The capital city of the planet Ventura was a month into a cold winter. For the citizens of that happy city where the horse was the primary means of transport that meant carriages had been garaged and sleighs hauled out of storage and given makeovers. The dominant sound in every street, now, was that of strings of bells jingling as the near silent runners glided over deep packed snow that would not begin to melt for many months.

The first love of any Venturan was their horses. Second was winter sports, especially those involving horses. The highlight of the winter festival called Yuulus, therefore, was the cross-country sleigh drive open to four different categories of sleigh, the one horse, one driver racing sleigh, the two and four hander racing models and the 'decorative" class.

The racing sleighs were sleek, friction resistant models made of the very lightest air-frame carbon fibre. They were so light a reasonably well-toned adult male could pick one up and carry it above his head if he chose to do so.

A lightweight driver was essential for those 'formula one' sleighs, as Marion had christened them when she saw one of them in action on the long paddock behind the Gallifreyan ambassador's residence. It worried her more than a little that the driver of that particular model was young Rodan Mielles, her sometimes foster child. She was only just the minimum age to race, but Kristoph had invited her and her grandfather to join them for the festival on the basis that Rodan would want to compete in the elite race.

It was her grandfather who carried her sleigh to the starting grid where she skilfully hitched her horse to it. The horse – named Druxx after a former Gallifreyan Ambassador to Ventura - was a glossy black gelding, matching the highly polished black lacquer of the sleigh. Golden reins with bells that rang out clearly matched the Seal of the Gallifreyan Embassy on the sleigh and on the warm all in one outfit worn by the driver.

"You WILL be careful, won't you, my dear?" Marion said to her before they had to leave her to prepare for the start by herself.

"I will be fine," Rodan assured her foster mother. "It is just like driving a horse buggy but faster."

"It’s the 'faster' that bothers me," Marion admitted. "But, then again, after the hang gliding, what is a race across snow going to matter? Just enjoy yourself, sweetheart. and don't try to win against so many older, experiences drivers."

Rodan promised not to do anything rash, which didn’t quite constitute a promise not to get into dangerous competitive racing, but Marion could do no more than kiss her on the cheek and wish her luck. Kristoph and her grandfather both did the same before they all headed to the paddock where the 'decorative' sleighs were mustered.

The objective here was not so much racing as presenting a beautifully decorated carriage and well-groomed horses. The Gallifreyan Embassy had entered two carriages in this category as well as sponsoring the elite racer. One of the carriages was being driven by the Ambassador himself, Remonte de Lœngbærrow, accompanied by Arges Mielles. The other was driven by Kristoph with Marion at his side. Rika, holding tight to young Remy, wished them all well and then went to join the wives of the Earth and Arkan Ambassadors in a warm omnibus sleigh that was taking them to the Yuulus Hall by a more direct route than those competing in the races.

They heard the starting gun and the cheer that signified the start of the first elite race. That was the one Rodan was competing in and their thoughts all turned to her at once. Shortly after the two and four hander racers set off before the decorative sleighs were called up to the starting line.

The Gallifreyan sleighs were smart and dignified, with black lacquer and gold trim enhanced with magnificent strings of real gold bells and wreaths of gold and silver leaves all around. All of the embassies submitted official sleighs similarly decorated in tasteful styles, but some of the non-affiliated sleights were more eclectic. Marion was especially impressed by one entry decorated just like a white peacock. It was beautifully done, though she did wonder if the huge tail fan would be a disadvantage in the wind.

“I’m more concerned about not seeing it in the snow,” Kristoph remarked as they lined up alongside it on the starting line. “I much prefer the Beta Deltan entries. We’ll see them coming and going.”

Marion looked at the sleighs submitted by the junior staff of the Beta Deltan embassy. Beta Delta, of course, was a Human colony in the Orion quadrant and the sleighs represented Human culture. One looked just like Santa’s sleigh, complete with huge sack and passengers dressed as Santa and his elves, while the horses had reindeer antlers fixed to their heads. The other sleigh was very clearly the Ice Queen’s sleigh from Narnia. The ‘queen’ herself looked fiendishly beautiful at the reins of the sleigh.

“I almost feel underdressed,” Marion admitted. She almost wished she was riding in one of the lovely themed sleighs, but representing Gallifrey in a dignified way was wonderful, too. She was so proud when they crossed the start line side by side with the peacock and the Santa sleigh and Kristoph steered their four black horses into the light wind.

This was an easy course of a mere ten miles. The elite racers who were already just a cloud of white in the distance, were going all the way around Mount Wisdom, a course of nearly fifty miles. Again, Marion worried a little about Rodan. It seemed a long way for a child to go on her own.

“She has learnt map-reading and orientation from the best,” Kristoph told her.

“The best?”

“Me – obviously. She knows how to drive a horse. She knows where she is driving it to. Don’t worry. Relax and enjoy our own trip across country.”

It was a beautiful trip. The snow-covered landscape glittered under a bright sun. it was cold but not uncomfortably so. It was the sort of day to be out and about, the sort of day to be speeding across the snow in a sleigh with bells ringing out every time the reins were even slightly moved.

She pushed the song ‘Jingle Bells’ out of her head simply because it was the sort of distracting earworm that would drive her mad all day, but she was enjoying the kind of experience the song was about.

“When you were teaching literature in Liverpool, did you ever come across the ‘Little House’ books by Laura Ingalls Wilder?” Marion asked out of the blue as a peaceful contentment settled around her.

“They weren’t among my resources for teaching the Romantics,” Kristoph responded. “But I am aware of their existence in the broad spectrum of published fiction.”

“I read them when I was a child,” Marion responded. “I grew up with an increasingly tatty set of the books among the possessions I took from one foster home to another. When I was old enough to appreciate romance I was particularly attached to the later stories where Laura is being romanced by the Mr Wilder she got her second surname from eventually. Most of the romancing happened on sleighs with bells jingling across the American mid-west prairies in winter weather like this. Some of it happened trying to get home before a blizzard hit, mind you, but there were a lot of nice, clear days of this sort.”

“So your concept of romance has always included sleigh rides in the countryside?” Kristoph asked.

“Yes, exactly. And it is everything I imagined it would be.”

“I can’t promise any blizzards.”

“I can manage without the blizzards,” Marion assured her husband and leaned closer to him. Kristoph put the reins in one hand before slipping his arm around her shoulder.

She didn’t exactly fall asleep like that, but somehow the journey and a daydream loosely surrounding those books she had read as a teenager mingled together and reality blurred at the edges. Suddenly she woke up fully and looked around. The landscape was different and up ahead she could see a building covered in coloured lights that shone out over the snow.

“The Yuulus hall,” she remarked. “We’re nearly there.”

“About two miles,” Kristoph answered. “The Ice Queen is ahead of us. Santa passed us about ten minutes ago. Remonte and Arges are about half a mile behind.”

Kristoph slowed the horses deliberately and let his brother catch up with him. As the sleighs drew alongside each other Kristoph took a tight hold of the reins with both hands and warned Marion to hold tight. The two brothers looked at each other and grinned. Something may have passed between them telepathically, too, because they started to race at the same moment.

Marion gasped with surprise and excitement and held on tight to a handle inside the side of the sleigh and wondered first of all why there were no seatbelts and secondly, whether she wanted Kristoph to win or his brother. Her first loyalty, of course, was to Kristoph, but she knew that learning to do practical things like racing a sleigh came much less easily to Remonte, the businessman and thinker rather than his adventure loving older brother. She thought it would be good if he had a chance to win, just for once.

There were only just two miles from the end of the course, but that was long enough for one brother then the other to take the lead. Kristoph held a whole three metres over Remonte for several minutes before he was passed. Both sleighs swung past the Snow Queen who called out encouragingly to them. Kristoph overtook his brother again just after that and it looked as if he would stay ahead. Then Remonte edged his horses forward and they were side by side again. They looked at each other. Again the grin, again, something passed between them telepathically, and both sleighs speeded up, but at the same rate. They were neck and neck as they approached the finish line. As they crossed it, they were matching each other wheel for wheel, horse for horse.

“A tie,” Marion announced breathlessly.

“Indeed,” Kristoph answered.

“You arranged it that way?”

“No, he did. His horses are in premium condition. He races them regularly. He could have beaten me if he chose. But there is nothing to be gained by such a victory. We came in together, for the glory of Gallifrey, not for each other.”

“Of course.”

There were stewards to take care of the sleighs and grooms for the horses, while the competitors went into the Yuulus Hall to warm up and wait for the elite racers to come into sight. It was not a permanent building, but made of prefabricated pieces especially for the occasion. It was octagonal, each of the white walls having a window that was curtained with red plush fabric. There was a chimney in the centre of the sloping roof from which wood smoke was pouring.

Inside it was delightfully warm after the sleigh ride. The huge fireplace in the middle of the room was piled with huge yuulus logs – at least one whole tree must have been chopped up for it – and burning merrily. The smoke was caught by a suspended flue that carried it away leaving nothing but the warmth and the red-orange glow, and just a hint of the scent of pine wood burning.

A Yuulus feast was prepared on long tables around half of the room. Roast meat and fowl, pies, luxurious foods of all sorts were piled high. Hot chocolate poured out of a fountain that kept it frothing while hot spiced wine and hot mead were available for the more adventurous. Marion happily accepted a mug of the chocolate while Kristoph and Remonte – reunited with his wife and son – toasted each other in the wine. Arges Mielles drank hot mead and talked with the man dressed as Father Christmas as they waited for the elite racers to come into sight. The younger brother of the Father Christmas was also racing and though neither were worried, they would not be distracted from the window overlooking the finish line.

“Fifty miles IS a long way,” Marion commented as it came close to the time when the fastest sleighs were due. “I do hope….”

“No worrying,” Kristoph told her. “Rodan will be just fine. So will everyone involved. The race is a test of stamina and navigation, not a matter of life and death.”

Marion tried not to look worried, but even with the best possible safety accidents must surely happen and she couldn’t help be a little bit anxious, especially as the time wore on and no elite racers came in sight. For a while she was not the only one who was fretting. A quiet came upon the hall, and though people still drank their wine and mead and hot cocoa, they did so without tasting anything. Their thoughts were elsewhere.

“It will start getting dark in an hour,” Rika observed. She was not trying to add to the tense atmosphere, only stating a fact.

“What will they do if….” Marion began. But then there was a shout from outside and a bustle of activity. Everyone rushed out of the hall. Marion was one of the first and therefore not caught up in the embarrassing jam of bodies at the doorway. She was at the finish line in time to see the first half dozen racers hurtling towards her.

Rodan was among them. She watched with bated breath, hardly even noticing when Kristoph came to her side, wrapping her coat around her shoulders. She hadn’t even realised that she had rushed out without it.

“She’s not first, but she’s doing really well,” she whispered.

“Fifth,” Kristoph noted. “Very commendable.”

“Fourth,” Arges Mielles stated with pride in his voice as his granddaughter overtook one more racer before she crossed the line. Marion wanted to run to her straight away, but there were procedures before any of the competitors were allowed to greet their loved ones.

“What happened?” Kristoph asked as they finally headed back to the Yuulus Hall, Rodan clutching a certificate and a medal for her fourth place in the single driver class. “Why were you all so late?”

“There was an avalanche about ten miles back,” Rodan explained. “Snow piled up everywhere. We had to go around it. Nobody was hurt. The fall was long before any of the sleighs came around that section of the mountain. It just spoiled the chances of any record times this year. I’ll have to try again next year.”

“Never mind about next year,” Kristoph told her. “Come and eat, have some cocoa and enjoy the Yuulus fire this year. Enjoy this day and don’t rush on to the next one. Even Time Lords have to remember to do that sometimes.”

Rodan grinned and promised to take on her foster-father’s advice, though she was young, and like all young people, everywhere, it seemed to her that there were so many things for her to experience and there just didn’t seem enough days to do them in, sometimes.