There was a heightened sense of excitement about the dinner arrangements this evening. Marion had worked very hard to make sure it would be perfect. Not that it was the first time that they had entertained the Lord High President at dinner, or the Chancellor or the Premier Cardinal. All had come to Mount Lœng House at some time since she had been Lady de Lœngbærrow. But it was the first time the President, Chancellor and the Premier Cardinal came together. It was quite an occasion.

The fact that a company of Chancellery Guards arrived first thing before Marion went out to spend her morning at the Estate School was a sign of just how important this dinner was. Usually they only arrived a few hours before the dinner party to form an honour guard. But if all three of the leading men of the Gallifreyan people were to attend a private function, then it became that little bit less private.

When Gallis Limmon brought her home again at lunchtime she found two of the guards at the gate. They stopped the car and checked that she was, indeed, mistress of the house. Two more guards were at the bottom of the steps, but they just saluted her as she walked past them. So did the two inside the door.

“Madam will be wanting refreshment?” Caolin said as he took her coat and hat and the nursemaid brought Rodan to her. “A light lunch in the white dining room?”

“Yes,” she said. “And… Is your lady wife in the house? I feel the need of conversation with somebody not wearing a dress uniform or under seven. I wonder if she would care to join me?”

“I am sure she would be delighted, madam,” Caolin answered her with a bow of his head. Marion went to her private rooms. A few minutes later Rosanda Caolin came to her. She greeted her warmly and brought her to the pretty dining room with a view through French doors of a pleasant summer patio and a meadow bounded by a copse of cúl nut trees. A maid brought the lunch for two and they sat and ate while Marion gave Rodan her own dinner on her own special plate. They talked a little about the gown that Marion was wearing this evening. Rosanda had made it for her, and they were both pleased with the result.

“You will look beautiful tonight, Marion. Fully equal to the ladies who will be accompanying their Excellencies.”

“I hope so,” she answered. “I have never entertained all three of them at the same time, though individually I find them pleasant enough company. It is a little daunting. I am glad that Lady Lily will be attending. I feel as if I need an ally.”

“You didn’t have dinner parties with the leaders of your world when you lived on Earth?” Rosanda asked.

“Hardly. Gallifrey’s population is measured in millions. Earth has more than six billion people and many leaders. The best I ever managed was a gala dinner at which the mayor of Liverpool was guest of honour. But Kristoph and I attended only as private citizens. We… did not live as aristocrats on Earth, you see.”

“But Lord de Lœngbærrow… did he not find that difficult, being so high born as he is? He is not only an Oldblood, but born of one the Twelve Ancient Families.”

“When we lived on Earth, none of that really seemed to matter,” Marion said. “I think it would have been harder to fall in love with him if it had. Even a professor of Literature seemed grand to me at first. The idea of him being a ‘Lord’, was quite another thing. Besides, I had to get used to the fact that he wasn’t even the same species as me first. It was a lot to take in.” She laughed softly. “Maybe dinner with the three most powerful men on Gallifrey and their wives, surrounded by armed Chancellery Guards in case of assassination attempts on any one of them is not so difficult after all, compared to the things I have already done.”

They both laughed. They finished their lunch in good spirits and then moved to the drawing room where Marion’s duties were not too onerous, yet. She checked the menu for the meal and rang for the cook to come to her and confirm that all was in hand, in particular that the moonfruit for the desert had been delivered. They were out of season, and Marion had arranged with Lily, who grew them in her houthouses, to send some over. There was always a possibility they had not arrived, or they were not ripe enough, or overripe. But the cook confirmed that all the ingredients for the dinner were in the store room and that the fresh produce was perfect and that there was nothing to worry about as far as the menu was concerned.

After that, two of the maids and a footman were summoned. Marion gave them instructions for the setting of the table. She wanted her Irish linen cloths and napkins, the Waterford crystal glasses and the Royal Doulton china. There were, of course, five different sets of Gallifreyan flatware in the house. Some of them were hundreds of years old, maybe thousands, she wasn’t sure. But she treasured the dinner sets she had brought from Earth and for an extra special occasion like this she wanted them to be used.

She did the floral arrangements herself. The under-gardener brought her newly blooming roses from her own hothouses where they grew all year round and she and Rosanda together spent a pleasant hour arranging them in crystal and silver vases that would adorn the table and the sideboards around the dining room. When that was done, Caolin brought tea and sandwiches to her and Rosanda and informed her that Lord de Lœngbærrow had given instructions that she was to lie down in her day bedroom for at least two hours after tea before it was time for her to bathe and get ready for the dinner party.

“He worries about me overdoing it,” Marion laughed. “I am not the one doing all the cooking and table setting. I didn’t get up at six am to polish the chandelier until it shines like diamonds.”

“Nevertheless, those are his Lordship’s orders,” Caolin replied good naturedly. “And as his wife, you are duty bound to obey.”

“Some day I am going to introduce the Earth concept of women’s lib to Gallifrey,” she answered in the same good humour. “Then you will all be in trouble.”

Despite her protest, the rest was welcome. She actually slept for nearly two hours and was woken by Kristoph himself when he got home from his Magisterial work.

“You looked so lovely there, I hated to disturb you,” he said. “But you have a whole two and a half hours now to bathe and have your hair and make up and your gown for tonight perfect.”

“That’s more than enough time,” she said. “I shall be able to enjoy my bath. I’d enjoy it even better if you joined me.”

“I have to finish some work in my study before I get ready,” he told her. “I will be up in an hour.”

“You work too hard,” she told him as she kissed him and then went up to their bedroom suite. She had her personal maid run the bath, but then told the girl she could go after that. She never really got used to being attended in the bathroom. She relaxed in the fragrant water for as long as she dared, remembering the first time she had smelled this infusion of pallis flowers and jasmine. It was in the bath that Kristoph ran for her that time in Harrogate, in the rain, when she was cold and wet and the bath had seemed so warm and delicious. It was her second date with him, when she still didn’t know anything about him except that he was a kind, sweet man who took notice of her when nobody else did.

So long ago. Another place, another life.

Kristoph came into the bathroom as she was finishing her bath. He looked a little tired after a long day’s work, but he took a long, invigorating shower and by the time she was sitting in her lingerie putting on her make up he emerged from the bathroom looking clean and refreshed. He dressed himself in a crisp black robe with a high collar but no fussy headdress as required on public occasions. Diamonds shone on the edge of the collar but that was the only adornment on the plain black of this robe. Marion thought it suited him perfectly.

Marion’s gown was black satin, with a halter neck and sculpted bodice that was decorated with diamonds while the skirt fell to her ankles with only a slight flare. The back was low, and there was an inserted gusset from top to hem which made the skirt flare out even further. There was a red and black silk shawl with it, but Marion didn’t think she needed it, really. The dress was fine as it was.

“Once, you would have put the shawl over your shoulders and arms to hide their bareness,” Kristoph told her. “You’ve found so much confidence since then.”

He came to her side and caressed her exposed shoulders gently. “My beautiful lady. Come, now, and do me the honour tonight of being at my side.”

She took his arm and went down the stairs to the hall where the Chancellery Guards were standing to attention now as the official cars arrived. Marion got ready to meet their so important guests as they stepped into the hallway. The President she knew quite well. She liked him very much. He was a kind old man who always tried to put people at their ease when he was around. His wife was very nice, too. She was the sort of woman who would always be on committees organising charity events and such thing. She had visited the estate school once and the children had sung a song for her.

The Chancellor and his wife were patrons of the arts. She knew them from opera nights and concerts in the capitol.

The Premier Cardinal was accompanied on this occasion by Lily, looking elegant in an ivory coloured dress decorated with pearls. Cardinals did not marry. They were not, however, religious men in the sense she understood the word. Rather, they were a chapter of learned and wise men who formed one section of the Gallifreyan political hierarchy. They were a little like the House of Lords in England, Marion thought, having a certain power of veto over decisions of the High Council, though that still wasn’t a completely accurate way of describing them.

Anyway, he was a very dignified looking man in a scarlet robe that made him look very much like a cardinal in the way Marion understood the word. He didn’t smile very much, not even when the President made jokes. And laughing at the President’s jokes was almost compulsory on Gallifrey.

The fact that the Premier Cardinal did not smile didn’t spoil the dinner party, though. It was a pleasant occasion. The meal was as perfect as Marion hoped it would be. She was congratulated on being able to get such fresh and perfectly ripe moonfruit for the desert out of season and modestly admitted that Lady Lily deserved the credit for that.

The talk was light, although, naturally, politics came into it. It always seemed to Marion that the men of Gallifrey all belonged to a Chapter of their own which the women were excluded from. Sometimes they almost spoke in a code that she knew she wasn’t meant to understand, and neither did the other wives. Lily, she wasn’t so sure about. Lily understood many things that society ladies were not meant to think about.

Then there came a time when the meal was over, and the men stood politely as the ladies retired from the room. They were served latte coffee in the drawing room while the men drank strong black coffee spiced with liquor and talked freely without their wives present.

“What is that they talk about?” Marion wondered aloud. The others laughed softly.

“Nothing of any great consequence, usually,” the President’s wife assured her. “It is merely a tradition that we part company in this way.”

“I know,” Marion said. “They do something similar on Earth. But… they did all seem quite earnest about it, tonight.”

There were glances passed between the Gallifreyan women and then Lily nodded to the President’s wife.

“They are discussing something a little more important tonight,” she said. “Something that will not be public knowledge for another year at least. My husband is considering resigning his Presidency.”

“Oh!” Marion was surprised by that. “It’s not… I mean… he isn’t ill or anything?”

“Not at all,” his wife assured her. “But he has held the position, unopposed, for nearly a century. We are such a complacent people, sometimes. When something is working fine, we don’t consider changing it. By the Constitution the High Council and the Chapter of Cardinals can elect a new President once every ten years if they think it necessary. But for ten decades they have seen no reason to do so. The time has come, though, when my dear man thinks he has done enough for Gallifrey and would like to while away his declining years making model boats out of tiny pieces of wood.”

“Really?” Marion giggled at the idea of a president retiring to such a mundane hobby.

“He also wants to take me away for a year or so on a real boat, exploring the Great Ocean and the uninhabited islands on the other side of our planet,” the President’s wife answered. “He has such ideas. Some of them will be rather glorious, I think.”

“So, there will be an election?” Marion asked. “The High Council and the Cardinals will choose a new man?”

“No,” Lily told her. “The outgoing President will name his successor on his Presidential Resignation Day. He will consult with the Council and the Cardinals, of course. But the successor will have been chosen. He will be President-Elect from that moment. His inauguration will take place within a week of his naming.”

“You know,” Marion said. “That isn’t exactly democracy as the rest of the universe understands it. It means the new president is just the favourite of the people already in power.”

“You are right,” the Chancellor’s wife agreed. “But, as Bellira said, we don’t tend to change what works on Gallifrey. And this form of leadership has served us well enough for generations.”

“Well, most of the High Councillors seem level headed men,” Marion noted. “Perhaps it isn’t so bad. But anywhere else, that could be a way of ensuring oppression and dictatorship continues for generations.”

“That is why the High Council CAN remove a bad president once every ten years,” Lily said. “It hasn’t happened for a very long time. But the point is…”

“Kristoph isn’t a High Councillor or a Cardinal,” Marion said. “But they are talking with him about this? They consider him important enough, as Magister of the Southern Continent, to ask his opinion?”

Marion thought the three women took a long time to answer her question. She suspected that there was something telepathic said that she wasn’t supposed to know. Then the President’s wife turned to her with a warm smile.

“Lord de Lœngbærrow is very highly regarded amongst all the High Council. He would have been elected a member of the Council many years ago, but he preferred to do other work.”

“He likes being Magister,” Marion agreed. Though she suspected that the ‘other’ work referred to his time as a Celestial Intervention Agency man. “The hours are long, sometimes. But then, I suppose it would be just as bad if he were a Councillor. He would be on the Northern Continent far more. I would miss him.”

The Chancellor’s wife carefully steered the conversation away from politics after that and Marion didn’t think about it very much. But later, when the dinner party was over and the guests had departed Kristoph caught hold of Marion’s hand. He brought her to his study, where he put the desk light on. She sat on a chair and he leaned on the desk. He kept on holding her hand. She wondered what was wrong that he seemed so earnest. Usually after an evening of good food and wine and brandy he wanted nothing more than to take her to bed and make love for several hours.

“Marion,” he said in a serious tone. “I have been permitted to speak with you about this. But it is a secret you cannot share with anyone, not even Lily. You must give me your word.”

“You have it,” she replied. “Kristoph, whatever is the matter? What was said between you men when I was with the women?”

“I was asked, by the President, Chancellor and Premier Cardinal if my name could be put on the shortlist of potential candidates for the Presidency,” Kristoph said.


Kristoph laughed.

“‘Oh?’ Is that all you can say? Most of the ladies of Gallifrey would be swooning with excitement if their husbands made such an announcement to them. First Lady of Gallifrey is a purely social title, but it is one that is sought after.”

“I’m sure it is,” Marion answered. “I just didn’t expect… Do you want to be President?”

“All but one of my immediate forebears has served at least one term in that capacity,” he answered. “My great grandfather served twice, once for fifty and then for seventy years. I have a family tradition to uphold. But I won’t accept unless you are comfortable with the idea. It would mean… very possibly a whole new raft of silly gossip about the fact that you are not Gallifreyan. There would be a lot of nastiness from the usual quarters. Those who just about tolerate you as the wife of a rural Lord of the Southern Continent might have some things to say about you being the wife of the President.”

“Well, if that’s the worst thing that could happen to us, I think I could manage,” Marion said. “What else is there I should know? We would still live here, wouldn’t we? There isn’t a Gallifreyan equivalent of the White House we have to move into?”

“No, but there is a rather delightful summer residence by the ocean for getting away from the heat of high summer. What I wouldn’t look forward to is having this house permanently full of Chancellery Guards and Celestial Intervention Agency men protecting us. And it would mean some other changes to our lives. I’m not sure if you could continue to teach if I took such a high profile position. The First Lady would be too busy, in any case, to make such a commitment.”

“Oh.” Marion didn’t like that idea quite so much. It did sound as if the honour came with some burdens. “What did you say to them?”

“I said I would think about it,” he said. “I won’t give them an answer until we are both certain. We have time to consider it. It will be at least summer before the President’s intention to resign is made public. We will talk again about this. You should invite Bellira to a private luncheon some time soon and talk to her about it. I shall be considering the question very seriously. The consequences for us both will be huge. But… for now… let us retire to bed.”

“You drop this on me and then expect me to go to sleep?” Marion asked.

“Sleep… no. I had some other bedroom activity in mind,” Kristoph answered with a wicked smile. “So go and look in on our fosterling as you always do last thing at night, and then…”

His smile widened and she blushed.

“You’re not a presidential candidate yet,” she reminded him. “And even if you were, it is a political position. It has nothing to do with the bedroom.”