“It’s nine o’clock,” Jarod sighed. “In the Capitol, it is, anyway. It’s two hours earlier here, in southern standard time. But that’s no use to me now. My bride will be distraught. Her father will be cursing my name. Everyone will be talking about me, saying I ran out on her. The Lord High President will think I am a….”

“You’re a what?” Remonte asked him. “Jarod, they have weather reports in the Capitol. They will know what delayed us. They will make allowance for our difficulties.”

“I will still be the laughing stock of all Gallifrey – the space fleet captain who couldn’t navigate from the southern continent to the Capitol.”

His friends laughed a little at the thought, but Jarod was not in a mood to see the funny side. He had already put off his Alliance once because it was inappropriate after the accident at their engagement party. Military service had delayed him still further. He desperately wanted to be married to Calliope today.

“I’m going to try to climb down,” he said. “I can’t sit around here, waiting. Kristoph de Lœngbærrow is down there, somewhere. He can contact the Capitol and tell them what is happening, at least. Cally will be worried sick. She’ll think I’ve had an accident.

“You will have an accident if you try to get down there on your own,” Remonte told him. “Either we all stay here or we all go. We’re not going to split up.”

“I agree,” Pól said. So did Bolar.

“So, do we stay or do we try to get down?” Remonte added.

Calliope was distraught now. Five minutes past the hour had dragged slowly by. All five women had sat in silence, their ears straining for any sound outside the room, for somebody coming to tell them that the groom was in the Panopticon and all was ready for the ceremony.

Or to tell them that the groom and his attendants had still not arrived and the Alliance was cancelled.

“What if something has happened to him?” Calliope groaned. “He could be injured or dead. What if….”

“Cally, dear,” Hesthor answered soothingly. “It is simply some adverse weather delaying them. After all, they were on top of Mount Lœng last night. And the fog…”

“Why did they have to go there, in the first place?” Isolatta asked. “All the Alliance rites require is for twenty-six hours of meditation. It doesn’t have to be on top of a mountain.”

Rika shifted uncomfortably in her seat and looked away.

“It was… Remonte’s idea,” she said in a small voice. “I’m sorry… I’m sure he never meant this to happen. But they were all talking about it last week and Jarod was really excited about the idea. But I’m sure they never expected…”

“Nobody could have expected this,” Hesthor assured her. “And nobody blames Remonte. He didn’t do this deliberately.”

“Of course not,” Calliope added. “Rika, don’t worry. I don’t blame anyone. I just wish we knew something.”

She sighed deeply again. Her face, beautifully made up, should have been glowing with joy. Instead her eyes, beneath lids that were shaded with silver and gold shadow were sad and worried. Her friends felt for her.

But there was nothing any of them could do to help ease her misery.

“All right,” Jarod said. “We’re all agreed… we’ll try again to find a way down the mountain?”

“It’s better than sitting here doing nothing,” Pól answered him. “Come on, let’s give it a try.”

They went to the edge of the cave. The fog was even thicker, if anything. Their hearts quailed as they contemplated the thought of climbing down into the unknown.

“It’s not unknown,” Pól reminded them. We know how far down it is. We know what’s there when we get down.”

“If we fall…”

“Are you Time Lords or Lapin?” asked a voice. They all turned, startled, to see Maestro standing behind them at the cave entrance. He had several lengths of rope with him. “Come on, you’re going to be late for your Alliance, Hadandrox.”

“I’m already late for my Alliance,” Jarod replied miserably. “How did you know we were here?”

“Your gloomy thoughts were upsetting the harmony of our meditations,” Maestro answered. “Come on. Tie the rope around yourselves then you won’t get lost and follow me, carefully.”

They all did as he said. Maestro took the lead as they once more edged themselves around the narrow ledge that seemed to go nowhere. They were surprised to hear the sound of a waterfall after a very short time.

“That’s Lœngbærrow Falls,” Remonte said. “The great waterfall that tumbles down the west side of the mountain and feeds into the River B?rrow. We were so close to it?”

“You were, indeed,” Maestro said. “Go carefully here. The path is slippery with the unending spray of water.”

The noise increased as they edged along the path, keeping near the cliff face itself. Then they were behind the waterfall, protected from the thundering mass of water by a wide overhang. Maestro lead them through it and out the other side where the path was much wider and easier and was sloping gently downhill.

“But we’re going to be on the wrong side of the mountain,” Jarod pointed out. “We’ll still have a walk to reach the place where Kristoph is supposed to be meeting us.”

“Jarod, have a little faith,” Maestro told him. “Calm yourself. All those hours of meditation are completely undone. Your hearts and soul are filled with doubt and worry.”

“I have good reason for it,” Jarod pointed out.

“And I have good reason to believe all will be well. So just calm your mind and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other on this path for a little while longer.”

Jarod did as he said. So did the others. They could only see a few feet of that path at a time. The fog was heavier than ever. When they looked up they could barely make out where the sun was. Even if they could, that only reminded Jarod of how much time was passing. It was at least an hour now past the time when his Alliance was supposed to have begun. Calliope would be devastated. Not only was their ceremony ruined, but she still didn’t know if he was alive or dead. He couldn’t even communicate with her telepathically. He was on a mountain where the meditations of the Brotherhood disrupted telepathic thoughts. She was in the Citadel where lead lined walls and all manner of electronic devices prevented spies from listening to Committee meetings and High Council Sessions.

“If I could just talk to her and assure her that I haven’t abandoned her,” he said.

“She won’t think that,” Pól told him. “She’s most likely eating her hearts out thinking that you’re lying in a chasm with a broken neck.”

“That does not help produce a calm and tranquil atmosphere among you,” Maestro told him. “When we reach the bottom of this mountain we will all form a ring of calming and restore some mental equilibrium around here.”

“That will delay us even further,” Jarod pointed out, but Maestro hushed him. He was a generation older than they all were, and respected by all who knew him. And besides, if it were not for him they would still be trapped in the cave. Jarod said nothing more. His friends said nothing more to distress him further, though the feeling of dread stayed in the pit of his stomach as they slowly moved down the mountain.

Finally, they reached flat ground. They could still see nothing more than a few feet away from them, but they could dispense with the rope, at least, and Maestro did, indeed, move them into a ring. He began a soft chant that they all took up one by one, feeling the stress and worry fall away from them gradually as their minds calmed and quietened.

None of them noticed the sound of a TARDIS materialising around them until Remonte looked around and saw his brother smiling at him as he pressed the dematerialisation switch on the console. He looked at the viewscreen and saw they were in orbit above Gallifrey.

“But we’re still an hour late for the ceremony,” Jarod pointed out. “Even if you get us to the Panopticon instantly.”

“I’ve got that in hand,” Kristoph told him. “Hot showers now and your Alliance robes are in the wardrobe. I picked them up for you. And don’t worry about anything else.”

It was twenty minutes past nine. Calliope was inconsolable. She was convinced that something dreadful had happened, not only to Jarod, but to everyone with him. And that dread was gripping the other women, too, since all their husbands were involved in the Mount Lœng adventure. Even Kristoph had not been heard of since the message that Aineytta brought.

Then there was a knock on the door. Marion rose from her seat and opened it. She gasped in surprise and relief to see Kristoph with Lord Patriclian. Both were wearing their elaborate fomal robes and they were smiling.

“We are running just a little late,” Kristoph said. “But the groom is waiting for his bride. All is ready when she is.”

Marion looked around at Calliope. She was standing up, arranging her headdress.

“She’s ready,” Marion told him. She walked on his arm, the other three bridemaids following behind her, past the Chancellery Guards in their formal uniforms who got ready to salute the bride. As they entered the Panopticon itself Kristoph went to his own seat and Marion and the bridesmaids took up their positions. There was a brief, formal wait before the doors were opened again and everyone turned to watch the triumphant entrance of the beautiful bride in her diamond covered gown. Calliope smiled joyously as she reached the side of her husband to be, dressed in the dress uniform of a retired space fleet officer with a silver cloak fastened at his throat with a diamond studded pin. They both stood proudly as the national anthem of Gallifrey was played and sung by the orchestra and choir and then the Lord High President began the Alliance ceremony that had seemed so unlikely not long ago.

Much later, as the happy couple danced their first dance on the floor of the beautiful reception hall, Marion heard Kristoph and Maestro explain what had happened and how they managed to get the groom and his attendants to the Panopticon on time.

“Using a TARDIS to go back in Gallifrey’s own time is expressly forbidden,” Kristoph said. “Unless it is an extreme emergency that won’t cause a serious paradox, and it is arranged in advance with the express permission of the Lord High President and two senior High Councillors. I called the President at ten minutes to nine, when I knew that it would be impossible to get to the Panopticon in real time. He gave me formal permission to turn back the clock by no more than three hours. That was long enough to get them off the mountain, get them showered and changed into their wedding robes and get to the Panopticon by a quarter past the hour.”

“Oh, well done,” Marion told him. “You saved the day. Calliope was so upset. We all were.”

“I was a bit worried myself for a while. But it was worth it, don’t you think?”

Marion looked at Calliope’s face as she danced with her husband and agreed that it was well worth it. She took Kristoph’s hand as he brought her out onto the dance floor. Remonte and Rika followed. Pól and Isolatta and Bolar and Hesthor joined them.