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Shakespeare didn't get to see the TARDIS the first time he met the Doctor. But he's smart enough to know it when he sees it.
Feedback: Yes, please. Comments are more than welcome.
Many, many thanks to my betas, Dune, Becky, and, most importantly Jades. It wouldn't be as good without them. Any mistakes still present are, of course, my fault.
Additional dialogue by William Shakespeare, and my apologies to the Bard.
Well Met In Sunlight
Salutations, my dear reader,
In this letter I commit to paper that which I have sworn never to commit to paper. However, when eventually I am delivered safely home, this document will find its way into the library of this strange machine called the TARDIS. There, if you are fortunate enough to be reading this, you will have found it. And there shall it lie, never to be read by eyes that are not prepared to see it.
Fortunate as you are, I am sure I need not enlighten you as to the nature of the Doctor, that wondrous wanderer who, followed by events of ever more foreign provenance, occasionally visits the shores of our beautiful island and both astounds and confounds all those he chances upon.
My first meeting with the Doctor was marked by death and witchcraft, but also wonder, and glory, and beauty. What I saw then will inform, I am sure, many of the tales I shall tell. This letter, however, describes events at a later date.
I had, on my first meeting with the Doctor, not had the privilege of seeing his conveyance. From the testimony of some of the guards Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth sent after him, however, I learned that it had the appearance of a blue rectangular box, with strange, regular lettering. Unfortunately, the guards I plied with wine and ale were illiterate, or as near as to make no difference, and could not tell me the meaning of the lettering. Nevertheless, when, a few months later, I happened across such a blue box, I deduced immediately that the Doctor had returned.
I was taking a respite from writing, to spare my poor wrist. I had been working on my new play, but inspiration had struck for a number of sonnets. By the time I had finished putting them to paper I could no longer hold a pen, so I decided to take a stroll. And there it was, answering perfectly to the description of the guards. I studied the outside intently, hoping to discern the particulars that made this structure capable of travelling in time and space. But it appeared to be simply a wooden shed, painted blue. On one side, there were double doors. I tried them.
Contrary to my expectations, they swung open. Most curious. More curious still was the fact that the space beyond those doors seemed far greater than the circumference of the structure would allow. I could not contain my interest, and entered.
The room was white like newly fallen snow. Round shapes adorned the walls, and in the centre there was something resembling a hexagonal lectern. I could not determine its purpose with any certainty, but it seemed to be of some importance. I dared not touch it, for fear of doing something I would not be able to reverse.
Something I did dare touch was another door. I opened it, thinking it would lead out onto the street. This single room already exceeded the space it appeared to take up from the outside. It felt safe to assume that the mysterious effect was limited to the room, and that the door would take me to the back of the small wooden shed.
But no. Instead I found myself in a corridor with doors irregularly spaced along it. Still plagued by curiosity I opened one at random, and found a room not quite unlike a large tower, with a broad, iron-banistered staircase spiralling up and down the centre. It was very unlike a tower, however, in the hangings along the outside of the staircase. Closer investigation revealed that these hangings were loose articles of what I could only assume to be clothing, of cuts and fabrics the like of which I had never before seen.
I had walked some way up this marvellous staircase when I heard voices coming through the opened doors. Instinctively, I concealed myself among the assorted fabrics. As it transpired, this was unnecessary, for the voices came no closer. Logically, they had to belong to the Doctor and Miss Jones, Martha. However, when, after the initial shock, I abandoned my hiding place to venture closer, I could not reconcile the timbres of the voices I heard with theirs.
They were a man’s voice and a woman’s, certainly, but the man’s was far deeper and more resonant than I remembered the Doctor’s being, and the woman’s, though similar in tone to Miss Martha’s, also had more precise diction and a somewhat different accent.
I felt curious as to the identity of these voices, as I had not encountered any other companions of the Doctor, but it would not be unlikely that there would be such. I kept my peace, however, for I did not want to confront any strangers. Soon the sound of their voices was overpowered by a strange groaning, which sent me fleeing back to my hiding place. I waited until quiet had returned to the ship. I then returned to the room I had encountered upon first entering the ship and indeed found it empty. If the Doctor was not here, perhaps it would be better for me to wait outside.
I went through the blue doors that marked, I now knew, the way outside, and immediately halted my steps. I had entered the vessel in London, in a dark back alley among street filth and beggars. Now I found myself in a garden with meticulously maintained flower beds and shrubbery of some kind cut into fanciful animal shapes.
Wonders truly do not cease where the Doctor is concerned. Intellectually, I knew I should now stay with this ship until the Doctor should return, for I had clearly been taken away from London. Then again, this also meant I had been taken away from London and deposited elsewhere, and it would be a true shame if I were not to at least explore a little.
I walked on through the seemingly unending gardens until I could hear voices again. These were not the voices of the man and woman I had heard earlier. Those had been speaking English. These were speaking French, though how I know this now I cannot comprehend, for I could understand them as well as if they were using the Queen’s tongue, if you will pardon the phrase. And indeed, the words, too, were familiar.
I sought out a place among the greenery where I could gaze upon the company undetected, and saw there a group of people reading out a play, with each reader taking a particular role. The company seemed, shockingly enough, to consist mostly of women, easily enough distinguished even in their unfamiliar fashions, for no man would wear such skirts (however, had one shown me engravings of the gentlemen’s dress on earlier occasions, I would also have denied any sensible man wearing such, so perhaps I am not one to judge). I would hazard that they were of some form of nobility, for even an actor’s gaudy motley would not have the richness that these person’s costumes were fashioned from.
The play they were reading was one of my own, The Midsummer Night’s Dream, and shining upon the stage like the moon itself was the lady reading the role of Titania. Her voice rang clear through the garden, and I wrestled myself closer in order to see better.
“If you will patiently dance in our round
And see our moonlight revels, go with us;
If not, shun me, and I will spare your haunts.”
When the lady spoke these words, her eyes briefly left the man reading Oberon’s lines (who was giving a miserable performance, to my ears) and instead seemed to capture mine. Startled, I withdrew, though I remained close enough to follow the performance.
Presently, the act ended, and the company briefly conversed about various topics before the majority absented themselves. The lady who had played Titania remained, with a number of attendants. These were also sent some distance away, though I noticed they did not go beyond shouting range. Titania, however, did not shout. She simply spoke, into the emptiness in front of her. “A stranger hiding in the gardens will always remain lonely, dear sir.”
There was a certain coyness in her voice, almost as if she had been expecting someone. I decided to show myself.
As soon as I came into view, her smile dropped. Clearly she had been expecting someone else. “My apologies for the intrusion, fair Titania,” I greeted her and made a bow. “I had lost my way, and then I heard your words calling out to me.”
The lady schooled her features into a friendly smile, the better to hide the surprise briefly visible when she heard my words. “Very lost you are indeed, sir. What business does an Englishman have here?”
I spread my arms. “None at all, as it happens, my lady. The circumstances of my arrival here are a long and rather strange tale, and I am unsure how much of it you would believe.”
Now the lady’s smile became genuine. “Would you do me the honour of allowing me to determine that for myself, sir?”
“Naturally, my lady,” I conceded, and launched into my tale. I did not expect her to believe it at all. Who, without experience of the Doctor himself, would? Yet I did not get a chance to tell my story in full, for at the first mention of the individual in question the lady’s demeanour changed from polite condescension to rapt attention.
She immediately sat up straighter and repeated the title. “The Doctor? Please sir, tell me more. Describe him, please!”
I gave my description, and she became infinitely more cheerful. Circumstances seemed to have conspired here to bring together two people who had experiences of the time traveller. She pressed me to continue my tale. I only had to interrupt it once more, when she refused to believe my identity.
“Shakespeare, the author? You cannot be serious sir, even if you are an Englishman. The man is dead, has been for well over a century.”
I bowed for her again, trying to conceal my shock. Had we travelled that far? “My lady, we are discussing a man who can travel through time. In that context, is my presence such a miracle? I could quote you a sonnet or two, or perhaps some verses, if you like. But from what I heard before, I dare say some of your company could do so as well. I have no other proof to offer.”
“Perhaps you are right, sir.” She smiled at me, clearly disbelieving, but she did me the courtesy of not saying this out loud. “I would love to discuss the Midsummer Night’s Dream with you, then, after you have finished your current tale.”
“Gladly, my lady.” I finished my tale, the lady nodding along, living with the story. I have stood as an actor before hundreds, possibly even thousands, but only rarely have I had such attention on my person as I received then. If I could transport one person so for every performance I have yet to give, then I shall think one hundred years of fame earned. I fear it will not be so.
After I had reached my conclusion, the lady invited me to sit in one of the chairs scattered around the clearing. We briefly discussed the Dream, but I was unable to contain my own curiosity about the lady’s encounter with the Doctor, and I asked after it soon.
The lady turned out to be a gifted storyteller. Of course, it helped that she had lived it. Her story was a proper tale of horror, with strange machinery chasing her and invading the King’s palace. And constantly appearing at the last minute was the Doctor. He had appeared and driven the machines away time after time, from their first probe in the lady’s early youth until a final assault mere months ago, when he had disabled the machines permanently. The stories about that feat were still buzzing about the palace, she assured me, with each courtier formulating their own explanation for the ‘magic’ the Doctor had wrought.
And then he had left again, promising to return soon. He never had. The lady’s expression then betrayed some sadness. She missed him. Clearly more had happened between them than she had told. I would not blame the man. Young she might no longer quite be (though of no greatly advanced age, either), but she was beautiful, and educated, and, most importantly of all, truly intelligent. I made a remark then about the extraordinary character of the Doctor, and soon the discussion revolved around him, with good humour being shared between us, largely at his expense.
That was when we were interrupted. A young woman dressed in strangely striped hose broke through the branches of the bush, not far from where I had emerged. She took one look at the both of us and exclaimed with some relief, “There you are!” Then she raised her voice and shouted for her companion. “Doctor, I think I’ve found him.”
The lady was on her feet before I could blink. “The Doctor?” she asked, and I could see her restraining herself from asking more. This was an unexpected development, surely. Especially when a man, apparently the Doctor, emerged from the bushes with a bright “hello”. He did not look like the Doctor I had encountered, however. That man had been rail-thin, with short hair in somehow artful disarray. This character was, while not fat, built more sturdily, and his hair was a thick mass of wild curls. The most striking aspect of his clothing was a striped strand of knitted fabric far too long to be called a scarf.
He assessed the situation, then addressed the lady with a smile. “I’m terribly sorry, young lady, but we got separated from our friend here. We’ll have him out of your hair soon enough.” Then he turned to me and fixed me with a mild glare. “It’s customary that one asks for a ride, master Shakespeare.”
“I presume one would be denied the pleasure, sir,” I answered him.
His smile returned. “So you would. But it can’t be helped now, of course. Come along.” He turned and started to move into the bushes again. The young woman who had come with him started to follow too.
“Doctor,” the lady called after him, a pleading note in her voice.
“Yes?” The Doctor – I presumed – turned back to look at her, frowning now. “Have we met?”
There was a moment of silence, and then the lady averted her eyes. Her shoulders had dipped, too. But there was a smile in her voice. “Perhaps not yet, Doctor.”
The Doctor regarded her evenly for a heartbeat or two, and then his eyes acquired a very familiar gleam, and I finally could believe that this was indeed the same man I had met previously. So many strange things surrounded this man. He nodded. “I’ll look forward to it. Madame.” He inclined his head as a goodbye, and left. The young woman practically shooed me after him.
I stayed behind long enough to make my goodbyes to the lady. “A pleasure to have met you, my lady.”
The lady was staring after the Doctor, her eyes shining with moisture. At my words, she blinked, swallowed, and turned to me. “And you, master Shakespeare.” She inclined her head as the Doctor had done, and turned away, leaving me to follow the young woman who was waiting for me with obvious impatience.
“We’ve been looking all over the palace grounds for you,” this young lady informed me when we were out of earshot of my hostess. Her expression changed into one of curiosity, and she asked, “But really, William Shakespeare?”
“I seem to have made quite a name for myself,” I remarked, grinning at her.
She snorted. “And so modest, too.”
“My dear lady, you asked /me/. You are clearly neither from my time nor this one. So my name must have endured.”
Her lips pouted prettily. Then she laughed. “You’re right, of course.”
We reached the ship then, and the Doctor let us both on board. There I received another brief scolding, but it seemed entirely good-natured. I also took the opportunity to ask about his different appearance. Miss Sarah Jane Smith – as the young lady indicated her name was – explained to me that it was in the nature of Time Lords to change their appearance where mere mortals would die. Well, after the marvels of today, one more such improbability was not so hard to believe. At any rate, the Doctor and I spent a good few hours discussing various matters, the inclusion of which in this letter would tax my already strained wrist. I have been writing this letter with quite unfamiliar writing materials, and I feel that I am paying the price. Let me summarise my subsequent adventures, then.
The Doctor promised to take me back home, but he had some trouble finding the right location, and so I had the privilege of seeing some very little of a few strange worlds. Although we visited many places, I did not often get to look far outside the ship, for the Doctor seemed keen to preserve me and see me home safely. These things I did get to see for more than a mere glance: a far future York, brilliant with glass buildings everywhere, reaching into the sky higher than the eye could see; a storm-tossed world, with no people save our threesome anywhere in sight; and ancient Rome, during Caesar’s triumph. I heard the soldiers warn the mothers to lock away their daughters, for their general was coming, and so he came. It is engraved in my mind, and I may write about it in future, Lord willing.
But now Sarah Jane comes to tell me we have finally arrived in good old England at the instant I left, or thereabouts. So the time comes to end this letter, and to bid you goodbye.
Farewell, and many happy travels,
P.S. We have arrived three days late. My wrist still hurts, and I have a play to write, past due already. I wonder if the Doctor would oblige?