It was Rodan’s second birthday. Preparations were in hand for her party later in the afternoon. But Marion wasn’t involved with them. The jellies and ice cream, the huge cake and all of the nice things she and her invited guests would be eating were being prepared by the servants.

Marion could have been involved, of course. She had been last year. But the fact that this was Rodan’s LAST birthday at Mount Lœng House took the shine off the day for her.

Which was why, just before lunch time, Marion had dressed Rodan and herself in unseasonably light sundresses and gone to the Portal room. She entered the wardrobe and sat Rodan down on one of the chairs. She closed the door and sat in the other before turning the dial. The Portal room vanished from the viewscreen and a mere ten minutes later they arrived at the Lighthouse on Haollstrom IV.

She hadn’t told anyone she was going. She hadn’t told anyone she was arriving. She wasn’t expecting Hillary to be around. After all, she had her beautiful country mansion some twenty miles away where she and Claudia Jean and the children lived. The Lighthouse was a weekend ‘get away’.

Marion felt the need to get away for a while, and the peace of that lovely part of Haollstrom IV suited her just fine. She stepped out of the Portal and looked up at the clear blue sky and the warm sun. It was high summer here on Haollstrom, unlike Gallifrey or Earth which were both in mid-winter. She didn’t need a Lapin fur coat or boots. She felt free as she lifted Rodan in her arms and shouldered a bag with a picnic she had prepared for them and walked around the headland.

The rocks upon which the Lighthouse was built were treacherous to marine traffic. That was why it had been built several hundred years ago, before Haollstrom had satellite navigation to guide those who enjoyed travelling around the planet by sea rather than fast outer atmosphere shuttles. Even on a calm summer day, there were fierce tides crashing upon the rocks. It was easy to see how they would be dangerous in a gale force wind on a winter’s night.

But just around the headland was a completely different story. There a wide bay curved gently around. The tide had lost its ferocity and came in gently onto the warm, yellow sand. Trees with a delicious red fruit grew right up to the high water mark, providing shade from the sun. Marion came down there and sat on the warm, dry sand. Rodan gurgled happily and sat beside her. She accepted the food from the picnic and a drink of orange juice to wash it down. Marion ate a little of the food herself and drank a cool drink. After the picnic, Rodan set to work making herself a sandcastle. Marion sat and watched her.

This was what she wanted. A quiet respite from everything, just herself and Rodan enjoying a little time together.

She knew she shouldn’t have done this. Kristoph didn’t know where she was. Rodan’s grandfather didn’t know where they were. She wasn’t sure if there were any laws about taking a child who wasn’t really hers any more away from Gallifrey. She suspected there might be. But the Portal was still registered to allow her and Rodan to travel together, so there was a legal loophole of a sort, there.

That was what she hated, most. For nearly two years now, she had taken Rodan everywhere with her, including through the Portal to Earth countless times. She didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission. She usually told Kristoph of her plans at breakfast. All he ever said in reply was ‘mind yourself on the roads’. And that was only since her accident that one time when she was in Liverpool. She was in no way asking his permission to go offworld, simply telling him where she would be while he was busy at the Magistry.

But now it was different. Rodan wasn’t her own little girl now. She belonged to her grandfather. The two of them were staying at Mount Lœng House as guests until the new house was ready for them. In the evening, after Argis had put Rodan to bed, he talked with Kristoph about his plans for the future. He had taken a long leave of absence from the Freight Service – four years. He had savings that would allow him to live comfortably for that length of time. After that, he would take the shorter terms of service, six months at the most, and arrangements would be made for Rodan’s care when he was away. It was clear from their conversation that Argis meant he would pay somebody to look after his granddaughter. He didn’t consider the possibility of her coming back to stay at Mount Lœng House. Kristoph didn’t suggest it.

She asked him why, one night when they were settling down to sleep. He gave the answer she expected. Rodan was Argis’s child. She was a Caretaker. If she spent half her life in a mansion, being treated like an aristocrat, and half in an ordinary house, living as a Caretaker, it would be confusing for her. She wouldn’t know which she was meant to be.

She might resent her humble origins. Or, even worse, she might resent the aristocrat life that she was allowed to glimpse but never really have a right to. She might turn against them.

They were all good reasons. Marion accepted them. She knew Kristoph was doing the right thing.

But for one afternoon, at least, she wanted Rodan to be her little girl, still. She wanted to be alone with her for a few short hours.

And if that meant taking her through the Portal to another planet, far away from Gallifrey, then so be it.

And if that was against the law, then she would worry about that later.

For now, she enjoyed the warmth of a Haollstrom summer and watched Rodan build her sandcastle. It was a very good sandcastle, resembling, as far as a structure made of sand could, the image of Cair Paravel from Rodan’s favourite story book. Two year old Gallifreyan children had surprising manual dexterity. At least it surprised Marion. Perhaps Gallifreyans generally took it for granted.

Anyway, two, three blissful hours passed by. They drank more orange juice, and Marion picked some of those red fruits from the trees, which were delicious and surprisingly cool. She had almost forgotten that they were both playing truant from Gallifrey. She had forgotten that there was a birthday party to go back to.

“Marion!” She looked up as her name was called softly. Hillary, in female form, wearing a bikini and a sarong that flowed around her long, shapely legs, sat beside her.

“I didn’t know you were here,” she said.

“I wasn’t. But Kristoph called me. He’s on his way, incidentally.”

“Is he angry with me?”

“When is Kristoph ever angry with you?” Hillary replied. “He’s worried. People were looking for you and Rodan. Obviously he checked the Portal and saw that you had come here.”

“I just wanted a little bit of time by myself,” she said.

“Of course you did.” Hillary put her arm around her shoulders. “You’re not really losing her, you know. Rodan will always love you.”

“I hope so,” Marion answered.

“She will. I know what it’s like. I’ve been with partners who have children of their own. It’s a wrench when they leave. I remember… twenty years ago, now. My partner then was called Brooke. She gave birth to a beautiful baby while we were together. Corey. I adored her. I think in her first year I held her more often than Brooke did. I was so very sorry when they moved away. But I always meet up with them on Corey’s birth day and other special times. Corey is at university, now. He has a partner of his own. I met them both only last week for dinner, and we talked about the old days. A little too much, I think, in front of his lover. But he didn’t mind. He thinks of me as a parent almost as much as Brooke. And I know it will be the same with Claudia Jean’s child. Did I tell you she is incubating? That’s why we’re still together, really. She’s a bit scared about the birth and I promised to be with her. And I know I’ll love her child as much as my own, long after the two of us have moved on. And little Cam adores Claudia Jean. I know she’ll stay a part of his life.”

“It’s not really the same for me, though,” Marion pointed out.

“I know. But you don’t have anything to worry about. Rodan will always love you. Just you see if I’m right.”

“It won’t be the same,” Marion sighed.

“Besides, you and Kristoph are going to try for another baby, soon, aren’t you?” Hillary added.

“How did you know?” Marion was startled by that. Of course, she and Kristoph had discussed it. But she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone else. Not even here closest of friends.

“Before Solstice,” Hillary answered. “At the Sol-34 Conference. He and I cracked open a bottle of aged single malt imported from Earth and mulled over some issues together. He told me he wanted to, but he was scared of disappointment. I’m afraid I wasn’t a lot of help. It is rare for Haollstromnians to have complications in pregnancy. We’re a hardy lot when it comes to that. I really didn’t know what to say to him, except to wish you both well.”

“I do want to try,” Marion told her friend. “But… I know what he means. It’s frightening. We’ve lost two babies already. I don’t know what I would do if…”

“You’ll be all right,” Hillary promised her. “Kristoph told me that there’s some kind of prophecy. You know you WILL have a son.”

“Yes. I know that. But… neither of us know how long it might take. Perhaps years, yet. And… Rodan… she’s here, now. I can hold her in my arms. She’s not a dream or a hope. And I wish I could keep her. It’s breaking my heart knowing that I can’t.”

“But you know you must?”

“Yes, I know. But it still…”

She cried. Hillary held her tightly. Somewhere amidst the tears she kissed her. Marion clung to her friend and let the kiss consume her for a long, bittersweet time. When it was over, she smiled.

“Those Haollstromnian pheromones,” she said. “They… make everything seem so simple and easy. When I’m near to you, like this, I feel like there isn’t anything to worry about, at all.”

“I wish you would bottle that stuff.” Hillary and Marion both looked around as Kristoph strode towards them. Rodan left her sandcastle and ran to his arms. He lifted her high and hugged her tenderly. “Hello, my little love. Aren’t you the lucky one? How many girls born in Melcus get to spend their birthday afternoon on a beach in the sun? Of course, you’re going to need a good bath before you get your party dress on, now. We can see to that in the TARDIS on the way home.”

He came and sat beside Marion on the sand. He kept Rodan hugged close with one arm and the other he put around his wife. Hillary drew away from her as he did so.

“Are you angry with me?” Marion asked.

“No,” he answered. “I was worried until I saw the Portal setting. I told Argis you’d gone for a walk with Rodan. I didn’t mention that the walk was on another planet. He… would have every right to be angry with you. Technically this is abduction. Now he is home on Gallifrey, he is Rodan’s legal guardian and you shouldn’t have done this without asking him.”

“But you didn’t tell him?”

“I didn’t want to see him suppressing his anger and disappointment because he knows his place as a Caretaker and can’t be angry at the wife of the Lord of the demesne where he lives. I spared him the embarrassment of having to hide his true feelings, and I spared us the possibility that the good friendship we have with him might be affected by this.”

“You think I’ve been silly?”

“Just a little. But I forgive you. And I forgive the fact that I found you in the arms of an attractive woman, enjoying a very tender kiss. Haollstromnian pheromones are impossible to resist.”

“You always managed, Kristoph,” Hillary teased him. “Poor Marion is too easy to conquer. Especially when she is in such emotional turmoil. You have to look after her much better than this.”

“I intend too,” he replied. “Shall we get back to that birthday party, now?” he added to Marion. “There will be guests arriving soon.”

“Yes,” she answered. “Yes, we had better be going. Thank you, Hillary, for your hospitality. We’ll visit again, soon.”

“I look forward to that,” Hillary assured her. She kissed them both, and Rodan, too, before they walked back up the beach to where Kristoph had left his TARDIS, disguised as a bathing hut. Marion sighed a little sadly as the door closed and they left that warm beach. But she knew Kristoph was right. They had to get back to reality. And she had to accept what was inevitable.