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

“Are you sure this is an alien world, Doctor?” Peri asked as she looked down a green meadow to the charming village nestled in the valley below.

“You might try to remember that it’s not alien to the people who live here,” The Doctor replied as he strode downhill, away from the TARDIS where it had parked incongruously in front of a small forest of fir trees that continued further up the hill. “We are the extra-terrestrials to the people here.”

“Well, anyway, it looks more like Bavaria to me,” Peri argued. “They probably have a rustic tavern with lots of wooden barrels behind the bar and beer sold in huge tankards.”

“That’s a very clichéd view of Bavaria,” The Doctor pointed out. “There is much more to the culture of that region than the bierkeller. The same is true of Drajonia.”

“That’s what this planet is called?”

“It is, and in point of fact the hostelries of Drajonia are renowned.”

“You’ve been here before? Or are you going on ‘Rough Guide to the Milky Way’?”

“My TARDIS database is NOT an interstellar backpacker’s manual,” The Doctor replied, affronted. But he had to admit that was his only basis for recommending this planet.

“Anyway, there is a first time for everything,” he rejoined having conceded that much. “Why else would I travel? Why else would anyone travel? Let us find out if the reputation of Drajonia is warranted with a stroll down to that village to refresh ourselves with a tankard of their best Oktuber.”

“Make mine an iced wine spritzer,” Peri replied. “Beer… ugh. Otherwise it sounds good enough. The sun is warm, just enough of a breeze to make it pleasant. And a drink, maybe a meal at the end of the walk, is far more civilised than any of your usual plans.”

She was dressed for such activity in slacks and t-shirt and a tie-waisted cardigan. The Doctor was in his usual unfathomable rainbow of ghastly yellow trousers and decorative waistcoat. It was too warm for his multi-coloured frock coat so he carried that.

And, indeed, it was a very pleasant walk. The Doctor’s vainglorious stories of his past visits to planets like this, and even to the aforesaid Bavaria, were less annoying than usual. Even his claim to have mixed paints for Albrecht Dürer in his Nuremberg studio was engaging, if not quite plausible.

The village, close up, really was charmingly ‘rustic’ in a distinctly Germanic way. It consisted mostly of little houses with red tiled roofs and white-washed walls with decorated gable ends and carved wooden shutters around their windows. Climbing flowers spread across the walls from tidy gardens. Children in colourful local costume played in the cobbled street leading to a stone bridge across a meandering river.

It seemed to be a pre-industrial society or one that had decided it didn’t want to get industrial. The horse was the main beast of burden and carts of various sorts carried goods and people. The blacksmith’s workshop was the busiest of a cluster of commercial buildings along with a baker, dairy, butcher and, unsurprisingly, a solidly built tavern.

The only thing the village lacked was any kind of place of worship. Peri remarked about that.

“The prevailing religion is Draji,” The Doctor told her. “Communal worship is not a feature of it. Instead families keep small shrines in their homes and make daily offerings of paper flowers burnt in ceramic bowls.”

“Sounds ok,” Peri decided. “So, anyway, are we going to the tavern?”

“Yes, indeed, we are,” The Doctor replied. He looked at the establishment in question and noted that there were tables set up in a beer garden beside the river. In a still warm late afternoon that was slowly and leisurely turning into early evening, people were enjoying food and drink al fresco.

He appropriated a place in the shade of an old tree with loftily spreading branches and sat down. Peri joined him. She read the menu as The Doctor summoned a waiter and ordered drinks. She was relieved to know that a wine spritzer was something they understood. If The Doctor intended to indulge in tankards of beer somebody had to keep a clear head.

Could he get drunk like Humans? The thought had never occurred to her before, but now she gave it her attention. Wasn’t there something about Time Lords not processing alcohol that way – or was that Vulcans? She doubted there was any actual law about being drunk in charge of a TARDIS, but she would put her foot down hard if it came to that.

Actually she was pleased to see that he was perfectly sensible about the huge pewter tankard containing at least two litres of amber coloured ale that was delivered along with her standard glass of wine and lemonade over ice. He sipped it slowly along with the meal of crusty bread, cheese and an assortment of sliced spicy sausages that was known as a Drajon platter.

“Not bad,” he said about the beer and the food. “They do a decent pub lunch in Dontgouptothe.”

“Where?” Peri frowned. “That’s not really what this place is called, is it? Dont….”

“Dontgouptothe,” The Doctor repeated. “As in Dontgouptothe Castle.”

“What castle?”

“That castle.” The Doctor pointed up over her shoulder. Peri half turned and saw for the first time the rather gloomy gothic edifice halfway up the steep incline on the other side of the river.

“How come we didn’t see that before?” she asked.

“It’s nearly obscured by the trees growing all around it,” The Doctor explained. “This is probably the only angle you can see it clearly from here in the valley.”

“And why do you think it’s called… what you said.”

“Narrative causality. This charming little place has to have a downside, and I think it’s that castle. I’m only surprised nobody has marked us as strangers yet and said ‘Don’t go up to the Castle’ in the accent of a Hammer films east European peasant.”

“And you accused me of clichés,” Peri admonished him. “I’m sure it’s a perfectly benign place. Admittedly there are a few too many turrets, and the bedrooms are bound to have more draughts than an architect’s desk, but why should it be sinister?”

“Narrative causality,” The Doctor repeated. “I’ll wager the only inhabitant is a reclusive man who stays up so late its early the next day and is a really picky eater. One old servant, maybe, with some congenital deformity.…”

“You’re being silly, Doctor, and you’ve probably insulted the man who owns this whole valley. It looks like the sort of place where feudalism is still the form of local government.”

The Doctor grinned and sat back in his seat. Peri scowled at him. It was nice here and her only concern had been whether the tavern did Bed and Breakfast because she really didn’t fancy the walk back to the TARDIS now she was fed and watered and nicely comfortable enjoying the ambience of the place. He just HAD to introduce some element of mystery and intrigue where there wasn’t any.

As the evening wore on, though, Peri began to think that The Doctor might have a point. The locals who had been enjoying the facilities of the tavern mostly went home. Soon only a few hardy types remained in the tavern. These included the blacksmith and his apprentice, two men who looked less as if they were born of woman than forged in their own fire. Other less sturdy types were arranging to walk to their homes in their company. Most of those homes were within sight of the tavern, lamps lit in the windows to guide them, but they still opted for safety in numbers.

“There are wild animals up in the forests,” explained the landlord as he offered The Doctor and Peri clean, comfortable rooms for the night. “Nobody roams beyond the village after dark.”

“I see,” Peri said. “Wild animals. Nothing to do with anything up at the Castle, then?”

“What would be up at the Castle to frighten anyone?” the landlord responded. “The young Count Olathe doesn’t often come down to the village, but he is a fair-minded man. His rents are reasonable and when old Guenther at the sawmill was ill last year and couldn’t work he didn’t press for the arrears. We see even less of the Dowager Countess, but that’s only to be expected. She secluded herself in mourning after the death of her husband. As for Lady Elisabeth, Olathe’s sister, she is the fairest woman to behold, beautiful and bountiful. She was the one who brought food and comforts to old Guenther when he was indisposed, and to Mistress Duchas when she was laid up after giving birth to her twins. We’re all grateful for their bounty one way or another.”

Peri found herself apologising for suspicions that were only half formed in her mind. After all, this wasn’t Transylvania, and even if it were, most of the stories from there were just that… stories. These Drajonian folk didn’t even understand the cultural references she and The Doctor had alluded to between themselves.

“We’ll take the rooms, certainly,” The Doctor said. “We’ll set off exploring they countryside early tomorrow morning after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast.”

Well, that was the theory. The landlord helped facilitate the good night’s sleep with hot milky drinks before they went up to bed. But Peri was puzzled by the insistence that the shutters must be closed. What looked dainty and pretty in the sunshine seemed heavy and oppressive now.

“It’s a lovely warm night,” Peri argued. “The moon is up. I’d love to lie here with a cool breeze coming in and watch the stars.”

“Madam, no, that is too dangerous,” the landlord insisted and closed them firmly. Peri waited for him to leave the room then she locked the door before going to the window and opening the shutters as wide as they would go. She sat there at the defiantly wide window, enjoying the fragrant night air, the hoot of something like an owl, a more distant sound of something wolfish that set the hairs on the back of her neck standing up in a thrilling way.

Granted, wolves were fierce animals, but she had only heard one of them, a long way off. It didn’t seem as if there were packs of man eaters roaming the countryside. Nothing to warrant the self-imposed curfew of the villagers.

The single street of this community was empty. There was barely a light to be seen except through chinks in the tightly closed shutters. Everyone was safely hidden away in their homes.

Well, nearly everyone. Peri caught her breath as she saw a horse rider cross the bridge and pass near the tavern. The horse looked sleek and fast. The rider looked sleek, too. He had a cloak that billowed out behind him as he bent forward and urged the animal forward. He looked like Zorro or the Lone Ranger, or some medieval horse riding mysterious hero.

But what was he up to in the dark of night when even the blacksmith with molten iron in his veins was hiding behind his shutters? Who wasn’t afraid of the big bad wolf around here?

She glanced up at the spiky silhouette of the Castle with all those turrets blotting out the stars. There were plenty of lights on. Nobody was scared of the wildlife up there.

She watched the rider disappear out of sight and sat thoughtfully for a long time. The same animal noises were heard from time to time. Once she thought she saw something huge fly across the moon, but she couldn’t be certain.

She started to drift to sleep still sitting there at the window. Her dreams were full of slender, handsome men in dark cloaks riding across the countryside, wolves in the shadows and unmentionable things in the moonlight. In her dreams she understood completely why it was that the villagers shut their shutters at night and who the handsome rider was. In her dreams she rode behind him and watched what he did with the creatures of the night.

In the morning, The Doctor knocked at Peri’s door and got no answer.

“Come on, sleepyhead, wake up,” he called out. “We have a planet to explore.”

No answer. Perhaps she was already up and about. She was an American, after all. Early morning jogs and all that were their thing. He turned from the door and went downstairs to see about breakfast.

The landlord’s wife was pleased to oblige. She busied herself supplying him with a plate laden with spiced sausages, thick rafts of buttered toast and fresh coffee served in a way that reflected the slightly Bavarian ambience of Drajonia - with a huge topping of whipped cream known as schlag. The Doctor enjoyed it all, fully anticipating a lecture from Peri about just how many calories and artery hardening units of cholesterol his breakfast contained while she ordered a bowl of muesli with skimmed milk and a cup of lemon tea.

When she didn’t turn up by the time he finished his second round of toast and third refill of his coffee mug he was a little concerned, but he assumed that she had taken her light breakfast already and gone off enjoying the valley in the cool morning air. Quite jokingly he asked the attentive lady of the house what his young friend had eaten for breakfast.

“But, sir, the young lady has not yet come to breakfast,” she answered. “She must be tired, still. I thought to bring a tray to her room.”

The Doctor frowned.

“No,” he said. “Don’t do that. She might get ideas about being waited on in bed. I’ll go and wake her.”

He walked calmly from the breakfast room, but when he reached the stairs he took them two at a time and racing to Peri’s door. It was locked, but a few furtive seconds with a piece of stiff wire he just happened to have in the pocket of his garishly yellow trousers did for that. He stepped inside.

The room was empty. The bed had not been slept in. Peri had not even put her nightdress on. It was still laid out on the bottom of the bed.

The window was wide open. He found himself drawn to that feature, looking out over a valley just getting started for the day.

His thoughts had not even started to collate into any sort of theory when a scream and the sound of a tray hitting the floor scattered them again. He turned to see the landlady with her face covered by her hands while a steaming pool of coffee, cream and spilt sugar spread across the floor from a pewter service that suffered only minor dents.

“Sir… the window… was it open all night?” the distressed woman asked. Her husband, rushing to the sound of the scream and crash of breakfast accoutrements, gave a horrified cry when he saw the window and grasped his wife around the shoulders.

“I warned her,” he insisted. “No blame can be laid against us. She was warned. I closed the shutters myself. Sir, your friend has brought a curse upon herself, but she was warned. There was nothing more we could do.”

“You COULD have explained why leaving a window open is so dangerous,” The Doctor replied. “She didn’t understand. She’s… American… as well as female. There’s no gainsaying a combination like that. But if you’d told her what the danger is….” He paused and looked at the two worried people. “What IS the danger, anyway?”

The landlord and his wife looked at each other nervously and repeated the obvious lie about wild animals. The Doctor looked out of the window disbelieving.

That’s a good reason not to walk around alone at night,” he said. “But I don’t think wild wolves are going to come into a house through an upper floor and window. Try the truth this time.”

Curiously, the couple couldn’t explain what it was that scared everyone. Couldn’t, not wouldn’t. The Doctor realised the distinction as they stammered out conflicting stories.

One common denominator could be found in all of the variations. The Doctor focussed on it, giving the couple a few more terrifying moments before he was satisfied.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll deal with this.”

Peri woke in a four poster bed with damask hangings drawn back to reveal a huge room with a fine moulded plaster ceiling full of cherubs and vines. A floor length window was letting in lots of glorious sunlight to show it was morning.

This was NOT the room she was in last night at the tavern, and the silk nightdress with lots of lace trim didn’t belong to her. She sat up and looked around taking in other details like a really expensive floor width rug and a very fine clock on a mantelpiece over a fireplace closed off in the warm season by a brass screen. There was a huge wardrobe with a well-polished mirror and a sideboard as well as a wash stand with a basin set into it and a jug on hand for filling the basin with – presumably cold – washing water.

Somebody who had inherited a lot of antique furniture and fittings owned this room.

The door opened and a maid in neat but old fashioned uniform, matching the old-fashioned room, entered with a tray containing an old-fashioned breakfast of poached eggs, kedgeree, toast and a pot of coffee. Questions could wait. She accepted the food and tucked in hungrily, disregarding all cholesterol issues, while the maid rummaged in the wardrobe and produced a dress to die for in fine silk satin.

“Lady Elisabeth thought you might like a change of clothes” the maid explained. “When you are ready, she will receive you in the morning room.”

“Lady Elisabeth?” Peri repeated the name and wondered where she had heard it before.

Of course, Elisabeth, sister of Count Olathe.

“I’m in the castle?”

“Yes, miss. You’re quite safe. Just enjoy your breakfast. I’ll be back with a jug of hot water for washing.”

Well, having a maid to sort out her clothes and bring hot water was something she had never had before even within her well-off family. Of course, bringing hot water wasn’t needed in her era of power showers and mixer taps, but it still felt rather nice to be waited upon for a while.

Or it would if she wasn’t worried about two things.

First, how did she wake up in the castle when she went to bed in the tavern?

Second, did The Doctor know where she was?

The answer to her first question lay downstairs in the morning room. Perhaps the second would resolve itself soon enough.

So although being waited on in a four poster bed had its merits, she didn’t linger over breakfast and washed and dressed quickly. She was impressed by how she looked in the dress without having to pull the laces of the old fashioned stays too tightly. She looked like she belonged in this old-fashioned house, now.

She found the morning room by the smell of hot tea that came from a big silver samovar on the sideboard. She was offered a cup immediately.

“No, thanks,” she replied to the pretty young woman with her hair in golden ringlets that must take half a morning to get right. “I just had coffee. You must be Elisabeth?”

“Lady Elisabeth Germuss,” she announced. “But, of course, Elisabeth is fine.”

I’m Peri… short for Perpugilliam… Brown. How did I get here?”

She didn’t mean to be quite so direct, but everyone was behaving as if she had just dropped in for tea and muffins and she needed answers.

“Of course,” Elisabeth said in a calm, reassuring voice. “You must be a little perplexed. My brother found you sleepwalking some way from the village. He brought you here for safety. I had the servants put you straight to bed. You slept very soundly.”

“I was sleepwalking?” Peri was perplexed. “I never sleepwalk.”

“Did you leave a widow open?” Elisabeth asked.

“Yes, I did. It was a warm night and there didn’t seem to be any reason….”

“I’m afraid that’s just it. Being a stranger you didn’t know, but there is something in the night air in these parts that affects people in that way. That’s why they keep their shutters closed.”

“Well, why didn’t they just say so?” Peri asked. “They made it sound as if Dracula was out with a pack of werewolves.”

“Dracula?” Elisabeth was puzzled. “I don’t know that name. Is it a southern family? And the wolves here are not dangerous except when they have young to defend. I’ve never heard of a pack causing harm.”

“Never mind,” Peri said, “The thing is, everyone seemed much more nervous than that, as if there really was something scary outside. The way the tavern emptied and all of them seeing each other home as if it wasn’t safe to be out alone.”

“The river is deep and has undercurrents. If anyone fell under the influence of the night vapours they could easily be lost that way. You were lucky that my brother found you.”

“Might I see your brother?” Peri asked. ‘I should like to thank him for his kindness to me. I understand he is the lord of this land.”

“He became Count Germuss on the death of our father,” Elisabeth confirmed. “The burden came upon him sooner than any of us hoped but he has shouldered it manfully.”

“They... speak well of him in the village,” Peri agreed. But there was a thought behind the polite words that she didn’t want to voice.

Why was Count Olathe out riding in the dead of night while everyone else was at risk of some mysterious ‘vapour’? Why was he immune, and where was he going in such a hurry?

The Doctor was a little out of breath by the time he approached the imposing entrance to the castle – a huge oak door reached by crossing a bridge over a deep chasm. He stopped for a moment and gathered his wits as well as his breath. Then he picked up his pace and charged across the bridge ready to hammer on that door and demand the return of Peri.

His dramatic arrival was stymied just a little by the door opening just as he raised his fist. A tall, lugubrious looking butler bowed towards him.

“I’m here for Peri,” he said in what he hoped was a tone that brooked no refðusal. He had a feeling it was nothing of the sort. He might even have sounded like he had come for a glass of pear cider.

“This way, sir,” the butler said to him, standing back to admit him to the finely appointed entrance hall. “May I take your coat?”

“No… I’ll keep that for now,” he answered, a little non-plussed. “I’m not sure how long I’m stopping.”

He was shown to the morning room where Peri had finally given in and accepted a cup of tea. When she saw The Doctor she smiled happily and introduced him to Elisabeth.

“Charmed, I am sure,” he said as he shook a delicate hand proferred to him. “But I think it is your brother I need to see.”

“He will be with us shortly,” Elisabeth assured him. “May I offer you refreshment?”

“Tea, one sugar, milk,” The Doctor responded absently as he sat by Peri and looked at her directly, focussing especially on her eyes. He had her tell the story from her point of view.

“Poppycock,” he said when she was done. “You don’t sleepwalk. You have never sleepwalked. Even if you did, how could you sleepwalk out of a room you locked from the inside? Not down that sheer wall from your room. Not without help.”

“Help?” Peri queried. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“I know you don’t,” The Doctor told her. But you will. He put his hands either side of her face gently and made her look directly at him. “Yes,” he said cryptically. “Yes, I can see what’s going on here.”

“Sir, stop!’ cried a voice from the door. A lithe young man who had to be Count Olathe strode across the carpet and tried to pull The Doctor away from Peri. “Stop. You must not. The hypnotism is for her own good, so that she does not remember the horror of the Abscheulichkeit.”

“Whatever monsters are out there, hiding from them does nobody any good,” The Doctor replied. He turned to look more closely at Olathe. His first thought was that the young Count didn’t look very well. A couple of days in bed and some nourishing food would do him good. But there was something else, too – something in his eyes, perhaps.

“I think you ARE one of the good men in this,” The Doctor told him. “But so am I and I will do what is best for my friend. She is a brave young woman, a credit to her race, and she has never failed to face up to monsters before.”

He turned back to Peri and continued to peer deeply into her eyes. Slowly she began to come out of the mesmeric influence that had screened her from what really happened.

Her scream when she fully remembered was ear-splitting. Elisabeth recoiled as if she had never heard anything so unrefined in her gentile life. Olathe was devastated.

“Doctor!” she cried when coherent words came back to her. “Oh, Doctor, it was awful. I… I was at my window. I saw a horrible thing… a monster, half woman, half bird, glowing white. It was flying through the air, carrying a girl… an unconscious girl….”

She paused and gulped for air. She looked past The Doctor to Olathe.

“You were on a horse, chasing after it. I leaned out of the window to see where you were going and then… then another of those things appeared in front of me. Her face… like an old hag and a young woman at the same time… hair like snakes… sharp teeth like piranhas. She laughed and I heard a voice… as if it was speaking directly into my head. It asked me if I had seen enough, and dared me to step out through the window and see more. I think… I think I actually did that… or she grabbed me and pulled me out. I was flying through the air, chasing Olathe on his horse. He looked up and saw me. The thing that had hold of me just laughed and I heard her say that he could not save us both.”

“You went out to save the first girl?” The Doctor asked Olathe. He nodded weakly.

“She is a maid here in the castle. The foolish girl was out… visiting her sweetheart. She should have stayed with him. I suppose she feared losing her position more than losing her life. She was almost here. They took her just before the chasm. I went after them, of course. Then I saw the other… with your friend. I knew I had to bargain for two lives.”

Peri took up the story again.

“They took me to a place in the mountains. It was like a nest… an eagle’s nest. There were four of those creatures. They were already ‘feasting’ on the girl, drinking her blood like vampires. I was next… except Olathe arrived. He….”

“He fought them?” The Doctor asked.

“No. He… bargained, like he said. He offered himself for us. It… seemed like an old agreement. I think he’s done it before. He let them have his own blood in return for letting me and the girl live.”

The Doctor glanced at Olathe. No wonder he looked ill.

“The girl IS alive,” the Count confirmed. “She is very weak, but she is with the women of the household and with their care she will be well again in time. Your friend… Mistress Peri… she was not harmed. I made sure of that.”

“By giving your own blood?” The Doctor shook his head. “If you know where this foul nest is, why not go there in force, with some of the men of the village, and kill them?”

Olathe, sick as he was, had held himself proudly until that direct question was put to him. Now he sagged. The Doctor waved to him to sit in what was, after all, one of his own armchairs. Elisabeth hurried to fetch him a glass of port that he sipped slowly.

“Pride,” he said eventually. “You are the first man to know this outside of my family. I don’t know why I am telling you….”

Peri was getting over her shock and starting to pay attention to what was happening. She knew why Olathe was spilling the beans. She had seen people with no reason to trust him tell The Doctor all kinds of things. It was as if he was an intergalactic agony aunt.

“Those creatures… the Abscheulichkeit… they are family. My father… he had five sisters… and all of them were born with the affliction. It… didn’t manifest itself fully until they were young women. Then… it was as if a plague had struck the region. People were dying in their beds, in farms, in the work camps in the forest, in the village. My grandfather was the one who put it about that it was the night air doing it. That was when people put up shutters and hid themselves at night. The sisters starved. When they were weak grandfather banished them from the house. He thought they would die for want of food, but they survived, just, preying on the unwary. My father was the first to try to appease them… giving them his own blood in return for the lives of victims. He used the power of hypnotism on those he rescued from them so that the secret would not be known. When he died, it fell to me to protect the people. I ride out after dark every night to make sure nobody has strayed. Most nights everyone is too scared to venture out. The story about the air has been passed down from parents to children and nobody dares break the curfew. But last night….”

Peri nodded. She remembered him riding back to the castle. She had clung on behind him and the girl who had been fed on had been lying across the horse’s shoulders in front of him. He was weak, himself, and the journey had been arduous, but when he reached the castle there were servants to help.

“So your family have been slaves to these devilish women for three generations, sacrificing yourselves to protect the people of your demesne?”


“Very brave,” The Doctor said. “But at the same time, foolhardy. You should have killed them long ago. This would all be over by now if it hadn’t been for misplaced family honour.”

Olathe sighed and hung his head. He knew that. Perhaps he had always known it. But having a stranger point it out on such stark terms was a blow.

“I have saved so many of them,” he said in defence of his efforts.

“Yes, you have. But don’t you think it’s time to save them all? Time to put an end to the terror once and for all.”

Elisabeth gave a deep sigh that was almost a sob.

“My brother, I think he is right. We cannot go on this way. What if they should kill you? Where will we be? Mother and I will be here alone and the village… the whole valley… will be their prey.”

“Doctor, you should help him,” Peril said.

“I?” The Doctor replied. “But I’m a pacifist. It’s Count Olathe’s responsibility, not mine.”

But there was something about the way he said that, as if he didn’t really believe his own words, and in the next breath he asked Olathe what weapons he had in the castle and suggested that two horses should be saddled.

Peri looked at The Doctor with a sword belt over his waistcoat, a scabbard housing a long, sharp sword hanging from it, and she wasn’t so certain about telling him to help.

“Are you sure about this?” she asked him. “Do you know how to use a sword?”

“Do I know how to use a sword? I’ll have you know I was d’Artagnan’s fencing tutor,” he answered in a superior and affronted tone.

“D’Artagnan is a fictional character,” Peri responded. “Never mind. Just be careful.”

“If I was careful I would never have left home. But I will do my best.”

Peri watched at the window as The Doctor and Olathe rose out from the castle, then she turned and sat with Elisabeth. Waiting anxiously seemed to be a role that the Count’s sister was used to playing. She poured tea and made small talk in a deliberately calm voice. Peri did her best to match her, but as the hours wound on she found her mouth dry no matter how many cups of tea she drank and she felt unequal to the conversation.

“What’s that?” Peril asked as she restlessly looked out of the window, perhaps hoping to see the men return. Instead she saw a plume of black smoke rising up from the mountain. Elisabeth came to look and gave out a cry that was an ambiguous mix of triumph mixed with the anxiety that remained.

“They have killed the Abscheulichkeit and set the nest alight,” she said. “The nightmare is over. But will both return? Will there yet be a mourning for one of us?”

“We’re still waiting,” Peri concluded. “No, please, don’t pour any more tea. The plumbing in this castle isn’t up to it. And no more talk about the Drajonian hop picking season. I just want… I want to lie down on that sofa, settee… chaise longue or whatever it’s called and sleep until this is over one way or another.”

She kicked off her shoes and did just that, turning the silk upholstered cushions to support her head. She felt Elisabeth put some sort of soft throw over her before going to sit quietly with her samovar for comfort. Peril slept fitfully, uncomfortable dreams of unpleasant things disturbing her often bad once she almost fell off the chaise in the midst of a nightmare.

Then she felt herself being shaken gently awake.

“For your information, my dear Peri, Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d'Artagnan who served Louis XIV as captain of the Musketeers of the Guard until his death in 1673 at the Siege of Maastricht in the Franco-Dutch War was a real person. Alexander Dumas based his fictional swashbuckling hero on the Comte’s life.”

She looked up at The Doctor’s smiling – no SMIRKING – face and thought she could have kissed it. As she woke fully she noted that the face was dirty and sweaty and his waistcoat and shirt almost ripped to shreds. Behind him, Count Olathe was having some superficial wounds tended to by his sister.

“You made it back. The… those creatures.”

“Very dead,” The Doctor assured her. “It was quite a battle, but they are somewhat torpid during the day and can’t fly in sunlight, so they were disadvantaged. Olathe and I prevailed in the end. You must have seen the funeral pyre?”

“Yes, we did,” Peri admitted.

“The people of the village saw it, too. They haven’t all believed the night vapours tale. They knew there was something far more terrible out there. And they now know that it is gone. Later, there’s going to be another fire that will be rather more pleasing than that one.”

Peri didn’t know what he meant and he didn’t elaborate. Olathe, who was pretty much exhausted himself, suggested that everyone had a proper rest for a few hours. When they rose again fresh clothes were laid out. A light supper was provided and then the whole family and guests boarded two magnificently polished landau. Even the Dowager Countess was persuaded to wear a white lace shawl with her widow’s black and join them as they travelled down the valley to the village.

It was getting dark, but nobody was hurrying home to shut up their shutters. Instead, a bonfire was starting to blaze on a piece of common ground by the riverside. The fuel being piled onto the fire was wooden shutters torn from the windows by joyful villagers. The landlord of the tavern had brought out several barrels of ale and the butcher had provided enough sausages to string round the village as bunting if they had not been stuck on long sticks to roast in the fire. When the baker donated bread rolls to the impromptu feast The Doctor demonstrated a prototype hot dog with a local pickled onion and cabbage mixture standing in for fried onions and relish. The villagers watched in awe as Count Olathe tried that strange new food combination and pronounced it good.

“No more fear of the night,” The Doctor said to Peri as the sky darkened over the celebration. “And if he isn’t up all night looking for demonic creatures the Count might be able to spend more time amongst his people. Both he and Elisabeth might have the chance to visit other noble families and see about finding spouses for themselves instead of being shut up in that castle.”

“I’m not sure Elisabeth will need to go as far as the next noble family for that,” Peri commented. Elisabeth was in animated conversation over a hot dog and tankard of beer with the hardily built blacksmith. There was potential there, as long as no class snobbery got in the way.

Even the Dowager Duchess was sitting happily on the edge of the festivities talking with the baker’s retired father. Maybe there was a spark there, too.

But when the Count asked Peri how long she and The Doctor were staying she had to let him down gently.

“There’s a potential Countess out there for you,” she assured him. “Somebody who doesn’t insist on indoor plumbing in a castle and doesn’t mind wearing stays under her bodice every day.”

Olathe didn’t quite understand about the indoor plumbing, but he accepted that Peri wasn’t his future Countess gracefully.

“May you be happy wherever your journeys with The Doctor take you,” he said kissing her gently on the cheek and almost – but not quite – making her change her mind.

For her to accept his proposal he would need to stop eating that pickled stuff that was going on the hot dogs or mouthwash would need to be invented on Drajonia very quickly!