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Time and Tide

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On the morning after being taken to gaze into the Untempered Schism, the Corsair ran away to sea.

It was high summer, and the nearest coast was half a year's journey on foot. Search parties were dispatched and recalled in vain. The escapee was quick and moved without fear, by mountain paths so narrow that most grown-ups felt unwell just looking at them. Before long the rains had washed away whatever tracks had been laid. The men and women of the Capitol gave up the chase and retreated behind their walls, telling themselves what a pity it was, and such a promising student too.

A year later, almost to the day, the child returned: frost-blackened feet, sun-bleached hair, a jar of seawater tucked under one arm. The adults cajoled and threatened, but received no sensible explanation. The behaviour was put down to a temporary fit of madness, more common among initiates than anyone liked to admit, and the whole episode was brushed over as quickly as decency would allow.

The second time the Corsair ran away, they took the seawater jar with them. That, plus a year's supply of food, an assortment of bladed weapons, and a time capsule commandeered from a young general who had been foolish enough to invite the Corsair over for dinner on the previous evening.

There had been a lesson from that first escape attempt, and it had stuck: a plan is worthless without the means to follow it through.

Descriptions of the ship's interior were thin on the ground. To get into the console room, visitors first had to win the trust of the cats, which crouched just beyond the entrance and fixed each newcomer with a stare that could have felled a mouse at twenty paces. Even the parrot had been trained to hustle unwelcome guests out of the door, tutting as it did so. Like the Corsair's snake tattoo, the pets were a recurring feature down the centuries - though the Time Lord would not have referred to them in those terms. A pet implied ownership, and ownership was presumptive, a form of sentimental slavery. True adventurers had no use for such attachments. They walked through life unencumbered, prepared to risk everything precisely because they expected nothing in return.

The Corsair had been telling that to visitors for the last fifteen hundred years. Certain incarnations might even have believed it. The Doctor - who had been below decks, and seen the jar of seawater gleaming on its shelf - knew better. The truth was that all travellers needed something to anchor them: a love or a loyalty that was bigger than themselves.

While the parrot nibbled on the Doctor's ear and whistled its approval, the cats picked their way over to the Corsair's lap. The two friends sat with the doors thrown open, their eyes on the stars, and told each other stories of home.