Author's note: This is one of my old stories. I wrote it in 1994, and posted it to the Usenet newsgroup .creative. I did some minor editing before re-posting it here. It takes place sometime between Colony in Space and The Three Doctors. Readers of British folklore will notice that I have borrowed names rather freely to serve my own purposes.
By daylight there was nothing alien about Seelie Knowe. The grassy hill occupied the center of a pasture where five cows stopped grazing to stare at the canary-yellow roadster invading their territory.
Jo helped the Doctor unload the equipment from Bessie, grateful that the Time Lord had recovered from his earlier crankiness. "So, Brigadier," he'd growled, "I'm to go haring off to Northumberland, just because some idiot saw mysterious lights on his way home from the pub?"
The Brigadier had pointed out that this particular `idiot' was a teetotaller, a retired RAF pilot with an engineering degree -- and the Minister's nephew. End of discussion.
Jo leaned against Bessie's side. "Doctor, do you suppose Captain Thurson really saw a UFO?"
"That's what we've come to find out, Jo. Take this to the other side of the hill, please."
Jo picked up the small box and trotted around the base of Seelie Knowe. The device was one of a set of sensors, though she was not certain just what they were supposed to sense. She carefully set it on the grass, then froze in astonishment. There was a door in the hill.
Jo blinked. The door was a single slab of oak, set on heavy brass hinges. It had neither lock nor handle. The young woman stared for a moment, then found her voice. "Doctor! Come see what I've found!"
No reply. He must be busy tinkering with the other sensors. Jo frowned at the door. She ought to have seen it when they drove up to the pasture. She brushed her fingertips over it: oak, old and weathered. That wasn't put
there in the last five minutes, she thought. It's probably just a root cellar. Jo pressed harder, and the door swung inward with a suddenness that sent her toppling through the doorway into darkness.
"Welcome, mortal maid," a voice boomed. "Welcome to the halls of Elphinesse!"
Jo's eyes fluttered open. I'm dreaming. I hit my head when I fell into the root cellar, and I'm having a weird dream.
The man looming over her was wearing a loose shirt of deep green velvet, fastened at the waist with a band of silver oak leaves entwined around emeralds. The belt exactly matched the circlet atop his pale hair. He reminded her of a dancer or a gymnast -- or a fencer, for his proud stance suggested both swiftness and danger. "Welcome, mortal, to the halls of Elphinesse," he repeated.
"I am definitely having a very weird dream," Jo said aloud.
The man set his hands on his hips and laughed. "A dream, am I? Mortals are ever quick to speak of dreams, knowing so little of reality."
Jo scrambled to her feet. For the first time she noticed the grove of young ash trees surrounding her. The cloudless sky was a more brilliant blue than she had ever seen, even on a holiday to Majorca. No sun was visible. A soft silver glow filled the air, and yet cast no shadow. "It's impossible," Jo stammered. "All this can't be inside the hill."
"And yet you travel with a Time Lord?"
"The TARDIS isn't a bit like this." Jo's face twisted into a frown. "Wait a minute -- how do you know about the Doctor?"
"There is very little under the heavens that escapes my notice," he replied.
Jo glanced over her shoulder. There was no sign of the door through which she'd entered. "If you know all that much, why don't you show me the way out of here?"
"Of course," came the smooth reply, "if that is your wish. But first, take refreshment." The stranger filled two goblets from a small pitcher. "Pomegranate wine. Since you doubt me, you will choose one cup and watch me drink of the other."
Jo peered into her goblet. The wine was the colour of her grandmother's garnet ring. Can't do any harm to be polite. When the stranger had taken a deep draught of his own cup, Jo sipped at hers. "It's very good."
He inclined his head. "This world we wrought when our own perished in the sun's wrath, and in it all things are fair and pleasing, and shall be while eternity endures."
Jo, not sure how to respond, continued to sip at her wine. It certainly was gorgeous here. She craned her neck. Was that a cloud up there? It had a funny shape, and it looked like it was falling... The goblet slipped from her hand. Jo screamed as a clump of blackthorn sailed lazily over her head and landed somewhere beyond the grove.
"Jo!" A distant voice shouted. A large rectangle of glossy blackness appeared in the air. A trouser-clad leg hurled through it, followed by another, and then by the rest of the Doctor. "Jo, are you all right?"
"The mortal is quite unharmed, Doctor."
The Time Lord spun on his heel. "I might have guessed." He bowed stiffly. "Your Majesty." The Doctor drew Jo into the protective curve of his arm. "Lord Taranis, I thought the Elphin had given up the barbaric practice of kidnapping humans."
Taranis's eyes were green ice. "The mortal entered of her own accord, Doctor. There was no coercion."
"It really wasn't his fault, Doctor," Jo interjected. "I fell through the door. He-- His Majesty's been very kind, and he gave me some lovely wine..."
"Jo! You didn't drink it?" The Time Lord was looking very grim indeed. "No coercion, eh?" he demanded of Taranis. "And don't tell me the girl drank of her own free will -- she didn't know what she was doing."
Jo was very pale. "Doctor, am I poisoned?"
The Doctor's face softened. "You're not poisoned, Jo. The Elphin may be devious, but they're not murderers." He patted her shoulder. "You see,Jo, the Elphin have never cared much for technology, but they have developed tremendous mental powers. It was with these psychic gifts that they learned to create portals into other worlds."
"Few are the worlds where the Elphin have not walked," Taranis declared. "We opened portals to Karn, Voga, Tigella, Skaro. We knew the Earth when men were fireless brutes. We danced by starlight on Salisbury Plain before Stonehenge was ever thought of, and the mortals called us the People of the Hills -- when they did not call us gods. We even opened a portal to Gallifrey, in the days when Rassilon was young."
"So I went through a magic door and wound up in fairyland," Jo said, trying very hard to sound casual about it, "but what has that got to do with drinking wine?"
The Doctor's bushy brows collided with one another as he scratched his chin. Despite her nervousness, Jo smiled to herself; she had seen that look so often. It meant: how do I explain this advanced scientific concept to her? The Time Lord's forehead smoothed. "Elphin food alters the neurochemistry of the human brain and renders it incompatible with the psychomechanism of the portals. Only the Elphin know the formula of the antidote."
Jo turned towards Taranis. "That's a dirty trick! Maybe those poor cavemen believed you were gods or something, but I think you're just a--"
Taranis held up a hand. "Do not presume to judge us." He turned to the Time Lord. "Centuries ago, I forebade the bringing of mortals to Elphinesse, though we still walked among their worlds. Mortal and immortal cannot dwell contentedly together; our natures are too unalike." The Doctor moved as if to speak, but kept silent.
"It was a wise choice," Taranis continued, "and yet sorrow came of it. My brother Herne became enamoured of an Earth maiden. He begged me to allow her passage into Elphinesse, and I refused."
"I'll bet he didn't ask the poor girl if she wanted to come," Jo whispered.
The Elphin king plucked a leaf from its twig. "He stole her away to a distant world." The leaf fluttered to the ground. "Soon after, the woman died."
"How horrible!" Jo exclaimed. "What happened?"
Taranis frowned. "Mortals are like morning mist; gone before the day has truly begun. Some illness, perhaps -- it scarcely matters. Of greater weight is the madness that came over Herne. He blamed me for the human's death." The Elphin paused, remembering. "When he returned to Elphinesse, his anger seemed quenched. Too late I learned that it had only been transmuted into hate. He fled again, and this time he carried away the Flammifer Stone, dearest treasure of Elphinesse." Taranis gestured at his crown, and Jo saw an empty hollow among the emeralds and silver filigree. "He set the Flammifer upon the mortal's tomb, and bound it with puissant spells. There it bides still." The Elphin king fixed his gaze on the Doctor. "This is my charge to you, Time Lord: you will go to Herne's Tower and fetch me the Flammifer of Elphinesse."
"Why should I do any such thing?" the Time Lord snapped.
Taranis smiled. "Because you share Herne's folly, Doctor; you care for these mortals."
Jo fumed. She would not be talked about as if she were a pet poodle. "Why don't you get it yourself, Your Majesty," she snapped, "or are you too scared to stand up to your brother?"
"Silence!" Taranis jabbed an emphatic finger in Jo's direction. A peculiar tightness seized her throat. She opened her mouth to protest -- and nothing came out. She looked imploringly at the Doctor, and his answering glance told her to wait.
"Doctor, you need not fear Herne's ire," Taranis said. "After his spells were woven, he opened a portal to the inner heart of that world's sun and passed through." Jo gasped soundlessly as Taranis continued, "I am grateful to my brother. It would have been a shame upon Elphinesse had I been forced to seek his death."
"Your Majesty, you have not answered my companion's question," the Doctor pointed out. "What prevents you from retrieving the Flammifer yourself?"
Taranis sighed. "The most ancient laws of Elphinesse ordain that every spell must contain the seed of its undoing. In this, at least, Herne was faithful to our ways. He bespelled the Flammifer so that only one with human blood could free it, then surrounded the tomb with a temporal flux field. No one, Elphin or mortal, could pass through it and remain sane. No one but a Time Lord." Taranis paused. "Or a human mindfasted to a Time Lord."
"Absolutely not!" the Doctor snapped. "I will not permit such a thing."
Taranis shrugged gracefully. "I will restore the human's speech, that she may bid you farewell." The constriction vanished from Jo's throat.
"Doctor, you're not going to leave me here!"
"Of course not, Jo." The Doctor glared at the Elphin king. "Give her the antidote."
"When you consent to the quest."
"Lord Taranis, if you release Jo I will fetch you gems from any planet in the twelve galaxies, but a mindfasting is completely out of the question." The Doctor took pity on Jo's bewilderment. "Mindfasting is an Elphin spell; a sort of mental telepathy that temporarily joins two minds together."
Jo was silent for a moment. "And you don't want me in your mind..."
"Jo! It's you I'm worried about; a mindfasting could be terribly dangerous to you. Sharing another mind can be very frightening--"
"I wouldn't be frightened of you, Doctor."
The Time Lord studied her face. "Perhaps not, but my mind is rather different from a human mind, Jo. Being mindfasted to me could put a considerable strain on your psyche. After just a few hours, there would be irreversible damage."
Jo pointed out that a few hours should be enough.
"And if it isn't?" the Doctor demanded. "Taranis is the only one who can undo the mindfasting. What if we don't get back in time? I'm sorry,Jo, I can't allow you to take the risk."
Josephine Grant drew herself up to her full five feet. "You can't allow? Doctor, you're being just as bad as him! You'll be calling me `mortal' next, I suppose." She paused, but the Doctor had been stunned into silence by her outburst. "I'll take the risk. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in fairyland, having trees thrown at me."