Another blast from the past – a late nineties Doctor Who story first published in “Perfect Timing” a charity anthology dedicated to raising donations for the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. http://fsid.org.uk/
The Tardis fell lazily from the promontory, accompanied by a happy cheer from the soldiers, who moments before had been dragging its blue bulk to the cliff edge. It fell upside down for the first hundred metres then, clipping an outcrop of grey limestone it began to spin; end-over-ending, gaining speed. A series of sickening crunches and thwacks echoed around the valley as the Police Box continued its downward plunge, kicking up puffs of dust as it struck the cliff-face and uprooting the odd tree. Finally, with a great upsurge of white spray it entered the torrent that cut a vicious division between the two mountains. After a second or so, its blue shape bobbed to the surface of the boiling river and it began to move at pace downstream.
‘Oh yes they would.’ said Romana.
The Doctor was craning his neck over the edge, following the Tardis as long as he could before it disappeared around a tortuous bend in the river; his fingers playing cats cradle without any visible signs of string.
‘You know, I was fairly sure they weren’t going to do that.’
Well going by today’s track record I’d say it was a foregone conclusion. What are we going to do?’
‘Get very wet at some point I imagine. We need to find a route down to the river, we’re fairly sheltered from the guards here … ‘
Thok. Thok. Thok.
Three arrows trembled in the tree-bark, slightly nearer than an uncomfortably close distance from the Doctor’s head.
‘There they are! Kill them!’
Grabbing Romana’s arm in one hand and the trailing ends of his scarf in the other, the Doctor crashed his way between the trunks of the trees. The forest came alive with feather plumed soldiers and bowmen. Bow strings twanged and arrows sizzled through the air around them as they ran. Romana ducked as an arrow thudded into a tree close by. She noticed in passing that the Doctor’s felt hat was neatly skewered along the shaft.
‘My hat!’ yelled the Doctor at the following throng of Palace Guards and bow-men. ‘That cost thirteen guineas in Saville Row!’
Thok. Thok. Thok.
Romana was leading the Doctor now, her blond hair streaming behind. She pulled him on as ‘he half turned to wave an indignant fist at their pursuers. ‘Come on!’ She shouted breathlessly, yanking his arm.
The trees were thinning up ahead and clear open grassland could be seen beyond.
Romana realised that now the cliff edge was to the left of them and behind; the forest growing all the way to its precarious lip. She brushed stray hairs from her mouth with her free hand. ‘Once – we’re – out – in – the – open, they’ll kill -us.’
The Doctor was rummaging in his pockets with his free hand. ‘That’s – a- fairly – accurate – analysis – of the – ‘ Thok. Thssss. Thssss. Thok. Thok. Thssss. Thok, ‘ situation – any bright ideas?’
‘I once thought – it would be useful – to attach a key ring finder- you know – the one’s that whistle back to you – to a television remote control – but other than – that – no.’
‘Thank – you – Romana – for – your – invaluable – help.’
A sound like that of a battleship’s sonar struck up a steady beeping in the Doctor’s hand. He began pulling Romana, from her preferred route, (a thick clump of trees on the edge of the forest) to a path that would lead them out into the open – much more quickly than the young Time Lady found entirely acceptable.
‘No!’ She shouted at his flapping coat tails and whirling scarf. ‘Not that way! They’ll be on us in seconds!’
His grip was one of iron and she was unable to resist. Realising, that by struggling, she was actually slowing them down, she relented and ran with him, flinching as arrows fell around her and clattered into branches.
There were fewer and fewer trees; there appeared to be more and more guards. There was nowhere else to go. It was if the guards sensed the futility of the escape route they were taking and were egged on by it, closing in a semi-circle of colour and shouting.
Romana suddenly realised that they were now being herded. Herded out into the open. The Doctor and Romana burst out of the trees into the grassland and stopped.
Twenty Arrows were loosed from their bows.
‘But I’m usually so good with Kings.’
They had walked a kilometre through the dank darkness, their progress illuminated by several of the Doctors so-called everlasting matches. There had been several exchanges along the lines of:
‘It’s gone out again! I thought you said these things were Everlasting!’
‘Well that’s what it said on the poster! Then again, Advertising Executives do tend to bend the truth slightly more than a Politician with a mistress. ‘
A frosty silence had enveloped them for another half-kilometre or so of knuckle scraping and shin barking. Until the Doctor, displaying his annoying habit of conveniently forgetting that Romana had started a frosty silence, (in the vain hope of even an approximation of an apology for getting her nearly killed again) began bemoaning his lack of success with King Tammanan.
‘Oh, you’re usually so good with everybody.’ A propensity for sarcasm was something that Romana had noticed she had developed since joining the Doctor on his travels. She put it down to meeting so many Earthlings. They were good at sarcasm.
Romana realised that she still needed to work on the skill as the Doctor seemed oblivious to her use of it. His smile threatened to meet around the back of his head and cut loose his cranium, ‘Am I? Good. It’s vitally important to be appreciated.’
He wiped his glistening brow with one tasselled end of his scarf. ‘I have in the past prided myself on my diplomatic legerdemain, and I thought, judging by King Tammanan, even though we were under arrest at the time, that he would turn out to be a reasonable man. All that guff about chopping us up into little bits and throwing us onto the compost heap in the Royal Garden came as a complete surprise. I can tell you.’ He stopped as if struck by a sudden thought that would explain everything, ‘But then my past history with gardeners, royal or otherwise, has not been particularly … productive. Fingers not green enough I suppose. If King Tammanan hadn’t been so suddenly interested in my theories on propagation and crop rotation, I don’t think we’d have escaped from the palace at all.’
The Doctor bathed in his own self-satisfaction for a moment. ‘Still I would have liked to find out why we’d been arrested before we needed to escape.’
Romana was also cultivating the art of changing the subject. Why do you think the guards didn’t follow us down here into the caves?’
The Doctor goggled his eyes, shrugged and turned the comers of his mouth downwards. It seemed to Romana rather a lot of expression to use to accompany a solitary ‘Dunno.’ But there you are, she thought, that was the Doctor all over – lots of noise; but a definite lack of signal.
‘It’s just that, do you think that, well, those … .’
‘Yes the skeletons. Do you think they were the reason they didn’t follow us?’
‘I try not to look a gift cave entrance in the mouth. Especially when there are a certain amount of arrows involved. The hand-sonar is a wonderful device for finding escape routes but it’s not terribly discriminating.’
‘Did you notice the odd way the skeletons were laying?’
He lit another match. ‘You noticed that too?’
‘That laying in a sort of torn apart in a fairly violent manner kind of way.’
‘I thought they’d been torn apart too.’
Romana considered starting a serious huff at this point but the three fingered claw that lashed out of the darkness with a whoosh of stale and foetid air turned her emotions in quite the opposite direction.
What is it?’ she yelled.
‘Time to start running!’ The Doctor yanked the collar of her jacket as a second clawed limb whipped through the space Romana had just been occupying. Pushing her ahead with bony fingers he guided her along a side tunnel – a tunnel just not quite high enough to run headlong down without whacking your head on rocky outcrops. The creature snarled and set off after them – its claws screeching off the dry rock like clashing broadswords – throwing up hellish sparks in the gloom.
The Doctor and Romana being roughly half the size of their pursuer found themselves making much better progress through the tunnel than the creature. Soon they found that a brisk trot rather than a headlong pelt would keep them ahead of the creature. Jogging backwards the Doctor tried to get a closer look at the pursuing animal in the glow from his match.
In brief snatches, like a night flying airship caught by searchlights, the Doctor took in thirty centimetre claws, blood matted fir, saliva bathed incisors which seemed to have serrated edges and eyes as big and as red as boxing gloves.
“Think I – can see a – light up – ahead.’ said Romana.
‘Good,’ said the Doctor turning around, ‘We’ll be alright as long as we don’t come out into a Iarger cave.’
They came out into a larger cave.
The light ahead was small but bright, showing a clear patch of sky.
The creature burst from the constricting tunnel like a champagne cork popping out of a bottle.
The Doctor and Romana, not able to spare the time to say ‘Run.’ Ran.
The creature was better equipped to cover the rough terrain of the cavern and in a matter of bounds had nipped a chunk out of the Doctor’s coat and ripped a ragged tear in the end of his flailing scarf. Hot breath fell on his exposed neck with droplets of gooey saliva – he cringed beneath the expectation of a final killing blow.
So it was, with eyes closed, that the Doctor found himself out in the clear air.
Yes falling. He opened his eyes just to check this fact.
Looking up at the rapidly diminishing cavern exit, he saw the creature snarling and spitting, unable to get through. He noted with a wry smile that it was no better looking in daylight than it had been in the darkness.
He looked down.
The river was wide and looked deep. As did Romana’s mouth as the scream trailing out of it met up with the Doctor, some ten metres above.
It was not far to the shore. After the initial chill shock of the entry into the water they both managed to swim the short distance and drag themselves up onto a white sandy beach.
The Doctor lay on his back, breathing heavily. Well that was quite exhilarating.’
Romana decided that now was the time for a really good, long, satisfying, huff. She began it with a determined sigh, rolling over to face away from the Doctor, just so he’d be sure that the huff had begun.
‘Oh no!’ she said. The huff had not even yet got into the shoulder shrugging – hands jammed into pockets – crinkled nose stage – and she’d had to let it dissipate.
What is it?’
Turning over had brought the opposite bank of the river into view. There, caught by a rocky outcrop at the foot of the cliff was the TARDIS. Three ugly black cross bow bolts were embedded in its door.
Slowly they got to their feet, walked into the water and began to swim.
Half way to the beached Timeship, the Doctor called back to Romana, ‘You know, it’s a real pity to have to leave here.’
‘Go on surprise me.’
‘I still don’t know what upset King Tammanan so much.’
It was more or less at this point that Romana perfected the swimming huff.
Henderman pushed the damp earth around the stalks of the Petura Plant with his fat stubby fingers. He rocked back on his meaty haunches and smiled. Today was the day.
Henderman had always wanted to say that his father and his father before him and his father before him had been Gardener to the Royal Household. It sounded so good when other servants around the Court said that about their families. So majestic and proud. The truth was that his father had been Swineherd to the Royal Household and had come home every night smelling of pig-shit. The only thing his father had ever grown had been verucas.
But now Henderman was the first in his family’s unillustrious history to be on the verge of greatness. The Petura Plant had budded.
In his five years as Royal Gardener, since the sudden and unexplained death of Borax the previous incumbent of the title whom he’d had been apprenticed to, Henderman had been striving to cultivate a Petura Plant. And now he had succeeded.
‘Unexplained that is, except to me.’
He saw again Byrax’s wide eyes and heard again the terrified scream as the Vulpanile had ripped open his body. A body that only minutes before he had staked out in the entrance of the Royal Caves for the darkness-dwelling Vulpanile to seek out.
It had helped enormously, in covering up the death or Borax, that while searching, twelve of the Palace Guard had been killed by the Vulpanile in the cave.
It had not been murder of course, oh no, no, no! Just the gardeners way; cutting out the dead wood to allow the fresh, young growth to flourish. Something that Byrax himself had taught Henderman.
There had been tears, how could there not be? When someone as revered and as respected as Borax just upped and left the Kingdom without a word?
King Tammanan put it down to his own incessant desire to see a flowering example of the Petura Plant – which Borax had been unable to cultivate and so had left the kingdom in shame – to embark, the King surmised sagely, on years of self-enforced penury with the hermits in the high mountains.
Henderman went along with this view. Well, in public at least.
But, today was the day. The Petura Plant had budded, the first example seen in the Kingdom for over two hundred years. With unbounded glee Henderman had ordered his apprentice Julk to the Palace to send word to the King.
Henderman used his silver scissors to trim the last few blades of grass around the Petura Plant to a uniform length as he heard the hoof beats approaching. He got to his feet, turned to the approaching convoy of brightly coloured pennants and glinting armour; and bowed, bowed double until his forehead was almost in contact with his knees. In the periphery of his vision the sturdy white fetlocks of King Tammanan’s charger clattered to a halt.
‘Henderman!’ cried the King. ‘Henderman is it true? The Petura Plant?’
Henderman enjoyed the moment, pausing before starting to lift his head.
There was suddenly a movement in the air against his backside, a grinding, bellowing howl issuing forth from the very atmosphere. As if the impregnable fabrics of the universe were being ripped asunder. Henderman leapt forward as energy crackled and fizzled around his breeches. He collided with the King’s charger, who unused to sudden unceremonial movement eared up, depositing the King in a flurry of crown and scarlet cloak onto the wet earth next to Henderman.
Out of the air a form was materialising, blue, tall and solid – covered in strange unreadable symbols – topped off with a yellow flashing light.
Soldiers nervously unsheathed their swords and put bolts into their crossbows as aides rushed to the King’s side, helping him shakily to his feet.
The noise from the materialisation began to diminish to silence. Soon all that could be heard was the singing of the birds in nearby trees, the snorting of the horses and the anxious breathing of the Palace Guard.
As one the entire Royal Party flinched as the front of the blue box split vertically from top to bottom and swung backwards.
A tall curly haired figure walked imperiously from the black depths within, followed closely by a pretty blonde girl dressed as a harlequin.
‘Oh Hello.’ Said the tall curly haired one stepping forward, ‘We don’t usually get welcoming committees. Look lively there Romana.’
He looked down. Where the Petura Plant had been was now a stout leather boot with a multicoloured scarf trailing across one scuffed toe-cap.
There was a collective and rather loud intake of breath.
The Doctor looked around expectantly, giving he felt, his most winning smile.
King Tammanan’s face flushed red as his cloak and he turned to bark orders to his retinue.