This night I sat by the fire with Ivar for a long time. There was no way to properly tell him what had happened, so I probed him for stories of his own, instead. There were many stories I knew and of which I told the end to the beginning, or a part in-between. Ivar had fun testing my knowledge and was astounded to find it quite rich. A fact that only existed because I used to be a little obsessed with paganism and Norse mythology.
There were, however, also a lot of details he knew differently, and even a few tales I had never heard of. But, whenever it was his turn to ask for stories from the place I came from, I declined, which probably let me seem more mysterious than I was.
Then again was time travel really not a subject to reveal here.
We talked until my eyes fell shut and until I found myself unable to stay awake for even a second longer.
"I don't want to sleep," I grumbled sleepily when Ivar guided me to the bed.
"I'm noticing," was his softly amused reply. He still managed to gently push me down and wrap a blanket around me, before he snuggled himself under it. "You're afraid of something, aren't you?"
I sighed and nestled against him. "I don't want to dream again. Each time I do, it seems my life deteriorates a little more. And they scare me… The things I feel then."
"I see." His voice was soft and he pressed a warm kiss to my forehead. "Don't be afraid. Whatever happens, just remember that you're not alone, will you?"
I hummed, but neither agreed nor declined. What was there to say anyway? Because the thing was… No matter the temporary comfort… In the end he was wrong.
Morning came way too early, making me regret the long night. It also made me aware that there had been no dreams, this time. None I could remember at least.
Besides, this period in history wore a depressing lack of coffee.
Shortly after sunrise everyone met in the mead hall. Here I saw the settlement's earl for the first time. A thin but muscular man, tall and with a thick red beard. He sat on his wooden throne at the upper end of the hall, fingers steepled, eyes observing.
There was lots of chit chat, the mood was tense and excited at the same time. I wasn't sure whether to be surprised or not to also find the Doctor among them. He had wanted to look further into the dragon, after all.
And he was alone.
The realisation sent a little sting through my chest and I inwardly scolded myself for it. The Master had made it very clear that he didn't want me any longer. And the Doctor hadn't want me from the very beginning.
I made sure to avoid him, although our eyes met a few times. There was no chance to talk, however, because the earl now spoke up. His voice was rough, but pleasant.
"Fafnir came again," he started. "And I am not a man to sit around, awaiting death. I assume you share this trait."
Loud murmuring went through the hall, heads were nodded, axes and bows raised in agreement.
"Good… good." The earl rose and stepped down to the rest of us. "We know vaguely in which direction the dragon vanishes. I will send someone to search for tracks and find out all about his hideout. It is an important task. We need as many information as possible, before we attack." The tall man stepped amongst the people and lay a hand on top of a boy's head, smiling down at him. "We need to keep our families safe. But we must not storm to battle unprepared, we must not risk our sons losing their fathers unnecessarily."
"I will go." Ivar stepped forward. "I know these forests and hills like no other here."
The earl turned to him and nodded his head. "Ivar, the fruitless." Some men laughed, but the earl raised his hand to silence them. "Running around in all this snow must be what froze your seed." Again some laughed.
I looked up at the hunter. Was that why he was on his own still? In these times children were as valuable as gold. Not being able to have some was like... well... what they thought of him was clear from their behaviour. However, the earl interrupted their taunting quickly.
"You are right, Ivar. There is no better man for this than you and your bow. Take whomever wants to follow and be back by dawn. We will prepare and head out by midnight."
Ivar turned back and lay a hand on my shoulder. "Come along?"
I nodded eagerly and followed outside, catching some glimpses of questioning looks and snippets of what the earl told about preparations. It didn't take long and the Doctor also joined us, appearing seemingly out of nowhere.
"Now, espial is more my cuppa," he happily started to talk. "All they speak about in there is fighting and Valhalla and stuff... Err... it's okay with you two, isn't it?"
"Okay?" Ivar arched a brow. "Is that even a word? But if it means what I suppose, then yes, come along, Laeknir. More eyes see better."
We left the village behind us quickly and followed a worn path into the nearby woods. Ivar tossed a glance at me and gnawed on his lip.
"What's bothering you?" I finally asked.
He sighed and his shoulders slumped a little. "I... Well, I should apologize."
"Because... You know why."
I huffed and laughed a little, shaking my head. "Honestly, I have not the slightest idea, Ivar. Come on, tell me."
"Really not? Huh, alright... Uhm..." Ivar hopped over a stone and pointed at the next path we would follow. "About what the earl said."
My eyes were mostly glued to the ground so I wouldn't stumble, but now I looked up. "Won't we be back by dawn?"
"No. The other thing. I... had a wife some years ago. But she was never with child and so she left, and with her new husband... well... she hadn't been the problem."
I shrugged. "So? What do I care?"
"What do you..." Ivar stopped in his tracks and observed me. "I asked you to stay. And didn't even tell you."
Surprised I glared at him, then my mouth dropped open as I understood. Well, of course, would I chose to stay it would also mean... well, crap. My face got warm and I totally was at a loss for words, making Ivar even more uncomfortable. The Doctor also was no help, running around with his screwdriver and scanning every tree and bush and dung pile he could find.
Ivar coughed. "That's why. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked and..."
"Wait, stop." I held a hand out to signal him to be quiet. "I'm certainly not mad because of that." A smile spread on my lips. "Seriously, I never wanted children. And I'd be the absolute worst as a mother. I mean it. Maybe not as bad as my own, but still."
"Oi, don't be so hard on yourself," the Doctor's voice suddenly appeared next to me, making me jump a little. "Being a parent is hard, sure, but..."
"Oh, be quiet, Doctor," I hissed. "As if you'd know."
He closed his opened mouth and pursed his lips, looking as if he had to say a lot more about this.
"Listen," I snapped at him, "I know you try to get rid of me, but if I stay here or not is my decision. And mine alone."
"I didn't want to... It wasn't meant that way," he whined. "I'm just trying to help. But fine, if you don't need and want advice..." He shook his head and marched away, examining some deep scratch marks on a tree.
"Those are from a bear, not the dragon," Ivar mumbled amused and turned back to me. "Well, I don't understand your reasons, but it does make me happy that this won't interfere with your decision."
By all gods in all nine worlds! How could he smile so adorably! That was inhuman. And unfair. So, so horribly unfair. With a small grin I followed him, scolding myself for behaving like this. It really wasn't appropriate to have an obvious crush on a person who lived centuries before me! Well, it didn't matter that much, honestly, but still.
My grin dropped. I was just doing this all over again, this stupid thing to cling to whomever offered me some comfort. It wouldn't last anyway. And the moment he would lose interest in me, I'd be stuck in this time and place forever.
Facing a dragon was the absolutely better option here.
The hike was long, not because of the distance, but because we had to climb some pretty steep rocks. Snow and ice made it all the more difficult and I was glad not to be alone on the path. My clumsiness wasn't much help here, but somehow I managed without too much trouble.
The sun shimmered in the clear sky and still hung low near the horizon, as if she were shy and wouldn't want to come out, fully. There wouldn't be much more light, this day. Yule was near, nights were long.
"There," Ivar spoke up, breaking the silence. He pointed at an elevation roughly a hundred meters away, a formation of stone that loomed slightly over the landscape. I couldn't see much, but it seemed as if there was a cave behind it. "Truth be told, I have been nearby already. I saw the dragon land in here, but didn't investigate further."
"So, what will we do now?" The Doctor bent left and right, trying to get a good view at the cave. "Can't just run in and literally poke the dragon, I presume." He chuckled at his own joke and turned to face us.
"No." Ivar shook his head. "You two will stay exactly here, where you have a good view. And I go and search for the best path to enter the hideout. We must find it in the dark and more than one at a time should be able to enter... either that or we have to lure it out and"- He quickly looked over the surroundings.- "There should be an open space nearby. I'm back soon. Whistle sharp when you see the dragon. He usually returns by night, but I still want to make sure."
With that he strode away, swift and skilled, hopping and climbing over roots and stones. The silence didn't last long, the Doctor didn't run off to scan anything. Instead he leaned with folded arms against the rocks, his look serious.
"I meant it," he assured softly. "I'm not trying to get rid of you. I didn't want you aboard, that's true. But-" he interrupted my protest with a hand-wave, "- that was because I was scared the Master would harm you. Which, as it turned out, wasn't without reason."
My eyes dropped to the ground for a moment, only to snap back up to keep the cave in sight. The Master had indeed hurt me, although in a different way than only physically.
"He... didn't mean it," the Doctor mumbled. "I don't know what's wrong with him. I tried so many things... There is just so much rage and hatred in him. It never stops, never has. Not in all those centuries, not in the years since he is with me."
I huffed and shook my head. "Maybe you should start with the basics, then. Do what he asks of you." Only for a short moment did I take my eyes off the cave, to throw him a dark glare. "What would you lose by listening? You're a Time Lord, too. Maybe you could hear his drums."
The Doctor sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. I resumed watching the cave.
"Do you know where they come from?" the Doctor asked.
"No. He hasn't told it."
"That's... ugh... no, that's not on me to tell, then. Let me just say... the way he got it is an indicator in itself that the drums aren't real. Can't be. It happens. People go mad, have it much worse even. He just doesn't want to accept it. And even if I would listen... there wouldn't be anything. And yes... since I am a Time Lord, he would not believe a word would I tell him that I can't hear the slightest thing."
He probably had a point there, but to me it seemed unnecessarily cruel anyway. Not that this was my problem any longer.
"If he is as mad as you claim," I numbly said, "then why do you assume he isn't the arse as which he behaves?"
The Doctor rubbed his neck and sighed. "Because he was mad at me, not you. You were just… In the way. Wrong moment, wrong place."
"Don't think that's all." His anger had started before that, but the Doctor couldn't know. "Doesn't matter. Hadn't planned on coming back."
"I found a good spot!" Ivar appeared from a rock directly above us, wearing a satisfied smile. "The cave is enormous and we can enter from three sides. We can lay an ambush and then fight him in the belly of the cave, where he can't fly away."
"but if it spits fire…" I objected.
"That might be an issue, yes. But I think his survival instincts will prevent that. I know many beast and none of them risk their lives on purpose."
"That isn't just some beast," the Doctor mumbled. "There is an intelligence… with telepathic skills of some kind. Couldn't decipher anything, though."
"No idea what you are talking about." Ivar sat on the stone and let his feet dangle. "If you have any better idea, go ahead and tell."
"I will search the cave. Maybe there are hints… traces."
"Done that already. But if you want. I won't stop you."
The Doctor nodded and strode away to a spot where he could climb up to the cave. It didn't take long and he had vanished inside. A few minutes passed in silence, before the Time Lord reappeared, but he took more time to squander around the entrance.
Ivar let his eyes wander down to me, smiled and hopped down, landing by my side in a silky movement.
"Are you sure you want to fight?" he asked softly. "I won't stop you. But it is important to be aware that none of us might survive against a foe like that."
"I am aware," I mumbled, lowering my head. "And I accept it."
Ivar nodded, his face serious. The Doctor approached us with a face that told clearly he hadn't found a useful thing.
"I don't like this," he grumbled. "I don't like this at all. Bloodshed is never a good option."
"It is the only option we have." Ivar fixated him with a stern look. "We gave the dragon enough chances to survive. But now it is either him or our whole village. And you will understand that we chose to survive. I'm sure of that."
The Doctor sighed and tossed a glance back at the cave.
"Yeah… but I still don't like it."