Life in the dilapidated North London house had been growing steadily more pungent and stress-filled in recent weeks; Jack accidentally slept with a girl who'd been coming to ask Mike out on a date and had faced glowering wrath from both Mike and Vyvyan, and rather mysteriously from Rik as well; Neil had, by attempting lentil casserole at 3am by the light of a single earwax candle, succeeded in doing unintentionally what Vyvyan had been trying to do on purpose for a month, and burned down the kitchen; the laundrette had banned them from setting foot on the premises; the sole of one of Jack's boots had been eaten through by something on the floor, and the landlord's criminally deranged son Billy had parked a Harley Davidson in the living room and then tried to beat up Jack when Mike sold it to a jobbing actor from Norwich.
All in all, Jack was tired and not thinking of anything very much when he pushed open the newly-repaired (albeit with cornflake boxes and sticky tape) door to the room he occasionally shared with Vyvyan and more usually shared with Vyvyan's socks, which were law unto themselves.
Instead of the distinctive miasma of an all-male household, the fragrant scent of Vyvyan's unwashed unmentionables wrestling with the piquant bouquet that arose from the damp patch down by the window no matter what Jack did – his nostrils were assaulted by the no-less interesting combination of beeswax, oak, shit and turnips. He blinked. The bedroom wasn't there.
Well, a bedroom was there, but he didn't remember there being a four-poster bed in his, or that much in the way of exposed beams (at least, not deliberately exposed ones). Jack's mind flashed back to when he'd first opened the door to this room and been confronted with a Regency drawing-room.
Jack hovered uncertainly on the threshold. On the one hand, he was closer to the twenty-first century than he'd been in a long time. All he needed now was patience and the ability to put up with Vyvyan playing air guitar in his sleep, and in twenty-five years or so he could sit on Cardiff like a toad on a stone, waiting for the Doctor and Rose to come back for him. On the other, this was almost certainly a tear in the space-time continuum, or a fold, or a loop – his memory of the exact phrasing had been hazy – and where hiccups, or belches, in the universe occurred, people with time craft gathered like flies around shit. Or more accurately, like ball-bearings at the dip of a sheet, drawn there by something like gravity. Even if the Doctor wasn't there, Jack could probably steal someone's ship.
Jack dithered. Option one: certainty and patience. Option two: uncertainty and a potential short cut. No contest, really. He should stay here.
Unfortunately Captain Jack Harkness was not very good at waiting or at ignoring a challenge. He stepped through the door.
A wave of nausea and cold air hit him, followed rather quickly by a heavy object on the back of his head. Jack crumpled like a used tissue, blue lights flashing behind his eyes.
"Ah, you're awake," said an unpleasant and nasal voice somewhere above his head.
Jack twitched. His head hurt, he appeared to be naked, the floor was gritty and cold, and the phrase, "Ah, you're awake" in that tone had never boded anything but ill in his wide and mostly traumatic experience.
He opened one eye and came face to face with a hand-stitched leather shoe.
"I do hope you're intending to tell me what you were doing skulking about in the nude in my bedchambers," the voice went on, "unless it involves Percy, in which case I shall skip the pleas for clemency and just cut your balls off."
Jack's other eye jerked open. His legs clamped together and he executed a perfect roll into a more defensible position, something akin to the foetal one; the bearded, black-clad figure in the chair behind him (who looked remarkably like Hamlet gone to seed) leaned back and shouted over his shoulder, "PERCY."
Something so foppish that Jack hesitated to call it a man stuck its head around the door and simpered, "Yes, my Lord Blackadder? We were just playing –" sounding like a wet weekend in Margate but helpfully providing Jack with a handle for the tyrant in hose – who interrupted.
"Percy, is this your idea of a practical joke or is it merely the leftovers of one of your more unhealthy pursuits?"
Either Percy was as thick as a plank sandwich with extra planky filling – and he looked it – or he was very good at pretence. His look of gormless confusion was in either case elemental - Jack was sure he'd never see its like again.
"Percy, have you or have you not been sneaking naked foreigners into my bedroom?"
Percy looked horrified. "My Lord!" he gasped, flapping a lace handkerchief about in some distress, "How could you believe such a terrible thing of me?"
"Because you're a screaming whoopsie, Percy, and if anyone is likely to be drugging and undressing strange men around here, it's you."
Percy's frilly hankie gyrated in even greater agitation. "I am not, Blackadder! Why, only last week I was engaged to be married to –"
"Oh, give over. When was the last time you actually touched a young lady's rude bits?"
Percy coloured extravagantly. "I would never – "
"I'm saving myself for Lady Penelope of Richmond," Percy said, somewhere between an indignant snap and a lovelorn sigh. "She has such a fair cheek –"
"She's not bloody saving herself for you," Blackadder said with absolute conviction that Jack suspected was born of personal experience. He could sympathise, he thought, but the thought didn't get much further.
Percy was snivelling. "How could you!"
"The way you apparently can't, Percy – I lifted up her skirts and helped her get splinters in her arse." Blackadder glanced down at Jack. "What are we going to do about this berk?"
Another voice drifted in from behind the high back of Blackadder's chair. "Didn't Her Majesty want to see any foreign persons in court, my lord?" From the sound of his voice, if Percy was thick as a plank sandwich then this creature was a club plank sandwich with extra plank and a plank dressing. Jack swivelled on his behind and stared aghast at what looked like a silage heap with warts and a self-made codpiece on.
"Shut up, Baldrick," Blackadder said without turning. A look of enlightenment graced his saturnine features. "Wait. Her Majesty did request to see any unusual foreigners in court." He steepled his fingers, and Jack tried to suppress a groan. "And I believe she almost mentioned a reward." Blackadder moved on to stroking his beard, and Jack manfully battled the urge to roll his eyes. "I'd been thinking of dressing Percy up as an Eskimo but this … this is much better." Blackadder was out of his seat now, pacing the floor, and fingering his facial hair. Jack wondered if he'd taken lessons in villainous dastardry or whether this was unironic. He wondered if he'd be allowed to keep his balls if he asked.
"We're going to need to get him some clothes," Blackadder went on with a manic gleam in his eye. "Baldrick, go and get whatever stupid-looking clown rags you can find." He gave Jack an appraising look. "And some feathers, I think."
Jack had a horrible premonition regarding the placement of these feathers.
"You," Blackadder added, as Percy giggled into his sleeve and pronounced it a most amusing plan, "naked-man. Speakee Englishee?"
Jack glared at this pompous, sadistic twit in his embroidered finery, and kept his mouth clamped shut.
"Even better," Blackadder cackled, rubbing his hands together. "Percy, write a note, will you? Something about an exotic native of the hottentot realms visiting as a guest of Lord Blackadder. That'll get the silly cow in a tizzy …"
The man was a weasel and a moron, but Jack had to admit he had the makings of an excellent con artist. Percy fled at his commander, searching for writing implements, leaving Jack alone under the watchful gaze of Lord Sir Bastard Blackadder. His head still hurt from the blow to it, and he was starting to get some very large and insistent goosebumps – apparently he hadn't managed to travel to a time period that favoured central heating.
Every so often in his spasmodic and now it seemed involuntary travels through time, Jack encountered a kind of blind spot of expectation. For example, he never really thought he'd be where he was right now, and Jack had quite a good imagination. Somehow in his most feverishly insane dreams, he never really thought he'd show up in the court of Queen Elizabeth the First – a monarch of some repute and one of his favourites – dressed in a skinned cat, the remains of a rooster, some garish hessian and copious amounts of lamp black.
If he had he might have supposed he would be giggling, because he would also have supposed that he would have been on a lot of drugs. But now it was actually happening it all seemed deadly serious. He stood at the end of the retinue (Baldrick had been left where he belonged – outside with the horse dung and the rats) and tried not to think about how breezy it was and how his gun hadn't time-travelled with him.
Jack jiggled impatiently.
Blackadder slapped him across the back of the head. "Don't do that."
At last the doors to the throne room opened and Jack found himself face to face with Her Majesty the Queen of England and associated isles, the Virgin Queen, the great woman who made England a world power, the brilliant mind who had slaughtered dissenters with the calm of a true stateswoman.
"What a funny-looking little piggy he is!" she squeaked delightedly, clapping her hands.
Blackadder kicked him in the back of the knees. "Bow, you idiot," he muttered out of the corner of his mouth. Aloud he said in a greasy and obsequious voice, "Your Majesty, may I present a tribesman I found wandering the streets of – " here he made a sound like a duck being buggered, "- who comes from a land so far off and exotic it defies description."
Jack squinted around the surprisingly small room – surely no one was going to swallow this claptrap? The Queen was gazing at him open-mouthed, not a glimmer of sense in her pretty blue eyes, and to the left of the throne sat a fat woman with a look of bovine stupidity on her jowly face.
"What's that like, then?" she asked.
"If it defies description I can hardly bloody tell you, can I? You stupid woman," Blackadder snapped. The old woman took this in her stride and went back to her embroidery.
Jack glanced about – the only person he could find who wasn't Percy (no help there) was a large and oleaginous-looking man wearing very expensive clothing and a look of incredible smugness. He had a bent nose and something about him – possibly a certain foxiness to the set of his jaw – that put Jack in mind of a butler he'd known back in, or rather forward in, the early twentieth century.
The large man peered incredulously at Jack. "Why is this most noble foreign dignitary of yours wearing one of Mrs Miggins the poulterer's chickens?"
Jack peered back at his captor: Blackadder looked momentarily flummoxed but rallied superbly. "He is a savage, Lord Melchett – he probably stole the creature during one of his night-time excursions."
Lord Melchett snorted. "He doesn't look very savage to me. Your wretched manservant is altogether more fear-inspiring."
Jack bridled. He was certain that whatever other well-hidden and horrifying qualities Baldrick might have, Jack Harkness was the better warrior. Even when dressed in lamp black and feathers.
The Queen was looking at him with disdain. Jack found that in his experience royalty did disdain exceptionally well; the only people better at it were dandies and San Francisco lesbians in the 1970s.
"I don't like him. He looks silly," she pronounced. "And he doesn't speak English. What's the use of someone who doesn't speak English?"
Lord Melchett cleared his throat tactfully. "Your Majesty was intending to marry a Spaniard at one point."
"Yes," the Queen said dangerously, her voice dropping and her eyes narrowing, "look how that turned out." She stuck her nose in the air and resumed her breathless squeaking. "It's no good. Have him executed or something."
"Your Majesty," Jack cried, dropping a hasty but deep bow, "might I plead for my life?"
"You might," the Queen said suspiciously. Jack couldn't see but he suspected she was glaring at Blackadder over his head.
"I'm afraid that this is all a cruel hoax perpetuated on Your Majesty by Lord Blackadder, entirely without my co-operation," Jack said smoothly, staring up into the Queen's eyes. She was starting to blush already. Excellent. He imagined Blackadder was pulling the most fantastic face, but he dared not turn around and check. "I am not a native of the land that My Lord has made up for the purpose of this visit … but a captain …in Your Majesty's army … " Jack checked the reception of this nonsense. So far, so pink-cheeked and charmed under her lead and arsenic make-up, "kidnapped by Blackadder and coerced into deceiving your most gracious Majesty against my will –" Jack thought it would be prudent to get down on both knees at this point, " – I will gladly go to my death if you decree it, even wield the sword myself, and … er …deny myself the embrace of heaven for all eternity if it pleases you, but I could not die leaving you unaware of the treacherous deceit enacted upon you." Jack kissed the ground in front of Elizabeth's rather ripe feet and looked hopefully up at her from under his cockerel feathers.
It was the kind of gibberish which would have done Shakespeare proud, so he rather hoped it was going to work – he didn't want to be stuck explaining to an Elizabethan court why it was he'd survived being beheaded.
The Queen clapped her hands and smirked, as though that level of hyperbolic praise was her due. "Melchy, take him away and get him some proper clothes. He's much more fun than smelly old Blackadder." She uttered the lord's name in such a way that Jack just knew the man was in for a world of hurt in a short space of time. It was hard to feel sympathetic about it now, given the circumstances.
Lord Melchett led Jack away, a hand delicately pressed to Jack's lumbar. "An impressive performance, Captain, but it'll take more than that to convince me you weren't in on Blackadder's little joke," Melchett whispered as the throne room door closed on Blackadder's desperate whines.
"Like what?" Jack said, trying to sound calculating rather than weary.
"Oh, a small donation to the personal coffers should do the trick," Lord Melchett said with a smirk, fingering the golden chain around his neck distractedly.
-"Or I could suck your cock," Jack offered, brushing feathers out of his face impatiently. The Elizabethans must have traded in sexual favours, everyone traded in sexual favours –
Melchett's face contorted from indignation to sexual avarice in a second, and Jack vanished without warning. He left nothing but a patina of lamp black, some feathers and a cat skin on the flagstone floor.
"Bugger," said Lord Melchett.