Kristoph de Lœngbærrow was a man of his word, whether he gave it to a fellow politician or to a child. So when he promised Rodan that they would go to the circus, that was exactly what they did.

There was no need for any Time Lord manipulation to fulfil that promise. They didn’t even need the TARDIS. They travelled the thirty kilometres to the small town of Niort, nestled in a curve of the Sèvre Niortaise river, by a hired Peugot 404. The squat white walls of the Donjon de Niort, a medieval castle in surprisingly strong shape, and the steeples of the church dominated the landscape as they approached in the summer sunshine. The colourful big top of the travelling circus pitched on a riverside meadow in sight of the castle came into view as they drove along the Quai de la Préfecture. Rodan gurgled with excitement. Marion shared her joy. She hadn’t been to a circus since she was as child herself.

“I’m not sure I understand the concept,” Lord de Lœngbærrow senior commented. “But if it makes the child happy, I am sure it is all right.”

“I am sure we will,” Aineytta answered him. She had never been to a circus, either, but she knew about acrobats and performers. Such people came from the same Caretaker stock as she did and made their money entertaining their ‘betters’.

The approach to the big top along the riverside was a glorious melange of smells and sounds. There was mechanical music coming from a calliope somewhere. A Ferris wheel was erected next to the circus tent for the amusement of visitors before the performance. There were several booths selling sticky and unhealthy but surprisingly tempting food. Rodan asked politely if she might have some candy floss. Aineytta was so surprised by the spun sugar puffs of confection that she asked if she might have some, too. She was several thousand years old, but this was a new experience for her and one she found pleasing. Her husband tasted a little of it and immediately analysed the ingredients – sugar and a natural food colouring.

“Father,” Kristoph said with a soft laugh. “Candy floss is no mystery to be unravelled. It is just a brief sensory pleasure.”

“I prefer sensory pleasures that last longer,” his father answered. He smiled indulgently at Rodan eating a stick of candy floss so big that it hid her face from view. When she emerged from it at last her lips and tongue were a brighter pink and she was smiling widely. Marion wiped the stickiness from her hands and disposed of the stick before they headed for the big top.

A man wearing stilt trousers towered above them at the entrance. Rodan looked up at him a little fearfully then broke into laughter when he bowed at the waist and took off his hat to her. Marion held her hand tightly as they joined the queue for tickets. She noted with a strange satisfaction that it was necessary to do so. On Gallifrey, or anywhere they visited as Lord and Lady de Lœngbærrow, President and First Lady, they would have been escorted to the best seats. But here, they were ordinary people having an afternoon at the circus.

The seats were near the ringside, but for all that, perfectly ordinary, being made of planks bolted together to make a tier where everyone would see perfectly. They sat and watched as the audience swelled to nearly full capacity, the French voices of excited and curious children and their parents rising to an electrifying level before at last the electric lamps around the seats dimmed and a spotlight turned on the middle of the ring. A man in colourful ringmaster clothes cracked a long whip as the audience quietened and the band struck up a jaunty tune to herald the opening parade.

From then on, Rodan was entranced. She had hoped to see jugglers. She hadn’t expected clowns in a comical car, dancing horses, or an elephant parading before her - to say nothing of girls in spangly costumes and acrobats.

And if the parade was surprising that was nothing to the individual performances, all announced by that magnificent ringmaster. The first half of the show began with twenty-four white horses with plumes on their heads who cantered around the ring while twenty-four girls dressed as ballerinas danced on their backs. Rodan leaned forward in her seat and watched with the same rapt attention she had done when Kristoph and Marion had taken her to see the Nutcracker performed in London in 1898. She loved to watch ballet.

Rodan laughed when the clowns came along, without their car, but all of them wearing coloured tutus and riding hobby horses as they danced around to a parody of the music from the horse ballet. While they were doing that, a black curtain had been drawn around the preparations going on in the middle of the ring, and Rodan’s eyes opened like saucers when the curtain was dropped to reveal a cage with a huge lion and three lionesses inside. She had never seen an Earth lion except in pictures or film. She had never even been this close of one of the leonates of the great southern plain she was born on, and they were half the size of a sleek, beautiful African lion like the male of this captive bred pride. When the ringmaster stepped into the cage to show his daring and his command of the great creatures she was astonished.

“Courageous fellow,” the elder Lord de Lœngbærrow murmured. “My father knew a man who had his leg bitten through by a leonate. Wouldn’t want to get that close myself.”

“Nor I,” Kristoph agreed with him. He was studying the animals carefully. There was no sign that they were drugged or had their claws or teeth removed, or any such trickery. The ringmaster clearly did have command of them.

“I’ve never properly seen a lion act,” Marion whispered. “By my time they had banned animal acts from circuses. This is….”

Of course she disliked cruelty to animals and fully understood why that change had come upon the circuses of her lifetime. But even so the horses had been magnificent and the lions were thrilling to see. She felt no qualm about watching except a slight apprehension for the ringmaster if he should misjudge the mood of the golden-maned male or the three sleek and quick-witted lionesses.

“I think he’ll be able to look after himself,” Kristoph told her with a certainty that made her curious. He didn’t explain. The lion act was over. The clowns ran on again while the cage was dismantled, and then the jugglers and acrobats took to the ring. For the full fifteen minutes of their performance Rodan was rapt again, hardly knowing where to look as men in gold and red leotards formed Human pyramids and tumbled this way and that while the jugglers in singles and in pairs tossed lit torches in the air or to each other. This was a step far above the coloured balls of the juggler who had held her attention in the place de Bancs yesterday, and very much to her liking.

As the acrobats ran out, there was a trumpet solo from the band and an answering sound from the four African elephants who entered the ring, each accompanied by a man dressed as a raja or a woman dressed as an Indian princess, though all were European of features. The elephants reached out their trunks on cue and lifted their richly dressed handlers by the waists, placing them on their backs just behind their heads. As the elephants walked in a circle the men proceeded to stand with legs wide and steady while the girls rode side-saddle and waved to the audience.

The clowns came on in their wake, behaving comically over a bucket that had been left beside the ring. They conveyed by their gestures that the contained ‘something’ the elephants left behind, but when it was finally tipped over the head of the smallest clown it turned out to be silver confetti. Rodan almost fell off her seat with laughter and was still giggling when the Ringmaster told them it was the interval.

“Take our fosterling to buy a toffee apple and some lemonade,” Kristoph told Marion and Aineytta. I’m just going to take a stroll around this place. I’ll be back in time for the second half.”

Marion wondered what he meant by that, but didn’t worry too much. She and Aineytta went to buy toffee apples for everyone as well as cold drinks in bottles with straws in them. Marion also bought Rodan a toy that she held onto from the moment it was presented to her. It was a plastic clown painted in bright colours. His hands were raised and he held a circle of wire up over his head. When a button was pressed in his side coloured beads sprang from one side of the wire to the other.

“J'ai mon propre jongleur, maintenant,” Rodan said in utter delight. It was a simple toy for a child who was already advanced in her education and was being groomed for the day, only two years away, when she would face the Untempered Schism, but she thought it was wonderful.

“Toffee apples and lemonade seem strange things for an Oldblood of Gallifrey to eat and drink,” the elder Lord de Lœngbærrow commented as he was given his interval treat. He bit into the red coloured toffee and appreciated the sweet taste and the acidic sourness of the apple beneath without analysing either. He washed it down with lemonade.

Kristoph returned to his seat just as the music was starting up again and was still eating his toffee apple and lemonade, a feast that would make the Premier Cardinal protest about the dignity of the Presidency when the clowns emerged from the stage entrance once again. This time they brought their ludicrously painted car and drove it twice around the ring before it fell to pieces, leaving them with nothing but a seat and a steering wheel. They then announced that they had a new car and that they wanted a volunteer to test drive it. The new car was a pedal car just about big enough for the dwarf clown and one child to sit in side by side. He looked around the audience and then fixed upon Rodan as the volunteer. Marion was concerned at first. After all, yesterday she had been snatched away by a misguided woman who had caused them all anxiety.

“It will be perfectly all right,” Kristoph assured her. And it was. Rodan enjoyed being the star of the show for a brief time, even when it went through a ‘car wash’ which showered her with more of that glittering confetti. She came back to her seat after that with a box of chocolates for her reward and a broad smile on her face.

While all that madness had been going on the net was set up beneath the flying trapeze. The ringmaster proudly announced the famous family of trapeze artistes, father, son, and two daughters who all wore bright, spangled costumes and climbed nimbly to the equipment near the roof of the tent. Rodan watched open mouthed as they flew from one trapeze to the other, flinging each other around in mid-air, always certain of each other’s skill.

The jugglers and acrobats took to the ring again next, keeping to the edge while work was going on in the centre behind the black curtain. Finally, the ringmaster announced that the finale was upon them. He thanked the audience for coming to their humble performance and gave the command for the curtain to drop. The audience gasped in surprise and applauded. In the middle of the ring was a Human fountain, revolving slowly on a carousel as girls and men in white body suits posed and water poured between them into a pool. Four of the horses and ballerinas came back into the ring and went around twice before standing to attention at the points of the compass then the four elephants knelt with their handlers between them. The lights were dimmed so that the fire jugglers who took their place on the carousel were seen to full effect, and the tableux was finished with the trapeze people flying around the ring on long ropes that they turned somersaults upon.

Then the lights went out and the ringmaster’s voice was heard in the darkness thanking the audience once again and wishing them a safe journey home.

Kristoph lifted Rodan into his arms and carried her to the car. Now the excitement was over she was quite exhausted. She clung to her juggling clown doll as he settled her on the back seat with Marion and Aineytta either side. His father sat in the front passenger seat and they set off home to Parthenay.

“That ringmaster,” Kristoph said quite out of the blue as they all turned their thoughts to a large pork pie and salad that was prepared for their meal when they reached their holiday home. “One of ours, you know.”

“One of what?” Marion asked, not quite following.

“A Time Lord.”

“Really?” the elder Lord de Lœngbærrow expressed his surprise. “What is the likelihood of that, then?”

“I’ve met that one before in an unlikely spot,” Kristoph added. “He’s one of the best, though not one who is ever likely to be lauded in our social circles - a little too much of the individual for that. He’s been exploring Earth for a few decades now. He spent some time in India, then came to Europe, took up with the circus.”

“Is he of Caretaker stock?” Aineytta asked.

“No, he was born the son of an Oldblood House,” Kristoph answered. “Though he doesn’t use that name any more. No, he’s not a renegade - just a man for whom one world is not quite big enough. I wished him well and assured him his family were all well, though they will not need to know that I have met him.”

“It is a coincidence, though, that we should meet a Time Lord here on Earth, in France,” Marion commented. “A million to one, at least. A billion, even.”

“Well, in this universe, don’t you know, my dear, billion to once chances happen nine times out of ten.”

Everyone laughed as he intended them to do. He spared another thought for the Time Lord who had left his own name behind and was content, for now, at least, to be ringmaster of a French travelling circus.