Chrístõ stood with his arms around Julia’s shoulders as they looked across the rugged landscape to the sea view beyond. It was a clear day and they could see all the way to the horizon.

“Next stop, New York,” Julia said.

“I should take you there, some time,” Chrístõ said. “Ice skating in Central Park at New Year. That would be fun.”

“I like it here,” Julia answered him as she watched the ferry boat approaching Caladh Mór – the big pier, where a crowd of daytrippers waited to leave the island of Inis Meán and return to Connemara on the mainland of Ireland. “This is nice. But, you know, I’ll get out of practice if you mean us to spend a whole fortnight here – in one weekend!”

She giggled at the way Chrístõ managed to expand her pre-Christmas free weekend from college, as well as the fact that he had taken her to Earth in the middle of a gloriously sunny June. Seasons were meaningless when your fiancée was a Time Lord.

“You’ll soon catch up,” he told her. “Besides, there isn’t much else to do on this island except walk. That will keep you fit. I want to spend as much time with you as I can, though. After Christmas you’ll be on the Olympic team ship for six months. I’ll miss you.”

“You’ve been away from me for as long as that before, when I was at school and you were travelling.”

“But not since you were my fiancée. Now I don’t want to be away from you. But I don’t begrudge you this chance, sweetheart. You’re going to be an Olympic champion. That’s wonderful.”

“I’m going to compete in the Olympics,” she pointed out. “Being a champion is another matter.”

“I believe in you,” he promised.

Julia smiled and let him kiss her fondly. She would miss him, too, on the journey to the Gamma system, but it was a chance of a lifetime. It was one of the reasons her parents had wanted to leave Earth for the Beta Delta system, so that she would have a chance to qualify for the intergalactic Olympiad. All the occupied planets of Beta Delta had a population that was less than that of Britain in the twenty-fourth century. She would have more chance of pursuing her ambitions than on the over-populated Earth.

Now she had a chance to do what her parents had wanted her to do. Missing Chrístõ for all that time was a small price to pay for that.

“Of course it is,” he told her. “Besides, I’ll be there on Gamma Prime to see it all. That’s a promise. Meanwhile… shall we walk down to that little pub with the seats outside that does food in the evening?”

“Yes,” Julia agreed. She let him take her hand as they picked their way through the broken stone walls that were all that remained of the two thousand year old Dún Choncubair, a ‘Ring Fort’ at the very highest point on the island. The path down hill was not steep, but it was littered with old stones that were hidden in the grass. A broken ankle from falling over one of them was the last thing she needed. But Chrístõ kept her safe until they reached the wooden stile that crossed the last wall and brought them to a narrow road that ran between the tiny plots of land tended by the local people.

“It’s incredible that anything grows here at all,” Chrístõ noted as they passed a plot where vegetables were growing. “There is no more than an inch of soil in these fields before the bedrock of the island begins. And the soil was created over the last century by laying down seaweed gathered on the shore and letting it turn to compost. That’s what I call determination. Amazing people, these islanders.”

“It’s not quite so desperate now,” Julia pointed out. They have a windfarm for electricity and broadband internet and television through a fibre optic cable running under the sea.”

“Yes, but even so the life here hasn’t changed much in essence. It’s still a very traditional place.”

“Chrístõ, tradition isn’t always a good thing,” Julia pointed out. “Rural tradition basically boils down to women being slaves to the kitchen of these quaint white-washed cottages, having babies every year till they’re worn out while the men please themselves.”

Chrístõ laughed softly, but not dismissively.

“I didn’t know you were such a feminist,” he told her.

“Well, I am,” Julia responded archly. “And don’t laugh at me.”

“I’m not,” he assured her. “But even on Beta Delta, three hundred years after this time, your Aunt Marianna stayed home and kept house for you and your cousins while your uncle worked.”

“Aunt Marianna CHOSE to do that. It wasn’t her only option. She could have had a job outside the house if she wanted. But Uncle Herrick earned good money and she didn’t need to.”

“It will be your only option when we’re married,” Chrístõ added. “As my wife, you’ll be expected to bear the next Heir of the House of Lœngbærrow. That’s virtually the only role a Gallifreyan lady has.”

“One heir, I don’t mind. I don’t want to spend twenty years having babies. Not even for you.”

“One heir is fine,” Chrístõ assured her as they reached the pub he had spoken of and found the table outside empty. They sat under the shade of the big, wide parasol and looked at the menu as the daughter of the landlord came out to take their orders.

“Julia,” he said very seriously when they had been served their drinks and were waiting for their food. “I do understand fully that you will be giving up a lot to be my wife. The gymnastics, ballet. That’s why I’m glad you were chosen for the Olympiad. If you win medals… you’ll have reached the highest possible ambition. After that….”

“After that I shouldn’t mind giving it up, resting on my laurels, knowing I’ve done it all?”

“Yes… that’s what I meant, sort of.”

“I won’t mind,” Julia said. “But don’t take it for granted. Don’t think it will be easy giving up what I love doing to wear pretty dresses and receive ladies for lunch in the drawing room every day while you….”

“I will be giving up a lot, too,” Chrístõ told her. “My freedom to go where and when I want. When I’m resident on Gallifrey, I won’t even be able to take you on a weekend trip without filing flight plans with the Transduction Barrier Control. I’ll be working in the civil service or something… a desk job. Can you imagine me tied to a computer console all day. That’s the sacrifice I’m making in order to be your husband.”

Julia knew how much the freedom to travel in his TARDIS meant to Chrístõ. He would be giving up a lot to be a husband and father. That was why this time they had now was so important.

“Still, you were brought up to that life,” she told him. “You always expected it.”

“Doesn’t make it any easier to accept,” he answered.

This could have become a longer discussion, and one that might have turned into a row between them, as startling as that idea seemed. The arrival of their meal distracted them first. Neither of them wanted to talk about such personal issues in front of the landlord as he set the cutlery at their places then the plates of food.

Then as they ate, Chrístõ was distracted by the sight of five women who came and stood by the drystone wall opposite the pub. There was nothing unusual about that in itself. But there was something about the way they all looked towards the pub, as if they were concentrating very hard. They reminded him of Diol and Axyl when he was teaching them a fifth level meditation. Their eyes got glazed over in much the same way.

Or perhaps he was imagining it. He looked away from them and continued to eat his food. He reached for the glass of lager he had ordered with the meal and accidentally knocked it over. Julia yelped and pushed her chair out of the way as a stream of ice cold froth narrowly missed her.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I don’t know what happened. I felt dizzy all of a sudden and the glass didn’t seem to be where I expected it to be.”

“I forgive you,” she answered. “You missed me.”

Then they both forgot about spilt lager as a man emerged from the pub. He lurched against their table. Julia grabbed her glass of wine to avoid another messy spill. Chrístõ jumped to his feet and reached out to steady the man, thinking he was simply drunk and might be set on the right direction home.

The man stared at the group of women. Chrístõ noticed that two more had joined the five. They were all staring. The adjective ‘malevolent’ drifted through his mind, but he was more concerned with the man, who was murmuring incoherently and pointing.

“They’ve killed me,” he said. “The… the….”

The last word came out in a gasp as he fell to the ground. His body went into a painful spasm and then went very still. Chrístõ knelt and examined him quickly, and found no pulse. He began heart massage, keeping it up until long after it was clearly no use.

“You did your best, son,” said a man. “The doctor is on his way. He’ll take care of him, now.”

“I think it was a heart attack,” Chrístõ said. “But….”

The victim’s face was red. His eyes were staring and his mouth twisted in pain. He certainly looked like somebody who had suffered a massive and sudden heart failure. But he wasn’t an obvious candidate for such a death. He was in his mid-thirties, not slim, but not overweight, either. He looked healthy in all other respects. It was an unusual death and his instinct would be to order an autopsy.

The man who arrived shortly in a small ambulance thought so, too. He introduced himself as Doctor O’Cassaidh, the local GP and said that he would arrange for the body to be taken to the hospital in Galway by air ambulance. He thanked Chrístõ for his efforts and wished him well. Then the body was put onto a stretcher and placed in the back of the ambulance. When it was gone, the customers from inside the pub went back inside, doubtless to discuss what had happened and come up with their own theories.

When Chrístõ looked around he noticed that the women had gone, too.

He looked at Julia. She was sitting at the table, still, holding the glass of wine, but not drinking it. Half eaten food was still on their plates.

“I don’t think I want to finish this, now,” she said.

“I agree,” he answered. “I’ll go and pay and we’ll go back to the b&b. If you’re hungry later they do light suppers on request.”

He went into the pub with his credit card. Julia waited. It was still as warm and pleasant a place as it was before, but the sudden death had tainted it a little.

The landlord’s daughter came out to take the plates away. She spoke kindly to her and hoped they would come again another day and enjoy another meal. Julia promised they would.

“Who was the man who died?” she asked. “Was he local or a tourist like us?”

“Neither,” the girl answered. “He’s the foreman at the knitting factory. He came out here at the start of the summer from Dublin. He never really settled, though. And I’m not surprised he’s gone. It was only a matter of time.”

“But….” Julia thought that was a strange way of putting it. “Do you mean he was sick? He had some kind of condition that would kill him sooner or later?”

The girl didn’t explain. Her expression changed, as if she had realised she had spoken out of turn. She finished collecting the plates and glasses and hurried inside. Chrístõ stepped aside politely to let her in the door and then came out. Julia was glad to fall into step alongside him as they walked down through the village and down to the small guest house overlooking the pier where they were staying.

Chrístõ had booked a room with twin beds. He wanted Julia to be with him at night. He liked to talk to her until she drifted off to sleep. Then he would lie awake and listen to her soft breathing and allow himself to dream of a future when she would lie in his arms in the master bedroom of Mount Lœng House, when she would be his wife, and in fullness of time, the mother of his children.

This afternoon she came to lie with him on the one bed. He cuddled her close and for a while they didn’t talk at all. They just valued the nearness of each other and the quiet of the room.

“Was it a heart attack?” Julia asked presently.

“It looked like it,” Chrístõ answered. “That’s probably what they’ll find from an autopsy. But it didn’t quite feel right. I know there is a condition among humans, where apparently healthy and young men do have sudden and fatal heart failure. And perhaps that is the explanation. Maybe I am being too suspicious. I’m too used to seeing conspiracies and plots everywhere. And yet….”

He paused in thought and Julia told him what the landlord’s girl had said.

“That fits in with what I heard inside the pub,” he said. “The man’s name was Aiden Gallagher. Funnily enough, the Irish form of Gallagher, ó Gallchobhair, means ‘foriegner’ or ‘stranger’, and that’s what he was to most of the people here. I think there was a bit of resentment about him being appointed as foreman rather than a local, and he didn’t endear himself by making some redundancies not long after he took up the post. One way or another, it doesn’t seem as if anyone here is mourning his loss.”

“That’s sad,” Julia said. “And yet, everyone we’ve met here has been so nice and welcoming to us. They don’t seem like people who would bear resentments.”

“We’re tourists. We’re spending money in the hotel, shops, pubs. Those people who don’t work in the knitting factory mostly make their living from tourism. Being rude to us would hardly do them any good. Besides, we’re tourists who have been speaking to them in perfectly enunciated Connaught Irish.”

“Only because the TARDIS translates our words into the local language wherever we are,” Julia pointed out. “I hardly even realised that they DO speak a different language on this island. We’re sort of cheating, really, when they think we’ve worked hard to learn Irish to visit their island.”

“I know. I thought that, too. But that was another thing about Gallagher. He knew perfectly well that this island is in the Gaeltacht, and that the language was important to people. But apparently he always spoke English around the factory. And….”

Chrístõ thought back to the brief words he had heard Gallagher say. They had mostly been in English. He had not really thought about it, since his first language was Gallifreyan and he was used to everything being translated for him.

But that last word he had gasped out as he collapsed wasn’t in English.

“Cailleachain feasa,” he murmured.

“What?” Julia asked

“Gallagher’s last words. Cailleachain feasa. It means….”

“Witches.” Julia had spent enough time in the TARDIS to have fully absorbed the gift of instant translation.

“And he was looking at those women.”

“He couldn’t have really meant that, could he? This is the twenty-first century even in the Gaeltacht. People surely don’t believe in witchcraft?”

“People still believe in witchcraft on Gallifrey. That’s what we accuse the Sisterhood of Karn of doing. As for twenty-first century Earth, there ARE people who practice the ‘arts’. But whether anyone here on this island has the power to kill a man with it, I hold in doubt. Gallagher wasn’t liked. Nobody is sorry he’s dead, but I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that.”

Was he just trying to reassure Julia that there was nothing sinister happening that might spoil their holiday, or did he really believe his own words? Chrístõ wasn’t sure.

Was it anything to do with him, anyway? The man had died in his presence. He had tried to revive him, because he possessed the skill to do that. But it was out of his hands, now. The local GP had sent the body to the mainland to determine the exact cause of death. And that was the end of it.

“Let’s take a nap, and when we wake we can have something to eat and go for a walk in the moonlight,” Chrístõ suggested. “Along the cliffs, maybe. There are seals around the island. We’ll be able to see them swimming.”

Sounds good to me,” Julia agreed. Chrístõ was relieved. The incidents hadn’t spoiled the day completely.

He let himself fall asleep alongside her. He felt comfortable even though they were squeezed up in one of the twin beds.

Julia liked being close to him, too. But when she woke a few hours later the temptation to stay snuggled close was overridden by a desire to stretch herself. She put on her practice leotard and a skirt and plimsolls and went out into the garden behind the bed and breakfast. Here there was one of the few places on the island with a proper lawn. The turf had been brought across from the mainland and laid down two years ago. With patient watering and feeding it had thrived. It now made a perfectly springy surface for her to practice the floor exercises. She warmed up first before beginning her favourite set of what Chrístõ still insisted on calling fancy cartwheels. He knew the proper terms for each of the moves, of course, but he had always teased her that way.

Performing on a lawn with a view all the way up the steep rise of land to the second of Inis Meán’s ancient forts, Dún Fearbhaí, was pleasant enough. The air everywhere on the island had the freshness of the sea to it, and she breathed it in deeply as she practiced. But after a while her imagination painted another scene around her. She visualised the Olympiad arena and performing for that gold medal she ultimately strove for, the one that really would be the pinnacle of all her ambitions.

After winning that, she really could think of giving up gymnastics and being a wife and mother, a lady of Gallifrey with a full social calendar of lunches and teas, dinner parties and gala evenings.

She rested from her practice, sitting on the grass with her arms around her knees, looking at the patchwork of tiny walled fields with their meagre and hard won crops. She told herself that was what she wanted. She loved Chrístõ and his future was already mapped out for him. To be with him she had to fit into his life.

She did want that. She had dreamed so often of being married to Chrístõ in a grand ceremony in the great Panopticon, she in a spectacular dress shimmering with diamonds, he in gold and scarlet robes, richly embroidered, and a magnificent high collar covered in jewels. Afterwards she would be Lady de Lœngbærrow, and that beautiful house on the southern plain would be her home, along with the demesne so big she had never even seen all of it. They would have a good life together. They would have children, and she would love them dearly – Chrístõ’s children.

Yes, she knew she was going to be happy.

And yet a resentment stirred from deep down in her soul. All of this had been decided years ago, when she was still too young to really understand. She had known almost from the day she met Chrístõ that she was going to be his wife when she was old enough. The Bond of Intent had been made when she was still a child. Chrístõ had talked of that future so often that she could visualise it.

But he had never really asked if she wanted it. Come to think of it, he had never really ASKED if she wanted to marry him. Yes, when he gave her the engagement ring there was a formality. But she had been fully expected to accept. She really had no choice about it.

She loved Chrístõ. That much was certain.

But then again, had she ever had any opportunity to love anyone else? She had never really had the sort of dates her friends had. She had never known any boys her own age except as friends. It was always accepted that she belonged to Chrístõ.


She was his possession, his trophy girlfriend, his beautiful wife who would adorn his home.

And still nobody had ever asked her if that was what she wanted.

She looked around and realised that she wasn’t alone. There were a group of women standing by the garden gate. One of them was Mrs Mac Donnchadha, the Bean an Tí who ran the Guest House.

Bean an Tí – woman of the house. Wasn’t that just the crux of it all. Chrístõ wanted her to be a Bean an Tí. It was a much bigger house, but it amounted to the same thing.

The other women seemed familiar, too. One was the landlord’s daughter from the pub they were at earlier. The others….

Yes, they were there, too. They were the ones who were watching when that man had died so suddenly.

“Julia.” Mrs Mac Donnchadha called to her in a quiet, gentle voice. “Why don’t you come with us?”

“Come with you where?” she asked.

“We can show you how to get what you want. You don’t have to do what your man tells you. You can tell him what you want, and get it whether he likes it or not.”

“I love Chrístõ,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt him.”

“Of course not,” the landlord’s daughter said. “But perhaps he needs to learn his place. My father learnt. Bríd’s husband did. Deirdre’s, too. Aiden Gallagher wouldn’t learn his lesson the easy way, so we had to do it the hard way.”

What they were saying was sinister, even frightening, but Julia found herself stepping closer, entranced by their words, wanting to know more.

“Are we going far?” she asked. “I’m not really dressed for a long walk. And besides, Chrístõ will wonder where I am when he wakes up.”

“He won’t miss you,” Mrs Mac Donnchadha assured her. “Come along, child. You won’t regret it.”

Julia went with them.

Chrístõ woke feeling strangely heavy-headed. He noticed that it was getting dark, which meant that it was at least ten o’clock in the evening in the summer at such a western extreme of Europe. He had slept for hours. And yet when he sat up on the bed he felt weak and exhausted.

“Julia?” he called out, wondering if she had gone to her own bed in order to have more space. He stood up dizzily and crossed the few feet of floor between them. She wasn’t there.

Then he felt a peculiar lurch in his stomach and stumbled to the en-suite bathroom. It was only a cubicle of a room with a toilet, shower and washbasin, but aesthetics of that sort were irrelevant just now. He knelt because he felt too weak to stand as he started to vomit. It went on for several minutes before he could even lift his head. When he did, he struggled to his feet and looked at himself in the mirror over the sink. The brightness of the single light above his head hurt his eyes and he started to be sick again. The wash basin caught it and he noticed for the first time what was being brought up from his stomach.

It wasn’t partially digested food that he might have eaten. He reached out and touched the grey matter. It looked and felt like very fine powdered rock, almost like cement. There were rougher pieces here and there, but it mostly made him think of the white-grey stones that the walls all over the island were made of – cut from the bedrock that lay beneath the precarious layer of topsoil.

But he had never tried to eat rock. Where had all this stuff come from?

He still felt dizzy and weak and the feeling in his stomach was unpleasant. It wasn’t the first time he had been sick in that way, but it hadn’t happened very often. Time Lords didn’t usually suffer from the sort of stomach upsets that caused this reaction.

So what was happening to him?

“It’s them!”

Chrístõ turned at the sound of an unfamiliar voice. There was a man standing in the middle of the dark bedroom. He instinctively reached for his sonic screwdriver, even though it was set to penlight mode for walking along the country roads at night and of no use as a defensive weapon.

“Who are you?” he demanded, though without much of his usual authority. The specks of light dancing in front of his eyes and a general feeling of dizziness and weakness didn’t do much for him at all. “Where’s Julia?”

“She’s with my wife and the other woman,” he answered. “They’re spell-casting.”

The man’s voice sounded slurred, as if he had a serious speech impediment.

“They’re what?”

“The witches… they’ve cast a spell on you. A punishment.”

“What in the name of Rassilon am I being punished for?” Chrístõ asked. “And by whom? Why?”

“Your girlfriend went with them. She must have asked them to do it.”

“Julia wouldn’t… she loves me. She has no reason to…. Who are you, anyway?”

“I’m Padraig Mac Donnhachda,” he answered. “Bríd, my wife, runs this boarding house. I didn’t want her to do it. I told her we didn’t need the extra money. We could manage on my income. I used to run the only taxi service on the island. I made good money. Enough to see us through the hardest of winters. But she insisted she wanted to make her own money. She had brought up our two sons. They went off to the mainland to work. And now she wasn’t content with just keeping house for me. She….”

Mac Donnhachda stepped closer. Chrístõ looked at him through the haze of nausea and his senses reeled.

The man’s face looked like he was born with every facial defect possible. A cleft pallet and hare lip split all the way to his nostrils and the lower lip turned nearly inside out against his chin accounted for the speech defect. He had a huge ‘port wine stain’ covering one cheek, and one eye was almost completely forced shut by a huge growth on the eyelid. His ears were both misshapen, too, and his hair had almost all fallen out.

“I wasn’t born this way,” he said. “I used to be considered a good looking man. They did it to me. I’ve not left this house, since. I can’t show my face to anyone. She put it about that I’d run off to the mainland. I stay hidden from the guests, of course.”

“Your wife… punished you… for not letting her open the house up to visitors?”


“She really is a witch?”

“They all are. They started out as a sort of women’s group, talking about equality and empowerment. Then Ciara Ó Loinsigh came to live in Teach Dún – up on the hill. She joined the group and it was all incense burning and chanting, and hanging up horseshoes over the door, weird shaped things she called dream-catchers or something, and she started to tell me I had to do what she wanted or the women would punish me.”

Chrístõ didn’t waste any time disbelieving him. The incense and horseshoes were all just for show, but witchcraft, as it was called in some places, was real enough. People could be hurt just by the right words said in the right order at the right time. It was a natural power understood by a few people in the universe. Time Lords had some knowledge. The ritual of Transcension, the Rite of Mori, both of which he had gone through, were both ways of harnessing that kind of power. Some people would call it magic. The Sisterhood of Karn that he mentioned earlier knew other ways of using the power of words. He had seen it with his own eyes.

Humans were usually less effective at it unless they had some kind of natural psychic power, but clearly at least one person on this island had exactly that.

And he fully believed that Mr Mac Donnachdha had been a victim of a malicious use of the power.

And so had he.

“Where are these women right now?” he asked. “Where have they taken Julia?”

“They’ll be at the fort,” MacDonnachdha answered. “That’s where they do their black work.”

“Which fort? Show me.”

“I daren’t. They’ll kill me. There’s not a man on this island that would dare cross them.”

“I dare,” Chrístõ replied. He still felt weak and dizzy, but he wasn’t going to curl up and hide like Mac Donnachdha. “Come on, man. Have a little courage. Put an end to this tyranny.”

Mac Donnachdha looked at him for a long minute then he made his mind up.

“Killing me would be a mercy after the life I’ve been living,” he decided. “I’ll show you.”

“That’s better.” Chrístõ grabbed his leather jacket and put it on as if it were battle armour and strode out of the cottage. MacDonnachdha hurried to match his determined step.

A few hundred yards up the road they passed a man who was pushing a wheelbarrow full of seaweed. He was bent over not only from the effort but a hunched shoulder that made it difficult for him to stand upright. A few words established that he, too, had crossed the ‘women’ and had been punished for it. He abandoned his wheelbarrow and fell into step with Mac Donnachdha.

By the time they had passed through the village twelve more men had joined the strange crusade, including the landlord of the pub who had been ‘punished’ by his own daughter for not letting her buy designer clothes from a mail order catalogue from the mainland. The severity of the punishments varied. Many of the men simply felt a loss of confidence in themselves so that the women had taken over the decision making in their households or the running of the business, but all of them had rallied behind the young stranger who had decided enough was enough.

Dún Fearbhaí was an unusual ring fort, because it wasn’t a ring. It was nearly rectangle. Nobody knew why. The reason why ring forts existed at all was lost in time, let alone the decision to make one of them differently. But it was clear that it was also unusual because it was still being used, though not for the original purpose. Even before they came close flickering lights could be seen within the ancient walls, and soon the chanting was unmistakeable. As they drew near enough to hear the words being chanted Chrístõ noticed something very strange... something that put a different colour to this whole situation.

They were chanting in Ancient Gallifreyan.


He crept closer, still followed by the group of cursed and put upon men. The words were unmistakeable now, at least to him. He had never heard these words in such a way before, but he recognised the language and knew that it had to be a very old, long forgotten rite that transferred energy from one organic being to another, causing any kind of good or ill to that other being.

The line between peaceful, benign, Time Lord harnessing of mental power and the sort of mischief that was called witchcraft the universe over had been crossed.

But by who? And why? Surely rousing some sort of extreme feminism among the tiny community on this island wasn’t the work of a renegade Time Lord?

He had reached the outer wall of the fort itself when he received the worst shock of all.

“We welcome to our fold our newest sister, Julia, who seeks the power to resist the demands of a controlling male who dominates her life. He has been taught one lesson already tonight, but now he shall feel the true power of sisterhood. Speak, sister. Shall he suffer tonight?”


“It was Julia’s voice that answered. It was small and timid compared to the commanding and strangely compelling voice that asked the question, but it was hers.

He steeled himself as the chanting resumed. He knew what to expect this time. He put up a mental block against the psychic blow aimed at his hearts. He couldn’t help gasping as first one, then the other went into arrhythmia, but he was able to steady them. He pushed against the pain as he moved through the gap in the wall into the ‘ring’ where the women were gathered.

Julia was in the middle of the group, standing next to the woman who was doing all the commanding. He heard Mac Donnachdha’s voice identify her as Ciara Ó Loinsigh , the one who had come to the island and caused such a terrible change to the status quo.

“I don’t know who she is,” Chrístõ answered as the grip on his heart relaxed slightly. “But her name isn’t Ciara anything.” He strode forward, pushing through the ring of women. “Julia, snap out of it. You know you don’t really want to do me harm. Come on, sweetheart.”

Julia didn’t say anything. In the light of the torches on long poles set around the fort he could see that her eyes were vacant, as if she was in a trance. The woman calling herself Ciara was awake enough, though. She turned her eyes towards him and shrieked in outrage.

“He dares to come into our sacred ring! He must die.”

Chrístõ screamed as he felt her power directed at him. Again he had to force his hearts to beat in proper rhythm, but when he tried to move closer he felt as if he was fighting against an invisible wall and his hearts were going to give out if he kept trying.

“No!” Julia cried out suddenly. Her eyes focussed and she turned to look at him. “No, I don’t want him punished. I just wanted…. No….!”

She ran to him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and kissing him lovingly.

“Chrístõ, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… I didn’t want….”

“Stand aside, girl,” Ciara demanded. “This man has dared to resist our power. He must die.”

“No!” Julia replied. “No, you can’t hurt him. I love him. I’m going to marry him. He’s my fiancée. He’s… my hero. I love him, and you can’t hurt him.”

And strangely enough, that seemed to be literally true. As soon as Julia said those words ‘I love him’ the pressure on his hearts stopped. He breathed easily. He felt invigorated.

“An older power than you could imagine!” he cried out. “Love… true love shields me from your witchcraft. You can’t harm me now. Julia is protecting me.”

“I’ll kill you both,” Ciara responded. She murmured a few words, again in Ancient Gallifreyan, the language of ritual. But they were ineffective. Ciara looked around. So did Chrístõ. Neither had noticed that the chanting had stopped. He noticed Bríd Mac Donnachda among the suddenly silent women. Her husband was standing beside her, holding her hand. The pub landlord was hugging his daughter. Other men had found their own women and were holding onto them, not in a controlling way, but in a loving, and most importantly, forgiving way. One couple embraced tearfully as they broke away from the group and tried to walk away. Ciara raged at them, but her power was broken and they came to no harm.

“All of you go home,” Chrístõ said. “This is over.”

The men turned away. Ciara raged, but the women went with them. Soon only Bríd and Padraic Mac Donnachdha remained. Julia stood with them. Chrístõ faced the rather less powerful woman in the dying light of the flickering and unattended torches.

“You can’t touch any of us,” he said. “Right now, you can’t even move. If you were a mere Human you’d be dead. As it is, you’re just bound by your own malevolence.”

Ciara tried to prove him wrong, but her limbs would have felt like lead. She was probably feeling a fair amount of pain, too. Chrístõ could feel how much her hearts were racing.

“Calm down a bit, or you’ll die fighting it,” he told her. “Breathe normally and don’t try to struggle.”

“What’s happened to her?” Julia asked.

“You happened,” Chrístõ replied. “Your refusal… the rest of the women deserting her… it reversed the ‘spell’. All the hurt she intended to cause me slammed right back into her.”

“She was caught by her own magic?” Mac Donnachdha asked.

“Some would call it magic,” Chrístõ replied. He looked directly at Ciara as he continued. It was her he meant his words for rather than the Human witnesses to this scene. “I call it the power of emotions. Something we Time Lords have never properly tapped into, because we kid ourselves that we don’t have any. What powerful beings we would be if we all embraced the secret you’ve discovered. We could rule the universe. We would be its gods in all the most terrible ways. It’s probably just as well that we don’t. Most of us couldn’t actually be trusted with that much power. I think it would be the undoing of Creation.”

“How did you find me?” Ciara responded, ignoring what he thought were quite stirring words. “The damned Celestial Intervention Agency. I thought I was free of your rules, your suppression of every original thought here on this insignificant world. I thought….”

“You thought you could use this world… as your power base….” Chrístõ saw the plan easily now. Her mind was so disjointed that it was easy to read. “This island community, so isolated, so easy to manipulate, was just the start of it. You meant to control the entire population, punishing those who opposed you… especially the men. Where did this hatred come from, anyway?”

“It came from Gallifrey, of course,” she responded. “Where men rule… where women are nothing but adornments to them.”

“That is far from true,” Julia said. “I’ve met the high inquisitor and the chief magister of the northern continent. They’re both women in very high positions. And there are lots of women in the High Council.”

“A handful,” Ciara responded. “As for me… I was never given a choice. My own brother wanted to marry me off for political gain. But I refused. I left our misogynist world a generation ago, searching for a place where I might use my power to gather an army… one that I could use to return to Gallifrey as a conqueror.”

“She wants to what?” Mac Donnachdha asked. “Return to Galway as a conqueror?”

“Gallifrey,” Chrístõ replied. “And she’s not going to do anything of the sort. She’s going back there in chains any moment now.”

“How?” Julia asked. Then she heard a familiar noise – a TARDIS materialising. It disguised itself as a part of the ancient wall of the ring fort, but when a door opened spilling out artificial light it was pretty much unmistakable. “Paracell Hext!”

“I would have taken her home myself, but we still have another week of our holiday and I didn’t want it disrupting. Besides, Hext’s TARDIS has a fully equipped brig.”

“It most certainly has,” Hext replied. “Well done, Chrístõ. This one has been a cold case since your father was in the Agency. Kyra de Lessage.”

“Lessage?” Chrístõ was surprised. “You mean she….”

“She’s related to you by marriage. The sister of Haddick Lessage, the patriarch of that House, married to your aunt Oriana. She is aunt to your cousin Rani, who might well have gone the same way if her father hadn’t had her sent to a House of Contemplation.”

“I could well do without relatives of that sort,” Chrístõ answered him. “Take her away. I’ll tidy up the mess she left around here.”

Hext nodded and pointed a sonic device that didn’t even pretend to be anything so innocuous as a screwdriver at Kyra de Lessage. She moved slowly and jerkily, as if invisible strings were controlling her. It was the ultimate humiliation for a woman who resented male influence over her. Chrístõ might have sympathised if she had not caused so much harm to innocent people.

Julia did have a tiny modicum of sympathy.

“Paracell, she’s a woman. Don’t use those electronic whips of yours on her. It’s not… gentlemanly.”

“Will I ever get a chance to use those?” he asked with a theatrical sigh and a grin. Then he took his prisoner inside and the door closed. There was another mechanical-organic noise and a waft of displaced air that indicated the departure of a TARDIS.

“Come on, let’s go,” Chrístõ said, reaching for Julia’s hand. She took it gratefully and they walked down the hill together, followed by Bríd and Padraic Mac Donnachdha.

As they passed the pub, they noticed that it was still open. Chrístõ looked at his watch and wondered what time last orders were before the landlord came out and greeted him. All of Kyra’s victims and former acolytes had gathered to talk over their experience and to make amends to each other for the wrongs done or perceived. They all greeted him gratefully and he had to turn down most of the offers of free drinks. He and Julia both accepted an ice cold glass of Irish red lemonade and sat at a table together.

“Just before the women called me, I was having some strange thoughts,” Julia admitted. “I think it was her putting the ideas in my head, to get me to join them. I was feeling… put upon. I think for a while I really did want to punish you for taking me for granted.”

“That’s a timely warning for me, then,” Chrístõ answered. “I promise never to take you for granted, on my honour as a Time Lord.”

“Good enough,” Julia told him. “Was it really my love that saved you?”


“You know, that was the plot of Harry Potter.”

“I was thinking more of Narnia - when the willing sacrifice of an innocent broke the deep magic. Some of the creative writers of this world have a touch of universal truth in their work. But what I said was true. If we ever harnessed the power of pure emotions, love, hate, either way, it would be powerful stuff. Maybe Rassilon knew that when he gave us such near limitless abilities. The stoic nature of Time Lords is a guard against us becoming too powerful.”

“That’s all a bit deep for me,” Julia told him. “I just think it’s kind of amazing that I was able to protect you for once. I’m glad.”

“Me, too,” he told her. “But I’m back now, so you just sit there and enjoy your drink for a minute while I talk to a few people.”

He started with Padraic Mac Donnahdha. He was the most severely hurt by the women’s vengeance.

“This is technology that comes from the same source as Kyra’s evil,” he said as he adjusted the sonic screwdriver to tissue repair mode. “But I’m using it to undo the damage. After that, when I’m gone, nothing of my world will ever affect yours again. That’s my promise, on my honour as a Time Lord.”

“You’re really from another planet? Her too? And the other man who came out of nowhere.”

“Yes, I am. But don’t worry about that. Keep still for a minute. I don’t want to stick your nose on the wrong side of your face.”

It took time to repair the terrible facial disfigurements inflicted on him, but when it was done, Bríd MacDonnachdha gave a deep sigh of relief and burst into grateful tears. She hugged Chrístõ thankfully before turning and hugging her husband, newly restored to his good looks.

Chrístõ did the same for the man with the hunched back and another with a withered hand. The other men had suffered mentally rather than physically, and love would certainly repair that damage. He put his sonic screwdriver back away, making a mental note to use it one more time when they got back to the guest house. There was a bathroom sink and toilet that needed some urgent plumbing.

“Let’s take that moonlit walk by the sea before we go to bed,” he decided. Plumbing could wait until later.