The Doctor was in one of his quiet moods. Wyn looked at him hesitantly as he stood by the console, one hand in his trouser pocket and one touching the wheel that he could turn to move them into the past or future of their current location without moving spatially. He wasn’t turning it. He wasn’t doing anything. He was looking at the two digital calendars on the top row of the navigational console. One of them was the ‘real time’ clock set to HER Earth time. It was meant to tell them when it was time for her to go home. There was still months yet - though not as many months as she would have liked.

The other one was the temporal time. And it showed an Earth date - September 1st, 2211.

Was there something about that date? Wyn wondered. Was it significant in his life?

Was it something to do with Rose? She knew he got pretty soppy about her. She remembered the time when he cried buckets over an old hairslide of hers. He still used it as a tiepin.

“It’s the day they get married,” Ten said.

“When WHO get married?” Wyn asked. Then she realised. “Oh.”

“You’ll be invited, I suppose,” he said. “They’ll have arranged to bring all their friends from whatever time they live in. You and you mum and dad will get the invite some time after I take you home. But….”

“But you won’t be invited. Or is that… haven’t been invited.” She grimaced. “Grammar is really complicated in time travel.”

“I didn’t do it deliberately. The TARDIS stalled on this date. I think SHE might have done it deliberately. She’s a soppy old girl.” He sort of sucked in air through his teeth. It was like the reverse of a sigh. When he released it again he had made a decision. “Can the three of you give me half an hour to do something I feel I have to do? I can’t let you come because if you are there already it would be a paradox. It's ok for us Time Lords to mess with those things, but way too dangerous for anyone else.”

“You’re going to gatecrash the wedding?” Wyn looked at him. “You’re not going to do anything daft like… you know the bit where the priest asks if there is any cause why the wedding shouldn’t go ahead… that sort of thing.” She looked at him. His face was inscrutable. “You’re not are you? Because if you are, I’ll stop you… I’ll break your legs or… or.…” The list of things she could do to incapacitate a determined Time Lord would fit on a very small postage stamp. But she meant it.

“I’m not going to do that,” he promised her. “I just want to see them happy. The what if - the could have been… of my life.”

“Ok then,” she said. “Go for it.”

“Thanks,” he said and programmed their course while Wyn went to explain to Alec and Jasmin that they were having a short pit stop but nobody else was getting out of the TARDIS except The Doctor.

It was actually nearer an hour that he was gone. When he got back, his mood was almost impossible to gauge. He was smiling, but he was biting back tears, too. And there was something else, too. He looked a little shocked by something.

“I’m ok,” he said before any of his friends could ask. “I really AM ok. I’m glad I went. I needed to be there, for lots of reasons. I AM ok… I just.…”

“Doctor,” Alec reached out and touched him on the shoulder. “Wyn told us what it was all about. I agree, I think you DID need to be there in a way. But now you’ve done it, put it behind you. Move on.”

“I’m going to,” he said. “I.…” He looked at all three of them. “How long has it been since we went to see Dominique?”

“Long enough,” Alec told him with a grin. “Go on, give yourself a holiday.”

“Yeah, why not,” he said with a wide grin. Wyn smiled. He was looking a LOT better, suddenly.

The TARDIS materialised on the platform where Dominique’s work room was, below her living quarters. She stood up from her weaving loom and waited, heart pounding with joy, as the door opened. The Doctor bounded out and ran to embrace her.

“Oh, my Doctor,” she murmured as she kissed him passionately. “Oh my love, I have missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” he told her as he surrendered himself to her kisses. “Oh, I have SO missed you. My Dominique, mon amour.”

Wyn closed the TARDIS door behind them as she stepped out with Alec and Jasmin. They waited until he managed to prise his lips away from Dominique’s. They were patient - they knew he needed this reunion very badly - but after ten minutes it started to get embarrassing.

“Ok, enough,” Wyn said. “Time out. Breathe, both of you.” The Doctor looked around at her and grinned widely, his eyes shining with happiness. He kept his arms wrapped around Dominique though and he only let go of her hand long enough for them to climb the ladder to her more comfortable living platform where there were chairs set out.

Dominique went to fetch food and drink to welcome her guests. She and The Doctor sat on the swing seat, close together, and they shared the one plate of food and lifted the cup of sweetened fruit juice to each other’s lips. Between drinking and talking they found plenty of time to catch up on kissing.

“How long HAS it been?” The Doctor asked her in one of the breathing spaces. “Time is different for me, travelling. I lose track sometimes.”

Six months,” she said. “You were gone through the cold seasons. But the warm times are here again and so are you.”

“Have things been well with you since?”

“Well enough,” she said. “It was hard getting on without Dominic. But we are all happier now that the robos… the… the Daleks… are no longer a blight on our lives. Although….” She paused. “I am glad you came. I was thinking of using the crystal you gave me to summon you if I was troubled.”

“Are you troubled, my love?” he asked, concerned.

“There is a man - the leader of another village. He is pressing me to marry him. He says that if you are absent then our marriage cannot be binding, and he wishes me to join with him and so join our villages.”

“Ah,” The Doctor said. “Well… I did tell you… if you found love elsewhere, I would not stand in your way.”

“But I don’t love him,” she said. “I dislike him very much. And I do not wish to marry him.”

“Ah,” The Doctor said again, but in a different tone - relieved in one way, but worried for another reason. “Ah, that is another matter.” He ran his hand through her long red hair, caressing it tenderly. “Would it help if I am here for a couple of weeks… if he sees me by your side and realises I AM your husband?”

“I was hoping so,” she told him. “A few weeks….” She smiled. “That would be wonderful. To have my husband by me even for a few days was more than I could have hoped. But weeks I did not dare hope for.”

“I need a holiday,” he told her. She just smiled and held him closer.

The evening passed as evenings in the woods of Forêt invariably passed, with music and song and poetry and good companionship. Several of Dominique’s friends joined them on the platform by her living quarters, including Jareth, the chief carpenter since her brother died, and other men and women of the village. They were all happy to see The Doctor and his friends, remembering that they had liberated them from the terror that had haunted their lives for so long.

“You still live in the trees?” Alec asked them as they shared a supper together in the rushlight in the darkening evening. “You don’t go down on the ground?”

“Some communities have,” Jareth explained. “But why bother? We have a wonderful life here among the trees. We are happy.”

“I like this village,” Jasmin said. “I think it's lovely.”

“Me too,” Wyn agreed. “I’m not keen on heights, but this place is cool.”

“I have no complaints,” The Doctor said. Everyone smiled. They knew he wouldn’t care where he was with Dominique. Nobody was at all surprised when they slipped away to be alone together.

“My lovely wife,” he whispered as he held her hand and walked along the upper walkways.

“My husband.”

“I wish…” he began. “No, it doesn’t matter.”

“What, my love?”

“I was just thinking - if my planet had not been destroyed - how I would love to marry you properly according to the customs of Gallifrey. You would be so beautiful in the traditional gown. The ceremony - twelve hours of music and poetry and vows of love and devotion to each other - and at the end of it, we would be truly married. You would be mine forever.”

“But you would want to take me away from here,” she said. “I love you, Doctor, but I can’t leave my people. If I can’t keep you here – this is better. When you feel the need, I am here for you. I always will be.”

“You mustn’t hold out, waiting for me. If any man of your village can give you the love I can’t give you, you MUST take that chance, Dominique. Don’t be lonely on my account.”

“But you are here now,” she told him. “NOW you are mine.” She took him by the hand into the hut. They embraced lovingly for a while before she reached to try to unfasten his tie. She tangled it. He unfastened it and put it aside. The pink hairslide that was more precious than silver to him was carefully lodged in the cloth.

“I should teach you how to do that,” he said. “One who can weave such wonderful cloth should have no trouble with a simple Windsor knot.” Then he thought about it. “Who cares? It's not as if I have to get dressed to go to the office tomorrow. He cast off his shirt, too, before reaching to slide her dress off.

In the morning, his friends all noticed the difference when he emerged from the living quarters. He had left off the tie and the jacket and his shoes and socks, too. He wore only the trousers of his pinstripe suit and a white shirt left open at the neck. He smiled widely as they came to join him and Dominique for breakfast.

“This place is good for you,” Jasmin told him.

“Dominique is good for me,” he answered and her smile as she passed him a cup of the warm, spiced milk that her people drank with their morning meal raised a blush on his cheek in front of his friends.

“I’m glad you’re happy,” Wyn told him. “You’re not happy enough, Doctor. And you should be.”

“I’ve got too many memories of bad stuff happening to be happy all the time,” he said. “But I’m happy for now.”

“I hope you will be later,” Dominique said. “The man I told you about. He’s coming. He said he would come to see if I had an answer for him.”

“Now THAT’s going to be interesting,” The Doctor said. His friends looked at him.

“What’s this all about?” Alec asked. “What’s the question?”

The Doctor explained. They all looked shocked.

“It's all right,” he assured them. “When this guy finds out I’m back and I’m taking care of Dominique he’ll back off.”

“I hope so,” Jasmin said. “What if he challenges you?”

“To what?” The Doctor laughed. “A game of chess, best of three?”

“To mortal combat,” Alec said. “That’s how it's done here, don’t you know that?”

“It’s not, is it?” he asked Dominique. She didn’t answer in words, but her eyes looked suddenly scared. “Oh dear,” he said - a peculiarly muted response to the problem, everyone thought.

“You should spend less time snogging and more time talking to people, Doctor,” Wyn told him. “If he challenges, you have to fight him.”

“He doesn’t have to,” Dominique insisted. “My Doctor, I don’t wish you to do that. I will not let him make such a challenge.”

“I don’t want to fight anyone for you, Dominique. That’s not how I operate.” He held her near him for a while to show her he wasn’t angry at her for not telling him about the possibility of a challenge. Then he told her to go and fetch her paint box and continue her tasks as she would any day. He brought the loom from the workshop and threaded the warp. She smiled as he sat next to her in the warm sunshine and shared the simple tasks of her life. He smiled because although the repetitive simplicity of weaving a piece of cloth was something he might be expected to find beneath him, with all his vast scientific knowledge, he in fact enjoyed the honest simplicity of the work and was proud of the cloth he made in a fraction of the time Dominique would take.

“He doesn’t need us,” Wyn said. “Not for the moment.” She didn’t mean it in a jealous way. She knew how lonely he was usually. Even with the three of them on board he was lonely in his own head. Their friendship was only a small lightening of his burden. But Dominique allowed him to set his burden aside for a little while and nobody would begrudge him the chance of a brief happiness.

“Let’s go take a walk in the woods below,” Jasmin said. “Now it’s free of ‘Robos’ it is safe isn’t it?”

Strange, Wyn thought, but they were quite familiar with the forest as it looked among the trees. They were less sure of it down on the ground. Still, they followed what looked like well-used paths through the forest and it was a pleasant walk.

“Wouldn’t want to get lost though,” Alec admitted. This forest covers nearly half a continent of this planet. It’s a BIG forest.”

“Earth was like that once,” Wyn said. “The Doctor showed it me once from space. Britain, Europe, one big forest. Humans CLEARED it for their own needs. And that was back when they used a sharpened leg-bone of an Elk to CUT the trees.”

“Yeah, I remember reading that sort of thing at school,” Alec admitted. “But seeing it for yourself with The Doctor. Is he the COOLEST man in the universe or what?”

“He’s wonderful,” Jasmin sighed.

“I saw him first,” Wyn said.

“I like The Doctor. He IS the coolest man in the universe. Besides, you have Alec. And HE has Dominique. He’s nuts about her, even if it is just BEDROOM stuff.”

“It’s more than that,” Jasmin said. “The way he looks at her. He ought to persuade her to come with him. He deserves to be properly happy all the time.”

“I don’t think he’d need us if he had Dominique with him in the TARDIS,” Alec mused. They all looked at each other and knew it was the truth. One Dominique was worth all three of them in his hearts.

“He wouldn’t say so, though,” Wyn told them. “He’s not like that. And he wouldn’t just dump us for her.”

“No,” Alec said. “But we’re none of us planning to stay with him forever. You are supposed to go home to your mum and we are only playing for time because we don’t want to go back to Manchester. Once we’ve gone, I wonder will he come back here and try to get her to marry him for real and then go off with him.”

“That would be all right,” Wyn conceded. “Once we’re back where we come from and he’s on his own again.”

They walked on in silence for a while, thinking about the possibility of not travelling with The Doctor. It would be hard to adjust to normal life again.

Strange, Wyn thought, but her mum had CHOSEN to do that. Her mum had said goodbye to The Doctor and stayed in Llanfairfach, married her dad and made an ordinary life for herself.

So there MUST be a time when, no matter how much fun it was being with The Doctor, seeing Earth when it was virgin forests, seeing places like Forêt and the permanently snow covered planet where he taught her to ski and so many other wonders, must start to feel less interesting than ordinary life. But she still couldn’t quite imagine that.

“I DO want to be a doctor,” Jasmin thought. “And I can’t do that travelling in the TARDIS. I’ve got to go back one day.”

“I want to get my degree and marry Jasmin, or maybe the other way around,” Alec thought. “Can’t do that travelling with The Doctor, either.”

“What’s that?” Jasmin asked suddenly. They all stopped and listened. There was a sound overhead like something wooden being hit off something else made of wood - a soft but insistent sound. With it was the sound of voices laughing and cheering and calling out to each other. They realised they had been aware of the sound for a while but had thought nothing of it. Jasmin and Alec came from a city where the sounds of other people’s voices was common, and even Wyn was used to a general noise level.

They looked up and saw the young people of Dominique’s village at some sort of game.

“Hello!” A voice called down to them and they recognised Jareth and some others of the people they had spent the previous evening with. He dropped a rope ladder and they climbed up to the platform.

It WAS a game, though one unfamiliar to them. It was played on a square platform that was suspended between four evenly spaced trees in a clearing of the forest. Around the platform was a web of struts six inches or so wide that extended the playing area. About a man’s height below was a net that made it that much less precarious for the players. Both men and women in helmets made of strongly woven fibre ‘hooked’ a small wooden ball in the indented ends of a double-ended stick and then flicked it between each other before aiming for the goals which were holes cut into two trees either end of the playing area. The friends watched in fascination as the ball was flicked from stick to stick so fast it was almost invisible at times. They held their breath as the goalkeeper at one end caught the ball and sent it long to his teammate who was at an apparently impossible angle out on the far wing before he span around and flicked it into the goal. They jumped up and cheered the triumphant player along with Jareth and his friends.

“Quidditch?” Wyn said and her friends laughed. They came from nearly fifteen years later in Earth history than she did but they both recognised the literary allusion still.

“Lacrosse?” Jasmin suggested. Her brothers were all into cricket – and it didn’t look like that either. But she had never really been encouraged to do sports. Her parents preferred her to pursue more ladylike hobbies.

“Tell you what it DOES look a bit like,” Alec said. “Hurley.” Wyn and Jasmin, as well as Jareth and his friends all looked at him. “Irish game. I learnt to play it on holiday at my gran’s in Galway. It’s the fastest game on Earth, you know. Not counting Quidditch,” he added with a wink at Wyn. “Sometimes the ball travels so fast even The Doctor couldn’t catch it with the TARDIS.”

“I didn’t know you were Irish?” Wyn said.

“I’m not, really. I was born in Manchester. So was my mum. But my dad is. And we used to have long holidays over there.”

“This is called Bâton Haute,” Jareth told them. “It is played in competitions between the villages. We have a big arena where we can all watch, about a mile away, between this village and the next. It is also the place where we would go if a man offers défier to another.” The Earth friends all looked blank. “Défier… challenge - such as might happen if Éric does not accept The Doctor as Dominique’s chosen husband.”

“They play ‘Bâton Haute’?” Wyn asked.

“No, in that case they would fight with double ended bâtons with rounded heads either end. I hope that Éric will see sense. For The Doctor’s sake. He is new to our ways and he could not possibly defeat him. And if Éric should insist on the Défier de Morte…”

The language was a derivative of Earth French, not true French, but the word Morte seemed to need no translation.

“A death match?” Wyn shivered.

“Come on!” Alec said reassuringly. “It won’t come to that. Anyway….” He searched for a way to lighten the mood. “Hey, could I have a go at that? It doesn’t look MUCH different from Hurley. You just keep your body and the ball moving all the time.”

“Here,” one of the players said, handing him his helmet and baton. Alec geared himself up and stepped across the narrow web of planks to the central arena before the practice match went on with him as an unexpected substitute.

He wasn’t bad. He stuck to the central part of the playing area rather than risking falling off the struts, but he managed to hook the ball several times and pass it to others of his team.

Then he got the chance to really show off. He was a long way from the goal, but he had a clear view of it. He swung the bâton strongly and surely and sent the ball flying like a small cannonball. The goalkeeper dived the wrong way and it went right into the rounded hole with a decisive thunk against the wood at the back. Wyn and Jasmin cheered loudly and looked for him but he wasn’t on the platform. They looked down to see him lying in the net, laughing and blushing at his own downfall. He had been so thrilled to score he had forgotten he was near the edge.

“You did well for your first try, though,” he was told as friendly arms reached to lift him back up. They were ready to resume the game when a more urgent call rang out. Those on the viewing platform looked down to see a cart lumbering through the forest below. It was a sturdily built one with high sides and a cover made of dried, woven grasses. It was pulled by two creatures that resembled oxen but with antlers rather than horns, and driven by a man who, if he lived on Earth in Wyn’s time would be up there with the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme making muscle men movies with not much plot to them. He looked tough. He looked sun-bronzed and heroic.

And they just KNEW this was the one who wanted to proposition Dominique.

“The Doctor’s in trouble,” Alec said. “That guy could flatten him in seconds.”

“The Doctor is stronger than he looks,” Wyn told him. “He’s not Human, after all.” But still, she didn’t fancy his chances if this man wanted to fight. “Come on, we’d better get back.”

The others thought so too. The practice was abandoned, but those with bâtons kept hold of them as they raced across the walkways and platforms, back towards the quarters of their village leader.

“Is there going to be a fight?” Wyn asked Jareth as she saw him pick up a hefty chisel from his tool room.

“I hope not,” Jareth answered. “We do not want a feud with Éric. He will be offered all courtesy as long as he behaves as a guest. But all the same, I don’t think Dominique and The Doctor should face him alone.”

He sheathed the chisel in his belt as they crossed the last walkway to Dominique’s work platform. They reached the place just in time to hear Éric hailing from below.

“I should build you a door answering system,” The Doctor said as Jareth called to him in return. “Two cans on a string… very long string. Save all the shouting.”

“Tell him he may come up,” Dominique said. “We WILL give him all hospitality as is our custom.” But she clung to The Doctor’s hand and she looked tense.

If he was daunted by Éric’s physical presence he didn’t show it. He stood up as his rival climbed up to the platform without even seeming out of breath and extended his hand politely.

“I’ve heard a great deal about you from Dominique,” he lied. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Who is this effete who does the work of women?” Éric demanded of Dominique.

“He is my husband, The Doctor,” she answered standing beside him.

“Here in our village we do not call any craft ‘women’s work,” Jareth said as he and the Bâton Haute players moved in behind Éric.

“That is because you are led by a woman,” Éric answered. “And that is why your village is weak. An unmarried woman leads you.”

“I am married,” she said. “The Doctor is my husband.” She grasped his hand. He smiled at her before giving his attention to Éric again.

“I understand that you had some questions about Dominique and myself. But I can assure you, I AM her husband - in name and in deed. And she – and therefore this village - is under my protection.”

“You are a stranger who comes and goes. When you leave again, she will be mine - by force if necessary.”

“You would take a woman by force?” The Doctor queried. “Against her will and though she has given herself willingly to another man?”

“We have a word for that on OUR planet,” Alec remarked as he moved around and stood near The Doctor. He didn’t fancy a fight with Éric the barbarian, but he was The Doctor’s friend and he stood by him.

“We have a word for it on MY planet, too,” The Doctor said. “@£$%&!”

Nobody knew exactly what the Low Gallifreyan word was, but the way The Doctor spat the word out left them in no doubt as to how Gallifreyans felt about such things.

“And it's acceptable in your world?” Jasmin asked. She came from a culture that DID allow for arranged marriages. But what Éric was proposing would be frowned upon even in her culture. Dominique had accepted The Doctor as her husband, even though they had not really gone through any ceremony. To try to take her from him would be unacceptable and dishonourable.

Wyn just didn’t want The Doctor hurt. She knew he was NOT the weakling he looked at first appearance, but she was not sure she wanted to see him in a “Défier de Morte” against Éric.

“The Doctor is my husband,” Dominique said. “Whether he is here or not, I will never accept your proposal. And if you try to force me…” She hesitated. She looked at Jareth and the other young men of her village who had come to her aid. Yes, they would fight Éric’s people if they had to. But must they? She had hoped her brother’s sacrifice was enough to ensure peace for them all - including Éric’s people. They had suffered just as much at the hands of the Daleks. Now, it seemed, they would fight each other.

“When he leaves this place, you are MINE,” Éric snarled and then he turned and left. They watched him descend. Jareth pulled up the rope ladder as his cart lumbered away. Everyone looked at each other unhappily. Dominique pressed herself close to The Doctor.

“I am sorry, my dear,” he told her. “If I had not… you could have chosen a man from among your own people and Éric would have accepted that. If I had not loved you….”

“Do not regret our love,” Dominique insisted. “I have never regretted a moment of it. Even when you were gone, I slept warm with the memory of you. I love you, my Doctor, my only husband.”

“I could take you away from here,” he said. “But you would be unhappy, and he would hurt your people in revenge, I think.”

“Yes, I think he would,” she told him. “Besides, I cannot go. You know I cannot. And you….”

“When he leaves this place, you are MINE,” The Doctor repeated Éric’s parting words. “If I stayed….”

“You would be unhappy. You belong among the stars. Besides, your friends cannot stay here. They have a home on the planet called Earth that they speak of.”

“Doctor, you MAY have to fight him,” Jareth said. “It may come to that.”

“NO!” Dominique shrieked and held him. “No. If he kills my Doctor, he will never be mine. I should kill myself and lie in the grave beside him first.”

“I like the way everyone assumes I’d lose!” The Doctor said with a faint smile. “I could beat him. He’s all muscle and shout. But if I fight him… it’s to the death?”


“I don’t want to kill anyone, least of all him, least of all because he can’t keep his hands off my girl. That’s the worst reason of all to fight. I know it sounds good in romantic fiction – the knight in armour defending the damsel in distress. But it's damn ugly at midnight outside the pub when it's ‘who do you think you are looking at my bird!’”

He paused and looked at Jareth, who seemed to understand his words better than he expected. “And if I don’t, if I leave again, either Dominique is forced into an intolerable situation or your village and his are pitched into blood feud.” He closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands as he tried to think. But there seemed no solution to this impasse that would not lead to grief for Dominique and her people.

“Even if I did give up my life and stayed by Dominique’s side, I’m not sure… he was so angry. I fear it might come to that anyway. He seems a man who likes to get what he wants.”

“What he wants is to take Dominique to his bed and make her his,” Jareth said. “And that won’t happen while I have breath in my body, let alone you, Doctor.

“Good man, Jareth,” The Doctor replied. “But I hope it won’t come to that.”

Éric’s ultimatum soured the day, as it could only do. By the evening everyone had recovered a little of their good spirit, though, and they past the twilight hours in conversation and music. Alec’s adventure on and below the Bâton Haute platform was told and retold with good humour. He had been accepted among the young men as one who was a trier, and they admired him for that.

When Dominique led The Doctor to her bedroom this night though, she clung to him out of fear rather than desire. He held her tightly and kissed her lovingly and told her not to worry.

“I meant it,” she said. “If he killed you… I would kill myself to be with you.”

“And I told you, I can beat him. I just don’t like the idea of a death match. I’m not a killer. Not unless I have to be. If he forces me to act against my nature, HE will be the one to regret it, not me.” He paused and held her tightly. “I just don’t… I don’t want it. The death of a man is too high a price to pay for love. Even for you, Dominique. That’s what I believe. And what if I kill him, and another challenges me, from his or another village? Will we ever know peace?”

“We have peace now,” she said and reached her arm around his shoulder. She pressed her lips against his shoulder and with the tip of her tongue she licked at his honey-sweet skin. Time Lords secrete sugars as well as salts from their bodies and their flesh always tastes sweet, but few women had ever discovered that. Dominique was one. He breathed deeply and contentedly as he reached to kiss her in return.

He slept soundly in her arms after their love-making - ordinary sleep as Humans know it. Usually on board the TARDIS he would put himself into a state of meditative trance, but in her arms, in her bed in her tree-top home, the tricks of a Time Lord seemed needless and he let himself sleep as she did.

If he had been in a trance instead he might have been aware of the change in the room as two strangers came in. He might have been able to defend himself as the cudgel smashed down on his head. As it was he knew only the sudden pain and Dominique’s muffled cries as she was pulled from his arms, rough hands across her face, then oblivion as his wounded brain shut itself down.

Her cries had not been heard. Her assailants made a clean getaway to the waiting cart. Only when they were far enough away was the hand taken from her mouth. She screamed loudly but all the response she got was a hard punch that left her cheek bruised.

“Your precious Doctor is DEAD,” Éric told her. “His skull crushes like any other for all the legends told about him being the one who destroyed the Robos.”

“You murdered him,” Dominique sobbed. “You coward. You would not even meet him in fair challenge. You murdered him as he slept. I will not marry you. I would die first.” She made a grab at his belt and got his knife in her hands. She aimed it at her own heart but he snatched it from her and told his people to bind her arms and feet.

“If she must be brought to the Hall of Devotions bound and gagged still, she WILL be mine,” Éric said. “You have too much spirit. I’ll see it tamed. I’ll see you on your knees to me, Dominique.”

The Doctor’s brain slowly repaired itself. Until it was whole again he could not move, could not be aware of what was happening to himself. His body closed itself down. His temperature dropped to just above freezing and his hearts and lungs slowed. He lay still as a dead man among the tossed blankets of the bed he had shared with his lover.

He woke at last in the early morning light. He opened his eyes and sat up, gasping for air as his lungs kicked into action and his hearts raced to circulate his blood again. He put his hand to his head and felt the dried blood that was the only sign of the terrible wound inflicted on him by a blunt object. His Gallifreyan DNA ensured that he was fully repaired.

“Dominique!” he screamed as the last moments he remembered played back in his head. He had enough presence of mind to grab his trousers as he ran for the door, calling for help. By the time Jareth and the others came onto the scene he was decently clothed, but frantic.

“Éric,” Jareth said. “It can be nobody else.”

“Where is his village?” The Doctor asked. “I have to get her back.”

“I’ll show you,” Jareth said. “But you can’t go alone.”

“I’m going to get my wife back,” he said. “I don’t want a war. I don’t want anyone else hurt. This is between me and Éric.”

“Doctor!” Wyn gripped his arm as he swept through the crowd that had formed up wondering what had happened in the night. “Please be careful.”

“I’m always careful.”

“No you’re not,” she countered. “You’re a reckless madman.”

“Yes,” he laughed hollowly. “Yes, I am. But don’t you worry. I’m a CLEVER reckless madman.”

“And you’re up against a violent lunatic. If you die….”

“He’ll have to kill me stone dead three times before I’d be truly dead,” The Doctor reminded her. “I’m a Time Lord, remember.”

“What makes you think he wouldn’t?”

“Wyn, I don’t have any choice. He’s forced me to this. He has Dominique and he means to hurt her.” He hugged Wyn and Jasmin and accepted Alec’s manly handshake, then he descended the rope ladder with Jareth. He went unarmed and he didn’t EXACTLY have a plan. But he loved Dominique and he would not have her harmed by any man, least of all a bully who wanted to possess her by force.

They had a word for that on his planet, and a punishment, too. It involved a lot of pain and the way he felt right now he would happily administer that pain.

He tried to control himself. He knew he had to. He was NOT a violent man. He was not one who took mindless revenge against his enemies. He was not a man who enjoyed causing others pain, no matter how vile they were.

He told himself all of this, then he thought of Dominique and his anger boiled once more. He forced himself to be calm, to be civilised, to be a son of Gallifrey, and live up to his lost home’s peaceful reputation.

But if Éric had laid one hand on her….

Dominique was taken to the Hall of Devotions. Her hands were still bound but they cut the bonds on her legs so that she could walk. There was no point in screaming. She was in Éric’s village. Nobody would disobey his commands even though she was sure some of the people who watched silently looked sympathetic towards her. Éric ruled by force, not love or loyalty. His small band of followers put down any dissension. None would dare speak up.

The Minister of Devotions spoke up, protesting that she was clearly being brought under duress and that a union with her under such circumstances was against every precept.

“I don’t care,” Éric said. “I want to be legally married to her within the Hall of Devotions – unlike the one who claimed to be her husband because he bedded her.”

“I will not…” the Minister began, but two of Éric’s men moved around either side of him. He looked at Dominique who sobbed quietly. “I am sorry,” he said. “I have no choice.”

“You can say all the words of ceremony,” she told him. “But I will not be married to this man. It will be a sham.”

“Do it,” Éric ordered.

The Minister sighed and began the form of words that would join them in marriage according to the customs of their world. Dominique cried throughout and when they reached the part where she was required to speak she choked on the words.

“I am sorry,” the Minister said. “But you must answer.”

“If you do not answer, I will have your village burnt and everyone in it slaughtered,” Éric told her. With a sinking heart she knew he would.

“I do,” she sobbed - two small words that sealed her fate.

“Then…” the Minister stammered. “Then I pronounce you man and….”

“HOLD!” a voice cried out. Dominique turned and ran to The Doctor’s arms, sobbing for joy now. “SHE IS MY WIFE! She will NEVER be yours.”

“You have never gone through the ceremony of union with her. You only took her to your bed like a common harlot. She is MY wife by right.”

“She is MINE,” The Doctor said. “And for the assault on myself, for kidnapping her and forcing her into this ceremony against her will, for the use of that vile and slanderous word, and for the filthy deed you planned to inflict upon her afterwards… I CHALLENGE YOU TO DÉFIER DE MORTE.”

Éric made as if he was going to run at The Doctor and choke the life out of him with his bare hands but one of his lackeys laid a restraining hand on his shoulder. He turned to hit the one who had touched him but the man spoke quickly.

“He has challenged. By our law you must meet him on the platform and until then no hand can be laid on him.”

“Then I will meet him on the platform. He escaped death once. This time he will not. And he will die in front of all his followers. He will die in front of you, my pretty Dominique, and then you WILL be mine to do as I please.”

“Pistols at dawn then?” The Doctor said as he turned away, his protective arm around Dominique.

“We will meet in the arena in an HOUR,” Éric said. “This will be settled today - once and for all.”

“Even better,” he replied, though he wasn’t sure what the arena was and still didn’t know what form the death match would take. “It’ll all be over by lunchtime.”

Jareth explained as they made their way to the arena. Almost everyone from Dominique’s village followed behind them. It was not mere voyeurism. They were there to support him as he fought for THEIR freedom from Éric’s domination. The people of HIS village, on the other hand, were ordered to attend. Both filled the two long stands on the four sides of the big arena, set in a huge clearing that must have taken a great deal of work for those who built it. Not only were there four trees at the corners supporting the platform, but one great one had been cut across to support the central platform itself.

“Wow, makes Wembley look kind of weedy,” The Doctor said with a wink at his friends as they reluctantly left him to sit and watch in the stand. Dominique held him tightly and wished him well. He kissed her lovingly before she went to the stand. That left him to climb up the rope ladder to the side platform where he prepared to meet his opponent. He saw Éric standing on the opposite platform. Both were dressed simply in a pair of leggings tied at the knees. The Doctor knew his pale, hairless and thin chest didn’t look too impressive compared to Éric the sun-bronzed Adonis, but he also knew he had hidden strengths that Éric knew nothing of. When Jareth gave him the fighting Bâton he made a pretence of not knowing which end was which and of dropping it, to the amusement of Éric’s followers but the dismay of almost everyone else.

But it was a pretence. He DID know what to do. He may not have held that particular weapon before, but he was a master of five different forms of martial arts, including those that used sticks and swords. And anyone thought that he would be phased by the six inch wide planks they had never visited the high mountains of Malvoria where the masters practiced Sun Ko Du on struts across mile high chasms.

He ran across the strut to the centre platform and waited for his opponent to join him.

“When you’re dead, I’m going to make her suffer for rejecting me,” Éric snarled as they faced each other.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought this was an honourable fight,” The Doctor replied. “I would have expected better. Are we ready to go then? No bowing, no shaking hands like gentlemen? No referee’s whistle?”

There was certainly no referee. And there were few rules. Éric snarled and rushed at him with his bâton raised like a cudgel that would have taken his head off if he had still been stood there. He didn’t time fold. He had decided this would be a fair fight on his side at least. But quick reflexes were natural to him and he used them to ensure he was not where Éric expected him to be each time he came at him.

He managed to get a few good hits in return. He held the bâton in the centre and twirled it. The heavy rounded blocks on the ends gave it momentum and he knocked Éric in the chest several times, pushing him back towards the edge of the platform. There was, it went without saying, no net beneath the arena for this death match. The ground was a hundred feet below and a death The Doctor had already experienced once in his multiple lifetimes awaited either one of them if they misjudged their footing on the spars.

Éric had obviously trained in this fighting method. He was not phased by the narrow struts any more than The Doctor was. They were evenly matched as they fought each other around the precarious edge of the fighting arena. The Doctor took a few blows to the head that left him dizzy and a hard jab in the stomach that made him glad he hadn’t eaten since the night before. In return he hammered into the side of Éric’s head twice and continued the pressure against his sun-bronzed chest.

And all the while Éric tried to wear him down with insults and innuendos about the foul things he would do to Dominique when he had her in his clutches again. He fully expected it to enrage The Doctor and make him run at him without thinking. But he had worked through his anger on the way to the village the first time. Now he was focussed and let the words go over his head.

He knew he had ONE major advantage over Éric and that was, as he told Wyn, three lives to live to his one. But he didn’t want to be forced into a regeneration, especially not here with Dominique watching. What would she think? She knew he wasn’t Human. His double hearts thrilled her when they lay together and she knew many other ways in which he was different. But regeneration was something else. He knew it would scare her, and it might well destroy the precious relationship they had. He had to stay alive and stay in this body.

He had to KILL Éric. The thought still sickened him. He didn’t want to do it. He hoped there was some other way to bring him to submission. But as the fight went on and the blows he received and those he gave back became more and more vicious, he knew it was unlikely. Éric would not surrender to him.

He had to kill him.

It went against all he believed in. Everything he stood for. But he HAD to kill Éric or Éric would kill him and, regeneration or no regeneration, all would be lost.

He raised his bâton above his head and twirled it until it practically hummed like a top. The weight of it told on his arm muscles but he kept up the momentum and as Éric came at him with another cudgel blow aimed at his head he let go. The whirling bâton caught Éric square in the head. Blood poured from a gaping wound as he stumbled and fell to the ground. The Doctor had dealt him a crushing blow. Literally crushing- he could see a deep indentation in his skull. It was a wonder he was still conscious.

But he was and he struggled to his feet, blood pouring into his eyes, obscuring his view as he ran at The Doctor. He got in a heavy blow while The Doctor was retrieving his bâton. He staggered back under the impact of it and felt his feet against the edge of the platform. He steadied himself and moved forward from the edge. Éric moved towards him, stumbling now, but refusing to give up. He grasped his bâton and hit him again across the head. He saw Eric’s eyes dim and watched him fall in slow motion. He stepped aside and the body fell over the edge and crashed to the forest floor. The Doctor knew he had beaten him to death.

He sank to his knees, tears filling his eyes. He knew Éric deserved it, but he hadn’t wanted to be the one to deal that death blow. He felt sick that he had done it.

“My Doctor!” Dominique was the first to reach him. She ran across the struts nimbly and was at his side, kissing him lovingly. “My Doctor. My hero.”

“Nothing heroic about this,” he said. “I’m….” From the depths of his memory words he had spoken in another time, another place, with a different voice, came back to him. “I’m a Time Lord. There should have been another way.” He said it again as she clung to him.

But there was no other way. No Time Lord cleverness would have done. In this culture, disputes like this were fights to the death. Éric had meant to kill him and punish Dominique cruelly, as well as her people. In front of her, in front of her people, in front of Éric’s people, he had to be the strongest. He had to be the absolute victor.

He stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes. He put one arm around her shoulders but the other he raised to quieten the crowd who were calling his name aloud from both sides.

“Who would be leader of the village in place of Éric?” he asked. “Step forward. Face me.”

“I would,” a man said. He looked just as muscular as Éric and The Doctor wondered if he had the strength to fight again if his next move failed. “I am Eduard, Éric’s brother.” Then he knelt before The Doctor and bowed his head. “I forfeit that right to you, sire. Your victory is absolute.”

“Get up,” The Doctor said quietly. “That isn’t what I want. It isn’t what Dominique wants. We don’t seek conquest.”

“But you have conquered nevertheless,” Eduard said. “I am at your mercy.”

“Then you are lucky that I HAVE mercy,” he said. “Yes, by right of conquest, I should claim your village as mine. But I have no use for it. I will let you be leader as is your blood right. As long as you remember one thing - as long as you ALL remember one thing.” He looked around at the crowd and raised his voice. “Hear me, all of you. Dominique is MY WIFE, for as long as she chooses to call herself that and is under my protection whether I am here by her side or not. She is my wife until such time as another claims her heart and gives her his protection in my place. But it will be Dominique’s choice to do so. No man, not even me, will force her hand. Let this be the end of the matter. Go home to your villages and live in peace, free of fear and oppression.”

There was a silence and then slowly the people began to file out of the stands, doing as he said. He saw some of Éric’s people go to pick up his broken body and carry it back for burial. That was as it should be. He took Dominique by the hand and went to where his friends waited, with Jareth and some others of the village. They didn’t congratulate him. They all understood that this was no victory in that sense. They walked quietly back to the village. They sat outside Dominique’s living hut and talked quietly.

“Will you go now?” Dominique asked. “Now that you need not stay to protect me from Éric?”

“I said I’d stay a few weeks,” he said. “I STILL need a holiday. And I hear Alec wants to try out for the Bâton Haute team!”

Alec grinned and said he wouldn’t mind. They all smiled. The gloom lifted as The Doctor hoped it would. He, too, would lose the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach soon - perhaps tonight when he lay in Dominique’s sweet arms. She had a way of making him forget most of his troubles. That was why he loved her so much.