Marion’s first week as Lady de Lœngbærrow worked out very well. She did two satisfactory mornings teaching her group of youngsters and still managed to have lunch with Aineytta, tea with Lily, an informal evening at the Patriclian town house in the Capitol and the dinner party on Fris evening with the Lord High President as guest of honour.

That proved a less difficult time than she had imagined it to be. The President was a very charming dinner guest who liked to make jokes. It truth be told Marion didn’t understand most of them, as they tended to be anecdotal jokes about Gallifreyan politicians, but she laughed anyway, because the mood was such that laughter was easy.

The next morning found her at the school again, this time with a group of the older students who were not far off their examination for the Time Lord academies. She had not been sure at all what she was supposed to teach them, if anything. But in the end it proved easy enough. They were practicing debate and were analysing the pros and cons of the Gallifreyan system of elite academies versus reform into a more egalitarian form of education. They asked her about the school system of Earth, and she did her best to explain. Then they debated the existing status quo on Gallifrey against a kind of Gallifreyan version of comprehensive schools for all. At the end of the debate they voted on the propositions and there was an overwhelming vote for a system of free comprehensive schools that had no regard for class or ability but gave everyone the same chance to excel.

And yet, afterwards as she talked to some of the young people, they were all proud to be taking the exams that would get them into the great academies that had been dismissed in the debate. The Prydonian Academy was favoured above all the others. That was the one where the Lœngbærrow family had always sent their sons, and the sons and daughters of the Caretakers of the Lœngbærrow estate saw reason for pride in that.

“And so they should,” Kristoph said when he picked her up after class. “The Prydonian is a fine Academy. Our children will go there, of course.”

“If they pass the entrance exams…” Marion added. Kristoph gave a gentle laugh. “What?”

“There our concept of equality falls down. There IS no entrance exam for those who can afford to pay.”

“Oh.” Marion was indignant on behalf of her own students. Kristoph fully agreed with her, though he didn’t agree with the idea of Gallifreyan Comprehensive schools.

“They don’t work on Earth,” he pointed out. “They just turn out average people who all think the same and know the same things and rarely strive for anything more. As imperfect as our system is, it at least aims for excellence. But enough of such things. It IS the weekend and we are going to enjoy ourselves.”

He hadn’t told Marion where they were going, only that she should bring comfortable shoes and warm clothes. She wrapped her lapin fur coat around herself as she noted that they were heading towards the space port by the coast where they regularly took the shuttle to the northern Continent.

“Are we going to the Capitol then?” she asked.

“No, a bit further than that,” he answered and he said nothing more until they reached the space port. He took her hand as they stepped into the departure lounge and she was delighted to meet Hesthor Lundar and her husband, Bolor Hakeon Lundar. She smiled warmly at Hesthor and a little nervously at Bolor. She always felt a little guilty about the first time they met.

“Please don’t keep worrying about that,” he told her before she remembered that he was a strong telepath. “It is all forgotten now. Except…” He winked at Kristoph. “We’ve got a new training programme to see through such tricks. You would not get away with it again.”

“I should hope not,” Kristoph assured him. “Standards at the C.I.A. would be seriously falling if they did not learn from that experience. But I think that is our call. Shall we board?”

Marion was used to the shuttle by now, but she was surprised when they went to board a very different ship. This one looked like a passenger version of a Harrier jump jet, and was clearly designed for space travel. A dozen or so people were boarding and smartly dressed stewards and stewardesses showed them to their seats in the luxury cabin. Kristoph helped Marion to fasten her seatbelt and then to put on a strange contraption that looked like a leather ear muff with two straps that crossed her forehead and the bridge of her nose.

“I look very silly,” she said. “How come I need it and nobody else does?”

“It’s the first time you’ve travelled in a ship that travels out of the atmosphere conventionally,” he told her. “This will make it less uncomfortable. Just relax.”

Actually, it was easy to do that in the strange headgear. The ear covers cut out a lot of the noise around her and the straps felt cool as if there was some kind of balm in them. She sat back in her seat and watched out of the window as they took off vertically and accelerated to escape velocity. It went dark as they left the atmosphere and she found herself looking at the planet from space. She took off the headgear and tried to put it down, only to find it floating off. The stewardess caught it deftly.

“The weightlessness is only for about half a minute,” Kristoph told her. “While the pilot adjusts our course.”

And he was right. Very soon they felt artificial gravity. Marion unfastened her seatbelt along with the other passengers as the stewards began to serve a very appetising looking lunch and Kristoph told her the journey to Karn was only two and a half hours. Just long enough to eat the meal and digest it.

Marion had plenty of other things to digest, let alone food. She looked out of the window and saw Gallifrey receding from view. Then she looked the other way and could see another planet getting closer. Karn, the sister planet to Gallifrey. And she was travelling to it by space ship, not by TARDIS. After all the trips she had taken in space and time this was her first ‘real’ space trip with a window she could look out of. And she loved it. She was quite sorry when it was time to put on the headgear again and prepare for the landing. But there were other delights awaiting her when they arrived, Kristoph promised.

She was surprised to find that it was already evening on Karn. A summer evening at that. She thought about it for a little while though, as they waited for their transport on this second part of the trip.

“It’s just like phoning Australia and finding that it’s the middle of the night and summer there, she said.

“Something like that,” Kristoph agreed. “But it gets cold on the plains, even in summer. So keep your coat on.”

Their transport arrived. It was something like a hovercraft, except that Bolar Lundar explained to her that it worked by sonic waves rather than air. She didn’t quite understand how sonic waves powered a hovercraft, but she accepted it as a fact and climbed aboard. She sat at a big window seat, Hesthor beside her and the two men opposite them. Again they had stewardesses attending and were served latte coffee as the sonic hovercraft transported them across the rolling plains of Karn. The lights were turned down inside so that they could see the wildlife outside - a pride of Karn Leonates that were hunting, a herd of Wild Beest – something like buffalo – that were their prey, and many other fascinating animals that roamed the plain by night.

“Is it a real wilderness or a safari park?” Marion asked.

“It’s real,” Hesthor told her. “And some of the wildlife are real man-eaters, too. That’s why tours are only permitted by hovercraft with fully experienced crew.”

“What if it breaks down?” Marion asked. “And don’t tell me it can’t happen. They said that on the Titanic and look what happened.”

Hesthor had never heard of the Titanic. Lundar had spent a bit of time on Earth and HAD heard of it. So had Kristoph, of course. Both assured her that, in the event of any emergency there was satellite tracking of the craft and a fast airlift that would reach them before the Leonates did.

“But nothing is going to happen tonight,” Kristoph assured her. “Except a very pleasant evening’s entertainment. The Lunar lake is coming up, soon. You’ll want to pay attention to that.”

Marion watched excitedly as the hovercraft approached a lake that was almost big enough to be an inland sea. It actually shone like a moon. Lundar explained that the glow came from an abundance of tiny water creatures that gave off natural phosphorescence. They were, in turn, food for the Lunar Pelis. Marion looked and saw that a Pelis was a long-legged, long necked water bird that scooped up water full of the phosphorescent creatures and sieved them through their beaks.

“Flamingos do that on Earth,” she said. “Only they eat shrimp and turn pink.”

Birds that glowed in the dark beat flamingos hands down and were sliding into her top ten wonders of the universe as the hovercraft travelled across the narrowest part of the lake and the pearly-white glow reflected off the windows.

And that wasn’t EVEN the highlight of the trip. They were simply passing over the plain in order to reach the best vantage point to view the opening of the Eye of Rassilon.

“A new department store?” Marion giggled as she tried to take it all in. WHAT was the Eye of Rassilon and why was it opening? She had been to the Eye of Orion. She knew the Eye of Harmony powered the TARDIS. But the Eye of Rassilon was something new and nobody was giving her any clues, only that she would be impressed.

Once across the lake the hovercraft began to rise vertically up the side of a great cliff. At the top was a stone circle very much like Stonehenge but in less time eroded condition. The hovercraft set down in the parking zone and the passengers, wrapped in lapin furs and lined overcoats, followed the official guides into the circle.

In the circle was something that very certainly wouldn’t be provided at Stonehenge. There were chairs arranged in concentric circles – more like loungers than sitting chairs. Lying back, Marion looked up at a beautiful night sky that wasn’t just black, but shades of purple and deep red. Directly above was a huge patch that she thought at first was an ordinary cloud in the atmosphere, but it never moved or changed shape. Kristoph told her it was a nebula, a space cloud of dust and gases. It wasn’t a huge one, only about ten thousand miles across, but it had been there for millennia. It was a part of the Kasterborus system, lying between Karn and Polafrey, the next planet outwards from their sun. And once a decade it gave them a very charming and unusual phenomena.

“The Opening of the Eye of Rassilon,” Marion guessed. “But I still don’t see what…”

“Look at the nebula again. What does it remind you of?” Hesthor told her.

She looked.

“A face,” she answered. “If you use your imagination, it’s a face. An old man with a beard. There are even features. That could be a mouth, a nose. Those sort of ‘holes’ are like eyes. It’s even more obvious now. There’s a sort of glow… like a moon behind it, shining.”

“The Face of Rassilon,” Kristoph said. “Maybe not the best likeness, but that’s what our ancestors decided to call it.”

“I think it looks like my great-uncle Dvoratre,” Lundar whispered. Hesthor giggled.

“I think it’s more like your great-aunt Romana!” she answered him.

“Now, now,” Lundar teased his wife. “A little more respect for my aged relative who has promised a huge dowry for our first born daughter as long as she is named after her.”

“I think it’s like Colonel Saunders,” Marion said, joining in the fun. “I’m glad we’ve eaten,” she added, after Kristoph had explained that Earth cultural reference to their friends. “If I was hungry I’d be finding that image very distracting.”

As they talked in that light-hearted way the glow that back-lit the nebula seemed to be increasing. The face was ever more distinct against the night sky.

“It’s the Fibster,” Hesthor explained to Marion. “The sixth planet of our system. It has an erratic orbit that crosses the paths of Kasterborus and Polafrey and at this point every ten years it looks like a moon in the night sky of Karn. Except when it is behind the nebula. But look…”

Marion looked. Everyone did. A still, quiet came over them all as the moment they had awaited came closer. Tickets for the Opening of the Eye of Rassilon were much sought after, she had learnt. They were privileged to be there.

Fibster’s light was slowly moving behind the cloud. And soon, a sliver of it touched the edge of the left ‘eye’ of the Face. It was brighter than Marion had expected, brighter even than a moon at its brightest. The Fibster was big enough to be called a planet, not an asteroid, and to hold its own orbit. Its surface was a quartz-like substance that caught the full rays of the Kasterborus sun and reflected them back.

Slowly it moved ever more fully into the ‘gap’ in the nebula that formed the eye. And the effect really was that of a bright, glowing eye slowly opening. Marion felt as if the Face of Rassilon was winking at her. Rassilon had a sense of humour!

When it was fully ‘open’ it was like a light had been turned on. The stone circle was bathed in the focussed light that was so much brighter than reflected moonlight, but not harmful to the eyes as direct sunlight was. It was warm, too. For the hour that the Fibster was in line with the ‘Eye’ it was possible to throw off lapin furs and feel as warm as a summer evening with the sun going down.

Their enjoyment of this wonderful phenomenon was spoiled only slightly by a sudden disturbance. Marion looked around to see security guards holding back a group of women in red hooded cloaks who were demanding to be admitted to the circle.

“The Sisterhood,” Hesthor whispered. “They want to be allowed to hold ceremonies here, worshipping Rassilon and invoking the magical properties of the Eye!”

“They’re not allowed?” Marion asked.

“They have no right to demand it,” Lundar explained. “This is not one of their sacred places. The circle has always been open to the public. They have no case at all. They only began making an issue out of it after it became popular as a tourist attraction. They have no legal or moral case to make.”

Kristoph agreed, and as the women were expelled from the circle quiet came upon the scene again. Marion was enchanted even further when a flock of Lunar Pelis, glowing in the dark, flew across the Face.

They all continued to enjoy the ‘magical properties’ of the Eye of Rassilon until the Fibster’s strange orbit slowly moved on and the light began to fade. Soon one last sliver of a wink remained and it felt colder again. People wrapped their coats around them once more and began to move around, a little stiffly after lying there for so long, but joyful at having been witness to that wonderful and rare sight.

“What did you think?” Hesthor asked Marion as they made their way out of the Circle.

“It was amazing,” she answered. “As good as Abu Simbel or Newgrange.”

“I knew you would like it,” Kristoph told her. “Hot drinks back on the hovercraft, now. Supper on the space ship. It will be late by the time we get home, but we can lie in tomorrow morning.”

“Mmmm,” Marion answered approvingly.

As they stepped out under the stone portal, Marion felt her hand grasped by a stranger. She suppressed a yelp as she looked around to see one of the red cloaked women. This one looked so old and wrinkled that the idea of the Sisterhood being witches came back to her mind.

“Ahhh!” the woman hissed. “The Vessel of the Renegade!” Then she laughed in such a way that Marion was convinced that this WAS a woman who practiced witchcraft of the darkest sort.

“Unhand my wife,” Kristoph demanded coldly and made to push her away. She grasped his hand, and for a moment even he, as strong as he was, seemed unable to throw her off.

“Son of Lœngbærrow,” she hissed. “Sired by the Lord Rassilon! You have no idea what the stars foretell. You cannot see what the seed of your House will bring upon us all. Oh, such a destiny.”

Lundar joined with Kristoph in pushing the woman away. They were firm, though not rough. She WAS a woman, after all, and an old one at that. Then a security guard came and took her into custody. He asked if they wanted her charged with assault and affray.

“No,” Marion said. “I’m all right. I wasn’t hurt. She’s just… It’s just nonsense. People do that in the streets of Liverpool, too. Pretending to tell the future. Just… keep her away from us until we’re back on the hovercraft. Then let her go back where she comes from.”

“Yes,” Kristoph added. “Do that. There is no need to make a legal case of this silliness.”

The woman was escorted away. Kristoph put his arm protectively around Marion as they made their way back to the hovercraft. On the journey back across the plains she drank hot chocolate and enjoyed a repeat view of the Lunar Lake and it’s birdlife and the sight of the Wilde-Beest grazing, perhaps missing a few of their numbers since the Leonates were lying down contentedly after their supper.

Kristoph was pleased to see that she had put her encounter with one of the Sisterhood out of her mind. The obscure prediction did not trouble her.

It troubled him. It sounded like nonsense. As Marion said, charlatans could be found on the streets of Liverpool or any other city, selling lucky heather and making claims to foresee the future.

“Vessel of the Renegade!”

Marion didn’t know what it meant. Kristoph did. And he very much hoped it WAS just the vicious ranting of a woman who was disgruntled because she was not one of the privileged ones admitted to the circle.

But she was one of the Sisterhood of Karn, and an old, old one at that. So old she could not regenerate further. And when she had touched him he knew that she was one with the gift of foresight.

No, he told himself. I will not let such a thing weigh on my mind. And he dismissed it. He looked at his wife and thought of the joy they would both share when the time was right and a child was born to them. He was not going to let any wicked prediction spoil that happiness.