Title: Music Alone
Rating: All ages
Word count: 3604
Disclaimer: The Doctor, Rose, the TARDIS and the associated universe belong to the BBC. Just like the west coast of Ireland, it's a great place to visit but I can't claim any kind of ownership.
Summary: Something's not happy. And what happened to that fiddle?
Notes: Written for the Tenth Doctor ficathon. My instructions read as follows:
- You're writing for: ceolnamara, who wants a traditional Irish music session, Achill Island, Rose, and doesn't want Irish clichés, like green beer on Saint Patrick's Day.
Rose entered the control room, vigorously towelling her hair. "I don't care where we're going next, but it's got to be somewhere that doesn't have slime dripping from the ceiling."
The Doctor looked up from the controls and grinned widely. "Nothing wrong with a little slime. It's good for the complexion. Where do you want to go?"
"I don't know, but I don't want to have to save the world or rescue a bunch of aliens, and I really don't want to be slimed again. I want a holiday. Maybe go and see a band."
"What about Glastonbury?"
"Glastonbury, a small planet far away that you haven't told me about yet?"
"Glastonbury, a small town in Somerset, England. About a hundred and fifty miles from London. They have a sort of music festival there."
"Isn't it muddy? I've seen the television pictures; Glastonbury, mud. Mud, Glastonbury."
The Doctor turned a dial on the console and reached up to tap the face of a meter. "Not in 1999. Beautiful dry weather, no mud at all. Al Green and The Manic Street Preachers. Wonderful stuff." He pulled a lever, and strode down the ramp as the doors eased open. "Welcome to Glasto 1999!"
Rose watched him go. She glanced up at the viewscreen, counted to five under her breath, and then watched him come back in. The Doctor's clothes dripped fresh rainwater onto the floor of the TARDIS, and his untidy dark hair was plastered onto his forehead. "This isn't late June 1999," he announced solemnly.
Rose threw him the towel and pointed to the screen, where the side of a steep hill descended sharply to an angry sea. "It's not Glastonbury either."
Three lads entered the hotel, and two of them joined a friend at a table in the corner. The other went to the bar. "A Coke and three scoops of the Large here, Mary, and something for your sweet self. Any news?"
The girl behind the bar set to work at the pump. "Some fool's stole yer man's fiddle now." She put the first couple of pints on the bar. "Come here." The man leaned forward, and she dropped her voice to a whisper. "That's four in the last week. Your pipes, Davey's bodhrán, the piano and now the fiddle. Had the garda in earlier asking questions."
She set the last glass alongside its companions, and the young man raised an inquisitorial eyebrow. "On the tab, Mary?" he asked, but catching the dark look in her eyes, he sighed deeply and reached for his pocket.
The Doctor strode purposefully across the windswept grass with Rose half-running behind him. The rain, a little lighter now, still stung her face. "If it's not Glastonbury, why are we still here? Why didn't we just shut the doors and have another go?"
The Doctor stopped and turned, and Rose almost ran into him. "Something here isn't right. Someone isn't happy. The TARDIS doesn't just land somewhere at random. It can feel what's going on, it must think we can help."
"So if we're staying here, do we at least know where it is?"
The Doctor wrinkled his forehead. "I don't know." He sniffed the air. "Earth." He looked back past the TARDIS and out to the sea beyond where the sun was setting and compared the colours of the sky and sea. "If that's the North Atlantic..." He squatted on his heels and thrust a finger into the soft earth, withdrew it and licked experimentally. He plucked a blade of grass, crushed it, and sniffed. "Ireland." He stood and pointed forwards, to where a ragged row of stone houses clung to the landward side of the hill. "And when we get to the village, we can ask them why we're here." He smiled, a broad schoolboy smile, and looked back at Rose. "You coming?"
Rose watched him stride on, and looked despairingly up through the rain at the darkening sky. She sighed, and started to chase him once more.
A short, thin figure with a wrinkled face was perched morosely on the edge of a wooden bench in a small, bare room. A battered upright piano stood against one wall, and alongside the man was a drum and a set of pipes. The man briefly lifted his lined face and cocked his head as if listening to something. He reached out his arm, felt around momentarily for the gap he'd found between worlds, and then smiled as he retrieved a violin, seemingly from mid-air. He reached through once more, and a few moments later he'd found the bow. He lifted the instrument and drew the bow across the strings, and then winced at the awful noise he'd created. He dropped the violin onto the bench beside him, and collapsed back into soulless depression.
By the time they'd reached the hotel Rose was cold, and wet, and very, very cross. The first buildings they'd found had been ruins, and they'd followed the trail around the side of the hill for a couple of miles, eventually descending to a road which led them into another valley and, at last, some sort of civilisation.
The Doctor, by contrast, was his usual irrepressibly cheerful self. The words "God bless all here" rolled richly through the bar in his obviously English accent. These were followed by the Doctor himself, with Rose in a very damp third place. He sauntered casually over to the counter, turned around and leaned back against it, and surveyed the room. "Nice place," he mused, "could do with a clean, maybe some paint." He looked at Rose, pointed at the ceiling. "No slime, though." He turned to the bar and bent to survey the pumps and taps. "Factory lager, full of chemicals. The beer's probably crawling with wildlife, and as for the cider..." his voice trailed off as he caught sight of Rose's increasingly horrified face. "Am I being rude again?" He turned and smiled at the girl behind the bar. "Hello, I'm the Doctor. Is there any tea?"
After producing tea for the Doctor and something fizzy for Rose, the girl behind the counter -- Mary, of course -- observed neutrally that her new customers weren't local. The Doctor smiled through the steam above his teacup. "No, we're visitors. Tourists. We like to turn up somewhere new, have a look round, see if anything odd's been happening..." Suddenly he beamed at her. "Oh, do tell me that something odd's been happening. I love it when something odd happens."
Mary looked left and right along the bar, and then leaned forward. "Dairmud's fiddle," she whispered, "there's something odd."
The Doctor placed his cup carefully down on the saucer, and edged forward in his seat. His forehead was almost touching Mary's over the bar. "Well, Mary, why don't you tell me all about Dairmud's fiddle."
Rose rolled her eyes towards the ceiling, and stirred her lemonade with the straw. At least it was better than being out in the rain. She listened to the barmaid's story with half an ear, something about a series of thefts of musical instruments. "He says he was rehearsing for tonight. He set down his fiddle for a few moments, and when he turned around it was gone. We told him he must have left it somewhere, but he says he didn't even leave the room. Anyone else, I'd have said he was probably half-oiled, but he's a complete abstainer."
The Doctor lifted his teacup half-way to his mouth and raised his eyebrows. "A complete abstainer?" he asked. "That's not natural." He let the cup complete its journey and took another mouthful.
"It was the same with the drum and the pipes -- they were taken almost while they were being played." She gestured to a rectangular area of brightly coloured wallpaper, contrasting starkly with its faded surroundings. "And God knows how they shifted the piano without being seen."
The Doctor set his cup down once more, and started patting his pockets. He lifted out a cricket ball and an apple, and set them on the counter. "Once, a long time ago," he said, still searching, "I used to play... one of these!" Triumphantly, he produced a wooden recorder. He blew into one end and produced a muffled wheeze. He tapped the instrument on the counter and shook out a dead spider, lifted it to his lips once more, and produced a couple of bright, clean notes. "Sorry," he said, "it's been a while." And then, quite fluently, he played three or four bars of something even Rose could identify as recognisably Irish.
Alone in his room, an old, thin man looked up sharply. He tilted his head for a few moments, as if listening, and then lifted his arm and reached out.
The Doctor drew to the end of a particularly ornate piece with a flourish, earning a small ripple of applause from the Rose, Mary and the four young men in the corner, and then theatrically set his instrument down on a barstool in front of him. "Watch it carefully," he instructed his audience, and they watched it lift slightly from the stool, and then twist neatly out of existence. "Now my next trick," the Doctor said, holding his sonic screwdriver momentarily in the space that the recorder had vacated, "is to follow it and find out where it went." He pivoted the device left and right as if trying to detect a signal, and then pointed up the valley. "It went that way, but the signal's fading quickly, we won't be able to follow it for long." He looked back at the barmaid. "Mary, do you have any other musical instruments we can try? If we can get a new signal from time to time, we might be able to follow them all the way to the source."
The recorder appeared in the old man's hand and he brought it to his lips, but the notes which emerged were discordant and harsh. He sighed, and set the recorder aside.
"Spoons!" exclaimed Rose.
The Doctor looked at her as if she was insane. "Spoons?"
Rose pointed towards the dining room, and Mary nodded and walked out. "It's a hotel. They'll have dozens of spoons. We can follow the spoons."
"Follow the spoons?" the Doctor asked. "How can you play a spoon?"
Mary returned with a plastic box containing a few dozen metal spoons, and Rose picked out two. "Not a spoon. Spoons." She held the two spoons back-to-back, and ran them across her splayed fingers. They made a merry chattering sound. She looked sheepish for a moment. "Mum went out with a bloke in a band for a while."
"Rose Tyler, you're brilliant. And so is your mum. Now, show us what you can do with your..." he paused, waved his hands wordlessly for a moment. "With your spoons."
Rose rattled the spoons between her cupped hand and her knee, trilling them across her fingers, and made them sing. She kept it up for a minute or so, and then felt them twist out of her hand and disappear. The Doctor leapt forward with his sonic screwdriver, watched it intently for a few seconds, and then called out "Follow me!" He ran out of the hotel and turned inland, jogging up the main road through the rain. he called over his shoulder, "bring the spoons!"
After a hundred yards or so he stopped. "Lost the signal," he explained. Rose, Mary, and the four men from the bar had followed him, and Rose took another pair of spoons and set them dancing until they disappeared like their sisters. The Doctor picked up the renewed signal, and ran up the road once more, with his small crowd in tow. Four more times he stopped, four more times Rose played a pair of spoons into non-existence, and they found themselves following a tree-lined avenue towards the door of an abandoned church.
"This belonged to The Settlement," Mary explained. "A mission, years ago. A Protestant mission." Rose could hear the contempt in her voice. "The building's empty now."
The Doctor pointed at the door. "That's where your spoons are going. In there somewhere." He turned the handle, pushed at the door, and it swung open. He looked at Rose, who held up another couple of spoons. He nodded.
The old man stood in front of a row of spoons, a couple of nine-inch monsters at one end shrinking to teaspoons at the other, with a spoon held hammer-fashion in each hand. He tried to play the improvised xylophone, but the tone was dead and lifeless. He didn't understand. How could you play a spoon?
Eight more spoons later, Rose and the Doctor had traced the source to somewhere under the floor of the nave, not far from the north-east corner of the building. The stones underfoot were unbroken, and it wasn't clear how to gain access to whatever was hiding underneath, until Mary called from the south transept, where she had found an entrance to the crypt. They descended the narrow stairs, and the seven of them stood before an old oak door, locked, but with the key still in place. The Doctor looked at his screwdriver for one last time, and returned it to his pocket. "Whatever's got your spoons is in there." He wore a delighted smile. "And I think it's time to pay a visit." He turned the key and pushed at the door.
The piano stood against one wall, with the spoons in a neat row along the top. The pipes, the drum, the violin and the Doctor's recorder were on the bench. A century of dust was draped thickly over the instruments. But the first thing the explorers saw as the door swung open was the figure at the end of the bench, leaning forward from the wall with its arms wrapped around its knees where they were drawn up to its chest. Whatever the figure had been, it had clearly been dead for a long time.
The Doctor leaned over the figure and cupped the skull in his hands, staring deeply into its empty eye sockets. His voice was low and soft. "So lonely, so alone... and oh, how quiet it's been... if there's any way I can help ..."
Rose, Mary and the four musicians exchanged nervous glances as they watched the Doctor communing with the skeleton, and when the Doctor finally stood, Rose was the first to speak. "Doctor, not being funny, but can we go? We found the stuff, and this place makes me feel..."
"We're staying here," the Doctor said. His voice was firm. "Our friend here has waited a long time for us to turn up, and we aren't just going to walk out on him now." He picked up his recorder and held it up for emphasis. "A hundred years and more without music, and I think the least we can do is to give it to him." He lifted the recorder to his lips and blew a brief phrase, raising a thick cloud of dust. He blew the remaining dust from the outside of the recorder and then gestured to the remaining instruments on the bench. "In your own time?"
The man paused, his head tilted slightly as if listening. He carefully set the two spoons back amongst the others, and let his hands rest on the lid of the piano. The barest crease began to build at the corners of his eyes, and he walked slowly back to the bench.
The Doctor played on, something slow and soft that Rose didn't recognise, and his half-dozen companions watched him play. A minute or two later he changed tunes and a new melody, achingly beautiful, filled the crypt. Mary nudged one of the men forward and he picked the wide, flat drum from the bench, shook off the worst of the dust, and added its measured tones to the Doctor's music.
While the two of them were playing, another of the men blew the dust off his fiddle and started to tune it, only to discover that it was as perfectly tuned as it had been when he'd lost it, a hundred and twenty years and twelve hours earlier. When the fiddler joined the drummer, the Doctor moved to take the harmony line. The three played on, with the Doctor tapping his feet and throwing encouraging smiles at Rose between phrases. Rose took the nearly-empty box of spoons from Mary, and swept the remaining spoons from the piano, dust and all. The third of the young men lifted the piano's lid and took his stand at the keyboard.
The old man sat down and lifted his feet onto the bench. He was half-smiling now, his eyes were bright, and he looked properly alive for the first time in weeks. He wrapped his arms around his legs and hugged himself, and looked out as if into empty space. He reached out with his mind, feeling for the source of the music, and his breathing slowed.
The piano, like the violin, was inexplicably in perfect tune. Once the Doctor realised that the harmony was being carried elsewhere, he stopped playing and came over to Rose. He glanced into the box of spoons she was carrying, looked up at her face once more, and raised his eyebrows. Rose shrugged, picked out a couple of the less dusty spoons, and set the box aside.
Mary looked across at the fourth member of the group, still staring dumbly at the skeleton. She bent to pick up his pipes, and then stepped over to him. She put one arm softly round his shoulder and turned him away from the sight and towards his friends, whispering gently in his ear. He looked down at the pipes she was holding, and took them from her. He began to clear the dust from the chanters.
They continued to make music, in groups of three and four and five. The Doctor made an attempt to get something vaguely musical out of the pipes, to the great amusement of the girls and the mild distress of the piper. Mary's bright, clear voice worked well alongside the music from the rest of the group, and the best times of all were when all seven joined together to fill the crypt with joyously improvised music and song. But as the echoes of the band decayed another voice, a thin and timid baritone, emerged.
All things shall perish from under the sky
Rose heard it first, and she looked around to see which of the men was singing. It wasn't the Doctor, but the piper was exchanging quiet words with Mary and the other three were leaning on the piano talking quietly to each other.
All things shall perish from under the sky
She looked across at the Doctor, who nodded silently across to where the skeleton still sat at the end of the bench. The air nearby had thickened and a standing figure hovered on the edge of visibility.
Music alone shall live, music alone shall live
The others had heard it too, now, and they followed Rose's eyes. The piper started to speak, but Mary lifted a finger to his lips.
Music alone shall live, never to die
And then, as the ghostly voice started to repeat the simple song, one of the young men by the piano began to sing in parallel. As the two voices came to the start of the third line, the other two started singing, and a few measures later Mary and the piper joined them. Rose looked across at the Doctor for a cue, and they joined in to complete the round, bring the ensemble to eight.
All things shall perish from under the sky
All things shall perish from under the sky
Music alone shall live
Music alone shall live
Music alone shall live
Never to die
And as the voices fell silent, two by two as each pair in turn came to the end of a verse, Rose watched the insubstantial figure smile with them and then gradually fade from view.
Rose had followed the Doctor back through the ruined village, with the dawning sun behind them. It had been a pleasant walk, with the air crisp and clean following the earlier rain, and they regained the TARDIS with Rose in good spirits. "So who was he? Why was he locked up?"
The Doctor furrowed his brow. "Who knows? Mary said that the church belonged to missionaries. Our friend obviously knew how to use the rift he'd found, and it may have made people nervous. The Church was pretty down on witchcraft in the nineteenth century, even in Ireland." He walked up to the console and idly flicked a few switches.
"And what are they going to do now? They'll need some help getting the piano back to the hotel."
The Doctor waived his hands airily. "Not my problem. I don't move pianos, it's not my style. I just let the TARDIS find rifts," he turned a dial with a flourish, "and I close them. And I put displaced musical instruments back in the hands of their owners."
Rose was still unsure. "And all I've done is shown some people how to play the spoons."
The Doctor looked up from the console, stepped over to Rose, and put his arm warmly around her shoulder. "Oh, you've done a great deal more than that," he told her, pushing a lever with his free hand and watching the central column begin to rise. "You've made an old man very happy."