The quarantine over the whole planet was finally lifted by the last day of Samavan, the eleventh month of the Gallifreyan year. The people, Oldblood, Newblood and Caretaker counted the cost as they made contact with friends and family they had been isolated from for months. The final death toll was less than it might have been. The quarantine had been effective to some extent, but still heartsbreaking to those who had suffered losses.

Slowly, as winter took hold and the last month of the year progressed Gallifrey began to live again. Normal life resumed. The mines and the processing plants of the southern plain were working again. In the Capitol, restaurants, bath houses and couturiers opened their businesses again. The High Council met in the Panopticon, sports matches between the Academies resumed. Ladies met each other for lunch.

All that was happening everywhere but Mount Lœng House. There, the consequences of the plague still hung like a sad pallor over all. The Mistress of the House was still in a deep coma and nothing that anyone tried could bring her out of it. Kristoph had brought Gallifrey’s best physicians to see her, but they had confessed they knew nothing about Human physiology and told him that it was probably the normal reaction to Broen’s Plague.

Aineytta had sharp things to say about such learned men who had so very little to say for themselves. She assured her son that Marion was not dying, and nor was her child who continued to grow within her womb. She would wake in time. He simply had to be patient.

Kristoph believed his mother. But being patient was hard for him when he sat by his wife’s bedside every day, holding her hand and talking to her, hoping for a response that never came.

The festival called Christmas that had brightened the month of Decima in the Lœngbærrow household came and went without celebration this year. So did the anniversary of their Alliance which was a week afterwards.

The New Year was a time of renewed hope and optimism for others, but for Kristoph there was only one thing to hope for and that didn’t seem to be happening.

Midway through the month of Janus there was still no change.

“My son,” Aineytta said to him. “It isn’t good for you to sit there every day. Your life is on hold even as much as hers is.”

“She’s my wife. It is my duty to her,” he replied.

“We can share the duty. Lily is here. And Hillary promised to come by portal tomorrow. There are any number of friends happy to sit with her. You should take a little time away from her bedside.”

“What if she wakes while I am gone?”

“She will forgive you,” Aineytta assured him. “I think you ought to consider resuming your duties as President. It would do you good, and it would do this planet good to have you back at the head of Government. Your absence is a reminder to all of the crisis that they want to put behind them.”

“No,” he insisted. “I won’t do that until Marion is well. But… mama, I will do what you say, just once. Tomorrow, I would like to spend some time away. There is one duty I should like to fulfil.”

He slept the night on the couch beside the master bed as he had done ever since Marion took ill. In the morning he dressed and ate breakfast, then he kissed her goodbye, promising to return as soon as possible. She gave no sign of hearing him. Her eyes remained closed, her body still and quiet. He left her with Lily and Rosanda by her side for company and went to his TARDIS.

The southern plain was deep in snow as it had been since the beginning of Decima. The Red Desert was a complete contrast. It was the hottest part of summer, there. In the camp where the Arcalian boys studied their lessons air conditioning had been fitted in every wooden hut building. Sports lessons and exercise took place very early in the morning or late at night. By noon it was impossible to be outside at all.

They needed a respite as much as Kristoph did. The twenty boys cheered enthusiastically when they were told they were going on a field trip with him. Their masters thanked him for his generosity and prepared to take a much-needed break in the Capitol while the school in the desert was temporarily closed.

He brought the boys to the Lodge, his own ‘getaway’ on the plain. He materialised the TARDIS inside the house, first. The boys had come from a burning desert to the snow-covered plain. They needed a little time to adjust. They looked out of the windows cheerfully as they put on winter clothes. Some of them were born and raised on the Northern continent, near the desert, or in the Capitol, where they never saw snow. It was a novelty to them. For others it was a homecoming to the southern continent where there was a more varied range of seasonal weather.

For all of them it was exciting. They were anxious to get out into the snow and run about in air that didn’t burn their throats. The boys that were raised on the southern continent all knew how to ski and they were soon organised into a cross-country expedition who set off on their own. That in itself was a novelty. They were always under supervision in the desert. But Kristoph was of the opinion that it was for their safety in that inhospitable environment, not to prevent them from running away. Here on the plain, there was no danger to them. They could explore for an hour or two in freedom.

The other boys he taught the sports of snowball fighting and snowman building. They were both curiously childish things for sophomore boys who were learning to be men and had gone through experiences even men would find hard to overcome, but they enjoyed the simple games and laughed joyfully. Despite all his worries Kristoph laughed with them.

When the ski expedition returned he brought the boys to the swimming pool. Because of the thermal properties of the rocks under the Lodge, there was no snow even around the outdoor part of it, and the air was warm. The boys took off their coats as they sat and ate a picnic lunch that the TARDIS kitchen yielded.

“You were all fine during the crisis?” Kristoph asked them. “There was no illness at all in the camp?”

“No, sir,” Riven Maxic, one of the boys he knew well from previous expeditions told him. “But it was hard not knowing what was happening to our families. And some…” He pointed out a boy who sat quietly eating his food but not taking part in the chatter of his peers. “Galen Arn. His mother and sister both died. He’s taken the news hard. And Gynnell… you know that his sister-in-law… she lost the baby she was expecting.”

“Yes, I heard that,” Kristoph told him.

“I think he feels guilty that he had a relatively easy time out in the desert. We were probably the safest of all, cut off as we were even before the quarantine. We never really felt we were in any danger. But the consequences for some of our families go deep.”

“I understand,” Kristoph said. Gynnell was doing his best to be cheerful. He had joined in the games earlier. But there was something in his eyes from time to time, when he remembered himself, that he needed to get over.

It was true of many of the children of Gallifrey, of course. All of the Academies had been sealed. Within the quarantined Capitol they maintained their own quarantine. They had all escaped the plague. But for many of the boys the end of the restrictions brought tragic news. Some of them had found themselves suddenly elevated to Patriarch of their Houses by the deaths of their fathers, a huge responsibility for their youthful ages. Others had lost mothers or siblings. It was hard for them, but the policy of isolation for the schools meant there was no lost generation on Gallifrey. The future was assured when those boys and girls graduated and took their places in society. The scars of this sad time would heal and they could all go on.

His own scars would take a little longer. They depended on Marion getting well. Until she was, he couldn’t begin to pick up the pieces. But at least he could help these boys.

Gynnell Dúccesci talked to him easily enough. They had come to an understanding long before. His role as would-be presidential assassin was in the past and the boy looked on him as a mentor and a guide, which Kristoph was happy to be.

“I didn’t know about their loss when I asked Malika to take on the responsibility of government,” Kristoph said when they broached the subject of Talitha’s stillborn child. “I should have relieved him of the duty.”

“He would not have let you,” Gynnell said. “When I went home briefly before the New Year, he was acting like a driven man. He has poured all his energies into governing the northern Continent, in ensuring that life gets back to normal for everyone.”

“He was always a dedicated politician.”

“It is hard on Talitha. He has so little time to show her any affection or understanding. I… don’t think he blames her for what happened. He knows that the plague caused her to lose the baby. But all the same, he is distant from her. He hardly seemed to know what to say to me, either. Except… he reminded me that I am his heir, so long as he has no issue of his own.”

“He used that word… issue….”


“A cold word to use. I suspect he has not grieved at all. He has simply buried his feelings. I am sorry for that.”

Gynnell was clearly sorry, too.

“I didn’t want to be his heir. I wanted the baby to be born so that I wouldn’t have to be. I know that’s selfish of me, but I didn’t want it. And I don’t think Malika does, either. It’s not that he doesn’t want me… but he wants a son of his own more. It means so much to him. And Talitha is grieving because she can’t give him that.”

“That is a household that will take time to mend,” Kristoph observed. “But it will mend. Give them time. And until then, you take care not to give them cause to worry. Keep to your studies, and obey your masters.”

“I will, sir,” the boy promised. “Thank you, for taking the time to talk to me.”

Time, that was the one thing he had plenty of, Kristoph thought ruefully. He watched as Gynnell stripped off his clothes and joined some of the other boys swimming in the thermally heated pool. The luxury of so much water was in itself a draw, and the joy of swimming naked in warm water only yards from deep snowdrifts fascinated them.

Galen Arn was harder to console. First he had to break through the barrier of awe all the boys had for him. When he did, it was like floodgates opening as the boy poured out his grief for his mother and the twenty year old sister he adored. They had died within days of each other, but Galen hadn’t been told for almost a month afterwards because of the restricted communications during the quarantine. It had come as a terrible shock to him, made all the more difficult because it was another three weeks before the quarantine was lifted and he was able to take a visit home on compassionate grounds.

“Father hardly knew what to say to me,” the boy said. “He could hardly bear to hug me. I think he was afraid if he gave me his love, he might lose me, too. He wouldn’t talk about either of them. I wanted to know if mother had thought of me, but he wouldn’t talk about it at all.”

Another family who would take time to heal, Kristoph thought. The best thing for that one was each other, though. A compassionate visit was not enough. The boy needed to go home to his father for as long as it took for them both to come to terms with their grief. He made up his mind to recommend it to Lord Artemus after this respite was over. Of course, since he was not President now he could not order it to be done. But he thought he still had enough authority to have his requests granted.

Galen went to swim with his friends, too, after a while, doing his best to enjoy himself. After a little persuasion, Kristoph joined them. They swam for as long as they dared, then dried themselves and dressed and enjoyed the snow until night fell. Then they retreated into the pool house where it was warm. Kristoph opened the doors to the sauna and stoked up the aromatic fire. The boys relaxed and ate supper by the pool and contemplated sleeping in the lodge and waking the next day to swimming and winter sports again. Even those with troubles at home were happy with the prospects for the next day at least.

Kristoph contacted his home once and was told that there was no change. He expected as much. He shook off his own sadness to join in with the songs the boys sang as the evening wore on and they delayed their bedtime until tiredness overcame them.

They spent another day and another night in retreat at the Lodge, before Kristoph brought the boys back to the desert. He arranged for Galen Arn to go home. As he hoped, his reputation for wisdom was enough to sway his masters. Then he went home to Mount Lœng House alone. His mother greeted him warmly. Lily and Hillary were both there and hugged him fondly. He was glad of their friendship and their company. But he couldn’t help feeling dismayed that all the time he was away Marion was not even aware of it. Nor did she seem aware of his return. He tried not to feel disappointed as he resumed his place at her side and the long vigil that continued after his respite.