The grand Christmas dinner party at which all the servants of Mount Lœng House, Maison D’Alba amd the Lœngbærrow Dower House were invited as guests was, in the third year of holding it, now practically a tradition. It was enjoyed gladly by all concerned.

This year, for Marion, there was the added pleasure of Rodan’s first Christmas. She talked of it that way, and nobody was cruel enough to point out that it may be Rodan’s only Christmas with them. She would, almost certainly be living with her grandfather this time next year. But that was all the more reason why this should be the most fantastic Christmas day, something she would remember in years to come.

Of course, even a Gallifreyan baby of eight months was not fully aware of what was happening around her. But when Marion dressed her in a baby gown of deep red velvet with green ribbons that matched her own gown and carried her down to the hall, her eyes were big with wonder. The decorations and lights, the nativity scene, the sights and smells and the hubbub of excitement all entranced her. She was a focus of attention, too, of course, petted and admired by the guests in their best clothes who gathered in the hall, waiting for the party to begin.

Rodan was a little too young for a grand Christmas dinner banquet, too. But Marion insisted that she would be with them. She sat in her high chair beside Marion’s seat and was given her own portions of special food that matched what everyone else was eating. She had her own specially pureed turkey dinner while everyone else ate deliciously cooked slices carved from what could have passed for real roast birds except that there were no bones at all. The plum pudding was a little too rich for her, but she had an apple and peach dessert that went down perfectly well.

After the dinner there was music and dancing. Marion was persuaded to leave her fosterling in the capable arms of Aineytta while Kristoph led her in almost all of the sets. She sat out only a few of the more vigorous dances, with Rodan on her knee, still wide awake and excited by all that was going on around her.

She fell asleep in Marion’s arms as the excitement died down and they said farewell to those of their guests who were travelling to their homes. As two footmen, still in their party clothes, put out the festive candles burning in the hallway, Kristoph persuaded Marion that it was time she thought about sleeping, too.

“Your eyes are as big as hers have been,” he said as they walked up the stairs to their room. “I’m so glad you enjoyed the night.”

“It was a lovely party, as always,” Marion agreed. “But tomorrow is our family Christmas. Rodan is going to love it. I can’t wait until the morning when we take her into the drawing room.”

“She is still only a baby,” Kristoph reminder her. “She won’t really understand what it’s all about. Besides, she already has so very many toys. Christmas presents aren’t really going to be all that special to her.”

“They will be,” Marion assured him. “Oh, they will.”

She undressed the baby and put her into her cot, then got ready for her own bed. She was still talking about how much she looked forward to the morning as she slid under the cool sheets and Kristoph reached to cuddle her.

“Go to sleep,” he told her. “You’re like a child, yourself. The morning will come much faster if you go to sleep. And you will enjoy it all the more if you’re not bleary-eyed and exhausted.

Marion sighed happily and snuggled closer to Kristoph. He was right, of course. But she was so very excited. This Christmas felt so much more special and exciting than any she could remember, at least since she was a very little girl herself.

“I shall have to take matters into my own hands,” Kristoph said, and he touched her face gently and concentrated hard. He found her racing mind, still full of so many thoughts that they tumbled and tripped each other. He deliberately calmed her mind and sent away all thoughts but the prospect of a pleasant and untroubled night’s sleep.

“That’s not fair,” she protested sleepily.

“No, it isn’t. But it’s the only way I’ll get any peace tonight.” Kristoph kissed her as she slipped into the sleep she needed. He himself lay awake a little longer, listening to the sounds of his wife’s soft breathing and the calm, contented, double heartbeats of their fosterling before he let himself drop into restful sleep.

 

The next morning, he rose before Marion, as he frequently did, and went to refresh his soul with a half hour in his meditation room. When he returned to the bedroom, Marion was standing at the bedroom window with Rodan still only half awake in her arms.

“It’s snowing,” she said as Kristoph came and held her around the shoulders and looked out with her on the soft, grey-yellow sky from which big flakes were falling, and had been doing since dawn. The formal garden was a frosted fairy-tale place already and the driveway was becoming thick with a clean, untouched blanket of white. They expected no guests today and had no plans to go out. It would remain like that for some time.

“Snow on Christmas Day!” Marion exclaimed. “Perfect.”

“It would be churlish of me to point out that this is only approximately Christmas Day according to the nearest comparison of the Earth calendar and the Gallifreyan one,” Kristoph replied.

“It IS Christmas Day,” Marion insisted. “Christmas Day on Gallifrey. And it is going to be a beautiful one.”

“It already is,” Kristoph replied as he kissed her and went to shower and dress. Marion brought Rodan to the bathroom and washed and dressed her, as well as herself. Again their gowns matched. Again red and green were the festive colours. But for the daytime it was satin rather than velvet. Kristoph thought they both looked wonderful, anyway, and made a note to order a portrait painted some time soon of the two of them in their matching colours.

“Kristoph,” Marion said as they descended the stairs into a quiet house where only a few of the servants were yet about their duties – a late start had been granted to them after their night’s entertainment. He turned to look at her. There was an unexpected seriousness in the way she had spoken her name.

“Kristoph, when we have a child of our own…”

“There is plenty of time to think of that, still,” he assured her. “Don’t distress yourself.”

“I’m not. But I was thinking…on this planet… children are children for a lot longer. Twenty years old is still considered a youngster, when they go to the Academies, and they are adolescents until something like a hundred and ninety.”

“Yes.”

“I won’t live to see our son... or daughter… become an adult by Gallifreyan standards.”

“Marion… today of all days, don’t dwell on such things.”

“I am happy,” she assured him. “But I want you to promise me something.”

“Anything,” he answered. “You know I shall do anything to please you.”

“Keep Christmas in this house after I am gone. I know our children will be Gallifreyans. They will know Earth only as a distant place, visited sometimes. But keep the tradition of Christmas here. Teach them to celebrate it, and to remember the meaning of Christmas… good will, kindness, peace, love, joy… all of that. Even if this is the only house on the whole planet where it is remembered.”

“Yes,” Kristoph promised. “Oh, yes. I will do that. Nothing is more easily promised, more easily done. Yes, we will keep Christmas in the House of Lœngbærrow for as long as I live, and our children will keep it after us. Yes. I can do that. But no more thoughts like that. Let’s live this Christmas Day to the full.”

“Yes,” she agreed. She looked at Rodan. She was wide awake now. She smiled a baby smile at her.

“Good morning, my dear,” Marion said to her. “This is a special day. It’s Christmas Day. And it’s snowing, and we have so many wonderful surprises, just for you, our little girl.”

One of the duties that the servants had already performed this morning was lighting the candles on the Christmas tree in the drawing room and on the great mantlepiece. It was a scene straight from the most idyllic Christmas card, especially with the snow-covered garden visible through the French window. And especially with the great mound of gaily wrapped presents under the tree, just waiting for Rodan to open them.

“She won’t know what to do,” Kristoph warned. “Don’t be disappointed if she doesn’t….” Then he smiled as Marion sat down on what could be seen of the thick rug with Rodan in her lap, and pulled a large, squashy parcel towards her. She showed the baby how to pull away the bright, cheerful paper bought from a Liverpool street vendor, until a big, pastel coloured teddy bear was revealed. Rodan hugged the toy enthusiastically and was amused when it emitted a low, friendly growl when squeezed. She cuddled it again several times.

“Just promise me you didn’t buy her a Furby,” Kristoph said as he recalled one of the more annoying interactive toys developed on planet Earth.

“No, but there are a lot of things with noises to be unwrapped, still. Exploring sounds, colours and textures are all a part of her early learning.” Marion looked at Kristoph’s face and smiled. “Oh, there have to be noisy things. It’s what Christmas with a baby is all about.”

“Thank Rassilon this is a big house,” he answered. But he didn’t mean it. As long as his study and meditation rooms were free of blue and pink teddy bears, and perhaps the grand dining room, he didn’t mind what happened everywhere else. Let the house be filled with toys that brought a smile to a little girl’s face.

For now, at least that wasn’t the problem. It was which parcel to open next. Kristoph abandoned all pretence of being a man of dignity and position and joined Marion on the floor in front of the Christmas tree as Rodan lifted herself up on still wobbly legs and, with his help, pulled the wrapping off a large parcel to find a brightly coloured push along truck full of coloured bricks with the Earth alphabet on them. Marion realised that they, at least, would not be much help with Rodan’s early education, but she seemed pleased with them, all the same. She sat back down on her well-padded bottom and swivelled around until she could grab the blue teddy bear and put it into the truck on top of the bricks, then pulled herself upright again and took three whole steps holding onto the handle before sitting down again to hug the bear. She had the principle of the thing, anyway. Kristoph looked from her to Marion and saw tears of joy in her eyes.

“She’s so clever,” Marion said. “So very clever. She’s learning all the time. I wish... Oh, I do wish that we could make plans for her future, to be sure she will never stop learning in the best possible way.”

“Don’t,” Kristoph told her. “Don’t think of that. Let’s just enjoy this day as it is, right now. Rodan, my little love. Would you like to open one of these with me? Let’s find out what’s in this big one.”

He took the child in his lap as they opened the next big parcel together. He was surprised himself to find out that it contained a doll that was slightly bigger than Rodan herself, dressed in a gown that almost matched hers. It had a good quality, well-made face that looked almost real at a first glance, and he found it just a little disconcerting when he looked at the baby and the doll together.

“You know, we never really had a tradition of doll making on this planet,” Kristoph pointed out. “Some people would find that rather sinister. It’s like an effigy of the child herself.”

“It’s too big for her now,” Marion agreed. “But she will grow, and it will remain as a reminder of her first Christmas. It is something she can treasure all her life.”

If so, Kristoph thought, then she would be a singular Gallifreyan. The things his people treasured, even Caretakers, were different to the things humans treasured. The thought disturbed him a little. Yes, he was willing to promise that their own children, born of her Human flesh, embracing both races, both cultures, would know the meaning of Christmas, and other aspects of Earth life and Human nature. But was it fair to confuse a child who was fully Gallifreyan, with these concepts?

For that matter, if their own children were going to grow up as Gallifreyans, and to succeed in Gallifreyan society, would it be fair on them to confuse their minds with this duality? He had made that promise wholeheartedly, and his love for Marion bound him to it, as well as his honour as a Time Lord. But he wondered if it was a good idea in the long run.

But he looked at his wife and saw her bright, happy smile and his doubts about the future melted away. He joined in enthusiastically with helping Rodan open her presents. Marion had spent a full day in Liverpool buying them. Most of them were not particularly grand or expensive. She had gone to the street market and bought things that were bright and colourful and would entrance an eight month old child, not brand names that would impress nobody here on Gallifrey. She wrapped them in bright paper and made them exciting.

Opening them all took two delightful hours in which, even Kristoph, who felt the passing of time instinctively within his soul, didn’t notice it passing. At least not until late in the morning when Caolin stepped into the drawing room and looked around for a moment at the mess of ripped and scrunched up wrapping paper, and his employer, the Noble Patriarch of the House of Lœngbærrow, sitting on the floor amidst the mess, pushing along a bright red fire engine and making the appropriate noises to amuse a laughing child.

“Would you like morning tea served in here, your Lordship?” Caolin asked with as much of a butler’s dignity as he could muster.

“Tea would be excellent, thank you, Caolin,” Kristoph answered. He, too, looked around and seemed to see the distressing state of his formal drawing room for the first time. “Perhaps you could send in a couple of maids to tidy up. And… er… one of the footmen with a stepladder to remove the bits of paper that appear to have become entangled with the chandelier.” He and Caolin both glanced up at the thousand year old crystal and gold light fitting and wondered just how red and blue paper with jolly Father Christmases on it actually got up there.

“I shall see to it at once,” Caolin assured him. He paused and looked at his employer and his wife, and their foster child, and smiled. “May I say, sir, I do think this Christmas has a lot to commend it, even if it does seem to take its toll on the furnishings.”

“I quite agree,” Kristoph answered. The butler went to do his duty while the master himself, feeling a little guilty about creating so much work began to collect some of the waste paper together. But every time he saw his wife’s smile, or the bright eyes of the child, or even when he looked at the lifesize doll and the growling pastel blue teddy bear he felt himself caught up in the emotion of it. Christmas was an alien thing, alien to his planet, to himself, to his very nature. But it had seized him, all the same and infected him with its joy.

“Merry Christmas, my dear,” he said to Marion.

“And you, my love,” Marion answered. “Merry Christmas, Kristoph.”