The boy was determined to get up the mountain if it killed him. It probably wouldn’t, he added to himself. But at the moment it felt like it. Every muscle in his skinny, underdeveloped body ached. Every step hurt.

He knew he could give up any time he wanted. There was no REASON to do this except stubbornness. But he kept on going. If he gave up, that would be failure. And he had failed at too many things.

He was failing as a student at the Prydonian Academy. He could barely keep up with his lessons. Everyone else seemed much further ahead than he was in every subject. And instead of helping him to catch up, his tutors just looked at him with scorn and said that a half-blood was bound to struggle, that his father was foolish to think of sending him to the Time Lord Academy. One of them – Master Bellis De Arpexia, who taught telekinesis, even said, in front of the whole class, that half-bloods should not be allowed into the academy except as servants to clean the rooms.

And not one of the other students stood up for him. They laughed at Master Arpexia’s comments and later, when he went to his room to try to do his written assignments a senior boy had barged his way in and demanded that he come and clean his room for him. He refused, of course. And they beat him up for his insolence. He ran away and cried up on the roof of the dormitory block where nobody would think of looking for him. He couldn’t cry anywhere else. Because that was another offence that got him kicked. Half-blood, cry-baby. Real Gallifreyans didn’t cry. They didn’t have tear ducts. He climbed onto the roof and half stood, half lay against the cool slates and looked up at Pazithi Gallifreya, the big, bright moon that illuminated the planet at night and he cried his heart out until he was sure all the other students were asleep and he could risk going to his own bed. He would have to shake it out, first, to remove whatever nastiness had been left in it. Spiders, snakes, broken glass, a sort of powder that irritated the skin. It could be just about anything.

He stopped now and lay down on the scrubby grass part way up the mountain. He looked up at the sun that had beaten down on him as he climbed, making him hot and sweaty and exhausted. He cried out the misery and pain and self-pity where nobody could hear him and berate him for it.

 

Chrístõ passed that spot easily. He wasn’t even out of breath. It was strange to think how unfit he had been the first time he climbed up Mount Lœng. He took it in his stride now. But that first time it had almost killed him.

Well, maybe not. But it felt like it.

 

He went on climbing after a while. The rest had not helped much. It just served to seize up all those tired muscles, and the crying had left him dehydrated. He took a sip from his water bottle. The water had warmed in the sun but it still soothed his throat. He looked up and saw how far he had to go yet and his hearts quailed. It was impossible. He would be caught out when the sun set and he would freeze to death on the side of the mountain.

He wondered if his father had missed him yet. Would he search for him? Would he care?

Of course his father would care. His father loved him. He knew that for certain. His father’s love for him was the one thing he was sure of. His father would love him even if he DID fail at the Academy. He would be disappointed, bitterly disappointed. But he would love him still.

Which would make it worse in a way.

He thought he would rather his father despised him the way everyone else did.

“Why did you let me live?” he asked the question he would never dare ask his father to his face. “Knowing that I could never be anything but a half-blood, an outcast in our society. WHY? Father, I know you loved my mother. And that made you act rashly. You went against your class and position and married an Earth Child and you sired an heir through her. Me. A weak, stupid, hopeless half-blood who proved how foolish you were. You should have done what Master Koschei said. You should have kept my mother for amusement, but taken a second wife from our society to give you strong, full-blood children. You shouldn’t have done it, father. I should not have lived.”

 

They had actually made him feel that way, Chrístõ remembered bitterly. The gibes and the petty cruelties and the real, downright cruelties like the time when they burned that scar into his neck, had all worked on his mind. They had made him feel they were right. A half-blood should not even be trying to be a Time Lord. At best his father should have arranged for private tuition until he was old enough and then sent him away to some other planet – back to Earth, perhaps, where his defective DNA would not be noticeable. At worst they thought, and even said sometimes, that he should not have been allowed to live. His father, having been indiscreet enough to impregnate his Earth born mother, should have arranged for a termination. Nobody should even have known he had existed even for a moment.

But his father had loved his mother and he had loved him. And he had insisted time and again that he was NOT weaker than a pure-blood, that he had all the mental capabilities they had, that he could BE a Time Lord with all the power, the honour, the dignity that came with that.

And he wanted to be a Time Lord more than anything else. Of course he did. That was the ambition of every Gallifreyan born. But he knew the statistics. More than half of those who entered the great academies would fail to achieve the necessary disciplines to transcend. Those with the lesser diploma could become civil servants and journalists, maybe even gain minor places in government, but only minor ones. There was no advancement for them. And there was no regeneration. A Gallifreyan lifespan was about 1,000 years. By the standards of almost every other species in the universe that was a good age. But a Time Lord could live four, five, six times that long.

He wanted to live. He wanted to be a Time Lord because he wanted that chance to live, and to do great things.

 

Chrístõ smiled at his own youthful ambition. To do great things. Easier said than done even when you ARE a Time Lord. Just doing the right thing was hard enough. That was the problem that faced him now. Doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing for himself, for Julia, for Natalie. Before he came home to Gallifrey, he thought he knew what that was. He looked after Julia. He protected her. He made sure she was keeping up with her education. Natalie made sure of that. And in turn he looked after Natalie, providing her with the medication that stopped the pain and held back the cancer just a little, buying her a few more days before the inevitable. And most of all, as she said so often, he was there, caring that she existed when nobody else in the universe did.

And while he was doing that for them both he was doing his duty for Gallifrey, performing the tasks that were set for him, proving that it was possible to make a difference to the universe and that the Time Lords SHOULD strive to make that difference.

He had not meant to stay this long. He had meant to leave along with Penne as soon as the inquiry was over. But after the battle with Ravenswode’s clone army, Penne had stayed on for several weeks. He had been rebuilding the Chancellery Guard that had been decimated in the battle, bringing in his own people to train the new recruits and fill the gaps left in the officer ranks until promotions could be approved. And Penne had rather enjoyed it. There was a huge element of schadenfreude in his actions, to be sure. Penne had been rejected and scorned by the Time Lords and he had proved himself the hero and the leader in the battle and then gone on to give Gallifrey his every help to get back on its feet again in the wake of the battle. He was rubbing the noses of the High Council well into the dirt.

And Chrístõ approved of that. They needed a lesson in humility. His only regret was that it had not been himself giving it to them. But it smarted just as much coming from Penne. He took second hand satisfaction from that.

He stayed as long as Penne did. But Penne was gone now. He and Cirena returned to Adano-Ambrado on board the flagship of his own space fleet. And Chrístõ remained another week, saying that he wanted to be sure Garrick was well before he moved on.

But that had been an excuse to fool himself with. In reality, he was reluctant to leave because he found it so hard to do. He found that he DID enjoy waking in the morning in his old room and looking at the familiar view of Mount Lœng through the window. He enjoyed the lifestyle of a rural lord, living on his own demesne with servants to attend to his needs, free to spend the day in whatever leisure pursuit he chose.

And it WAS good for Julia and Natalie. Julia LOVED being treated as the honoured future fiancée and wife of the heir to the House of Lœngbærrow. She loved dressing up in nice clothes and being introduced to the society ladies Valena was connected with. Some, to be sure, were a little cool towards her, and she had heard a few whispered comments about her being an offworlder that were not complimentary, but mostly she was having a pleasant time.

And Natalie was obviously doing well in the calm, quiet of the Mount Lœng Estate. The fresh air was good for her. She, too, spent time with Valena, who, though a high born daughter of an Oldblood house was not as much of a snob as she ought to be. She actually did seem to be a genuine friend to her.

Valena had made a very good point when she said that both Natalie and Julia would be better off staying here on Gallifrey. Julia could have as many private tutors as she needed, the best money could buy. Natalie could live out her remaining days in peace and contentment. Gallifreyan medical science may not know a lot about her condition, but again, those who did could be paid to attend her.

And even he… wasn’t it time to come home? He had done so much. The High Council could be satisfied he had done enough for them. And he had surely seen enough of the universe for one young man. True he still had eight years until his graduation, but he could easily get a job in any department of government he chose. After all, he, too, had distinguished himself in the battle. His name was being spoken of in high places. His future was assured.

But his freedom wasn’t. Yes, he loved his home. He loved his world. He loved his father, and he had been closer to Valena in recent weeks than he ever was, though he doubted he could ever really LOVE her in the same way. But he loved his freedom. He loved being in his own TARDIS, travelling where and when he wanted, even if he did do a certain amount of work for the High Council while he was doing it.

But could he take that freedom at the expense of Julia and Natalie’s well being? They WOULD both be better off on Gallifrey, not facing the hidden dangers in those High Council presets.

He had three choices. He could leave with them as he planned to do. He could stay home and fall in with the plan for his assured future.

Or he could leave Julia and Natalie both in the care of his family and go off on his own again.

That was why he had set out this morning at the crack of dawn to come up the mountain. It was his chance to think, to get the issues clear in his head, to meditate on them in peace, away from his father and Valena, and their good intenions, even away from Julia and Natalie. He loved them both, but he needed the space, the time, to think about what WAS best for him and for them.

 

This time he really WAS beat! The boy clung to the rock and tried not to look down or up. But he knew he couldn’t move. He tried not to cry again. He knew there was no point. Nobody would come to dry his tears.

Maybe that was part of his problem. He had been loved too much for the first fifteen years of his life. His father had always been there for him. When he cried he had hugged him and reassured him. If his father wasn’t around their faithful butler had been, or his father’s good friend, Lady Lily D’Alba, who had been almost a surrogate mother to him when they first returned to Gallifrey after his mother’s death. And they had all protected him from the harsh realities of life. They had told him that going to the Prydonian Academy would be hard. But he had thought it just meant academically. And he had been confident he could handle that. It took just a week for him to find out he was wrong. The first weekend he was home his father had asked him how it had gone and he could hardly speak for crying. He had begged him to let him come home and be taught by private tutors again. But his father had been firm. He had insisted he go back after the weekend and knuckle down to the discipline, to learn and to grow as a proud Prydonian.

Four years later, he still cried himself to sleep every night, hated every moment of his school life and longed for the two precious days a week when he was able to go home and be with his father in the home he loved.

And then his father dropped a bombshell on him.

He was being sent offworld as Gallifreyan Ambassador to the Scarlette Empire. He could be away for several years apart from brief visits. And while he was gone he wanted his son to be a full boarder at the Academy. When he cried at the injustice his father had sighed and told him that it was time he learnt to control his emotions much better than that, and he needed to grow up and learn to fight his corner or he would never become a Time Lord.

And that had been the catalyst. He had run from his father and gone to his room. He had sat there for a long time. He didn’t even come down to dinner. The butler brought a tray to him with the best and tastiest of food and spoke a kind word to him. But he was in such a mood he hardly responded. He ate the food because he was hungry, but he didn’t taste it. And afterwards he lay on his bed and let the night fall.

In the morning, just before dawn he got up and dressed, put food and water in a backpack and left the house. He looked at the mountain. Near the top of the great peak, he knew, was an order of Time Lords who rejected the political system, who had no part in the social structure of Gallifrey. They lived up there, remote from it all. They lived simple lives. They all wore a plain robe that looked so much like the clothing worn by religious orders on many offworld planets that they had been called ‘the monks’ as a sort of derisory term by those who scorned them. But they had taken it as a compliment to their ‘monastic’ way of life. They didn’t pray, as those alien religious orders did. Gallifrey didn’t have religion. Time Lords WERE gods to many other people of the universe. They had nobody to pray to. But they practiced meditation and deep concentration. They could, he was told, sit for days and weeks watching a flower grow and bloom. They were also experts in several forms of martial arts that might allow a weak looking, skinny and pale faced boy like himself hold his head up high. But mostly their monastery was a place of learning. Learning was their raison d'être.

And it was his, too. He loved to learn. He wanted to learn. But he couldn’t do it at the Prydonian Academy, bullied and scorned by students and teachers alike. He hoped that he might be able to do it there, on the mountain. In peace and refuge.

As long as THEY didn’t reject half bloods, too, he thought, bitterly.

As long as he didn’t fall to his death off this rock.

 

Chrístõ didn’t like heights. He never had. He wasn’t AFRAID of heights. He just didn’t like them. He refused to let any fear be his master. He had long ago mastered them. But this part of the mountain was never going to be his favourite. Here the path was deliberately blocked to the casual climber by a rock face that had to be SERIOUSLY climbed by those who had no fear. He hated it with all his hearts. But he climbed it without any trouble. At the top he allowed himself five minutes rest, for no other reason than to look out on a beautiful view over the verdant valleys of the southern continent. That was his reward for the effort. To sit and look out all the way to the straits that lay between here and the great northern continent with the Capitol and the Great Red Desert. It was all peaceful again after the traumatic events that were already marked in the history books as the Battle of Gallifrey.

He wondered if the history books would tell the true story. That Gallifrey would have gone under but for a half-blood and the son of an exiled renegade. If it were not against the Laws of Time to travel backwards or forwards in Gallifrey’s history he would have taken a look five hundred or a thousand, maybe two thousand, years into the future to see how that fateful day was remembered. He wasn’t hopeful. On Earth they had a saying. History is written by the winners. On Gallifrey it was written by the Historians, and they were a sub-section of the civil service, under the direct rule of the High Council. He somehow thought that he and Penne would be written out of the record as quickly as possible.

It didn’t matter. As long as Gallifrey had a history to be written.

 

He couldn’t move. If he did, he would fall to his death. He knew it.

What are you doing there, boy?” a voice asked. He managed to raise his head enough to see a pair of sandaled feet and a pair of ankles beneath one of the robes of the Mount Lœng monks. He was half relieved, half ashamed. Relieved that here was somebody who would help him not to fall. Ashamed that he had been found in such a foolish position by one of the people he wanted to impress with his ability to become one of them.

“Well?” the man said. “I asked you a question.”

“Trying not to fall,” he answered. “Help me… please.”

“Polite boy,” the man said. “He says please. Not one of the Oldbloods then. I have never heard one of their progeny say please or thank you.”

“I AM an Oldblood,” he protested. “But I’m stuck. I can’t move.”

“Well, that’s nonsense, isn’t it,” the man continued. “You got that far. You’re not paralysed are you? You weren’t struck by some handicap that rendered your muscles inactive?”

“No,” he said. “But I’m scared. If I move, I’ll fall.”

“Ah, so you WERE struck by a handicap. Cowardice.”

“I’m not a coward!” he protested.

“Then climb up here and tell me I’m wrong.” And to his astonishment the man who could have rescued him in an instant sat down above him and began to play some sort of musical instrument. A whistle. He wasn’t sure what the tune was, but he knew he didn’t want it to be last sound he heard before he fell to his death.

“Come on then.” The man paused in his music to goad him once more then continued without apparently missing a note.

He screamed with frustration and reached out to grasp the slight indentation in the rock above his head. It was hardly a handhold. It was a crease. But his fingers held on and very slowly he lifted one foot and pressed it into another crease. He pushed the other foot up, and his other hand was able to let go of its first handhold and thrust into a crack a little further up the rockface.

He stopped and breathed and cursed in low Gallifreyan.

“I don’t think your mother would like you using words like that,” the man said before going on with his playing.

“My mother is dead,” he replied angrily.

“I am sorry to hear that. But she would still not approve of such language, I am sure.”

“You don’t KNOW my mother,” he yelled and reached out for the next handhold. “Don’t talk about her.”

“A sore spot. But you should learn to keep your feelings in check. They are weapons for your enemies to use against you.”

“Shut up,” he answered. And his hands clutched at the root of a scrubby tree that clung to the top of the outcrop. He pulled himself up over the edge. For a long minute he lay there, panting, clinging gratefully to the horizontal ground.

“Are you going to lie there all day then?” the man asked.

“Shut up,” he said again as he scrambled to his feet. The man was sitting there, his legs crossed in front of him and his back very straight. He played another tune on the whistle and ignored him. “Why didn’t you help me? I could have been killed and you just sitting there playing a stupid whistle.”

“I did help you. I distracted you from your fear and gave you the incentive to get up here.”

“What incentive?”

“The incentive to punch me in the face for insulting you and your mother. So take your reward, young man. Punch me in the face.”

“I… don’t want to,” he said. His own stubborn streak held him back from admitting that the man was right. “But you could have helped me.”

“But then every time things get difficult you would expect help. This way you know you can help yourself. You have more strength within you than you know. You’re not quite as pathetic as you think you are.” The man put away his whistle somewhere inside his robe and looked at him carefully. He reached for a small bag by his side and offered him a purple skinned moon fruit. “Sit down. Gather your strength. Eat.”

He sat and ate the fruit. It tasted cool and refreshing to his tongue, unlike the limp bread and soft cheese that had got warm and unpalatable in his backpack. He sat and looked over the view and felt far enough away from his troubles to relax a little. He could just about see the shores of the northern continent in the distance, beyond the straits. The Prydonian Academy was there. Well away from him now.

“You’ve hurt yourself,” the man said looking at the cuts and grazes on his hands and face from the climb. “You must be very young. Your body hasn’t begun to automatically repair minor wounds.” He reached into another pocket and brought out a tool that looked a little like a pen. “Keep still and give me your hands.” He did as he was told and the man shone a blue light from the tool. It felt cool and soothing and he was surprised to see the cuts repairing. The man reached and held his face and applied the tool to the cuts on his face. As he did so he noticed something that clearly surprised him.

“You’re a half-blood,” the man said as he put the tool away. “You have tear ducts. Your mother… the one who died… was an Earth Child.”

“What if she was?” the boy snapped. “If you say one bad word about her I will throw you off this mountain.”

“I doubt you could. But in any case I would never say a bad word about her. She was an honourable and gentle woman.”

“What? How do you know who she is? Did you read my mind?”

“There is only one Oldblood family with a half blood heir, Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow.”

The boy stared at the man for a long moment, taking in his red hair and green eyes that smiled sardonically as he waited for him to realise the truth.

“I know you…” he said. “You… you’re one of the teachers at the Academy. You teach…. Well none of my classes anyway. But I think I’ve seen you. Although not dressed like that.”

“I teach senior political history and music. At the weekends, however, I prefer to spend my time here on the mountain, with my brothers at the monastery.”

“You’re a monk then?”

“I spent three lifetimes in contemplation here. In my fourth life I chose to re-enter Gallifreyan society. But I find it wearisome without a brief respite here.”

“Why should you have a problem? You’re a teacher. You’re one of them.” His face hardened as he looked at the teacher. “I suppose that’s why you were so nasty to me. The teachers all think I’m useless. They think I’m an abomination.”

“I’ve heard some grumbling in the staff room,” the teacher said. “I didn’t venture my opinion. They might have taken it as an insult.”

“Why? What’s your opinion?” he asked, curious despite himself.

“They’re scared.”

“Scared?”

“Of you succeeding.”

“Huh?”

“Do you know what would happen if a half blood became a Time Lord?”

“I imagine the sky would fall in. But it’s not likely to happen. I’m never going to transcend.”

“Like you were never going to get up that rockface?”

The boy looked at the teacher and pondered that remark.

“What is your name, sir?” he asked.

“My name? I have not used my name for a very long time. I am known as The Maestro.”

“Maestro?” he laughed. “For your virtuoso playing of the tin whistle?”

“Something like that,” he answered. “But never mind me. Why did the heir of Lœngbærrow come up this mountain?”

“To join the monks and live in peace here,” he said. “Away from the Prydonian Academy, away from… from those who hate me for what I am.”

“You can’t cope with the Prydonian Academy but you think you can be one of the monks? Do you think the life here is easier?”

“No,” he said. “I know it is hard. I know it takes effort. But… If they don’t kick me in the ribs every day and spit in my face and call me filthy names then I can handle the WORK.”

“I’m sorry you are being bullied. But running away from problems like that is no solution. Besides, what makes you think the monks will accept you? They only take the best. The bravest and the brightest.”

“I was told the test of fitness is to get up their %£@#&# mountain,” the boy retorted. “I did that. And WITHOUT your help.”

Maestro laughed as he stood up and began to walk away. The boy scrambled to his feet and followed him.

“What’s so funny about that?”

“Well, for one thing, since you are the heir to the House of Lœngbærrow it's actually YOUR mountain, not theirs. Your family own all the land around here. But that won’t cut any ice inside there.” He pointed and the boy looked at the imposing wall before him and the great door set into it. The entrance to the monastery. “In there you will have to stand on your own merits and prove to them that you are worthy of notice.”

The boy swallowed hard and looked at his companion.

“I’m willing to try.”

“Well, come on then. And try.”

 

Chrístõ smiled as he remembered the first day he set foot in the monastery. He had been a mess of emotions. He was angry. He was scared. He was humiliated. He was mutinous. He was beaten and downtrodden, yet at the same time he still had the pride that came with being the heir to an Oldblood House. The House, moreover, that owned the mountain.

And as he stepped through those great doors beside Maestro all of those mixed up feelings fell away from him. He felt only a great peace come upon him.

“Is it magic?” he remembered whispering.

“Aren’t you a little old to believe in magic?” Maestro said to him. “It is the aura produced by so many calm, evenly balanced minds all in harmony with each other. Be careful your unbalanced one does not upset that harmony.” Then the inner door opened and Maestro stepped forward, beckoning him. “I am taking you to meet The Mentor. He will say if you have what it takes to be one of the Brotherhood. Or if you have what it takes to be anything.”

 

The boy breathed deeply and squared his shoulders as he stepped through the door. The room was in partial darkness, lit by hundreds of candles around the walls. There was a great circular floor on which dozens of the Brotherhood knelt in meditative trance. They were all still as statues, all silent. He followed Maestro, trying not to let his shoes clatter on the stone floor. The sound of his footsteps seemed amplified in the silence and he felt all too self-conscious of himself.

“Who is this, Maestro?” The Mentor asked. The boy dared to look up once at the old, lined face of a very elderly Time Lord. He must have been close to the end of his last life, which made him as much as 7,000 years old. Maybe more. The monks reputedly lived the fullest lifespans possible.

“He is the heir to the Lœngbærrow House,” Maestro said. “He climbed the mountain to present himself to you as a novice.”

“Did he indeed? He is very young. Should he not be attending one of the academies?”

“He is unhappy and feels he might make a better show of himself as one of the Brotherhood.”

“Does he know that the Brotherhood is not a hiding place from the world?”

“He does,” the boy said, tired of being talked about instead of talked to. “I didn’t come to hide, I came to learn.”

“Come closer, boy,” The Mentor said. He stepped towards him. The Mentor put his hands either side of his temples and he felt his mind being probed. He tried to hold back his tears as every hurt he had felt in the past four years, every slight, every insult, every physical wound, was brought back from where he had buried them in his long term memory.

“You have suffered,” The Mentor said kindly. “They tried to break your spirit. But I don’t think they have…not quite.”

“I wish to become one of the Brotherhood. I wish to learn in peace.”

“But you wish also to be a Time Lord. Only by graduating from the academy can you do that. If you become one of us you forfeit that chance.”

“I thought it might be possible… to study here and take the exams as an external candidate…. And still be able to transcend.”

“It does not work that way. If you wish to be one of us, you must be so wholeheartedly. You must give up personal ambition.”

“Oh,” he said, his hearts sinking. “I see. But… Maestro… he…”

“Maestro came to us after distinguishing himself at the Academy, and renounced his former life. He cut himself off from his family, his inheritance. Are you ready to do that, Son of Lœngbærrow?”

“I… don’t know,” he admitted. “I can’t. I am my father’s only son. I have a duty to him…”

“You came to us in haste. You did not think about the consequences.”

“I will go then,” he said. “I am sorry to bother you. I hoped… I thought… But… I want you to know it was not… not a whim. I have known of the Brotherhood as long as I can remember. My grandfather told me of you. He told of your great learning and wisdom. And I am in earnest. I assure you.”

“Well spoken, Son of Lœngbærrow,” the Mentor said. “Yes, Maestro, I see what you mean. He DOES have spirit still. He has promise. I do not know if he has the makings of a Brother. But he has potential that cannot be allowed to be crushed by the petty meanness of the world below.”

“What should be done with him then?” Maestro asked. “Should I take him back to his father?”

“No!” Chrístõ protested loudly. His voice echoed around the silent room but the meditating Brothers never batted an eyelid. The Mentor frowned at him. Maestro put a restraining arm on his shoulder. “No,” he added more quietly. “Please let me stay. Let me prove to you… prove I can be one of the Brotherhood.”

“Let him stay a week,” Maestro said. “Let him recover his wounded spirit in the peace of these walls. Let him find out for himself whether he is capable of the discipline. I will tell his father he is safe.”

“Maestro speaks wisely. Does this satisfy you, boy?”

“You won’t regret your decision, sir,” he said. “I will prove myself to you.”

 

Chrístõ smiled as he knocked upon the great door using the coded knock that told those within that a Brother had returned to the fold. He had never worked so hard as he did in that first week he spent in the monastery. But he had faced every task willingly. From the menial tasks every novice had to perform, even the ones who were sons of aristrocrats who had never held a broom in their lives before, to his first lessons in meditation and his first martial arts disciplines. For most of that week the only thing he learnt in that discipline was how to fall without breaking any of his bones. But it was a start. And as the weekend approached he was confident he would be asked to stay and become a real Brother.

 

"I don’t understand,” he said to Maestro as he sat with him in the common room where the Brothers came to relax in their rare moments of leisure. “I thought I had done well. I thought….”

“You did nothing wrong,” Maestro assured him.

“Then why am I being rejected?” he asked.

“You’re not being rejected,” he was told. “Far from it. You are very young. Far younger than any novice before. Even so The Mentor would be perfectly willing to admit you to the brotherhood.”

“Then…”

“I asked him not to.”

“You…” he reared his head angrily. Why did you do that? You know… I thought you understood…”

“I do understand,” Maestro told him. “I understand that if you don’t go back to the Academy and strive to become a Time Lord as you have longed to do all your life, you will regret it. Your destiny is NOT to closet yourself away from the world, but to be a part of it. You were meant to reach for the stars, my boy.”

“But if I go back there… I think the bullies will succeed in killing me one of these days.”

“Son of Lœngbærrow, listen to me now. I have spoken to your father, and with The Mentor, and I have a proposal they are both happy for me to make to you. While your father is away doing his duty for Gallifrey The Mentor is happy for you to spend your weekends and your vacations at the monastery, where you can continue the disciplines you have begun to learn, as a novitiate. But you must attend the Academy.” He began to protest but Mastro hushed him again. “Your father has asked me to give you extra lessons to help you catch up on the subjects you have been failing.” Again he began to speak and was hushed. “Yes, I know. That is ALL of the subjects. And there is much to catch up on. Your father believes it would be easier for you to take those extra lessons if you were to lodge with me at my house in the Capitol.”

“Stay with you?” The idea was a startling one. “Not in the dormitory. But… My father agreed to this? But you are a stranger, almost.”

“That is all you know, Son of Lœngbærrow. I knew your father before you were born. Long before… before I was the Maestro and he The Ambassador. We both know each other by names you are not meant to know and will not try to find out. And he trusts me with the care of his precious son while he is offworld. So what do you think, Chrístõ? Do you think you could learn to stand up to the bullies if you can leave them at the Academy gates at the end of the school day?”

“I think so,” he said. “But…”

“This isn’t a free ride, you realise. You won’t have a spare moment to yourself. When you aren’t doing academic work you will be practicing meditations or in the dojo learning to stand on your own two feet long enough to make a counter move.”

“I’m not afraid of that,” the boy said. “I accept your proposal.”

 

He would never have made it without Maestro, and without the Brotherhood, he reflected as he waited to be admitted to the inner sanctum. The Brotherhood taught him the disciplines he needed to strengthen his body and soul and succeed despite the obstacles thrown in his way by those who resented him. Maestro gave him a refuge from the bullies, the extra tuition that allowed him to excel in his classes, and his friendship when he needed it most during those long years when his father was away.

“Maestro.” He greeted his old friend and teacher with a formal bow before moving closer and reaching out his hands to him.

“Dear boy,” Maestro answered him joyfully. “It is good to see you. We have heard of your doings, even here on the mountain, of course. We ALL owe our freedom and peace to you.”

“The thanks should go first to my friend, Penne Dúre,” he said.

“Humble and modest,” Maestro said. “Not at all like an arrogant Prydonian.”

“I can be arrogant when I need to be,” he answered. “But…”

“You are troubled, boy.”

“I am. That is why I came here.”

“That is why you came here the first time you climbed the mountain and you were told then this is not a place to hide from your troubles.”

“I don’t seek to hide from them. I seek advice from one who has always advised me. And as you have chosen to retire from teaching to be Mentor to the Brotherhood I had to climb the mountain again.”

“HAD to?” Maestro smiled. “Is your TARDIS inoperative?”

“You know very well I would never use the TARDIS to reach this monastery. “There is only one way to reach this place. And that is on my own two feet as ever.”

“So what is your trouble?” Maestro asked him. Chrístõ took a deep breath and told him. Maestro nodded but said nothing.

“What should I do, Maestro?” he asked as the silence lengthened.

“If I have to tell you, I might as well have pulled you up the mountain all those years ago.”

“I knew you would say that,” Chrístõ said with a smile. “It doesn’t help, you know. And it fills me with an inappropriate desire to punch you in the face.”

“Nevertheless, it is true. I cannot tell you what to do. I shouldn’t have to. You have made your own decisions for long enough, now. You are master of your TARDIS. You are responsible for the people who travel with you. That is a burden for one so young. The responsibility for other lives. Nobody would blame you for taking the easier path.”

“I would blame me. And I have never considered looking after any of my friend on board the TARDIS a burden. Travelling alone is a burden. They are a joy.”

“I think you already know the answer, don’t you.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Then we need talk of it no further. Let’s see if you can still stand on your own two feet in the dojo.”

“Maestro!” Chrístõ exclaimed. “You know very well I can.”

“We have some promising youngsters who might prove you wrong,” Maestro told him. “Overconfidence is as much a handicap as lack of confidence, boy.”

“Yes, Maestro,” Chrístõ said as he felt the years drop away until he felt in his mind he was still the boy he was when he first came to be Maestro’s protégé.

“You are never too old or too wise to learn something new,” Maestro told him as they walked together.

“There was an Earth philosopher. Socrates. He said that the only wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.”

“A wise man,” Maestro agreed. “Are you sure he was from Earth and not one of us in disguise?”

“Perhaps I shall go and find out on my next journey,” Chrístõ answered.

He stayed the night in the monastery and in the early morning he set off back down the mountain. His heart felt lighter now. He knew what he was going to do. Some people would be disappointed. But he couldn’t help that.

 

“Your father is disappointed,” Natalie told him as he dematerialised the TARDIS and slid easily through the Transduction Barrier into clear space before entering the vortex. “He hoped you would stay.”

“Father is returning to Adano Ambrado soon, anyway. I shall visit him there. But I won’t return to Gallifrey again until I am ready for it.”

“I liked your home very much,” Natalie said. “But I need to be in the TARDIS. That’s the one thing your father and stepmother could not understand.”

“I’m not sure I understand it,” Chrístõ admitted. Natalie had tried to explain it to him earlier and he was perplexed. She had told him the strangest thing. And he was inclined to believe her. He knew she wasn’t given to fantasy. But it was still strange. She had told him that the TARDIS promised her she would die in its bosom and that it would take her into its soul at the end. He didn’t understand how his TARDIS could do that, but Natalie assured him it was true.

“What about you, Julia? You would have a much easier time here. Valena has taken you to her hearts. She would be delighted to arrange for your education and upbringing as a lady of Gallifrey. You would love it.”

“But I want to be with you,” she told him. “In the TARDIS. I know we cannot do that forever. But until the day comes, I want to be with you.”

“I’m glad,” he told them both. “I was silly. I should have ASKED you two what you wanted, instead of trying to decide what you need, or what is most convenient to me.”

“Yes, you should have,” Natalie chided him.

“Forgive me?”

“Of course.”

“Where are we going next?” Julia asked. Chrístõ smiled.

“It’s nearly Christmas,” he said. “And I think we’ll spend it in Liverpool.”