The morning before the Doctor's departure was clear and cool. The whole party – Anne, Grist, his men, the Fragins, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory –left the Ostem Manor house shortly after dawn, traveling toward Stoketon. Fragin knew a short-cut through the woods which would alow them to complete their ride in the better part of a day. The pace was easy; though Fragin, the Doctor, and Anne were recovered, no one wanted to push them.
Prince Arthur was waiting to receive them in the hall of Stoketon Manor. He greeted the party formally, impressing Amy yet again with his maturity. Anne stood by, smiling with pride, until his greetings were completed. Then she dropped to her knees and held open her arms. Arthur flung himself into them in an instant, all formality forgotten.
The rest of the evening continued in an informal vein, with the whole party dining together in the great hall. Everyone seemed to be talking at once, moving from conversation to conversation seamlessly. Even Lady Haver had joined in, her concerns about "position" apparently forgotten. Arthur had retired early, gradually followed by others. By evening's end the only people left in the hall were the Doctor, Anne, Grist, Rory, and Amy. They settled on benches near one of the fireplaces, watching the flames dance in the hearth. The group was quiet, feeling somewhat subdued as they realized this was their last evening together.
Amy and Rory had spent the past four days keeping a close eye on the Doctor. Rory had insisted they give the queen more time to recover before traveling so the whole group had remained at Ostem. The Doctor had tolerated the inactivity fairly well. He'd visited with Grist's men, talked about cooking with Maggie Fragin, and helped with clearing some of the rubbish from the hall. He'd seemed cheerful but there were moments when Amy thought he looked almost wistful. She'd wanted to ask him what he was thinking about but she was afraid to make things worse. She'd turned to Rory, feeling a rush of pride and gratitude when he managed to come up with ways to distract the Doctor.
Queen Anne had seemed to have the most difficulty with their idleness. She'd been anxious to see her son and to deal with the courtiers waiting in the crater. Grist had helped her concoct a story for them, explaining she and her brother had been removed to the manor house due to illness. Her brother had succumbed but she was recovering. The courtiers were urged to return to the capital and most of them were more than ready to go, being thoroughly tired of living in tents.
The queen was sitting next to Grist now and occasionally his hand brushed against hers. He'd kept busy over the past four days, not only helping with Anne's story but also seeing to the dismantling of the torture chamber in the basement of the manor house (the Doctor had helped, his sonic screwdriver making quick work of taking apart some of the implements), and arranging for Trock and Montague to be transferred to a prison. When he wasn't busy with those tasks, he'd divided his time between talking with Anne and talking with Rory.
Anne hadn't been entirely idle; Amy knew she was planning something for their departure the next day. She'd been in consultation with Maggie Fragin and Grist, and at one point earlier in the evening she'd taken Lady Haver aside for a hushed conversation. Now, despite obviously being tired (she'd yawned several times) there was an undercurrent of excitement about her. When she yawned a fifth time, Rory gently suggested they should all get to bed and the group reluctantly rose, making their way upstairs to their rooms.
The next morning was sunny and warm. The group ate together again in the hall. Lady Haver didn't join them this time but she did appear at one point to speak quietly with the queen. Whatever she said pleased Anne because she was smiling when she returned to the table. Grist returned her grin when she returned to the table. A few minutes later a servant moved through the hall, bearing a large basket. The Doctor arched his brows.
"You did come for a picnic," Anne told him. He grinned, glancing at Amy and Rory who nodded.
"We're not in any hurry," Amy said.
"We don't have to be – we've got a time machine," added Rory.
Once breakfast was finished, the horses were prepared and the group set out for the TARDIS. The pace was a leisurely one. Landon had the picnic basket on the back of his saddle while Grist held the prince in front of him on his horse. Arthur was wide-eyed, excited to be on horseback but a little intimidated to be with the group of adults. The Doctor leaned over to say something to him and the little boy laughed, most of his nervousness vanishing. As the journey progressed Amy could hear him asking Grist questions. From time to time the Doctor would lean over to say something, always managing to get the boy giggling.
They reached the TARDIS at mid-morning, and the Doctor's relief at seeing the ship was obvious.
"Did you think someone was going to steal it?" Amy teased.
"It's happened before," he muttered, slipping from his horse and starting for the doors. Amy and Rory dropped down from their saddles and started after him, but when they were almost to the ship, Rory caught Amy's arm.
"Give them a moment," he said. Amy rolled her eyes but stopped, letting the Doctor enter the TARDIS on his own. He was inside for a moment before he reappeared at the door.
"Well, come on then. We've got work to do!" he called, grinning. Amy looked over her shoulder at Anne, who was staring at the doorway and looking amazed. Grist was beside her, holding Arthur and looking shocked. Anne started forward at once, her smile growing broader but Grist stayed where he was.
"I… I don't think I can go in there," he said. Amy started to huff but Rory just nodded.
"It's alright," he told the other man, stepping over to take the prince from his arms. "It can be a bit… overwhelming."
"How about you, Your Highness? You ok with coming in to my magic box?" asked the Doctor. Arthur glanced at his mother, who had stopped at the doorway, and nodded. His eyes were wide again but there was also a half-smile on his face. Grist looked torn, clearly wanting to follow but just as clearly afraid. Amy stepped over to him, putting a hand on his arm.
"C'mon, we'll get the picnic set up," she said, tugging on him gently. He turned away as Anne, Rory, and Arthur followed the Doctor into the TARDIS.
By the time they returned half-an-hour later, the picnic was ready. The horses were gathered near the edge of the field and had settled in to graze on the deep green grass. Blankets had been spread over the ground, anchored at the corners with stakes. Anne had also packed cushions and Amy was leaning against one when the doors to the TARDIS opened. She sat up, hearing Grist's sharp intake of breath as Arthur stepped out unaided. He stood for a moment and the field was silent as everyone stared at him. Then Grist moved, shifting up from the blanket to his knees and smiling.
"Your Majesty," he said. Arthur had laughed in delight and launched himself at the bearded man.
"I can walk!" he shouted. "And I can run!" He gave Grist a quick hug before dashing away.
Arthur spent the next half-hour running through the field, chased by Landon and Robbard. The prince was shrieking with laughter and the two men were chuckling and beaming. Anne settled on the blankets, leaning against a cushion and watching the play with moist eyes.
"I… I can't thank you enough, Doctor," she said finally, turning her gaze to him. The Doctor flushed, ducking his head a little.
"Yeah, well…" He shrugged, for once at a loss for words. The wistful look Amy had seen before was back, and once again Rory stepped in.
"Let's see what's in here," he suggested, opening the picnic basket and starting to pass around food.
The queen had arranged a huge spread of food. Every time Amy thought they'd reached the bottom of the basket, Rory brought out something else. There were several kinds of sandwiches, deviled eggs (the Doctor's eyes lit up at the sight of them), pâté, crackers, cheeses, a half-dozen varieties of cookies, two different wines, juice, and tea.
Landon and Robbard spotted the food and managed to herd Arthur toward the blankets. When he saw the food he ran the rest of the way, dropping to his knees beside his mother and panting as he stared at the spread.
"Who else is coming to eat, Mama?" he asked breathlessly, prompting laughter from everyone else. The Doctor's melancholy seemed to lift and soon they were all passing around the platters and helping themselves to drinks. The food piled up quickly on their plates and Amy wondered how the others were going to manage to ride back to Stoketon after eating so much. All she had to do was walk in to the TARDIS and watch the Doctor flip levers on the console. The thought of lurching about the ship while stuffed full of food made her slow her eating, even as she wondered if she might be able to persuade him to use the blue stabilizers for this trip.
Eventually everyone's eating slowed, then stopped. Arthur curled up on his side to nap, exhausted from the day's excitement. Anne stroked his hair idly, smiling contentedly. Rory stretched out as well and Amy let him settle his head in her lap. Grist was sitting close to Anne, his shoulder just brushing hers, and as Amy watched he caught hold of one of her hands. The wistful look was returning to the Doctor's face and Amy reached out to catch one of his hands.
"Maybe it's time," she murmured and he nodded.
"Before you go, there are some things we need to take care of," Grist said, glancing at Anne. She nodded and he released her hand, retrieving a bundle from behind the picnic basket. The queen sat up a little straighter, unwrapping the bundle carefully and drawing out a leather pouch.
"These are for you, Mistress Pond," she said, extending it to Amy. Rory sat up to watch as Amy opened the bag and drew out a pair of jeweled hair combs. Blue stones were nestled between pearls, all set in silver.
"They're beautiful," Amy murmured, turning them carefully in her hands. "Thank you."
"Thank you, Mistress Pond," Grist answered, glancing at Anne.
"I have something for you as well, Master Williams," Anne said, getting to her feet. "Please, kneel." Rory looked at Amy who nodded encouragingly.
"O… Ok," he stammered, moving in to place. Grist passed Anne a sword and she held it before her.
"I name you Sir Rory," she announced, tapping the flat of the blade against each of his shoulders. Rory ducked his head, blushing furiously. "Please rise, Sir Roy," Anne said, taking a step back. Rory got to his feet, his face growing redder, and Anne presented him with the sword. There were red jewels set in the handle, gleaming in the sunlight.
"Thank… thank you," he said, turning the sword carefully in his hands. Grist rose as well, passing him a decorated scabbard and Rory slipped the blade into it. He took a step back, coming to stand beside Amy as the queen turned to the Doctor. The Time Lord got to his feet, looking uncomfortable and Amy remembered Liz 10's words knighted and exiled on the same day.
"It wasn't easy choosing a gift for you," Anne told him. "I know you have no need of titles, or jewels, but I wanted you to have something."
"You don't…" the Doctor began.
"We do," Grist countered, passing Anne a rolled up parchment. There was an elaborate wax seal holding the roll closed and Grist passed a small knife to the Doctor so he could lift it. He returned the blade before unrolling the parchment. His face was still as he studied the writing and Amy felt herself growing impatient to know what it said.
"It's a title," he said at last, "to the Ostem Manor house."
"You'll always have a home here," Anne explained, smiling nervously at the Doctor. He shifted his eyes to the parchment for a moment before looking up at her.
"Thank you," he said softly. Amy thought he might cry for a moment but he stepped forward to hug Anne. When he turned to shake Grist's hand he was smiling and then it seemed like everyone was hugging everyone else, shaking hands, and wishing each other well. Finally Amy, Rory, and the Doctor made it to the TARDIS. He opened the door and motioned them ahead of him, looking back to the crowd.
"You don't want to miss this," he told them, his eyes twinkling. He lifted his hand in a wave before stepping inside and bounding up to the console. He turned on the scanner and Amy and Rory turned to watch the faces of the crowd as the TARDIS began to thrum and disappear.
Once they were underway, Amy studied the Doctor, looking for any signs he was sad.
"Where to now, Pond?" he asked, flipping a lever with gusto. Rory glanced at Amy before speaking up.
"I think I feel ready to run down a corridor," he said. "How about you, Amy?"
"I think I could handle some running," she answered. "Yeah, running's good."
"Right," the Doctor said, reaching for another switch. "Running it is!"
And there we are. A special thanks to A Who Down in Whoville for her help with this epilogue, which seemed to be growing out of control, and to my husband who has served as my beta and resource for all knowledge Who-related throughout the writing of this. Thank you to all of you for reading, reviewing, signing up for alerts, and favoriting this story. I SO appreciate it!