Christmas holidays had never been a part of Chrístõ’s timetable until he came to Beta Delta and his life followed the school year. Now that Julia was at college it had become even more important to him. He had counted the days to the end of term for both of them.

Cal had been looking forward to the holiday, too. He hadn’t celebrated Christmas for the past two winters spent with the Brotherhood of Mount Lœng on Gallifrey. Now he was living among humans again and he was caught up in the joy of it along with Glenda who was equally glad to leave her university life behind for a few weeks.

“Christmas on Ventura at the winter lodge,” Chrístõ said to them all happily as they gathered in the TARDIS console room where a hologram of a fully decorated Christmas tree brightened one corner and real lights twinkled in the roof giving a festive feel to it all. “Father and Valena are already there, and Garrick, of course. He’s hopping with excitement, by all accounts.”

“Then a second Christmas, home with my family,” Julia reminded him. “It’s a good job time dilation makes Christmas day different on Ventura and Beta Delta.”

“We’ll be tired of turkey,” Cal joked.

“We’ll be tired of Christmas,” Chrístõ countered him.

“I could never be tired of Christmas,” Glenda said. “Not when I’m with Cal.”

Julia smiled. The two years that they were apart hadn’t dimmed the fondness Glenda and Cal had for each other. They were full of the joy of each other.

“Just like us,” she said to Chrístõ. “Madly in love.”

“I disagree,” Chrístõ answered. “I love you ten times more than any other man ever loved a woman. Cal and Glenda can only bask in our light.”

Julia’s smile widened, but she teased him for being corny all the same.

“I’m just glad to be with you for a whole four weeks in real time, without needing a time machine to steal a few extra hours.”

Glenda and Cal were kissing on the sofa. Chrístõ took hold of Julia in his arms and emulated them. Julia leaned back against the navigation console and savoured his embrace.

Unfortunately she leaned too far against the helmic regulator. The TARDIS dropped out of the vortex with a sickening jerk. Chrístõ reached to stabilise their re-entry into ordinary space while holding onto his fiancée and preventing her from falling against the controls and causing any more damage.

“Ooops,” she said as the floor steadied beneath her feet.

“I should know better,” Chrístõ chided himself. “Snogging by the console is ALWAYS risky.”

“Is there any damage?” Cal asked. He was picking himself and Glenda up from a tangle on the floor. “Are we still on course for Ventura?”

“No damage,” Chrístõ answered. “But we’re way off course, and I’m going to have to run a diagnostic before I reset our journey. The helmic regulator will need to be re-calibrated.”

“So we’re going to be late getting to Ventura?”Glenda asked.

“We’re in a time machine. We never have to be late,” Chrístõ reminded her. “But we’re taking a detour. There’s a Class-M Human colony planet close by. 6O?ß87 or Saturnalia as it is commonly known. We’ll land there and let the TARDIS sort herself out before we set off again.”

“A mystery trip!” Julia laughed. “Brilliant. What sort of clothes do we need?”

“No idea,” Chrístõ answered. “We’d best go as we are.”

He was wearing his usual leather jacket and black shirt and trousers. Julia and Glenda were in woollen dresses with thick tights because they were anticipating a snow-covered winter on Ventura. Cal emulated Chrístõ except that he had a velvet jacket instead of leather.

It was frosty on Saturnalia, with leafless trees glittering in the twilight of a wintery day. A huge moon, possibly a twin planet, was full and cast a silvery light across the landscape.

“It’s like a Christmas card,” Julia commented as they looked across a wide meadow, white with frost, to where a stand of pine trees cut across the horizon.

“Is that a house beyond the trees?” Cal asked. “I can see lights.”

“Could be,” Chrístõ agreed. He looked back at his TARDIS, disguised as a small hut at the side of a rough lane. It was frosted over, and looked as if it MIGHT have always been there. His own, distinctive, symbol on the door was the only proof that it was not.

They were debating whether to head towards the signs of local habitation when the question was settled. A cart pulled by two large horses came along the lane and the driver pulled up beside them. The cart was already full of people dressed for partying, the women in long skirts and colourful blouses, the men in coloured shirts and high-waisted trousers.

“More revellers,” called out one of the men. “Come on up. There’s plenty of room.”

There WAS plenty of room so long as girls sat in the laps of the men, but that didn’t seem to be something anyone objected to. Julia and Glenda certainly didn’t mind.

“You’re not from these parts,” said a young man called John who held a girl called Belinda in his arms and tickled her from time to time sending her into peals of laughter.

“No, we’re not,” Chrístõ admitted. “Please tell me what this region is called and where we are headed.”

“It’s the fiefdom of Leithan, and we are on our way to the manor of Lord Leithan for the revels. It is Twelfth Night, the greatest of all the festive feasts.”

“It’s Christmas here,” Julia whispered. “Wonderful.”

“Strangers will be most well come,” added Robert, whose lap was filled by Mandy, a girl who filled out her blue and white checked blouse delightfully and smiled in anticipation of the fun to be had. “It is good luck to have strangers at the feast. His Lordship will be most pleased.”

“We’re happy to please,” Chrístõ said on behalf of his friends. This looked interesting, anyway, and a party wasn’t likely to turn into a life-threatening situation.

The house they had glimpsed through the trees proved to be a substantial one. The style was something like early Tudor in Earth terms, grey stone with large windows made up of lots of very small leaded panes. The very largest was an Oriel window with coloured panes in an elaborate pattern. This and all the other windows were lit from within making the house look gay and welcoming in the darkening evening. There were torches lit along the driveway and in brackets either side of the big front door. Servants in livery waited to greet the arriving guests, leading the dismounted horse and cart into a side yard while the revellers were invited inside.

The entrance hall was brightly lit with a large crystal chandelier in the middle of the ceiling and lamps around the wood-panelled walls. A roaring fire was set in a huge fireplace. Boughs of greenery with red and yellow berries and brown pines cones nestling within the leaves decorated the festive scene.

“My friends and neighbours, welcome,” said a man dressed in wine-red velvet and wearing a crown made of holly berries twisted with gold thread. He signalled to a servant carrying glasses of wine to serve the newly arrived guests. The wine was mulled and warmed their throats.

“Here are strangers to join us, Lord Leithan,” said John with a broad smile as he introduced Chrístõ and his friends. “They know little of our Twelfth Night customs, but are ready and willing to learn.”

“Well, the first of the customs is that I am not your Lord tonight,” the gentleman answered. “The Lord of Misrule will be the only aristocrat until the morrow. For this night I am simple Martin Leithan.”

“We are pleased to come into your humble home,” Chrístõ said. “And, indeed, we are very ready to learn your customs, especially if feasting and dancing are a part of them.”

“A very important part,” Martin Leithan assured him. “You shall see presently. But your ladies are not yet dressed for dancing. These outdoor clothes are too heavy for festivities. Let my wife conduct them to her chamber were there are gowns to please them.”

Julia and Glenda both smiled widely as a lady in a fine silk gown of the ‘Empire’ style came at the lord’s bidding and took them up the wide stairs to the upper floor. Chrístõ and Cal drank the hot spiced wine and talked with the lord of the demesne while they waited. They discovered that he owned all of the land for some fifty miles around and except for some freemen who farmed their own properties and the freeholders of the village, he was landlord and chief employer to everyone who was present at the Twelfth Night revels.

“A feudal system,” Chrístõ said to Cal telepathically. “If Leithan is a generous man, as he seems to be at face value, that’s not such a bad thing. I wouldn’t want to be a tenant of a miser or a tyrant.”

Their fiancées appeared at the top of the stairs just as a new group of visitors arrived at the door. That meant that Chrístõ and Cal were not the only men who appreciated the sight of them in fine silk gowns as they descended the stairs. They were the two who stepped forward to take their arms, however, and walked with Lord Leithan and his wife, Margarita, into the Great Hall where the guests waited the start of the festivities. Again the room was brightly lit with candelabra and lamps. There was a huge fireplace where a Yule log blazed. The Oriel window was at one end of the hall beneath the minstrel gallery where an orchestra waited to play. At the other end a great feast of food, including a huge roast boar with an apple in its mouth and countless other delicacies waited. Wine and beer was available by the cask-load.

“My friends and neighbours, strangers and all, welcome to my home. We shall dance and feast very soon, but first I must hand over my demesne to the Lord of Misrule. That man, therefore, must be chosen. May I ask all the men over twenty-one to form a circle while the ladies press back against the walls.”

Chrístõ and Cal joined in with the fun enthusiastically. They stood waiting as Lord Lethian took off his crown of evergreen and gold and held it aloft. One of his servants blindfolded him with a piece of silk and turned him around five times before he walked slowly around the ring of men.

Finally he stopped and presented the crown to the nearest man. Cal took it from him and wondered what to do with it.

“You are the Lord of Misrule,” he was told. Lord Lethian removed his blindfold and then took the crown and placed it upon Cal’s head. He then bent a knee in reverence to him. “Your command will be done this night, my lord.”

“Well….” Cal said nervously. “Then I suppose I must command that everyone eats and drinks their fill and dances until they drop.”

“Let the will of the Lord of Misrule be done,” said the deposed Lord Lethian. There was a great cheer and the music struck up. Cal grasped Glenda by the hand, drawing her onto the floor where they danced something approximating a polka to the jaunty tune. Others joined in and whether there were any formal steps to the dance didn’t seem to matter at all. Chrístõ grasped Julia around the waist and danced with her.

“So far, I’m quite impressed with the custom around here,” Julia said breathlessly as they left the dancing twenty minutes later and sought refreshments. Chrístõ tried a deep red wine while Julia had a small glass of a sweet yellow-white one. They ate slices of the roast boar meat on barley bread and pieces of game pie with a garnish of a sauce something like horseradish that made them drink another glass of wine.

“It all looks very tempting,” Chrístõ said looking over the array of delicious food. “But I think a slice or two of that roast fowl on another piece of bread will do me for now.”

“Yes,” Julia commented, choosing some very small eggs in a piquant sauce to round off her refreshments. “I notice that there are very few vegetable or anything resembling a salad. I shall have to watch my portion sizes when we come back to the table again.”

“This is very much like a medieval banquet on Earth,” Chrístõ commented. “Very heavy on the proteins and carbohydrates and not much in the way of vitamins. You would need the peasant diet of turnips and barley porridge to keep up the gymnast’s figure.”

“I’ll just dance lots more until I’m hungry,” she answered. “That will burn off the extra calories. Indulging just this once won’t hurt too much.”

Chrístõ laughed. Julia was taking a course in nutrition alongside the gymnastic training and knew the calorie content of almost every foodstuff in the universe by heart. She was always careful about what she ate and exercised constantly to retain her petite and athletic figure. Indulging in this way was something she almost never did. She was forgetting her routine completely and enjoying herself with what amounted to complete abandon for her.

“Cal doesn’t care about the calories,” Chrístõ pointed out. Julia looked at laughed at the sight of their friend tucking into the drumstick of a large roast bird. That was in addition to a huge piece of game pie with a thick crust and several slices of the roast boar that was on his platter. Glenda, with more modest portions, was watching him curiously.

“He’s had two years of ascetic life on a mountain with a bunch of meditating men,” Julia said. “And a full term living in a bachelor flat, fending for himself. I think he’s making up for lost time. Do Time Lords get indigestion?”

“Yes, they do,” Chrístõ answered. “But he’s ready for the challenge.”

He drew Julia back into the dancing, which was frenzied enough to dispel any concerns about burning calories. Glenda accepted the hand of a young man in a purple jacket while Cal was busy eating, but later he claimed her back for himself. As the Lord of Misrule nobody would refuse him, anyway.

After several hours of dancing interspersed with eating Lord Lethian spoke to Cal, who called for quiet and, to his surprise, got it.

“I am asked if I will let the mummers perform for us. Apparently they are vagabonds who wander from place to place, and thoroughly unworthy types…..” This comment was met with laughter and good-natured jeering and was not meant to be taken seriously. “However, it is fitting to let them into a goodly house on this night. I am, therefore, inclined to give permission.”

Everyone found places to sit on benches around the walls or on the floor if they were not fast enough. Cal and Glenda had chairs either side of the great fire like lordly thrones. Lethian himself and his wife mingled with the crowds as a group of fantastically dressed players with gaudily painted masks bounded into the cleared space and began to perform a play without words. It was something like the English mystery play about George and the Dragon, and the dragon was a wonderful affair of light wood, painted canvas and a huge papier-mâché head controlled by two men hidden inside. The play had a great many comical moments, including the ‘hero’ being tumbled onto the floor by the dragon several times before he finally conquered it.

While the play was going on, one of the servants of the house was busy preparing another tradition. On one side of the wide hearth a large mug of ale and a plate full of the choicest foods was set, along with a small purse that clinked with money. On the other side a plate of dry bread and a beaker of water was set. The local people all clearly knew what it was about, but the visitors were left in the dark for now.

After the defeat of the dragon there were some songs, accompanied by a single lute player in the minstrels gallery. These were all best described as ‘bawdy’ and there were pauses for laughter. Some of the double entendres were lost on Julia and Glenda, two well brought up young women, but Cal had led a rougher life before he came to Beta Delta and Chrístõ had travelled widely. Both of them got the jokes, even if they could not be repeated in polite Gallifreyan society.

The mummers had their reward in ale and food and gold coins supplied by the Lord of the manor through the Lord of Misrule and then departed, doubtless to perform at some other house on this night. The revellers stayed sitting and the orchestra played a gentle but sweet tune. There was an air of expectation. Something was due to happen.

The first thing to happen was the big clock in the hallway striking fourteen, the midnight hour on this world. A drum player echoed each strike loudly and then there was absolute silence except for the occasional rustle of a silk dress of a lady sitting on the cold floor.

Then there was a loud knocking at the front door. It was a thoroughly decisive knock of somebody who expected to be answered. Nobody did until Cal remembered that everyone took their instructions from him and he gave orders for the door to be opened.

With great ceremony that was done, and shortly after that the servant who went to the door introduced a man called Aiden Blacklock to the Lord of Misrule. Blacklock was First Comer on this night – the first visitor to the house after the midnight hour.

“I am pleased to meet you, Lord,” the tall, broad-shouldered man said to Cal. “And I put myself at your mercy. By the choice of plate by your fireplace you may wish me a lean or a rich year to come.” Cal glanced at the two plates and understood the significance of them. He waved towards the plate filled with good food and the brimful tankard of ale and purse of money.

“Take the plate of plenty, my friend,” he said. “And welcome.”

Blacklock reached for the tankard first and drained the ale. He declared it a fine brew and tasted the food. This, too, he declared to be good.

“It will be a fine year,” he said. “For me and for all.” He looked in the bag of coins and gave one to the servant who had opened the door to him, then pocketed the rest. “Is there no more dancing tonight? I walked here from my farm in the moonlight in hopes of dancing with all the pretty and unattached ladies in the neighbourhood. I am in need of a wife, after all, and all the likely candidates are gathered here.”

“There shall be lots more dancing,” Cal assured him. “And perhaps there is a future wife for you here. But the lady here by my side is my betrothed. She will dance with you only while I partake of the game pie and wine.”

Glenda laughed and said she would allow Mr Blacklock to lead her out onto the floor while Cal was eating again. Chrístõ took Julia to join them and soon the dancing was in full swing again. After he had eaten his fill Cal found his fiancée and Mr Blacklock happily found an unattached lady to dance with. Everyone was content.

Of course, there was a point when the dancers began to feel tired and the music slowed. Only a few very hardy and determined souls stayed on the floor. Julia and Glenda had retreated to a quiet sitting room where they fell asleep with their heads against each other. Chrístõ and Cal continued to dance though increasingly there were fewer women as they left the floor and found their own quiet place and more competition for those who remained. As Lord of Misrule Cal had little trouble getting partners. Chrístõ was popular with the young women, too. He was a good dancer and his easy smile attracted them.

Blacklock was still dancing, too, having found a well-favoured young lady who might well become the future Mrs Blacklock and decided to stick with her. But perhaps because of the lack of partners or perhaps because fatigue had set in, some of the men disappeared from the dance floor, too. Those still enjoying the festivities didn’t take much notice except that they had more room to dance, now.

“We’re going to be in trouble with our own ladies,” Cal remarked when they stopped for wine to refresh dry mouths. “I think I have danced with every woman here, including the lady of the manor and Blacklock’s favourite.”

“You’re the Lord of Misrule,” Chrístõ told him. “It’s your job to do that. Glenda will have to accept it.”

“Oh, I am sure she will accept it, but she’ll still give me her special ‘look’ every so often.”

Chrístõ laughed. He knew about that look. Julia had perfected it when she was still too young for late nights and women like Camilla had been his dance partners after midnight.

“They love us too much not to forgive us,” he said with perfect assurance.

Julia and Glenda both woke from their slumber just as dawn was spreading a warm yellow light across the horizon. They had been joined in the drawing room by Blacklock’s chosen lady, Hanna, who had eventually excused herself from the dancing and from the side of her new sweetheart.

“What’s going on outside?” Glenda asked as they stretched and yawned and reached for a carafe of fruit juice on the sideboard to refresh their mouths after sleep.

There was clearly SOMETHING going on. Men were calling to each other in the frosty grounds. Julia looked out of the west window and reported that they seemed to be building a bonfire.

“Oh no!” Hanna’s expression changed at once from contentment to horror. “Oh no, they wouldn’t. They couldn’t.” She rushed to the window and looked before turning and grasping Glenda’s arm urgently. “You must get your man away from here,” she said. “His life is in peril.”

“What?” Glenda was puzzled and a little confused. Nothing about this place had suggested peril until this moment. She was still sleepy, too, and the idea that Cal was in danger just didn’t register in her mind until Hanna started to explain.

“I heard Lord Leithan talking to Aiden,” she said. “He was excited about reviving the tradition…. I didn’t realise what he meant, then. But… but… Oh, it’s just terrible.”

“We have to warn him,” Julia cried when she heard the whole story. She ran to the door and found it inexplicably locked. She twisted the brass knob and pulled but it wouldn’t budge. She ran to the window. The bonfire was being piled up high, and there were men bringing more and more material from the woods on the edge of the meadow where it was being constructed.

“The windows are locked, and even if we broke them, the wall is higher on this side where the meadow falls away from the house. It’s too far to jump. And besides, we’ll be seen.”

Glenda was near to tears. She pulled at the door and pushed at the same time, then banged on it frantically. Nobody heard.

“Why?” she asked, turning to the pale and frightened Hanna. “Why do this?”

“It’s a very old tradition,” she explained. “They haven’t done it for at least fifty years, now. But… but they never had a Lord of Misrule who was a stranger to the place before. He means nothing to anyone here, so nobody will object.”

“I object!” Glenda cried out loud. “This can’t be. It can’t.”

“Let me look at that door again,” Julia said, keeping herself as calm as she could manage. She was scared, too, but she had to be practical. Glenda was too upset. Hanna was a farmer’s daughter who’s practicality extended to feeding chickens and collecting eggs. It was up to her to think like Chrístõ would think in a situation like this.

Chrístõ was resting as the dancing and music finally came to an end. He had a half-finished goblet of wine by his side and was sitting on a velvet covered elbow chair with his feet up on an embroidered footrest. The great fire was burning low but it still warmed him and he let an easy sleep, brought on by food, wine and dancing, wash over him.

It hadn’t escaped his notice that Cal wasn’t with him, but he was too sleepy, too content, to wonder about that. Besides, Cal was Lord of Misrule. He could go where he pleased and do as he pleased.

If there was another woman with him Glenda would have her say about that, but it was nobody else’s concern.

“The key is in the lock,” Julia reported. She knelt down and looked at the gap at the bottom of the door. “There’s room. All I need is a piece of paper and something I can poke into the keyhole.

The sideboard yielded both. The piece of paper was the title deed to a farm on the Lethian demesne, but Julia didn’t intend to damage it, only use it in their escape from the room.

The something to poke in the keyhole was a fine silver letter opener with the arms of Lethian on the handle. Julia pushed the title deed under the door carefully then poked the letter opener into the keyhole, pushing the key out the other side. She heard it land on the deed.

“That can’t possibly work,” Glenda said with a sob of despair. The key will get stuck on the door and slide off the paper.”

Julia had always thought so, too, when she read of people doing that in adventure novels, but she was determined to try. They HAD to get out of this room.

Chrístõ’s sleep was very abruptly disturbed by Julia and Glenda screaming at him in despair. He rubbed his eyes and tried to listen to both of them, and Hanna, all talking at once. Finally he quietened them and got Julia to explain a little more calmly.

“They’re going to murder Cal,” she said. “The Lord of Misrule… his rule ends at dawn… and then… then… they have a bonfire. They’re going to burn him alive. It’s…. it’s an old tradition and they’re going to revive it this morning.”

“What?” He could hardly believe it when he heard the story. Was it really possible that these people who had offered them such warm and unconditional hospitality had a sinister and fatal motive?

“Chrístõ, come on!” Julia pleaded. “The fire is lit already.”

He didn’t need any more urging. He ran, the three women hurrying after him. There was nobody to challenge them except a servant who was clearing away the remains of the feast. He yanked open the huge front door and took the steps two at a time.

The bonfire was alight. The smell was unmistakeable. As he raced around the west wing of the manor he saw the flames engulfing the dry wood.

He saw a silhouette within the flames and his hearts lurched.

Behind him, Julia and Hanna both gasped in horror. Glenda screamed and fainted.

She came around in the shade of a small garden folly near the place where the Twelfth Night bonfire was still burning cheerfully. She looked up to see who was dabbing a damp cloth on her face and cried out in relief.

“Cal!” she exclaimed. “You’re safe. I thought….”

“Yes, I know what you all thought,” he said with a warm smile. He helped her to sit up. Julia was there with Chrístõ. Hanna was clinging to Mr Blacklock’s hand. She looked strangely contrite.

“My dear lady misunderstood the circumstances completely,” Blacklock explained. “Yes, Lord Leithan had promised to re-introduce an old tradition this morning. But the practice of sacrificing the ACTUAL Lord of Misrule died out before my great-great-great-grandfather’s time, and his Lordship had no intention of committing murder this morning.”

“But the fire… I saw….”

“It was a model,” Cal explained. “Made of old clothes filled with straw and sewn up, wearing a crown made of twisted grasses. It was a symbolic sacrifice. Lord Leithan explained it all to me. I had the honour of lighting the fire, my last duty as Lord of Misrule.”

“They used to do it on Earth,” Julia added. “They called it a Guy, after Guy Fawkes….”

Glenda wasn’t listening as Julia explained about Earth traditions of burning effigies. She was hugging Cal as if hugs were going out of fashion.

“But I still don’t understand why we were locked in the room,” Julia said. “If there was nothing bad going on.”

“That was my fault,” Blacklock said. “I saw the three of you sleeping and knowing that so many of my neighbours had indulged in drink and might disturb you I turned the key in the lock. I thought only to give you a little peaceful rest. I foolishly got caught up in the preparations outside and forgot to unlock the door again.”

“I could point out that locking a room with no other exit is a health and safety infraction,” Julia pointed out. “But never mind. You meant well and you are forgiven, both of you.”

Lord Leithan came into the folly. He had heard about the misunderstanding and came to see that he too, was forgiven.

“We are civilised people, now,” he assured the visitors. “Reviving such a barbaric practice is unthinkable. But a bonfire on a frosty morning is a fine thing. Won’t you join us, now? My servant is just pulling the pan of roast chestnuts out of the base of the fire and there are buttered potatoes to go with them for breakfast.”

“Sounds good to me,” Cal answered. He had given back the crown. He was no longer the Lord of Misrule, but his appetite was as keen as ever.