Caolin wasn’t asleep. He was supposed to be. His duties were over at eleven and he had retired to his bed by twelve. His wife, Rosanda, had fallen asleep quickly. She lay by his side breathing softly. He lay there listening to that pleasant sound. The grandfather clock in the hall struck thirteen, midnight. The chimes were muffled, but he had heard them every night of his life. He knew them well enough. They were a comforting sound. He liked to hear them.

He knew it would be at least another hour before he heard the Master and Mistress of the house returning from an engagement in the Capitol. He also knew that he didn’t have to be awake for that. It was not his responsibility now.

He didn’t resent the appointment of the Night Butler. His Excellency had spoken to him about the matter. He had explained that it was her Ladyship’s idea to appoint a man who would be on duty through the unsociable hours of the night. Lady Marion believed that his hours were too long and his duties too many. She wished to relieve him of some of the burden. She wanted him to have time to spend in his wife’s company at night, instead of attending to their needs.

Lady Marion was a kind woman, a considerate woman. He could not refuse her anything. So he had accepted the appointment of Villnus Meissen. It was made clear to everyone that Caolin was senior butler, the top servant in the house. Meissen took orders from him.

Meissen took the orders. He had no choice about that. But Caolin wasn’t sure he took them with particularly good grace. There was something disrespectful, even insolent, about the way he looked when he was given his duties. And there was something about his walk, about his carriage, about his whole demeanour, that Caolin disliked from the start.

Perhaps he was being unfair. Perhaps he resented the appointment just a little bit after all, and he was looking for reasons, small, subtle reasons, to dislike the new man.

But he didn’t think so. He wasn’t a man who held grudges, and he always considered himself to be a good judge of character, even without a fully trained telepathic mind. He had an instinct that served him just as well.

And that instinct told him that something wasn’t right with the Night Butler.

“Go with your instinct, my dear,” a soft voice murmured by his side. He looked at his wife. Her eyes were wide open, now. Her dark hair fell loose around her face and she looked beautiful. His two hearts lurched with pride that such a woman chose him for her lifelong companion. She could have had any man in the village, some of them better qualified and with greater prospects of advancement.

“I didn’t want any other man, and we are both happy here in this house. At least, I know I am. And you never complained before. This new man... he really is bothering you, isn’t he?”

“Yes, he is,” Caolin responded. “I just don’t trust him. I wish his lordship had consulted me on the matter before making the appointment. I would have suggested promoting Seogham, the senior footman. He’s a fine man, and his loyalty is without question.”

“It was meant to be a surprise,” Rosanda pointed out. “If you were consulted, it wouldn’t have been very much of a surprise.”

Caolin smiled. That was the rationale behind it. And it was why he accepted the situation. Because it had been Lady Marion’s idea, as a way of being kind to him.

He served Lady Marion willingly in every way. He would gladly do anything she asked of him. His affection for her was usurped only by his love for his own wife.

And he didn’t want her to think that the change she had made to the domestic household had been wrong.

“He is about the house, now, isn’t he?” Rosanda said.

“Doing his duty, I trust,” Caolin answered.

“I wonder if he is.” Caolin felt his wife reach out and touch his forehead. He had never been fully trained telepathically. Indeed, it was not something that was expected of a butler. His master’s secrets were not to be casually read by his most trusted servant. But Rosanda was a natural seer as well as a talented couturier. Reading thoughts came easy to her. He felt the touch of her mind on his. He felt calmed by the touch. Then he felt her reaching out, moving through the house, touching the minds of the people within it. The Lord and Master were out, but the servants were home. The housekeeper, Mistress Callitham was still awake, working out the grocery list for a dinner party that was a full two weeks away. The maids were all asleep, except one, Anya, who was lying awake, thinking about Seogham, the senior footman. Rosanda drew back quickly, but both she and her husband had seen enough.

“Does Seogham know she feels that way about him?” Caolin asked.

“I... rather think he does,” Rosanda answered. Her roving thoughts had touched upon another mind that was wide awake. Seogham was climbing the back stairs and he was thinking about Anya in exactly the same way she had been thinking of him.

“I should have a quiet word with him,” Caolin said. “His intentions are honourable, of course. He merely wants to spend a little private time in her company. But they should be thinking of walking in the kitchen garden after supper, not sitting in her bedroom after midnight.”

“Tell him he should speak to her father about a suit,” Rosanda told her husband. “Then he can be with her as often as he likes.”

“That was exactly what I had in mind,” Caolin replied. “I am sure both of them will find that more satisfying than clandestine trysts.”

Rosanda laughed softly and cuddled close to Caolin. She was happy as the wife of Lord de Lœngbærrow’s butler. She was sure young Anya would be equally happy as the wife of the head footman.

Then both of them were aware of a jarring note in Seogham’s thoughts. He wasn’t thinking of the maid’s bedroom any more. He was moving back down the stairs cautiously. Rosanda concentrated closely on his thoughts. Caolin was already rising from his bed and pulling on his clothes. He could still feel his wife’s touch on his mind. She was reading Seogham’s mind and relaying it to him. He could feel, through her, the fear and trepidation of the young footman as he opened the door that separated the servants quarters from the corridor outside the bed chambers of his Lordship and his family.

Caolin reached to kiss his wife, then quickly and quietly left their bedroom in the private suite of rooms given over to the two of them. He slipped up the stairs from the kitchen corridor and crossed the hall. Rosanda was still relaying Seogham’s thoughts. The young man was not so much afraid, now, as angry, and Caolin suspected he knew why.

He mounted the stairs and trod as quietly as he dared. He reached the first floor and passed across the landing then through the door to the west sleeping wing. The only rooms in constant use were the master bedroom and the bathroom and dressing room en suite to it. Bedrooms used by the elder Lord and Lady de Lœngbærrow when they stayed the night, and the Honourable Ambassador and Lady Rika were always aired as well as their en suite bathrooms. So was a guest bedroom. There was also the sparsely furnished room where her Ladyship’s travel Portal was kept, and two walk in rooms with shelves full of clean linen. Caolin knew all of the rooms perfectly well. If he closed his eyes, he knew he could still find the Master bedroom.

He didn’t close his eyes. He kept them wide open and he knew that something was amiss in the Master bedroom even before he felt the sharp pain in his head.

“I am sorry, my love,” Rosanda told him. “It hurt me, too. Seogham is injured. I think he is unconscious. I can’t reach him now.”

“It’s all right,” Caolin assured her. He reached the master bedroom door and looked inside. He saw the footman sprawled on the floor, and another figure with his back turned, rifling through her Ladyship’s dressing table and stuffing strings of pearls and diamonds set into silver and gold into his pockets.

“Stop that at once,” the butler demanded. “How dare you betray the trust of his Lordship by stealing from his house?”

“He can afford it,” Villnus Meissen replied. “These trinkets left in the woman’s unlocked dresser will be of use to me.”

“Where could you possibly expect to sell such things? No gold or silver smith on the southern continent would pay you for stolen jewels, especially not THAT. It is known as the Marion Stone, named for her Ladyship herself, and marked with the silvertrees of Lœngbærrow when it was cut.”

Meissen lifted the huge diamond in its silver setting and looked closely at it. The mark Caolin spoke of was tiny, etched with the very finest micro tool. It proved not only that the jewel belonged to the Lœngbærrow family, but that it was cut and set by one of the best diamond cutters on Gallifrey – and therefore the best in the galaxy.

Meissen sneered and put the diamond in his pocket.

“You’re right about that one. But you’re wrong about the smiths of the Southern Continent. I know one at least that will pay me well for the ordinary jewels. And when I am far from Gallifrey, where silvertrees mean nothing, I will have my fortune. I’ll live a fine life on a world where a man’s worth isn’t measured by accident of birth.”

Caolin looked at the leather satchel Meissen was carrying on his back. It was already full. Caolin knew that her Ladyship’s jewellery collection was not so substantial as that.

“You’ve been in his Lordship’s study,” he said accusingly. “You’ve stolen enough already, but you couldn’t resist taking more. Such greed... such disloyalty.”

Meissen sneered again. Loyalty counted for nothing with him.

“You will not pass me,” Caolin told him. “I will not let you betray her Ladyship in this way. She gave you the job you have abused so shamefully. I will not let you...”

Meissen moved swiftly, but so did Caolin. He blocked him from leaving the room, fighting with him hand to hand, fist to fist. He could feel Rosanda calling to him in his head, knowing what was happening, fearful for him. But he told her to be calm.

Meissen fought desperately to escape. Caolin fought desperately to stop him. They were equally matched for strength and stamina, but Caolin had been born and raised in Mount Lœng House, the son of a butler. He had learnt to serve. He knew about the correct setting of silverware on a table, the temperature that wine should be served. He had never learnt to fight. All he had on his side was anger and determination that his Lord and Lady would not be robbed by one of their own household.

Meissen had learnt to fight, and he fought dirty. Caolin slid to the ground, his legs cut from under him by a vicious kick. Meissen set upon him. Rosanda’s voice echoed in his ears, but he couldn’t reply to her. He was fighting for his life, now. He was sure Meissen was going to kill him in order to make his escape.

Then the fight was over. Caolin looked up to see Seogham standing over him. Meissen was unconscious at his side. Seogham clutched the heavy glass ornament he had picked up from the dressing table. Caolin had seen it there many times. Lady Marion brought it from her home world. The glass contained a model of a building with a curious looking bird sitting on the parapet. The same bird that was depicted on the carpet in the hallway.

Caolin stood up and took the ornament from Seogham’s hand. He put it back on the dressing table.

“There’s a young lady waiting for you,” he said. “Go and spend a little time with her. I’ll talk to you tomorrow about your duty to her.”

Seogham nodded and stepped past him. Caolin meanwhile, picked up the unconscious man and carried him down to the kitchen. He was starting to come around. The concussion was mending itself easily enough. Caolin pushed him down onto a hard-backed chair and tied him to it. As he did so, Rosanda came into the kitchen. She watched what her husband was doing without comment.

“There is a car outside.” She said presently. “It will be Lord and Lady de Lœngbærrow returning home.”

“Meet them for me, my dear,” Caolin told her. “Ask his Lordship to step into the kitchen. Then take her Ladyship to the drawing room and keep her company until this matter is resolved.”

Rosanda went to do as he asked. Soon after, Lord de Lœngbærrow came to the kitchen. Two of his Presidential Guards followed him. He looked at the bound man curiously then looked to his trusted senior servant. He said nothing, but Caolin felt the touch of his mind on him, sifting through his immediate memories.

“I, too, will speak to Seogham in the morning. He showed courage and loyalty. It will be rewarded. As for this one...”

Kristoph moved closer. He looked at Meisson’s face. He looked defeated and sullen.

“You hid your true colours well when you were interviewed, giving a performance of one who would be loyal to my household. I ought to have spotted the deceit. I shall be more careful in future.” He nodded to the guards. They untied Meisson, but only long enough to put him into electro-cuffs and arrest him formally.

“I think Lady Marion will need a cup of tea after all this excitement,” Kristoph said, moving towards the newly installed electric kettle before his butler could protest. “I know I do. Will you and your lady wife join us in that refreshment before you retire to your bed?”

“I... should be glad to, sir,” Caolin replied. “But let me make the pot. It is my duty, after all.”