I’ve been reading too many romance novels.
“Are you ill, lass? It’d be no surprise if you were, clad so thinly. You must be chilled to the bone.” The man wrapped a plaid woolen blanket around her. It smelt of sheep, but was comfortingly warm.
Tegan looked dazedly up at her new friend. She hadn’t imagined it. He was a Highlander wearing a kilt, complete with a Scots brogue. “I think I hit my head when I fell, and my ankle hurts.”
“Let us see if you can walk on it at all. Up you go.” He scooped her up lightly and set her on her feet. Tegan clung to him. Her ankle throbbed, but it could support some weight.
“Maybe if I had a stick to lean on, I could manage by myself.”
“Stubborn little wench. Look, if you had a sit down and a bit of hot food in you, you’d manage better still. I’ve got a camp not a quarter mile from here. You shouldn’t be out here all by yourself.”
“I wasn’t alone originally. I was with friends. Maybe you’ve seen them? A tall blond man in a light colored coat and a girl in velvet with brown curls? I’ve lost them, or they’ve lost me. It comes to the same thing.”
“No, but I could pass the word around to look out for them.” He hesitated on the verge of saying something else.
Tegan wondered if she’d been ungrateful and decided she probably had. She wasn’t very gracious when she was in pain, let alone under normal circumstances. “The name’s Tegan, by the way. Thank you. You’ve been so kind.” She offered her hand.
He clasped it, looking relieved. “I’m Rob. Kind? Nothing of the sort. All I did was fish you out of the heather. Thank me later when you’ve a belly full of lamb stew. You’re not Welsh, are you? I’m thinking that’s a Welsh name, but your voice–“ He stopped himself with a cough.
“My great-grandmother was Welsh. I’m named for her.” She let Rob help her along. He smelt of sheep too, but in a healthy outdoorsman kind of way that reminded her of living in Australia.
The camp was tucked into a cranny of a hill, sheltered on three sides from the wind. It contained a lean-to that looked liked it had been built onto over the years but had never quite graduated to being a hut.
In short order, she was sitting by the fire with a mug of hot water spiked with raw whiskey, a bowl of lamb stew with a horn spoon, and Rob was kneeling at her feet and applying bandages soaked in sheep liniment to her ankle. The smell was horrific but it felt good. He tied up her ankle then sat with her modern high-heeled shoe in his hand, turning it over and over.
“I’ve done a bit of cobbling but I’ve never seen the like of this. It’s a fine shoe, but not meant for walking over the countryside. It looks like something a court lady would wear.” He looked at her with doubt in his eyes.
“I’m not an aristocrat, only a lost traveler.”
“I could do no better by you if you were a Queen,” he said resignedly. “Just you bide there and eat your stew. Jamie! What are you doing, crouching there like a rabbit from the owl?”
A boy was staring at her from around a rock. He looked to be about nine years old, a sturdy youngster. He came forward and whispered in Rob’s ear, without taking his eyes from Tegan.
“Do not speak of such things, lad. It’s ill luck. And speak aloud like a man; it’s not fitting to whisper in front of our guest. Where are Tom and Donald with the sheep?”
“Down the hill.”
“I must go speak to them. You keep Mistress Tegan company, and I’ll be back in a moment. Remember she’s a guest of the MacCrimmons, and show her hospitality. I’ve done right by you, haven’t I?"
The tense way he asked the question made Tegan nervous as well. She felt as if she were being asked something beyond the words. He was making a point of reminding her he’d helped her. “Oh, yes. I’m very grateful, Rob. This is good stew.”
He patted Jamie on the back. “Tend the fire. I’m going to go get Tom to walk over the hills and see if there’s word of your friends. A tall fair-haired man and a girl with brown curls, right? Are they also your people?”
My people? “They’ll seem English,” Tegan replied cautiously. The Doctor seemed more English than an Englishman, sometimes.
Rob went down the hill. The boy Jamie added a small log to the fire. Tegan slipped the shoe back on her foot, though she didn’t want to walk on it any time soon.
Jamie glanced down the hill. His father was well out of sight in the darkness. “Is the glamour broken, Mistress, upon your legs?”
Her stockings were snagged and laddered to a fare-the-well. Tegan was pretty sure that nothing like nylon stockings had ever been seen in this era. “My stockings are ruined, if that’s what you mean.”
“Like as not that’s why you fell in the dance. Will your own folk come looking for you?”
“Yes, they will, if your father doesn’t find them first.”
“Why do you crop your hair so short, Mistress? Mine’s longer than yours. I couldn’t tell for the longest if you were man or woman.”
“It’s comfortable like this.” Tegan chuckled. She must look an odd sight in her modern clothes, even with the blanket covering most of her. The whiskey was warming her blood but she could feel still the chill of the night at her back. She had no mind to stir from the fireside.
Jamie seemed to echo her thoughts. “Is it always warm under hill, Mistress, that you can go gladly in such dainty clothes?”
“Under hill?” Tegan stared at Jamie uncomprehendingly.
His eyes shone. “I’ve always wanted to go there, through the invisible gates, and see the great cities beyond. Is it like that truly, Mistress, as the tales have it?”
The clue hammer struck. He thinks I’m a fairy. Tegan wasn’t sure what to say. It didn’t seem wise to deny it. Rob had been more respectful with this thought of her in mind. Was he afraid she’d steal away his child as fairies did in the tales Jamie loved? The boy seemed more than ready to be stolen.
Invisible gates, and beyond them great cities. The TARDIS was magic of that kind. She had had dreams like that at Jamie’s age. Tegan wondered if any of the old legends had a kernel of TARDIS truth at the heart of them. Being mythical came naturally to the Doctor.
“Yes, it is. The gates open on many worlds, each more wonderful than the next, and more terrible.” Tegan shivered, not from cold but the delicious thrill of knowing something magical and secret. “But it is not for you, Jamie, not yet. Your father needs you.”
The boy’s face was alight. Tegan felt a brief pang of conscience. She had put ideas in his head. Rob MacCrimmon would not approve. But her words were true, and Jamie understood what she was saying, couched in the language of fairy tales.
She heard voices coming up the hill. The Doctor’s accents were distinctive. He smiled as he came in sight of her, a magical apparition in cricket whites. Beside him walked Nyssa, as graceful as a fairy princess in patchwork burgundy velvet. Tegan felt quite a Tinkerbell in comparison.
“James Robert MacCrimmon, fetch the jug!” Rob called past the Doctor’s shoulder.
The Doctor startled. After that he could not hurry Tegan out of the glen fast enough. He actually picked her up and carried her most of the way to the TARDIS. Drowsy from the whiskey, Tegan never got around to asking the Doctor what had surprised him so.