Remonte de Lœngbærrow had never eaten Chinese food before, but he found the new experience satisfying. The atmosphere in the restaurant and the company of family and friends helped dispel the anxieties of the stressful day he had gone through already.

“An hour in Kristoph’s TARDIS and I am here on an alien world, eating…”

“Sweet and sour chicken, chow mein noodles and dim sum,” Marion told him. “Don’t worry. Your Gallifreyan digestive system is quite capable of dealing with it.”

“I’m sure it is,” Remonte answered. “We do eat animal products when we dine with the Earth Ambassador and his wife. So I am accustomed to the idea.”

“I like this food very much,” Rika said. “I hope we can visit this place again.”

“This is only my second visit to Earth,” Remonte pointed out. “I don’t really know enough about it.”

“I know it is a place where we are treated with respect even though nobody knows that Remonte is an Ambassador and Kristoph the President of our world,” Rika said.

“We are treated with respect here in Chinatown because we are with Li, who is an elder of this community,” Marion told them. Remonte considered that and laughed.

“On our own world our association with a notorious Renegade would have the opposite effect.”

He meant it as a joke, but all three women looked at him askance. Kristoph was not pleased, either.

“Don’t talk about Li in that way,” Rika told her husband. “He is not a Renegade. He is a noble Gallifreyan.”

“My dear,” Remonte answered in a gentle but insistent tone. “Li certainly is a noble Gallifreyan. But he is also a Renegade. There is no getting away from that fact. To pretend otherwise is dishonest.”

“But…” Rika protested.

“Gentle lady,” Li said in quiet tones. “Your noble Lord and husband is correct. I am a Renegade. I shall be until the day I die. But neither the word nor its implications grieve me. I stand by all that I did to earn my notoriety. My exile from Gallifrey is a source of distress. But as long as I have friends such as I have here, this afternoon, I can be content.”

Rika was reassured. Marion and Lily were not. They both knew that being called a Renegade upset Li a great deal. But he didn’t want to fall out with Remonte, who he knew to be a good man, despite his words.

“Let’s not quibble about mere words,” Lily said. “It is enough that we are all friends here at this table. Remy, my dear, you have more reason to be a friend and ally to Li than you have to be his foe.”

“Remy?” Mario and Rika both looked at Remonte. Neither had heard that short form of his name before.

“You haven’t called me that since I was a boy,” Remonte said to her. “I had quite forgotten. You were like an older sister to me. More so, I think, than Oriana. She always seemed very distant towards me when I was a child. I remember her as a thin figure in black who was always there in the house, but rarely ever spoke to me.”

“She was a figure in black because she wore mourning for the first two decades of your life – for her first born brother,” Li told him. “She didn’t know what to make of your existence… except as a painful reminder that Kristoph was not there and you were born to take his place.”

“I didn’t know Oriana cared so deeply for Kristoph,” Marion said. “She doesn’t seem to now.”

“She has grown distant in recent years,” Lily explained. “But when she was a young woman she worshipped the brother who was born to be heir to the House of Lœngbærrow. But we digress. I called Remonte by his childhood pet name to remind him of other events from his youth. In particular, his reason to be grateful to Li… for his life.”

“I have not forgotten it,” Remonte told her. “But you know as well as I do that the good deeds of the past do not mitigate against later deeds. Li’s war record, the work he did for the Celestial Intervention Agency, none of that could be set against the death sentence that is, even now, only in abeyance, not rescinded. And my personal debt of gratitude towards him is of even less account.”

Li did not argue. Remonte was stating the plain truth.

“But… what happened when Remonte was a boy that he is supposed to be grateful to Li for?” Marion asked.

“I’m afraid I only know the barest details of the affair,” Kristoph admitted. “It happened during the time when I was a prisoner of war – and presumed to be dead by my family on Gallifrey.”

“When I was being groomed to be the Lœngbærrow Heir,” Remonte added. “A burden that sat heavily upon me. Nobody meant it cruelly, but I was so often reminded that I was merely filling my brother’s shoes. A portrait of him in his transcension robes hung in the room where my tutors prepared me to follow my brother to academic triumph in the Prydonian Academy. My mother often spoke of her first born son in hushed tones. Bless her, mama never gave me any less love than she gave to Kristoph, but her hearts were still grieving for him when I was born and I was only ever a partial comfort to her. My father, likewise, loved me as demonstratively as a stoic, old-school Gallifreyan ever could manage. But he, of all the family, never gave up believing that Kristoph was alive, so he never really saw me as his Heir. It was difficult growing up in the shadow of a legend.”

“Which was why, when you disappeared, your father blamed himself, believing that you had run away from the pressure of living up to his lost son.”

“Father really thought that?” Remonte asked Lily.

“He did. I remember him saying so to your mother. I did what I could to comfort her in the first terrible hours. But nobody could do or say anything to relieve your father’s grief. He kept talking about how he had been harsh with you… and said some words he regretted…”

“I was doing badly in one of my lessons,” Remonte recalled. “I can’t even remember what it was, now. But whatever it was, Kristoph excelled at the subject, and quite without realising the implications, father made a comparison between us, favouring Kristoph, of course. I was upset… but not because I resented my lost brother or my father’s unwavering affection for him. I was upset because the loss still grieved my father so much. I knew if Kristoph was there he would be proud of us both, and would recognise that I excelled in areas my brother was weak in and vice versa.”

“I was suspicious from the first moment I heard,” Li said. “I knew Chrístõ de Lun’s second born son well enough to know he was no runaway. Honour and duty have always been strong in him. I knew there was something even more sinister going on. When the evidence began to build to support my suspicion…”

“That lifted one burden from your father’s shoulders,” Lily added. “He no longer felt guilty for driving you away. But then your parents both had to face the horror of knowing you had been kidnapped by somebody who meant you harm. If you ever doubted their love… then it is because you didn’t see them when they faced the possibility of losing their second born son.”

“They never told me. When I woke in my own bed at the end of the ordeal, my mother was there. So was Lily. Later in the day, my father came and sat with me. But he didn’t really say anything except that he was glad to have me home again.”

“They were grievously worried. Everyone was,” Lily told him. “Li took the evidence the Castellan’s men had gathered and mounted his own investigation. He brought the Celestial Intervention Agency into the matter, even though it was clear that you were still on Gallifrey, and by rights their jurisdiction is offworld.”

“The Castellan at the time was an old fool,” Li commented. “He had taken on the job when a far better man had been lost in the Sarre war. Likewise, the best of our manhood had given themselves to that cause. The Chancellery Guard were made up of those who hadn’t the courage to face our enemy. I didn’t put any faith in them. And I was proved right. They were breaking down doors in the Capitol when I and my men surrounded the compound in the Red Desert where the Cult of Pazithi Cupria were ready to perform their insane rite.”

Lily shuddered at the memory. Remonte seemed unaffected.

“I barely knew anything about it,” he explained. “They drugged me. I was young. I had not learned how to expel noxious substances from my body. It left me in a strange, dreamlike state, unable to help myself, to fight them, to cry out or protest – or even feel fear in any concrete way. The place frightened me. The Cult, dressed in their robes and masks were disturbing, but my mind was too confused to know why I was frightened. Even when they laid me on their sacrificial stone and were performing the rite all around me, I didn’t know what was going on.”

“Sacrificial stone!” Marion and Rika both exclaimed in horror. Again, Lily shuddered.

“Countless millennia ago, long before Rassilon, and the age of Civilisation on Gallifrey, it is known that there WAS a sect that worshipped Pazithi Gallifreya – the moon of Gallifrey – in her bronze aspect – Pazithi Cupria. They believed the bronze blush that came upon the moon at certain times of year was because of the blood of sacrifices offered up to her. The sect died out along with all forms of superstitious worship as we grew as a people. But a fool whose name is now no more than an entry in the database of prisoners on Shada tried to revive the practice. He arranged to kidnap a young male of aristocratic blood who would please the goddess.”

“Remonte…” Rika grasped her husband’s hand as she imagined the scene that Li described. “Oh… how dreadful. Rassilon’s Thanks that Li and his men got to you in time.”

“It wasn’t much of a fight,” Li admitted. “My men were well trained. The Cult were fools dressed in heavy costumes and headdresses who had been dancing and chanting for three hours, already. They were in no fit state to resist. A few fled, but they were easily rounded up. Three were killed in the scuffle. The rest spent several days under interrogation to ensure that the whole of the cult had been rooted out. The whole lot were found insane by our courts and sentenced to Shada. And they remain there to this day, where they belong.”

“Another example of Gallifreyan justice,” Marion commented. “As if we needed any more, today. But Remonte was all right? You brought him home to his family?”

“I saw to that personally, of course,” Li said. “He was unconscious. He knew nothing of the journey by hypershuttle from the Red Desert back to his home in the verdant southern plains. He didn’t know anything at all for another day. But no lasting harm was done to him.”

“Except I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere beyond the formal garden without a chaperone until I was ready to go to the Prydonian Academy,” Remonte commented. “And I had a new tutor. The man who was meant to be teaching me was an acolyte of the Cult. He was one of the men in the robes and masks.”

“That’s how they were able to kidnap Remonte… with an inside man?”

“Exactly so,” Li said. “But it was also the downfall of them all, because the missing tutor was my first clue. The rest fell into place easily enough after that. And I made full sure that no bloodletting Cult rose on our planet again.”

“Aineytta never forgot what you did,” Lily assured him. “When you were declared Renegade, she refused to believe it. She always said you were incapable of any dishonourable thing. She never lost faith in you.”

“Aineytta the Gentle’s faith warms me even across the light years of space,” Li said. “And the respect of her two sons is welcome, too. I know I have that.”

“You do, Li,” Remonte admitted. “Always. Despite any differences between us. And though my memory of what happened that day when I was just a boy is vague, I have never forgotten who I owe my life to.”

“You have my gratitude, too,” Rika told him with a warm smile for Li. “Gallifrey’s children are safe from lunatic cults that prey upon them.”

“And I am glad to dine with three Ladies of Gallifrey who smile upon me so freely. “That makes an exile’s hearts glow. Let me raise a toast to you before we finish this excellent meal and decide how we shall spend an autumn evening in Liverpool.”