With the dousing of the fires on Ventura Minor, the nights were much cooler on Ventura IV. The hot days were easier to cope with after a good night’s sleep. In the foothills overlooking the plain, the guests of the Earth Federation Ambassador enjoyed to the full all the facilities the summer villa afforded. Every day the children got a little better at horse-riding while the adults relaxed in the shade with long cool drinks and even longer card games that kept them occupied. There was nothing else they needed or wanted to do. It was a pleasant leisure time.

“I have needed this,” Marion admitted, sitting on that veranda in the dusk of evening with Kristoph at her side, watching the stars brighten in the darkening sky. “We have had so many crises, so many things to worry about, lately. I am glad to have had this chance to relax and feel completely at peace.”

“I quite agree, my dear,” Kristoph admitted. “Alas it will be over all too soon. We must return to Gallifrey and I must face the ordeal of the Septima Sessions in the High Council.”

“You just don’t want to carry the Rod of Rassilon all that way in the grand procession,” Marion answered him with a laugh.

“That is true. Have you ever felt the weight of that thing?”

“No,” Marion told him. “I’m not allowed. Only the Lord High President is permitted to touch the Rod of Rassilon, or the Sash of Rassilon, the Coronet of Rassilon. Only the Lord High President may have his cocoa in the Great Mug of Rassilon.”

Kristoph laughed. He made jokes like that, too, though only when he was far away from the Capitol and the imposing grandeur of the Citadel. Making fun of Rassilon and the relics of his reign over the Time Lords of Gallifrey was tantamount to blasphemy.

“If the Premier Cardinal heard such things his head would explode,” he added. “He believes very firmly in the dignity of the Office of the Lord High President, and in the Legacy of Rassilon.”

“So do you,” Marion noted. “It all means so very much to you.”

“Yes, it does.”

“And yet, you would have given it all up to live on Earth with me.”

“Yes, I would.”

“I’m glad you didn’t have to. Even though the burdens of the Presidency fall upon me, too, some times and I feel pressed down by them, I am proud of all that you have achieved. My own… my very own Lord High President of the High Council of Gallifrey.”

“Yes, I know you are, my dear. But let us not worry about it all, yet. We do still have another week of our carefree holiday.”

“I really should try to do something more active for that week,” Marion admitted. “We have all been so very lazy, Rika, Margery and I. We have spent much of the time on this veranda being waited on by servants bringing snacks and cold drinks. I have become very good at several different Venturan card games. Rodan has completely put me to shame. She has used the time to become a consummate horse rider. Today she even tried to stand on the horse’s back the way she saw the circus girls do.”

“Did she manage it?” Kristoph asked.

“Not quite, and her trainer was not pleased. He said that young ladies of grace and accomplishment did not dance upon the backs of horses. I think she was a little disappointed. But he did show her the basics of dressage, which she thought was like teaching the horse to dance, so that was good enough.”

“I am sorry I missed that,” Kristoph said. “I was too busy filling in the multiple layered applications that would allow us to bring her horse back to Gallifrey. I had to describe the animal in detail. Can you imagine having to describe a horse in terms that a civil servant in the bowels of the Citadel, who has never set foot offworld and therefore never seen a horse, might understand!”

“Perhaps you should start a programme to allow civil servants an offworld sabbatical every decade or so, then they would better understand lifeforms beyond the confines of Gallifrey. But do you think the application would be accepted? Will we be able to bring the horse back for her? Lady Margery is more than happy to give the animal to her as a gift.”

“I think the paperwork will be processed by the time we’re ready to leave,” Kristoph promised. “I shall have to engage a riding tutor, too. Since so few people on Gallifrey even know what a horse is it goes without saying that there is nobody qualified to teach equestrian skills. It will have to be a Venturan teacher - which means I shall have to let the immigration department know I am bringing a foreign worker to our estate.”

“How very complicated it is,” Marion said.

“For very good reasons, of course,” Kristoph pointed out. “We must preserve our native animal species. It must be made very clear that we are bringing no more than one gelding that has no diseases that would affect domestic or wild animals on our world and will not be used to breed and increase the population of alien animals. And likewise the riding teacher must be engaged on the full understanding that he is doing a job no Gallifreyan can do.”

“It all sounds perfectly sensible when you say it like that.”

“It makes us sound unfriendly and insular, as if preserving the status quo on Gallifrey is the be all and end all of our existence. And sadly it is true for the most part. We are more open in the past few generations than we used to be, but only just. It isn’t so long ago that foreign marriages were forbidden. Not that any would be proposed because so few Gallifreyans left the Shining System and met other races, let alone contracted marriages with them.”

“Then you really SHOULD introduce those offworld sabbaticals,” Marion told him. “I don’t know why people as amazing as the Time Lords would want to hide themselves away behind the Transduction Barrier and never be involved with other races.”

“Because we are the Guardians of Causality, Wardens of Time, Keepers of the Matrix, with the secret of free travel in time and space at our fingertips and there are people out there who would lay waste to the Shining System to gain control of all of that,” Kristoph answered. It was the rather pompous but nonetheless true reason why Gallifrey was such a difficult place to come from and even harder to go back to.

But he had become more earnest than he intended. He stood up from his easy seat under the veranda and reached out his hand to his wife. She slipped a silk shawl around her shoulders and came with him. They walked in the fragrant gardens of the villa under the grey light of Ventura Minor. The planet was a long way from recovering from the conflagration that had engulfed it. The light it reflected was strange, but Marion didn’t find it as sinister as she expected. Knowing the part Kristoph had played in saving both planets made it easier to look at it.

“All the poems I know talk of being under a silver moon,” Marion said. “One or two Gallifreyan ones speak of Pazithi Gallifreya in her copper aspect. I have never taken a romantic walk under a grey moon before.”

“I don’t think anyone will think of writing a poem about it,” Kristoph admitted. “You should try the saga of Agrai X. That has twenty-five moons. Their movements in the sky are plotted the way astrologers on your world plot the stars and predictions are made about children born under certain combinations of waxing or waning moons. It is considered very lucky to be born when all twenty-five moons are full. But that happens on only one night every seventy eight years.”

“Is there bad luck when all the moons are dark?” Marion asked.

“For travellers, perhaps,” Kristoph replied. “That would be an unusually dark night. Agrains are so used to having strong moonlight at all times that they have no night vision at all.”

Marion looked up at the night sky of Ventura, at constellations of stars that were less familiar to her than those on Earth or those on Gallifrey, but nonetheless a comforting sight. She could see Gallifrey’s sun as a bright yellow-red star in the low south-eastern horizon. Earth’s sun was not visible from here. It was obscured by the mountains. But she knew it was there. She knew that one of the more distant stars directly overhead was the one that warmed the planets of the Haollstrom system where her friend Hillary lived. Indeed, there were many stars that were visible from the foothills of Ventura that gave light and heat to planets she had visited.

“Less than a handful of men and woman from my world have even left Earth’s atmosphere in space ships in my own time. And here I am, counting the stars whose planets I have stood upon. I am so very lucky.”

“I have taken the ability to reach those stars for granted,” Kristoph admitted. “In my younger days, of course, I visited many of them for less pleasant reasons.” He glanced just once towards the south-west. He knew that one of those stars was orbited by the planet called Sarre where he had been a prisoner of war, tortured daily for so long he almost forgot that there were other ways to live. He pushed that thought from his mind and found other stars with pleasanter memories for him. “Being an assassin for the Celestial Intervention Agency I was never supposed to ‘enjoy’ the new worlds I went to. But at the same time it was necessary to explore and understand those worlds in order to move inconspicuously and stalk my quarry efficiently. I did a fair amount of tourism by default. That’s Xian Xien’s star up there, its light bent by the gravitational influence of Ventura Minor. I have visited there as an assassin and as a diplomat.”

“I liked Xian Xien when we visited together,” Marion said. “The spice markets and the silk merchants were wonderful. And that afternoon in the Mandarin’s court, listening to music, you playing Mah-jongg with the Mandarin and Rosanda and I learning to paint on silk panels with his wife. Then that great banquet in the evening with a whole roast pig on a silver platter nearly ten foot long.”

“There was more than one roast pig, as I recall,” Kristoph answered. “The banquet served nearly two hundred people and went on until dawn.”

“Yes, I remember the dawn,” Marion recalled. “I was still awake. We left the banqueting hall and walked in the contemplation garden together, watching the sun come up.”

“We’ve watched the sun come up on so many planets.”

“The night you first kissed me, when we declared our love for each other,” Marion remembered, “We watched the sun come up from the East Cliff in Whitby.”

“Before we left Earth to live on Gallifrey we watched it go down on the beach at Tywyn,” Kristoph reminded her.

“The night we were married, you made love to me for the first time in the light of the moon of Gallifrey.”

“Sunsets and sunrises, and between them, skies filled with stars and moons. They have defined our lives,” Kristoph said. “There must be something in that astrology stuff after all, I think.”

“Perhaps,” Marion answered. She knew that Kristoph was going to kiss her soon, under the stars and the planet-moon of Ventura. She knew it would be as wonderful as the first kiss they shared under the stars of Earth’s northern hemisphere.

Nobody was ever going to write poetry about two lovers under a grey-brown scorched moon, but she thought it was a great pity.

Somebody ought to.