It was just after two o’clock in the morning when Rodan woke to a strange noise – something tapping at her window.

Sometimes the rain blattered against the panes, and once in the winter a bough from a tree had broken off and swung back and forwards, hitting the glass. But this wasn’t like that. It was as if somebody was tapping to get her attention.

Rodan had never read Dracula or Salem’s Lot or any other book in which creatures of the night defied gravity to reach an upper window. She wasn’t scared when she drew back the curtains, only curious.

She was puzzled when she saw Breissal Arcalian standing with one foot on the edge of her windowsill and the other apparently on nothing. She opened the casement for him.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m running away,” he answered. “My father wants me to be betrothed to you.”

“I know,” Rodan said. “Papa was talking about it, too.”

She looked down and saw that Breissal had his foot on the seat of a hover trike just below the windowsill. It was a wonder it could hover that high up since it was loaded down with bags.

“Come with me,” he said. “They can’t make a Bond of Intent if we’re not there.”

“Where to?” Rodan asked. She had a deep feeling that it was the wrong answer. She loved her foster parents. She didn’t want them to be worried, and she didn’t want to leave them.

On the other hand, she didn’t want to be betrothed at the age of eight, not even to a boy she liked a lot, and who shared her interest in horses.

“I thought about going to the space port in Athenica,” Breissal answered. “We could get on a shuttle to Karn or Polafrey.”

“Polafrey is really cold,” Rodan pointed out. “Karn is better.”

“Get some clothes,” Breissal told her. “Quickly.”

Rodan didn’t hesitate. Perhaps it was the idea of an adventure, of travelling as she always wanted to do – even if it was only to Karn – that over-ruled all her other feelings. She put three of her favourite dresses into a bag and most of her underwear. Then she dressed herself in a pair of slacks and a warm jumper and a pair of boots. It was cold out there and she was going to be travelling by hover trike. She put a warm hooded coat over the ensemble and a pair of gloves on her hands then she brought her bag and climbed out of the window onto the back of the trike.

“Hold on tight,” Briessal warned. Rodan put her arms around his waist and pressed her face against his back. Once he gained speed it was quite a cold ride. His body protected her from the worst of the wind blowing against them, but she still felt it keenly.

After an hour riding like that the adventure was feeling much less exciting.

“How much further is it to the space port?” she asked.

“Three hundred miles,” Briessal answered.

She knew that the maximum speed of a hover-trike was as much as three hundred miles an hour, but Briessal wasn’t going anywhere near that fast with her clinging to him as a passenger. It would be many hours before they reached their destination.

If they EVER reached it.

“I don’t think I can do it,” she admitted.

Briessal brought the trike to a stop under a stand of trees where the late winter snow hadn’t settled. They climbed off and stood together, looking at the multi-hued sky near the western horizon. It would be dawn in another hour, but that wasn’t a particularly cheerful thought. That hour was still going to be cold and dark.

“I’m tired,” Briessal admitted. “I haven’t been to sleep at all, and I was riding for ages to get to your house.”

“Time Lords are supposed to be able to stay awake for days without feeling the effects,” Rodan pointed out.

“I know. But I’m not a Time Lord yet. I think… we need to find a place to rest and… and eat… and maybe get to the space port later.”

“There’s more chance that they’ll be looking for us by then,” Rodan noted. “We should go to the freight sector, not the passenger terminal. We can sneak aboard an outgoing ship.”

The idea seemed very remote, though. All they could think of just now was being out of the wind and the cold.

“My house,” Rodan murmured. “That’s a good idea.”

“You mean, go back?” Briessal protested. “We can’t. Not now.”

“No, I meant… come on. I’ll show you the way.”

They mounted the trike again and Rodan gave directions from memory, using the gradually lightening western sky as her guide. They had nearly another hour of uncomfortable riding in which she felt herself drifting perilously into sleep several times. Breissal almost drove the trike into snow drifts twice because he was getting too tired to pay attention. He knew that was the most dangerous thing of all. They could both die if he crashed the trike.

“Over there,” Rodan told him. In the half-light of dawn a house could be seen, half-obscured by mature trees that sheltered it from the worst of the winter wind. It wasn’t a big house, the sort of mansion Briessal and all of his kindred lived in, but it wasn’t a hovel, either. It had been extended several times into a small but comfortable home.

“Who lives there?” Briessal asked.

“I do,” Rodan answered. “This is my real home, where I live with my grandfather when he’s home. I’ll be moving back here before next winter.”

“I’d forgotten about that,” Briessal admitted. He brought the trike to a halt beside the house and dismounted. “About you being a Caretaker. I think my father had, too, when he proposed the Bond of Intent.”

It could have been meant as an insult. Rodan had heard every sort of put down, subtly insinuated by the finest aristocracy of Gallifrey. She had learnt to ignore them, as well as the unintentional remarks like that one.

She found the key to the front door among her possessions. It was one of the few things that belonged to her that wasn’t a gift from her foster family and she never parted with it no matter where she went. Now she opened her own front door and invited her Oldblood friend inside.

The significance of that act was not lost on him. He was the one who had made himself homeless. She was the one who had a home of her own, even if it was a much smaller one than she had left.

“It… looks all right,” he admitted as Rodan put on the light in the big living room and he looked around at the comfortable furnishings, the pictures on the wall, the crystal mirror above the unlit fireplace. “It’s… nice.”

“We are Caretakers,” Rodan said. “But we’re not peasants. Grandfather earns a lot of money working in the freight service. He saves it up. We’re not aristocrats, not Oldbloods, but we have enough money to live perfectly well. I am happy in the life I live here.”

She went to the kitchen and opened cupboards. There was food there, canned and bottled, dried and otherwise preserved so that there would be enough to sustain two people if they were snowed in through a hard winter.

Rodan prepared a meal for herself and Briessal. They sat together on the big comfortable sofa and ate.

“This is better than the hydrated packets I brought,” the boy admitted as he ate bottled cherries and tinned cream for dessert after a main course of cheese pasta.

“Hydrated packets only take up a tiny bit of space,” Rodan pointed out, glancing at their luggage piled by the door. “You brought eight bags. What’s in the rest of them?”

“All my clothes,” Briessal answered.

“ALL of them?” Rodan was genuinely surprised. “You really meant to leave home forever. I thought… if we were away for a little while… they would understand. But you meant to go for good.”


“Do you still feel that way? I keep thinking… about how upset mama will be… and about my horses. They’ll miss me riding them. Won’t you miss your mother?”

“Yes. But… I don’t really spend much time with her. I’m a boy… I’m going to be a Time Lord. I see much more of my father. But he… doesn’t really listen to me.”

Rodan thought about that for a long time before answering.

“I don’t know what to tell you. Papa always listens to me. I can tell him anything.”

She thought about that a little more.

“I should have talked to him about this,” she admitted. “He would understand, and he would talk to your father and sort it all out.”

Breissal thought about it a little more.

“We did the wrong thing, didn’t we? We should have waited.”

“I think so.”

“We should go back.”

“Yes, we should. But I’m too tired to ride the trike all that way again. I think… we should rest for a little while.”

“Well, we’re safe here,” Rodan said. “We can sleep for a bit.”

She leaned back against the sofa cushions. Breissal did the same. It didn’t take them long to fall asleep. They were both too tired to resist for long.

The discovery that Rodan was missing happened at roughly the same time that Breissal’s family found out that he hadn’t slept in his bed and that his clothes were gone. The Lord High President was on his way to the Capitol but his car was turned around as soon as he heard the news. He comforted his wife and admonished Rodan’s personal maid for not hearing the child climb out of her window in the room next door.

His real anger, though, was expended on the captain of his Presidential Guard.

“You patrol the grounds day and night,” he pointed out. “You are supposed to keep my home and family secure. But you missed one little girl and a boy eloping.”

The captain accepted the censure.

“Eloping?” Marion queried the word when the guard had been dismissed and they were alone in the drawing room. “Do you really think….”

“No,” he answered. “Not really. But they clearly have gone off together, and we can have no doubt what prompted them to do so.”

“Do you mean… that Rodan DOES want to become betrothed to Breissal? Was she upset that we said no?”

“I don’t know. I won’t know for sure until we find them. And right now I don’t know where to begin.”

“I wonder….” Marion began. Then she shook her head. “No, that’s too obvious.”

“Tell me,” Kristoph begged her. “Any idea is a good one.”

Marion told him.

“Stay here,” he said to her. “When Breissal’s mother calls, tell her I think I know where the children are and she mustn’t worry.”

“Easier said than done,” Marion told him. “It’s what mothers do.”

Briessal and Rodan were still asleep when the front door opened and Kristoph came into the little house. He looked at them, cuddled up together for warmth, then gently shook them awake.

“Papa!” Rodan whispered. “Papa, I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right, my dear,” he answered gently. He reached out to her and she let him hug her tightly. Breissal blinked himself awake and looked enviously at them. Kristoph reached out an arm and hugged him, too. “Your parents are frantic. I’ll get you home, soon. But I think we all need to talk, first.”

He sat down on the sofa with Rodan on his knee and Breissal close beside him. For two people who had managed to run away in the night and find themselves the safest possible place to hide, now they seemed very small and vulnerable.

“I don’t want to get engaged,” Rodan told him. “I don’t want to get married. Not to anyone. I want to travel like granddad. I want to be captain of a deep space freighter or a special agent tracking down renegade Time Lords or….”

“Your granddad was married and travelled,” Kristoph pointed out, ignoring the idea of her following his footsteps into the Celestial Intervention Agency. “But you can do anything you want, Rodan. So can you, Breissal. I told your father that a Bond was out of the question. You are both still children with your lives ahead of you and all your life choices to make for yourselves. That’s my promise to you both, as your foster-father, Rodan, and as your President, Breissal. Do you believe me?”

“Yes, papa,” Rodan answered.

“Yes, sir,” Breissal answered. “I’m sorry I made so much trouble.”

“You’re eight years old. Making trouble for adults is what you’re supposed to do. But stick to falling out of trees and grazing your knees for a little while. No more running away.”

With that, he stood, still carrying Rodan and holding Breissal’s hand tightly, and went out to the waiting limousine. As soon as they were on their way, he put a call through to Auconia Arcalian.

“Your son is safe and well. I’m taking him to my house for lunch. I think you and your wife should meet him there. We’ll have a drink and a talk about being open with our children in future and avoiding any further misunderstandings of this sort.”

Arcalian was too relieved to disagree with the plan. Briessal sighed with relief. Nobody seemed to be angry with him. He turned once to look back at a little house where everything seemed so much less complicated than at home then sat back and looked forward to the promised lunch.