“Where are we?”
“When are we?”
The Doctor looked around, sniffed the air, and squinted up at the sun; he bent and studied the vegetation, dipped a finger in the Nile, and tasted the water. “We are right where we should be.” He stood up and smiled at She of little faith.
Donna Noble’s skeptical look softened into a happy smile. “I can’t wait to meet Cleopatra,” she gushed. Donna checked her hair, which had been done up, along with make-up and nails, by Salon TARDIS to fit in with the then-current style. She smoothed the gauzy ankle-length dress and striped, long-fringed linen wrap. “Do I look ok? Will she think I’m a Roman noblewoman, maybe a friend of Julius?”
“Donna Noble, I never knew you to worry about what others thought!”
“This isn’t others; this is Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, last Pharaoh of Egypt.”
“And you are Donna Noble, the Empress of my hearts! I can’t wait for her to meet– Oh.”
The Doctor pulled at his cute little ear, scratched the back of his fantastic head of hair, and bit his oh-so-edible lower lip in that way he had that showed off the dimples in his chin and cheeks. Donna knew they were in trouble. “What?”
“It would be better if you didn’t mention me, Donna; and pretend you don’t know who she is–no names, just Yes, Great One; As you wish, Daughter of the gods; and such.”
“The last time I left Cleo--” Her Doctor smiled boyishly, so not a good sign! "-- I, well, left Cleo. I’m not too sure how she’d take to meeting you, new girl and all.”
“You stood up the Queen of the Nile?!”
“Oi! I’m the Lord of Time! I stand up whomever I stand up! I answer to NO ONE!”
“Oh, really Martian?”
Donna hadn’t called him that in a very long time. ”Donna I only meant…It was five hundred years ago on my personal timeline…I was young and, well young…and–“
Fortunately he was interrupted by a division of soldiery-looking men carrying very big pointy weapons. There’s nothing like imminent death to take a woman’s mind temporarily off murdering her lover.
“Is that a welcome committee, Doctor, or irate family and friends?”
“You could ask one of them, Donna, but I think your time would be better spent enjoying a very brisk pace just ahead of me!”
Donna ran. Hearing what sounded like a scuffle, she looked back over her shoulder. No Doctor right behind. She stopped and backtracked, hiding behind a cedar of Lebanon to watch the Doctor try to reason with palace guards–like that ever worked! Even in this dangerous situation Donna Noble couldn’t stop the snort, only quiet it. The soldiers dragged the Doctor away, still trying to be reasonable. Donna followed stealthily.
It took Donna less time than usual to come up with a plan to spring the Doctor. Donna’s plan was pretty straightforward, simple, logical, practical, and therefore, she was sure, pretty much doomed from the start.
It was common knowledge that every morning a group of the Royals and most high-born women of the kingdom left the walled city-sized palace to spend the day at an ancient Egyptian version of a day spa on the banks of the Nile. There, they washed their hair, gossiped, and compared the size of their boobs and thighs. A sumptuous lunch was served by mostly-naked eunuchs from golden plates and carnelian goblets. As the sun rose higher, some of the pampered women napped on silk chaises that were rocked gently on golden poles held by aforementioned eunuchs (Eunuchs needed a union.), while others napped on barges steered along the Nile by more mostly-naked eunuchs (Mostly naked eunuchs so needed a union.) Then some not-too-shabby looking slaves showed up to give them full-body facials, paint kohl on their eyelids, and henna their nails and other assorted body parts. Painted and anointed, the women gossiped and drank, laughed and giggled through the afternoon, beneath giant waving feather outdoor air conditioners wielded by their MNEs (Though from her place of concealment, Donna noticed that one MNE was getting felt up a lot by a lot of the giggling ladies, and neither he nor his little skirt seemed to mind.).
One girl, always in the middle of a swarm of chattering women, always more pampered than the others, always on the most luxurious chaise with the most bejeweled eating utensils, and more inclined to spank than feel up, was the famous Queen of the Nile. Even from Donna’s distance, Cleo seemed rather young to have buried a husband/brother or two and inspired at least two plays. After intense observation, Donna could swear that this Cleopatra was jailbait even for a four hundred year young Time Lord. When she heard Cleo called Princess several times, Donna concluded that the Doctor had gotten the time part of their space/time objective wrong.
Cleo was pretty–Donna would give her that. Nice use of kohl as well, and lovely jewels. But despite the daily bathing, the Queen of the Nile was sorely in need of soap. Obviously in ancient Egypt, anointing was more a necessity than a show of station. Maybe that’s how the phrase putting on airs got started. Oh, Donna could teach Cleopatra a thing or fifteen, starting with the subtle use of perfume to inspire and hold a man’s interest, and the value of Nile water for more than barging and playing games with that *air-quotes* eunuch. It was no wonder skinny arse couldn’t hold on to her Doctor
Oh. The Doctor.
Donna stepped out of the bulrushes along the river as if she’d just come off the path from Windsor Castle and walked into the group. “Hyah, girls!” Donna smiled. “Heard about this place by word of mouth. Do they give coupons? I have coupons, y’know.” She cocked her head toward the cute but questionable eunuch. “Buy one, get one.”
Before the end of the day, Donna had exchanged beauty and skin tips and heard all the latest dirt on the rich and infamous (She didn’t get a lot of what they said–names, addresses, interrings alive–even though the TARDIS was translating for her; she must’ve been on holiday when they studied ancient Egypt.). She also had agreed to host the next pre-burial celebration (hopefully for someone she didn’t know). Donna Noble had become Cleopatra’s new best mate.
As the women…well, their slaves, packed up the picnic baskets and waited for the local version of the tram to take them back to Windsor, girlfriend Cleo asked Donna if she’d like to come home for dinner. (Actually, Cleo had simply gestured for Donna to follow, but by this time Donna was an adept time traveler and could translate culture-relative words and body language.) Donna was thrilled; step 1 of her plan had been accomplished very easily. On to step B: spring the Doctor from his ex, again.
Donna followed the girls as they followed the Nile a bit; but as the trail turned sharply from the bank, away from some of the more disgusting, fly-infested bulrushes, Donna thought she heard a child crying. Dropping back to take a look, Donna spied a bit of dress disappear into the brackish-looking water.
“Hey, girlfriend,” Donna called to Cleopatra, “go on ahead. I’ll take the next bus.” Cleopatra nodded, and once she was out of sight, Donna dropped her wrap and waded through the bulrushes to investigate. A young woman-child, so work-worn it was hard to tell her age, was hurrying away through the water, desperately trying to push a basket through tangles of bulrushes. Quickly catching up, Donna put her hand on the girl’s shoulder to stop her. The girl jumped back in terror. “I won’t hurt you sweetheart,” Donna said softly. “I just want to help.” As Donna reached for the woven basket, the girl put herself in front of the basket and looked at Donna with fearful but courageous determination in her huge, dark eyes.
“I promise I’m not one of them. I won’t hurt you.”
"If you are not one of them, what are you doing with them?”
“My friend is a prisoner, I’m going to get him released.” Donna smiled, the girl was scared, but she was brave and asked intelligent questions.
“Pharaoh releases his slaves only when he gives them to their family for burial.”
Donna’s stomach knotted. Ok, typical day out with the Doctor; she should be used to it. “Oh, they’ll let him go, all right,” Donna said grimly, her eyes burning like novas, “or I’ll…”
She stopped. She’ll what? Time, Donna; place, Donna.
“...or I’ll start a rebellion!”
“You are a very brave woman!”
“No, not really; but he’s…” Donna Noble’s eyes softened. “He taught me that if something is the right thing to do, the time to do it is as soon as I can, and it’s worth any chance I have to take to see it through, no matter what it costs me personally. If I’m not for myself in times like this, who will be for me? He taught me to have faith in myself, because I have complete faith in him.” Donna blushed. “So, what can I do to help you?”
“I am called Miriam. They want to kill my brother Chaver Avigdor son of Amram and Yocheved,” the girl said. “There is nowhere else to go; I’ve been hiding him here for days.” Miriam gestured to the basket. An infant, maybe three months of age, slept inside the tiny floating cradle, wrapped in a dirty piece of cotton, smiling and dreaming of his mother’s breast. “We hoped I might find someone to take pity on a baby.”
The baby woke suddenly and let out a cry.
“Aw, sweetie…” Donna picked up the child, put him to her shoulder, and patted and rocked him. He burped then quieted immediately.
“The Lord God sent you to help us,” the girl whispered in awe.
“Nah, the Doctor. But they’re on the same side.” Donna grinned.
“Yeah, he doesn’t have a name like we do.” Donna scratched her neck and made a face. “At least not one that I know. I think maybe it’s unpronounceable except in his language. He’s powerful and kind. Well, he can get angry, but he always has a good reason. He’s... “ Donna shrugged, blushed and changed what she was about to say. “He’s just what he is.”
“You do the bidding of the One!”
“Well, we work as a team, really; we’re more like equals, he and I.”
“You are the female presence of the One?”
“Donna thought about it. “You could say that.” She smiled at the girl. “I like that.” Miriam started to say something more, but they were interrupted. Cleo’s voice coming closer meant that Cleo’s body was coming closer as well. And quite possibly Cleo’s foot soldiers.
“Donna! Where are you?” Donna handed the baby back to his sister and pushed them down out of sight.
“What are you doing over there?” Cleo called from the bank.
“Oh, I was just looking for…” Donna looked over her fingers, as if counting the number of rings, shrugged, and looked down into the bulrushes. Big brown eyes looked up at her, two sets, unafraid and full of hope.
“I thought I heard talking. There is no one with you?”
“Talking? I was...” Think Donna Noble, quick! Quick! She and the Doctor must have met a goddess somewhere or, oh, that stupid movie, what was…
"Ishtar!” Donna remembered. “Ishtar dropped by, but she had to cut out. Big gods & heroes party at her place tonight. Drinking, sacrificing, dancing. She had to do her hair and nails, find a new…”
“Astarte speaks to you?”
(Got it: same deity, different nickname.) “All the time.” Donna made a little duh noise with accompanying gesture. “Oh, she can be a right bitch at times, but I put up with that ‘cause… well, you know. Right?”
Donna’s bluff seemed to be working. Really working. The princess dropped to her knees on the bank, a mixture of terror and awe on her face, and made one of the five most common of the universal (really universal) signs of reverence.
"Does Astarte have a message for me?”
“Yes! Yes, Astarte says you need a child.” There was a little squeal from below, and Miriam’s head popped up, but Donna pushed it back down.
Cleopatra considered Donna Noble shrewdly. “Very well, girlfriend Donna, I shall endeavor to have a child.”
“No, I mean not just any child.”
Donna mouthed to Miriam: “Do you trust me? The child nodded her head. “This infant is beloved of Astarte,” Donna told the princess, while making subtle signs to Miriam. The girl passed her brother into Donna’s hands. To someone watching from the bank, the baby seemed to appear out of the tall bulrushes as if by divine magic. “A gift from the Goddess to you.”
Donna carried the baby out of the water, stopping to retrieve her long fringed shawl and wrap baby Chaver in the striped swaddling. As Cleo rose from her knees, Donna moved toward her, holding the infant toward the Egyptian.
“The Goddess says… no, the Goddess Astarte commands!” Donna let the most impressive and commanding, Don’t mess with me I’m the Doctor attitude infuse her voice. “Accept the gift of this infant from me, and this young girl as well.” Donna snapped her fingers twice, and Miriam appeared, again as if from somewhere unearthly, and walked slowly toward them. As she passed, Donna winked at her, and Miriam gave her back a slight nod.
“Keep them both safe and happy in your house throughout their lives and the Goddess will bring long life and happiness to you, really hot men to your bed, and riches and greater greatness and lots of tourism to your land.” Cool. She was really getting off on Divine power. “The Goddess said to me, Say to the Queen of Egypt: Do this and all will be well; disobey me and I will bring down plagues of sickness and invasions and drought.” Remembering a bit of an old movie she’d seen with her parents every Easter when she was growing up sometime in the future, Donna said in the deepest most authoritative voice she could muster, “So it is written, so it shall be.” Then for good measure, Donna threw in a little Star Trek. “Live long and prosper,” she intoned, raising one hand, her middle and ring fingers parting with a v-shaped space between, to make the iconic Vulcan sign.
“I shall do as the Great Goddess Astarte instructs.” The princess took Donna’s hands and kissed them, rather embarrassing Donna. “I promise you, Oh great Astarte, upon my life and my kingdom.”
So young Cleopatra thought Donna was this Astarte goddess! Cool. Maybe she could parlay this into a get out of jail free card for the Doctor.
“One day I shall return for my children. Until then, keep our covenant. Remember: you are my chosen one, my best mate, my kohl-eyed Girlfriend. So says Astarte. Now you will take us to the palace, where we will feast and be entertained until our revels here are ended.”
“Yes, Goddess.” Cleo turned to the girl and handed her her baby brother. Come. You and the little one will be safe with me for the rest of your lives. I swear on my bondwoman’s life.”
Eh? One of life’s great comedies, Donna Noble decided, was how the rich and powerful never accepted their full responsibility, while madmen and evil geniuses tried to take responsibility for more than their poor sick minds could devise.
Donna wiped some Nile crap off Miriam’s face. “I’m not a goddess, you know,” she whispered, “but the Doctor will take care of everything.” She kissed the girl and her baby brother.
Carrying her brother, Miriam followed Cleo through the bulrushes. Donna, with a determined look, ready for part D, or 3, followed behind.
Until a hand came down on her shoulder. Donna jumped, but quickly turned to fight her way out. Or talk her way out; she was after all one for naught on the Doctor on that.
She needed to do neither.
“Oh, Doctor! You escaped!” Donna threw her arms around the Time Lord, wanting, needing to nuzzle into his neck, wrap her face in the heady smell of him, suck the addictive taste of him. But as usual, his buttoned-up shirt kept her from the Promised Land. And his tie, with that big, bulky but perfect Windsor knot that only she…could tie…that perfectly.
Donna looked up at his really great hair, which he was playing with in that way of his when–
Donna looked down at the Doctor’s feet; he was rocking back and forth in Nile goo. Well, squishing back and forth in Nile goo, but it meant the same thing.
“Yeah, see; this isn’t Cleopatra’s Egypt after all. We’re…oh…about thirteen hundred years earlier. And YOU, Donna Noble–you brilliant time traveler, you–just saved Moses from Pharaoh’s death edict against the Israelite males. Think of the irony of it: by making Pharaoh’s daughter think you were the great creation goddess–very well done, by the way but don’t let it go to your head–you assured the spread of monotheism.
"Look at what you accomplished all on your own, Donna Noble! You introduced the idea of the Shekhina as the indwelling and nurturing female aspect of the one unknowable God. You gave Miriam a hand game to play with little Moshe that will become part of the priestly blessing–didn’t remember that Spocky one though, might have tried to stop you if I had. You gave the fledgling Jewish people the basis for their pronouncement of individual moral responsibility. The great Rabbi Hillel will ask, If I am not for myself, who is for me; if I am only for myself, what am I; and if not now, when? and you humans will take his challenge along with Moses's principles for a just society out among the stars, where most of the people you will meet look as little like you lot as Charlton Heston looked liked Moses but will be just as awed by the magnitude of your present. It's all because of you, Donna Noble! What do you think of that!”
“Did you date her?”
“This Egyptian princess.”
“Oh! You mean Bithia?”
"Did you and she you know?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say she and I knew each other in the biblical sense.”
Donna Noble’s stomach unknotted, and she let out a great, green-eyed sigh.
“Of course, the Bible hadn’t been given the Israelites yet.”
“Oh, Donna.” The Doctor rubbed his cheek. “I have met a lot of people–time traveler after all. But not a one compares–”
“Oi, Casanova, in any century, that’s a load of rubbish!” Donna caressed his cheek and kissed it gently. “I’m sorry. Bad habit. But that really was Moses?”
“Cute kid. Spit up on me, though, all down my front, when I burped him.”
‘You burped the greatest Jewish prophet of all time, the father of monotheism?!”
“What can I say, Doctor. My bosom is mightier than your tongue; with it I can cajole or calm the great and the greater.”
Donna smirked. Daring him. The Doctor didn't have to say it; his Donna knew he'd put his tongue up against her bosom any day.