|This Reflection of Me
Author: Harold Saxon PM
The Master's bloody past is catching up with him when he, the 10th Doctor and Donna are following the trail of the recently resurrected Rassilon on a planet called Saltsea. Will their friendship survive this ordeal or will they finally part as enemies? COMPLETEDRated: Fiction K - English - Drama - 10th Doctor & The Master - Chapters: 5 - Words: 48,601 - Reviews: 36 - Favs: 11 - Follows: 11 - Updated: 06-16-12 - Published: 04-14-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8023933
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
This Reflection of Me belongs to a set of stories called: A Timelord and his madman, from which the first installment was posted in January 2010, directly after the final episode of the 10th Doctor. It is a sort of alternative season 5, in which the 10thDoctor has fortunately survived the events of "The End of time". Wandering alone in search of the Master, he finally succeeded to save the Master from the Timelock in the first story of the series called "His Silent Mind". Other installments include (In the right order): "Judoon Justice", "A Murderous Feast", "Shattered Worlds", "Before Harry met Lucy", and "The Most Happy Bride". If you're interested in the rest of the series and don't want to miss out on the Doctor's and the Master's previous adventures, hit the author button and find the links on my author page.
In this story, both Timelords are traveling together as equal companions, and they have picked up Donna on their way as they are following the trail of the newly resurrected Rassilon. He has merged his essence with the Tudor queen Anne Boleyn and is currently using her as a corporal vessel to travel through time. This story begins with a flashback to the Great Time War when the Timelords were locked in a deadly battle with the Dalek empire. On a far away planet in a distant galaxy, one of the Timelord generals had been sent out to lay siege to the castle Dagonmourn...
This Reflection of Me
The wild landscape of the moors that lay before him was shrouded in a thick blanket of mist. It concealed the rolling fields and purple heath for as far as the eyes could see. Ser Blackbeak stood on the battlements. Clad in heavy armor, his cape flapped behind him in the cold wind. The old general could hardly see the large legion that surrounded the castle walls below. Even their colorful banners, depicting a strange pagan symbol of merging circles on a bright red shield, were barely visible to him. Still, he knew the size of the army that was waiting for him at the gates and was fully aware of its might. Even with his men outnumbering them 2 to 1, he had already lost this battle.
These monsters don't fight like men of the Salted Earth. Ser Blackbeak contemplated grimly. He should know. He had been fighting wars for half of his life, defending castle Dagonmourn by the side of his sworn lord, but never had he encountered such ruthless enemies.
His adversaries came from the south, like so many who sought the secret of the Dagontomb had before, but unlike the primitive tribes that came to this land, lured by the promise of great power, these men were trained warriors, riding on fearsome beasts that looked like the Salt God's worst nightmare turned flesh. Their mounts were reptilian-like creatures, with white scales covering their entire body from their claws to the very tip of their sweeping tail, with a large head that opened like a flower into a maul with dagger-teeth. Many of his bravest men had been torn apart by these devils, but even these fearsome monsters were not less fearful then the riders themselves. Clad in full black armor, they wielded devilish swords that emitted a strange demonic glow as if the steel o had just been forged out of the fires. They sliced through a knight's breastplate like it would through soft liver, and his enemies had used them mercilessly, cutting down ser Blackbeak's men like weed in bloody battle.
Even Ser Blackbeak himself was captured. The memory of his humiliating defeat still stung his ill-healing wound. A knight in black had come riding from behind him and cut him down from the saddle. Bloody and raw, he was picked up from the muddy battle field by his enemies to be presented to their lord and master.
"There is no honor in death." The lord of the dark riders stared calmly down at him. He was a tall youth with a head of black curls framing a gaunt face, and startling blue eyes that looked right into your soul. He smiled at him with a smile that did not reach his eyes.
"All this bloodshed, this waste of precious lives, and to what purpose? To protect a meaningless pile of rocks, a tomb constructed for an absent God. Now tell me, and just be honest. You don't really think it's worth all this, do you?"
"It's…It's our duty." Ser Blackbeak answered, glaring up at the frightful two-headed monster that was his adversary's riding animal. One of the heads split open like a large carnivorous flower just inches from his face, drooling acids. Where the drops of saliva hit the ground, the vegetation hissed and shriveled away.
"Duty." The Dark lord repeated, as if he was contemplating the meaning of the word. "Duty is a moral shackle, conceived by the very lords who wish for nothing but for us to serve them, unreservedly and mindlessly. It's invented to put a man's soul in irons, and is as equally cruel as clipping the wings from an eagle or pulling out the claws from a mountain tiger. Duty, good ser, is a monstrous and most unnatural thing, and no rational man should use it as a stupid excuse to not choose for his own life." He paused. His eyes never seemed to blink. The smile he gave him was cold and calculative.
"You seem like a rational man Ser Blackbeak. Let me offer you a way out. Persuade your lord to open the gates for me. Spare me a boring, tedious siege in exchange for safe passage for the women and children, the weak and the old. I will let you lead them away from here unharmed."
There was hesitation on Ser Blackbeak's face. "And what about my lord and his men?"
"None of their blood shall be spilled." The smile broadened into a boyish grin. "I swear on my high honor."
Ser Blackbeak had little choice. If the Saltmen continued this futile war they would eventually be defeated. Not only had they already lost half of their troops, the roads to the south had been cut off by the invaders, starving the castle's inhabitants from food and water. If there was to be a siege they wouldn't even last till the next full moon.
So he made a reluctant pledge to his enemy. The Dark lord then released him to return home and bring the grave news to his master, the lord of Dagonmourn.
Meagon Dagonmourn had been Ser Blackbeak's true and trusted friend for as long as he could remember. A proud and noble man, it was hard to convince Meagon to surrender the castle that his father and grandfathers had paid with their lives to defend. But in the end, it was the love that Meagon had for his wife and his two children that persuaded him.
"Take my family." Meagon told ser Blackbeak, but a glint of stubborn determination burnt in his steel blue eyes. The lord of Dagonmourn still had a plan. "Take the women and the children, the old and the sick. Bring them all to the Midwall to safety. Ride out with the last of my good men to protect them. I shall remain in the castle with those who want to stay behind and let them man the battlements to keep up pretence. Once you've led our people a good two days ride away from here, I shall open the gates to our enemies. Fear not for our honor my friend, there will be 90 barrels of dragon-breath stored in the vaults around the catacombs waiting for them. Even if someone survives, the entrance to the tomb will be sealed forever. I swear that the tomb shall never fall into our enemy's hands. I will not bear that shame with me when I face my ancestors."
The sound of drums was rising again in the mist. It was a grisly warning, commanded by the Dark lord to remind the lord of Dagonmourn that he was still waiting for a reply. That man must be deaf or completely insane to want to listen to that insufferable, ceaseless pounding that goes through metal and bone. Ser Bleakbeak thought. That heinous sound had not stopped since their arrival. Not even during battle.
It was time.
Ser Blackbeak went down into the courtyard and found lady Gwendelyn, the doe-eyed beauty of the Northlands, dressed in a simply green silk dress for travel, her long golden hair combed down over her shoulder. She was helping her two young boys to get inside the cabin of a two-span. When she saw ser Blackbeak, her courage abandoned her, and she turned to Meagon in desperation.
"Don't make us leave." She pleaded softly to her husband. "You've seen what he did to our brave knights. How can you trust him?"
"He swore to ser Blackbeak on his family's name. What will this world turn into if a lord cannot be trusted on his honor." Lord Dagonmourn stroked his sweet wife's face. "Go with the children. Take good care of them. I will follow soon." The lie came difficult to him, for Meagon was an honest man, and lady Gwendelyn knew him too well. The painful truth was written plainly on his face. "Meagon." She whispered. "Please, don't do this."
"Don't make this more difficult for me." His heart was aching by the very sight of her tears, but he turned to ser Blackbeak and slapped a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Keep them all safe."
"I will my lord." Bleakbeak swore, and ordered his men to escort the good lady to the waiting carriage. She climbed in reluctantly, tears streaming down her cheeks. She kept looking back at him when they rode off the courtyard through the open gatehouse till he finally disappeared out of her sight.
Ser Bleakbeak mounted his steppenhorn. With one last silent nod, he said goodbye to his lord and dear friend and rode out with four of his best knights. They passed by lady Gwendolyn's carriage, and went riding up front. The rest of his men were ordered to flank a long line of carts, riders and people on foot, all fleeing the settlement. The exodus of the desperate refugees was watched in silence by the dark riders. Their red eyes gleamed coldly in the slits of their battle-helmets.
When the entire group had crossed over the drawbridge, the gates were lowered again.
The Dark lord came riding up to ser Blackbeak, followed by a column of fearsome knights. Their mounts snarled at ser Bleakbeak's men as their master's two-headed beast snapped at the flank of ser Blackbeak's steppenhorn.
"You have to forgive my precious Celesta. She has a fearsome appetite, but is a most affectionate creature if you get to know her better." The Dark lord granted him that cold smile again. "You're closing up the gates so soon? I thought we had an agreement?"
"Aye. We had an agreement." Ser Blackbeak said, spitting on the ground. "But you will only be let into Dagonmourn when you have proven to be true to your word. Lord Dagonmourn is still inside the stronghold. He will open the gates once we have a good distance of two days of riding between us and your murderous troops."
If this boldness had offended the Dark lord, he did not show it. "Oh that's very clever. Did he come up with this all by himself?" He grinned. His fingers tapped on the scales of his monster on the beat of the ever present drums. "If so, he has more sense in him than I had expected."
"Will you agree on these terms?"
The smile the Dark lord gave him was chilling.
"I gave you my word, didn't I?" He offered him a gloved hand.
Ser Blackbeak hesitated for a moment before extending his own. In the corner of his eyes, he just caught the flash of a blade before his world vanished in a red roar of pain. He fell from his mount and rolled over the ground. His severed arm dropped next to him in a muddy pool, while the raw throbbing stump of his shoulder bloomed red. The lord of the dark riders looked down on him, unimpressed by the bloodshed.
"I am afraid that my word does not mean that much to me." He said, as if he was explaining his cruel action to a child. "And any family honor I once had, died with the last of my bloodline, many lifetimes ago." He gazed up at the battlements in cold contemplation. "Your lord is taking me for an idiot if he believes that I will grant him two days to let him prepare for his noble sacrifice. I want my price. Perfectly intact."
There was a quick movement of his ice-blue eyes. No words were needed. It was as if he could control the dark riders with his mind, that they were merely his army of puppets, cold and efficient. In one straight line, they marched into the group of frightened women and children, taking out their longswords.
"Oh great merciful Gods of Salt. Mercy! Have mercy on them!" Blackbeak begged, but his pleads were smothered by horrific cries as one of the knights sliced through a pregnant woman's belly. Ser Blackbeak's men immediately began to attack in retaliation, and chaos broke out. As he lay dying in a puddle of his own blood, ser Backbeak thought he could finally hear the Dark lord shout out his commands to the riders, although his lips never stirred.
Keep Meagon Dagonmourn's wife and his two sons alive. Kill the rest. Kill them all.
Ser Blackbeak's vision faded as the drums pounded and pounded, keeping to their vicious rhythm while his own heartbeat slowed, beating fainter and fainter, till it finally became still.
"I can't believe I am not in Sheffield." Donna uttered excitedly, taking in the surrounding sights. They were riding up the moors on some sort of alien horses that the Doctor called steppenhorns, but looked to Donna more like giant walking birds. Hers was green like cooked cabbage and made clacking noises that reminded her of a hen that was about to lay a very large egg. "It looks just like some national park in the north where they shoot movies like Wuthering heights, or oh! The hound of the Basketvilles! I love that one with Sherlock Holmes!"
"It's called the Hound of the Baskervilles, not Basketvilles." The Doctor corrected her as he half-turned around on his mount. His steppenhorn had golden feathers and a silver beak and was very much like the Doctor, quite easily distracted. "Are you English, or what?"
"Funny. I always thought it was Basketvilles. Anyway, this doesn't look very alien for another planet."
"Ah the wonderful workings of parallel evolution." The Doctor mused. "You should know that the planet of Saltsea is orbiting around a star that is equal in size of the Earth's sun. Plus the distance from Saltsea to the Mourning star is almost the same as the distance of Earth to the sun. And that taken together that the planet is roughly about the same size and composition as planet Earth, and the life-forms that evolved here are also carbon-based and their genetic code is written in DNA, it is actually not that strange that the two planets are so very similar." He pointed out.
"Yeah right…Except for the bird-thingy that is." Donna opted.
"I said almost the same. There bound be some weird little quarks." The Doctor told her, waving his hand dismissively.
"Imagine that, every animal on this planet bigger than a bug is descended from some sort of primitive dodo. Makes me wonder what the humans look like. Do they have feathers instead of hair on their head and a beak instead of a nose?"
"You mean humanoids, human-like creatures, not humans. There is only one human race." Explained the Doctor. "And only one Donna Noble." He added with a tired grin.
"They look like us."
Donna was surprised to hear him speak up. Hesitantly, she glanced in the Master's direction. Surely mister Grumpy wasn't talking to her?
"I said that intelligent life on this planet looks like a Timelord, or a human, if you prefer." Mounted on an ink-black steppenhorn that had such a foul temper that it could easily match that of its rider, the Master glared at Donna with great annoyance. "What? Do I need to draw stickfigures now to help you figure it out?"
"No." Donna mumbled. It was the first time the Timelord had spoken to her since they landed. It suddenly felt so incredible awkward that she didn't know what to say to him. Luckily, the Doctor helped her out.
"The Saltmen. That's what they call themselves." The kinder Timelord explained to her. "You've already met them in that southern colony where we landed with the Tardis. It's a shame we cannot land a little bit further up north closer to the wall, but you never can be too cautious."
Donna knew what he meant. It was Rassilion. They were here to track him down, and although the Doctor had not exactly explained it to her, she was clever enough to imagine the kind of horror scenario that will unfold if the ghost of that evil Timelord of Christmas past gets his hands on a working Tardis. They were still days away from their destination, and already she noticed that both Timelords were increasingly reluctant to speak out the cursed "R" word, as if the name itself was enough to summon his presence.
"Anyway." The Doctor continued. "Legend has that their race was created by an ancient God, who molded the first of their kind to his own likeness."
"Oh…Like in the bible with the bit about God creating Adam and Eve?" Donna asked.
"A bit like that, yeah." The Doctor smiled. "You see? There are parallels with Earth everywhere on this planet! I guess you would call this parallel civilization." The Doctor mused. "Doesn't sound right though. Not a catchy word, parallel civilization. Not like parallel evolution."
"Gods of Gallifrey, have mercy on me for getting involved in a conversation with you two." The Master complained. He only had spoken to the annoying redhead because he had hoped that it would finally shut the two of them up. Listening to that duet of continues tortuous ramblings felt like parts of his cortex were being gradually replaced with fabric softener. He had rather been deaf.
The sight of the Middle Wall came as a relief. It was about time too, the Master had been counting the seconds ever since they left that stinkhole in the south.
The imposing manmade structure snaked through the landscape, draping itself over the hills and valleys like a grey stone dragon that lay resting amid the green fields.
"Wow. Look at that." Donna gazed up to take in the impossible scale. "That must have taken a while to build."
"Quite impressive, hey?" The Doctor turned his steppenhorn and began riding along side the wall. "Longer than the great wall of China. You can see it all the way from space. I could let the Tardis do a couple of orbits around Saltsea when we leave. It almost runs over the entire planet!"
"If you want to impress a girl, at least pick a prettier one." The Master rolled his eyes and stirred his mount forward.
"Oi! I heard that!" Donna objected.
"I am not trying to impress her." The Doctor muttered, baffled by his friend's snide remark.
"You're not a very social person, are you? It's like all you can do is insult people."
Donna argued. She meant it. If this was all that the Master ever had to say to her, she would rather have him remain silent and miserable.
"And when you open your big loud mouth it is all shallowness and idiocy. Since I suffer as much from your company as you from mine, I think we're pretty much even." The Master snorted.
"You two, stop arguing." The Doctor said. "We're here."
Here was a gatehouse the size of a small castle, with dark stone walls crumbling of age, infested with the dead branches of ivy and pox-marked with green and yellow moss. There was a narrow gateway, but it was closed off with a rusty iron gate.
"Where is everyone?" Donna didn't see any guards. "Shouldn't there be someone around to look after this place?" It was only to be expected. Although she had never been to the Middle ages, even she knew that a proper castle was supposed to have men with metal helmets and swords around.
The Doctor peered up the battlements, his hand raised to shield his eyes from the sun. "There." He pointed out to her. "They're just facing the other way." He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled. A gray mass that Donna had mistaken for a stone ornament turned around and looked down over the partitions.
"Who are you?" The mountain of a man asked, He was dressed in full armor and had a flaming red beard. "Friend or foe?"
"Oh we are definitely friend." The Doctor reassured him. "I am lord Smith from Gallifria, and these are my travel companions, lady Noble from Chiswicksonia, and lord Sa-"
"I am lord Oakdown." The Master answered for himself. "Not from anywhere in particular." He added with a smirk.
"Rrright." The Doctor said, a bit annoyed by the Master's self-proclaimed alias. "We've come to seek passage to the other side. We want to journey up north."
"You better turn around and head back strangers. No-one is allowed to travel beyond the Midwall. The north is off-limit and the ways are closed."
"I have official documents, stamped with the royal seal of the king of the Kroneburg colony. You must grant us passage." The Doctor replied, waving the psychic paper in the air. Kroneburg was, as Donna recalled, the heavily guarded settlement in the south where they had landed. They had spent one night there to prepare for the journey, and they had bought supplies and the riding animals on a nosy market place in front of the royal castle. The Doctor had never spoken or even seen the king of course, but for a good man, he could be a remarkably skillful liar when he needed to be.
The Doctor flashed him a toothy smile, but the guard's single eyebrow remained stuck in a distrusting scowl. "Stay where you are." The guard barked, and disappeared inside the corner tower.
"Well, that's it then." The Master muttered. "I am just having a déjà vu of what happened to us in France. Wonder if these giant chickens can outrun a rain of arrows, what do you think?"
"Just wait and look confident. You'll be surprised how often this works." The Doctor mumbled back to him, keeping his polite grin plastered on his face.
"Ah, there they come. The reception party." The Master mumbled as he watched how the iron gate was drawn up and a group of heavily armed men came out to meet them, their sharp axes and pointy spears shimmering in the watery sun. "Such a warm welcome, I truly feel touched, don't you?"
"Shut up." The Doctor whispered. "Hello there!" He bellowed enthusiastically. He tried his best to keep up a calm and friendly façade, even though everyone in the group was giving him aggressive looks. "I am lord Smith from Gallifria and –"
"I know who you are!" The lord of the gateway answered. He was a huge, muscular man with a neck as thick as an ox and a wild red beard, which seemed to be very fashionable around here. Every word that came from him sounded like a command. "You are a company of idiots who want to travel beyond the Midwall to their early graves because you think the grass on the other side smells less of Ramhorn shit! Let me tell you, it's complete foolishness. I've been staring at that same path of land for the last 15 years, and it looks and smells exactly the same on this side. So why don't you fools stop gambling with your life and turn around." He was actually standing so near to the Doctor that he was breathing his ale-breath into his face.
"Uh…we cannot do that." For a moment, even the Doctor seemed slightly taken aback by the man's all imposing presence. "Me and my companions must travel further up north. We have the king's approval right here." He waved the psychic paper in the man's beard. It was as effective as holding a red blanket in front of a charging bull.
"You can stuff that piece of worthless paper up your ass!" The loud man responded. "I am not letting you through. My family has guarded the gatehouse of the Midtower for centuries. Ever since the lord of Dagonmourn has fallen we are the only men left standing between the evil that stalks the northern lands and the people of the south. When I took my cloak I have sworn to protect them, all of them, even really stupid ones like you! So I am telling you for the last time. Turn around!"
"I like him. At least he's honest." The Master stated dryly. The Doctor jumped off his mount and hurried after the reluctant commander. "You know I didn't quite catch your name. Shall we start again?" He told him while he walked backward and extended his hand to him with a broad smile. "Hello I am lord Smith from Gallifria, and you are?"
The red bearded man stopped and gave the Doctor a long hard look, while the rest of the Saltmen stood in a semi circle and waited. One of them tapped his bludgeon on his palm with great impatience.
"I am ser Robert Titanis, the guardian of the Midwall gatehouse."
"Ser Titanis, if you will not grant us passage, at least be a gracious host and invite us to stay as your guests for tonight."
"You…what?" Redbeard muttered, eying the Doctor up and down.
"We've been traveling for days now, sleeping under the stars out in the open fields. Me and my companion are not complaining, but lady Noble is used to so much more comfort and luxury."
For a moment, ser Titanis looked like he might succumb to another fit, but then his features softened and he burst out in a bellowing laughter.
"You're strange and skinny, and a downright idiot! There are sabertooths and terrorbirds stalking over the moors after sunset. It is a small miracle that the three of you have gotten this far without being eaten." He waved at the Doctor to follow him. "Very well. I can offer you a hot meal and a soft bed for one night, but tomorrow you'll have to leave." He pointed out sternly.
"Sounds good enough to me." The Doctor replied. With a triumphant smile, he put his hands inside his pockets and strolled behind Titanis and his men. He was followed by the Master. Donna climbed off her bird and rushed after him.
"That wasn't the plan, was it?" She whispered to the Doctor. "Please tell me we didn't wobble on the back of a giant Christmas turkey for three days to just come here and be told to head back."
"Sssst." The Doctor told her, putting a finger on his lips. "Don't say that."
"Don't say what?"
"That word. Turkey. It's very rude in Saltmen's language."
"I am going to say a seriously rude word to you if you don't do something to justify the blisters on my bum."
"One night." The Doctor told her, tapping the side of his nose. "Tomorrow we'll be on our way, but not in the direction ser Titanis wants us to."
Ser Titanis proved to be a most generous host. The three of them were each given spacious rooms. Donna's room was in one of the towers facing south. It had a tiny window with tinted glass, and a large comfy bed with a soft feather mattress. She also found a small washtub and a smelly bucket behind a row of curtains, which the Doctor told her was to be used as a toilet. It wasn't exactly the Hilton hotel, but for a civilization that had not yet invited the very concept of a bathroom, this wasn't too bad. After freshening up with the hot water that the servant girls brought up, she felt a great deal more like a lady and less like a wandering tramp. When she went downstairs and ventured inside the hall to look for the Doctor she found the whole castle busy with the preparations of a grand feast. A comfortable fire was roaring in the hearth and the two long tables were groaning with the many bizarre looking dishes stacked on top.
"Not bad hey?" The Doctor remarked as he strolled over to her casually. "I don't know about you, but I really had it with having turnip stew each night. Not that it is not nutritious, and you do need your daily intake of vitamin E, A and B, but variation is still good for the appetite. Also the turnips gave me an awful lot of gas."
"Lord Smith." Ser Titanis came over to greet them. "Lady Noble." He took her hand and planted a fat kiss on it. "You have the most radiant smile. Sit with me at the head of the table as guests of honor."
"Did I see that right? Were you flirting with him?" The Doctor commented when he noticed that Donna was fluttering her eyelashes quite a lot and was blushing like a bride.
"I wasn't! His beard tickled. I am ticklish. I am easily tickled."
"Donna Noble, shame on you! You're almost a married woman now. What would Shaun say!" The Doctor teased.
"Oh stop it." She gazed around. "Where is that gloomy partner of yours?"
"He'll show up." The Doctor was looking for the Master himself, but he knew better than to transfer his worries about him over to his human companion. They sat down next to each other while ser Titanis took the seat at the head. The guards of the Midwall were rounding up at the tables, while the servants came in with pitchers of wine to fill the empty cups.
Titanis stood up and raised his drink. "To our guests from the south!" He roared.
"To our guests!" echoed his men and emptied their mugs to the very bottom in one gulp.
"You guys surely know how to party around here." Donna smiled, and feeling peckish, she grabbed the leg of what looked like a roasted ostrich and tucked in. The Doctor scooped a plate full from what was a truly frighteningly large mountain of scrambled eggs.
"Saltsea cuisine. Yum! Absolutely love it! And it's healthy too with only lean white meat on the menu." He commented, dipping a carrot into the eggs and nibbling on it.
"And from what land does my beautiful guest come from?" Ser Titanis asked. His cheeks already had a flash of alcoholic crimson.
"I am from Chiswick…I mean Chiswickidonia." She couldn't quite remember how the Doctor had called it. "You probably never heard of it. It's far far away from here." Like on an entirely different planet. She thought.
"I think I know that place. Is it in Dornshire?"
"That's right." She lied and nodded. "Chiswick in Dornshire, somewhere in the deep south." She spotted the Master, sitting quietly in the corner at the other table. "Tell me ser Titanis, why are you and your men guarding this wall?" She asked out of curiousness.
"What do you mean my lady?"
"What's on the other side? Why is it so dangerous to go out there?"
"You mean you don't know?" Ser Titanis gazed at her in puzzlement. "Every man, woman and child knows the dark history of our lands. Surely your must have learned from your elders what the purpose of the Midwall is?"
"Nope. I am afraid I didn't hear any of it…because….I grew up in a convent." She quickly made up. "A very strict one. We were only allowed to speak once in a year on our birthday."
"Really? But that's barbaric!"
"Yeah well. You get used to it." She suppressed a sigh of relief when she realized that he was actually falling for it. "So what about the Midwall? Why is it here?"
"The Midwall was built by my ancestors to defend the north from the tribes in the south."
"So it was originally built to guard what is up in the north? But today you said you and your men are here to protect the people in the south?"
"That's because after the fall of Dagonmourn, the lands in the north are cursed, stalked by the evil spirit of the fallen God Dagon. Don't you know the song of the creation of Saltsea?" Ser Titanis asked when he noticed the look of confusion on Donna's face.
"Again, convent girl here. I really don't know a lot about the outside world."
"What were your companions thinking when they decided to take such a delicate flower up here. My poor child, you must be terrified." Ser Titanis said, shaking his bearded head, but he continued. "Legend has it that our great Salt God, the creator of our world and others, was the first among the immortals. Together with his brother Dagon, he stood at the birth of time, and witnessed the illumination of the stars and our Mourning sun. But before the time of the Saltmen, they created a world of their own. A place of serenity and beauty, where they ruled together over their own people for millions of years. The first Salt God ruled with wisdom, while his younger brother Dagon ruled with his heart. But unlike the rational mind, the heart can easily become corrupted, and Dagon began to resent his older brother for forcing him to share his power. So Dagon plotted against him. He knew that his brother loved the act of creation, so Dagon led him to a part of the great black sea where the Mourning star was burning in an empty sky filled with only lifeless rocks, and challenged him to make a world that rivaled their own in beauty."
"So that's how your world was created?" The half-eaten roasted leg was getting cold on Donna's plate, but she was so absorbed by Titanis's story that she had all forgotten about her appetite.
"Aye. The Salt God raised the mountains, filled the great lake with crystal water, seeded the grounds with plants and trees, and breathed life into every living creature that flies, runs or swims on the surface of the Salted earth. He showed his creation to Dagon with great pride, but his brother acted indifferently. Brother, he told him, is this the best you can do? This planet, although teaming with all sorts of creatures, is dull and unattractive to beings with a great mind like ours. Can you not create something that is so very beautiful, so truly and absolutely irresistible, that even immortal Gods like us cannot withstand its appeal?"
"And, did he take the second challenge?"
"Of course he did. No one may underestimate his magnificence, not even his own brother."
"What did he make?"
Ser Titanis's wine-glazed eyes glinted with pride. "A woman. The first of my people. The mother of the Saltmen." He took a long swig of his cup. As soon as he emptied it, a servant came and filled it back up to the rim. "She was so bewitchingly beautiful, long golden hair, a skin as white as virgin snow, with large doe-like eyes, full of innocence and carnal sin. When the great Salt God was finished and looked at his creation, he could not help himself from falling deeply in love with her. She felt the same of course, who would not love a God, but unlike him, she was a mortal."
"What happened?" Donna asked, leaning on the table with her head resting on her hand.
"He could not be with her unless he sheds his immortality, and with that his power to rule. But he longed for her so much and was so heartbroken when they were apart that he decided to give up on his immortality. He split his soul in two, and hid his immortal part in stone. He turned into ordinary man, a mortal, just to be with her."
"Oh I love romantic stories, Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Posh and Becks, especially when there is a happy ending. There is a happy ending in this, right?" She asked hesitantly. "He's not gonna cheat on her with a saucy nanny?" She paused. "Wait a minute, his brother Dagon…"
"Of course this was all according to Dagon's plan. As soon as the Salt God became mortal he seized absolute power and tried to eliminate him while he was still vulnerable, trapped in mortal flesh."
"Oh that's terrible. His own brother."
"Kin slaying is a most unnatural and heinous crime indeed." Ser Titanis admitted grimly.
"And, did he succeed?"
Ser Titanis shook his head. "Praise the glorious Salt God, Dagon failed. The mother of the Saltmen knew of his plans and warned her lord in time before Dagon was at the gates. The Salt God took back his immortality and defeated Dagon in the great battle at Dagonmountain. His beloved wife, however, perished."
"Oh that's so sad." Donna exclaimed, sighing deeply. "How did she die?"
"There are no songs of her demise. No legends about her death, but it shattered the Salt God's heart."
"What about evil Dagon, what happened to him?"
"He was captured and punished for his crimes." Ser Titanis was still drinking more than he was eating, and Donna was starting to wonder how much it would take for a Saltman to pass out drunk. "The Salt God split his brother's soul in half, taking away his immortality and power, and entombed him alive. His prison was christened Dagonmourn, for this act of justice was like a dagger in the merciful Salt God's heart. Although it grieved him to punish his own brother, he knew that the hunger for power had corrupted him to the core and driven him to madness, so he could not let him free. For the sake of the whole creation, Dagon must be imprisoned, forever."
"So that's why you lot are sitting here on this massive wall. You're keeping people out to prevent anyone from getting to Dagonmourn."
"Clever guess my lady. Are you sure you belong to the same company of idiots as lord Smith?"
"Trust me, he's not an idiot. Sometimes he acts like one though. It's a repressed childhood thing. He's not the only one." She gazed at the Master who was still sitting on his own, nursing a drink in his hand. "You know they should really consider giving group therapy a try. I don't know what happens to little boys on their home planet, but it seriously messes them up." She stopped, realizing that Titanis wasn't following her. "So you were saying something about the Salt God?"
"The Salt God mourned his actions. He wept rivers of tears for his fallen brother. From the mud of the flooded banks, he molded my ancestors."
"The first of the Saltmen were made using the salt in the tears of the Salt God." Donna realized.
"That's right my lady. The Saltmen were created in our Lord's image to guard the secret of Dagonmourn. A great citadel was build on top of Dagon's prison, and the first lord of Dagonmourn took his oath that he and his sons, and his sons' sons after him will forever serve the great cause, to protect the universe from the evil that lurks there. For thousands of years, our people have succeeded in that task."
"But now the lands beyond this wall are dangerous. You said that some evil spirit is stalking the moors?"
"Dagonmourn." Ser Titanis said, his merry mood darkening. "It fell."
"A warlord arrived from the stars. Mounted on a beast from hell he came riding from the south with a dark army of knights, so soulless and vicious that they left a bloody trail of death and destruction across the land. The lord of the dark riders deceived Maegon, the last lord of Dagonmourn, and slaughtered his brave army before he took control of the citadel. In a desperate attempt to protect the tomb, Maegon's last act was to seal the entrance to the underground by destroying the entrance. He only partially succeeded. The dark lord vanished. Some say he was slain, others claim he transformed himself into a four-legged beast that was incarcerated in the heart of the labyrinth tomb. But Dagon managed to escape from his prison. Severed from his corporal form, it now wanders the northern land, a mean and vengeful spirit, able to distort the soul of any creature or man, feeding on the fear and suffering of those who are so unfortunate to fall victim to his corruption."
Ser Titanis gave Donna a long and lingering look, and she realized that although he had too much wine, she should not doubt the wisdom of his words.
"We, men of the Midwall, are the last who stand against the danger of the north. If we fail, Dagon's ghost will invade the heavily populated regions in the south. When that happens, the most unthinkable horrors may become reality. The fate of the entire universe will be at risk."
Ser Titanis's tale had stirred up deep worries in Donna's heart, and it had certainly robbed her of her appetite for the rest of the evening. The Doctor however, was merrier than ever. He had wandered away from the table to a group of guards at the back of the grand hall. By the time Donna came over to tell him what she had heard from their host, he was bellowing along a dirty song about a drunken sailor and lonely pirate with his arms draped over the shoulders of ser Titanis's men.
"Oh that..." He reacted to Donna's information. "That's old –a very old story! Absolutely ancient. A good one though."
"So you're telling me you knew all this?"
"Not that bit about the dark lord. It's always good to learn more about a real classic. It's those interesting little details that makes a story really come to life." He added with a blushing grin.
"You're drunk." Donna remarked.
"And you are in triplo." The Doctor murmured happily while he swirled his finger at her. "Honestly, two of you should really go away now. I can handle one Donna Noble, but not triplets."
Donna rolled her eyes and pulled the Doctor away from his new drinking pales. "You better get away from them before you say something that you gonna really regret in the morning." She whispered in his ear, and dragged him out of the grand hall before he could embarrass himself any further.
It was only when she had dragged him all the way up to his room that she realized that he wasn't in such a bad state after all.
"Right." The Doctor sat upright as soon as the door was closed. His eyes awake and alert, he jumped up from the bed like a coil where Donna had dumped him, and ran over to the little window.
Donna looked at him with a really annoyed expression on her face. "You're not drunk?" She spat.
"Nope. Not with that lame stuff they're serving downstairs. It takes a real stiff drink that would floor a platoon of Judoons to get me that far. Hyperactive liverfunction due to a genetic duplication of the Alcoholdehydrogenase gene, it's one of the minor drawbacks of being a Timelord, it's almost impossible to get us drunk."
"Unbelievable. You made me drag you up all those flipping stairs, while all the while you could have walked on your own!" Donna fumed.
The Doctor remained blissfully unaware of her growing resentment. "We had to keep up pretence. The Saltmen are men of honor. A man's word is to be trusted, even that of a stranger, but that doesn't mean they're stupid. I bet that right now, there is guard standing behind that door to keep an eye on us."
"Oh don't be so suspicious. There is no one there." Donna opened the door wide to show him. One of ser Titanis's men was standing in the corridor. The Doctor gave him a friendly wave. "Eh sorry, keep up the good work." He told him, giving him the thumbs up before he slammed the door shut.
"He wasn't there just a minute ago." Donna muttered in surprise.
"Keep your voice down. Of course we're guarded. Ser Titanis wouldn't want us to sneak out in the middle of the night, now would he." He went back to the tiny window. "This is facing too far north. I can't see the battlements. How is the view in your chamber?"
"Not much better. A tiny square hole in the wall and it's facing the roof of the hall."
The Doctor retrieved Martha's cellphone from one of his many pockets. "That's no good. We need to know when the milkflower is starting to work." He punched in a number and the line went over.
"Who are you calling?"
"The Master." The Doctor replied.
"He's got a cellphone?"
"Actually, it used to be your granddad's." Replied the Doctor, ignoring the wide eyed look Donna was giving him.
"With the reception desk of hotel Gloomview. How may I help you?" The Master purred through the speaker.
"Stop fooling around. How's your view?" The Doctor asked him.
"Oh it is spectacularly dull. Makes you almost sad enough to cry. And don't get me started on the appalling sanitary facilities they're providing. You should come up here and see. It's practically medieval."
"Can you see anything from the window?"
"I have a perfect view of the northern gatehouse. Right now, two men are guarding the parapet wall."
"Keep an eye on them. Give me warning as soon as they starting to look a bit drowsy will you?"
"What's going on?" Donna asked as the Doctor ended the call and went back over to the window. "Why would they be drowsy and what the heck is milkflower?"
"Milkflower, the white lilly of the flooded mountains, also known as derilarious decilaris in Judoonish. It's a medicinal plant, not from around here, but from the planet of Desmondos. The inhabitants have used it for centuries as a mild narcotic. The Master distilled it down into a concentrated form before we got here. It was up to him to slip a bottle of that stuff in the winebarrels, before the servants brought out our drinks from the kitchen. Everyone who had wine is going to be knocked out in a couple of hours. When that happens, we sneak out to the stables, get our animals and leave through the northern gate. By the time Ser Titanis and his men wake up again, we will be miles away."
"Wait a minute. It was in the wine?" She slapped him on the shoulder. "You could have said something! I had a full cup of that stuff!"
The Doctor, slightly intimidated by her, quickly fished out a phial with milk-white liquid out of his pocket and tossed it over to her. "Here, empty that in one go. Don't let it linger too long on your tongue. It's absolutely vile."
"What's this?" Donna stared at the bottle in her hands.
"A neutralizer. It does what it says it does. It neutralizes the milkflower. You'll be fine."
"What about that guy at the door?"
"Oh that's Olaf!" The Doctor told her with a silly little grin. "I remember Olaf. He tried to drink me under the table a couple of times! Don't worry. That big loaf is going down and snooze like a battalion of Judoons before nightfall."
They waited till the grey sky had turned dark, and the stars and the two moons were out. Donna was half asleep with her head resting on her arm by the side of the bed when a cheery jiggle went off. She jumped awake. The Doctor grabbed for the phone.
"Wakey wakey sleepy heads." The Master told him. "The guards on the gatehouse are unconscious. It's time to go."
The Doctor was right about big oaf Olaf. He was a loud sleeper. "He even sounds worse than my old nan." Donna whispered as she and the Doctor tiptoed over him when they left the room.
"Well it's not much worse than what I hear from you." The Doctor said, as they ran down the narrow circular staircase.
"I don't snore." Donna objected.
"Oh yes you do." The Doctor replied. "And How." He whistled. "Maybe I should tape it sometimes. You can have a listen for yourself."
"Oh no you don't!"
Inside the great hall, the men were all lying face down on the table. Some of them had their heads flat on their plates. She saw Titanis, muttering aggressively in his sleep with his red beard dipped in a bowl of stew. They rushed out, passing a corridor where servants were slumped down in the corners. They were fast asleep. The trays of food that they had carried were spilled all over the floor.
"Everyone must have gotten a bit of that potion." She muttered. "There is no one left awake in the entire castle."
"No one but us." The Doctor grabbed a loaf of bread and some fruit from the floor and stuffed it in his pockets. "The Master is waiting outside."
"Are they going to be all right?"
"Oh they'll wake up with a massive headache, I am talking about the Mother of hangovers here, but apart from that, let's say it won't keep them from nipping of Dionysus's nectar next time around. Come on! Don't linger! Let's go! Let's go!"
Donna ran after the Doctor as fast as her legs could carry her. They came out into wide open space of the bailey.
"What's that smell?" Donna stopped running. "It's like something is burning."
The Doctor also stopped dead in his tracks. He had been heading in the directions of the stables, but it was only now that he realized that the thatched roof of the building was emitting an eerie orange glow. In the dim light, he saw dark smoke rising.
The stables are on fire.
He ran forward, his long skinny legs leaping over the cobbled stones. "Master!" He yelled, fearing something horrible might have happened to him. "Master! Where you?" When he came near enough, he saw the flames licking the side of the wooden structure, while the beams that supported the roof had turned into burning amber. From the outside, the doors were barricaded with a stack of heavy barrels and timber.
"Master!" The Doctor yelled, rushing to the burning stables.
"Don't go in there."
The Doctor swirled around. The Master was standing in the courtyard near the northern gatehouse with their steppenhorns. The animals were all saddled up and carried a light load of provisions on their back. "Are you mad or what?" The Master shouted at him. "It's been burning for while. That roof can collapse any minute."
"How…" The initial wave of relief was quickly replaced by a sense of sheer dread. "Did you set the stables on fire?"
The Master smiled as if was all just an innocent prank. "I've raised the gate so we can get the hell out of here. Ser Titanis's riders won't be able to follow us now that their riding-animals are cooked to a cinder."
"You think you are so clever! What about the people in the citadel? Right now they are all unconscious and unable to respond. The whole castle could burn down with everybody in it!"
Suddenly, there came a loud banging against the barred wooden door from the inside of the burning stables, followed by a desperate plea for help.
"Oh my God. There are people trapped inside!" Donna gasped. "Doctor! They can't get out!"
The Doctor's disbelief twisted into pure disgust. "You knew." He backed away from the Master, his eyes full of anger and resentment. "You knew that there were people in there and still you locked them up to leave them to be burnt alive!"
"What are you doing?" The Master watched how the Doctor grabbed hold of a large empty cart and started pushing it towards the fire. "Get on the steppenhorn!" He was losing his patience. "Doctor! Listen to me!"
"I am not listening to a murderous madman!" The Doctor huffed. "Donna, give me a hand!"
She immediately understood what he wanted to do. Grabbing hold of the other side of the cart, they both wheeled the wooden vehicle right up to the flames, making as much speed as possible.
"On my count." The Doctor told her. "One, two, three!"
They both let go at the same time and the cart smashed against the obstructions, shoving it aside so that the doorway became free. A hand stuck out of the opening. Two men wriggled through the narrow passage and ran away from the burning building. Their faces were covered in sooth and they were coughing ceaselessly, but otherwise, they were unharmed.
"Fire!" Cried one of them as soon as he had the air back in his lungs. "Help! The stables are on fire!" He turned his head around and saw the three strangers standing next to the burning building.
"The gate." He stumbled to the northern gatehouse and found it wide open. "Close the gates!" He cried. "They are trying to get to the north!"
"Idiot!" The Master hissed. "Now are you satisfied? For the last time, GET ON YOUR MOUNTS!" He climbed on the back of the black steppenhorn and short reined the animal for a sharp turn. He kicked his heels deep in the flanks and rushed out of the north gate without looking back. The Doctor helped Donna on her saddle and slapped the back of her bird to send it running after the Master.
"There he is!" The other man he had somehow managed to wake up one of the guards. "That's him! He's the one who set fire to the stables! Get him!"
But before the Salt men could get their hands on the Doctor he had jumped on his mount. Stirring the bird into a full gallop, he rushed in a straight line over the bailey to the north gate, and was just in time to make it to the other side before the iron gate came clashing down.
Next chapter will be uploaded next Saturday the 21th of April. Please comment or review if you like the story. Cheers. A.