The TARDIS materialized in the private garden of the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado. Chrístõ stepped out and looked around. It was early morning. A crisp, winter’s morning it felt and he breathed deeply the clean air of this beautiful planet for a good minute before five powder blue uniformed Guardia Real soldiers, Penne’s own personal guards who protected the palace, poured into the garden to find out what the disturbance was. He noted that they were all slim-hipped females, but he had no doubt that they were good soldiers, even so.

When they saw him standing there they hesitated. Of course he was dressed this day for attendance at the palace, in a black robe and gown with silver fixings. He knew he must have looked so very much like Penne.

Or perhaps it was more than that. There was something in their expression as they studied him that was disturbing.

“No, I’m not the King,” he told them. “I’m his friend, Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow. That’s my ship there.” He pointed to the ornamental folly that had not graced the garden until a few minutes ago. “I’m not expected, but I’m sure he won’t mind an extra guest for breakfast.”

He smiled as he thought of Penne dragging him off after breakfast for one of their long baths, demanding to know all the news from his travels among the stars.

“It IS you,” said the senior officer in a darker blue tunic. “Ambassador de Lœngbærrow. You are most timely arrived. We have need of you.”

“Major Beccan?” Chrístõ placed her face after a moment. “Major Ruana Beccan.”

She was one of the first officers to be commissioned to the Guardia Real, personally trained by Sammie and Bo Thomlinson. And she had proved her worth almost straight away. She had risked her life to rescue Cirena from the machinations of the despot who destroyed her world. Major Beccan was one of the best.

“WHY do you have need of me?” he asked with a deep sense of foreboding.

“The King is very ill,” she answered. “No physician can find the cause.”

“The King… Penne…” Chrístõ’s face froze. “Take me to him.”

“Of course,” Ruana Beccan answered him. “But we must be discreet. The King’s illness has been kept a secret from all but his closest retinue. Come quickly.”

Usually he entered the palace through the grand front portico. This time he was brought through a servant’s door, along a narrow corridor and up plain stone steps until they reached the King’s apartments. There were two guards on the entrance to the private royal rooms, though they did not hinder the Major or Chrístõ. Another guard stood before the King’s bedroom, and his footman and the Queen’s closest ladies in waiting were milling around anxiously. All looked curiously at the new arrival but did not seem to hold out much hope that he could change the desperate situation much.

“The Queen is within,” Major Beccan told him. “She at least will be glad to see you.”

And she was. She was sitting by the royal bed and looked up irritably as the door opened, expecting, perhaps, some unwanted intrusion. When she recognised Chrístõ she ran to him in a thoroughly unqueenly manner and wrapped her arms around his neck. He held her as she sobbed unashamedly. If she had to maintain her dignity with all others, she had no need to do so with him. He willingly gave what comfort he could, though he was anxious to look at Penne and see if his own skills could help him.

“Oh, if anyone CAN help him…” Cirena whispered hoarsely. “He is so ill. All the physicians are baffled. They don’t know what is wrong with him.”

“Let me look,” Chrístõ said. “I will do what I can.”

She let go of his hand and he moved to the bedside. He looked at Penne. He was very clearly ill. His skin was waxy and yellow looking. His breathing was shallow. Chrístõ touched his face. He was cold, but not in the way one of his kind was when he went into a deep trance. It felt very wrong.

“How long has he been this way?” Chrístõ asked.

“Three days now,” she answered. “We were returning from a visit to the summer palace on Adano Menor… Penne’s birth home. He loves to spend time there. On the shuttle he began to shiver as if he was cold, even though the cabin was warm. He was pale and there was a sweat on his brow even though he shivered. We brought him straight to his bed. But by then he was worse. He couldn’t speak. He hardly seemed to know I was there. The royal physician tried some medicine on him, but that did nothing, and he began to have dreadful seizures as if his body was fighting itself and he collapsed into this state as you see him now.”

Chrístõ’s hearts were heavy as he continued to examine his friend physically. He lifted his eyelids and looked at his eyes. The pupils were dilated as in a deep coma.

“Does he respond to ANY stimulus at all? Have you tried talking to him?”

“I talk to him all the time,” Cirena answered. “I’ve not left his side since this began.”

As worried as he was about Penne, Chrístõ turned and looked at Cirena properly. Her eyes showed the exhaustion and the worry clearly.

“Then it is time you did,” he told her gently. He brought her to a long, padded sofa in the corner of the state bedroom. “Lie down and rest, Cirena. Penne needs you to keep your health. I will take care of him.”

Cirena was too tired to object. She had obviously not lain down for days. Chrístõ kept one eye on her as he returned to the King’s side. Whatever was causing this illness was far from obvious. It was no disease he knew of that affected his species. Penne was pure blood Gallifreyan. Adult Gallifreyans were resistant to most diseases that afflicted humans and the few ailments peculiar to his own species did not fit this pattern.

He needed to look deeper. He pressed his hands against Penne’s head and closed his eyes in concentration. He reached into his friend’s mind, trying to see if there was any clue there. But he was in too deep a coma. The brain was functioning only at the very basic level that kept those functions such as breathing going. He couldn’t even feel a dream.

He looked at Penne’s body, his bloodstream, searching for anything foreign that could be expelled. There were traces of something but it had dissipated by now after doing the damage. There was no molecular structure to it, only a residual amino acid. But it told Chrístõ one thing. A foreign body of some sort had definitely invaded Penne’s body. And it had caused a lot of damage. His hearts were beating still, and his lungs continued to function. But his liver and kidneys had been severely affected. That was why he was so jaundiced and ill-looking. The deterioration had been halted only because he was Gallifreyan and his body could repair itself, but that repair function was doing no more than hold its own against the disease. He was not recovering as he should.

He looked at his mind again. It was quite still. Not even unconscious thoughts troubled it. And Chrístõ was reluctant to try to invoke any. Until his body was repaired it might be dangerous to rouse his mind.

Chrístõ withdrew carefully, and looked around the room. Cirena was sleeping. She really must have been very tired. They were King and Queen, but they were also lovers, and of course she would not leave him.

“I won’t leave you, either, Penne,” Chrístõ promised him. Penne didn’t stir. He couldn’t hear him. He didn’t know he was there. He probably didn’t even know where he was himself.

He stood and looked out of the window. It overlooked the garden where he had landed. He could see his TARDIS there. He focussed his mind on it and saw it change from its disguised form to the default shape of a grey rectangular box. Then he went to the chamber door and summoned the footman.

“Have some of the servants, trustworthy ones, and strong, bring up the grey box that is in the garden,” he said. “Let them be discreet.”

“At once, sire,” answered the footman. Chrístõ was accustomed to being addressed that way by Penne’s servants. Even those who knew he was not the King paid him the same obeisance purely because of the accidental resemblance between them. The job was done very quickly and the TARDIS installed in the corner of the chamber without even disturbing the Queen in her much needed slumber.

He opened the door and stepped inside. At once Humphrey’s half-perceived shade bowled towards him, protesting about the bumpy ride.

“Sorry, old thing,” he answered. “But I didn’t want to leave Penne.” He hesitated. Trying to explain his anxiety to Humphrey would be difficult. His species didn’t get diseases at all. They had a very few specific things that harmed them. But Humphrey was an empathic creature and he DID understand at once that Chrístõ was worried. His soft purr of encouragement was just what he needed. Humphrey accompanied him as he went to the medical room and picked up syringes and his portable microscope and slides and other equipment he might use to further examine the pathology of the illness afflicting Penne. On his way back he stopped at the communications console and contacted Gallifrey.

Most of the time he tried to manage without asking anyone’s help. He was determined to stand on his own two feet in every situation he faced. But this time he couldn’t risk Penne’s life for the sake of his own stubbornness. Besides, there were people on Gallifrey who should know that the King of Adano-Ambrado was ill.

“Father.” Chrístõ greeted him quickly and that was enough to tell his father that there WAS something wrong. He related what he knew equally swiftly and then asked about his friend, Maestro, Penne’s grandfather.

“He is within the Brotherhood, of course. On the mountain,” his father answered. “But he must be told. Penne is his only heir. This is an occasion, I think, when I must break the cardinal rule and take a TARDIS to the summit. We have no time for the traditional method of reaching the Brothers.”y

“You are coming here?” Chrístõ’s hearts were cheered by the thought. He did not have to be alone in this struggle.

“I am. We both will come. Maestro was your surrogate father when I was away. I fulfilled the same role in Penne’s life until he learnt that he had blood kin of his own. For either of you, we would come in an eyeblink if we could. As it is, it could be several hours. In the meantime, I have faith in your abilities, my son.”

“Yes, but Father, what should I do? I have no idea what ails him. It does not look natural to our species or any other.”

“The symptoms do not sound like anything I have ever heard of,” his father admitted. “But in truth your medical knowledge exceeds mine greatly. Conduct what tests you can. Try to find out more. Do what seems best for him.”

“I fully intend to,” Chrístõ replied, feeling a little disappointed that his father had no ready answers for him. He had half hoped that he would know the disease and be able to tell him the cure. But even his father’s knowledge had limits.

“I wish I could give you more concrete help,” his father told him. “All I can do is burden you further. Chrístõ, I am inclined to wonder if this is an ordinary illness or if foul play is involved. Penne is engaged at the moment in a very important political Treaty. One that has far reaching implications for Adano-Ambrado. And this illness, if he does not recover quickly, will weaken his position. To say nothing of what would happen if he dies. There is no heir, and Cirena, as strong a woman as she is, and of royal blood, is not a native of the system. She may not be able to rule without him. I fear Adano-Ambrado would be a prize for the taking.”

Chrístõ hardly knew how to reply to that.

“Be on your guard,” his father said. “Try to ensure nobody whose trust is not completely certain goes near him. Let there be no opportunity to cause him further harm.”

“I will do that,” Chrístõ answered. He ended the call to his father and went back to the royal chamber. He took the blood samples he needed and set up a small laboratory at the bureaux where Penne would sit at night in his rest gown and write personal correspondence that was separate to the affairs of state.

The slides showed nothing more than he already knew. Something HAD entered his blood but there was nothing there now that he could identify. Only the damage it had done.

Penne had not been born or raised as a Time Lord, as a Gallifreyan. Chrístõ had trained him in many of the skills of his race, especially his telepathic ones. His grandfather had trained him even further after they came to know each other. But he realised there was a gap in that training. Neither of them had taught Penne how to look into his own body and expel harmful foreign substances. It was a skill that Chrístõ had used many times to save his own life. He had used the same skill to save others. But Penne didn’t know how. If he had, he might not be so ill now.

He didn’t dwell on it, but he felt that he was at fault for that omission.

“I’m sorry, my brother,” he said as he turned from the bureaux and came to sit by the royal bedside. He quietly watched the King as he lay, almost unmoving. Only the rise and fall of his chest and the beat of his two hearts told that he was alive. His face was rigid. And he still felt unnaturally cold. A fever would have been understandable. But the cold was strangely disturbing.

He thought about putting Penne in the medical room of the TARDIS where he had body scanners that could continuously monitor his condition. But what would be the point? What would the technology tell him that he didn’t know already? Penne was in a coma and could not be roused from it. His body was holding its own. As long as that didn’t change they had time to think, to work out how to help him win the battle going on inside him.

The Zero Room! The thought came into his head suddenly. Yes, that would do. It would keep him stable. It might even allow him to begin to recover.

He roused Cirena and told her what he had in mind. She consented at once. Anything that gave her lover a fighting chance of being a whole man again. She helped him to wrap him in a sheet and then Chrístõ carried him in his arms, cuddling him close like a child as Cirena opened the TARDIS doors for him.

The Zero Room was a strange part of the TARDIS. He had never entirely understood what created it. He had an idea that the pink and grey room, lit by the soft glow of the walls itself, was something to do with the gravitational centre of the TARDIS. It was a place that was separate from every other part of the TARDIS, while still very much a part of it. Anyway, it was a place where he FELT Penne ought to be able to recover. It was a place of absolute peace and stillness. And he would be safe there from anything that might impede his recovery.

Chrístõ laid him on the floor, straightening his limbs at his side and stood back. Cirena was surprised when he immediately levitated several feet.

“That’s normal,” Chrístõ said. “He has perfect peace and equilibrium. Once we close the door he is safe from all harm, cut off from all noise or movement. If he will recover anywhere, it is in here.”

“I feel as if I could stay here,” Cirena said. “It feels… like a rose garden after a summer rain. It smells of roses.”

“I don’t know why that is,” Chrístõ admitted. “I wonder if it is because my mother loved rose gardens and it adapted to something in my psyche that feels like safety.”

The smell and the feel evoked a soft memory of his mother, anyway, and Chrístõ was sure that was the reason. He, too, would have liked to rest here. But Penne needed it more. He took Cirena by the hand and left the room, closing the door behind him. They returned to the King’s chamber where Cirena herself went to the bed where he had lain and straightened the sheets and blankets.

“I have not let any servants in here,” she said. “Only the physicians. The fact that the King has more than a slight headcold is not known beyond those few courtiers in the outer chamber and the most trustworthy of the Gardia Real. All are sworn to secrecy.”

“There is need for secrecy?” Chrístõ asked. “Is the political situation so desperate?”

“We do not wish for the people to be worried for his life. And we do not wish it to be known beyond our boundaries that the great, proud head of the Adano-Ambrado serpent has been struck down. Especially… We especially don’t want the Dragon-Loge Marton to know.”

Chrístõ’s lips formed the question but Cirena didn’t want to continue that line of conversation. She turned her thoughts back to Penne and to the efforts Chrístõ had made for him.

“It’s not a cure,” he told her. “The Zero Room. It is merely a place where he won’t get any worse. We still need to seek a cure. And to do that we must find out the cause. You should know, by the way, that my father suspects foul play.”

That news did not startle Cirena. She had clearly considered it as a possibility. But having it said out loud by another person troubled her. It made it more real, more than a mere possibility.

“I can’t say for sure,” Chrístõ added. “It could be something natural, a virus, the bite of an animal, the sting of some insect or plant that Penne has had an allergic reaction to. He may have been born on Adano Menor, but in truth his blood is not native to this planetary system and who truly knows what could affect him. But the possibility that this is a deliberate attack upon him, and upon the political system that he is the visible and strong head of, must not be overlooked. It would not be the first time an assassin has made an attempt upon his life.”

“Yes,” Cirena sighed. “But at least twice before it was YOU they were after.” She blanched and clapped her hands to her mouth as she realised what she had said. “Oh, Chrístõ, I am sorry. I did not mean…”

Chrístõ reached out and embraced her gently and reassuringly.

“Penne and I have shared the danger equally many times. We have taken the pain and the hurt for each other. And would gladly do it again. I would die for him, Cirena, and he for me.”

“He always calls you his brother. I always think of you that way. I forget sometimes you are not truly blood kin. Your love for each other is as deep and rich as blood.”

“Yes, it is,” Chrístõ answered. He was still holding her in his arms. She clung to him. His blood brother’s wife, clinging to him for comfort in her grief. And he gave her what comfort he could.

He was still holding her when the door was flung open. Cirena stepped back from him and looked startled and embarrassed. Chrístõ just looked startled. He hadn’t even begun to think about what the man who entered without warning might have thought he saw happening. He looked at the iron grey beard and worried eyes and registered in his mind that his name was Oysto Nevess, and he was Penne’s Prime Minister. Then he saw the man bow low to both of them.

“I apologise for the nature of my intrusion,” he said. “Majesty, I am relieved that you are well enough to rise from your bed. I had heard that you were far more ill and rejoice that the palace talk is wrong.”

“I hope you will stamp out any such talk,” Chrístõ answered using Penne’s rather slower cadence. “If you assure me that your improper entry into my chamber was urgent you will be forgiven, just this once.”

“It is very urgent,” he replied. “The Dragon-Loge Marton’s ship is in orbit. He sends word that he will be ready in two hours to receive your welcome.”

“What?” Cirena explained. “But he was not to be here until next week. His Majesty is only just recovered. He is not ready…”

“I am ready,” Chrístõ answered. “Make the necessary preparations for the reception. Have our servants come within to dress the Queen and myself to meet with the Dragon-Loge.”

“At once, my Lord,” Oysto Nevess answered, bowing once again. In the few moments that they were alone Chrístõ turned to Cirena.

“I think we can do it,” he said. “Penne and I have pulled off this trick many times. And if even Nevess didn’t recognise that I wasn’t the King…” He laughed softly. “Nevess? Nervous more like. And WHO IS this Dragon-Loge? WHAT is a Dragon-Loge?”

“He is the ruler of the planetary system second nearest to Adano-Ambrado – after what’s left of Terrigna. He has proved a strong leader, as strong as Penne. They are a lot alike in many ways. Except that Penne is more honourable, I think. And Marton is a brute. He uses women and men alike as playthings. Not as Penne used to do, sinfully but joyfully, but as a demonstration of his might. Adano-Ambrado matches the Logian system army for army, battle-ship for battle-ship. Marton cannot ignore us. We cannot ignore him. We can’t afford him to be an enemy so we must make him a friend. But I wish we did not have to. And I know… if anything happened to Penne, he would take advantage of our weakness and make us part of his empire.”

There was very little time. He saw out of the corner of his eye the courtiers and ladies in waiting at the door. None would enter without a signal from him, but he could not leave them for too long. He drew Cirena close again and put his hands either side of her face. He gently slipped into her mind and found her memory of the visit she and Penne had made to the home world of the Dragon-Loge. He carefully but swiftly examined her recollection of all that was said and done. He understood the point at which the political discussions stood. He knew what he must say and do if he was to be recognised as the King and if he was to do justice to Penne in his absence.

Two hours later, dressed in the robes of a King, with the crown of Adano-Ambrado sitting on his curling dark hair with unusual heaviness, Chrístõ held Cirena’s arm as they both went to do justice to Penne and to Adano Ambrado. They walked at the head of a retinue of ladies in waiting and courtiers out of the palace and into the formal garden, and from there to a meadow beyond it, where the Dragon-Loge’s ship had landed and where his own people had set up what amounted to a court in the open air.

Chrístõ was reminded of the day in Earth history when a young King Henry VIII of England with much to prove met with an equally young Francis I of France on the Field of The Cloth of Gold. The Dragon-Loge and the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado, both young rulers, were meeting today with the same purpose, the same sense of one-upmanship. And with much the same at stake for the one who proved less kinglike.

There were several huge tents erected. The largest of them all was open at the front. Within it was the throne of the Dragon-Loge. The whole structure was of black lacquered wood, from the canopy over it to the dais that raised it from the ground. The throne was ornately carved with what looked like two swords pointing to the sky behind the Dragon-Loge’s head. Either side of the throne were two black banners with a gold depiction of a dragon eating a serpent. Chrístõ remembered Cirena describing Adano Ambrado as a serpent with the head laid low. He wondered if that was more than just symbolism.

The Dragon-Loge himself was a young man with a proud face and an erect posture as he sat upon the throne. He was dark. Dark haired, dark eyed, just as he and Penne were, Chrístõ noted. But while they were both naturally pale-complexioned, the Dragon-Loge was swarthy like a young Arab of Earth origin.

At his feet a young woman knelt. She was ‘clothed’ if that was the word, in some strips of leather that just about covered her decently. There was a chain around her neck. It was silver and almost ornamental, and it was not attached to anything, but again it seemed symbolic of something more. And it was a symbolism Chrístõ did not like the taste of.

Everyone except Cirena and Chrístõ bowed as the Dragon-Loge stood and showed himself to be about the same height as he and Penne were. The analogy with Henry and Francis was ever more accurate.

“I bid you welcome,” he said, as he knew he must. “To Adano-Ambrado and my palace, where you will be assured of comfort and courtesy.”

“Your welcome is acceptable,” the Dragon-Loge answered. “Here is a gift to you from Loge.”

He tugged at the silver chain and the woman rose. He reached out and Chrístõ stepped forward, knowing he was going to have to take the chain from him. He didn’t want to do anything of the sort, but to refuse would be an insult to a man who was Penne’s political equal, and whose goodwill had to be preserved.

He took the chain. The woman walked forward towards him, her eyes downcast, her expression neither of sorrow nor joy at being given to another man. At once, one of Penne’s courtiers stepped forward and took the chain from him. The girl walked away with the courtier. Chrístõ hoped she would be taken somewhere and given suitable clothes. He would decide what to do with her later.

PENNE would decide what to do with her, he amended.

“I understand that it is customary to shake hands on your world?” The Dragon-Loge added as Chrístõ turned back to him. He reached out his hand and Chrístõ did the same. The two bowed heads cursorily to each other. The handshake lasted less than thirty seconds, but Chrístõ took advantage of the physical contact and learnt something that surprised him and which he knew Penne would certainly find interesting.

That was the second time he had thought of Penne and expected him to be well enough in a short while to take over this duty. He only hoped it was true.

There was some more small talk, and then the formal welcome was over. The Dragon-Loge invited Chrístõ to join him in his tent for refreshments. The invitation, he noted, was only extended to him, not to Cirena. She returned to the palace with the retinue as Chrístõ went with his political opponent to drink wine and eat fruit and sweetmeats offered to him by women dressed in thin strips of leather. Politics were not touched upon. This was simply an opportunity for Henry and Francis to size each other up man to man. Chrístõ was careful to ensure he DID measure up. He and Penne were not exactly the Prince and the Pauper. Chrístõ had been born into the aristocracy of his own world. But he had never been a ruler. Penne had been Lord of Adano Menor most of his life before he acquired a whole empire. His regal manner, his superiority, was even more ingrained than Chrístõ’s.

He thought he was managing to pull it off, anyway. The Dragon-Loge seemed to have absolutely no suspicion that he was not Penne. He did wish, though, that he could get back to the palace and check on him. He wondered how much longer he would have to listen to the Dragon-Loge bragging about his lands and possessions and the treaties he had made with the rulers of other planetary systems.

Then there were some new arrivals in the tent. Chrístõ was surprised and glad to see them. Oysto Nevess, accompanied by the Dragon-Loge’s own Prime Minister bowed deep and introduced the newly arrived Ambassadors from Gallifrey, come to see the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado and to pay their respects, of course, to the Dragon-Loge.

“Your Majesty,” Ambassador de Lœngbærrow said smoothly and bowed to Chrístõ. “Honourable Loge…” He bowed once more to the Dragon-Loge. Maestro, at his side, did the same.

“You do know it’s me?” Chrístõ asked his father telepathically.

“Of course I do,” his father replied. “Would I ever fail to recognise my own son? You can explain later.” He turned to the Dragon-Loge and bowed to him again. “I am very much afraid that I must ask your pardon and request his Majesty’s audience at the palace. There is grave news from Gallifrey that he, as one of our chief political and trade allies must hear at once.”

“I did not know that Adano Ambrado had formal ties with Gallifrey!” The Dragon-Loge was both impressed and perturbed. “That is news, indeed. Yet no such overtures have been made to the Logian Conglomerate.”

“I believe your father had made preliminary enquiries shortly before his death,” The Ambassador said. “Of course, if you wish to make a Treaty on behalf of your people we will be happy to make arrangements. But that must await another time and place.”

“Indeed, it must,” Chrístõ said as he stood up and tried to disguise a wobble that suggested he had drunk too much of the Logian wine. That was not true at all. He had taken only two glasses and made it look like more since drinking strong wine was something the Dragon-Loge believed to be a sign of manliness. He recovered himself anyway and went with his father and Maestro. They appeared to say nothing to each other as they passed through the Field of the Cloth of Gold as Chrístõ had dubbed it and into the formal garden. But a great deal passed between them telepathically.

“You did the right thing,” his father told him. “You bought Penne some time with the Zero Room. It looks like you bought time for Penne’s government, too. A shame this negotiation won’t bring you any credit as a diplomat.”

“I don’t want it to,” he answered. “Besides, there is less to the Dragon-Loge than meets the eye.”

“I’ll look into that, later,” Lord de Lœngbærrow said when his son related what he knew about the Loge. “But first, let us attend to Penne.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ said as they walked into the palace by the same discreet back entrance Major Beccan had showed him only a few hours earlier. He shivered as he walked up the cold, stone steps of the service passage and pulled the royal cloak around him. He hadn’t noticed the cold before. He was too worried for Penne at the time.

He was still worried for Penne, but…

“Father…” he whispered. He tried to say something else but his words failed him. The passageway seemed darker than ever and he reached for a handhold and couldn’t find it. He stumbled and felt the crown slip from his head. He reached to stop it falling and the floor seemed to spin away from him.

His father caught him as he fainted. Maestro caught the crown as it fell. Both were equally precious.

“The King’s Chambers,” was all his father said as the two Time Lords folded time, knowing how little there was.

Chrístõ came around slowly, aware that he was lying in a soft bed and that there were voices speaking near him. He ached all over and felt slightly sick, and he felt by his body’s internal clock that several hours had passed since he last remembered anything.

He heard his father’s voice and he opened his eyes and looked at him. Yes, it was dark outside. It HAD been many hours. He struggled to sit up as he remembered all the urgent matters that he should have been dealing with. He felt a sharp tugging and saw that there was a medical stand next to the bed with some kind of fluid in a bag being fed into his bloodstream through a needle fixed into the back of his hand.

“It’s just a saline solution to help flush out your kidneys,” said Maestro as he detached the needle and pressed his thumb over his hand until the tiny hole repaired itself. “You gave us a little concern, dear boy.”

“What happened to me?” he asked.

“The same thing that happened to Penne,” his father answered. “But we didn’t waste any time with physicians making wrong diagnoses. Your body was infected by a poison that attacked your liver and kidneys before dissolving into your bloodstream, making it impossible for us to remove in the usual way.”

“So how was I…”

“All of your blood has been replaced,” Maestro told him. “Your father and I gave half each. The transfer took some time, but it was successful. You are quite cured.”

“Then…” Chrístõ sat up in the King’s bed. He saw that the only other person in the room was Cirena. She was lying on the sofa where she had rested before, but she was not sleeping. “Penne…”

“Penne is still in the Zero Room. He is holding his own as you expected.”

“He could be cured in the same way?”

“Yes, in a few hours. When the two of us have recovered sufficiently. He will be perfectly fine where he is until then. In the meantime, we need you to act as King-Emperor once again for a little while. Do you feel up to it?”


Cirena stood and came to his side. She took his hand and kissed it.

“Chrístõ, for Penne’s sake will you deal with these two problems tonight, so that tomorrow he may be free of these concerns and can press on with the important matter of the Dragon-Loge’s Treaty.”

“I will do anything for you and for Penne,” he told her. He sat up. He felt a little light-headed from having slept so much, but he was not ill. He noticed that he had been put into one of Penne’s nightrobes. “I shall have to get dressed, my dear. It would be better if you wait in the ante-room.”

“I helped them undress you,” she pointed out with a wry smile. “Your body was shaking so much it took three of us. But I shall spare your blushes now. And if Penne should happen to ask, I will tell him there is no difference between the two of you in any way.”

“Penne KNOWS there’s no difference between us. We have taken enough baths together.” He smiled at the risqué joke that Cirena had instigated and waited until she was gone before getting out of the bed and allowing his father and Maestro to help him dress in the King’s robes of office. The ones he wore to hold a session of parliament or to hold court in the Throne Room.

It was to the Throne Room that he went. He wore the crown he had so nearly lost on his head again. Maestro, the King’s grandfather, was at his one side and the Queen on the other, while the Ambassador from Gallifrey, known to be his Majesty’s closest advisor, walked beside her. When the four of them entered the assembled courtiers bowed and curtseyed. As his two advisors took up their places either side, Chrístõ and Cirena seated themselves upon the two thrones. Chrístõ looked at the people bowing before him. It was a strange feeling, to have so many under his command. He knew, of course, that it was Penne’s power, not his own, but on his behalf he got ready to do his duty.

The first matter was one that caused dismay to all the assembly. The doors were opened and two of the Guardia Real brought forward a man in chains. Chrístõ was shocked to see that it was Oysto Nevess. Beside him, Cirena gasped.

“You? My husband’s closest aide? You… betrayed him? Why?”

“For the power, of course, you half-witted woman,” replied Nevess. “With him dead, YOU would need MY advice, and my counsel. You would have to appoint me as Regent…”

“I think not,” Cirena replied. “Even if you HAD succeeded in murdering my husband I have other counsels than you.”

“HOW did you poison me?” Chrístõ asked. “And when?”

“The first time, on the shuttle,” he replied. “I spoke with you and you didn’t even notice the tiniest pin prick against your arm. It was the concentrated venom of a serpent on a dart no bigger than a splinter of wood, concealed under my finger nail. I only had to brush against your flesh to infect you with the poison. You should have died. I was assured that even one of your physiology would die. I don’t know how you recovered. Some trickery, I suppose. But the second time it ought to have worked. You should be dead. If you were an ordinary Ambradan you would be. But we are cursed by your alien blood…”

“I think we’ve all heard enough,” Chrístõ said. “Take him away. Lock him up securely. Have him questioned to obtain the names of his co-conspirators – the one who ASSURED him that I would die, for instance. Do not be gentle. He IS a traitor. But do not be unnecessarily cruel, either. And have him examined by a physician when he has given up all the information he has to offer. I believe he is suffering from a mental delusion, which may be a mitigating factor when his trial can be arranged. A jury of true Adano-Ambrado citizens will decide his fate, and justice will be tempered by mercy even for a traitor.”

“You realise,” his father said to him telepathically. “That any physician who looks at him won’t DARE disagree with your prognosis of mental illness. You are the KING.”

“I am sure Penne would agree. The man must have been mad. My first suspicion fell on the Dragon-Loge. Especially when it seemed as if I was affected by his drink. But I had seen his mind so clearly. He had no intent to harm me. He needs me. Or… that is to say, he needs the King of Adano-Ambrado. Not his stand in.”

“Try to remember that,” his father told him. “Especially in respect of this next problem.”

“Which is?” Chrístõ looked curiously around as the young woman who had been the gift of the Dragon-Loge was brought forward. She knelt before him, her eyes still downcast. He was aware of Cirena’s hand on his, gripping it tightly. He looked at her and could see there was something distressing her. Of course this was a distasteful aspect of statesmanship and she must have been concerned as he was about the fate of this innocent thrust upon them. But there was something else, too. When she looked at the girl, and a pathetic sight she was, Cirena did not seem to be sympathetic to her. There was a curious hardness to the set of her mouth. He gently probed her mind again but this time found a wall put up. He was only a little surprised. She WAS married to a man with telepathic abilities. She must have practised hiding her private thoughts even from him.

He would just have to play this one by ear.

“It will be all right,” he whispered to her. Then he turned and looked at the girl.

“What is your name?” he asked her. “And please, look up. It is permitted. You will not burst into flames if you dare to make eye contact with me.”

She looked up briefly and stated her name as Nestista.

“And you are…” Chrístõ made the most obvious guess. “A slave, servant of the Dragon-Loge.

“I am his sister,” she answered.

“Sister? He gave his sister to be the King’s concubine?” Cirena was appalled and Chrístõ thought her manner had softened just slightly.

“It is the way of things,” she answered. “My two younger sisters were presented to the harem of the Doman of Keos last year. He kept me for the King of Adano-Ambrado. It is a sign of the high regard he holds you in, that he gave me, his eldest sister to you.”

“That’s all very well,” Chrístõ said. “But I don’t work that way. We gave him rubies and minerals. He gives us a woman? What does he expect me to do with you?”

That was a stupid question, he realised. The entire court knew what he was expected to do with her. He glanced again at Cirena and began to understand.

“The Queen and I have matters we must discuss in private,” he said, standing and taking Cirena by the hand. “Let the court be in recess until we return.” Then he walked with her, aware of all the eyes watching her, including those of the young, would be concubine. He stepped into a small robing-room at the side of the Throne dais and closed the door. As soon as they were alone, Cirena made her feelings known.

“YOU don’t work that way,” she said. “But I’m not so sure about Penne. A gift of a… barely clothed woman. To do with as he pleases?”

“He loves you,” Chrístõ insisted. “He has no use for that poor girl, any more than I do.”

Cirena gave an ironic half laugh.

“We have a royal guard that is nearly all attractive women because my husband likes to see female beauty displayed even in uniform and armed to the teeth.”

“They are not just ornamental. They are an elite force of soldiers. And Penne has never… unless there is more to life here in the palace than I am aware of. He has been faithful to you since your marriage?”

“Yes, he has. But you know as well as I do that Penne is an unashamed lecher who watches every woman, and some of the men in the palace. The only reason he looks but does not touch is his love for me. But that love… that love is tested greatly. I am his Queen. But… but Chrístõ… we learnt some time ago that I am barren. I can never give him the heir he needs.”

“Oh, Cirena,” Chrístõ reached out to her, drawing her close to him as he had done so often today. “Oh, my dear, I didn’t know. Penne never said…”

“I forbad him to make that a subject for one of your male only bathing sessions,” she answered. “It is hard enough… He married me primarily because he needed a woman of high birth to give him an heir.”

“He married you because he loved you, Cirena. I was THERE, remember. He gave up his lecherous ways long before then in order to be a fit husband to a worthy woman. And then he fell in love with you and was glad he had become a better man.”

“But this girl…. She is handed to him on a plate. And she could… She is young and healthy….”

“Well, he could do that, of course,” Chrístõ acknowledged. “And there IS no law to prevent him. Even if there WAS he has absolute power to change the law to suit himself. Even on Gallifrey, there used to be a provision for that kind of arrangement. And I know it’s acceptable on many other planets. Even some parts of Earth….”

He stopped and looked at Cirena. His academic ramble around the morality and legality of polygamy was not helping her. SHE was the one who stood to be humiliated if Penne gave even a moment’s thought to the idea.

But it WAS Penne who would have to consider it. HE could not decide for him. He could not dictate Penne’s moral decisions.

“Have faith in him,” Chrístõ said. “And in his love for you.” Then he took her back to the Throne Room. Everyone there stopped their chatter and bowed low as they passed. Chrístõ and Cirena took their places and everyone waited to see what his pronouncement would be.

What it was, he had to admit, was something of a cop-out. He snapped his fingers in a commanding way and waved to two of Cirena’s Ladies in Waiting.

“You are welcome to Adano-Ambrado and to this Palace,” he said to Nestisa, echoing the greeting to her brother, earlier. “Go now with these ladies. They will dress you in clothes more suitable to my Court. If you are hungry they will get you food. You will be well-treated. Your exact position and role within the household here will be decided at a later time.”

He could do nothing more. Cirena was far from happy. But he had no other choice. Penne had to make the decision.

And he was the one they had to think of now.

He dismissed the Court and then he and Cirena walked back to the royal apartments, their advisors beside them again.

“You did the best you could,” his father assured him in their telepathic conversation as they walked. “You’re perfectly right. Penne MUST decide this. And if what you say is true, this is a decision he may be required to make more than once. The pressure on a man of his position to have an heir… I know how grieved your mother and I were before you were safely brought to birth. And our social position is nothing to Penne’s.”

“But you never considered taking another woman?”

“I didn’t. But the suggestion was made to me many times that I might invoke the old traditions which allowed a barren wife to be set aside. I never, for a moment… I loved your mother deeply. I would never have hurt her that way.”

“Penne loves Cirena. I don’t believe he would do that, either. And yet…” Christo hesitated. He tried not to think it, but the visions overflowed. Penne might be tempted. He hoped he wouldn’t be. But Penne….

“Penne is still grievously ill,” Chrístõ said, reminding himself as well as his father and Maestro. “He cannot make ANY decision until he is recovered.”

“You are quite right,” Maestro told him. “My grandson’s life is the only concern now.”

Chrístõ carried Penne from the Zero Room as he had carried him to it. He tried to decide if he looked any better. He tried to tell himself that he was, and consoled himself that he was no worse. When he laid him on his own bed the apparatus for performing the life-saving procedure had been set up. Cirena looked at the apparatus and at her husband, lying so still. She held his hand tightly. They waited and watched her, because there WAS a matter of protocol here. As Queen she had to give them her leave to perform this operation on the King. Because if he died at their hands, even though they meant to save him, it was a grave and desperate matter

“You mean to drain his blood?” she said. “As you did before for Chrístõ?”

“Yes,” Maestro answered. “As before. You saw how Chrístõ became well again in a few hours.”

“Chrístõ was not so ill as Penne is. Are you sure it will work?”

“We have no other choice. He will not recover any other way.”

“A King’s blood is…” Cirena looked at Chrístõ. “You have his face. You have his bearing. In so many ways you are a more noble man than he is. But HE is a King. The royal blood cannot… When this is done… Is he still King?”

“I am his grandfather,” Maestro reminded her. “My blood is in his veins already. Cirena, Penne is a King by conquest. He is not from a long line of kings. His blood is Gallifreyan and we have never had a royal line. Only a very arrogant aristocracy, from which we here ALL come. His blood will be no more or less royal than it was before.”

“Do it,” she said at last. “Bring him back to me. Or… if he should die… at least the attempt was made. I cannot sit another hour looking at him like this, so broken. Make him whole again.”

“We shall,” Maestro said. Then he looked at Chrístõ. “Give me your arm.”

“What? ME? I thought…” Chrístõ was startled. “But I….”

“It has been long enough. Your own blood has replenished. Three of us giving will be easier on us all. And if you feel for him as deeply as I believe you do…”

“I would die for him,” Chrístõ said. He had said so many times. “I would give my LAST drop of blood for him.”

“We don’t need the last. Only for you to do your share.” Chrístõ’s father took him by the hand gently and closed it over Penne’s before he applied a tourniquet and inserted a needle with a tube attached into his upper arm. The tube was connected to a mechanism that slowly drew off his blood and then pumped it into Penne’s arm while his own blood was drawn out into a receptacle. It was a complicated procedure but one the two older Time Lords seemed to know about. Chrístõ briefly wondered how. Then he felt a memory flickering in the edge of his mind. One of Li Tuo’s memories, not his own. This was a procedure that was used often in the war Li and Chrístõ’s father had fought when they were younger. If there was any real, physical reality to the traditions of Oldblood and Newblood then that war made a mockery of it. There was hardly a man who had not given and received blood from a comrade at some time. Maestro had not been a soldier. He had stuck to his own pacifist principles. But he, too, had given of his own lifeblood to the grievously wounded who were brought home to Gallifrey.

Including the young heir to the Lœngbærrow House.

“Our blood has been mixed already,” he said. “Epsilon would die of shock. To think that there is no difference between halfblood and pure blood after all.”

It was painful, giving so much blood. Chrístõ ached all over and he felt weak from it long before his father sat down by the bedside and Maestro attached a new tube and needle to his arm before stopping the one on Chrístõ’s arm. The procedure had to be continuous, of course.

“He DOES look better,” Chrístõ said as he looked at Penne. Yes, he does.”

“You don’t,” Cirena told him. “You look ill again.”

“Go and lie down,” his father ordered him. “Rest for a little while. I will call you when there is need for you to be awake.”

Chrístõ was too weak to argue. He stumbled to the sofa and lay on it. He half-listened to the sound of the machine that now pumped his father’s blood into Penne and drained his tainted blood out. He let himself drift into a strange vision.

He was inside Penne’s body. He was in his bloodstream. His consciousness flowed in his friend’s veins.

“We’re one, now, Chrístõ,” Penne’s voice told him. “Our blood mingles. We are no longer two people.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic,” Chrístõ felt his consciousness reply. “We ARE two people. We are two souls. Blood is merely a substance that keeps our bodies alive. Two souls, two consciences. And mine is much less troubled than yours. What’s this that Cirena tells me about you looking at the women of the court? AND the men!”

“I like to look at beautiful bodies. Show me a living, breathing being in the universe that doesn’t. I am more honest than most. I do it openly. But I have never broken my marriage vows. I love Cirena.”

“Hold that thought,” Chrístõ told him. “In the morning your resolve will be tested.”

“Why?” Penne asked.

“It’s not for me to say. Or to tell you what you should do. You’re the King. You’re Cirena’s husband. You have to make the right decision. But I won’t help you. I… won’t blame you if you make the WRONG decision, or love you any less. But I won’t tell you which is right or wrong. If you don’t know already I cannot teach you that.”

“Chrístõ,” Penne told him. “You are an insufferable prig at times.”

“I’m a Time Lord. We ARE insufferable prigs. I have to live with that. But I won’t live without my dearest friend. Come on, Penne. It’s time to wake up. Your body is mending. I can see it. I can feel it.”

Chrístõ opened his eyes. He had not even been aware that he was asleep. And more time had passed than he thought. He sat up on the sofa and looked around. It was an hour before dawn, still dark outside. The room was dimly lit now that the operation was over. Only a single lamp by the royal bed was burning. He could see Cirena keeping her vigil by Penne’s side, still, and his father and Maestro both sitting nearby, quietly waiting.

“He hasn’t woken yet?” he asked as he stepped towards the bed.

“Not yet,” Cirena answered. “But his body is repaired now. He looks…”

“Insufferable prig,” Penne murmured. Cirena looked puzzled. Chrístõ laughed and knew he would never explain why that was the King’s first words. He watched as Penne opened his eyes and reached out to embrace Cirena. He pulled her close and kissed her, as he should. Then he reached out and grasped Chrístõ’s hand.

“Thank you,” he said. “For everything. Including everything you haven’t yet told me about, and the things you seem determined not to tell me.”

“I’ll talk to you at breakfast,” he answered. “Before you attend to the Affairs of State you’ve neglected all this time.” Then he stood and turned towards his TARDIS. His father and Maestro followed him. It was time now for the King and Queen to spend what was left of the night alone.

“The Zero Room,” his father told him. “Spend a few hours of calm in there yourself. Maestro and I will seek the quiet of the Cloister Room and a deep meditation to refresh our minds and bodies.”

Chrístõ was glad to do so. There WERE still a great many loose ends to be tied up. Some of them with far-reaching consequences. But he was glad not to think of them for a while. He let that elusive scent of rose gardens overtake his senses instead and thought of his mother. The few memories he had of her were conducive to the calm he sought.

At breakfast there was much to discuss. Not all of it in spoken words. But Chrístõ still refused to be drawn on the moral issue that Penne had to face. He had far more to say about the other issue.

After breakfast Penne and Cirena were dressed to hold court and they went to the Throne Room with their chief advisors. Chrístõ didn’t go with them. He took the service corridor and a set of narrow steps that brought him out onto a gallery above the main floor of the Throne Room. He watched as fanfares were sounded and the banners of the Dragon-Loge were carried in followed by the Dragon-Loge himself, borne upon a more portable version of his black-lacquered throne which was set down in front of the throne of Adano-Ambrado. Penne looked at him and smiled faintly. Then he began to speak. He spoke quietly and nobody heard who was not sworn to secrecy or who could not be trusted, or who was not telepathically linked with him and listening to his words even as they formed in his mind.

“I will call you friend,” he said to the Dragon-Loge. “I will call the Loge Conglomerate an ally of Adano-Ambrado. But I will not let my armies fight your battles, Marton. I know that you are not as strong as you appear. Your outlying planets are on the verge of civil war and you fear you have enemies who will take advantage if that happens. Should those enemies threaten both our systems then my army, my battle cruisers and warships will join with yours in the common cause. That much I will guarantee. But the enemies within your realm you must deal with yourself by diplomatic means, by reform, by answering their grievances. Do that and you may survive. Ignore my advice, given as a friend, and you may fall. And you will fall hard. But do not seek to use me and the strength of my Empire to bolster your crumbling hegemony. Do not look to my armies to lay down their lives for your cause.”

The Dragon-Loge looked angry for a brief moment, then resigned. He nodded and bowed his head in assent to Penne’s general terms before the King went on to outline more specific ones. Then Chrístõ’s father accompanied the Dragon-Loge out of the Throne Room. He would draw up the Treaty that would make all that had been said concrete. Penne glanced up at the gallery and smiled.

“I thought he wanted to invade me!” he said to Chrístõ telepathically. “HE was afraid if he did not make a friend of me I might invade him. And he knew he would lose. It was all front. All just black lacquered furniture and a brave face.”

“He’s a lot like you were when you were Lord of Adano Menor,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Maybe your friendship will be the saving of him as my friendship saved you.”

“Slightly priggish again,” Penne replied. “But the point is well taken.” Then he turned to what seemed to be a lesser matter. The young woman, Nestista, came before him again. She was dressed in a long gown of silk, and looked like a noble-woman of the Adano-Ambrado court. She knelt before him, though, like a woman of the Dragon-Loge still.

Chrístõ said nothing. He carefully THOUGHT nothing. He waited to see what Penne would do.

Penne stood up and stepped towards the woman. He reached for her hand and lifted her to her feet.

“You WERE the Dragon-Loge’s sister.”

“Yes, sire,” she answered.

“He lost the right to call you that when he gave you to me. You are nothing to him, now. I will call you sister, instead. I have a brother already. I have a wife. A sister would be a charming thing to have. You shall stay here under my protection until such time as you find a man worthy of your affection and tell me that you choose him of your own free will.”

“Sister?” Nestista looked up at him for the first time. “Sire…”

“Not sire,” he told her. “Penne. That is my name. You will call me that. Now come, sit here beside my Queen. I think the two of you will be friends in time.”

An ornately carved chair was quickly brought by one of the courtiers and silk cushions put onto it as it was placed by the side of the Queen’s throne. Penne glanced at his wife’s face as he led his adopted sister to her seat. He smiled back at her then turned and looked once more at the gallery.

“I forgive you, my brother,” he said telepathically. “I forgive my darling wife, too. But next time either of you think I might be tempted by a pretty face and a slender body, I shall expect you to give me the benefit of the doubt.”

“I doubt there will ever be a time when you’re not tempted by a pretty face and a slender body, Penne,” Chrístõ answered him. “Not until you’re cold in your coffin. But I will accept your forgiveness and I will give you the benefit of the doubt.”