Marion’s second gown was sent by special courier on the afternoon of the reception. She spent the afternoon getting a special hairdo, manicure and facial to go with the dress. She was told to relax and enjoy the attention from the beauticians who came to the house to pamper her. She didn’t need to know how much activity was going on inside and outside the house getting ready for the reception. She didn’t see the marquee being put up on the large lawn or the string orchestra arriving and tuning up their instruments. She didn’t see the caterers in a second marquee setting up enough food and drink for a hundred people she didn't know. She didn’t know about the ice sculptures and the floral arrangements.

If she had known, it could not have made her more nervous than she already was.

“Will it be like this when Kristoph and I are married?” she asked Lily as she sat in a chair having her make up carefully applied by another expert.

“Worse,” Lily said with a smile. “And you will have to start before dawn. The twelve hour ceremony begins at first light.”

“Well, at least I have time to prepare for that. Or do people expect it to happen straight away?”

“There are some of us who think you and Kristoph are perfect for each other and want to see you happily married as soon as possible. But it won’t be until you are ready.”

“I didn’t realise I was disappointing so many people,” she said with a soft laugh. Lily laughed, too, and helped her into the beautiful gown that completed the look of a young Lady of Gallifrey. It reminded her of something worn by Elizabethan ladies. There were two stiff underskirts first, then a separate skirt of deep blue satin. Then the main part of the dress in sculpted Russet red silk brocade with sparkles of gold through it. The bodice had a low neckline and a tight waist and the skirt was split to show off that underskirt.

“This completes the ensemble,” Lily said and she opened a box that was left on the dresser. She gave Marion the card inside, signed by Kristoph.

“I am ashamed to say that I have only given you one diamond so far. These go some way to make up for that omission.”

“They’re diamonds?” she asked as Lily picked up the gold twisted rope chain with a pendant of gold set with one large jewel and a dozen small ones, all a rich purplish-red. They were cut like diamonds. But the colour surprised her.

“Red diamonds are the rarest in the universe,” Lily said. “The Lœngbærrow mines find one a decade that can be cut and polished as that one is.”

Lily put the pendant on her, and the earrings that went with it. Then Marion stood and looked at herself in the full length mirror. She hardly recognised herself. The dress shimmered in the light. She felt as if she, too, was shimmering.

There was a knock at the door and then Kristoph entered the room. He smiled with appreciation of all the effort.

“Absolutely beautiful,” he said. “But whatever happened to that shy girl in the plain dress who didn’t even dare to look me in the eye?”

“I think she lives on another planet,” Marion answered.

“Very likely.” Kristoph took her arm and Lily walked beside them as they came down the stairs and out into the garden. Marion gasped as she saw the ice sculptures and flowers along the walkway. So much just for a party.

“Not just a party,” Kristoph told her. "Your debut in Gallifreyan society."

“Quite so,” Lily added. “Don’t worry. Just enjoy yourself. And don’t forget to BE yourself, my dear.”

She did her best to do both. It WAS rather a proud moment when she stepped into the marquee and two liveried footmen bowed to her at the door while everyone inside burst into applause. Kristoph brought her to a place just by the orchestra where he raised his hand and waited for silence.

“My friends,” he said. “I thank you all for coming here today to share a very special occasion. I want to introduce you all formally now to my fiancée, Marion Horsely of the City of Liverpool on the planet Earth. When she consented to be joined with me in Alliance of Unity she made me the happiest man in the universe. So join me in that happiness, and please raise your glasses in honour of my Lady Marion.”

Kristoph held her hand tightly as the toast was echoed joyfully around the marquee. That was the hardest part over with, though. After that it WAS just a party with music and a buffet, drinks, and being introduced to people individually. She soon lost track of the unpronounceable Lords and Ladies.

“Am I supposed to remember them all?” she asked as she and Kristoph shared a drink and some of the beautifully prepared food.

“Not all at once,” he assured her. “Lady Lily is the most important of the women, and you know her anyway. The rest, try to talk to Lady Arpexia. She might seem a little formal to you on an occasion like this, but later, when you take luncheons with Lily you will find her opening up to you. Try to say something nice to those two, as well. Lady Oakdaene and Lady Ravenswode. But if you don’t want to be friends with them, I won’t hold it against you.”

“Your soon-to-be sister-in-law Oriana is married to Lady Oakdaene’s brother,” Lily added in explanation. “The heir to the House of Lessage. She is the youngest Lessage daughter, and marrying Lord Oakdaene was a political coup for her. Oriana marrying her brother gave her a toe in to the Lœngbærrow estate.”

“So when I marry Kristoph I’ll be related to her, sort of?” Marion looked at the rather sharp faced woman. She was immaculately dressed and moved with careful precision even when she was taking a canapé from a silver tray. She managed to make it look as if she wasn’t eating at all and continue to command the attention of those she was talking to.

“Yes, but you don’t have to like her any more for that,” Lily assured her.

“Try not to let her KNOW you don’t like her,” Kristoph added. “A serene, calm appearance helps when speaking with Madame Oakdaene.”

“Oriana seems to like her,” Marion pointed out, watching the two chatting amiably.

“She WOULD,” Lily said with a dismissive laugh. “But I think it is time your fiancée danced with you.”

“I agree,” Kristoph said. “Marion…”

She let him take her arm and lead her to the dance floor. At Lily’s instruction the orchestra played a gentle waltz tune and Marion let her handsome lover guide her around the floor to the music. All eyes were on her again but she didn’t care. Even when others began to dance she kept her eyes on Kristoph and nobody else mattered.

The late afternoon became early evening as she danced and mingled with the guests and ate and drank some more at Kristoph’s side. The sun went down and lanterns lit the gardens, making the ice sculptures look even more beautiful. Kristoph and Marion walked among them for a while, the music and laughter inside the marquee competing with the birdsong and the sound of the fountain in the formal garden. They didn’t talk much. They didn’t have to. Everything that needed to be said was said in the kisses they shared and the hands clutched tightly together.

They stopped as they became aware of voices nearby. Kristoph gently pulled Marion into the shadows. The idea of hiding in their own garden struck her as odd and she wondered about it until she realised who was talking and what about. She peeped through the sculpted hedge that shielded them and saw Oriana and Idell, Remonte’s pregnant wife, and Lady Oakdaene.

“It is ridiculous,” Lady Oakdaene said. “Oriana, my dear, I feel sorry for you. Your brother seems set to disgrace the family name by marrying that common, graceless woman.”

“An alien woman at that,” Oriana agreed. “Bad enough our own mother was nothing until father raised her from the gutter. But this one comes from some non-entity planet.”

“I can’t believe he really means to marry her,” Lady Oakdaene continued. “I mean, I always assumed he had affairs when he was offworld. Most of the men do. My own Lord Oakdaene keeps a mistress on some asteroid where he does business. It is a weakness men have. But they know where their duty lies here at home.”

“I feel sorry for you, Idell,” Oriana continued. “You know what it means if he produces a child with this woman. Yours will not be named primogeniture after all. So long as my brother remained unmarried and childless your offspring stood to inherit by default. But now…”

“Unthinkable,” Lady Oakdaene shuddered.

“I don’t expect that to be a problem,” Idell said. “What are the chances of a woman like that bearing him a child? A healthy one, that is, not some weakling mongrel that will have to be put down for its own good. My son, a pureblood, WILL inherit. Have no fear. This liaison with such an unsuitable mate makes it even more sure. While he is dallying with her he isn’t making a contract of marriage with a more suitable woman of our own kind who WILL give him an heir. So as far as I am concerned he may marry her. If he can stand the shame of it.”

“I have NEVER heard anything so ugly in my life,” said another voice and the three conspirators gasped as Thedera de Lœngbærrow de Más??nt?n confronted them. There was a sound of a slap and a cry of shock. “That’s for you, Oriana de Lœngbærrow.” Another slap and a protest. “And YOU, Idell. May that child of yours be ashamed of the blood it carries in its veins. And YOU, Miniette Oakdaene. You may be a Lady by birth but not by your manner. Shame on you.”

Lady Oakdaene made a haughty protest and flounced away. The others would have followed but Thedera blocked them.

“If I hear of one word spoken out of turn by either of you, one slight against Marion, one snide remark to her, I will see to it that my brother cuts you both off financially. You BOTH depend on his generosity for the lifestyle you live. Oriana, your husband is a gambler who will ruin you one day, and Idell, you have the privilege of the wife of an heir even though you are not, by my brother’s grace. But it could be withdrawn at a word from me.”

“Father would never…” Oriana replied.

“Do you want to test him?”

Oriana had no reply. She and Idell walked away. Thedera paused, as if in reflection, before following them back towards the marquee.

“I am sorry you heard that,” Kristoph told Marion.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she answered. “The last bit was rather illuminating. And it has helped me reach a decision.” She took Kristoph’s two hands in hers. To her surprise it was Kristoph who trembled.

“Marion,” he said in a pleading voice. “Don’t let them come between us.”

Marion squeezed his hands, looking at his face in the moonlight and remembering all of the reasons why she loved him so deeply. “Kristoph, tell me one thing. When we were at the Lodge, when you… we.. shared that mental lovemaking… it was satisfying for you?”

“Yes, it was,” he assured her. “Very much so.”

“How would you feel about doing it for about the next ten months?”

“Non stop?” He looked at her with a quizzical smile. She burst out laughing. .

“I meant… at night. In bed together.”

“For ten months? Why…”

“It’s how long it will take for me to get my teaching certificate from Edge Hill,” she said. “The course starts in two weeks time – by Earth years anyway. And the exams are next June. I want to learn to be a teacher. But while I am learning, I want to be Mrs De Leon, wife of the Professor. I want to have ten months of the life we once planned out, before your responsibilities on Gallifrey intruded and made that impossible. I want at least that long as the wife of the man I fell in love with. I want to be married in a church in Liverpool. An ordinary wedding. I want to live with you as your wife in every way. And when I am ready, I will come with you to Gallifrey and I will go through the Alliance of Unity with you and be your Lady de Lœngbærrow in EVERY way.”

“I thought you didn’t want to do the teacher training if you weren’t going to teach. You didn’t want to take a place up if you weren’t going through with it.”

“I AM going to teach,” she answered. “I will teach at the Caretaker school here. The one your family pay for. There is a shortage of teachers. I can be useful there. Not full time, because I know I DO have to be Lady de Lœngbærrow and go to the luncheons with the other Ladies and so on. But some mornings and the Saturday school where the children come to learn extra subjects. I can teach the little ones ordinary subjects. And I could even teach Gallifreyan literature and history to the older ones. I know as much of it as anyone does from the reading I have done in your library.”

“Yes,” Kristoph said with a smile. “You could. Absolutely. Oh, my dear,,,” Kristoph took her left hand in his. “You want to marry me twice. Is there any deeper love?”

“I know that only the Alliance of Unity will fully satisfy you that we ARE properly married,” she told him. “But I need something more familiar to me, as well.”

“I understand. And… it is a wonderful idea. Because it means you can be my wife… the Professor’s wife… in a few weeks time.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Marion,” Kristoph said. “I thought I WAS the happiest man in the universe before. NOW I am.”