The Doctor made a 'bop' noise with his mouth. It echoed off the dirty stone walls of their cell, and was one of several 'bop' noises he'd made in the last few minutes.
"Doctor?" said Rory, with quickly depleting patience. "Would you mind stopping that, please?"
"Hmm?" asked the Doctor innocently.
"The noise. The noise you keep making with your mouth. Would you mind stopping it, please?"
"Oh, certainly, Rory. I do apologise."
"Thank you," said Rory, leaning his head back against the wall and enjoying the return to silence.
Rory sighed. "Amy!"
Amy, already in a foul mood from being made to sit on a cold, grotty floor for the last two hours, glared at the Time Lord.
"Shut up, or I'll make you the most important part of my new escape plan."
"Which escape plan would that be?"
"The one where we bash the door open with your head."
It was then that the rusty iron door in question opened, and a large, mountain of a man entered; the same mountain-man who'd previously flung all three of them into the room two hours ago. He cast a brief, unimpressed glance towards the Ponds, then turned his attention to the Doctor, to whom him gave a respectful nod.
"The King requests your presence," he said gruffly.
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and left, leaving their cell door open. The three time travellers looked at it for a moment, creaking slightly as it swung to and fro on its hinges.
"What d'you reckon?" asked Amy, turning towards the Doctor.
The Doctor, however, didn't answer, preferring instead to simply stare at the open door way, an intrigued smirk playing across his lips. So Rory spoke instead.
"What's there to reckon?" he said, his tone hopeful and relieved. "The King's setting us free, obviously. No need for reckoning."
"The same King who ordered our heads be lobbed off only hours ago," Amy reminded him. "Bit random of him to suddenly turn all forgiving."
"You're just being paranoid," said Rory. "People can change their minds you know. Decide not to be evil. Not everybody wants to kill us!"
"No," said the Doctor finally. "Just most people."
He jumped to his feet, and walked out of the room.
Rory sighed again. "Yep."
Amy shot him a smile, stood up and offered her hand. He took it, and they both followed the Doctor.
After walking through some stone corridors covered with splashes of what the Ponds sincerely hoped was spilt bolognese, they suddenly found themselves standing on a spotless rouge carpet. On a raised platform in the middle of the grand hall, surrounded by armed guards and wearing a crown made from the bones of his predecessors, the King sat on a throne of solid gold.
At the foot of the platform, Amy and Rory came to stand next to the Doctor. The King gave all three of them a long, appraising look, before gesturing to his mountain-guard.
"They tell me you are from Earth?"
The Doctor peered at his companions, then sent the King a small smile. "More or less, yes."
"Earth," the King repeated. "The birthplace of fitbaul?"
The Doctor frowned. "I'm sorry?"
"Fitbaul!" the King barked. He clapped his hands, and one of his guards produced a round, leather ball; white, with several black pentagons crudely sewn into it.
"Oh," said the Doctor. "Football! Yes, it started on Earth. The Draconians also claim to be the originators, but it's Earth. Trust me, I was there. It was my scrunched up death warrant that started the whole thing."
The King smiled. It looked out of place of his otherwise nasty face.
"I like fitbaul," he said. "I saw it played at the Gihadi Games as a youth, and I've made it my life's work to master the sport."
"I did that in one afternoon," the Doctor muttered, receiving a subtle elbow from Amy for his troubles.
"I wish for nothing more than to be locked in a sweat filled battle with honourable, strapping men on the fitbaul field," said the King. (Rory grimaced at his phrasing.) "However, these are troubling times in my kingdom. There are ungrateful insurgents who would very much like to see me dead. Without risking assassination, I cannot leave the castle grounds, and therefore the only opponents at my disposal are my guardsman. And sadly, they do not present a… worthy challenge."
The mountain-guard stepped forward. "My liege is just too skilled for us to attempt to match his greatness."
"Yes, thank you, Dersuk," the King spat, and the mountain-guard quickly bowed his head and stepped back. "So," said the King, turning back to his prisoners, "what say you?"
The Doctor and the Ponds shared a confused look.
"Say again?" said the Doctor again, turning his ear towards the King.
"I seek a challenge, and you, as citizens of Earth, are the only ones who can pose one. You will partake in a contest of fitbaul, against myself and a team of my choosing. If you win, I shall grant you your freedom. And if you lose, I shall grant you freedom from that too, by having you killed."
Rory looked to his wife, sending her a panicked expression. But Amy smiled calmly, squeezing his hand and replying with a look that said 'Don't worry, he'll get us out of this'…
…a smile that fell from her face a second later.
"We'd love to," said the Doctor, clasping his hands together happily. "Shall we say 3 o'clock kick off?"
They didn't wait till 3 o'clock. In fact, the King was so happy they'd agreed, he stated the game was to begin as soon as possible. Before they knew it, Amy, Rory and the Doctor were standing on a muddy field, under the miserable sky that seemed to hover constantly over this planet, wearing matching pale green football kits.
"You know," said Amy, tying her hair back into a ponytail, "this is not the most flattering colour of green. But I think I pull it off."
Rory squinted. "Is it just me or did they give Amy shorter shorts than the rest of us?" he said, suspiciously scanning the amount of his wife's long legs on show. Then he shook his head and turned to the Doctor, who was busy attempting to do keepy-ups with the terribly heavy ball they had been given to play with. "Doctor, seriously though. This is mental. There's no way we can win this."
"Oh, Pond of little faith," the Doctor replied, removing the tweed jacket he wore over his kit, and trying to spin the ball around on his finger. Rory grabbed it in frustration.
"Doctor, do you even know how to play football?"
"Excuse me, Rory Pond, of course I do! I'm brilliant at football. I played a Sunday league team off the pitch not so long ago."
"Oh," laughed Rory dubiously. "Right. Of course you did."
"Actually, Rory," said Amy, "he's telling the truth."
"What? When was this?"
Amy and the Doctor averted their gazes. Rory sighed again.
"It was when I was dead, wasn't it?"
"It might have been while you were dead, yeah," Amy nodded. "But the point is, the Doctor is good at football, trust me."
"Okay," said Rory, "but I'm not. And Amy's not going to be much help."
"She can go in goal then," said the Doctor. "Just stop whinging."
Rory and the Doctor jumped in fright. They knew that tone all too well. Amy's hands were placed firmly on her hips, and her eyes were glaring daggers at the two men in front of her.
"Have either of you ever seen me play football?" she asked. They shook their heads silently, too terrified to speak. "So because I'm a girl, it automatically means I must be no good, is that it?" Rory and the Doctor bowed their heads and murmured a collective 'No.' "Well if you think you're just going to dump the girl in goal while the boys do all the important stuff, forget it! I might be great at football, for all you know. Rory, throw me the ball!"
Rory did as he was told, tossing the ball towards her. Amy attempted to kick it in the air, but missed so massively that it looked more like she was trying to shake loose a rabid badger that had attached itself to her leg. The ball sailed past her and bounced to the ground. Rory and the Doctor looked at her.
"I'll, err, go in goal," she said quietly.
"Enough preparation!" roared the King from the other end of the field. "Let the fitbaul begin!"
Rory and the Doctor approached the centre of the pitch, as did the King and his team mate; a tall, athletic looking guard who, according to the back of his kit, was named Thorb, and who Rory suspected might be a very fast runner. In goal, they had placed the mountain-of-a-guard from earlier, Dersuk; which, considering he filled just about the entire goal space, was probably a good decision. At the edge of the pitch, a few guards stood on the sidelines cheering unenthusiastically.
"Why is it three against three?" Rory whispered to the Doctor.
"They must think that's how it works," said the Doctor, tearing his eyes away from the three large gates he could see, each protecting the entrance to the Castle grounds where they stood. "They probably tried to find any information about football they could, and got a few things muddled up."
Rory turned back to give Amy a reassuring wave, and noticed that the goal posts she stood under appeared to be made out of rolled up jumpers. "Yeah, I think you might just be right about that."
"Standard rules of fitbaul apply," stated the King. "Home team kicks off, first to score 90 wins."
"Errr… great, yes." the Doctor nodded.
Rory's suspicion about Thorb had been correct. From the moment the ball was kicked off, Thorb took possession of it and was off like a bullet, weaving in and out of Rory and the Doctor's pathetic tackle attempts with ease. He obeyed the King's screams to pass him the ball, only to find it being passed back a second later, when Rory and the Doctor put his Highness under pressure. Thorb sailed down the pitch towards Amy, who bravely prepared to attempt a diving save.
Except she didn't have to. Thorb eyed his target and prepared to strike, only to hesitate, and suddenly kick it back up the pitch to the King. The King smirked and began a run of his own, but Rory easily took the ball from him as he ran past. He tried to play it through to the Doctor, but Thorb had shot back up the pitch and intercepted with a picture-perfect sliding tackle.
With the Doctor at the other end of the field, and Rory wondering where the hell the ball had gone, Thorb once more headed towards Amy and the goal. He again placed himself in shooting position, when the King ran alongside him.
"Here," said the King, "Give it here!"
Thorb did as he was told. The King came one-on-one with Amy, who gritted her teeth in determination. The King pulled back his leg and took his shot, but struck the ball awkwardly, sending it veering wildly out of play.
A few minutes later, Thorb was again racing towards Amy, with the Doctor running alongside and trying to take back possession.
"Thorb!" the King shouted. "Thorb! Here!"
Thorb looked up, seeing the King waving his hands wildly and demanding to be given the ball. However, Rory was clearly waiting in the wings to intercept any attempted pass. At the same time, the Doctor attempted a tackle, but Thorb quickly managed to both manoeuvre the ball away from the Doctor's legs, and then run it around him completely, leaving the Time Lord stumbling into thin air where once had been a large guard. It was a magnificent display of skill, but no sooner had he performed it than Thorb stopped and looked at his King. His Highness was gazing at his servant with a deadly glare. Thorb quickly pretended to stumble and lose the ball.
When Dersuk the mountain-guard received a similar glare after saving a spectacular goal-attempt by the Doctor, it soon became clear why the King's army of fit and powerful guards were unable to pose a challenge. They knew that if they outshined their ruler, they would surely find themselves dropped from the team of life.
However, when this was combined with the fact that the King had skills rivalling Amy's, it made them an exceedingly easy team to play against. Once Thorb and Dersuk started holding back, Rory was able to easily take the ball from the King, give the ball to the Doctor, and watch as the Time Lord scored the first goal of the game.
The first, it proved, of many. The Doctor hadn't been lying, he was indeed brilliant at football. And with two members of the other team intentionally playing awful (and the other actually being awful), Rory was able to look slightly brilliant too. He and the Doctor took turns scoring goals, and when that got boring they started setting each other up for headers. At the other end of the pitch, Amy cheered them on. That is, until she got bored of having no challenges on her goal, and therefore nothing to do.
When the Doctor scored the team's thirty-eighth goal, he kissed Rory on his head for the beautiful set up, and the two performed the celebratory dance they'd been working on since goal number eleven.
"Congratulations. Again." Amy deadpanned when they ran back down to their own end of the pitch. "Can we hurry up and get this over with now?"
"Why?" asked Rory, grinning ear-to-ear.
"Yeah, we're winning," the Doctor agreed.
"Well, try and score some own-goals then," Amy groaned. "Give me something to do!"
"You're doing plenty," Rory lied. "You're putting them off with your presence. Isn't she, Doctor?"
"Hmm, what?" said the Doctor, who had evidently not been listening.
Rory frowned, glancing to the three gates which the Doctor had again been examining. "What are you looking at?"
"Nothing, Rory. Nothing whatsoever."
At the other end of the pitch, the King was reaching his limits.
"That last scoring did not count," he said breathlessly, his arm clutching the stitch in his stomach. "Your keeper was offside!"
Rory and the Doctor laughed.
"Fine," said the Doctor. "Then its only thirty seven-nil."
The King's lip trembled in anger, and the Doctor saw him eyeing Rory dangerously. When play resumed, Thorb passed straight to the King as he'd been doing all game and, as had also been happening all game, Rory ran to take it from him. This time though, the minute Rory ran alongside him, the King dived to the floor, hands flying out theatrically.
"Ohhh!" cried the King, clutching at his knee. "Foul! Foul play!"
For a second, both teams simply stared at him, lying on the muddy turf, rocking back and forth like a child. The King, getting nowhere on his own, looked to his guards expectantly, who quickly joined in his protests.
"Foul!" shouted Thorb and Dersuk with false outrage.
"Penalty!" the King yelled.
"Come off it," said Rory. "I didn't even touch you."
"Foul!" came Amy's voice from the other end of the pitch. "Penalty!"
"Amy!" said the Doctor in admonishment.
"What?" said Amy sullenly. "I'm sick of just standing here, at least this way I might actually have to save something. Foul! Penalty!"
The Doctor sent her a shameful look, then gave the King's team a reluctant nod towards the penalty spot.
"Doctor!" cried Rory.
"Oh, come on Rory. We're thirty seven goals in front. What harm can it do?"
Rory grumbled, but didn't argue any further. The King jumped to his feet, suddenly fighting fit, and smiled triumphantly.
"Bring out the penalty!" he said, this time to the guards standing at the side of the pitch, who hurried back towards the castle.
The Doctor and Rory exchanged a confused look.
"Sorry," said the Doctor. "But what do you mean by… oh."
The guards were already walking back, only this time they were wheeling a small guillotine along with them.
"Whoa," said Rory, throwing his hands up in alarm. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. What's happening?"
"Err, your Higness?" said the Doctor, approaching the King nervously. "I can't help but notice the guillotine being wheeled over to us. Is it perhaps your mascot?"
"Your player has fouled me," said the King, a wicked smile on his face as he looked towards Rory. "He will now receive the death penalty."
Rory's face went pale. "Oh, god."
Amy left her goal to run to his side, grabbing her husband's arm protectively. "Doctor? Sort this please."
"Ah," the Doctor said. "There's been a slight misunderstanding. A football penalty and a death penalty are actually two entirely different things."
The King gave an affronted scowl. "Are you suggesting I do not know the rules of fitbaul?"
"Doctor," said Rory's strained voice. The guards had winched the guillotine's blade up now, and Rory could see his reflection in it. "I don't want my head chopped off."
"Shut up, you're not getting your head chopped off," said Amy reassuringly, then turned to the Doctor again. "Hurry up and sort this before they chop my husband's head off!"
"Your highness, I'm afraid I must protest," said the Doctor, his voice polite yet firm. "This really isn't necessary. How about we start again, eh? Wipe the scoreboard, go back to nil-nil?"
"I do not require your charity," said the King pompously. "I will win this game with fair play. Your team mate will suffer for his crime, and the game will continue, three against two."
With the guillotine nice and ready, the guards started walking towards Rory. Amy threw herself in front of him.
"Stop right there, you two big tree trunks," she said sternly. "You want his stupid face, you go through me first."
The guards exchanged an unamused glance, then one of them casually picked Amy up by the shoulders and moved her out of the way. One grabbed Rory by the scruff of his football kit, and began dragging him towards the guillotine, while Amy uselessly kicked and clawed at the other massive guard holding her back.
"Doctor," said Rory urgently. "Some help?"
The Doctor again turned to the King, his gracious tone starting to turn panicky. "Now, listen, there's really no need for any of this…"
"Your team mate violated the sacred rules of fitbaul," said the King. "If he didn't want to die, he shouldn't have cheated. That's what the penalty is for, to stop people fouling, or cheating, or hand-balling."
"Hand-balling?" said Amy, who had given up trying to get past the guard by now. "How's this for hand-balling."
She picked up the heavy leather ball by her feet, and launched it at the guard steering Rory to his death. It smacked the guard in the back of the head, and he fell to the floor with a great thud.
"Foul!" the King screamed. "She will also suffer a penalty."
"But he's not even playing!" said Amy.
"Now, look here Your Highness," said the Doctor. "This has gone far enough. Stop this at once!"
"Or what, Doctor?"
Amy had also been grabbed by the guards now, and a second guillotine had appeared. Soon, both Mr and Mrs Pond had their heads resting on a piece of wood as two twin blades prepared to prevent them from performing any headers in the foreseeable future.
The Doctor watched this. He saw his companions about to be killed for unsportsmanlike play, and he realised there was no way to talk the King out of this. So, he gave a heartbroken look at the ball lying next to the unconscious guard Amy had struck, and took out his sonic screwdriver.
"Or this, you're King-y-ness!"
He pointed the screwdriver towards each of the three gates in turn, and seconds later they both fell from their hinges, revealing three battalions of men on horses behind every gate.
The King and his men stared at the battalions. The battalions stared at the suddenly open gateway. And then they roared.
And charge they did. Fifty strong rebels raced towards them armed to the teeth with swords and spears and equally sharp objects. Guards piled out of the castle and swarmed around the King, who was squealing with terror.
"That is one hell of a pitch invasion," Rory observed, he and Amy watching from their guillotines as a full-scale war broke out before them.
"Forget that, let's go!" said Amy, scrambling to her feet and pulling her husband with her.
The Doctor pushed his way through the clashing forces to reach the Ponds.
"To the TARDIS!" he yelled, and they each started running. "No - wait!" He stopped in his tracks and then turned the other way, disappearing into the crowd of chaos.
"Doctor!" Amy called after him, Rory holding her back by the arm.
It was a tense few seconds before the Doctor re-emerged, hair a mess and his kit torn, but proudly holding the heavy football from their match.
"We won, so we get the gameball, right?" he grinned.
When Rory finally slammed the TARDIS doors closed behind him, and all three of them stood around, breathless and panting, he looked to the Doctor.
"You knew they were there," he accused.
"Who?" asked the Doctor.
"The army outside the gates. I saw you looking all through the match."
Amy gazed furiously at the Time Lord.
"You knew the whole time? Why didn't we just open the gates and escape straight away."
The Doctor shrugged sheepishly, twirling his prized ball around on his fingers.
"I fancied a game of football," he said.