Rodan Mielles sat by herself in a place full of other children her own age. She knew some of them. They came from the village on the de Lœngbærrow estate, her social peers.

Others she didn’t know. They were the children of the Oldbloods and Newbloods who would never think of socialising with Caretakers.

Either way, she sat apart from them. She was a Caretaker by birth, but she had not been educated at the village school. Private tutors had prepared her for this day. She had been mentored by Lord de Lœngbærrow himself.

She was the foster child of the Lord High President, giving her privilege beyond even the aristocrats here in the preparation tent. She had travelled further and seen more wonders at the age of eight than many of them would ever see. But she was still a Caretaker by birth, and the Oldblood children barely looked at her.

And the Caretaker children were too much in awe of her to come and talk. They huddled together, reassuring each other and avoiding the contemptuous gaze of their social superiors.

Rodan didn’t need reassuring. On SangC'lune, the last wonderful planet she had visited, she had taken part in a rarely performed ritual that proved her fitness to face the Untempered Schism. She had been told by the spirits of great Time Lords long dead that she was ready to be a Candidate.

She didn’t worry about the rumours that circulated, gossip about how terrifying the schism was, how some children were so scared of it that they ran away in terror, how some were so unsuited for candidacy that the Schism itself seared their minds and left them catatonic.

There was even a rumour that some never came back at all, that the Schism destroyed the truly unworthy, judging them unfit to live.

The Oldblood children were fond of that one, and if they spoke to the Caretakers at all it was to pass on the view that THEY were the unworthy ones.

Some of them were scared. Rodan could feel their fear like a physical thing. She knew she needed to talk to them.

She was nervous about breaking the ice with them, but if she had learnt anything from being the foster child of Lord de Lœngbærrow and his wife, it was to be brave in the face of adversity.

She stepped towards the group of Caretakers. They moved to make a place for her among them. She sat quietly and looked at their faces before speaking.

“It isn’t true, what they’re saying,” she whispered. “You’re all just as worthy as they are. You’re all born on Gallifrey. You’ve breathed the same air as they have, and prepared just as hard to face the Schism and become candidates.”

“Are you sure?” asked one of the boys.

“Yes, I’m sure,” she answered. “Very sure. Because I was scared, too, but I was prepared in a special way.”

She constructed a mental wall as her foster father had taught her, letting only the group around her see what she had to show them, then she remembered vividly the ceremony in the temple on SangC'lune. The words she had used to the Caretakers were the same words told to her by the spirit of Chrístõ Mallõup de Lœngbærrow.

“We are all worthy,” she assured them once again.

This time they believed her. The vision she had shared fully convinced them.

“We are ALL worthy,” they whispered.

She nodded in satisfaction and looked around. She was the only other child who noticed one youngster leave the tent. She was the only one who felt that he, too, was filled with doubts and fears that he could not share with his peers.

She left the Caretaker group and slipped out after him. She found the boy hiding behind the second huge tent where the mentors were gathered ready to take their candidates to the Schism.

“That’s really no use as a hiding place,” she told him. “All anyone has to do is come around this corner.”

“I’m not hiding, I’m waiting,” the boy answered. “My father is in there.”

A lot of fathers were in the mentor’s tent. It was a matter of pride for aristocratic men to accompany their sons and daughters to the Schism.

“What is your name?” Rodan asked. “I’m Rodan Mielles.”

“A Caretaker?”

“No,” she answered. “Not really. I know you’re an Oldblood. Your hair is too long for a worker, and you are wearing a gold earring. You must be from one of the Twelve Ancient families. Only they go in for that sort of adornment.”

“I am Breissal Arcalian, third son of the Lord Auconia Arcalian,” the boy answered. “The earring symbolises my birthright – as one of a noble line reaching back to Rassilon himself – may He Live in Eternity.”

Rodan was familiar with the noble lines. She had studied them in the library of Mount Lœng House. She knew that Auconia Arcalian was half brother to the patriarch of that family, a scion who made his own fortune in the intergalactic diamond trade. That man’s son was only very loosely a direct descendent of one of Lord Rassilon’s twelve sons.

But Oldblood conceit was not to be shaken by pointing out that sort of detail.

“Your noble line won’t be very proud of YOU if you chicken out of going to the Schism,” Rodan pointed out.

“Chicken out?” Breissal was puzzled by the expression. “What is a chicken?”

“It is a bird that doesn’t have much of a reputation for courage,” Rodan answered. “The expression is from Earth. It means to run away from a difficult situation. You’re scared. The others have been talking about what happens when the Schism rejects a candidate and you think it will happen to you.”

“No,” Breissal responded quickly – too quickly.

“Lying is not very noble, either. You ARE scared. There’s no need to be. Don’t you realise that they’re doing it to make fun of you. They know you have doubts. The third son of an Oldblood house is almost as poor as a Caretaker, no matter how many gold earrings he has. Everyone knows that. They’re all looking down on you, aren't they?”

The boy turned his face away from her, but she had put her finger directly on the problem.

“I don’t belong anywhere, either,” she said. “I was born a Caretaker, but I am the foster child of Lord de Lœngbærrow. I’m too grand for the children of artisans and too common for the sons and daughters of aristocrats. I probably should be sorry about that. The kindness of his Lordship and his wife has done a cruelty of a sort to me. But I’m not. I cherish their love. I am grateful for the opportunities they have given me, the travels I have enjoyed and many wonderful experiences. I will never be unhappy about that. And I will face the Untempered Schism with the honour of my foster father’s line and the pride of my Caretaker blood.”

Breissal stared at her as she spoke at such length. Even among his aristocratic peers, about to face the first great test of their lives, few of them were as certain about their immediate future as this singular girl who crossed the divide between the social classes of Gallifrey.

“And I’ll tell you something else,” she added. “They’re ALL just as scared as you are. They’re all putting on a mask to hide how they really feel. But it’s all right. ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important that fear.’"

Breissal blinked in wonder at such a profound saying from a child who was a little smaller than he was.

“A Human said that, a weak, feeble Human from planet Earth – Sol Three in the Mutter Spiral. And if it is true of them, it is surely true of a Gallifreyan, whether Oldblood or Newblood or Caretaker.”

“Indeed it is,” said a strong voice. Both children turned to see Lord de Lœngbærrow standing nearby. Breissal bowed politely to the Lord High President. Rodan ran to him and was hugged fondly.

“You’re here,” she said. “I missed you.”

“I was delayed,” he answered. “But I am here, now. Who is your polite young friend?”

“This is Breissal Arcalian, third son of the Lord Auconia Arcalian,” Rodan answered. “We’re… not really friends. We were just talking.”

“When you are somewhat older than you are now, I should expect you to be very firm friends when you meet in a secret place like this,” Lord de Lœngbærrow answered. Neither child knew what he meant. He was just teasing them. “Come, young man. Your father is waiting for you.”

The two youngsters walked with him, Breissal very solemn and careful, aware that he was in the presence of a great man, and clearly proud when several of his fellow candidates saw him beside the Lord High President.

Rodan was solemn, too, until she spotted her grandfather waiting for her, then she ran to him joyfully.

“Thank you, papa,” she said to her foster father. “Thank you for bringing him for me.”

“It would not be right for you to have this day without a member of your own blood family present.”

“Will you come with me to the Valley of Eternal Night?”

“No, my dear, his Lordship is your mentor for that. He is the one who has prepared you for this day. It is his privilege to accompany you. I will be waiting for you when you return, and we shall celebrate the occasion together.”

“It is nearly time,” Kristoph said. “Kiss your grandfather, my dear and then make yourself ready.”

Rodan was ready. She hugged and kissed her only living relative who had been collected by TARDIS from the deep space freighter where he was working and brought here to be with her on this special day. He watched proudly as she walked at Lord de Lœngbærrow’s side at the head of the procession of young Gallifreyans embarking on the first step to achieving the ultimate ambition of any of their race.

Rodan looked back twice before he was out of sight, but only because she hadn’t seen her grandfather for a long time and wanted to be sure he was still waiting. But for that she kept her eyes set forward as they entered the deep but narrow defile between high cliffs where it already started to be a little darker and colder. At the other side, in the Valley of Eternal Night, the Untempered Schism swallowed all light and it was always dark and always very cold. The idea intrigued her, but she wasn’t frightened by it.

“I’m not frightened, either,” said a small voice in her head. She knew it came from Breissal Arcalian. He was walking a little way behind her. The distance between each candidate would lengthen as they walked. She would enter the Valley with nobody but her mentor. The next candidate would not come forward until she was done. It was a big valley by all accounts, but the number of souls it could contain at any one time was limited.

“Rodan!” The voice that called her name was familiar, but it came from far away and very close by at the same time. She opened her eyes and saw that she was back in the place of preparation again, with the mid-summer sun shining and her grandfather holding both her hands.

She couldn’t remember walking back. The last thing she clearly recalled was taking the last ten steps to the Untempered Schism by herself while her foster father and the other Time Lords who supervised waited. She knew she had taken those steps calmly and without hesitation, and had not been afraid when she looked up into that mysterious window into infinity.

And she knew that it had been the most incredible moment in her whole life. But if she had been asked to put into words what she had seen, what she had felt, she couldn’t. As her mind cleared, she thought she remembered putting one step in front of each other as she walked back with her mentor. She thought she remembered Breissal Arcalian and his father walking past her in the opposite direction, but it was all very strange and unreal, like a dream.

“Where is he?” she asked out loud, turning to see the other candidates as they were reunited with parents and loved ones who had stayed behind. “Is he all right?”

“Everyone is perfectly all right,” Kristoph assured her. “Your young friend was as bold and fearless as you were and returned in his due time. The spinning in your head will ease, soon. That is to be expected.”

“It is?” She had been wondering about that. Had she been a little TOO bold and fearless? Was this the Untempered Schism punishing her for not being humble enough?

“Do you expect to stand before all of time and space and experience it all in a moment without getting a little disorientated?” she heard her grandfather ask her. “You did just fine, my little one.”

He hugged and kissed her again as her mind cleared slowly. She heard her foster father tell her that Marion was waiting at home. They could be there in a few minutes and her favourite fruit jelly from Earth was on the menu for her celebration party, as well as a very large iced cake.

“Can the others come?” she asked. “The other Caretaker children… and… and Breissal. I wish he would come and have cake and jelly, too.”

“Knowing just how much of the stuff your mama was planning to make, I think that will be perfectly all right,” Kristoph told her. “But I thought you and Breissal weren’t friends?”

“We’re not. But he’s a third son of a second son of an Oldblood House, and I think he’s more apart from the others than I am as a Caretaker child who lives in a mansion. We SHOULD be friends.”

She ran to find her chosen companions and invite them and their mentors to join her party. The Caretaker children were delighted enough with the prospect of travelling by TARDIS let alone a celebration with cake and jelly.

Breissal Arcalian was uncertain. To be invited to join such a group of his social inferiors by the foster child of the Lord High President was both an insult to his noble line and a tremendous honour.

He came, anyway. What he thought about tangerine and lime jelly, a foodstuff only eaten in one house on the whole of Gallifrey, was, like his moment facing infinity, a secret he kept within his own soul.