Marion sat in the quiet, empty classroom and looked around at the colourful pictures on the walls, the modelling clay figures of the High Council in session and the cardboard and paper scene of the Dawn Treader on a calm tissue sea.

She remembered fondly all of the lessons she had taught in this room, the pleasant hours in which she read the story that led to the model boat making, the history lesson that prompted the figures of the High Council in all their regalia.

She thought of the children whose fingers had so skilfully created all those wonderful things. Their faces came so easily to her mind. She didn’t have favourites as such, but some faces came more easily than others. Rowetta, a girl with brown eyes and long dark hair who had taken so enthusiastically to the tales of Narnia that her favourite pastime was to sit in the reading corner with a big illustrated copy of the stories and create three dimensional animated images.

Then there was Callim. He had red hair and freckles and was so good at maths he had actually been teaching her some things she didn’t know. And he did so in such a sweet way that she had never felt stupid or patronized. She just enjoyed sitting with him and listening to him going through his maths book and showing her what he had done in the hour given over to that subject.

Another face floated into her mind. Marla, green eyes and nut brown hair - a quick eye and dexterous fingers. Several of the pictures on the wall were hers. They were beautifully detailed drawings of everything that ever caught her eye: the snow piled up outside the classroom window in winter, the spring flowers, a bowl of fruit on the book shelf, and every single one of her fellow students. There was also a portrait in finely drawn coloured pencils of her teacher. Marion loved that picture almost as much as she loved the watercolour that Silis had given her. She wanted to take it home and have it framed and hung in her own drawing room.

Genessa was another child who came to her mind. She was a poet. She really was. Her grasp of language was phenomenal even for her race. And she did beautiful things with it. Marion had watched her many times take an empty page on her electronic slate and fill it with delightful words about whatever subject had captured her imagination that day. And her imagination had such scope. She could dash off six rhyming couplets about Callim’s freckles that made everyone laugh or a hundred evocative lines about autumn rain that made everyone feel as if they could smell the wet leaves even in mid-summer.

Brinna was a boy who would surely become a great scientist if he got the chance. He loved anything to do with chemistry or physics. He desperately needed to get out of the infant class she taught and into a science stream where he could indulge his passions. And he almost certainly would as soon as he was tall enough to reach the switch that turned on the Bunsen burners.

Almost certainly, because all of those children turned eight this year and that meant that they were ready to take their first and greatest test of fitness to be anything at all in Gallifreyan society.

And that was why she was sitting here in the empty classroom. In the school dining room, the headmistress and the parents of the children were preparing a party to celebrate their return.

She didn’t feel able to join in.

Not yet.

Not until they were all back, when she knew they were all right.

The Untempered Schism. The first time Kristoph explained to her what that was all about she was horrified. Nothing she had heard since made her feel any better about it.

And yesterday she had heard something that made her feel absolutely petrified.

It was one of her other students, Dúle, one of the younger ones who wouldn’t turn eight until later in the year who had told her. He wouldn’t face the Schism until next summer. But he had been very upset. Marion had tried to console him, but there was no consolation to be had. He blinked his tearless eyes and told Marion that he didn’t want his friends, Rowetta, Callim, Marla, Genessa and Brinna to die. Marion had tried to assure him that nobody was going to die. But he shook his head. He had heard his older brother, a senior in the school, talking to one of the other seniors. One of them had said that some children always die facing the Untempered Schism. Or worse, some are so badly damaged by the experience that the High Councillors arrange for them to be killed, because they are failures, rejects, and that the High Council have no use for damaged children.

“Damaged?” The word had horrified Marion. She could think of only one way in which the Schism, as described to her by Kristoph and others could ‘damage’ them. They must be mentally unbalanced.

And what happened to such children? She couldn’t believe it was true that they were killed and certainly not by order of the High Council. She knew most of the High Councillors, or their wives, at least. They were not people who would order the death of a child.

She knew that. Intellectually, she knew it. But ever since she had heard it from Dúle it had preyed on her mind. She had woken up in the early hours last night thinking about it, and it spoiled her sleep. She had lain there, beside Kristoph, thinking the very worst. And in the dark, the things that in the daytime seemed unlikely began to take hold of her mind. She became convinced that the High Council of Gallifrey was euthanizing children who failed the Schism.

She had fallen into a fitful sleep eventually, stirring again when Kristoph rose from the bed before dawn and got ready for his part in the ritual. She sat up in the bed and watched him dress in a simple black robe. His valet had already prepared his formal gown and headdress and it hung in a plastic cover inside the wardrobe. He would change into it later.

“I’m sorry you can’t come with me,” he said to Marion as he rang and ordered tea and toast to be brought to her in bed since she was awake. “You would find the preparations interesting and I know you’d want to see the children before they go up to the Valley with their individual mentors.”

“I’ll wait at the school to see them when they get back,” she answered.

She could have voiced her concerns to him, then. And she knew he would have said something to reassure her. But she didn’t. She watched him dress. She let him kiss her goodbye and she said nothing. She drank her tea and ate some of the toast then got dressed and spent most of the morning in the white drawing room thinking about the same things that had worried her all night.

And now, in the late afternoon, she was still worrying.

“Lady de Lœngbærrow…” She looked around and saw Madam Malcus, the headmistress of the school. “Why don’t you join us in the dining room? The other children are here to welcome the candidayers. Hdey’re askng forf you.”

“I’m.. not sure I’d be very good company at the moment,” she anwered. “I’m… I don’t understand how you can be so calm about it. Don’t you worry about them?”

“The children?” Madam Malcass looked puzzled.

“Don’t you worry about them? This thing is so dangerous…”

“It’s arduous,” Madam Malcus said. “But… dangerous… I wouldn’t say that. I’ve never known anyone who was harmed by it.”


“I went through it myself as a child. That’s more than seven hundred years ago, you understand. I’ve been a teacher for the last two centuries. I’ve prepared hundreds of children for this day. And the worst I’ve ever seen was a very bad case of dehydration. The child had been told he had to fast for a day before the rite. He was all right after a few days in bed.”

“Then…” Marion looked at the headmistress. “I… heard…”

She explained what her young pupil had told her. Madam Malcuss sighed and shook her head. Then she quietly left the room. She returned as few minutes later with Dúle, and an older boy who must have been his brother. She told them both to sit down beside Marion.

“Every year,” Madam Malcus said. “I work hard to make sure the children of my school are ready to take their place beside the privately educated children of the Oldblood and Newblood families, to take the test that will allow them to share in the legacy of our race. And every year somebody gets upset because they’ve heard a silly rumour about death camps and euthanasia programmes, secret hospitals where children whose brains have been turned are hidden away. It is not true. Jólle, you upset your little brother discussing this nonsense with your friend. You both should have known better. Dúle, your friends will be all right. They’ll be here in a little while to join in the party. Next year when it is your turn, you’ll be all right, too. I promise you will. So, let’s all enjoy this very special day without worrying about what won’t happen.”

Dúle smiled. His worried face seemed to light up in an instant. His brother looked suitably chastised, and, Marion thought, relieved. She wondered how long he had believed those stories. Did he go to the Untempered Schism terrified by a story like that?

“Go on back to the party,” Madam Malcuss said to the two boys. They did so. She turned to Marion.

“I’m sorry you were scared by this. There isn’t anything to worry about, really. In fact… come along. I think I hear a car outside.”

The car was one of the limousines from the Lœngbærrow garage. Kristoph’s own driver stepped out and opened the door. Four of the children got out, awed by the fact that they had been driven in a chauffeured limousine. Marion stepped forward and hugged then all. Marla and Rowetta, Brinna and Callim. She looked around for the fifth, Genessa, the little poet. Her heart sank, despite what Madame Malcuss had told her.

Then Kristoph climbed out of the car, holding the little girl in his arms. Her head was on his shoulder and he held her tightly against his chest.

Marion ran to him.

“What’s the matter with her?” she demanded breathlessly. “What happened? What… will she be all right?”

“She was sick on the shuttle,” Kristoph answered. Marion noticed that he was wearing his black robe again, not his gold regalia. Kristoph grimaced. “Yes, there is some careful dry cleaning to be done.”

“She was sick?” Marion didn’t say anything else, but there was a look in her eyes that Kristoph understood fully.

“It was nothing to do with the Schism,” he said. “I mentored her and she did beautifully. But she’s still eight years old and she suffers from travel sickness. She was fine in the limousine, and I think a bowl of moon fruit sorbet will do her a power of good. Why don’t you take her and make sure she gets a share of it.”

Marion took the child in her arms. She was starting to wake up, now, and she was happy to be held by her favourite teacher. Marion carried her inside to the dining room. The other young Time Lord candidates flocked around her, trying to tell her all at once how exciting, frightening, amazing their experience had been.

Moon fruit sorbet proved exactly the thing to revive a young poet who suffered from travel sickness. It was the very thing to remind them all that, despite having taken part in a ritual that would frighten adults, and come through it with flying colours, they were still eight year old children.

“Marion…” Kristoph took her hand as she watched her young students. “Madam Malcuss told me you had been worried. I’m sorry I didn’t recognise that fact. I was caught up in the preparations for the ritual, and I didn’t realise how much it affected you.”

“That’s all right,” she answered him. “I’m sorry I was so silly. You must think I’m paranoid.”

“It does happen sometimes,” he said. “Once in a millennia, perhaps. A child might not be fully prepared, or there is some slight mental instability to begin with… and yes, they can be unbalanced. But… euthanasia… what a terrible thought. Of course not. There is a very fine hospital in the Capitol, where those rare cases get the best of care for as long as they need it. And if any of your little ones had fallen victim, I would ensure that they had that care. But I knew that it wouldn’t be so. I could see it in their eyes as they went forward. They’re all of them ready for whatever destiny lies before them. And you helped them get there, Marion. With your patience, your love for them, broadening their minds and expanding their expectations. So… come and have some moon fruit sorbet, too. Enjoy this party and be proud of what you have achieved.”

He smiled warmly at her and kissed her cheek, much to the amazement of her students, and brought her to the buffet table. Marion smiled as the anxieties of days passed from her. She ate sorbet and listened as Genessa, much recovered now, recited a poem she had composed in her head about the wideness and the splendour of space and time. As she did so, Rowetta created a holographic image that merely hinted at the wonder they had all witnessed this day. They both wanted to share it with her in some small measure. And she was glad that they did.