A Burning Passion

by John Hall

Fandom:Doctor Who
Lyrics:"Ha Ha Said The Clown" by Manfred Mann
Length:1400 words

With grateful thanks to my beta, Astrogirl, for her helpful suggestions.

"Here we are then, Ace," the Doctor said as the TARDIS finished materialising. "London, September, 1666. I can't offer you any explosions, but perhaps the Great Fire will do."

"You're wrong about the explosions, Professor. The Tower of London garrison used gunpowder to demolish buildings to create firebreaks. That's one of the few bits of history that I remember. It's why I wanted to come here."

"All right. But don't forget, observe only. Even if you see someone burning to death in front of you, don't intervene. I know it's hard, but we shouldn't risk changing Earth's history."

"Professor, that's about the twentieth time you've told me that. How about taking your own advice? There was the time when you..."

"But I know what I'm doing." Seeing Ace's sceptical look, he added, "Well, most of the time, anyway. Now go and put on some more suitable clothes. You have to wear a dress. If you go out dressed like that, you'll scandalise everyone. You'll probably be mistaken for an actress, maybe even get yourself arrested. And you'd better put your hair down."

Ace gave him a black look and stalked out of the console room.

The Doctor feared the worst, but when she returned she was wearing a dress and shoes that were appropriate for the period, and she had put down her hair. "Very good," he said. "Shall we go?"

The Doctor had landed the TARDIS within the then-separate City of Westminster, at a safe distance of a mile or two from the area in the City of London affected by the fire.

He had managed to land just before dawn at the end of a minor alley, to minimise the risk that the materialisation would be seen. Burning witches had rather gone out of fashion now that the Puritans no longer ran the country, but even so he felt that it was wiser to minimise the risk.

By now it was just beginning to get light, but the strong easterly that was fanning the flames had spread downwind a thick smoke haze that substantially reduced visibility. Even so, when they emerged from the narrow alley and had a clear line of sight, they could make out an orange glow to the east, as well as faintly hear the fire's roar.

Another man, evidently an early riser, came striding briskly down the larger street where Ace and the Doctor were now standing. Ace couldn't help noticing that he was very good-looking. His attention was fixed on the glow in the sky, so that he failed to notice the Doctor and collided with him.

"I do beg your pardon, sir," the newcomer said. Then he saw the Doctor's face for the first time, and his eyes widened in surprise. "As I live and breathe, it's Fortunato! You don't look a day older than when I saw you last, well over twenty years ago. It's good to see you again. You probably won't recognise me; I was only a boy then."

"In that case it must have been at the court of His Majesty King Charles the First, so you must be..."

"George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, at your service."

"Of course! It's good to see you again, Your Grace."

"Professor, aren't you going to introduce me?"

"You're a professor now? A bit of a change from court jester, eh? Though it's true that you weren't exactly the usual sort of fool. So are you at Oxford or Cambridge?"

"'Professor' is just a nickname. And talking of nicknames, Your Grace, may I present my friend, who goes by the name of Ace."

"My lady," Buckingham said, doffing his hat and bowing.

If he expected a curtsey in return, he was to be disappointed. "Hi," Ace said. The Doctor nudged her in the ribs, and she managed, "Hello, Your - er - Grace."

"I'm afraid that she has no experience of mixing with nobility and little idea of the proper etiquette," the Doctor explained.

"Etiquette can be quickly learnt, though, as Mistress Nell Gwynne for one has shown. Your friend has a similar prettiness and freshness. I am sure that the King would like to meet her. I am on my way to Whitehall Palace for an audience with him to discuss the Fire, the distance being so short that it did not seem worthwhile to take a carriage. Perhaps the two of you would care to accompany me? I am sure that His Majesty would be eager to see you again, Fortunato, and to meet Mistress Ace. Come along." He strode off, evidently taking it for granted that they would follow.

"Hey, I'm not a..." The Doctor nudged Ace in the ribs again, and whispered in her ear, "It's just an honorific, like 'Miss'. It doesn't imply anything improper. Come on, we had better not defy Buckingham. After the King, he's just about the most powerful man in England. But be very careful when you meet His Majesty, or you easily could become his mistress in the twentieth century sense of the word. Charles II collects them."

They walked after Buckingham, some ten yards behind him. "Professor, what were you doing here twenty years ago?"

"I had become a little drained and felt that a couple of months as court jester to Charles I would be just the complete change that I needed. He was the last king of England to employ jesters, you know. It was while Mel was my companion, but she never knew about it. I was only away from her for a matter of minutes."

Buckingham turned. "Hurry up, you two," he called to them. "It wouldn't do to keep His Majesty waiting."

Ten minutes later, the three of then were in an anteroom, awaiting the King's pleasure.

Louis XVIII of France, and his aphorism that "punctuality is the politeness of kings", was still in the future, and it was the best part of an hour before they were shown into the chamber where the King was. It was surprisingly small, but very comfortably furnished.

"Ah, Buckingham," he said. "And who have you brought with you? Why, isn't that Fortunato?"

Once the initial pleasantries, and the presenting of Ace to the King, were out of the way, Buckingham and the King got down to business, which was to discuss what might be done to minimise the damage being caused by the Fire. The City of London had been strongly pro-Roundhead during the Civil War, some twenty years before. It had been refusing the offers that Charles had made of soldiers to help fight the Fire. The idea of having the Royal troops enter the City from their base at the Tower of London was political dynamite.

"The Lord Mayor's measures have been useless," Buckingham said. "The Fire is out of control, and he has no idea of what to do. You will have to send in troops, Your Majesty, whether he likes it or not. If they can extinguish the Fire, then they - and you - will become popular, you can depend on it."

"But what if they cannot?"

The Doctor and Ace had been allowed to remain, but of course they were expected to remain silent. But now Ace could restrain herself no longer. "Gunpowder!" she said.

"I beg your pardon, Madam?" the King said.

"Use gunpowder to demolish buildings and create firebreaks. The only way to stop the Fire is to deprive it of fuel."

"She might have something there, Your Majesty," Buckingham said. "And the Tower garrison has plenty of gunpowder."

"See to it then, Buckingham," the King said. "Meanwhile I would talk longer with this young lady, who seems to be as intelligent as she is beautiful. You can leave us too, Fortunato."

Giving Ace a warning look, the Doctor reluctantly went back to the anteroom. He settled himself in a chair and waited, hoping for the best.

A surprisingly short time later, Ace emerged.

"Well?" the Doctor asked anxiously.

"No need to worry, Professor. I just told him that I was already married to you, but we couldn't afford a ring, and that you were the only man for me. So he said that if our romance ever cooled down, for me to be sure to come back."

Seeing that for once she had reduced the Doctor to stunned silence, she added, "Come on. Let's get to the City in time to see them blowing things up."

Chosen lyrics:

"Ha Ha Said The Clown"

by Manfred Mann

      Ha ha said the clown
      Has the king lost his crown,
      Is the night being tight on romance
      Ha ha said the clown
      Is it bringing you down,
      That you've lost your chance
      Feeling low, gotta go
      See a show in town
      Hear the jokes, have a smoke,
      and a laugh at the clown
      In a whirl, see a girl
      with a smile in her eyes
      Never thought I'd be brought
      right down by her lies
      In a trance, watch her dance
      to the beat of the drums
      Faster now, sweating brow,
      I'm all the fingers and thumbs
      Wonder why I hit the sky
      When she blows me a kiss
      In a while run a mile
      I'm regretting all this
      Time to go, close the show,
      Wave the people good-bye
      Grab my coat, grab my hat,
      Look that girl in the eye
      Where's your home,
      What's your phone number
      Stop fooling round
      Could have died she replied
      "I'm the wife of the clown"