Chrístõ looked out over the lovely view of the Bere Peninsula in West Cork, and sighed with pleasure. Not so much for the view. He had seen beautiful views all across the universe. Rather because he was watching it with his father. These past few days were the longest they had spent together for a long time. Too long. He knew it couldn’t last. They both had things to do. But being with him here softened the loneliness now he had left his friends behind in Liverpool as well as giving them this time to renew the bonds between them. Chrístõ felt it was almost as it was when he was a boy, when he had the long summer vacation from the Academy and his father took leave from his own work to spend time like this.

“So when were you in Ireland before?” Chrístõ asked his father as they walked down the hill towards the village nestled by the bay.

“Long before you were born,” he admitted. “I spent a lot of time on Earth in the 20th century. I was a sort of ‘undercover’ ambassador. The High Council wanted somebody here to report on the progress of the planet. It is one of the most heavily populated planets in its galaxy, and once Mankind discovered space travel there was no stopping them. The Time Lords wanted to keep an eye on them from the start. So they sent me, disguised as a professor of English literature.”

“Funny sort of disguise,” Chrístõ laughed, thinking that his father looked nothing like a professor of English literature. And then wondering exactly what he thought one SHOULD look like.

“I took to it rather well,” his father told him. “I developed a sort of tweedy, bookish air and became part of the scenery around the university. I got a reputation among the students as a good sort who gave interesting lectures.”

“Which university?” Chrístõ asked. “Oxford?”



“It's in the North-West of England,” The Ambassador explained. “You’ve been there a couple of times yourself.”

“Yes, I know where Liverpool is,” Chrístõ told him, aware that he was being mildly teased, since they had both just LEFT Liverpool a few days ago. “I didn’t know YOU were familiar with it. It just seems sort of… I don’t know. I mean, you’re a Prydonian. One of the elite. I would have thought you’d have gone to one of the elite universities of Earth. Liverpool is so… ORDINARY.”

“Best kind of disguise. Being ordinary. Besides, I met your mother in those years when I was Professor Kristoph De Leon of Liverpool.”

“On Leeds railway station,” Chrístõ remembered.

“On the way to a literature summer school. Me, the tweedy professor, she a shy young student.”

“Was it love at first sight?”

“Not for her. She was a young girl sitting in a railway waiting room late at night with a strange man. But I looked at her and my eyes saw a girl with her hair done the wrong way to suit her face and her make up applied badly and her clothes not quite right for her figure. And my mind saw her radiant in a dress of white, embroidered with diamonds, taking my hand as we were joined in Alliance of Unity.”

“A premonition?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “The strongest one I have ever had. And I loved her in that moment and I almost forgot my mission for the Time Lords in my effort to make her fall in love with me.”

His mission….

He lied to Chrístõ when he said he was just there as an ambassador. He had actually been sent there to flush out a rogue Time Lord. A clever one who had evaded justice for a long time. That was why they were prepared to take one of their best agents out of retirement and send him on a mission that had taken ten years already - even before that fateful night when the single-minded Executioner had his hearts melted by a girl whose charms nobody else had ever seen before.

He pushed those thoughts back into the depths of his memory. He was good at blocking his thoughts, and he knew Chrístõ would never deliberately probe his mind anyway. But when a strong telepath thought highly emotional thoughts in the presence of another telepath sometimes things leaked out.

It was the only secret he kept from his son. And for good reason. He didn’t want him to follow his path. He knew his son was a free spirit. He knew that, like him, he thrived on the adrenaline rush of adventure, the thrill of the chase, the hint of danger. But his ambitions for the future, when these years of travel and adventure were over, were to follow him into the diplomatic corps.

If Chrístõ ever even hinted that he wanted to follow his other footsteps into the Celestial Intervention Agency, into the dark life of the professional assassin…

…He would send him to the monks of Mount Lœng and a life of contemplation and meditation. Even if he had to drug him and bind him to get him there. Anything but that dark, soul-destroying life he had given up for love of his Lady Marion.

Tried to give up. Sometimes – as he found only last week – The Executioner was still needed.

“She DID fall in love with you in the end…” Chrístõ’s voice broke into his thoughts again, dragging him back to the present.

“Oh yes,” his father said. “She fell in love with her tweedy old professor. And then she had to fall in love all over again to the Ambassador of Gallifrey. I thought I’d lost her then. When I had to reveal who I really was to her. It was a tremendous shock. She was so hurt that I had lied to her.”

“But not to hurt her,” Chrístõ said. “You lied because you had to. Not to cause her hurt.”

“No,” he said. “Of course not. And she came to realise that. And she made the hardest choice imaginable. She chose to leave Earth, never to return. Leave everything she knew, everyone she knew, to travel 250 million light years from her home to mine. She made that choice for me.”

His father’s voice seemed to have a catch in it, Chrístõ thought. He knew he ought to change the subject, but he wanted to know more about his mother. His memories of her were so few, and none of them seemed connected. He remembered her voice, her perfume, her arms around him, her kiss on his cheek. But he really knew so little about her except that she was his mother, and she loved him.

“My Earth Child,” he said. “I loved her so much. I knew I was heading for heartbreak. I was a Time Lord with thousands of years of life to live, she was a fragile Human. More fragile even than I thought. I knew I would have to face the fact that she would grow old before me. I never thought that she wouldn’t live to grow old. We were just twenty-six years together from that day when I met her until the day she died. And I always felt it was my fault.”

“Why?” Chrístõ asked. Though he knew. “It was giving birth to me,” he said, his eyes filling with the tears his father couldn’t cry. “That’s what made her ill.”

“Chrístõ,” his father sighed. “That makes it seem as if it was YOUR fault. Please don’t ever waste a moment in that kind of grief. It WAS mine. I married an Earth Child, a fragile Human, and then needed her to give me an heir. I needed a son to carry on the line. Our proud House of Lœngbærrow. She knew that. And she put herself through hell to give me what I wanted.”

“Li Tuo told me…” Chrístõ said. “That she… that you lost babies before I was born.”

“Six of them. Three sons, three daughters. The first time she conceived she miscarried before either of us really had chance to get used to the idea. The next time, we planned it together and we were so happy. But the girl child was born too soon and never breathed. Her hearts stopped as your mother and I held her. I buried her in the family memorial plot and we grieved for our loss together. We waited a while after that. I was afraid to put her through the grief again. When we did… our son was hardly formed when the pregnancy went wrong and it was all over. But she desperately wanted to give me an heir and she begged me to try again. And again. She gave birth to two more boys that died in our arms. Then the last time, the sixth, it was another little girl. We both had time to hold her, to love her. And then she faded away. Marion was so distraught. I had made up my mind I wouldn’t put her through it again.”

“But you did…”

"Not intentionally." The Ambassador saw his son's face and patted him on the back reassuringly. "Yes, I know, it's hard for anyone to be told they were a biological accident. Your conception was not intended. It was a lapse of concentration on my part. And I was horrified. I had put her through that hurt once more. Just when we had both accepted that it wasn't to be. I didn't let myself hope. I didn't let myself love you. I expected another disappointment, another grief, another misshapen body to place in a tiny casket and put upon a funeral pyre. And then you were born. You were strong. You weren't a weak hybrid. You were a perfect, beautiful, Gallifreyan boy with two strong hearts and my blood in your veins. The son I needed. The son I loved from the moment I set eyes on you. The cost was the shortening of her life. She nearly died giving you life. And I knew she would never grow old. But we had six more wonderful years with you, our son, the heir I had so wanted. And we were happy. That much you must never doubt, Chrístõ."

“I don’t. I remember enough to know that you loved my mother. But… tell me more about when she was young. What was she like?”

The Ambassador smiled. More than two hundred years had passed since that day when he met his future wife for the first time. But he remembered it with joy and he was glad to talk about it with his son as they rambled over the Irish hills towards their evening rest at the village inn.

The inn gave of its best. A simple meal and locally made whiskey. For The Ambassador at least. Chrístõ requested a glass of milk.

“He’s young,” The Ambassador said in apology to the landlord for the affront to his trade. “He has yet to learn to appreciate the pleasures of a well made whiskey.”

“It’d put some colour in his face,” the landlord said as he brought the glass of milk and gave it to Chrístõ with a friendly wink. “You’re the palest lad I ever saw. You look like you’re hardly ever out in the fresh air.”

“I am OFTEN in the fresh air,” Chrístõ replied indignantly. “I am just naturally pale of complexion.”

The landlord nodded and turned away to serve other customers. Chrístõ drank his milk. The Ambassador drank his whiskey. He preferred the single malts of the highlands of Scotland, but he would not say that in Ireland!

“You need to acquire the taste,” he told his son with a smile.

“It makes me sick,” he answered. “Besides, I don’t actually think being able to swallow alcohol is a requirement for manhood.”

“In Ireland, in 1946, holding your drink was what separated the men from the boys.”

“Well, I AM only 191,” Chrístõ replied. “Anyway, what’s the point? You are a Time Lord. You can’t feel the effects of the alcohol.”

“It makes me less noticeable as a stranger among them. I blend in with the crowd. Everyone in this pub now notices you as the boy who doesn’t drink. They’re talking about you. Laughing about you.”

“Let them laugh,” Chrístõ retorted. “I won’t have a hangover in the morning.”

“You might have a bad stomach from drinking unpasteurised milk,” his father teased him. But not for long. A man came into the pub and ordered a drink for himself before coming to sit at their table.

“Good evening, MacKenzie. How is life treating you this day?” The Ambassador greeted the man in a friendly way.

“Not so bad,” he answered in his American drawl. “I had a good long walk this afternoon. It's a beautiful place.”

“That it is,” The Ambassador agreed.

“I’m going out on a boat tomorrow, fishing off Bere Island. Do you and your son want to join me? It’ll be an interesting trip. Might put a bit of colour in the lad’s face.”

“Why is everyone worried about my face?” Chrístõ asked.

Somebody struck up a fiddle tune that drowned out conversations. A dance got up, spontaneously. Chrístõ joined in. The Ambassador watched in satisfaction as his son held a young woman by the waist and swung her around to the reel. The half a dozen girls that were there all had eyes for him. There was certainly nothing wrong with his face from THEIR view of him.

“Regular heartbreaker,” MacKenzie said looking at him.

“He’s a good boy,” The Ambassador said with a smile.

“You’re proud of him.”

“More than I can begin to tell you. He’s done the work of a man already, and most would look at him and see no more than a boy. He still has much to learn, though.”

“Don’t we all.”

“That is the truth.”

There was a silence for a while. The Ambassador drank his whiskey. MacKenzie drank his as they watched the young and carefree dance. It might be an illusion of being carefree, The Ambassador thought to himself. This was 1946. Those young people had grown up in one of the most difficult and dark periods of Human history. Even in Ireland, a neutral country in the European war, few people had not been changed by those events. But in music and dancing the young people found themselves able to forget the difficulties and be happy.

And among them, Chrístõ, who more than any of them had burdens a young man shouldn’t have, was enjoying himself just like an ordinary youth with ordinary cares. That was one reason why, when he decided to spend some time with his son he chose to do it on Earth, among the people his mother came from.

Chrístõ looked the very picture of somebody who hadn’t had enough sleep when he turned out down at the pier in the grey dawn.

“I warned you about the milk,” his father said.

“Yes, you did,” he replied with a half smile. And he was probably right. But it was a new morning and he was looking forward to a sea trip. He didn’t let it bother him as he made himself comfortable on a seat near the prow of the fishing boat.

He was surprised by the boat. Somewhere in his history of Earth he had read about the traditional style of boats used in Ireland, called currachs, which looked to him like rather long canoes. But this was a real boat as he would usually imagine it to be, manned by a capable crew of sea-hardened men who knew how to handle the mysterious ropes and pulleys and sheets of sailing canvas as well as catch fish. The fact that it was all a mystery to him, even the fishing, reminded him that even after nearly two centuries of education he still had SOMETHING to learn.

His father came and sat next to him and put his arm about his shoulders. He smiled and let his head rest on him. The nicest thing about this trip was being close to his father both physically and mentally.

“Father,” he said telepathically. “Do you notice the way MacKenzie is watching us. He seems…”

“He’s sad,” his father told him.

“You read his mind?” Chrístõ was surprised. Reading someone’s mind without them knowing it was the height of ill manners.

“His emotions are so strong he is like an open book to a telepath. His wife died in childbirth. The child, too. He is looking at us and thinking of his life that could have been, that should have been. As lonely as I have been since I lost your mother, I have been blessed by your love. MacKenzie has been lost for a long time. He came here from America to try to make a new start in his life. But all he has found so far is beautiful scenery. He has filled his days with sightseeing and his nights with whiskey and conversation in the pub. But neither have filled the lost corner of his soul that being a husband and father would fill.”

“Poor man,” Chrístõ said. “I wish we could help him.”

“That’s beyond even our powers. We can’t bring back the dead.”

“Why can’t we?” Chrístõ asked. “Why do we have so much power, yet that is beyond us? You and I… would be so much happier if mama hadn’t died. And that poor man…”

“We can’t,” his father insisted. “I’ve had those thoughts many times, Chrístõ. Every day since your mother died, I have thought it. But where would it end? My own father and mother have gone to their rest. Should I wish them alive again?”

“Only the people who die before their time, who die needlessly.”

“But who decides when that time is? You? Me? The God that most Humans believe in? Mr MacKenzie there has railed against his God, cursed Him for taking the only thing he valued in his life. And he is not alone. Look at the terrible decade that these Humans have lived through. Millions killed before their time. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, civilians in the blitz, on both sides, prisoners of war, those millions of Jews and others exterminated by a madman. Where would we begin? Poor Mr MacKenzie is one of many just on this one planet who has suffered a dreadful loss. But nobody can turn back time and change that, not even a Time Lord. If we did, it would be the doom of all. You cannot do that.”

“But… I did. When I rescued Bo, and Sammie.”

“You didn’t find them dead and turn the clock back to change events. You came into Bo’s life at just the right time to prevent her being murdered by that dreadful man. You arrived in the desert just at the crucial moment that Sammie needed. Neither WERE fated to die. YOU were the means by which they escaped the death that seemed inevitable and lived.”

“But what about mama? Could she not have lived…”

“No,” The Ambassador sighed. “Chrístõ, I consulted the best medical people in the universe. Nobody could have made your mother live a day longer than she did. Her heart just couldn’t carry on any longer.” He looked at Mr. MacKenzie, who had by now looked away from them. The Ambassador knew that the man was still longing to be the one sitting in the prow of the boat with his arm around his son’s shoulders, but he could not bear to look any longer.

“The medical knowledge even twenty or thirty years ahead of this period of Earth history might well have saved his wife and child. But in his time, it was one of those things.”

“It just isn’t fair,” Chrístõ sighed.

“Life isn’t fair. I taught you that years ago.”

“I know, but...” He paused. He shivered suddenly and pulled his leather jacket closer around him. His father fastened his own coat. They looked up at the sky that had been grey but promising to become fine as the sun got up. Its promise had been false. The clouds had darkened, the sea had turned a dark, iron grey and a swell caught the boat as the wind blew the sails. Chrístõ’s stomach lurched and he wondered if there really WAS something wrong with the milk last night.

“It's getting a bit choppy,” MacKenzie said. “Wasn’t expecting this.”

“Don’t worry,” The Ambassador said. “There’s a saying in Ireland, ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait around a half hour and it’ll be different.’”

“That’s the truth, sir,” one of the crew of the fishing trawler said, laughing manfully as he brought in the sail. “You’ll be just fine. And we’ll get some good fishing before the morning is done.”

“Glad to hear it,” MacKenzie said.

But the weather didn’t seem to be improving. The dark clouds burst upon them with driving rain that soaked them all through in minutes and then continued to soak and chill to the bone. The swell on the sea became more and more intense and Chrístõ really did fight back nausea as they were tossed up and down. The wind didn’t help either. It just threatened to rip the sails apart. The sound of canvas stretched to its limit of endurance added to the sense of imminent doom.

More than anything, he felt a sense of powerlessness. Their lives were in danger and there was nothing he could do about it. He knew almost nothing about sailing. He had spent his leisure time on the desert, rather than the sea, racing a hover bike over the dunes and the long, long stretches of sand and rock that made up the less hospitable part of the northern continent of Gallifrey. When he had ventured onto the ocean it had mostly been as a passenger, as now.

Even so, the need to be doing something that might make a difference to their plight made him ask the crew if he could help.

“Kind of you, young sir,” they told him. “But we’ve got everything under control.”

Chrístõ sat down again beside his father and MacKenzie who was looking decidedly worried.

“Are we going to be all right?” he asked his father telepathically.

“I don’t know,” The Ambassador answered him. “My precognition is giving me very conflicting messages. But the crew are more worried than they’re letting on. We’ve been driven out past Bere Island into the open sea and they can’t get us turned around while the wind is driving us like this.”

“We’re in trouble.”

“Yes, we are.”

The Ambassador understood his son’s frustration. He, too, was a man who liked to be in control of his own life, his own destiny. To be tossed around by the elements while other men fought for their lives went against the grain. Earth people had a word for it. Control freak. They both needed to feel in control of themselves and their immediate world in order to feel safe. And right now they didn’t.

“I don’t want to die,” MacKenzie murmured. And yet, Chrístõ and his father both picked up the tail end of his thoughts. If he must die, at least he would be with his Mary in Heaven.

“I almost wish we believed in something like that,” Chrístõ said to his father.

“We believe in science and logic,” The Ambassador replied. “Admittedly not a lot of use right now.”

Chrístõ caught his father’s thoughts as he stopped talking directly to him telepathically. His father was worried for him. He wasn’t old enough to regenerate if his body sustained any serious damage.

“You’re on your last life, father,” Chrístõ told him. “The risk is the same for you.”

“For us all. We’re as mortal as these Humans right now.”

“Oh God!” Somebody screamed suddenly and Chrístõ and his father both looked around, wondering what was so terrifying as to cause an experienced fisherman to scream like that.

They saw what it was. A mine – one of thousands the Atlantic had been seeded with by both sides in the war that had ended only a year before. It was the most sinister thing Chrístõ had ever seen. Gunmetal grey rusting over after being in the sea so long, with those long spikes that detonated the explosives it was packed with if it hit anything.

And it was being driven towards them by that rising swell of water.

MacKenzie’s God seemed to have a strange way of answering his prayers, Chrístõ thought.

He reached for his sonic screwdriver. His father did the same. With so many Humans watching they would normally not resort to their extra-terrestrial technology, but this was an emergency.

“What is that?” they heard one of the crew ask as they both aimed powerful beams of blue light at the mine. They were emitting a reverse-polarity magnetic field – an anti-magnet that should push the mine away. And for a while it seemed to be succeeding. The mine was held back from the boat.

But then the boat was caught by a higher wave than they had yet encountered and they both fell forwards. Chrístõ jammed his screwdriver back in his pocket as he hit the water. As he sank beneath the cold, dark, heaving waves he was aware of his father’s voice in his head and he felt a hand grasping at his, pushing him down, not up. He closed off his breathing, as he knew his father had done and tried not to panic.

In his mind’s eye he saw the mine explode in a fireball that reduced the boat to splinters and the crew to charred remains that would barely be identified as human when they eventually washed up on the shore of the island in a day or so. He felt their souls scream in their last moments and his hearts cried out for them, but there was nothing he could do except stop himself from drowning and adding to the death toll.

He felt himself breaking the surface of the water again, and knew his father was near by. He knew the storm was still raging around him.

But the boat was gone.

“Father,” he cried out mentally, but as he turned in the water he failed to see the piece of debris driven by the waves as it smashed into his head. As he slipped into unconsciousness he thought he felt his father’s hand grasp him, thought he heard his voice. But he wasn’t sure.

Chrístõ opened his eyes and was aware immediately that he was not in the freezing, stormy water any more. He was lying on soft, dry sand and above him was the grey rock roof of a substantial cave. He could hear the hiss of the tide being driven onto sand somewhere near but he was in a dry place. He HAD been wet for a long time. His clothes were stuck to him as if they had dried on him. His leather jacket was encrusted with salt and felt horrible against his skin.

“Chrístõ, are you awake?” He turned towards the sound of his father’s voice. He was sitting close to him. His clothes, too, looked as if they had dried on him.

“I’m fine. I should be, of course. Takes a lot to kill us.”

“Killed all the others though, except for him.” His father pointed to where MacKenzie lay, looking even rougher than they did. He had a gash on his forehead that the salt water must be playing hell with and bruising all down the left side of his body. “He’s been drifting in and out of consciousness for half an hour and talking about his dead wife.”

“Where are we? And how did we get here?” Chrístõ asked.

“We’re in a cave on Bere Island,” The Ambassador said. “I checked the co-ordinate with my sonic screwdriver. Amazing it still works after the battering we had. But how we got here, I don’t know. Except I have a feeling somebody brought us.”

“Who?” Chrístõ asked as he took out his own sonic screwdriver and adjusted it. He used it to repair the cut on MacKenzie’s head and ease away the bruising. The Ambassador watched his son tenderly looking after the man and wondered why he, himself, had not thought of that. His own sonic screwdriver had a tissue repair mode. He could have done it. But having ascertained that MacKenzie WAS alive he had been more concerned about his son.

Chrístõ’s first thought was for the injured Human and doing what he could for him.

A natural physician, with a compassionate soul. The Ambassador was always proud of his son, but more than ever just then.

MacKenzie began to come around as Chrístõ stroked his mended forehead, easing the headache that remained.

“Where am I?” he asked. “I thought… for a moment…” He looked up at Chrístõ. “You’ve got such a gentle touch, lad. I almost thought… My Mary…”

“Sorry, it's just me. Are you feeling better?”

“I feel fine. I remember being hit in the head. But that feels fine.”

“Chrístõ has a healing touch,” his father said. “One of his many talents.”

“We’re the only ones who made it?” MacKenzie asked as he sat up. “I remember seeing the mine hit. I was knocked overboard by the blast. I went down under the water and I think something hit me. And next I’m here.”

“Wherever here may be,” Chrístõ mused. “My father believes somebody brought us here.”

“Why? And who?”

“Both very excellent questions,” The Ambassador said.

“I think one of them may be answered.” Chrístõ pointed to the woman who appeared from the back of the cave.

“She couldn’t have brought us into here,” MacKenzie said. “She’s so old and frail. How could she have lifted us?”

They watched as the woman approached. She was about as old and frail as any Human the two Time Lords had ever seen. She must have been tall once, but now she was bent over with age, her spine curved painfully. Her face was lined and her eyes milky with cataracts and her hands were like wizened talons. Chrístõ noticed the sharp, long fingernails.

Race memories of witches and crones made both Time Lords and Human draw back from her as she came close.

“Do not fear me,” she said. “I am Eibhlin. I wish you no harm. I have food for you. Come.”

Chrístõ’s father stood first, reaching to help his son to his feet, then MacKenzie who seemed shaky yet and needed his support. They followed the woman to the back of the cave where a tunnel led into a deeper cave. The way was dimly lit with some rushlights but it was precarious even so. Chrístõ caught up with the woman and put his hand on her arm.

“Let me help you,” he said. She paused and looked at him, her blind eyes seeing, nonetheless. He had the feeling she could see right into him.

“Telepathic?” he asked his father telepathically.


“You are kind, young man. I do not need help to find my way around my own home. But the comfort of warm, living flesh touching me is welcome. Thank you.”

Her own flesh was warm enough, Chrístõ noted. She WAS a living creature herself. It seemed incredible to think that she could be Human. But she must be. He could think of no other race that she could come from.

The inner cave did, indeed, have food. Bread and cheese and wine. She made them sit on rugs spread on the ground and eat. She herself took no food and continued about some work of her own at the back of the cave. Chrístõ watched her as he ate his share of the meal. He found himself fascinated by her. She was, without doubt the strangest and ugliest creature he had ever seen, and his definition of ugly was far more inclusive than most people’s. And yet, as he looked at her, he felt as if he was seeing something else as well. If he watched carefully and didn’t remind himself to blink as often as Humans do, he almost caught it, like a subliminal picture inserted into a reel of film. Every so often it was possible to see the creature called Eibhlin as she was once, as a beautiful young woman. And the fleeting glimpse left the impression on his mind that he was not, in fact, watching a bent old woman, but somebody who was young and beautiful. Stunningly beautiful. The sort of beauty written of in legends as driving young men mad.

“An Cailleach Beara,” Chrístõ’s father whispered aloud.

“What?” Chrístõ realised his father had been following his thoughts.

“It's an old Irish legend,” he went on. “The Cailleach – hag or crone or old woman, depending on how politically correct you want to be – is an ancient creature who can only be made young again by true love. A man who falls in love with her and kisses her looking as she does now, as that… will find her transformed by his love into a beautiful queen and enjoy her love for all of his life and be the sire of her children.”

“Wow,” Chrístõ said. “That’s…”

“That’s incredible,” MacKenzie said. “Is it really possible… Can she be…”

“She is,” Chrístõ said. “Look at her closely. You can see her. Oh, she IS beautiful.”

“I see it,” MacKenzie said breathlessly, his eyes shining with excitement. “But which is the real her? The old crone or the beautiful woman?”

“In her heart she is young and beautiful still,” Chrístõ’s father said. “She weeps inside for her youth, for love, for a man at her side and children at her feet.”

“How sad,” Chrístõ said. “How very, very sad. Poor creature. What did she say her name was? Eibhlin?”

“A variation of Eveleen or Evlin. Derived from Eve – the giver of life.”

“Did you seek me deliberately?” Eibhlin asked standing over them. The feeling of seeing both versions of her at once seemed to be getting stronger. She seemed to be alternating between the two forms. Her voice, too, alternated between the cracked and aged voice of an old woman and the clear, bell-like one of a girl. “Are you here to torture me in my trouble?”

“No, Eibhlin,” Chrístõ’s father said. “We came to your shore quite by accident. We are all three of us survivors of a boat accident. But I know of you from legend and repute. I knew you as soon as I saw you.”

“Then you know that it is impossible for you to leave,” she said. “I live here in peace, even if it is a sorrowful and lamenting peace. I cannot have men going back to their own kind and telling of me.”

“We are ALL of us strangers to Ireland,” Chrístõ’s father said. “My son and I are from so far away that we could not do you the slightest harm. And this other man, I know, would keep your secret.”

“I would,” MacKenzie said. “I give you my word.”

“I might be generous,” she said. “If one of you would be my true love and stay by my side I would let the others go.”

“That is a cruel bargain, Eibhlin,” Chrístõ’s father told her. “If it were one of us, would you separate us for eternity. I love my son…”

“It is not I who would choose,” she said. “My lover must choose. He must have true love in his heart for me, and he must make the choice of his own free will. There is no drawing of lots for my heart. I have been two hundred years alone and old, aching in my bones when the wind blows, crying for my children who have all gone to their graves of old age and left me alone once more. ”

“Your children would be mortal? Human?” It was MacKenzie who asked the question.

“Yes,” Chrístõ’s father said. “They would take after their father, wouldn’t they, Eibhlin. They would grow old just like any Human.”

“That is so.”

“Unless the husband was not Human,” Chrístõ said. He looked at her. He looked at his father and thought of his mother, dying before her time. He stood up.

“Chrístõ!” his father called to him. “Chrístõ, my son. Don’t….”

Chrístõ approached the old woman. He was afraid. He was repulsed by her appearance. But he was entranced, too. And he thought, a corner of his hearts thought, perhaps this was what was meant to be. Perhaps this was the woman he should love. He could ease her suffering. She didn’t need to grieve every sixty years or so when her lover died of old age. He could give her thousands of years. Perhaps that was his destiny. The one everyone talked of. To bring comfort to a tortured soul.

He reached to touch her. The nearly blind eyes, milky white with cataracts tried to focus on him. Her hands reached to touch his face, feeling his features.

“You are the one who was kind to me before. You are….” She gasped in astonishment. “What ARE you? You are young to the touch, yet you are already older than my oldest husband who reached the great age of 120 before he died in my arms.”

“Yes, I am,” he said. “I am different.”

“You are a miracle. You could be the answer to my prayers. A man who will stay by my side for long years.”

“I would. I promise. I would not let you down.”

“Kiss me, and let us be husband and wife,” the Cailleach said. And he did so. He put his hands either side of her lined, aged face and pressed his lips against her old, cracked and dry mouth.

“No!” She screamed, pushing him away with such force that he was bruised by it. He picked himself up from the floor. “No!” She screamed again and her body seemed to glow and shimmer as her emotions overtook her. “No! What have you done to me? The kiss must be a lover’s kiss. That was not….”

“I tried,” Chrístõ said. “I tried….”

“You don’t love me. You pity me,” she howled. “I feel your pity. It burns in my soul. It… It was given freely and wholeheartedly. But it is not love. You cannot be the one.”

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I am sorry. I wanted it…”

“I WANTED YOU!” she cried. “You WOULD have been the answer to my prayers. I WANTED you to love me.”

“I’m sorry,” Chrístõ said again, tears flowing down his face. Because she was right. He hadn’t loved her. He had wanted to, tried to. But it hadn’t happened. It never would. She was not the destiny he sought.

“I’m sorry,” the Cailleach said. “Because you must die. False lover…”

“No!” Chrístõ’s father stepped between his son and the creature that raised her hand ready to strike him down. He saw the lightning crackle in her fingers. “No, Eibhlin,” he said again. “Please, don’t kill my son. Please… if it's love you want…”

Chrístõ looked in astonishment as his father stepped up to the Cailleach and embraced her in his arms. His kiss seemed to last for a long time. Chrístõ stared as her shape changed moment by moment from old, bent, wizened crone to a tall, beautiful woman. She was like a flickering old film, or perhaps two films mixed together and played at the wrong speed. The form was trying to stabilise.

He wondered if it could be possible. His father was a little over four thousand. He could still offer her maybe two thousand years of the happiness she sought. Could it be?

But his father was already married. Valena had left him and given birth to his son within the House of Arpexia not that of Lœngbærrow. But he was still married to her. And on his honour he would always be as long as they both lived. He could not give Eibhlin, the Cailleach Beara, those years.

And something in her must have sensed that. Her body reverted at last to its aged form and she pushed him away, though more gently than she had pushed Chrístõ.

“You would have loved me,” she said. “But your hearts are not yours to give.”

“In your arms, I almost forgot it,” The Ambassador said. “I forgot my first wife who I loved until her last dying breath and beyond. I forgot my second wife, who I love even though she has rejected me. Eibhlin, I would have loved you. I would have set them aside for you.”

“But you are an honourable man,” she said. “And that honour binds you to the woman who has broken your hearts. You cannot be the one who loves me alone.”

“I am sorry,” he whispered. He stepped back from her and reached for his son’s hand. He embraced him in his arms. “We have both tried and failed,” he said to him. “But let me appeal to her. Maybe she will take my life alone in forfeit.”

“I give you both your lives,” she said in a voice that seemed even more broken and aged than before. “Son of the stars, your pity seared my heart, and your father soothed it like a cooling balm. You both touched me in ways I never thought possible. And I don’t have it in me to harm you. Just go… go now and leave me to my lamentation.” And she buried her face in her hands and began to wail. Chrístõ felt his father’s firm hand on his arm as they turned together and walked quickly away.

“Come on,” The Ambassador said to MacKenzie, who knelt on the ground still, staring at the Cailleach in astonishment. “Come on while you can.”

“No,” he answered. “No. I think… I can give her what she needs.” He stood up and began to walk towards her.

“No,” Chrístõ called out to him. “She spared us, but if she is disappointed again she might rip you apart.”

“I won’t disappoint her,” MacKenzie said. “I will love her. Because she won’t die on me. She can give me children and live. That’s what I NEED. And for that, I WILL love her.”

“Father, stop him,” Chrístõ insisted.

“I can’t,” he said. “His mind is made up. Besides… it might…” MacKenzie’s motive was the same as his. He wanted to love her because she wasn’t a fragile mortal thing, and WOULD bear him children. But he couldn’t be the one because he was not free to be her husband.

But MacKenzie was. His wife was dead and buried. So was his child. He had come to Ireland to find closure.

And he had found it.

Chrístõ and his father both watched as MacKenzie reached for the Cailleach’s hand. He held it tenderly.

“Eibhlin,” he said. “Take me as your husband. I will love you my life long.” And he put his arm around her shoulders and kissed her on the lips. At first there was no change. Then a glow began to envelop them both and within it they saw the Cailleach turn to the beautiful young queen that she was. And this time the form stabilised. When the kiss ended, when they drew back from their embrace and looked at each other it was the look of two young lovers. MacKenzie himself seemed to look ten years younger with the burden of his grief lifted from him.

Eibhlin took her husband’s hand and they both turned to look at Chrístõ and his father.

“You must go. You are fortunate. I have spared your lives. But you cannot impose upon my generosity for long.”

“We are going,” The Ambassador said. “May you live well, both of you.”

He turned and took his son by his shoulders. They walked quickly but not in an urgent way. They both knew that Eibhlin would keep her word. But it was as well to leave her and her husband in peace now.

“I almost wish we had your TARDIS here and not mine,” The Ambassador said as they came to the first cave, the one they had awoken in. “The remote autopilot is very handy.”

“You should have upgraded, father,” Chrístõ told him.

“I never expected to need to travel again,” he said. “I was content as a Magister of the southern continent, enjoying my retirement, looking forward to being a father again. Life deals some strange cards at times.”

“It does,” Chrístõ said. “If the Cailleach had accepted you…”

“I think she would have made a very fine wife.”

“So do I.” Chrístõ sighed. “I thought she might… For me…”

“For a moment or two I thought so,” his father said. He sighed and looked back at the entrance to the inner cave. “I feel sorry for her. Even now, she faces grief and loneliness again when MacKenzie dies of old age. Even one of our kind would only give her a few millennia. For her even that is not so very long.”

“Is she immortal?”


“I never thought life could be a curse,” Chrístõ said. “Yes, she is to be pitied. But she is happy now. For a short time. That’s something, at least.”

“Yes,” his father said. “For a short time. My blessings on them both. And meanwhile let us leave them in peace.”

“How?” Chrístõ looked at the tide that had filled the entrance to the cave. The opening was under water.

“We can close off our breathing long enough to swim out underwater. After that… it's seven miles to the mainland. Another swim, I think. Nothing you and I could not manage. And we’ll find the TARDIS and leave, quietly. There will be a tragedy at sea reported. All lives lost. It saves explanations.”

Chrístõ nodded. He wasn’t looking forward to the swim, but it made sense.