Chrístõ stepped out of the ornamental folly in the Royal garden that his TARDIS had disguised itself as. Cassie and Terry followed. They were both startled by the guard of honour that lined the path to the Palace. Chrístõ took it in his stride, nodding imperiously to the Captain of the guard who saluted him.

“Sammie has them well trained already in only a month,” Terry commented.

“It’s not been a month,” Chrístõ said. “I collected you two from Aquaria after a month, but I set the course for Adano Gran fourteen months on from when we left. That’s a year on that planet.”

The difference confused their other friends when they reached the Palace, too. Bo was the first to question it.

“I thought… I thought you would have the baby by now,” she said to Cassie. And Chrístõ’s explanation of how it was possible for it to have been three months in his own personal time, four weeks for Cassie and Terry, but a year for them disconcerted her.

“I thought you could use the time to get the Army trained,” Chrístõ told her as he hugged her tenderly. “I missed you, Bo, precious.”

“We missed you,” she said. And the ‘we’ was significant. Fourteen months since Bo and Sammie were married. The love they had shared was now truly in the past for her. It was still a little too fresh for him. It hurt to see how easily she had forgotten.

“We were worried,” Sammie added. “We wondered sometimes if you would ever come back.”

“I missed you, brother,” Penne said. Chrístõ looked at his blood-brother and Doppelganger and smiled at the elaborate robes he wore. And the crown that sat upon his head - a circlet of gold that, simple as it was, denoted rank and authority.

“King now, not merely a Lord.”

“King-Emperor,” he said. “I am ruler of the whole solar system of Adano-Ambrado.

“Solar system? I thought there were three planets in your Empire?”

“Three inhabited planets. But we have begun to colonise the other four. Harvest their bounty for the good of all.”

“Well done,” Chrístõ told him. “I’m impressed.”

“I couldn’t have done it without my most trusted advisor,” he said with a deeper smile. And he turned and nodded. Chrístõ ran to his father’s embrace.

“Why are you here?” he asked him. “I’m glad you are, but…”

“I have been appointed Ambassador to Adano-Ambrado,” his father told him.

“I thought you were retired from the diplomatic corps?”

“I made a special request.”

“Well… I’m glad. Does that mean… Is Valena here?”

“No.” His father’s eyes betrayed something momentarily. He sighed. “You should know… Valena and I… She has moved from our home and has been staying in the Capitol for several months.”


“We have had a disagreement.” His father looked at him and sighed again. “I refused to settle the right of primogeniture on her child. It is a boy. We know that. And she is pureblood. She demanded…. I refused.”


“Chrístõ, you are my first born son. You have no need to fear. I told you that many times before. I told Valena that even before she fell pregnant. Even before we were joined in Alliance. She knew. I have been very angry with her for this. I feel betrayed. But… she is my wife still. She is carrying my child.”

“You have to look after her,” Chrístõ said. “The child…”

“Yes,” the Ambassador put his arm around his son’s shoulders. “Even if divorce was permitted in our society, I would not. You must understand that. Even if she never returns to my home, she is still my wife.”

“Yes, I understand that,” he said. “Father, for what it's worth, I am sorry.”

“Thank you,” he said. “But we have other matters now you are here. You are just in time for the King-Emperor’s grand ball tonight. He has invited eligible royal princesses from a dozen quadrants. I think he means to find his true love among them.”

“Did anyone tell him the story of Cinderella?” Chrístõ asked with a smile. “Perhaps his true love is not a princess.”

“Perhaps yours is,” his father said. “Who knows. Love is a mystery even Time Lords cannot fathom. I first met your mother in a railway station in Leeds.”

“Really? I never knew that. Was it love at first sight?”

“Not quite. It took a lot of effort on my part. She was a shy Earth Child of 20. I was…” He smiled. “That story can wait for another day. There is, in fact, a more urgent matter for us.” The Ambassador took his son to the private drawing room of the King-Emperor, a sumptuously furnished room with one incongruous item in it – a large video screen mounted on the wall.

“Chrístõ, there is something you need to know, which had been kept from you for the best of reasons.” Sammie came to his side and nodded to Terry who did likewise. Penne, too, came and stood with him. The girls, too, came to him. Chrístõ realised that this thing that had been kept from him was known to all of those he trusted. His mouth felt strangely dry. What could be so serious that they all gathered about him in this way, as if protecting him.

“At Talos V, before the assassination attempt on Penne, your young friends came to me with a suspicion that somebody meant you harm. I investigated that suspicion. And now….” The Ambassador turned to the videophone screen and made a connection to Gallifrey. Chrístõ was astonished when he saw the Lord High President himself in his private chamber. The President nodded to Ambassador de Lœngbærrow, who bowed his head respectfully. But the words he spoke were cool with suppressed anger.

“Here is my son, Chrístõ Cuimhne,” he said, his hand on Chrístõ’s shoulder. “Tell him what you told me when I saw you last.”

The President sighed and addressed Chrístõ. He formally bowed to the political leader of his people and looked at him fearfully.

“You know, of course, young man, that the overriding doctrine of Time Lord Law is that of non-interference in matters of the Universe which do not affect us?”

“Yes, sir. I know that,” he said. “I have tried to obey that law in all my actions. But sometimes, doing what is right, and moral, and necessary, has been more important that the strict letter of that Law. If I am to be disciplined for anything I have done, then I shall defend each of my actions even before the High Council.”

“Your son speaks well for himself, Chrístõ Mian,” The President said.

“He does, indeed,” his father answered. “He is a fine example of a young Prydonian.”

“You say that because you Prydonians all think yourself superior to Arcalians like myself,” The President replied. “But we are distracted.” He turned to Chrístõ again. “You are not being disciplined. Far from it. There are those among us who are very pleased with you. As I said, non-interference has been our policy for ten millennia now. It has meant that we live in peace. It has meant that our Ambassadors such as your father are respected as wise neutral judges of such disputes that we are asked to adjudicate. But the role of our Ambassadors even in such matters is that of arbitrator. He does nothing to alter the course of events.”

“I understand my father’s work,” he said, wondering when they might get to the point.

“Yes, yes. Of course you do. And your father has talked often of you following in his footsteps. But what I have to say now is beyond all of that. And it is, in point of fact, a secret at the highest level of government. I am telling you this only because certain facts have come to light and I am FORCED to tell you the truth.”


“Please… Let me finish speaking then you shall have a chance to state your views. You should have THAT right at least. There have been discussions at the highest level in recent years about changing that non-interference policy. Those who want the change are the minority, but they include some of the most powerful members of the Council. And they prevailed in putting forward a plan. An agent would be sent to certain situations that presented issues to be resolved. How this agent conducted himself would determine whether we would take the matter further.” The President paused and looked at Chrístõ and his father. “The agent was not to be aware that he had been chosen. His TARDIS was pre-programmed with the carefully chosen preset destinations. These would appear innocuous on the face of it, but which would present challenges.”

“You… you’re saying I was the agent?” Chrístõ felt dizzy with the implications of what he was being told.

“Yes. You were chosen because of your academic record, the personal recommendations of many of your tutors, because of your family lineage and background – the son of our most respected Ambassador. And of course, as the one with the Mark of Rassilon – There are those among us who believed that this was the destiny you were intended for.”

“There was another reason,” Chrístõ’s father spoke icily to The President. “Tell him the full truth.”

The President looked embarrassed as he continued. “There were also those who considered that, should you fail, the fact that you are a half-blood - They thought it could be put down to you being of Renegade tendency due to your unreliable Human traits.”

Chrístõ stared at the viewscreen. This was the Lord High President speaking. A man he had been taught to respect. But his anger boiled at those words.

“The High Council would use me so dishonourably?” he said. “And if I had failed, my half-blood would be blamed for the failure. You would cover your involvement by branding me as an aberration, as a… a RENEGADE!” He felt his father’s arm around his shoulder and when he spoke it was with the same sense of injury.

“Dishonourable is the correct word. My son spoke truly. To use him in that way, even with confidence of his success was bad enough, but to use him with a ready made excuse in case of his failure is abhorrent. And before we go any further, he needs to hear your absolute and unreserved apology for all that has taken place.”

“That he will have,” The President said, and Chrístõ held his breath, hardly able to believe it, as he heard the Leader of his World speak to him in the humblest and most contrite terms, apologising for the insult to his name, for the attempt at deceiving him.

“Considering that it was these two Human males who spotted the deception and reported it to me, I think they, too, should have an apology for the disdain in which their race is held by Time Lord society. But that is perhaps too much to hope for.” The Ambassador turned to Terry and Sammie. “I at least thank you for your initiative and your loyalty to my son. And I know he will forgive you going behind his back to speak to me. He knows, I am sure, that you had his best interests at heart. Chrístõ, you should know that it was I who asked them not to speak to you of this until I knew more. So forgive me for that deception, not them.”

“There is nothing to forgive,” he said. “Thank you, all of you. I am…. I am glad of your friendship and love.”

“Then one matter only stands.” The Ambassador turned to the viewscreen again. “Now that the plot is uncovered, what is to be done?”

“Exactly,” Chrístõ said.

“That is, I think, your decision, Chrístõ Cuimhne.” The President said. “Your father can reset the computer database of your TARDIS and replace the presets with new, safe options. You can spend your extended field trip in peaceful places, exploring architectural wonders and enjoying your leisure. And no more will be said on this matter. Or…. If you feel that you are equal to the challenge….”

“That’s not fair,” Sammie interjected. “You’re offering him a coward’s option – a smooth ride through the universe – against carrying on doing your dirty work for you.”

“Young man,” The President began. “It is not for you to…”

“Yes it is!” Sammie began to speak but Terry was the one who this time spoke for them all. “We’ve shared the danger with Chrístõ. My wife was one of the people those bloody cannibals had taken. WE were in as much danger on Regial Omnia as any one. It IS our business too.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” The President told him. “We can arrange for your safe return to your own time and place. You need not continue travelling with Chrístõ Cuimhne.”

“I have no intention of leaving Chrístõ in the lurch,” Terry said. “Cassie and I must make a decision in the next months about WHEN we will return to Earth, but Chrístõ will be the one to take us there. We will be guided by him.”

“That goes for myself and my wife, too,” Sammie said. “Meantime, he has my friendship and my skills and abilities at his disposal to aid him in the mission he has been given. And by the way, as a soldier, I find the idea of sending somebody into danger without giving them any and every piece of information they need to complete the mission without unnecessary casualties very disturbing. I would question the judgement of any general who sent me into such a situation.”

“We are not accustomed to having our judgement questioned,” The President replied.

“Then get accustomed to it,” Terry said. “Because Chrístõ is on the case.”

Ambassador de Lœngbærrow turned his face from sight of the Lord High President and smiled. Time Lord superiority was being questioned by two people regarded by them as inferior. It was a moment he vowed to remember for a long time.

“My friends have spoken,” Chrístõ told the President. “For myself… I am not afraid to face challenges. I am not afraid of danger – at least no more than any man is. I will keep those presets. I will face the tasks the High Council wish me to face. For the honour of Gallifrey I will be their agent for good in the Universe to the best of my abilities.”

“My son has spoken his mind,” The Ambassador said, composing himself to reply. “As his father, I would wish him to be safe. I have my own reservations about this matter. But there is one injunction I wish to make. One stipulation. If Chrístõ is to do your bidding – your ‘dirty work’ as his young friend put it – he must have full immunity from prosecution should it be necessary for him to infringe the Laws of Time. He must be allowed to act without fear of recriminations from those who set him on this ‘quest’.”

“That will not be easy. As I said, those who support this endeavour are in the minority. But I think that could be arranged.” The President turned to Chrístõ again. “The honour of Gallifrey is in your hands. You are young… but those who chose you knew that. They knew also that you were the chosen one. The Mark of Rassilon singled you out at birth. I have confidence in you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Chrístõ said. And there was little more to be said. There were some formal words before the video connection was cut. Chrístõ looked around at his friends and his father. They all looked at him. Nobody seemed to know what to say.

“Chrístõ, you need a party and some pretty girls to dance with,” Penne told him. “And it is a long time since the two of us relaxed together in my bathing chamber.”


In a room at the High Council Offices of Gallifrey where the walls were lined with lead to guard against telepathic eavesdropping a man who kept a hood pulled over his head and his face in shadow spoke to two others who were also careful not to expose their faces.

“The half blood has been given official sanction. The President himself has given him immunity from prosecution.”

“It is the end of our society. A half-blood in high favour. They should be servants, not masters over us.”

“A half-blood with the Mark! It is incredible.”

“A half blood.”

“Is he to be killed?”

“He is to be eradicated.”

“It will be done.”


Chrístõ was never entirely sure about this practice of shared bathing, but he did like spending time with Penne and at least he had persuaded him to dispense with the attendants.

Penne had something on his mind anyway. He found a way of expressing it as they relaxed in the fragrant water.

“When you first came to my planet,” he said slowly. “Was that one of your presets?”

“No,” Chrístõ assured him. “We arrived on Adano Menor by accident. I got a co-ordinate transposed.”

“So my problems were not part of your Time Lord council’s schemes?”

“Probably just as well,” Chrístõ said. “Considering what we know of your background. I think if the Council knew about you….”

“They might not have been so enthusiastic to establish trade links with my Empire.” Penne sighed.

“I’m not sure what they would do. You ARE innocent of the crimes of the past. But the Banishment…. Four generations. That’s a cruel punishment.”

“Your father has been very kind about it all. I know he hated my parents. Despised what they did. But he has not held it against me.” He smiled. “Of course, my accidental resemblance to you helps. It softens him towards me.”

“It softened us all towards you,” Chrístõ said. “You were not the most likeable man when we first met.”

“I know. You set me right. I owe you a lot. My life above all. Your friendship warms me. Your companions – Sammie and Bo have been wonderful. They have built both the armies from scratch. Both the territorial force and my elite Royal Guard. And your father has been kindness itself. He misses you a lot, you know, Chrístõ. A couple of times he called me by your name by mistake, and he seemed so sad when he realised what he had said.”

“I miss him too, but I’m not ready to return to Gallifrey.”

“Well, you don’t have to now. He is remaining here for the foreseeable future.” He smiled. “It gives you a good excuse to come visit me,” he added. “I like having you around. I wish I could persuade you to stay more often.”

“You’re life is far too lazy for me, still,” Chrístõ said. “I need to be on the move, doing things. Meeting new people. Not lazing around in the bath and being pampered.”

“You will meet many new people tonight,” Penne assured him. “At my grand ball.”

“Princesses,” Chrístõ laughed. “Not the sort of people I like meeting.”

“What’s wrong with princesses?”

“Empty headed women brought up to be pretty and ornamental,” he said. “Not the sort I would want to spend my life with.”

“You wound me, brother,” Penne laughed. “You are talking of my future wives.”


“I thought I might pass a law allowing polygamy. If I must ‘settle down’ at least I might have some variety in my love affairs.”

“That’s your right, of course,” Chrístõ said. “I will be happy to find the one woman who will share my life.”

“Perhaps she will be among the princesses.”

“A princess would be disappointed with my life. But surely there will be ladies of less high birth as well?”

“Oh, I expect so. Some daughters of Ambassadors. Would they be more your style?”

“Since I am the son of an Ambassador, I expect they would do fine.”

“Your father is much more than that. He is a very great man.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ agreed. “He is.”

“He is proud of you. When he discovered what your people had schemed for you, he was so angry. But he was proud, too. And he knew you would not turn away from the task.”

“I will try not to let him down.”

“But enough earnestness, my brother,” Penne said. “What will you wear to my ball?”

“I haven’t decided. What are you going to wear?”

“The finest robes in the land, of course. I AM King-Emperor.”

“Then I shall wear plain black robes with simple silver trim, so that nobody will be confused as to who is the King and who is the Ambassador’s son.”

Penne laughed. And when the time came for them to be dressed Chrístõ discovered that his blood-brother had done some scheming of his own. The manservants who waited in the chamber to dress him had strict instructions as to how Chrístõ was to be dressed. And it was not in simple black.

“Wow!” Terry said when he and Penne both stepped into the private drawing room. And he spoke for them all. Penne and Chrístõ were dressed in identical robes of deep red with a shimmer of gold thread and the flash of rubies stitched into the fabric. A gown of scarlet went on top of the robe, edged in more gold. And both had crowns of gold on their heads.

Even Chrístõ’s father was unsure which was which until he read their brainwaves telepathically.

“Oh my!” Cassie breathed. “Chrístõ? Which one are you?” She looked at them both. They smiled and winked at her. “Oh, that’s not fair.”

“I know them apart,” Bo announced, leaving her husband’s side and approaching the two. She stood in front of them for less than a second before reaching her hand around the neck of one and kissing him on the cheek. “My Chrístõ. I would know you always.”

Chrístõ smiled to feel her kiss even in friendship. Penne burst out laughing.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “I’m the one looking for my princess and my brother is already stealing the kisses.”

“Not stolen,” Bo said. “Willingly given to a dear friend who gave me my life. For which there is no repayment I can make. But, my Lord…” She bowed her head to Penne. “Would a kiss from the one who trains your personal bodyguard be entirely appropriate?”

“How does she do it?” Cassie asked. “Bo… HOW do you tell them apart?”

“Several ways,” she said with the air of a magician revealing her secret. “Chrístõ walks with a lighter gait. He has been trained by the Shaolin and others of equally precise discipline. It tells in all of his movements. Penne uses artificial scents on his body. Chrístõ never does. If you look close at their eyes, Chrístõ has Human tear ducts, but Penne has the same eyes as Chrístõ’s father, that do not cry tears no matter how their hearts are broken. And…” She reached again around Chrístõ’s neck. “Chrístõ has a scar here that he is self-conscious of.”

“Chrístõ has a scar?” Sammie was surprised. “Are you sure? He is a Time Lord. They don’t scar.”

“I noticed it when we were on Aquaria,” Terry said. “Only time I’d seen him without a collared shirt. But I didn’t think anything of it. Lots of people have scars.”

“Not like this one,” Chrístõ said. He took out his sonic screwdriver and adjusted its beam. “The scar remains because it is regenerative tissue from when I was quite young and that function wasn’t fully effective. If you look with a UV light you can see what it covers.” He gave the sonic screwdriver to Terry and knelt down, his head bowed forward. Terry shone the light on his neck.

“Oh my….” The others all looked too and they all gasped in shock. Beneath the scar tissue they could clearly see deep cuts as if made with some kind of laser tool, searing the flesh. The cuts formed two Greek letters – .


“When I first went to the Prydonian Academy – when I was twenty – a bunch of full bloods attacked me and held me down while one of them burned that into my neck. They wanted me to quit. They gave me the nickname that meant shame – the Outcast – and branded it into my flesh.” Chrístõ knelt still, his head bowed as if in shame. Penne went to him and gently lifted him up so that they stood proud and equal again.

“I’ve put guys on report for doing less to new recruits,” Sammie said. “That was scummy.”

“Were they punished?”

Chrístõ shook his head. “I couldn’t tell anyone. You don’t tell tales. I was already despised. Besides, I think a lot of the tutors would have gladly held the torch while they did it. They didn’t like half bloods.”

“Oh Chrístõ!” Cassie, herself a child of a mixed race union who had suffered prejudice in many places, was appalled. “But you always seemed proud of that insignia. Even the TARDIS uses it.”

“I learnt to love it,” he said. “I made it my own. I wore it with pride. But I hate that scar.”

“I hate it too,” Chrístõ’s father said. “Because it obliterates an earlier mark - one that was a source of pride to me. He was born with the Mark of Rassilon - a birthmark that singled him out for a much higher destiny than any full blood Time Lord. Those who tried to brand him with a mark of shame did so not just out of hatred of his blood, but out of fear that one with such blood would be greater than they.”

“A birthmark means so much?” Sammie asked.

“It does,” the Ambassador said.

“So what is his destiny?” Cassie asked looking at Chrístõ. She wondered if it was an honour or a curse to be so singled out by fate. She thought the latter. But Chrístõ seemed unconcerned.

“Nobody knows,” his father admitted. “What that destiny might be has been the subject of great debates. My son’s future among us has been the topic of CABINET meetings. But even Time Lords sometimes must accept that Time Will Tell.”

“Meanwhile,” Penne said. “It is time to find my princess.” He and Chrístõ stepped forward together. Their friends formed a retinue for a King-Emperor and a prince of the universe. The Ambassador walked beside them. Sammie and Bo, honoured guests of the King, as well as his special advisors on military and security issues, came behind. Cassie and Terry held each other’s hands as they came beside them.

As they stepped into the corridor six young soldiers in the powder blue ceremonial uniforms of what Penne called his Guardia Real, his King’s Guard, stepped into the retinue. They were his special protection detail. Chrístõ noticed that they were ALL female, and they, like himself, like Bo, had the unmistakeable sureness – to one who knew these things – of the Shaolin trained. He smiled though. Six young women to guard a King who, for all his efforts to be a good man in all else, was still an unashamed lecher when it came to the opposite sex.

“King or no king,” he heard Penne say to him telepathically. “They would break my arm if I did anything ungentlemanly to them. Bo specially trained them to do so.”

Chrístõ laughed and squeezed his blood-brother’s hand. “When you find the woman you love you will not want others.”

“Don’t count on it, brother,” Penne replied. “My princess may have to be a woman not given to jealousy. Neither you nor she will cure me of desiring females in their infinite variety.”

Females in their infinite variety proved an apt description of more than half of the guests at the grand ball. Chrístõ wondered where he found so many women of royal or noble birth in the galaxy.

“Remind me to tell you about Cinderella some time,” he told Penne as they stepped together to the raised dais at the front of the grand hall where two thrones were set. They were thrones. There was no question. They were beyond being merely chairs. The elaborately designed, covered in gold and silks. Penne and Chrístõ sat on the thrones and both looked as if they were born to kingship. Again, the Ambassador found himself looking at their telepathic signatures to tell them apart. And he smiled when he saw Chrístõ stand and formally open the ball. He carried off his impersonation of Penne perfectly.

They played the game all evening. The guests all came to understand that one of them was the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado and the other a young Lord of high place and honour. But nobody was entirely sure which one was which. They alternated their personas so often that even those with the clues to telling them apart began to be confused.

“Did you find your princess yet,” Chrístõ asked as they sat together for a moment, watching the party go on around them.

“I may have,” he said with a smile. “See that lady there…” He nodded towards a young woman with dark hair and green eyes. She wore a satin dress that matched her eyes and a silver band on her head denoting her status as a princess. “Her name is Cirena. Her planet is the only inhabitable one of a solar system of nine planets. But it is rich in mineral resources.”

“That’s interesting,” Chrístõ said. “But are her planet’s mineral resources her only assets?”

“Your family’s wealth comes from such resources,” Penne told him. “Do you dismiss it so easily?”

“Yes,” he said. “My father met my mother on a railway station. I don’t think he considered whether she owned any diamond mines.” He smiled at his blood-brother. “Penne, marry for love. Not for political expediency, not for mineral rights.”

“I agree,” the Ambassador said. They both looked up to him. “I hope you will both marry for love. Your mother, Chrístõ, brought barely one suitcase of possessions with her when she came to be my wife. I cared not. Even Valena – whatever you think, Chrístõ, I would not have married her if love had not been the primary factor. Penne, whether she is a princess or a servant in your kitchens, when you find the woman who makes both your hearts want to jump out of your breast, take her and make her yours in the face of the universe and don’t let anything stand in your way. Chrístõ, my son, let the same be true of you. I would wish, for all the reasons you know well, that your true love would be of our own kind. I would spare you the grief that comes otherwise. But I will bless your union when you find your true love.”

Penne smiled and said he was going to dance with Princess Cirena. Chrístõ winked at him and said HE would dance with her on his behalf. And he did so.

“Who is Cinderella?” Penne asked the Ambassador. “And what is a railway station?”

“Cinderella is spoken for,” the Ambassador told him. “And I don’t think you need worry about railway stations. Princess Cirena – her planet may have rich mineral deposits, but it also has a very unstable government. If she IS your choice, you may be entering upon some difficult times.”

“Is it a preset in Chrístõ’s TARDIS computer?” he asked wryly.

“No,” the Ambassador answered. “I’m afraid that may be a test of your own worth.”

“Even if Princess Cirena ISN’T the love of my life, I think I should be concerned about the instability of her world – in case it rebounds on mine.”

“I think you just passed the test,” the Ambassador said. “Well done.” He turned as Chrístõ came towards them with the Princess Cirena beside him.

“Of all the people in the room,” he said with a smile. “Cirena is the only one who worked us out. She wishes to dance with the REAL King-Emperor. She likes you more than me, Penne.” He lifted her hand gently and placed it into Penne’s hand. She smiled at him in a way that she hadn’t smiled at Chrístõ. And it had nothing to do with how many diamond mines she had as a dowry.

“She’s the one,” Chrístõ told his father with a smile as the King-Emperor and his princess stepped onto the dance floor, a space immediately forming around them.

“You looked at her timeline?” the Ambassador asked.

“No. But I knew it. They’re going to do well.”

And it certainly seemed as if they were. From then to the end of the ball the King-Emperor danced with nobody else. When he rested she sat beside him, and they talked like two people who meant to know everything there was to know about each other. Chrístõ noticed that Penne was guarded about what he told Cirena about his parents. That was going to be a difficult one. And he didn’t tell her yet of his Time Lord blood. Knowing that she would live maybe 80 years while her husband would live to be 7,000 was not something a girl came to terms with easily. But by the time the ball ended there was clearly something in the air between them. When others had gone to their guest rooms or their quarters on their own ships in orbit around the planet, he lingered over his farewell to Cirena and there were promises made for the next day.

In the King-Emperor’s chamber when they finally went to bed, Penne was still talking about Cirena and his hopes for her. Chrístõ, as he lay on a bed nearly as grand as the great carved four poster of the King-Emperor’s, smiled and listened to his talk.

“Does she know you are an incurable flirt who will never love her alone?” he asked after listening at length to a description of the Princess Cirena’s virtues.

“I can’t imagine flirting with anyone else,” Penne said. Chrístõ laughed disbelievingly. “Oh, all right. You may be right there. After a while the urge will take me. You know it will. But right now, she is the only one I can think of.”

“I’m glad you’re happy, Penne,” Chrístõ told him. “Goodnight.”

“Are you comfortable there?”

“More than enough for my needs,” he said. “I don’t need a soft bed to put myself into a body refreshing meditative trance. I could have lain by your bed. Or in the corridor outside.”

“Not even my servants sleep on the floor, Chrístõ,” Penne told him. “You’ll have to accept my hospitality.”

“I shall try to put up with the inconvenience,” he said with a laugh and settled himself into a relaxing position to put himself into his trance. It had been a long day, and an emotionally draining one. The personal revelations about his father and stepmother were the first bombshell. Then that was wiped from his mind by what he learnt about the High Council’s plans. He was glad he could meditate and clear his mind. If he tried to sleep he thought he would be haunted all night by these things.

His meditation was abruptly ended sometime just before dawn by Sammie shaking him awake.

“We’ve got a problem,” he said, moving from Chrístõ to wake Penne as well. “Princess Cirena has been abducted.”