The Doctor stopped just inside the door of the king’s private chamber. “How may I be of service, Your Majesty?”
Arthur turned away from the fire, where he had been gazing. “Merlin? Oh, you’ve changed again. What strange raiment! So fine, yet oddly fashioned. Sometimes it’s like a game, guessing how you will appear when I ask for you.”
He moved over to a table covered with sheets of parchment, small wooden caskets, and a few other bits of detritus. “It’s my sister. She’s removed herself from our castle to an old keep near Tintagel – to the relief of everyone here – but taken up with some new teacher, which I fear is great cause for concern. The stories coming back from that area are terrible: empty suits of armor that come alive, serfs missing and nothing but dolls left in their cottages. Please, Merlin, use your powers to learn who her new master is, and what evils he teaches her.”
“Hmm, quite interesting…” The Doctor rubbed his lower lip with a finger, musing. “You were wise to call for me, Sire – this is cause for concern. I’ll check it out immediately.” The Doctor pulled the edge of his velvet cape around and bowed his way out of the room.
== ## ==
“Hullo the keep? Is anyone here?” The ‘keep’ was originally built to be the home of a Roman provincial official, but had been modified over time to better suit the local climate and life. The interior walls of the main building displayed faded frescos, flaking patches of the once-brilliant faces and lives of the original inhabitants. A warm blast of air ruffling his cape as he passed the raised grate told the Doctor that the still-working hypocaust was in use. He had to admire Morgana’s choice of a lair, just for the latter point alone.
“Ah, Merlin, welcome. He said you’d come; that you wouldn’t be able to resist.” Morgana, with her usual love of the dramatic, managed to sweep into the room despite wearing nothing but the simplest of gowns.
When he first met her, the Doctor could have sworn she was a Time Lord, perhaps some renegade hiding by using a Chameleon Arch. But he had traced her back through time, secretly watched Ygraine at her birth, and knew she was nothing but a very gifted human. She held an odd fascination for him, both because she was human and because she was so brilliant, so far ahead of her time. He’d taught her for a while, unable to resist giving her knowledge and watching her soak it up and ask for more. He probably handed her more than he should have taught her. But when he refused to give her more than he felt was safe for her time period, she became petulant, and eventually hostile. He’d found himself the target of some primitive yet fairly effective traps. Nothing he couldn’t handle, but disturbing in both their ingeniousness and their viciousness.
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. “He? Oh yes, I hear you have a new teacher. How’s that going?”
“Splendidly, Doctor. You’ve given her a good foundation. I’m just showing her how to use it.” The Doctor whirled to find the Master standing in the doorway he had just come through. The two of them blocked his escape routes.
The Master gestured to two seats by the fire. “Join me, Doctor.” The Doctor, deciding it wasn’t quite time to be rude yet, took one. “Morgana my dear, could you please have a servant find us something warm to drink? I’d like to have a little chat with your former teacher. We’re old friends; surely you wouldn’t mind leaving us to catch up on each other for a while?”
“Of course, Master. I’ll have something sent in; meanwhile I’ll be in my study.” She smiled and left.
The Doctor, surprised at her obedience, raised an eyebrow at his best enemy. “She’s unusually agreeable. Have you…” He made wiggly-finger motions to indicate hypnotism.
Shaking his head, the Master took the other seat, relaxed back, and smiled. “It wasn’t necessary, Doctor. She’s quite amiable when she gets what she wants.”
“And incredibly unpleasant when she doesn’t.” The Doctor stretched his legs out, with feet toward the fire. He set his elbows on the chair arms and tented his fingertips together, resting them against his lips.
The Master smirked and chuckled. “Oh yes, I’ve heard about some of the things she tried on you. She’s rather inventive; not up to my standards, of course, but she’s dealing with limited technology. And I have to admire her tenacity. She hasn’t given up, no matter how many times you caught her out before she could do you any real harm. I’ve shown her where she went wrong; you won’t have such an easy time of it next time she comes after you.”
Startled, the Doctor sat up straight. “Next time? Rassilon, is she still… I thought surely she’d be over it by now.” He rubbed the back of his neck again.
Shaking his head, the Master replied, “Oh, no. She’s as passionate and determined about obtaining revenge as she is about obtaining knowledge. I shouldn’t want to be in her beloved brother’s shoes in a little while… Nor yours.”
A servant came into the room with two metal goblets of warm wine on a tray. He walked over to the Master, who indicated with a wave that the Doctor should have first choice. Lips twitching in amusement, the Doctor picked up one goblet and the Master took the other. The Doctor purposely waited for the Master to drink first, which the later did after raising an eyebrow and offering the Doctor a return smirk.
The Doctor gave the smallest of apologetic shrugs. “I’ve found it wise to be cautious around you. Anything else is… injudicious.” He sipped his wine and gazed into the fire, but did not relax.
After a few minutes of silent contemplation of the flames, without looking up the Doctor asked, “So, why are you here? It’s rather lacking in the creature comforts you’re so fond of, and as you mentioned earlier, there’s almost no technology.”
The Master said nothing for a few more minutes, and when he did start talking it was addressed to the fire. “When I was enjoying my little island holiday courtesy of UNIT, I found I had plenty of time to catch up on my reading. My gullible warder, eager to educate “a foreigner” in the classics, heaped books in stacks in my rooms. Malory, Scott, Tennyson, Dickens, Kipling, T. H. White -- the list goes on and on -- the best in English-language literature, or what he considered as such, were laid at my feet for my entertainment. And doing that much reading, one tends to notice reoccurring themes.
“Of course, any time a primitive society has a legend of a being growing younger as time passes, it usually means one of us has been visiting them. But a being on Earth, raising a leader who will assemble a nation out of tribes, teaching lessons of right and wrong?” The Master finally looked over at the Doctor. “That, my dear Doctor, could only be you.”
“Yes, I rather see what you mean,” replied the Doctor, rubbing the side of his mouth with his empty hand. “Although my small efforts were greatly exaggerated over time, I think.”
“Oh, don’t be so modest, Doctor! I’m certain you put a great deal of effort into guiding such an important person in this country’s history. Of course, should I do the same, you’d call it ‘meddling’… Nevertheless. Why, look what you’ve done for dear Morgana. She’s quite the ‘sorceress,’ thanks to you,” the Master chuckled. “With both you and her half-brother denying her the power she thinks she should have, she’s rather disposed to use that knowledge to her advantage. I find myself empathizing with her situation, and inclined to offer my assistance. So, here I am, taking a page from your own book and enlightening an eager young mind. One you’ve already deemed worthy, in fact.”
The Doctor finally looked over at the Master, and he seemed rather cross. “Come to mention it, her brother sent me out here to find out just what the devil you two are up to. The locals are frightened out of their wits; the ones that haven’t disappeared completely, that is.”
Standing, the Master declared, “Ah, you’d like a tour! I’m certain Morgana won’t mind; she’s quite proud of her new lab.” When the Doctor glowered up at him, he just shook his head and gave a sharp laugh. “Do you think me such a bumbler, Doctor, that I’d give a primitive person technology she couldn’t handle? Don’t worry; there’s nothing in there that she doesn’t understand completely, and nothing to be dug up by some future archeologist that would throw the planet’s history into turmoil. Come along then and see what your former pupil is learning. I think you’ll find she’s advanced quite a bit.”
Rather reluctantly, the Doctor stood up. He looked around for somewhere to set his half-empty goblet. “Oh, just bring it, Doctor,” said the Master. “There’s nothing in there that a little hydroxyethylene and a few plant extracts will harm, should you spill it. It might even improve one or two things!”
The Master led the Doctor through several rooms of the house, finally stopping in a doorway. “Morgana, dear, would you mind showing your old teacher around your study? He’s quite interested in what we’ve set up here.”
Morgana turned from the table where she was working. With a broad smile she declared, “Certainly, Master! Do come in, Merlin.” The Master gestured the Doctor past him into the room.
If the Doctor had closed his eyes and morphed the materials of his UNIT laboratory back 1500 years in his mind, he would have easily imagined the exact duplicate of Morgana’s ‘study.’ There were long tables and wall cupboards, the wood more simply fashioned than his. Most of the glass beakers and vessels were replaced with ones of metal and pottery, although three anachronistic graduated cylinders sat on a shelf in a high cupboard. When the Doctor raised an eyebrow at the Master and tilted his head in that direction, the Master just gave a rather Gallic shrug and said simply, “A gift.” Shallow bowls acting as tiny fire pits served as Bunsen burners. Scrolls of parchment lay scattered about where his notebooks would be in the twentieth century. There were only crude, hand-held measuring tools -- no electric devices, autoclave, or refrigeration – but had he been dropped in this time and place without his TARDIS, almost everything he would have made for himself was here.
Morgana walked backwards, leading him around the room. “You see, Merlin, my new teacher has made sure I have everything I need to work properly.” The Doctor picked up the occasional bottle to read the label and breathed in the vapors from the various pots, the Master following behind him.
Behind the Doctor’s back the Master silently picked up a bottle, caught Morgana’s eye, lifted an eyebrow in inquiry, and tilted his head toward a bubbling concoction. Morgana’s serene smile and slight nod appeared to be for the Doctor, but she was looking past him at the Master. He tipped the contents of the bottle into the pot and quickly fanned the sulfurous vapor in the Doctor’s direction, holding his own face well away from the source of the smell. At the first whiff the Doctor launched into a terrible coughing fit.
“Oh dear Merlin, are you all right?” Morgana asked solicitously, while fanning the smell away with her hand. The Doctor kept coughing, never noticing the Master tip a vial from his pocket into his own goblet. “A drink, maybe? Your wine?” The Doctor complied, and the coughing eased a little. “More, then. Master, may we?” She reached for his goblet, and he handed it over quickly. After several sips, the Doctor could finally breathe again.
“Thank you, Morgana. Good heavens, Master, what did you do? You’ve tried some fairly obnoxious methods of doing away with me before, but never one quite as… odiferous as this.” The Doctor was rather cranky.
The Master was smooth in his apology. “I seem to have bumped something I obviously shouldn’t have done. There was no harm intended by the action, Doctor, I assure you. I was simply so caught up in what you thought about our little working area that I did not look where I was going. Heaven knows there are some things in here that should not be knocked about… My fault entirely, I do apologize. How are you? Do we need more wine?” He made as if to turn and go after a servant.
“No, I seem to be fine now. Do watch what you’re doing, eh? I should think you of all people would know better than to go stumbling about a lab.” Turning back to Morgana, the Doctor let her lead him further around the room. The Master sent a rather evil smile in his direction when his back was turned again.
A few minutes later, the Doctor was crossing between two tables when he suddenly stopped. “I feel quite… What have you done?” he asked Morgana. She simply nodded toward the Master. He was leaning back, arms crossed, obviously enjoying the confusion on the Doctor’s face.
“A neural inhibitor, Doctor, non-fatal. Affects only voluntary movements. You won’t even have to use respiratory bypass.” The Master smiled and walked toward the Doctor. “It was in my goblet when you had your little attack. Not the easiest thing to create, given our complex neurology, but I consider it rather a personal triumph. I do not ‘stumble about a lab.’”
The Doctor could no longer move or speak, and a look of fear came into his eyes.
“Come, Morgana,” said the Master. “The potion will only last a few minutes; fetch your pretty crystals.”
Returning from another room, Morgana set several large crystals in a circle around the Doctor. “The… catalyst, Master?”
He handed her a vial from his jacket pocket. “Very good. You will go far.”
“Are there any words?” she asked.
“No. This magic does not need them. Quickly, now; he’ll not be frozen much longer.”
Morgana poured the contents of the vial on each crystal, making a circuit around the Doctor. The crystals spread out until they met each other and started climbing the Doctor like some silicate vine.
The Master was correct; the inhibitor wore off just about the time the crystals wrapped themselves around the Doctor’s shoulders, but by then it was too late. Trapped, surprised by both the strength of the crystalline column she had grown around him and the speed at which it grew, he called out, “Morgana! This is not what I taught you!”
“No, Merlin. You refused to teach me, refused to be my master any more. I found a new one, someone happy to show me everything I can do and not just what my brother thinks I should know.” Her smile was triumphant. “You two must excuse me; I have a date with Arthur’s bed.” She walked to a cupboard, selected a bottle from within, and left the room.
By now the crystals had met each other at the top of the Doctor’s head and, tired of having nothing but each other to climb on after a foot or so, decided they were finished growing. The Master stalked around the Doctor’s shimmering prison, smirking. “How does it feel, Doctor? Not quite like the way you were imprisoned before; there’s no dashing about saving the planet this time. This is even worse than what you let those primitives do to me: stuck in a guarded cell on an island in the middle of a cold sea.” The Master stopped pacing and shuddered slightly, remembering. Spinning to face the Doctor, he lifted his chin and continued on, his smile back in place, his voice taking on a self-congratulatory tone. “I’ve done a far more thorough job of containing you than the CIA ever managed. All that power, and the best they could manage was to stick you in your favorite holiday spot with a touch of amnesia.” The Doctor couldn’t move or talk, but his eyes spoke volumes in their icy glare. The Master just threw his head back and chuckled in response.
A pensive look came into his eyes as the Master tapped one gloved index finger to his lips. He wagged it at the Doctor. “The books are all terribly vague on exactly how long ‘Merlin’ was trapped. We do know you didn’t prevent Mordred’s conception, or all the mess with Lancelot and Guinevere, or Mordred and Arthur’s battles and Arthur’s death. That’s another 20 years, give or take. Not that long, really, for a Time Lord like you or I, but far longer than you spent unable to work your TARDIS in the twentieth century. Of course, you’ll have to endure Morgana gloating through all of it, if she doesn’t just lock you away in a cupboard or dump you in the closest body of water. You’d become good friends with the Lady of the Lake that way…” He tilted his head to the side, trying to imagine the Doctor as some fanciful decoration in the Lady’s watery garden.
Crossing his arms, the Master’s expression closed down to a glare. “I won’t offer to take you with me; we both know you’ll turn me down – you seem incapable of doing otherwise, even if it’s for your own good. Rassilon knows I’ve asked often enough. So I’ll just say au revoir, Doctor. Enjoy your exile to the fifth century.” The Master whirled, stalked over to a ceiling-high closed cupboard on the far side of the room, stepped inside, and with the sound of a time rotor he and the cupboard were gone.
The Doctor glanced about, glad that at least he could move his eyes and somehow breathe. There was no one around; no point in calling out. He tried shifting his weight from leg to leg in hope of tipping the column over and breaking it, but it had too wide a base for him to manage. As the room slowly grew darker, he became more concerned. When would Morgana be back? Assuming the Master hadn’t gone to offer her transport, Camelot was four days on horseback from Tintagel. Even if she only spent one night there… well, that was more than a week spent trapped and alone. He doubted her servants were even allowed in the lab. Sighing, he admitted to himself that the Master had done an excellent job of imprisoning him. Twenty years locked away in a cupboard by Morgana – no one to talk to, unable to move -- and he'll probably be just as mad as his best enemy.
Suddenly the sound of a time rotor filled the darkened lab, and Master’s TARDIS appeared around the Doctor, who could see its owner at the console. Just as swiftly as it had materialized, the TARDIS dematerialized again with the crystal column inside it.
The Master walked over to the Doctor with hammer and chisel in hand and a jeweler’s loupe in one eye. He studied the column for a moment, set the chisel carefully, and struck a blow. A large crack split the column from top to bottom. The Master repeated the process four more times at intervals around the column, and the crystal fell in six sections at the Doctor’s feet. The Master let the loupe drop out of his eye into one hand.
The Doctor gave a little shake and just stared at the Master for a moment. “I thought you weren’t taking me with you,” he said.
Arms crossed, the Master leaned back and studied the Doctor, his eyes hard although his voice remained smooth. “I said I wouldn’t offer to take you with me. But unlike certain persons in this room, I do not leave my mate imprisoned by primitive aliens.”
Rubbing the side of his mouth with the back of his hand, the Doctor had the good grace to look uncomfortable. “Yes, well… Mate, eh? Are you still singing that particular tune, then?”
The Master clasped his tool-laden hands behind his back and raised his chin. “I am indeed.”
The Doctor gave a heavy sigh. “Very well. My TARDIS is hidden in the copse about half a mile east of Morgana’s keep. Drop me off, and we’ll consider me properly rescued. By my mate.”
Stepping forward until they were nearly touching, the Master swapped his tools to one hand and grabbed the Doctor’s lapel with the other. He pulled the two of them together until they were nearly nose-to-nose and clenched his teeth in an attempt to keep his voice from rising. “You were going to be trapped, unmoving, for twenty years. I think you could easily spend some of that time with me,” he ground out. Despite desperately wanting to give a hypnotic push to that suggestion, he did not.
“Probably closer to fifteen, but I suppose I could spare you a year or two.” The Doctor looked down at the Master and smirked. “After all, this is a time machine.” He slid one hand behind his mate’s dark head, and let the tug on his lapel pull him down into a kiss. The Master’s tools fell clattering to the console room floor.