The parents of the three missing girls had been taken to a comfortable drawing room in the staff only section of Croxteth Hall. They were given tea, whether they needed it or not. They were interviewed by the police, even though there was nothing any of them knew about when or how the girls disappeared.

“There is no point in questioning us,” Mrs Patterson-Waters on protested. “I saw several gipsies among the crowds. Talk to them.”

“Nonsense,” said Miss Archer, Cassie’s house parent. “Those gentlemen were with two of the young competitors in the thirteen to sixteen-year-old class. They bred and trained their own horses and have nothing to do with this.”

“Statements as well as names and addresses are being taken from all the witnesses,” the officer in charge confirmed. “We are doing all we can. But… if there is anything… I mean to say… is there any reason why any one of the girls might have been taken… that is… custody disputes or…..”

The ‘or’ was left hanging in the air by a police officer who had seemed embarrassed by the question. After a long pause he made an excuse of needing to answer his radio and left the room.

“We could hardly tell him,” Marion said in a low voice. “About the Sisterhood. It must be them. But why take the other girls?”

“I don’t know,” Kristoph answered. “Perhaps they didn’t know which one to take and were just being thorough. Don’t worry. Lí and Arges are looking for them. I’m confident they will get to the bottom of this very soon.”

“It’s because of my husband,” Mrs Patterson-Waterson suddenly wailed. Everyone turned to look at her. Kristoph left Marion’s side and went to her.

“What makes you think that?” he asked. “And why didn’t you tell the police officer when he asked?”

“My husband…. He’s old money. He inherited the business from his father. But… things have been difficult… and… he got involved with some shady people. He helped them with… imports….”

“Imports?” Kristoph looked at her with narrowed eyes. “You mean smuggling?”

“Please don’t tell the police.”

“If you mean smuggling drugs, people or firearms then I will call them in right away.”

“Nothing like that,” she conceded. “Just…. Cigarettes, alcohol… fake designer goods. Nothing to hurt people.”

“Except your daughter, my daughter and another child. If your theory is true, they are all in grave danger because of your husband’s shady business. And in that case you will have more to worry about than the police and the Inland Revenue. You have NO idea who I am and how much grief I could cause you. Until we know more, I suggest you reflect on a number of matters, starting with your clearly unwarranted snobbery demonstrated far too often today. Do it quietly and without upsetting anyone else.”

Mrs Patterson-Waterson stared at Kristoph for a long moment and then visibly shrivelled under the undisputed authority of his Time Lord heritage. She didn’t know it was that, but she felt the impact all the same.

Kristoph was walking back to Marion’s side when he noticed Miss Archer’s eyes upon him. He turned to the quiet, unassuming lady and nodded imperceptibly.

“Are you all right?” he asked her. “Aside from the obvious concern.”

“I’m… not sure,” she answered. “I heard a little of what that lady was telling you. Could this all be about some kind of gang crime?”

Kristoph was puzzled. A gang snatching the girls as leverage to keep a dodge businessman in line was a dreadful prospect, but Miss Archer almost looked as if that was a relief, as if her own theory was worse than that.

“That would be… ordinary… normal… Human,” Miss Archer said, with emphasis on ‘Human’. Then she looked at Kristoph directly in the eye and said one more word. It was one he little expected to hear in this place and time, but which opened up a new and surprising, to say nothing of disturbing, possibilities.

“We really don’t know what’s going on, yet,” Kristoph told her. “Try to think positively, and… if all else fails…. That Human cure for all ills, tea, is available by the gallon, thanks to the lady Mayoress’s kindness. Try some.”

Miss Archer managed a weak smile and thanked Kristoph for his kindness before helping herself to a cup of tea. They all had enough of it swilling about their stomach to float the Mersey Ferry in, but it gave their hands something to do and slowed down the thoughts that raced around the mind like horses in the Grand National who hadn’t been told they only needed to do the course twice.

With that metaphor colouring his thoughts Kristoph came back to Marion who was keeping her composure outwardly at least. Her mind was full of terrible possibilities, all tumbling over each other. The same metaphor in her mind would have been a dozen horses falling at Beechers and tipping their riders into an ungainly heap.

He put his arm around her shoulders and pressed her close to him. He could make her sleep peacefully through this ordeal, but he felt that she knew that and didn’t want him to do that to her. As much as she was hurting, she needed to go through it like everyone else and not take the easy way.

Kristoph had never taken the easy way. It was only for Marion’s sake that he had waited behind while Lí and Arges went in search of the girls.

But if his body was not active that left the thundering hooves of his thoughts still creating that metaphor. Three horses vied with each other. His first thought had been that this was the Sisterhood, finally catching up with them here on Earth despite all their precautions. The possibility could not be ruled out. That knowledge twisted his stomach into painful knots because it meant there was nowhere in the universe that any of them could ever be safe.

Mrs Patterson-Waterson’s theory was even more stomach knotting, but in a more local way. The sort of thugs Mr Patterson-Waterson had involved himself with were not a threat to universal peace, but if they had taken the three girls simply because they didn’t know which one they were meant to have grabbed were likely to treat all three of them very nastily. Of course, when Lí and Arges caught up with them nasty wouldn’t even begin to describe what was going to happen to those men, which was a small satisfaction. But three twelve year old girls…. Even if one of them wasn’t dear to his hearts that was something that sickened him right down to his soul. If his two compatriots left anything undone, then nasty really wouldn’t be the appropriate word for what the man once known as the Executioner could do and the fact that Celestial Intervention Agency assassins were trained not to make their business personal wouldn’t come into it.

The other possibility was surprising. He had not expected it. When Miss Archer had explained it to him he had been taken completely aback.

A long way back. It was almost a legend when he was young. The last thing he had expected was to encounter one of them.

And if Miss Archer was right, then Rodan would probably be all right. So would young Cynthia. The child they had overlooked, the one who lived in an orphanage and took part in the expensive hobby of horse riding through a charity had turned out to be more important than any of them.

And the situation was far more complicated than he had hitherto imagined.

He was startled from his thoughts when Marion sat up very suddenly. The door to the room opened and three girls stepped inside. Three women reached them in a dead heat and tearful hugs ensued along with slightly incoherent questions that weren’t being answered. Kristoph calmly met the police officer who had followed them in.

“The girls don’t seem to want to talk about what happened,” the police officer said. “They seem unharmed, but….”

Kristoph met the police officer with a forceful gaze that came with a large dose of Power of Suggestion. The officer had the sudden impression that he had received a full and satisfactory explanation and that nothing more needed to be said.

“I’ll be going, sir,” the officer said. “I’m glad the girls are safe and well.”

Mrs Patterson-Waterson was still trying to get Cynthia to explain where she had been for more than an hour. All she seemed able to say was that they had been in a van and then a car.

“It was scary,” Rodan told Marion. “The men were really horrible and the van was smelly. But I put up a perception shield and when they stopped and tried to get us out they couldn’t see us. And then Lí and Granddad arrived and took the men away. Then they came back to us and brought us back.”

That was part of an explanation. Marion looked around as the door opened again. Lí and Arges came in. She hurried to give them tea. They drank it slowly and deliberately. While they were doing so Mrs Patterson-Waterson decided it was time to take Cynthia home. Nobody paid them any attention except Rodan and Cassie who both waved and promised to see her at the riding school next week. The sheer normality of that was rather surprising after the state of anxiety that had prevailed.

“We should go, too,” Miss Archer said after a few quiet minutes. Again Rodan was the only one who said anything, but Kristoph exchanged glances with Miss Archer that both fully understood.

“It was nothing to do with the Sisterhood,” Lí said when he put down his tea cup. “Just three examples of Human nature at its worst. I told Arges a while ago that Humans generally try to be the best they can be. Sadly, some of them sink to the opposite extreme. These three examples will not be making any trouble for anyone again.”

Marion looked concerned.

“No, they’re not dead,” Arges assured her. “But they might be wishing they were just now.”

He glanced at Lí with deep respect and then smiled warmly at Marion, who decided she knew enough to go on.

“Well, thank goodness you caught up with them,” she said.

“That was Rodan’s doing,” Arges said proudly. “She sent out telepathic directions. We just had to follow her.”

“Some of the things the Sisterhood taught her weren’t completely sinister,” Kristoph admitted. “Though I’m still not ready to thank them for it.”

Rodan was safe. That was all that mattered to Marion and that was enough for Kristoph. He proposed that it was time to go home.

As they drove back to Liverpool’s Chinatown, though, Kristoph turned his thoughts to Miss Archer and Cassandra. He remembered hearing about the daughters of the Voivode of Arcturus V. When the popular revolution had reached the gates of the palace, the Voivode and his wife had known that their own lives were forfeit. They were prepared for their fate. But they had made arrangements for their four daughters. They had sent them, accompanied by trustworthy guardians, away from Arcturus. The separate destinations of the four girls were secrets their parents took to their graves. The revolutionary junta had sent assassination squads in search of the princesses, but they had never been found. Q

Miss Archer had been very frightened. In her desperation she had revealed the precious secret to a man she had instinctively known she could trust. Knowing he was now one of the few people outside of the four guardians who knew where one of the princesses was located was a burden he felt equal to. It was a secret he knew he would take to his own death.

But he marvelled at the astronomical coincidence that one of the Arcturus Guardians had decided, just as he had, that the safest place to hide a twelve year old girl was in the city of Liverpool in the late twentieth century. And what were the odds on the two girls making friends with each other at the same riding school!

He gave up on ‘odds’ and decided that there had to be some force other than coincidence guiding the universe and it had smiled on them all today.