There was a blizzard raging outside the Forum.

“The envirodome has failed,” said the Prefect, urging the Lord High President and his young guest to return to the dining hall. “We will have to remain in the building until the storm is over.”

“Very well,” Kristoph decided. “It is a fine, strong building. We won’t suffer any hardship.”

“More to the point,” Lord Dúccesci added. “Ravenswode is out in it. He’s left already.”

Kristoph frowned. He disliked Ravenswode for many reasons, personal and political, but he didn’t want the man to freeze to death.

On the other hand he wasn’t going to risk anyone else’s life looking for him. If he didn’t have the sense to come back into the Forum it was his own look out.

The dining room WAS comfortable, and the coffee was hot. Everyone drank quietly, wondering about their families and just how long it might be before they could get home.

“HOW did the envirodome fail?” Kristoph asked presently. The Prefect almost looked surprised by the question. The other councillors looked surprised that the question had not been asked.

“Surely it is a fair question,” Kristoph added. “This is advanced and very expensive technology. I have never heard of it failing before, and certainly not in mid-winter when it is needed more than any time. Was there any indication before that it was faulty?”

“I… believe….” The Prefect answered. “That there was no indication. I, too, am surprised that it should have happened. It has never been known before.”

“Could it be deliberate?” Lord Arcalian asked. “The Presidential Breakfast was scheduled for today many months ago. Anyone could have known we were going to be here, and it would not be the first time an attempt was made to disrupt proceedings. Remember the farrago the Vernal Opening turned into.”

“I hope not,” Lord Reidluum answered. “Bad enough I am stranded here, with my wife and children in the Capitol. If it turns out to be some form of malice, not simply bad luck….”

Reidluum was not the only man with a family. He spoke for them all in that regard, but the others knew how much he worried about his invalid wife and their baby daughter and sympathised.

“The storm is causing problems with communication,” the Prefect said before anyone brought the matter up.

“And that’s ridiculous, too,” Kristoph commented. “We have the best planetary communication system in the galaxy. How can it be so vulnerable?”

“The reception tower isn’t designed for exposure to the weather,” the Prefect explained.

“So we’re stuck here in a blizzard that could go on for days with no way to inform anyone that we ARE here, and not lost on the southern plain.” Lord Gyes summed up the problem succinctly. It was an uncomfortable summing up. Kristoph thought of Marion and knew she would worry about him. But thinking like that wasn’t going to help any of them.

“Did everybody come by conventional vehicles?” he asked next. “Isn’t there even a time ring in the building?”

Everyone shrugged. Kristoph sighed.

“We need to review our winter travel arrangements. This really won’t do.”

“We won’t be able to visit the art gallery,” Rodan mused. Nobody had been taking any notice of her up until then. That meant that she had been able to help herself to the left over snow honey and make her coffee extra sweet, but she was getting bored listening to the men talk.

“She could see the private collection,” said Lord Gyes. “It is in the Undercroft of the Forum.”

“Nobody has visited the private collection for at least five hundred years,” the Prefect commented. “It is locked.”

“I am the Lord High President,” Kristoph reminded him. “Surely the key could be found at my request? We have nothing else to do for several hours.”

The Prefect frowned, but the Lord High President was making a request of him. A request from the Lord High President was as good as an order.

And so a group of Councillors and High Councillors, the Lord High President and one curious little girl followed the Prefect down a long flight of rarely used but beautifully made marble stairs to the sub-sub-basement area known by the far more exciting name of the Undercroft. It was the lowest level of a building that had been demolished many Time Lord generations ago in order to build the Forum in a new architectural style.

The Undercroft was in a style known as Ancolian that closely resembled the Earth architectural period called Byzantine. The main hall had a high, vaulted ceiling decorated with a huge mosaic featuring the Seal of Rassilon in the middle and the family crests of the Twelve Great Houses around it.

“Ravenswode would have enjoyed seeing that,” commented Lord Dúccesci about the dark stylised tree with a sinister black bird perched in its branches. “He does love reminding us that his family are among the Twelve.”

Several other Oldbloods who were not descended from the Twelve Great Houses laughed, their voices echoing around the ceiling. Rodan looked up at the Silvertrees of de Lœngbærrow, the House she was tentatively connected with, then gazed around at the hundred alcoves either side of the main hall, each with a double-arched entrance.

She stepped into one of the alcoves and looked at a tall, wide painting of a volcano erupting in flame and smoke. She reached out a hand towards it, though she didn’t touch the glass in front of the canvas. It was so vivid she expected it to be hot. If she looked long enough it almost seemed as if the lava was flowing down the mountain and the thick, ash-laden smoke rising up into the night sky, blotting out the stars one by one.

“That is Mount Perdition,” explained Lord Gyes, who stood in the archway. Rodan turned and looked at him questioningly. “You have probably never seen that mountain for real, though you were born and raised on the southern plain. It lies within the boundaries of the Oakdae?e estate and his Lordship is unlikely to invite the fosterling of the House of Lœngbærrow to visit, even though the two families are related by marriage.”

“It looks real.”

“It is from a school of Gallifreyan art that aims to capture the ‘moment’ in exact detail. The artist who painted that was very skilled at slowing his own personal time. He was able to paint directly to canvas without any sketches. For him in his slow-time bubble it was just like a still life study. I believe he took nearly twenty-eight hours to complete the picture while less than three minutes passed for those trying to evacuate homes and livestock from the path of the lava.”

Rodan breathed out deeply. It was a remarkable thought. Her foster-father had taught her the basics of slowing time. She could watch a candle flicker in slow motion for a whole minute of her own time that lasted only ten seconds for everyone else. Twenty-eight hours was an incredibly long time to stay in a time-bubble.

“It’s a very short time to complete such a large canvas in oils,” Lord Gyes said. “Callegos Gyes was a very talented artist.”

“Oh, is he one of your ancestors, sir?” Rodan asked.

“My eight times removed great uncle,” he answered. “Would you like to see one of my favourite of his works. It is rather less catastrophic in its subject matter than this one.”

Rodan walked beside the old and respected Time Lord to another of the alcoves. The painting here was the largest of all – indeed, it was the length of two of the arches with no wall between and almost as tall.

It was a busy image of the Panopticon in mid-session. Not the Panopticon as she had seen it on many occasions, but a version of it with granite stepped seats rising up from the central debating floor and the councillors all wearing robes in single colours, not the highly embroidered and multi-hued ones they wore now. There was a heated debate upon the floor, but not everyone was listening to it. There were three men on the third row back who were sharing a joke, all three laughing merrily, and another group studying a map or plan laid out in front of them.

“How did it get in here?” Rodan asked. “Was it cut in half like The Wedding at Cana had to be to get it into the Louvre?” She had visited the gallery in Paris with her foster parents and had heard the story of how the huge Veronese canvas was installed. This was even bigger.

“Our forebears had a transmat portal installed down here,” Lord Gyes explained.

“What a pity it isn’t here, still, or we’d all be able to get home,” Rodan said in a coolly logical voice.

“A pity, indeed,” Lord Gyes agreed. “But we’re having a pleasant afternoon, all the same. I haven’t had the company of such a well-informed aficionado of the fine arts for a long time. Tell me more of this Wedding at Cana that cause so much trouble.”

Rodan described the painting in exact detail as she walked with Lord Gyes in and out of the alcoves where the private collection of the Athenican Forum was displayed. His Lordship saw the masterpiece through her memories and was impressed by the artistic genius of humans. Rodan was, in turn, impressed by the art of her own race which she knew so much less about because the best of it was owned by Oldbloods whose homes she would never be invited to or in collections that were kept locked up and hidden like this one.

Another painting that Rodan admired was ‘Leonate Hunt’ in which the beautiful predators of the southern plain were captured in the act of pouncing on a herd of plains deer. The muscles rippled under the sleek fur of the leonates, their eyes were bright and intent on their prey. Again it was a painting in which a ‘moment’ had been captured in authentic detail

A loud noise and voices raised in astonishment distracted Rodan and Lord Gyes from their enjoyment of the art. They turned to see the a curious swirling vortex hanging in the air and a man sprawled on the floor. The vortex blinked out as the man scrambled to stand up. The crowd of Time Lords who gathered around him didn’t offer any help.

“Ravenswode!” Lord Dúccesci addressed him in astonished tone. “What in the Cruciform were you doing?”

“He’s been trying to use a personal vortex controller to get out of the city,” Lord Amycus responded. Lord Ravenswode was winded and dazed and incapable of speech.

“That’s impossible,” the Prefect said. “Even with the enviro-dome failure and the blizzard raging, we still have anti-transmat shields around the most important buildings. After all, we have some of the most valuable art on all Gallifrey in our galleries. We would be open to theft if just anyone could come and go in an eyeblink.”

“Quite right,” Kristoph noted. He looked down at the still struggling Ravenswode. “I wonder where you were going in such a hurry, using such dubious methods. Perhaps I ought to draw the Castellan’s attention to your activities. Or perhaps the Revenue Department.”

Ravenswode scowled and finally got to his feet. Around him there were perfectly straight faces hiding suppressed laughter. He had been made a fool of for the second time in one day. He turned and walked away hurriedly. The sound of his footsteps on the stairs had barely died away before the suppressed laughter rang out loud, filling the fine vaulted ceiling.

“Do you think he WAS up to something illegal?” Lord Dúccesci asked the Lord High President when he managed to compose his face once more.

“I’d bet the supper I’m going to miss this evening on it,” Kristoph answered. “I’ll be having a quiet word with the Castellan, I think. Chances are he’ll have disposed of any evidence by then, but a thorough investigation might throw something up.”

Dúccesci glanced up at the fine ceiling where the Ravenswode crest was adjacent to Lœngbærrow.

“He shouldn’t be allowed to disgrace to a long and noble line.”

“There are bad apples picked from even the finest trees. But never mind Ravenswode. Rodan hasn’t finished looking at these fine paintings. I think it is a pity the collection is kept private. We should look into the possibility of opening the Undercroft to anyone who wants to come down here. Can you even remember why it was private in the first place?”

Dúccesci didn’t know. Kristoph made a mental note to look into it along with the more important questions of political autonomy for the Southern Plain and other issues discussed over breakfast. Meanwhile, he knew the fun of seeing Lord Ravenswode humiliated twice in the one day more than made up for being late home.