“My dear son,” Aineytta cried, hugging Kristoph and kissing him fondly until he began to look embarrassed. Then she turned to Marion, who was happy to receive the same affection from her, from Lily, and from Kristoph’s aunt Thedera, who all greeted their arrival on Gallifrey.

“Come,” Lily said, taking her hand. “Breakfast on the terrace and you can tell me everything you’ve been doing since I saw you last.”

Marion smiled as she let herself be guided by her friends. She ate the Gallifreyan breakfast of fruits and nuts, drank the drink that was a lot like latte coffee and talked with them about the ten months she had been on Earth since her last visit to Gallifrey.

As she talked with the three women she knew would always be her friend, allies and guides in the months to come, she felt some of her anxieties fall away, even though there were many more yet to be resolved.

”So now you’re here to stay,” Thedera said. “To marry my nephew and to be a lady of Gallifrey.”

“Yes,” Marion said. “There’s nothing to stop that happening now. We’re here, and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” She sighed and smiled at Kristoph. “The hard part will be missing him beside me for the next twelve weeks. Not that I MIND staying with Lily, and I KNOW it’s traditional that the betrothed couple must not live under the same roof in the weeks leading up to the Alliance, but it will feel strange.”

“I am only eighteen miles away,” Kristoph reminded her. “Besides, you will have plenty to do. Preparations for the Alliance, tea parties, luncheons, receptions, operas and galas. Lily has such an active social life and she means to introduce you fully into Gallifreyan society.”

“I want to start making arrangements to TEACH, too,” Marion said. “Don’t forget that part of it.”

“But you’re not starting that until after the honeymoon,” Thedera reminded her. “Until then, just enjoy yourself.”

“Exactly,” Kristoph told her. He held her hand lovingly. He was anxious. He knew that last time he brought Marion to Gallifrey she had been bewildered and upset. He wanted her to be happy this time. He hoped that the plans Lily and Thedera had for her would help her settle in and come to feel sure of her place as a Lady of Gallifrey.

“Promise you will visit every day.” Marion said to him. “Even if it is just for a little while.”

“I promise,” he assured her. “I will come and walk with you in the rose garden that you love so much." He took her hand now and drew her away from the breakfast table. They walked down to the rose garden. It was late summer now, and the roses were past their best, but Marion loved it still. It was a place where she could feel reassured of her definition of normality. As long as she didn’t look up at that yellow-orange sky, anyway. Or if she did, she just had to pretend in her mind that it was evening and sunset.

“Oh,” she cried as they came into the walled rose garden. “Lily got the summer house. She said she would. She was thinking of it when I was here last. It looks like the one in the Sound of Music.”

“I think that’s coincidence,” Kristoph admitted. “I don’t think Lily has ever seen that film.” But he took her by the hand into the glass and metal framed building. It was bright and airy inside with the top windows all open and a ceiling fan drawing the warm air up and pushing the cool air down. They sat on the cushioned seat around the edge and Marion sighed as she felt her lover’s arms around her.

“I AM happy,” she assured him. “Being here, knowing our wedding is a reality at the end of those twelve weeks. And so many things to do before then. But it will take me a little while to get used to being here, to being a Gallifreyan socialite with Lily and Thedera, to living under a yellow sky.”

“It took me a while to get used to a blue one,” he assured her. Then neither said anything for a while as he drew her into a long, lingering kiss, and when that kiss was done she reached for him and they kissed again.

They had a quiet hour together and then they walked back to the terrace where his mother and aunt were talking with Lily. And then, as Marion knew he must, Kristoph took his mother’s arm and walked with her to the TARDIS. Marion stood with Lily and Thedera and watched it dematerialise. Even though he was going only a few miles to Mount Lœng House, it was a wrench to watch it go like that. She felt as if she missed him already.

“Come along,” Lily told her. “You should go and lie down for a few hours. You have had a long journey and you’re not used to our Gallifreyan days yet. Sleep in your room and the maid will wake you at noon.”

“That’s… thirteen o’clock,” Marion said as she remembered that much. She looked at her watch. It only had twelve hours. She would need a new watch.

The clock by the bed in the beautiful, airy room that had been given over to her for the duration of her stay at Maison D’Alba had thirteen hours on it. She looked at it as she laid her head down on the soft pillow. She closed her eyes and smelt delicately scented flowers in the window boxes and hanging baskets around the balcony outside her window, and birdsong. And when she couldn’t see the clock or the yellow sky it was easy for her to relax and let herself fall asleep.

As promised, she was woken at a few minutes to 13 o’clock by a maid who said her name was Rika. She helped her change into a suitable dress for taking lunch with ladies.

“It is just Lily and Thedera. Isn’t it?” she asked in slight alarm. “I’m not ready for a social luncheon yet.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rika answered. “Just Madame and Lady de Máscantan.” It took Marion a few seconds to remember that was Thedera’s surname. She was married to a very wealthy man from one of the business-minded Newblood Houses.

Lunch was on the terrace, but a sun canopy had been erected over the table because at 13 o’clock in late summer it was very hot. Lily and Thedera were both in cotton dresses with short sleeves, although Marion suspected they would still manage to look elegant in a pair of sacks. They seemed born to it. She did her best to match them when she sat.

She was not entirely untutored. Even before Kristoph came into her life and she began to eat at fashionable restaurants so much more often she knew what fork went where and had table manners. But now she had to get used to having her glass filled with fruit flavoured mineral water by a butler and the food put on her plate by a maid, even at a simple lunch.

Lily and Thedera talked with her about a planned shopping trip tomorrow. Another morning in the House of Fashion and other places to ensure that Marion had a wardrobe that would make Lady Oakdaene envious.

“But today, I thought we’d just have a quiet drive,” Thedera said. “You haven’t seen much of our countryside yet, I don’t think?”

“Only the Lodge,” Marion admitted.

“There we are then, a nice drive and a picnic, just us three girls.” And Lily turned and instructed her butler to have a picnic basket made up and put into Thedera’s car, ready for them.

Marion was expecting a chauffered drive. To her surprise Thedera drove herself. Her car was still what looked like a space age Rolls, a convertible, with the top down. Thedera and Lily fastened their hats with silk scarves tied under their chins like ladies in the 1900s on Earth. Marion wasn’t yet a person who wore hats, though she suspected she would be by the end of tomorrow’s shopping expedition. But she tied her hair back in a pony tail with a scrunchie and sat in the passenger seat of the car.

Of course, it was a hover car. After moving forward a few feet on the gravel driveway it took off, hovering about four feet above the ground. She had got used to that the last time she was here, driving with Kristoph, but it was a little more startling in a convertible and it took her a while to get used to it as they drove – flew? – due west, across what was a grassy plain at first, giving way to gently sloping hills such as she knew in East Lancashire before the higher peaks of the Pennines began.

“Lady Penelope,” Marion said out of the blue. She had been trying to think what or who Thedera reminded her of as she drove her hover car in an easy, nonchalant way. Her two friends were puzzled, of course and she blushed and tried to find a way to explain Thunderbirds to two people who had never even heard of the idea of television as a form of entertainment. On Gallifrey only state occasions and news announcements were broadcast.

“Funnily enough,” Lily said. “Penelope is a Gallifreyan name. I knew a Penelope at college. And Kristoph’s great, great grandmother had that name, too.”

Marion was puzzled at first, then she recalled something Kristoph had told her once.

“Time Lords are responsible for Greek culture,” she remembered. “A group of them once pretended to be gods in ancient Greece and the Greek alphabet and some of the legends are really from Gallifrey. Penelope was the wife of Ulysses.”

“Ulysses is a Gallifreyan name, too,” Thedera pointed out. “My husband has an uncle by that name. So, there you are. You’re not so far from home as you thought.”

“Yes, I am,” Marion answered. “I’m not Greek. And YES, I am a VERY long way from home. Oh, so very far.” She gave a soft gasp as the car reached the brow of one of those low hills and they began to descend into the valley beyond.

The valley was red. Red grass, and above it a yellow sky. As they descended to the river that snaked through the bottom of the valley she truly felt as if she was in an alien place.

Thedera stopped the car by the river and they got out, bringing the picnic basket and a rug to spread out. Marion knelt on the grass and looked at it closely. Yes, it WAS grass, but it WAS red. A deep burgundy colour, though there were specks of carmine where new shoots were coming up. She picked a few blades and smelt them. The smell was that of grass. Only the colour was different.

Lily and Thedera sat, too. They smiled as Marion laid down on the grass and looked at the sky.

“I am lying on red grass, looking up at a yellow sky,” she said with a nervous giggle in her voice. “I am on another planet, a long way from Earth. All my friends, my fiancé, are from this planet. I am the alien here. I am… on a planet where the sun sets in the east and rises in the west. There are twenty-six hours in the day, seven days in the week, called Lunar, Thrum, Woe, Thetic, Fris, Stón and S?re. There are twelve months in the year. Each month is exactly thirty seven days long. There are five weeks and two days in each month. The months are called Janus, Fibster, Melcus, Avry, Mí, Jute..” She paused a few moments as she ran the names of the months through her head. “Jule, Accrion, Setpima, Octima, Samavan and Decima..”

“Well done,” Lily told her. “You have been studying.”

“I HAVE to make this planet my home,” she answered. “I must get used to red grass and yellow skies, and different names for the days of the week and months of the year, and festivals like Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, not Christmas and Easter. And… WHY is the grass red and the sky yellow, anyway? Kristoph told me that in oxygen rich atmospheres the sky is USUALLY blue. And chlorophyll which makes things green is common to almost all planets with viable plant life.”

“The red grass used to be much more common than it is now,” Lily told her. “Only a few centuries ago, I remember red grass everywhere you could see. Then a new strain of the green grass was introduced in ornamental gardens, and the seeds spread on the wind and it proved so very invasive that in a matter of a decade or so only valleys like this still had the red grass in.”

“And the yellow sky?”

“I think it’s just us being awkward,” Lily continued. “the laws of Physics the universe over say the sky should be blue. But Time Lords have to be different.”

Thedera laughed softly and gave a more scientific answer to Marion’s question.

“The yellow of the sky is caused by an inert gas called Allerium that we have in our atmosphere,” Thedera told her. “It catches the suns rays and disperses them. It’s much more distinct at sunset when it looks that deep burnt-orange colour.”

“I like Lily’s explanation,” Marion said. “From what I have seen so far Time Lords DO like to be different. It’s a shame about the grass, though. That happens on Earth, too. When people let foreign plants grow out of control and they damage the local ones. Animals, too. Red squirrels were chased out of England by grey ones.”

Squirrels were unknown on Gallifrey, of course. But her friends understood what she meant.

“Those are some of OUR native animals,” Lily told her, pointing to what looked at first like white balls of fur moving across the grass. As some of them came closer Marion saw that they were about the size of rabbits, but without the long ears and buck teeth, and with long, fine hair. “Lapins,” Lily added.

“They are adorable,” Marion said. “Could I touch one?”

“They run fast, and if you could catch one they bite rather viciously,” Thedera said. “Lovely to look at, and their coats make very lovely furs.”

Marion looked appalled at that idea until Lily explained that Lapins were not killed for their fur, as animals were on Earth. They shed their coats rather like caterpillars did three or four times a year, and the coats of farmed Lapins were collected for the fur industry.

“That’s all right then,” she conceded. “I suppose it would be all right to have a Lapin coat.”

“In winter, no lady would be without one,” Thedera told her. “They have a practical function in our cold winters as well as looking and feeling good.”

There were other animals, too. Marion watched in rapture as a herd of what looked like fallow deer came down to the river on the other side and drank. And there were birds and insects she had never seen before. Butterflies with wing patterns she could never have imagined and a sort of dragonfly with iridescent wings delighted her, too, as she sat on the red grass and enjoyed a picnic on a late summer afternoon on Gallifrey. And slowly her feeling of being in an alien place began to subside.

Perhaps, she thought. Perhaps she could get used to living under a yellow sky.