The Singing Mountains of Halara were renowned throughout the galaxies. So renowned that visitors were restricted to prevent damage of the ecosystem. A special pass was needed to travel to the area, and then only by solar-powered hover craft that caused no noise and were especially stream-lined to prevent any unnecessary disturbance to the air.

The visiting Lord High President of Gallifrey and his First Lady and daughter were, of course, allowed a pass. They were accompanied by the First Prime of Halara along with his first and second wives and a group of Halaran citizens who had won the twice-annual lottery to be permitted to join the privileged group.

Marion thoroughly approved of that idea. When she heard about the special passes she thought that they were exclusively reserved for those who could afford them. She disliked the idea that there was a great national treasure that only the rich and powerful were allowed to enjoy.

But the lottery seemed a fair way of ensuring that ordinary people were given the chance to visit the mountains, too.

Ordinary people on Halara, of course, would have seemed extra-ordinary to her before she travelled in space with Kristoph. Their bodies beneath silk clothes worn out of custom rather than need to warm themselves were covered in a soft, pale cream fur, except on their faces where they had cream-coloured skin. They had curling horns either side of their heads like goats. Their legs were cloven and their hands had two large fingers and a thumb. They had long, thin velvety tails that they curled around onto their laps when they sat on chairs and held high above their heads when they walked. Length of tail was a sign of good health and males with particularly fine ones were sure to attract at least one wife at the mating time.

Of course, Marion found herself sitting with the two wives of the First Prime on the journey. They were pleasant company. The First Wife, Bri, was adept at playing a hand held instrument called a ‘Ture’ which looked like a very small harp and produced a sweet, clear sound. The Second Wife, Xana, sang along as the First played and the whole company enjoyed the music.

“The Singing Mountains inspire the songs that we have,” Xana explained to Marion. “There are tiny microphones placed carefully around the mountains and the songs are broadcast continuously on a special aural channel to anyone who wishes to listen. But there is nothing like hearing them first hand. This is only my second time visiting the Mountains. I am excited. ”

“It is my eighth time,” Bri admitted. “But every time is different. The experience is wonderful. You are fortunate to be invited. Even for important visitors this is not always guaranteed.”

“We are honoured,” Marion agreed. She looked out of the window and saw a very beautiful landscape below and in front of the hovercraft. They were flying above what looked very much like the southern plain of Gallifrey in winter, but what she was looking at was not snow, but the Great Hallow Slough, a vast expanse of flowering grass. The grass itself was very pale green and grew to a height of three feet without cultivation. The tightly budded flowers that grew in summer were pure white.

The Great Hallow Slough was a protected area of five hundred square miles upon which it was forbidden to bring any motorised vehicle. There were a few hundred acres around the edge where flower cutters were allowed once a year to gather blooms by hand, placing them in baskets on their backs. These produced one of the rarest perfumes in the galaxy. Marion had been presented with a very tiny bottle of it, no more than an inch wide, as a measure of Kristoph’s importance as a visiting dignitary. The scent was a little like lily of the valley but with a slightly citrus tang. She was wearing a little of it now and she imagined what it must be like to walk through the flowers themselves, the touch of her hand bruising the petals and releasing the delightful smell.

But to do so without permission was an act of Treason. How strange to think that such an innocent action as that was forbidden on this planet. Yet it was not a tyrannical place. The Halaran people were happy. These rules were for the protection of a unique and beautiful natural treasure. It was just like the restrictions the High Council put on visiting the Cadenflood or the efforts made to keep too many tourists out of Tutankhamen’s Tomb in Egypt. It was quite right that they should do so.

The mountains were white, too. At least halfway up the sides of the peaks that rose up from the plain the hallow grass continued. Then it met the snow line. This was literally true, Marion had learnt. The flowers ended and the snow began in a distinct line of demarcation. From a distance, though, it was impossible to see it. The flowers and the snow were the same pure, dazzling white.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “Very beautiful. No wonder you want to preserve it just as it is.”

“It is our greatest treasure,” Bri answered with obvious pride.

The closer they got to the mountains the more lovely they appeared. The peaks resolved into sharper detail against the sky. It was almost possible to detect where the demarcation between flowers and snow was. What appeared to be a simple peak was revealed to have crags and overhangs and rugged outcrops.

And they shimmered. At first Marion thought that was the movement of the hovercraft, but then she realised that the mountains themselves were iridescent, giving off a soft glow.

“It is visible sound,” Bri explained. “The mountains are singing. The vibration produces a visible field for more than two metres from the surface.”

“Amazing,” Marion answered, feeling as if that was a wholly inadequate description of this marvel.

The hovercraft finally came to a halt. The passengers waited until the airlock was connected with the special transport that would take them up among the peaks to hear the singing at its best.

This was a huge half bubble. The floor was flat and translucent white, with silk cushions for passengers to sit upon and the walls and ceiling were a bubble that was seamless once the door was closed. It began to rise slowly. It was Xana who explained that the bubble rose on anti-gravity cushions. It was designed to create almost no resistance as it cut through the air. Nothing could disturb the music of the mountains.

And it was very beautiful music. Marion heard it as the bubble descended. It was haunting like pan pipes, sweet like flute music, and on the very edge of her hearing she thought she could even hear choral voices, though that was, she was assured, merely an illusion.

The music was created by the movement of air through thousands of tunnels and caves that nature had cut through the mountains over the passage of millennia. In effect, the mountains were huge pan pipes, gigantic flutes, continually playing their songs.

“It is believed that the sequences of notes never repeat themselves,” Bri said. “Many of our scientists have listened, and measured, and they can find no evidence of repetition. Each song is new, every minute of every day.”

“I can believe it,” Marion answered. She was finding the music quite entrancing. She closed her eyes and let the beautiful sound completely entrance her without any visual distraction.

And entrance her it did. She let herself be drawn into the music even more completely than when she listened to a piece of classical music, a ballet or opera. This was purer and more perfect even than the very best music composed by a sentient lifeform.

Nobody else spoke around her. The political talk between the men was silenced. Bri and Xana who had been happy to explain everything to Marion before now were silent. The other guests were quiet, awed by the wonder of it all.

The glorious thing was that they could stay as long as they could possibly want to stay. Minutes passed, hours, and the music continued to colour the daydreams of all within hearing. Nobody wanted to move, nobody wanted to leave the sound of the singing mountains behind. It was just too lovely.

Nobody even wanted or needed food or drink. The music of the mountains filled every bodily and spiritual need.

“Marion?” She felt Kristoph’s hand on her cheek and his voice whispering in her ear and opened her eyes. She was aware of movement. The bubble was descending. The visit to the singing mountains was over.

Marion felt almost grief-stricken to know it was time to go. She wasn’t sure how many hours had passed, but they didn’t seem enough. She wanted to stay.

“Everyone feels like that, I am told,” Kristoph said to her. “It wears off. By the time we get back to the palace it will just feel like we had a really wonderful outing.”

“I wish I could go again tomorrow,” she said. “Oh, what a shame it must be for those people with their lottery invitation, knowing they may never get the chance again in their lifetime. How bereft they must feel.”

“How honoured they feel to have had the one chance,” Kristoph assured her. She felt his hand in hers, comforting her, reminding her that there were compensations for being taken away from the mountains.

And he was right, of course. By the time the hovercraft was speeding away she stopped feeling so forlorn. She smiled and talked happily, remembering what had been such a very pleasant and unique experience. She enjoyed the sunset over the capital city, especially the golden light striking off the domed roof of the palace where they were the honoured guests of the First Prime.

But the music stuck in her head all the time, and she was humming it as she got ready for bed in the sumptuous rooms given over to the Lord High President of Gallifrey and his First Lady. Kristoph smiled to hear her and reached to turn on the audio machine that relayed the music to the city.

“It’s not quite the same,” he admitted. “The notes are not quite so pure, and I think we shall keep the volume muted, but you may listen to the mountains all night if you wish, my dear.”

Marion smiled gratefully to him. It was true, the music was not so pure through what was merely an electronic transducer that turned the signals back to sound. She was not quite so fully captivated by it. But as far as Kristoph was concerned that was all very well. She still kept some of her thoughts for him as he invited her to join him in the huge, wide, four poster bed with silk hangings all around where he intended to make love to her while she listened to the music of the mountains.

That was an experience she would treasure, too. There was enough of the music’s magic to enhance the passion she enjoyed in Kristoph’s love-making. Afterwards she slept contentedly in his arms with the same beautiful sounds to lull her.

She had been asleep for two hours or more when she woke with a very different sensation in her heart than contentment. She felt worried and agitated, and so did the music. The mountains were singing a very different song, one of pain and horror. Kristoph was already out of bed, looking through the huge arched window of their chamber at something in the distance. He turned when he saw her climbing out of bed, gathering a silk sheet around her.

“Something is wrong,” he said, though needlessly. That much was clear. “The mountains… at least one of them is on fire.”

“What do you think has happened?” she asked. Kristoph went to turn the sound off and Marion felt relieved. The sorrowful noise was affecting her more than she realised. But the sight of the distant peaks glowing in the night was disturbing, too. What was the cause? Was it volcanic activity, was it a beacon of warning?

“I’m going to find out,” Kristoph said, reaching for his clothes. “I will take the First Prime and anyone else he sees fit in the TARDIS. The disturbance it would cause cannot be an issue now.”

Marion nodded. Kristoph was a visiting dignitary, but he was also a man of action and there was no keeping him from investigating the disaster that had come upon the Singing Mountains.