In Which the Doctor Medicates Many People
(Part 2 of 2)
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“Absolutely not!” Susan snapped. “We both know the forest search is nonsense, so we are not participating.”
“Shouldn’t we try to keep up appearances?”
“We are stupid cousins from Bavaria; no one cares what we do, and if you want to be productive about the murder, we might as well use this time to investigate actual leads.”
“But we’re supposed to stop the feud! What if they run into some poor Lahnsteins in the forest and kill them?”
“The forest is a vampire’s domain. Let him deal with it.”
“Give me the dice.”
Susan scowled but handed the dice and tray over. “What do you want them for?”
“To find out where we need to go,” he replied, grabbing her arm.
“Oh no you--”
The world blinked, and they materialized in the black forest. Unfortunately, they were ten feet in the air above a lake. Screaming, they plunged through the mirror-smooth surface, which didn't stay mirror-smooth for long, but Susan was a strong swimmer and brought them back to the surface before either started breathing water. He was too busy spluttering to hear Susan’s words the first time around, but then he heard, right in his ear, “Where’s the dice?”
“Don’t worry, they’re right here!” Adric raised his arm so that the tray flashed in the moonlight. The dice sat on the surface as though glued there, and he saw Susan breathe a sigh of relief. She began towing him toward land, and he kicked to speed up their movement. By the time they reached land, his muscles were burning, and he couldn’t imagine how Susan could stand there, barely breathing hard, while he flopped on the ground and gasped like a fish out of water. He made a mental note to do more full-body exercises when with the Doctor. There tended to be a lot of running and little else with him.
“You should get up. There are frogs around.”
Adric turned his head and saw a mottled brown frog sitting near his shoulder.
Ribbit, it croaked. The tongue shot out and grabbed hold of the spatial die. The white sphere vanished inside its mouth, and the frog teleported three feet away. Such a shift in surroundings didn’t seem to phase it much since it then started hopping away, disappearing and reappearing within a five meter radius at the end of each leap.
“Grab it!” Susan cried, throwing herself across the ground to cut off the amphibian’s water escape. She nearly fell on it, but it rematerialized just out of reach. Adric scrambled through the mud and once wrapped his fingers around its leg, but the skin was too slippery and the frog jumped off into the forest.
They were in hot pursuit when gunfire stopped them in their tracks. The frog was in the process of leaping off a log. One moment it was there, the next moment the air was full of blood and frog bits flying in every direction. Adric spotted a glimmer of white and reached out, catching the die mostly on instinct as it soared past. He grinned as Karin stepped out from a blind camouflaged amidst some bushes.
“I assumed you wanted the frog dead for some reason,” she said.
“Well, just caught, actually, but that worked,” he said, wondering whether to feel guilty about the animal’s untimely demise.
“You should be careful. There are Lahnsteins all over the forest.”
“Why? Did one of them get murdered too?”
“No, but I overheard Abelerd and Edmund talking. Apparently, they fell asleep while playing some game of Elise’s--I don’t blame them one bit--and when they woke up, Rainart was missing. They think some professor from Cologne inspired him to try to negotiate an end to the feud so they want to stop him before he can. It’s dishonorable to talk things over, you see, almost like engaging in barter. Only women are allowed to negotiate, and that’s only behind everyone’s backs while pretending to hate each other.”
“Ah, it’s like being in Sto Helit again,” Susan said.
Adric glanced at Susan. “Wait a minute. You’ve understood everything everyone says so far!”
“I told you it was similar to a dialect I know. The rest is guesswork, but I hardly want to botch the language. Give me a week.”
“Get down!” Karin pushed them into the blind and drew a canvas cloth over the entrance. This was problematic because the blind had only been designed for use by Karin and her dress, so with three people inside, Adric and Susan were in danger of suffocation by fabric, and he didn’t want to move around too much in case his actions were construed as inappropriate.
“Yodel-ay, yodel-ay, yodel-ay-hee-hoo!” someone sang as two figures moved past.
“Stop singing! You might attract wolves!”
“Nonsense. I can’t believe your father actually asked for my help.”
“Well, he’s desperate, and only men can search the forest.”
“Then you, my dear, should not be with me.”
Karin relaxed. Adric could tell by the way her dress deflated. “It’s just Siegbert and Edwynna,” she said, stepping outside. “Edwynna got disowned for marrying Siegbert, so they’re not really part of the feud.”
“Stop!” Siegbert cried upon hearing her voice. “If you are wolves, I’m warning you to stay back!”
“It’s Karin Schneider.” She looked over at Adric and Susan trying to make their way out of the blind and bringing down half the walls in the process. “And two Bavarian cousins.”
Edwynna burst out from behind a tree and knocked Karin over in her rush to embrace her. “I am so glad to see you! I was convinced we would be eaten!”
“Wolves rarely attack people.” Karin wrinkled her nose at Edwynna’s close proximity but gave her a pat on the back anyway.
“Tell that to poor Beatrice. She saw her calf get eaten alive before Siegbert could chase the pack away with his dogs.”
“You exaggerate,” Siegbert said. “I am positive the calf was only half-eaten while alive.”
Adric groaned as his stomach protested. It’d be a miracle if he kept a single meal down while here.
“In any case,” Siegbert continued, “we are looking for Rainart von Lahnstein. It would be appreciated if you would not shoot him if you see him. YODEL-AY-HEE-HOO!”
Everyone clapped their hands over their ears as he let out three piercing yodels in a row.
“Why do you keep doing that?” Karin asked, pulling at her dress. Somehow, despite traveling through brush, hiding in the blind, and getting knocked down by Edwynna, the dress remained an unblemished pink.
“Rainart is a good friend of ours. If he hears me, he will come.”
“My dear, that’s so clever!” It became Siegbert’s turn to get tackled by Edwynna.
Karin put away her gun and used both hands to waft air toward her face. “Does anyone else smell smoke?”
“Oh, yes,” Siegbert pointed back toward the Schneider castle. “There was a small campfire going back there. Gypsies, I assumed, so Edwynna and I went to investigate because we of course love gypsies, but there was no one there! So, of course, it is a hazard, having an unwatched fire burning like that, so I put it out.”
“We’re half a mile off any road,” Karin said. “Why would any traveler be out here?”
“Perhaps you could take us back there?” Adric suggested.
“Yes, it is not far.” Siegbert jogged away, singing all the while.
Once they found the remains of the fire, it became clear that it had not been intended for warmth or light at all. Rather, an abandoned lantern sat beside a pile of ashes. Adric pushed his fingers through the blackened remains and found one small piece of paper that had not been destroyed. “Someone was burning paper?”
Karin took the scrap from him and moved to a spot where moonlight shone through the canopy. She squinted at the paper, then gasped: “This has grandfather’s name on it!”
“There’s something else!” Adric said. Tugging, he pulled a piece of burlap out from some rocks that had been used to anchor the contents of the fire. The cloth was tougher than paper and had mostly survived. The ash was difficult to dislodge, but he made a reasonable effort, shaking the fabric until Edwynna’s scream distracted him. “What’s wrong?”
Goosebumps went up on his arms when she pointed at him, but then he looked down and saw the reason for her terror. Emblazoned in white on the cloth was a grinning skull.
Karin’s jaw dropped. “I recognize that from the papers.”
“What is it?” Adric asked.
“It’s...” her voice trailed off. “But no, that can’t be. That would mean...”
“You realize whoever set this fire was trying to destroy evidence.”
“You think this is related to your grandfather’s murder?”
“His name is right here.” She waved the scrap of paper at him. “But that is a pirate symbol. That’s the flag of the Pirate Lord of the Mediterranean.”
“You’re saying your grandfather was a pirate?”
“I don’t know. I have no other reason to think so, but we find grandfather’s body and within the hour, someone is burning a pirate flag with documents containing his name? There has to be some connection.”
Adric turned to Susan. “And you said we shouldn’t investigate the forest.”
“Has it occurred to you that the murderer might have set the fire and is still around?” She smiled sweetly.
Adric yelped and spun around, setting off another fit of screaming from Edwynna, which for some reason caused Siegbert to resume yodeling. Karin sighed. “We’d better get back to the castle. Edwynna, stop screaming! There might be a murderer on the loose”--Edwynna screamed even louder, so Karin fired her shotgun into the air, causing immediate silence--“so you should head home. I’m sure Rainart is fine, and I can tell you for a fact that there aren’t any Schneiders in the castle for him to find even if he wanted to talk to one.”
“But if the Schneiders aren’t in the castle, then that makes them easier to find,” Siegbert said. “In fact, they--”
In the distance, a man’s voice boomed: “Raoul Schneider!”
“Abelerd von Lahnstein!” replied a surprised voice, not quite as loud as the first.
White moths swarmed Baron von Lahnstein the moment he broke into the dirt clearing by the stream. Their wings caught the moonlight, glowing like fairies, but he paid them little attention. A figure perched on the rocks beside the water, back turned to him and ears deafened by the gurgling. At least, he shouldn’t be able to hear him approaching--Elise and Rainart used to place bets on how many of the semi-feral castle cats he could catch in one day--but Huey Schneider always knew when he was there.
Sure enough, Schneider tilted his head fifteen degrees when Baron came within striking distance, just enough to let him know he’d been foiled yet again. Not that it mattered. Crouching behind him, Baron wrapped his arms around Schneider’s chest and rested his chin on his shoulder. “So what was it this time? My reflection in the water?”
“No, you were quite good about that.” Baron felt a slight shiver run down Schneider’s neck as he began nibbling on his right earlobe.
“Then how?” he asked, his breath hot against his cheek as he planted kiss after kiss, drawing ever closer to Schneider’s lips.
“It was--” he paused long enough to push Baron away. Twisting around, he managed to get a firm grip on his shoulders, and Baron let himself be thrown against the ground. Straddling him, Schneider’s eyes flashed. “It was the moths. They flocked to your lantern before you blew out the flame. Too easy, Lahnstein.”
Baron grabbed his collar and pulled him closer. “You don’t like it when I wear moth repellant,” he growled. Schneider’s lips were cold, indicating he’d been out quite some time, but heat radiated from his chest as Baron worked his hands into his shirt.
“This is wrong,” Schneider panted between kisses.
Baron responded by lowering his attention to Schneider’s neck, causing the man to let out a soft moan. There was always some objection when they were together; it wasn’t worth his breath to respond, not when there were other things he could use it for.
Schneider shook his head. “It’s like, I like you like a moth... likes... fire... oh god.”
“You like that.” Schneider’s hands went straight for Baron’s pants, but he intercepted them and forced them away. Deciding to push his luck, Baron tried to swing Schneider off, but he wouldn’t budge. He should’ve been a wrestler.
“You know, I was just reading up on the straddle this morning.” Schneider bent down and kissed both his hands. “It’s amazing what you can learn in the library.”
“I didn’t know your parents had books like that.”
“Oh, you know us merchants brought too high, always possessing things we shouldn’t have.” He pushed down with his hips, and Baron conceded the battle, letting Schneider put his hands wherever he liked. “Did you know ‘straddle’ is actually a financial term?”
“Really...” As far as Baron was concerned, the words coming at him were just sounds, which, when it came to Huey Schneider, was probably a good thing.
“Yeah. It’s an option consisting of a put,”--and there was definitely some placement going on, especially with Schneider’s right hand--“and a call,”--and now the left hand, and--“combined, both at the same current market price,”--which must be a good deal, whatever that meant,--“and for the same... specified... period.” Cold air rushed against Baron’s skin as Schneider stripped him in one swift motion.
“That sounds good,” Baron murmured, wrapping one leg around Schneider’s. At that moment, the wind picked up, and a frenzied whirlwind of leaves and branches distracted Baron from the things Schneider was doing to his body. “Hold on, something’s wrong.”
“No one knows about this place.”
The sound of a door opening caused Schneider to throw himself backward and tumble into the stream. Baron looked up to see a large blue box towering over him. At its entrance stood a man with crazy hair who looked more embarrassed than Baron felt. It was clear he was neither a Schneider or a Lahnstein, and as such, Baron couldn’t care less that he’d been caught in flagrante, despite the man's... unique method of arrival.
“I’m terribly sorry!” the man exclaimed, dodging back into the blue box. As the door closed, Baron distinctly heard him say, “That’s twice today.”
The whirlwind started up again, and a light atop the box began flashing as it faded into thin air, leaving behind only the dying sound of vworp-vworp.
Before Rainart could figure out the monitor controls, the Doctor pulled several switches with more force than he needed and set the TARDIS through the time vortex again. “Ah, settings not quite right. See? I was right in not letting you go out first.”
“Twice today? Twice what today? You drove into Aunt Annegret’s room?” Rainart’s head looked ready to explode.
“Your brother wouldn’t happen to have dark hair, would he?”
“Yes, Baron’s the only one whose looks take after father’s. If I was more petty, I’d say that was the reason I got passed over as heir, but I know that’s not the reason. Wait, why? Did you run into Baron? You ran into Baron sleeping with Lysanne?”
“Stop speaking in italics!”
“It wasn’t Lysanne.”
“But you were in the forest.”
“Possibly...” The Doctor tried very hard to look fascinated by the dials in front of him, but this did not deter Rainart.
“It was a Schneider?”
“ITALICS!” the Doctor screamed, flapping his arms.
The Doctor froze mid-flap. “Who?”
“Straight black hair, pale skin, fingernails that can slice French bread.”
“Oh. Mmm, sure, why not?” With all the weirdness going on, the Doctor decided it was better not to rock the boat any further. Drugging Rainart’s entire family was enough for the day.
“I knew it! I knew it! It’s like that English play about the crazy Italians. I once argued that all feuds end this way because love and hate are two sides of the same coin but none of my friends would believe me. What do you think?”
“I think love and hate are very different emotions.”
“Do you have a mortal enemy? You must, traveling through time and space and all that. Think about it.”
“Well...” The Doctor shifted on his feet. “...there’s this Time Lord called the Master, but I wouldn’t say I hate him.”
“Does he hate you?”
“Maybe.” Did he? The Doctor liked to think they had extremely divergent viewpoints that happened to clash every once in a while. Different methodologies and all that. On the other hand, he’d been quite vehement the last time they met. And there’d been that argument during the Time War when the Doctor might have said a few nasty things about his goatee. Surely he hadn’t lost it for that reason? The Doctor remembered thinking a Dalek death ray had burned it off, but the look could also have been the result of a hasty and angry shave. “No, absolutely no way,” he amended as Rainart studied him.
“Think about it.”
“I don’t want to think about it!”
“Who’s panicking now?”
The Doctor swiveled a knob and caused the TARDIS to lurch to a halt, sending Rainart flying across the room and through the door that the TARDIS decided to open. A second later and the young man screamed: “OH MY GOD!”
“Not Annegret’s bedroom,” the Doctor pleaded to the console. He yelped when a bullet ricocheted off the central column and tunneled through the tip of his sneakers.
Rainart ran back in as a second shot splintered wood off the doorframe. “SCHNEIDERS IN THE FOREST!”
As the door closed, the monitors lit up. “Isn’t that your father?” the Doctor noted. “What time is it?”
Rainart kicked the chronometer. “You’ve taken us forward four hours!”
“Oops. They must be searching for you.”
He turned the sound on. “That was Rainart!” someone said from off screen.
Abelerd von Lahnstein lowered his rifle and squinted at the blue box. “It may have been. Well, that means he’s not in your castle.”
“That’s Raoul Schneider.” Rainart pointed as the Doctor swiveled the camera over to get both people on screen.
“He'd better not be,” Raoul replied. “If that problem’s solved, then we might as well get on with it.”
“Agreed, but you fired the customary warning shot, so I get to set the duel rules.”
“What?” The Doctor frowned. “They’re not curious about the big blue box that appeared out of nowhere?”
“Nothing can stop a duel once it’s in progress. It's very single-minded. From what they’ve said, I’m guessing they initiated les règles des rencontres: if opposing families meet on neutral ground and possess weapons, one party may fire a gun or brandish a sword to commence a duel. If both parties decline to do so, they may continue peacefully. The precedent is binding for one day, and all subsequent challenges within twenty-four hours on neutral ground are null and void provided both original parties can verify the time at which they met and parted peacefully.”
“I’ve never heard of such a rule.”
“Someone's great-great-great-great-parent or something made it up.”
“Is there a manual or something? The Idiot’s Guide to the Lahnstein-Schneider Duels?”
“No, we’re expected to memorize the rules by age four.”
“Your families are insane!” At that moment, newcomers crowded the screen as Siegbert and Edwynna appeared with a girl in a massive pink dress and a woman with autonomous hair. “And you’ve got spectators on call!”
“That’s Karin and Susan Schneider. Susan’s the strange cousin I told you about.”
“I see.” The Doctor turned away to check more readings. The tracking told him the signature from Singapore was somewhere close by but not in the immediate vicinity. “Well, we’re not really where we should be. Don’t you think we ought to try to break up the feud? That’s your family out there. Well, three of them, anyway.”
“I told you, nothing short of new family members can stop a feud. Speaking of new family, I wonder where Susan’s brother is. I still can’t remember his name; that’s going to bother me the whole night...”
“But what if someone dies?”
“No one’s died for decades. Come on, let’s get moving.”
Adric’s foot was stuck. Somewhere between the clearing with the fire and the clearing with the Germans shooting each other, he’d stepped into a tangled mess of aboveground tree roots and hadn’t been able to get out. By the time he thought to yell, other voices had risen to drown him out. On the upside, that meant the gathering was nearby, possibly just out of sight. On the downside, that meant the shooting was nearby, possibly just out of sight, and that was a major concern considering two additional shots had fired just before he fell. That had been followed by voices but he’d been busy trying to free himself and hadn’t paid attention. That was apparently a mistake, because in the distance, Raoul now yelled: “You can’t do that!”
“The rules mandate a minimum of three,” Abelerd replied. “There are three of you.”
“What are they up to now?” Adric muttered as he tugged at his ankle one more time. The roots creaked but showed no sign of yielding. A light breeze started up, which given that it was the middle of the night, meant that the temperature went from cold to freezing. “Great, at least I’ll freeze before I get eaten...”
He was taken out of his thoughts by the reverberating sound of a TARDIS disappearing, and he almost strained his neck to stare in the direction of the voices, wondering whether his ears were playing tricks on him. Surely if the TARDIS had appeared and disappeared, someone would’ve noticed, but the arguing continued without pause.
“Susan doesn’t count! She’s a cousin.”
“We cancelled the duels this afternoon to welcome her into the feud!” Abelerd countered. “If you don’t consider her eligible, then the cancelled duels must be fought tomorrow!”
“But she doesn’t even understand directions.”
“She can run, can’t she? By shooting gallery rules, only one target needs to have a gun. In this case, you have two.”
Shooting gallery? That did not sound good. “WAAAAAAAAAAIT!” he screamed at the top his lungs.
After a pause, Karin said, “That’s Adric. I’ll go get him.”
“I don’t think you can get me out of this,” he said when she arrived. “I mean, I’ve tried pulling as hard as I can and oh my god what are you doing?”
The root released him when she fired, shattering the wood and sending splinters flying past his face. He barely had time to shield his face with his arm, and several shallow scratches leaked blood across the back of his hand when he lowered it. “I guess that works,” he said doubtfully.
“Come on, you’re not going to let your sister get shot at, are you?”
“Of course not.” In truth, his intention had been to get someone to help him, not to remind them that there was someone who could replace Susan in whatever constituted a shooting gallery duel. She was, after all, capable of freezing time, whereas he had no special abilities to speak of, unless it was to calculate exact probabilities of where the bullet might be so he knew the locations to avoid. Probably. Maybe. “Wait, I thought only men dueled.”
“A shooting gallery is different,” Karin replied, and Adric noticed there was a spring to her step. “I’ve always wanted to participate in one, but what are the chances of so many people meeting in the forest?”
“So it’s a forest-based duel?”
“I suppose you could do one in town, but people wouldn’t appreciate it. You need a lot of free-standing obstacles that are taller than a person.”
Once Abelerd saw them, he brightened. “Well, that solves your problem. Adric is certainly eligible to participate.”
“That he is!”
No, I’m not! he wanted to yell, but Susan winked at him, so she must have something in mind. Out loud, he said, “What are the rules?”
“Since Abelerd and I met on neutral ground, we weren’t obligated to challenge,” Raoul said. “But I chose to do so.”
“Great,” Adric said in a flat voice, not surprised in the least.
“Indeed. As a result, Abelerd is allowed to put my family at a disadvantage due to my antagonism.”
“Even better.” Adric glanced at Susan. She winked again, and he began thinking she might have something in her eye.
“The shooting range, therefore, is what it sounds like. The three of us take positions at one hundred, two hundred, and three hundred yards from Abelerd. We then run through the trees as fast as we can while he tries to shoot us.”
“No, no, no, don’t worry. That’s not all. We only need to run fifty yards, and if we make it without getting shot, we’re allowed to maneuver into position and fire back.”
“I don’t have a gun!”
“Well, technically, I’m the only one who should have a gun, so that’s all right.”
“That is not all right! I demand a shield instead of a gun!”
“I don’t think that’s covered in the rules.”
“Yes, it is,” Abelerd replied. “He’s allowed one as long as he doesn’t have to leave the shooting grounds to retrieve it.”
Adric threw himself at Susan and pulled the tray out of her bag. “This’ll do fine.”
“All right,” Raoul said, looking slightly stunned. Everyone, even Susan, had taken a step back at his sudden movement, but they appeared to be recovering their composure. “One last thing: the duel lasts three runs. However, after the first run, the members of the shooting gallery may shoot back while running if they choose to do so, but that forfeits their right to take the shot at the end of the run. It is a tradeoff between firing as many times as you want while running or firing once in a position of your choice.”
“And what am I supposed to do, throw the tray at him?”
“If you must,” Karin said, rubbing her hands together. “Are you ready?”
“You’re sure in a rush to get started.”
“Doesn’t it sound fun?”
“It sounds terrible!” He turned to Susan for support, but she shrugged, and when he turned around, the two Schneiders were gone. “Great, just great,” he muttered. Even better was when Karin yelled, “I’ve taken 300” followed by Raoul staking out 200 yards.
“Are you trying to get me killed?” Adric shouted back.
“It would not be honorable to fire back from 100 yards!” Raoul replied.
If he remembered his TARDIS history lessons, guns in this era couldn’t hit anything beyond a hundred yards anyway, which put him on the border between life and death while everyone else was safe. To add to his concerns, the path before him was filled with bushes and rough undergrowth of the sort that’d ensnared him minutes before. He could barely see anything ahead in the darkness, but at least the tray was large enough that, combined with the shrubbery, most of his body would be covered. And Death’s traveling gear was surely bullet proof, right? Adric was vaguely aware that there was a flaw in this logic, but the pressing circumstances did not permit him to examine it.
“THREE-TWO-ONE-GO!” Abelerd yelled despite no one declaring double-time.
“WHAT?” Surprised by the sudden start, Adric nearly tripped at the starting line. A bullet slammed into the tree behind where he’d been as his startled cry gave away his location.
After a few more lurching steps, he regained his balance and put up the tray without daring to look away from the ground before him. From the corner of his eye, he saw Raoul running almost in time with him. The glimpses he got of the man between passing trees showed his arms wheeling in wide circles as he ran with wild abandon, screaming at the top of his lungs. The rifle in his hand spun completely out of sync with the rest of his body, and Adric winced every time the barrel pointed at him.
There was no sign of Karin, however, and he was beginning to think she’d finally gotten trapped because of her gigantic dress when a flash of pink showed that she was running in the opposite direction, having started on the other side of the gallery. Shots continued to ring out at a rate of about one every three seconds, but given the lack of exploding foliage nearby, Adric guessed he was no longer the target.
Right after he thought that, the tray exploded at him, the outer edge crumpling as the center bulged and twisted. The force of the strike threw him sideways just enough that he lost his balance. He managed to hop behind a tree before he fell, but he lay there and refused to get up once he was on the ground. Moments later, Raoul tip-toed past and put a finger to his lips.
“You made it!” he whispered, indicating that Adric had completed the first fifty-yard dash. “Now you just have to head back and do it again! Atta boy!”
Adric made a rude gesture he remembered seeing his brother use once as Raoul disappeared into the darkness to take his shot at Abelerd. Picking himself up, he leaned against the tree to catch his breath and inspected the damage on the tray. The bullet was still wedged in the crater it’d created. A few thumps knocked it loose but otherwise failed to improve the overall condition of the tray. The entire surface was bent, and he spared a thought to how that would affect future dice rolls before concentrating on calculating the probability of it blocking a second hit. Based on the thickness of the bottom and the damage the first shot had caused, he guessed it could stand a second bullet but no more.
He was about to make the dash again when he remembered that Raoul was trying to shoot Abelerd. If he timed it right, maybe the man would be too distracted to fire at him. Peering around the edge of the tree, he tried to make out any human shapes, but he couldn’t even tell where he’d started from, and branches blocked his view of Abelerd’s most likely direction.
“Moooo.” A wet nose nudged his back, right between the waistline of his pants and the bottom of his shirt.
“Eeeew!” he cried. Spinning around, he batted at the cow that had appeared out of nowhere and succeeded in sticking his hands into her mouth. The cow lowed and pushed against him, toppling him over. As he fell, the tray slipped out of his grip and clattered into the underbrush several meters away.
Another tree was close by to his left, so he scrambled to it and hoped the cow wouldn’t follow. However, it was already occupied by Siegbert, who hushed him. “We are here to help you!” he said in a whisper that was louder than his normal voice.
“Uh...” Adric said as Edwynna appeared behind the cow and waved at him, a huge grin plastered across her face. Now that he thought about it, they hadn’t been there when Karin dragged him into the duel. “Where’d you guys go?”
“Don’t shoot me daddy!” Edwynna yelled before dashing to join them at the tree. They jostled about for the best spot until the other two remembered Adric was the only one in danger of being shot and moved to stand on either side of him. Once she was in place, she leaned over and whispered, “We heard about the duel and since you’re from Bavaria, that’s about the same as being disowned, so I figured you didn’t deserve to be shot at.”
“Yes.” Siegbert nodded, and his bells jingled in agreement. “And it just so happened that Beatrice followed us into the forest.”
“I don’t see how that helps me,” Adric replied.
“Well, you see--” Edwynna began, but she was cut off by the two successive gun shots Adric had been listening for, and not daring to wait any longer, he bolted with the tray held over his chest. “Wait!” Edwynna cried, but Siegbert grabbed her before she could leave the safety of the tree.
“We will meet him on the other side,” Siegbert said.
Despite his course of action, Adric was interested in hearing what their plan was, and he tilted his head to the side to try to hear their conversation. As a result, he ran straight into a branch, getting smacked in the face and falling flat on his back. All the breath was knocked out of him, and he lay on the ground panting until Beatrice’s tongue joined the stars floating across his vision.
“Auuurrggghh!” he cried. Abelerd fired in response, which caused the cow to moo and step on his foot.
“Don’t fire, daddy, you’ll hit Beatrice!” Edwynna screamed. “Poor girl,” she added, patting the cow on the head, but the incident having been more than three seconds ago, Beatrice had already forgotten about her panic and started nibbling on Edwynna’s hair. Unfortunately, Beatrice had also forgotten she was still standing on Adric until he gave her a sharp kick.
“Moooo.” The cow glared at him but shifted its weight enough for him to yank his foot away.
Limping to a safe distance, he said, “Now what? I can barely walk!”
“But that was the plan!” Edwynna exclaimed.
“To cripple me? Is there a rule in the code duello that says crippled parties are exempt?”
“No, of course not, silly. With Beatrice here, daddy won’t dare fire at you for fear of hitting her!”
“Remind me to be grateful once I take the cast off.” Nevertheless, he staggered away, and the next few shots were clearly aimed at Raoul, who was making his second run. No one had thought to tell him not to shoot at Beatrice, though, resulting in a bullet knocking the bell off her collar. Siebert yelped and clutched at his own bells as the three of them ran after Adric, now seeking the shelter of his presence from the Schneiders.
When they reached the end of the fifty yard path, now clearly visible due to the zigzagging line of crushed plants that Adric had left after his first run, Karin was waiting for them. “Oh good,” she said. “You made it.”
“That’s what your dad said,” Adric muttered.
“I did my best to end the duel. I mean, being female and not the offending party, I can’t actually hit Abelerd, but I did my best to scare him into dad’s line of sight. It’s not my fault he missed. I mean, even a graze would’ve ended the duel, but--”
“What? Not that I’m upset it doesn’t have to end with someone dying,” he added quickly.
“Oh, don’t be like that. If every duel ended in death, both our families would’ve been wiped out ages ago. Or the men, at least, and that’d be a pity, because Rainart is ever so cute--” She let out a tiny gasp and covered her mouth. “I didn’t mean to say that! I talk too much when you’re around.”
Edwynna giggled. “You like the skinny, brainy types? Oh, I knew it! I knew you were lying when you said you were too young to be interested in men!”
Karin sighed. “Don’t worry, I’ll disarm Abelerd. Just wait a couple minutes before you make your last run.”
“How are you going to disarm him?” Adric got no reply as Karin headed back to the two hundred yard line. “You’re going the wrong way!”
“Oooh, I love this part,” Siegbert said, then added quickly, “Not the shooting at Edwynna’s father part, of course. But, well, just watch.”
A pair of ravens scattered out of the bushes as Karin burst into the open. “Abelerd von Lahnstein!” she yelled, garnering a blast in her direction. The flash of igniting gunpowder gave away his position. She raised her barrel, sighting him without ever missing a step, and fired. A flash of light, moonlight on metal, was all Adric could see, but it was enough to tell that Abelerd’s gun had flown into the air.
Karin reloaded as she ran and let off one more shot as Abelerd’s rifle began its downward journey. Sparks flew as the gun blew apart, shattering into three pieces that went hurtling through the leaves. By the time he heard the muffled thuds that indicated they’d hit the ground, Karin had begun the last leg of her run. Edwynna grinned and gave Adric a little shove, sending him off as well.
It seemed everything was resolved when Abelerd cried out, “You coward, Schneider! How dare you let your daughter do your dirty work!” Adric nearly stumbled when he heard the sound of a blade being drawn out of its sheath, the vibration of freed metal ringing through the forest. “We go to first blood!”
With a roar, Abelerd charged, fallen twigs snapping under his footsteps. Adric’s heart nearly stopped when he saw a large shape charge in his direction. It didn’t take long for Abelerd to come close enough for Adric to see the contorted expression on his face as he let out a long battle cry. There was no escape, not with his foot half-crushed. Adric froze, his voice blending with Abelerd’s as he screamed at the blade swinging toward his neck. He raised his arms, trying to block the sword and knowing that his action was a feeble defense. What he’d forgotten was the tray still clutched in his hands, and as his arms came up, the rim caught Abelerd beneath the jaw, slamming his teeth together and sending him flying away.
As Abelerd hit the ground, Adric stared, too stunned to respond after his narrow escape, but when he groaned and showed signs of getting back up, Adric ran up and whacked him over the head, knocking him out cold.
“Oooh, how brave!” Edwynna exclaimed. She and Siegbert started a round of clapping that didn’t stop until Raoul and Karin appeared.
“Those were incredible shots,” Adric told Karin. “You must be a real math genius to be able to calculate the trajectory of a bullet over such a distance. I mean, it’s not like these guns are designed to hit so accurately.”
She blinked. “What? I just practice a lot.”
Raoul bent over Abelerd and ran a finger under his nose. He showed Adric the glistening splotch on his fingertip. “That drew blood. Congratulations, Adric, you just won your first duel!”
Adric raised his eyebrows. “Yay?”
“Of course,” Susan said from behind him, causing him to jump.
Adric grabbed her arm and drew her away from the others, who were trying to revive Abelerd. Once they were out of sight, he poked her in the arm. “Fat lot of use you were. You winked at me! What was your plan?”
“I didn’t have one.”
“Then why’d you wink!”
“Because Edwynna and Siegbert had one. I heard them sneaking off and talking about getting some cow to protect you.”
“You trusted a cow to protect me? Look what it did to me!” He took off his shoe and thrust his foot at her, but he hit her shin, causing pain to shoot up his leg. “Ow!” He dropped the shoe, and water sloshed out of it, splashing onto Susan.
“Look on the bright side: you won a duel. That’s got to be something to be proud of.”
“I was terrified out of my mind! And it was a duel! Who would be proud of winning a duel? It’s not like it was something noble or useful like killing a monster.”
Susan’s eyes widened at his last words, and her hair started to curl.
“What, don’t tell me you’re afraid of monsters.”
Instead of replying, she threw out her hand and snapped her fingers. For anyone else, the motion would’ve been meaningless, but at that moment, it seemed her skull flashed from under her skin, and Adric recognized the gesture Death had performed aboard the crashing freighter. Flames leapt up about him, and sparks slowed a thousand fold as time came to a standstill, or close enough that it didn’t matter. Five minutes, Death had promised him, five extra minutes before he died.
But he hadn’t died--Jamie and the Doctor rescued him--but just like last time, reality defied his expectations as Susan snapped a second time and a third, and nothing happened. “Drat,” she said.
Three tentacles wrapped themselves around his arms. Dripping with slime and river water, he could only assume he hadn’t noticed them poised above him because he was already wet, but that was the least of his worries. Recovering from shock, Susan tried to grab him, but the tentacles pulled back and drew him through the forest. His body plowed a furrow in the ground, throwing up dirt and uprooting small trees as he bounced back and forth, scrabbling for something to grab but unable to gain a secure grip on anything as the surroundings rushed past in a blur.
“HELP ME!” he screamed, gaining a mouthful of spider webs for his efforts. “Mmphh, SUSAN! KARIN! HELP!” He knew it was pointless, because he was moving too fast for them to catch up.
“Hold on, Adric!” he heard Susan yell, but her voice already sounded distant.
He struck a tree. When the impact spun him around, he saw he was approaching the river’s bank. With a few seconds left, he pressed his forearm against the ground, grinding one of the tentacles into the dirt, but it didn’t even flinch. The water drew closer and closer. The last of the forest dwindled away, and then, for one moment, he soared toward the sky, gaining one last breath of fresh air before he plummeted into the Rhine.
The Doctor had been ready to stay a little longer, if only to await the appearance of the mysterious Schneider whose name caused Rainart to have selective amnesia, but Rainart had watched him too closely when he was piloting and managed to hit the right button to send the TARDIS into the time vortex. Granted, he did so in a way that catapulted them straight into the stomach of a brontosaurus, but the Doctor was willing to give him credit for initiative.
“That is why you never, ever touch the controls without my say-so,” he scolded.
“I’m so sorry!” Rainart exclaimed.
“Don’t worry, no harm done.”
“But what if we caused the dinosaur indigestion and made it throw up on a butterfly?”
“What is it with you people and butterflies?”
“Can we go back and take a look around?”
“No, we’re going to the Rhine!”
“You didn’t even want to be in the Empire in the first place.”
“Hush! Look, maybe this will interest you.” The Doctor pulled up the energy signature he’d been tracking. “You ever seen anything like this? Of course you haven’t, you don’t even have computers yet, how would you--”
“They look like sound waves. We played with that once, funneling our voices through a stylus onto a physical medium.”
The Doctor narrowed his eyes. “That’s a century early too.”
“Maybe my family’s composed of geniuses.” They looked at each other and thought about croquet. “Each in a unique way.”
When he returned his attention to the monitor, he realized Rainart was right. “Now that’s interesting...” Spinning a three-layered knob, a speaker at the far end of the room crackled to life. Static whined from one frequency to another as he rotated the rings in different directions.
“...right outside and I hopped inside a cab...” a voice sang at a sort of breakneck pace that reminded the Doctor of himself after too much sugar. The music faded in and out, refusing to let him get a lock on it. “I went out… this Englishman said, ‘Fab’... saw me... hot dog stand...”
A whine of feedback cut through the speakers, causing Rainart to throw his hands over his ears. Wisps of smoke rose from the wires, and the Doctor slammed his hand on the circuit breaker. “Whoops, sorry about that. But it looks like you were correct. Good job, Rainart.”
“Does that change anything?”
“Nope!” The Doctor kicked the console one last time. “And we’re here!”
The TARDIS shuddered, but this wasn’t the typical stop-by-slamming-on-the-brakes-and-hitti
“Doctor?” Rainart pointed at a spot that corresponded with their positions to form the third corner of an equilateral triangle, but the Doctor had already noticed.
A robed figure was fluctuating into existence in a manner not unlike the TARDIS materializing. Face shrouded in the darkness, the person’s posture did not appear alarmed or even surprised, but the Doctor figured he was surprised and alarmed enough for the both of them. “That’s impossible!”
The hood shook as the figure’s head turned toward the Doctor. “More visitors?”
“You, but, what?” The Doctor grabbed the monitor and rotated it toward him. According to the readings, the energy signature was coming from the figure, and the TARDIS had locked onto him, materializing around him. “But that can’t be! Those energy signatures are too strong to belong to any one person!”
“Doctor!” Rainart yelled, running toward him.
He turned in time to see the robed figure dash up to them, closing the ten meter distance in the space of a second. One punch caught Rainart in the gut, followed by a blow to the head that made him crumple to the ground.
“Whoa, whoa,” the Doctor said as the figure approached him. “I think we should discuss--”
The figure grabbed a fistful of the Doctor’s hair and slammed him face first into the console.
To Chapter 22: Birds of a Feather
Back to Chapter 21: Part 1
Summary: Illicit affairs, drugs, murder, piracy, and tentacles. How scandalous!