDIS.”
“I'm not letting King Arthur lose! That's not how it's supposed to happen!”
“Supposed to? According to who?”
“According to everyone! Have you never read any Arthurian literature?”
“Should I have?”
“It might have helped in this situation, so I'm going to say yes.” He thought for a moment. “Have you tried seducing her?”
“I think she's only interested in her own brother.”
“Should I try to seduce her?” He thought back to when he'd last met her, and wondered if that would explain anything.
“She might turn you into a newt.”
He shrugged in the dark. “I'd get better.”
“So what do we do now?”
The Doctor thought for a while. “Swap?”
“And Merlin agreed that he would exchange himself for you?” asked Arthur.
“Yes,” said Romana. A few of the women in the room sighed.
Arthur made a fist and hit the arm of his throne. “That fool! How shall I defeat Morgaine now?”
“Flame-throwers?” Romana suggested.
Arthur looked at her properly for the first time. “A mechanical dragon? You could construct such a device?”
“I can see why he likes you.”
“Romana must care for you very much if she will risk Arthur's wrath for you.”
“She's smitten,” said the Doctor. “I can't really blame her.”
“Arthur despises women,” said Morgaine.
“I don't think he really likes anyone,” said the Doctor. “I don't know why I'm supposed to like him so much.”
Morgaine smiled. “Your other aspect is less... pleasing.”
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. “Would you like me to seduce you?”
Morgaine stared at him. “You think you can fool me so easily?”
“I see where the brains of the family went,” he said. “Look, me and Romana just want to leave. We don't want to get involved in your war. On either side. So if you could fix us up with some power of some sort, we'll be on our way.”
“What if I decline?”
“Then Romana will make sure that you both lose.”
Morgaine looked at him with something like respect. “You choose your lovers well.”
“We sort of chose each other.” He paused. “Do I still have to seduce you?”
“That went well,” said the Doctor when they were safely back in their own universe.
“Well?” said Romana incredulously. “We almost went into battle against each other!”
“But we didn't, so I call that a good day.”
“Hmm,” said Romana. “How did the seduction go?”
“A wizard never tells,” said the Doctor.
“She turned you down.”
“Arthur tried to get me to have sex with him,” said Romana. “I had to kick him in the groin.”
“Ouch,” said the Doctor.
“Oh, it didn't hurt,” said Romana, “these boots have steel toe-caps.”
The Doctor winced and crossed his legs.
“Still,” said Romana, oblivious, “I got some wonderful embroidery tips from the ladies of the court.”
“Let's stick to our own universe from now on,” said the Doctor.
“Probably a good idea, yes.”
“Was that really your future?” she asked.
“Not if I can die first,” said the Doctor.
Romana kissed his forehead. “I think you make a very good damsel in distress.”
“I wanted to seduce a witch,” he said sulkily.
Romana produced a coin from behind his ear. “Will this do?”
He looked at her. “Can you do card tricks?”
“Then prepare to be seduced.”