Wide eyed I stared at the small crowd of men and women who celebrated our victory. I saw several wounds and shred armour and clothes, but all of them smiled and yelled and it was just contagious. A laugh bubbled up in my chest, I raised my fist and let out a cry myself, grinning from ear to ear.
Ivar ran over, hugged me tight and even lifted me from the ground. "By all gods, Roka! I thought you had been crushed!" He laughed and sat me back to the ground, looked behind me. "If it hadn't been for Erik's help we couldn't have moved the corpse enough."
I turned and needed a moment to adjust my eyes, due to the one missing contact lens. But then I saw who had helped me up. The Master stood there, glaring at Ivar with barely contained hatred. His look landed on me, got even worse for a second, before he simply stormed past us and vanished behind the dragon's corpse.
My heart dropped painfully. Even after we had fought together he still left me behind like that, without even a word or explanation. It hurt more than all the scrapes and scratches on my body.
"Let's get out and inform the others," one man spoke up, referring to the backup group that had stayed outside. For both cases, to inform the settlement if we lost, or to help get the dragon's corpse out of the cave if we won. "And get our injured people patched up."
For the most part I stayed silent on our way back, barely noticing the pain from my wounds. None of them stung as much as my heart did. I knew it shouldn't, knew it was stupid and inappropriate to be so down. But it was no help.
"You alright?" Ivar asked eventually.
I hummed. "Just exhausted," I half lied.
The Doctor was in the settlement, awaiting our return eagerly. It seemed he had annoyed at least half a dozen people with his fidgeting by now, but a group of children was surrounding him, begging him for more stories when I came in hearing distance.
"Maybe later," he promised with a smile and searched our little crowd with his eyes. They landed on me for a brief moment, but quickly darted further and his face became worried.
"He's still alive," I mumbled towards him. "Probably stealing some dragon teeth or whatever."
The Doctor let out a relieved sigh and rubbed a hand over his face. "I have no idea how he managed to leave the TARDIS. I wanted to fly off, but then he wasn't there anymore and..."
I blinked at him, once, twice. I shouldn't feel so disappointed, I just shouldn't. After all, I myself had told him I didn't want to return. So why did it hurt so much to hear he had been leaving so soon? And without even saying goodbye. All he seemed to care about was to get his prisoner back into his chains and then... Whatever it was he was actually doing.
I swallowed down all my feelings and gave him a weak smile. "Just so you know. He saved us all. Without his laser screwdriver none of us could have defeated the dragon."
The Doctor's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open to form a silent 'o'. Not that it would change anything, but maybe... Why did I even care? For a second I truly hated myself for still trying. The Master wouldn't thank me, wouldn't ever learn that I had told this. And even if...
By the light of the next day they'd long be far away.
It was impossible to find rest this night, and maybe it was for the better. Surely there were more weird dreams lurking in the depths of my mind. If not about waves and ravens, then about things I didn't want to think about.
How I would live from now on, how I would fit in - or not. Where I even was supposed to stay. Would I need to build my own home? There was enough space in the burnt ruins. For the night I had settled in the guest house again, had managed to make a fire after some attempts, had watched until the flames had died down to embers, then ignited another few logs so I wouldn't freeze in bed.
A nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach made me hope someone would knock, would just ask where and how I was. Maybe Ivar would come. To celebrate our victory, to see if I was injured, to simply be there, where everyone else had left.
But no one came.
It wasn't surprising, really.
With the first rays of sunlight I climbed out from under the pelts, got myself clean and slipped into the only clothes I now possessed, although they were quite dirty and had stains of my and the dragon's blood on them. Well, better than nothing. I could hide the worst under the pelt cloak the Master had given to... I scowled and almost threw it away, but then decided against it. Outside the temperatures were still freezing cold.
I also made sure to clean all wounds I could find. Most of them were only scratches and scraped off skin. Nothing to be concerned about. Only the two long, deep scratches that stretched over my right side looked nasty. In the ruckus of the fight I hadn't even noticed that the dragon had caught me once. Only after I had calmed down had I noticed a pain at this spot. It was hard to bandage them properly, but that didn't matter much.
A bigger vexation was the missing contact lens. Only seeing sharp on one eye made my head dizzy and I saw worse than had I gone blind on that site. A few strings and a patch of leather would do. For now. What would happen to me when the second lens got lost? This was something I hadn't thought about.
Without some sort of optical aid, I'd soon be a cripple in this world.
At the peak of dawn I returned to the settlement, mind mostly empty, numb. But as soon as people saw me I got torn out of the stupor. Someone waved me over, grabbed my arm with a wide grin and led me to a large space in the middle of the village. Here everyone had gathered around an enormous fire. The dragon's head decorated the space and everyone who had fought against him stood around the head.
They pushed me towards it to be there with the others. Many cheered when they saw me and my heart fluttered surprised at so much attention. There was music, singing, laughter.
And I remembered that it was the night of Yule.
Something within me vibrated with the drums and the strings that filled the air, resonated with the laughter and light-heartedness of people. A smile tugged on my lips.
This was a night of magic. One to drown all sorrow and forget about the future, the past. Nothing mattered but the very moment.
The earl stepped forward, followed by a boy and a girl, maybe ten years old. Both wore folded pelts in their arms with metal objects on them. I couldn't make out what it exactly was. We all had to stand around the dragon's head now, facing away from it and into the crowd of villagers.
After lots and lots of cheers they eventually quieted down, respecting the earl's raised hand. A proud smile graced his weather hardened features.
"The great dragon has tyrannized us for long enough. The bravest among you ventured out to make an end to this. And not only did you succeed, you also came back alive. All of you!" The crowd cheered and I saw more than one giddy grin on my companions' faces. "Each and every one of you will be known as a warrior, as an honoured presence among us. Your children and children's children will sing songs and tell stories of this day." He waved his hand towards the boy and the girl so they would come closer. "Our craftsmen have used the day to make these for you. Wear them with pride. You've earned them well."
The earl took one object after the other and attached it to the clothes of each of us. When he came to me I saw it was a brooch to hold together cloaks. The metal was delicately carved with runes and each brooch was decorated with one of the thin, sharp teeth of the dragon.
"You are a stranger and still fought alongside my warriors," the earl spoke. "And you even landed the final blow, as I got told. I thank you in the name of my village. Be an honoured guest for as long as you wish."
I nodded respectfully and my chest swelled with pride as I glanced down at the brooch. Never in my life had I gotten something as valuable as this. It was a sign of victory, one of bravery and... I glared up at the sky, admiring the stars. No, I hadn't been brave. Only tired of living. But that wasn't something anyone would want to hear.
A night of magic.
Nothing else was important now and I tried my best to get lost in the night. Someone pushed a mead filled horn into my hands and I drank, enjoying the sweet taste. There was plenty of alcohol and food. Enough to sate even the last hungry soul.
I saw a figure spring up all of a sudden, raising a huge piece of the dragon's tail into the air. People tried to keep him from it, but he just ran away, triumphantly laughing.
I saw people dancing to strange, hypnotic drumbeats and other instruments. A girl, surely not older than twenty grabbed my hand and made me dance with her. Luckily there was no set rhythm to it, we only moved how the music guided us and laughed and fooled around for a bit. Never before had I been one for dancing, had always stayed away from parties and other too loud places, but here it felt natural, unforced.
There was more mead and I would probably suffer a terrible headache from it in the morning. But that didn't matter now.
Later I found Ivar, surrounded by a handful of women, who all wanted to hear of his role in the fight, eyes wide and interested. Not in the story, though.
Ivar saw me approach and nodded in my direction.
"Hey, there's another hero!" he called out grinning.
A young, blond woman raised her voice. "What? You let that boy really fight against such a monster?"
Right, of course they thought me a boy. My looks and clothes were nothing even close to what they wore. Not that I wanted to change attire, but somehow it now bugged me that they didn't see me as a woman. Maybe I simply should tell, and already I opened my mouth, but got interrupted by Ivar, who lay an arm around my shoulders, grin wide.
"Sure. He wouldn't listen. You know how the young ones are." He winked at me and chuckled.
I wanted to protest, wanted to tell him I didn't care if anyone would know. But then he gave me a barely noticeable headshake and his eyes nodded towards the crowd of admires.
Why, of course. He wanted to use the newly gained attention when, before, he hadn't been a target for it. A small, nasty sting sat in my chest at the realisation.
"I'm older than I look," I therefore told with a scowl "And I'm not a-"
"Hey! Fifteen isn't old." Ivar laughed and nudged me playfully. He clearly intended to keep the silly disguise intact.
I gritted my teeth and tried not to let show what I thought of this. Should I hide who I was for the rest of my life? That couldn't be the plan. But whatever it was, I would not learn of it. Another woman grabbed his arm and tugged him into the crowd, asking for a dance to the wild music.
Ivar only shrugged, smiling impishly and let himself be dragged away.
I didn't feel anything at that moment. It was just… how it was. How it always was. The nights before he had sought comfort in me as much as I had in him. Because no one else had paid attention or shown interest. Now he got both. And I wasn't important anymore. Just like always.
A night of magic.
I huffed and got more mead. Should my head hurt all it wanted. For those next hours I didn't want to know of anything anymore. Maybe I'd be lucky and freeze in some ditch while being unconscious.
It was hard to keep my mind quiet, however. Alcohol had never helped much with that, neither did it now.
The evening grew colder, the hours passed by. It probably was around midnight when most of the people either went home or gathered in the large mead hall to continue their festivity. I left after not much time, unable to stand so much noise and heat and all the different impressions that washed over me in a compressed mass in there.
I didn't mind the cold, wanted to see the stars. There were several exits to the hall and I sat down on the stairs by the most secluded one. My hands clutched the sawn off horn in them. The mead in it was hot and also had an addition of berries to it. From time to time I took a small sip, enjoying the strange taste.
So... here I was. Among people I didn't know, in a time that wasn't my own, all alone and without a proper place to stay or the means for the day to day life here. I tapped against my eye patch and sighed. My time here was very limited, I realized. One way or the other. Being almost blind would render me completely useless here. A cripple.
People tend to picture these times as romantic, but in truth it was harsh and unforgiving. Could you not fight for yourself you were lost, discarded even. Because no one had the resources to have you be a burden. And I was a stranger to them.
It didn't matter.
What had been done once could be repeated. And this time there was no alien popping up to prevent me from it.
The thought was as cold and dry as the last time. Maybe even more so. I had seen the unfathomable, I had had the opportunity to go to places no one else in my time would ever visit. And for that I was grateful, content even.
Somehow, in that moment, I came to realize how many old people must feel, when they sensed their end coming closer. Looking back over their lives, remembering only the good, no matter how much bad there had been. A story... it was all that would remain of me. And that actually was a good thing.
As I gazed up at the sky, hands around the warm horn, a light appeared in the sky, slowly spreading over the velvet cloak of blackness, stretching across the stars like a road. Or maybe... like the rainbow bridge Bifröst, that led to the world of the gods.
The aurora hung there in its most mesmerizing shades of green and blue, purple and yellow, moving, shifting, ever so slightly. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Would ever see. Wistfully my heart ached, mouth slightly opened in utter awe. Almost I could hear the curtain of light sing, although I knew it was only an illusion. I didn't care.
"Ah right, that's what you came here for, in the first place."
It took me a long moment for the voice to even enter my awareness. I was too lost in the ethereal light. And when I turned around to see who had spoken, my heart leapt to my throat in surprise and relief and so many other emotions at once that I impossibly could name them all.
There, leaned against one of the wooden beams, still in his black gambeson, stood the Master, arms folded and eyes resting on the northern lights, before they slowly lowered to me, accompanied by a mischievous smile.