Aineytta hurried to the butler’s rooms by the kitchen in the lower part of the house. Caolin followed her. Gallis Limmon remained beside his master, ready to call her if there was any change in his condition.

Rosanda was waiting. She was still in her nightdress and beside herself with worry. She brought Aineytta to her own bedroom where Marion had slept these past two days.

“It’s the plague, isn’t it?” she said anxiously. “Marion has it, too.”

“Yes,” Aineytta confirmed. “We did everything we could to quarantine the house, but it came to us anyway and struck at the very hearts of us. My son is recovering. But when he knows that she is sick, what will it do to him?”

But Marion was her chief concern, now. She was suffering from the same disease that had almost taken Kristoph but nobody on the planet knew how it might affect her. She was Human. Her species had never come in contact with Broen’s Plague before.

Still worse, what might it do to her unborn child?

Aineytta felt for a moment unable for the task. Then she gathered her wits.

“Are you feeling well, child?” she asked Rosanda. “I must ask you to act as nurse.”

“I feel very well,” Rosanda answered. “I will help all I can.”

“Good. Then boil water for me to make medicines. Caolin can fetch fresh herbs from the garden. Then I will need pots to make up the medicines in and clean sheets.

Rosanda went to do as she asked. Aineytta took Marion’s nightdress from her and noted that the bruises were spreading, though they didn’t yet cover her whole body. She was hot to the touch, though. Her temperature was rising. That was the first thing she had to deal with. The medicine worked for Kristoph. She only hoped it would work for Marion’s very different body.

Caolin brought the herbs. They still had the morning dew on them. Aineytta crushed them and prepared an infusion with hot water, then cooled it a little, knowing that Marion could not swallow it otherwise. She made a lotion and rubbed it into her body and wrapped her in the linen before laying her on the bed.

“Again, there is nothing to do but wait,” she said.

“Why her?” Rosanda asked. “Why is she affected and not me or Caolin, or anyone else in this household? What is it about this plague that it takes some people and not others?”

“I don’t know,” Aineytta admitted. “I have wondered, too. It is so arbitrary. I have heard of many houses where one or two people have died and others haven’t been ill at all. It is as if some are immune and others have no resistance at all to the disease.”

“Even within a family! You are still well, madam, and yet you have been caring for your son while he was sick.”

“Madam,” Caolin said. “Does that mean, it is possible that my wife and I might be spared? We have both been close to those who are infected, I with his Lordship and she with Lady Marion. Of course, neither of us begrudge the service given, but if….”

“I cannot say,” Aineytta responded. “I am not that kind of physician who looks at blood and its properties and searches for such questions. I know what medicines cool fevers and which lotions soothe the body, but investigating the disease takes place in the Academies, not in the apothecarium where I learnt my skills.”

“Even so, Madam, I put my trust in you,” Caolin said. “We all, in this household, trust you.”

“Thank you,” Aineytta replied. “I greatly hope that your trust is not misplaced.”

There was little more to be said. They kept a silent vigil as the morning turned to afternoon. Aineytta, with Rosanda’s help, gave Marion the treatment several times, the medicine in the form of a herbal infusion and the lotion that soothed her body. The fever barely abated, though, and she was fretful and restless, struggling against the linen wraps. Aineytta touched her mind and soothed her nightmares, sending her into a softer sleep, but it didn’t last long before she was restless again. She called out in her delirium for Kristoph, and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t there. She again tried to pull away the linen and free herself from it.

“Her fever is too high for a Human to bear,” Aineytta said. “Caolin, draw a cold bath. Not freezing, but cold. We will try bathing her.”

Caolin went to the bathroom beside his own bedroom where this drama was unfolding. Aineytta unwrapped Marion from the linen and she and Rosanda carried her. They placed her in the cold water. This was a drastic measure used sometimes when Gallifreyans were very sick, but to do it for a Human was absolutely desperate and the outcome even more uncertain.

“Not too long,” Aineytta said. “A minute, no more, then bring her out.” Caolin did as she said. He placed Marion on towels laid on the bathroom floor and Aineytta and Rosanda rubbed her skin all over. Then he placed her in the water again. They repeated the procedure three more times before Aineytta said it was enough and he carried her back to the bedroom. Aineytta covered her bruised flesh with lotion again and wrapped her in the linen. They had succeeded in reducing her temperature to a safe level. Aineytta gave her more medicine and soothed her to sleep again.

A long day turned into a long night. They repeated the cold bath three more times before dawn. Marion’s temperature dropped each time, but it rose again in the intervals between treatments. Aineytta was reluctant to keep repeating the process because she feared it might weaken her heart or shock the unborn child.

Caolin brought food from the kitchen himself and they all ate to keep up their strength. Aineytta fed Marion a thin oatmeal gruel that she could swallow involuntarily. It was enough to keep her going for a while.

Then the bedroom door opened. Kristoph stood there, dressed in a loose black robe that he had obviously thrown on in haste and a pair of bedroom slippers. Gallis Limmon was with him, trying to assist him, but he walked across the room without any aid and bent over Marion’s still form.

“Am I going to lose her, mama?” he asked.

“She’s still very ill,” Aineytta answered. “But I am hopeful. My son, why are you not resting? We almost lost YOU not so long ago. You should be in bed.”

“How can I rest knowing that she is ill?”

“Because you are needed. More than her life depends on you. Please, at least sit down and be calm.”

Caolin brought an armchair and placed it by the bed. Kristoph consented to sit in it where he could still grasp Marion’s hand and watch her face for any sign that she was waking.

There was no such sign as the morning wore on. Later, when the maids had changed the linen and freshened the room, Caolin carried Marion up the stairs to the Master bedroom. He and Rosanda stayed to help with nursing her. Gallis Limmon stayed to take care of his Master who was still far from completely well. Aineytta made up medicine for them both. Kristoph was getting stronger. There was so much to be said, at least. But Marion’s condition hardly changed, either for the better or worse.

“Caolin,” Kristoph said as the afternoon wore on. “Will you fetch my scarlet robe and the Sash of Rassilon. I need to look presentable. Gallis, please set up the videophone for a conference call with Lord Dúccesci, Lord Charr, the Chancellor and Premier Cardinal and the Castellan.”

“My son, you cannot trouble yourself with matters of state just now. You are ill.”

“And so is my wife,” Kristoph said. “That is why I need to be relieved of those matters of state temporarily. I must formally invoke the Eighty-Fifth Clause.”

“My Lord!” Caolin and Gallis Limmon both exclaimed in shock. Aineytta placed a gentle hand on his arm.

“I have been incapacitated for more that seventy-six hours, as it is. The Clause is called into effect automatically. But this allows me to relinquish my oath according to my own wishes.”

“You have brought us all through the greatest crisis we have known for generations. That will be remembered by all Gallifrey.”

“I hope that is true. I am not sure the crisis is past, yet.”

He showered in the bathroom, attended upon by Gallis Limmon who made an efficient manservant. He dressed in semi-formal robes and sat by the window in the light of the dying day to make the important call. All of the men he had summoned presented themselves on a screen that was split five ways.

“By the Grace of Rassilon, under the Eighty-Fifth Clause of the Constitution of Gallifrey, I hereby relinquish until a time of my choosing, the office of Lord High President. I place the duties of the Presidency jointly upon Lord Dúccesci who will continue to govern the Capitol and the Northern Continent until the quarantine can be lifted, and The Premier Cardinal who will assume responsibility for the Southern Continent. My friends, I wish you good judgement in these troubled times.”

He removed the Sash of Rassilon and placed it in the velvet lined box it was kept in when not required for ceremonial occasions, then stood and bowed to the two men he had passed the duties of the President to. They both bowed their heads to him.

“Thank you, my friends,” he said. “Rassilon’s blessing on you all.”

That much tired him out. Afterwards he slumped in the chair with no energy to maintain his posture. Aineytta brought him a hot broth and an infusion of invigorating herbs.

“Your preparations have been the saving of me,” he told her, managing to smile for his gentle mother. “May they do the same for Marion.”

“I can only hope so,” Aineytta said. “She is calm, at least. Your presence is helping. I think she can hear your voice through the oblivion.”

“And the child?”

“It still lives,” his mother promised him. “I can sense the heartbeats. But the barely formed brain may be harmed by the fever. I do not know, my son.”

“You warned me at the Autumn Equinox. You warned me that this was not the time. But I never expected it to happen this way.”

“Nobody expected this. We must all have courage, you above all. But you have never lacked that quality.”

“Facing an enemy I know how to fight,” he answered. “Facing dangers I can calculate and predict. But this… I can’t fight it. I am a puppet of fate.”

“And that frightens you more than anything,” Aineytta acknowledged. “You are not in control of what happens. There is nothing you can do to change the fate before us, and you are frightened.”

“Yes.” He would have denied it to anyone but his mother. There was no point in trying with her. She knew him too well.

“Then this is the greatest test of your courage, my son, despite all you have done before this.”

“Mama, you should be in the Forum in Athenica with the philosophers,” Kristoph said. “You would… wipe the floor with them all.”

“Wipe the floor?” Aineytta smiled. “That must be an expression you picked up on Earth. As for the Forum, I wonder what those dusty senators would think about an elderly witch of the southern plains coming among them to challenge their ways?”

“You are not a witch, mama,” Kristoph assured her. “I would call out any man who said such a thing in my hearing.”

“There is no need to be afraid of the term,” she told him. “In the old times, a witch was a respectable profession for a country woman. It is only in these enlightened days of Academies and science that people imagine there is something sinister with understanding the medicinal uses of the plants that grow from our soil. But I come from a long line of witches, my dear, going back at least as long as your noble father’s family line. I am proud of it. and there is no truth in the rumour that I seduced my dear Chrístõ de Lún with a love potion. His interest in me was entirely of his own making.” She smiled softly then and Kristoph saw a flash of humour in her eyes despite the desperation of their situation. “Mind, I have used love potions from time to time since our Alliance. How do you suppose I came to have four children?”

“Mama!” Kristoph laughed for the first time in a long time. “I don’t believe that at all.”

“As you wish, my son,” she replied, reaching to hug him just as she had when he was a child. They held each other that way as the night fell upon the southern continent and they prepared to spend an anxious time watching over Marion, hoping that the light of morning would bring better news.

But that dawn brought very little hope. Marion’s fever was less, but she had not stirred or opened her eyes for all that time. She didn’t even seem aware of the bedclothes around her now.

“Her body is fighting the plague,” Aineytta said. “But her brain has given in to it. She is in a deep coma, and I don’t know when or how she will come out of it.”

Kristoph held his wife’s hand and listened to his mother’s diagnosis with sinking hearts. He knew it was true. There was nothing wrong with her brain. There had been no physical damage. But she just couldn’t wake up from the slumber induced by the illness.

“The baby?” he asked.

“The baby lives, still,” Aineytta told him. “But that is all I can say for sure.”

Kristoph nodded unhappily. There was nothing else to do now but wait.

For how long, he didn’t know.