The library was on fire, and there was nothing anyone could do to save it. Lamp oil and old parchment were the perfect fuel for a blaze that had already engulfed half of Alexandria.

It was 48BC. Julius Caesar had set fire to his own ships in the dock in order to prevent his enemies from landing. The fire ships had ignited the wooden structure on the dockside and then gone on to burn everything in the industrial hinterland. Now the cultural heart of the city was aflame and the great collection of literature contained within the most magnificent building in Alexandria was going to be ashes in a few hours.

Chrístõ ran through the flames, jumping over burning floorboards that wouldn’t hold his weight. The heavy, awkward book was slowing him down, but he couldn’t leave it. The paper was flame retardant, but it would burn just like everything else here eventually.

There was smoke everywhere. If he hadn’t closed off his breathing he would be choking to death. He was running out of recyclable oxygen and his eyes were stinging, but he was almost back at the TARDIS – safety.

He could see his time and space capsule through the flames, disguised as a Hellenistic archway. It was only three paces away when the old man stumbled into his path. He was clutching a half dozen scrolls and fumbling his way through the choking smoke. He dropped one of the scrolls and tried to reach it.

“Here,” Chrístõ said, picking it up and putting it back on his pile. He pushed the volume of the Annals of Rassilon under the old man’s arm and grasped his shoulder, guiding him towards the TARDIS as he reached for the key with his one free hand. He didn’t bother to insert it into the lock. He just jangled it. The sonic resonance was enough to open the door. He pushed the old man in front of him and crossed the threshold himself just as the floor collapsed outside.

“You’re safe now,” he said to the old man. “This may not look like your idea of safe, but it is.”

He dematerialised the TARDIS and set a course for outside the city and the danger area before turning to his unexpected passenger. It was only then that he saw the cataracts over the old man’s eyes.

“You’re blind, yet you risked your life to save a bunch of books?”

“I may not be able to read them any more, but I still know that the words of great men are worth more than gold.”

“I agree,” Chrístõ said. “But the lives of even ordinary men are FAR more important than books – even this book.” He took the Annals of Rassilon from his over-loaded arms and put it safely aside, then he looked at the scrolls the man was holding. “Aristotle – yes, he’s a very great writer. You hold onto those. But let me have a look at those eyes while I’m here.”

He adjusted the sonic screwdriver to analysis mode, then to another mode entirely.

“What is that?” asked the old man. “It’s… so soothing. It feels….”

“It’ll take a few minutes,” Chrístõ said, putting the sonic back in his leather jacket. He checked the location – a few miles down the coast from the burning city and Julius Caesar’s siege. He opened the door and led the old man outside.

“I’ve put your scrolls in a bag,” he said, pressing a hessian sack into the old man’s hand. “Hang onto those. They’re VERY rare, now. Don’t sell them except to the highest bidder. Get the right price and you’ll have enough for a nice comfortable retirement.”

With that he turned and stepped back into the TARDIS. The old man clutched the bag as the fog in front of his eyes cleared. As his sight returned a strange sound filled his ears and a curious breeze enveloped him, but there was no sign of the man who had plucked him from the burning library and given him back his sight.

He shook his head and shouldered the bag containing the rescued scrolls as he turned towards the closest village where he might beg a crust of bread and a drink of asses milk and consider his future.

Chrístõ glanced at the time vortex on the video screen and nodded in satisfaction. He hadn’t interfered TOO much in the fixed point of 48BC when the Great Library of Alexandria was burnt for the first time. The Annals of Rassilon were never meant to be there in the first place. Removing them from the conflagration didn’t harm anything. He wasn’t sure who the blind old man was, but his place in history was not likely to be important enough to cause serious harm to the fabric of time.

He turned to look at the third volume of the Annals of Rassilon that he had recovered. As he did he noticed a scroll lying on the floor. It must have fallen as he put them into the bag.

He picked up the scroll and examined it. He smiled ironically. There actually would have been a wobble in causality if this hadn’t been lost. Aristotle’s Second Book of Poetics – subtitled Comoedia - had not been seen since before the first disaster to come upon the Great Library of Alexandria. No copy was known to exist despite Aristotle making reference in the First Book of Poetics to the second volume which was to be about the arts of comedy. Scholars and treasure hunters had searched for it over the millennia. Arguments about whether it had ever actually been written had raged among academics.

And here was the answer to the question dropped by a blind man who wanted to save what he could from the flames.

Maybe there was a museum somewhere in the Human colonies he could donate the scroll to. In the meantime it could take pride of place in his own library alongside the three volumes of the Annals.

Three more to go. Of course, Julia would be cross at him for going off on his own to find the third book, but knowing where it was, and the sad fate of the other great works in that library, he felt a certain urgency about the task. Of course, that was nonsense. He had a TARDIS. He could have gone at the weekend, or next weekend, or in ten years’ time and still have rescued the Annals of Rassilon, the old man AND Aristotle’s second Poetics, but he couldn’t help feeling it all the same. He hadn’t been able to settle down to a Monday evening picking out grammar errors in the essays of the latest 3C until he had gone to find it.

He was still not quite ready for the massacre of grammar by 3C. That was a chore to be endured. But he was satisfied that the three hours taken out of his schedule were well spent.

He began to set his course for his Beta Deltan home and found that it wouldn’t lock in. His mind ticked through several dreadful possibilities and a dozen technical problems before he looked up to see a figure materialising aboard his TARDIS. That ought to have been impossible – unless the figure was….

“Paracell Hext!” he exclaimed as the figure solidified and stepped towards him. “Why are you interfering with me and my TARDIS?”

Hext had never really travelled away from Gallifrey until he joined the Celestial Intervention Agency. He had never been among the sort of people who would pick up on the accidental innuendo in Chrístõ’s accusation. He kept a perfectly straight face as he answered him.

“I didn’t interfere. I just intercepted you with a long range site to site transmat. It really is easier if you haven’t gone into the vortex, yet, so I applied a remote brake to your navigation system – temporarily.”

“WHY did you intercept me?” Chrístõ demanded.

“There is a rumour – one I have carefully quashed, by the way – that you are searching for the Annals of Rasilon – and may have actually found them.”

“Three of them, anyway,” he answered. “Why do rumours need to be quashed? There’s nothing illegal about searching for them. I’m doing nothing wrong. It’s… a weekend hobby more than anything else.”

“I quashed the rumours because ONE of the volumes may be in the possession of a notorious renegade who has been missing since before your father’s Celestial Intervention Agency career began.”

“If you mean Le Marrant.…” Chrístõ began.

“I don’t,” Hext answered quickly. “I mean Lexa Mori – The Widow.”

Now it was Chrístõ’s turn to miss a reference in Hext’s explanation.


“Of course, your father doesn’t talk about cold cases with you,” Hext continued. “I asked him about The Widow. He had a near miss with her when he was an agent. Fortunately she had a husband at the time or he might have been one of her targets.”

Chrístõ felt a twinge of envy. His father almost NEVER referred to his days as a Celestial Intervention Agency assassin with him. Indeed, he only found out the truth about that part of his father’s life a few short years ago. His father avoided the subject because he didn’t want his son to emulate him in any way.

But he had no problem sharing that part of his past with Hext, who was no blood relation to him at all.

He was being foolish, of course. This wasn’t about bedtime stories. Hext, in his position as a very young director of the agency, sought the advice of the most experienced former agent still living on Gallifrey. But he still wished he could share in those revelations from his father’s past.

”We don’t even know how many husbands she’s had since she left Gallifrey,” Hext went on. “The two Newbloods without heirs whose fortunes ended up in her offworld accounts following their untimely deaths were only the beginning of her career. That much we do know. She is currently the widow of the Calipha of Agretha III, who died in his sleep quite suddenly. She…”

“Agretha III!” Chrístõ cut in quickly. “Yes, that’s the location of one of the volumes. The Caliph’s library is famous throughout the Crimson Galaxy.”

“Then we can mount a joint operation. You get the book, I’ll get the Widow.”

“Is that an order from the Director of the Celestial Intervention Agency or a suggestion from a friend?” Chrístõ asked cautiously.

“Both,” Hext answered. “Come on, surely you don’t mind having a bit of company on the trip?”

“I was planning to have Julia, Cal and Glenda with me. All of them, including Cal, are prettier than you.”

Hext grinned, knowing he was being wound up, and watched as Chrístõ cancelled his trip home and set a course for Agretha III, a desert world that happened to be the best source of red crystal in the Crimson Galaxy, and thus a very rich desert where artificial pleasure lakes could be created around the magnificent Caliph’s palace using the very best and latest technology from the space quadrant.

They had a fine view of the palace as the TARDIS hovered low across the last half mile of desert and finally came to a halt on one of the lakes where it resolved itself into an amphibious caravan. Guards in shimmering satin cloaks and turbans of silk came from the palace to find out about the new arrivals. They wore curved swords at their waists. They kept their hands from the weapons and bowed to the elegantly dressed visitors, but at the slightest sign of treachery they would be ready to fight.

Chrístõ wondered if he ought to adopt his Crown Prince of Adano-Ambrado persona but before he could do so Paracell Hext identified himself as an ambassador from Gallifrey.

“I am Allesandro de Gyre,” he said. “My colleague is Lee Koschei Oakdae?e. We come to pay courtesies to the Caliph.”

“The Caliph is dead,” the chief of the guards said, bowing his head to the newly arrived officials. “But the Calipha will receive you gladly. She is known for her hospitality.”

“We shall convey our condolences to the lady,” Hext said. “Lead the way, my good man.”

The interior of the palace was cool, its thick stone walls lined with decorative plaster keeping out the searing desert heat. Unlike the palace on Maglia the decoration was subtle. Naturally, it involved a lot of real gold stuck onto the mouldings, but the tapestries and hangings were mostly geometric patterns. The Calipha – or widow - wasn’t advertising herself in any way.

But that wasn’t what was on Chrístõ’s mind just now, anyway.

“Hext, what are you thinking?” he demanded telepathically as they followed the captain, flanked by what might have been either a guard of honour or just a guard. “If she knows we’re from Gallifrey…..”

“Pretending to be anything else would be stupid. She will know us for what we are as soon as we’re in her presence. She IS a Time Lord, after all. But if our mental walls are strong and we stick to our cover story, she won’t suspect until it is too late.”

“Too late for her, or for us?” Chrístõ asked. “We really should have talked this bit over.”

“Not at all,” Hext responded. “I know what I’m doing. This isn’t my FIRST undercover operation, you know.”

“It’s not mine either. But if she tries poisoning us at dinner, I’ll blame you, and so will my father.”

Hext considered the point made and the subject closed. They concentrated on building walls in their memory to hide their real identities while perfecting the idea of two roving ambassadors looking to make trade agreements with outlying planets.

Those personas were firmly planted in their minds when they entered the gloriously decorated receiving room of the Calipha. The walls and ceiling were moulded plaster with gilded edges, of course, but the floor was covered with a huge square of patterned carpet. A curved sofa capable of seating twelve people covered much of the carpet and there was a wide low table in front of it with a coffee pot and biscuit stand of silver. A backgammon set was laid out on the corner of the table, but no game yet begun. The pieces were ebony and redwood and the board a wide square of polished jet with a pinkish-red semi-precious stone inlaid into it to form the squares to move the pieces on.

All this luxury was lit by crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling – real rock crystal hand-carved by artisans, not simply glass blown to look like crystal.

The Calipha looked as if she belonged to such a setting. Her gown was satin and she wore a headdress with a ruby in the centre, hanging over her forehead. She looked about fifty in Human terms, though still glamorously attractive. Of course, being Gallifreyan, she might be thousands of years old and have regenerated many times, but if so, this was a form that suited her well.

She rose from the wide sofa to greet her guests, inviting them to sit on cushioned seats that were brought by a servant while another refreshed the coffee pot. The lady graciously poured the fragrant brew into tall glasses, sweetening it with honey and adding clotted cream that floated on top. The two undercover agents sipped carefully, aware that this woman had murdered men who ought to have been more cautious than them.

There was nothing dangerous in the coffee, and the lady seemed like grace herself to her guests.

“You are from…” she said in a voice like melted chocolate pouring into a cup. “I’m afraid I have forgotten your planet already, do excuse my absent mind.”

“Gallifrey, madam,” Hext answered. “In the Kasterborus sector.”

“I know the name, and something of the reputation of that planet, but only a little of that,” she said. “I am sure you can tell me something of its charms, however.”

“Your own world seems charming,” Chrístõ lied. All he had seen was desert and this one manufactured oasis. “The little we have seen of it, yet.”

“It is good of you to say so. Though in truth it is not my planet. I came from a place far from here as a mere slip of a girl, to be married to the Caliph. It has become home over the years. My true birthplace is a distant memory, as are the hardships of my youth. It was not a good place to be a poor woman without a dowry. If the Caliph had not taken a liking to me I should have lived in penury. I count myself most fortunate to have enjoyed twenty five years of blissful marriage before my dear prince passed away.”

“Indeed, madam,” Hext said. “Our deepest and most sincere condolences on your loss.”

“That is kind of you. Of course, I was left well-provided for in material comforts. But I do miss his company. He was a very gracious man, always kind to me. He taught me much about the burden of ruling a people like the Agrethans in our time together. Governing them alone is not so terrifying as it might have seemed, and I have reason to believe that their happiness and prosperity continues uninterrupted.”

“That is good to know, madam,” Chrístõ said. He had managed to read a little about Agretha on the journey. The export of that red crystal, used as a power source in hyper-space ships, electricity generators and countless other commercial and industrial purposes, brought immense profits, and even the miners who worked the hardest to produce it received generous bonuses for their efforts. The market places in the desert towns were busy, selling not only staple foods but luxury goods, too.

The Caliph had been no tyrant living off the sweat of the poor, and if the Calipha was continuing to govern in the same way, then that was a good thing.

Or it would be if the Calipha wasn’t a criminal who Hext had come here to capture.

The funny thing was that it didn’t feel as if they were in the presence of a serial murderer. The Calipha was a deightful woman. A full two hours passed blissfully drinking coffee and eating sweetmeats while she spoke of her adopted planet and its people, of the improvements to their lives that the export of the rare mineral had brought. She confessed to being surprised that a planet so far away was interested in trade with Agretha.

“We have very fast interstellar travel,” Chrístõ explained. “It would be no hardship to trade with a distant world such as yours. The potential of red crystal energy is something our own scientists are very interested in. Of course, any new uses for it would be shared with your own technicians.”

“My trade ministers will be able to discuss those details with you, I am sure,” the Calipha told him. “It seems as if trade links would benefit both our worlds. But let us not talk of business just now. It is pleasant to have offworld visitors, especially two young men of such accomplishment and refinement as yourselves. Will you indulge one who is old enough to be mother to you both?”

“Gladly, madam,” Hext said with such enthusiasm that Chrístõ glanced at him sharply. While the Calipha was busy ordering a high tea to be served on the terrace, he risked a telepathic message. They had avoided such conversation until now in case she was able to read them despite their precautions.

“I can’t help it,” Hext protested. “There’s something about her. If I didn’t know better I’d think I was under the influence of Haolstromnian pheromones.”

“No, it’s not that,” Chrístõ assured him with a wry smile and fond memories of Camilla. “I KNOW what that’s like. She reminds me of Lady Lily. Do you remember when I was her companion for the summer – and you and your friends bullied me about it back at the academy.”

“I remember,” Hext responded shortly. He didn’t like being reminded of his past. “It can’t be any sort of ‘love’ potion. I took a universal antidote just in case.”

Chrístõ wondered why he hadn’t offered him an antidote.

“I figured I’d better be the one who’s immune to her, then I could pull you out of it,” he said.

“Well, either it isn’t working, or there’s no potion involved.”

“Just genuine sensual magnetism,” Hext remarked with an odd tone to his telepathic voice.

“Are you saying you’ve taken a fancy to the Calipha? What is it with you and criminal ladies?”

Hext responded with a Low Gallifreyan swear word before turning his attention to the Calipha again. Chrístõ watched him carefully as he talked to her. He had every appearance of a smitten lover.

His pursuit of the lady was disrupted by the announcement that Vizier Hammad had arrived. This announcement was followed by the entrance of a servant wearing silk and satin and carrying a large box. Behind him came the man who had to be Vizier Hammad. He was tall and slender, dressed in black from his silk turban with a black jewel fixed in it to the long black cloak that swung open to reveal a tunic and jodhpurs – in black - that ended at his mid-calves where black leather boots began.

The effect was something like a very severe stick of liquorice, especially when he bowed to the Calipha.

“My dear lady,” he said. “This is a gift for you, in honour of your radiant beauty.”

Paracell Hext gave the rival for her attention a scathing look which was wasted entirely. The Vizier had eyes only for the lady. The two Gallifreyan ambassadors might have been invisible.

The Calipha nodded to the servant who put down the box and opened it. The lady herself pulled aside the tissue that covered a magnificent gown of white satin covered in exquisite embroidery. Chrístõ looked at it and was instantly reminded of Lady Lily, who had always dressed in white even though she was a widow and expected to observe certain customs.

The Calipha obviously cared as little for such customs and conventions. She declared the dress perfect and called for her ladies’ maid to take it to her dressing chamber.

“I shall wear it to dinner tonight,” she said. “It will be quite an affair with our two intergalactic guests joining us.”

“Us?” Chrístõ felt Hext query the use of that pronoun. It implied that the Vizier and the Calipha were joint dinner hosts. Were they as close as that? He brought her dresses made to her measurements. That was an intimate kind of gift.

“Cool it,” Chrístõ told him. “She was just using the ‘royal we’ as they call it. Funny she wasn’t so formal when it was just us in the room.”

“I don’t like him,” Hext said darkly. “There’s something… I can feel it in my soul. Evil radiates from him.”

“You’re just jealous,” Chrístõ assured him. “Because she’s paying him attention now.”

“He’s not right for her. She’s a lady. He’s a thug… a….”

“Hext, you’re meant to be arresting her.”

“I know. But still… if he’s trying to woo her….”

“Then if everything you know about her is true, he’s the one who will come off the worst from it.”

“Chrístõ, how can you, of all people, be so cynical?”

“Because I’m not in love with her. You really need to snap out of that before it gets beyond an afternoon amusement. Neither of us is here for the fun of it.”

“I know that. But when I’m near her… I feel nothing but positive emotions… as if she radiates sunshine. When he came into the room… it was like a black cloud over the sun.”

“If you get poetic on me again, Savang is going to hear about this. She’ll turn you into her own personal Caliban and keep you in a cave for HER amusement.”

The literary allusion was lost on Hext, but he tried his best to keep his emotions in check – something he had always urged Chrístõ to do. The irony wasn’t lost on him as he suffered through an hour of the Vizier’s attentions upon the Calipha. She, to her credit, brought her two ambassadors into the conversation at every point, but the Vizier managed to steer them back to his plans for a large section of desert a few miles south of the palace where he intended to build a new mining complex....

Chrístõ suffered Hext’s frustration until they were, at last, released from the torture and conveyed to a cool, beautifully appointed suite of rooms where they could rest and relax before dinner.

“Rest and relax,” he emphasised when his friend seemed to be about to launch into a new round of reasons why he had to keep a close eye on the Vizier.

“I don’t like him and I don’t like the situation,” he said again.

“Neither do I with you carrying on like this,” Chrístõ answered. “When you get back to Gallifrey you need to put yourself through some stringent psychological training against this sort of emotional response to a situation involving an attractive woman.”

“I probably will,” Hext answered. “But right now I’m thinking about the Calipha’s safety. That man….”

Chrístõ gave in.

“I’m going to view the library. I got her permission to do so. I’ll be back in time to change for dinner.”

The library was everything he expected it to be – a huge room in the basement with double-arched cloisters where volumes that needed to be kept in the shade were stacked upon their shelves. As with many old libraries, there was a mixture of ancient scrolls and bound books with individual leaves. All of the former were written in a pictographic language much like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. The latter were in something more like an alphabet, but the key to it would have foxed even the discoverers of the Rosetta Stone.

The book Chrístõ wanted to see was among some of the most ornate volumes, specially displayed on a slightly sloping table. In the index it was listed as a great work from a now defunct offworld location.

“Defunct?” Chrístõ smiled. The Calipha had done her very best to expunge her past. She pretended not to know Gallifrey except as one of many distant worlds. No mention of it was made in the catalogue entry for the Annals.

But that made perfect sense. A criminal would want to cover her tracks, create a new identity for herself.

But so, Chrístõ thought, would an innocent person who wanted a chance to escape the past and start anew.

Where did that thought come from, he wondered? Was he getting like Hext, a little bewitched by the Calipha’s charms? That was probably how she got all her previous husbands.

He shook himself mentally and turned his attention again to the Annals. He dared to open the book and read the first few pages slowly and carefully, trying to memorise passages of the great wisdom within.

But as soon as he closed the book it was gone again. It was like waking from a vivid dream that dissolved as conscious thought took command.

One day, he vowed. One day I will be able to read this and remember it. Perhaps he needed to attain a greater age or become Lord High President. Perhaps there was a key of some kind that would unlock the knowledge. Whatever it was, he wanted it.

“Not for myself,” he whispered. “I promise to use the knowledge for the good of all Gallifreyans – of all life in the universe. That’s what you want, isn’t it, my Lord? I will be the man you can trust with your secrets.”

His whisper echoed around the vaulted roof and for a moment he wondered if he heard a reply in it. Then he told himself he was being silly. He reached out and touched the Seal of Rassilon and made a simpler vow to return the Annals to Gallifrey before leaving the library and heading back to the bed chamber to dress for dinner.

Dressing for dinner on Agretha meant a costume straight from Arabian Nights – at least for somebody who had read a fair amount of Human literature. The layers of satin and silk were flimsy, decorative rather than functional. They were being dressed up for the Calipha’s pleasure.

Which Hext didn’t mind one little bit. Nor did he mind being placed at the head of the dining table next to the lady herself. As exalted guests he and Chrístõ had that honour. The Vizier was downgraded to the same position as the Chief Minister of the Calipha’s government. He pretended to be unconcerned, yielding to the superiority of the ambassadors, but even Chrístõ, who had not quite believed in Hext’s insistence that the Vizier was evil, felt a little of his inner malevolence.

The Calipha put all dark thoughts out of his mind. She looked so very beautiful in the jewelled dress with her headdress covered with matching gems and her cosmetics perfect. She came last into the dining room, her dinner guests waiting by their chairs until she was seated. A man wearing deep russet satin read aloud a passage from the Agrethan holy scripts that passed for something like ‘Grace’ then a host of servants brought the food in small but seemingly endless courses, each utterly delicious.

The talk was light. The mood was pleasant. Hext, being closest physically, had the upper hand in the conversation with the Calipha. As the evening progressed his chair was turned more and more to the right until he was facing her rather than the table. The lady turned to him and offered a glass of a reddish liquid.

“This liquor is distilled from the red fruit that grows by the natural oases of the desert – a rare fruit and a rare drink. Won’t you try it, my beloved friend.”

Hext tried it. Of course, as a Time Lord, even the strongest alcohol had no effect on him. Chrístõ was the same. He thought the drink was something like peach brandy but stronger and a little more piquant. His father would probably have more to say, comparing it, inevitably, with the single malt whiskeys of Scotland which were his preferred drink.

The Calipha was obviously used to the taste, and drank it quickly. But the effect on her was startling. Almost immediately she began to cry out in pain. She clutched at her throat where horrifying lesions had begun to appear.

“Don’t scratch at them,” Chrístõ warned her, rising from his seat and reaching out to her. “Lexa, take a deep breath and recycle your breathing. You must remember how.”

She didn’t. She choked and gagged and her face turned dangerous colours as she collapsed to the floor.

“The liquor!” cried the Vizier. “It is poisoned. Arrest the servant who poured it.”

“No, it’s not the liquor,” Chrístõ responded. He did something quite startling as he knelt over the near suffocating woman. He wrenched the bodice of her dress and ripped it open all way to the hem. Hext and the others who crowded to look saw every part of her body that wasn’t covered by foundation garments was breaking out in the same bloody lesions. Her neck and shoulders were worst affected where the collar had fitted close, and her arms where the sleeves had been fashionably tight.

“It’s the DRESS,” he said. “The dress was poisoned.”

“Arrest the dressmaker!” the Vizier cried out.

“Oh shut up and get out of the way,” Chrístõ said. He lifted the stricken lady in his arms and pushed past all who tried to get in his way. “I need distilled water and soft cloths,” he called out to one of the servants. “Bring them to her chamber. Hext, grab that dress. Don’t let go of it.”

He rushed from the dining hall as quickly as he could without causing the Calipha more pain and brought her quickly to her bed chamber.

He laid her down on top of the satin sheets and began mouth to mouth resuscitation of the sort he had learnt among humans until he was certain she was breathing easily again. Then he carefully peeled off the rest of her clothing so that he could confirm his suspicion. The flesh that had not been in direct contact with the dress fabric was still the milky white of one who could afford creams to massage and moisturise the skin.

Where it HAD touched it the skin was almost dissolving, leaving red, suppurating patches that hurt as badly as first degree burns.

“All right, Lexa,” Chrístõ whispered. “I’m going to help with that.”

The woman sent for water and cloths fought her way into the chamber.

“You had better do this rather than me,” Chrístõ said. “Bathe the wounds gently to remove the irritant that caused them.”

While the girl did that, gently and diligently, and Hext guarded the door to prevent the Chamberlain and others from crowding in, Chrístõ put his hand on the lady’s forehead and gently pressed his way into her mind. He found the pain receptors in her brain and dulled them so that she was in less immediate agony, and he drew off the heat that the liquor had brought to her body, the catalyst for the poison to attack her.

He saw much more while she was delirious and not in full control of her mind. He stored it all in his own memory to deal with later. Right now, saving her life, and literally saving her skin was important.

“Lexa,” he whispered. “You CAN mend yourself. You are like us – like Hext and I. You have the ability to repair your own body. Focus your mind. Reach out to mine and make yourself whole again.”

At first she didn’t respond, then slowly a memory from deep within her sparked and he felt her connect with him. He showed her how to awaken dormant regenerative cells. The terrible damage to her body began to mend. The servant gasped in surprise as the dreadful lesions disappeared and the raw flesh was covered over by clean, white skin.

“You did it, Lexa,” Chrístõ whispered. “Now sleep for a while. You need to regain your strength.”

She was exhausted both physically and mentally and it took only a little soothing of her mind to let her drop into a quiet sleep. Chrístõ stood and covered her decently with a satin sheet.

“You sit by her,” he said to the maid. “Let no man near her except me and my colleague.” He turned and looked at the door where the Chamberlain had taken over the duty of crowd control. “Where is Hext?”

“The Lord Vizier has fled. Your friend went in pursuit of him.”

“He fled?” Chrístõ picked up the torn dress and examined it. The fine but poisonous powder coated the inside. A closer analysis would show exactly what poison it was, but the Vizier’s guilt was proven by his flight. Whatever justice system prevailed here on Agretha would soon deal with him.

As it happened, there was no need for any justice to be dispensed. Hext returned within the hour with the Vizier’s body. His neck had been broken in the hand to hand fight between them in the desert. He left the disposal of the body to others and came to the Calipha’s bedside. He touched her hand gently as she slept.

“I think a good fist fight knocked some of the idiocy out of me,” he admitted to Chrístõ after he had dismissed the maid from her vigil and they were alone in the bedchamber. “I realise now that Savang is the only woman for me. But I do have a strong feeling that I don’t want to arrest Lexa for murder.”

“You don’t have to,” Chrístõ told him. “When I was saving her, I felt all of her memories, even the buried ones. Her first husband WAS murdered, but not by her. It was… a touch of Hamlet.”

Again, Hext was unfamiliar with the literary allusion. Chrístõ thought he might buy him the works of Shakespeare to read on quiet nights in the Tower. Maybe some of the other classics, too. “His brother used a subtle poison on him, then when a short time had gone by he married Lexa. Unfortunately, he didn’t prize her as he should have, given that he murdered his brother to get her. She was beaten and abused by him until she could take no more. She killed him in self-defence. There are worlds where women are valued so low that they would hang for such a thing no matter what the provocation, but ours isn’t one of them. She ought to have been treated with kindness. She panicked, though, and fled Gallifrey. She made a new life elsewhere – three times, with three different men. Yes, she outlived them all, but in two of the cases that was because their lifespans were so much shorter than ours. In the other, he died in battle during a civil war.”

“So…” Hext began, but Chrístõ quietened him until he was done.

“She was living on Andrago IV when she fell ill and regenerated. The process was difficult and she lost all memory of her past lives – including all of her husbands, good and bad. The rest was much as she told us. She was a servant in the home of an aristocrat. The Caliph visited and took a fancy to her. They lived a good life together until his death – of perfectly natural causes.”

Chrístõ was done, now, but Hext wasn’t sure what to say.

“You could arrest her for killing a bully and a thug,” Chrístõ went on. “But she can’t testify for herself. When she wakes those memories will be buried deep again. I made sure of it.”

“I don’t want to arrest her,” Hext again insisted. “I should probably check out the murder of her first husband to see if the facts fit, but it’s a cold case. His murderer is dead. All I can do is close the file.”

“There you go, then.”

“She’s still a beautiful woman. She ought to find a good man. But the Vizier wasn’t the one. I was right about him.”

“Yes, you were. Funny thing… the book I was reading earlier… I can’t remember anything about it, except I keep recalling an Earth proverb about not being able to judge a book by its cover. I think Rassilon took about three thousand words to come around to the same point - and then to say it doesn’t apply to Time Lords. We CAN judge a book – or a man – or a woman for that matter – by our first instinct. You were right about her, and about the Vizier.”

“I acted emotionally. Do you think Rassilon meant that? After all, he was the one who put wisdom above all else.”

“I think he meant us to use our emotions wisely, not for them to use us.”

“I’ve been telling YOU that for years,” Hext pointed out. Then he heard the lady stir in the bed. He turned to her and stroked her forehead as she opened her eyes. “You’re going to be all right,” he promised. “You have nothing to worry about, ever.”

In so far as her chief foe was dead, and she was no longer the suspect in a centuries old murder investigation, that was true. For the rest, she had her advisers and her palace guards. Hext had to be satisfied that was enough.

Before the two of them left they negotiated a trade deal not only with Gallifrey, but with the Ambradon-Loggian hegemony that would ensure the financial security of Agretha.

And Chrístõ received a special reward for his effort to save the Calipha’s life. The fourth volume of the Annals of Rassilon was his to do with as he chose. He put it with the other three and with the missing second book of Aristotle’s Poetics before setting a course back home to Beta Delta and the bad grammar of 3c.

“That Earth scroll,” Hext said as he prepared to depart. “Funny thing, that.”

“How so?”

“Lord Egron, who taught classics when I was a tyro – he had a thing about the Annals of Rassilon. He said there was always a missing seventh book – one nobody had set eyes on since the great man was alive. Apparently it was also meant to be about humour- Rassilon’s joke book.”

“I didn’t have Lord Egron,” Chrístõ said. “I had Madam Steen. As for the Annals, I only have information about six of them. Maybe….”

“Maybe the old duffer was mad,” Hext suggested. “We always thought so.” With that he gave a wide grin and transmatted himself back to Gallifrey.