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

Jimmy was having to wear hose again. It was another trip to mid-fifteenth century Lancashire and contemporaneous underwear was essential.

Still worse, he had been wearing hose while seated on a horse. He couldn’t ride, and had avoided embarrassment because Vicki could and she rode behind him, secretly directing him. Fortunately, they had only travelled a mile and a half from Samlesbury before he was able to dismount and sit on the grassy bank of the river Ribble with his sweetheart by his side.

But you look fantastic,” Vicki assured him as he complained again. “You’ve got nice legs.”

“You shouldn’t be looking,” he responded. Vicki broke the illusion of a properly modest fifteenth century young lady by sticking her tongue out at him. He resisted the impulse to pick her up and throw her over his shoulder. Not only would it be improper but he was worried about being poked in the eye by the strange framework that supported her skirts.

“I’m hot in this outfit,” Jimmy complained. He looked up at a perfect blue sky with the sun shining down strongly. At home he would be in shorts and a t-shirt. Vicki would probably be in REALLY short shorts and a crop top – at least when she was well out of sight of her father. They were both overdressed for a hot day.

“Let’s go back to the others along by the river,” Vicki suggested. “The trees are shady, and we don’t have to ride. We can walk and lead the horse.”

The horse didn’t mind that arrangement. It plodded along beside them as they walked under the trees that lined the river at this point.

“Amazing to think all this, over a mile from the house, still belongs to the Southworths,” Vicki noted. “Two villages and a river and all the land between.”

“The land is how they make their money,” Jimmy acknowledged. “Tenant farmers paying their dues. Earl says it’s really different in his day. We’ve ridden right across the site of the huge factory where they build and test air shuttles in his time.”

“Big estates like this didn’t last much past the twentieth century,” Vicki confirmed. “Even our house only has about a hundred acres, less the big meadow where Chris’s Sanctuary is.”

“My house had a bit of back yard and a tiny space for a car at the front, so don’t feel too deprived, will you?”

“I wouldn’t mind living in a little house with you,” Vicki assured him.

“Rich people always say that,” Jimmy pointed out. “As if pretending to be poor is fun. That’s why I hated you and Sukie when we were kids.”

“Oh, THAT’S why!” Vicki remarked. “We thought you were just a mean bully.”

“Oh shut up. Besides, you don’t have to live in a little house. I’m planning to make enough money to build whatever kind of house you want. I’ll be a brilliant engineer designing the tallest buildings in the world and the longest bridges.”

“So you don’t plan to LIVE in the house with me all that much?” Vicki laughed, though not unkindly. She was proud of Jimmy’s ambitions. He had grown into a far more able student than he had been in his younger days and she thought it was down to her influence on him, making him realise he had much more going for him than even he had believed.

“Maybe we won’t have a house at all. We could live wherever I’m working, in France or Australia or the islands of the Arabian Sea.”

“Or Ceres, or Ventura, or Adano-Ambrado,” Vicki suggested. “We don’t need to stay on Earth.”

Jimmy thought about that and nodded as if the idea pleased him. Then he looked ahead, along the river bank, to where Sukie and Earl sat with Lord Richard de Southworth and Lady Elizabeth and their son and his wife, Christopher and Isobel Southworth. A canopy of deep red fabric shaded them from the sun and they drank and ate from a picnic, though Jimmy wasn’t sure if the word ‘picnic’ existed yet to describe an outdoor meal.

“We’d better stop talking about that sort of thing now, before we’re overheard by somebody from 1467. They do have some funny ideas about witchcraft and stuff.”

Vicki began to agree with him then shivered suddenly. That was odd because it really was a sunny day and she was wearing so many layers of clothing. She looked around and gasped in astonishment at the wall of dense white fog rolling along the river. It was like nothing she had ever seen before. It was unnatural.

And it was moving fast.

“Jimmy!” In one smooth movement she mounted the horse before reaching to help her boyfriend up behind her. She made no pretence at dainty side saddle riding as she urged the horse away from the riverside.

“The others,” Jimmy said, turning his head while gripping Vicki’s waist grimly. He saw the servants who had accompanied the family stepping forward as if to defend them against the odd phenomenon. He saw Earl Gregory and Christopher Southworth both get to their feet. Everyone else was caught unawares. The women couldn’t stand quickly because of their skirts. In any case, it was too late. The fog enveloped them all.

Vicki turned the horse and watched anxiously. The fog was diminishing as quickly as it had rolled in and soon she set the horse cantering towards the group of friends as they became visible again, but even that short experience had been frightening.

“What happened?” she asked as she dismounted, followed in a rather ungainly fashion by Jimmy. Everyone’s fine clothes were soaking wet as if the fog had been laden with water. Isobel and Lady Elizabeth were shivering badly. Sukie was controlling her own body temperature and was steaming gently, which didn’t seem like something a refined young woman ought to do. The men were doing their best to look stoic, but they were cold, too.

“Look!” Isobel cried out. “There are people in the river.”

Everyone forgot their own discomfort as they turned to look where Isobel was pointing. Two women were struggling against the rushing water.

At least they looked like women. Vicki started to say something, but Earl and Christopher both rushed forward, plunging waist high into the river. Jimmy and two of the servants ran after them and helped to lift the gasping, spluttering women onto the grassy bank.

Vicki looked at them as they recovered. They were two very pretty women with the pale complexions and good teeth of the rich. They were wearing silk dresses with all the required layers of kirtles and petticoats.

But for an instant, when they were in the water, she had been sure their faces were grey and their teeth like needles and they were clothed in water weeds.

She blinked and looked again. What a strange idea. Obviously it had been a trick of the light or something.

“Were you in a boat?” Sir Richard asked the women. “Was it that blasted fog?”

“The fog, yes,” said one of the women, sitting up and touching her long, red hair. “Yes, we were in a… a boat.”

“We saw only the two of you,” Christopher said. “I fear any companions must have drowned.”

Sir Richard dispatched his servants to go upstream in search of other survivors, or at worst, bodies, but they reported no sign of either.

“Let us return to the house,” he divided. “Dry clothes for all and then wine and sweetmeats in the Great Hall. Egad, this is a strange way to receive guests, but we shall not be less hospitable for it.”

With that he had the two women lifted onto the horses that had carried the picnic accoutrements to the river. Two male servants mounted the horses to support them. Sir Richard and his wife and the other couples mounted their own horses and the damp party but with undamped spirits set off back to Samlesbury Hall, looking forward to dry clothes and refreshments.

Vicki was still puzzled. Why would the two women be in a boat? Where had the boat come from and why wasn’t there wreckage?

And what HAD she seen when the women were in the water.

None of it made sense.

The women were delivered into the care of the female servants. Vicki and Sukie had a chambermaid to attend them, but they dismissed her so that they could get hot showers in the TARDIS before choosing all new clothes from the Wardrobe.

“What was it like when the mist caught up with you?” Vicki asked as they fixed their hair back in the bedchamber. “What did it feel like?”

“Really cold, and a bit nasty, like invisible fingers touching me all over,” Sukie answered. “It FELT like it went on a very long time when it was happening, but really it wasn’t very long, really.”

“A few minutes,” Vicki confirmed. “It wasn’t natural. Fog, especially not freezing fog, doesn’t happen in Lancashire on a sunny day in June. And I think those women have something to do with it. They’re not natural, either.”

She said it quite casually, just voicing a thought that was spinning around her head. She was startled by Sukie’s response.

“Don’t be stupid, Vicki,” she snapped. “They’re beautiful, and they nearly drowned. It’s a good thing we were there to help them.”

“I never said they weren’t beautiful,” Vicki responded. “What’s that got to do with anything? Don’t you think it’s weird – totally unexpected fog and then two women in the river.”

“No, I don’t,” Sukie insisted. “Stop talking rubbish. You’re so childish sometimes.”

Vicki was stung. Sukie had never talked to her that way before. They had been friends since she was a baby. Why was she acting that way?

“I’m going to the Great Hall,” Sukie declared. “I want to talk to the women. I’m sure they’ve got lots of interesting things to say.”

“I’m going there, too,” Vicki insisted. “I want to find out what they are.”

Sukie stalked out of the room. Vicki followed her. On the stairs they tried to elbow each other out of the way, vying to be the first to reach the Grand Hall.

“What’s going on with you two?” Earl asked as he and Jimmy waited for them at the bottom of the stairs.

“Ask her,” Sukie responded. “She’s the one being stupid.” With that she stalked off across the hallway and Earl gave a puzzled glance around at Vicki before hurrying after her.

“What’s going on?” Jimmy asked. “You and Sukie have never argued, EVER.”

“She won’t believe me about those two women… about there being something funny about them.”

“But….” Jimmy stared at her. “But there’s nothing funny about them. They’re the most beautiful, perfect women I’ve ever seen.”

“The most BEAUTIFUL?” Vicki echoed. “Perfect…..”

There probably wasn’t a right thing to say just then, but in every possible way, Jimmy got it wrong.

“Absolutely perfect. I’ve never seen such beauty. No other woman can compare.”

Vicki didn’t say anything more, but her face, incandescent with rage, spoke volumes. She turned from him and ran upstairs again, rage turning to betrayed tears at every step.

Jimmy looked at her retreating back and wondered why anyone could be so upset about the truth. Then he turned and followed Earl into the Great Hall where the two perfect women waited.

They looked even more beautiful now that they were dressed in two of Isobel’s best gowns, their hair brushed till it shone like burnished copper and piled high on their heads. They wore no cap or hat. Though neither Lady Elizabeth nor the younger Isobel would ever be seen without headgear for fear of unseemliness it would have been a terrible thing to hide these lovely tresses.

So all of the men of the household felt, and none of the women were complaining either.

“Master Forrester,” Sir Richard said to him. “Let me formally introduce you to Lady Anvia and Lady Celosia.”

“I am honoured,” Jimmy responded, bending a knee perfectly towards them – something he had never achieved before even when the deposed Lancastrian King Henry VI made a secret visit to Samlesbury. He bowed his head and reached out to take the proffered hands to kiss. “I am your servant, My Ladies.”

“We owe you much thanks, already, Master Forrester,” replied Lady Celosia. “You helped to save our lives.”

“It was nothing, Madam. No more than any man would do. But only command me and I will do your bidding.”

“As will we all,” Earl added, making haste to show that he could match Jimmy for courtly manners. Christopher Southworth did likewise. Sir Richard, as head of the household and as a Lord in his own right, bowed rather less obsequiously but he, too, was captivated.

“Come, let us be refreshed with wine from my cellar and food from my kitchen. Send for the lute player and let us have music.”

“After we have taken wine to refresh our throats, we shall sing for you,” said Lady Anvia. “It is the least we can do to repay such kindnesses as have been shown to us.”

And so they did. While the Southworths and their guests drank wine and ate cheese and sweetmeats brought by the servants the two ladies sang a song that the lute player struggled to accompany and eventually gave up on in order to listen. Their voices were fine and clear and all who listened were convinced that only the purest of souls could make such music.

Vicki had thrown herself down on the four-poster bed in the chamber and cried solidly for a whole half hour. After that she got up, looked in the mirror to see how pale and tragic she looked and found she just looked red-cheeked and puffy around the eyes. She thought about everything that was going on and decided that it was hardly becoming of her great Time Lord heritage to lie around crying. Better to do something about it.

She went to her TARDIS, hidden behind a dressing screen in the corner of the chamber. That wasn’t much of a disguise, of course, for an old Type 40 stuck in the shape of a nineteen-fifties police box. She had added what her father had jokingly called a ‘somebody else’s problem field’ – though he didn’t actually explain the joke. Essentially it was a psychic screen that made anyone looking directly at the TARDIS automatically turn away thinking there was nothing unusual there. It was as good as a properly functioning chameleon circuit.

Inside her familiar console room, she set to work researching mysterious women who came out of rivers. At first the database wasn’t much help. The search term ‘water witch’ proved to be a quite benign person who found water by dousing or ‘divining’ with a forked stick.

“Try that in this century and it won’t be considered so benign,” she murmured aloud as she tried ‘water spirit’ and ‘river demon’ as keywords. Planet Earth had a rich history of legends and mythology about creatures that live in water. There were the Rusalka in northern European legends, the spirits of wronged women, especially those betrayed by their lovers. Vicki felt a certain sympathy for them, but they didn’t fit the pattern of these women. The seas and oceans had mermaids, nereids, sirens and all sorts, but these were too far inland. Individual rivers had their own spirits – she found Sinann and Boann, goddesses of the Shannon and Boyne in Ireland, and Sabrina, spirit of the Severn - another champion of wronged women - and Sequana, goddess of the River Seine in France, but as far as she could see, nothing, neither romantic nor sinister, had ever been associated with the River Ribble that worked its way from North Yorkshire to the sea in West Lancashire.

The database was as comprehensive as any she was likely to find, but nothing matched what she had found so far. Nothing natural or supernatural associated with Earth fitted the evidence of her eyes.

She turned, instead, to non-terrestrial life-forms. She ruled out the Saturnynes. They looked like humanoid piranhas in water and although they used ‘shimmer’ technology to disguise themselves on land, they didn’t have the ability to bamboozle people’s minds the way this pair had done. There seemed little doubt that was what had happened. Why else would Jimmy be behaving so stupidly? Earl, too. Even Sukie. It was something to do with the fog, or from touching them as both the men had done when they rushed to the rescue. Along with the Southworths her friends were under a malign influence.

She was still angry with them. They all ought to have known better than that. Even if Jimmy was susceptible as a Human, Earl and Sukie were both at least half Gallifreyan. They ought to have been stronger.

Her anger had shifted from the unfairness of their treatment of her to irritation about how easily they had succumbed and how they had left her alone and vulnerable.

“Voices like angels,” Christopher Southworth said as the two guests finished their song. He hurried to bring goblets of wine go them while Jimmy and Earl both brought platters of sweetmeats.

The lute player who had found himself compelled to accompany the heaven sent duo stilled the strings of his instrument and reached for a mug of mead to refresh his throat. He had been playing for nearly an hour without respite as the song stretched into verse after verse. His fingers were stiff from playing. He tried to remember the tune he had been playing. While it was going on he felt as if he knew it well, but now that it was over, he wasn’t so sure.

He felt if the women started singing again he would know what to play. If they sang until midnight, even if his fingers bled, he would accompany them. Their beauty compelled him to do so.

Sukie Campbell watched as Earl knelt before Lady Celosia and vowed his eternal devotion and fealty to her. It was wonderful to see how he paid them such attention.

Or was it? She really wasn’t sure what it was that distracted her, but something made her turn and look at Isobel and Elizabeth. Like their husbands, they were entranced by the women. They had applauded the song with wholehearted enthusiasm and were now commenting on just how marvellous it was, and how lucky they were go have such god-sent paragons in their home.


Yes, but which god? The traitorous thought popped into Sukie’s head from somewhere. Not all the gods believed in by Humans were benevolent, and not all women who sang beautifully were angels.

She looked back at Earl as he bent to kiss the lovely, slender hand of the Lady. Suddenly she felt as if she had been stabbed in the hearts. She stood up and grasped her goblet of wine. It was nearly full. She never took more than a few sips of the alcoholic drinks served in these times of unsafe drinking water. Now she took two steps forward and flung the contents over her boyfriend’s head, happily catching Lady Celosia’s gown into the bargain.

“If you had ever given me an engagement ring, I would throw it back at you,” she said before turning and stalking off to the astonishment of all the household.

“Please sing again, my Ladies,” Earl begged as the sound of a huge oak door slamming shut reverberated around the Great Hall. Sukie’s anger was mystifying, but there was no reason why it ought to spoil the afternoon.

Sukie ran up the great, wide stairs, tears streaming from her eyes as the betrayal clutched at her hearts. Earl was supposed to be hers. They had both seen their future together. Tristie, their future grandson, for whom timelines and causality were playthings and rules just guidelines, was proof of that. But right now her future husband only had eyes for this interloper.

She reached the bedchamber and was surprised to see Vicki standing there dressed in the sort of clothes female characters in Shakespeare plays wore when they were disguised as men to trick their fiancés. Her legs were encased in hose that would make Jimmy weep and a pair of high leather boots. A leather jerkin covered a loose sleeved blouse and she had a sword belt at the waist with a long scabbard encasing a slender but nonetheless lethal sword.

“Finally,” she said to her astonished cousin. “I’ve been trying to get through to you. Just HOW strong is their enchantment?”

“It was you who made me look away?”

“Well, obviously.”

“I’m sorry for the things I said,” Sukie added. “It was them… fuddling my mind.”

“If you want to make up for it, get another sword,” Vicki answered. “Make it quick. I’m not leaving Jimmy slobbering over them for a moment longer than I have to.”

Sukie didn’t have time for the full change of outfit, but she lost three of the stiff petticoats to allow a bit more freedom of movement and shook her hair loose from the ubiquitous indoor hat before fixing on a sword belt over her elegant silk kirtle. She joined Vicki in the bedchamber.

“Are we going to kill them?” she asked. “I don’t think your father would want us killing anything, not even evil entities, at our age.”

“We do what has to be done,” Vicki answered with a grim set to her usually sweet, elfin face. “If Daddy were here he would protect us. Since he’s not, we have to protect ourselves.”

Secretly, Sukie marvelled at somebody wielding a sword and still calling her father ‘daddy’. She also harboured the thought that The Doctor, wonderful as he could be, was a man, and the men seemed peculiarly affected by these Women. He would be trying to drink wine from their slippers or something stupid like that.

“Mum would do the same as us,” she conceded. “Come on, let’s do it.”

The lute player was losing all sensation in his fingers as the song went on. Even so, he could not stop. It was still the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.

Lord Richard de Southworth smiled blissfully to hear the celestial music being sung in his own Great Hall. Surely this was the greatest honour any Lord had known. Even a visit from the King could not be greater than having these beautiful creatures in his own home. Samlesbury would be famous forever after this day.

Lady Elizabeth had thought so, too, at first. But something suddenly jarred in her mind. She closed her eyes and listened. Surely there was something wrong with the song? It was not beautiful. It was a horrible, ghastly sound, as of hags screeching.

“My Lady.” She opened her eyes as she felt a soft hand in hers. It was Isobel, her daughter-in-law, looking pale and worried.

“What is happening to us?” the younger woman asked. “Our menfolk are as though bewitched. How can we….”

The huge door swung open, creaking on old hinges. Vicki and Sukie strode into the Great Hall like avenging angels, swords held high. Vicki also held Earl’s sonic screwdriver which she aimed at the massive chandelier suspended in the middle of the vaulted roof. The golden candlelight turned to an actinic blue.

In that strange light everyone could see the streams of blue-green energy that linked the two women with everyone in the room. The men of the household, including the lute player and the manservants attending to the family, were linked by strong conduits. The two women were less firmly attached. Arcs of yellow light wavered along their lines. The hold was weaker.

“Jimmy, get away from that witch,” Vicki cried as she crossed the floor and swung her sword. Jimmy dived out of her way, protecting his head. When he looked up Vicki had sliced through the conduit linking him to Lady Celosia. At the same time Sukie brought her sword down in the gap between Lady Anvia and Earl. Both men looked at the women in astonishment, gasping in surprised horror at what they now saw.

Vicki and Sukie didn’t stop to offer explanations. They swung and sliced at the rest of the blue actinic tentacles that reached out to ensnare the unwary – or the male of the species, at least.

“My God!” Lady Elizabeth acted first. Her husband was too amazed to stir. She grabbed hold of the ornamental great sword that hung over the fireplace. It had been used in battle by Sir Richard’s grandfather a century ago. Now it came to new use. Though heavy, Elizabeth raised it high and charged at the creature that had called herself Lady Anvia. She severed the grey, wizened neck with one stroke and turned to do the same to the other. The grey, corpse-like face of the former Lady Celosia bared needle-like teeth and reached for Elizabeth with long grey fingers ending in sharp, eye-gouging talons. Elizabeth hesitated, but before any harm came to her the she-fiend’s head was severed by an axe in the hands of Lady Isobel. The axe had belonged to the enemy slain by the sword in that battle fought by the former Southworth and had been hanging for a generation under the said sword.

Heads and bodies fell to the floor, but instead of blood, water poured from the bodies. It kept pouring until it seemed to be pouring away the grey substance of the creatures altogether. Slowly they turned into a murky puddle that spread across the floor. Feet in shoes and hose and those hidden under petticoats edged away from the mess before it began to condense into a white mist that hung an inch above the floor. Startled witnesses shivered in the cold it brought with it before the mist thinned away leaving nothing at all as evidence that something strange had happened.

“Egads!” cried Sir Richard. Were we visited by devils?”

“Yes,” replied Vicki. His Lordship turned to look at her, puzzled by her clothing and the sword she still held. As his wife and daughter-in-law were both holding weapons he decided a comely girl in the clothes of a man was no more remarkable. Her explanation of events was not something he could pass over, though. “My father is known in London and far and wide beyond that place as the leading authority on such evil things. I know from him how to defeat them.”

The bewildered man looked at Vicki closely and fully believed her. The look in her innocent brown eyes was wholly convincing.

“Your home is clean, now, Sir Richard,” Sukie added, standing by her cousin and sheathing her sword. “Though if you feel you would rest easier for having a priest pronounce a blessing upon the Great Hall, none shall gainsay you.”

“Madam… my thanks,” Sir Richard answered her. “Elizabeth, my dear, Isobel, won’t you put down those weapons, now. I think… it has been a trying day. Perhaps we all had a little too much sun. I think we ought to go and rest for a while before supper.”

He meant the family, of course, not the exhausted lute player or the manservants who had been unwitting victims of the creatures, too. If the lord of the manor took to his bed, though, they might have some respite. It was good news all round.

Vicki was glad of the chance to be alone with her friends in the privacy of the connecting bedchambers. Before anything else, she heard contrite apologies from them all and was gracious in her acceptances.

“It must have been the fog,” Earl suggested. “It did something to our minds.”

“To start with,” Vicki confirmed. “Then you were all stupid enough to touch them. That meant even Jimmy was affected, even though he wasn’t in the fog. By the time they were back at the house they had been in contact with enough Humans to affect anyone who was in the same room. That poor lute player was playing himself to death. The rest of you would have been food for the Gwrachod after him.”

“Food?” echoed Jimmy. “I thought they wanted mates?”

“Have you heard of the praying mantis?” Vicki asked him. “Or the black widow spider? Being mates of a Gwrachod Dwr wouldn’t have been a good thing.”

“A what?” Jimmy asked. He was not the only one who didn’t want to repeat those syllables.

“It sort of translates from the Pleiades dialects as River Witches,” Vicki continued. “Since you were asking, you may as well know that Gwrachod eat the males of any species they capture and enslave the females – which is not a let off by any reckoning. Their advanced scouts travel from planet to planet using a water-based teleport. When they find a tasty species they insinuate themselves into the first nest, community, house, whatever, and feast on it before calling the rest of their sisters to swarm across the planet.”

“So humanity could have been devoured, one noble landowner at a time?” Earl observed.

“Basically, yes,” Vicki responded. “Good job I spotted that something was wrong. You lot were useless. And, Jimmy, you’re still not completely forgiven for the line about them being the most beautiful, perfect women in the world.”

Jimmy glanced at Earl for support and got a sympathetic nod.

“YOU are the most perfect woman in the UNIVERSE,” he ventured.

“Ok, you’re forgiven,” Vicki told him. “Now I deserve that afternoon nap. Saving planets from man-eating hags is hard work.”