Characters: The Ninth Doctor, Jabe Ceth Ceth Jafe, Rose Tyler, Lute, Coffa
Edited by: the fabulous dr_whuh , at the last momen.
Summary: The Forest of Cheem had not had to grieve such a loss in 30 millennia; it could not stand.
Author's Notes: The seed of this story has been in my head, ungerminated, for some time. I can't say what force finally drove the flower through the green fuse, to rudely mangle Dylan Thomas; I can say that I've always been attracted to the intriguing character of Jabe, and to her tragedy. As is my wont, I began to wonder what this would have meant for her grieving consorts, and what type of world the Forest of Cheem might be.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin. I do, however, love them all, and thank the BBC for letting me play in their sandbox.
"You can't! The heat's going to vent through this place!"
"Jabe, you're made of wood."
"Then stop wasting time ... Time Lord."
On Cheem, he knew, Jabe would not have dreamed of wearing robes. She was a noble, a princess, and her colors proclaimed that. She was gold and green, was Jabe — olive and brown and emerald, wreathed about and crowned with flames of orange and crimson and deep maroon. To hide that beneath even the most beautiful brocade would have insulted her family, and the forest which loved her and grew for her.
The fans that drove the steadily warming air brought her odor to him; must and dark loam, threaded through with floral delights and the occasional mind clearing heady green tang.
Jabe was expected to govern her estate— her asuria— by propagation, both of heirs and of forests. Neither was solely a matter of state; both proceeded from her person.
If she propagated by herself, she birthed trees; hectares of them, hills and valleys of them, trees growing from a vast rhizome-like underground net that she nourished by standing motionless for weeks, rooting herself to one spot and letting the soil take from her what she would give.
If she propagated with her mates — princes of other estates who chose to cleave to her — a child could be grown. Depending upon what she took from her mates in the heady pleasure of entwining lianas and genetic transference, she could provide daughters to continue the line, or sons who would become mates to unite hers with other estates.
Children were a hard matter. She would be rooted for months, or years, and she risked losing herself to do so; many of the princesses of Cheem had grown daughters or sons only to lose their own consciousnesses forever, when the seductive and mindless nirvana of gestation refused to loose its hold. Those princesses became queens, and their gorgeous branching canopies shadowed silent places where their children made sorrowful obeisance.
But Jabe was a young princess, and it might be a century or more before she faced the need for heirs.
He smelled her death as he slowed time. It burned in his nose and throat like lye; its acrid taste made his gorge rise, and it lasted forever, until time sped up again.
When it was all over, he led Jabe's princes to the place she had died. Despite the wind from the vent fans, her ashes remained. Lute and Coffa sang, a sound like wind soughing through winter trees, as they gathered them. They returned with them, in a long and troubled journey, to her estate. Their anguish continued as they and the other princes of Jabe's holdings looked to the ancient line from which Jabe had grown in hopes that one of her sister princesses would agree to accept Jabe's forests as their own.
The Forest of Cheem had not had to grieve the loss of an estate in more than thirty Earth millennia; it had been that long since a princess of any line had died without heirs. And this loss ... it was incalculable; it could not stand. Jabe had been princess of Forest Ceth Ceth Jafe, one of Cheem's oldest constituent asurias. She had also been remarkable in her own right, and something new in the courts of that world.
Unlike her sisters, Jabe was not content to order her asuria while isolated in its deep green fastness. She wanted more than the stately round of years that a princess could expect — visiting others of her line, generating forests, studying the outer worlds from a safe home, and helping determine the policies of the Forest of Cheem with that theoretical knowledge.
To the contrary, she had challenged tradition by leaving her estate and seeking out all things new. She had met and worked directly with off-worlders, and had been the only princess to ever leave the Forest and go out into the wide universe, as if she were a prince tasked with commerce and trade. And although none of her sisters felt the need to emulate her, they and their princes had come to cherish and depend upon the energy with which Jabe undertook her explorations.
So when Jabe's sisters reached out to other lines in those dark days, they were overwhelmed with support and love. Other princesses and their princes joined in the search for a solution — all the lines and all the princesses of the world.
Their decision, when it finally came, was unprecedented.
For the first time in the history of the Forest of Cheem, tragedy would not mean an asuria's extinction. Ceth Ceth Jafe would not be dissolved into another estate.
Two princesses, both of whom had already made the decision to generate heirs, agreed to continue the risk on behalf of Jabe's estate by choosing to partner with Lute and Coffa, the last two of her princes to see Jabe alive. Both would take the greater risk of birthing a daughter. Both daughters would be honored, and raised as Jabe had been, as potential heirs to Ceth Ceth Jafe. They would be told her stories, would learn the story of her life, and the manner of her death. The child who grew up the least timid, the most adventurous and far-seeking, would take Jabe's name. The other would be free to return to her mother's asuria as heir to her own line.
Lute and Coffa, pale and drawn, gave thanks and brought word back to their brothers in Ceth Ceth Jafe. That done, they retreated with Jabe's ashes to a place within her forest. They strew her on the ground; they mixed her into the soil with the hands of lovers, and of gardeners. Then they arose, wrapped lianas around each other, and grew roots into that ground. For weeks they drew out of the soil what they could, and what they hoped for, before disentangling themselves from each other and going to their princess consorts.
When her look of shock turned to tears, when she castigated herself for what she somehow thought she had said or done wrong in meeting Jabe, he felt even more certain that he had been right to invite her along. But when she asked if they could travel to Cheem to give their condolences (such an inadequate human word, for all it was meant well) he refused. He knew the history of the Forest of Cheem. He thought he knew what would happen, and could not bring himself to see it first hand.
Many years, and one or two lifetimes, later, the Doctor was introducing other companions to the great wide universe in which Jabe had once traveled. Free from immediate sorrow and filled with an unshakable feeling that it was time to view the consequences he had previously avoided, he took them to the Forest of Cheem.
It was a rare and altogether joyous thing for him to discover that Ceth Ceth Jafe still existed. And when a stately princess — gold and green, olive and brown and emerald, wreathed about and crowned with flames of orange and crimson and deep maroon — received him and his human companions to her court, he felt his joy deepen like roots and flower like apple blossoms.
"Welcome, Time Lord. I see you have finally stopped wasting Time."