I look like a Christmas tree decoration,” Chrístõ complained as his father fixed the heavy gold collar and headdress over his formal robes of Prydonian scarlet and the gown of spun gold. “And I didn’t expect to be doing this for another four years, anyway. I’m not even sure I want to graduate.”

“Of course you do,” his father assured him. “And nobody will think you’re a Christmas tree decoration. Not on a planet that doesn’t observe the festival of Christmas.”

“Well, I don’t need a graduation ceremony, anyway. They could have sent the diploma by courier to Beta Delta IV.”

“The Academy needs a morale booster,” his father told him. “They suffered badly in the war. Fifteen students of your graduation class and four masters are dead. The Academy was badly damaged in the bombardment. This is to help them restore some of their former pride.”

“With an empty ceremony. We all passed our final exams sixteen years ago. The Rite of Transcension was the ceremony that really mattered. I’ve been out there, getting real experience of the universe, ever since. I don’t need to dress up in an outfit that makes Julia fall about laughing and listen to the dullest speeches in the galaxy.”

“Yes, you do,” his father told him. “Because you are summa cum laude, the top student, and a war hero, too. The whole Academy looks up to you, my boy.”

Chrístõ smiled wryly.

“You know, when I transcended, I thought you might stop calling me ‘boy’. If my graduation makes that much difference it would be worth it.”

“You’ll always be my boy, even when you’re a thousand years old,” Lord de Lœngbærrow answered. “I’ll never stop being proud and glad that you were born, or eternally grateful to your mother for bearing you for me. She would be so proud of you, Chrístõ. Think of her when you stand up on that stage. She would want to see you receive the honours due to you.”

“Emotional blackmail, father,” Chrístõ answered. “Using my mother against me? Very shabby and underhand.”

“But very effective. You are already standing much straighter.”

“That’s the collar, not my mother’s memory. But nevertheless, I shall endeavour to make her proud of me. As I have always done.”

The door to their preparation room opened and a tyro in the scarlet tunic and gold leggings that Chrístõ remembered with a sense of horror from his early years as a Prydonian stepped inside. He was holding Garrick’s slightly sticky hand.

“He was looking for you, sir,” the tyro said, addressing Chrístõ with the reverence of one at the start of the educational journey that Chrístõ was completing today. Garrick ran to his half brother and undid all the careful smoothing and adjusting of his robes as he demanded to be picked up.

“You should be with your mother,” Chrístõ told the boy. “You’re not a Prydonian, yet. Though you will be, in your own time. You’ll wear that dreadful tunic for fifty long years before being able to put on the scarlet robes of the intermediate, and then the gown of a senior. Then you’ll have to wear all of this get up when you graduate.”

Lord de Lœngbærrow watched the interaction between his two sons with a satisfied smile. Of course, he had hopes for Garrick’s future, but they were vague, yet. He was glad to enjoy his childhood years. It was Chrístõ who had all the ambitions for him. And after so many years when he hardly acknowledged him at all, that was a miracle by itself.

“You’d better let me take him, now,” he said, lifting his youngest son into his arms. “Wipe the biscuit crumbs from your robe and then get ready to take your place of honour.”

Chrístõ brushed off the remains of Garrick’s snack and adjusted the collar so that it sat a little less heavily on his shoulders, and then the Tyro walked reverently in front of him to the auditorium. His father and half brother went to their seats in the audience of friends and relatives of the graduates. Valena and Julia were there, too, and if he let his imagination work upon him, his mother was there in spirit, at least.

The auditorium looked just as it had done sixteen years ago when he gave his oral presentation for his Ethics examination, on the last day of his formal education. That was testament to the Prydonian spirit in itself. The building had been badly damaged in the first bombardment of the Capitol and then left to the elements until the war was over. It had been the first part of the Academy to be restored and this was the first ceremony to take place in it.

Chrístõ led the parade of graduates and masters into the auditorium, stepping up onto the stage beside the Chancellor, Vice-chancellor, and the Lord High President. The other students in their graduation robes and the Masters, all in Scarlet and black, filed into the front sections of the audience. Behind them were the families. Above, in the gallery, were the present student body, tyros, intermediates and seniors, all a little in awe of the young men and women they knew of by repute, whose names were thrown at them by masters as examples they should seek to emulate. Everyone stood proudly and sang the Gallifreyan National Anthem, and the ‘Carmen Prydonia’ the anthem of the Academy. Then they sat as the Chancellor stood and began the first of the long speeches. It was less dull than usual. He spent less time talking about Proud Prydonian honour and tradition and spoke with real emotion in his voice about the real way in which that honour had been upheld by former students who had fought for Gallifrey’s liberation. He looked at the empty spaces among the students and the masters, left to mark where those of their number had fallen. He spoke the names of the four masters, Lord Drogban, who had saved the lives of many of the students present in the gallery, Lord Ennisan, master of Swords, who had taught fencing and martial arts, Madam Vallis, junior Ethics mistress, Lord Thrule, Master of Galactic Economics. Chrístõ remembered him as a thin, rake of a man with pale eyes, a born academic with a head full of statistics, who could never understand why the students in his class didn’t share his enthusiasm for the fluctuations in the Intergalactic Lutanium Exchange. He also remembered him as one of the resistance fighters who had laid plans in the Tower. He last saw him defending a corridor in the Panopticon from the Mallus, firing a bastic machine gun that looked almost too heavy for such a slightly built man to hold steady. He wasn’t sure how Thrule died. He was too busy fighting his own battles. But he was sure he died well.

So did the fifteen of his fellow graduates who died. Chrístõ noted their names as the Chancellor read them out. He didn’t look at the gaps. He looked rather at those who were there. Almost all of them had been resistance fighters, spies, saboteurs. Some had been healers, like Romana. She was there, of course, in her silk robes and veil of the Sisterhood, standing out from the gold and scarlet.

There were two people missing for whom they didn’t leave a gap and who would receive no honour. Chrístõ recalled with distaste that both were related to him, though neither had the name of his House to dishonour. The first was his second cousin, Rõgæn Koschei Oakdaene, who was a convicted prisoner serving his sentence on Shada, now. The other was his closer cousin, Rani. She had been dishonoured by too close association with Rõgæn, and her father had sent her to a closed Sisterhood in the Mountains of Solitude. She was not allowed visitors and was not permitted to leave the grounds, not even for her graduation.

The chancellor finished his speech. He was applauded politely. Then the Lord High President stood. Paracell Hext senior, who had been elected hurriedly in the first hours of liberation was a war hero and received with a standing ovation.

He, too, spoke of the gaps in their ranks. But he told them all not to dwell on the sorrow and to look to the future of Gallifrey which they would play important roles in. They could remember the dead by doing their best, with justice and honour, to uphold the values they died for.

Even though many of Gallifrey’s ancient and sometimes stale and stagnant values rankled with the young, every one of them nodded and made a mental vow to live up to his words. Chrístõ was one of them. ‘With Justice And Honour’ – those were the tenets he had taken out into the universe, and would continue to do so.

The President wound up his speech and then announced his pleasure to award the graduation diplomas. He called the names of the students and they stood and came up to the stage. When one of those who had died was called, a friend or relative stepped up onto the stage and accepted the honour on his or her behalf. The applause, already fulsome, was even louder on those occasions.

Chrístõ was last. He had to make that speech he had thought about for so long. When the others had returned to their seats, he stepped up before the President and the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of the Academy and received his diploma and their warm and hearty handshakes. Then they all stood back and he was left alone, facing the students, masters and wellwishers. This was the moment he had been waiting with dread and fear, and also with relish, for quite some time.

“I’m supposed to talk now, about how much I learned from the masters here at the Prydonian Academy, how grateful I am for what they taught me. That’s what the summa cum laude has said for generations before me. But… But you all know I am not like those who came before me. I am the first summa cum laude whose mother was not a full blooded Gallifreyan. I may well be the last, unless my own son, in fullness of time, follows in my footsteps. So I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to mouth the same platitudes. Most of you, the Masters of this great school taught me only one thing. That I was worthless, that I was a useless, half-blood weakling, that I had no right to be at the Prydonian Academy and I would never become a Time Lord.”

He spoke without bitterness, but he spoke out candidly. He saw the expressions on the faces of the assembled teachers. He saw some of them make as if to stand up, as if they might stop his speech – a thing unheard of. Somebody behind him, the Chancellor, or perhaps even the Lord High President, must have signalled to them, because they sat back down again and he continued to speak.

“I was bullied all through my Tyro years by older students who learnt to hate me from their fathers, or from the Masters. Those who should have protected me turned a blind eye because their cruelties enforced the idea that I didn’t belong here.”

He paused and looked up at the student body. They – especially the tyros, many of whom were probably bullied themselves - looked back at him expectantly.

“That’s what I was taught. What I learnt, was that they were wrong.”

Again he paused.

“I wonder what they learnt in return… the Masters who sit here today in their finery, proud of what they have achieved. I wonder if they learnt to look me in the eye, man to man? Did they learn to shake my hand and admit that they were wrong?”

Chrístõ stood and looked at them. He wondered if his point had got through to them. Then, as the silence lengthened, one of the Masters rose from his seat and stepped towards him. It was Lord Borusa, a hard taskmaster who had often been contemptuous of him. He looked him in the eye. He smiled. And then, not only did he shake his hand, but he actually hugged him very briefly. Anyone who hadn’t witnessed it would deny it could have happened. Borusa didn’t show affection to students. But the point was made. And slowly at first, the other Masters rose and each of them came up to him and shook his hand. Some, he thought, must have been reluctant, only coming forward because they would have been criticised if they didn’t. But all of them, one by one, acknowledged him.

The last was the one Master who had always had faith in him. The one known only as Maestro. He, too, hugged him openly before he turned to address the audience.

“We would not be having this ceremony today if it were not for this young man. Many would not be alive to witness it. He has spoken already about the gaps in our ranks, masters and students, and parents who should have been here to watch their sons and daughters graduate. It will take time to close those gaps. But we are free now of the cruel oppression that almost destroyed everything we hold dear. And for that, there is no honour great enough that we can offer. But in some small token of thanks, I am proud to award the Prydonian Medal to Chrístõdavõreendiamandhaertmallõupdracœfiredelunmiancuimhne de Lœngbærrow, our most outstanding student.”

Chrístõ was surprised by that. Especially after that speech. He was startled to have a medal pinned to his robe, covering a mark left by Garrick’s biscuit covered fingers. He wasn’t even sure he wanted it. He had no need for such things. He didn’t really need the spontaneous applause that raised the auditorium roof. His thoughts were on those empty places, still. His eye was drawn to the place where Lord Drogban should have sat. He had hated that Master when he taught him, but his death still seared his soul.

“You would have shook my hand, sir,” he whispered to the soul of that brave man who had died to save so many who were in the crowd today. “I would have been glad to shake yours.”

Then the applause froze. Chrístõ felt a sharp pain in his head and wondered what it was and why he couldn’t hear anything except what seemed to be a drum beating a loud tattoo inside his head.

Then he collapsed and around him there was a shocked silence.

The silence was broken seconds later by a scream. It came from Julia, who tried to run to the stage. Chrístõ’s father restrained her as Maestro knelt and lifted his limp, unresponsive body into his arms. His hand brushed against the side of his head and he gasped to see blood pouring from the place where a bullet had entered his skull.

“No, my boy,” Maestro whispered. “This is not your destiny. I won’t allow it to be.”

Around the auditorium, Chancellery Guards blocked the exits, telling the students, parents and masters all to stay in their seats. Maestro was the only person who moved as he carried Chrístõ, held in his arms like a child, towards the one exit that wasn’t barred.

“Come on, now, child,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said, as he took Julia’s arm. Valena stood, too, holding Garrick close in her arms. Chancellery Guards flanked them as they were escorted away through another exit.

“Is he dead?” Julia asked as they were hurried up to the roof of the auditorium where a hover ambulance was just taking off at speed. A Guard transporter still waited and as soon as they were safely strapped into the seats it also took off.

“No,” Lord de Lœngbærrow managed to answer in a voice kept carefully steady as befitted a man of his position. “No, I would know if he was. But he was… he was shot in the head. It can’t be good.”

Valena was still holding Garrick, who understood only too well what was happening and was making distressed noises as he pressed his face against her shoulder. She reached out one hand to her husband, all the same, offering him what comfort she could. He nodded and managed a weak smile, thanking her for that much. He put his arm around Julia and tried to keep her calm, but Human tears fell down her face as they travelled the few minutes from the Academy to the hospital.

“We were here before, weren’t we?” Julia said as they descended in a turbo lift and came out on the emergency level of the hospital. “When Garrick was a baby.”

“Yes,” Valena answered her in a hoarse voice. “Chrístõ saved him that time. I hope… somebody… can do the same for him.”

“I wish we were on an Earth Federation planet,” Julia added. “The hospitals are better.”

A nurse passing by looked at her oddly, but Lord de Lœngbærrow, who had travelled the universe far more than most of his species, knew she was right. Gallifreyan medicine was not even as well advanced in many respects as twentieth century Earth. His son was in the hands of dedicated people. He knew that. But were they good enough?

“Maestro!” Julia saw Chrístõ’s friend and mentor and ran to him. He held her hand tenderly as he told them there was no news yet. They would have to wait.

They waited. An hour, two hours, passed. They talked very little. There was nothing they could say. They were all thinking plenty. Julia knew that. She was wearing her brooch with the psychic link and she could feel all their thoughts, especially Garrick’s grief stricken replay of what he saw happening to the brother he loved as much as he loved his father.

Lord de Lœngbærrow was wondering who had done it, and why. He was upset, of course. But years of training in the Celestial Intervention Agency made him practical at this time. Somebody wanted to assassinate Chrístõ. Or perhaps they didn’t, he considered. The Lord High President was sitting behind him. A president was always a political target, even one with unanimous support.

But no, he reconsidered. If the President was the target, then the assassin aimed too high. The President was seated. Chrístõ was standing. The bullet, it if had missed him, would have missed the President, too. Either the assassin was very foolish and amateur or he was right on target.

Chrístõ had enemies, of course. The House of Lœngbærrow had enemies. His summa cum laude speech had covered most of the reasons why. Chrístõ had proved that pure blood Gallifreyans were not superior, after all. That was a good enough reason to want to hurt him, quite apart from all other considerations.

The door to the waiting room opened. Everyone looked up expectantly and were disappointed to see Paracell Hext there. He was a welcome friend, of course. But there was nothing he could tell them about how Chrístõ was.

“I thought you should know,” he said. “The one who did it… we have him.”

“We?” Lord de Lœngbærrow looked at him with narrowed eyes. “The Celestial Intervention Agency captured the assassin?”

“I captured him.” Hext admitted. “I was there simply as an old Prydonian. But when I heard the shot, I followed the sound. It’s an auditorium, of course. It’s designed with certain acoustic properties. Locating the origin of the sound would be virtually impossible to anyone not trained… Or anyone not distracted by what had happened. I know in any other circumstances you, sir, would have thought of that. But your own son…”

“He’s your friend, Hext,” Lord de Lœngbærrow noted. “But your instincts as an agent overrode your emotional reaction. Good man. So… who was it? And why?”

“His name is Marvis Bhola. He… is a servant of the Hadandrox household. He was fond of Savang, the daughter of the House. He saw the graduation as a way of punishing Chrístõ… because she is a prisoner and it was his doing.”

“Sweet Mother of Chaos!” Lord de Lœngbærrow groaned. “Of all the stupid, foolish… Lord and Lady Hadandrox were among my wife’s best friends. Lady Hadandrox was one of the first to visit our house to give her blessings on our son when he was born. That Savang has become the pitiful creature that languishes in an Adano-Ambrado jail is bad enough for them, without compounding the tragedy still further. If my son dies…”

The door opened again. This time it was a physician who brought the news they had waited for.

“We removed the bullet,” he said. “The patient is alive. But still unconscious. The tissue is regenerating, but we’re not certain, yet, if there is any permanent brain damage from the injury.”

“You mean… my son could be…” Lord de Lœngbærrow was relieved that Chrístõ was alive, as they all were, but in the same instant his mind filled with terrible visions of his son blinded, confined to a hover chair, unable to remember who anyone was, robbed of his intelligence and reduced to a helpless, childlike state. It was too cruel to think about.

“Can we see him?” Julia asked. “Please… let us be with him.”

“I don’t think a sick room is the place for a child,” the physician replied, looking at Valena and Garrick. “But somebody should be with him… somebody he knows, who can talk to him. He may respond to the stimulus…”

“Julia,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said. “You and I… we’re the closest to him. Valena… it might be better if you took Garrick home.”

“I’ll wait,” she said. “Garrick needs to see Chrístõ. To be sure he’s alive. We’ll wait.”

Maestro put his hand on her shoulder comfortingly. She didn’t know him very well, but she knew he was a long time friend of her husband’s, and thanked him for his concern. Hext stood beside her. As the director of the Celestial Intervention Agency, he probably had many things he should be doing, but for now this was where he wanted to be, too.

Julia clung to Chrístõ’s father’s hand as they followed the physician to the intensive care room where Chrístõ was brought after the operation. She was shocked by the sight of him. He wasn’t even bandaged. The wound to his head began to repair itself once the bullet was taken out of his skull. But his hair had been shaved off on one side in order to operate. He was very still, very pale, lying flat on his back with a pillow supporting his head and his arms by his side. The only clue that he was alive at all was the life support monitor that bleeped away beside him.

“He looks…” Julia stepped closer. She reached to touch his face. She expected him to respond. He didn’t. But his face was warm. He WAS alive. “But he looks like he’s dying.”

“He’s not,” Lord de Lœngbærrow assured her. “But… just how much damage has there been?” He put his hand over his son’s forehead and reached into his mind. He was relieved to discover that there was brain activity. He noted that Chrístõ’s long term memory seemed unaffected. But there was something closing him off, as if his mind was disconnected.

“Julia, sweetheart,” he said. “You’ve got your brooch on… you can read his mind… and communicate with him if you need to?”

“It didn’t work in the school. They have dampeners to stop psychic communication.”

“It will work here. Try it. I need you to listen with me. You’ll be able to help him.”

Julia sat on a chair on one side of the bed. Chrístõ’s father sat on the other side. They both reached out and held his hands. Julia pressed the jewel in the middle of her brooch and concentrated on Chrístõ’s thoughts.

“But… he doesn’t seem to be thinking about anything,” she said.

“He is. But his thoughts are the most basic. He has regressed.”


“To his childhood – before his childhood. Listen again. What do you hear?”

“A drumbeat,” she said. “Sounds of drumming.”

“No, heartbeats,” Lord de Lœngbærrow corrected her. “Three heartbeats. His own, and his mother’s heart. This is his subconscious memory of being in his mother’s womb.”

“You mean… Chrístõ can’t remember anything after he was born?”

“He will, eventually. It’s all there. But he needs to reach out to it, connect fully with it all again. This is a good place to start. He was safe, warm, untroubled, loved by his mother, protected. Yes, my son, nothing can harm you there.”

“I understand,” Julia said. “But how do we move him on from there? He could stay like that forever…”

“I hope that some of it will happen spontaneously. Some memories we might have to help him with. We both love him dearly. He loves us. We can help him to know that.”

He turned his attention to his son’s thoughts again. Chrístõ was still dreaming those same soft dreams. His father touched them the way he did so many years ago now, when he was an unborn baby. He would reach inside, mentally, and find his developing consciousness. He wanted his son to know him, to love him, even before he opened his eyes on the world. He reminded him, now, of knowing his father’s love from the very earliest age.

“I wasn’t there when you were born, my son,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said. “I wanted to be, so very much. What I thought were greater needs called me away. Your mother bore the trial with the help of my mother, and Lily, her dearest friend.”

Chrístõ’s memories now were of that safe, warm place becoming a place of pain and fear, movement, sudden light, then comfort again as he was wrapped in warm blankets and placed into loving arms. His first sight of his mother’s face, the taste of milk in his mouth….

Slowly the baby grew. His father and his sweetheart watched as disjointed images formed a pattern. He came to know his mother’s face in every detail. She held him often. So did his father. He came to love them both as he grew stronger and learned to do things for himself. He sat up in a wicker basket beside the sofa where his mother rested. He learned to crawl on deep pile carpets and rugs. He learnt to walk in the warm corridors of the Ambassador’s Residence on Ventura IV, his first home. He was taken out in the dark, on his father’s knee as they rode behind fine horses to a place where there were lights and excitement and more horses. There were parties where he was picked up and kissed and cuddled by strangers until his mother claimed him back jealously. There were bright lights in the house, and he was placed among a pile of brightly wrapped packages and shown how to open them to reveal exciting new toys that stretched his imagination.

“His second Christmas,” Lord de Lœngbærrow whispered, though Julia had guessed as much. “He was too young to fully appreciate the first one. Though his mother bought almost every baby toy in Mothercare for him. This one, he was a year and eight months old, and he understood about presents.

His grew into understanding of himself and the world around him. One memory was of sitting on his father’s knee in the Venturan drawing room. He was drinking from his own special cup and his father was talking to him.

“You are unique, Chrístõ,” his father told him. “You are a Gallifreyan son with a Human mother. You have Human eyes that cry tears when you are unhappy. Your mother and I try to make sure you don’t have to be unhappy.”

“Story?” the boy asked, apparently indicating that his happiness depended on such simple needs.

“Your mother is better at that than I am. But I will try.”

His father held him close and told him a Gallifreyan fairy tale about the strange, elusive creatures called Toclafane. The boy drank it in as easily as he drank his milk. But later, when he was in bed, he was disturbed by the darkness. He woke up screaming and crying, having wet the bed.

“Oh…” Lord de Lœngbærrow buzzed for a nurse, and Julia stepped out of the room for a few minutes as Chrístõ’s bedding and the hospital gown he was wearing were changed. She thought she probably wouldn’t tell him what had happened when he was well again. But it was a good thing in a way. His body responded to the emotions he was experiencing. That was another shred of hope to cling to.

“The Toclafane were, I thought, a gentle kind of tale,” his father admitted when they sat with him again and reached into his memories once more. “But they live in shadows, and there were too many shadows in his room.”

A new nightlight was put into Chrístõ’s bedroom. He was thinking of it, now. It hung from the ceiling above his bed. Two globes that revolved slowly and gave off soft light. One was a blue, green and white model of planet Earth. The other was a red and orange model of Gallifrey. Before he went to sleep his father told him about those two planets. Earth was where his mother came from. A planet with blue skies, like Ventura. Gallifrey was his birthplace, his home, with burnt-orange skies at night and a copper coloured moon, and by day yellow-orange skies over beautiful rolling plains, high mountains, magnificent cities. The two year old child slept with dreams of two beautiful planets that he would one day see.

There were other memories of his early childhood. Theatre trips, parties, treats for the son of the Gallifreyan Ambassador to Ventura. Once he went with his mother on a visit to a school for orphans. He was five, dressed in a blue sailor suit. He had been carefully tutored for what was his first duty as a very young diplomat. It was his responsibility to give the prizes to those who had worked hardest. He stood very solemnly and passed the gifts to the well scrubbed and neatly dressed children whose lives were so very different to his own. Afterward he was given a prize of his own, a box full of coloured pens to draw with as he sat at his own little desk in his father’s study and emulated him at his work.

The memories of a happy little boy were shattered, of course, on the day that his mother died. That day those Human tears of his fell unchecked and nobody could comfort him. He cried himself to sleep in his bed with the Earth and Gallifreyan globes above him and his father watching at his side, not crying himself, because he was a Time Lord and he couldn’t. But with his hearts breaking, too.

After that, a lot happened very quickly for young Chrístõ. The house he had called home no longer was. His room was packed into boxes, including his familiar globe lights. He rode in a fast hover car to the spaceport and boarded a ship of the Galactic Diplomatic Corps. As well as the boxes containing the personal possessions and furniture of the outgoing ambassador, a coffin was loaded onto the ship. It didn’t go in the freight section, but at the back of the passenger cabin. The Ambassador and his son sat in the executive seats and were served food and drink by a stewardess. Later, they slept in a comfortable berth with the sounds of the ships engines carefully dampened by sound-proofing. The next day continued in much the same way. The boy was too sad to complain of boredom or to watch any of the entertainment that was available if he was. And late on that second day of travel the ship landed at the spaceport in the dark. The boy was carried in his father’s arms and looked up at a copper moon in a burnt orange sky and was told that he was home, on Gallifrey.

“That wasn’t the first time he had been to Gallifrey,” Lord de Lœngbærrow told Julia. “But it was the first time he could ever remember clearly. The day we came home with his mother in her coffin.”

Another car brought them to the house Julia recognised as Mount Lœng House, on the family estate, the house Chrístõ was born in. He only glimpsed it that first night, though, before he was put to bed in an unfamiliar room, made familiar by his favourite night lights glowing over his bed.

In the morning when he woke in his new room a gentle woman’s voice spoke his name.

“Mama?” he whispered.

“No, I’m sorry, child,” the woman told him. “My name is Lily. You don’t remember me, I think. But I was there when you were born. I held you in the first moments of your life. And I’ve seen you many times since. You fell in my carp pond, once and nearly swallowed one of the fish. Do you remember?”

Chrístõ had shook his head. He didn’t remember that. But he reached out and let the lady pick him up and hold him until it was time to get dressed and have his breakfast. His father was absent from the table, and through the morning, but Lily stayed with him. She took him for a walk. They passed through the formal garden with its fountains and statues, and the rose garden his mother had planted a long time ago, before he was born. Beyond that was a stand of trees that screened the rose garden from the winter winds that blew up from the southern plains. Lily picked what she told him was a cúl nut and peeled it for him to eat as they walked.

In the afternoon of that day, he was dressed in a black robe and a hat that he didn’t like, but which Lily told him he had to wear. A man could not be hatless at a Gallifreyan funeral. He was startled to be called a man, not a boy, or a baby, and put it on. She was dressed in black, too. So was his father. Everyone wore hats. They walked to another part of the family demesne where more trees shielded a place where the memorial stones of Lœngbærrow men and women long gone stood proudly. A grave had been dug. Lord de Lœngbærrow had broken with tradition. He didn’t want his wife to be cremated in the open air ceremony that was usual here. He wanted her to lie in peace in the garden of the home she loved. Chrístõ didn’t know any of that, of course. He only knew that he wouldn’t see his mother again and he wondered if he could ever feel happy again.

“He must have,” Julia said. “Poor Chrístõ. He couldn’t have been sad all through his childhood?”

“I did my best to make sure he wasn’t. Lily helped. She was my rock in those first months. She helped me to make Mount Lœng House a home for my boy. I took a leave of absence from my work. I wanted to be with him as much as I could. We both healed.

Chrístõ had memories of that healing. Two years that he spent with his father, travelling around Gallifrey, learning about the red and orange planet first hand. On one weekend at the Lodge, Christo learnt to swim. Another time he helped his father pitch a tent on the Southern Plain and he listened to the roars of Pazithi lions hunting as he lay in his sleeping bag. He spent time, too, with his grandfather, Chrístõ de Lún, Gallifrey’s greatest living astronomer, who taught him the names of the stars and planets of the Kasterborus sector.

In those two years, he had no formal lessons of any kind, but his father and the other adults in his life taught him more than he could have learnt at a desk. And as they did so, they prepared him for the rite of passage that would see his life change once again. Chrístõ, at eight years old, had to face the Untempered Schism along with all the other Gallifreyan girls and boys who wanted to become Time Lords in the course of time.

“Julia,” his father said. “Sit back and turn off the brooch. You can’t see this. It would burn out your mind. The Schism is something only people of our blood can experience.”

Julia did as he said. Lord de Lœngbærrow took hold of his son’s hand and held it tightly as Chrístõ relived one of the key events of his life.

“He blinked!” Julia gasped. “Oh, he did. He blinked. Just once.”

“I’m not surprised,” Lord de Lœngbærrow answered her. "I’ve never asked him about it. We all go through it, and we almost never talk about it afterwards. Mr word, he had an extreme experience. But all he told me afterwards was that he was tired."

Julia put her brooch back on and saw the way his life changed afterwards. His formal education began now. He was taught privately by tutors who came to the house. He loved to learn. He got up enthusiastically every day for his lessons in the rooms that had once been his mother’s private quarters of the house. He rarely gave his tutors any trouble.

“He didn’t seem to have any friends his own age,” Julia commented as she saw him grow to a thirteen, fourteen year old who always seemed to be alone even when he was burning off his boundless teenage energy racing his hover bike around the estate or climbing the cúl nut trees next to his mother’s rose garden.

“He had no friends of his own class,” his father admitted. “The house is in the countryside. Our nearest neighbour was Lily, who was childless. The other direction my sister, Oriana lived. But she kept her daughter away from Chrístõ. She was a pure blood snob who rejected him. But he did play with the estate children, the Caretakers, sometimes.”

“Poor Chrístõ, all alone.”

“Alone and lonely are not the same thing. He always filled his time. He wasn’t unhappy.”

“No, he was lonely,” Julia insisted. “Look… feel what he’s feeling about these memories. He loved you. But you went back to work for the Diplomatic Corp. You went away for days on end, and he missed you. The estate children were rough, and some of them resented him being an Oldblood. And he knew it wouldn’t get any better when he went to school.”

At the age of twenty, still considered a child by Gallifreyan standards, he went to the Prydonian Academy. He made no friends there, either. He was a southern country boy, he was a half blood, he was thin and pale and smaller than just about everyone else. He was a target for all the bullying that happened in boarding schools the universe over. And as he had said in his speech – it seemed so long ago now – nobody helped. He was insulted and humiliated by almost everyone, physically hurt regularly. He spent days in the infirmary once with bruised ribs and a broken leg from a particularly savage beating by four seniors. Some nights he lay awake in bed with bruises or cuts slowly mending. Even when he got through the day unhurt he waited, holding his breath, for everyone else to be asleep before he dared rest himself.

“Did you know he was so unhappy?” Julia asked. “Why didn’t you do something about it? Why did he have to stay there?”

“Because he could only become a Time Lord by graduating from the Academy, and besides, he had to learn… He had to learn to fight his own corner. It’s my fault, perhaps, for protecting him when he was younger. But he had to learn, to grow, to rise above the petty hurts. And those that were less petty, even.”

It got a little better when he moved out of the dormitory and became a lodger in the little house that belonged to the one master who did believe in him – Maestro. He enjoyed evenings with his mentor, extra tuition to help him cope with his courses, and extra-curricular activities that helped him regain confidence. At the weekends he honed his body and mind still further with the Brotherhood of Mount Lœng.

But even that didn’t help much when he was set upon by a gang of older students who used a laser tool to burn his nickname into the back of his neck. He had cried in pain and his attackers had laughed. Afterwards he had managed to reach Maestro’s house before collapsing. He woke a few hours later, lying on his stomach as Maestro applied soothing ointment to his neck. Nobody ever understood why the scar never went away. Of course, he was young. His regenerative abilities were not yet developed. But even so, it should have faded in time. There was some other reason why the letters Theta Sigma remained inscribed on his flesh, obliterating the birthmark that sealed his destiny.

“Hext was one of them,” Julia said. “I knew that. Chrístõ forgave him.”

“Hext never took part in any other bullying before he left the Academy. Perhaps he realised how low it was for a senior to treat a tyro in such a way. Maybe it was the thrashing he got from his father. I don’t know. As for Chrístõ, he grew his hair long to cover the scar and carried on. He got stronger. He beat them all. You saw that today. He was the best student. He transcended and became a Time Lord. He proved himself. I do wish he hadn’t hurt so much for so long. And I don’t think it made him a better man, but it made him the man he is. That’s why… that’s why I know we’ll get him back soon. He’s fighting, struggling to get back to us.”

Yes, he had learned to rise above it all. He extracted a grudging respect out of his teachers by continuing to get the best marks in all his subjects except telekinesis, which he never mastered. He got the same respect from his classmates because they realised that their prejudices were unfounded and that he was one of them, after all. He stopped being the lonely boy who hid away by himself and became a leading light of the debating society and captain of the Lacrosse team. He learnt to fence and honed his martial arts skills in the inter Academy competitions. The skinny, pale, unsure boy became a tall, handsome, confident senior who challenged those who would bully the weaker, never forgetting how much misery he had suffered.

There were even girls in his life as the last decade of his Academy life turned. Julia watched with interest as his unfolding memories turned on his first romantic kiss. He was one hundred and seventy five and it was the Prydonian Academy’s Summer Solstice Ball. He escorted a pretty young political science major called Sollani Borrusalan. He danced with her and as the evening wore on, he walked with her in the darkened quadrangle, stopping under the portico of the library to pull her close and kiss her on the lips. She was responsive to him and the kiss lasted a satisfying time. But then both of them heard footsteps coming closer and she ran away in a panic. Chrístõ hugged the shadows as Madam Charr, a formidable woman who let nobody imagine she was less competent than the male teachers, approached. Of course he had no hope of not being seen. She stared into the gloom and told him to step forward. He met her steely-eyed gaze for a long time before she told him to get back to the ball before he was mistaken for a loiterer. He started to do that, then changed his mind and climbed up to the high roof of the grand hall where he leaned against the cool tiles and smiled happily as he listened to the party going on below that he felt he didn’t need to be a part of any more.

“Did she stay his girlfriend?” Julia asked.

“Not for long, as I recall. They were young. Both found other friends. The only girl I think he was really serious about was Romana. I think… they might have become more than friends if…”

Lord de Lœngbærrow shook his head sadly. He knew what was coming next. Soon after Chrístõ’s Transcension, the last rite of passage that made him a young Time Lord, everything seemed to turn sour for him. He had already planned to travel in the gap years between finishing his education and his actual graduation. But then something occurred that drove a wedge between him and his father that mere time and distance couldn’t have done.

Chrístõ had been angry and upset when his father announced his engagement to Valena Arpexia. The bitter words he said to his father burned in his mind now as he fixed upon those times. And the bitterness grew until he wouldn’t listen to any reasonable argument. He was required to attend the Alliance ceremony, but the day after he had left Gallifrey in his own TARDIS vowing never to return until the twenty year sabbatical was done.

“He hated her so much?”

“He hated me for a while. He felt I had betrayed him and his mother. I don’t think he would have minded if I had married Valena for political expedience. But I fell in love with her. And he felt it was a rejection of his humanity. I was aligning myself with the purebloods who had scorned him.

“But that wasn’t true, surely?”

“It wasn’t. But he had wound himself up into such a knot of confusion. And then he left and for years I didn’t even know where he was, or if he was well. I feared for his life, but there was precious little I could do.”

Chrístõ’s memories turned over his first years away from home. He had gone to Earth, of course. He had drifted for a while, before going to nineteenth century China and the Shaolin Monastery. There he spent eight years learning to be at peace with himself, cut off from the outside universe. Even his TARDIS was in low power mode, hidden in the woods that gave the mountain its name. But despite the self-discipline and the spiritual renewal he found there, that knot was still there in a corner of his soul and when he left the Shaolins and finally made contact with home, it smouldered still. Three more years he lived in Victorian London, again pretending to be somebody he wasn’t, before his restless hearts moved on.

“I almost lost him then,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said. “It was only the intervention of friends… the people he met and travelled with, that finally brought him around. You did a lot of it, child. You opened up his soul and let it mend. Now, he even accepts Garrick. It took him so long to admit he loves his brother.”

“Half brother,” Chrístõ murmured.

It was a few moments before either Julia or his father realised what had happened. Then both reached out to hold him. Julia kissed his cheek. His arm reached out to embrace her and he held her for a long time.

“Chrístõ,” Julia said to him as he opened his eyes at last. “Why do you keep saying that? About Garrick being your half brother?”

He tried to speak again, but his mouth was dry and his voice cracked. Julia poured water and held it to his lips. He drank and found his voice.

“Garrick IS my half brother. He always will be. Anything else WOULD be a lie. We have different mothers. But we have the same father, and that’s why I love him. For the blood we share. But to call him brother, denies my Human blood, and I won’t have that.”

“You have my stubbornness,” his father told him. “That’s what brought you back to us. You had to find yourself, the sum of your memories of who you are - My son, the half-blood prince of the universe. We have you back, now.”

“You brought me back,” Chrístõ said. “I… I came close to dying. I know. I felt it. Then… it was like being reborn. I felt… my whole life… oh, father… the last thing I remember… was how I almost lost you.”

“You could never lose me,” his father assured him. “Even when you didn’t want me, I was always there for you.”

Chrístõ raised himself enough to embrace his father, pressing his face against his shoulder. “I’m sorry. For those times. Forgive me.”

“Of course I forgive you, my boy.”

Chrístõ laughed softly.

“I will always be your boy, won’t I?”

“Even when you’re a thousand years old,” his father answered. “Even if you are Lord High President by then and I have to kneel in your presence, you will still be, in my hearts, the little boy who was frightened of the shadows in his bedroom. That’s what being a father is about. One day, when you and Julia have a child of your own, you’ll know that.”

“Julia…” Chrístõ looked around, but she wasn’t there. She had known, instinctively, that she wasn’t needed just now. She had gone back to the waiting room to tell everyone else that he was all right.

“They’ll all be clamouring to see you in a few moments,” his father said. “Before they do…” He closed his eyes and let a time fold envelop them and they stole a few precious moments more in which there was only the father and son, both grateful that, after all that had happened, they had those moments to share.