However many beautiful planets she visited, Marion was sure she would never tire of new places or forget to be awed by some of the sights she got to see as the wife of a Time Lord. Lurukia, a trade ally with Gallifrey in the Antares quadrant was one of the places that reminded her of just how lucky she was to have such wonderful experiences.

Anyone who wasn’t awed by the ice portal of Lurukia would have to be very universe-weary, indeed. It wasn’t just beautiful it was also a phenomena in itself. Lurukia was a tropical planet with two suns at ninety degrees to each other ensuring that it was always balmy summer with ambient temperatures day and night at all parts of the sphere. The fact that such a huge remnant of glacier existed at all baffled scientists, never mind the fact that it never thawed, never changed, and followed a chartable and measurable course through the western ocean.

At the Agris of Venn, a date approximating to New Year in calendars where a year was measured in days, the ice portal was directly in the path of the rising western sun, and a whole series of rituals and rites had grown around it. The most important was the crowning of the boy-king.

Just being there on the floating VIP viewing platform or on one of the many small boats that moored together in the dark and waited for the first light of dawn was exciting. Even an hour before dawn there was light enough in the sky to see by. Quite apart from the stars there was a huge planetary moon that glowed with reflected light. Lurukia Vec was a twin planet in complimentary orbit, and filled a huge portion of the sky by day or by night. It illuminated the calm green-blue sea that stretched to the horizon, and cast a white light on the ice portal, making it slightly translucent like a huge night light in the sea.

It was hard to tell the true dimensions of the portal by looking at it, but the guide who had escorted the visiting Lord High President of Gallifrey and his family told them the iceberg itself was half a mile wide and as tall again, with three times that much ice below the waterline. The portal – the irregular hole through the ice with an ximpossibly fragile looking ‘bridge’ over it was a quarter of a mile in diameter at its widest point and the bridge itself was wide enough to drive a water truck across if such a sacrilege was not prohibited.

The moonlight illuminated three moving shapes in the water in front of the portal. They were mere dark silhouettes, but easily recognisable as western nargreel, a fish not unlike a shark in Earth oceans, but far less aggressive. They behaved much as dolphins were known to behave around sea travellers, swimming close to the boats and leaping out of the water in complicated dances that Lurukian scientists interpreted as greetings to strangers.

“I wish I could ride on their backs,” Rodan sighed wistfully. Marion smiled. Every creature Rodan saw, just lately, was judged as something she could ride or not.

“Domesticated nagreel can be ridden,” the guide said. “I am sure a visit to a sea-stable could be arranged. But nobody would ever think of saddling the wild ones.”

“That’s all right,” Rodan said. “I like to ride bareback. The guide looked worried, as if the visitor child might dive into the water and join the creatures. It was, of course, against the law to interfere with them. But Rodan was just daydreaming. She had no intention of really doing anything so naughty. She sat beside her foster mother and father and watched the stars dim and the planet-moon take on a more and more translucent shade as the first light of morning spread before the sunrise itself.

She very much envied one child, though. He was seated in a special boat anchored close to the portal. He was, as far as any such judgement could be made when speaking of other races, about her own age. He was certainly no taller than she was when standing on dry land. In the water, of course, his legs melded into the fish tail that gave the Lurukians the name of ‘mermaids of the galaxy’ and that added another foot of length to his body. But length and height were two different things, as Rodan would gladly point out.

The boy was wearing a long silvery robe that disguised either feet or tail and a crown upon his head. By his side sat another boy, wearing a similar robe but without a crown.

“The one with the crown is last year’s boy-king,” Rodan whispered to herself. “The other one is the new king who will be crowned at dawn.”

The sky was lightening by the minute. Now the planet-moon took on the same shade of pale blue as the morning sky except around the edges, making it look like a globe of glass hanging there with the sky visible through it. Of course, that was just an illusion. The blue colour of planet and sky was the result of light waves of shorter and longer lengths hitting the atmosphere. The clouds that looked as if they were floating behind the planet were in fact in front of it.

Rodan knew all of that, of course. She had already done that much elementary physics. But she had also spent plenty of time with Marion reading stories about worlds inside wardrobes and many other such wondrous ideas. She had imagination enough to think of a planet made of glass hanging in the sky like an ornament.

But now the western sun was rising. The opaque ice of the portal was turned blue with a pink glow on all of its countless facets and then the sun slowly climbed above the horizon until it fitted into the irregular portal and spilled golden light through it. The first rays fell upon the boat carrying the boy-kings and as they were bathed in that magnificent glow the crown was passed from one to the other. The crowd cheered as their new boy-king stood and faced them before facing the morning light. The boat was rowed towards the portal where steps were cut into the ice. He climbed to the portal itself and stood there, a small silhouette against the majesty of nature itself. The former king stepped up onto the portal and knelt before him to receive a blessing or an honour in the form of a touch of his hand upon his head. The former king then turned and dived gracefully into the water, swimming with his long tail and webbed hands.

The new boy-king stayed within the portal and now the boats that had kept a respectful distance moved closer. The ordinary people climbed the steps in their turn and knelt briefly before the king before diving into the water and swimming away. The nagreel swam with them, leaping up out of the sea and splashing down joyfully.

“I hope we’re not expected to swim, too,” Marion said when the viewing raft drew close to allow the VIPs and government ministers to pay homage to the boy king. She smoothed down the skirt of her velvet gown meaningfully. “I am not dressed for that.”

“Nor am I,” Kristoph answered. He was in a deep red and gold robe with the Gallifreyan presidential seal on the fastenings. It was heavy, embroidered fabric that was never meant to touch salt water. Rodan was wearing a long gown of a Gallifreyan Ambassador’s child and certainly wasn’t going swimming, either, no matter how much she wanted to.

She led the way up the steps. Children and commoners preceded even the most important adults in paying homage to the boy-king. She climbed carefully, though the ice steps were surprisingly un-slippery and easy to manage. At the top she paused for a moment before stepping forward and making a very fine curtsey taught to her by the protocol officer of the Gallifreyan Embassy. The boy-king laid his hand on her head for a moment and spoke a few words in ancient Lurukian before she rose. She waited for Marion to make her own curtsey and for Kristoph to bow deeply. He was a Lord High President. He did not kneel for anyone, and nor did his wife.

When it was done they descended a second set of steps on the other side of the portal and were received in a boat set there for the ministers and dignitaries. Swimming was only for the common people.

The sun was fully up by the time they returned to the raft. The planet-moon still looked like a translucent globe but in a much paler sky. They joined the ministers of government in a breakfast of bread and fruit eaten sitting on the raft floor, but otherwise with all of the dignity of every diplomatic function Marion had attended since she became Kristoph’s lady.

“Do you know that the boy-king is an ordinary boy,” Rodan said to her foster parents.

“Kings generally do start out that way,” Kristoph answered. “It is mostly careful costume and etiquette.”

“I mean that he comes from an ordinary family. His father is a fisherman and his mother a basket-maker. The new boy-king is chosen every year by a….” Rodan searched for the word. They didn’t have such things on Gallifrey. “A lottery. A ticket is pulled from a box and his name is read out to the people. And then he is the king-in-making until he is crowned. He lives in luxury for a year before giving the crown over to the next boy-king.”

“It sounds like an excellent way of choosing a leader,” Kristoph told her. “Would that I had only a year of duties before handing on the mantle to another chosen so randomly.”

He was joking, of course. He took his duties as Lord High President seriously and knew it would take many years of his leadership to effect the changes he most dearly wanted to see implemented for the good of all Gallifrey.

“Surely the boy-king is just a figurehead leader, anyway,” Marion pointed out. “With no executive powers.”

“No, madam,” said the Minister for Visitors who had invited them to the ceremony. “His signature is the final endorsement of every Act passed by the Lurukian parliament, and he has the right of veto. The boy-king carries the will of the people to the government. If the people, embodied by him, do not wish a law to be made, then it is not made.”

“Now THAT is what I call constitutional monarchy,” Kristoph said with a wide smile. “A true example of democracy. I should recommend it to the High Council. Young Rodan has brighter ideas than most of them on any given day. It could only be for the better government of us all.”

Just then Rodan, who was a little bored by the etiquette of the diplomatic breakfast, proved that she did, indeed, have ideas. She pulled off her gown and left it on the raft before diving into the water in her silk petticoat and underwear. She swam out strongly to join the Lurukian children, including the former boy-king, in the watery fun they were having. She was delighted when a wild nagreel swam close enough for her to stroke its glistening dorsal fin.

“You see,” Kristoph added. “She has the very best ideas.”

“Yes, she does,” Marion answered. “But you can remember your dignity and stay put. Apart from anything else I am well aware of what a Time Lord does or does not wear beneath his robes and you don’t want to scare the nagreel, to say nothing of scandalising the Premier Cardinal.”

Kristoph smiled and ‘stayed put’, watching his foster child swimming alongside the former boy-king – a child like herself, from ordinary, humble stock, who had embodied the will of his people for a year.

He still thought that was a very excellent example of democracy.