in her absence

PART THREE: Of Daemons and Flame
Autumn wind of eve,
blow away the clouds that mass
over the moon's pure light
and the mists that cloud our mind,
do thou sweep away as well.
Now we disappear,
well, what must we think of it?
From the sky we came.
Now we may go back again.
That's at least one point of view.
Hôjô Ujimasa

The Doctor and Vastra arrived just as the High Priests ascended the dais.  Other than Vastra’s green, scaled skin, they fit in perfectly in the sea of black before them, though they did notice their clothes seemed a bit richer than those of the majority.  That must be one of the perks of being a friend of the late King’s trusted advisor, thought Vastra.  She looked on with increasing curiosity as the priests began intoning songs and passages.  The words were mostly alien to her, but here and there she would hear a word or phrase she would understand.  She wanted to ask the Doctor about this, but when she turned and opened her mouth, he quickly reached over and placed a hand over it, shaking his head no.

She remembered then.


24 hours’ silence.

Her questions would have to wait.

She found, much to her surprise, that time passed quickly when there was nothing but silence.  She wandered the area, taking in the still new to her, building style, the sculptures; the flowers that scented the air with fragrances she’d never experienced before.  She noticed that people would bow to her as she walked by, and she took to bowing in return as she passed, not noticing the looks of shock on their faces as she did so.

She walked beyond the city’s gates, along an old path, and found a small pool surrounded by a copse of low hanging trees.  She carefully hung her robes over a branch and dove into the pool in a single effortless gesture.  It felt good to swim again…some of her favourite times before the hibernation were racing her sisters in the underground pools, heated by the earth’s hidden energies.  Her sleep had not dulled her skills one whit, and she flipped and turned in the cool water, silently revelling at the sensation.

After a while, she felt herself start to slow down.  The water was cool, and she knew what that meant.  Sadly she pulled herself from the pool and lay out on the grassy bank she dove from.  She felt the sun beat against her skin, drying the water and warming her blood once again.  She had missed much in her sleep, she thought.  So much had changed…including the apes.

Humans, she corrected herself without a thought.  They’re humans, and not at all what I remember them being like.

She heard a rustle across the pool from where she lay.  In a flash she grabbed her robe and pulled it over her.  She quickly and quietly slid around to the back of the tree, placing it between her and the source of the sound.  She waited a few moments then peeked around the side.

‘Are we enjoying ourselves, Vastra?’

She walked out from behind the tree.  ‘Some warning would have been nice, Doctor,’ she said.  She tried to look cross, but could not find it in her to remain so.  She reached up in the tree, pulled down the black silk sash that had been tied around her waist, and set to recreating that intricate knot.  When she finished, she looked up to see him sitting on the opposite bank.

‘This was one of my favourite places to come and sit, and think,’ the Doctor said absently.  ‘No one ever comes here, it’s peaceful, and sometimes that’s what you need.  Peace.’

Vastra nodded.  At one point she would not have understood, would not have believed, but her mind was slowly opening up to many new things.

‘In there…the hall…I started to hear words I knew.  How do they know my language?’

The Doctor laughed.  ‘It’s actually sort of the other way around.  I think.  OK, not really.  Well, it is, but…’

He paused.

‘Let me start over.’

Vastra nodded.  ‘I think you had better, yes.’

‘It’s called the TARDIS translation circuit.  It gently modifies your brain’s ability to understand languages.  It’s one of the reasons I can speak anything.’

Vastra looked at him.  ‘So it is in my head, changing me?’

The Doctor shook his head slightly.  ‘Not so much changing you as opening up pathways you always had, but never had to use.  Anyone can learn a new language if they really try, but it can be hard.  The TARDIS kind of makes it…well…automatic.’

Vastra looked at him, unconvinced.

‘Think of it is a…gift,’ he said, smiling.

‘It is certainly a surprising one,’ Vastra said.  She walked around the pool and sat next to the Doctor, gathering her robe beneath her.

‘What are they doing now?’

The Doctor picked up a small, sooth pebble and tossed it into the pool.  ‘Right now everything is silent, which is to be expected.  King Eisō’s family has gathered, and Taisei has offered his final farewell to his father.  He will remain sequestered until the funeral itself, lest he show any untoward emotion.’

Vastra looked at the Doctor in shock.  ‘But he was the King’s son?  Should he not be sad?’

The Doctor nodded.  ‘Of course he should be, and he is.  But his people must not see that, or else they may fear that he will be a weak leader for them.  They will expect him to be kind, and compassionate…but also strong of mind and body.  This is a delicate time for the kingdom, and should someone wish to do these people harm, there would be no better time than now for that to happen.’

Vastra nodded.  ‘I certainly can understand that.’

She thought for a moment, and then spoke again.  ‘Why are you here, by the way?  With how close you seem to be to that advisor, Tsugu, I’d have thought you would remain at the hall.’

The Doctor smiled and waved a hand dismissively.  ‘Oh, I’d just be in the way right now.  Besides, if I know Tsugu half as well as I think I do, I expect he thinks you have questions that need answering.  He’d have expected you to take a walk, and when you left the city gates, he…might have gently nudged me in the right direction.’

He paused for a second, wincing.

‘Nearly ninety years old, that man, and he can still leave a bruise with that walking stick of his.’

Vastra reared her head back and laughed heartily.  By the time she finally got her outburst under control, she could see the pout on the Doctor’s face.

‘Enjoy my misery, go ahead,’ he muttered.

Vastra patted him on the shoulder, a move that shocked both of them.  ‘Oh, I am sure you will survive, Doctor.  Certainly you must have had worse before.’  She turned away before seeing his face drop, sadder than she could possibly have conceived.

‘So?  What do we do the rest of the day?’

The Doctor looked up at the sky.  ‘It’ll be close to evening soon.  We can head back to the hall…I am certain that there’ll be a small repast left for us in our rooms.  Sleep, then tomorrow will be much the same as today, except there’ll be a bit less silence.  I’ll see if Tsugu can set aside some time so we can catch back up on my Sanshin lessons, and you can explore to your heart’s content.  By this point I think you’re pretty well assured that people will treat you with respect.’

Vastra smiled.  ‘I noticed that today, actually.’

She paused, deep in thought, before asking the question that had been burning at her for some time.


He looked over to her.  ‘Yes?'

‘You really were not late for a music lesson, were you?’

The Doctor opened his mouth in dramatic surprise.  ‘Of course I was!  You heard it from Tsugu himself!'

Vastra’s eyes narrowed.  ‘But that was not the real reason you brought me here, was it?’

The Doctor smiled as she asked that question, pointed at her and laughed quietly.  ‘Now you’re catching on!’

‘So you lied to me.’

The Doctor’s face went from joy to seriousness in a beat.  ‘I always lie, Vastra…unless it’s important.’

‘So this is important.’

The Doctor nodded.  ‘Yes it is…and when you figure it out, you’ll know why.’

The Doctor stood up, dusted himself off, and started walking around the pool toward the path Vastra took hours earlier.  He turned, saw her still standing there, and motioned to her.  ‘Come on, Vastra…it’s nearly dinner time and I’m starving!’

Sighing, Vastra lifted her robes (ensuring they didn’t collect any mud or dirt as she walked perilously close to the edge of the pool) and followed the Doctor back toward the city proper.


Vastra clenched her eyes tightly, trying to block out the bright sun that shone through her window.  While the Doctor seemed sad that he’d not wake to the sun’s light, she still would have preferred a somewhat less blinding wake up call.  Still, she could tell that this day was different than yesterday.  For one, she could head voices outside.  They were subtle, hushed, reverent, but there was not utter silence.  She heard activity, and her natural curiosity was getting the better of her.  She rose from bed, feeling her muscles ache slightly.  The swim had been a good workout yesterday…and if she was lucky, and the day not too busy, she thought she just might steal away to that pool and indulge a second time.

Then she thought about the fact that the Doctor knew about it.

No, perhaps I won’t after all, she thought to herself.  Though I could always see if I could find someplace else…

Her mind wandered as she dressed.  She saw a fresh robe and sash laid on a low table against the far wall, and figured it would be best to continue what seemed to be the custom.  The Doctor had used some strange phrase…‘When in Rome,’ he had said, and while she really had no idea what he meant (she sometimes thought he didn’t even know what he meant), she thought it might mean that it was best to try and fit in.  So she pulled the robe around her, carefully knotted and laid flat the sash, and cheerfully ignored the footwear that had been left for her.  They thought her a dragon, and by their gods she would walk like one.

She drew the curtains aside and saw the Doctor waiting for her.

‘Good morning, sleepyhead!  I was wondering when you’d decide to join us!’

Vastra glared at him.  ‘And how long exactly have you been there?’

‘There as in here, or there as in awake,’ he replied, the smile not leaving his face for an instant.

‘Either.  Or.  I want to know if I should be mildly offended or…slightly more than mildly offended, if you must know.’

‘Honestly?  Just a few minutes.  It’s really quite strange…I’m so used to rushing about, and it’s weird seeing things happen slowly, and in the right order.’

He paused.

‘Anyway,’ he finally said after a few moments’ pause, looking down at the ever present wristwatch, ‘it’s nearly breakfast time.  We’ll be eating with the King’s…future King’s advisors, along with Prince Taisei.  I hope you’re hungry.’

She could feel her stomach grown, and only hoped that the Doctor did not hear it.

Unfortunately, her hopes were dashed when he laughed quietly and put an arm around her shoulder.

‘And it seems you are.  I am, too.  Let’s go…we don’t want to miss anything!’

They walked into a small chamber off one side of the great hall.  The few attendees’ voices hushed as the Doctor and Vastra entered.  She watched as the Doctor bowed, and figured she should do the same.  As she did, she heard a slight gasp from across the room.

Looking up, she saw a youngish man of perhaps 20 looking at her in surprise.  As she looked around the room, she saw that she was the only female in attendance.

‘I told you,’ spoke a familiar voice.  She turned to see Tsugu enter the room behind her.  ‘I told you she came to bring you great honour, much as her friend Kyoujyu did for your father.’ Tsugu wrapped one arm around the Doctor’s shoulder, and the other around Vastra’s.

‘Come and join us, friends.  I am sure Prince Taisei would like to learn more of you while we eat.  The next few days will be busy ones, even for an old man like myself, and we must keep our strength.’

Over breakfast, the Doctor regaled Taisei and the court with his tale of how he met the late King Eisō.  There was laughter, gasps of shock and surprise, and in truth, Vastra was not sure how much of this tale was fact and how much was fiction.  It didn’t seem to matter…with every word the Doctor made more certain their stay would be a safe and pleasant one.  In return, they heard from Taisei and his late father’s advisors more tales of his rule.  She felt as if she were in the center of some contest to see who would tell the most outlandish, yet believable story.  Yet she found it fascinating, and learned more about these people, and the Doctor, with every passing moment.

It was a nudge from the Doctor that focused her attention on the fact that the room had grown silent.  She looked around, and noticed all eyes were on her.  She suddenly felt very self-conscious, something she was quite unfamiliar with.

‘You will excuse me…I was just so engrossed in your tales.’

The Doctor smiled.  ‘Prince Taisei was asking how it was that you came here at this time, Vastra.’

She swallowed, not sure how or what to say.

‘I…’ she began, her single word fading into silence.  Still they waited, patient for her to continue.  She finally found the words she was looking for, and continued.

‘I was woken from a deep sleep…a sleep, apparently, of thousands of years.  While I slept, apparently, so much had changed on my…our…planet.  This man found me, and offered to show me how humans had changed since I was last awake.  In my youth, your kind hunted us, and we them.  He told me so much had become different, and asked me to come with him so he could show me.’

She paused, turned, and looked at the Doctor.  He nodded his head, almost imperceptibly, and one eyebrow raised just the tiniest bit.

‘What he has shown me is almost beyond my capability to understand.    I am learning much from my journey with him, and I hope I can use that knowledge to teach others.’

The room fell silent at these words.  Vastra felt the silence to be almost unbearable.  She was about to speak again when Tsugu finally bowed his head, smiled, and spoke.

‘The wisest man is the man who knows he knows nothing, because it means he is open to learning everything.  Remember this, Taisei.  Never think that you will have all the answers.  You will grow, and learn, and as you do you will grow wiser.  But never allow yourself to stop learning.  That is the sign of a foolish and poor leader.’

Prince Taisei bowed his head.  ‘Thank you, Tsugu.’  He then turned and faced Vastra.  ‘And thank you as well, for honoring me with your presence and your words.  I hope I can learn from them.’

Vastra smiled, and if she could have blushed from the compliment, she would have.

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