Chapter 1: This Sun of York
"This is the last time I take you out drinking, Jack Harkness!"
The words were slurred into a landscape devoid of anything of interest, most notably anything even remotely resembling a wooden, blue telephone box. Somehow--and Jack had only the very haziest memories of anything within the past twenty-four hours--they had lost the TARDIS.
With a brave attempt at his usual insouciant grin, he said, hand on the other's elbow for balance, "Admit it, you have more fun with me around. I liven things up."
"Yes," the Doctor replied, levering that hand free with the result that Jack found himself sprawling into what felt like the side of a tent. "And livening things up around here tends to lead to losing one's head."
"Where is here?"
To which the Doctor made no answer while licking his finger and holding it up in the air. "I was aiming for 1370s but it tastes like we may have drifted."
A squelching sound and an altogether too distinctive odour had Jack screwing up his features in distaste. "A stable? You brought me to a stable?! I thought you knew how to steer this thing."
"Backseat drivers put me off."
"I wasn't doing any such thing. You had too much to drink."
"You not come with me--I should be the one refusing to come with you. You promised me Chaucer."
"I said, shut up, you idiotically dressed excuse for a man," the Doctor hissed, his hand now gripping Jack's elbow in a manner that did the job of several pints of black coffee.
"Why, what is it?"
"I may have fractionally miscalculated and brought us to a military camp."
The sound on the subliminal edge of hearing resolved itself into the clash of approaching weaponry. Doubtless appropriately pointy weapons. Even in the aftermath of inebriation, Jack was not stupid enough to think of pulling his gun in present company. "No shit, Sherlock. Where do we go?"
"In here." The even more ungainly than usual Timelord pulled him bodily through the cloth wall of what he'd earlier suspected to be a tent.
In the longest period of silence they had so far managed, they waited for the noise of the soldier's progress through the camp to die away before the Doctor pulled out the screwdriver he still carried. The light it cast was pale but sufficient to look around the frankly rather bare interior.
Walls reflecting the light back in purplish glory, it contained only one thing of interest and neither wild horses nor Gwen Cooper would ever get him to admit to jumping when he saw the suit of armour.
"What the hell is that, Doctor?"
"Somebody's Sunday suit?" that man suggested, moving closer to it. "Now, if I can just take a look inside, I can...Oh, you beauty!"
"Yes, I know I am," Jack whispered, "but would you keep your mind on the--"
"Not you, this." He stepped aside, revealing the raised visor. Gleaming in the light from the screwdriver, Jack recognised...
"A repair droid? Wouldn't you say that's impossible?"
"Oh, I don't think so. Remind me to tell you about Versailles sometime."
That was when the suit of armour snapped to attention, metal-encased hands clamping down on Jack's arm. "Intruders! We've got intruders!"
Jack swore roundly, turning a desperate face towards his companion. "Hey, how do you shut these things up?"
"Oh, hello, you," the Doctor said, patting the clockwork automaton on the head absently. "I know this isn't Versailles--this armour hasn't really met guns yet, although cannons are a definite possibility--but do you think you could tell me when this is? Oh, and in case we have to start running away and I forget to mention it, you are beautiful!"
"Doctor, is this really the time? I mean, I'm all for automata-erotica but there's a time and a place, right?"
The sound of tramping feet came to a halt outside the tent. "Show yourselves! In the name of Queen Margaret and His Highness the Prince."
"Question answered, Doctor?" Jack forced out, his hand no longer feeling as though it were attached to his body.
"Margaret and the Prince plus the armour puts this some time in the...oh, only ninety or so years after Chaucer."
"Great, I'm glad we've got that sorted out. Now, how are we going to get out of here?"
"Got that flask?"
With his non-clamped arm, Jack dug in the voluminous pocket of his greatcoat and produced the flask he'd acquired somewhere near Ypres roughly a century earlier, pausing only to wonder why he always did as the Doctor said. "Is the plan to get them drunk?"
"Not quite." Calmly flipping the flask open, the Doctor poured the entire contents--a not inexpensive whisky Jack had had the devil of a time finding--into the droid's workings. The mechanism wound down and its hands slackened enough for Jack to pull his arm free.
"OK, that's one. What about the others?"
"What about them?"
"They're right outside."
The Doctor grinned, eyes lighting up in an altogether too familiar fashion. "I know. It'll be procedure for important visitors--that's us, by the way--to be taken to the Queen." After a beat, he added, "And the Prince, of course, but it's Margaret who's the real power. I love a strong woman, don't you?"
"Not when they're upset with me," Jack muttered, for once completely heartfelt.
They were dragged to a tent about three times the size of the one they had left behind. There was no sign of a queen, or any women for that matter, but three men grouped round a table covered in papers.
"My lords. We found them in one of the tents. Yorkist spies, no doubt." For what little it was worth, the captain of the guard appeared to be human.
"I thought they'd had all the news they wanted. I'm afraid Clifford and Somerset have left the heads in York. But you'll see them soon enough." The best-dressed of the three men snapped his fingers. "Have them sent on. That stripling Edward will simply have to go without."
"After Wakefield.[i] That makes it...1461 if I'm right, and I'm almost always right, my lord. But I don't think you'll be sending my companion and me anywhere. You see, this is wrong." He paused, apparently thinking while he fidgeted with the screwdriver, tossing it from one hand to the other. "Well, not the heads. That part's perfectly accurate, but I'd remember clockwork men. Will wouldn't have been able to resist those."
One of the two remaining men snickered. "He's scraping the bottom of the barrel already. Mad spies. What will they think of next?" His accent, Jack noted idly, was Welsh.
"Violins. Always a favourite. And Beethoven. Not that you'll hear that...Shame, really. I'd hum a bit but he was ahead of his time even then. I can't stand it falling on deaf ears."
The well-dressed man was drumming impatiently on the table. "My lord of Pembroke, surely we have better things to do than listen to this nonsense."
"With all respect, Wiltshire," Pembroke held up one hand, "if they know about the soldiers..."
"They can tell their story to the rats. Take them away."
With the thoughtfulness that always presaged danger in the Doctor, he said, "Or not. Those soldiers...they're not meant to be here, my lord. Tell you what, I'm a fair man, so I'll give you one chance. Get rid of them."
Wiltshire stared. "Are you serious? Who do you think you are?"
"Me? I'm the Doctor. And I promise you, I will stop this if you don't."
"A leech? He's a leech?" Pembroke didn't bother to hide his own laughter. "That's one I've never heard before."
"Doctor comma the. Look it up. I'm what armies fear."
"And damn sexy when he does this bit," Jack added. "Believe me, I've seen the remains of people who go up against him. There was this factory a long way from here--they grow bananas there now."
"They're both mad. For goodness' sake, Pembroke, we have important matters to discuss. Send them on to Her Highness, and you can have your fun later." Wiltshire shot the Doctor a glare. "Warwick has the King in custody.[ii] We can't afford to stand about laughing at Edward's pathetic efforts."
"York it is, then," the Doctor said with worrying cheerfulness. "Just remember I offered you mercy. Jack, at the risk of repeating myself, allons-y." On those words, Jack felt the sickening lurch of a teleportation coming on.
"What on earth--stop them!" That was the guard's voice, followed by something slicing through the air between them. It might even have been a poleaxe.
The first thing Jack realised when he opened his eyes was that he still couldn't see. At least this time he was lying on something soft. Small consolation when he was unable to move and could feel the edge of a knife against his throat. The arm without the blade appeared to have nice muscles, he noticed in an attempt to find an upside.
"I never expected to say this," came a voice out of the blackness above him, "but who are you and what are you doing in my bed?"
From what little you could tell from a voice, this one sounded like it belonged to a young man. The word virile was also occurring to certain parts of Jack's anatomy. "I think we were aiming for York but we may have overshot. Captain Jack Harkness, by the way. Where am I?"
"Wigmore, as it happens." He was almost certainly trying not to laugh. "Although it would depend on which York you were aiming for."
"There's more than one? Wait, Wigmore near Wales Wigmore? I went there with...well, that doesn't matter. Nice castle. Comfortable rooms. I knew this bed felt familiar."
"We obviously missed one another, then." After a moment's pause, the other man remarked, "You're either the best or the worst assassin I've ever met. I have yet to decide which."
"Assassin?" Jack echoed bemusedly. "I don't sound remotely like one, and I should know. I dated one for at least three weeks."
The knife shifted, though not enough to make sudden movements a good idea. Dying was one thing but the resultant coming back would be hard to explain. "Why else would you be here?"
"Here, Wigmore, or here in your bed?" Jack purred, wriggling into a slightly more comfortable position beneath the man pinning him to the bed. Certain aspects of the situation were not unhopeful.
"Both, as it happens. For that matter, how did you--"
"Your Grace!" There was a muffled shout, followed by a banging sound somewhere in the darkness. "We've caught an intruder!"
"Bring him in, Will," his captor called back. "I seem to have caught another one."
Dim, red-tinged light filtered through the thick curtains, and Jack vaguely realised he was free to move. Though not for long, as someone dragged him out into a well-furnished, torchlit room. The Doctor was standing nearby, guards on either side. "I can't take you anywhere, can I, Jack?"
"I don't know what you mean," Jack lied, with only the merest hint of a smile.
"You have a tendency to fall into other people's beds."
"That explains a lot," came the now rather familiar voice from behind Jack, though the grip on his arms prevented him from turning to look. "Will, what exactly is going on?"
"My companion's propensities aside," the Doctor said, sounding far more relaxed than might have been anticipated from a man in irons, "that's a very good question. One to which, Your Grace, I believe I have an answer. We come with news from the camp of Margaret of Anjou."
"A strange way to deliver news," said the so-identified Will, a broad-shouldered man Jack guessed to be in his early thirties. Not bad-looking either, for that matter. "And an even stranger pair of messengers. Ned?"
"What news is this?" All amusement had dropped from the words, and the young man--Ned--suddenly sounded much older. "What has the bitch done now?"
"Meddled, I think you could say. Even that she's meddlesome," the Doctor mused, going off into one of his flights of fancy. "That's not used nearly often enough, you know. A meddlesome character. I'll have to remember to include it."
"Meddlesome is one word," Ned acknowledged with a short laugh. "We could also say vengeful. Or a bloodthirsty, murderous whore." From the corner of his eye, Jack caught sight of a tall figure in a blue velvet robe now blocking the Doctor from view. "I'm sure we could say a great many things. But that isn't the point. What has she done this time?"
"She's brought an army you can't face. At least, you can face them, but you can't kill them so it would all be a little pointless. But you have me."
"And you are...?"
"The Doctor," he said as Jack rolled his eyes.
"You don't look like a doctor. You're certainly not dressed like one."
"Out of curiosity," Jack interjected, "how does a doctor dress?"
With a glance over his shoulder that revealed a devilishly attractive grin, Ned said, "Badly. Mostly black. Covered in dust from too many tomes of canon law."
"Doctor of theology, in other words, Jack," the annoyingly arrogant Timelord explained. "Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good theological argument as much as the next man, but clockwork automata aren't open to them."
"Clockwork what?" Ned and Will chorused. Ned was the first to recover, motioning for the guards to leave before closing the door. Turning back to the Doctor, he raked mussed blond hair out of his eyes before speaking again. "Clocks don't talk. Let alone hold theological arguments. What on earth are you talking about?"
"You have clocks," the Doctor said, grinning like a hyperactive five-year-old. "I thought I'd have to explain clockwork but you already have clocks. Humans are amazing, really."
"Of course we have clocks," Ned replied in confusion. "We've had them for years. Not in Wigmore, I'm afraid, but..." He stopped short. "Wait. How do clocks relate to the...Margaret?"
"Clockwork robots. Men. From another time."
Jack added, "Helping her for reasons as yet undetermined. You have spies in her camp?"
"Of course I..." Ned looked back and forth between Jack and the Doctor, as if trying to ascertain whether or not they were real. "Actually, I don't think I will ask. Not yet. I knew she was gathering men and has been since..." he bit his lip, "for about a month now. And she'll make her way to London sooner or later. I had planned to do the same, but we heard rumours of another army massing over the border and thought we ought to look into that first."
It was working. The spell the Doctor cast over mere mortals--and those not so mortal--was fully in effect once more and apparently that meant a lack of flirting from this rather delicious-looking young man. Jack sighed and tried not to pout.
"There may well be another army but, unless she has two sets of automata, that's not the one you should be worried about."
"There's only one problem." Belying the almost lazy words, the dagger flashed in Ned's hand, up against the Doctor's throat. Jack wondered idly if he slept with it under his pillow and promptly squashed the other thoughts that brought up. "Why should I believe you? She's tried that before, you know. It worked once. It won't again."
"Because I am the cleverest man in the room and I have this message for you," the Doctor told him, flashing the psychic paper on which he had a tendency to rely.
Whatever Ned saw, it was enough that he took several steps back, one hand at his mouth. His face had turned very white. "Why did none of the other messengers say that? They told me he was lured out of the castle, that they fell on him in the field. There was nothing about strange men or clocks or anything of the sort."
"No, there wasn't." For the first time since the Doctor had mentioned clocks, Will spoke up. "Ned, listen to me. Warwick can handle himself. He always does. Besides, she's miles from London. We can deal with the Welshmen in plenty of time. There can't be that many of them in this godforsaken place."
"I'll think about it." Ned sighed. "Take them, Will. No need for irons, I don't think. We'll discuss this further in the morning."
"Come on, then." Will nudged Jack forward none too gently before unshackling the Doctor.
"Your Grace," the Doctor said, ignoring Will as only he knew how, "think about this. How do you tell any man from another in full armour with his visor down?"
"You can't. I know. But I really can't think about this right now."
"Doctor," Jack said in lowered tones, "leave him alone. One night isn't going to make any difference; you can see the poor man's exhausted."
Will shot him a grateful smile before glancing back at Ned. "Get some sleep. You'll need it."
"Apparently so." Ned even managed to return the smile as Will pushed the other two men out and closed the door.
He did not speak until he had guided them down the narrow corridor to a second room, more sparingly furnished. "For God's sake, what do you think you're doing? What was that letter?"
"Trying to keep this country the way it was meant to be," the Doctor said without answering the second question. "If you have a problem with that, now would be an excellent time to say."
"Uh, slightly off-topic, I know," Jack broke in before it could turn ugly, "but who are these people?"
"William Hastings," the other man said, holding out one hand. "And you're...Jack?"
"Harkness," Jack supplied. "Captain. Who's your friend?"
Hastings frowned. "You turn up here in the middle of the night and you don't know? Is this some kind of joke? I wouldn't put it past Ned, mind you, but I had no idea he was that good a liar."
"Ned. And he said something about York. Is that like Wars of the Roses York?"
"Jack..." the Doctor said warningly, before Hastings broke in again.
"Roses? I don't know anything about roses."
"Forget I mentioned it, then." He frowned in thought a moment before finally deciding on, "So is he Edward York, Edward of York, something like that?"
Hastings was now staring at him as though he'd turned green. "He's the Duke of York. Rightful king of England. Admittedly a recent development, but all the same..."
"Don't mind my friend," the Doctor put in smoothly, "he's from Cardiff."
"Oh. Oh." He nodded. "I'm sorry."
"There's no need to be like that about it," Jack sulked.
"I meant no offence. But I can see why you might not know certain things. It is a bit...far away. But, to get back to the point," he looked at the Doctor again, "clockwork men?"
The Doctor nodded vigorously, grin spreading all over his face again. "Exactamundo. Clockwork men--men of clocks. And they're encamped wherever Margaret of Anjou and her son currently are. We're a little hazy on the geography, I'm afraid."
"They were in Yorkshire." His voice was tight. "We know they've been moving south, albeit slowly, biding their time before trying to retrieve Mad Harry from the Tower."
"Mad Harry," the Doctor mused. "A little devout, yes, but I wouldn't call him mad. He'd have made an excellent abbot."
"Far better for England, had he been an abbot. He'd never have married that harridan."
"Kings and princes do seem to have a habit of making bad choices," Jack agreed, thinking of the furore over Camilla Parker-Bowles.
"But you think she's got these...clockwork men. What exactly do they do?" Even as he asked the question, he crossed the room to where a decanter and several glasses sat on a table. "Wine? Let it not be said we're inhospitable."
Jack winced, fingering his head. "You don't have any water--?"
"You wouldn't want to drink the water here," the Doctor advised. "Live a little, Jack. When in Rome etcetera..."
"Get drunk?" Jack suggested. "I thought we already tried that."
Hastings grinned. "You drink enough and you don't notice anymore. The number of times that happened in Calais..."
"What happens in Calais stays in Calais," the Doctor said, pouring for himself and Jack. Jack, meanwhile, merely groaned and glared at the insufferable man.
"I hope so. Particularly the random acts of piracy, even if that was more Warwick than Ned."[iii] He shook his head. "His father wouldn't have approved, that much is certain."
"Fathers never do," Jack said, an odd note in his voice. That was something he tried not to think about. There was no point in treading useless paths long overgrown.
"What did you show him, Doctor? Something about Wakefield, obviously. Nothing else would have provoked him that way." Hastings leant against the table. "For someone so clever, you ought to know better than to pry into that."
"And that's precisely why I had to. There's more at stake than his feelings, however much he's grieving for his father. If I don't find a way to stop this army, everyone he cares about will die and England will suffer."
"England already suffers," Hastings said softly. "Give him time to think it over. You have to admit it's difficult to believe."
"You should always try to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast," the Doctor told him with what was a passably straight face.
Hastings looked doubtful, but nodded slowly. "I'll try to remember that." Draining the glass, he made his way toward the door. "Sleep well."
A servant in what Jack supposed was whatever passed for livery in the fifteenth century came to fetch them to breakfast what felt like not very many hours later. Rubbing his back and groaning, Jack muttered something about the Doctor's not being a comfortable bedmate. "All arms and legs, like a damn human spider. I preferred your last incarnation."
"If only because I kissed you."
"If memory serves, and mine is pretty good when it comes to that sort of thing, I kissed you."
"Probably. Just no kissing the boy, understand?"
"Doctor, you wound me!" Jack protested, hand to heart.
"No, I know you, Jack Harkness. Don't think I didn't notice the looks you were giving him. And you haven't promised..." But at that point they had to abandon the whispered conversation. The boy was heading towards them, spattered with mud from the waist down and carrying something in a bag.
"This is like no clockwork I've ever seen," he said without preamble, pulling a shiny object out of the bag and tossing it to the Doctor. "I took off its head and it didn't stop moving. What in hell is going on?"
"Oh, not hell," the Doctor told him, catching what turned out to be the battered head of a clockwork robot and pulling out his screwdriver. "Completely different planet. Gone now, too. No, this is the working of another time. Did you have to damage the mechanism?"
"The alternative was allowing it to kill me. Yes." Turning to Jack, he smiled. "Good morning, by the way."
"Good morn--" was as far as Jack got before the Doctor snapped, "Jack!"
"I was saying good morning," the excessively good-looking captain said. "You're usually all for courtesy."
"In its place and that wasn't--Ahh!" The shielding around the clockwork came apart under the sonic screwdriver's beam and he pulled out a device Jack couldn't recognise. "If I can trace the signal, we should be able to get a fix on where it's coming from."
"What is that?" Forgetting Jack far too quickly for his liking, Ned stared at the screwdriver in hopeless fascination. "What did you just do?"
"Do you understand what I mean by technology, Your Grace?" the Doctor asked, looking up from the dismantled head only reluctantly. "So much beauty and such a mundane tool when you think about it. Tools should always be aesthetically pleasing."
"Even when those tools are meant to kill?" With a handwave, Ned answered his own question. "No, I suppose, especially then. I've seen enough parade armour. Unfortunately it never looks nearly as nice once it's been through a few skirmishes."
"These weren't designed for killing. Someone's made them act that way and I intend to find out who," he said, and Jack had to suppress a shiver at the look on his face.
"This one was in the woods close to Mortimer's Cross," said Ned, too fixated on the screwdriver to notice the Doctor's expression. "There was some panic earlier this morning, rumours in the village about demons slaughtering livestock. We knew Pembroke's army was nearby, so it seemed worth looking. He might be your man."
"Oh, is that Pembroke's army?"
Ned narrowed his eyes. "Is what Pembroke's army? The Welsh one."
"There was a Welsh guy there," Jack remembered. "Actually, I think he was Pembroke."
"And where was this, exactly?" Ned enquired, deceptively quiet.
"That's where it gets a little fuzzy," the Doctor said. "We had been drinking for quite some time before we found them."
He was unimpressed. "I thought you said you'd come from Margaret. And please don't expect me to believe you mistook Pembroke for her. She isn't that unfortunate-looking."
"We were arrested in her name," Jack explained. "We made the obvious assumption, and made an ass out of ourselves in the process it seems. So much for Mr I'm the Cleverest Guy in the Room."
"I never said I'd been here before," the Doctor immediately protested. "I may have discussed it a little with Holinshed."
"That does explain a little," Ned said, eyeing them both carefully. "We were wondering how you travelled so quickly from Yorkshire, but if you were just coming over the border, that makes far more sense."
"So it does," the Doctor agreed. "And perhaps now it's time for us to have another talk with Pembroke." Jack's fleeting reluctance must have shown on his face because the Doctor glowered at him before adding to Ned, "Where are we likely to find him?"
"Not too far from here, past the woods. It's where we last saw them. Our scouts didn't mention clockwork men, but the army did seem rather larger than we'd expected." Ned paused. "We're leaving here today, and I fully intend to engage them tomorrow morning. If you really think you can stop this, Doctor, you've got till then."
Jack eyed the youthful Duke with a new respect; he was plainly a leader, whether by virtue of nature or situation. "Allons-y then, Doctor. We don't have long."
"That's my line."
"I thought I'd save time. You can bring your toy with you, if you like."
"Don't push it, you. You still lost my TARDIS. Incidentally, Your Grace," bounding back to Ned, "nobody's mentioned seeing a blue box, have they?"
"What sort of blue box?" Ned's blue eyes were unreadable.
"A wooden one," he elaborated. "With Police in big white letters on the side."
"Roughly the size of the hearth?" Ned gestured vaguely in that direction. "Yes. It was in the forest. It was where I found that fellow, as it happens."
"Could you show us where?" Jack enquired a little too eagerly, utilising his best puppy-dog eyes. Then, to the Doctor, "See, I didn't lose it, just temporarily mislaid."
"We'll need to be careful, but I don't see why not." Turning on his heel, Ned strode out of the hall, pausing only to murmur instructions to Hastings. The air was bracingly cold as they made their way into the courtyard.
"Jack, do you actually know how to ride?" the Doctor asked him, sotto voce as they headed towards the small group of horses.
"It's been a while," Jack allowed, "but you never forget, right? Just like riding a bicycle."
"Remind me never to let you near a bicycle," was the Doctor's only comment after Jack's third failed attempt to mount the horse.
In the meantime, Ned's impatience was manifest even in the posture of his horse. "This won't do. Come on." Leaning precariously out of the saddle, he held out one hand. "We haven't got all day."
After seeing the speed with which Jack pulled himself up behind the lovely young man, the Doctor shot him a look but forbore to comment. What he wasn't expecting was the speed with which they charged out of the courtyard and down the muddy path.
It was even worse when they entered the woods. He found himself clinging to Ned for dear life, face pressed to his back, without even being able to enjoy the moment.
"Oh, it's not that bad," the Duke teased, the words barely audible against the wind.
Eyes tearing up in the wind of their passage, Jack forbore to reply for several minutes, being far too occupied with keeping his head. "You do realise you can't be King without a head, don't you? The English are far too stuffy to let a zombie on the throne."
"My head isn't going anywhere," Ned retorted, laughing. Finally, after some length of time Jack didn't dare calculate, they slowed, and eventually came to a stop in a clearing. A noticeably empty clearing. "Oh, dear. That's not good."
The Doctor had already dismounted and was crouched down on the leaf-strewn floor of the clearing, screwdriver in one hand and indeterminate piece of clockwork in the other. Jack, who could have sworn every organ in his body was bruised by the pace the Duke had set, quickly slid down and grabbed the reins of the Doctor's horse. "I know you said Rose didn't let you keep one, but that was on a spaceship. Here you might need it."
"Would they have taken it? Your...blue box?" Ned asked, his eyes trained on the screwdriver.
Without giving any sign of having heard, the Doctor leapt to his feet with one of his characteristic wild cries of enthusiasm. "Of course! They'd have to have picked up the micron signature, repeater station the size they must have to relay all these signals. They couldn't possibly have a ship that size anywhere near the planet. It'd be seen in no time and spook the locals." Then, addressing Ned, "You haven't seen any comets lately, have you, Your Grace? Heard any signs and portents?"
"Not recently, no. There was one a few years ago that everyone was convinced heralded the Apocalypse. Instead my father decided to claim the throne." He shrugged. "I'm not the best person to ask."
"Of course, of course, Halley's. Ohh, and that would have been 1456! When did Margaret start beating your forces?"
Ned looked at him for several seconds, expressionless, before saying very softly, "Sixth day of Christmas this past year."
Had his hands not been full of horse, Jack could have hit the Doctor not only for asking in such a fashion, but also for being so utterly oblivious to Ned's feelings. "Twenty-fifth, twenty-sixth...the thirtieth, then. But that doesn't fit...unless...Didn't she get lost in Wales some time recently?"
That prompted a brief smile. "Yes. My uncle Salisbury chased her from Northampton and we lost her once she'd crossed the Severn.[iv] There were rumours, of course, but nobody thought anything of it. Why, do you think something...happened?"
It was at moments like these, when he was at his most brilliant, that Jack understood why his heart could never be completely disentangled from the Doctor. "Yes, yes, yes," he was saying, gesticulating wildly with both hands. "Because what do we have just past the Severn, Jack?"
"The Rift?" Jack hazarded, feeling like a dull child struggling to keep up with a genius. Which, all things considered, he was.
"Molto bene." The Italian rolled off his tongue like chocolate. "The Rift which sucks things in from all over time and space and dumps them in Wales."
"Geez, way to sell my city. Galactic landfill."
"No offence, but this time...oh yes, this time! This time, it sucked in a whole spaceship of robots programmed to carry out orders. And if somebody very clever were to find them and think to give them new orders, then maybe, just maybe, you'd have an army that can't be stopped. But that somebody would have to be very, very clever."
"Margaret's clever," Ned said slowly, staring at the Doctor as though he were a different species. Which, technically speaking, he was. "I don't know if she's that clever. I don't know if anybody's that clever. Maybe Warwick. It does sound like the kind of thing he might think up, given the opportunity. But...do you really think they can't be stopped?"
"Not by you." He did sound insufferably smug.
"What do you need?" There was barely a pause, though the tension in Ned's frame was visible even from where Jack was standing.
"At the moment, directions to the enemy camp and a scout if you can spare one to locate my box. Also a metal spoon, if you can find one."
Ned nodded very slowly. "I can send someone back for you. But you can't wander off."
"Very well. I'll keep an eye on Jack."
"He's not the one that concerns me," the Duke replied with what might have been an eyeroll. "If you'll excuse me, I have an army to lead. Tomorrow morning, Doctor. I hope whatever you've planned will work." Without waiting for a response, he wheeled the horse round, and took off at the same breakneck speed at which they had arrived, though in a different direction.
"He obviously hasn't been paying attention," the Doctor remarked dryly to Jack and the horse, which was now attempting to nose open his pockets. "You're the biggest concern I have right now."
"Really. With your lost TARDIS, the ship we can't locate and the fate of England hanging in the balance, I'm your biggest concern?" Jack demanded sarcastically. "Yeah, I can see how the guy holding your horse would be vitally important."
"Now you're selling yourself short," the Doctor said without a ghost of a smile. "We may need that horse."
"Whatever. Why don't you just get the lecture over?"
"Will you listen if I do?"
"We both know you'll say it anyway, and I am stuck here. With your horse."
"Thomas?" Jack demanded incredulously. "What kind of a name is Thomas for a horse?"
"A very good one. He makes me think of Thomas More."
"But it looks nothing like Paul Scofield."
"Neither did Thomas More.[v] Good conversationalist, shame about the principles. But that's not what I wanted to talk about, Jack."
Jack sighed. "Yeah, I know. That's why it's called changing the subject."
"To get back to the subject in question," the Doctor said, sending a quelling glance in his direction, "you were supposed to promise to leave that poor boy alone."
"He's not a boy," Jack protested automatically. "And besides, have you seen him? Greek gods have nothing on that."[vi]
"Jack, can you for once just stop listening to your libido and concentrate?" He stopped, as if listening to his own words. "Or at least leave him alone--you'll only confuse him."
"He doesn't seem that confused to me."
"You don't know him as King. Caxton had a problem with Picapyes stealing the type blocks from his press. Jane Shore helped out." He smiled, teeth gleaming whitely in the semi-darkness of the forest and Jack had to suppress certain urges. Now was definitely not the time. Also, this was supposed to be a telling-off; he tried to push his face into a suitably contrite expression. "She was very frank about her sex life."
"Jane Shore who?"
"His mistress, at that time. Caused something of a problem between him and Hastings.[vii] Anyway, she made it very clear that Edward was not confused about that sort of thing. So don't get tempted."
Pouting, Jack mumbled, "I'm with Oscar on that one. He always said he could resist anything but."
"You and Wilde?" the Doctor said, with a roll of his eyes. "That explains so much. I'll just have to hope you don't find any more time travel devices."
"I'd be responsible." He smiled himself, the one that showed all his teeth to perfection. "Responsible is my middle name these days."
"Possibly. Your first name's still Not."
It was not too much longer before the now-familiar sound of hoofbeats echoed through the forest, and a man who looked to be a few years older than Ned dismounted. "I was told help you find Pembroke's army. Although I don't know why they made me bring this." He held up a small silver spoon.
Whipping it out of his hand, the Doctor said, "I'll take that," and immediately became engrossed in bending it into shape over the part he'd taken from the clockwork head.
Jack cleared his throat loudly, saying, "We only have until tomorrow. We should get moving now, don't you think, Doctor?"
"Oh, yes, of course," the Doctor agreed, still busy with whatever he was making. "Blu tack, blu tack, I know I had some somewhere. Useful stuff, that."
Quietly despairing, Jack pulled the Doctor up behind him on the horse now known as Thomas. "At least I don't have to worry about the strength of your thighs."
The scout was eyeing both of them with great suspicion, but wheeled his horse round and started out of the clearing. "It's about two miles further in this direction. I'll take you as far as I can, but they'll have their own guards on the perimeter. We'll need to be careful."
"You don't happen to know where they put a big blue wooden box, I suppose?" Jack enquired, seeing as the Doctor was far too caught up in whatever it was he was doing to ask.
"Afraid not. We haven't actually gone into the camp. Too dangerous. Besides, that's not my job."
In the end, they left Thomas with the scout and, despite Jack's reluctance, didn't even make a token effort at sneaking into the camp. The Doctor just pulled aside the first guard he saw and demanded to be taken to their leaders.
Jack privately vowed to get him back for that later. "If I'm not allowed to play to my stereotype, neither's he."
The camp itself was heaving with the controlled panic of an army on the verge of battle. It seemed they knew Edward must be somewhere close. The tent to which they were taken looked far more impressive in daylight, all sumptuous colours and coats of arms, none of which Jack knew though it seemed the Doctor did, since he nodded in satisfaction.
The three men they had met the night before looked up with near-identical expressions of shock. "Irons! Now!" barked the one Jack remember as the commander---Wiltshire, was that his name? "Sorcerers, the both of them."
Just as Jack was trying to think of a way to disarm whichever guard brought the called-for manacles, the Doctor smiled and crossed to the table of maps. "Oh, you don't want to do that. We're not sorcerers at all, merely practiced in the arts of escaping."
"Block the doors," was the commander's response to that, as he drew a sword that had to be three feet long. This he held to the Doctor's chest. "What do you think you're doing?"
"My lord, stop for a moment." That was the third man, the one Jack only vaguely recalled from the night before as not being Pembroke. "What have you got there?" he asked, gesturing to the contraption in the Doctor's hand.
"Just a little invention of my own. You see, somewhere above us is a ship, but it can't be too close or it would have been spotted as an extra moon or similar and you can't keep that sort of thing hidden. People do talk so about phenomenons, or should that be phenomena. Strange word, don't you think?"
The man had paled slightly. "You really are mad, whoever you are. Doctor whatever-your-name-is. What exactly do you mean to do here?"
The Doctor stared into space in characteristic fashion, saying, "Just the Doctor. And I mean to find the signal going to your receiver there," pointing at what Jack had taken to be a brooch on the man's chest.
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the clockwork men you're using. Do you even know what it is you have there or have you just turned it into a weapon like everything else?" he demanded, looking at the sword against his chest contemptuously.
"Father, there's no need to answer him," Pembroke put in with a sneer. "He's lost his mind, the poor man. York would never believe anything he said. For all his faults, he's very much a man of this world."
"They serve the rightful king of England," the commander said, his eyes not leaving the Doctor. "And they will continue to do so."
"That's where you're wrong," the Doctor told him, raising his eyes to take in all three men. "I gave you your chance, and you haven't taken it. I can't allow you to use them and, believe me, I will stop you."
"Oh, for God's sake, take them away." Rather to Jack's surprise, the Doctor didn't struggle when the guards dragged him out of the tent, and Jack followed suit, however doubtfully. Although he suspected the guards were paying them back for the previous night when, upon arriving in an empty tent, he discovered that armoured gloves were in fact strong enough to break one's jaw.
On waking to discover that the sun had gone down and that his head really hurt, Jack asked the Doctor what the hell they were meant to do next. "They're not very bright, Jack. I still have my screwdriver."
"What good is that going to do?"
"For a start," he said, unchaining his feet, "it means we don't have to stay chained up. Unless, of course, you'd rather."
"Just unchain me," Jack said through gritted teeth. "And no comments about my sex life."
"You're the one who keeps bringing it up."
But the Doctor did do as Jack had asked with the result that his chains soon lay on the grass at their feet with the others. "Now what?"
"Now we go on a little trip."
The second teleportation in less than twenty-four hours left Jack unpleasantly nauseous, though he suspected the diet of nothing but alcohol wasn't helping either. The surroundings were, at least, more familiar than they had been over the past day. It was a fairly standard relay ship, if completely empty.
The Doctor soon found the communications room and spent what seemed to be a highly enjoyable five minutes figuring out how to begin extrapolating the position of the ship to which the robots belonged. He also, to Jack's unvoiced relief, located the TARDIS by bouncing a signal or something. He worked at such a speed it wasn't clear entirely what he was doing.
Jack quietly took himself off to the bridge to familiarise himself with the controls. They were, of course, from the time in which he'd been born so it wasn't difficult. What was more worrying was when he found the clock calendar.
Hitting what he hoped was the right control, he yelled, "Doctor?"
"Yes, what is it?" the slightly muffled voice came back. From the sound, Jack thought he was holding something in his mouth. "I'm a little busy here."
"Well, get busier. I just looked at the time and it must be nearly dawn."
"You had a knock on the head. Missing time is a common side-effect. And there was all that alcohol-- it's no wonder we slept deeply. Have you found the ship yet?"
There was a banging, then a rattle and the sizzle of sparks. "Sending it through now."
The course, when it appeared on Jack's screen, was child's play to follow. It seemed the ship was using the moon to conceal its position. Hoping this one had enough fuel in the tank, he gunned the engines, wondering briefly whether anyone on the ground had heard.
The ship was called the Veronica Franco, something which made the Doctor crack a grin and start speaking Italian for no reason Jack could fathom.[viii] It was also empty, and Jack felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck.
The Doctor began checking the workings and asking whether Jack thought he could smell roasting meat. Which, Jack was sorry to say, he could not. It had been a long time since he'd eaten anything and his stomach was letting him hear about it in no uncertain terms. When he mentioned this, however, the Doctor just gave him a look and told him to help him find the signal.
When they did--hidden in a filing cabinet with a sign on it saying Beware of the Leopard at which they both burst into slightly hysterical laughter--it was plain after at least twenty minutes' looking that there was no way the Doctor was going to be able to dismantle it in less than twelve hours.
Jack, by this time, was looking at his watch every few seconds, wondering all the time whether the battle had started and whether Ned still had all his body parts intact. Finally, he could bear it no longer and said, "We just blow this thing up. That would destroy the signal, right?"
The Doctor stared at him, a look that made Jack drop his eyes. "Just what I'd expect from Torchwood."
"It's not as if there's anybody on it, Doctor. I wasn't suggesting we kill anyone."
"Yet," the Doctor remarked darkly.
"All right, do you have a better plan? 'Cause while we're arguing the moral shadings, they're about to go into battle with a bunch of robots down there and they are going to get slaughtered."
"I still don't like the way you think, but you have a point," he conceded. "If the boy dies, it would throw off the succession. King George isn't supposed to turn up for centuries."[ix]
Jack gave him a look worthy of one of his own and muttered, "Or you could care about the actual people involved."
There wasn't a single detonator on the ship, so Jack had to improvise with a device he hadn't intended to remove from the Torchwood base. It earned him yet another dirty look, but even the Doctor had to admit its convenience.
As a mechanical device, the bomb Jack had mostly devised was, to the Doctor's vocal surprise, almost as much of a thing of beauty as the clockwork soldiers themselves. In Jack's view, this was primarily because it was made from the spare parts lying around the ship.
"You are enjoying this far too much, Jack Harkness."
Jack looked up at that, noticing the gleam in the other man's eyes. "You don't fool me, Doctor."
He just smiled, saying, "We don't have much time. If you're ready..."
As the qualified pilot of the two, albeit he didn't quite know how many years out of date, Jack was the one to take the wheel. The Doctor was staring out of the window back the way they had come, apparently waiting for the explosion. "How much time did you give that fuse, Jack?"
"Five minutes. Should be plenty of...oh, that's not good."
"What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything. It's just...well, let's just say they could have refuelled this thing."
"I can't take you anywhere."
"Hey, it's not my fault. I'm not the one who's not clever enough to disable a little signal," Jack needled.
The Doctor bridled, saying, "I could have disabled it. Just not in the amount of time we had."
"Fine, you're the superbrain," Jack said and then lost his balance as the world rocked. Surely that hadn't been five minutes. "Can we just leave? Before I have to die again."
With a look that promised another lecture later, the Doctor grabbed their wrists together and Jack felt his stomach part company with the rest of his body.
They were standing in the middle of a very unhelpful field. Unhelpful in the sense that it gave them no clues as to where they were. "Have you lost us again?"
"Not at all," the Doctor panted. "Just have to get my bearings." Not that Jack could see any landmark by which he proposed to do such a thing. "That way. I'm sure of it."
"How are you--" The rest of the sentence was lost in the sudden sound of an angered bull. "OK, now I see!"
"Don't talk," the Doctor yelled. "Just run!"
As they dashed across the decidedly frosty field, Jack couldn't keep from grinning, teeth aching in the knifelike wind. "Did I tell you how much I love this part?"
"End of the universe. When we were running from the Futurekind." Jack tripped on a rut and nearly fell, but the Doctor's hand on his elbow steadied him. "I love the running, too. Makes you really feel alive."
They had just crested a small hill when they caught sight of movement in the woods some five hundred yards ahead of them. Belatedly, Jack noticed the light glinting off whatever they were wearing on their heads. And that the soldiers--at least he supposed they were soldiers--were running straight at them.
"Doctor," he yelled at the top of straining lungs, "I think we might be going the wrong way."
"Not a bit of it. They'll be coming from the battle. We need to find it so we can get the TARDIS back."
"OK, but do you think we can veer away from the men with pointy weapons?"
"Where's the fun in that?" he cried, pounding off towards the nearest one. "Excuse me, could you tell me where I can find the Battle of Mortimer's Cross?"
"Have you lost your senses?" the soldier snapped, without breaking stride. "It's the end of the world! There were three suns! Three!"
"I always said it wasn't a parhelion."[x]
But the soldier wasn't listening, having flown past Jack. As others pelted by, he could hear snatches yelled back and forth. "Rode them down like ninepins...why did they just stand there?"
"Because they had no orders," the Doctor said, virtually bouncing he looked so happy. "Three suns, Jack. We destroyed the signal. Edward's winning--he must be."
"Does that mean all's right with the universe?"
"This one, certainly."
That was when the horsemen began to spill out of the woods, unrecognisable in bloodied armour, their horses as far a cry from mild-mannered Thomas as could be found, practically snarling at the fleeing foot soldiers. It occurred to Jack that standing in the middle of their path might be inadvisable, and he had to drag the Doctor bodily out of the way.
For the next several minutes of hard running through pathless woods, neither spoke. Finally, they broke through the bushes to see a scene out of some Kenneth Branagh movie he'd seen once on late night television. And the Doctor gave a wordless cry of anger. "They've surrendered!"
Nobody seemed to hear him, as the horsemen continued to mow down those on foot. Jack thought he recognised one of the men who ran past him into the woods as the well-dressed commander from the camp, but he couldn't be certain. That was when one of the horsemen came to a rearing halt just in front of them, raising his visor to reveal a grinning Will Hastings. "Doctor! Captain! You did it!"
"Yes, yes, yes," the Doctor said, waving his hand dismissively. "Now what do you think you're doing? Those men have surrendered."
"They're running. That's different." Hastings glanced over his shoulder. "Wiltshire and Pembroke fled the field. We need to find them. But, dear God, did you see what happened? Three suns, plain as day, just over there!"
"I don't mean these men--I mean those ones," he said, indicating the ones currently kneeling in front of men wielding swords. Rather big, ugly swords, now Jack came to look.
"Knights. No quarter for men of rank."
"That's not how these things are done, Will Hastings. You are better than this and so is Edward of York."
"You'll have to take it up with him." The knight gestured vaguely toward a figure dismounting from a white horse. "But I'm not sure he'll listen."
"Doctor!" Ned moved quicker than a man in full armour really ought to, lifting the Doctor bodily off the ground and swinging round in a strange approximation of a victory dance. "I don't know how you did it, but I owe--we all owe you our lives. Every man here." Setting him down, Ned schooled his exertion-flushed face into something slightly more sober. "Anything you want is yours. You have the eternal gratitude of the House of York."
The Doctor had not smiled, though Jack found it hard not to. "The lives of your prisoners, then. This isn't the way to behave, Edward of York."
"I beg your pardon?" Ned blinked, staring at the Doctor in bewilderment. "I said anything. I meant it."
"Then let them live. They're high-ranking; they'll fetch a high ransom."
"Until recently. I'm afraid it was their side who changed the rules."
Sincerity ringing clear, the Doctor spoke quietly. "And I am so sorry for that, Edward, but they surrendered. You shouldn't lower yourself to their level."
"They surrendered," he echoed bitterly. "So did my brother, and they slit his throat."
"I know and I'm sorry, Edward. Believe me, if I could change that for you, I would. But nobody can change that past and I'm afraid I can't let you do this." He reached out with terrifying gentleness to clasp Ned's shoulder. "You're better than that."
Ned's eyes, when they met the Doctor's, were cold and shuttered. "I gave you my word. If prisoners' lives are what you want, you'll have them." Catching the eye of one of the guards, he made what Jack assumed was a cease-and-desist gesture.
"Ned!" It was Hastings, running toward them. "They've found Owen Tudor."
The Doctor instantly forgotten, Ned demanded, "What of Wiltshire? Pembroke?"
"Gone. They must have fled with the first wave. Cowards, the lot of them. But at least we've got one."
"Yes." Ned smiled grimly. "That we do."
"Doctor," Jack murmured, "do you think he's the third man? The one with the brooch thing?"
"I think we'd certainly better see," the Doctor nodded, all smiles now the order to spare the prisoners had been given.
The man the guards dragged forward was muttering under his breath in Latin. Ned stood over him, arms crossed forbiddingly. "You've been abandoned, you know."
Tudor looked up, and Jack noticed the beads twisted between his fingers. He was far older than he had looked the previous night. When he caught sight of the Doctor, he paled. "What--who are you?"
"You can call me the Doctor. I'm the man who stopped you." Indicating the brooch gleaming on the rucked-up material at Tudor's throat, he added, "What did you think you were doing?"
"Commanding an army," the old man said softly. "I thought it a blessing. But the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." He glanced warily toward the mass of silent figures in armour, some still standing at attention further down the field, before looking back at Ned. "I would remember that if I were you, Your Grace. Or you'll end up like your father--"
Whatever else he might have said was swallowed up in the blow Ned dealt him with one armoured fist. Jack suspected he might have done worse if Hastings hadn't held him back. "He's provoking you. Don't listen."
Glancing gratefully at Hastings, the Doctor said, more grimly than Jack at first expected, "While I don't generally condone violence--there being so many better ways of resolving differences--you really shouldn't have said that."
"I'll say what I please to that insolent pup!" spat Tudor, the words slurred through blood. "I'm not afraid to die. You'll get yours soon enough. Her Highness will see to that."
"I'd like to see her try," Ned retorted, straining against Hastings' grip. "Although I hadn't realised you'd added another French whore to your collection.[xi] Get him out of here. He'll be with his precious Queen soon enough."
Jack winced as the Doctor stepped between the two men, adding his deceptive strength to that of Hastings. Annoying the man in full armour--a man near twice his size--was not a clever move in the captain's view. "York, you made me a promise."
"And I kept it," the Duke replied through gritted teeth. "You asked for those prisoners and I gave them to you. This one is mine. And, besides," he added, sounding slightly calmer as Hastings released him, "you did imply that he was commanding those...things."
"Your Grace, we've already had this conversation." His voice had gone low and cold, making Jack shiver. "If you break your word, you will anger me."
Seeing the look in his eyes and remembering the stolen year so recently obliterated, Jack had to speak up. "Really don't, Ned. You wouldn't like him when he's angry."
As if only just remembering Jack was there, Ned turned, his eyes accusing. "I've heard the same said of myself. But, if you insist." Turning back to Tudor's guards, he snapped, "Take him to Hereford. You're a lucky man, Tudor, to inspire such eloquent partisans. I doubt you deserve it, but I suppose you can keep your head for the time being."
"Your Grace," was all the Doctor said, in warning tones.
"Very well." Ned's face might have been carved of stone. "I won't kill him now. Isn't that enough? What more do you want from me? Shall I retreat, leave my father and brother to rot on the gates of York, and let the bitch of Anjou bleed this country dry? Is that what you would have me do?"
"No." The Doctor too sounded less than patient. "I would have you lead without becoming a monster. Would you want the world to see you as no better than Margaret? Because, I assure you, if you lose your humanity in this way, that's what they'll think."
Ned flinched visibly before storming away. Shooting an aggrieved look at the Doctor, Hastings followed, and Jack found himself speaking without considering what to say. "Doctor, you've made your point. Now cut him some slack. He's just a boy who lost his brother and his dad."
"That's the problem," the Doctor replied quietly, following the two men in armour with his eyes. "The pain of that kind of loss makes us cruel, but it passes in the end." Then, shaking himself, "Anyway, we've sorted out this little patch of trouble. What do you say I take you home to your family?"
Memories threatened, but Jack pushed them down beneath the surface of his mind. "I don't have one."
Though he tried to turn away, the Doctor's hand on his cheek made Jack look back at him. "What else do you call your team in Cardiff?"
"I guess..." But he couldn't finish the denial. "Why are you always right?"
"Comes with age," the Timelord said kindly. "One day you'll understand."
"You know something I don't, don't you?"
"Lots of things actually."
Jack made a face at him which, while childish, did relieve his feelings. "I meant about me. And you're not going to tell me, are you?"
The Doctor just smiled enigmatically. "Spoilers."
That was when Ned's voice rose above the general murmur as he made his way back to where they stood, his bad mood apparently gone. "Doctor, I believe you were looking for a blue wooden box?" He had barely finished the question when the Doctor charged off toward the nearby cart containing the TARDIS and quite literally threw his arms around it. "If I'd known this would happen, I'd have given them some privacy," the Duke remarked, brows raised. "I suppose I'll simply have to keep that in mind for the future."
The future, Jack suddenly appreciated, Ned didn't know would not contain the Doctor and himself. "They're close," he said absentmindedly, weighing up the pros and cons of the idea that had just hit him with all the subtlety of a ton of bricks. It wasn't as if the Doctor was likely to notice, he considered, given the jokes he and Rose had shared about leaving him and the TARDIS to get a room together. All the same, he wasn't sure what the penalties were likely to be.
"You know he wouldn't say those things to you if he didn't think you were a good person."
"He's older than he looks, isn't he?" Ned asked quietly. "Far, far older. At least that's how he sounds." After a moment, he added, "But, yes, you're right. I don't like it, but I understand."
It was at that point that the Doctor yelled at Jack, motioning to him from the TARDIS door. "Jack, we have to go."
"Go?" Ned echoed. "Where exactly does he plan to go?"
"Somewhere else," Jack said, frowning as he and Ned moved in the Doctor's direction. "He doesn't stay anywhere long."
"I could see that. He doesn't...fit, does he?"
With a sigh and a longing glance in the direction of his Doctor, Jack said, "No. A man of all times and none."
"Medicus quondam, medicus futurus," Ned said under his breath. "Although I would have pegged him as Merlin first."
Jack smiled to himself, thinking that the Doctor could actually have been the famous wizard. "Yeah, I guess."
"Doctor, were you actually going to say goodbye? Even Merlin left Arthur with a prophecy or two before disappearing for years at a time."
"Prophecies aren't my cup of tea," the Doctor demurred. "If you know your future, you'll start changing it. Besides, reading the end ruins you for the rest of the book."
"Oh, very well," he conceded, holding out his hand. "Thank you, Doctor. I really do mean it. All other things aside."
The Doctor smiled, taking his hand and shaking it firmly. "You're a good man, Edward of York. Your father would be proud of you."
"I hope so. He would have made a great King, I know it." As if shaking off the words, he added, "Will you come back?"
"Never say never," the Doctor advised, before grinning. "Although, if you want prophecy...April is not a good fishing month."[xii]
"That was cryptic even by Merlin's standards."
"He's right," Jack agreed. "He asked for a prophecy, not a shipping forecast."
Ned, after pulling several interesting faces, dissolved into laughter. "I suppose I deserve it. I believe Merlin tended to hand out prophecies whenever he pleased, rather than on request. Godspeed, Doctor."
"And to you, too." The Doctor raised his hand in a salute, stepping back into the interior of the TARDIS. "Say goodbye, Jack."
Jack, suddenly deciding that the pros significantly outweighed the cons, darted forward to bestow upon Ned a kiss that was amazing even by his exceptionally high standards.[xiii] Then, without waiting to see what would happen next, he muttered, "Goodbye," and dived past the Doctor with a hasty "Let's go, then."
"I really can't take you anywhere," the Doctor sighed as the door closed, cutting off all sight of the bemused Duke.
After an uncomfortably silent journey, aside from the usual bangs and groans of the TARDIS' progress, the doors opened onto the Cardiff of Jack's present. Though with unsettlingly clean streets.
The first thing he noticed on stepping out was that there was a clockman. Heading straight for him, machinery whirring audibly.
TO BE CONTINUED
[i] Wakefield: The Battle of Wakefield (30 December 1460) was a turning point during the Wars of the Roses, where the Lancastrian army defeated and killed Richard, Duke of York, the leader of the Yorkist faction, along with many of his supporters, including his second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland. His eldest son, Edward, became head of the faction as a result.
[ii] Warwick has the King in custody: Referring to the Earl of Warwick, one of the Yorkist commanders, who was holding King Henry VI in London after the Yorkists captured him at the Battle of Northampton on 10 July 1460.
[iii] Random acts of piracy: Warwick was rather guilty of randomly pillaging French and Burgundian ships while he was Captain of Calais during the late 1450s.
[iv] Lost her once she'd crossed the Severn: The Queen's whereabouts between the battles of Northampton and Wakefield are recorded in detail in only one source, the London chronicle of William Gregory. He relates that she was set upon by robbers on her way to the castle of Hardlagh, in Wales, and that she spent the intervening there, plotting, before heading north to Scotland. The authors might have embroidered a little.
[v] Thomas More: The authors see no reason why the Doctor can't have met Thomas More.
[vi] Greek gods have nothing on that: Although it's difficult to tell from extant portraits (most of which were either painted after his death or very late in life), a number of contemporary accounts at least mention that Edward IV was exceptionally good-looking. Usually in the context of his sex life, which was impressive by most standards. Philippe de Commynes, notorious for not liking the English at all, goes so far as to refer to him multiple times as the handsomest prince in Christendom. The authors suspect he might have fancied him.
[vii] Jane Shore: Famous for sleeping first with Hastings, then with Edward IV, and then with Hastings again, before Richard III had to spoil all her fun by cutting off Hastings' head. Thomas More called her Edward's 'merriest' harlot, which is actually a compliment. Also, if you believe Thomas Heywood, everyone and their mother wanted to sleep with Jane Shore.
[viii] Veronica Franco: The authors see no reason why ships carrying clockmen shouldn't all be named after famous mistresses (i.e. Madame de Pompadour).
[ix] King George: Edward had two remaining brothers, George and Richard.
[x] Parhelion: Actually, it was. Although the authors will also accept any explanations involving alien robots.
[xi] Another French whore: Owen Tudor was notorious for having had an affair with (and eventually marrying) Katharine, the widow of Henry V and mother of Henry VI. His grandson became Henry VII, and, if you're reading any chronicle between 1530 and 1600, they won't let you forget it.
[xii] April is not a good fishing month: It is more or less agreed that Edward IV died from pneumonia, supposedly contracted while fishing in April.
[xiii] A kiss that was amazing even by his exceptionally high standards: The authors would like to state for the record that they are not the first people to slash Edward IV. See Gregory's Chronicle for Edward's ambiguous--and angsty--relationship with Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, in 1462-3. Also, More claims Queen Elizabeth hated Lord Hastings because 'shee thoughte hym secretelye familyer with the kynge in wanton coumpanye'. Judge you all the rest.
Chapter 2: The Devil Went Down to Anjou
"Excuse me?" said the clockman, head tilted to one side. "Could you please move your telephone box? We are cleaning the street."
"Uh, Doctor, tell me these weren't here when we left," Jack requested, leaning back towards him. "Did I really drink that much?"
"No, Jack, they weren't," he was reassured. "Something is rotten in the state of Cardiff."
"Could you please move your telephone box, sir?" the clockman repeated. If it were possible for them to look confused, it probably would have done. "It is blocking the street."
"Oh, right," the Doctor said hurriedly. "Yes, of course. Before we do get out of your...parts, could you tell us what year this is and who's Prime Minister? Actually, for that matter, who's Queen--or King?"
"This is the year 2007. I do not recognise the term 'Prime Minister'. We have no King. Queen Margaret VIII reigns over us, long may she live."
"This is not good," Jack muttered, casting an uneasy glance around him at signs no longer in Welsh and English. He'd had a Spanish girlfriend once, and he thought the other language might be that of Spain.
"Right, thank you very much," the Doctor breezed, apparently without hearing. "We'll just get out of your way now."
"Thank you very much, sir." The clockman turned and made his way toward what appeared to be a standard-issue street cleaning vehicle. With a shrug and a wink, the Doctor beckoned Jack back into the TARDIS.
The next time the door opened, it was onto a far smaller street with cobblestones and Jacobean windows. And, right opposite, a bookshop. "Just what we need," the Doctor remarked. "If you want to know what's going on, head for the books."
A bell jangled as they entered the shop, which seemed to be inordinately full of staircases. The books lay in precarious piles three feet deep in places, apparently holding up the walls. On the counter sat a luxuriously furred white cat, purring like a motorboat.
"May I help you, gentlemen?" enquired the dust-covered old man seated behind the cat.
"I was wondering if you might have a book for me," the Doctor said sweetly. Then, to Jack's unconcealed surprise, he twirled like a man being measured for a suit.
"Is it a book about dancing?"
"No. You see, when I last left this town--" At Jack's glare, he amended his description to "--city, the Queen was Elizabeth, second of that name. Now I find out it's someone called Margaret and the Welsh language appears to have dropped off the face of the earth."
The man looked at him as if he'd sprouted a second head. "I'm afraid we've never had a Queen Elizabeth, sir. And if you want someone who speaks Welsh, you'll want the university. Although we do have some Welsh dictionaries at the back."
"Do you have anything on Edward of York or Margaret of Anjou, then?" He looked and sounded a little disappointed in the bookseller, who was stroking the cat in a disturbingly Blofeld fashion.
"Fifteenth century. Up that staircase, third door on the left."
They followed his directions, tracing a path through dust fully an inch thick. It seemed the fifteenth century was a little visited place. Jack was valiantly trying not to sneeze when the Doctor gave a cry like that of a man seeing a long-absent friend. "Will! I should have guessed he'd help."
"Look." He thrust a book the seller probably described as slightly foxed under Jack's nose, pointing at the title. "Henry VI, Part Three. He still wrote it. Always a man for the Histories, that one."
It wasn't a play Jack had read, and he found himself stuck on the first page of the introduction. "Originally titled The True Tragedy of Edward of York?"[i]
"Oh, dear," the Doctor said, taking the book back and flipping through it. "I really thought we fixed that." The flapping pages of the book slowed and the Doctor gave an incoherent snort of derision. "Oh, come on! I am not that incomprehensible."
"You're in there?" Jack demanded, before his brain caught up with his mouth. "Am I?"
The Doctor gave him a slow, considering look. "I should say so. Will never could resist your sort of stunt, though I must say he seems to have embroidered it immensely. Unless I closed my eyes for about three hours."
"Mind keeping it down up there?" the bookseller's voice echoed. "You're frightening Snowbell."
"Snowbell?" the Doctor mouthed incredulously and Jack had to grab at a biography of Edward IV to stifle his laughter. It had the portrait of a nice-looking young man with fair hair and dark eyes--who was definitely not Edward of York.
Gaping, he thrust it at the Doctor who replaced the Shakespeare with a random piece of paper as a bookmark in order to take it. He looked at the back, saying, "The son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. This is Edward of Lancaster."
"Both of them Edward? Not very creative with names back then, were they?"
"No, Jack, they weren't." He was now flipping through the biography at an unreasonable speed. "This isn't helpful. Is there one of Margaret?"
Jack peered at the dusty tomes, finally spotting one that looked as though it would suit. Again, the Doctor seemed to fly through the book. It really wasn't fair. "Oh, here we are: The battle of Towton is the first recorded appearance of homo horologius, although garbled accounts from both Wakefield and Mortimer's Cross hint at their presence, particularly the latter, with its mysterious three suns over the battlefield. What we do know is that even with an army of nearly 20,000 men, the Yorkists were slaughtered. This scene was immortalised more than a century later by William Shakespeare in the third part of Henry VI, which includes one of his most famous and most confusing lines--the young Duke Edward's final cry, 'A doctor, a doctor, my kingdom for a doctor!'"
"Doctor?" Jack whispered.
"My kingdom for one. Well, he got that right anyway." He pounded one fist into his open palm. "If I'd only had more time! There must have been another lot of them and I should have seen that."
He span on one heel, grabbing for Henry VI as he did. "Where are we? Towton, Towton, here we...oh. Jack, you really shouldn't have done that."
"Why? What did I do?" Jack demanded, trying to look over the Doctor's shoulder at the text.
"Do you know about Richard II?"
"I know he's not the hunchback or the Lionheart but, other than that..." He trailed off into an embarrassed silence.
The Doctor thrust the book at him, finger pointing out a speech of Margaret of Anjou's. "Let's say he liked his pretty boys."
Trying and failing to blush, Jack said, "Oh. So how about that confusing line, then?"
"Of all the convincing attempts to change the subject, that's not one of them." Despite this censure, he apparently couldn't resist flipping to the end of the battle. "Oh, Will, you hack!"
"Why, what did he say?"
"Have you ever read--or seen, for that matter--Richard III?"
Jack thought about this for a minute, before saying, "My kingdom for a horse, winter of discontent, that Richard III?"
"Made glorious summer by this son of York." Confusingly, he shaded his eyes on the word 'son'. "Which can't exist in this reality. That's a travesty. But, to answer your question, he transplanted that scene as verbatim as he could." After a pause, he frowned and added, "I am not leaving the world without Richard. Vamanos!"
"I can't say allons-y all the time. I'm trying something new."
When the TARDIS doors opened, they found themselves in a cramped alleyway. From just over a nearby roof, Jack could see the twin bell towers of Westminster Abbey. "Uh, when are we?"
In answer to which, the Doctor ran out into the street to question a passing watchman. Or something. He had what might have been a uniform at least. "Excuse me, my companion and I have been on the road for some time. Could you tell us what day it is, please?"
"About..." he counted on his fingers, "three weeks before Easter."
"Thank you. That's good to know. When is Easter this year?"
"End of March, I think. Not sure."
"So it's March now?" the Doctor probed. It was unclear whether he was losing his patience or not, but Jack certainly was.
"Yes," the man said very slowly. "Yes. It is. The Earl of Warwick left about five days ago, to meet the Queen."
"In 1461, no," he allowed. "Thank you. You've been very helpful. Come, Jack."
Jack, glaring and muttering under his breath, nevertheless followed him along the distinctly horse-smelling streets to the buildings across from Westminster Abbey. "The Palace of Westminster. That's where Edward's likely to be--as the King."
"He's the King now?"
The Doctor gave him a serious look. "He claimed the throne a few days ago. Hence the speech I showed you." Then, brightening up, "Now let's go and find him. We can be official messengers. Or maybe heralds. I've never been a herald before."
"You are seriously nuts, you know that?"
He shot Jack one of his trademark smiles, all eyes and teeth, and scurried over to the guards at the entrance to the Palace holding up the psychic paper. "Good morning, gentlemen. We need to see the King."
"The Doctor!" The man's grin lit up his entire face. "They're telling all kinds of stories about you."
The Doctor turned the psychic paper towards himself and snorted. "So that's what I was thinking. Out of interest, what stories are they telling?"
"Are you truly Merlin?"
"I'm never sure," he said to the guard's patent confusion.
"But the stories say you appear and disappear. I have a friend whose cousin's brother-in-law was at Mortimer's Cross and he said he saw you walk into a big blue box and disappear."
"And do you remember Merlin having a big blue box?"
"He might have been wrong about the box. He lost an eye at Northampton."
"He wasn't wrong. I parked it in an alley back that way. What's your name, by the way?"
"Walter, sir." His enthusiasm very nearly rivalled the Doctor's. "An honour to meet you."
"Good to meet you, too."
"Hi," Jack said. "I'm..."
"Jack. Remember the True Tragedy," the Doctor warned.
"I was saying hello."
"With you, even that's a pick-up line."
"Oh, well, when you put it like that..." Jack pouted. "Should we find Edward?"
Enthusiasm still palpable, the Doctor nodded. "Indeed. Do you know where to find the King, Walter?"
"The hall, I should think. Just through that courtyard and up the stairs."
"Thank you." He gestured with his head for Jack to follow him to the indicated staircase.
It was only as they entered the large, timber-vaulted room and he caught sight of Ned that Jack began to think about the realities of the situation. He hadn't exactly expected to see him again when he'd kissed him.
"Doctor!" Ned jumped off the dais in a blur of green brocade, crossing the room in several bounds to grab the Doctor's hand. "Right on time, I see."
"You were looking for me?"
"I had my hopes," Ned admitted with a grin. "I cannot think how you do it, but you bring me the best of luck."
"You have a fan," Jack murmured, smiling for what felt like the first time since he'd seen Ned. His heart was beating uncomfortably hard and fast, and he decided to yell at the Doctor later for not warning him about fifteenth-century fashion that wasn't armour. He should have at least mentioned the tights.
Ned's eyes moved to him, with what might have been hesitation, and he let go of the Doctor to hold out his hand. "Captain."
All too aware of the Doctor's eyes on him, Jack took the proffered hand as innocuously as he could manage. "Uh, hi, um, Edward."
Ned seemed on the verge of responding, but another voice hailed them from a nearby doorway, and Jack decided William Hastings was his favourite person in the world. "So you've returned? Couldn't miss the fun?"
"Something along those lines," the Doctor said. "Have there been any rumours about more clockmen, by any chance?"
Ned and Hastings exchanged glances. "Not as such," Ned finally said, frowning. "Before we arrived, there were rumours of rampaging Northmen.[ii] But Londoners suspect anybody coming from further north than Oxford."
"We have information received to suggest there are more, so those rumours may not be exaggeration," Jack put in, trying not to look at Ned as much as possible.
"And Warwick's account of what happened in Saint Albans didn't entirely make sense," Hastings put in. "His men turned and ran, but nobody knows why."
"Saint Albans," the Doctor said, as if tasting the words. "That was Margaret's army, wasn't it?"
Ned nodded. "Warwick's gone north already. I think he wants to redeem himself."
"Ned, really," Hastings chided. "We can't all tell grandiose lies in the face of almost-certain death."
"It wasn't a lie," the proclaimed King said innocently, while shooting Jack and the Doctor a grin that was anything but. "It was an interpretation."
"Out of interest," the Doctor began, before Jack interrupted him.
"And vanity." He intercepted a nasty look and grinned. Not before time, he was starting to get over what had to have been embarrassment. "What did you interpret?"
"May I?" Hastings was laughing almost too hard to speak, but forcibly calmed himself. "So, three suns in the sky. I nearly turned and ran, to be honest--"
"Are you serious?"
"Sadly, yes." He didn't sound very sad. "Ned, however, pointed at those three suns, claimed they signified the Holy Trinity and that God obviously favoured York.[iii] I can only imagine it was divine inspiration, since the rest of us were certain it was the End of Days. But," he added with a rueful smile, "he can be very convincing when he puts his mind to it. The rest, you know."
"God favours every side," Jack said, but not loud enough to be heard by anyone save the Doctor who did shoot him a Look.
To Edward, the Doctor said, "Congratulations. Quick talking is an important attribute in a leader. And a king."
"I'm not king yet," Ned demurred.
"A mere matter of a crown," Hastings said with a shrug.
"It's more than that, Will. You know it as well as I do. Harry, whatever his faults, is the anointed King of England before God and all the country. But that won't be for long."
"Let's hope so," the Doctor said, a little dourly. "As long as we can stop those clockmen for you."
"Of course you will. You're a worker of miracles, Doctor." He made his way back toward the throne. "We leave the day after tomorrow. Ought to enjoy civilisation while we still can."
Jack had to smile at the not-quite-King. "Here's to the fruits of civilisation."
"I meant wine and music and, uh, books," Jack covered.
Hastings choked on a snort of laughter, but said nothing.
After what seemed like the largest meal he'd had in his life--not that he didn't appreciate it after not having eaten in two days and over several teleportations--Jack felt as though he were ready to collapse. After relieving himself in very primitive conditions, he exited what was called a privy to find Ned standing in front of him, arms folded.
"Why did you do it?"
"Because I'm attracted to you. Why else?"
Ned stared at him, looking unsure and--worryingly--very young. "You don't...no." He shook his head and began to make his way down the corridor. I should not have asked."
Jack started after him, catching his hand. "It's not...I mean, it's just...normal, that's all. It's something that happens between people. Human or otherwise."
"Otherwise? Sometimes you make no sense at all." Ned didn't turn. "I don't understand the Doctor, but I don't think I'm meant to. I suppose I'm not meant to understand you either."
"Is there a window anywhere? Do you even have windows?" he suddenly thought to ask.
"Of course we have windows," Ned replied, glancing back at him in sudden confusion. "What do you think we are, barbarians?" With a brief laugh, he led Jack up a winding flight of stairs to a large, firelit room. He pulled the heavy drapes aside, letting a blast of cold air into their faces. "There. Windows."
Looking at the magnificent view over the moonlit water of the Thames, Jack couldn't help comparing this to the night he'd first met the Doctor and Rose. Although this view had fewer explosions, of course. "So I see. Look up. Tell me what you see."
Ned stepped forward, lips pursed thoughtfully. "Stars. I think that's Ursa Major, though I never had much memory for that sort of thing."
"Look up there at Ursa Major and Pegasus and all the rest and tell me this is the only world with life," Jack said, resting his hand on the velvet-clad shoulder of the young man.
"Of course it is. It has to be," Ned murmured.
"Why has to be?"
"Because..." he glanced back at Jack, eyes very blue against the moonlight. "Surely someone would have mentioned that before."
Jack felt himself flush slightly as he realised what Ned must mean. "Oh, yeah. This is probably one of those things I shouldn't mention."
The younger man jumped on the chance to change the subject. "You have rules?"
"Travelling with the Doctor is like that." He couldn't stop the smile the Doctor's mere presence inspired in him from taking over his face.
Ned responded with a smile of his own. "I had assumed it was like travelling with Warwick, but I don't think rules came into that."
"What is this Warwick like?"
"Difficult to explain," Ned laughed. "Very clever. Sometimes too clever, I think. I wonder what he and the Doctor would make of one another." He looked back out at the river. "He's the elder brother I never had."
Jack too looked at the water. "I never had one, either, but I can't say I felt the loss."
"I don't suppose I would have done if Edmund..." He trailed off.
"Was he the one at Wakefield?" Jack asked softly, wary of opening old wounds.
He nodded. "He was born the year after me. We were always together, you see, until last year." After a second's hesitation, he added, "Father sent me to Wales. It would have been me, otherwise."
"That doesn't make it your fault." He knew the guilts of wartime intimately.
"No. But that does make it my responsibility."
"I get that. Don't let it take you over, though."
"I don't think it will," he said, sounding almost surprised. "There are too many other things."
"That's good." Jack smiled somewhat evilly, "Might I suggest a distraction?"
"That sounds dangerous," Ned replied, eyes flicking down and up again. "Not the manner of distraction to which I'm accustomed."
"Danger can be seductive."
"You have no care for my soul."
"I have far more care for your body."
"That sounds like something I've said before," he murmured, laughing.
Laughter in which Jack joined wholeheartedly. "You obviously have good taste in lines."
"So it would appear." He leant against the window frame. "They have always worked."
"Well, then," Jack said, leaning against him.
"First time for everything." It might have been nervousness in Ned's voice, but the kiss, Jack quickly realised, was anything but.
"Young people have so much energy, don't they?" There were very few voices that could wake Jack up instantly, but the Doctor's happened to be one of them. He jerked upright to find himself in the fanciest bed he'd ever seen, let alone slept in. Not that there had been much sleeping involved.
The bed was also empty. "Where's Ned?"
"Seeing to his kingdom," replied the Doctor. "As he seems to have seen to you already. What did I tell you about behaving yourself?"
"You mentioned something about trying?" Jack ventured.
"Yes. Only the precise words I used were don't confuse the pretty boy."
"Oh," Jack raised his eyebrows, "so you noticed?"
"Jack, can you raise your mind from the gutter for just three seconds and concentrate?" groaned the Doctor. "We have an army of clockmen on the loose, we have no idea where they are, and you're sleeping with the King of England!"
"Just the once." Jack paused. "Or maybe twice. I kinda lost count."
The Doctor buried his face in his hands. "I really, really can't take you anywhere." After a moment, he added, "And will you please put something on? It's a miracle nobody's noticed. Maybe it's because he's not officially King yet. If he were, he would be surrounded by people twenty-four hours a day."
"Good thing I have excellent timing."
"That wasn't what I meant."
"I was interpreting."
"I am not Will of the incomprehensible sentences," the Doctor retorted. "I make sense."
"So did that, in context." But Jack did drag himself out of the indecently comfortable bed. "It's good to be the king, apparently."
"That would be why everybody wants to be the king. Not the bed," he clarified. "You know what I mean. Everything else."
"Doctor, are you embarrassed?"
His response was a glare. "Just put some clothes on."
With great effort, Jack managed to keep from saying anything more until they started down the stairs to the hall. "What time is it, by the way?"
"Ten-thirty. You're indecently lazy. Or just indecent."
"Like you said," Jack replied with his sweetest smile. "Young people have lots of energy."
The table was cleared except for a pile of papers next to where Ned was standing, looking distractingly nice in burgundy and gold. He was deep in conversation with a woman dressed in black, to whom Jack paid little attention, as Ned caught his eye with a wicked grin. Almost instantly, the woman turned, delicate brows rising just slightly.
"Edward, do you intend to introduce me?"
"Mais bien sûr, Maman," Ned said cheerfully. "The Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness. I've told you about them."
"Yes. You did not say they were still here," she remarked with a smile that made her look uncannily like her son.
"My mother, gentlemen, the Duchess of York."
The Doctor bounded forward with an irrepressible grin. "I've always wanted to meet you!"
"Really?" The Duchess studied him bemusedly. "I know very little of you, save what Edward has told me. From which I gather you saved his life. You have my deepest thanks."
"Oh, it was nothing," he replied. "We just happened to be in the neighbourhood."
"My dear Doctor," she said firmly. "I assure you it was everything."
"Spoken like a true mother."
Ned, in the meantime, leant close to whisper to Jack, "Sleep well?"
"Like the dead. Believe me, I know."
He seemed puzzled, but a look intercepted from his mother called his attention away. "Yes, Maman?"
"Was that everything?" Jack had the rather uncomfortable sensation that she could see right through him.
"News from Burgundy?" Ned recalled.
"George is enjoying the festivities, but he misses Margaret terribly. I wonder if I ought to have sent her as well."
Ned shook his head. "You'll be glad of the company, although, considering how Duke Philip is fêting the boys, Meg might have preferred it otherwise.[iv] Doctor, may I speak to you for a moment?" He led the Doctor to a corner, too far away for Jack to hear.
"It's an honour to meet you, Your Grace." With his most charming smile, Jack stepped forward and kissed that lady's hand.
"Captain Harkness," she replied with a smile of her own. "My son seems rather fond of you both."
"I think I can see why," the Duchess said, her expression unreadable. "Edward seems to inspire that somewhat more than his father, God rest his soul. But one never knows under these circumstances."
"He's a charismatic man," Jack admitted.
"Yes." She glanced toward her son. "You haven't met my nephew of Warwick yet, have you?" To which Jack shook his head. "They say that of him too. They are both well loved." Looking back at Jack, the Duchess suddenly said, "And yet I hear rumours that there is more in the north than just Queen Margaret."
Sobered more quickly than by a plunge into a snowdrift, Jack faltered. "That's what we came about, the Doctor and me."
"Exactly what is that, Captain?"
"Have you heard of the clockmen?" he asked, unsure of how to describe the menace to her.
"Yes. I'm not certain how much I believe, but if Edward claims to have seen them..." she sighed. "I don't know what you did--we heard any number of bizarre stories--but I assume you plan to do the same in the north?"
"It is the best way of dealing with them," Jack said, catching himself mid-shrug. He wasn't certain how you behaved to Queen Mothers, albeit only in waiting.
"Three suns, indeed," she murmured with a soft laugh. "I nearly told him off for blasphemy."
"Why blasphemy?" Jack asked, perhaps a little too innocently.
"The Holy Trinity. Only Edward would expect to get away with that."
Jack tried to look as though he knew what she was talking about. "Of course."
Ned strolled back toward them and linked his arm through his mother's. "Well, now that that's finished, I think we should be off. The city council will want proper instructions. I'll see you later," that last addressed to Jack as they made their way toward the door.
"Count on it," Jack said with a wink that made the Doctor glower at him. Again.
"Actually..." Ned paused, letting go of the Duchess as he hurried back, "I just remembered. Is that what they're wearing in Cardiff these days?" he asked, gesturing to the floor-length coat of which Jack was very proud.
Jack felt the urge to kill his companion as he gave an ill-disguised snort of laughter. "It's not like yours is any better," he hissed.
"I didn't pick it to match my eyes." Jack felt himself blush, not having realised the Doctor had cottoned on to that and, pitching his voice so Ned could hear, said, "Only some of us."
Ned didn't bother to hide his laughter. "I rather like it, as it happens. And," he added sotto voce, "I never saw much wrong with playing to one's strengths, whatsoever they may be."
Jack felt one of his trademark smiles--teeth like his were too good to hide--light up his entire face. "So I noticed last night."
"I had hoped you might. I have a reputation to uphold," Ned replied, grinning in a way that made Jack want to drag him into the nearest empty room and have his way with him. Thankfully--or infuriatingly, depending on one's point of view--Ned's mother caught his attention with an audible cough, and he stepped back. "Oh, and Doctor. You'll need to tell me later what you think of the banner."[v] And with that, he led the Duchess from the hall, laughter echoing even after he left.
The glittering banner seemed to distract the Doctor nicely, to Jack's everlasting gratitude. "Clock gears. Look, Jack, did you ever see anything so beautiful?"
"It looks like a weird flower to me," Jack shrugged.
"Philistine." The Doctor pointed at different images on the cloth as he spoke. "The white flower is the rose of York, with the sun behind it. En soleil is the heraldic term." He paused, apparently savouring the words. "En soleil, doesn't that sound marvellous?"
Jack nodded--it seemed the safest course. "It'll be crowned later, of course."
"Why of course?"
"He'll be King," the Doctor said, stopped in his tracks as surely as if Jack had dropped a tree across them. Sometimes he forgot not everyone was as clever as he was.
"As long as we get the other clockmen," Jack reminded him.
At that, the Doctor frowned, rumpling his impressively quiffed hair distractedly. "Yes, there is that one minor flaw."
The minor flaw seemed far less minor when they were standing on a hill overlooking the Lancastrian army as it spilled out of the city of York on its way south. It was far, far larger than he had expected; and judging from the Doctor's expression, the same thought was going through his mind.
"So what now, o great leader?" he muttered. Not for the first time, he wished he had his team with him. Tosh would be bound to have something useful. "Head for the biggest tent and hope?"
"There are worse ideas," the Doctor acknowledged absently, his eyes scanning the horizon. "Whoever's controlling the clockmen has to be near Margaret. But..." Raising his head, he squinted at the sky, "if there were another ship, surely someone would have noticed something odd by now."
"You'd think. Unless they're disguising it as a castle."
Although Jack had meant it flippantly, he saw the familiar considering expression flit across the other man's face. "You know, that's not as half-baked as it sounds. Maybe not a castle, obviously, but it wouldn't have to be big just to relay a signal and you humans don't pay attention to your surroundings most of the time."
Rolling his eyes, Jack successfully mastered the urge to kick the annoyingly superior alien. Instead, and with an edge to his voice that went wholly unnoticed, he said, "Fascinating observation, but does it actually help us?"
The Doctor seemed surprised, his expression suggesting Jack had failed to pass an elementary test. More to himself than anyone else, Jack muttered, "I hate being Watson," but composed his features into a reasonable approximation of attentiveness as his companion went on, "Of course it does. It could even be sitting somewhere in plain sight."
That was when Jack caught his meaning, "Like the TARDIS. You think they might be using cloaking technology."
Though he would have denied it point blank, Jack felt his heart leap when the Doctor smiled at him in acclamation. "Precisely. And if they are using chameleon circuits or similar--"
"We can track them," Jack finished the thought.
Unfortunately, that proved harder than they might have anticipated. The large amounts of reflective metal in the vicinity might have had something to do with it. Throughout the long journey from London to Pontefract--not nearly as boring as he might have feared, between Ned and the Doctor--Jack had found himself wondering what might happen if he attempted to explain the concept of the automobile. Or the train. Or anything that wasn't a horse or a wagon.
The Doctor, of course, had been thrilled in his own extraterrestrial fashion, going on and on about human ingenuity as if there were something in it to surprise him after all these years. There had to have been, Jack mused, fairly sure that the Doctor wasn't that good of an actor. And leaving him stuck in conversation with some squire from Buckinghamshire on the merits of proper crop rotation, or interrogating an ancient Welshman named Fluellen on the best uses for leeks, gave Jack plenty of free time.[vi] How he spent it--and with whom--was his own business.
But now there were more important things to concern them. Like the fact that Margaret's army looked to be about twice the size of Ned's.[vii]
"Perhaps we go in the back way," Jack considered.
It actually worked in their favour that the Lancastrians were encamped on the outskirts of York, since York, being a city of some size, had multiple entrances. And even though the Doctor was far worse at sneaking around than he thought he was, the psychic paper did come in handy.
"Hullo, terribly sorry to bother you, but we're messengers," he said, waving it under the nose of a gatekeeper who was clearly running to seed. "Here with urgent missives for the Queen."
"Missives?" Jack muttered and received a dirty look.
The guard studied them through narrowed eyes. "You don't look like messengers."
"Should we be wearing a pin with 'I'm a messenger. Ask me how?'", Jack sniped.
"No need to be rude, young man," he said. "We can't let just anybody in to see the Queen, you know. After all that's happened."
"After all what?" Jack asked. The Doctor promptly stood on his toes.
"Some messengers you are, if you don't know that." Taking the psychic paper from the Doctor, he peered at it. "Although you've got the seal. Not sure how, mind you. I suppose standards must be slipping these days."
Looking the man up and down meaningfully, Jack said, "Mustn't they just?"
"Now, look here, young man--"
"Why don't you just let us inside," the Doctor interrupted, "before we make a complaint to your superior? This message we hold may be the key to the kingdom and you're strutting around like an aggravated rooster!"
The guard did eventually let them in and showed them to an imposing-looking stone house, all the while keeping up a muttered running commentary about disrespectful young people, how the country had gone to the dogs, that Henry V had done them all a great disservice by dying too young, and that he fervently hoped the Godless creatures who had murdered Good Humphrey of Gloucester were roasting in the fires of damnation.[viii]
It was the Doctor's turn to sound innocent, if not ignorant, as he prompted, "Godless creatures? Nobody told us about those."
"Murdered him in his bed, they say. Poor man, God rest his soul." He crossed himself furtively. "Well, here you are. She's got her own guardsmen, for His Majesty."
Jack felt the Doctor seemed disappointed to have reached their destination. Neither of them said anything beyond thanks and good riddance. Albeit not quite in those words.
Compared to Wigmore and Pontefract--which, admittedly, Jack had only seen briefly--the house seemed very small, but the décor more than made up for it. He stifled the urge to comment that it was good to be the king, as the Doctor flashed the psychic paper for what felt like the umpteenth time to a far more well-dressed guardsman.
"From Clifford?" The guardsman made a moue of distaste. "Your man's a bit excessive, isn't he?"[ix]
"Can't be too careful nowadays," was Jack's comment.
"Suppose not." He didn't look convinced, but he waved them onward. "Second floor."
They ascended the painfully low-ceilinged staircase for what felt to Jack like hours before finally entering a sumptuously furnished set of rooms at the top of the house. A woman sat near the window, visible only in profile, before the Doctor knocked on the doorframe.
He wasn't sure what he'd expected Margaret of Anjou to be like, but the reality surprised him. She was...well, beautiful, to make no bones about it. She was also staring at them in a manner not far removed from that of the erstwhile Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which kind of put a damper on things.
"Your Grace," the Doctor murmured, bowing and poking Jack in the ribs with what felt like his screwdriver when he didn't. Jack scrambled to follow suit, feeling faintly ridiculous.
The queen's dark eyes flickered between the two of them, wary and unreadable. "Who are you, messieurs?"
"The one on the right, Your Majesty, is Captain Jack Harkness," came a low, slightly singsong voice from the opposite corner, where a man stood in the shadows, a hood concealing his face from view. Jack suddenly felt as though the floor had dropped from beneath him. "I'm afraid I know him all too well."
"You!" Jack yelled, reaching for the gun he'd forgotten he wasn't carrying. "I should make you pay for what you did."
The Queen was out of her seat in seconds, hand whipping round to reveal a wicked-looking crossbow aimed directly at Jack. "I was unaware that you knew one another."
"I was unaware that he was even here. Quite a surprise, I assure you. But, nothing to worry about." Jack could hear the smile in the old man's voice, and his blood boiled. "He's easily despatched."
Rather than attempt to interfere, the Doctor merely turned to Jack with a meaningful look. Jack didn't want to think what it said that he understood what his companion couldn't say in words so distracted himself by lunging towards Bilis.[x] "Could say the same about you."
The crossbow bolt buried itself in the middle of his spine. He had enough time to reflect that none of this was fair at all before the world went black.
The room was dark when Jack opened his eyes, and, he soon realised, empty. But he could hear voices echoing through the stairwell. Rubbing the small of his back--even though the excruciating pain was thankfully gone--he made his way to the door and listened, trying to glean where the voices were coming from.
"...you assured me this was safe, mon frère. That it was foolproof. I trust you will explain yourself." A woman's voice--Margaret's, he now recognised.
For a split second, he couldn't think who she was talking to. Until he heard the familiar voice reply, "I assure you, Your Grace, the plan is as safe now as it was yesterday. An encounter with an old...acquaintance is nothing for you to concern yourself about, especially as he is now dead."
"He...spoke very strangely," Margaret observed as Jack inched his way down the stairs above them. "And the other? Do you know him?"
"Not by sight, but I suspect he is a part of Jack's little band," Bilis said, so contemptuously Jack was hard put not to rush out and break his neck.
"And what does this band do?" Margaret enquired coldly. "After that débâcle at Mortimer's Cross, for which you claimed you were not responsible, I must confess myself doubtful."
"They are from another place, Your Grace, seeking meaning in the stars."
"Like you?" Jack could see Margaret's face now, albeit shadowed in the scant light. It bore an expression he was glad wasn't directed at him. "There seem to be a great many of you about, mon frère, and very neatly coinciding with a defeat of our forces. Can you explain that?"
"If your Grace will give me a few days, I am sure that--"
"That boy is less than thirty miles away. And may I remind you that he was the one responsible for Mortimer's Cross? You promised me an army that could not be defeated on the field. And yet a wastrel child can run them down like a collection of toys!"
"They cannot be defeated without knowledge your adversary has no way of possessing." Jack leant further back into the shadows as Bilis paced the cramped landing. "Are you certain you can trust the leaders of that army?"
"I have trusted them far longer than I have trusted you."
"As Becket trusted his King?" insinuated Bilis.
Margaret fixed him with a stare that Jack could not see, but that he could certainly imagine. If only looks could kill; he'd have far fewer problems. Without responding, Margaret threw open the door. "I have very little time, monsieur, and less patience. What do you want here?"
"Tyger's heart wrapt in woman's hide--he certainly got you right, didn't he? Makes you wonder about those rumours, really," the Doctor's cheerful voice rattled out, speaking three times as fast as he needed to as usual.
"I have no time for riddles, monsieur. Who are you and what do you want?"
"What I want is to set this time aright, cursed spite and all."
"Speak clearly," snapped Margaret. "You are beginning to annoy me."
"Oh, I'm good at that," the Doctor agreed, again sounding indecently cheerful. "But, clearly, I'm here to stop you. You see, these clockmen aren't meant to be here." There was a slight pause as he may have gestured at the ancient clock salesman. "Neither's he, I suspect, if he recognised my companion."
"Who are you to decide what is or is not meant to be here?" demanded the Queen. Jack could just catch a glimpse of the back of the Doctor's head as Margaret circled the chair where he was confined. "This is a war. One takes what advantage one can."
"Oh, didn't I say?" Jack could practically hear the smile in his voice. "I'm the Doctor."
The same held true for Margaret, but when Jack caught sight of the smile, he suppressed a shudder. "Then Edward is a greater fool than even I gave him credit for being. That boy never ceases to surprise me."
"Just as it should be." Jack had managed to get far enough down the staircase to see that the Doctor's wrists were shackled.
"To let the man responsible for his victory wander into our hands." Her laugh was surprisingly girlish, and it occurred to Jack to wonder how old she was. "Well. I don't see why we shouldn't take this as a gift. I've heard a great deal about you, Doctor. They say you can destroy entire armies. They call you Merlin."
"I never have known, myself," he said, sounding a lot happier than Jack felt the situation warranted.
"And, of course, the unfortunate man upstairs. I'd heard some very interesting things about him. But that is no matter." She stood behind the Doctor, blocking him from view. "My husband is rightful king of this realm, Doctor. If we have been given a gift, it is only justice. But I think we shall keep you in close quarters, nonetheless." Raising her voice to echo through the stairwell, she added, "He comes with us tomorrow. I don't want him out of my sight."
Jack swore, retreating backwards as quickly as he dared. How was he meant to effect a rescue without so much as a sonic screwdriver for help?
Without realising, he had stepped through a doorway into a room even more richly furnished than the rest of the house, draped in wall-hangings and strewn with clothing and jewels probably worth more than all of his team's pay combined. Near the window, a man was kneeling before what he guessed to be an altar, so deep in concentration that it seemed he hadn't noticed Jack at all.
"Uh, sorry to intrude, but you don't happen to know where the exit is, do you?"
The man did not seem to hear at first, but as Jack made his way toward the window, hoping luck would be on his side for once today, he spoke, the words low and soft. "You're not one of ours, are you? They don't think I understand what's happening, but I do."
"What is happening?" Jack asked, wondering who the man was.
"It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I never meant..." He trailed off with a sigh, turning away from the altar. "She doesn't understand, you see. Why I did what I did--she thinks I betrayed her and our son. But what kind of father gives his son a blighted land?"
"No father at all," Jack said softly. He wasn't completely certain, but he had an inkling this might be the King. What had Ned said his name was? "But...I don't understand. What did you do?"
The King smiled. "You must be the only man in England who does not know. It was the only way. How can any king stand by and watch his subjects slaughter one another? I could not bear it. So I gave it away. To Richard, God rest his soul."
"Richard?" Jack asked, justifiably confused. "I thought his name was Edward." Even as he said it, Jack remembered what Ned had said about his father and brother.
"No. Richard. An ill-luck name, that. But no worse than Henry, I suppose."[xi]
"Your name is what you make it."
"Not always, I fear." The pale blue eyes were alive with pain. "Sometimes the dead cast too many shadows."[xii] Moving quicker than Jack would have anticipated, he flung the drapes aside to reveal darkness beyond the window. "It's not very far to the ground, and there's no moon tonight. Go, quickly. And tell my cousin..." he trailed off. "No. It's no use. Go on. Before they realise you're here."
"How do I get back in?" he asked, failing to continue to meet those eyes. "I have a friend still here."
"Oh, yes. Another sorcerer. Too many of those here--it's unnatural. We won't be here much longer, though. Or they won't be." He turned back to the altar. "They tell me my wife has better luck in battle when I am elsewhere. You should go now."
Something about his demeanour prompted a pang of pity. "Look, can I take you with me, then?"
"Impossible. But I thank you. Now, hurry."
Though he felt loath to do so, Jack clambered onto the sill of the window. He tried, but there was no consolation he could give so, in the end, he just said "Goodbye."
It was nearly dawn by the time Jack caught sight of the army he had left the day before. They had begun, like some sort of massive, sprawling creature, to move northward, and he took advantage of being on his own to sneak across the river at a more innocuous crossing than the large, stone bridge that looked to be heavily guarded on both sides.
He had managed to convince himself that they wouldn't hurt the Doctor. Margaret seemed far too curious about him, for one. As for Bilis... Jack had to bite back several colourful curses. What the hell was he doing here anyway? For a man who could travel effortlessly through time and space, he had definitely chosen a weird point in both.
Finally, after what felt like a hundred years' searching, Jack found a familiar face in the flow. "Hastings," he yelled, waving his arms like a Cardiff girl on a night out, "hey, Hastings!"
"Captain Harkness?" The other disentangled himself from whoever he was talking to and hurried over. "What's happened? Where's the Doctor?"
"Uh, funny story there," Jack said in the tone that said it wasn't. "He's in a castle, I think. In York." Then, shifting his aching and probably very smelly feet ruefully, "I'm definite that he's in York."
"Margaret?" He seemed to be bracing himself for the worst.
"About as rabid as your average wolverine. Is she always that personable?"
"I'm afraid so." Hastings sighed, dropping his forehead into his hands. "Ned will not be happy to hear this. But is he alive, at least? The Doctor?"
"Last I saw," Jack confirmed. He rather hoped the cloak he'd "borrowed" was hiding the bloodstains that had to have ruined his favourite coat.
"Well, thank God for that, then. Even if he is with Margaret." Hastings motioned for him to follow. "If she knows who he is--and I don't see how she couldn't--I doubt she'll kill him. He's far too useful."
"Yeah, she might actually know a whole lot about me, too," he admitted shamefacedly.
"I can't imagine what, aside from your being the Doctor's companion. Although the fact that you're on our side is a damning offence."
Wondering how much to tell, Jack stared at the crowds. "I come from another place. Not just Cardiff," he clarified, hands held out to stop whatever Hastings might say to that, "but another time as well. There was a man with Margaret who recognised me. We...had dealings recently."
Hastings swore under his breath. "There does seem to be a lot of that. Dealings, that is. I'm not certain what you mean by other times, but it's not important." He came to a stop in front of a large tent and studied the two guards, both of whom were looking rather sheepish. "Right, you. Where is he?"
"Indisposed?" the younger ventured, blushing a little.
With an eyeroll that spoke volumes, Hastings pitched his voice to carry into the tent. "Much as I hate to disturb Your Grace, I'm afraid it's important."
"Hey, the more the merrier, right?" Jack grinned, raising his own voice. "I'm sure he won't mind us joining in, will you, Your Grace?"
Ned's reply somehow managed to carry over Hastings' fit of laughter. "I'm afraid you're too late this time, Jack, but I'll keep it in mind.[xiii] Let them in." The guards stepped aside with undignified snorts of their own, and Jack heard their laughter explode in full as they entered the tent.
It was clear from the state of the bedclothes and Ned himself that he had quite literally rolled out of bed. Jack, trying not to drool openly, had a hard time deciding where to look. Whatever jokes he and the would-be king might make, the Doctor was right in his call for discretion. "We--that is, I--have some bad news," he said without preamble.
It was as though shutters had fallen across the younger man's face, wiping away any trace of the laughter that had greeted them. "Where's the Doctor?"
"Alive, then. That's something." Ned sank back onto the bed, cursing under his breath. "And her army?"
"Big," Jack told him, looking him in no longer twinkling eyes. "Bigger than yours, at a guess. And on the move."
"Could you tell if they were...human?" There was a telltale swallow before the last word that belied Ned's apparent calm.
He shook his head. "I saw some humans, but most of them were in full armour." There was a pause as he tried to gather his thoughts. Even without the Doctor, he was pretty good at this sort of thing. "I think it's a safe bet to say there were clockmen there, though. Given who I found Margaret with."
"Someone other than the usual suspects, I assume?" Ned raked dishevelled hair out of his face as he chewed on his lip. Reaching across the bed, he retrieved a shirt, only to freeze halfway through putting it on. "Will?"
His voice had gone very quiet. "Has there been any word about the bridge?"
"Not recently." Hastings crossed to where a decanter and several glasses stood on a table and set to work. "Captain Harkness said they were in York last night. There's no way an entire army can cross nearly thirty miles in a single night and be in any shape to fight in the morning."
"Let's hope so." Ned drank the offered wine in a single gulp before looking at Jack again. "Who was it, Jack? With Margaret?"
"His name is Bilis Manger," Jack said, thinking carefully, "and he comes...well, actually, I'm not sure where he comes from."
Ned mouthed the name, his nose wrinkling slightly. "An odd name. What does he do, this Bilis Manger?"
"Meddles in my life, apparently." The memory of a life he might have had before his team opened the Rift crashed over him, threatening to unsteady his mind. "And has an affinity for clocks."
"Well, if what we fear is true, there are certainly enough of those about," muttered Hastings, as Ned began to pace back and forth, worrying at the laces on his sleeves. "How was Pembroke controlling them, Ned?"
The Duke looked up, as if just remembering they were there. "The Doctor knew. And you must know, Jack. How do we stop these creatures?"
"There'll be something like a ship hidden, but it was the Doctor who tracked it last time. If only I had--" He broke off, not entirely sure of where he was going with the sentence. The accessories of his life in Torchwood, the team he'd come halfway across history to...not avoid, as such, but...delay the moment of meeting?
"Well," Ned finally said, "we don't have the Doctor, much as we might wish it. Is there any other way?"
Jack lunged forward, hand on Ned's forearm, crushing the lace. "Your Grace, just...Just give us--give him--time. He's the Doctor."
"Time?" the young man echoed, laughing weakly. "We haven't got time, Jack."
"Nothing, as such. But if Margaret's army has left York, they'll be here tonight at the very latest. Which means we engage them tomorrow." He looked as if he were about to say more, but stopped at the sound of raised voices outside.
Ned barely paused before snatching up the nearest sword and charging out of the tent. Cursing under his breath and throwing Jack a pleading look, Hastings followed. Jack paused only long enough to grab one of the other swords before joining them.
He emerged into chaos. A cluster of horsemen had just appeared, covered in mud and blood, and a crowd had begun to mill round them. From the corner of his eye, Jack could see an additional horseman, this one in full--and fancy--armour charging forward before flinging himself off his horse and grabbing Ned's arm for balance. Jack noticed in sudden horror that an arrow was sticking out of his leg.
"What in hell is going on?" Somewhat to Jack's surprise, Ned's barked question quietened the crowd a little. "Warwick?"
"The bridge. I don't know how they got there, but they've taken it," the other man said, words muffled by his helmet. "My half-brother Francis...God rest his soul."[xiv]
"Oh, Christ," Ned clasped Warwick's shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
The Earl ripped off his helmet to look Ned in the face. "They're dying for you this morning. I don't know how many. Thousands, maybe." Ned paled visibly but did not look away. "For you, Edward."
He nodded, the strange, jerky movement a far cry from the casual grace Jack had begun to take for granted. "Your horse, Warwick. If you please."
Jack swallowed, desperately aware that this was not a situation in which he could help much. It had suddenly occurred to him how much heavier a medieval sword was than the foils he was accustomed to. The crowd had grown almost exponentially it seemed, with men pouring in from all sides to surround them. Mounting in one movement, Ned somehow managed to extricate himself, charging to the nearest clear patch of ground.
He swung the horse round, holding it steady with his knees. "Gentlemen, do you know who I am?" There was a murmur of response from the crowd, though Jack could not make out any actual words from where he stood. Behind him, Warwick had caught up, limping badly. The wind whipped Ned's hair across his face as he continued. "I would be your king. But that is not the only reason I stand here today. I know what you have sacrificed, what you have lost. Not ten miles from here, they slaughtered my father, my uncle, and my brother, and I swore that I would make them pay dearly for it."
Then, unexpectedly, he added, "You're frightened, I know. So am I."
Warwick cursed under his breath. "Dammit, Ned. Don't say that."
"Men respect a leader who's honest," Jack muttered, glaring.
"Not now, they don't," was the curt reply. "Not like this."
"For though our cause is right and honourable, you know as well as I that Justice--proud virtue that she is--stands with the strong, leaves the weak in misery. It is our swords, gentlemen, that make us honest men. And so have I resolved to win, or to die." He gazed out over the crowd, meeting Jack's eyes briefly before looking back at the men in front of him. "You have all fought bravely. And for that I give you my solemn oath. If any man should wish to depart today, I hereby give him leave. If you would not fight for me, return to your homes, your families. Let him fly that will--" And at that, Ned smiled, brilliantly, heartbreakingly smiled, "--for surely I will tarry with him that will tarry with me. And we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition. And such glory shall they have, to free their country from these late miseries, that Fortune herself shall smile and stop her wheel, and write our names in the book of Fame till the very end of days itself."[xv]
Those last words were drowned in a torrent of cheering, and Jack let out the breath he hadn't realised he was holding. A quick glance in Warwick's direction revealed that the other man was now looking thoughtful. "He's better than I thought."
An arrogant man, in Jack's opinion, and for no reason that he could see. Still, there was no point in picking a fight if they were about to go into battle. Especially when it would undermine Ned. As veteran of more than a few of these moments, Jack thought the would-be King had acquitted himself far better than Warwick seemed to want to give him credit for.
To himself, he murmured, "And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here."[xvi]
Ned was breathless when he reached them, the smile gleaming. "Forget actual fighting. That was bloody terrifying."
"You did well," Warwick said thoughtfully. "That last bit about brotherhood was really quite inspired."
"Wasn't it?" Ned laughed. "It was something I heard the Doctor say. I don't know why, to be honest. Although I think he was talking about Agincourt..."
Of course he had been. Even Jack knew enough to recognise Henry V when he heard it. Possibly now wasn't the best time to mention it, however.
"I need to meet this Doctor."
"Of course you will. Oh, by the way, Jack," Ned added motioning to both of them, "this is my cousin, the Earl of Warwick. Warwick, Captain Jack Harkness. A friend of the Doctor's."
Playing to his strengths, Jack went for charming. "An honour to meet you, Your--"
Oh, crap, he had no idea how to address an Earl. The Doctor was so much better at this than he was.
"--Lordship," he hazarded.
"And you, Captain," Warwick replied with a nod. "Ned, how soon can you be ready?"
"An hour. We'll meet you at Ferrybridge." As Warwick limped off toward his now-abandoned horse, Ned let out his breath in a frosty cloud. "So it begins."
Wishing he could do more, Jack clapped a hand to the rather paler-looking young man's shoulder, gesturing at the men saddling up around them as he did. "That was some speech. If you ever give up battling for kingdoms, you could really make it as a writer. I had a boyfriend who was a writer once. The things that man could do with a quill..."
Ned let out a choked laugh as they made their way back to the tent and its relative warmth. "Father would turn in his grave. Although I seem to remember one of Warwick's men liked to write stories in his spare time. Name of Malory, I think." He turned slightly, so his eyes met Jack's. "I need you to do something for me, Jack."
"Anything," Jack promised without thinking.
"I need you to find the Doctor and get him out of here." Placing his fingers against Jack's mouth to stave off any argument, he pressed on, "If it all goes wrong--and God only knows, it might--I need you to get him back to London. He's promised to take my mother and sister to...somewhere. Burgundy, probably. Someplace safe."
Pity crashed over Jack like a wave at the last words. In very many ways, Ned was a boy who'd had to grow up too fast and God--if there was such a being--knew he could relate to that. "You can rely on me. Can't leave him running around here anyway. That man's a magnet for trouble."
Ned's frame relaxed visibly, probably to the relief of the squire struggling to fasten his armour. "Thank you, Jack. I knew I could trust you." With a quick glance down at the sword Jack was still carrying, he added with an unexpected smile, "And another thing--stay away from the fighting. You've got no armour and you're holding that wrong."
Jack felt his cheeks warm and tried not to look sheepish. "I guess it's not a foil," he conceded. "No palpable hits on the battlefield. Seriously, though, don't get dead. Take it from me, there's nothing more likely to mess with your love life."
"I will try my best," Ned assured him. "If I died, the first thing I'd see would be Edmund telling me he predicted I'd get myself killed before I turned nineteen. I refuse to give him that satisfaction."
Jack had no choice; he simply had to laugh. "Your men'll start giving me the evil eye any second now. And here I thought I was the one cheering you up."
"You are, and you did." Ned hugged him briefly, armour clanking as he did so. "I'll have one of the scouts take you as far as the river crossing. Good luck, and tell the Doctor..." he hesitated for a second, "tell him we'll hold out as long as we can."
In his time, Jack had watched a great many people he cared about leave to risk their lives for one cause or another. It didn't get any easier. As if reading his thoughts, Ned offered him a grin before shoving the helmet down over his head. "Once more unto the breach?"
"Thief!" Jack accused halfheartedly, with a weak attempt at his normal smile. "That's--" Just in time, he remembered and substituted, "--the Doctor's line."
"I thought his was allons-y?" Ned's question echoed oddly inside the helmet. "And, besides, that's not stealing. Borrowing, perhaps. And he's surely got enough to spare."
"You're incorrigible," Jack decided with a vastly exaggerated sigh.
"And you," Ned informed him with a salute, "are lying through your teeth." Before Jack could respond, the would-be King made his way out of the tent to the sound of muffled cheers from outside.
Watching Ned and his army depart was somewhat akin to watching a painting come to life, Jack supposed, fighting the urge to grab a horse and ride out after his painfully heroic lover. Except that paintings couldn't die.
He shook himself; the Doctor needed him and, if he was honest, he was more use to Ned there than in a hack-and-slash battle. Swords were just not his style. Or horses.
[i] The True Tragedy of Edward of York: The third part of Shakespeare's Henry VI first appeared in print in 1595 in an octavo edition titled The true Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, and the death of good King Henry the Sixth.
[ii] Rampaging Northerners: After defeating the Yorkists at Wakefield, the Lancastrian army charged south to free Henry VI and left a sizeable amount of damage behind them, to the extent that the citizens of London refused them entry and even stole food from them before opening their gates to Edward's army coming from Wales.
[iii] The Holy Trinity: One of the anonymous London chronicles gives Edward the following speech -- 'Beethe of good comfort, and dredethe not; thys ys a good sygne, for these iij sonys betokene the Fader, the Sone, and the Holy Gost, and therfore late vs haue a good harte, and in the name of Almyghtye God go we agayns oure enemyes'.
[iv] Duke Philip is fêting the boys: The Duchess sent her two youngest sons, George and Richard, to Burgundy after the Battle of Wakefield, where, according to a number of chroniclers, they were treated extremely well. Their elder sister Margaret married Philip's son, Charles, in 1468, and the Yorkists were strongly allied to the Burgundians until 1475 when Edward shortchanged them for a more profitable alliance with France.
[v] The banner: Edward's royal standard was the rose-en-soleil, and, according to Hall, he chose the sun based on the parhelion at Mortimer's Cross. Also, clock gears look like stylised suns, and Edward was known for being very fond of shiny things.
[vi] Proper uses for leeks: Fluellen is a character from Shakespeare's Henry V who is obsessed with leeks. We don't know why.
[vii] Twice the size of Ned's: It has been estimated that the Lancastrians outnumbered the Yorkists by roughly 10,000. However, the chronicle sources are all extremely sketchy and often exaggerate.
[viii] Humphrey of Gloucester: Henry V's younger brother, he was Lord Protector of England from Henry V's death in 1422 (which left his one-year-old son King of England) until 1447, when he was divested of the Protectorship and died shortly after of undetermined causes. Most sources after 1461 hint that he was murdered by a rival faction.
[ix] Clifford: Lord Clifford, one of the Lancastrian captains whose father died in battle against the Yorkists in 1455, was commanding at Wakefield. Hall's embellished account of the battle includes a dramatic scene where he avenges his father’s death by murdering York's son Edmund, who, for some inexplicable reason, is depicted as being twelve instead of seventeen.
[x] Bilis: Bilis Manger is a minor villain from the first series of Torchwood. We know very little about him, aside from the fact that he can manipulate space and time, and that he's not very fond of Torchwood.
[xi] An ill-luck name: Referring to Henry of Lancaster deposing King Richard II in 1399 and supposedly laying the seeds for the Wars of the Roses. At least if you believe Shakespeare.
[xii] Too many shadows: His father was Henry V. Can you blame the man for having inadequacy issues?
[xiii] I'll keep it in mind: See any and all earlier comments about Edward, Hastings, and women. We really don't make this stuff up.
[xiv] Half-brother Francis: Warwick's half-brother, the Bastard of Salisbury, did die at the Battle of Ferrybridge, but none of the sources give him a name so we had to come up with one.
[xv] The majority of this speech is based on Edward's speech before Towton in Samuel Daniel's Civil Wars, VIII.9-12, which, in turn, is inspired by Caesar in Lucan's Pharsalia. Except when it's Hall's Chronicle, f. 86r or Henry V, IV.iii.60-4. That being said, Daniel stole from Shakespeare first, so the authors are merely following in a long and honoured tradition.
[xvi] Henry V, IV.iii.65-6.
The snow, which Jack vaguely recalled beginning as he arrived in the Yorkist camp that morning, now blanketed the ground, transforming the already bleak landscape into a hazy, endless expanse of white. He doubted they cancelled battles on account of snow. Especially not if clockmen were involved, since they probably didn't even notice. But he couldn't think about that now--what mattered was extricating the Doctor from wherever Bilis and the Queen had left him.
At least that was what had mattered before things began to go inexplicably wrong.
Quite without realising, Jack had stumbled into a battle. There were clockmen all around, and a man--movement-wise, it could have been Ned, but this guy was older and had the wrong colouring--battling them.
Jack couldn't understand what had happened, unless this was some kind of flanking movement meeting a section of Ned's army he'd not previously met up with. It'd make sense, he supposed, to put relations in charge of whatever those groups were called at this time in history.
"Father!" The cry came from somewhere behind Jack, and he whirled at the sound, despite knowing it was physically impossible for Ned to be here and at the bridge at the same time.
The man he had noticed earlier glanced up, and the nearest clockman took advantage of his distraction to thrust one bladed hand into his back. He sank to the ground, blood spattering the snow.
Shocked for no very good reason, it being a battle and all, Jack tried in vain to search for Ned in the press of skirmishing figures. That was when he saw the truly impossible: his brother Gray.
He was kneeling nearby, arms pinioned by two clockmen. At least he could have sworn it was Gray until the young man raised his head and Jack realised he'd never seen him before. But the resemblance to Ned was striking. And that was when he remembered something Gwen had mentioned about Bilis convincing her that Rhys was dead. Temporal hallucinations. He was in the middle of a battle that had already happened.
Before he could make sense of this new observation, the action around him ground to a halt as a group of horsemen fought their way through the wind and snow to where he stood. Lifting the visor on his helmet, their leader looked down at the kneeling young man Jack had mistook before. The smile that prompted was one that made Jack shudder inwardly.
His eyes--eyes that might in other circumstances have piqued Jack's interest--seemed to meet Jack's own as he spoke. He didn't sound very old. "A rat of the House of York if I mistake not. And all know how to deal with such vermin, do they not?"
"For Chrissakes, no!" Jack yelled. "He's only a kid. Don't you people have ransom rules?"
But nobody seemed to hear him, though the prisoner--who Jack suddenly realised had to be Ned's brother--stared straight at him, grey eyes widening in horror. "You can't mean...Clifford, are you mad? What are these creatures? What devil's bargain is this?"
"No devil, but the Lord's work," Clifford said, ugly fanaticism in every word. "Those who rebel 'gainst their anointed King cannot hope to earn His blessing. Though he may make an exception for a lad if he prays."
He lifted his sword, already red with blood, and Jack felt an unheard scream rip his throat apart. The boy was unarmed and down--kneeling. "Pray, rat, pray that you be dispatched in a state of grace."
After a second, in which he drew a deep breath, Ned's brother looked him in the eye and spat, "I'll not pray to a butcher."
"I'll take that name and wear it with pride." The sword flashed down and blood fountained from the boy's unprotected throat. Tears of rage prickled at Jack's eyes, then turned to horror as the body was no longer that of a teenage boy, but Ned himself, broken and bloody.
The sound took some time to come to his attention, but when it did, Jack turned from the gruesome tableau, now completely convinced he was losing his mind. Just beyond the knot of horsemen, in the horizon, was a bright blue light. If he hadn't been stuck in the middle of the fifteenth century, he would have assumed it was a laser pointer. Except that...
Without stopping to think further, Jack lunged forward, chasing the light with all the energy he had left. The sound grew stronger, the unmistakeable whirr of a sonic screwdriver.
When he opened his eyes, trying to decide at what point he'd closed them, he was lying on a most uncomfortable surface at the Doctor's feet. Embarrassed but damned if he was going to show it, Jack quipped, "Usually they tell you not to follow the light."
"They tell you not to play with time, either. I think we've established you're not good at doing what you should."
Stung, Jack shot back, "Hey, I escaped! I was going to rescue...wait, where are we?"
After this many days, the interior of one tent looked much like any other. As for the Doctor, he was shackled hand and foot to a thick post, the sonic screwdriver on the ground in front of him. Jack wondered for a moment how on earth he'd used it, and promptly forced himself to think of something else. That was far too distracting.
"At a guess, somewhere behind the lines of the Battle of Towton. Margaret and her tame monk brought you in some time ago. You're a very hard man to wake up, did anyone ever tell you that?" Almost as soon as Jack had opened his mouth, the Doctor hurriedly went on. "No, on second thoughts, don't answer that."
It must have been a shock for Margaret to see him alive after having shot him the previous day, but Jack supposed she'd dealt with it. Snatching up the screwdriver, he pointed it at the shackles, taking comfort in familiarity and a situation that patently didn't involve hallucinations of dead people.
"They didn't tie me up," he said, apparently playing the role of Captain Obvious. The sonic screwdriver made short work of the shackles and the Doctor got to his feet stiffly, rubbing his wrists.
"No, Jack, they didn't. Try not to take it personally."
Jack glared at him, still holding the screwdriver. "You'd take it personally, too, if you'd just been underestimated by your nemesis."
"But you have already escaped death, Captain," came the unmistakeable voice of the Queen from the doorway behind them. "Surely shackles would be a mere inconvenience?"
"I'm not saying I wouldn't have pulled a Houdini, but there's such a thing as respect," he drawled, turning on one heel so his coat billowed out dramatically.
"We can arrange that," Margaret replied, eyes narrowing. Though she may have spoken further, a small shape thrust past her into the tent and snatched the sonic screwdriver from Jack.
"Un jouet, Maman!" The speaker was a towheaded child of eight years old at most, peering up at Jack through eyes disconcertingly close to his mother's.
"No," the Doctor almost shouted. "Non, Edouard, ce n'est pas un jouet!"
Margaret's eyes met Jack's briefly. As if reading there what Jack had only half-conceived, she lunged forward, groping for the boy's hand. Jack moved quicker, snatching the hand holding the screwdriver and backing out of reach. "This is your son, right?"
The Queen froze, her gaze focused on Edouard. It was Bilis who answered. "What is it you're playing at, Captain?"
"What I have to," he brazened out. "I think the lady's understanding me."
"You will not hurt him." To Margaret's credit, she did not flinch.
"Maman?" Edouard's voice trembled and he dropped the screwdriver. "Je ne le veux pas."
"Doucement, petit," she murmured. Now staring Jack in the face, she spoke very slowly. "I do not believe it."
"Jack!" There was more than a hint of true worry in the Doctor's voice, for which Jack was duly thankful; it could only help him, after all.
"You wanna test me?"
"You cannot think to change anything," Margaret said. "York is surely dead by now."
"Eight hours, Captain," Bilis interjected, the accompanying smile making Jack want nothing more than to strangle him. "That's how long they've been fighting. I'm afraid your little side trip took somewhat longer than you might have anticipated."
Eight hours. He tried not to show how much that had thrown him, glancing across at the Doctor. He didn't help matters, shrugging and muttering something about 'wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey'.
As the boy wriggled and Jack tightened his grip, it hit him. "Maybe N--York's dead, and maybe he ain't. You willing to take a chance on this boy's life?"
For the first time, Bilis looked uneasy. "He's playing you for a fool, Your Highness."
"What difference will it make?" Margaret snapped. "Go, then. Your precieux has no doubt joined his father and brother in Hell by now."
"Your Highness, I must insist--"
"That is enough!" Margaret swept her skirts aside as she stepped away from the doorway. "I do not play games with England's heir."
Jack kept his hold on the boy until the Doctor had preceded him out of the tent and his eyes on Bilis. He didn't think the slippery weasel of a man would try anything with Margaret watching, but he'd proved time and again he wasn't remotely trustworthy.
Ultimately, it wasn't Bilis who turned on them--the moment Jack let go of Edouard's arm and he fled to his mother's side, she raised her arm in an unmistakeable gesture. Catching sight of the guards moving in from three out of four sides, Jack grabbed the Doctor and charged through the one open space, hoping against hope that the wind and the snow would work in their favour.
Much to his relief, they did. The wind whipped the arrows aside, somewhere into the snowdrifts, while Jack and the Doctor stumbled through the knee-deep snow until they came to a cluster of trees that, as far as they could tell, marked the edge of the campsite.
"I hadn't realised Torchwood had sunk to those depths," the Doctor hissed, gripping Jack's wrist with surprising force. "Threatening children?!"
"What?" Jack, fully aware of the despicable nature of his action, glared at the Doctor. OK, so he'd known the guy wouldn't approve, but he could at least have said thank you. "I did what had to be done."
"You're wrong, Jack. It didn't have to be done at all--"
He dropped his eyes, resenting how the Doctor could always make him feel like a schoolboy being told off by the head. Which was half the reason he interrupted. He was a leader in his own right, a man who could make hard decisions. "Yes, it did. In case you didn't notice, Doctor, I just saved our lives."
"The wrong way."
"Who's to say it was so wrong? Nobody got hurt and--"
He broke off when the Doctor spoke over him in his own turn with the quiet authority Jack would have given his eyeteeth to have possessed. "I am."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I said, I am." Unwillingly, Jack felt his spine prickle. "I'm the one to say it's wrong, because it is, Jack. Threatening an innocent--a child--is against everything we should be standing for."
"I had no choice," Jack persisted, wishing the argument didn't feel so weak.
"You always have a choice. That's what being human's about. You had the choice to behave better and you didn't take it."
"Well, what was I supposed to do? I couldn't just let them kill y--us."
The compassion was worse than the anger, and ten times more condescending. "Left it to me if you couldn't think of anything else."
"And what would you have done?"
"I'd have thought of something."
And that was when I hit him, Your Honour. He had enough self-control left not to do that, but he did storm off, barely noticing the cold anymore.
Of course, the unfortunate side effect of having an argument close to where two very large armies were battling each other was that storming off could leave one in an even worse position. Jack could barely tell one side from the other in the whirling snow, and he had to wonder if even they knew who they were fighting. And then there was the smell--muted by the cold to some extent, but rising to his nostrils until he gagged.
He could have turned back, but the still-smouldering anger at the Doctor combined with the memory of Bilis' vision held him in place.
And then, in a moment uncannily reminiscent of that vision, he saw Ned. He shouldn't have been able to recognise him, of course, but the brilliant, careless young king had his visor up.[i]
He was at the head of what Jack felt ninety-nine percent confident of calling a charge. And was likely to get himself killed any moment. Not that he even seemed to notice, urging his horse up and over what Jack recognised in horror as a pile of bodies at least five feet high. Almost in slow motion, the animal slipped, nearly hurling Ned into a forest of Lancastrian pikes.
Jack did not realised he had lunged forward until he ploughed into the nearest pikeman, tackling him to the ground. Through the haze of snow and confusion and blood, he could have sworn Ned called his name. That was when something heavy and sharp slammed into his back and he sank to the ground, pain spiralling out from his spine.
Jack gave a huge gasp as he came back to life, regretting it immediately. His mouth and nose were buried in what felt like a living doormat. A smelly doormat, at that.
With the realisation that it was a horse, he turned his head to see Ned staring at him like he'd just seen a ghost. Which, come to think of it, he kind of had.
By that point, they had reached the copse of trees where Jack had left the Doctor, though the errant Time Lord seemed to have vanished. Jack slid off the horse into a heap on the ground, conscious of Ned's eyes on him as jumped down, ripping off his helmet. His face was bone-white, and Jack opened his mouth, unsure of how to even begin to explain what had just happened.
"Umm, I can explain?" he tried, cursing whatever fate had decreed this should happen now.
"Explain?" The word was a whipcrack. "You were dead."
"It may have looked that way, but--"
"Jack, for God's sake!" The first signs of emotion crept into Ned's voice as he swung one arm toward the battlefield. "Don't you think that I, of all people, would know a dead man when I see one? I've been climbing over them for I can't count how many hours."
Jack sighed, abandoning all thoughts of pretence. "OK, fine, I was dead. I got better."
Ned choked on what might have been a bark of laughter. "That's one I haven't heard before. Men don't generally recover from battleaxes." After a moment's glance at the ground, he sighed and looked back at Jack, dark circles sketched beneath his eyes. "Why were you even there, Jack? I told you to stay away, and with good reason."
"Yeah, well, Margaret happened."
"Margaret happens to the best of us. I meant back there, when you charged into a battle line without a second thought."
"You were in danger," Jack said lamely.
Ned blinked, bright hair whipping across his face, and, completely without warning, he began to laugh in earnest. "Jack Harkness, you are an idiot."
"That's fair." He resisted the urge to kiss the other man; there were larger things at stake than his feelings. "I'm...well, you probably got that I'm not normal. It's hard to fear death when it's not permanent."
"I..." Ned swallowed. "We'll discuss this later. For now, stay back. That's an order." Moving to Jack's side in two quick steps, he kissed him fiercely. "I've been doing this for my entire life. Trust me."
Just as quickly, he snatched up the fallen helmet and hoisted himself back onto the horse in one graceful movement. Tossing Jack a careless salute and a grin, he charged back into the fray and was soon lost to view. The snow, at least, was beginning to die down.
"I actually cannot take you anywhere, can I, Jack Harkness?" Although he knew he should still have been pissed off at the alien with the superiority complex to end all complexes, Jack was too worried about Ned to care. "Next time, at least get a room. Or a tent. Yes, a tent would hide from you from...oh, everyone with a pair of eyes."
Not that it stopped him from being royally embarrassed by the teasing. Looking everywhere but at the Doctor, he found his attention captured by a banner furling out over the opposing army. "Hey, Doctor, what do you make of that?"
Though he looked indecently amused, the Doctor permitted the change of subject with only a raised eyebrow and an "Other than the fact that you're a magpie, you mean?"
"Yeah," Jack said, heavy on the sarcasm, "other than that."
The Doctor shielded his eyes, peering at the admittedly sparkly banner. "Judica me deus discerne meam de gente non sancta.[ii] Something along the lines of: Judge me, O God, discern me from unholy men. Oh, and those are marguerites round the sides. I like that!"
"I'm sure you do, Doctor, but I meant aside from the puns--"
"Come on, Jack, look on the punny side."
Jack stared the Doctor down coldly. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that. Seriously, then, look at the words. Don't you see what I mean?"
He saw it dawn on the Doctor, feeling the rare warmth of getting there ahead of the ultra-clever being. "The text...like the brooch. Jack, we have to seize that banner."
"I never was one for obeying orders," Jack sighed, thinking of Ned's last injunction to him.
"You can say that again."
It didn't take much effort to convince the Doctor they needed a horse. On foot wouldn't have been nearly fast enough, not in the clearing snow. Jack tried not to think about the reason why it was so easy to find an abandoned horse, and instead climbed on behind the Doctor.
As their mount broke into a bonejarring run, Jack became concerned for the safety of his intimate parts. The Doctor in front shielded him from the worst of the weather, although the poleaxe in his right hand was more than a little worrying.
Jack had never seen him handle a weapon before and it looked sharp. Also long. Long enough to be a danger to Jack if wielded wrong.
"Doctor," he hissed, trying to be heard over the din of the battle they were passing, "let me hold onto that thing. You've got enough to do."
There might have been a sigh of disappointment, but the Doctor relinquished the poleaxe. Jack shifted slightly on the saddle, hoisting the weapon into what seemed like the best position. The horse sped up, scattering men-at-arms as they thundered past the borders of the Lancastrian camp. The banner sparkled in the late-afternoon light just ahead of them, even as Margaret's guard fanned out in hopes of stopping them.
An indecipherable cry went up from somewhere on the battlefield, distracting some of the guards. Forcibly keeping his attention on the task at hand, Jack aimed the poleaxe at the banner. They couldn't think about anything else--the element of surprise was all they had.
The soldiers grouped around the banner had seen them now, judging by their disbelieving expressions, although they didn't seem to know what to do.
Then it was upon him and he clutched what he thought was probably the haft of the weapon hard enough it felt as though splinters were being embedded in his skin and tried for a little Knight's Tale technique.
His heart hammered and sweat stung his eyes as his focus narrowed to the wavering blade of the poleaxe. Holding something this long still on a horse that was bouncing up and down was next to impossible he was discovering.
Cloth ripped audibly and the banner tore loose from the lance-like pole, impaled on the spike at the top of his weapon which probably had a fancy name.
The Doctor, seeing their improbable success, hauled on the reins and Jack had to clutch him round the waist--making a mental note to suggest the guy ate more in future, given how easy it was--in order to keep from falling off as the horse virtually stood on its hind legs.
They were suddenly surrounded by men, but not, as Jack would have expected, trying to trap them in place. These men were running past them, stray shouts of 'Norfolk' and 'reinforcements' and 'sorcery' mingling into a cacophony. Jack turned back to the battlefield as he held the flame of his cigarette lighter--a gift from a particularly cute major in the last days of the Blitz--to the edge of the banner.
What he could only describe as a wall of horsemen was thundering across the field, mowing down the frozen clockmen. As the humans behind them realised what was happening, the lines began to break, falling apart with the men turning to flee.
"What have you done?" The voice was unmistakeably Queen Margaret's, hoarse from shouting, and Jack deliberately dropped the burning silk onto the ground, where it hissed and sizzled against the snow. "Guards, hold them! They are traitors to the Crown."
"Actually, I think you'll find we were performing a service to the Crown," the Doctor said cheerfully, making Jack's stomach sink. He doubted she'd have brought her son to a battlefield. "King Edward the Fourth's crown, that is."
"Edward the Fourth!" she spat. "A plague on him! You would turn against your rightful king and his heir for that child, that arrogant, wanton boy--"
"Your Grace!" An armoured horseman drew rein at her side, pushing up his visor to reveal a face Jack did not recognise. "The line is broken. Well-timed reinforcements from the Duke of Norfolk and..." he looked at Jack and the Doctor without really seeing them, "I don't know how it happened, but they've stopped. And the monk is gone."
"Gone?" Margaret echoed, a tremor in her voice. "Where? He was just here a moment ago. He can't have got far. Find him, Somerset!"
"My men are searching, Your Grace," replied Somerset gently, "but I have my doubts."
"Oh, he's gone," Jack put in, a hint of bitterness darkening his voice. "That's his MO."
"And why should we believe you--?"
"My Lady, we can't stay here!" Somerset interjected, grabbing her arm tightly. "No quarter, remember? They must not find you."
Margaret stared long and hard at Jack and the Doctor, her mouth twisted and her eyes bright with tears. "You will regret this. All of you, Edward of York most of all. It will not end, not while I draw breath." Spurring her horse, she charged past them, Somerset and her guard in her wake.
"It does," was all the Doctor had to say to that.
Baffled, Jack asked, "Does what?"
"Ends while she draws breath. After Tewkesbury when her son dies, she's never quite the same.[iii] Breaks her heart and her spirit." He paused thoughtfully, before adding, "Shame, in a way."
Not wanting to contemplate that, Jack turned back to the snow-covered battlefield and gave up pretending he wasn't searching for one specific person. As if that had conjured him up, he caught sight of the now all-too-familiar grey and white horse, limping toward what he hadn't realised was a small creek cutting across the battlefield. Ned had abandoned his helmet altogether--Jack resolved to point out later how bad an idea that was--and was shouting orders they could not hear from the distance, until he saw them. At which sight, he gave them a smile that Jack was unashamed to admit made his insides twist a little.
"What?" Jack demanded, all innocence.
He'd lost count of the number of times he'd been on the receiving end of the expression the Doctor turned on him throughout the trip. "You know what. True Tragedy, Jack."
"But I've never done it on a battlefield," he countered, just to see the look on the Doctor's face.
He did not disappoint; Jack had to lean precariously back to avoid the swipe the Doctor aimed at him, and the accompanying glare could have rivalled Margaret.
"Oh, come on. How was I supposed to resist that?"
Muttering something under his breath about oversexed Torchwood operatives, the Doctor urged their horse back toward the knot of Yorkist commanders, and Jack, for what felt like the first time in three days, let himself relax.
Lying in a massive wooden tub filled with hot water and what smelled like rosemary, Jack was mostly convinced that he had in fact died and gone to heaven. A suspicion he considered confirming when he heard Ned's voice from somewhere behind him.
"Don't fall asleep. You'll catch a chill." After a moment's pause, he added, "Although I suppose that's not the sort of thing you worry about."
"I worry about chills. I look like hell with a runny nose." So they were about to have the 'you don't die' conversation. Well, at least he'd be comfortable while they had it.
Ned laughed as he sprawled onto the nearby bed, a sheaf of papers in his hand. Looking back up, he asked without preamble, "Are you human, Jack?"
Jack rose to his feet, displaying his rather impressive body to its fullest. "What do you think?"
"Well, you certainly look it," Ned allowed with a brief smile. "I ask the question in all seriousness, Jack. I've accepted a great many things over the past few weeks, some of which..." he looked down at the papers in front of him. "People can't come back from the dead. It doesn't happen."
Jack shrugged. "Most people don't. I wasn't meant to, but there was this Time Vortex and a girl and...well, I can't die now. Or, I can, but I don't stay dead."
Ned was studying him now, an indecipherable expression on his face. "An ability most of the men I know could only dream of having."
"It's not all it's cracked up to be. Really." Focusing inwards, he saw the darkness behind his eyes. Black emptiness he knew as intimately as he now knew the young man in front of him. "I still feel pain."
"I thought as much," Ned replied softly. "For my part, I would not want it."
"Sensible lad." Shivering, he immersed himself in the wonderful-smelling water once again. "I guess there are perks to being the king."
"Oh, you've barely seen them," Ned rested his chin on his hands, eyes sparkling with laughter. "When we're back in London, God only knows what Warwick's planned, but it will be spectacular. I saw him talking to the Doctor earlier." He shook his head, smiling. "A volatile combination if ever there was one."
It should probably scare me, but I'm far too relaxed." He sat up, chin on the edge of the tub, making puppydog eyes at Ned. "Though I do need someone to scrub my back."
"And you're asking the King of England?" Ned was obviously fighting to keep a straight face as he heaved himself out of the bed with an exaggerated groan. "Presumptuous."
"My middle name. If you're very good, I might scrub yours in return."
Now choking on his laughter, Ned leant over to look at him and picked up the abandoned washcloth hanging over the side of the tub. "How long this time, Jack? Before you and the Doctor disappear again?"
"I don't know," Jack told him honestly. "Once we can be sure all the clockmen are gone, I guess."
"Well, you'll need to stay until we return to London, surely. That strange blue box is still there." Deftly managing to keep his sleeves out of the water, he rested his elbows on the side of the tub. "Would you consider staying? He won't--I already asked him. Offered him nothing less than Somerset's dukedom, but he wouldn't have it. But I suppose Merlin doesn't care for worldly things."
"I..." Jack stopped, unsure of what to say, or even what he wanted. He had a certain responsibility to his team, sure, but he didn't for one second doubt that they were perfectly capable of carrying on without him. And he couldn't deny that the idea of staying with Ned held a certain appeal. "What would Hastings say?" he settled on, stalling for time.
"Hastings..." Ned pondered, lips pursing, "would insist on at least one if not two bottles of wine to help him think, a girl to jog his memory afterward, and possibly end up tossing a coin."
Jack tried to hide his laughter but failed extravagantly. "A man after my own heart, then."
"Mine too, as it happens. And take all the time you need. There's no hurry."
"I meant, really, what would Hastings say to my staying," Jack said quietly.
"Will?" Ned blinked, visibly puzzled. "What has that to do with anything? He likes you well enough. I am the king, my word is law, I wish you to stay, ergo, you shall stay. If you like, that is."
Jack could think of nothing to say that, so kissed the young king instead. It gave him something of a thrill, if he was honest, kissing a king.
It shouldn't have surprised him that Ned fell into a deep sleep in short order, but the entire day had taken on a surreal quality, to the point where Jack had almost forgotten the younger man had spent ten hours in the middle of a bloodbath. He was literally covered in bruises, with a bandage laced tightly around one of his arms, though he laughed it off uneasily, pointing out that he'd got off lightly.
A quick glance at the papers he'd been reading revealed a casualty list of sorts. Though Jack could barely decipher the tiny, spidery writing, the length was frankly terrifying.[iv] No wonder Ned had been in a strange mood.
Jack emerged from the room, having managed to pull on the clothing left for him without too much trouble. As he stepped out onto the open stairwell, it occurred to him that he had no idea what time it was and that his watch was...somewhere. With the rest of his now absolutely filthy clothing, including the coat he was still determined to save.
Whatever time it was, the room below, which had been full to bursting when they first arrived at the inn, was more or less empty. Lounging on a pillow-covered chair in front of the fire was none other than William Hastings.
"Man of the hour," he saluted him, with a slight exaggeration.
"I was about to say the same for you," Hastings replied, raising his glass. "You and the Doctor. If you're looking for him, he's off with Warwick and Montagu, no doubt causing a great deal of trouble."
"Actually, I was looking for you." Finding himself badly in need of courage of the Dutch variety, Jack poured himself a generous glass of wine.
"For me?" Hastings laughed, taking a large sip from his own glass and holding it out for a refill. "Where's Ned? He mentioned something about fishing you out of a bath before you drowned yourself, but I can't remember how long ago that was."
"Asleep. I guess he needed it after that battle." Jack took a large swig, resolving just to say it outright. "He asked me to stay."
"I should have warned you that he steals people's beds," Hastings observed wryly. "The perils of royal friendship." Turning back to Jack, he shrugged. "He asked you to stay at court? I can't blame him. He wants men he can trust--men without agendas of their own--and they're not easy to find."
"I guess not. Everyone's playing an angle when you're King."
"Unfortunately, yes. Especially with a young king. But Ned is not Henry of Lancaster. He's got a mind of his own, although there are some who don't believe it." He shifted upright. "Sit down, please. You must be exhausted. Chasing the Doctor around Yorkshire is no easy task."
"No," Jack agreed, flinging himself down opposite Hastings. "It really isn't. Not that hacking away with a sword for ten hours can be precisely easy."
"Ten hours..." Hastings let out a bark of laughter. "No, I'm so tired I can't even sleep. It's what this," he gestured to the wineglass, "is for. I envy Ned. Sleeps like a cat."
"You care for him a lot, don't you?" Jack said, broaching the subject with as much subtlety as he could manage.
"As you care for the Doctor," Hastings replied, looking him in the eye. "Quia ventum seminabunt et turbinem metent, one might say.[v] Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. Out of context, but you understand."
"They're wild rides, for sure. But I don't think Ned leaves people behind the way the Doctor does."
"Merlin was known for that," the other said softly. "Arthur, however, was not. Indeed, if I remember properly, he was left behind in the end."
"He was," Jack agreed softly. "Would it...I mean..." God, how to say this? "Would you have a problem with me staying? I mean, I don't want to step on your toes."
"You're more likely to step on Warwick's than mine. And even he won't presume to tell Ned what to do. Well," he added, sotto voce, "no more than he already does, I suppose."
"He's not sleeping with him, too, is he?" Jack questioned, a little tongue in cheek.
Hastings nearly choked on the wine he had just swallowed. "Warwick? Lord, I hope not. His wife would kill him."
"You might be surprised," Jack grinned. "I've known a couple of very accommodating wives."
"Not Anne Beauchamp. Besides, Warwick insists upon carting his own household everywhere he goes. Whoever sleeps with him, he keeps to himself."
Jack raised his eyebrows. "And you and the King?"
"You can't be serious," Hastings said with a chuckle. "All other things aside, it's a mortal sin."
"But it feels awfully nice."
"You're an odd man, Jack Harkness. I hadn't realised Cardiff was that strange."
"Kinda not from Cardiff," he admitted. "I work out of there but...it's hard to explain."
"Obviously a very different place," Hastings observed. "Be careful here. When kings have favourites, there are always rumours. And favourites have a tendency to end up dead if they're not vigilant."
Jack couldn't keep from grinning. "Not a problem, I assure you."
Hastings shrugged. "Just a warning." Rising to his feet, he stretched extravagantly. "Do you need a bed? Seeing as Ned's stolen yours."
"Are you sure? I mean, after what you just said."
"Unless you plan to take advantage of me, which seems highly unlikely. I'm far too tired at any rate."
"Hey, play your cards right," Jack winked.
Hastings laughed. "Flattering as the offer is, I think I've had my share of exertion for one day." He made his way slowly toward the stairs. "Ten hours. God have mercy." Glancing back over his shoulder, he called, "Well? Are you coming or not?"
Mentally shrugging, Jack followed him. "Not like I'm getting a better offer."
"Well, for what it's worth, I doubt Ned would notice or care."
"I'm not trying to make him jealous," Jack protested.
"What?" Hastings grinned. "I didn't mean that. I meant that if you sneak back into your room, Ned wouldn't notice. Mind in the gutter, Captain?"
"Always. But, hey, I'm looking at the stars," Jack quipped, despite knowing Hastings wouldn't get it.
Hastings shook his head with a rueful smile. "A very odd man."
Jack still hadn't formed an opinion of the Earl of Warwick, but he had to admit the man knew how to throw a party. An extended party that lasted the length of the journey from York to London, even. The fact that he'd managed to distract the Doctor from the fact that he was half a country away from the TARDIS was a miracle in itself. As for Jack, he was still mulling over Ned's offer, the inconclusive conversation with Hastings having been completely unhelpful.
As they entered London, Jack was reminded of 1945 with an unexpected pang. Smellier streets, flowers instead of ticker tape, but the sentiments were the same.
It was also somewhat surreal, riding in the entourage of a king to an honest to God palace. They hadn't really been there long enough to get used to it before. Plus there'd been the small matter of an army of clockmen waiting to annihilate them all. Amazing how that could distract you.
Damn, it was impressive. Made of pale stone, it almost glittered in the surprisingly strong sunlight. You'd never believe there had been a snowstorm the day of the battle. Until you looked at the men, of course. The legacy of Towton was there in their eyes, a look he recognised from veterans of numerous battles.
If Ned was haunted by the thousands of dead men who paved his way to the crown, it didn't show. Clad in polished plate armour, laughing with Hastings and Warwick, and flirting shamelessly with girls in the crowd, he looked like a king without a care in the world. As the procession clattered into the main courtyard of Westminster Palace, Ned--to Warwick's visible annoyance and Jack's amusement--threw off all remaining semblance of ceremony to greet his mother and a blonde lady Jack assumed was his younger sister.
Catching her eye over Ned's shoulder, Jack gave his best smile. She had a look of her brother about her, he decided. Her eyes widened a little, but she returned the smile with a dazzling one of her own, one that prompted the Doctor to swat Jack on the shoulder for no reason whatsoever. Before Jack could respond, however, two small shapes darted out from a nearby doorway and threw themselves at Ned, knocking him off-balance.
"Are you really King now?" the elder of the two boys demanded--Jack guessed him to be twelve at the oldest.
"Yes, George," Ned replied with a grin, ruffling the boy's blond hair. "Which means you shouldn't be trying to knock me over in public."
Beside Jack, the Doctor had gone very still, his gaze fixed on the younger of the boys, a dark-haired contrast to the rest of his family, with grey eyes that looked to fill half his face. He was clinging fiercely to Ned's cloak and staring up at him with a smile that needed no translation.
The Doctor, surprising and squicking Jack in almost equal measure, dropped to his knees in the none too clean yard in front of the littler boy. "Richard, isn't it?"
The boy hid behind Ned, who laughed and knelt down. "Yes, this is Richard. I'm afraid he doesn't say much, but I assure you he sees everything. Don't you, little man?"
Richard's face went pink, but he continued to study the Doctor with a perplexed frown. "Are you the Doctor? Ned wrote to us about you."
"I am," the Doctor agreed. "Would you like to see my TARDIS?"
"What's a TARDIS? Is it a dragon? Ned said you were Merlin in disguise." All this spilled out of Richard's mouth far quicker than it should have done.
"Easy, lad," Ned cautioned. "Later, I think. Once they've cleared the courtyard. Then you can spend as much time with him as you like."
"Really?" He glanced back toward their mother, who gave an indulgent nod. Turning to the Doctor, he grinned widely, showing a gap in his bottom teeth. "Yes, I would like that very much, Sir Doctor."
"I'm not a Sir," the Doctor said, showing his own teeth in a huge grin. "Just Doctor is fine."
"What about me?" the older boy--George, was it?--asked, a decided whine in his voice. "Can I go too?"
"I'm not sure it would interest you, George, but I don't see why not. Although, you should greet our cousin of Warwick." With that, Ned rose to his feet and the Duchess of York chivvied the two boys inside. As Warwick came up to them, Ned forestalled him, "Don't say anything."
"I wasn't planning to say anything," the Earl said with a shrug. "Doctor, shall we?"
"After you," the Doctor said courteously. Jack fell in behind the group, shoulder to shoulder with Ned's sister.
"You must be Captain Harkness," she replied, holding out her hand. She was Jack's height, which came as a surprise, though her shoulders were hunched as if trying to hide it.[vi] Close up, she looked younger--he guessed fourteen or fifteen. "I'm Ma--" she paused to correct herself, shooting a covert glance at her mother as she did so, "Lady Margaret Plantagenet."
"Lady Margaret," he echoed, taking her hand to kiss it in Warwick's manner. "I've heard so much about you."
"I shudder to think what Ned's told you, then," Margaret laughed. "I suppose I should call him His Grace now, shouldn't I? It's all happened so very fast."
"Being sister to the King can't be all bad, though. After all, you get to meet interesting guys like me."
She raised one hand to her mouth to stifle her giggles. "You're as bad as Ned! But you could tell me--is the Doctor really Merlin in disguise, or was that just a story to distract Dickon?"
"It's...kinda hard to say," he said eventually. "Things don't happen to the Doctor in quite the same order as they do to us."
Margaret pondered the words as they entered the hall, the first part of the palace Jack could recognise from a tour of the Houses of Parliament what seemed like a lifetime ago. Following his gaze, Ned's sister remarked, "Richard II used to hold marvellous banquets here. I hope Ned will too. Do you dance, Captain?"
"I don't get the chance as much as I'd like," he said, an inexplicable lump in his throat. "Are you offering?"
"Not now, but maybe later, if you ask nicely." Bobbing a slight curtsey, she hurried off after her mother, leaving Jack to feel one of the Doctor's Looks boring into the back of his skull.
He turned around, bracing himself for the Talk. He'd been expecting it the entirety of the journey if he was honest, so to have it would be something of a relief. "Wonderful girl, isn't she, Doctor?"
"And fourteen." The Doctor had folded his arms and rearranged his features into his most disapproving expression.
Before he could open his mouth, Jack stepped in to defend himself. "I wasn't gonna marry her--"
"Not at issue, Jack. She's the sister of the King and you're a commoner. Even Gaveston only got the Earl of Gloucester's sister and that ended in a deposition."[vii] He stopped, shaking his head. "Poor Edward. Founded Oriel College, but talk about father issues."
"No, Edward II, of course. Your Edward's far too self-possessed for that." He was actually almost smiling now. "Of course, he's still not going to marry his sister to a commoner, however good said commoner happens to be in bed."
Jack, rather at sea, kept hold of the one fact he felt sure of. "I said I wasn't gonna marry her. Wha--"
The Doctor ran his hand through his hair, making it stick up even worse. He was back to glaring now. "That girl isn't just a girl, Jack--"
"You're telling me!" He decided to risk a low whistle, but regretted it immediately.
"Listen to me, you oversexed excuse for a man," the Doctor hissed, gripping his elbow hard enough to hurt, "she's a royal bargaining chip now. She's going to make a marriage advantageous to the throne and to do that she has to be a virgin."
"So what does she get out of it?"
In the ultimate Kodak moment, the Doctor simply gawped at him, struck dumb. Then, recovering his wits enough to speak, said, "Nothing, really."
"Bit unfair on her, isn't it?"
"Jack, she's a woman in the fifteenth century. Of course it's unfair."
"No buts. No ifs." He heaved one of the sighs Rose had called disappointed dad's and closed his eyes briefly. "At least we'll be leaving soon. Even you can't do much harm between now and tomorrow."
OK, he had to tell him. It was now or--well, anytime until tomorrow actually, but never sounded better. A lot better, in fact.
Forcing himself to get a grip, Jack's wandering eyes found Ned's. The other man, though deep in talk with his mother, gave him a smile almost as dazzling as Jack's own. Trying for casual, he said, "Actually, Ned asked me to stay. So I--"
"Said no, I hope."
Jack looked around the richly furnished hall, eyes lingering on the family group, with Warwick watching, slightly apart. So they didn't have electricity or proper transport and the less said about the privies the better, but...
He didn't want to, but he wasn't above begging. "Why shouldn't I, Doctor? Nobody's going to complain if Ned pals around with a hero of Towton, are they?"
Apparently even the Doctor couldn't argue with that. Instead he asked softly, "And your team?"
"They're a good team; they'll be fine."
"Are you sure? Or is that just to make yourself feel better about running away?"
It was a low blow, and Jack tried not to bristle as he answered. "Of course I'm sure. Gwen, Tosh, Owen, Ianto--they're the best."
Though the Doctor said nothing, the look in his eyes was enough to have shamed Jack--if he'd had any, that was. "Really. It's what I've trained them for. They don't need me."
"They burn people for witchcraft in these times, you know." He sounded conversational. Jack didn't trust him when he was in this mood.
"Jack!" His voice was rough with exasperation. "You can't die! Somebody is--"
"Brilliant! Now how about the other two and a half million people? Well, minus the one percent that just died in that battle."
To which Jack could think of absolutely nothing to say. The compassion in the Doctor's eyes was almost beyond bearing. "You can't stay, Jack. You know that really. You have a responsibility."
"To the goddamn human race?" Jack snarled. "Is this the part where you give the rousing speech and I come over all heroic?"
"No." So quietly, he was almost whispering, the Doctor said, "This is where I tell you that your responsibility is not to the human race or me or even your team, but to yourself. You owe it to yourself to be better. If you stay stuck here with no way back--turn your back on everything you're trying to build--you'll start to hate yourself. You'll start to hate Ned. He doesn't deserve that, Jack."
Whatever Jack could have said to that--and, if he were honest, he had no idea--remained a mystery as a childish treble piped up from next to them. "Doctor, will you show me the Tardis-dragon now?"
The Doctor was suddenly wreathed in smiles. "Of course, Richard. You might be disappointed if someone's been telling you about dragons, though."
"Oh. I thought Merlin was supposed to talk to dragons." He scuffed the floor with one shoe. "What is it, then?"
"Why don't I let it surprise you?"
A sudden, guarded look came across Richard's face. "I don't like surprises."
"You don't?" The Doctor looked--well, surprised. "Me, I love surprises. The stuff of life."
"I used to like them," Richard admitted. "Not anymore. There was a surprise at Wakefield and Papa and Edmund never came back and Maman sent us to Burgundy even though I didn't want to go."
The Doctor sighed, placing one hand on the boy's thin shoulder. "She only wanted the best for you, you know."
"I know. And Bruges was very nice. But we shouldn't have left Ned. At least I don't think so." Taking a deep breath, he looked back up at the Doctor. "It might be a nice surprise, I suppose."
Jack found himself staring after them as they left the hall, completely at a loss. To the point where the hand on his shoulder caused him to nearly jump out of his skin.
"Captain?" It was the Duchess of York, looking singularly unruffled as she glanced at the doorway. "I see my son has captured the Doctor. He's very indulgent."
Jack swallowed, more than a little taken aback. "I guess so. He...likes kids, I think."
"It will be good for Richard." A strange tightness had entered her voice. "He understands more than one might wish." Then, breaking the spell, she started toward the door. "Oh, Edward wished me to tell you he's gone up to the battlements." Before Jack could ask for the inevitable directions, she smiled faintly and added, "That door, all the way up the stairs."
"Thanks," he said, over his shoulder, barely pausing to give civility its due. This was going to be hard enough without waiting on it.
The battlements, once he found them, provided a breathtaking view of the Thames, filled with boats and completely lacking bridges. Jack couldn't help but stare for a few moments, trying to reconcile the unfamiliar image with the London he knew. Ned seemed equally deep in thought, gazing eastward across the fields to the rest of the city.
"I should have warned the Doctor about Richard," Ned said with an indulgent smile. "Once he latches onto an idea, he never lets go."
"Well, the Doctor rarely lights on one idea for more than a few seconds at a time," Jack said, half-smiling, "so that should be interesting."
"Was something wrong earlier? It seemed as if you both were arguing."
Jack stared out at the river again, feeling his cheeks burn. "I guess we kind of were."
"Nothing too serious, I hope?"
Now it came to it, Jack found he could hardly speak through the obstruction in his throat. "Yes, actually."
"Well, then," Ned leant back against the stones, "out with it."
Jack tried to start at least four times, but words really weren't his forte. In the end, he just walked over to Ned, stared into his eyes for an endless moment and kissed him with bruising force.
If this shocked the King, it was difficult to tell. Drawing away from Jack slightly, he studied him with a slight frown. "You're not staying, are you?"
There were tears in Jack's eyes now, however much he might have wished otherwise. His world seemed made of goodbyes recently. "I'd like to. More than you'll ever know."
Ned gave him a rueful smile. "I believe you. But you've left someone behind?"
"My team," he confirmed. "I kinda have responsibilities."
"I thought as much," Ned sighed. "I can understand that, for certain."
"Of course you do," Jack whispered, past the lump in his throat which seemed to have swelled to the size of a golf ball. "King."
"Yes." Ned took a deep breath, turning to look at the river. "I barely know what I'm doing, Jack. On the field, in battle, everything makes sense. But there's so much more to being a king than that, as Warwick keeps reminding me. Too much more, I sometimes think."
The obstruction in his throat seemed to melt away and he put one hand to the rather stubbly cheek. "Ned, you'll do fine. You're a great man. And, believe me, I've known a few."
"Biblically, I suspect," Ned said with a grin.
"I am a biblical scholar."
"And a fine one you make, sir," the King managed between explosions of laughter.
"See, that's better," Jack said with a surprisingly unforced smile. "Laughing is good."
"Take your own advice, then, Jack," Ned remarked, one hand hovering at Jack's chin. "I'll hold you to it."
At which Jack couldn't help but laugh. "Deal, then? I'll laugh and you'll laugh and we'll always have London?"
"Just don't forget," advised Ned in a voice that did nothing for Jack's self-control. "I'd be very hurt."
"Never," Jack promised, taking his hand.
"Good. It's a royal command."
"You're getting good at those."
"I don't think I have a choice," he admitted. "Everyone expects me to give them."
Jack bent his head to kiss Ned's hand. "You're going to do great, Your Grace.
"As are you," Ned said. "Remember that."
"To great memories, then."
And that, as they said, was that. It hurt less than Jack had expected, and he couldn't help but wonder if Ned had planned it that way. The young King seemed to thrive on the entire world underestimating him, a ploy with which Jack was intimately familiar. And it had certainly worked for him all these years, so he saw no reason why it wouldn't work for Ned.
Jack never had been one for sulking, but the Doctor could occasionally be perceptive. They'd barely been crashing around on the craft the alien claimed to be able to drive when he looked over at Jack and said, "You made the right choice."
"I only wish it felt that way."
"It will," the Doctor assured him. "Give it time."
"I guess that's something I have plenty of," Jack agreed with something he meant to be a laugh.
The Doctor studied him for a very long time. "Yes, that you do." But before he could say more, the TARDIS jerked violently, throwing Jack against the wall. The Doctor scrabbled frantically for the controls, muttering under his breath as the ship finally shuddered to a halt. "Well," he finally said, "that was strange."
"Not to mention painful," Jack muttered, rubbing his shoulder. "When are we, do you think?"
"I'm not sure..." The Doctor peered at the several screens, brow furrowing. "Something called the TARDIS, which narrows down the options a bit. Not just anything can do that. But which one was it? Well," he all but skipped to the door, "only one way to find out!"
Despite his misgivings, Jack followed him through the door into a massive, darkened room. Moonlight filtered in from windows set high in the walls, but Jack could barely make out anything. At the sudden noise from somewhere in the darkness, they both swung round, Jack once again regretting having left his gun in the TARDIS.
"So you did come, Doctor. I didn't think my mother's wits had wandered, but it was a bit difficult to believe."
Jack, startled by the familiar-sounding voice, was ashamed to admit that he jumped, his elbow colliding painfully with the TARDIS. "Ned?!"
"Captain, you cannot imagine how much I wish I were." With a humourless laugh, he stepped into the light, a man shorter than Ned with dark hair and dark circles beneath his eyes. "My brother died some three months ago, though it seems a lifetime."
"Richard of Gloucester," the Doctor's voice rang out loud and harsh, "or should I say Your Majesty?"
He flinched visibly. "I had no choice, Doctor. If you are as I remember, you will already know why."
"There's always a choice," Jack said without thinking.
"Is there?" Richard all but spat. "Vae tibi terra cuius rex est puer.[viii] They always say that--woe unto the land when the king is a child."
"I've always wondered why you did it," the Doctor said, his tone deceptively lazy. "Your record was impeccable. The loyal younger brother, always doing as he was told. Then, out of the blue, away with the nephews and now you're king."
"It was too dangerous. Another three, four years at the most, and the boy would have found a way to kill me," he protested, though he did not meet the Doctor's eyes. "What else would you have had me do, Doctor?"
Before the Doctor could answer, Jack butted in. "He was a kid. You're not telling me you couldn't have influenced him."
Richard laughed again, harshly. "Not Edward. They'd had him too long, his mother's family. Poisoned him against me. Ned should never have married that woman."[ix]
Jack barely restrained himself from giving a violent snort. "That's right! Blame the woman."
"With all due respect, Captain, you haven't met her." Turning back to the Doctor, Richard took a deep breath. "Do you know why I asked you here, Doctor?"
"I think I have a hunch. You don't, incidentally.[x] I should let Will know, although I can't promise that'll change anything." The Doctor stepped forward, hands in his pockets, and Jack realised he was grinning like a lunatic. "The princes."
"I'm not sure why that makes you so happy, but, yes," Richard said, looking decidedly cautious. "Ned told me what he'd asked you to do before Towton. I'm asking you to do the same for my nephews."
"You won't be able to tell anyone," the Doctor told him, solemn again. "You do know that. And you know what your enemies will say."
"What they say matters not. Nobody with any sense would believe them."
Jack stared at Ned's brother. It was unsettling to think of him as the rather sweet little boy who had thought the TARDIS was a dragon.
It had suddenly occurred to him that the nephews they were talking about must be the Princes in the Tower who had disappeared so mysteriously.
"I'm not a man of stone, Doctor. I have no desire for the boys to spend their lives being tossed from one conspiracy to another. My brother trusted you with our lives; I am trusting you with those of his sons."
"It didn't have to be this way," the Doctor said, still stony. "Of course, I'm going to say yes. You knew that before you summoned me."
"No, perhaps it didn't," Richard acknowledged, "but I can't change that now. It's gone too far already. Hastings--" he cut himself off, pain flashing across his face, "--Hastings made certain of that."
"Hastings?" Jack blurted out. "What did he do?"
"Betrayed me.[xi] They played on his loyalty to Ned--of that I have no doubt--but he knew better. And, before you ask," he added, looking directly at the Doctor, "I do not regret it. I regret the means, the circumstance, but not the act itself. To have done otherwise would have been too dangerous."
"Dangerous," the Doctor echoed. "Tell me, is it any less dangerous to be a usurping king?"
"Doctor, I was with Ned when he was banished from his own kingdom.[xii] I of all people know how dangerous it is to be a usurping king." His voice was implacable. "I did what had to be done."
"Let that be your epitaph, then," the Doctor told him, equally implacable.
Richard flinched, but held the Doctor's gaze. "I can take that risk. Now, come. I'll take you to the boys." He vanished into the darkness for a few moments before revealing a doorway to a torchlit corridor. "We haven't much time."
"You'd be surprised," Jack muttered as they followed him, earning a half-smile from the Doctor.
When they emerged into the night, Jack realised they were in the Tower of London. Richard walked briskly across the courtyard, torch in hand, and unlocked a small, thick door set in the wall of one of the many indistinguishable towers. Once inside, he handed the torch to Jack. "Can you make your way back alone?" At the Doctor's nod, he stepped aside. "I suggest you not mention me. I have given them no reason to trust me."
Jack, who was finding it less and less difficult to dislike the man Richard, said without bothering to lower his voice, "You can say that again."
Richard smiled unexpectedly--the expression so like Ned's that Jack's heart lurched--and placed something in the Doctor's hand before stepping out into the night. The Doctor looked down at what Jack realised was a mobile telephone, and slipped it into his pocket. "I gave my word to a lady," was all he vouchsafed in response to Jack's unasked question.
They made their way up the stairs, where a door stood unlocked. The Doctor knocked before pushing it open, and they found themselves facing a towheaded boy, ten or eleven at the oldest, who was settled on a window seat with a book. Wide-eyed, he took in the Doctor, before asking in a breathless whisper, "You're the Doctor, aren't you? Papa told me all about you. He said you had funny hair."
Sounding ever so slightly hurt, the Doctor said, "The word is great. Great hair."
"That was only ever Rose," Jack advised, trying to stifle his laughter without much success.
"And you're Captain Harkness!" The boy scrambled down from the window seat. "I've heard about you too. Papa said you were just like Sir Gawain. Are you here to rescue us? Ned will be happy to hear that, but only if you're going to make him King again."
Jack looked across at the Doctor in mild confusion, hissing, "Remind me, which one was Gawain?"
"The one who slept with any and every damsel he could find."
"He was one of the greatest of Arthur's knights," Ned's son protested, frowning at the Doctor. "You should know that. He told me you were Merlin in disguise."
The Doctor rolled his eyes at Jack but smiled at the boy. "You must be Richard. Named after your uncle?"
"Yes." He shuffled his feet. "Ned hates him. Mama does too. I didn't hate him when Papa was alive, but he was nicer then." His eyes, Jack noticed with a shiver, were the same clear blue as his father's. "Are you here to rescue us, Doctor?"
"We are," the Doctor replied. "You should wake your brother." Richard dashed off through a door on the far side of the room. Watching him, the Doctor murmured, "I'm not surprised you thought he was nicer then."
"He didn't exactly mellow with age, did he?" Jack murmured. The room wasn't exactly dungeon-like--actually, it was surprisingly nice--but, even so...He couldn't get it out of his head that it was a prison. For the guy's own nephews. Ned's sons.
Richard came back into the room, carrying a small bag, into which he thrust his book and a small stuffed animal Jack couldn't identify. Behind him, an older boy entered, peering at the Doctor and Jack through suspicious, slanted grey eyes--beautiful and cold came to Jack's mind at the same time. Despite his colouring, he didn't resemble his father at all, and Jack nearly whistled under his breath when it occurred to him what Ned's wife must look like.
"Do you come from my mother, sirs?" he asked, a slight tremble in his voice. Jack suddenly felt overwhelming pity for another child who had to grow up far too fast.
The Doctor looked at him, that horrible compassion in his eyes that Jack knew all too well. "We were friends of your father's, Edward. From a long time ago."
The boy smiled faintly. "Richard says you're the Doctor. I don't believe in fairy tales, sir. Please tell me--what do you want with us?"
"I'm here to take you both away from London. We--the Captain and I--have been charged with your safety. But we haven't very much time at all, so you'll need to hurry."
Edward was visibly struggling to keep his composure. "How do I know you don't come from my uncle to murder us?"
"You don't, Edward. You need to decide whether or not you trust us." Jack could have killed the Doctor for that, but instead continued to watch the boy who had so nearly become king.
Richard grabbed his brother's arm. "They want to take us outside, Ned. If they were going to kill us, they'd do it here. Like they did with Mad Harry the Sixth."
Edward considered this, and, very slowly, nodded. Richard bounded back to the other room, presumably to retrieve more of the boys' scant belongings--scant, as far as Jack could see, that is. Grinning widely, the Doctor led the way back down the stairs and across the courtyard to the massive room where they had left the TARDIS.
Quietly enough--he hoped--that the boys wouldn't hear, Jack asked, "Congratulations, Doctor. Now what?"
"Can't you let me enjoy the moment?" the Doctor hissed back, the mad grin still twinkling in the moonlight. "One of the greatest enigmas in English history, and the answer is me! It's absolutely brilliant!"
"Yeah, right," Jack agreed flatly, haunted by the memory of a face wreathed in exhaust fumes, "brilliant. You're the cleverest man in the world. Universe, even. Can we talk about what these boys' lives are going to be like now?"
"I thought Torchwood would know exactly what to do in a situation like this. I considered taking them to Burgundy, but there's that whole Perkin Warbeck mess and who wants to get mixed up in that?[xiii] These boys need to go someplace where they can't be traced. Where better," he turned back to Jack, "than Cardiff? Nobody would think to look there. And you do owe their father."
Jack flinched, wondering as so often whether the Doctor intended to be cruel. He felt like any moment Ned might appear at his shoulder, golden and larger than life.
He didn't, of course, but Jack's stomach burned with longing. "You know I'll do it. But...I just want to be sure this is the right thing. Like you said, they're Ned's kids."
"They're far better off with you than they are here, that's for certain," the Doctor said briskly, as he unlocked the doors of the TARDIS. "I don't think he'd kill them. He cared too much for his brother, and, more importantly, he's got nothing to gain by it. But there are enough people with greater means and fewer scruples."
"Yeah," Jack sighed. "I thought it'd be like that. It's just...their whole world, Doctor, and it's ending. And--" He broke off, Ned's smile seeming etched on his retinas. "--there should be more that I can do."
The Doctor placed one hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eyes. "I think you'll find, Jack, that they're more resilient than you think. Especially the clever ones--they'll be so caught up in discovering a new world that they'll be able to live with the loss of the old."
Richard barrelled past them to run round the TARDIS in fascination. "But it's so much bigger on the inside. How did you do that?"
"Oh, it's a bit like magic, I suppose," the Doctor replied with a grin. "Come on, want to drive?"
Jack hesitated, and realised Ned's namesake had paused beside him. "We're not coming back, are we?" he asked, those rather unnerving eyes intent on Jack.
"No," Jack said, following the Doctor's lead in telling him the truth. "You and your brother are in danger, you know that. If you stay here, there'll be a reason for you to die. Sooner or later."
Edward nodded, his mouth a tight line. "I will come back, though. I can't let him win. It's not his throne, it's mine."
"That's not very likely," Jack felt bound to tell him. "Where we're going, you can't come back."
"But I heard you talk about Cardiff," Edward protested. "I've been there--I grew up in Ludlow, Captain."
"Jack, hurry up!" the Doctor's voice echoed from within. "Edward, are you coming?"
"Come on, Edward." It cost him some effort not to say Ned, oddly enough. For all the boy didn't look like his father, there was more than a little of the King in his manner.
"I..." At the unmistakable sound of the TARDIS' engines, Jack grabbed the prince's arm and dragged him through the door, slamming it shut behind them. "But Captain, you didn't answer--"
The world outside the door dissolved and Edward's eyes widened in horror. "What sorcery is this? What have you done?"
"Saved your life, Edward of York," the Doctor informed him sternly. "It may not be the life you imagined, but it's better than nothing."
"But I'm the king! Take me back, Doctor! I order you to take me back!"
"Too late for that. As far as they're concerned, you and your brother disappeared without a trace." The Doctor studied him with as much expression as a statue. "Everyone assumed your uncle was responsible. Would it make you happy, Edward, to know he died two years later?"
"I hope he burns in Hell!" Edward shouted, before clamping one hand over his mouth as if shocked at his own words. After a few seconds, he asked very slowly, "How did he die?"
"The Battle of Bosworth Field. He didn't have your father's luck." The TARDIS hummed and clanked, filling the silence as the Doctor set their course. "You'll have a whole new world to explore, both of you. How many people get that chance?"
Although Edward opened his mouth to reply, nothing emerged. Instead, he turned back to the window, staring into the darkness as the TARDIS spun onward through five hundred years and came to a halt.
Jack glanced over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow at the Doctor. "You still owe me Chaucer, you know."
The Time Lord grinned. "Once I track him down. He still owes me for The Book of the Duchess."
The first thing Jack saw as they stepped into Roald Dahl Plass was a bright red car zipping past. Driven by a blowfish.
The two blond boys turned, their jaws hanging open. Jack sighed. "Welcome to Cardiff."
[i] Visor up: A number of accounts of the Battle of Towton, both contemporary and modern, remark on the fact that, although Edward of York was commanding the reserve force, he was constantly riding to the front lines to keep up his army's confidence, and that he was easily recognisable.
[ii] Judica me deus discerne meam de gente non sancta: A reference to this motto on a Lancastrian banner at Towton appears in a diplomatic letter to the Duke of Milan, dated 18 April 1461. The marguerites are the authors' invention, but they were the symbol of Queen Margaret, so we don't see any reason why not.
[iii] Tewkesbury: The Battle of Tewkesbury took place on 4 May 1471. Edward IV defeated the Lancastrian forces for the last time and all sources before 1500 record that Henry VI and Margaret's son was killed on the battlefield. Henry himself died in the Tower of London shortly afterward, probably on Edward's orders, thus wiping out the direct Lancastrian line.
[iv] The length was frankly terrifying: The Battle of Towton was the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. Contemporary accounts vary wildly, but the death toll is estimated to have been around 28,000, roughly 1% of the entire population of England at the time.
[v] Quia ventum seminabunt et turbinem metent: Hosea 8:7, from the Latin Vulgate Bible.
[vi] Jack's height: Margaret of York's unusual height has been noted in a number of places, particularly in the context of her marriage to Charles of Burgundy, who was considerably shorter than her.
[vii] Gaveston: Referring to Piers Gaveston, favourite and probably lover of Edward II. He was executed by a rival faction, and Edward was ultimately deposed in favour of his son before dying mysteriously in prison.
[viii] Vae tibi terra cuius rex est puer: Ecclesiastes 10:16. Constantly invoked with reference to Henry VI, who became king when he was a baby. Edward V was a few months from his thirteenth birthday and had spent his childhood in Ludlow, raised by his maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville.
[ix] That woman: In May 1464, Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of a knight and the former Duchess of Bedford. The marriage, which introduced the Woodville faction to court, was partly responsible--along with Edward's alliance with Burgundy in 1468--for the estrangement between him and the Earl of Warwick that nearly cost Edward his throne.
[x] Hunch: The legend of Richard III having a hunchback first appears in the Historia regum angliæ of John Rous, written after his death in 1485. None of the sources produced during Richard's lifetime, even those hostile to the king, give any indication of deformity.
[xi] Betrayed me: When Richard allied himself with Henry, Duke of Buckingham, and made his decision to take the throne, Hastings allied himself with Edward's Queen and her family. Richard discovered the plot and had Hastings executed with no warning on Tower Green on 13 June 1483.
[xii] Banished from his own kingdom: In 1470, the Earl of Warwick and Edward's brother George rebelled against him, and he was forced to flee to Burgundy. Six months later, he returned to England and defeated first Warwick and later Margaret of Anjou, thus cementing his claim to the throne. Richard of Gloucester, then eighteen years old, accompanied him.
[xiii] Perkin Warbeck: In the late 1480s, a young man appeared in the court of Margaret of Burgundy, claiming to be Edward IV's missing younger son. He managed to garner quite a bit of political support in both Burgundy and Ireland, but was ultimately defeated on the field by King Henry VII and beheaded.