The streets of Ephesus were still oven-hot from the late afternoon heat, and were basking in the dusty orange glow of the setting sun. Wilf, the Doctor, and the Master were on their way to the senator's house. Dressed in the colourful Roman tunics that the Tardis wardrobe had produced, they shuffled unsteadily on thin leather sandals over the marble slates of the main-street that led from the harbours to the hills. It was flanked on both sides by flats from which the ground level apartments were rented out to noisy merchants, who despite of the slumbering heat, were still trying to sell pots, clothes, food and whatnots to the general public before the day was over.
"This better be good." The Master muttered. He had removed the bandages from his head, much to the Doctor's dismay. Although the scars were still visible underneath his shortly cropped hair, the Master didn't exactly understand what the Doctor was fussing about. Thanks to his accelerated healing capacity, he had quickly recovered from the worst of his head-injury.
"How can it not be good?" The Doctor asked, a little amazed. He was wearing his sonic screwdriver under his belt, and looked like a complete dork as far as the Master was concerned. "We're in Ephesus! The shining city of the east where the roads are paved with marble! People here became stupendously rich by trading with the cities at the eastern Roman borders. They imported Egyptian papyrus, exotic fruits from Syria, and fierce beasts from the dark African continent for the imperial games in Rome. Whatever you may ask, they can supply it. Even queen Cleopatra and Marc Antony frequently visit this place."
"Really?" Wilf asked excitedly.
"Oh yes." The Doctor nodded. "To do shopping mostly. Everybody knows that Cleopatra was a notorious shopaholic. She used to spend fortunes on luxury goods. When she was done in the summer of 32BC, there was allegedly not a single bottle of rosewater left in the entire town."
"You know, if we really were sight-seeing you'll make a very disappointing guide." The Master commented, grinning like a man with toothache as he half-listened to the Doctor's prattle about the history of the place. "Unless the tourists were all from some immensely insipid place, like let's say Luxemburg in the 1990s. In that case you would be considered mediocre at best." The fake grin disappeared from his face. "Why did you go in on that exasperating senator's invitation?" He asked accusingly. "And don't tell me it was because you thought it would be a barrel of laughs. I don't share your peculiar type of humour."
"You're not holding a grudge, are you?" The Doctor asked, arching a brow.
"Oh why would I? I just happened to have saved the man's life. Instead of showing me a little gratitude, he decided to thank you, of all people, and wanted to cart me off as a slave. No of course not. Don't be ridiculous. " The master answered in an icy, sarcastic tune.
"It's just how society works in this these early days of civilization." The Doctor explained, trying to persuade him to be more reasonable with the senator. "A master is fully responsible for the actions of his slave. If you had committed a crime he would have held me similarly accountable. Anyway, didn't you notice that there was something odd with the wheels of his chariot?"
"There were tiny rockets secured on the spokes." The Master muttered, rolling his eyes. What did the Doctor thought he was? One of his simple-minded human companions who needed to be coaxed and guided every minute that he was by his side? "They were running on combustion engines if I am not mistaken. The type with enough power to sent that wooden carriage to the moon and back. Which makes strapping them to the wheels of your chariot in the hope to go a bit faster a real moronic idea, even for an inbred Roman snob like him. The longer I think about it, the more I am convinced that this human should be removed by natural selection to prevent further deterioration of the species."
"That was advanced alien technology." The Doctor responded, raising his brows and staring at the Master in the hope that he would take an interest.
"It's Naskular technology. 53rd century, give or take." The Master replied with much apathy.
"If it's alien, what is it doing here in ancient Rome?" Wilf asked.
"Good question." The Doctor nodded, a bit too enthusiastic. "You see?" He pointed out. "That's why I need my time-travelling companions. I need input, people who dare to ask the right questions."
"Oh shut up." The Master muttered, rubbing his temples, for he felt a mild headache coming up. Maybe he did still suffer from concussion. "You only drag a human along because you just love to hear the sound of your own voice explaining the obvious to the stupid."
"Oh my God." Wilf suddenly halted in front of a large public building that was adorned by a stone façade that depicted the scene of Odysseus blinding the Cyclops Polyphemus. "Is this a Roman bathhouse?" Wilf exclaimed. "I've always wanted to see how one looks like inside. I only saw the one in Bath. But this….this is the real thing, isn't it? This is wonderful!"
"Looks like granddad has acquired a taste for the antiquities. Maybe you should put him on a leash." The Master remarked with a smirk.
The Doctor returned a stern look to the Master.
"Oh this is so exciting!" Wilf muttered, he crossed the street and headed for the entrance of the bathhouse.
"Wilf! Eh, maybe you shouldn't be wandering off on your own?" The Doctor tried.
"Oh this primitive footwear is killing me." The Master complained, ignoring the Doctor's concern for his human companion. He readjusted the sandal straps while balancing on one foot. "I know we are supposed to be blending in with the locals and all, but can't we at least wear proper shoes? I can feel every wobble in the road and there's all kind of flora stuck between my toes." The Master spotted a shoe-shop in the corner of the street.
"Maybe they can offer me some assistance." He muttered, and also headed off.
"Master? Wilf?" Suddenly, the Doctor found himself left standing by his own in the middle of the road.
"Fancy to buy a new pair of comfortable steppers sir?" The shoe-salesman asked. The Master, content that at last, one of these humans were finally starting to address him properly, well at least he called him sir, swept a fleeting glance over the merchandise. There were sandals, sandals, and more sandals, enough to shoe the entire population of Asia Minor, but not a single pair of them could remotely please the demanding Timelord.
"Don't you have anything of better design?" The Master asked, picking one up by the straps, and holding it like he would a dead fish.
"What do you mean sir?"
"I mean something not crafted entirely out of a flimsy piece of chewed-out leather." He dropped it back on the pile. "A proper pair of shoes, not just a sorry excuse for."
The merchant looked puzzled and scratched the back of his head. "They're all like this. How should a shoe otherwise look like?"
The Master cocked his head to one side. "I have a couple of suggestions. It's slippery out there. A marble sidewalk in a town surrounded by muddy marchlands is more pleasing for the eye than it is common sense. The least you can do is to get a bit of profile under these." He pulled a nail out of a wooden beam that was supposedly keeping the display table from falling apart and pushed it through the leather sole with his thumb.
"Hey, you just made a hole in it! That's gonna leak."
"As if my feet would ever stay dry wearing one of these things. It's for grip." The Master smashed the sandal on the table, burying the sharp end of the nail into the wooden surface. "See, it can't slip now." He demonstrated it to the merchant by pulling on the sole that was now stuck to the table.
"It can't move either. Looks pretty useless to me." The salesman shrugged.
The Master groaned. Yet another reason to despise this place. Half of the earth's population had the brain capacity of a sodden fruitfly. "That man wouldn't know how to make money even when it's thrown into his face." The Master complained while being coaxed away from the store by the Doctor.
They found Wilf halfway up the steps of the bathhouse complex.
"Doctor, oh there you are. Can we visit one of these Roman baths before we go?" Wilf managed to ask, before he too was dragged away by the Timelord.
"Later!" The Doctor snapped, towing his two companions behind him as he went up the road in hasty steps.
They walked up hill for a while till they reaching the end of the main-street where the road split into two. One way led to the forum, while the second one headed further uphill towards a neighbourhood of expensive-looking terrace houses. The biggest one on the left had a marble portal, and was flanked by two massive Egyptian sphinxes. The most remarkable ornament was situated right in front of the Roman villa. It was a huge fountain, adorned with the more muscular and slimmed down figure of Magnus Pompous, spewing water from his pouted lips.
"Let me guess, it's the one on the left." The Master deadpanned.
"Nice house." The Doctor remarked.
"Absolutely vile taste." The Master scoffed.
They were welcomed and escorted by the senator's diligent servants through the entrance into the huge atrium. Once they were inside, Wilf became lost for words. He gazed at the walls where a dedicated artist had translated the scenery of the seven hills of Rome with painstaking precision into paint and mortar. Scenes of the senators in the forum, the games in the amphitheatre and every day life was vibrantly shown on the terracotta red coloured walls. A beautiful mosaic covered the entire floor. It depicted the Mediterranean Sea, complete with its most important harbours. A large golden and a smaller silver disk, representing the sun and the moon, glittered over the blue waves. In the centre of the atrium was the impluvium, a shallow pool that collected the water from the open roof. In the middle stood a gilded statue of the God Apollo, reaching out for the mosaic ships heading for the harbour of Ephesus. Wilf took it all in with dumbstruck awe, and even the Doctor was impressed. The Master however, kept his calm and looked with indifference at all this splendour and exuberant exploits of wealth as if he was taking a look in auntie Gertrude's junk-shed. Everything in this house was designed to show off and strike admiration for the owner. Since he severely disliked the senator, he was not going to give him the satisfaction.
Senator Pompous approached them, dressed in an expensive silk robe that was dyed in a striking blue colour, and with the rims of his sleeves finished with golden threads, he looked like he had cost a small fortune. "Welcome Doctor!" Their host exclaimed, holding out his arms to receive his guests. "And welcome to your great-uncle Wilf Mottus. Come in further. The triclinium is just behind the garden. You have just arrived in time, my friends. We were about to start with dinner."
They followed Magnus Pompous to the back of the villa. On their way, they passed by an arcade of columns. It was flanked by a row of carved Roman heads, representing Pompous's own family, with a rather flattering statue of himself, his late wife, and his daughter Dea, all painted brightly in vivid colours with the black paint glinting in their eyes, making them all look strangely alive.
They entered the triclunium that overlooked a lush garden where two other guests were already present. They were reclining lazily on the red velvet couches. The Doctor settled down next to them and assumed their position as if he was invited to a Roman banquet every day. Wilf, uncertain about how accurte his knowledge was of Roman table manners, copied the Doctor's pose and also propped himself up on one side, resting on one elbow.
"What are you doing?" Pompous asked. He was appalled when he saw that the Master was about to do the same. "Slaves are not allowed to eat with their masters!"
"Really." The Master replied, blinking his eyes and faking puzzlement. "I didn't know. If anything I blame the Doctor, he runs a rather lenient household."
"I've never heard such insolence!" The senator fumed.
"Eh, Marcellus, maybe you should stand at the back." The Doctor said, nodding at the group of slaves waiting silently at the back of the room to attend their masters. Meanwhile, he was begging him through their psychic link to humour the senator.
"My sincere apologies." The Master said with an icy smile, not even trying to seem sincere. He turned to join the other slaves and even bowed his head and folded his hands in front of him like the others to appear obedient. The Doctor sucked in a deep breath and scratched the back of his neck. He was sure that he wasn't going to hear the end of it once this social gathering was over. At this pace, he feared he would be rapidly running out of robinberry jam to keep the Master appeased.
The food arrived and the dinner-party finally took off. The Doctor, who hadn't had a hot meal ever since he went out to look for the Master, could for the time being enjoy the exotic taste of Roman cuisine in relative peace after he finally managed to shut out the Master, who kept hurling insults and sarcastic remarks at him via their telepathic connection.
Before the Doctor could ask the senator about the chariot accident to find out more about the rockets, one of the dinner-guests, a haughty young man who looked rich and bored and apparently owned an entire fleet of grain-ships, started a conversation with Pompous in which he complained about how the harbour was slowly clogging up, and needed to be dug out every month to keep it open for the larger ships to reach the docks.
"I know what you would like to say to me, Magnus. Of course it's our own fault. Everybody knows that the Goddess Diana became angry with us after we cut down the trees in her sacred hunting ground up in the hills. But the good people of Ephesus have also tried to appease her by building the great Artemis temple in her honour. She has no reason to keep obstructing the bay." He stated, popping an oily mushroom into his mouth. The morsel was drenched in pungent garum. The Master gagged and turned to the garden for much needed fresh air, but the horrible smell seemed to be wafting all over the place.
"It must have something to do with that metal star that fell from the sky." The second guest remarked, he was as large and round as a barrel, and his many chins quivered when he spoke. "Ever since the priests brought it to the temple and offered it to the Goddess, it had brought nothing but bad luck to the city."
"Oh don't be so distrustful Decimus Horatius." Senator Pompous replied as he bit into a roasted goose leg. "Remember, they are paid to act in the city's interests. If the star was some sort of ill omen, you think that they would try to get rid of it instead of keeping it inside the temple."
The Master eyed hungrily how the fat juices of the meat dripped down the senator's chin. I have just about heard enough if this. The Master thought. Let the Doctor keep the company of these goons and listen to their boring gossip. He was famished, his stomach was rumbling from all that food that he could smell and see but wasn't allowed to taste or eat. In a quiet moment, he sneaked out of the triclinium, and made his way against the steady stream of slaves that continued to bring in the dishes. Hungrily, he followed the line back into the kitchen.
It was only after the fourth course, when the guests of Magnus Pompous finally stopped stuffing themselves and the slaves were sent out to fetch the buckets and the ostrich feathers to relief their bloated stomachs, that the Doctor became aware of the remarkable quiet in the back of his mind. He turned and noticed that the Master was no longer in the room. Alarmed, he excused himself, and went looking for the other Timelord, leaving poor Wilf to savour the roasted flamingo in sweet and sour sauce, and enjoy the delights of goose egg terrine with pig-trotters pate.
Following the Master's scent, the Doctor quickly found him in the kitchen. He was sitting at the table, casually chatting away to the slave girls who were busy preparing the meals. Had the Doctor felt bad for letting the Master go hungry in the triclinium, the sight of him surrounded by the giggling kitchenmaids severely lowered his level of empathy for his fellow Timelord.
"What's this?" The Master asked, glaring at the young blushing maid who had just put a plate of cooked apples in front of his nose.
"Have a taste." She answered with a pouty smile.
He dipped his fingers in the sticky red sauce and put it in his mouth. "Not bad. There is honey, vinegar and pepper." He licked his fingers clean and kept his eyes on the girl. "Sweet and red. Like your lips."
The girl leaned closer to him, her bosom falling and rising quickly, the reflection from the kitchen-fire shimmered over her oily, olive coloured skin.
"My lips aren't that sweet." She breathed.
"Allow me another taste." The Master purred, and brushed over her hot cheeks with the back of his hand, guiding her mouth closer to his.
"Ah there you are." The Doctor spoke, a tad too loud. "I've been looking for you all over the place."
Embarrassed, the girl dashed away and headed back to attend the roasting meat above the fire. The Master smacked his lips and turned to the Doctor.
"How's life at the higher end of society?" He inquired innocently, beaming a smile at him.
"Boring and predictable, compared to what's going on in here, apparently." The Doctor shot an accusing glance at the Master, and sat down at the other side of the table. He took in the dishes spread out in front of him.
"Dormouse skewers, elephant trunk stew, roasted parrot wings…they're feeding you better than they are feeding their own master." He said, somewhat astounded.
"Oh these kind and lovely ladies make absolutely wonderful hosts." The Master smirked, putting his hands behind his head as he winked at the dark-skinned girl.
"You didn't hypnotise them, did you?" The Doctor asked sternly.
"No of course not." The Master replied. "Don't be ridiculous!"
"Because if you did, but you tell me you didn't, and I have to find out later…"
"I've asked them, politely." The Master sighed. "Might have even said could I please at a certain point. If I had stayed in the triclinium waiting for you to throw me some scraps I would have been fighting the dogs for the bones under the table by now."
"I was going to bring you food." The Doctor protested and produced some leftovers wrapped in a greasy linen bag that he handed over to the Master.
"Ah." The Master dangled it between two fingers. The sight of it alone was spoiling his appetite. "No need for that anymore. But please, by all means, try a dormouse. I told them to hold back on the garum. It's actually quite edible now."
The Doctor picked up a skewer and studied the grilled rodent with curiosity. "Guess what I've just found out from senator's Pompous's company?" He muttered. Checking the teeth in the mummified snout.
"Just spit it out." The Master replied, stripping the tender meat from the wooden skewer with his teeth. "Just don't expect me to be impressed."
"An object fell out of the sky." The Doctor began, putting the rodent kebab back on the plate, and leaning closer to the Master. "About three months ago. A farmer found it in the fields, in the middle of a large impact-crater. Allegedly, it was a metal star. The high priests brought it to the temple of Artermis where it was offered to the Goddess. Since then, all kinds of weird stuff started to happen in Ephesus. The birth of a two-headed calf, hail and snow in the middle of summer, even the obstruction of the city's vital harbour. They blamed it all on the fallen star."
"A clogged up bay after the soil is flushed down the hills after deforestation." The Master snorted. "That's really strange, I give you that."
"I know, I know, there's a lot of the usual superstitious nonsense colouring that story, but somehow, all this is also connected to the senator. The rockets on the wheels on his chariot, he told me that he had salvaged the technology from the same field where the farmer found the metal star."
"Sorry. Not impressed." The Master answered, sticking a knife in the cooked apples and taking a bite.
"Of course not." The Doctor sighed, slumping back in his chair. He was really trying his best to help, but the Master wasn't exactly cooperating, as usual. There must be something else he could do with his life now that the drums were gone, something that had a purpose and that would catch his interest, and that didn't involve half of the planet's population being enslaved or getting murdered.
"You wanne know what I found out?" The Master asked rather unexpectedly, lifting an eyebrow.
The Doctor glared back at him and furrowed his brows. "What did you find out?"
"What about it?"
"The senator is making his own." The Master licked the sweet sticky taste from his lips. "There are huge pots buried outside in the backyard. That's where this stench comes from. The girls told me."
"It's not something uncommon. That stuff is like ketchup for them, they splash it on everything. These people can't help it that you happen to dislike it so much."
"It smells different." The Master wrinkled up his nose. "It's nothing like that stuff that that merchant was bringing into town."
"Maybe it's a different recipe." The Doctor sighed. He really didn't understand where all of a sudden, this strange obsession with the popular Roman condiment came from. "Look, does it even matter?"
The Master shrugged and stuck his knife in the stew to fish out a lumpy piece of meat. The Doctor felt his stomach turn. Trunks were not the most appetizing part of the anatomy of any animal, even if they were cooked so tender that the meat was falling apart from the skin. The Master didn't seem to share the Doctor's aversions for this particular cut, and bit off a large chunk, chewing on it in contemplation.
"Did you taste the soup?" He asked. He didn't look at the Doctor, but kept staring at the large bubbling cauldron that dangled above the open fire at the far end of the kitchen. A memory stirred in the Master's mind, a vision that surfaced from underneath the veils of forgetfulness, but remained hazy at best. Something about three women, standing around a large cauldron and stirring in a thick brew. He blinked his eyes, and the memory vaporized into thin air, leaving his mind blank again.
"No. I don't think it was brought in yet." The Doctor answered, unaware that the Master having a strange flashback. He just thought he looked so puzzled because he was trying to figure out if he was going to like or dislike the Roman elephant trunk dish. "Why? What's wrong with the soup?"
"Have a taste." The Master murmured, and pushed a bowl in front of the Doctor's nose.
The Doctor looked at the Master for a moment, and stirred in the thick brown liquid with a wooden spoon. Strips of pink meat swirled up from the bottom.
"Oh come on. I'm not going to poison you." The Master grinned. "Do show a little trust in your new companion, Doctor."
Warily, the Doctor brought the spoon to his lips and took a tiny sip.
"It's actually very nice." He said, smacking his lips in surprise. "Salty, and flavoursome, with a touch of sweetness that's kinda hard to place. What's in it?"
"Pork belly." The Master answered. "At least, that's what the cooks are telling me." He watched with a certain degree of interest how the Doctor spooned up the entire bowl.
"Is that what you found out in here, a recipe for a really good pork-meat soup?" The Doctor teased.
The Master shrugged. "I thought it tasted a little familiar, but maybe I was wrong. Would you like another serving?" He asked, remarkably polite, after noticing that the Doctor had emptied the bowl till the last drop. He turned and gestured at the girl who had just flirted with him. She returned a smile that was all honey and sweetness and brought another bowl to the table.
"What are you doing Appia?" A woman shrieked, appearing into the kitchen carrying two empty buckets. Tall and thin as a stick, she acted and spoke as if she was in charge of the place. "You know you're not allowed to give away food without the master's permission!"
"I'm sorry." The girl hastily moved away from the table and almost dropped the bowl in fright.
"I'll inform our master. He will have you flogged for this!" The woman shouted, her voice as piercing and harsh as that of a 17th century French fishwife.
"No! No! Miss Bubulca. It won't happen again, I swear." The girl pleaded.
"Hey, stop scaring her like that!" The Doctor said. "She was just being kind."
"And who are you?" Bubulca asked, sticking her pointy nose in the air as she studied the Doctor.
"We? We're invited guests of senator Pompous." The Doctor answered. "She wasn't giving away food. We were supposed to be fed by your master. She did nothing wrong that would justify a flogging."
"Really?" Bubulca snorted. "And what are you two doing in my kitchen then?"
"We lost our way trying to find the lavatory." The Doctor opted.
"We came here to complain about the poor quality of the food." The Master answered at the same time.
"Ah, which one is it?" Bubulca replied, narrowing her eyes.
"Both." The Doctor replied quickly, wincing.
"Right." The older woman said, putting her hands on her side. Surely she didn't trust these two oddballs for one bit. "Could you two gents please return to the banquet then?" She requested with a tone in her voice that border-lined mockery. "A greasy kitchen is not a suitable place for our master's most honourable guests. We'll all get intro trouble when he finds out."
"Oh if that's the case, we will head back at once." The Doctor replied, grabbing the Master by the elbow and dragging him out into the corridor. "We certainly don't want kind, lovely Appia to get into trouble, now do we?"
"Jealous, are you?" The Master replied, with the beginning of a small grin.
"Don't be stupid." The Doctor muttered, clenching his teeth, he kept walking till they were both out of the kitchen.
They didn't notice her, but someone was watching them leave from behind the purple curtains draped in front of the columns in the hallway. When they were gone, she lowered her cap, revealing a cascade of dark chestnut hair and a white, heart-shaped face. Dea calmly stepped into the kitchen and gave a slight nod to acknowledge the kitchen slaves who anxiously greeted their young mistress.
"What did they want?" She asked in a low, urgent voice as she went over to Balcuba.
"How should I know?" Balcuba snapped, showing remarkably little respect to her mistress. "They just came wondering in while I was feeding the others. It's not my fault. You were supposed to keep an eye on that fat git's houseguests while I'm busy."
"I'm not allowed to eat with the men at formal dinners. I must have told you that a hundred times by now. You would think it would finally stick." Dea snapped back.
"Stupid backward race with all those silly little rules." Balcuba scorned.
"The man who's called Marcellus, he was the one who stopped Magnus's chariot. He knows something. I saw him glaring at the engines strapped to the wheels. It's like he understands what they are." Dea said, worriedly.
"He was talking to that Appia girl when I came in." Balcuba replied.
Dea shot a fleeting glance over her shoulder at the slave girl, who was still tending the fires and turning the roast.
"Maybe I should have a word with her." Dea muttered, giving Balcuba a look.
A knowing grin appeared on Bulcuba's face. Her hand glided over the chopping boards and selected from the sharp blades a long butcher knife. The handle was made of bone. She handed it over to Dea.
"Maybe that's not such a bad thing. The soup is getting awfully thin. We're running low on meat." Balcuba noted with broad smile, showing her graveyard rows of teeth.
Dea's lips pulled into a brief grin as she hid the knife in the folds of her robe. She strolled over to Appia and told her that she wanted to have a word with her. Then she ordered the slave girl to follow her to the larder where the butchered animals were hung and salted. Bulcuba watched how the skinny slave girl went into the small dark chamber at the back, her eyes frightened and her frame trembling, like a lamb brought in for slaughter. When the door closed behind Appia, Bulcuba smiled, and waited, running her thumb over the cutting edge of a knife till it left a sharp crimson line over the blade.
When the evening ended and the guests were gathering outside of Magnus Pompous magnificent villa, the senator went over to the Doctor and spoke to him in private. The Master noticed how the human kept turning to his daughter Dea, who had appeared at the porch with a long blue robe wrapped around her shoulders. The Master could sense that she was staring at him, but when he turned around to look, she immediate looked away.
"What did old walrus face want?" The Master asked in a casual tune when the three of them were heading back to the Tardis. It was a wonderful evening. The moon was shining brightly in the cloudless sky while a warm wind brought the smell of the sea into the streets. Not a bad night to take a leisurely stroll in an ancient Roman city, even if you happen to be in the company of someone who used to be your mortal enemy.
"The senator asked if I could take a look at his daughter Dea. He is worried about her health. Apparently, she doesn't eat much, and gets thinner by the day."
"She's one of those anorexic types?" The Master said. "That's very modern. How is that your problem?"
"Doctor, as in physician, as in general healthcare practitioner." The Doctor noted.
"Thank Gallifrey you didn't call yourself the Sewage Cleaner or Horse Manure Shoveller then." The Master laughed.
"You know, I don't think that last one is even a proper occupation." The Doctor replied, passing by two men who were doing just that to keep the streets from turning into a slip and slide made of horse poo.
"Are you going to help her, Doctor?" Wilf asked.
"I see what I can do. I can't imagine that there's anything serious though. It's probably just worms. People get worms all the time back in 26 AD. However, there's another thing I would like to investigate the first thing in the morning."
The Master rolled his eyes. "Please tell me that you're not referring to that metal star mystery you're trying to solve."
"Oh come on! It's kept inside the temple of Artemis. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world! I've already seen all the others." The Doctor counted them on his fingers. "The Colossus of Rhodos, The firehouse of Alexandria, the hanging gardens of Babylon. Let me tell you, that one was absolutely breathtaking! I would certainly recommend it to anyone! And let's see, the mausoleum, the statue of Zeus, and the pyramid of Giza, twice. Once in 2000 BC and once in 2000 AD. So the temple is the last one on my list. Since we're in Ephesus, we might as well go and have a look at it. Who knows when we'll end up here again." The Doctor argued with an enigmatic grin spread across lips.
"No." The Master said sternly. "Spare me all of that first century tourist guide's talk. Let's just keep your mind focussed on fixing the Tardis shall we?"
"Oh the Tardis can repair itself." The Doctor said, waving away the Master's concerns. "I've set it on self-healing. All she needs is a bit of rest. We could go out while she's recalibrating her navigation system. Get a bit of sunshine on your face. It would do you good."
"The temple of Artemis. That's sounds exciting." Wilf muttered, starry eyed.
The Doctor smiled happily. "What do you say? In for a bit of sight-seeing?"
"Do I have a choice?" The Master blurted.
It appeared that the Doctor wasn't the only one who came up with the luminous idea to visit the temple of Artemis. They found out the very next morning, that the entire town was swamped by what the Doctor called pilgrims and what the Master referred to as bloody tourists, and they were all heading down hill, towards the lowlands where the magnificent temple stood.
"This is not too bad." The Doctor said as they pushed their way through the masses. "Considering this is a public holiday. Of course, with 156 public Roman holidays each year, the chance to pick out a more quiet day to come visit the temple is really only a little more than 1 in 2. Rather silly to have so many holidays, don't you think? You would expect that the Romans would never get any work done. But then again, most of the people you see working in ancient Roman times are slaves -"
Only Wilf was still trying to follow the Doctor's chaotic thoughts, the Master had already stopped listening to him the moment the Doctor had drawn his breath to form the first sentence. There were more interesting things to be learned from this place, just by careful observation. For example, the road ahead to the temple was littered with tiny stalls, selling all kinds of strange nick-knacks. The Master browsed through the merchandise, sniffing a weird looking fruit with black spikes, and picking up a fuzzy ball with what appeared to be a large blue eye painted on it.
"You want to buy that sir?" The seller asked eagerly.
"Actually I don't even know what it is." The Master murmured.
"Why, that's the eye of Medusa. It wards off evil and keeps the bad things at bay."
"Aha, a talisman of some sort, a local folklore oddity, how charming." He mused. "Although…I must say it doesn't look much like an eye to me."
"It's made of a dried bull's ball sir. Cut from a virulent bull in the prime of his life by Vestal Maidens." The merchant explained with much misplaced pride.
"Ah." The Master dropped the talisman back in the seller's hands and wiped his hand fervently over the fabric of his tunic.
"You don't want to buy it? It's awfully good for treating a cold."
"Undoubtedly it is." The Master murmured, and glanced over at the Doctor, who was chatting enthusiastically with another seller. He was getting an idea.
"I'm sorry but I'm but a humble slave and don't have a single Sestertius in my possession. My master, however," He paused and tilted the seller's head towards the other Timelord to help him focus his limited attention. "Is wealthy enough to buy up your entire store. As it happens, I also know he is in dire need of some protection spells."
"Are you sure?" The seller asked eagerly.
"Take a look at him." The Master pointed at the Doctor who was just grabbing the small purse with Roman coins from his belt to pay for a suspiciously mouldy looking sausage from another stallholder. "I'm afraid that he is a man of a too kind and trusting nature, who gets easily taken advantage of."
"He does look quite gullible." The seller muttered, eyes glinting, and rubbing his hands avariciously. "Eh I mean...it looks like your master could use a good charm to ward off trouble."
"That's right." The Master grinned and slapped the man's cheeks with both his hands. "You've got the idea." When he stepped away from the stand, the seller was already taking whatever he could carry from his stall and charged at the Doctor with a vigour that was unknown even to the most persuasive merchants of the Artemis temple. He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled, catching the attention of the other stallholders who immediately followed his example.
"Oh ello!" The Doctor said, smiling kindly at the short man who came running at him holding up a bunch of what looked like blue and white orbs in his hands. "Always nice to meet the locals." He gazed at the others who also came rushing at him carrying hands-full of merchandise. "I must say you're all extraordinary friendly here in Ephesus." The Doctor muttered.
"Are you coming along grandpa?" The Master asked. He pulled Wilf away from a stall selling brightly coloured glass vials.
"Isn't the Doctor coming?" Wilf turned around to find him, but the Doctor seemed to be lost in the crowd.
"Oh he's occupied." The Master grinned. "He seems very popular with the plebs."
As they ascended the many stairs that led up to the platform, Wilf, as with many things he encountered in this ancient city, was struck with awe with the very size of the temple. The roof was supported by rows of marble columns that rose up 20 meters into the sky, and in the middle was the central cella, the house of the Goddess that was shaped like huge marble box. Wilf followed the Master as he entered. Inside, stood a 15 meters tall statue of the Goddess Artemis, cast entirely from bronze and covered with gold leaves. Her watchful eyes were two black onyx stones set against white marble.
"She doesn't really look like the Artemis I know from the books." Wilf commented, cocking his head to one side. "Wasn't she also called Diana, the goddess of the hunt and wild nature? I though she was supposed to look like an Amazon, you know, someone who could hold a bow and shoot a deer. This one looks more…"
"Anatomically enticing?" The Master opted.
"I was going to say maternal." Wilf flushed. "At least, if those are what I think they are."
"The woman wears a bodice made out of a hundred breasts. If that's what you mean."
"Um, yes. I suppose it's a sign of fertility, right?"
"How should I know?" The Master shrugged. "Honestly, I'm not the tiniest bit interested in the history of your stunted little species. You have to ask the Doctor for the more amusing details."
"Can I help you good pilgrims?" A priestess appeared from behind the grand statue, holding a burning oil-lamp in her hand. "Do you seek a way to worship the Goddess?"
"As a matter of fact we do." The Master answered, slipping into the roll of someone in charge with the easy of fitting an old shoe. "My great uncle and I came all the way from Britannia to show or our dedication to her."
"Devoted pilgrims from Britannia!" She said, smiling from ear to ear. "How wonderful! Perhaps you would consider making a small donation?"
"Better still, we would even contemplate to make a most generous donation to the temple, if you would be so kind to show us the sacred star." The Master replied, knowing how the game was played. It didn't matter how far back in time you went, you could always rely on that most enduring, and to the Master, most useful of human traits, human greed. Besides, this place had "tourist trap" written all over it. He would have actually felt offended if she wasn't susceptible to bribe.
"If it's sacred relics you're interested in, you might want to see the arrow of Lycia instead." She answered. "It was shot from the golden bow of the Goddess herself."
The Master shook his head.
"Or perhaps I could interest you to take a glimpse at the gilded string of Apollo's lyre?" She tried.
"No thank you, but we really only came here for the star. The one made of metal that fell from the sky?"
The friendliness on the priestess's face disappeared. "Actually, how generous is that donation we are talking about?" She finally asked.
"Let's just say that you can be assured that the depth of our dedication to the Goddess will be reflected in the amount of coins we are willing to spend for the exchange of a fleeting glance at her most sacred object." The Master said, flashing his most perfect greasy politician smile at her.
For a moment, it seemed that priestess was hesitating, but there was something in the Master's voice that made his arguments seem very convincing and persuasive that made her change her mind. She beckoned the two to follow her further into the sanctum.
They were led to the feet of the statue of the Goddess. The priestess knelt down in front, and lifted a loose marble slate from the floor. A wooden box was kept in the tiny secret space. She lifted it out, opened the lid, and showed its content to both the Master and Wilf.
Inside the wooden box was a cigar-shaped metal pod with a number of small marbles the size of peas. The Master counted sixteen in total. Fifteen of them showed tiny cracks that ran all the way around without splitting them. One was still whole. The Master carefully picked it up from the box, and let it roll over the palm of his hand. For such a small object, it was remarkably heavy.
He held it against the light of the oillamp. Beneath the almost transparent pearly shine, he could see something stirring inside. Something in there was alive, and was waiting impatiently to hatch and crawl out into this world.
"I'm sorry. I don't-." The priestess shook her head and blinked her eyes as if she was trying to wake up. Her eyes went wide when she saw the Master holding one of the temple's most sacred relics. "What are you doing? You're not supposed to touch that! Put it back immediately!" She demanded.
For once in his life, the Master actually did as he was told.
"I don't know what came over me." The priestess muttered, fearing that she had lost her mind. "That's the most important relic that we have. I wasn't supposed to show it to anyone." She closed the lid and put the box back inside the hiding place before covering it up with the marble slate. Then she turned and stared angrily at the Master. "You talked me into this. I don't know how you did this…but you did." She composed herself. "I'm still expecting a donation to the temple." She said sternly.
"Ah." The Master said, cocking an eyebrow. "Wilf, you don't happen to carry a bag of Roman coins with you?" He whispered.
"Is this how it works then? You only remember my name when you need to borrow money?" Wilf answered.
"A simple no would be suffice." The Master replied dryly.
A man ran up the platform, his face red and in complete panic, wearing what looked like wreaths of bulbous blue eyes around his neck. His tunic was tattered and torn, and his hair peeked in all the possible directions that were imaginable.
The Master crossed his arms and smirked, shaking his head as he observed the Doctor. "I knew it! You just couldn't say no."
The Doctor sighed and kissed the marble floor. "Finally! Sacred ground." He huffed, trying to catch his breath. "They're not allowed to follow me in here."
"How much money do you have left?" The Master asked him, without so much as a bit of pity.
The Doctor stared back at him with an incredulous expression on his face. "They have just made me put a second mortgage on the Tardis to buy me one of these." He showed him the garland made of ornamental dried bull's testicles in his hand. "I didn't even know that I already had a mortgage. I'm probably paying this junk off till far into the next century, how much do you think I've left?" The Doctor rambled.
The Master sighed and stuck his hand in the leather bag that the Doctor carried on his belt. There were no more coins left, but he fishing out the slightly psychic paper instead and showed it to the priestess.
"We're not paying you." The Master simple stated. "We're actually from the department of religious affairs and were conduction an inspection of all the temples dedicated to the Goddess Artemis in this area."
"That's quick. You made that all up on the spot?" Wilf whispered.
"By Artemis! Inspectors." The priestess clutched her robe. "I'm sorry sir. I had no idea. We are badly prepared for your visit. I hope this does not reflex on your report on us to Rome…"
The Doctor grabbed the psychic paper out of the Master's hand. "The report will be fine. Nothing to worry about." He tapped with his knuckles on the columns and nodded approvingly. "Nope, no marble-rot in the columns." He slapped his hand flat on the marble. "As far as I can see, everything is in mint condition."
"In fact, we're so impressed that we're swiftly moving on to the next temple." The Master added.
"We are?" The Doctor turned and saw the Master nodding at him fervently. "Yes, of course we are! We're leaving. Not through the front gates!" The Doctor yelled, pointing Wilf and the Master into the other direction. "We're going through the back! I don't want to spend another fortune on souvenirs of dubious quality." He muttered as he headed after them.
"Will you be back for another visit?" The priestess inquired. "I could summon the sisterhood to perform a ritual for you."
"You know what, that sounds really interesting." The Doctor answered, walking backwards as he addressed her. "Keep that thought and I let you know when we decide to do a second round. Maybe we'll come short on details!"
As always, please review. It keeps me motivated to write.