Marion turned over lazily on the soft, luxurious towel spread upon the sauna bench. Kristoph had stopped massaging oil impregnated with one of Aineytta’s recipes for relaxation into her shoulders and was pouring water over the fragrant logs in the burner. She couldn’t help noting what a fine figure he was for a man of his age – over four thousand years – with a light bronze all over tan that had been finished off, after their sojourn in Brazil, on a private beach near Hillary’s lighthouse on Haollstrom where nobody worried about nudity.

He saw her looking and returned to his massage duty willingly. Marion relaxed again and savoured the fact that they were able to take a long sauna mid-afternoon on a weekday with the autumn Session of the High Council in full sitting far away in the Capitol. Those things no longer concerned Kristoph. He was, he said to anyone who asked – and many had done so in the past weeks - done with politics.

“Do you have any regrets?” Marion asked.

“I regret not ordering more of the Plains Pine logs,” he answered. “Those are the last. Cúl nut wood isn’t quite so fragrant.”

She meant about his resignation from the Presidency and from the High Council. He knew that, of course, but took his time answering.

“No,” he said at last. “No regrets at all. I feel a weight lifted from my shoulders – and not just that blasted Sash and the wretched collar. I feel cleaner, away from the ingrained dirt of political intrigue. And I feel so free that I am here at the Lodge on a weekday, enjoying myself without any nagging feeling that I ought to be somewhere else, doing something more important.”

That was the truth, but Marion knew it was only a temporary feeling. Kristoph was not a man who could spend more than a few days in lazy pursuits like this. It was a wonder he hadn’t yet arranged to introduce hang-gliding to the high bluffs of the southern plains.

“If you’re not going to return to the Magisterial office, you will need some way to occupy yourself,” Marion pointed out. “I can’t quite see you as ready to sit down and write your memoirs.”

“If I BEGAN to write my memoirs the Celestial Intervention Agency would descend upon me with a vengeance,” Kristoph replied. “I know too many things that should never be written down.”

“Then what will you do? Not a diplomatic post, please. I really don’t feel that I want to live away from Gallifrey for any length of time.”

Kristoph may have been surprised by Marion’s heartfelt objection to diplomatic work, but he didn’t show it.

“I am going to be a teacher again,” he announced. “Of all the professions I have pursued in my long lifetime the most satisfying was when I was a teacher of English literature in Liverpool – even if that was merely a cover for more sinister work.”

Marion knew full well what that sinister work was. It all seemed so long ago and far away, now, as if it had all concerned two other people.

“If you hadn’t been doing that, we would not have met,” she reminded him.

“Indeed. That is one reason why I remember it as a particularly happy time. But teaching is a satisfying occupation.”

“I always think so,” Marion noted. “I hope to go back to the estate school, myself, now that I am feeling healthier.”

“If they can bear the thought of the former Lord High President teaching them, I should like to coach some of the students getting ready for the Academy entrance examinations,” Kristoph confirmed. “But I also intend to spend some time at the Desert School. There is much I can teach those boys.”

Marion stiffened warily. She was only too aware that the campus in the Red Desert where an increasing number of students were now studying amidst the hardships and challenges of the most hostile environment on the planet was formerly a Celestial Intervention Agency training camp. When he said he had much he could teach the boys it was worrying.

“I meant Gallifreyan history and some extreme camping,” he said, reading her thoughts before she expressed them aloud. “I would never encourage any of those boys to join the Celestial Intervention Agency. That is a career choice they must come to without any outside influence or coercion.”

“Good,” Marion pronounced. “I know you served Gallifrey honourably through the Agency, but it is dangerous, ugly work, not to be glamorised for impressionable youngsters. Let them decide when they are old enough to make such a decision with clarity of mind and purpose.”

“Meantime, they will learn to judge direction and distance when the Dark Territory has made a compass useless and the landmarks are obscured by sandstorms and how to make a fire in the cold of night without sonic tools. Those are skills any boy should know, even if they plan a career in the civil service.”

“What possible use would those skills be in the civil service?” Marion asked, laughing at the thought of campfires among the desks and computer banks of that sombre government department.

“They can always escape the mind-numbing tedium of that work with an adventure weekend in the desert,” Kristoph replied.

“Excellent point. I suppose this means you will be away from home for long weekends yourself, taking the boys on those outward bound expeditions.”

“Perhaps once a month. Other days, when I am merely teaching history, I shall be gone only for a few hours. And I won’t forget that we need weekends to ourselves, either. I know you want to renew your acquaintance with Mr Edward Morgan Forster and I haven’t forgotten our invitation to the premiere of Madonna Della Rio’s latest film. Hillary wants us to attend a couple of functions on Haollstrom, too. We have a busy social calendar.”

“I would like some quiet weekends at home or here at the Lodge, too,” Marion reminded her husband. “The autumn is almost turning to winter and I have barely looked to see if the Cúl nut trees are bearing fruit. And Rodan expects me to take tea with her at least once a fortnight. She is becoming quite an accomplished hostess in her little home.”

“We will certainly do that,” Kristoph promised. “Shall we go and shower now, and have a little afternoon tea? I think we have stayed quite long enough in the sauna. Even Gallifreyan skin is liable to dry out after a while.”

They showered together, making the most of the fact that the Lodge was in a remote part of the southern plain and they no longer had Presidential Guards strategically placed around the area. They could enjoy a little spontaneous passion with the cooling water streaming down their bodies.

When they were dried and dressed they came to the lodge’s unusual lounge-dining area beside a semi-open-air swimming pool. The doors were closed, presently, cutting off the outside section. The sky over the southern plain in the month of Octima was a muddy yellow-grey and it was raining hard. Inside it was warm and comfortable. Kristoph floated Chinese lantern boats on the pool since neither of them wanted to swim today and they created a pleasant atmosphere as they ate their tea and then settled down on the comfortable sofa together.

“There is something else we ought to talk about,” Kristoph said as they watched the evening draw in and the sky darken to a starless deep brown. The rain was even harder now and before embarking upon the important matter he had waited to bring up he closed the curtains over all of the windows shutting the outside world from sight and sound.

“I know what it is,” Marion answered him. “We’ve both avoided the subject for a long time, but we really must talk about it. You’re thinking about the fact that we have been married for ten years and we still do not have a child.”

“A son of our own would complete our lives,” Kristoph said. “Besides, it is expected… the Patriarch of an Oldblood House must have an heir.”

“Yes.” That ‘must’ was a loaded word for them both. They said nothing at all for a few minutes as both tried to find a way to express the deep emotions evoked by this subject.

“When I see how happy Jared and Mia are, with their two beautiful children….” Marion didn’t need to finish the sentence. Kristoph didn’t need any mind reading, either, to know what she didn’t have to say.

“I suppose it is obvious that my decision to spend more time with the boys at the Desert Camp is because I see them as surrogate sons,” Kristoph admitted.

“I’ve known that for a long time. I felt jealous, at first, and then a little guilty for feeling that way, knowing how much you liked being with the boys. Then I felt as if I had let you down, because you want a son of your own so much – a boy you can teach all those survival skill to and take a special pride in.”

“My dear, I never want you to feel that way,” Kristoph assured her. “You have not let me down. You never will. We both know that a child will be born of our union in the course of time. But I think we ought to decide that the time is not yet. We should not break our hearts worrying about the matter. You have decided to teach again. Enjoy that wonderful occupation for a while. I shall be doing the very same, this time. We shall have the joy of seeing young people grow mentally and physically under our care. That will be enough for the present.”

“We can’t wait forever,” Marion reminded him. “I’m not a Gallifreyan woman.”

“I know. But a year or two without the anxiety, without feeling either of us is under pressure, will be good for us both. When we are ready, when we both feel it is time to go down that road, we will do so together. Meantime we shall enjoy our friends’ children without envy or regret. We will not be discouraged or dismayed by subtle and not so subtle hints about the continued lack of a de Lœngbærrow heir.”

“Yes,” Marion agreed, though she knew nothing would ever stop her buying little dresses for Mia Reidluum’s infant daughter or feeling a lump in her throat when she attended the naming ceremonies of children born to the household staff of Mount Lœng House. “Yes, I think we should wait a little longer.”

Now that it was said out loud, now that the decision was taken by them both, she allowed herself a deep sigh. It was a relief in so many ways. Kristoph, too, looked as if a weight almost as great as that he bore when he put on the Sash of Rassilon had been taken from him. He reached out to kiss his wife and she responded warmly. With that very important matter settled between them they could make love purely for mutual enjoyment, and they did so, safe in the knowledge that they were alone in their Lodge on the southern plain.