“It looks just the same as when we were here before,” Julia said as the official car swept through the gates of the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s Residence on Ventura IV. “Except that it’s winter now, of course.”

Chrístõ had parked his TARDIS at the Embassy itself and the car brought them here. He

looked at the purple cloaked Ambassador’s Guards who saluted them as they passed and the flag of the Gallifreyan High Council flying from a pole on top of the beautiful mansion. It all looked exactly as he remembered it, too. Not only from his last visit, but from his childhood when this had been the first home he ever knew.

“We’re expected this time,” he pointed out with a wide smile as the car came to a stop. He was happy to be here. He held Julia’s hand as they stepped up to the main door. Servants came to collect their luggage and a uniformed butler conducted them both to the private drawing room where his family waited to greet him.

It was a happy reunion. His father hugged him joyfully. Valena did, too, in her turn. Garrick ran from his play corner to be embraced by him and Chrístõ was surprised when the child called him his name out loud. It was the first time he had heard his half-brother say his name and he felt a surge of pride when he heard it.

“You’re doing ok, kid,” he whispered as he lifted the four year old boy in his arms and kissed his cheek before allowing his mother to take him. Chrístõ turned to greet his uncle, Remonte de Lœngbærrow as he came to shake his hand manfully.

“It’s good to see you, Chrístõ,” he said. And it was literally true. He looked into his uncle’s eyes. They were sapphire blue and twinkling with pleasure. They used to be brown like all the De Lœngbærrow men, but after he had been blinded by the torture the Mallus inflicted on him they had regenerated in a new colour.

“It’s good to see you, too, uncle,” he responded. And he meant it. His long exile and the war itself had taught him one thing, and that was that family was important. This was the first opportunity for them all to be together as a family for so very long.

“And you, Aunt Rika,” he added as he turned to the elegant lady who stood at Remonte’s side. She smiled and kissed him on the cheeks.

“You’ve been away too long, dear Chrístõ,” she told him. “You’ve grown up and I didn’t even see. He has, hasn’t he, Remonte. The boy is a man, now.”

“He most certainly is,” Remonte agreed. “Though I would have rather it didn’t take a terrible war to work that change. He fought hard and bravely to rescue us. I owe my life to you, Chrístõ. So do many others. I hope they will never forget that. I certainly will not.”

“I did what I had to do, uncle,” Chrístõ said, wishing he hadn’t wanted to talk about it again. He really wanted to put the war behind him.

“Quite right,” Remonte told him. “We must all do that. And this celebration is a perfect time to do that.”

“The Gallifreyan Residence holding a Christmas party,” Rika said with a smile. “An Earth tradition. But one that we in our Gallifreyan family cherish.”

“I can’t wait,” Julia said. “I have a new dress, made by Queen Cirena of Adano-Ambrado’s own dressmaker.”

“I am sure it will be very lovely,” Rika told her. Valena agreed. They and Julia went into a feminine huddle to talk about dresses and shoes. Chrístõ turned to his uncle and father for conversation.

“I was glad to hear that you had accepted the post as ambassador, uncle,” he said. “Our family has long been associated with the Ventura ambassadorship.”

“It’s the first time I’ve held the senior post,” Remonte commented. “I was vice-consul when Rika and I were newly wed. Lord Stillh?ven was ambassador at the time. And later, when your father took the post, I was his deputy. Now, the job is mine in my own right.”

“And well deserved, brother,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said.

“Perhaps it will be my job in time to come,” Chrístõ said. “I knew happy times here. I have always felt at home in this house. I think Julia would enjoy it, too.”

“I’m glad you have good memories of living here, son,” Lord de Lœngbærrow told him. “We were happy here for so few short years when your mother was alive. And the Christmases were always precious. She enjoyed them so much. Perhaps we’ll capture some of that same spirit over the next few days. The staff are hard at work decorating the house and tonight’s Christmas Eve dinner will be a fine one.”

“I’m sure it will,” Chrístõ agreed. “It’s been a while since we celebrated Christmas together, father.”

“I know. I promised your mother we would always keep it in the best spirit. But since you left home I let it slide. Now is a good time to remember again the spirit of thankfulness and love that it represents. We have much to give thanks for this year.”

As he spoke, one of the servants, a footman in deep blue livery came into the drawing room. He bowed low to his employer, Ambassador Remonte de Lœngbærrow, and to his brother, the patriarch of the Lœngbærrow House, as well as to his son and heir, before telling Remonte that the decorations around the public rooms of the house were complete except for the star for the top of the tree.

“The old Christmas Star is still here?” Chrístõ’s eyes shone with glee as he remembered his childhood, so long ago, when the tree was decorated in the hall and his father would place the star on top before it was lit up. But then his father had been the ambassador, head of the household. Now, he was a guest in the Residence and it was Remonte’s responsibility.

Or so he thought. Chrístõ was surprised when his uncle passed the crystal glass star to him.

“You always wanted to do it when you were a little boy,” he told him. “Now, you’re old enough. Go on.”

Chrístõ smiled happily as he mounted the steps. He held the precious ornament in one hand as he climbed and put out of his head even the possibility of dropping it. When he was in position he carefully fixed it in place and connected the electrical wire that would light it up when they were ready. He climbed down and a servant removed the ladder before Remonte signalled to the butler to throw the switch. The tree was immediately lit by hundreds of twinkling crystal stars, including the big one at the top which shone like a beacon. Around the magnificent entrance hall other decorative lights were on, nestled in the greenery and the silver bows and silk ribbons that adored the walls. They also lit up the almost life size nativity scene made of finely crafted bone china that was set up next to the door where all the guests arriving could not fail to miss it.

Julia watched as Chrístõ’s father turned from admiring the tree and went to look at the nativity. He was so still and quiet he almost looked as if he was praying by it. But that wasn’t at all likely. She stepped towards him and touched his arm. He turned and smiled and put his arm around her shoulder.

“You do all this because Chrístõ’s mother asked you to?” she asked. “You must have loved her very much.”

“As much as my son loves you, child,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said to his future daughter-in-law. “She gave me the best years of her life. She gave me my son. I am glad to carry on a tradition that meant such a lot to her.”

“It’s a good tradition,” said Valena as she came to his side. “Garrick is excited. It’s his first Christmas.”

Lord de Lœngbærrow turned to his second wife, carrying his second born son in her arms. He reached to take the boy from her. Julia felt Chrístõ take her hand instead and looked to see him watching, not the nativity, but his father and stepmother.

“Don’t be jealous,” Julia whispered to him. “Your father doesn’t love you any the less just because he loves Garrick, too.”

“I know,” Chrístõ answered her. “Garrick is just about the age I was when I first understood about Christmas. I remember father holding me in the same way when we lit the Christmas decorations up for the first time. Holding my mother’s hand, just like that. I’m not jealous. Just a little… nostalgic. Bound to happen, being in this house, being here at Christmas.”

This quiet time with the family was only a preliminary to the Christmas Eve festivities, of course. It was soon time to get ready for the grand dinner party. For Julia, the only Earth born Human in the household, it was an exciting prospect. Apart from anything else, it was the most elaborate and formal Christmas dinner she had ever attended. In honour of that, her dress was a credit to the skills of the royal dressmaker of Adano-Ambrado. Chrístõ met her in the hall dressed in his own gold and red formal Gallifreyan robe and discovered that it matched her dress of deep red with gold trim about the hem and neckline and sparkles of gold bows all over the full skirt. She was wearing red diamonds in a gold setting that had been left in her room as a surprise gift.

“A young ambassador’s wife,” he told her as she came to his side. Rika and Valena were both beautiful ornaments to their husbands, too, as they waited for the guests to arrive. Garrick was almost bursting with excitement and anticipation and would not stay by his mother’s side. Instead he came to Chrístõ and put his hand in his. Chrístõ looked down at him and smiled.

“You’re in Prydonian scarlet, too,” he said to him. “A bit young for it. But I expect you’ll grow into it.”

“Chrístõ,” said the little boy in words, though he was expressing himself more fully telepathically.

“Nothing to be scared of, Garrick,” Chrístõ told him. “It’s just a bunch of ambassadors and their wives. I used to feel the same when I was your age. I thought I’d be trodden underfoot by them all. Or kissed to death by the women. Looking cute and endearing has its drawbacks. Just… stick with me. That’s what big brothers are for, even half ones.”

Julia smiled at Chrístõ’s brotherly advice. She was quite glad of his hand to hold, too, as the guests began to arrive. She didn’t quite feel she would be trodden underfoot, but it was all a little daunting. Not that she had never been to a formal dinner before. But she was usually a guest, along with Chrístõ, being introduced to the host. This time she and Chrístõ were joint hosts with his father and uncle and people with grand titles were coming to be introduced to her.

Once the formal introductions were over it was a bit easier. She and Chrístõ fell into conversation with the Earth Ambassador, Lord Darlington, and his wife, Lady Ellissa. Julia warmed to Lady Ellissa at once. She was a lot younger than his Lordship, only in her early 20s, and was not as poised and sure of herself as she seemed at first appearances.

“Your dress is delightful,” she said to Julia. “It must be French.” Then she laughed softly. “Oh, forgive me. I am still not used to living on another planet. Why should it be French?”

“It’s Adano-Ambradon,” Julia replied. She left out the bit about it being made by the royal dressmaker, and the fact that she was a friend of the queen. It might seem like name-dropping.

“Ah!” Lord Darlington said. “I know Adano-Ambrado. I attended a trade conference hosted by Emperor some years ago. A very able diplomat, despite his youth. Are you from there, then, young lady?”

“No,” she replied. “I live on the Earth colony of Beta Delta IV, though I was born in Cambridge, on Earth.”

“And here you are on Ventura IV,” Lady Ellissa said. “So far from everywhere. You’re very well travelled.”

“My fiancé is a diplomat of the Gallifreyan Consulate,” Julia pointed out. “I expect I shall travel a lot more in years to come.”

But the ice had been broken between her and the Earth Ambassador’s wife. Julia chatted easily with Lady Ellissa, who was only very recently married to Lord Darlington, and was far less travelled, and less experienced as a diplomat’s wife than Julia was. Lord Darlington left the feminine conversation and joined Remonte and the Ambassador for Inghide-Reca in more manly topics. Chrístõ was not inclined to join them. He didn’t want to talk with Ambassadors on Christmas Eve. He found himself alone with Garrick and took him by the hand towards the Nativity, a quiet spot in the busy, crowded room. He held his half brother’s hand and told him the Christmas story telepathically. It was the first time he had heard it and he was fascinated, though puzzled by some of the concepts, especially the idea of a king being born in a stable. He knew about kings, and he knew about stables, and the two seemed irreconcilable in his young mind.

“Why?” he asked in spoken words.

“That’s a very good question,” Chrístõ replied. “I’m not even sure humans could answer it easily. I suppose, being born humble, when Christ rose to be a King, He could remember when He was nobody and be kind to those who worshipped Him. Something like that, anyway. I can sort of identify with that. I was born a half-blood, the bottom of the pile as far as a lot of Gallifreyans were concerned. I had to prove myself to everyone. So now I’m wearing gold and scarlet and people bow to me and do my bidding, I can remember what its like to be nobody.”

Garrick looked up at him. The boy understood him perfectly. His oral skills were limited, but his intelligence was that of a Gallifreyan child. “You are a pure blood, little half brother. You’re the son of two great Oldblood houses, heir to the house of Arpexia. Nobody will ever treat you as less than a prince. But if you listen to your bigger half brother, you’ll remember those less fortunate than yourself. If you don’t, I’ll… I’ll forget that I love you as much as if your mother was the same as mine.”

Garrick understood that, too. He felt it in his mind. Chrístõ reached and lifted the child into his arms. “Yes, I love you, Garrick. I tried not to. I didn’t want to. Because you have a different mother, and I never wanted you to be born. But… look at you. You’re so much like me… so much like my… our… father. How can I not love you? We’re both sons of the House of Lœngbærrow and we have to love each other. We have to stick together.”

He kissed his brother’s cheek gently. Garrick sighed softly and laid his head on his shoulder and was happy to be held like that until the footman announced that dinner would be served in the dining room.

The ambassadors and their wives were rather surprised when they went through to the dining room to discover another tradition of the Lœngbærrow family Christmas. The guests at the table included all of the servants of the house, including the footman who had just ushered them all in. They were of the household, and therefore, of the House, under the patronage and care of the patriarch. Maids and chauffers, nannies and cooks were seated around the huge table amongst the titled people. Caterers hired for the night had prepared the meal and served the four delicious courses which included, of course, traditional turkey as the main course. Except the golden roasted birds that Remonte and Kristoph carved into, sharing the duty of the head of the household, were far from traditional. They were synthesised from cúl nut protein as most food on Gallifrey was. Nobody, not even Julia or Lady Ellissa, could tell the difference in the taste or texture of the slices on their plate. It seemed to be perfectly cooked roast turkey. The only clue was that there were no bones left over when the carving was finished. It was all meat. And everyone enjoyed it, including Garrick, sat at Chrístõ’s side, raised up on his chair with two firm cushions. He let his older half brother cut his meat into small pieces for him, but otherwise he was eating his food with his own knife and fork, and drank fruit juice while everyone else had wine. He would not be left out of any part of the proceedings.

There were gifts at the table for everyone, a token of the celebration. A small parcel wrapped in gold paper was at each place, to be opened as they enjoyed their coffee and brandy – or milk in Garrick’s case. Humans, Gallifreyans, Venturans and other races all looked with pleasure at the solid gold miniatures of the nativity scene they had admired in the hall. An Earth tradition cast in Gallifreyan gold, in token of the close ties that the House of Lœngbærrow had with that other planet.

Afterwards there was dancing. This was the real reason why Julia had made sure she had the most striking dress of all for this night. She wanted to be the centre of attention when they took to the floor. And with Chrístõ as her handsome dance partner there was no doubt about that. Garrick was less interested in this part. He found a soft chair in the corner by the second Christmas tree that decorated the grand ballroom and curled up to catch up on the sleep he had missed during the afternoon because he was so excited by his half brother’s arrival and the lighting of the tree. Chrístõ watched him and remembered how he, too, would sleep through such occasions when he was a child. He would often be taken to his bed by his father, usually still dressed in his formal robes, and tucked into bed and kissed goodnight before the party continued without him.

But Garrick was not put to bed. He woke again at midnight as the party was winding down and the guests going home. He went with the family members to the drawing room where the adults drank a glass of port and he drank warm, sweetened milk and everyone exchanged one gift from the many that were gaily wrapped and waiting to be opened tomorrow. Valena and Rika both smiled widely as they opened the largest boxes to find brand new Lapin fur coats in this year’s latest style, hooded, with the longest, finest fur all around the hood, framing the face. Their husbands were delighted to receive from their wives gold plated fob watches with messages expressing their love and affection engraved inside the lid. Time Lords didn’t, strictly speaking, need watches. It was a mark of their unique relationship with time that they were always aware of its passing and knew the time instinctively. But the giving of fine watches and clocks as gifts was nevertheless a tradition of their world.

Chrístõ already had a fob watch, given to him by his father, who in turn had been given it by his first wife, Chrístõ’s mother, long ago. His gift from his father was another remembrance of his mother. When he carefully removed the tissue from around it he was delighted with the framed copy of the painting he had loved from a child – his mother, as a young woman, sleeping on a couch with her hand buried in the deep, luxuriant fur of a tame leonate. It was a little smaller than the original canvas that he knew, but just as finely done, and he already knew where it would hang in the bedroom of his home on Beta Delta IV.

“Young Hext found it among Silis’s personal effects in the tower,” his father told him. “He thought you would like it. So it’s from him, and from Silis, rather than from me, I think.”

“If you see him before I do, thank him, please,” Chrístõ said. It was all he could say. His throat felt slightly constricted as he thought, not only of his mother, but of the man who had felt such affection for her that he painted her picture, a man whose death was still a bitter pill for him and for his friend, Hext. Then he put it aside carefully and gave the second smallest package to Garrick. He had made the gift with his own hands, thinking carefully about what his half brother needed most. His parents were puzzled when the boy unwrapped what looked like a sonic screwdriver.

“It only has a few functions,” Chrístõ explained. “Mostly lights and sounds, but educational ones. And…” He smiled as Garrick twisted the neck of the screwdriver to the different settings and worked out how to make it project holographic pictures from the stories he knew and loved. One particular setting Chrístõ had spent a lot of time on. The hologram was especially well defined. It was an almost lifelike lapin, the soft furred creature that ran wild on the plains of southern Gallifrey, rather like a rabbit but without the buck teeth and long ears. They shed their skins as they grew and farmed lapins provided, cruelty free, the fur that made the coats the ladies wore. They were almost never kept as pets. They were just a bit too wild for that. But this one would do as Garrick wanted it to do. It would jump and roll over in a ball as he waved the sonic screwdriver. He laughed with joy at his virtual reality pet and quickly learnt how to make it jump and roll in the same movement.

“That’s a sweet idea,” Valena said. “Thank you, Chrístõ.”

“I thought he might feel a little less lonely with it,” Chrístõ replied. “Though don’t let him forget that real people are more important than virtual friends.”

Julia was the only one of the family without a gift, now. Lord de Lœngbærrow presented her with the smallest package, wrapped in gold and tied with a silver bow. She unwrapped it to find a jewellery box which in turn opened to reveal a diamond set into a gold brooch. It was at least an inch wide and had an almost blue lustre to it. She smiled as she held it to the light.

“Not as big as the Tear of Omega,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said. “But one of the best blue diamonds to come from our mine in the year you were born, my dear. In your honour it is called the Earth stone. And the brooch has been modified to be more than just decorative.”

He fastened it to her dress carefully and then pressed the centre of the jewel. When he did so, Julia gasped. She suddenly could hear voices, lots of voices, speaking directly in her head.

“What happened?” she asked. “What is that?”

“You are hearing all of our thoughts,” Lord de Lœngbærrow explained. “The special modification makes the diamond act as a conductor for telepathic waves. It doesn’t make you a ‘mind reader’. It will only work among people who are telepathic. But that means you won’t be at a disadvantage among our own people when you come to live as a Lady of Gallifrey in the fullness of time.”

“It’s terribly noisy, though,” she said, reaching to touch the stone and close off the sounds. “How do I control it?”

“With practice. We’ll all try to keep very quiet now and you can try to fix on just one mind at a time.”

She meant to fix on Chrístõ. She would have liked to have a telepathic conversation with him. After all the time she had known him, that was the one thing she couldn’t share with him. But the one person in the room not trying to keep his mind quiet was Garrick, who was holding a one sided conversation with his virtual pet. She listened to him, then tried to visualise an Earth rabbit bounding around a green meadow. He laughed and visualised his lapin playing with it.

“When we have some quiet time, I will read Watership Down to you, Garrick,” she said in her mind. “I think you will like that story.”

Garrick agreed with that idea. Then Julia felt another voice in her head. She knew it at once as Chrístõ’s. She sighed happily. The touch of his mind on hers was like a loving kiss.

“You did well to use words as well as pictures to communicate. Without even thinking about it, either. I think you could get very good at it.”

“I hope so. It will be very useful when we’re back home on Beta Delta IV and we’re with your Chrysalids. I will be able to join in with them fully. Once I’ve had a bit more practice.”

She pressed the brooch again and the inner voices were cut off. She smiled warmly at Chrístõ and at Garrick who now had an insubstantial rabbit hologram ambling about with the more solid looking lapin. He was using his own imagination to create little friends to play with.

“I’m glad you’re happy,” Chrístõ told her as he drew her close and kissed her once, gently, on the lips. “Merry Christmas, Julia, sweetheart.”

Julia held onto him a little longer than was necessary for a Christmas kiss. She wanted to be close to him that much longer before it was time for bed.


When she did go to bed, she didn’t sleep. She thought she was tired when she climbed the stairs and quickly showered and cleaned her teeth and got into her nightdress. But as she lay between the cool sheets with her head on a jasmine scented pillow, she found herself wide awake. She looked at the brooch, sitting on the bedside table. She picked it up and pinned it on her nightdress before pressing it carefully.

There wasn’t the same jumble of noises this time. She was getting used to it, now. She did feel the presence of a lot of people within the walls of the house and she reached out to them one by one.

Again, Garrick was the easiest one to find. He was almost asleep. She could see through his eyes the sonic screwdriver clutched in his hand, and the virtual reality lapin curled on the pillow beside him making a soft snoring noise. He was blissfully happy, not only with his new toy, but with the fact that his half brother had told him he loved him, had hugged him and cuddled him several times. It meant a lot to the boy to be accepted that way.

She listened to his half sleeping thoughts for a while before reaching out for another mind. She found Rika, waiting for Remonte to join her in their bed. Her mood was best described as ‘counting her blessings’. Remonte was with her, now. She, like Chrístõ, had been in exile during the war, as a guest of the Gallifreyan Embassy. She had feared for her husband’s life, and when he arrived on Ventura, blinded and wounded deeply, not just in his body but in his soul, she had been horrified. He had recovered his sight now, and the nightmares were becoming less frequent. Tonight, with his family all gathered here and such a pleasant evening to think of, perhaps he would sleep peacefully. If not, she would be there to soothe him. She was glad that they were staying here on Ventura for the foreseeable future, anyway. Remonte needed time to recover mentally before he returned to Gallifrey.

Julia passed from Rika to Valena, who was also a little worried for her husband, despite being content with all else. He was a little distracted since they arrived here from Gallifrey and she hoped it was nothing serious that was bothering him.

Julia hoped so, too. Lord de Lœngbærrow was a kind man and she loved him dearly. She tried to reach into his mind, and was not surprised to find most of it locked against her. He had many years of experience of doing that, as an assassin, as a diplomat, as a magistrate, and all the other important work he did. She was new to the idea of seeing into other people’s minds.

Even so, she saw the thoughts he had as he sat by the window that overlooked the snow-covered rose garden below. He was thinking of his first wife, Marion, Chrístõ’s mother, who had planted many of those roses when she was the lady of this house. Like Chrístõ, he had found it redolent of so many memories, mostly happy ones, but given a bitter-sweet edge by time.

“Julia,” she heard his voice in her own head. “You should be asleep, child.”

“She was a very nice lady,” she replied. “I am glad I got a chance to meet her. But do you know that Valena is concerned about you. She thinks there is something wrong.”

“I know. I didn’t mean to worry her. I intend to make that right in a few minutes. But you shouldn’t be listening when I do. This is between a man and his wife.”

“Goodnight, sir,” Julia said, taking the gentle hint and moving on. She tried to reach Chrístõ’s thoughts, but he was unreachable. He was performing one of his deep meditative trances that he found so relaxing and refreshing when he had been busy or especially stressed. He had cleared and closed his mind to the outside world.

There were many other people in the house, of course. And all of them were Gallifreyans, with telepathic minds. She felt some of them. A lot of the servants were sleeping. Most of them were happy. They had enjoyed the party, and being treated as equals by their master and his family. It was an almost unheard of thing in Gallifreyan society and they considered themselves lucky.

Others were awake. Some because they were on duty, as night security patrolling outside in the snow, in thick boots and lapin lined coats, or quietly walking through the house making sure all was well.

Some were awake in their beds, still. She quickly passed over the thoughts of one pair, as something that she wasn’t supposed to see at her age, and noted that the maid and chauffeur involved would probably be in big trouble if they were found out. There was a cook who was feeling homesick for Gallifrey and his family left behind there. He was happy because he had heard from them by videophone recently, and they were all fit and well and getting back to normal life after the war, but he wished his term of duty offworld was over so he could go and see them properly. Julia was sure, if he talked to Remonte he would make an arrangement for him. But the man had obviously not thought of that.

From somewhere else she found thoughts that were even sadder than those ones. She passed over them first, but when she reached again she felt overwhelmed by the grief that was in the mind of one person in this house. She was horrified by what he wanted to do to take away the grief.

She got up out of her bed and put on her slippers and a warm dressing gown before she slipped quietly out of the room. She should, of course, have summoned the night guard who was somewhere in the east wing just now, checking that all the windows were tightly locked and that none of the Christmas lights had been left on to get hot and start a fire. But she didn’t think of that, or even of waking Chrístõ or his father. She walked along the landing herself and up the narrow service stairs that led to the top of the house where most of the servants slept. An even narrower set of steps brought her into the roof space where boxes were stored and to a small door that swung open. She stepped through it onto the flat part of the roof before the sloping tiles rose up. It was bitingly cold, but she hardly noticed it in her anxiety to reach the man who stood there on the very edge, his foot on the low parapet, ready to jump to his death.

“Please stop,” she called out to him. “Please don’t.”

“Give me one good reason not to,” he replied in a sad voice. She saw in the moonlight and the reflection off the white snow, that he was dressed in a footman’s uniform. She thought she had seen him earlier at the party. He might even have been around earlier when they lit the tree. But even she, who was unused to being waited on, tended to take the servants for granted. She never looked at their faces or knew their names. She knew that was terrible and hoped that it wasn’t a reason for this man’s despair.

“Because life has millions of possibilities, but death only has one,” she answered him. “That’s what Chrístõ says.”


“Chrístõ… the… heir to the House you serve. The young, handsome one.”

“I don’t look at them,” he replied. “It’s my job to serve the Ambassador and his household. Which Ambassador, which house, it matters little to me. And they don’t care who serves them as long as we continue to do so.”

“You know that’s not true. Lord de Lœngbærrow and the Ambassador. They’re different. You were at the party, tonight. You must know that. They’re kind.”

“That only makes it worse. Just doing my job, one day after the next, I can cope. But his Lordship’s kindness… it only made me feel my loneliness all the more. I don’t want to feast with rich people at their table. I would rather eat raw cúl nut puree and lammic bread every day… and have my wife and children alive…”

At least, as he spoke to her, he had drawn his foot back from the edge. He was listening to her and not continuing to carry out his suicide.

“I understand,” Julia said. “They died in the war. The Mallus… yes. I understand how you feel.”

“You’re a child. You couldn’t know. You couldn’t have felt this kind of grief.”

“Yes, I have,” she answered. And her mind filled with memories she tried hard not to bring to the forefront of her mind. Her mother and father, older brother and the baby of the family, all killed by the terrible creatures that took over the ship and devoured everyone but her. She remembered something she had never even told Chrístõ. How she had sometimes wished she could die so that it would be over.

She knew he had seen the memories in her mind. His expression changed. She felt his sympathy for her own sorrow even in the midst of his own more immediate grief.

“I come from Earth,” she said. “We believe in Heaven, in a life after death, where loved ones would be together. I thought, quite a lot, about dying and being with them, and no more pain. But I didn’t. Mostly because I wanted to stay alive, even without them. I was scared of dying. But… I don’t think Gallifreyans believe in any kind of Heaven. You surely don’t think that throwing yourself off this building will take you to your family?”

“No,” he answered. “All I expect… all I want is an end to the pain, for all of this to be over.”

“No,” Julia insisted. “Marran… that’s your name, isn’t it? Mine’s Julia. Look… please, don’t do it. Step back from the edge.”

“How did you escape… you didn’t die… what happened?”

“Chrístõ found me. He saved me. In more ways than one. He rescued me from the creatures. He loved me, helped me feel happy again. Sometimes I do cry about it, when I remember. But he’s there for me, and his family. And I don’t need to feel really bad about it.”


“I forgot. Gallifreyans don’t. I think maybe that’s the problem. Humans can cry, and it helps in some ways. You all have it bottled up inside you. You don’t have a way of releasing it. And I think that’s why you feel so bad. If you could cry, you’d be better.”

“How can I be better? My children… my wife. They wouldn’t even let me see the bodies. They were too badly burnt. The Mallus set fire to our whole village in retaliation for the activities of the resistance. I wasn’t there. I was in service, away from home. I lived. I wish I had died with them.”

“I am sorry,” Julia told him. “But please don’t kill yourself. Especially not that way. You… you’ll land in the rose garden. That would be very terrible. Those roses… Lord de Lœngbærrow’s wife loved them. She died, many years ago. He was sad. But he got on with his life. Just as most people do. It’s not easy. But it’s… it’s better than killing yourself. So please… please don’t. That’s all I can say.”

“No,” he answered. “There’s nothing… I am sorry you have to be here, to see this… but I can’t…”

He stepped forward again, towards the edge. Julia lunged towards him, to try to stop him. It was a foolhardy thing to do. She was a slender girl, he was a grown man. She could not have held onto him if he was determined. In any case, the roof was covered in snow. She slipped on it and felt herself falling. She saw the rose garden down below and all she could think of was how upset everyone would be when they found her dead amongst the snow-covered plants.

“I’ve got you,” Marran said, and she felt his hand gripping her wrist. She reached with her other hand and he grabbed it, too. But he couldn’t pull her to safety. She dangled over the side of the house, buffeted against the bricks painfully. Her slippers fell from her feet and dropped as she prayed that he would not drop her.

Then there were voices. One of them was Chrístõ’s. The other was his father. She heard them calling her name. Moments later she was being hauled up by strong arms. Chrístõ pulled her clear of the edge and picked her up in his arms. Lord de Lœngbærrow, meanwhile, was helping Marran. He seemed in a half faint from the shock of what had almost happened, through his own fault.

“Be kind to him,” Julia said. “He’s very sad and lonely. He needs help.”

“He’ll get it, Lord de Lœngbærrow promised. “Chrístõ, take her to my room. Valena will look after her. I don’t think you and I will sleep yet. We will have to take care of this poor soul.”

Chrístõ nodded and brought her into the warmth of the house. He carried her all the way to the second largest bedroom where Valena was waiting. He left Julia in her care. She tended to the scrapes and bruises and warmed her almost frozen feet. She saw the brooch on her nightdress and put it on the bedside table before she wrapped the blankets around both of them and turned out the light.

“You’re still cold,” Valena said as she put her arms around Julia and held her as she had held her own child in her bed through their time as refugees in Silis’s tower. “Warm yourself and sleep soundly now. What would have happened if you’d fallen? Chrístõ’s hearts would be broken.”

“I had to help Marran. His hearts are already broken. He needs help.”

“He’s not the first,” Valena admitted. “So many people were hurt by the Mallus. I never expected anyone to be grieving so badly after all this time. But we will do what we can for him. Meanwhile, you sleep, child. It’s still Christmas, remember. Tomorrow we have a special day to celebrate still.”


Julia slept. When she woke, she remembered that it was Christmas day. And she wanted to be as joyful as she expected to be on such a morning. But her first thought was for that sad man whose life she had helped to save even though she risked her own to do it.

“He is all right,” Chrístõ assured her, anticipating her first question when she reached the breakfast room. “He has had some medication and he is calm. He’s being looked after in his own room for now, but my father is going to arrange for him to go to a place in the country where they can look after him properly until his hearts are mended.”

“Won’t that be expensive?” she asked.

“He is one of our household,” Remonte de Lœngbærrow told her as he came into the room with his brother. “He is our responsibility, collectively, as an Oldblood House. You saved his life, Julia. You’ve done your part. Though we would have wished you had done so by raising the alarm and not risking your own life. Now we’ll make sure he feels his life was worth saving, no matter what the cost.”

“Oh.” Julia was relieved. “I am glad of that. Thank you.” She smiled at the three Lœngbærrow men as they were joined by Valena and Rika, and by Garrick, holding his night nurse’s hand and accompanied by a virtual reality lapin that ambled at his feet. That news felt like a Christmas present all by itself. And now she could happily enjoy all the other pleasures of the joyous day.

“Merry Christmas, Julia,” Chrístõ told her.

“Merry Christmas to you,” she answered happily.