Marion had been asleep for two hours or more when she woke with a very different sensation in her heart than contentment. She felt worried and agitated, and so did the music. The mountains were singing a very different song, one of pain and horror. Kristoph was already out of bed, looking through the huge arched window of their chamber at something in the distance. He turned when he saw her climbing out of bed, gathering a silk sheet around her.

“Something is wrong,” he said, though needlessly. That much was clear. “The mountains… at least one of them is on fire.”

“What do you think has happened?” she asked. Kristoph went to turn the sound off and Marion felt relieved. The sorrowful noise was affecting her more than she realised. But the sight of the distant peaks glowing in the night was disturbing, too. What was the cause? Was it volcanic activity, was it a beacon of warning?

“I’m going to find out,” Kristoph said, reaching for his clothes. “I will take the First Prime and anyone else he sees fit in the TARDIS. The disturbance it would cause cannot be an issue now.”

Marion nodded. Kristoph was a visiting dignitary, but he was also a man of action and there was no keeping him from investigating the disaster that had come upon the Singing Mountains.

The TARDIS was in an ante-chamber near the throne room. Kristoph was not at all surprised to find the First Prime waiting there along with a cohort of palace guards. But he was startled to discover that he DIDN’T want him to interfere with what had happened on the mountain.

“It is an act of treachery of the highest level,” the First Prime said. “But there is no need for you to be involved in the matter. Please return to your chamber and resume your sleep.”

“Don’t be foolish, man,” Kristoph answered. “I can take you there in a matter of minutes. It will be much longer by your methods of transport. Come on. Bring your men, by all means. If somebody has trespassed in the restricted area, then you need to remove them as quickly as possible. They will see your people coming from ten miles away. I can offer you the element of surprise.”

The First Prime considered that for longer than Kristoph thought necessary then he ordered his men to board the TARDIS with him. Kristoph told the armed men to stand back around the walls of the console room while he programmed the simple flight in linear space to the mountain.

When he stepped out of the TARDIS it was into a strange landscape of dark, ash covered ruin and fire that an imaginative artist could have captured as a vision of hell. Even though he had set the TARDIS down on an unburnt spot the snow was melting underfoot and the heat from the fires all around was startling. He was wearing a face mask, as were those who had come with him. The air was not only hot, but choked with smoke and soot.

“The fire is inside the mountain,” he noted. “That’s why the music is distorted, of course. Is this a natural phenomenon of some kind?”

“It is not,” the First Prime answered. “There has been treachery done here - great and terrible treachery. May those who have done this suffer the worst of penalties.”

“What are you talking about?” Kristoph asked. “How could this be the work of men? The fire is coming from the mountain itself.”

“Somebody has entered the cavern of winds,” the First Prime explained. “That in itself is a treasonable offence. But to make fire within it is capital.”

“Capital?” Kristoph wondered if he understood the Halaran word properly. After all it was translated into Gallifreyan. It was a crime punishable by death to set a fire within this cavern? Granted there was some environmental damage being done - the snow cap was melting in the heat which could well mean flooding on the plain below if the rivers could not cope with the influx of water, and the damage being done within the complex of tunnels and caves might be grievous. Even so, it didn’t seem like something to execute a man over.

“To interfere with the mountain is a capital offence,” the First Prime repeated. “This machine of yours - is it capable of taking us inside the cavern?”

“Provided there are no ionised rocks blocking the scanners, it should be possible,” Kristoph answered. He was still concerned about the consequences of the matter, and he wondered if he ought to fake not being able to get through to this cavern.

“Then let us go there at once. We may capture the miscreants red-handed.”

“Very well,” Kristoph said. He turned and stepped back into the TARDIS. The First Prime and his guards followed. Kristoph again made them stand back while he went to the environmental console and searched for the cavern. He was surprised to see just how much of the mountain was made up of naturally formed passages and tunnels. It was a veritable honeycomb.

And most, if not all of the passages led to the cavern the First Prime spoke of. He examined it carefully then made a decision.

“First Prime, please stand back with your men by the wall. I will take the TARDIS into a wide materialisation and then an immediate dematerialisation which will leave you and your men in the cavern. The miscreants will be taken by surprise and you will be able to arrest them easily.”

The First Prime agreed to that idea readily. The words ‘miscreants’ and ‘arrest’ evidently appealed to him.

Kristoph carefully manoeuvred the TARDIS into position. He set the controls precisely. It was a complicated procedure and it was very important that it worked. Lives might depend upon it.

The first part of the manoeuvre worked like clockwork. The TARDIS materialised in the cavern then immediately dematerialised. The First Prime and his guards were left behind in a flanking half circle.

The second part worked well, too. He looked around at the four men wearing fireproof suits and helmets with breathing equipment. He couldn’t see their faces but he could tell they were startled by their body language.

“Go through that door over there, then the next one on the right. Sit down quietly and don’t come out until I come and get you,” Kristoph told them. “Do it quickly, before I have to let the guards back in.”

The four men looked at him for a brief moment, then they obeyed his instruction. Moments later, the TARDIS materialised again. He opened the door. The First Prime stepped inside, pulling off his mask to reveal a thunderous expression. The guards followed. Kristoph closed the door and opened the main viewscreen. He looked critically at the fire that blazed up from a pool near the centre of the cavern. The environmental monitor was telling him that the fire was fuelled by a natural oil that formed within the mountain. He also noted that the tunnels and passages of the honeycomb were suffused with the oil. That was why they were burning.

“These fires must be put out,” he said. “Or the damage will be terrible.”

“Yes,” the First Prime agreed. “But then we must find those who started the conflagration.”

“If they are still anywhere within the mountain, then they won’t survive to face your punishment,” Kristoph answered in a cold tone. He could safely say that since he knew nobody WAS within the mountain. If he thought for one moment that they were he would not have done what he did next.

If anyone had ever written a manual for the TARDIS, this would have been in the appendices under ‘other functions’. It was generally called ‘atmospheric excitation’ and could be used to produce localised weather effects. Kristoph often wondered how making it rain or snow or creating a gale in a fifty metre radius didn’t qualify as frivolous use of a TARDIS. Now he knew of one un-frivolous use for the function. He watched the environmental monitor as the TARDIS created a vortex that pulled all the oxygen out of the cavern. Despite the ferocity of the oil fuelled fire, it could not continue burning without oxygen - nor could the fires within the honeycomb. Of course, many of those passages were open to the atmosphere outside the mountain, and air was pulled in, but not before a vacuum had been created that killed the fires, and the air that was pulled in was icy cold air from the top of a mountain that was normally covered in snow.

It took nearly an hour, but by the time it was done the fires were out. Kristoph reversed the procedure. Air was blown back through the passages pushing the soot and smoke created by the fire out. For a day or so the pristine white mountain peak would be black and grey instead. But the snow would fall covering the damage and it would be beautiful again.

Meanwhile, the mountain was singing in key. He had cleared her throat for her. The natural winds that rushed through the wider passages, around the cavern and out again through the narrower ones were creating the beautiful music that the mountains were renowned for. Kristoph listened through the TARDIS speakers for a little while.

“Our work is done,” he said to the First Prime. “We shall return to your palace now. You may report that the ones who started the fires died in the attempt. Their bodies would have been incinerated in the backdraft I created in order to kill the conflagration.”

“A public trial would have been more of a deterrent to other rebels,” the First Prime noted. “But perhaps if we publish details of such a gruesome death it would serve the purpose just as well.”

“WHY are there rebels setting fire to the singing mountains?” Kristoph asked. “I thought Halara was a happy world with a contented people.”

The First Prime shrugged.

“There are malcontents who believe our protective laws are unfair. They want free access to the white plains, and to the mountains to resume their religious rites.”

“What rites are those?” Kristoph asked.

“A heathen ceremony which was banned thirty years ago in the reign of my father as First Prime. Before then, anyone had access to the mountain and once a month, when the moon was dark the ritual would take place. The oil pool was lit and devotees prayed upon the mountain as the flames rose up from within.”

“Why was it banned?” Kristoph asked. He was looking at data the TARDIS had automatically gathered about the mountain, information that was not available to him until this unexpected journey. It was interesting reading, but he needed to fill in some blanks.

“Too many people were going to the mountain. As many as three thousand would gather, tramping up to the peak, wearing the ground with their feet. Besides, the fires disturb the harmonies of the mountain.”

“Is that all?” Kristoph asked. “There was no opposition to that form of worship?”

“It is true that my family are of the High Halaran denomination which eschewed conflagration worship,” The First Prime added cautiously. “But my father’s motive in ordering the ban was not sectarian, I assure you.”

Kristoph said nothing, but even without reading the First Prime’s mind he knew the truth. He could see the lie in his eyes. The whole exclusion of the mountain, the ban on the peculiar bonfire, was exactly what the First Prime insisted it wasn’t – sectarian.

He sighed deeply. Halaran had seemed like a near perfect society. He had been glad to visit, ready to make trade and cultural links with that world. But now the stench of corruption was unmistakeable.

He concealed his disgust ably. He had been a diplomat long enough to do that. He set a course back to the palace. He wanted to get the First Prime out of his TARDIS as soon as possible, and not just because he had just taken a real dislike to the man.

Fortunately the First Prime was happy to leave the TARDIS when they reached the palace. The guards followed. Kristoph turned and went to the room beyond the console room where he had sent the four men. They had taken off their fire proof clothing and were sitting on the floor in plain cotton shirts, shorts and bare feet. They looked at Kristoph fearfully at first, then relaxed when they realised he was the man who had protected them once already.

“The First Prime thinks that you were killed by the fire,” he said. “Nobody will be looking for you. I will take you to the residential part of the city. You should go to your homes and families and keep quiet about your activities. I think I understand what is happening on this planet, but throwing your lives away won’t help anyone. Just be patient. I will do what I can. You have my honour as a Time Lord of Gallifrey.”

The men thanked him humbly and quietly left the TARDIS when it landed in a quiet part of the residential sector of the city. Kristoph wished them good fortune and set the next co-ordinate for his bed chamber in the palace.

Marion was still awake, waiting for him. She smiled broadly and told him that the music was playing again.

“You did it,” she said. “I knew you would.”

“There is much more to it than that,” he answered. He drank a glass of fruit juice from a carafe by the bed and told her of all that had occurred. She was shocked by the First Prime’s determination to have the men responsible executed and proud of Kristoph's intervention.

“But what can you do to help?” she asked.

“I can inform the First Prime that he needs to allow regular fires in the cavern. The oil builds up very rapidly. It is a natural process. Oil-based deposits form in all of the passages, too. Burning it, as happened all the time in the past, kept the levels under control, and the fire would only burn for a few hours before the fuel was spent. But the rite had not been performed for thirty years. There was such a build up of oil and flammable deposits that a natural disaster was in the making. One electrical storm grounding near an outlet and fires would burn for a year, polluting the air, perhaps causing climate change, and in all likelihood, destroying the mountain. Sooner or later the rocks would destabilise and cave in.”

“Do you think people used to know that and the rite wasn’t just religious, but for that purpose?”

“Entirely possible. But then the followers of this other denomination came to power and put a stop to the rite. I expect everything else was forgotten. I will inform the First Prime tomorrow that he must resume allowing the fires to be lit at least once a month to preserve the mountain. But I also intend to make it known that I don’t like his suppression of the old religion. He must allow the people to hold their ceremonies, too. Otherwise I will use my influence in the intergalactic community to have Halara ostracised. They need their trade links. The First Prime will have to give way. And I will make sure this planet is carefully monitored for any oppressive measures that I don’t like the look of.”

“And nobody will be charged with treason. Well done, my dear. Oh, I am so sorry to discover that this isn’t a happy planet, after all. It seemed as if it was. Do you think there is such a place?”

“I hope there is. But I don’t think I need look for it. I shall make do with the imperfect worlds we both know and love. When we are done here, we shall return to Gallifrey long enough to address the High Council on my visit to Halara and for you to get our fosterling ready for a trip to Earth. We need a proper holiday.”

Marion agreed readily to that. She turned off the music of the singing mountain and happily laid herself down in the bed as Kristoph joined her and they slept soundly at last.