The Second Doctor Who Christmas Story;Jo Grant;Katy Manning;Doctor Who;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jeri Massi
The Second Doctor Who Christmas Story
Written by Jeri Massi
The horror of realizing that Jo's life was about to expire without reason or cause cut off the Doctor's words. He was helpless.
A sudden great shout cut the dreadful stillness. It struck him like an electric shock, and he looked up. Aunt Marilla jumped as well, and the Doctor felt Jo's limp body give a smaller, slighter start. It was as though an electric spark had passed through all of them.
There was a quick, stumping sound of boots and the rustle of coats being thrown off as two men hurried into the room. The Dear Old Man came in with Uncle Chubby, both men silent and urgent, and the Doctor felt for a moment as though the presence of Death and Jo's own death hung in the very air of the room. But that was impossible.
"Jo, stay where you are!" the Old Man exclaimed, coming around the sofa. The Doctor moved away from her without thinking, and the bearded old woodsmen took her up and turned her chin with his hand so that he could look into her face.
"Do not give in yet," he said. "Do you hear me? I can put it to sleep again for you. Resist him a little longer."
She opened her eyes. Uncle Chubby, anxious for his niece, hung over the back of the sofa, his large spaniel eyes worried.
The Old Man looked into her eyes. "Yes, I see him," he said. "Who has done this? How has this happened? Never mind, never mind. You," he suddenly commanded.
Everything in the room became still. Even the clock seemed to stop ticking. "You have been awakened too early," he said to her eyes. "Set your feet in her womb. Go back to sleep. The time is too early."
"Father," Jo began.
"Yes, yes. I will not let his teeth take you." His voice was liquid and soothing. The Doctor suddenly felt that same longing that he had felt before. It cut into him, almost like a pain. When the Old Man spoke again, he spoke with that same voice of command, but not to Jo, though he still looked into her eyes. "You must sleep again. An untimely disturbance has awakened you, but her cord is short and green yet. It is not ready to be severed."
He waited for a moment. The ticking of the clock became audible, and from the entry way, the Doctor heard Julia's voice, small and frightened, "Is Jo sick?" Nobody answered her.
"Yes," the Old Man said to himself, now confident and sure. "Sleep again, old wolf. Rest your forefeet around her heart, and lay your muzzle in her neck. She shall keep you warm until the proper time. Sleep until the chill awakes you. When she sees you as her friend, she will not resist you. The cord will be long and dry and ready for your teeth."
The color crept back into Jo's face. She drew in a deep breath, and the fear that had been a constant part of her expression at last left her eyes. Hesitantly, she lifted her hands and put her arms around the Old Man's neck. He smiled and nestled her head against his beard. He kissed her. Uncle Chubby let out a sound like a gasp and a sob, and the Doctor found Aunt Marilla trembling at his side. He put an arm around her to draw her closer to Jo.
"Let the old wolf sleep," the Old Man said to Jo. "Lie still for an hour or so, and he will not awaken again until you are ready for him, my dear. Many, many years from now, I trust." He kissed her forehead, and she rested one hand in his long, full beard.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"You are a good girl, and you have my blessing." He glanced over at the Doctor. "Stranger," he said gently. "She is most comforted by you. Stay by her the pace of an hour or two."
"Gladly," the Doctor told him. The Old Man set her back onto the cushions of the sofa. He stood up and for a long moment rested the palm of his hand on her forehead. Then he gathered her hands together, and with great deliberation put them into the Doctor's hands. The action was brief, but it was done with the simplicity and elegance of the administration of a sacrament. The Doctor, still on his knees by the sofa, could hardly find his own voice. "Thank you, sir."
The Old Man looked down at him for a long moment, suddenly perplexed. He had seemed ready to leave, but now he stayed where he was. As though remembering his duties, he said to Aunt Marilla and Uncle Chubby. "You may kiss her and talk to her. It will put the wolf more deeply to sleep. Let the children come in, but they must be quiet."
The Doctor had to marvel again at the dark eyed gentleness of Jo's family. The children came in quietly, frightened and needing reassurance. He eased himself out of the family circle to allow her aunt and uncle and young cousins to sit close to her, talk to her, and feel with her that some unaccountable dread had been averted. He was slightly embarrassed to be present at such a time, for he more keenly felt--in spite of the Old Man's recognition of his standing with Jo--that the family did not quite know what to make of him.
As though to rescue him, the D.O.M. said after a few minutes, "Come Stranger. It is man's night in the kitchen. We can bring them their tea."
They went out to the entryway and down a long hall to the great kitchen, where Willis, unaware of all that had been transacted in the front of the house, was taking off his boots after a vigorous morning's work shoveling snow.
Willis's grizzled eyebrows lifted slightly at sight of the Doctor, but the presence of the D.O.M. was a guarantee of good behaviour.
"Is the water hot?" the Old Man asked.
"There's like not enough for the family, if that's what you want," Willis said.
"Well, we'll look after it."
The D.O.M., apparently quite at home in the kitchen, set about filling up the kettle and directed the Doctor with comments like, "There's a bit of bread in the pantry." And "Oh, the spun honey is on the third shelf. Julia should have some. I told her she could if she was good while her hair was brushed, and she was." Willis drained his tea quickly and went out.
As they worked, the Doctor said, "How did you bring her back? Was she hypnotized?"
The Old Man answered with a question of his own. "Who woke the wolf in her? How did such a thing happen?"
With deft and precise motion, the Doctor set out the slices of bread and removed their crusts. "I don't know what you mean. Do you know what was affecting her?"
The Old Man counted out cups and saucers on his fingers. He stopped, turned, and looked at the Doctor. "The child told you what was happening. Her death was pursuing her. It was trying to take her in its teeth. Who awakened the dog?"
The Old Man cocked his head. He stroked his beard and looked quizzically at the Doctor. At last he said, "I know you are a stranger, but you are very old and have seen wonders. How could you not know this? Within every human child of earth lies the dog. If conditions are right, it will sleep. It is kept warm by the warmth of life, and it is sung to by the busyness of life--until the coldness and stillness of old age awaken it. Then in the silence and the coldness it awakens, hungry. It will bite the life from the body. The cord will be severed."
The Doctor stared at him in amazement, then narrowed his eyes. "Are you speaking in a metaphor, Old Man? Or do you truly believe that?"
"Who awakened the dog in her?" the Old Man asked. "I have seldom heard of such power. It is reserved only for those who practice great and dark sorcery. If you love her, I charge you to answer me, Stranger."
"All right." The Doctor hesitated, but then he spoke the truth as simply as he could. "I have a machine--"
"A machine you are not allowed to use," the Old Man added.
"Are you reading my mind?"
"I cannot read you at all. If it were not for her regard for you, I would hardly be able to see you. But I saw these things in her mind. Your own lords and masters sent you on an errand, and you thought to seize control of the machine when it was in full flight on its way home."
"Yes," the Doctor admitted. "I thought I could over ride the controls they had on it. But the machine--my TARDIS--slipped out of the parameters that protect it. Instead of traveling through the vortex as we should have, we became rather like a part of the vortex. We couldn't escape." He searched for the easiest way to explain their last adventure.
"There are creatures to whom the vortex is nothing," the Doctor said at last. "Creatures to whom matter itself is nothing. They came into the TARDIS because it was nothing to them. They didn't mean us any harm--I think. In fact, they spent a good deal of time observing us. In fact, I think that as they realized that we were trapped, they actually freed us and restored the TARDIS back to its material parameters. But--like humans--they had their young among them."
"Children?" the Old Man asked.
"Uh, well." The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck. "Rather like children. Creatures of their kind who are not yet fully formed and governed by understanding. I think that these untrained creatures thought that they were playing with Jo's thoughts. Her imagination fascinated them."
"And you could not protect her?"
He shook his head. "Neither of us even understood what was happening to her. I tried to help her; tried to keep her with me to make sure she was safe. Finally when I realized what was happening, I begged the leaders of these beings to protect her."
"And they assented?"
"Well, you see, it took time to make them aware of the trouble. We could hardly perceive them, and they could hardly perceive us. In fact, my best guess is that the only way that they knew we existed at all was because they sensed Jo's fears and emotions." The Doctor hesitated to see if the Old Man was believing any of this, but the eyes that looked into his had no trace of cynicism or doubt. "Finally," the Doctor told him. "We got away."
The D.O.M. nodded and turned back to the tea cups.
"My own opinion has been that Jo is suffering from a mental trauma. They somehow impaired her ability to regulate the differences between reality and her own subconscious fears," the Doctor told him.
The Old Man did not turn around. He took up a dish towel, used it to pick up the hissing kettle from the stove, and began to pour the tea. "No, it was the dog. Those ghostly beings awoke it prematurely."
Slightly frustrated by this analysis, the Doctor returned to spreading jam on the bread. "That sounds like superstitious nonsense."
Suddenly the Old Man did afford him a glance over his shoulder. "I see that you are not human and have not been born of earth. But do your people never tire of explaining away the things they cannot understand?"
The irony of the question sharply annoyed the Doctor. "You talk about a dog having its feet in her womb, its paws in her heart, and its muzzle in her neck, and then you tell me I'm explaining away something I don't understand?"
"Do you think that all your words about mental trauma, reality, and her subconscious explain it any better? Can you tell me what reality is, Stranger? Were the creatures who both tormented and helped you good? Or were they evil? Do you even know?"
"I'm not accustomed to passing judgements like that." The Doctor drew himself up. The Old man turned back to the tea cups. "Because you don't know. You've never found the yardstick that measures those things."
"And I suppose you have?" the Doctor asked.
"Not for them," he said. "But for my people, yes. For earth, and the things of earth, yes."
"Look, why don't you stop this game and tell me who you are?" the Doctor asked him. "I'm sure that you're no more human than I am."
The Old Man suddenly let out a loud laugh of great enjoyment, as though the Doctor had said something very funny. He turned around and looked up at the Doctor. "I am far less human than you," he said. He smiled a strong and happy smile, as though being who he was gave him reason enough to enjoy it. "And I am older than you, young man. And when you are gone again--in your chariot in the skies and through the heavens, I shall remain on earth." He put his hand against the Doctor's chest, the palm flat. "You go homeless forever. But where ever a human is, if he is with me, he is home." The painful longing went through the palm of the old man's hand and into the Doctor's hearts. It would have staggered the timelord, but the Old Man took his hand away in time, and assisted the Doctor to a chair.
For a long moment the Doctor sat in the kitchen chair, breathing hard, shaken not with fear or even humiliation, but with a longing he could not identify or understand.
The Old Man stood by him, a hand on his shoulder, now communicating nothing to him but the sense of his presence standing by. "I don't understand," the Doctor gasped when he could speak.
"I cannot make you understand," the Old Man told him. "Anything that I would explain to you, you would explain away as you explain away all things. But you will have joy while you are in this house, if I have my way with you."
He walked back to the tea things, finished pouring, and arranged the many cups and saucers on a tray. Then he rummaged through the cabinets and looked in the smaller pantry until he had found a respectable assortment of gingerbread men, cookies, cakes, the plate of jam and bread, and a few other items.
"Can you carry the smaller tray?" he asked the Doctor. "I'll take the larger. We have done pretty well for a couple of old men." And with a great laugh, he led the way back to the family.
By the time they returned to the great sitting room, the windows were white with a faint dusting of new snow, and more was falling in the hushed afternoon stillness. Jo was sitting up, the children snuggled against her. Julia, fully recovered, was asking about the haunted lodge. She had never been old enough to make the long walk through the snow to visit it, and she had been promised that this year she might go with her brothers and Jo.
"Your brothers shall keep their promise, Julia," the D.O.M. pronounced as he and the Doctor entered. "But you must go only with them and your cousin Jo. Nobody else."
At sight of the tea things, Jo abruptly changed the subject: "Is there any gingerbread?"
"Set aside just for you," the Doctor said, passing the entire plate to her. She looked up at him and beamed her happy smile at him, and he touched her cheek with the back of his hand. "You gave me quite a scare, young lady," he said, stroking her cheek and then turning to assist the Dear Old Man with the tea.
"Heigh ho, Marilla," Uncle Chubby said. "It's after four. As soon as we finish up here, we've got to get down to the village for the dinner."
"Dinner?" the Doctor asked.
"Geoffrey's the yearly organiser for the village Christmas Dinner," Aunt Marilla said.
"My dearest charity, Doctor," Uncle Chubby said. "It has been a bad year in the village, but many things can be set right at Christmas. They won't normally take charity--some of them--but if you dress it up as Christmas gifts and make long speeches of appreciation, they accept it." He smiled. "Fortunately, as a politician, I am gifted in those matters."
"I'd like to come and help out, Uncle," Jo said instantly. "There must be an enormous amount of work to do at the village hall."
"No, Jo," the Doctor said gently, but without thinking. The order startled Uncle Chubby. But the Dear Old Man laughed out loud.
"The Doctor is protective," he declared.
"I'm sorry. I keep forgetting we are not at UNIT," the Doctor said. "But I wonder if it would be good for her so soon."
Uncle Chubby nodded. "The Doctor is right, my dear," he told Jo. "We'll have the children to help us."
Just then Philip entered the large room. "Any tea for me?" he asked. The Doctor nearly answered and then saw Andrew shoot his older cousin a look of pure resentment and hurt feelings. The little boy abruptly nestled closer to Jo, and she stroked his hair, pleased at his sudden affection. The Doctor frowned in thought. Was Andrew seeking protection or seeking to protect?
"Clean cups and hot water in the kitchen, my lad," Uncle Chubby said. "And then come in and make yourself at home with us. We've had a bit of a close call this afternoon."
The young man grunted and walked out. The Doctor's eyes followed him. "Has anybody had a chance yet to count the silver?" he suddenly asked. "We were supposed to do that."
"No time now," Uncle Chubby said.
"Jo and I can see to it while you're out." The Doctor glanced at the Dear Old Man. "Perhaps you and I will have a chance to talk." But the D.O.M. shook his head. "The village dinner is a great feast," he said. "I have never missed it." He sat back in his chair and beamed. "It is like the old days with Bishop Latimer."
"Who was that?" Jo asked.
"Hugh Latimer," the Doctor told her. "I saw his name on the family tree."
"Very good, Doctor!" Uncle Chubby exclaimed. "Yes, Latimer was known for keeping Christmas. Opened his house every year and feasted the poor. From what I've read, it used to annoy his Protestant colleagues."
The Dear Old Man nodded. "Aye, they were pleased enough that he gave to the poor, but they thought Christmas to be terribly pagan, or at least a papist feast," he said. "They were always rebuking him for decking his halls out with evergreen boughs and making such an open celebration of it. But nothing would deter him. He opened his house to the poor and feasted them very well."
"But who was he?" Jo asked.
"A sixteenth century Protestant Reformer, Jo," the Doctor told her. "He was put to death during the reign of Mary. He and Nicolas Ridley were burned at the stake at Oxford."
Jo was deeply impressed. "And he's in our family tree?"
The Doctor nodded.
"Noble people," the Dear Old Man said. "All very noble people. I am very welcome here. This house has been blessed, and I shall continue to bless it." Cousin Philip came back in on this comment, a tea cup in his hand. He found the tray of cookies and rummaged through the items.
"Speaking of blessings, I wish you could find that blessed microfilm," Uncle Chubby said ruefully. "I've gone and lost a top secret design document, and my head is in the noose if I don't recover it."
But the Dear Old Man stood and said, "Come then, we ought to go and make the hall ready in the village." Jo's uncle shot the Doctor a glance and the Doctor nodded in understanding. The D.O.M. simply did not care about things like microfilm or government secrets.
"Look," the Doctor said. "I don't want to cause you or the British government any dismay, but from what I understand, that design is a perfect waste--a poor replication of something that the US and even some private firms here in England have already perfected."
"What?" Uncle Chubby asked. Everybody except the D.O.M. looked at the Doctor. Even Philip, who had piled as many confections onto a napkin as he could, stopped and stared.
"I'm afraid it's the truth, old boy," the Doctor told Uncle Chubby. "US markets are just about ready for this thing to be mass produced. Give me a week or two at the lab at UNIT, and I'll knock you out a prototype that's much more efficient than the old one. Or so I believe." He shrugged. "Or you could contact a company here like IBM and ask for the exact same information in the interest of government security. They wouldn't with hold it from you."
"So you're saying whoever stole this thing has risked prison for stealing--nothing?" Uncle Chubby asked.
The Doctor looked directly at Philip. "Yes."
Impatient to be off, the D.O.M. put his empty tea cup down onto the tray. "Come, it is time we were away," he said, heedless of the Doctor's revelations. As he straightened up, he took Jo's chin in his hand and smiled at her. "And you, my sweet doe, you are newly released from a terrible snare. Stay by your friend and stay quiet if you can. He will protect you while we are away."
"Protect her from what?" the Doctor asked, but the family was getting up and the question went unanswered. He decided that the D.O.M. was teasing him for being so protective of her.
"And you will take us to the haunted lodge tomorrow?" Julia asked Jo.
"Yes, if I can," Jo promised. Cousin Philip stared hard at the Doctor for a moment and then walked out.
The Doctor saw Uncle Chubby, Aunt Marilla, and the four youngest cousins out. He then cleared the tea things away and returned to the sitting room, where Jo half sat and half reclined on the sofa, her feet up.
The Doctor glanced around. "Where's that boy gotten off to?"
"Cousin Philp?" she asked. "I don't know. I think he's upstairs. Or perhaps playing billiards."
"Care for some Christmas music?" he asked. A heavy, wooded cabinet near the tree sheltered an expensive sound system. He set a Christmas record on the turntable and switched it on.
"Wow!" Jo exclaimed softly as the rich tenor of Luciano Pavarotti came from every corner of the room.
The Doctor glanced up. "With this cathedral ceiling it's a little like being in church, isn't it? Very grand." Now across the room from her, near the tree, he turned to look at her. "You all right?"
She nodded. "Just tired. And happy. There's something so sacred and dark about Christmas time. Something so grand and mysterious. But not to you, I suppose," she added.
He hesitated. "I--I don't know," he admitted. "Anyway, I don't know at the moment."
She looked at him, and then she asked, concerned, "Are you all right, Doctor?"
He crossed to her. "Thought I'd lost you," he said again. "There was nothing I could do. Do you remember it?"
"I shouldn't think of it," she said quickly. "The memory is getting hazier. But I want it to. I don't want to remember its face." The Doctor took her hand.
"Then I won't trouble you with it," he said gently. He glanced up as the opening aria began its second stanza:
Surely, He taught us to love one another
His Law is Love, and His Gospel is Peace
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease.
Suddenly troubled, he looked down at her. "Can you listen to that and still believe it?" he asked her. "After Hitler? And Stalin? Even after the way this government neglects its poor and suffering people, Jo?"
"I don't think it means all chains everywhere," she said gently. "But it is true, Doctor, that when the Bible was finally allowed to be published in English in the 1500's, even though people suffered for it, it brought about all the freedoms that we love so much. People had to be taught to read, and that was when the whole idea of common, ordinary people having the right to find God for themselves all started. The words of Jesus led to every right and freedom."
"So you're saying that the Bible solved all of society's ills," he told her, his voice quiet. "Except for the ones it didn't solve."
She sighed. "Maybe you're displeased with Christmas and the notion of the Son of God because you want everything to be simple and concrete, but the redemption of mankind cannot possibly be that simple. Even Jesus said we would have to wait until it's all over to really fully understand what was going on, who was entirely good, and who was entirely bad."
He sat down on the sofa, next to her feet. "That Old Man did something to me," he said at last. She sat up, concerned.
He leaned back. "What does it all mean? Dogs of death, and an old man who has power over things, and Christ being the Son of God, and this house? The feeding of the poor, and gingerbread cookies, and sledding downhill very fast. I'm being given a puzzle, and I can't make sense out of it. And this terrible longing, lodged right here in my chest, as though I've lost something--something from long ago. He did it to me."
She was instantly concerned, but her next question was interrupted. Up above, something thumped. Jo looked up, not particularly alarmed with the Doctor nearby, but puzzled. "What was that, I wonder?" she asked.
"It was that no good boy," the Doctor said. "Now I see what he's up to."
"Well, I wish you would tell me."
He stood up, suddenly brisk. "Not to worry. You are safe with me, and we have to count the silver. You wait here. I'll get it. Your Aunt Marilla's probably got a couple of chests in the formal dining room."
"And Aunt Marilla's got a ledger of the inventory somewhere in the silver chests!" Jo called after him.
It took them over two hours to go through the entire inventory. Several times they had to go back and re-identify some of the silver utensils, which were from a bygone era.
"Ten silver tooth picks!" Jo exclaimed when they were finished. "Just imagine being so rich that you melt down silver into toothpicks!"
"Yes, well five of them are missing," the Doctor said. "As well as a solid silver cake server, a creamer, a sugar bowl, and two small candle stick holders. All very old," he added.
"Does that make a difference?" she asked.
"Yes. It tells us that the thief knows his silver. He went for the heavyweight stuff with the purest content. And he knew exactly where to look."
"You think it was cousin Philip," she guessed.
"No," he told her unexpectedly. "It was certainly not cousin Philip. But I don't want you to worry about that. All the same, I'm staying right by your side until I get a chance to speak with your uncle about handling these matters discretely."
She was becoming sleepy. For weeks she had not been able to get a night's rest, and now in the peace given to her by the D.O.M., Jo's dark eyes were closing. The Doctor saw her to her room, and after she was in her nightgown and in bed, he actually came and sat in a hard backed chair by the bedside.
"You know what Uncle Chubby's going to say," she warned him.
"I've got a shirt on this time," he reminded her, pulling open his jacket further to show her his white shirt. "Perhaps I should handcuff myself to the chair."
She plumped up her pillows and then lay down again, sleepy and happy. "I'm sure the presence of handcuffs could only make it worse, Doctor. You're the most na´ve atheist I've ever seen."
"I am not an atheist," he told her. "I am not prepared to categorically deny the existence of God."
"I see." She closed her eyes, wanting to sleep. He noticed that the snow had started again, huge soft flakes outside her window. He tipped his chair back and watched her, her face now quiet, a faint smile on her lips, as she slept without fear, no longer haunted. The longing and pain that the Old Man had given him was somehow eased by the sight of her peace, and yet somehow made even sharper. He tipped the chair back and closed his eyes to wall it out.
The very faintest sound awoke him. From far away, outside the window, down the hill, a sound that thrust him back over the centuries was very faintly carried on the night air. He was still tipped back in his chair, and he set it down and listened. Penny whistles, hand carved flutes, pan pipes, and the steady rolling of a very small drum made a strange imperfect music, coming closer to the house. He stood up and loked out the window. New snow had fallen but was now stopped. The night was clear and cold.
He turned to look at the clock and realized that Jo's bed was empty, her robe left strewm across the covers. The clock showed that it was nearly three.
The Doctor ran to the door and pulled it open, and a wave of sweet, wild smelling warmth rolled over him. For a moment he thought that the house might be on fire, but then he realized that what he was smelling was more like the burning of herbs and incense.
He came to the landing of the stairs and looked down in time to see a line of gowned and robed figures, all holding hands, sweep past the foot of the stairs. Wavy and flickering light was cast into the dim entry way. He came down the steps and then entered the sitting room.
All the curtains were drawn back from the long windows. A tremendous fire roared in the fireplace, high enough and hot enough to consume the vast logs that had been piled inside. The wall of fire illumined the cathedral-like room with wavering, rhythmic undulations of yellow light. Over the noise of the logs being consumed, the ancient, reedy music he had heard upstairs was getting closer to the house, all around it.
But the Doctor's attention was suddenly captured by something else. Standing in the middle of the vast room, the Dear Old Man, a chaplet of green leaves in his hair, stood with his legs apart, his fists on his hips, an enormous wooden pitcher at his right foot. He let out a great laugh and called out loud in some foreign tongue that sounded more like the drawn out notes of a song than words.
Led by Uncle Chubby in his long nightshirt, the revelers came back from the far doors that led to the formal dining room. They were clad in their night clothes, barefoot, leaves in their hair, dancing as they came hand in hand: Uncle Chubby, Aunt Marilla, Jo, James and John, and then Andrew and Julia. Last in line was Willis, followed by a woman that the Doctor took to be Mrs. Willis, her gray hair flying out behind her.
Blissfully unaware of the decorum required in such a house and such a room, they swayed hand in hand, skipped up and down, following each other in a happy line. Uncle Chubby's round stomach shook and jounced as he skipped; his thick feet pumped up and down on the floor. Aunt Marilla, angular and yet possessed of a certain ancient grace now that she was so plainly clad in a long flannel nightgown, followed, slightly out of time with the music. Jo, slender as a nyad, her bright eyes shining with happiness and merriment, glanced back at her nephews and niece, each of them bouncing up and down, their faces full of some wise delight that made their expressions seem older rather than child-like. Willis and Mrs. Willis, having lost the deferential expressions of being hired help in the great house, hooted and laughed and seemed to be encouraging the dance to move faster.
As they streamed into the light where it was brightest, they answered the Dear Old Man in the same song or language, the foreign sounds coming full throated from each of them. The loud melody they proclaimed back to him was like a chant, and it sent a shiver through the Doctor, an inexplicable quiver of both delight and fear.
And then with laughter and shouting, they were off again, Uncle Chubby leading them, their feet skipping, their bodies leaping and turning as the dance became something that was a little bit like playing Crack-the-Whip and a little bit like a folk dance. The wild music was louder now, all around the windows of the great room, the drums far more pronounced. The Doctor ran to the windows, but all he could see were shadowy forms on the snow, nothing distinct, as though other revelers were making music and dancing all around the house. Uncle Chubby led the line out through the main doors, back out to the entry way.
As the revelers went out, the Old Man turned to the Doctor. "You awaken easily, Doctor," he said, looking at the time lord with a smile.
"What have you done to them?" the Doctor demanded.
"I have awakened them," he replied. "Awakened the sleeping parts of them. Don't be afraid for them. In the morning they will return to what you call normal. But for now they have been made more fit to receive the happiness I bring them."
"How did you do this? Why wasn't I affected?" he asked.
"They are far more in tune with me than you are," the Old Man said. "Or the boy, or the man who serves as Geoffrey's help in government." He crossed to the Doctor and looked at him more sternly. "I do not bend or break people to my will, Stranger. They come to me as they will, or as another directs them. But all that I do for them is help them remember how good it is to love, to be generous, to be kind hearted."
The Old Man turned and walked back to the middle of the room and uttered again a great shout of music and song. The wild music outside increased, and now the Doctor heard what seemed to be other voices, wilder voices, inhuman voices.
In the glare of the enormous fire, the room had become unbearably warm, and the Doctor stripped off his smoking jacket and threw it aside. The dancers streamed through the room again, panting, laughing, and sweating, blind to him. They streamed out again, dancing and singing.
The Doctor crossed to the Old Man. "Who are you, really?" he asked. "Why are you doing this?"
The Old Man looked at him, more amused than anything else. "Because God has become man," he said. "And God is with man forever more."
The Doctor looked around in disbelief. "This isn't Christian in the least!"
"I must be what I am, Doctor, even as you must be what you are," the Old Man said. "I do not pray, or weep, or sin, or repent as a human does. I am the lord of the great feast. But I myself, and all that old order, have been changed. My influence has waned as the centuries have passed, but I have not lost my power, nor my place. Here I hold full sway."
He turned and raised his arms as the revelers entered from the far doors. He uttered a great sound, and the music abruptly stopped. The only noise left was the snapping and popping of the fire, and the roaring its draft made. For the first time the Doctor noticed that wooden mazers had been set out. Jo, the family, and the Willises collapsed into chairs or onto the floor and took up the cups of wine. They drank thirstily and noisily, their happy gasping for breath punctuated by the sound of their gulping and drinking.
The Old Man again looked at the Doctor, a hint of triumph in his eyes and voice. "The darkness has reached its zenith, but the light has come and yet is also coming. Even in the days of Saturnalia, this was what men celebrated. This celebration is for humans, and earth, and the things of earth. We have all been changed because the divine has come to earth."
There was no answer to give to that, and the Doctor began to wonder if this was some spectacular dream. Smiling again, the Old Man suddenly seized him by the hand. "Come. You are a stranger, but I shall make you a guest at my feast." He led the Doctor closer to the revelers.
But at sight of the newcomer, an unexpected sound of alarm and fear went through all of them. The Doctor was astonished. They leaped to their feet, scattering the empty wine cups across the floor in their haste, and backed up toward the fire, all huddled together, even Jo. The huge dark eyes of Uncle Chubby's family regarded the Doctor with fear and great caution.
"Why don't they know me?" he asked.
"They do know you," the Old Man told him. "But not in the way they know you when these parts of them are asleep and the rest of their minds are awake. For now, they know, as sharply as I know, that you are not of this world, nor do you have a place in their order. You are extremely foreign to them. And they sense you have great power."
"I don't hurt people with what power I have," the Doctor told him quietly. "I am a friend to humans."
"So you are," the Old Man said. He led the Doctor a few steps closer to the group. They retreated further. Unalarmed, the Old Man released the Doctor's hand and raised his own hands to his head. He removed his crown of leaves and uttered one long, single note, as though calling. The others started, and the Doctor realized that it had been a command to Jo. She looked from the Old Man to him, her eyes as strange and as fearful as those of a doe in the forest.
Trembling, she separated from the others and obediently came closer to the Old Man, edging along in a path that kept her as far as possible from the Doctor. She approached the D.O.M. on the side furthest from the time lord.
The Dear Old Man handed her the chaplet of leaves, and kissed her on both sides of her face. Then he took her wrist and stepped back, out of the way.
For a moment Jo only looked at the Doctor, her eyes big, her legs unwilling to come forward to him. The Doctor gentled his eyes as he looked at her, but that did no good. He looked down. With a hint of rebuke in his voice, the Old Man spoke again, releasing her wrist, and Jo came forward, her footsteps small and uncertain. The family and the Willises watched in wide-eyed and breathless suspense. With trembling hands, she set the leaves onto the Doctor's head, and very hesitantly took his hands in hers. Her lips were cold as she kissed his cheeks.
"Return the blessing to her," the Old Man said.
The Doctor did not want to add to her fear, but apparently she knew he would kiss her. He clasped her hands as warmly as he could to reassure her, then looked into her eyes with his own, communicating to her his goodwill. As he felt her hands relax in his, he kissed her right cheek and then her left. When he looked down at her again, she was not afraid any more, though there was still a touch of awe in her eyes, a sense that she knew he was a powerful, foreign being who had come to their feast.
But she turned to lead him to the others, his hand firmly in hers. And now he found himself surrounded by the others, a latecomer to their revels. They drank more of the wine that the Old Man had brought them, even the children. And then there was a more ponderous, solemn dance in a circle, that ended with them pairing together, each kissing the other on the cheeks, redividing, and pairing again, until each of them had kissed and been kissed by all the others.
Hand in hand, they came to a stop in a long line, and the Old Man came down the line, embraced each one of them, kissed each, and whispered something. He came last of all to the Doctor.
"You are right," the Old Man said. "You are not a Stranger, but the Friend to Humans. This is the gift I give you." And then he kissed him on either side of his face. The Doctor realized that the longing and the pain he had felt had dwindled to nothing over the last hour.
He opened his eyes to find himself in his bed, clothed in his nightshirt. It took him a long moment to fully realize where he was and to notice the time. It was well after nine in the morning.
He sighed and put a hand to his head. The idea that it had all been a dream returned to him.
A sudden flurry of footsteps down the hall and a quick knocking at his door made him sit up.
"Yes?" he called.
"Doctor!" Jo's voice exclaimed, the Jo he knew, and the one who knew him. "Doctor! Something terrible has happened!"
He threw on his robe and got to the door all in an instant.