People sleep when it's dark and rise, when the sun does. Or so they used to do, in these times. I, on the other hand, was awake before the sun showed her face, unable to fall back asleep. The fire had gone out again, leaving the house in icy coldness.
Only a thick candle illuminated the main room, just bright enough to vaguely make things out. There were firestones and tinder and wood and all that. I glared at the stuff with pursed lips. Making a fire without burning down the house should be possible, shouldn't it? Otherwise I would also have to wash with cold water.
Then again... I really didn't dare starting a fire on my own.
"I really am a weakling," I grumbled to myself, grabbing the candle.
Beside the sleeping niches there was only one other room, in which the tub stood. And a bucket of water, that was still half filled. Well, fuck it, I thought and got myself somewhat clean. The cold water made me shiver at first, but then forced my body to heat up on its own. In the end I splashed the rest over my head, gasping for air, but feeling not too bad, in the end.
There was no food left from the evening. And, obviously, also no coffee.
Who again had begged to stay here?
I sighed, rubbed my eyes and donned my boots and cloak. Should I leave a... well, I had nothing to leave a note. How did people communicate back then? Scratching my head I stared at the door, wondering if the Time Lords would look for me at Gerion's or if they'd be worried.
The Master certainly not.
The Doctor probably was too distracted for worries.
In the end I only shrugged, put out the candle and left the house, pulling the heavy wooden door close behind me. No lock. Of course not. Why would anyone lock their door here? I huffed and walked through the sleeping village. Only a few people were out already, using the diffuse light to prepare things.
I saw what the Doctor had helped doing, yesterday. There were evergreen and pine twigs, mistletoes and red berries on the houses. All signs for life and growth. Speckles of colour in the seemingly everlasting winter months. I ended up in front of the mead hall, admiring the needle trees in front of it. They also were decorated, with wooden figures of the gods and apples, mostly. It made me smile to think about how Christians had stolen all those old traditions to transform them into what people in my time knew as Christmas. Almost all of it can be traced back to Yule.
What I also had seen was the damaged houses, the burnt down ruins of what once were homes. One part of the village was almost completely destroyed. We hadn't past that one, yesterday and I wondered what had happened. Another tribe maybe. In these days they often fought for land and power. But usually they would choose open fields for that. Destroying what one strived to own wasn't a very wise tactic.
I startled, spinning around. In the silence of the destruction I hadn't heard anyone approach. Now I saw it was Ivar, without his bow, but with a small basked propped against his hip.
"What happened here?" I asked, gesturing towards the destruction. "Raiders?"
"No. Don't come here anymore, yeah?" It wasn't a threat, only a warning, softly spoken.
Ivar shook his head and smiled. "Don't think about it. We have to deal with it ourselves. Come, I bet you don't have any food. But there are plenty of fish in the sea." He shook his small basket and nodded towards the shore.
When I had first seen him, yesterday, Ivar had seemed quite young. The impression didn't change now. He probably wasn't much older than I, his features neither edged nor soft. Somewhere in-between. The beard definitely made him look a little rougher.
I followed him silently, although my curiosity regarding the burned houses was almost overwhelming. As I got aware of it, I inwardly scolded myself, remembering the Master's words from last night. He probably was right. One day it would kill me.
"You went fishing so early in the morning?" I eventually asked, just to distract myself.
"Sure. No better time for it. No one is out stirring the water." He chuckled and stopped, setting the basket into the sand, only a few meters away from the water. "Here, start the fire already, I'll disembowel the fish meanwhile." With that he tossed some firestones in my direction and nodded towards a prepared fireplace.
I frowned at it and at the stones in my hands, cursing inwardly for not having practiced it in the house. Then again, I wasn't willing to let show that I was clueless and squatted down to hit the stones against each other. There was tinder on the bottom of the fireplace, igniting that should be enough, right?
"Having trouble?" came a happy, familiar voice. I glanced up, finding the Doctor standing in the sand, hands in his coat pockets, a grin on his face. "Come on, how hard can it be to got some sparks in the right place?"
"Don't scold the boy," Ivar said calmly. "If you don't teach him anything, he can't know."
"Riiiight," the Doctor said slowly. "Weeell, I wasn't scolding." He squatted down next to me and took the firestones. "It's really not that hard, see?"
I watched closely and took the stones myself to successfully light a small flame. The sight warmed my heart with a little pride, that grew only in size when the Doctor gave me an appreciating smile. It hadn't been often in my life that people had given me the chance to be of use, had never taught me much and always left me on my own with everything, only to then blame me if I couldn't do things properly.
"What about the fish?" Ivar pointed at the ones in the basket. "Want to help with those?"
"Not me, nope," the Doctor declined. "I'm really not made for the bloody work."
"I'll help," I agreed, kneeling down next to the black haired.
He smiled and gave me a small knife, showing me how I had to cut. "And then you can just pull out everything at once, see?"
I nodded and wasn't too bad at following his example. We tossed the innards into the sea and roasted the prepared fish above the flames, watching the sun rise over the water.
"Such a simple life, isn't it?" the Doctor commented. "Sooooo boring. But here and there it's good to remind oneself of... just how it could be."
"You speak as if your life is quite different from ours," Ivar answered, picking up one of the fish to test them. He reached another one towards me.
"Weeeell... in a way, yes. In lots of ways, actually. Far too many ways to even start." He, too, took a fish and started eating, luckily being quiet in the process. Not for long, though."Say, Ivar," he continued, "what caused the fires in your village? They are not from any raiders, right? And I found some strange..."
"It would be safer for you and your companions to keep your head out of this. We can deal with it." Ivar never raised his voice, and still there was a dangerous edge to it, all of a sudden.
"But we could help."
"No." Again it was softly spoken, but determined. "I do not know where you come from, but of the three of you, Erik seems to be the only one who is forged for battle. And he does not seem like one to use his skills to help."
"There are ways to deal with dangers, without fighting them with axes," the Doctor countered.
"True. But not this one."
Ivar got up and shoved sand over the fire with his boot. "I cannot stop you from poking your nose into things, traveller. It is only a well meant warning."
When we arrived at the forge, Gerion stood behind his anvil, while the Master – again in his gambeson – waited on a stool, a sword laying over his knees and another, smaller one, sticking out next to him from a heap of snow. When he saw us approach, a nasty smirk foretold nothing good.
"As it seems," he drawled, staring at the sword in the snow, "it is my task to nudge some dents into you, today."
He didn't move. Only his eyes wandered to me, glinting with a dangerous promise. I swallowed, getting nervous. The blacksmith was strong and fast, but nonetheless human. The Master, on the other hand... His lips widened to a toothy, wolfish grin. He rose from the stool, grabbed the small sword and held it with the hilt towards me.
He barely left me enough time to grip tight, pushed against my shoulder to let me stumble backwards and almost fall. I had never held a sword and simply did what I had practised yesterday with the axe, tearing it upwards to shield my head from the incoming blow. The Master let his sword clash against mine, the impact shuddered through my hands painfully, almost making me drop the weapon.
"Well, the reflexes aren't so bad."
"They'd be better if my muscles wouldn't ache so much from yesterday," I grumbled, lowering the sword.
"Say that to an enemy." The nasty grin was back.
I took a breath, gripped the handle and took on the stance Gerion had taught me. Still, the next attack sent me right to my butt and suddenly I lay there, facing a blade that pointed at my throat.
"Dead." The Master's voice was rough, cold.
"Stop that." I tried to push his sword away, but couldn't. There was something in his eyes, a deadly glint, as if he could hardly keep himself from slicing my throat. "Master," I breathed warningly, feeling the sword press against my skin.
Then it was gone and he chuckled while I heaved myself from the ground. There was no blood, no wound, but I could still feel the cold steel.
"You're not going to land a blow by just standing there." He waved, having his sword leaned against his shoulder.
I steadied myself, gripping the weapon tighter. That one day hadn't taught me enough to really attack. I could barely defend myself and even that with more luck than skill. And I also was a little scared I might accidentally hurt him. Alien or not, being unskilled could be more dangerous than anything else. Slowly I took a few steps to the right, then one forward, but stopped.
The Master used my hesitation to shoot at me like a lightning bolt, weapon clinging against mine. Catching the blow pressed all air out of my lungs and I stumbled back, quickly raising the sword again when I saw the Master came after me. The strikes weren't that hard, but enough to exhaust me quickly. He left me enough room for counter attacks, smirking snidely when I didn't use them.
Suddenly my back hit a wall and with a loud thud the Master's sword drove into wood, only a centimetre away from my head. I would only have to move in a wrong way to cut myself. And would I move forward... a smaller blade was on my throat. Only a knife, slightly pressing against my pulse. Our eyes met, his filled with a mad gleam, a barely contained urge to hurt, accompanied by a not less threatening grin.
My pulse thudded against the blade, breath coming rapidly. The Master chuckled.
"Never let such chances slip, lil' lumin. You could have done the whole universe a great service, just now."
"I... what? Even if... you would have just evaded."
"You could still have been lucky." The blade scratched my skin. Only a little. "Lucky, stupid little human." He leaned down to my eyelevel, grin wide. "I can barely keep myself from slicing you up."
"Master," I almost whispered, but the knife only cut deeper.
Something warm slid down my throat, telling me he wasn't going to stop. The irises of his eyes almost completely swallowed the hazel, left nothing but blackness. It hurt. But the way he acted scared me a lot more than the pain. The Master seemed to be completely out of control, his own self slipping from him, swallowed by a darkness he couldn't fight.
I dropped the sword and reached up, closed my hand around his fist that held the knife. There was no mental contact, not even a tingle. He was completely closed off.
"Master, you're scaring me," I whispered.
And that seemed to help. The grin faded, the pressure against my throat lessened, but the darkness in his gaze stayed. The Master pushed himself away from the wall, left the sword sticking in the wood. His eyes wandered over me, nose wrinkled in disgust.
"Pathetic thing you are," he only remarked, turned around and just left.
I watched him, unable to understand what had just happened.
"There you are. Gerion said you and Erik had a fight. And it escalated a little." It was Ivar, his steps crunching on the stones. "You're alright? He said you were bleeding."
I only grumbled something inaudible, not in the mood to speak. After the fight I had wandered off, had strolled through the nearby woods until I had found a nice spot in the warm sun, near a creek.
Ivar sat next to me and nudged me with his shoulder. "You'll get sick if you keep sitting here."
"I don't care," I mumbled. "I'm completely useless anyway."
The black haired laughed. "What makes you think that?"
I turned my head towards him, scowling. "You don't even know me. But even you saw that I can't do shit. And people hate me for it. It's always the same," I spat. "My whole fucking life has been like this."
"Don't be so hard on yourself." He smiled and ruffled through my hair. "Gerion told me he was surprised how fast you learned, yesterday. And he liked that you thought for yourself instead of bluntly following his orders."
"He didn't. You just made that up."
Ivar laughed, stood and reached a hand out to me. "No, it's true. Come."
"Hunting." He grinned. "Some meat for diner is always nice."
I blinked at his offered hand, searched for anything mocking in his features, but found nothing. He wasn't teasing me, was just... friendly. For a moment I hesitated, but then took his hand.
We were quiet, most of the time, to not scare away the wildlife. It had something soothing to it, wandering through the snow covered forest, having the crystal clear silence of winter around us. Ivar taught me how to avoid making much noise, showed me the different footprints of animals and where to best search for them.
He also let me practice with his bow, patiently let me try a few shots. Pulling the bowstring wasn't easy for me, neither was aiming. Two rabbits kept their life this day, three more lost it, although not by my hand.
Darkness had already settled when we returned, the village only illuminated by the bleeding out light from fires in wooden homes. My breath evaporated in front of me, raised up to the stars in the clear evening sky. I followed Ivar home, helped him skinning and gutting the rabbits. A part of it was for my companions, the rest...
"Come back, yeah?" Ivar told. "I'm sure they can handle the meat themselves."
"Huh, come back? Here?"
"My mother taught me to prepare the best rabbit stew you'll ever eat, promise." He winked at me with a happy smile.
More lessons. Why not. He was a good teacher and the Time Lords probably had nothing interesting to do for me anyway. Let alone the fact that I wasn't so keen on seeing the Master.
It didn't take me long to return. No one had been in the guest house, so I had simply left the meat there. It wouldn't spoil, given how cold it was in the hut.
The stew was already cooking over Ivar's fire pit, smelling delicious. Since morning I hadn't eaten and now my body let me know how straining the day had been. There was no rest yet, however, as we went out to chop some wood, while the food was cooking.
"See?" Ivar eventually said, smiling. "You are capable."
My axe splintered the log in half and I watched sceptically as the wood clumsily fell down. Today I had tried a lot of new things, but hadn't really succeeded at any of them. Still, I gave him a thankful smile and followed inside, where we finally ate. And it was indeed delicious.
"Thanks for today," I mumbled, placing the emptied bowl next to the fire. "That was fun."
Ivar smiled, heaved the pot down and put it aside. The fire spread warmth and cosiness through his house, where I sat on pelts on the floor. He dropped down next to me, staring into the flames for a bit.
"Are women treated so badly where you come from?"
Perplex I looked up at him. "What do you mean?"
Ivar smiled. "Why else would you pretend to be a boy?"
Shit. Well... it had only been a question of time before anyone would notice. He laughed at my shocked face and nudged me. "I won't tell anyone. But it wasn't hard to see. So... are they mean to you?"
I shrugged, deciding to stick to the truth.
"No. They aren't. Just..." Weird, I saw only curiosity on his face, where I had awaited judgement and maybe even rejection. "I... didn't want to be treated differently. Not as if... I'm weak."
Ivar huffed out a laugh. "Your people seem to be strange. Our shield maidens are as fierce as our warriors. And even those who do not fight... no one would dare to call them weak."
"Then your people are better than mine," I grumbled, remembering how often people had refused to teach or let me do things, only because of my gender. "It's so weird. The lives you live... it's so much... simpler."
"Simpler?" Ivar chuckled. "How can it be simple to struggle for survival each day? Is it so different in your settlement?"
Settlement... If only he knew about the cities, seemingly reaching from horizon to horizon, about villages that were as large as whole kingdoms in his days. "We don't have to worry about shelter and food so much," I told. "Life is easier, but still a lot more... complicated." I glared at the flames, sighing. "Here, life is harder in itself, but... simpler. Just that."
"I think I understand. In a way." Ivar sounded thoughtful, eyed me from the side. Suddenly there was a smile on his face, the blue of his eyes reflecting the warmth of the fire. "You could stay here."
My heart leapt to my throat. Could I? In my own time no one was missing me. The Doctor was accepting my presence, but only half willingly. The Master... I still couldn't place his intentions. It seemed he still hated me, on some level, could hardly keep himself from killing me, even. The only reason he didn't do so, was because he thought I might be useful in the future. And maybe a little because of his drums.
Useful. My gaze dropped to the floor.
"I'd only be a burden to everyone here," I mumbled bitterly.
He nudged me with his shoulder and laughed. "Look what you've learned in a single day. How old are you anyway? There's enough time to learn."
"Older than I look." I sighed, glancing at Ivar, who still leant against my shoulder with a warm smile. It was so easy to talk to him, somehow. "I'm... thirty-one, actually."
"Two years younger than I. See? That's no age." He poked my arm. "And you're not weak either."
At that I huffed, but leaned a little against his shoulder. It almost happened without thought, just some comfort seeking.
"Look," Ivar continued, "I have no idea how people live in your place. But it seems you never had to wield a weapon, or to hunt."
"Yeah, yeah, rub it in."
He chuckled and poked me again until I looked at him. There was amusement in his gaze, but also a friendly warmth. "And despite that, when Gerion asked you to pick up an axe and fight, you did without hesitating. When I gave you my bow and told you to shoot, you also did." Ivar leaned a little closer and fixated my eyes, his voice was soft, pleasant even. "I see no fear in you. A lot of sadness, yes, but not weakness."
I swallowed and smiled a little at his words.
"You really don't need to hide, Roka. You possess a strength that others don't." My breath hitched when he reached up a hand to cup the side of my face. "Where others would hesitate, you don't even ask."
"I... can't see that in myself," I confessed quietly, leaning just a tiny little bit closer. What was I doing there? I shouldn't... shouldn't fall for how easy this felt.
"That's a shame," he muttered, a little closer now, lingering, hovering. "There is such a fascinating fire burning in your eyes."
Ivar leaned forward, carefully moved his lips against mine, testing. For a second I froze, just savouring the sensation, then responded, eyes fluttering shut. My hand played with his beard and he smiled when I couldn't resist tugging a little at it. The kiss broke off, but we stayed, hovering. I returned the smile, shyly, but then caught his bottom lip between mine, urging to resume what we had started. What was there to lose?
Ivar's hands were on my side, sliding up feather-light under the tunic until they reached the binder. I was sure there was nothing the like in his time, but the buckles got opened nonetheless. He smirked a little proudly and gently pulled the tunic over my head.
"See? Nothing to hide."
No, there wasn't. There was no reason to be uncomfortable, every doubt melting away from his reassuring look. I hooked a finger into his collar and helped getting rid of his shirt. The cloth landed on the ground, quickly forgotten, replaced by my fingers that wandered over his skin, my eyes admiring the tattoos he had on his chest and arms, tracing along some scars.
"I need a few tattoos on my own," I mumbled, smiling.
"That won't be a problem." Carefully he pushed me down by my shoulders, lay me back onto the warm, soft pelts. His finger traced along my collar bone, making me shiver. "Here would a great spot for a crow."
He chuckled and lay next to me on the pelts. I turned to face him, admiring the warm blue of his eyes until he drew me against him to resume the kiss from before. How could this be so easy, I wondered. I felt warm and secure and smiled a little at how gentle he was, how we both took our times, savouring the presence of the other one. There was no hurry, after all.