They arrived at the Hall of El’Rhoa near sundown the next day, by which time Stella was tired of horse riding, even if it did mean that she got to be close up to The Doctor for hours and hours, something which she REALLY enjoyed. She had a romantic soul. Her imagination had always been peopled with handsome heroes that took her breath away. And there she was, riding across a fantastic landscape with a handsome hero’s arms around her. But the novelty of it had started to wear off about midday with a sweltering sun beating down on them and by the time they arrived at the royal palace of the Tu’lK’et’h she just wanted to take a bath and get rid of the smell of HORSES.

“They DO have running water!” she said when she joined Wyn and Jamie and The Doctor in the drawing room of the suite of rooms given over to them as the honoured guests of the King. “I thought it would be a bit primitive. They seem kind of old fashioned. But the palace has all the mod cons. AND a maid who did my hair. Do you like it?”

The Doctor looked at her and had a vision of Jo, one time when he had been her escort to an official U.N.I.T. dinner – the sort where the Brigadier wore a kilt as part of his regimental dress uniform. She had worn her hair ‘up’ the same way, gathered into a top knot that fell into coils around her elfin face. The ball gown Stella had found in the wardrobe of the Tu’lK’et’h bed chamber would have made Jo cry with joy and Mike Yates collapse on the spot because he HADN’T asked her to be his date for the evening as she had hoped.

“You look very grown up,” Jamie commented. Wyn looked again at her sister and agreed. But was that necessarily a good thing? Did she want her little sister growing up overnight?

“You look fantastic,” The Doctor agreed. He slipped away into the TARDIS parked up against the wall of the room – the only fixture or fitting in it that wasn’t decorated on a horse theme. He returned a half a minute later with a small box. He opened it to reveal a gold necklace with a teardrop diamond pendant and earrings to match. Stella nearly fainted with shock as he helped her to put them on.

“We’re guests of honour at a royal banquet. You have to look the part.”

“Wow,” she said. “They’re great. Are they real diamonds? I hope I don’t lose them. I’ll look after them, and let you have them back when we’re done.”

“Keep them,” he told her. “They’re yours, Princess Stella.”

Wyn smiled. She wasn’t jealous of Stella getting presents like that from The Doctor. He had given her K9, and he was worth more than diamonds to her. She looked at him as he hovered at her side. He was wearing a velvet bow tie instead of his usual collar and hovered alongside her and Jamie in their own evening dresses, Jamie having chosen to attend the dinner in female form. The Tu’lK’et’h with their own amazing morphic ability, took her gender-swapping as no more wondrous than The Doctor’s ability to change his face and look younger than ever.

The Banqueting Hall, like everything about the Hall of El’Rhoa, was horse themed. The food was not, and this time they could see clearly what it was meant to be. After an entrée of something like a pale purple avocado filled with freshwater prawns and covered with an aromatic sauce, a great roast boar was placed on a side table. The King and his children and their honoured guests ate mouth-watering slices cut off it served with exotic vegetables and more sauces, followed by huge, savoury-flavoured cheeses and an assortment of fruit. There were flagons of beer and bottles of wine, and also a jug of cooled fruit juice placed at Stella’s reach, although The Doctor DID allow her to have one glass of the wine when they toasted the health of the King.

The King was nearly a hundred years old. The events of the story they heard the night before took place eighty years ago when he was a newly crowned King. But in Earth terms he looked only about fifty. People aged differently across the universe. Humans seemed to have one of the shortest lifespans of all.

“Not true,” K9 informed Stella when she said so. “The shortest lifespan of any humanoid species is the Koroans of Koroa XII. They live only the equivalent of fifteen Earth years from birth to old age.”

“Oooh!” Stella shivered as she thought about the idea of being DEAD at her age of seventeen. How little they must achieve in such a lifespan.

“They achieve a great deal,” The Doctor assured her. “For them it is a full and fulfilling life. For your species, four score years and ten was always considered the best measure. For the Tu’lK’et’h maybe twice that. I’ve known Time Lords who have lived as long as eight thousand years. But mostly they did nothing with those years. They might as well have been embalmed for about half that long. Live life to the full, however much of it you have, and with whatever means you have. That’s what matters.”

That, Wyn thought, was the ultimate lesson of life that she had learnt from being with The Doctor. The same lesson her mother had learnt, and all the people who ever came into contact with him.

King Glennis was one of them, of course. HE had learnt to be a good King, standing up for himself and for his people, and making a happy, contented realm. He had raised his two children in that happiness; Gallia, a beautiful young woman who had already married Mika and was making the very most of her life, and the Crown Prince, Tirat. He sat at his father’s right side, a proud, handsome young man who looked a lot like King Glennis had looked in those images The Doctor had produced to illustrate the story – except far, far happier.

After dinner, the King and guests danced in their grand ballroom – decorated with tapestries and friezes of horsemen riding to battle. Tirat caught Stella’s attention as they moved from the banqueting hall and she proudly walked on his arm behind the King and Gallia, the Princess Royal, and her husband. He led her in the first dance to music provided by a small orchestra. The King danced with his daughter and Mika asked Wyn to partner him, while The Doctor took Jamie’s arm.

“The last time we danced, all hell broke loose,” Jamie reminded The Doctor.

“I think we’re safe this time,” he answered. “But the same rule applies. No pheromone tricks.”

“I’m a one woman girl,” Jamie promised.

In the course of the evening Jamie proved that by dancing with Wyn a lot. She also danced with the King and Mika and any number of Lords of El’Rhoa. So did Wyn. The Doctor was very popular with the Ladies of El’Rhoa. K9 proved himself worthy, too, hovering around the ballroom in amongst the silk-dressed ladies who thought he was adorable.

“Do you notice,” Wyn said as she and Jamie and The Doctor sat out a set and had a glass of cool sparkling champagne like wine. “Tirat has danced with Stella all night.”

“There are a lot of disgruntled young women in the room,” Jamie noted.

“Yes,” The Doctor noted. “But that’s not the problem.”

“What is?” Jamie asked, still not quite up to speed with what Wyn and The Doctor were both thinking.

“Peladon,” Wyn sighed. “Mum used to tell us that one as a bedtime story. The handsome and troubled King that fell in love with her, and who she turned down. Stella is always on about it. She REALLY did want to meet a prince.”

“And now she has!” The Doctor added.

“Oh,” Jamie looked at the two waltzing around the dance floor. “Ah.”

“She usually likes dancing with me,” The Doctor said. “I might butt in on the next set and take her off his hands.”

“You do that,” Wyn answered. “Jamie, you get the prince to dance with you. Turn on the full pheromone thing. See if you can distract him from Stella.”

“You want me to do that?” Jamie asked.

“No, not really. But I don’t think we should let Stella get too fixed on him. If she sees him making out with you the way guys do when you turn the juice up….”

“It’s not a plan I’d have chosen,” The Doctor admitted. “But it might just work.”

He saw the torn look in Wyn’s eyes. She didn’t want her lover to be a honeytrap for the prince. But at the same time she didn’t want Stella getting hurt, and she would be if she let things go further than they were already.

The Doctor cut in as one tune ended and the orchestra paused before beginning another. At the same time, Jamie caught the prince’s eye. The Doctor was close enough to find the ‘pheromone thing’ distracting to his own masculine senses but he resisted it as he steered Stella out of range of the prince.

“What IS a Crown Prince?” she asked The Doctor as she danced with him. “That’s what Tirat is, isn’t it?”

“It means he’s the one who’ll inherit. Like the Prince of Wales in Britain.”

“Oh, right. Cool.” Stella smiled widely. “But Gallia’s older than him?”

“Patriarchal line, again the same as Britain,” The Doctor explained. “That’s curiously common across the universe. Except for Alpha Centauri where they’re all the same sex anyway and Ir in the Cassiopeia sector and… oh, Lmoic Nonus in the Hadrassic quadrant. They both have matriarchal succession. The women rule. And fierce, powerful women they ARE! The current queen looks like Margaret Thatcher in a crown. I try to avoid the Hadrassic quadrant if I can.”

“Yeah.” Stella recognised one of The Doctor’s tangents but she was too excited to wait for it to run its course. She broke him off in the middle of a description of the tall, beautiful female rulers of Ir. “But anyway, that means Tirat is going to be King one day? So, does he have to marry a princess, or can he choose?”

The Doctor paused, considering his answer to that question. He could lie to her and say there were all sorts of special rules about the Crown Prince of the Tu’lK’et’h marrying a genuine princess who had passed every possible princess test up to and including sleeping on a dozen mattresses with a pea underneath them. But he didn’t want to see the disappointment in her eyes when she found out that he had lied.

“No,” he said. “There are no rules. He is free to marry any woman he truly loves. But Stella… I don’t think….”

But Stella wasn’t listening. After the dance set ended she said she was thirsty. The Doctor went to get her a cold drink of cordial but he hadn’t even reached the table when Tirat had claimed her attention again. He saw him offering her a glass of something, then his view was obscured by the dancers on the floor and when he looked again they had disappeared.

“They went outside in the garden,” Jamie told him. “I did what Wyn said. I turned on the full ‘juice’. He was besotted with me for the length of the dance. But as soon as he moved away he only had eyes for Stella again.”

The Doctor sighed.

“Is it REALLY a problem?” he asked. “She only met him tonight. Surely.…”

“She’s an impressionable young girl.” The Doctor said. “And I’m responsible for her.”

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think Tirat is a one night stand type who wants to take advantage of her for fun.”

“I should hope not,” The Doctor answered with all the deep feeling of a surrogate father. “But I don’t know that the alternative is better. Love at first sight… with the right man, or woman… best feeling in the world. But I don’t think Tirat is the right man for her.”

“I’m going to go back to Wyn and let her know she’s the right woman for me,” Jamie said. “I know she ASKED me to do that, but she didn’t like it.”

“You do that,” The Doctor told her. He smiled warmly at Jamie then turned towards the big French doors, open on the warm, balmy night, where he went in search of Stella and the young Prince Tirat.

He felt a bit of a heel about it. After all, they weren’t REALLY doing anything wrong. But he was responsible for her. If there was a list of ways he was responsible, this one was double underlined in bold.

He found them easily enough. They were in a glass summer house in the middle of a circle of elaborate topiary. It looked a lot like the one from The Sound of Music. He could bet Stella had thought the same thing when she came there with Tirat. But perhaps she had forgotten than the teenage romance in that film ended in tears.

He drew closer, unsure how to break things up. He didn’t want to just barge in there and start laying down the law. She would just be angry and mutinous and probably start telling him he wasn’t her dad and couldn’t tell her what to do and the sort of domestic scene he had avoided for centuries would ensue.

Fatherhood! It was difficult whether it was real or surrogate. He half smiled as he let himself remember the times when he had experienced it one way of another. Most recently, his own Angeletta, his little angel who grew up too fast, it seemed, and became another man’s angel before he knew it. Earlier in his life, Susan, his granddaughter, had done the same, leaving him for David, but not before plenty of those scenes where she tried the patience of an old man just trying to do right by her. Then there was Vicki, Stella’s age but in terms of worldliness, even younger. Zoë, too. Jo, little more than a girl when she came into his life. Nyssa – he was never entirely sure how old she was, but not much more than the others. Ace, the street-wise, sassy, but vulnerable girl who needed him more than she would admit.

Then there was Rose.

She had touched his hearts in a very different way. She was a teenager, but much closer to being a woman than the others.

Stella wasn’t. She was still very much a little girl and he had to protect her.

He probably should have stepped in to break them up a few moments sooner than he did. He knew when he saw Tirat move to kiss her that it was too late. Now he had to wait as she experienced her first real, romantic kiss of her life.

He wouldn’t have stopped that once it had begun, but as soon as they broke apart he knew it was time.

“It’s midnight, Cinderella,” he said from the door. “Time for the coach to turn into a pumpkin.”

Stella spun around from the Prince’s embrace with a horrified expression. Then she ran. The Doctor stepped aside from the door to let her past, but when Tirat went to follow her he closed the gap again.

“Unhand me,” the Prince demanded. “I am the Crown Prince of El’Rhoa.”

“I’m the Lord of Time,” The Doctor replied. “And I say time is up on this game. We’re only visiting this place, paying respects to your father. We’ll be moving on again in a few days, and Stella will be with us. Do you understand?”

“I understand that she feels something for me, and I for her. I shall not let any man stand in my way. I know you are a great man in my father’s eyes and my sister and her consort think highly of you. but I see nothing about you that entitles you to command me.”

“Oh, don’t you?” The Doctor’s eyes hardened. He stared at the young prince - stared right into his soul. He saw a proud young man who was heir to a throne men had been prepared to kill for, which armies had fought over. He had to make a pretence of having the strength of character and the courage his ancestors had. He, himself, though, had never been tested in any arena of battle or had to lift a sword except in fencing instruction. He was AFRAID of The Doctor. He DID see more in him than a man in a dinner suit. He saw a glimpse of the fire that burnt in his Time Lord soul and knew that The Doctor’s will was greater than his.

Tirat broke eye contact first. The Doctor won the battle of wills. Having won, though, he was magnanimous. That was always his way. He touched him on the shoulder gently.

“I AM sorry,” he said. “But it wouldn’t work. You’ll both understand that in time.”

Tirat didn’t answer but The Doctor thought he had got the message through to him. He walked away, leaving the young prince in the summer house, knowing that he still had to face Stella.

Wyn was already facing her. The Doctor heard the row as he came through the outer door of the private guest quarters and crossed the ante room before the comfortable drawing room. Wyn was telling her in no uncertain terms that she could NOT stay on El’Rhoa’X and marry the Crown Prince Tirat.

“Why not?” Stella argued. “MUM nearly did.”

“Oh, not THAT again!” Wyn snapped. “I am sick and tired of hearing it. I wish mum had never told us that story.”

“But she DID,” Stella argued. “And now a prince wants ME, and I’m not going to say no. I love him.”

The Doctor came into the room. He waited for them to notice him.

“Doctor!” Wyn pleaded. “Tell her. Tell her she can’t.”

“Stella, you CAN’T,” The Doctor told her.

“This isn’t FAIR,” Stella argued. “Mum….”

“Your MUM said no to the King of Peladon because she knew she wouldn’t really be happy living on another planet. She said the same to at least two other men who would have liked her to stay with them. She said yes to your DAD because he could offer her the same excitement as travelling with me, while still living on Earth, where she belongs. Stella, you CAN’T just marry Tirat and stay here. Your mum and dad would be devastated. And you WOULDN’T be happy for the same reasons Jo knew she wouldn’t be. The glamour of being a princess, a queen, is all very well. But you’d miss your home, your family.…”

“What about all the other girls you left in places? Vicki… Leela, Romana…. What about SUSAN? You left her on another planet. Did you never think about whether SHE was missing you, missing her home?”

That hit The Doctor like a blow. Wyn looked at his face. Anyone else would have blown their top already and slapped Stella. The Doctor looked only just short of that.

“Enough,” she said to her sister. “Stella, you CAN’T and that’s all there is to it. You’re NOT going to marry Tirat. Now… just… go to BED.”

“You can’t tell me what to do,” Stella answered. “Either of you.”

“Ok,” The Doctor said. He reached into Wyn’s pocket and pulled out her mobile phone. “Ok, if you won’t do what either me or Wyn tell you, then phone your dad. Ask him what he thinks about this.”

Stella watched him as his finger hovered over the speed dial number that would connect with her parents in South Africa. She wasn’t sure how many light years and how much time they were apart, but she knew the call would connect. She knew she could ask her dad’s permission to marry Tirat.

But she also knew he would probably just tell her to go to bed like Wyn had.

“I hate you both,” she declared and ran to her room, slamming the door behind her.

“Sorry,” Wyn murmured on behalf of her sister.

“She’ll be ok in the morning,” The Doctor answered. He actually felt on quite familiar territory now. “Susan used to tell me that every other day. She never meant it. Neither does Stella. Come on. It IS bedtime, for all of us.”

He hugged Wyn and Jamie and said goodnight to them fondly. He tapped on Stella’s door and called goodnight to her, too, then he went through to his own room. It was a beautiful bedroom, with the usual horse motifs on everything, of course. He didn’t often sleep in a bed, but he felt as if he might like to tonight.

He looked in the chest of drawers with horse head brass handles and found an old fashioned cotton nightshirt. He changed into it, leaving his suit folded on a chair, and climbed into the bed. He took a few deep breaths and cleared his mind of the few worries currently pressing on his mind, mostly whether Stella WOULD forgive him for ruining her romantic plans, and let himself fall asleep.

“Doctor!” The next thing he knew, Wyn was shaking him awake. “Doctor, Stella’s gone.”

“Gone?” He sat up suddenly, Wyn darting back to avoid a painful collision with his head. “Gone where? How?” He leapt out of bed, ignoring Wyn’s surprised look at his nightshirt and ran into Stella’s room.

She WAS gone. She went of her own free will. The bed was neatly made and there was a note on the pillow, held down by her mobile phone.

“I left the phone because The Doctor is so clever he’ll just ring and trace where I am with it. Anyway, there’s nothing to talk about. Tirat and me are getting married. Tou can’t stop me. On this planet seventeen is old enough. I don’t need permission from The Doctor or from dad or anyone. And I know mum will be pleased that I got the chance she didn’t.”

“Silly girl!” The Doctor groaned as he held the note and the phone. As he debated what to do next there was a shout from the drawing room and the King ran in, followed by his personal bodyguard. “Of course,” The Doctor added. “Tirat is gone, too.”

The King looked at the empty bed and then at The Doctor. They shared an unspoken moment between men with the same problem.

“Sire, they must have gone to V-Latic’a,” said his bodyguard. “There are places there… marriage bureaux. Most are respectable, but some will overlook the necessary papers for enough gold.”

“Summon the guard,” the King said. “Have my horse made ready. We ride for V-Latic’a.”

“Your Majesty,” The Doctor added. “They have had many hours head start. Time is of the essence. Send the guard at best speed, of course. But may I suggest that you and I and a few of your men take MY ship?”

“Your magic ship that looks like a blue box?” The King was surprised at the suggestion. “It would take us to V-Latic’a faster than our swiftest horses?”

“Oh, much faster,” The Doctor assured the King. “Just give me a minute to get dressed. I’ve saved the world in pyjamas more than once, but I don’t fancy V-Latic’a in a nightshirt.”

“Do that,” the King commanded. “Then we will go in your ship at best speed. Can it carry horses?”


It never had before, but it did now. Before he set the co-ordinates for V-Latic’a The Doctor brought the TARDIS to the stables. Six horses were led through the double doors and up the ramp, into the console room - four for the bodyguards, and one each for the King and The Doctor. They were ranged in a circle around the console and The Doctor moved with a little more care than usual as he set their journey, hoping that the horses were not too anxious about their surroundings. A mesh floor and an upset horse’s digestive system may not be the best combination.

But when they arrived in V-Latic’a, the four bodyguards, followed by the King and then The Doctor, with a small metal dog hovering beside him, came out on horseback through the double doors of the box that had mysteriously appeared in the main street. The procession had the right effect on the people. They all made way for them. They reached the street of marriage brokers quickly and the bodyguard demanded entry to each of the establishments in turn. All denied having performed a marriage this morning of two young people without proper papers.

“This one is lying,” K9 observed when a man with a round face and a nervous look stammered his denial. “His heart rate increased when he answered the question as well as his rate of perspiration.”

“I agree,” said The Doctor and nodded to the bodyguards who unsheathed their swords. The marriage broker cowered back. The Doctor stepped forward with his sonic screwdriver in harmless penlight mode, but as he guessed, it looked enough like a weapon to finish off any reserves of guile left in the man.

“Yes, they were here,” he said. “They woke me from my bed, demanding that I perform the ceremony. I refused, but the boy produced gold. He said it would pay for my inconvenience.”

“The BOY?” The King was outraged. “Do you mean to tell me you didn’t recognise the Crown Prince of El’Rhoa’X.”

“The.…” The marriage broker’s face turned through pale white to yellow and a sickly grey-green as he realised just how much trouble he was in.

“You performed the ceremony?” The Doctor asked. “They ARE married?”

“By the sacred ceremony of El’Rhoa’X,” the marriage broker answered.

“Even though the proper papers were not presented?” He turned to the King. “It isn’t valid, surely? It can be annulled?”

“As long as consummation does not take place,” the King answered. He looked at the man who was now begging on his knees for mercy. “WHERE did they go from here?”

“To an inn,” he answered. “The Roan Horse, yonder. The boy spoke of buying breakfast.”

“Your license to perform your trade is henceforth rescinded,” The King said. “And if any harm has come to my young and foolish son or the naïve girl with him, further penalties will be added. For now, I am satisfied to be gone from your pathetic sight.”

The King turned away as his bodyguard struck down the framed certificate licensing the brokerage of marriages and the ‘open’ sign on the door of the office. Then they were gone, heading straight for the “Roan Horse”.

The inn was quiet now. The breakfast rush was over. The landlord was cleaning tables when The King and his entourage came in. He was astonished and then alarmed when the reason for the royal visit to his establishment was explained.

“Sire… I served the two young people breakfast. But I was suspicious of their claim that they were married and told them I had no rooms to spare. I am sorry, perhaps I should have… they would be here still….”

“This one tells the truth,” K9 confirmed.

“Never leave home without a man’s best friend – a lie detector,” The Doctor remarked dryly. He turned to the inn-keeper. “You did what you thought right. You need fear no retribution. Do you know where they went after breakfast?”

“No, sir,” he answered. “They paid me for the food and for stabling the horses. The last I saw they were going into the stables. I was busy with other customers.”

The Doctor thanked the man for his honesty and asked him to show them the stable.

“This is STRANGE,” said the King right away. “Those are horses of the royal household. The two that my son took for his foolish quest.”

“They changed horses?” The Doctor turned to the innkeeper and asked what horses had been taken in place of these two.

“None,” he answered. “Every horse belonging to my guests is present. They did not leave on horseback.”

“Then.…” The Doctor felt as if he was out of options. The trail had gone cold.

Stella’s mobile phone rang. It was Wyn. He answered the call.

“Doctor, you and the King need to get back to the Hall. Something has happened. Come as fast as you can.”

Out of options and out of time. He looked around the stable one more time then turned away. Outside the stable he leapt up onto his horse and almost out-rode the King of the Horsemen of El’Roah’X as he raced back to the TARDIS. He rode the horse straight up the gangway and jumped off in front of the console. K9 whirred madly as he hurried to catch up with The Doctor. If he was a real dog he would have been panting. The King and his people followed and he closed the doors and hit the fast return switch. That brought them back to the stables. They let the horses out before he dematerialised the TARDIS again and brought it to the throne room where, the lifesigns monitor told him, Wyn and Jamie were waiting along with others of the King’s household.

“Doctor!” Wyn ran to him as he stepped out. Jamie was close behind her with Gallia and Mika rushing to the King’s side. “Stella and Tirat have been kidnapped.”

“What!” The Doctor grasped Wyn’s shoulders. “No, they ran away.”

“This was delivered to the castle.” She pressed a rolled piece of parchment into his hands and he opened it. He read it before passing it to the King.

“Five million intergalactic credits!” The King blanched as he read the ransom demand.

“Each,” Wyn added. “They want five million for Stella as well as for Tirat.”

“Why?” Gallia asked. “Stella isn’t of royal blood.”

“She’s a living Human being,” Wyn protested. “And she’s my sister. You can’t put a price on her. She’s…..” She looked at The Doctor. “Five million intergalactic credits - that IS a lot isn’t it? It’s not like Chinese money after the revolution when a thousand yuan note was worth about 20p?”

“It’s….” The Doctor did that reverse sighing through his teeth as he tried to work out the exchange rate of intergalactic credits with Earth currency of her era.

“It is approximately three million euros,” K9 supplied and began to give the equivalents in US dollars, Danish Krone, Yen, zloty and Pesos before The Doctor gently kicked him and made him stop.

“It’s a LOT of money,” he said. “Glennis… are you good for it?”

“No,” the King admitted. “I am rich, but not THAT rich. I could find one million, maybe two if they allow me the time to liquidate some assets. But….”

“The note says you have to deliver by noon,” Jamie pointed out.

“Or they will be killed,” Wyn added. “Oh, Doctor!” She turned to him. “Doctor!”

He said nothing. He put his hand on her shoulder gently and then turned and ran back into the TARDIS. Wyn followed him as he crossed the console room and rushed straight through into the corridors. She was starting to get a little out of breath when he finally stopped at a door near the engine room and opened it. She followed through the door and found herself in an empty room that had nothing in it at all and nothing except a large metal vault door on one wall. He went to it and began to turn the dial, murmuring the combination under his breath.

“Doctor?” Wyn queried. “What are you… Is that a safe? Do you have money in there?”

“No,” he answered.

“I was thinking we ought to phone mum,” she added. “I mean, this is serious. She should know.”

“No,” The Doctor said again. “No. We don’t need to worry your mum yet.”

“Do you remember when we brought Stella to her? Mum was well past the age for having babies of her own. She could have said no. She could have said she and dad just wanted to live a quiet life together now that I was going off to university and everything. But she loved Stella from the first moment she laid eyes on her - as if she WAS her own child. And yes, I know, biologically she IS. But I’ve studied biology and it says nothing about love. Which only goes to show books don’t know everything. When I got back from being with you, Stella was mum’s baby, her little girl. Dad was mad about her, too. I felt a bit jealous, really, because I don’t think they ever were as gushy about me. But I WAS ready to finish my A levels and go on off to Uni, and it was ok.”

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “I remember.”

“Mum will never forgive us if we let anything happen to Stella.”

“I’ll never forgive myself,” The Doctor answered her. “Wyn, I’ll get your sister back. I promise.” He finished operating the complicated lock and the vault door opened. Wyn stared at the contents.

“Is that… GOLD?”

“Gold, silver, diamonds,” The Doctor said. “Gallifreyan.”


“Intergalactic currency,” he answered. “Never leave home without it.”

“You mean every Time Lord that ever went off in a TARDIS took a pile of loot with them?”

“That’s why the ransom demanded as much for Stella as it did for Tirat. It was about me as much as about Glennis. Whoever took them KNOWS the old rumours about Time Lords and their secret treasure vaults.” He opened a fine inlaid box about the size of a shoe box. It was full of diamonds. He reached and scooped up a handful. Diamonds slipped through his fingers like sand. “These… are a part of Gallifrey. They came from its soil. They ARE its very substance. Whatever they’re worth just as DIAMONDS, they’re worth a hundred times that to me.”

Wyn put her hand on her wristwatch. It was a gold watch. A present from her parents two birthdays ago. Earth gold. She tried to imagine how she would feel if the gold in that wristband was the last piece of Earth left.

“Then you can’t,” she said. “You can’t give that away to a kidnapper and a robber. It’s too valuable to you.”

The Doctor dropped the handful of diamonds back into the box and closed it again. He picked it up and closed the door of the vault.

“Yes, I can,” he said. “Valuable? The most valuable things this TARDIS ever carried… are the lives of my friends who came with me. This is a small price to pay for Stella, or for you, or for any of you.”

“Doctor…,” Wyn tried to find words that were worthy of reply to what he had just said. She failed. She tried again. She looked at him. There were no need for words. He knew.

Stella looked at the man – or whatever he was - who had kidnapped her and Tirat as he brought them food and drink – water and some kind of space age nutrition wafers. They both drank the water because they were thirsty but ignored the food.

“I recognise you,” she said, moving closer to the bars of the sort of cage he had put them into. “You were with the caravan. You prepared the food. You were listening to the story The Doctor told by the camp fire.”

“Clever child!” the man replied with a cold laugh. “Yes, that’s when I formulated my plan. My chance to escape from this infernal planet.”

“Escape?” Tirat was indignant. “As a servant of my father you were well paid and housed and had every need accounted for. Why should you wish to escape?”

“Look around you, foolish boy. Does this look like the home of one of your servants?”

They were, very clearly, on some kind of space ship, although it didn’t look like a space ship that was going anywhere. The control panels were all in pieces and there had been a fire at some point.

“You’re an alien?” Stella guessed. “But you look like them. You rode a horse like the Tu’lK’et’h. You must have or they would have noticed.”

“I am a Krigan,” their captor answered. “My ship crash landed here. It will never fly again. The damage is too great. The cloaking field still operates and the transmat function still works at short range, which was how I was able to take the two of you from the village, of course. But I am trapped here, penniless. All I could do was assimilate one of the locals and bide my time. I captured a servant of the palace and absorbed his life force. I BECAME one of you. Too late I realised that by doing so I impaired my ability to return to my true form. The morphic ability of the Tu’lK’et’h overrode my own ability to assimilate. I was not only trapped on this planet, but trapped in your form, and as a SERVANT! Fool that I was. I should have taken the King himself. That at least would have been worth it.”

“So you kidnap me for money?” Tirat responded. “You expect my father to pay you for my life. But you will still be ‘trapped’ on this planet and the Tu’lK’et’h will hunt you down. And why did you take Stella, to? What has she to do with this?”

“You fool!” the Krigan answered him. “You arrogant fool to believe YOU are the one I was interested in! I could have taken you ANY time if it was just about getting money from your pathetic father. No, I needed the Time Lord’s child.”

“Me?” Stella’s eyes opened wide with surprise. “But…. Oh…. It’s not about money. It’s about getting away from El’Rhoa’X. That’s it, isn’t it? But you didn’t have to kidnap us. You could have asked The Doctor. He would have helped you. He’s a kind man. He would have listened to you.”

“Ah, the noble Time Lord would have given me a free ride in his ship to the nearest space dock? And what then? A life of vagrancy? No, he WILL take me where I choose to go, but he will also pay me enough money to allow me to live a good life for however long this pathetic body lasts.”

“So it IS about money?” Stella concluded.

“It is outrageous!” Tirat was clearly affronted that he was not, after all, the valuable hostage he imagined he was. “Let me go or my father will….”

“Will what?” the Krigan laughed. “Under the guidance of the Time Lord, your father abolished all forms of torture and capital punishment. He is toothless. I do not fear him. Nor do I fear the Time Lord. He will pay. He will do everything I tell him or he will get his child back in small pieces. VERY small pieces. I will transmat her with the molecular pattern interrupted so that she is reassembled as a mass of living matter – living for a very short time, that is. As for YOU, I will sell you as livestock. There are plenty of planets where live meat is a delicacy.”

“But The Doctor doesn’t HAVE that sort of money,” Stella said. “He….”

“He is a Time Lord. He HAS the money and he WILL pay.”

Yes, The Doctor had the money. Or the equivalent in diamonds, anyway. Glennis was overcome when he realised The Doctor was prepared to pay BOTH ransoms.

“Your generosity is without bounds,” the King said. “But are you certain it will be enough? Will the kidnappers return my son and your Stella once they have the money?”

“I don’t know,” The Doctor answered. “I don’t know what will happen exactly. But I will try. That’s all I can do.”

“Doctor, have you considered this might be a trap for YOU?” Jamie was looking at the ransom demand on the parchment. “This doesn’t give directions for the Tu’lK’et’h to take across country. It gives a space-time co-ordinate for the TARDIS.”

“Yes,” he said. “I noted that. And I have an idea what it signifies. But right now, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I have to deliver the ransom to that co-ordinate. Your Majesty… your son’s life is at stake, too.”

“I will come with you,” he said. “Alone.”

His bodyguards at once protested. But the note made it clear that no weapons were to be brought, no guards and no surveillance.

“You and me,” The Doctor said. “This is not about regicide. You could have been assassinated at any time without need of this charade. I don’t believe you are in any danger. But your son is, and Stella is. And this is work for fathers.”

“You’re not her father,” Jamie pointed out.

“Right now, I am,” The Doctor answered. He picked up the ransom and turned to the TARDIS door with the King beside him.

“Doctor.…” Wyn reached out to hold his arm. “Doctor, I don’t have a lot of experience of being kidnapped. Even though my dad is a millionaire owner of a food processing empire, nobody ever seemed to fancy grabbing me. But I’ve seen enough films. When was there EVER one where the ransom was paid and they left the victim alive and well on the side of the road?”

“But there’s an unwritten law of Hollywood,” The Doctor answered. “The bad guys are not allowed to win.” He paused and grinned widely. “Except for George Clooney.”

Wyn uttered a word that The Doctor usually pronounced in Low Gallifreyan to spare the blushes of those around him followed by “George Clooney.”

“That’s the spirit,” The Doctor told her. “For what it’s worth, I’m not just going to let them win, either. But we get Stella and Tirat back safe before we go after the baddies.” He hugged her quickly before he stepped into the TARDIS. K9 hovered at the threshold.

“Take him,” Wyn suggested.

“But he has a laser,” The Doctor replied. “He could be considered as a weapon. I think it would be better if I didn’t.”

With that he turned and entered the TARDIS. The King followed. Wyn stepped back, K9 at her side and Jamie hugging her around the shoulders. She heard Jamie telling her that it would all be fine, that The Doctor would get Stella back safe. They were words meant to be comforting, but they didn’t comfort. Nothing would until this was all over.

The TARDIS materialised at the co-ordinate. It was somewhere on the plain that lay between the Hall of El’Rhoa and V-Latic’a, rather closer to the town than the Hall, but otherwise unremarkable.

“Why here?” the King asked. “I do not understand.”

“I do,” The Doctor answered. He went to the environmental console and studied its readout of the surrounding area. See… there is a cloaked ship there.”

“Doctor, I am a man who understands horses and the politics and history of a tribal people. Science on our planet is concerned with the growing of crops in a climate that is not always conducive to such growth. A ‘cloaked ship’?”

“Invisible,” he explained. “Actually, not so much a ship right now as a static caravan – in the sense the word is used on the Welsh coast. I’m reading massive damage to almost all its systems. Except… ohhh, it would be! Yes, it still has a functioning transmat. It wouldn’t function very far though without draining power. Maybe to the town. Not the palace. Tirat, you silly boy. You walked right into the trap!”

“Doctor, your words are still puzzling to me.”

“Don’t worry,” The Doctor assured him. “Very few people actually understand what I say. They mostly just nod politely and try not to let their eyes glaze over.” He pressed several buttons, pulled a lever and smiled. “Oh, yes. Try cloaking something next to a TARDIS. We’re the experts in hiding things in plain sight. Chameleon circuits, perception filters! A common or garden cloaking device! Hah!” He opened the TARDIS door and stepped out, bringing the box of diamonds with him. The King followed.

“Good gracious!” the King exclaimed as he looked at the spaceship that was now perfectly visible. It was a ‘classic’ saucer shape beloved of Earth science fiction writers but it had clearly not arrived on this planet intentionally. It had landed with great force, half burying itself in the dry soil of the plain.

“It’s a generic craft. Not part of any space fleet with identifying livery. And it’s not that big. I doubt it was crewed by more than two or three people.”

“Then my army could storm it?” the King said. “Take back my son and your child by force and make the one responsible pay dearly.”

“He could kill them before they got within ten feet. We need to be more subtle than that.”

He stepped closer. The King followed, something of a new experience for him. Yet, although he was king, he felt himself inferior to The Doctor just now. He was from the stars beyond El’Roah’X. And he had wisdom beyond his apparent years. The King deferred to the Lord of Time in the face of things he knew nothing about.

A hatch opened in the ship.

“Tirat!” The King called out as he saw his son emerging from the ship, followed by Stella and behind her the kidnapper. The Doctor looked at the man. He looked like – well, a man - one of the Tu’lK’et’h. He remembered him as one of the servants. Not what he expected to emerge from a ship like that.

The king recognised him, too.

“What treachery is this?” he demanded.

“Don’t move,” The Doctor told him. “The weapon in his hand is an electro-static crossbow. The bolts not only rip into flesh and bone, but they then pass a deadly electric current through every nerve, killing instantly.”

“Such a weapon….”

“Doesn’t belong on your planet, I know. You have no means to fight that kind of evil. That is why, for the moment, we must do as he says.”

“Father,” Tirat called out. “He wants to know if you have the ransom.”

“The Doctor has it,” the King replied, and The Doctor held up the box as proof.

“Step closer,” called out the man. “Bring the box. No tricks, Time Lord.”

“No tricks,” he answered as he stepped forward. The kidnapper pushed Tirat and Stella forward as they met halfway.

“Give the boy the box,” the kidnapper ordered. The Doctor did so. Tirat turned and showed the contents to the kidnapper.

“I haven’t counted them, but in any market place they’re worth far MORE than you demanded. “Now let them go. If you still want a hostage, take me.”

“Oh, I SHALL take you,” he answered. “You will do as I say, or these two will both die. If you co-operate I may be lenient and kill only one. I may even let you choose. Which is least important to you?”

“All life is important to me,” The Doctor answered. “Anyone who knows me knows THAT. But the deal was I give you lots of money you don’t deserve and you give me those two children who have done no harm to you. I’ve got your money, so stop pointing that weapon at them and let them go.”

“The deal has changed,” he replied. “I want the money and safe passage to the Moonbase of Stellis IV. You will take me in your ship.”

“The thief’s planet, where no extradition treaty is honoured and bounty hunters are butchered for public amusement?”

“You know of it?”

“It is universally condemned and the answer is no. Take your money. Tirat, Stella, come here to me. It’s all right. I’m not going to let him harm you.”

“No,” the kidnapper screamed. “My terms are non-negotiable. You take me to your ship or they die.” He grabbed Stella by the arm and aimed the weapon at her neck. Then he turned to Tirat and aimed at him. “The girl, or the prince. Which should I kill?”

“Don’t play games with them,” The Doctor answered as Stella cried openly and Tirat, still trying to look brave, as befitted his position, barely held back terrified tears. “Don’t play games with ME. I’m not the pushover you think I am.”

“The girl!” he snarled. “I’ll kill her… Then you will know this is no game.” He lunged for Stella again but she instinctively stepped back away from him. In the same moment Tirat put himself between her and the weapon.

“No!” The Doctor cried out as he folded time and became a blur. He grabbed the box of diamonds from Tirat’s hands and threw it at the kidnapper. It hit him on the arm and deflected the shot. The Doctor suppressed a scream as the bolt thudded into his shoulder. He felt it lodge in his clavicle while he deadly jolt of electricity seared through his body.

Deadly to humanoids with only one heart, at least. His own body was in trouble, but he wasn’t dying, at least not yet. If he could dissipate the effects he had a chance. He lunged forward and grabbed the kidnapper around the neck. He held onto him and heard his scream as the current coursing through his body passed into the kidnapper’s body. His scream cut off as his heart stopped. The Doctor struggled to stay conscious as he felt himself falling to the ground, forcing the electricity out of himself and into the dead man. He struggled to his knees, the smell of singed clothes assailing his nostrils. Finally he managed to stand up straight.

“Don’t touch him,” The Doctor warned as the King bent over the kidnapper to see if he was really dead. “There’s still a lot of current in him.”

“Can I touch YOU?” Stella asked. “Doctor… I thought you were….”

“What? That was nothing,” he answered her. “I’ve had worse things than that thrown at me.” Then he went pale and fell to his knees again. There WAS still a steel bolt in his shoulder. “Okay, maybe not NOTHING. Stella… do you know where the fast return switch is on the console?”

“Yes,” she said. “You showed me.”

“Good,” he answered and fainted.

The Doctor woke several hours later in a comfortable bed in a room with horse motifs on everything. He was wearing pyjamas, but with the shirt open where his shoulder was bandaged. Of course, the wound had repaired itself as he slept, but he felt quite mellow about whoever it was who had tended to him so carefully.

He still ached from the wound and from being almost electrocuted, but he managed to turn his head and saw first of all the inlaid wooden box on the bedside table.

“The king’s guards picked them all up and brought them back when they collected the body of the kidnapper,” Wyn explained as he turned to see her and Stella sitting by his beside. “They thought you might want them. They PROMISED none were missing.”

“As if I would care?” The Doctor answered. “Stella? You’ve been crying.”

“I was worried about you,” she told him.

“Not just that,” Wyn added. “The King had a long talk with her.”

“The marriage has been declared invalid,” Stella said mournfully. “We didn’t have the proper papers. So… that’s that.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“Well.…” She smiled sadly. “Actually… all the time I was kidnapped, with Tirat right there with me… I kept on thinking about home. About mum and dad. And the thought of never seeing them again… you were right about that, Doctor. Tirat is.… Well, you know he DID almost die for me. He was totally brave like I always imagined a prince ought to be. But we had a long talk. I was hoping that we could stay a while though. Tirat still wants to show me some stuff and there’s a ball coming up, and he promised I could be his special guest. But we ARE just going to be friends now.”

“Come here,” The Doctor told her. He pulled himself up in the bed and reached to hug her. “One day your prince WILL come, Stella. Most likely he’ll be somebody just like your dad, living on Earth, where you’ll be happy. But he’ll be your own prince. And I’ll come to your wedding and throw rice… rice pudding maybe… in tins.”

She laughed, as he meant her to. She kissed him on the cheek and then ran off to her own room.

“Silly girl,” Wyn said, though with an indulgent smile at her. “All the trouble she caused because she was SO much in love.”

“She WAS,” The Doctor assured her. “It maybe only lasted a day, but it WAS love, for as long as it lasted.”

“We got off easy then,” Wyn noted.

“Mmm,” The Doctor commented diplomatically. “Tell you what, I think I’m going to get a bit more sleep right now. This IS a very comfy bed and I think I deserve a rest.”

Wyn smiled and reached to kiss him in the same place Stella had already kissed him and left him alone. He sighed deeply and closed his eyes and soothed himself to sleep. Yes, they got off easy, all things considered.