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

This was becoming a familiar routine, now. He stepped through one open door to be faced by another one. He picked up the globe with swirling images of friends and foes. Mel Bush’s cheerful face came to the fore and then faded into the mist. Then his two hearts twanged as he recognised the features of Peri Brown.

Peri had suffered, really suffered, from life as his companion. First she had witnessed his regeneration when she had only known him for a very short time. The post-regenerative stress he suffered that time had really hurt her badly and shook her faith in him. He had managed to restore that faith before the Time Lords pulled him out of his time and left her in the hands of the Mentors. Only the intervention of King Yrcanos saved her from a grisly death.

He didn’t even have a chance to tell her why he had failed her. Yrcanos took her to his world and made her his queen and only later had he managed to visit Krontep and be assured that she was happy with her unlikely husband. She forgave him for his neglect and they were friends again, but that incident always weighed heavily upon his soul.

He looked at the glass case where the key to the next door was displayed for him. He frowned. He knew it was no coincidence that Peri had been brought to mind by the globe.

The Seal of Krontep. He recognised the hologram inside the case at once. He had seen the jewel encrusted gold seal that stamped an elaborate ‘K’ on the wax that ‘sealed’ royal documents on that visit to Krontep as guest of the king and queen. It was an important part of the Possessions of the King, passed from father to son as a symbol of their entitlement to the throne.

Was he meant to steal it? It wouldn’t be the first time he had taken part in a spot of larceny for the best of reasons, but he wasn’t sure he really wanted to steal from King Yrcanos. Quite apart from being a good friend he was also a fierce warrior with some firm ideas about crime and punishment.

Well, one thing was clear. He was going to be revisiting Krontep.

He dressed for stormy weather, in a long black cloak with a hood. The TARDIS materialised in the dark forest that surrounded Kastle Krontep. He stepped out into an early evening thunderstorm. Forked lightning split a sky the colour of a day old bruise and the thunder rolled like Yrcanos himself letting loose a battle cry. The rain fell as sharp as arrows. If The Doctor had bothered with anything as fanciful as an umbrella it would have been rendered useless in minutes. Krontepian weather was harsh. You had to be made of stern stuff to live here.

Two guards stood either side of the gatehouse in the curtain wall around Kastle Krontep. They had small overhanging porches that barely kept the rain off them. They were wearing steel breastplates, which seemed a dangerous thing to do in a thunderstorm. They barred The Doctor’s way with long staffs topped with spears as he approached.

“I am The Doctor,” he announced. “Friend and confidante of King Ycarnos and Queen Peri.” He pronounced the names of King Yrcanos and Queen Gilliam, as Peri was known to her subjects in perfect Krontepian. “May the Lords of Thunder forever Trumpet their Union.”

That was a correct way to pay homage to the King and Queen of Krontep. The two guards opened the way for him. He passed through the gatehouse and across the drawbridge that spanned a wide moat full of deep, dark water, that may or may not contain mutated water creatures brought from Thoras Beta. The portcullis on the stout castle keep was raised as he approached, and dropped again after him. Two more guards met him in the entry and escorted him up the steps to, he presumed, the Throne Room where he had met the King and Queen on his last visit.

He was surprised to be taken into the ante-room before the King’s chamber and told to wait until he was attended upon. There were two heavy, solid chairs with surprisingly delicate silk cushions on them by a roaring fire. The Doctor sat on one of them and a few minutes later he was brought ale in a three pint pewter mug.

He sipped a little of the ale, then left the mug in the fireplace. On the huge mantle almost at his own head height he saw the Seal of Krontep itself, the very thing he came here to get.

He reached out to touch it.

But nothing was going to be that easy.

The huge door to the bedchamber opened with a loud creak of seasoned oak and the Queen herself came out. She was dressed in fine silk and satin and wore a plain gold band in her hair denoting her royal status. She stared at The Doctor for a long moment, wondering who he was.

“It’s me, Peri,” he said. “The Doctor. I’ve… regenerated again… a couple of times since I saw you last.”

“Doctor!” She ran the few steps between them. “Oh, Doctor, I am so glad to see you. Today of all days, you are so very welcome. Thank you for coming.”

“I’m always glad to visit an old friend. But what is the matter? You’ve been crying.”

“Yrcanos is dying,” she answered. “He is not expected to last the night.”

“I am sorry,” The Doctor told her immediately. “So very sorry.”

“We’ve been married for twenty-eight years,” Peri said. “He was not a young man even at the start. We had our share of happiness. But….”

She was a queen in every way, not the young woman he had known. She didn’t cry in front of anyone but her husband, and even then only now, in extremis, when he was too weak to berate her for it. She bore herself with dignity.

“I sent all the attendants away,” she explained. “I wanted to have a little time in peace with him. But now I need to summon them again, the Lord Chamberlain, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord First Minister, the Royal Physician, the Royal Astrologer… and the children… the Prince and Princesses. They need to be here, now, to say goodbye to their father.”

“Anything I can do to ease your burden, your Majesty.”

“You… can start by calling me Peri for this brief moment when it is just the two of us,” she answered. “When that little lot arrive, it has to be Majesty. They have to remember I am still Queen, even if I am shortly to be Queen Mother to the new King of Krontep.”

“Of course, Peri.”

He reached out and hugged his friend, Peri. To do so to the Queen was probably a hanging offence. Reluctantly she drew back after a little while and went to the door to send a herald running for all of those people.

The first to be admitted were the royal children. Princess Yvonne was the eldest, a tall dark haired Amazon of a woman who was had her mother’s beauty but her father’s strength, not only physically but in her eyes and the set of her jaw as she entered the ante-chamber.

Prince Yvan was fourteen, and he might yet be as tall, broad and strong as his father, when his body stopped being all skinny arms and legs and caught up with his place in Krontempian society.

Princess Yrene was eight, and a delicate blossom who had obviously done quite a bit of crying today. She ran to her mother who hugged her tightly and told her to be brave.

“Go on and see your father, now, girls. Yvan, you wait until they are done. There are things a man will want to say to his son without the presence of women.”

Yvonne took her little sister by the hand and they entered the bedchamber. Yvan stood straight and tall as he waited. His body might not yet measure up to Krontempian standards of princely might, but he had been taught how to hold himself as one with royal blood. Peri touched him on the shoulder reassuringly and then went to sit opposite The Doctor.

“Three children,” he said. “They’re a credit to you, Peri.”

“Yvonne is her father’s daughter. She’s so like him. I sometimes wonder what she would be if we lived on Earth – an Olympic ladies weight lifter, I think. Yvan has his strength, but he’s a thinker, too. He studies books. Yrcanos, bless him, only reads when he has to – mostly royal proclamations to be signed. It’s not that he’s thick or anything… but….”

“Yrcanos is a fine man,” The Doctor agreed. They were still talking in the present tense. They would do so until the last moment of his life – or the moment after.

“Little Yrene… I suppose she must have more of my genes. But he loves her. when she was a baby, he used to sit her on his knee and sing lullabies to her – in that huge bear voice of his. You would think she would be scared to death of him, but she loved his singing. She loves him, dearly. She’s going to miss him terribly.”

Peri paused for a moment.

“I’m going to miss him terribly. And I am frightened for the future. There are things that will happen now…. Yvan… he isn’t ready to be King. That lot I mentioned before… Lord Chamberlain, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord First Minister… they’re going to press Yrcanos to name one of them as Viceroy, to essentially BE King until Yvan is of age.”

“Ah, the éminence grise behind the throne,” The Doctor remarked. “Yes, I see. Are any of them to be trusted?

“Not as far as Yrene could throw them,” Peri responded. “They are all three of them ambitious for power. I quite firmly believe that once any one of them is confirmed as viceroy Yvan will meet with an ‘accident’ and possibly the rest of us with him.”

“&*@$£$%&!@,” The Doctor said to that. It was a Low Gallifreyan phrase similar to ‘over my dead body’. It literally translated as ‘over the funeral pyre of my thirteenth regeneration’ which would probably have appealed to Yrcanos’s warrior soul.

“I appreciate the sentiment,” Doctor, but unless you fancy marrying me and becoming Yvan’s stepfather I’m not sure what you could do about it.”

“I think that would just put me in the line for subtle poisons in my food,” The Doctor admitted. “Let us see if we can’t find a better way to deal with this matter.”

“You look too young to be so wise,” Peri admitted. “THAT may serve to our advantage. The Lords Ygo, Ylker and Ynce will underestimate you.”

“Peri, you are too beautiful to be so devious,” The Doctor replied, throwing her words back at her. She managed a smile. Of course, her beauty was not that of the young woman in a bikini he had first set eyes upon. Now she was in her fifties. Her face was still unlined, though, and her hair still nut brown. Her cheekbones were more pronounced than he remembered, but that just gave her a more regal look. She was a beautiful woman, still.

He hoped that, when grief had taken its course and she came out into the emotional light again, she might smile once more.

Which made it even more important to protect her and her family from the harm threatened by greed and over-reaching ambition.

The girls came from their father’s room and the young prince marched in with his shoulders squared and head up, ready to be brave and princely before the dying king.

Princess Yrene came to her mother for comfort. She had kept her tears at bay for as long as she could bear it. Princess Yvonne kept herself erect almost as proudly as the prince. Women’s equality was not a concept that had made much headway on Krontep, but Yvonne was a shining example of it.

The outer chamber door opened and the three men who had to be the Chancellor, Chamberlain and First Minister entered. They were giants of men, clad in the studded leather that was everyday wear on this planet and sporting beards that small mammals could hide in. They swept past the Queen and the Princesses, fully intending to enter the chamber, but The Doctor was on his feet at once and barred the way.

“You have not yet been summoned by the King. You will remain without until called. At present he is speaking with his son.”

“Do you have any idea who we are?” demanded one of the interchangeable three.

“You are the king’s ministers, and do HIS bidding,” The Doctor replied. “Go and stand over there in the corner and wait.”

He was using every ounce of Power of Suggestion, every last inch of his Time Lord aristocratic manner, and he was about fifty per cent sure it was going to fail. One of them could have pummelled him into the ground with a sledge-hammer-sized fist. He was astonished when it worked. The three ministers stood at the far side of the chamber.

But if looks could kill, The Doctor would have been stone dead. They stared and murmured among themselves as the silent minutes passed by. Princess Yrene fell asleep in her mother’s arms. The child was exhausted, physically and emotionally. It was many hours past her bedtime by now.

At last, the Prince came out of the bedchamber. The three ministers stirred, but he told them firmly that his father did not wish to see them, yet.

“Doctor, he wishes to speak with you, alone.”

“That is outrageous,” declared one of the Ministers.

“None of my father’s decisions are outrageous, Lord Ylker. He is King, and he wishes to speak with his old and trusted friend, The Doctor.”

Prince Yvan was as pale as a ghost as he said that, but if he was frightened he did not show it. Instead he deliberately turned his back upon the Ministers and reached for the Seal of Krontep on the mantel shelf.

“My father asks that you should take this to him,” the boy said, handing it to The Doctor. He took it from the Prince solemmly. The Seal, the artefact he needed to complete his task for the Guardian. But it was needed here, right now, as was he.

The Doctor stepped into the bedchamber. It was dimly lit and there was a scent of burning incenses to mask the smells that came with sickness.

King Yrcanos was still a powerfully built man. His shoulders were broad, his beard fuller and more capable of supporting a micro-ecosystem than those sported by his Ministers. But he was very clearly dying. There was no one thing that was the cause. He was simply running out of time. It came to all mortals, everywhere. Even Time Lords faced this darkest of nights eventually.

“I’m sorry I didn’t visit more often before this, old friend,” The Doctor told him.

“You came when it was time,” Ycarnos answered in a voice that was far less than the thunderous roar The Doctor remembered. “My old, wise, friend, I have a matter that cannot be solved through might alone. I think you know the root of it.”

“I believe their names are Ygo, Ylker and Ynce.”

“They would see my wife and children in their graves and seize power over all Krontep.”

“Yes, I believe they would. Yet until you are dead, they may not even speak aloud of such treason. And afterwards, it would not be treason so long as there is no King of manly age to succeed you.”

“My son does not wish to be King,” Yrcanos told The Doctor. “He has never spoken of it to anyone but me. He wishes to be a poet.”

“Do you HAVE poetry on Krontep?” The Doctor asked.

“Indeed we do. The sagas of our great battles are written by the finest poets in all of the galaxy. My son will write the sagas of my life, of the battles I have fought, my enemies ground beneath my feet. But he will never fight any such battles. He is never going to be a warrior. I have known that for a long time. I have accepted it as a fact.”

“Then what will happen?” The Doctor asked. “Are the Three Stoogies out there going to rule Krontep for their own mean ends?”

“I do not know what a Stoogie is,” Ycarnos admitted. “But I know what greed is. All is not lost, Doctor. I have a plan. Will you help me with it?”

“Of course, I will,” The Doctor assured him. “What do you need?”

“Parchment, ink and quill, and a learned hand to use them.”

It was an hour later when The Doctor stepped out of the Chamber again and told the Lord Chamberlain to come in alone, the other two to remain outside. He went in, and because his King commanded, he had no choice but to obey the instructions given to him. One was to put his signature to a document, the other to say nothing, on pain of death, to his colleagues.

The Lord Chancellor was summoned next, then the First Minister. When they had all done, Princess Yvonne, much to everyone’s surprise, was asked to come back into her Father’s presence. She remained with him as the Royal Physician and the Royal Astrologer were summoned, the two officials who had to be present at the moment of the King’s death.

An hour after that, the Queen, with the Prince and the child princess went to the King’s bedside. The Doctor left the chamber. He had done his work. He sat by the fire and met the cold stares of the three Ministers with twice the force in return.

“You know,” he said as the silent minutes past, there is something to be said for an absolute ruler like Ycarnos. His word can be made law with a couple of witnesses and a bit of sealing wax. Where Queen Gilliam was born it would take years to change a Constitutional issue like that. On my planet, it would be decades. Got to hand it to you Krontempians. You know how to get things done.”

The three men said nothing. They were still under a royal edict not to speak.

Then the very castle shook as a thunderbolt grounded close by and lightning struck the top of the tower. These natural occurrences were only noted by the guards on their miserable duty outside. Within the castle it seemed as if the very stones in the walls had shaken in grief at the exact moment that King Ycarnos had died. Within the chamber there was a wailing cry from the Queen, to be known from this moment on as the Queen Mother. There was an even more piteous sound from the Princess Yrene.

Then there was a sound that struck at the hearts of the three Ministers, confirming all of their worst fears. Moments later the door opened. The Royal Astrologer came out followed by Prince Yvan. H was followed by Queen Gilliam, carrying Yrene in her arms.

Then Yvonne appeared with chain mail and studded leather and a breastplate of metal over her dress of silk-satin. She held her head erect and carried both the Proclamation that had been signed and sealed a few hours ago and the Great Seal of Krontep that had made it official.

“The King is Dead,” the Royal Astrologer announced in a loud, steady voice.

“Long Live The Queen,” added Prince Yvan, and then he knelt before his sister. “Long Live Queen Yvonne of Krontep.”

“Long Live the Queen,” said The Doctor, kneeling before her. Peri and her littlest daughter did the same. Then Queen Yvonne looked at the three Ministers.

“You do not kneel. Do you defy your Queen?”

“A woman cannot rule Krontep,” Lord Ynce replied.

“According to this Proclamation from my Father, signed by all three of you, the right of succession is made to favour the eldest child of the sovereign, regardless of gender. It was sealed according to tradition and it therefore law.”

“We were forced to sign, but we shall protest this travesty.”

“You will not. To do so is to doubt the King’s word, and that, in itself, is treason,” The Doctor told them. “Are you declaring such an act in front of the Queen and the Royal Family?”

“Brother Prince,” Queen Yvonne said. “Will you call the guards who are outside this room. Tell them that I have dismissed the Lords Ygo, Ylker and Ynce from their former positions in my father’s Court. They are banished from the Castle as of this minute. If I hear a word spoken by them that smacks of Treason, I shall have them banished from Krontep itself.”

That was duly done. Meanwhile the word went around the Castle that the King as dead and a Queen ruled them from henceforth, a Queen with an iron will as strong as her father’s and an intelligence equal to her mother’s. Soon riders with leather capes and torches went out from the castle to declare the news to the people of Krontep.

Meanwhile the King’s body was made decent. The Princess Yrene was taken to bed by her nursemaid. The Prince Yvan followed her to be, though without a nursemaid. He was brother to the Queen. He needed no such thing. The Queen herself spent some time with the Royal Astrologer, talking over possible successors to the three dismissed Ministers.

The Queen Mother spent the rest of the night in a private room drinking a substance called tea that she alone among the people of Krontep had a taste for, crying sometimes, and at other times, talking to her old friend, The Doctor.

“I could take you back to Earth if you like,” he pointed out. “If you feel you have lived this life long enough.”

“There’s nothing for me there. I belong here, with my children. Come and see us from time to time, though, won’t you? A bit more often than you have.”

“I will, I promise.”

“I am grateful for your help tonight. If there is anything….”

“Well… now you mention it….”

He stayed for the funeral, of course. Ycarnos was his friend, after all. He promised to return for the Coronation of Queen Yvonne, which would be after the official period of mourning. When he did so, he promised to bring back the Great Seal of Krontep, which the Queen had leant to him, the friend of all Krontempians.

He brought the Seal to the sixth door and set it where the hologram was. There was the usual click and the sound of the door opening. A little weary of the repetitiveness of this part of the quest The Doctor stepped forward, wondering what to expect next.