I rushed to the exit as soon as the landing noises stopped, tearing the doors open. My smile dropped – and then returned full force.
"Snow!" I called out, running outside.
It was broad daylight, no aurora anywhere.
I even forgot to put on something warm, my mind only set on being outside, enjoying the view of glowing white hills and green conifers nearby. The sun let tiny sparkles of glitter dance across the frozen surfaces, warmed me up only a little, but enough to enjoy being outside for some more minutes. I walked circles in the snow, swept small heaps away with the tips of my shoes and took far too many deep breaths of the icy air.
Soon I started to shiver and moved back to the TARDIS, where the Time Lords still stood, observing my silly behaviour. Right now I really didn't care what they thought about it, too giddy with excitement. I only noticed a small, almost warm smile on the Master's face and it startled me.
The Doctor also smiled, but more in a proud way. "Come on, get something warm before you freeze." He nodded inside. "Human bodies are so frail. And so not made for cold environments."
I snorted. "Yeah, you're right. Le'me guess. You lot don't freeze?"
"Not as fast," the Master told mockingly. The odd smile had vanished.
"So not fair," I mumbled and shook my head. Then I looked at the Doctor, raising a brow. "I haven't seen winter clothes in my wardrobe..."
"No problem. There's a huge one in the TARDIS. Has everything you'll ever need." He beamed and rushed inside, leading the way through some corridors.
I gaped at the sight of countless things to choose from. There were clothes in all styles and for all occasions. Whatever one was looking for, they would surely find it here.
"Come along," the Doctor said, nodding in a particular direction. He led me up a small winded staircase to a section of clothes that looked somewhat medieval. "You might take some of those. Should be more fitting for the time."
"When are we? Middle ages?" I picked up a fur hood, admiring how soft and warm it was.
"Mhm... roughly in the ninth century, actually. Somewhere in the Icelandic regions."
The tunic I had picked up fell out of my hand as I gaped at the Time Lord. "We're going to see some Vikings! Please say it is so!"
A proud smile widened on his face, even completely reached his eyes. He giggled childishly and nodded. "Yep," he said, popping the 'p'. "It's a special day and it will be an even more special night."
A special night? What could it-
"Oh, how about that one?"
"That's... a dress." I shot up an eyebrow.
"Well, yeah. Why not? It's a good one. Not too rich, not too shabby. Just like a normal dress from back then. Probably."
I folded my arms, waiting for his ramblings to finish. "I'm not wearing a dress."
"Oh." The Doctor dropped the clothing. "Hm... well... I'm not sure what else women wore these days. There are only some tunics and... mhm..."
Meanwhile I picked up some light brown linen pants and a reddish tunic with embroidered embellishments around the collar and the wrists.
"That'll do," I decided, also picking up a belt. "And maybe..." I chuckled and left the Doctor standing, searching the wardrobe for something else.
"You know..." the Master drawled, letting his eyes wander over me. "You look like a boy."
I grinned impishly at him. "Was that supposed to be an insult?"
"Pffff, everyone'll know, anyway, as soon as they see your..." He raised both brows, roaming his eyes over my chest. "Seriously? You even bound your chest?"
"And there the TARDIS has so many nice clothes," the Doctor mumbled from behind.
"'m not going to wear a dress. Period," I stated. "Besides, you've got no idea how often people mistake me for a guy." I pointed at my short hair. "And it's not the first time I bind my chest. I like how it looks." I shrugged and grinned. "So, can we go now?"
The Master still observed my attire, chin in hand, eyes squinted. "I'll get some of those, too," he mumbled to himself and rushed away to the wardrobe.
I shook my head with a smile, while slightly rubbing over my eyelids. The TARDIS had also provided me with contact lenses, but I had so seldom wore some that I needed a little to adjust to them.
The Doctor made no move to change out of his usual brown suit. Instead he crossed his arms and ankles, casually leaning against the console.
"Don't you like being a woman?" he suddenly asked.
"Huh? Err... hm." I shrugged.
"You know there are places where they can get you surgery and all that," he continued calmly. "Way better than on earth."
"Oh. Heh, no. It's not that." I stretched a little to get used to the new binder. "Used to have some... problems when I was a child. Always thought I'd rather have been born a boy."
"Why's that?" He actually smiled reassuringly, signalling that this was nothing weird at all. There was only curiosity in his voice. No judgement.
If only all people were like that, I thought o myself. Over the years I had met so many who were shunned and treated badly because of stuff like that.
"Cause my family had quite the old-school view on genders, I guess. And I was the only one to despise dresses, dolls and pink and all that stuff." I gave the floor a snide smile. "Later I never fitted with the other girls... never had the same interests, were more into videogames and books and science, instead of crushes, gossip and makeup."
"Aha!" he shot out. "So it's the way your time and age thinks women have to behave, right?"
"Yeah," I admitted. "Have no problem with being female, physically. Just don't like the societal aspect of it." I chuckled and pointed at my chest. "And I don't wanna get rid of those. Just like the way it looks when it's flat. Not always. Just from time to time. That's all."
The Doctor nodded thoughtfully and smiled again. Sometimes he had a way of just making you feel understood, accepted. It was weird, foreign to me. Humans never were like that. They always judged, always assumed something bad, always had their prejudices, whenever someone deviated from the norm.
"Weeeell..." He beamed at me. "You sound sure about this."
"Heh, yeah. Took me long enough to figure out I can be female without always having to behave like one. So yup, I am sure."
"Alright. That's good to hear."
"But thanks," I mumbled, slightly smiling back. "For the offer, I mean."
The Master returned, clad in all black, wearing a leathern gambeson with some buckles over the chest and a broad belt around his waist, leathern bracers, linen pants and high boots. He also had a dark pelt-cloak over his shoulders, although it seemed far too short for his size. I gaped at him, astonished how cool he looked in that attire.
"You definitely need a longer beard," I commented.
The Master laughed, stroked his goatee and gave me a wink. "Like what you see?"
"Yeah man, you look badass!"
He grinned way too smug at that comment, but it wasn't a lie. He surely had a talent for fashion, even when it was functional. Before we could move, however, he took the cloak off his shoulders, only to step in my direction and tossing it over my head.
He tugged at the pelt until it sat correctly and secured it with a metal pin. Perplex I glared at his hands, watching them, before my eyes raised to meet his. There was a mocking smirk already sitting on his face.
"I hate doing things in vain, you know? If you wanna freeze to death, do it after I'm done with you."
I chuckled and nodded, adding a sarcastic, "Yes, Master."
Judging by the smug smile, he definitely liked the response. His gaze then wandered over to his fellow Time Lord, shaking his head.
"Not going to blend in, are you?" the Master asked sarcastically.
"Nothing wrong with my clothes!" the Doctor whined and rushed away before we could protest.
"Actually," the Master casually tossed in as we stepped outside into the white winter world. "I'm more surprised you're not locking me away to go alone."
"Well... you had already changed so... Oh look, there is a squirrel!" The Doctor excitedly pointed at the small animal that was running through the snow. The distraction was so obvious I had to shake my head. "It's not far. Right behind this hill."
None of us brushed the subject again and we plodded through the snow until we reached the peak. And there, right below us, lay a small village, right at the shore to the sea. The houses were wooden, with low hanging roofs, and there was a large building at the edge, decorated with carved wooden statues and ornaments. Probably the mead hall, where the earl resided with his family.
We were greeted with curious gazes and suspicious whispers, but most people didn't pay much attention to us. There was a weirdly tense atmosphere, as if they were waiting for something. And not for something good.
Eventually one of the men approached us. He wore raven black, tousled hair and an almost elegant beard that was braided to two short plaits. His eyes, however were of a dark blue. It seemed like he was a farmer or a hunter, wearing simple clothes and dirty hands. A bow hung over his shoulder, a quiver below his waist.
"Greetings, travellers," he started, his voice sounding firm, but not too rough. He actually was only slightly larger than the Master. "You've come by a bad time, even though Yule is nearing."
Yule! My eyes widened in excitement. That was the special day the Doctor had mentioned.
He immediately rushed past me and built himself up in front of the man.
"Bad time? Is there trouble? And what kind of trouble? Big, small, ugly, smelly?"
The black haired scratched his beard, eyeing the Time Lord suspiciously. "You wear strange clothes, traveller. Where are you from?"
"Oooch, you know, from here and there."
"We found the clothes during a raid, last winter," I tossed in. "We got lost in the snow and found a small settlement. No idea where it was, exactly."
My heart raced as I babbled out the words. It probably was better if they thought we were of a similar kind. And the Doctor, right now, truly did his best to be suspicious as hell.
"A raid, I see. Well, the three of you alone won't manage to take us all down." He winked with a smile that was both, charming and dangerous. "We are preparing the fest of Yule. And everything that lies beyond. If you desire so and have some tales to tell, feel free to stay. Maybe the gods will keep Fafnir away until the sun returns."
"Fafnir?" I couldn't help but ask curiously. "The dwarf who turned into a dragon?"
"Ha! The little one knows. You taught him well, friends. Yes, the dragon, indeed. But let's not speak of him. Come, I'll take you to the blacksmith, he might have something to do for you to pass the time."
"To do for us?" The Master squinted at the man. "That sounds horribly as if you expect us to work."
He got nudged into his side by the Doctor, but the damage was already done. I held my breath, inwardly cursing. I really badly wanted to see a true Yule fest for myself and those idiots were about to get us tossed out before we even had arrived properly.
The black haired, though, only laughed out, grinning at us. "It gets cold fast when you don't keep your body moving. And lots of damage has been done to the village, recently. We will treat you well and share mead and fire with you, let you celebrate the sun and the gods with us."
"Sounds fair. Lead the way." The Doctor nodded enthusiastically and tossed a dark look at the Master.
So he did, stepping along the wooden houses, decorated with snow. I took in the atmosphere, marvelled wide eyed at all the things I only knew from books and TV shows. Sure, they didn't have all the comforts of modern life, but they were so much closer to nature. Not to speak of the stunningly beautiful environment.
White dust hung in the cold air, the smoke of fires rose into the sky from every house and from some places outside. People were busily doing their work, crafting, tending, chatting away, some staring at us. A few children waved, then ran away giggling.
"Oh right," our guide suddenly said. "We haven't even introduced one another. I am Ivar Bjornsson, hunter, mostly. Although I have been onto some Raids with the others."
"Very nice to make your acquaintance," the Doctor replied.
I quickly took the word, however, not wanting him to tell their weird names… and mine.
"He's called Laeknir of the tides." I pointed at the Doctor, then thumbed at the Master, whose eyebrow shot up warningly. I swallowed, but continued anyway. "He's Erik, son of Logir. And I…" For a brief second I paused, my mind rushing through the few Nordic names I knew. Preferably one that was sort of androgynous.
"My name... is Roka."