Marion had enjoyed the ski lift up Mount Bliss, the snow-covered peak that rose above Muligula Resort valley in the Venturan Alps. The views were breathtaking. But she was less sure now as she stood at the top of the piste and contemplated letting herself hurtle down it on two pieces of what seemed to be quite flimsy metal and two equally flimsy sticks for support.

“I am really not sure about this,” she told Kristoph. “I was all right on the nursery slopes. But I don’t think I can do this. I’m not ready.”

“She really isn’t,” Rika confirmed. “Kristoph, don’t make her do it. She’s too scared.”

“It’s all right,” Kristoph said in a soft, gentle tone. He took off his own snow goggles and let his eyes adjust to the brightness of the snowscape then he carefully lifted Marions goggles, too. She blinked and screwed up her eyes until he managed to get her attention. She gasped as he made her look into his deep brown eyes. It was impossible to turn away as he gently hypnotised away the panic that had come upon her and allowed her to compose herself.

“That’s not entirely fair,” she told him.

“I know,” he replied with a wide smile that was almost as impossible to turn away from as his eyes. “But do you feel ready now?”

“Yes,” she had to admit. “Yes. I’m ready now.” She put her goggles down again and let her eyes adjust to the reactive tint and she was ready to go.

Remonte and Rika pushed off first and she and Kristoph followed. Her brother in law and his wife had a head start on her already. They had been staying in the winter quarters of the Gallifreyan Embassy on Ventura for two months already. This was Marion’s first time on a real slope after a week of practicing.

And it really was exhilarating. She wondered what she had been frightened of all along as she felt herself controlling the speed and direction in which her body was sliding down the hill. The scenery was a blur. All she was aware of was the wind whistling past her and the few yards of smooth, beautiful snow in front of her skis.

When it was over, she couldn’t wait to go again.

“Catch your breath, first,” Kristoph told her. “Then we’ll walk, leisurely, to the lift. No need to exhaust yourself.”

“But I don’t feel exhausted. I feel energised. This is such fun. We should have done it before. I didn’t even know you could ski, Kristoph.”

“I learnt years ago,” he answered and said no more than that. His family all knew when he talked of anything being ‘years ago’ he almost certainly meant it was a very many years ago when he worked for the Celestial Intervention Agency. They looked at each other awkwardly for a minute then Remonte changed the subject skilfully.

“I love the winter residence,” he said. “I think we may come up here in summer, too. Of course, it won’t be a winter resort then. I think it would be lovely to be here when these snowfields are lush green meadows and those trees on the skyline are green with foliage.”

“We’ll come and visit,” Marion assured him. “I’d love to see these hills in summer.”

They reached the base of the ski lift once more and quickly got into the ever moving seats. Kristoph’s arm slid around Marion’s shoulders as they ascended the mountain once more. She was happy and excited, enjoying her winter holiday.

“Did I tell you today how much I love you?” she said. “Where would I be right now without you? Probably trudging through the sleet in Liverpool.”

“But you don’t just love me for my ability to take you on fabulous winter holidays?”

“No, of course not,” she responded. “I love you because you’re the most wonderful man in the universe.”

“So you think,” he teased. “Rika thinks my brother is all of that.”

In the seat in front of them Remonte was leaning across to kiss Rika on the lips. Marion smiled to see them so happy.

“They deserve it,” Marion said.

“So do we,” Kristoph reminded her and she, too, was distracted from the view as he kissed her lovingly.

They were so engrossed they almost missed the place where they got off the ski lift. If it hadn’t been for Remonte and Rika calling to them they might have gone all the way back down the piste again. They laughed about it as they got ready to ski down instead.

“The Southern Magister acting like a student engrossed in his first romantic kiss!” Kristoph laughed.

“The vice-consul to Ventura was almost as bad,” Rika pointed out. But we’re on holiday. We’re allowed to enjoy ourselves.”

They got ready to ski downhill again. Marion wasn’t worried this time. She didn’t need any hypnotism from Kristoph to push herself off onto the slope. She felt confident now and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

She enjoyed it all afternoon. The sun was starting to drop low and it was slightly darker as they made what they told themselves had to be the last run of the afternoon.

And as it turned out, it was – but for all the wrong reasons. They were halfway down the hill when Marion realised that Kristoph wasn’t beside her. She slowed her descent carefully and stopped before she tried to look back. She caught a glimpse of red matching his ski jacket in amongst the packed snow beside the piste.

“Kristoph!” she cried out, her voice sounding small on the quiet mountainside. She looked around and saw that Rika and Remonte were almost at the bottom of the slope now. They didn’t know anything was wrong. Then she turned her skis and moved uphill the way she had been taught to do.

“Kristoph!” she cried out again as she reached him. He was lying very still, half buried in a heap of snow. His right leg was twisted under him and he moaned softly as she tried to straighten it.

“I think it’s broken,” she said. “Oh, Kristoph! How could you, of all people, fall and break your leg?”

“Just… lucky.. I guess,” he answered with a forced smile. “You came back for me, my love!”

“Of course I did. Let me help you. I know it hurts, but you need to get this leg straightened out.”

“Yes, I do,” he responded as Marion gently turned him onto his back properly and slowly moved his damaged leg so that the bones would knit properly. “Do you have any coffee left in your pack?” he asked. “I think my flask will be broken. I landed on it.”

“I’ve got some,” she answered. “But is it a good idea? You could be in shock. I don’t want to make you ill. And I ought to get some help…”

They were among the last people on the piste this evening. The cable car was stopped now and dusk was falling rapidly. She wondered if she ought to ski down the slope and fetch somebody.

“You’re forgetting, my love,” Kristoph told her. “I’m not Human. This will repair in a half an hour or so. We can carry on downhill together. A little coffee and your loving company is all I need in the meantime.”

Marion was relieved. Yes, she had forgotten that a Gallifreyan could mend their own bones easily. She found the coffee in her pack and a block of Kendal mint cake that she had insisted on bringing with her on the trip. The others had smiled indulgently when she explained that humans who go mountain climbing or skiing or such activities take the special kind of sweet with them in their packs for emergencies. She poured coffee into the lid of the flask and Kristoph drank first before she sipped some of it. Then they both ate the mint cake.

“Clever idea that,” Kristoph said. “Another example of Human ingenuity. I wish I had been so well provisioned the last time I had a mishap on skis.”

“When was that?” Marion asked.

“Many years ago,” he replied. “On the trail of an intergalactic diamond thief on the snow-bound planet of Hilolo I. I tracked him across country for days and finally caught up with him halfway down a deep, dark valley with a frozen glacial river at the bottom. I got into a hand to hand fight with him and he lost his footing. We both rolled about a quarter of a mile downhill. When we came to rest, he was dead. He broke his neck in the fall. I had broken both legs. I couldn’t move for nearly two hours. The cold hindered the regeneration of the bones. And I’d lost my pack somewhere up the mountain. He had nothing in his own pack except instantly rehydrating mushroom soup packs.”

“You hate mushroom soup,” Marion noted with a wry smile.

“I do, indeed. But they were the only nourishment I could get apart from eating him, which was even less palatable. I broke the seal and hydrated the soup and forced myself to drink it. The taste at least took my mind off the pain in my legs.”

Of course, Marion realised, he was telling her this story to take his mind off pain right now. His face was pale and his expression one of intense concentration.

“I will be all right, soon,” he assured her when he saw her worried glance. “Really, I will. And you are by FAR more pleasant company than a dead diamond smuggler!”

“I should hope SO!” she replied with a laugh. “Not your best compliment, my love. But you’re in pain. I suppose that explains it.”

She broke another piece of Kendal Mint Cake off the slab and gave it to him. He ate it slowly as he told her the end of his story about being stranded in that snow-covered valley.

“It was beginning to get dark and it was snowing again by the time my legs mended,” he said. “I knew I’d have to find shelter. I decided going down the valley was better than up. I knew there was nothing but snow for miles that way. But it was possible there were habitations in the valley.”

“Did you find one?”

“Not until it was VERY dark and even I was seriously concerned about dying of exposure. I saw a faint light ahead and reached a very small house. It was like something from an Earth Christmas card, overhanging eaves laden with snow and tiny mullioned windows. And it was occupied by a family of dwarves.”

“Really?” Marion wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not.

“Technically, their species are called “Bell-Hilons,” Kristoph explained. “As opposed to the other species of Hilolo, the Ga-Hilons, who were about seven feet tall and thin as sticks. But even though their tallest men were no bigger than four foot eight, they were the best lumberjacks in the quadrant. Sturdy, no-nonsense people who get their job done and then gather at night around a roaring fire to eat and drink and tell stories and songs to each other until bedtime. And hospitable, too. When they found me at their door, they brought me in at once, gave me a seat by the fire – two seats pushed together, in fact. And they brought apple brandy to warm me. Home made in a still in the scullery. And their best food. Unfortunately…” Kristoph laughed aloud as he remembered. “… their speciality dish, the delicacy savoured by all Bell-Hilons, is mushroom stew. They gather them in the woods and cook them up for a feast. I had to pretend to enjoy it.”

“Oh, you poor thing,” Marion said with a soft laugh. “What a thing to have to endure!”

“I managed, somehow,” he said. “They made up a bed for me on the floor in front of the fire because they didn’t have a big enough bed, and I slept well. My stomach didn’t protest too much about the dreaded mushrooms and I was relieved to find that breakfast was scrambled eggs and barley bread and something that almost resembled coffee. They made sure I ate well and gave me provisions for my journey onwards…”


“No, thank Rassilon,” Kristoph replied. “More barley bread and home made butter and cheese and a flask of the apple brandy. I went up the hill and put an electronic beacon where the body still lay. It was covered in snow now and perfectly preserved. Then I skied across country to the nearest town with an air-police station. They brought in the corpse and I did the necessary paperwork to have him sent back to his home planet by freight, then headed home, job done.”

“What about the diamonds he was smuggling?” Marion asked.

“They went back to his home planet, too,” he replied. “He had swallowed them when he knew I was on his track. I think there was some plan to do an autopsy…”

“Right.” Marion decided she didn’t need to know any more about that. “But the dwarves – the Bell-Hilons didn’t know the body was packed with gems? Or the air police?”

“Wouldn’t have mattered to them. They have no interest in such things. That was why he was routing his operation through Hilolo in the first place. Their economy was based on a valuable oil extracted from the trees. Diamonds, gems, gold, were meaningless to them as sources of wealth. They would look at my family’s business and wonder how we could possibly make a living. That’s the way of the universe.”

“I never thought of it like that,” Marion admitted. “But I’m glad you were all right. How do you feel now?”

“Getting there,” he answered. “The broken bone knitting together is a strange sensation. Like a dully, nagging ache. And it will be stiff for a day or two. Might lay off the skiing tomorrow. We can have a nice sleigh ride across country instead.”

“Have to get you down the mountain, first,” Marion pointed out. “And it’s getting dark. We could do with some of that apple brandy, soon. Even Kendal Mint Cake won’t save us from a night in the open.”

“I think we’ll be all right,” Kristoph told her. He held his hand to his ear. She couldn’t hear anything at first. Then there was a low rumbling and soon a sno-cat came over the rise, its headlamps illuminating them. Remonte jumped down from it along with a man with ‘mountain rescue’ on his snow jacket.

“I knew you’d get in trouble,” he said to his brother as he and Marion helped him to stand. “Sorry we took so long. Rika and I were in the hotel bar before we realised you weren’t behind us. Then it took a while to organise the rescue!”

“We were quite all right,” Marion assured him as they fastened their seatbelts in the back of the squat caterpillar tracked vehicle. “But when we get down there, Kristoph definitely doesn’t want mushroom soup for supper.”

Remonte looked puzzled at that comment, but decided not to ask for explanations.

“I do have a craving for apple brandy, though,” Kristoph added as the driver started up the sno-cat and it headed downhill.