The passengers in the two limousines were divided along gender lines. There was no particular reason for that. It wasn’t necessary for the Time Lord ceremony they were travelling to. But Glenda and Julia had both been deep in conversation with Valena de Lœngbærrow when they stepped out of Mount Lœng House to the first waiting car and Garrick insisted that he should sit beside his brother no matter what.

“He talks about you all the time,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said to his oldest son with an indulgent smile at his youngest child. “His tutors hear about you from him at least a dozen times a day and every night at dinner he asks if you will be home soon.”

“We used to worry about him not talking,” Chrístõ noted. “Now we can’t shut him up.” But he didn’t mean it. It was satisfying to know that Garrick was over all of the emotional issues that had held him back for so long. He put his arm around the boy as he sat close up to him. He thought about the years when he had felt estranged from home and family and sighed happily. Home and family were the most important things any man could have.

He glanced at Cal and felt a little guilty about his own satisfaction. They both lived as exiles from Gallifrey. But while he had a loving family and a warm and welcoming home to return to when he chose, Cal had a dark, closed up mansion and an uncle who lived in seclusion at the top of a forbidding mountain. Of course, he was a welcome guest at Mount Lœng House, but that wasn’t quite the same.

“It’s all right,” Cal whispered. “I don’t need a mansion and servants, and limousines. I mean, granted, the limousine is rather handy tonight, seeing as we’ve got such a long journey and it’s dark and cold out. But I don’t need it. I do want to learn how to be a Time Lord. But I don’t want a Time Lord life. I don’t want to live in a mansion on Gallifrey and command the people of my demesne. I want to live on Beta Delta IV, where I am old enough to marry Glenda when she is ready for that, and live a quiet, simple life.”

“Then we’ll find a way for you to do that, boy,” Lord de Lœngbærrow told him.

“How?” Chrístõ asked. “Surely he has to go to the Academy if he wants to be a Time Lord? When I was younger than him, I pleaded with you to let me leave that damn place. I begged Maestro to let me stay with the Brotherhood and learn what I needed to know with them… in peace. You both told me the only way to become a Time Lord was to attend one of the Academies until I was a hundred and ninety… if they didn’t kill me first. And… you know damn well that they tried…”

“Chrístõ, please don’t use profanities in front of Garrick,” his father said calmly. “Maestro and I both lied to you. It was for your own good. You wanted an easy option. You wanted to run away and hide from your troubles. If we had let you, do you think you would be the man you are now? Would you have been the one who saved Julia’s life on that ship of death? Would you have led the fight to free Gallifrey from its enemies? Would you have been the son I hoped you would be? A fitting heir to the ancestors who have gone before you?”

“I… might have had a happier time of it,” he answered, though he knew his father was right. Learning to face the bullies who hurt him when he was a boy had made him strong. It was a bitter pill he had swallowed, though.

“There ARE other ways to become a Time Lord than through the formal education system. After all, there were Time Lords before there were academies. It suits our society to make it seem as if there is only the one route to that goal. But look at what the Sisterhood of Karn have achieved without our sanction. Their powers are formidable. And who knows what Cal might be able to achieve with our help. He has already set himself on the path yesterday when he went with Maestro to the Untempered Schism.”

Cal shuddered.

“That… was the most terrifying experience of my life,” he said. “I can’t believe you put eight year old children through that.”

“Nevertheless, you faced it well, and you are ready to take the next step tonight, when you go with the other young Time Lord candidates to be dedicated to Rassilon.”

Lord de Lœngbærrow smiled indulgently at Cal. Chrístõ noted the smile and remembered that his father had smiled at him that way when he had taken part in his Dedication ceremony on the Winter Solstice of his 80th year. He had been proud of him as he embarked on the second great step to becoming a Time Lord.

In a few short years, Garrick would follow in his footsteps. He would face the Untempered Schism. He would go to the Academy in his turn and he would be Dedicated when the time came. Eventually, he, too, would Transcend. His father would have every reason to smile about that. He knew he would be proud, too, on that day.

In the meantime, he was proud of Cal. He had taken on a great deal of parental responsibility for him. He was helping him to manage the financial affairs of the Oakdaene estate and introducing him to those sections of Gallifreyan society that he would need to understand as the patriarch of one of the Oldblood Houses. He had taken a keen interest in Cal’s informal education as Chrístõ’s apprentice. He had arranged for him to make his journey to the Valley of Eternal Night where he faced the Schism and proved himself worthy of being a Time Lord. His father had arranged for Cal to join the young Candidates from the Time Lord Academies in this Winter Solstice ceremony.

It was more than that, though. In his way, Chrístõ knew that his father had offered Cal a kind of parental love. He let the boy know that he was there for him if he needed him. Cal had not really needed him in that way. He was too independent for that. But he respected Lord de Lœngbærrow and was grateful for his kindness.

And Chrístõ wasn’t jealous. He had made that mistake before when Garrick was born, believing that his father’s love for him would diminish now that he had his full-blooded Gallifreyan child instead. He had let himself imagine all kinds of resentments, and he had been wrong. His father’s love encompassed him and his half brother. It had encompassed Penne when he was far less sure of himself than he was now and needed somebody to advise him.

And now it encompassed Cal.

Chrístõ was aware of another reason for that, of course. His father had always felt a deep sense of failure about Epsilon. As the executor of Lord Oakdaene’s will, and trustee for his son, Lord de Lœngbærrow had tried to reach out to the fatherless boy. He had wanted to care for him alongside his own son. But Epsilon had rejected him and become more and more twisted and bitter as the years went by.

Cal was his second chance to do right by the House of Oakdaene.

He understood that motive perfectly well. Epsilon’s fall disturbed him, too. They had never really been close friends, but he and his cousin by marriage had both stood apart from their peers. They both resisted being moulded to the exact model that their tutors at the Academy had wanted. Strict obedience to tradition and law didn’t sit well with them. Both had sought the freedom of the stars rather than remaining on Gallifrey and taking up responsible jobs. They had more in common than anyone realised, and the fact that one of them was now a shamed and disinherited prisoner of Shada was a cause of sorrow.

Cal gave him that second chance, too. He could be his friend as he never could have been Epsilon’s friend.

“We both need to remember one thing, my boy.” Chrístõ looked at his father’s deep brown eyes as he heard his voice in his head. “Cal knows his own mind. Neither of us can mould him to be what he doesn’t want to be, either. And it would be dangerous to try. But so far, I think we’re on the right track. He is proving to be a smart young man. We can both take pride in that.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ replied.

“As for you, my first born son… you’ll always have my love and my pride. You could never disappoint me. And if Garrick grows up emulating you, as he seems to be trying hard to do, then I won’t be disappointed in him, either.”

The exchange was a private one, but Chrístõ felt Garrick’s small hand slip into his and his half brother smiled at him. He squeezed his hand gently and again counted himself lucky that he had learnt to appreciate having a younger sibling.

“This is exciting for you because you get to stay up all night,” he said to his half brother. “Or at least as long as you can manage. I wasn’t very good at it when I was your age. Maybe you’ll have more stamina than me.”

Garrick laughed. Cal smiled nervously.

“I wish I was just a spectator, too,” he sighed. “I’m… a little bit scared. Yesterday at the Schism… at least it was just me and my uncle, even if it was terrifying. Today… I will be meeting far more Gallifreyan people than I have ever met before… and a lot of them will be my age… only they will have gone to those Academies you set such store by. I wonder how they will receive me.”

“You’ll be all right,” Chrístõ assured him. “I’m going to be your mentor tonight. All the kids at the Academies are in awe of me… The one advantage of being a war hero… I finally got the respect I never had before when I was just the notorious Prydonian half-blood.”

His father nodded gravely. He knew his son wasn’t being deliberately flippant about events that had scarred the very soul of Gallifrey. But he had found his own way of dealing with those memories just as everyone else who lived through it had.

“Just remember that the sons and daughters of Gallifrey who look up to you are unaccustomed to being known collectively as ‘kids’,” he said. “You really should curb your use of Human slang. It doesn’t really befit a Time Lord of Gallifrey.”

“It befits one who has travelled beyond Gallifrey,” Chrístõ argued. But the point was taken. Then he nudged Garrick who was drowsing at his side and drew Cal’s attention to their destination.

It was a splash of light in the featureless, snow covered southern plain. An arena had been marked out. Chrístõ couldn’t help mentally measuring it in football pitches, another Human habit he had picked up. It was as big as two Wembley stadiums, anyway. The boundaries were marked with flaming torches on high, slender poles. Inside the arena, the snow had been swept or melted away. A rime of frost was all that covered the sparse winter grass.

The torchlight spoiled the night vision, so it was difficult to see beyond it. But Chrístõ was born and raised on the southern continent and he knew the plain well. He knew, even if he couldn’t see it, that the mountain called Melchus Bluff rose up only a quarter mile from this spot. It was one of those unexpected mountains that stood alone in the middle of the plain, nowhere near any range of hills. Among more fanciful people than the Time Lords of Gallifrey there would probably be legends about it being placed there by giants or some such thing. Chrístõ didn’t know any legends about Melchus Bluff, and the geological explanation for it was almost as dry as the plain in high summer. But he knew it well. He had climbed it as a boy, alone and in the company of friends from the Academy. And it had been the place of his Dedication to Rassilon, as it would be for Cal tonight.

A double line of torches led from the empty arena to a large marquee set nearby. Lights from within made the canvas glow invitingly as the chauffer brought the limousine to a stop beside the car containing the female half of the family. The ladies pulled their lapin fur coats around themselves as they found their partners. Glenda was wearing such a coat for the first time. She had protested at first, until she was assured that lapin, like the virtual reality one that always gambolled at Garrick’s feet when he played, were not killed for their fur. They regularly shed their coats to grow new ones and the discarded fur was collected and treated and made into the warm coats that were a necessity as well as a fashion item in a Gallifreyan winter.

Inside the marquee it was warm enough to discard the coats and beneath them the women were all in fine gowns. Tight waists and wide flaring skirts were in vogue this winter. Julia didn’t favour the style as she wasn’t really tall enough to carry it off, but with a pair of silver-trimmed high heeled shoes she made up for the disadvantage and beamed happily as the eldest daughter of Lord Patrexian complimented her and Glenda on their gowns, made, of course, by the chief dressmaker to the Imperial Court of Adano Ambrado.

The marquee was beautifully decorated for the formal ball that preceded the Winter Solstice ceremony. There were chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the floor was polished wood. Silver and gold streamers were hung from the supporting pillars and the stage where an orchestra played soft music was bedecked with winter grown flowers. There was a buffet feast for those who wanted to eat and liveried waiters served champagne.

“Chrístõ, good to see you,” said a familiar voice. He turned to see Paracell Hext with his wife at his side. “And I’m delighted to see you at this event, Lord Oakdaene.”

He bowed formally to Cal, and Savang curtseyed. Cal seemed surprised. He knew them both as friends. He wasn’t expecting to be addressed by them in such a way.

“It is your right to be addressed that way, Cal,” Hext told him. “We are leading by example, lest anyone here forget that you are, indeed, the lawful and rightful patriarch of that Noble and Ancient House.”

That was perfectly true, of course. But Cal still wasn’t expecting it. Chrístõ saved him from the struggle to find something else to say by asking Hext how things were at The Tower. Valena drew Savang into the female conversation and the Director of the Celestial Intervention Agency told his friend as much as he was able to say openly.

“We have the second sons and minor lords of several Gallifreyan families under lock and key at the moment,” he said. “Those who were too closely linked with the Demantur affair. Your uncle, Lord Lessage, isn’t one of them. He turned informant and traded a great deal of information for his freedom. Personally I would have preferred to bury him up to his neck in the Red Desert and leave him for a week. But those kind of punishments just aren’t done in these enlightened days. Two of those he identified committed suicide before we could interrogate them.” Hext grinned a cold grin that made Chrístõ shiver slightly. His father met the young Director’s expression with one that matched it.

“If anyone questioned your ability to run the reformed Agency effectively, those two suicides put paid to such doubts. Mere anticipation of arrest by your men was enough. Don’t be ashamed of it. You are a sharp, clean knife slicing through the diseased flesh of our society. Never flinch from the work. But remember, when it is done, and you walk away from it, your soul is clean, your conscience clear. The corruption does not touch you. Dance with your lady and hold your head up, Paracell Hext. As you deserve to do.”

Hext nodded and bowed his head reverentially towards the man whose name was well known among the agents he had trained. The Executioner’s deeds were the stuff of legend.

“And if half of them are true, then there is a security leak somewhere,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said with a good-natured smile. “Tell your agents from me to make their own legends.”

“I will, sir,” Hext answered him. “Thank you. I think we should find our ladies, now. My father is almost ready to make his entrance.”

The mingling and chatter ceased and the Lords and Ladies of Gallifrey formed up in front of the stage leaving a processional aisle between them. Presidential guards in burnished breastplates and helmets took up position and there was a fanfare from a liveried man with a long traditional instrument. The official called Gold Usher entered first, followed by the Chancellor and Premier Cardinal in their finest regalia, and then the Lord High President himself, Lord Hext, Paracell’s father. He walked proudly, his head held high. The Lords and Ladies of Gallifrey knelt as he passed. They rose again as he stood on the stage, flanked by the other great leaders of their world. The orchestra began to play the Gallifreyan national anthem and everyone proudly sang, the men placing their right hands over their left hearts by tradition. Julia knew the words to the anthem, of course. Glenda had never heard it before. It was relatively new to Cal, too. Loyalty to Gallifrey was new to him, for that matter. But he stood proudly with his friends and felt their patriotic fervour overtake him.

“You DO belong to Gallifrey,” Chrístõ told him telepathically as the last strains of the anthem died away. “And I am glad of it.”

“Me, too,” Cal admitted. Then they both gave their attention to the President’s speech. He welcomed them all to this Winter Solstice celebration, and spoke of the hope for the future that the Candidates represented. His emphasis was on the future all through his speech. Chrístõ recalled when he was a Candidate, and several times since when he had attended the ceremony as a mere observer. He couldn’t recall a speech that hadn’t spoken of the unbroken line of tradition that they, the young Candidates, were upholding.

But the line had been broken. The ceremony had not taken place for several years because of the Mallus invasion. Families had been broken up. The Academies had been damaged. It had taken a year of peace for them to get back to this point, where they could hold the Winter Solstice again as a time of joy and hope. And looking back to the past was no good this time. They had to look to the future.

The scars would heal, of course. But it would take time. Perhaps as long as it took these Candidates to complete their education and become Time Lords. Until then there would be a hollow place in everyone’s souls and celebrations like this would be tinged with sorrow.

But Lord Hext did not let anyone dwell on the sadness for too long. He brought his speech to a close with an injunction to eat, drink and dance until it was nearer to midnight. The orchestra began to play again and the Lord High President stepped down from the stage and walked towards his son and daughter in law. He smiled and bowed to his son and then took Savang’s hand as he led her out onto the floor. Savang, who had once been the loneliest and most shunned woman on the planet, smiled joyfully as the most powerful man on Gallifrey danced with her. Of course, she longed for the dance to be over so that she could have the next one with her husband who she adored. But she drank in the moment when all eyes were upon her and all of them admired her.

“She deserves it,” Chrístõ whispered. Julia, at his side, was the only person who heard him, and she squeezed his hand. When other couples joined in the dancing, of course he led her out, holding her in his arms as they moved around the floor. Cal and Glenda made another pretty pair. He saw his father with Valena, looking happy together. The year of peace and healing had been good for them, too. He glanced around and saw his half brother sitting on Paracell Hext’s knee as he waited without a dance partner for now. This was Garrick’s first Solstice ceremony and he was determined not to miss a moment of it.

Garrick was still awake at twelve, an hour to the Gallifreyan midnight, when the orchestra stopped playing and everyone made their way outside to the arena. In the centre of the wide, cleared area there was a huge bonfire waiting to be lit, and a grand firework display set up ready to delight the eyes of all. There was music, too, though not the refined string orchestra this time. The outdoor music of Winter Solstice was of a much more primitive kind. Drums were beating out a rhythm that matched the double heartbeat of a Time Lord. The sound reverberated in their very souls as they watched the flames of the solstice fire rise up.

“It’s time,” Chrístõ said as the midnight hour approached. They both hugged and kissed their girlfriends and then joined the group that was forming up ready for the most important part of the Winter Solstice. There were twenty young Candidates this year, all between fifty and eighty. They and their mentors, mostly fathers or older brothers, formed up in a crocodile ready to begin the journey of a little over a half mile in mere distance, but far more than that in their personal journeys of life.

The President himself was leading them. A torchbearer walked at his side as they set off. The path was dark, but there were beacons set out every few yards and as they reached each one it was lit. On their way back, the beacons would lead them down the Bluff and back to their loved ones.

Julia and Glenda were among those who stayed the longest watching the beacons light up, marking their progress. Both of them were excited and nervous.

“There are hot drinks inside,” said Lord de Lœngbærrow, putting his hands on their shoulders in a fatherly way. “It’ll be a long time until they return. Most people come inside and keep the vigil quietly.”

“They will be all right, won’t they?” Glenda asked. “Cal was a bit scared earlier. He tried to pretend he wasn’t, but I knew he was. I could feel it even though he’s very good at hiding himself behind mental walls. It isn’t dangerous, is it?”

“Not at all. It’s a bit daunting. But nothing that could harm any of them. I am so proud that Chrístõ is Cal’s mentor. He’s young to take on that role. But he’s grown up so much in the past few years. He’s fully capable of guiding him all the way through to Transcension. Still, it only seems like a few years ago that I was walking up the Bluff with my own son. He was eighty when he was presented as a Candidate. He worried about not being accepted by his ancestors because he was half Human. But he was ready to stand tall before them.”

“Cal is half Human, too.”

“And he is as proud and stubborn as Chrístõ. He will be fine. Don’t either of you fret. Your sweethearts are having an exciting time. You come and have a warm, comfortable time until they are with us again.


They were having a cold time of it. And it wasn’t easy walking in the deep snow. But nobody minded. They were looking forward to the ritual ahead of them. The procession was not meant to be solemn. They talked among themselves, both out loud and telepathically. Chrístõ found himself at the centre of a small group who wanted to ask him questions. He was relieved to find that they didn’t ask him about the war. Mostly they wanted to know about his travels. Few of the youngsters had ever left Gallifrey for anything more than short trips to Karn or Polarfrey. They wanted to know what it was like to be a Time Lord who had travelled so widely as he had.

“I’ve not travelled THAT widely,” he pointed out. “I spend a lot of time on Earth or the Beta Delta system.

But even that sounded glamorous to them and he was glad to talk to them about life under other skies and other suns. He noted that one youngster seemed keener than any of the others to hear about other worlds. Chrístõ asked his name.

“I am Cinnamal Hext, sir,” he replied. Chrístõ was surprised.

“Paracell’s younger brother?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why isn’t he your mentor?” He noted that the boy was walking with a teacher from the Prydonian Academy.

“I didn’t want him to.”

“You don’t get on with your brother?”

“Yes, sir. But… he’s… important. So is my father…”

That was stating the obvious, of course. But Chrístõ wondered why it bothered Cinnamal.

“I want to be me, not the son of the President or brother of the Director of the CIA.”

“Ah.” Chrístõ smiled. “I can understand that. Living up to other people’s expectations is hard work. You be yourself. Your father and brother will respect you for it.”

“Thank you, sir. I hope I will prove myself worthy. When I am old enough to be a traveller, like you… I would like to explore the universe. I would like to make a difference, the way you have.”

Chrístõ was on the point of responding to that when he felt another voice touching his mind. It was Cinnamal’s father, the President himself.

“Don’t encourage him, too much, please. Remember, our official policy is one of non-interference in extra-terrestrial affairs. You have always been allowed a certain leverage, but we do not foresee a future in which young Time Lords are running around the galaxy righting perceived wrongs. It would change, completely, our position as a neutral and peaceful world.”

Chrístõ was surprised. It was a long time since anyone had reminded him of that policy of non-interference. It really hadn’t applied to him since he first set out in his own TARDIS. And he really thought the Mallus invasion had made it impossible for Time Lords to continue with such a deliberately neutral position, anyway.

“Besides, we are nearly at the foot of the Bluff,” Lord Hext added. “As we climb, the thoughts of the Candidates should be on their Dedications. They should reflect on the heritage Rassilon has given to us and consider why they deserve the privilege of being on of his Time Lords.”

He repeated that injunction to them all, and the chatter quietened as they gave their thoughts to that question. Chrístõ couldn’t help noticing that Cinnamal Hext’s reasons still had a lot to do with wanting his own TARDIS to go exploring in. That wasn’t exactly the right answer to the question. Even though exploration had been his deepest desire when he was as young as Cinnamal, his reasons for wanting to be a Time Lord were more than that.

“What is the right answer?” He felt Cal’s question in his mind and glanced at him in the darkness. “I don’t know why I want to be one, except that it’s important to people I didn’t know existed until very recently. You… and your father… and Maestro… my uncle who I know even less well than I know your father. You all think this is the most important thing I could possibly do. And I would be glad to do it because it matters to you. But what is my own reason for wanting it?”

“I can’t help you with that,” Chrístõ told him. “It’s different for everyone.”

“What was your reason, then? When you did this?”

“Living up to my ancestors,” Chrístõ replied. “All the great men whose names are part of my name. I had to succeed so that their line would not end in failure.”

“So… you did it for other people, not yourself, too?”

“It was always my own ambition to be a Time Lord. I couldn’t imagine being anything else.”

“Is there anything else TO be on Gallifrey? Anyone who isn’t a Time Lord doesn’t amount to much from what I’ve seen.”

That much was true. Perhaps that was the real reason he had never imagined any other future for himself.

“It’s not too late to change your mind, Cal,” he said. “If you feel you’re not doing this for the right reasons. Although, if you want the truth, just about everyone else here is doing it because they think it’s what their father’s want them to do. It’s not so much different than doing it for Maestro or my father, or even for me.”

“No,” Cal conceded. “I’m going to do it for myself. Not for your father… or for my father… or for my ancestors who were Time Lords. Or even for my mother, who died alone because of him, afraid of what might happen to me. I’m going to do it for myself. I think that’s the answer to my question.”

“I think you’ve got it,” Chrístõ told him. “You’re going to be all right, Cal.”


Lord de Lœngbærrow again sought his Human guests and found them outside. This time they had at least brought a hot drink with them. But they still looked vulnerable standing beneath one of the flaming torches and looking out into the night.

“The line has stopped,” Glenda pointed out. “We could see them moving by the beacons, but now it’s stopped. Something must be wrong.”

“That’s because they’ve reached the entrance to the caves within the Bluff,” his Lordship explained patiently. “They are all inside now, heading through a tunnel to the great cavern where we have conducted this Dedication ceremony for countless generations. There is nothing to fear. And nothing to see for many hours yet. The ceremony will take some time. Each of them has to offer himself to Rassilon individually.”

“I don’t like that idea,” Julia admitted. “It sounds like they’re giving themselves as sacrifices or something.”

Lord de Lœngbærrow laughed though not unkindly.

“Nothing could be farther from the truth. They are merely pledging their hearts and souls to the Creator of our race and promising to live by his guidance. It is their second great step towards being a Time Lord. After the presentation at the Untempered Schism, the Dedication comes next. And after that, when they are old enough, the Transcension, when their very DNA is changed in the most important ritual of all, and they become Time Lords, with the whole of the universe within their souls, all of time in their hearts.”

“That doesn’t happen until they’re nearly two hundred years old,” Glenda pointed out. “He’s only forty-six. That means… I won’t see him become a Time Lord. That will be long after I am dead.”

“Chrístõ’s mother faced that reality, too,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said with a soft sigh. “Julia will, in her own time, when she has a child that she won’t see become a man by our definition. That is the price a Human has to pay for the love of a Time Lord. It’s difficult for you. It’s difficult for us, too. My dear Marion and I made the choice, so have Chrístõ and Julia. It seems that you and Cal intend to follow our lead. But joy is tempered with sadness for us all.”

“Then how do any of us bear it?” Glenda asked. “I really do love Cal. We’ve talked about the future together. I know he is my first proper boyfriend, and some people think I’m too young to know what I really want. But they’re wrong. I do. I love him. And I want to be with him. And on Beta Delta is seems easy. There it’s easy to think of him as an ordinary man. But here on Gallifrey.. .when I see how different he is… it all gets a little scary.”

“You answered your own question, Glenda. You love him. The rest doesn’t matter.” He put his arms around the two young women reassuringly. He knew exactly how difficult it was for them to come to terms with being the future wives of Time Lords. He remembered when Chrístõ’s mother had found out that he was more than just a professor of English literature who liked to wear tweed jackets and do the Times crossword. She had asked all the same questions and she had been plagued with all the same doubts and fears. But love had overcome all of the obstacles in their way. His Marion had become a Gallifreyan lady as he knew Julia would in time. She was already halfway there under Valena’s guidance. Glenda and Cal would live differently. They had to. Cal was still classed as a minor here on Gallifrey. He couldn’t get married according to the law here. And having lived as an adult in the Human colonies, expecting him to spend a century and a half being treated as a child would be counter-productive. Their life together would be on Beta Delta IV. But Cal would still be a Time Lord candidate and the heir to the House of Oakdaene. His heritage and his birthright would remain intact.


The tunnel was dark ahead, but the torches made it bright. There was nothing for anyone to fear. They were glad, in any case, to be out of the cold night. There was less talk now. Their voices sounded so strange in the confined space and their telepathic thoughts were dampened by the tonnes of rock above and around them. Besides, the anticipation of what was to come weighed on them all more and more now.

They came, at last, to the Great Cavern. And it lived up to its name, fully deserving the capital letters. It was wide and high. It had obviously been a natural cavern originally, hollowed out by the action of water inside the Bluff over millennia. As the torchbearers lit the standing torches set around the cavern the great high roof became visible to the Candidates. They looked up at a hundred thousand stalactites like glistening stone daggers pointing down at them. Around the edges of the cavern stalagmites rose up from the floor, and there was a vast wall of that geological feature called ‘organ pipes’ where the accretion of thousands of years had formed a ridged pattern. But some engineering had also been involved, too. The vast floor of the cavern was smooth and a perfect circle. In the centre of the circle was a huge carved stone table. It, too, was a perfect circle and the Seal of Rassilon was embossed in the top of it. The Candidates and their mentors formed a circle around it, standing a few feet away from each other. There was a solemn silence for a few minutes before Lord Hext began to recite the ritual of Candidacy in Ancient Gallifreyan. All the Candidates but Cal had begun to learn the Ancient form of their language and had a vague understanding of what was being said, but only the mentors, who had graduated already, fully knew the meaning.

It didn’t matter if they knew the words or not. They understood that the Ancient Rite of Dedication was happening. They all felt deep in their souls that they were in the presence of their ancestors. They all knew, of course, that when a Time Lord died his body was cremated in an open pyre. But unless circumstances prevented it, the sum of his mind was added to the Matrix, the repository of all Time Lord knowledge and wisdom. The Matrix was both a physical thing, a work of Time Lord engineering, maintained by a huge server unit in a sealed room beneath the Panopticon, and a mystical thing that no science could completely explain. Because what for convenience could be called the soul of the Time Lord remained and could, with the right form of words in the right place, at the right time, connect with his living descendants.

Each of the Candidates connected with his or her ancestor in turn. The first, by random selection, was a girl called Selena Amycus in the short form of her name. She stepped forward.

“I am SelenaFarahGenessa Amycus, Daughter of Gallifrey. I seek the wisdom of my ancestors.”

To the rest of the Candidates and Mentors, nothing appeared to happen except, perhaps, the light in the cavern flickered and changed a little, as if a presence had disturbed the flaming torches. The expression on Selena’s face, though, was one that, on worlds where a deity was believed in, was called religious ecstasy. When she stepped back a few minutes later and knelt reverently, nobody doubted that she had experienced something deeply personal.

Another eight Candidates stepped forward and received the same gift of deep, abiding joy before it was Cal’s turn. He stepped forward and it seemed as if all eyes were on him, the unknown quantity, the one who was not a product of the Academies, the one who was a half-blood, and an illegitimate one, at that, who had arrived from somewhere in the Human colonies to claim inheritance of an almost defunct Oldblood name.

“I am CallanIlaganAmbisieKragLojaliteitKoschei Lupus de Oakdaene, Son of Gallifrey. I seek the wisdom of my ancestors.”

Cal’s full Gallifreyan name was not given to him at birth. Indeed, it had never been heard by anyone before this day except Cal himself. His uncle, the son of the Oakdaene family known as Maestro ever since he renounced his title and became a Brother of Mount Lœng, had created the name for him after he had returned from the Valley of Eternal Night. Ilagan was the name of his great-great grand uncle. Ambisie meant ‘ambition’ in an obscure and rarely used southern dialect of low Gallifreyan. The same dialect provided Krag, meaning ‘strength’ and Lojaliteit meaning ‘loyalty’, all of which seemed appropriate characteristics for him. Koschei was the name of his paternal great grandmother, whose House was equal to Oakdaene, so her name had been given to all of the sons and grandsons of the family, since. Lupus, of course, was the Human surname he inherited from his mother, and he was adamant that nobody was going to take that from him. And finally, of course, he acknowledged his biological father’s surname by taking it for himself.

Chrístõ was thinking about the etymology of Cal’s formal name when he felt the stirring of psychic forces. He was surprised. This was Cal’s moment to connect with his ancestors. He wasn’t supposed to know anything about it.

But after all, one of Cal’s ancestors was his other uncle, the man Chrístõ had known as Mai Li Tuo, but whose birth name was Lee Koschei Oakdaene. And Li’s soul wasn’t part of the matrix. It was part of Chrístõ’s being since they were joined in the Rite of Mori.

He felt Li’s soul reach out to the nervous boy who suddenly wasn’t sure if he was worthy, after all.

“Yes, dear boy, you are worthy.” He heard Li’s voice clearly in his own head, but he knew he wasn’t speaking to him. He felt Cal’s surprised response. “Come with me, now.”

Chrístõ didn’t hear or feel any more. He knew he wasn’t supposed to. But Li’s spirit had taken Cal by the hand, figuratively at least, and smoothed the way to the ancestors they shared.

When it was over, Cal’s face was a picture of bliss just like the others. He knelt and waited until the next candidates stepped forward. Kneeling for all that length of time wasn’t comfortable, especially for those who were first. But they were too full of joy to care. Finally, the last Candidate stepped back and knelt and the mentors joined with Lord Hext in the closing words of the ritual.

The Candidates stood as the last words faded into a receding echo in the Great Cavern. Then the torchbearers went before as they formed into their line again. They walked out of the Cavern. Behind them, the torches went out by themselves – or perhaps it was the spirits of their ancestors still moving.

Nobody spoke while they were in the tunnel. They still felt too close to what had happened to them. When they emerged into the biting cold of the Solstice night, though, they found their voices. As they descended the Bluff, putting out the beacons as they went, the Candidates talked among themselves, and with their mentors, about the ancestors they had connected with, the messages of goodwill they had received.

The only one who didn’t talk much was Cinnamal Hext. He seemed lost in thought, still, and his mentor left him to his musings.

Cal was reluctant to share his thoughts with the other Candidates. He found them all too noisy.

“They’re all much older than me, and yet they seem like kids,” he complained. “Just a bunch of kids.”

“That’s because here on Gallifrey, they ARE kids. Your life is different from them. But you still did all right. You made contact, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did,” he answered. “With somebody called Ilagan Oakdaene. He… was kind. He told me I was the hope of my ancestors – because I would restore the line. He knew I wasn’t happy about that. All this destiny stuff scares me. He told me a joke. It was a really silly, stupid joke. It wasn’t even really funny. But… my ancestor… who has been dead for six thousand years… told me a joke. Can you believe that?”

“Yes, I can,” Chrístõ answered with a smile. “After all, our ancestors were once boys who went through this, too. They’re not meant to scare us. They’re meant to make us feel worthy and ready to follow in their footsteps to our calling.”

“I’m ready,” Cal told him.

“Good.” Chrístõ looked down the hill. The arena was a patch of brightness ahead of them. The bonfire would be relit soon and fireworks would burst in the sky to welcome their return. Then there would be hot drinks and food and hugs and kisses from their loved ones and a chance to rest before they went out again to greet the solstice dawn.

“Glenda is waiting for me down there,” Cal said.

“So is Julia,” Chrístõ added. “I bet they’ve both been worried about us. You know what they’re like. The only danger we were ever going to be in tonight is of being suffocated by two over-enthusiastic women in lapin fur coats who over-estimate the power of a Time Lord to recycle his breathing.”