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The Doctor woke up to world that was upside down and was moving fast across his vision. He tried to turn his head to the side, and realized that he was on some kind of open farm cart, and bound with his back on one of the tree trunks that were stacked up high on the horse-drawn vehicle. His usual ensemble of his brown striped suit, long coat and white trainers had been replaced with some kind of farmhand garb, composed of a badly mended shirt with large moth-eaten holes in it and armpit stains. On his feet dangled a strange type of sandal-like footwear made of dry hay and caked dung. He was hanging with his head over the side, while the rest of the passengers, the two rough looking men and this blond fugitive, were quietly sitting on the benches. They were slightly better off, with the two men within his sight dressed like farmers and the girl wearing a clean farm maid outfit. The Doctor blinked his eyes and studied her pale, heart-shaped face.
"Hang on." He muttered, loud enough for his captors to hear. "I know you! You're not even a real blond, are you?" He commented with eyes wide in amazement. "I knew I recognize those cat-green eyes and that pouty little smile. You're the Master's wife!" He grinned smugly to himself till a second thought hit him.
"Only…that wasn't real. Everything that happened after we arrived on the Infinity was just a program to keep Rachel from going mad on that spaceship. There was never a Treaty of Saxony, or a refugee space colony called Agora, the Master was never lord chancellor and he never took a woman called Anne Bullen as his wife." The Doctor stared at her, eyes unblinking, even his brilliant mind was struggling to put one and one together, while poor Anne, who didn't know what to make of the his bizarre ramblings, looked away scared.
"So…who the heck are you?" The Doctor finally concluded.
"She is our lady Anne Boleyn." Scarface answered, coming forward and putting a sharp knife on the Doctor's throat. "And you better stop talking this gibberish to her or I swear I will cut you like a pig at the butchers."
"Easy now. I was just wondering." The Doctor responded, looking up at the blade. "Hi! I am the Doctor by the way." Smiling goofily at him to break the ice. "You know how it is, a long journey, nothing much to see on the road, and before you know it, you start chatting away to complete strangers. I like talking to strangers." The Doctor added with a silly grin. "Well, you start out as strangers, but you might end up as friends, and isn't that what makes a journey truly worthwhile? Meeting other people and making new chums? So let's start over again, shall we? Her name is Anne." He nodded at the girl. "I am the Doctor, and who are you?"
The Doctor felt the tip of the blade scratch over the stubble of his chin.
"You're not really the chatty type?" The Doctor remarked.
"I am Antoine Briet, and I not your friend, nor our is lady Anne." Antoine replied threateningly. "For your information, I like my prisoners quiet and demure. If they don't agree, I'll help them out with this." The tapped his knife on the Doctor's cheekbone.
The Doctor looked back at him with no fear in his eyes. "This isn't the 21th century anymore. Why have you taken me back with you?" He asked sternly.
Antoine was clearly surprised by the Doctor's clear observation. "How did you know that we have traveled in time?"
"Let's say I have a real six sense for this sort of thing. Besides, I have been here many times before." The Doctor craned his neck and took in the passing countryside at his leisure. "Yep, 18th century French farmland, and considering the climate, and by the sight of the green crops in the field and the fancy new road lined with birch-trees, I would say somewhere west of Paris near Versailles. Am I right?"
"Remarkable." Antoine noted, putting his knife away slowly. "No wonder the Watcher wanted us to bring you back alive. What more do you know?"
"Well, I don't want to sound too clever or anything, but I did notice a few interesting things." The Doctor continued. "You used a material link to bring us back. Hooks that works like a rubber band on one of those paddleball things. Energy is required to swat the ball away, but the elastic band will stretch and make the ball come back. Based on the same principle, you used the copper chains with the medallions to return to your original departure point. They will sweep along anything to which it is attached, which is why I got to wear one of these." The Doctor lifted his feet a few centimeters up for as far as the ropes allowed and jingled the chains to make his point.
"The hooks can only bring back living things. When they are not attached to the flesh they won't even return." Antoine told the Doctor, clearly impressed.
"And that's why we left almost everything behind. Actually." The Doctor reconsidered. "That was everything. The horse-carriage, the horses, the guns, even our clothes. We arrived here in nothing but our birthday-suits. You mean old lot stole a cart and clothes from some poor farmer family and off we went. One thing still bothers me though." The Doctor remarked. "Like I said, you need energy to swing the ball. You need a huge amount of energy. Now, in 18th French, where would you possibly get enough to be able to send three grown men, a large carriage and a four-span of horses 300-odd years into the future?"
"The Watcher knows how." Antoine said, grinning slyly. "She is gifted with the sight and can see into the river of time. Our Lord has blessed her with the knowledge of the future, and through her He has shown us how to build the great machine that collects the lightening from the sky."
"Ah, using atmospheric electrostatic discharge to fuel the jump, very clever! And you said your Lord whispered this sweet idea into the Watcher's head?" The Doctor raised his eyebrows in suspicion. "It makes me very curious who this Lord of yours might be."
"Why don't you go and ask the Watcher yourself? We are almost there." Antoine grinned and leaned back knowingly, revealing the dark chateau to the Doctor that loomed at the horizon.
30 kilometers to the east in the ancient heart of Paris, The Master was still trying to get the Doctor's human companions to safety in the labyrinth that made up the capital's backstreets.
"Why is she calling me Fredrick?" The Master asked while he kept moving on a healthy speed. Wilf was a bit surprised that the Timelord decided to know this while they were still being pursued by French soldiers, but then again, more peculiar things about the Master's behavior had puzzled Wilf before. "Um, that's my fault really. You were at my place, don't you remember? The injured leg, and you not being much able to talk?"
"Not really. No" The Master mused. "But by the sound of it, I am sure I must have repressed it for a good reason."
"Ha!" Donna burst into a chuckle. "I remember you. You acted like you were soft in the head. Gramps put you in a wheelchair and introduced you as Minnie's grandson Fredrick to me. I thought you were a retard."
"Donna dear, maybe he doesn't need you to remind him too much of that." Wilf said, fearing for the Master's reaction.
"What?" Donna said, fully oblivious to the fact that she was insulting a dangerously instable Timelord. "He just called me as common as muck in front of an entire crowd. Can't I say anything back?"
"You know." The Master said, narrowing his eyes in thought. "I do remember something about two dancing mice. One had a comically large head and the other one was bouncing around in a straightjacket." He shook the lunatic images of the cartoon out of his head. "What on Gallifrey was that all about?" He noted, quite irritated.
"Oh you remember watching that DVD with me?" Donna pointed out, and started singing to his face. "The pinky and the brain, the pinky and the brain, one is a genius, the other's insane. You're the insane one of course. There is only one genius I know, and he's a Timelord, not a…Fredrick!"
"She's acting all weird." Wilf said worriedly.
"That's the remnants of the Timelord meta-crisis working on her. Although the Timewarp cocoon has done its job and safely released most of the excess energy, there is still some left that has to be dispatched on its own. Plus she has just regained all of her memory of the Doctor. Her neurons need a good rewiring. She will be spewing out nonsense for the next couple of hours or more. You better try to get used to it."
"So, you're not offended? You're not going to hold a grudge?" Wilf tried.
The Master returned to him a most vengeful look. "I didn't say that."
"You know what I am going to call you?" Donna laughed, as if she was telling a really good joke to her best mate. "Fredrick the retard. No wait…Fredrick the evil retard. That suits you, don't you think?"
"Maybe we should gag her." The Master grunted, looking all too sinister. From the periphery of his vision, he saw a French onion-seller secretly glance over his shoulder at the strange trio. When the Master looked again, he saw the man talking to a off-duty soldier who happened to pass by. He was pointing at Donna.
"Time to disappear again." The Master mumbled. He pushed both Donna and Wilf into a side-street and banged with his fists on the first door he came across. "Yeah." A bald, sweaty man answered. Before he could ask the strangely dressed man why the heck he had showed up on his doorstep, the Timelord had already pressed his hand on his nose and mouth and shoved him back inside. "Come on granddad!" The Master hissed, gesturing that he should follow him. "And take that mouthy redhead with you."
"What are you going to do with him?" Wilf asked while he pulled his granddaughter inside the house, and shut and barricaded the door behind him. "You're not going to hurt him are you?"
"Of course not." The Master smirked. He dug his fingers into the man's face and slammed the back of his head against the brick wall. It knocked the Frenchman out completely, and his round body collapsed like a heavy sack of flower on the floor.
"Gramps, my head." Donna clutched her forehead again and swayed unsteadily on her feet.
"Donna!" Wilf rushed over to her and reached her just in time to prevent Donna from falling on top of the unconscious bloke. "It hurts." Donna whined as she lay in her grandfather's arms. "Oh it hurts so much."
She closed her eyes and all went black.
The horse-drawn cart entered a large secluded courtyard within the walls of the chateau. A huge contraption had been constructed close to the mainhouse dominated the open space. Two wooden structures towered above the surrounding buildings, with on top a metal rod connected to wires that snaked their way down from to top into a an enormous silver coil, that hummed dangerously with static. With 30 meters of height, these two towers were the largest structure in the surrounding lands, and would indeed most likely lure the lightening to strike down here if there happened to be any thunderclouds around. The Doctor stared at the machine, clearly impressed by the genius of the design. He particularly liked the way the men had improvised on some of the parts, using wood and cotton and even straw to replace the more modern materials like plastic and rubber that were needed for isolation but still remained to be discovered. He had very little time to admire his captors handiwork though, for as soon as the horses came to a full stop, Antoine pulled out his knife again and cut the Doctor loose from his bonds.
"Get up." He ordered, gesturing with a sweep of his head that he should get off the cart.
"Where are we going?" The Doctor asked, more curious than afraid.
"You're going to meet the Watcher." Antoine answered, sticking the blade in the Timelord's back while he helped Anne to step off the vehicle. The three of them entered the main hall of the chateau while Henri and the second horseman took the horses to the stable. The Doctor strolled calmly down the path paved with soft carpets with his hands inside his pockets and admired the beautifully decorated interior like he was a tourist making a cultural visit.
"From floor to ceiling high glass windows, velvet drapes, bras fixtures and gold ornaments, impressive statues, and everywhere you look, marble, marble and more marble." He whistled, clearly impressed. "This place must have cost a fortune."
"It was in possession of the late king Louis XVI before the revolution." Antoine explained. "It had been in the ownership of the royal family for generations and was used as a hunting lodge even before they built Versailles."
"What's this place called?" The Doctor asked, trying to recall all that he knew about the late French monarchy.
Antoine performed a little curtsey and gestured with his arms wide as if to welcome him. "This? This is the Chateau Fontainebleau."
"Fontainebleau?" The Doctor knitted his brows together. "Hang on, that burnt down years ago! It was lost in the time of the late king's grandfather. It shouldn't be still standing."
"It should have been lost indeed, but it was saved. It was to be struck by lightening, but the timely arrival of the sacred Order of the Watcher had prevented the catastrophic fire that would have otherwise destroyed it. In gratitude of our service, the Sun king granted our Order the right by royal decree to live in the chateau. This has been our temple of worship ever since the late 17th century."
"So let me get this clear, you gained a whole castle because you just happened to be in the neighborhood to harvest lightening?" The Doctor scratched the back of his head. "Blimey, talk about reaping a windfall."
"We weren't just lucky Doctor." Antoine told him. "We were guided." And pointed to the sky above.
"Rrrright." The Doctor replied, being old and wise enough not to get into a discussion with a religious fanatic, he preferred to gaze away from Antoine and to admire the rich oil-paintings on the walls for a while, before he turned and met Anne's gaze.
"You know." The Doctor said, staring at the girl. "I was wondering, since your surname is Boleyn, are there any connections with, you know, the Anne Boleyn, the Tudor queen of England? The one who was Henry the 8th's mistress, but unfortunately lost her head after she finally weaseled her way in to become his second wife? I mean, weren't your parent's not just a little bit apprehensive to call you Anne?"
Anne suddenly turned a whiter shade of pale.
"Stop reminding her." Antoine said with a sternness in his voice that revealed to the Doctor that this was no laughing matter.
"What?" The Doctor grinned, pretending to be fully unaware of the impact his words had on the poor girl. "Surely, she's not truly Anne Boleyn, the most happy of the six wives of murderous king Henry." His goofy smile disappeared from his face as he raised his eyebrows and studied her. "Or is she?"
"Well done." A frail, ancient voice echoed through the hall. The Doctor swirled around in surprise. From out of the different rooms, monks dressed in red monastery robes came forward. Their faces were half-hidden by their hoods, but what was visible to the Doctor revealed horrible disfigured features, inflamed lesions the their skin that have eaten away noses and eyelids, making them look like leprosy victims. A sedan chair was carried by four of these men into the room. The female figure sitting inside was hidden from sight by a gauze curtain.
"You're blessed with an extraordinary clarity of mind to be able to see so far through the veils of time." The woman whispered, slowly clapping in her hands. "My Lord was right to select you for our sacred ritual."
"The Watcher I presume." The Doctor muttered when he saw Anne, Antoine, and the monks prostrate themselves in front of her. He stepped forward, his eyes shimmering with indignation. "If she's truly Anne Boleyn the Tudor queen-" He pointed out. "And she is here, alive and well 300 odd years after her death, then you lot have committed a terrible crime!"
"Why do you believe so?" The Watcher said.
"Because she is a fixed point in time. What happened to her should not be changed, ever. No-one can mess around with the time-stream like this and not expect something horrible to happen!" The Doctor answered back.
"Who are you to decide what can be altered, and what not?" The veiled woman asked.
"Trust me. I am a Timelord. One of the last of a mighty, ancient race. My people have been watching over the universe since the very beginning, and I can tell you for sure that you have made a gigantic mistake by allowing this woman to survive into this century."
"My Lord has saved this wretched queen from the executioner's blade and guided her to us. Everything yields to my his almighty power, even the streams of time itself." The woman raised herself out of her seat and pointed at the Doctor with a thin, skeletal hand. "Even you are only here because my Lord commands it. You may be a lord of Time, but my Lord is its one and only true master, Doctor."
The Doctor's eyes grew wide in shock. "How do you know my name?"
"He whispered it to me. In my dreams he reveals to me the future. A future that is enlightened by reason and progress, dominated by science. We humans will no longer have to fear the dark. He will come and bless us with the knowledge from the stars and guide us their light."
"Who is this Lord of yours? And how come he's only speaking to you on not to any of them?" The Doctor asked, keeping it light, but truly worrying. He clearly remembered River's portentous prophecies, and the way the Watcher was rambling about his secret Lordship was setting off alarm bells inside his head.
"He came from a most sacred place, the cradle of stars. He died in fire but was reborn. His voice was once silenced, but now calls out again over the celestial spheres. I heard his call when I was a child." The Watcher whispered. "I was herding my father's goats in the field when a star fell out of the skies. It struck down a nearby tree and ignited a sea of flames. I was burnt, my flesh incinerated. My father found me surrounded by ashes and the corpses of our animals. The priest told him I would not to live to see another sunrise. But he was wrong. As I lay in the darkness, suffering from the most unimaginable pain, I heard his voice in the night, and he promised me salvation."
"So he saved you." The Doctor said, and snapped his fingers. "Abracadabra, just like that and you were healed?"
"Does this look like a healed body to you?" The Watcher screeched spitefully. The curtains part and she was revealed to the Doctor, an ancient, almost mummified corpse of a woman with a skin the color of ash. Although she looked frail, the tendons around her bones stretched with ease and her eyes shone with a bewitching glow.
"No-one!" She spat bitterly. "Not even a God could undo what the fires had done to me, but my Lord let me live. He granted me an extension to my miserable short life, so I may serve His cause. My father thought that I had been resurrected by the Devil, and cast me out. I wandered the lands for decades, always listening, always guided by His Voice, and found others like me. Every town I entered I came across the sick and the weak, the vulnerable and suffering. They came to me for guidance, and in name of my Lord, I became a shepherd to these lost souls. I let my Lord speak to them through me, and we became his sacred flock."
"I'm sorry, did you say flock? Oh like in a herd of sheep you mean?" The Doctor said rather rudely. "Well, I am not quite sure that's the most intelligent thing to do." The Doctor scratched the back of his neck. "Still, I agree with you that it is better to be outcasts together than to be an outcast alone in these harsh times."
"We erected the sacred Order of the Watcher. We are all brothers and sisters, enlightened by the word of our Lord, and have left the age of superstition and prejudice behind us."
"Yes - yes, if only the rest of the world could be so clever to catch up and to think like that then we're all better off." The Doctor muttered. "The sacred Order of the Watcher you say, does that involve an emblem of some sort? Oh you must have one." He teased, but his hearts were beating fast inside his chest. "Come on! No self respectful order can do without one." He raised his eyebrows at her.
"The symbol of our Lord, the alpha and omega, merged into one. For he is the beginning of times, and the end of times." Answered the Watcher, raising her branchlike arms into the sky to signify his glory.
"If that's truly the symbol of your order, why is it showing up everywhere in the time-stream? I've been on a spaceship in the 25th century where I came across this sign, and it's popping up throughout 21st century London where it's been following me and my companion around. Now why is that happening?"
"Our Lord's voice can be heard throughout history. It ripples waves of consciousness in the hearts of men from all different times. It would not surprise me that he has disciples everywhere." The woman grinned her skull-like smile. "Listen Doctor." She closer her eyes and threw her head back. "Listen, can you not hear him? His voice…like a distant drumbeat."
First the Doctor thought he was listening to his own heartbeat, but then he became aware of the rise of a rhythmic drumming that echoed inside his skull. He froze. He recognized that noise. He had heard it before, 20 years ago, on a cold Christmas Eve, when the wounded Master had, in his desperation, shared his faltering mind with him. That brutal sound that had robed the Master from his sanity, those four taps that had haunted and destroyed his companion's life, had returned, and was now residing inside the Doctor's head.
"No!" The Doctor yelled, pressing his hands onto his ears. The Watcher watched how the Timelord shook his head violently to get rid of her Lord's voice, and burst into a vindictive demonic laughter. The Doctor struggled hard to focus his mind on banishing the eerie drums from his consciousness. When he finally succeeded, he glared up at the Watcher, his eyes blazing.
"Who is your Lord?" He demanded to know, although in his hearts, he truly dreaded to hear the truth.
"Oh Doctor, my Lord has countless names. Some might call him the Light of the North, others the Saint of Lepers, and the Resurrector of the Dead. He even has names across the starts that cannot be pronounced by a mortal tongue. However, to someone like you, Doctor, one of the two last remaining children of Gallifrey, he will be best known as the father of your most noble race…"
The Doctor felt the ice-cold grip of fear clutch his hearts when a smile, as cold as hand reaching out from a grave, crossed the Watcher's horrific face.
"My Lord's true name is Rassilon, and he has finally returned."
With the musky smell of animals and wet hay in the air, Donna thought she had woken up in a barn in Stansted again, just like a week ago after she had her crazy hen night. She was lying on straw bedding in a corner of what looked like a prehistoric kitchen annex stable with an apple stuffed in her mouth. Puzzled, she spat out the fruit and gazed around, wondering how many pints she must have had to get this drunk and to end up here. Her confused mind only made an effort to scramble itself together again when he saw the sweaty bald Frenchman tied up in a chair at the other end of the room.
"Right." She muttered, not very convinced that she was fully sober. "Ancient kitchen, Smelly French bloke, apple in my mouth….Where the hell am I?"
"Donna, you're up!"
Donna sighed when he recognized Wilf's familiar voice. She turned around and saw Wilf standing there with a damping bowl of what looked like porridge in his hands, looking down at her with a worried expression on his kind old face.
"Gramps! Oh thank God. I had the most awful nightmare." She exclaimed, giving her granddad a tight hug. "I was getting married to Shaun, but right before we were about to exchange wedding vows, this light came out of nowhere and just swept me all the way back to 18th century France. I got abducted by a bunch of crazy Frenchmen who wanted my head cut off, but then you came along with Minnie's grandson Frederick and he saved me by talking a bunch of brilliant nonsense to them." She stopped her ramblings and stared at her grandfather with a look of astonishment on her face. "It was so weird." She muttered, noticing the peculiar look Wilf was giving her.
"Don't tell me, it wasn't a dream." She concluded grimly.
"No I am afraid not." Wilf answered, handing her the bowl and a wooden spoon.
Donna shook her head to clear her thoughts. "Where is the Doctor?" She asked.
"You remember him." Wilf nodded, visibly relieved. "Oh that's good. He said you might not completely remember everything because the transfer took place right when that Timewarp thing started to work. I was worried."
"Of course I remember the Doctor." Donna replied, her eyes shimmering. "I can remember everything we've done together! Davros, the Oods, the people of Pompeii. Even the meta-crisis. How could I ever forget, it was the most amazing year of my life."
"Oh that's wonderful." Wilf responded, his eyes tearing up. "Oh Donna, you've no idea how happy I am for you."
"Now come on then." Donna said, producing a smile. "Where is he? We can't be in middle of the French revolution without the Doctor having something to do with it. Where is that skinny spaceman? Is he hiding somewhere?" She gazed expectantly at the shady figure standing behind her granddad.
"I am afraid I have to disappoint you, but he's not going to leap out of the corner and shout "surprise!" any time soon." The Master commented, revealing himself to her with a smirk.
"Frederick?" Donna muttered.
The Master crossed his arms over his chest. "My name, is the Master, and you better stop calling me Frederick, or I'll have to gag you again."
"The apple? That was you?" Donna asked, almost taking an instant dislike to him. "You stuck it in my mouth like I am a roosted pig?"
Wilf hesitantly raised his hand. "Actually, it was me. Sorry sweetheart. He wanted to stuff a piece of dirty rag in your mouth. I didn't want you to get germs. This was a little better."
"So." Donna concluded while studying the Master. "It was really you who saved me from the mad Frenchmen. But if you're not Frederick, who are you and why are you here with gramps?"
"I am a companion of the Doctor." He grudgingly admitted, oh how low he had sunk to be forced to declare this to a human. "A Timelord, just like him."
"That's funny, he never mentioned any other Timelords before."
"Yeah well, we weren't exactly on speaking terms when you were traveling with him. Although it would only be respectful not to mention anything about me when you were around, considering I was dead at the time."
"You what?" Donna exclaimed, knitting her brows together.
"It's a long story luv." Wilf shushed. "Just try not to exert yourself too much right now. You're still recovering." And urged her to try the porridge. Noticing that Wilf was going to be busy taking care of his granddaughter, the Master turned around and headed for the door.
"Hey." Wilf called out to him. The Master had already grabbed the bald man's coat from the hook and was putting it on. "Are you going out? Didn't you just say that we should stay put till at least it gets dark?"
"I said that she should stay put." The Master pointed at Donna while he popped a broad rimmed hat that he had found upstairs on his head. "She sticks out like a sour thumb in that dress. The plebs in the street are convinced she's royalty, and won't hesitate to drag her up the scaffold again."
"And you? Aren't you afraid you might get recognized?" Wilf said.
"Trust me. That won't be a problem." The Master told him, and went outside.
'Don't kill anyone! I won't have it!" Wilf shouted after him, noticing a bit too late the horrified look on Donna's face.
"Gramps, if this is some kind of joke, it isn't funny." Donna said, putting the bowl down.
"Donna my dear." Wilf sighed. "I might have to explain a few things to you before he gets back."
Wilf came to sit down next to her, and prepared himself for a very long story to tell.
The streets were even more crowded in the late afternoon, and the Master, by now allergic to the odorous presence of the average French farmer, had to use his cat-like flexibility to avoid too much physical contact with any of them. He managed to arrive at the market place mostly untouched, and went through the stalls quickly. There were merchants trying to sell all sorts of vegetables in different states of decomposition, while the stalls with warm meat and fish were stinking up the entire street. The most obnoxious of all were the onions sellers, who were incredibly numerous and were venting their putrid bulbs on about every corner. Why this nation was so obsessed with these malicious earth tumors was beyond the Master's understanding. The only sane thing that occurred to him was that although everyone seemed to be selling them, no-one was actually buying any. There was no chance that he could pick up the Doctor's scent in this place, but as always with the Master, there were more ways leading to his destination. He just needed to keep his eyes open to find one road that was less traveled, not to mention less pungent.
"What are you looking for monsieur?" The stall-owner asked him. He was standing proudly behind his merchandise comprised of bottles and vats of wine.
It was half-luck and half-wisdom when the Master let his eyes fall on the emblem burnt into the wood of one of the vats. "Where does this one come from?" He asked, clearly recognizing the Infinity sign.
"This one? Oh that's from the Chateau Fontainebleau, right at the doorsteps of Versailles." The vendor told him. "You have excellent taste good sir." He praised, for he was eager to sell. "This is one of the finest whites in the region. Coming from the royal vineyards, it has graced the tables of the late king himself."
"Really." The Master mused, remembering the boring afternoons he had spent with the Doctor while going through the archives of the London Library. He never would have thought it would actually pay off. "I thought this was made by monks?" He said, trying to lure out more information.
"Um, yes. That's true." The stallholder grinned apolitically. "Although one should not judge the wine by its maker of course." He added quickly.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, I thought you knew sir." Frankly, if he didn't thought the Master knew about the monks, he wouldn't have brought it up. Heck, it wasn't in his standard selling pitch to tell his costumers that this fine tasting white was made by a colony of lepers. "The Order of the Watcher sells under this label. They are all men with physical deformities, punished by God, but also gifted by Him to produce this most exquisite wine."
"Really? Do you know where I can find them?" The Master asked. The internal wheels of his mind were turning fast.
"Well, they usually show up in the early morning before the cockerel's call and sell their stuff at the market place on the corner of Rue Xavier near the bridge leading to the cathedral de Notre Dame. But they don't do private sales." He tried. "They only do wholesale, so if you want to buy some of this fine wine-"
"You know, on second thought, I'm not really that interested." The Master replied, and turned away to head back to the hideout. After all he had now gathered all the information that he needed. Inside his head, his neurons were firing round after round to put a vital plan together for tomorrow morning. He passed by a small group of children who had gathered around a run-down puppet theater and were enthusiastically cheering on the puppet players who appeared on stage.
"Ah, you merry people, come and see, come and see! The Punch and Judy show is here for your amusement." Piped a Mickey Mouse voice behind him. "Why you weary traveler, won't you spare some time and come and watch the show? I've checked the timetables and for now the Tardis is absolutely going nowhere. Not without the Doctor that is."
The Master whirled around and stared right into the gaily-painted face of a miniature version of himself, complete with the black suit and tie combo that he favored during his time as the hated prime minister Harold Saxon. For a moment the Master's mind just stopped working by the sight of the little fellow, who beckoned him to come closer to his puppet palace.
"Oh come on you old nag. You used to love a bit of fun, why so serious now? Take a seat and let old Punch entertain you, that's a good lad." The Master puppet said with a content grin, as he watched how the Master walked over to the wooden bench and sat down like a man sleepwalking. The other puppets on stage started to cheer and dance, while somewhere hidden behind the merrily painted façade, an out of tune organ murdered what was supposed to a popular French Children song.
"You can't be real." The Master mumbled, fearing that, what he had long anticipated, had finally happened, and that he had now officially gone completely insane.
"Why, I am as real as you are, only you are slightly bigger." The little Master responded. "And I am far better dressed of course." He added vainly.
The Master swallowed a lump down his throat and glanced nervously around. The rest of the audience didn't seem to notice that one of the puppets was directly talking to him.
"Oh no, this is NOT happening. You're just inside my head." He shook, grinning crazily. "This must have something to do with the Doctor not being here. Some kind of delayed psychological panic reaction. There is no way I am talking to a puppet version of myself." He paused when Judy appeared on stage. With her blond sleek curls and doe-like eyes, and wearing a flaming red dress, she bore a cunning resemblance to Lucy, his to be deceased wife.
"I don't think I need to introduce her to you, now do I?" The puppet Master exclaimed enthusiastically, turning his painted lips upwards into a perfect smirk. He swirled around and took a swing at poor Lucy, giving her an instant black eye.
"Hey! Stop that!" The Master shouted, jumping up from his seat. "Don't you dare to touch her again you son of a bitch!" He hissed, meaning every word he said.
"What, you've suddenly turned into a hero now?" The puppet Master mocked, clapping in his wooden hands. "You saw Lucy last Christmas and you succeeded in murdering her a second time around. How is that for being a loving husband?"
"I didn't murder her." The Master answered, but the beady stare of the Lucy doll had reawakened his guilt. "I've tried to save her. I really did. I even offered Death my own life in exchange for hers."
"Yeah well, that was indeed kinda noble of you, but the point is, you failed." The Master puppet replied, blowing a raspberry at him before he whirled around again and punched Lucy in her other eye. "You're a big fat failure. You couldn't save her, and you will not be able to save the other one either."
"What other one?" The Master stared furiously at the crazy little prick who kept going at poor Lucy till she curled up into a trembling little ball at one side of the stage. "Hey, stop hitting her!" Not being able to watch his tiny-self abuse the Lucy-doll any longer, he rushed forward and grabbed the hand that played the demonic Master puppet by the wrist.
"You're here to look for the Doctor." His puppet-self grinned. "But what you'll find is going to be so much more. In fact, it will be more than you can chew, old chum." And the puppet gave him a cocky little wink. "Better find her before it's too late."
"What are you talking about? Who should I find?" The Master said, tightening his grip.
"Your other wife." The Master puppet rolled his beady eyes at him to show his contempt. "The one with the pouty smile and the raven hair. The one you've left behind when your fantasy world of wish-full thinking and should-have-beens blew up in smoke when Rachel whispered the truth into your ears. Don't you remember her?"
"Anne." Breathed the Master, feeling a chill stab his hearts. He was suddenly aware of the wild screams coming from behind the puppet theater.
"Let go of my hand you crazy maniac!" The puppeteer behind the stage yelled. The Master gazed down and realized that his angry grip had produced a nasty red print around the man's wrist, and that puppet he was attacking was no longer resembling Harold Saxon, but looked like a completely ordinary Punch doll with a hooked nose and harlequin outfit. He then gazed at the Lucy doll and saw that she also had transformed into what seemed to be a normal Judy puppet with rosy apple cheeks and bouncy flame red curls. Confused and very frightened, he let go of the man's hand and stepped aside, while the kiddies in the audience jeered loudly at him for interrupting their favorite show.
"You almost broke my wrist!" The puppeteer yelled. "If you don't like the show, just don't watch it!"
The Master backed away slowly while shaking his head, till his backside bumped into the first row of wooden benches. He swirled around and started to run as if the devil himself was following him on his heels.
The small concession that descended down into the old roman vaults underneath the chateau consisted of one of the deformed monks, limping along in the lead with a torch in his hand to light their way. He was followed by the Doctor, who was frog-marched between the two horsemen, Antoine and Henri, who both kept their muskets near at hand in case their prisoner needed motivation. They passed through an arch into a wider chamber, where the torch's light revealed the wet ancient walls nearby, but left the walls further away obscured in complete darkness. By the way their footstep echoed through the underground area, the Doctor judged that the chamber could be quite vast. Antoine stepped forward, leaving Henri to guard their prisoner, and lifted a heavy metal plate in the floor that covered a circular hole, while the monk provided the necessary light.
"Here you go, your lordship." Antoine told the Doctor as he stepped aside. "Your chamber awaits you."
The Doctor, roughly encouraged by Henri who stuck the barrel of the musket in his back, nudged forward and stared down into the deep dark hole, before jumping back. "Ow that smell!" The Doctor commented, covering his nose and mouth in horror. "That's absolutely vile! What's down there? The collected waste of all of the good Citizens of Paris?"
"Close." Antoine grinned. "This is the old remaining cesspit in the chateau. Built around the same time by the Sun king, it contains at least a century worth of shit." He pushed the Doctor back to the front. "And you're going in."
The Doctor pulled a face as if to say you gotta be kidding me. "Ah come on, there must a better place to keep a prisoner than in there. This used to be a royal stronghold, aren't there any dungeons or towers, anything in that category?"
"Afraid not." Antoine told him with a nasty smirk. "Now either you get in the hole yourself, or we give you a hand and shove you in."
"Not much of choice, is it?" The Doctor complained, earning him another push from Antoine. It edged his feet once again a few centimeters closer to the hole.
"All right all right!" The Timelord yelled, raising his hands up in surrender. "I'll get in. No need to get touchy." The Doctor took his time to examine the pit for a while. He then leaned forward and gripped the opposite edge. Turning his head and taking a last relatively clean breath of air, he hiked his rump off the rim and swung down into the hole till he hung by the grip of his hands. He looked down, but couldn't see anything in that absolute darkness. The bottom of the pit could equally be three meter away or three hundred. The horrible stench that wafted up from the underground tunnel however, was so strong that it almost started to have its own color.
"Oops, watch your fingers!" Antoine mocked maliciously, and dropped the heavy slate back onto the pit, but before it could crush the Doctor's hands, he had already let go, dropping six meters down in free fall till he splashed into a swamp of waste that reached up to his waist. The smell was almost unbearable, and the Doctor tried hard to keep his arms and hands above the waistline. It might not be rational, but he really didn't want to touch anything down there. He stared up at the dim half moon rim of torchlight that shone above his head.
"Do make yourself comfortable Doctor." Antoine shouted down at him. "The Watcher won't demand your presence until the moon is full in two days time. But you won't be out of company though." He grinned "There bound to be big fat rats down there, and I will be coming back around six to drop dinner down on you."
"Oh please, let's skip that." The Doctor muttered, imaging the nauseating combination of food and whatever this stinking muddy stuff was in his mind's eye. "Besides, I rather have a pleasant conversation with the rats." He added defiantly. He watched how the underside of the metal plate shifted till the remaining light of the peek-hole disappeared and he was left in featureless and complete darkness.
If this story pleases you, please write a review or comment, it motivates to carry on with the entire series.