Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

Spenser Draxic and Stuart Harrison waited in a bleak landscape that many people could have thought alien and inhospitable. For them, both born and raised a few miles further south along this Northumberland coast, it was comfortingly familiar.

They looked landwards over miles of agricultural land strewn at this time of year with rounded hay bales waiting to be gathered into barns for winter feeding of cattle and sheep. It was still dark on the horizon, but promising to be a pleasant enough early autumn day.

Looking south and east towards where the sun had just risen above the horizon they saw glistening sandbanks freshly exposed by the receding tide and channels where the water was still several feet deep. It wasn’t the sort of coast that sun-seekers might call attractive, but it had a rugged beauty that they both appreciated.

“My father lived in these parts since 1066,” Spenser noted absently. “Not exactly by choice. He was stranded here by The Doctor. One day I really MUST tell you that story. But I think he got to like the place in his own way. He saw it change over the years - the land and the people, the religion, the agriculture, the change from serfdom to free men, from strip farming and crop rotation to enclosures and then in time to these huge open fields with the single crops growing in them.”

Stuart looked out across the receding tide to the island joined to the mainland at low water by a narrow causeway and listened to his husband talk about things that happened more than a thousand years ago.

“The Vikings sacked the monastery a couple of times but it was Henry VIII who did the worst damage with the dissolution. The monks came back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries but to live in isolation and contemplation not as the seat of ecclesiastical power in the north of England.

“And this new lot... they’re carrying on that tradition of contemplation?”

“Yes,” Spenser confirmed. “The sacred island of Lindisfarne belonged to the birds for the best part of the last century but the Brotherhood of Saint Cuthbert are trying to make it a place of prayer and spiritual retreat again. Guests permitted to visit to join their retreat and share the experience.”

“An all male retreat,” Stuart noted. “Celibacy and sobriety going hand in glove with the prayer.”

Spenser laughed.

“I know it is a strange place for a pub landlord and his husband to spend a month….”

“And the husband’s former sweetheart,” Stuart reminded him.

“Davie and I are just friends now as you well know. Besides he’s got his apprentice tagging along.”

“You mean there might be a chance if he was on his own?”

Stuart was joking. He knew that Spenser had no desire to wander from him. They smiled at each other knowingly and turned towards the sound and air displacement of a TARDIS materialising. It immediately disguised itself as a wooden hut made from two halves of the hulls of a fishing boat – a traditional form of recycling in Northumberland.

Presently, a door resolved itself in the time and space machine known as the Chinese TARDIS for its interior décor. Davie and Pip stepped out. The boy looked shy of strangers, but Davie hugged his old friends fondly and accepted a kiss on the cheek from his former lover.

“So are we ready to take the pilgrim’s way?” he asked, looking around at where dry land existed on a narrow spit for just a few hours every day.

“We are,” Spenser confirmed. “If we’ve left all modern technology behind: no phones, computers, video tablets and transmat devices?”

“Everything stowed in the TARDIS.”

“Sonic screwdrivers?” Spenser added.

“Those, too. We ought to be able to manage without them. We ARE supposed to be living simply for a fortnight.”

“Then let’s go while we can be dry-shod.” They had no luggage. Everything they needed for that simple way of life was ahead of them at the end of the five mile walk across the tidal causeway and part of the island itself.

The causeway was thousands of years old, a natural remnant of when the island of Britain itself was part of Continental Europe. It had been maintained and strengthened by Human endeavour to prevent the island ever becoming completely cut off. For a time in the twentieth and twenty-first century there was a proper road carrying motorised traffic, but that fell into disuse in the years after the Dalek invasion of the mid-twenty-second century. The population had been so decimated there was no need to live and work in remote places and tourism hadn’t been a priority of those rebuilding the wounded nation.

“It must be desolate in winter,” Stuart commented, perhaps just to hear the sound of his own voice. It was possible to feel unnerved once they stepped beyond true dry land to be surrounded by the wet sand flats that looked as uninviting as the green-grey water that rushed in over them twice a day. “I suppose they keep supplies of food for when they are completely isolated.”

“As I understand it they grow a lot of their own food,” Spenser confirmed. “But anyone who lives in a remote place must take precautions for winter. I remember the winter of 1787. Our cellars were stocked in early autumn, but they were almost bare by spring.”

“Food often ran short in my village during the winter,” Pip noted. His companions looked at him, expecting more details, but he had nothing more to say. That was a rare comment about his past life. He was starting to forget he ever struggled to survive as a peasant boy on a planet where the destitute might be sold into slavery.

Not that he had been living a life of luxury in the ascetic atmosphere of Chris’s Sanctuary, of course. But he had eaten good food every day and enjoyed the opportunity to learn new things, drinking in the books available to one who had only learnt to read at the start of this new existence and joining in wholeheartedly with the twin disciplines of martial arts and transcendental meditation that lay at the heart of Chris’s three year programme of mental and physical improvement.

This was one more opportunity to learn about his new homeworld and he grasped it wholeheartedly. He looked around at the flat sand-wastes and listened to the birds wheeling in the air or feeding in great flocks - taking advantage of the food bounty left behind by the receding tide. It was all a feast to his burgeoning intellect.

“The sands are hungry,” he said quite out of the blue. Again his companions looked at him curiously. Pip looked back in surprise.

“What do you mean by that?” Davie asked him.

“By what?” he responded. “I didn’t say anything. I was just looking at the birds… their long beaks plucking worms from under the surface of the sand. They’re hungry for them.”

That wasn’t what he had said, but Davie let it pass and admonished Spenser for an adult joke about their sleeping arrangements. That didn’t need to be part of Pip’s education just yet!

Spenser grinned apologetically and clutched his lover’s hand. He was surprised when Stuart didn’t respond.

“Strange…” Stuart murmured absently, looking across the sands. “There’s a smell….”

“It’s birds,” Spenser told his husband. “Or fish. There ARE a lot of both around here.”

“Not birds,” Stuart insisted. “I know the smell of birds. I don’t think it is fish, either. But something else….” He paused. “It’s gone. Perhaps I was just imagining things.”

“I think it really is a disadvantage to detect species by smell, sometimes,” Spenser told him. “But if it’s gone, there’s no need to worry.”

Davie agreed, but he wasn’t quite sure. For a moment he had felt something strange, too, a kind of apprehension, a vulnerability.

But perhaps everyone felt that when they were halfway between land and island on a causeway that flooded twice daily. The warning signs every so often and the wooden hut on stout stilts that was a last refuge for the incautious didn’t help matters. He felt as if he was in a dangerous place even though they had several clear hours before the turn of tide.

He reminded himself that he was a Time Lord and not easily given to colly-wobbles.

He felt Spenser laugh in his head.


“It’s a perfectly acceptable description of what I felt just now.”

Spenser’s laughter faded into something else.

“Come to think of it, so did I… just for a moment. Do you think there IS something wrong?”

“No. I think we ARE all feeling a bit agoraphobic out here on the causeway with all these dire warnings about being stranded by the tide. I looked it up on my TARDIS database, and there HAVE been a lot of desperate last minute rescues and quite a few actual drowning over the years. This is not a road for the unwary to walk. But we’ll be on dry land before there is any danger of getting our feet damp, safe and sound having a nice cup of herbal tea with the Brotherhood.”

“Of course, we will,” Spenser assured himself before speaking out loud, asking Davie about Brenda and the children and talking glowingly about the two girls he and Stuart adopted. Domestic conversation kept them all going until they finally reached the end of the ancient Causeway and walked up a short incline until they were well above high tide and walking on meadow grass.

“Good afternoon, friends,” said the serene voice of a brown-habited monk who met them there. “I was sent to watch out for your arrival. Of course, your progress across the sands was easy to observe. You made very good time.”

“We’re all very experienced walkers,” Spenser replied. He introduced himself and his friends to the Monk who identified himself as Brother Æthelred, tutor to the younger members of their community and hospitality manager for their guests.

“You took an Anglo-Saxon name?” Davie asked as the monk led them across the meadow towards a modern complex of buildings that had been designed to fit in with the grey granite ruins of the old medieval monastery and the fifteenth century castle on the highest point of the island.

“We all did,” Brother Æthelred answered. “Brother Leofdæg is our leader. Then there is Brother Hrodgar, our herbalist and medical man. Brother Wilmær runs the kitchen – though everyone takes a turn at helping him in that task….”

Æthelred was happy to talk to the visitors about the monastic life and of his fellow brothers as they approached the Monastery of St. Cuthberts and noted that it mostly consisted of single storey buildings with slate roofs. The only larger structure was the church with a slender round tower which rose up into the sky. They had noticed it from at least halfway across the causeway, but had thought it was part of the medieval ruin. Only as they drew nearer was it obvious that it was of modern build rather than a remnant of days when such towers were a defence against Viking invaders.

“Impressive,” Davie said in a congratulatory tone.

“It is shelter against the elements, a place to sleep, to study and to pray,” Æthelred answered. “We do not take pride in the aesthetics of our home.”

“Of course,” Davie responded, chastised for his appreciation of the merely worldly. He wondered if Chris ought to have come here instead of him. His brother already lived on an unworldly plane most of the time. The only difference between St. Cuthbert’s and his Sanctuary was that Chris and his acolytes had never managed to embrace celibacy!

He thought fondly of his brother and Carya. They had taken Tilo to visit his grandparents for the weekend while Brenda and his own twins were on Tibora with her family, giving him the opportunity for this male only excursion. He was, of course, planning to return after the four weeks to the evening of the Sunday after he left their Surrey home.

But thoughts of domesticity were forgotten as they stepped into the monastery and were enveloped by its peaceful aura. They were formally welcomed by Brother Leofdæg and shown to the simple cells where they would sleep at night. They were given their own robes of beige-white linen to signify that they were visitors to the monastery, not full members of the Order, and invited to enjoy what was a late breakfast in the refectory, served to them by Brother Wilmær.

After that they joined the Brotherhood in their daily routine of prayer and study, manual labour and quiet contemplation as well as food at set times in the day. After the last of those meals, and the final service of prayer in the chapel, the Brothers and their guests retired to their beds a little after sundown.

“Chris should have been here,” Davie said again as he lay on his narrow bed and communicated telepathically with Spenser in the cell on the other side of the granite wall. “This is right up his street.”

“I’ll invite him up here another time,” Spenser answered. “Did you really enjoy yourself?”

“It’s not really about enjoyment, of course. It’s more a sort of contentment, a satisfaction in a job done well. I’m more physically tired than I have been in a very long time, which I think means I’m soft and lazy and too used to city life. I feel humbled by the dedication these men have to their calling. They’re remarkable.”

“They’re religious,” Spenser reminded him. “I’ve never been. Neither have you. We have no reason to believe in any Human religion. But… even so….”

“I admire them for that,” Davie said. “I also… kind of… envy them. Believing absolutely that there is something out there, somebody that orders the universe, must be comforting. We’re Lords of Time, princes of the universe. I think, sometimes, I’d swap it all for the certainty that Brother Æthelred has that his God sees the fall of a sparrow and is moved by it. Failing that, four weeks in the company of people with that kind of faith will do me good.”

“That’s why I invited you to join me,” Spenser told him. “Not Chris. You needed it more.”

“Thanks,” Davie told him. He stretched in the narrow bed and turned towards the wall. “Goodnight, Spenser. Try not to have any immoral thoughts before morning.”

“Same to you.”

He felt Spenser withdraw from the telepathic connection. He sighed deeply and prepared to sleep.

The next day began before dawn with the Matins bell and continued throughout a day that ended at sundown. Masses and communions were separated by periods of study, manual labour, private prayer, communal contemplation and meals.

The next day was the same. The routine of the highly structured day was easy to fall into and each of the guests found their temporary place in the community. Pip was fully at home among the novices and embraced the opportunity to learn about the history of Christianity in Britain in a place that had been central to that history for a long time. Stuart became a soul-mate of Brother Wilmær, his experience as a pub landlord lending itself to the task of feeding the Community four times a day. Spenser’s artistic leanings brought him to the library where he spent his days with inks and traditional parchments designing illuminated pages of biblical texts just like the monks who produced the Lindisfarne Gospels centuries before printing was even dreamt of.

Davie enjoyed the intellectual companionship of Brother Leofdæg. They talked at every opportunity about philosophy and theology. Davie made no secret of his lack of religious belief, but admitted his respect for those who had it. Leofdæg respected Davie’s willingness to listen, to question and debate. They learnt something from each other.

On the Monday morning of the last week of their retreat Davie woke in the grey pre-dawn to the sound of the Matins bell as always. He woke himself at once from his dreams, made his bed, washed in cold but clean water and dressed in the plain robe before leaving his cell and joining his friends and the Brotherhood in a silent procession to the chapel.

It was after the Matins service, when they went to the refectory for breakfast, that he noticed a disturbing level of anxiety about the Brothers. Something was troubling them.

“Brother Æthelred is missing,” Pip said.


“I heard Brother Godwine talking to Brother Cenric,” the boy answered, indicating two slender young men whose hoods swamped their faces.

“The novices aren’t supposed to talk before breakfast,” Spenser pointed out.

“They’re novices,” Davie pointed out as if that answered his point. “What do you mean, Æthelred is missing?”

“He wasn’t in his cell. He didn’t come to Matins. He’s not here, now, for breakfast.”

“We’re on an island,” Stuart pointed out. “How far away could he be?”

“The island is approximately four kilometres square,” Spenser reminded him. “I suppose it is possible to wander off. But why would he?”

Davie didn’t answer. Brother Leofdæg called the brothers to order and announced that they should eat breakfast in silence in honour of Saint Aiden, founder of the first monastery of Lindisfarne.

The Brothers did as instructed dutifully. Their guests did so out of respect for their piety. But since two of them were telepathic they were quite able to find out all they needed to know while remaining silent.

What was known was precious little more than the two novices had already told each other. Æthelred had gone missing from his room during the night. His bed had been slept in but was left unmade. His day clothes and his sandals were there but his night wear was not. He appeared to have gone out in the night wearing nothing but a loose cotton shift and nothing on his feet.

“I liked that this was a peaceful, gentle place where nothing bad happened,” Davie sighed.

“I liked Brother Æthelred,” Spenser added. “I hate the idea that something bad has happened to him.”

“Maybe it hasn’t. Maybe he decided to take a long walk in the moonlight with the cool grass under his feet.”

It would be nice to think so, but the worst case scenario was so much more likely that it marred the breakfast for everyone.

Immediately afterwards it should have been an hour of Contemplation – which meant either study for the novices or silent prayer for the older monks and their guests. Instead a search was organised for the missing Brother. Naturally, the four visitors volunteered to join the parties who planned to scour the whole of the island. Their help was gratefully accepted.

Which was what brought Davie and Spenser, as part of one group, to the Causeway. And that was how they found the body.

“Stay back, both of you,” he said to Pip and Brother Godwine as he and Spenser stepped forward onto the newly dry ground and knelt to look at the mortal remains of Brother Æthelred. He had obviously been dead for several hours, almost certainly drowned. His face was pale and water poured from his nose and mouth as he was turned. His eyes were wide and staring until Davie gently closed them. He lifted the body gently and carried it back up to dry land.

“We should take him to the infirmary,” Spenser said.

“He’s dead. What use is the infirmary?” Godwine asked bitterly, his slender body shaking with emotion as he looked at the grey, lifeless face of his teacher. “There’s nothing Brother Hrodgar’s herbs can do for him.”

“At the least, Brother Hrodgar will have the herbs and ointments used to embalm the body ready for burial,” Davie suggested. “But I want to take a closer look at him first.”

“An autopsy?” Godwine was appalled. “Surely that isn’t….”

“I’m not qualified to perform such a thing,” Davie responded. “But I know a few things about death. I want to be sure in my own mind that this one was accidental. If other authorities think a full autopsy is necessary….”

All of the necessary steps for reporting an unexpected death crowded into his head, but Godwine was looking close to tears. He decided to leave the subject alone until he could talk to Leofdæg about it. As leader of the community it was his responsibility to make any necessary arrangements.

Even without any powers of telepathy, news of the tragedy spread. By the time the sad party reached the cloister there was a group of mourners following, offering up murmured prayers. Brother Leofdæg met the procession at the infirmary door and sent them to the chapel to pray for their late brother’s soul. Most of them did so.

“You, too, Brother Godwine,” he insisted.

“Please, let me stay,” the young man begged. “Let me help prepare him.”

“Very well,” Leofdæg relented. “But compose yourself. You are too overwrought.”

Davie thought so, too. Godwine was young, but not a child. Even Pip was holding himself up better. The boy did his best to offer comfort to Godwine as they brought Æthelred’s body to a curtained off corner of the infirmary where the last rites were given and the body anointed even before the medical examination was allowed to begin.

Neither Davie, with his experience of death, natural and unnatural, nor Hrodgar who had qualified as a doctor before choosing a life of Contemplation, could find any other cause of death than accidental drowning.

“I may treat my patients with homeopathic remedies, mostly grown in the herb garden outside, but I AM a qualified doctor,” Hrodgar said. “I can sign a death certificate. There is no need to make this tragedy any worse by further deliberations.”

“Did he have family?” Davie asked.

“As Arthur Bell… his real name… he has a mother and brother. They will be informed. Brother Eadric will cycle to the mainland at the afternoon low tide.”

It was a little surprising to think that there was no other means of communication from the island in an age of videophone and instant satellite communication with outposts on the moon, but Davie accepted that the correct things would be done one way or another.

“What we don’t know is why it happened,” Brother Hrodgar admitted. “Why was Æthelred walking near the Causeway in the middle of the night? He had no reason… and even if he did… all of us who live here know the tides as well as we know the order of Mass. It is second nature. Why would he go there at the most dangerous time?”

“We’ll find out,” Davie promised. “I’ll find out. It’s what I’m good at – finding out things like that. You… and your fellow Brothers… say your prayers together. Let them give you comfort at this difficult time.”

Brother Godwine wasn’t comforted by his prayers. Spenser, with nothing to do while the medical examination was going on, found him in the infirmary chapel. He was crying.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked the Brother kindly.

“Nothing,” he replied. “Nobody can replace him. He was everything to me.”

“He?” Spenser was puzzled for a moment, then the light of understanding switched on in his mind. “Æthelred…. You and him were….”

“No,” Godwine admitted. “He never knew. I could never tell him. But I….”

“Unrequited love.” Spenser smiled grimly. “Been there, got the t-shirt.”

Godwine looked at him uncertainly for a moment. The question in his eyes needed no words.

“Oh, believe me, I understand completely,” Spenser assured him. He reached out a comforting hand to the grieving man’s shoulder. “This really isn’t the place for it. Come on down to the refectory and talk over a cup of herbal tea.”

Godwine accepted the hand of friendship. Spenser led him away gently just before Brother Hrodgar and two of his assistants brought the body of Æthelred to the chapel to rest in peace until his funeral could be arranged.

The subject of Spenser’s unrequited love, Davie Campbell, sat in the chapel and pondered the question that Brother Hrodgar had voiced. It was the same question running through his own mind from the moment he found the body.

And nothing about it made sense. If it was an accident, how did it happen to somebody who knew the tides and was aware of all the risks? If it was suicide, then WHY? Æthelred had chosen a fulfilling, even idyllic life, but even if it had palled for some reason he could have left any time he wanted. There was no reason for him to stay here if he was unhappy.

The other possibility was murder, but that seemed even more unlikely here in this community. He had seen no evidence of jealousy or hatred, any motive for such a terrible thing.

How did it happen? How COULD it have happened?

He was still looking for answers in the late afternoon when a semblance of normality had resumed and the Brothers were at their manual labour tasks. Davie had volunteered to help in the market garden where onions, sprouts and garlic were waiting to be harvested. It was the sort of work that made his back ache and sweat trickle down his neck, but it was absorbing and he was able to forget for a while that there was a dark cloud of tragedy hanging over the beautiful place he was in.

The cloud descended again very when Pip came running into the garden gasping so hard that it was a minute before he could even explain what the problem was.

“The… the tide… is coming… in….” he managed to say. “Brother Eadric… Stuart….”

“What does Stuart have to do with anything?” he asked. He was already running. Several of the Brothers ran after him, but he left them far behind before he reached the start of the Causeway.

He found Spenser already there, struggling to pull an ancient looking rowing boat across the grass towards the sand flats. Eadric was still at least three hundred metres from dry land. He had abandoned his bicycle as the waves washed across the causeway. He was struggling through water that was up to his knees, the soaked hem of his woollen robe dragging him down.

Stuart was running towards him with a lifebelt, its rope trailing behind him. He called out to the struggling Brother, encouraging him to keep on coming.

He had just reached Eadric when a high wave crashed over both their heads. Spenser screamed out his lover’s name as they were submerged. He called out his name again when the water settled and there was no sign of the two men.

“Davie!” Spenser’s cry as his former lover ran past him and dived into the water was almost as laden with concern. He watched fearfully as Davie swam strongly, reaching the place where the two men had disappeared. Around him, Eadric’s colleagues stood panting for breath and looking on in equal measures of anxiety. Pip was almost fainting after running back the whole way once again. Spenser gripped him tightly and held him upright. It helped him maintain his own appearance of courage in the frantic minutes.

Then somebody called out in surprise. Spenser looked to see Davie rise up out of the water – not as a swimmer would rise, but as a young Time Lord who had practiced the art of levitation. Stuart was on his back, clinging around his neck and Brother Eadric was in his arms. He seemed not to notice the weight of either as he ran across the top of the waves towards the shore.

Spenser and Brother Hrodgar reached them first, but other hands were also there to lift the two near drowned men from his arms.

“Keep clear for a minute,” Davie said as they laid Brother Eadric on the grass. “He’s swallowed a lot of water and I don’t think he’s breathing.”

He bent over and applied well practiced mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before leaning back and turning Eadric into the recovery position. He coughed and spluttered and spat out sea water before breathing in deeply and hoarsely.

Davie looked around and saw everyone looking at him in astonishment.

“It’s only CPR,” he told them. “I didn’t raise him from the dead.”

“You walked on water,” Brother Leofdæg reminded him. “That was enough.”

“It’s just something I do,” he answered. “Don’t worry about it. Hrodgar, you’d better take both of these guys to the infirmary. They’ll need rest and possibly a tetanus jab.”

“You, too,” Hrodgar answered. “You are wet and cold. You should have warm clothes and a hot drink.”

“I’ve got things to do,” Davie answered. “Spenser, Stuart didn’t need resuscitating. You can take your lips off him, now. Let Hrodgar look after him. I need to talk to you.”

After finding a dry robe, Davie brought Spenser to the study where the Brothers read their bibles and various theological works. Nobody was mentally composed enough for such things just now and they were alone. Davie scanned the bookshelf and found one book that wasn’t a religious text. He opened the tidal table for the Lindisfane sands to the correct day and pointed it out to Spenser.

“Eadric should have had an hour to spare. The tide shouldn’t even be lapping the edge of the Causeway, yet.”

“I thought it was strange,” Spenser admitted.

“Did you notice anything else that was strange?” Davie asked. “I know you were fretting for Stuart. I understand that. But did you feel ANYTHING else when you were standing there? Anything that our telepathic nerves should have registered?”

Spenser shook his head.

“I’m sorry. My head was just too skewed with worry about Stuart. I really thought I was going to lose him. If you hadn’t gone in after them….”

Spenser sighed deeply and turned his face away.

“I should have done what you did. That boat was a dumb idea. I couldn’t have reached them in time. I didn’t think clearly. All I could see was the waves washing over them and…”

“You’re no coward, Spenser. Don’t give it another thought. We’ve got too much else to worry about. Tides don’t alter by themselves. There has to be some kind of force behind that. Remember what Pip said when we were walking across the Causeway….”

“The sands are hungry.”

“Weird thing for him to say.”

“Weird thing for anyone to say. Then Stuart said he could smell something. We dismissed that, too. His olfactory senses get confused. All sorts of things smell like aliens to him. He won’t walk past a laundrette because the smell of the industrial dryers reminds him of something with too many legs to possibly turn out to be benign. That’s why I really didn’t worry about him smelling something around here.”

“We dismissed them both too easily. Pip’s race aren’t known for their psychic powers, but being the only one of his kind on Earth makes him special. Who knows what might touch him that wouldn’t touch us?”

“But ‘the sand is hungry’? Not literally, surely? Æthelred was drowned, not eaten. Eadric and Stuart were overwhelmed by the sea, but nothing tried to bite into them.”

“I’ve heard of entities that eat souls,” Davie suggested. “But something like that on Earth….”

“Eats souls?” Spenser queried.

“It has been known.”

“But that wouldn’t kill a man. I mean… a soul… isn’t essential to life….”

“I’m not so sure about that. If you ask any of the Brothers they would be perfectly sure that it is. But that isn’t really the point. I’m quite sure that Æthelred died of drowning, but I’m equally sure that something got to him first. Come on.”

Spenser didn’t bother to ask where they were going. Nor did Pip or Brother Godwine when they both slipped behind them. Davie turned and studied them both carefully.

“This could be very dangerous. There’s one man dead, already.”

“I’m here to look out for you,” Pip said dutifully.

“I’m here because a man is dead,” Godwine added. Davie looked at him curiously then felt the mental nudge from Spenser and understood.

“Vengeance doesn’t go with a name that means ‘God’s blessing’,” he pointed out.

“It’s not vengeance,” he replied. “I just need to know… I need to be sure he didn’t… because of me… because my feelings for him frightened him or repulsed him….”

“I’m pretty sure it was nothing of the sort,” Davie assured the young man. “But ok, come on with us. I’m not completely sure what either of you can do, but come on, anyway.”

The tide was high when they reached the place where the Causeway ought to be. He was even more certain that something sinister was afoot. Godwine confirmed that it was never usually THIS high even at the winter high tide.

“Do you think the island might be submerged?” Pip asked. “Could that happen?”

“It shouldn’t, but I’m not sure of anything just now. Except we need the boat Spenser was trying to launch earlier.”

It was a very old rowing boat and one of the oars was splitting badly, but it would do for what he wanted. Davie took the oars as his three companions sat evenly along the plank seats. He rowed out onto the swelling tide. It was hard going, but he had fought worse things than mere water and he wasn’t going to be beaten by it.

“Here!” Pip called out suddenly when they were about halfway between the island and the mainland. “Davie, it’s here. This is where the sand is hungry.”

“I still don’t know what that means, or why you’re the only one who can feel it,” Davie admitted. “But I’ll take your word for it. We’ve no anchor, so you and Godwine take the oars and do your best to keep the boat on this spot, or as near as you can. Don’t drift away. Spenser… you and I are going for a swim.”

With that, he kicked off his sandals and pulled off his robe before diving into the water in his underwear. Spenser was a beat behind. Both of them took deep breaths and closed off their lungs. They could recycle their oxygen for at least fifteen minutes. That ought to be long enough.

With their Gallifreyan eyes they could also see underwater better than any Human and they could regulate their blood temperature so that the coldness of the North Sea – the Arctic Circle when it rounded Norway – didn’t bother them too much. Even so it was hardly scuba diving for pleasure as they swam down to the sea bed.

Or what looked like the sea bed. Close to, both of them recognised, with their eyes and their psychic nerves, that there was something here that shouldn’t be. It was the colour and texture of the sand and probably a half a mile square. Under water it was recognisable as odd because there was absolutely no sea life on it, not a cockle shell, not a sprig of sea wrack. Either it absorbed anything that touched it or the sea life had an innate sense that it was dangerous and kept clear.

Both Spenser and Davie thought about the birds that covered the sands at low water and wondered briefly.

“It must be inactive when it’s dry,” Davie suggested. He swam closer and reached out a hand tentatively. He gasped in horror at what he felt even in the moment before he snatched it back.

The creature came from another world. It had fallen to Earth when it was too small to create any friction and burn up in the atmosphere. It had settled at first in the deep, cold part of that Arctic sea he had thought of as the first cold shock of diving hit him. It had lived for five centuries by consuming what he could only call, for want of a better word, the souls of drowned men and women. The two World Wars of the twentieth century had been times of feast when so many boats sank in the seas between Britain and Europe. Later there was famine – only rarely did a tragedy strike ships or the oil rigs and wind farm platforms that came to be built in those waters. The creature moved closer to land, snatching people from fishing boats and recreational yachts along the east coast of Scotland. Slowly it had worked its way down the coast and found Lindisfarne and its tidal sandbanks, a place to hunker down and wait for the unwary – for those who thought themselves safe on the Causeway of dry land.

There was no safety when there was a creature that could control the water and pull the tide over them before they could do anything to defend themselves, a creature that could exert a mild hypnotic field which reached Æthelred when he was having trouble sleeping and went for a walk in the cool, quiet night. Davie felt the thoughts of the last victim in that brief contact. He felt the fear and terror of thousands more who had been pulled into its grasp.

He felt it start to pull at him. He felt Spenser being attacked, too, but neither of them were fully Human and they were stronger in mind and body than almost every creature they had ever met. They resisted. They put up mental walls against the creature that tried to force its way into their minds. They defended their very souls against the terrible hunger.

“What IS a soul?” Davie felt Spenser ask the question as they swam up to the surface and stole a breath of air before swimming down again and renewing their defence.

“If we survive this, you can find several hundred books on the subject in the monastery library,” he answered. “All I know is that I have one and I’m not letting that creature take it.”

He swam back down again until he was within physical reach of the creature again and instead of merely defending himself he launched a searing mental attack as well.

It hurt him as much as it hurt the creature. He had fought mental battles before, but not underwater, not while recycling his breathing and trying to hold onto the one part of his existence that he had never had to hold onto before. It was going to be a fight to the death and he wasn’t entirely sure whose death it would be.

“Davie!” Spenser’s voice screamed in his head as he attacked again and got ready to repulse the counter-blast of mental energy. “The boys….”

He didn’t need to know more. The creature knew it couldn’t get either of the Time Lords so it had reached past them to Pip and Godwine. He was reminded of the sneak attack on the boys and the luggage wagons in Shakespeare’s rendition of Agincourt. It was as low and against the ‘articles of war’ as that.

“Look after them,” he commanded. “I’ll finish this job.”

He had to do it in the next eight minutes, before he ran out of oxygen. He would have no chance to get another breath. He had to fight all out, even if it meant letting go of his defences in order to make a stronger attack.

It REALLY hurt. Every thrust at the creature wracked his body and as the creature fought back he felt the inexorable pull on the unfathomable depths of his being.

Then something happened. He knew it came from beyond his own effort. He felt Spenser’s consciousness in there, but there were others, too. It was as if he was channelling a host of souls who put up a fight alongside him.

The creature tried to grasp them all at once but united as they were they were too strong. And while its will was concentrated on the others Davie was free to launch his most powerful attack. He felt the creature scream with every fibre of its strange body before it exploded.

He tried to swim away, but the shock wave hit him before he reached the surface. Running out of air, exhausted physically and mentally, he couldn’t do anything to save himself. As he blacked out he felt his body start to sink back down into the water again.

When he regained consciousness he was aware of somebody kissing him. He opened his eyes to see Spenser drawing back from him.

“Don’t argue about it,” he said. “You DID need artificial respiration. You’ve probably got a thumping headache. I know I have, just from the psychic reverberation. Lie still. Brother Hrodgar brought a stretcher. They’re going to carry you up to the infirmary.”

“I don’t need….” He began to protest, but his arms and legs felt like jelly. He really DID need to be carried. Four of the Brothers volunteered to do that. The others lined the way, bowing their heads in honour to him as he passed them by. He saw their faces fade away as he slipped into unconsciousness again, his body shutting down to recover, mentally and physically, from the effort.

When he woke again he was warm and comfortable in the infirmary. Pip and Godwine had been made to lie down, too, but Spenser had stayed at his bedside.

“They helped, didn’t they,” he said as his mind cleared. “The Brothers… they all came down to the shore.”

“They prayed,” Spenser replied. “All of them at once, praying as hard as they could for us. I don’t know how exactly, but it worked.”

“You still don’t know?” Davie smiled serenely. “You really do need to find some of those books about the soul. That’s what the creature wanted, and it’s what the Brothers offered with their prayers – their souls as a shield, defending me.”

“All I know is that the creature let go of me and the boys. I got them back into the boat and rowed for shore. I intended to come back for you once they were safe, but then the sea was rocked by an explosion and straight after the tide rushed out again. You were left lying on the Causeway. I thought the worst, at first, but obviously I ought to have known better. It takes more than a lump of alien sand to finish you off.”

“Not much more. It nearly had me,” Davie admitted.

“It didn’t. You’re ok. And you saved everyone.”

“Not quite everyone. I couldn’t do anything for Æthelred. I’m sorry about that. Especially because he meant so much to Godwine. Is he going to be ok, do you think?”

“He’s grieving. But he has his friends around him. The Brothers will look after him. I think he’ll be all right. I hope he will.” Spenser looked around at the young monk. He was sitting up on the bed, reading his Bible quietly. He had found something in it to give him comfort.

“There is something to be said for believing in something,” he admitted.

“There is,” Davie confirmed. “But that’s not the important thing right now.”

“What is?” Spenser asked, recognising a twinkle of humour in Davie’s eyes now that the crisis was over.

“Making absolutely sure that Brenda thinks the most strenuous thing that went on this week was onion picking.”

“I won’t tell if you don’t,” Spenser promised.