Chapter Eight

Dinner with this select group of Time Lords had been interesting, Catherine thought, as she followed Castellan Spandrell out of the reception room. But it was not an experience she could honestly say she would choose to have again. The food and wine were delicious and would have delighted the fussiest of gastronomic palates. She wasn’t sure what all of it was, but it certainly was enjoyable. It was a pity, she thought, that she couldn’t say that the conversation during dinner had been similarly enjoyable.

Catherine had expected the dinner to be formal. The Doctor had warned her earlier about the formal nature of Gallifreyan manners, particularly at High Councillor level. But that hadn’t concerned her as she was familiar with nearly all levels of formality from her previous occupation. Even so, Gallifreyan dinner procedure was extraordinarily formal. Catherine was seated at a hexagonal-shaped table between Castellan Spandrell and the Commander of the Chancellery Guard. Sitting directly opposite her were the Gallifrey-Lambe*Rt~ia Supply Coordinator and a very inquisitive individual who announced to all present that he was Sir Zedga, the Executive Officer to the Gallifrey Ambassador to Lambe*Rt~ia. Castellan Spandrell, as his status demanded, was sitting opposite no-one.

It wasn’t that a seat had been removed from what appeared to be a table for six. These hexagonal-shaped tables were specifically designed to seat five and have a vacant side of the table. This served two purposes. Firstly, it formally, but quietly, indicated who was the host of the group seated at the table – in this instance, Castellan Spandrell. Secondly, it allowed all food and drink served to the host’s guests to be delivered directly to the centre of the table without having to reach over or between the guests. Catherine had never seen anything like it before. But years of experience in hiding her emotions from those she had been investigating helped her in appearing to accept this as normal. She also hadn’t forgotten the Doctor’s advice about being careful about human emotions being misinterpreted.

It was a strange mixture of personalities at the Castellan’s table. While the Castellan and Sir Zedga asked many questions of Catherine, neither the Commander of the Chancellery Guard nor the Gallifrey-Lambe*Rt~ia Supply Coordinator spoke to her at all during the meal. Catherine noticed that the Commander did greet her politely and smiled at her once or twice, but he was clearly reticent to speak to her in the presence of the Castellan. She could understand this as the Castellan was the head of security and had overall responsibility for the Chancellery Guard. But she was puzzled by the lack of conversation from the Coordinator, particularly when the trading relationship with Lambe*Rt~ia was his primary concern and that was supposed to be the reason the Doctor and Catherine were on Gallifrey at all.

Although the Castellan was a most polite host, it didn’t take Catherine long to realise that the Doctor had been correct when he advised her that the Castellan could be either a strong enemy or a strong ally. She was greatly impressed with his knowledge of security in general and had no problem answering his questions honestly and openly. When the opportunity presented itself, she asked some of her own, but was intuitive enough not to ask any specific questions about Gallifrey’s processes or defences. To her surprise, Lambe*Rt~ia itself never even entered any of the conversations she had with him…..

Castellan Spandrell knew immediately why two of his guests did not speak to the Doctor’s companion. He didn’t need to use the telepathy that all Time Lords shared to provide him with this answer. His knowledge of the characters of the Commander and the Coordinator were enough. He realised that the Commander would not feel confident enough to converse with Ms Mere at a formal dinner while he was present. That showed a satisfactory respect for his status as Castellan. He was not displeased.

Unfortunately, the Coordinator’s reason for not speaking to Catherine was of a completely different type. The Coordinator wouldn’t speak to Ms Mere simply because she was an alien. Even though her presence was, in usual Gallifreyan terms, illegal, she was permitted to be there by the Premier Cardinal. Legally, that meant she was under the protection of the High Council. Under such circumstances, the Coordinator had no reason to object to her presence – except for reasons of bigotry.

Despite being wary at first, the Castellan was pleasantly surprised in Ms Catherine Mere. She showed none of the gauche ways that many on the High Council would have expected from an alien visitor, particularly a human. That she was human was very easy to deduce after he had time to observe her. The Doctor’s interest in Earth, even after his exile had ended, was well-known and since their previous meeting, Castellan Spandrell had made a point of expanding his knowledge on the subject, including its human inhabitants. Although she gave no indication of her planet of origin, the Castellan shrewdly guessed that it was probably one of Earth’s many planetary colonies.

From his questioning of her – and her questioning of him – Castellan Spandrell could easily tell that the Doctor’s companion was very experienced in security matters. He did not ask her in which service she had gained her expertise, as it wasn’t really of any importance to the task in hand. It was sufficient that she had the expertise. Although he suspected that her knowledge of the Lambe*Rt~ian region that was implied may be, to say the least, somewhat exaggerated.

Still, the Castellan admired the expert way she fielded the searching questions that that irritating Sir Zedga was asking. The Castellan didn’t particularly like the Executive Officer to Gallifrey’s Ambassador to Lambe*Rt~ia. It seemed to him that Sir Zedga had always hidden behind his diplomatic position and used it as a reason to interfere in areas that were not his concern. His supposedly security questions to Ms Mere were either laughable or thinly veiled questions about the Doctor and how she managed to be travelling with him. Other than that, his conversation revolved around himself. But the Doctor’s companion was patient and extremely polite in her replies. In fact, the Castellan thought, she couldn’t have been politer if she had grown to maturity on Gallifrey. It was at that point that Castellan Spandrell decided to accept Ms Catherine Mere for what she claimed to be. Catherine had found her powerful ally on Gallifrey…..

The Doctor and his dinner companions – the Premier Cardinal, Chancellor Borusa, the Secretary to the High Council and Gallifrey’s Ambassador to Lambe*Rt~ia – had already arrived in the courtyard known colloquially as the Colonnade of Academia. This Colonnade actually had no connection to the Academy or any other academic institution on Gallifrey, so how it received that name was a mystery, but it was a beautiful piece of architecture on the top level of the Capitol. Edging the grassed courtyard on all sides, the Colonnade was a connected series of sculptured marble arches adorned with fine carvings and crowned with a sculptured ceiling.

While the Premier Cardinal and the rest of his party awaited the arrival by private transmat of the Castellan’s party, the Doctor turned his back on his host and walked across to the other side of the courtyard. His main thought was the ways that Gallifrey’s and Lambe*Rt~ia’s problems could be resolved. He had learned little more of the reason for the message during the dinner conversation, except that the High Council had received a communiqué from Lambe*Rt~ia indicating that they were under threat and they were requesting assistance. It would appear that the High Council wanted someone to visit Lambe*Rt~ia to verify the situation. The Doctor was frustrated at the lack of information available. Although the Secretary to the High Council was present as the Lord President’s representative, she knew little of the intricacies of the catalyst for the message sent to York and even less about conditions on Lambe*Rt~ia. And neither Chancellor Borusa nor Gallifrey’s Ambassador to Lambe*Rt~ia would venture any information. It would seem to be a matter virtually between the Premier Cardinal and himself. And possibly the Castellan? Or was he supposed to guess the background to the urgency of the message?

There was little information on this important Gallifrey trading partner in the TARDIS records beyond its appearance, its planetary characteristics and the details of their trading contract with Gallifrey. The Doctor had no way of knowing where specific threats to Lambe*Rt~ia were likely to come from. He suddenly wondered if the contract was the key rather than whatever threat there was. It didn’t matter to him really what task the High Council wanted him to perform. His assumption was that it was something they wouldn’t want to soil their hands with. The Doctor was determined to solve this issue with Lambe*Rt~ia for both their sake and for Gallifrey’s. But he would do it on his terms and his way.

He turned back to look at the others, just in time to see the Castellan’s party arriving. The Castellan arrived first, followed by Catherine and someone who, by his robes of office, must be the Ambassador’s Executive Officer. Apparently the Castellan’s other dinner guests hadn’t been issued an invitation to this special after-dinner meeting.

The Doctor allowed himself a grin as he saw how well Catherine adapted to the group. He knew she could convince the Castellan of her credentials.

While the Castellan formally greeted the Premier Cardinal, Catherine looked around her, taking in the courtyard and the magnificent Colonnade.

Sir Zedga was talking rapidly to the Ambassador – undoubtedly passing on the results of his dinner conversations to his superior and receiving further instructions. Chancellor Borusa and the Secretary to the High Council were standing nearby. She was showing him a communiqué she had just received from the High Council. It was a request for her to report back to them on the progress of the discussions with the Doctor. Although she was reluctant to leave before discussions were finalised, she knew she had no choice. The Chancellor would have to represent the Lord President in her absence.

Catherine noticed the Secretary leaving and the Doctor quickly walking back from the far end of the courtyard. But it was the construction of the Colonnade that held her attention. It seemed eerily familiar to her, as it should do. The appearance of the Colonnade was similar in many ways to the miniature colonnade that formed the herb garden wall behind York Minster. But the sculptures on the miniature version differed in being more local. She wondered if that was purely coincidence or if there was some specific relationship between the two.

Before she could decide whether she should ask the Doctor about it or not, the Premier Cardinal and the Castellan walked over to stand beside her. The Cardinal remarked, “It is an interesting piece of architecture isn’t it, Ms Mere?”

Catherine was a little startled at that, then realised that the Doctor’s former tutor referred to the Colonnade itself.

He continued, with a smile, “It was reputed that a Time Lord could walk beneath its arches and find solutions to his or her troubles. Or they could find rich sources of new ideas.” Catherine looked politely interested, but not particularly impressed. She remembered the Doctor’s warnings about the misinterpretation of human emotion, so she carefully ensured that her facial expressions were devoid of any strong emotion.

The Doctor, who was close enough to hear the Premier Cardinal’s words, could have laughed aloud in amusement. He knew that the words, if transcribed, were what on 2007 Earth would have been referred to as ‘creative’ journalism or a superb piece of advertising. The Doctor thought, “If only real problems could be solved so easily, Gallifrey might still…..” However, as he came to stand beside the Premier Cardinal and the Castellan, he quickly masked his thoughts again and said nothing.

Catherine briefly looked in the Doctor’s direction, noticing that he was wearing his cape again. It was strange, she thought, how wearing the robes made him seem to fit in with the other Time Lords present. She didn’t know why she should be surprised. After all, Gallifrey was his home. But it all seemed rather out of place to her.

The Doctor sensed her confusion before the other Time Lords could. But he distracted them by remarking, abruptly, “I wasn’t brought here just to be wined and dined and to admire the architecture. What do you want, Cardinal?”

Before the Premier Cardinal could reply, an interruption was provided by the arrival of Chancellor Borusa, the Ambassador and Sir Zedga. Borusa, who had been one of the Doctor’s lecturers at the Academy, looked amused. He replied, glancing at the Doctor’s former tutor, “Still so impatient, Doctor? We never could convince you of the need for patience.”

The Premier Cardinal, acknowledged the new arrivals, nodded and continued, “Chancellor Borusa. Ambassador. Doctor, Lambe*Rt~ia is under threat. And if Lambe*Rt~ia is under threat, Gallifrey is also under threat.” He paused for effect before adding, in a passionate plea, “Gallifrey needs your help.”

“I’ve heard that before,” the Doctor murmured under his breath. He wished they’d reach the crux of the matter instead of prevaricating with so much grandstanding. Both his former tutor and lecturer should know better than to do that. But he shrewdly guessed that some of it was politics for the Ambassador’s benefit. Nevertheless, he raised his eyebrows enquiringly.

Gallifrey’s Ambassador to Lambe*Rt~ia replied, “You must visit Lambe*Rt~ia and be our representative there. We need to know if the threat is really as great as the Directors of Lambe*Rt~ia say it is.”

Catherine, who had been listening to this exchange with interest, asked the logical questions, “But don’t you know? You are the Ambassador. Surely you have seen something of the local situation yourself?”

Sir Zedga, hoping to put this alien security expert of the Doctor’s in her place, blurted out on behalf of his employer, “His Excellency conducts all his dealings with Lambe*Rt~ia by visual link. To the current point on the time continuum, there has been no need for him to actually set foot on Lambe*Rt~ia.”

Catherine looked incredulous. The Doctor spoke directly to the Ambassador. He asked, “Is that true?”

The Ambassador didn’t reply.

“Cardinal,” the Doctor continued, interpreting the Ambassador’s silence as affirmation of his Executive Officer’s comment. “You want my help? OK. You have my help.” Catherine looked surprised at his agreement. Castellan Spandrell and Chancellor Borusa showed no reaction, perhaps because they could guess what was coming next. “But it will be on my terms,” the Doctor said, in a voice that discouraged any argument.

The Chancellor, the Premier Cardinal and the Castellan all nodded in agreement.

“I suggest we all meet back here in the morning,” the Doctor looked at his watch, “at start of business. And I expect to see Lambe*Rt~ia’s representative to Gallifrey, if there is one, here too. We should not be making decisions on their future without including them.”

He turned towards the transmat terminal, and then looked back over his left shoulder, and said, “Castellan, Ms Mere. Come with me, I need your advice on the security issues.” Catherine and the Castellan took their leave of the Chancellor, the Premier Cardinal and the Ambassador and then followed the Doctor into the transmat. The Doctor’s aim was for the three of them to reach the TARDIS as soon as possible…..

(* To be continued….. *)