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Apr 23 2008, 9:10am
Thanks to everyone who's read and commented so far. Always appreciated.
Crossover fanfic, "Through the Rain Curtain", chapter 2
This is part 2, also posted on my LiveJournal, at Fanfiction.net, and A Teaspoon and an Open Mind. As ever, I'm only borrowing. Chapter 1 is here.
Through the rain curtain
There is a camp nearby, with horses, and they are given the spare mounts. Ronald has ridden a little before, but he soon realises his horse is far better than anything he has been entrusted with in the past. The Doctor, meanwhile, appears perfectly comfortable on his bay mare, although she had backed away when he first approached her and had to be talked to gently before she would let him mount. The men who had captured them are equally comfortable, and they make good progress. Ronald listens to the men talk, and wonders – not for the first time since this peculiar adventure began – just how he can understand the language of another world.
He reins his horse in, dropping back to the Doctor, and asks the question.
“Why?” the Doctor says, one hand on the reins and the other resting lightly on his thigh.
“I’m a linguist!” Ronald says. “That’s what I am, really; not a soldier.”
“War makes people soldiers,” the Doctor responds.
“Quite,” agrees Ronald. “Before the war, I was a linguist – I hope I still will be, when it ends. I know they cannot be speaking English.”
“No, they’re not,” the Doctor says. “It’s Westron. What you might call the lingua franca of Arda.”
Ronald digests this. “Why can I understand them, then?”
The Doctor smiles. “The TARDIS. She translates for you. Saves me having to learn all the languages of the universe. Most people don’t think of that question.”
“I’m interested,” says Ronald, shrugging. “Can you stop it?”
“You won’t be able to understand what’s going on,” the Doctor points out, as if Ronald had not thought of this.
Ronald shrugs. “But I’ll be able to hear the language. Find out what it sounds like, what its structure is, whether it resembles anything … well, anything on Earth. Goodness, I can’t believe I just said that.”
Digging inside his jacket, the Doctor pulls out a slim, cigar-shaped device. “If you want to reverse this, shout up.” He points the device at Ronald’s head; there is a blue light, a buzzing noise, and it is as if a switch clicks off. Suddenly the men around them are not speaking English.
“Did that work?” the Doctor asks. His accent is somehow subtly different.
“I can understand you,” Ronald says. “Should I be able to?”
“Oh, I got the hang of English years back,” the Doctor says airily. “Pretty easy language, really. What about them?”
Ronald finds himself smiling. “Can’t understand a word they’re saying.”
The Doctor slips his device away. “Well, if that’s what you want.”
He rides, and listens, and gradually the structure – if not the sense – of the language begins to form in his head. There is a more formal pattern used when the men are addressing the leader, Faramir; it slips somehow when they talk amongst themselves. The language is faintly musical to Ronald’s ears, with an edge that reminds him, slightly, of German. Now and then there’s clearly a word in a different language, or possibly a different dialect, thrown in. Names come through too – the name of their King, this Elessar; that is a different language, certainly. And another, a word that could almost be Anglo-Saxon.
“Who are they talking about?” Ronald asks the Doctor.
“The girl he’s going to marry,” says the Doctor.
Ronald thinks of his own Edith, and another thought hits him. “How far away from Earth are we?”
“Far,” the Doctor says, shortly. “Five and a half galaxies. Don’t worry, I’ll get you back safe and sound.”
Ronald returns to listening to the talk, picking up the repeated words, enjoying hearing something completely new for the first time.
They ride all day, pausing when the sun is high for food. The Doctor fiddles with his device again and turns the translation back on in Ronald’s head. For a while he misses the mental processes of trying to work out the new languages, but when they begin riding again it is good to understand what the men are saying.
“Damrod, when we reach Osgiliath I want you to take a fresh horse and ride to Minas Tirith,” Faramir says, halfway through the afternoon. “We’ll camp in Osgiliath – I need to see how the repair work is progressing.”
“Aye, Captain,” the man addressed as Damrod agrees. “What’ll be the message?”
Faramir glances across at Ronald and the Doctor, and Ronald catches a glint in his eye. “I’ll write it down for you.”
Osgiliath, which they reach before dusk, turns out to be a ruined city with the evidence of recent battles. Men are hard at work removing rubble and propping up walls in danger of falling down, and they ride past an area of cleared ground with the fresh earth of newly-filled graves. The Doctor’s face, as they pass, is grim – no sign of the wide grin now.
Faramir is greeted with warmth and respect, his party shown to a half-ruined building with canvas spread as a roof. Some of the men disappear with the horses, and other settle down to preparing a meal, producing some kind of bird from saddlebags. Ronald offers to help, and after a moment they agree. They pluck and bone the birds in companionable silence, putting them into a pan to stew along with a bunch of herbs.
“Our thanks,” one of the men says, when the birds are cooking. Wiping his hands on the proffered cloth, Ronald nods. This is something he understands; the camaraderie of a troop of soldiers evidently does not differ, whatever world you happen to be on.
The Doctor is sitting watching them, and watching Faramir, who is busy scribbling on scraps of parchment with a quill pen. He folds two of the pieces up and hands them to Damrod, who is standing ready. Damrod bows, and disappears, and Faramir writes for a short while longer before putting the quill down.
“How are those birds coming along?” Faramir asks.
“Fifteen minutes, perhaps.”
Faramir stands, and looks at the Doctor and Ronald. “Will you walk with me?”
He takes them a short distance away from the men, to a spot overlooking the wide river flowing through the city.
“We’ll be in Minas Tirith tomorrow morning,” he says, gesturing southwards, the way the river is flowing. Following his gesture, Ronald sees, faint and silhouetted against the setting sun, a tall tower. “The White Tower of Ecthelion,” Faramir murmurs. For a moment there is silence, and then Faramir turns to them. “Where the King awaits; and what am I to tell him about the two strangers who I met wandering in Ithilien?”
Ronald looks at the Doctor.
“That we were lost?” the Doctor suggests, inscrutable.
“Lost, indeed; but from where did you come?” asks Faramir. “You,” he nods at Ronald, “could almost be one of us, save for the fact you are not of Gondor. But you – Doctor? – you I cannot place.”
“Like I said, we’re travellers,” says the Doctor, easily. “Unarmed, and harmless.”
“The last person who said that to me,” Faramir says, “saved us all.”
“Hope it won’t come to that,” the Doctor responds.
Faramir nods. “I hope – I believe – there is nothing, for the moment, to save us from. The evil is defeated, and you do not strike me as beings of evil.”
Ronald is fascinated by his words, and longs to find out more, but he senses this is not the time, nor the place. Faramir turns away from the river.
“I will not have you bound while we sleep – I will trust you not to attempt an escape.”
“You have our word,” the Doctor says, solemn.
“Good. Time to sup, and then early to bed. I would be in the City early, before the King is swamped with counsellors and requests and tasks.”
Before they eat, Faramir’s men all stand and face the West for a moment’s silence. Ronald resolves to ask the Doctor about this as well, at some point. His list of questions is growing longer by the minute, and when it is time to sleep – wrapped up in a woollen blanket – they run through his head over and over again. But he sleeps, eventually, though lightly.
As Faramir has promised, they wake early the next morning. Breakfast is bread and warm, flat ale of some kind, and then it is back on the horses. They cross the river on a new, makeshift wooden bridge, and then canter along a wide road running down towards the great city in the distance. Even though it is yet miles off Ronald can see it is of some size, and the sun now catches the spire of the tower and makes it glint.
“Beautiful, is it not?” Faramir says, coming alongside.
“Magnificent,” Ronald agrees.
“I am sorry you will not see the City at its best,” Faramir continues. “It will be many months before we have fully restored it.”
“What happened?” asks Ronald.
Faramir sighs, deeply. “War. We were besieged by the forces of Sauron – thousands of orcs, goblins, all manner of fell creature, arrayed against us. They had weapons of metal and fire. We would have lost the City were it not for the arrival of the King and of the Rohirrim.” A small smile crosses his face. “Together they tore apart the besieging forces – though I do not remember.” At Ronald’s look, he touched his shoulder. “I was injured.”
“What’s your King like?” the Doctor puts in.
Their captor’s face lights up.
“A man of great worth and dignity,” he says. “A healer and a great swordsman; one men follow to the very gates of doom. You will see for yourselves, soon enough.”
After an hour or so of riding, they pass between two mounds of fallen stones, some blackened and burned. Parties of men are busy by the mounds, working in a chain to pick up the unblemished stones. They pause as Faramir and his party ride by, some bowing.
“The Rammas Echor,” says the man closest to Ronald. “Our great defence.”
“Doesn’t look like it defended you very well,” the Doctor observes, as they ride away from the broken wall.
The man acquiesces with a shrug. “It delayed the enemy somewhat. We will rebuild it.”
Ronald scarcely hears them; all his attention is on the great city now before them. It rises up from the plain like the bow of a ship; a tall tower surmounting the rows of white buildings and a mountain rising majestically from behind the city. From the top of the tower a black flag is flying – he wonders, for a moment, if it is a flag of mourning, but then the wind catches it and even from this distance Ronald can see it bears some kind of emblem. Although the lowermost walls of the city are marred with great scorch-marks, and the plain is in places more mud than grass, pitted with gashes, the sight is astonishing. Somehow, in this instant, the full marvel of what he is seeing hits Ronald hard. He is far, far from home, but even on a different world people are creating things of beauty and wonder.
He does not notice that his horse has come to a halt and is placidly picking at grass until there’s a voice close by.
“Oy. Ronald. You’re getting left behind.”
Ronald glances sideways at the Doctor. “I … I’m sorry. I was …” he waves a hand at the city. “It’s beautiful.”
“Yeah,” says the Doctor, unexpectedly. “One of the glories of the universe, this place. Keep up, or you’ll be stuck.”
Ronald gives his grazing horse a kick, and they rejoin the rest of Faramir’s party.
The signs of recent war are ever-more evident as the city grows closer. In particular, there’s an enormous bare patch of ground which reeks of something hideous. Close by, a mound has been built and the first tips of new grass are growing.
Ranged along the city walls there’s another city, a city made of tents and rough shelters. Ronald realises these are barracks, of a sort; men are sitting outside the tents scrubbing at armour, sharpening swords, fletching arrows. Some have their arms in slings or are bandaged. The men are mostly tall and dark-haired, like Faramir and his men, but some are fair, and some have darker skin and different clothes.
The city has a gate, manned by guards in tall silver helms with spears; they push the gate open and stand aside as Faramir and his troop ride through. And then it is up and up, and up again, through more gates. The buildings they pass change as they ascend through the city, from workshops to shops to dwellings. Ronald has lost count of gates by the time they have to dismount from their horses, but they’re still not at the top.
The last bit of the way has to be done on foot, he discovers. Up here, there are fewer signs of war and the houses are richer. Some of the men peel off, evidently heading back to their barracks, and only three accompany Faramir, the Doctor and Ronald as they enter a wide courtyard. In the centre there is a fountain, babbling merrily away in the morning light, and a young tree beginning to bud. Against the white stone of the buildings it is beautiful, and somehow awe-inspiring.
Faramir pauses, straightens his tunic and brushes somewhat ineffectually at his hair.
“This way,” he says.
The Doctor shoots a grin at Ronald, and follows close on Faramir’s heels.
Akaroa jetty, New Zealand, March 2008