A Doctor Who fanfic story
This story originally appeared in The Doctor Who Project: Season 27 (May 1999), edited by Bob Furnell, and also appeared in Myth Makers 10 (July 2000), edited by Matt Grady.
Leon was returning to the village, a bundle of wood on his back, when he had the vision.
He had stopped to rest for a few moments, standing, wheezing in the chill early morning air. The dampness scored his lungs, gave his mended leg the aches. He first noticed the utter stillness of the fog-shrouded woods around him. The normal early morning sounds, the birdsong and the rustlings, had stopped. He looked up and around, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. Then he heard the humming.
He turned, peering around, his heart hammering with superstitious fear. Making the sign of the cross, he shifted the bundle of firewood and began to shuffle as quickly as he could.
The humming grew in volume, following him.
No, it was ahead of him, there through the trees--Leon froze, terrified. The noise was coming towards him. Then a glow suffused through the trees and the mist, growing in intensity. If he had been a younger man, he would have run. But he had not the energy any more. His legs gave way and he fell to his knees, shaking. Closing his eyes against the light, he stoppered his ears.
Just when he thought he could bear it no more, it stopped.
Leon opened his eyes a crack, then gaped at the trio of glowing figures standing on the path before him. About man-height, surrounded by a fitful nimbus of light, they stood, watching him. His mouth opened in astonishment.
Then, they spoke his name.
? ? ?
Denora was lugging water from the well when the news of Leon's return reached her.
Martin, the blacksmith's son, raced up to her, panting. "'Nora!" he gasped. Come quick! It's Leon! He's ill!"
Lifting the yoke off her shoulders with care and placing it down, Denora picked up her skirts and hastened after the disappearing boy. Leon was old, [drop comma] and growing near his time, afflicted by the complaints of old age. As one learned in the ways of herbs, she would either heal him of whatever ailment had struck him now, or ease his passage to the other side.
She rather hoped it was the former.
Laurent met them at the door. Nodding respectfully at the young midwife, he led the way to where Leon was huddled on a straw-covered blanket near the hearth.
Denora bent down, squatting at his side. The old man was shaking as with an ague, his eyes staring at nothing.
"Leon?" she asked. He neither looked at her, nor acknowledged her presence. She glanced up at his son and daughter-in-law with a reassuring smile. Lea stood, bouncing Aloise to quiet his fussing, her face expressionless. Resigned.
Well, I wouldn't start mourning yet, Denora thought, feeling a touch of annoyance. "Leon," she said again, taking his head in her hands. "Can you hear me? It's Denora."
He stared back at her, unseeing, trembling like a bird's heart in her gentle grip.
"He's been like this ever since he returned from gathering wood." Denora glanced up. "Though he brought no wood back today . . ."
Martin took up the tale. "He came running back--he didn't even seem to see me! I followed him, and when he got here he fell down like that!"
"It sounds as if he's had some great shock." Denora removed her hands from the old man's leathery face, then tugged at the blanket covering him. "You should keep on as you have been. Keep him warm. He needs time to recover . . ."
Laurent nodded, eyes dark with worry.
Denora got to her feet, brushed off her skirt and turned to go. "I'll be back later to check on him." She was almost to the door when a cry came from the shape curled near the hearth.
They all turned to look. Leon had rolled over and was struggling to his knees, thrashing out of the blanket.
"Father!" Laurent hastened over to him and lent him an arm, helping him to his feet.
"I've seen it! I must tell everyone!"
Laurent leaned close. "Seen what?"
Leon turned fervent eyes on his son. "The Holy Trinity. Glowing with holy light!"
Denora and Lea looked at each other, wide-eyed, then back at the old man. He held up his hands to display open palms, from which blood was dripping.
? ? ?
The Doctor fancied a leisurely stroll in the countryside. On Earth, the planet that had welcomed him so many times that his own people had deemed it an appropriate irony to banish him there, once upon a time. Now, many centuries free of that unjust imprisonment, the Doctor, grown fond of his adopted home, took many an opportunity to visit.
Like today. Earth, somewhere on the continent of Europe. Summer.
He paused, thoughtful, rubbed at his goatee, then grinned, closed his eyes and stabbed randomly at the TARDIS' console, aiming for the time coordinate control. Peering through slitted eyes, he saw that he had succeeded in picking a time to visit. No, he didn't want to see what it was. Surprise him.
Reaching forward, he snatched up the red delicious, an unexpected spot of color on the white console, as the time rotor ground down, heralding their arrival. Giving the console an affectionate pat, he flicked the exit control and strode to the opening doors, polishing the apple on his star-flecked dark blue vest.
The Doctor found himself in a rather fragrant alleyway. The pungent smells of human habitation filled his nostrils and he smiled. Turning, he closed and locked the time ship's doors, then strode jauntily away down the passage, biting into the apple and peering around at the architecture, trying to date it. Rather primitive, but then it all was, comparatively, wasn't it? Still, at a guess, he'd say . . . before AD 1500, based on the way the wood of the crude surrounding buildings had been hewed and lack of any window coverings . . .
He never noticed the awe-widened eyes that had seen his TARDIS' noisy materialization and watched him now as he went on his way.
The Doctor walked out of the alleyway and into the main thoroughfare of Gerant, and narrowly avoided being run down by the middle-aged brown-cassocked fellow striding along, two younger men being swept along in his wake. The Time Lord jerked back, then leaned out again, eyebrows raised, after they had passed. Taking another bite of apple, he stepped out and followed them, looking about as he went. Iron age technology, here. Unless something had happened, again, and they had reverted. Again.
Still, he had sensed no time disturbances, no anomalous eddies. In all likelihood, it was Europe, a bit after the first millennium Anno Dominae.
? ? ?
Father Beran reached the village square, a muddy central space dominated by a communal well and surrounded by tradesmen's shops and homes. A crowd had gathered and was listening to Leon. As the priest drew close, he could hear what the former farmer was so earnestly telling the villagers.
". . . I saw them, glowing with the light of God! The Father, the Ghost and the Holy Spirit!"
There was a murmur of co-mingled awe and uncertainty. Then Beran pushed his way through the onlookers and marched forward. It was time to exert his customary authority.
"Father!" Leon's eyes widened and he began to babble his story yet again. The fellow was nearly incoherent, but the gist of what had happened came through.
Oh dear. Another "vision."
"Leon, why did you not come to me first to tell me of this?" Beran leaned closer, stern.
"They spoke to me; told me to tell all of what I'd seen. For the glory of our Father," Leon said, wide-eyed.
Beran leaned closer still, sniffing for cider. Nothing. He put an arm on the old farmer's back, guiding him forward. "Come. We will talk of this now. The Bishop will want to know of what you have seen. Like the others."
The crowd parted and they made their way back along the path. Beran sighed. Another "vision"--the third one this month. Things were spiraling out of his control, disturbing his flock. The last thing he needed was a stranger in town to confuse issues even further. So he failed to take notice of the man standing to the side, eating an apple out of season.
The stranger took notice of him, though, marked him as Someone Important, then peered curiously at the old man being urged along, the acolytes following behind. He was just about to follow again, pulled along by his curiosity, when he realized that he was being watched. He turned.
"Are you an English spy?"
The Doctor looked down and blinked. "Hullo, there." He smiled, and took a last nibble of apple. France and based on the suspicious question, sometime during the Hundred's Years War, those drawn-out hostilities between England and France. Amazing how much trouble a little argument over succession could cause.
The boy looked back at him defiantly. "Are you?"
The Time Lord swallowed and smiled again. "What makes you think I'm English?"
The dun-haired lad pointed. "Your clothes. I heard they wear funny clothes."
A glance down at his dark blue vest, white collarless shirt and grey trousers, brown oxfords peeking out below. Neat and refined, he thought. "Ah. No, I'm the Doctor. A traveler."
"Are you here to see Father Beran?"
"Was that who just--yes, I think so. I think I am. Especially if he keeps a good port. Oh, dear. Is it too early for port? Sherry then?"
The boy stared blankly at him.
Ah well. He'd just have to make do then. He looked at the apple core, glanced around, then dropped it into one of his vest pockets. The boy suddenly ran on ahead, then paused, glancing back at the Doctor.
The Doctor strode after his impromptu guide.
? ? ?
Despite the obvious respect in which the villagers held him, the priest had been installed in a house no grander than the rest of the dwellings.
The Doctor paused at the door and peered into the dim space, his eyes adjusting to the faint illumination cast by the banked fire. Several figures were sitting by it, murmuring. He glimpsed movement at his feet and glanced down. A small black chicken scurried by and out, clucking nervously. The Doctor stepped within, leaving behind his guide, and headed towards the huddle at the far end.
Father Beran was listening as Leon yet again recited the day's miraculous events, as brothers Fortin and Herold listened, their grave expressions mirroring the priest's.
They looked up, startled.
"I'm the Doctor." He extended a hand at Father Beran as the priest stared in bemusement. A few moments later, he shrugged and withdrew his hand, sticking both jauntily into his vest pockets.
The priest blinked. "I-I beg your pardon--Doctor?" Then he seemed to draw back. "Have you come from the See?"
The Doctor glanced about, then back at the quartet staring at him. He smiled. "Well, that depends on what you mean by 'see'. I wanted a word with you since you're obviously the chap to talk to around here . . ."
"My apologies," Beran wheezed, struggling to his feet. "I did not expect you so soon. I was lead to believe that the bishop himself was coming here . . ." The Doctor smiled, volunteering nothing.
The priest's shoulders slumped for a moment, before he drew himself up. Spreading his arms, he said, "The hospitality of my home is yours, Doctor, for as long as you visit here."
"Well . . . thank you! A much nicer welcome than I usually get, but then again, people tend to jump to conclusions during times of crisis!" The Doctor leaned forward, a sudden conspirator. "You haven't got a crisis going on here, have you?"
"Absolutely not," Beran declared, as his two acolytes stirred, sending uneasy looks at him and the priest.
"Ah. Good. Because I saw a crowd of people and some of them looked quite excited." He shrugged, turned as if to go, then darted a hopeful look back over his shoulder. "You're quite sure there's no crisis . . . ?"
Old Leon had been rocking back and forth, eyes closed. A moment later the old man burst out, "I saw them! The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost!"
The Doctor froze, then spun on his heel to look as Leon continued to bawl about the sound, the lights, the beautiful figures beckoning to him . . .
As the old farmer wound down from his half-ecstatic, half-terrified tirade,the Doctor squatted before of him. He reached forward to touch the wrinkled face, much as Denora had earlier.
The priest and monks watched, curious, as the Doctor stared hard at the oldster, who stared back, unable to turn away, small flecks of spittle dotting his lips and chin. As the Doctor tilted his head, Leon calmed, his wild eyes narrowing, his posture slumping, his hyperventilation slowing to deep, slow breaths.
The Doctor looked up. "Psychic shock," he said with a grim authority.
Beran hastened to the envoy's side. "Yes, Doctor?"
The Doctor's head swung around to peer at him. "Oh, hello . . . What did you say your name was?"
"Father Beran, Doctor."
"And you are . . . ?" he prompted, nodding at the two brothers and Leon, who was now sitting quietly, staring into space.
"Brothers Fortin, and Herold." Beran pointed to each in turn. "And Leon of Gerant."
"Ah, excellent. This sort of vision has happened before?"
The priest hesitated, then admitted, "Several times."
"I'd like to meet all the people to which it has happened. It could be very important."
Beran glanced down, before again meeting the Doctor's gaze. "As you wish. Please follow me." He strode ahead, leading the way. The Doctor followed and the two monks brought up the rear, leaving Leon to his nodding by the fire.
? ? ?
The envoy known as the Doctor listened attentively as the several other townspeople who had seen visions related their stories. A woodcutter named Remy had heard voices calling to him, had fled as the trees began to glow with light. A woman gathering mushrooms had heard her long dead mother calling to her.
Father Beran looked on, protective and worried.
The Doctor muttered to himself. "The occurrences have been growing in intensity. First glimpses, then sounds and now, with Leon, a full-blown vision . . ." He stood, his eyes distant. "All in the forest above the town?" he then asked.
Beran nodded. He had been too discomforted by the accounts of visions to note the connection.
The Doctor flashed a smile. "Time for a walk, then. Looks like I'll get my stroll after all."
Beran watched him go, bemused. What the man hoped to accomplish he didn't know; you couldn't will visions to happen to you. But finally, something would be done. Even if he were reprimanded or removed from his diocese for his own failure to ascertain the meaning behind the visitations, Beran found he didn't mind anymore.
He just wanted the visions to end.
? ? ?
The forest, Denora decided, was not disturbingly quiet today, it was just . . . not as noisy as usual. The air felt like the pause before a storm. But that was her, surely? Just because this was not far from where Leon claimed to have seen an awful thing . . . And she needed to harvest these herbs; she had plenty to dry and put away before the winter months, when snow carpeted the hillside.
Denora paused in her St. John's Wort picking to stretch and looked up. A jaunty figure stood before her in the glade that had been empty just moments before.
She fell back with a yelp of surprise and sat down, hard, then stared fearfully at the cheerful countenance. Not fear for the usual reasons; there was no threat of rape or despoilment here; it was more a thrill of subtle awe. Her skin prickled. Whoever this was, he was not like her. Not of her people. She knew that beings and creatures not usually seen walked under the sun at times. Denora mustered her courage and spoke. "Who are you?"
"I'm the Doctor," the man said, stepping forward with an apologetic smile. "Terribly sorry to have startled you; I was just out for a walk and saw you working. Thought I'd come say hello."
The midwife stared at the extended hand, then offered her own. The stranger gripped it with a strong but cool grip, and as he hauled her to her feet, she thought, Is this a vision? For he is surely of Fayre.
In which case she was quite possibly in more danger than she had ever been in her life. She had heard the tales of how they spirited people away, never to be heard from again, or else visitors returned from what seemed to be a short sojourn with the fair folk, only to find that decades had passed here, all their friends and family long gone . . . Except he didn't seem dangerous. There he was, chatting away like a chance-met acquaintance, seemingly not a care in the world. Yet she noticed he was glancing around, taking in the surrounding forest, peering at the sunbeams slanting down. Waiting for something.
Then she noticed it--the silent trees, the sense of presence, as if they were being watched. She looked up and about.
"Can you feel it?"
Denora turned to look at him. "Yes. There's something out there."
His eyes narrowed as he strove to see. "They're watching us."
The hairs rose on the back of her neck. "They?"
He nodded absently. "I'm not sure exactly where they're from, but Gerant has some visitors from very far away. Well, besides me, that is."
"A-And where are you from?"
He smiled amiably. "From Gallifrey."
"I have never heard of that land . . ."
The Doctor waved a casual hand. "Oh, it's very far away. Many light years."
"Oh. I see." She didn't, but looked at him, a little less unnerved. "Why are you here?"
He looked up from where he had been staring down at her kerchief of herbs and raised his eyebrows, seemingly at a loss, and she found herself smiling. Somehow she couldn't picture a man of Fayre not knowing what to say. "I wanted to go for a walk. That was all," he told her, smiling back at her amusement. "But it always gets so . . . complicated."
Around them, the normal forest sounds had returned. "Whoever they are, they've gone," Denora said.
"Yes," the Doctor agreed. "I've got to find them and talk to them, find out what it is they want of your village."
Her uneasiness returned. "What they want?"
"I do believe they're behind the mysterious 'visions' the villagers have been seeing."
Denora felt a curious pang of disappointment--this strange man was not causing the miracles, he was seeking them. Ordinary ambition.
"Why would they do such a thing?"
"Why indeed? That," the Doctor said, pointing an index finger at her, "is what I am going to find out." And he simply smiled and departed, striding away, off into the underbrush.
Denora blinked. She stood and watched him go, this purposeful stranger. No, not stranger--the Doctor.
Shaking her head, she bent back to her gathering.
? ? ?
The Doctor found nothing. He came close, or so he thought. Several times the sensation of watchfulness returned. He called softly, but got no reply. Whatever was out there was very shy . . .
Perhaps the exact location was crucial. He made his way back down the woodland track to commandeer a guide.
When Leon saw the Doctor heading his way, he shied, muttering. The Doctor drew near and smiled, all sweet reason. "Leon, I need you to show me where you saw your vision."
The old farmer stared, a strange combination of yearning and fear on his face. "I-I can't."
"They told me . . . told me I would not see them again. I should not go back."
The Doctor laid comforting hands on Leon's bony shoulders. "It's all right; I just want you to show me where it happened, that's all. It's very important."
The farmer shuffled a bit, but turned his steps toward the wood lot above the village.
? ? ?
They had reached the meadow, the oldster nattering a bit, casting uneasy glances about, but buoyed enough by the Doctor's cheerful company to lead the way with some confidence. Once in the clearing though, hemmed around by dark pines, both felt the oppression, the feeling of being watched--and disapproved of. Whatever lurked in these woods was very close . . .
"Here," Leon whispered, his face pale. "It was here." He flexed his hands as if they discomforted him. The Doctor glanced aside and saw fresh blood trickling from the wounds in the farmer's palms.
The barest intimation of movement, a flicker out of the corner of his eye spun the Time Lord around to stare.
Somewhere off in the silent forest a twig snapped. Next to him, Leon was muttering, murmuring a prayer. "Hello! We just want to talk to you--we mean you no harm!" the Doctor called. He waited with bated breath, the hairs on his neck stirring. Something nearby . . .
The Doctor glanced over at his companion and stared, aghast, at the arrow that was sprouting from Leon's back. Looking wildly around, he jumped forward to catch the oldster as Leon folded, his face crumpled in pain. "Hold your fire!" the Doctor bellowed. "You've just hit an old man!"
No answer but the thrumm of another arrow as it darted through the trees. They didn't care, whoever they were. They wanted to kill them both.
He threw himself back against the bole of the large oak behind them, dragging Leon with him. Clutching the old man, watching the blood rise to the surface of the man's woolen shirt around the shaft, feeling the body go slack beneath his grip.
Around them the arrows had ceased, now that the targets had gone to cover. The Doctor closed his eyes in consternation. They were undoubtedly circling around now, to re-sight and finish them off. And he couldn't think of a thing to do to stop them, not burdened as he was with a wounded man.
Except . . .
The Doctor pitched his voice to carry.
He heard the thrashing of disturbed vegetation and filled his lungs for another shout.
And as the two snipers moved in what he hoped was the wrong direction, the Doctor hoisted Leon's limp figure with a strength disproportional to one of his size and ran for both their lives.