It was an hour before dawn. Chrístõ would have preferred to spend that hour in sleep, but that was certainly not going to happen. Garrick was pushing his shoulder, urging him to open his eyes.

“We’re going to the mountain, today,” the boy said when he struggled to sit up.

“Yes, when it is TODAY, not LAST NIGHT,” Chrístõ pointed out. “And can I get a bit of breakfast first, do you think?”

On cue, the door opened and one of the footmen brought in a tray. Breakfast for two people, including a fragrant pot of coffee.

“You ordered breakfast for this time?” Chrístõ smiled at his brother. “You are becoming quite the little aristocrat, giving orders to the servants.”

Garrick grinned and sat on the edge of the bed to eat scrambled eggs and toast with his brother. He drank coffee with him in a grown up way. Chrístõ looked at him doing that and smiled wryly. It only seemed a short time ago that Garrick drank milk from a cup with a non-spill top on it. He was growing up fast.

Too fast for his mother. Valena had a look in her eyes these days. It was only another two months before the Summer Solstice when Garrick would be going to the Valley of Eternal Night in the Mountains of Solace and Solitude to face the Untempered Schism. The capital letters almost wrote themselves in the air – the place and the event had such portentousness about it. Valena was already fretting. Garrick was nervous. Chrístõ was determined that he wouldn’t let it prey on his half-brother’s mind until it turned into a source of terrified nightmares as it had for him.

Which was why he was home for the summer, spending as much time with his half-brother as possible. They had already enjoyed plenty of days out, but this was a much longer adventure – a full weekend of camping, hiking and climbing up Mount Perdition, the red mountain of the southern plain.

“Are you sure you’re up for it, kid?” Chrístõ asked. “It’ll be hard going... we’re going to hike a good twenty miles today then climb a mountain tomorrow.”

“I’m ‘up for it’,” Garrick answered. He found his brother’s language amusing. Chrístõ used so many colloquialisms that he had picked up among the humans he lived with. Garrick had been raised almost entirely on Gallifrey. His tutors had taught him the correct way to speak, his father the correct way to hold himself and to behave in front of his elders. His mother had told him of his birthright as the heir to the House of Arpexia.

Chrístõ had tried to get him to use the word ‘OK’ in a sentence, but it just didn’t sit with the boy. Garrick knew it wasn’t becoming of a Gallifreyan aristocrat.

“Ready?” Garrick asked when Chrístõ finished his second cup of coffee.

“Not quite,” he answered. “I need a shower and I need to get dressed. Hold your horses.”

Garrick knew what horses were because he had visited Ventura where his uncle Remonte was Ambassador and where horses were an important part of the daily life of the people. But he didn’t own any horses and couldn’t see any reason to hold them.

“Five minutes, max,” Chrístõ told him, getting out of bed. He saw Garrick’s eyes turn to the table by the window where Chrístõ’s boyhood collection of odd souvenirs – a leonate’s fang, pieces of rock from the Red Desert, lumps of gold ore from his first visit to the mines that were the source of his family’s wealth - were carefully preserved.

Among the collection was a very large diamond that his friend Cal had given him at the Winter Solstice - as a gift. It was not a valuable diamond because it contained too many flaws, but it came from a cave deep inside Mount Perdition and Chrístõ had promised they might collect some more to start Garrick’s own table of curiosities.

Chrístõ was as excited about the trip as Garrick was, but with five nights without the luxury of a hot shower ahead of him he was going to make the most of this one.

When he was dressed and ready, though, nothing would hold Garrick back apart from his mother’s insistence on a hug before they set off.

“I’m eight,” he protested. “I’m too old for hugs.”

“Nobody is too old for hugs,” Valena answered. “I’m sure Chrístõ would have been glad of a hug from his mother when he was eight.”

“My father was always there for that,” Chrístõ answered. Valena’s comment had not been intended as hurtful to him. It was to remind Garrick not to take anything for granted about the family he loved.

“Take care of him, won’t you,” Valena said, turning to hug Chrístõ, her stepson. “He’s my greatest treasure.”

“I know,” Chrístõ assured her. “But we’d better get on, now. I planned a full day’s hiking before we make camp at the foot of the mountain.”

“Of course. Off you go, both of you.” Valena smiled bravely as her son stepped into the TARDIS that was going to take them to the base camp of their trip. She heard the trills of that strange pet Chrístõ kept in there, greeting them both. Then the door shut and the default grey box with the TS symbol upon its six sides vanished noisily.

“He’ll be fine,” Lord de Lœngbærrow told his wife as she stood mournfully in the much emptier hallway. “Chrístõ won’t let any harm come to him.”

“I know,” Valena answered. “But all the same….”

“You have to let him grow up. He’s not a baby any more.”

Valena sighed. Her husband was right. But it didn’t make it any easier for her to accept.

It was a matter of minutes by TARDIS to cover the several hundred miles across the southern continent to the wild lands around Mount Perdition. These were part of the Oakdae?e lands, of course. The mountain belonged to Cal who was still preparing for his Transcension with the Brothers of Mount Lœng.

The idea that a mountain belonged to anyone was ludicrous even to those whose names were on the title deeds that divided the southern continent into great demesnes. Mount Perdition and its hinterland looked as if nobody could possibly lay claim to it. A dense forest of red pines covered much of the mountain below the snowline giving way to the red grass that used to cover the whole of the southern plain until a foreign green seed blew out from the formal gardens of the great houses and onto the grasslands. Here was one of the few places where the red grass grew in its wild state – as much as seven feet tall with huge seed heads that ripened in summer and burst to spread a crimson cloud across the land.

In the slanting rays of the setting sun the red pines and the grass lit up like fire giving the mountain its sinister name. Of course, the idea of a fiery perdition for sinners wasn’t a part of Gallifreyan custom. It had been named by Time Lords millennia ago who had travelled among the galaxies and learnt of such things.

It was still early morning when Chrístõ brought his TARDIS to land at the edge of the great grasslands. It remained in default form. Here, it was less important to blend in with the surroundings than to be found again when it was needed. Besides, what could it possibly disguise itself as in a place without any kind of structure to copy?

Garrick stepped out first, carrying on his back a water bladder for drinking, a small backpack containing dehydrated food supplies and a bigger one that wobbled and giggled, containing Humphrey. It was an easy load for him. Chrístõ had the tent and bedrolls and the rest of the camping equipment in a much bigger pack.

Of course, it was possible to cross the grasslands on hovertrikes or gravity cushions. But that was cheating. This was a test of endurance for him and his brother.

“How do we get through the grass?” Garrick asked looking up doubtfully at the stems as thick as his thumb and seedheads waving high above him. They were even taller than his brother, or his father. If even Chrístõ couldn’t see across the grass, how would they find their way?

“Compass,” Chrístõ said, passing the precious instrument to his brother to mind. “We’re going north-north-east to the mountain. You keep an eye on our direction and we can’t go wrong.”

Garrick accepted the important duty solemnly.

“We don’t need it, yet. I can still see the peak of the mountain and its shadow. I can start us right using that as a marker. Put it away for now. Losing the compass would be a disaster. Zip up that pocket. You’ve got plenty of others to put your hands into.”

Garrick giggled and put his hands into two different pockets on the hiking jacket bought specially for him in the English Lake District where rambling and mountain climbing was a serious business. It had six different pockets. One of them contained his day’s ration of Kendal Mint Cake bought in the same place and in another he had a small camping knife with enough multi-purpose tools to make him feel like a really grown up and qualified explorer.

Chrístõ adjusted his sonic screwdriver and swung it slowly in front of him. The grass shrivelled away, making the start of a path through. Chrístõ went first with Garrick following in his footsteps.

“It’s a modification of the laser mode,” he explained as they moved deeper into the grass. “It burns without heat. The last thing we want to do is start a grass fire. But I don’t want to spend all day threshing. Walking twenty miles in the summer sun is hard work enough.”

“Can I try?” Garrick asked.

“Come in front of me,” Chrístõ told him. “And keep the sonic aimed at the grass. I don’t want to be lasered in the knees.”

It was a dangerous tool in the wrong hands, but he was confident that Garrick would use it carefully. He was ready to learn everything his brother knew how to do. Chrístõ took the compass instead and navigated as Garrick cleared the path ahead of them with confident waves of the sonic at the base of the grass stalks.

Garrick had opened up at least a half mile of path when he stopped, startled by a movement in front of him. A long, thin snake a slightly lighter red than the grass slithered out onto the path. The boy stepped back and aimed the sonic screwdriver at it.

“No,” Chrístõ warned him. “Don’t kill it. That’s just a russet grass snake, perfectly harmless. It’s probably more scared of us.”

“I don’t like snakes,” Garrick said.

“Neither do I, much. And I’ve seen the worst of them that our planet has, the giant pan-tai, and been bitten by our most venomous desert snake. But the grass snake is no bother at all. Look, it’s going away, now.”

The snake had slithered away, back into the cool darkness at the base of the grass stems. Garrick carried on cutting their path until his arms began to ache with holding the sonic outstretched and Chrístõ took over the job again, letting him have the equally important job of orienteering with the compass.

They stopped for a rest after the first six miles. It was enough for one morning. Chrístõ cleared a wider area, sending another grass snake and a pair of mice scurrying for cover. They sat on a groundsheet with a canopy over their heads for shade and ate their rehydrated lunch.

“We’ll rest here while the sun is overhead,” Chrístõ said. “It’s far too hot for anything. Then we’ll make another six miles before we have tea. After that the longest slog will be in the late afternoon and evening. It doesn’t get dark until nearly ten o’clock at this time of year. We’ve plenty of daylight to walk in. We should make the foot of the mountain before we camp.”

It was a tough schedule for Garrick, but he was eager for the challenge, if only to prove himself worthy of his older brother’s praise. He was ready to move on again when the hottest hour was done. He sternly told Humphrey to behave in the backpack.

Humphrey was less enthusiastic. Although his backpack was specially lined to keep the heat out, the darkness creature was pretending to be hot and making bubbling, melting noises. He sounded so convincing that Chrístõ had checked inside the pack carefully and then scolded him for play-acting.

“I’m sorry. It’s at least another nine hours before nightfall. You’ll just have to stay in there for now. And don’t be wriggling about and bothering Garrick.”

They pressed on through the grasslands, occasionally disturbing small wild creatures that scurried away from them. Once, a shadow passed over them. Garrick looked up to see a red-eye flutterwing – the biggest of Gallifrey’s Lepidoptera - with the two disturbingly lifelike eye motifs on its three foot wide wings.

“Amazing,” Chrístõ said. “I’ve only ever seen one of those before in all my life. Of course, they only live in the tall grasslands like this, and I wasn’t exactly welcome around Mount Perdition when Lady Oakdae?e was mistress of these lands.”

Garrick laughed. Chrístõ wondered why until he saw the image in his brother’s mind. The acerbic and proud Lady Oakdae?e, mother of his nemesis, Epsilon, resembled the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz in every aspect apart from the hooked nose and green complexion.

“Well, it isn’t very respectful to the dead,” Chrístõ admitted. “But that’s more or less how I saw her, too. But now Cal is patriarch of the House of Oakdae?e and we have permission to go where we like.”

“Good,” Garrick decided. He banished the thought of witch-like women and looked up at the mountain ahead of him. The peak was snow-covered even in summer, but the rest of it was red. His mind conjured the cave entrance Chrístõ had described to him and the cavern further inside with diamonds embedded in the walls and floor. He imagined collecting dozens of them to display on his curiosity table.

“You might be a diamond expert when you grow up,” Chrístõ told him. “We need one in the family. You can choose the best diamonds from our mines. Those ones found in the cavern aren’t valuable, of course. They’re all badly flawed. You can have fun looking at the flaws with an eyeglass and practice drawing them as three-dimensional shapes.”

Garrick gave his brother an odd look. That didn’t sound like his idea of fun.

“Oh, it is,” Chrístõ assured him. “Three-dimensional geometry is a lot of fun as well as educational.”

“You’ve been a teacher too long,” Garrick told him with a cheeky grin. “Fun and education don’t go together.”

“I think I preferred the time when you weren’t so talkative,” Chrístõ responded. “And more obedient.”

“I’m going to be a Time Lord candidate soon. My obedience will be to a higher purpose.”

Chrístõ felt a twinge of regret as he heard his brother say that. It was perfectly true, of course. But it was one of the reasons why Valena was not looking forward to Garrick’s impending ordeal at the Untempered Schism.

Eight years old was too young for the burden Candidacy put upon the children of Gallifrey. He felt the same way as Valena. He wanted Garrick to be a little boy for much longer, yet.

“You’ll still be my kid-brother no matter what,” he assured Garrick as well as himself. “Half-brother,” he added. “And we’ll still have plenty of fun. There’s another twelve years before you go to the Academy. And even THEN there are vacations. We’ll do lots of stuff.”

It was a promise he fully intended to keep. By the time Garrick was ready to go to the Prydonian Academy, he, himself, would be married to Julia and Patriarch of the House of Lœngbærrow. He would be living at Mount Lœng House and he would be there to spend time with his half-brother any time he needed him.

Their break for tea was a brief one. It was Garrick who was impatient to get moving again. At first the sun was as hot as ever and the going as gruelling as before. But after a few more hours the sun was dropping lower. The mountain ahead of them glowed like it was on fire – except in one place where it was a black-brown like the Gallifreyan sky at night.

“That’s the ‘scar’,” Chrístõ said. “We couldn’t see it when we started. We had to come part way around the north-east side.” Garrick’s eyes asked the question Chrístõ was happy to answer. “About a thousand years ago, Mount Perdition erupted. Yes, of course, it’s a volcano. That’s how the diamonds formed within it – the heat metamorphosing carbon deposits in the rocks. The trees never regained a foothold there. Which is good for us, because we only have to take a short walk through the forest in the morning. Most of our way will be up the scar.”

But tomorrow was still a long way off. They weren’t camping for many hours yet. The slanting sun and the drop in temperature brought out more wildlife from the dark hiding places within the grass. Garrick delighted at the sight of a swarm of silverwings, tiny flying beetles whose wings flashed brightly and created a glittering cloud. The only drawback was that the cloud swarmed low right across their heads. Chrístõ ducked to avoid being caught up in them, much to Garrick’s amusement.

“You’ll be tall when you’re older,” he responded to his brother’s laughter. “Then you’ll have to duck as well.”

“I might not be.”

“Yes you will. You’re as much of our father as I am. You’ll be tall, and handsome and girls will flock around you.”

“I don’t like girls.”

“You will when you’re old enough, when they’re a distraction in temporal physics class and you’re competing with the other boys for their attentions at the Solstice Ball.”

Garrick laughed again and then turned his attention to a flock of red birds that flew over head.

“Perdition gulls, only found here where their nests are camouflaged by the red foliage of the trees. That’s a big flock. They nested well this season.”

“They’re hunting the silverwings,” Garrick pointed out as the birds broke formation and dived into the cloud of insects.

“There are millions of silverwings. They won’t all be eaten by the birds. That’s how nature works.”

The flora and fauna of southern Gallifrey provided interest enough to keep Garrick’s mind off aching legs and hunger pangs as they neared the end of their day’s walk. The grass began to be lower now. They could walk through it without the aid of the sonic screwdriver. The mountain rose up in front of them majestically, but not obscuring their view of the equally magnificent setting sun that turned the whole landscape golden-red as Chrístõ selected a suitable campsite.

Now, at last, Humphrey could come out of his backpack and join the party for the last mile. He bowled along, trilling with excitement and chasing small rodents that scampered about in the twilight hour. Finally, they came to a halt on a relatively flat piece of ground. Chrístõ levelled it out with his sonic in the same mode that had cleared their path all day.

Garrick helped - Humphrey pretended to help - to put up the two man tent, though it was self-erecting and only needed the guy ropes pegging out before it was ready. They unfolded their thermal sleeping bag onto the groundsheet and Chrístõ set a gravity globe hovering near the ceiling to see by as the night softly fell. It was still warm and the front flap was open as they sat to eat their rehydrated meal. Humphrey pinwheeled about the campsite like a dog enjoying an evening romp in the park. Garrick laughed at his antics.

“He’s excited because he knows we’re going to a cave system tomorrow. He was born in caves. They’re his natural environment. He stays with me in the TARDIS out of loyalty.”

Chrístõ told his brother about how he first found Humphrey in that lonely cave system of his home planet and how they had later found more of his kind in Derbyshire on Earth. The stories kept the boy interested until it was time to go to sleep under canvas.

The sleeping bag was made for two. Chrístõ and Julia had camped together in it many times, and occasionally he and Cal or Paracell Hext had shared warmth in the night. Now Garrick cuddled close to him.

“Nobody is too old for a hug,” Chrístõ said, reminding the boy of his words earlier in the day. “Least of all your mother. When she wants to hug you, it is mostly for her benefit, not yours, after all. She needs to know you’re still her boy.”

“I’ll always be her son. That’s obvious. My blood is partly of the House of Arpexia.”

“Yes, but being her boy is another matter. When you get back from the Untempered Schism you need to hug her and let her know you’re still her child as well as a Time Lord Candidate with lofty ambitions and a vision of the whole of time and space in your head.”

Garrick said nothing, but Chrístõ felt his thoughts.

“Don’t be scared of it. There are a lot of silly rumours about the Schism. It isn’t as frightening or as dangerous as it sounds, though. You’ll get through it just like I did, and your father did, and his father before him. Don’t let anyone tell you anything else.”

“Were you scared?”

“Terrified. But that was because people had told me lies, made me think that I would be rejected by the Schism because of my Human blood and that I would have my brain scrambled by it. That was rubbish, of course. My brain is just fine and I am a Time Lord just like the rest of them, now.”

Of course, there had been a casualty that day so long ago. Savang Haddandrox had been affected and needed long years of care to live anything approaching a normal life. But even she was all right, now. She was happy living in the Tower with Paracell.

But Chrístõ was certain his half-brother would not be such a casualty, and he assured him of that as they drifted to sleep together.

It was a little after three o’clock in the morning when a sudden noise woke Chrístõ. It was Garrick calling out in panic. Humphrey was pushing at the tent flap, trying to find a small gap he could fit through, but there wasn’t one.

“Somebody was out there,” Garrick insisted. “A man.”

Chrístõ was alert at once. He yanked the zip and he and Humphrey tumbled out at once. Chrístõ rolled and stood in a smooth movement learnt in the martial arts dojo and Humphrey bowled around madly, but neither of them could see or hear anything.

“I don’t know,” he said to Garrick who crouched fearfully at the tent opening. “There’s nobody there, now. Are you sure you didn’t dream it?”

Garrick wasn’t completely sure. Chrístõ used his sonic screwdriver to check for lifesigns. There were none other than small mammals, insects and birds.

“I think you were dreaming. No more adventure stories before bedtime, I think. Come on. Back to sleep for a few more hours. Lots to do tomorrow.”

He settled back into the sleeping bag with his arm around his brother’s shoulders. Garrick quickly settled back to sleep, comforted by him. Chrístõ remained awake and alert for a little while before putting himself into a light meditative trance to complete his rest while being aware of any disturbance outside.

Because he was sure there HAD been somebody out there. He didn’t want to frighten Garrick any more than he already was, but if there was any mischief going on he would be ready for it.

To Be Continued…