Vworp vworp vworp... the most beautiful sound in the universe. The TARDIS dematerialized.
Amy grinned and resisted the urge to throw her arms around the Doctor to squeeze him until he turned blue in the face – the Orient Express in Space with an Egyptian Goddess on the loose (though knowing their luck, the ancient astronauts theory was true, and what they were dealing with was actually a dangerous alien species, possibly with odd snakes coming from their bellies like in that TV show), and whatever came after – she felt sure that no one had ever had a honeymoon like this. And judging by his face, Rory agreed, with the idea growing on him the further the TARDIS hurtled down the time vortex.
"Did we just run something over? But that's ridiculous, isn't it? Nothing lives in the time vortex, or does it? Doctor?" Sprawled on the floor – and was that a tear? In her wedding dress? - Amy carefully retrieved her arms and legs from under her. Nothing broken, but at first there was no answer except a faint splash, and Rory groaning.
"Banged my head," he said as he clambered up from behind the console. "What the bloody hell was that?"
"No clue, but I think I know where the Doctor's gone. Remember what I told you, the time he when he first arrived?" She was almost laughing now. "The Swimming Pool."
"The one in the library?"
"Yep. Well, no, it's got off to somewhere else. Still wet." Towelling his hair and dripping all over the floor, the Doctor emerged again. "Special properties. Water-Timelord... magnetism of a sort."
"Maybe the TARDIS wants you to bathe more often." Amy bit her tongue and swallowed another laugh. "Are we okay, Doctor? What was that?"
"Aaaaahhh, shush, processing information..." An expectant pause followed. Amy held her breath.
"I don't know yet." But already the Doctor was popping about again, pressing this button and pulling that lever, checking the readings on the screen and frowning. "Yes. Yes, we did. Humanoid life form, but odd readings. He is... an anomaly. Still alive, no, wait – yes he is, and holding on. Can't tell you more, we'll have to stop and see."
"He?" Rory blinked.
"He. Male. Abstract concept in this case, but yep, definitely male."
"I'm starting to feel outnumbered," Amy muttered, before it occured to her that perhaps the idea of an abstract concept male should be an intrinsic contradiction that worried her. But then, in another reality she had been facing down bloodsucking alien fish monsters, so by comparison this didn't hold a lot of terror. She simply must have gotten very used to travelling with the Doctor.
Who, as she noticed a second later, was again flitting from place to place with his common "No, no, no, no, no!" This, as anyone who had been the Doctor's companion for more than one day (or possibly less, depending on the situation they landed in) could tell, wasn't good.
"Fuzzy readings, funny readings, llama, llama, duck, the anomaly we have clinging to the exterior is influencing our course, and I have no idea where he is taking us. We're not in the vortex anymore, this is space, but the signals I get are strange – these are not ordinary stars, they're not made of – star... stuff, it is some sort of liquid, and if I didn't know better I'd say the sun over there was a fruit, and the moon's a flower? No. No, no, no. That is too weird even for me."
"Wait, what?" Rory spoke up, his pitch rising. Amy winced; her boys acting all over the place – the Doctor acting more all over the place than usual - wasn't good. It wasn't even salvaged by the fact that he knew the Llama song, odd though that idea was. And somehow she knew it would get worse, the moment the Doctor stopped hammering at the console and snapped his head up. The dramatic gravity-defying Timelord-hair effect was ruined by the fact that it still stuck up in frazzles from the earlier vigorous toweling, but the gesture was enough to make her insides turn to water, and when he poked his finger at Rory's chest, that just confirmed the situation wasn't good. At all.
"Rory, think. Use your little human brain. TARDIS. Timelord technology. Incredibly powerful, so what being, without tapping into the TARDIS' systems and influencing course manually, is strong enough to bend it to his will just by holding on to it? There's a bio-imprint that should make it impossible – theoretically - for anybody but me to steer it. Well, it happened before, but this isn't right, I don't like it, and if I cannot override the controls soon we are going to be --- crashing! Into the side of a very. Tall. Mountain. But more importantly: what power in the known universe can hijack my box?!"
"Crashing?!" Rory yelled, while Amy felt for the rail and tried to prepare herself for impact. Like most things today – whenever and wherever they were – it wasn't working well.
"I didn't mean to die on my wedding day!"
The Doctor's reply came with the usual distracted, babbly air; he was poking the Sonic Screwdriver at the console, but to Amy's ears even the whizz and whirr of that thing sounded like it was in a panic. With the Doctor, who knew if his gadgets weren't sentient?
"It's not your wedding day in this place – wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey - and we're likely to survive. The TARDIS is - virtually - indestructible unless our resident anomaly has done something to override shields and protective measures as well. --- This is not working, I can't get any system to reboot, rewiring is no use with every steering control melded to his will! You! Let go of my box!!"
At the end of his wisdom, he kicked the doors, hard. Amy squeezed her eyes shut as the TARDIS shuddered in response. They were probably going to explode now.
And that was when they stopped.
The doors spilled open to reveal brilliant sunlight – a little too brilliant, Amy thought, squinting through her fingers, for the sun to be an apple, or whatever kind of fruit it was, though an orange would make more sense. Perhaps a lemon. Citrus fruit. The air was clean, fragrant, and she could taste salt on her tongue. The sea rushed somewhere in the background. Birds sang. It took a moment to gather her bearings. Ships, in white and silver, bobbed in the deeper water beyond the surf. If not for the fact that swans did not have sails, they could have been just that. Amy blinked again.
"So- all right, your anomaly, Doctor, took us to some tropical paradise. What are we supposed to be doing here?"
"Don't know yet. Finding it out." With his screwdriver in front of him like a sword, the Doctor brushed past her, and a moment later there was a shout from somewhere outside. Rory, following, took one look, and headed back to her.
"Amy, I think we ran over Merlin."
"Well – old man, staff, grey, long beard, he's a – a – he's obvioulsy a wizard, or sorcerer, or, magician. Exactly out of a fairytale!" The fact that Rory was trying to impersonate their hijacker, completely with gestures and scowl, didn't help, and Amy eventually followed them out, where some distance from the TARDIS the Doctor was hunched over an old man lying sprawled in the sand where the TARDIS' rough landing had thrown him off to.
"Doctor, why is he smoking? You told me that no one could survive being in the time vortex, is that it? But he doesn't look dead."
In fact, when the old man began to sit up, he looked very much alive. The burn marks on him began to fade as though erased from existence, and the smell of charred hair and fried meat was drifting away on the fresh sea breeze. There was something else, some other smell, that made her shudder; like sulfur, only... evil.
"Indeed, my child -" he paused to cough, and Amy couldn't help be reminded of her first meeting with the Doctor, who right now was staring at the old man with rapt attention and an expression that implied he had pieced together what was going on. "- indeed I am not dead. No longer, I suppose, would be closer to the truth. Let me rise, and I shall explain myself."
Soon, once they had helped their visitor – he no longer seemed like a hijacker, at least not a voluntary one – into the shade of a tree further up the beach, and Rory had gone to put the kettle on, the meeting resembled a picnic more than anything else, although Amy found her concentration wandering; the beauty of the scenery commanded her attention more and more, and the gentle music on the wind let her drift. This couldn't be compared to anywhere she had been, not even Space Florida could hold a candle or a – Silmaril – to this.
"What? What is a Slima – Silmaril? Why have I been thinking this, how can I think of something I don't even know?"
From the corner of her eyes she saw the wizard look up with a twinkle in his eyes, a hint of sadness and a well of memory behind either, and she fought down a sense of awe she could not place.
"The music, Amelia. It is usual for unaccustomed minds to drift when they first hear elven song. This is not what I would have wished for you to hear at first, for it is a grand and sad tale, perhaps too much to take in for you yet, but all the same, it is the very same tale you have been cast into, only at a later point of the history of this -"
"- world. Arda. Gandalf." The Doctor smiled, and for the second time on this day, Amy felt her insides turn to water as she exchanged a look with Rory.
"You are a wise man, Doctor, to know my name when I have not yet revealed myself. Yes, I am Gandalf as -"
"But you don't look a thing like Ian McKellen! I mean – in the movies and books and – for God's sake, you're fictional! I'm down with aliens, even deadly aliens that only consist of an eyeball, like that Sauron in the movie, but you're a wizard. From a fairytale. How is this possible?"
"Rory, shut up and let him explain!" Amy swatted her husband over the back of his head, just lightly.
"Fool of a Pond! A little more patience and less excitement would suit you better than this."
"Why does everyone think -- "
"You are, Rory; you're a Pond now. Just accept it. And listen." Amy and the Doctor exchanged a grin as Rory dropped back into the sand with a very audible humpf.
"So, again. You're Gandalf. From --- Middle-earth, the story that Tolkein guy wrote."
"Tolkien, Amy. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Oxford Professor. No bow-tie, but fabulous fashion sense apart from that. And fabulous imagination, only that the world he created -"
" - was not fictional, oh I get it now. But how come that if you already knew that, you were so confused in the TARDIS when we came here?"
"Well, I can't always recognize obscure cosmological features at first si -"
"If you would be so kind to permit me a word in. It is terribly to rude to interrupt the speaker, and you were all expecting an explanation from me not a moment ago, and I will give that now if I may."
If Amy hadn't been sure that the entire known universe knew better than to glower at the Doctor, she would have thought that Gandalf was doing exactly that. But then as far as their knowledge went, he was not part of the known universe, and he was powerful enough to hijack the TARDIS, even involuntarily, so it did not seem terribly implausible.
"- I fought the Balrog, and over the Endless Stair we reached the peak of Celebdil that you call Silvertine. There I smote him and he fell to his ruin, but I, too, did not live in body, and strayed far on paths that offer ways to many worlds and times. I thought they were not for mortals to comprehend, yet evidently I was mistaken, for I found your blue box. In the confusion the summons and my way were lost, and so clinging on I spoke with her, and recognizing my plight she delivered me safely to this place, which is called Aman the Blessed Realm. I recreated this body to speak with you, for a little while – in fact, I may not linger far longer, for I must seek the Lords of Wind, Dream and Fate, -"
"- too many lords. You already found the Lord of Time-"
"- who is not a member of the Aratar, but indeed, I found you. And I must await their verdict on my quest, whether I have permission to support the Ringbearer further, or must remain here. Yet something tells me we shall meet again, and I would ask you not to depart before we have not met one last time."
Amy stared at the Doctor. Something about the old man's story rang true, and she shuddered when she recalled the movie, the flaming monster that tore him into the black abyss. From the corner of her eye she saw the Doctor clasp Gandalf's shoulder and nod.
After his departure, they were silent while the sun westered and set behind the mountains – the Pelóri, the Doctor explained they were called, and they were sitting just south of Alqualonde, the Swanhaven, but he cautioned strongly against interrupting. Amy was not sure she really heard his explanation, something about how mortals could not breathe the air of Valinor and the TARDIS was only going to protect them in a limited radius, when the stars began to come out, one by one in numbers and brightness that rivalled Vincent's painting. At last, still in the warm sand, they went to sleep.
It was snoring that woke her, a murmur in some guttural language she couldn't place, but Amy disentangled herself from Rory's arms and legs, and poked the Doctor awake – not far from them, a white figure lay in the sand, deep asleep. Amy rubbed her eyes.
"He looks different. The beard is shorter. The robes are different too, they where grey before, not white."
"You heard what he said, temporal body, and in the book Gandalf returns as --- the White. Which means he ought not to be here. Which means we ought to take him back to Celebdil so he can wake up in the timestream he belongs. Which we will do at once."
While the Doctor scooped up the sleeping wizard, Amy shook Rory, hoping only that having Gandalf in the TARDIS was not going to cause any worse derailments, but they landed safely – somewhere cold and snowy, on a mountaintop that still bore the soot and smudge-marks of the fight. Amy poked her head out once, and back in again, frowning. Her wedding dress was not made for winter weather, and the Doctor carried Gandalf outside, lying him down in an imprint in the snow that looked suspiciously like the shape of a body.
"There," she said brightly to Rory, who was still blearily rubbing his eyes. "All done. Can you believe we met a wizard?"
But before he could answer, the door clashed shut behind a flapping whirl of white.
"Go, go, go!" the Doctor shouted. "Before he wakes and finds out!"
Amy gaped, open-mouthed. "You've stolen his robes!"
"Yes, now go, I don't think he'll be happy, but it says so in the book and I bet they will look smashing with a bow-tie!"
"It says what?"
"'Naked I was sent back,' look it up, now go!"