Marion was lunching with her friends at the Conservatory, two of them, anyway. Calliope was still on her honeymoon. They had all received videophone messages from her reporting that she was having a wonderful time, and they were all full sure that she was.

Hesthor was full of talk about Bolar’s imminent promotion to vice consul on the lovely planet of Minas Luimnea. Part of their morning had been spent at the couturier where a whole collection of gowns were being made for her to wear at the many formal balls and receptions she would have to attend.

“Poor girl,” Isolatta teased. “What hardship she will have to suffer, night after night dressing in fine clothes and dancing with princes and ambassadors.”

“There is much more to being a vice consul’s wife than that,” Hesthor protested.

“Yes, there are luncheons, too,” Marion said, joining in with the fun as she cut up a strawberry pastry to give to Rodan for her desert.

“Isolatta,” Hesthor said, changing the subject. “You need to eat more. You hardly touched your quiche.”

“I couldn’t manage it,” she answered. “I feel a little queasy. I’ll probably feel very hungry in a few hours and order a huge high tea.”

“Humans usually only feel ill in the morning during pregnancy,” Marion said. “This doesn’t quite seem fair to me.”

“I think I prefer the Human experience of pregnancy all round,” Isolatta said. “It is so much shorter and I understand that the birth itself is much quicker. Right now I would be glad to have less of everything ahead of me.”

“That’s almost blasphemy,” Hesthor teased her lightheartedly. “To suggest that any way but the Gallifreyan way is better.”

All three women laughed. Then Isolatta spotted somebody coming into the Conservatory and stopped laughing. Around the restaurant conversations became muted and there was a different atmosphere that even Marion, with no telepathic skills at all, could recognise.

Lady Oakdaene, Minniette to her friends, was telepathic, like almost all Gallifreyans and she could not have failed to notice that she was being whispered about and stared at as the maitre-d came forward and escorted her to a secluded table for one.

She passed the table where the three friends and one foster child were lunching. Her expression as she caught their eyes was icy. Marion was almost relieved when Rodan accidentally knocked her strawberry pastry off the table and cried out for the attention of ‘Marra’ - her baby pronunciation of ‘Marion’. It allowed her to turn her attention away from that contemptuous stare.

“She shouldn’t have come into the city today,” Hesthor said quietly when Lady Oakdaene had passed them by. “She would have been better off at home.”

“I feel sorry for her,” Marion said. “The gossip among Gallifreyan society is cruel.”

“She won’t appreciate sympathy,” Isolatta pointed out. “Especially not from the three of us.”

“It’s nothing to do with us,” Hesthor said. “And it’s certainly not Bolar’s fault that he is involved in that sordid case.”

“Or any of our men,” Isolatta added. “They are merely doing their duty.”

Indeed, they were doing their duty. Kristoph kept that in mind as he, as Magister of the Southern Continent waited with Pól Braxietel, the Castellan, and Bolar Lundar, known as The Truthtaker, in the foyer of the justice hall of Acazu XI. But it was not a pleasant duty. And it was one all of them would have preferred to avoid.

“They shouldn’t have placed this upon your shoulders,” Pól told Kristoph. “Lord Oakdaene is, after all, related to you by marriage. There is a conflict of interests.”

“There is no conflict,” Kristoph replied in a cold voice that reminded both of his friends that he was once considered the deadliest assassin in the Celestial Intervention Agency. “Rõgæn Koschei is a criminal whose actions offworld bring our world into disrepute. He can expect no favours from me.”

“He can expect us to see he has a fair trial according to the statutes of Acazu,” Bolar Lundar said. “That is his right as a citizen of Gallifrey. I’m not sure that he will be entirely pleased to discover the three of us have been nominated as his court witnesses. After all, regardless of the outcome of the trial, I for one fully intend to find out what else he has been up to. The Celestial Intervention Agency have had their collective eye on his activities for a long time.”

“I just hope the Acuzans put him away for a couple of decades,” Pól said. “Then we can start to untangle his criminal activities.”

“The House of Oakdaene will be destroyed utterly,” Kristoph sighed.

“Oldblood pride is important to us all,” Pól said. “But we can’t ignore criminal activity in order to preserve our aristocracy.”

“I agree,” Kristoph added. “It is tragic, though. There isn’t even an heir to the House.”

All three men knew well enough why a House with three sons in it had not managed to produce a single son to carry on the line. They nodded grimly to each other.

Four guards entered the room. They were all seven feet tall, broad-chested, with red-bronze skin. They nodded courteously and told the Gallifreyans to follow them to the place where they could see the prisoner before his trial.

The interview room was a stark, utilitarian room containing a table and a chair for the prisoner on one side and three seats for his interviewers on the other. They sat and waited for the prisoner to be brought in through a guarded entrance from the detention cells.

Lord Oakdaene was dressed in a deep green prison overall and was handcuffed and shackled. He looked, even so, perfectly calm and serene. But Kristoph was suspicious of that calm. He didn’t believe he achieved it through meditation. His companions clearly agreed. Pól, as he read aloud the list of charges against the prisoner had a note of contempt in his voice.

“You’re in big trouble, Rõgæn,” he said when he was finished. “Even one of those charges carries a life sentence on this planet.”

“Their definition of ‘life’ is a little over twenty years. That’s less than ten in Gallifreyan years. I have nothing to fear. De Lœngbærrow, I’m glad you’re here. In the event of my being delayed here, I have arranged a power of attorney document. You will be responsible for my business interests, for the financial security of my wife. I trust you can discharge those duties?”

“If need be,” Kristoph answered. “I certainly don’t wish to see your wife reduced to penury. But that is not why I am here. And you know it.”

He was annoyed. He didn’t want to be responsible for the Oakdaene fortunes, and he didn’t even like Minniette Oakdaene. He knew Marion liked her even less. But Lord Oakdaene had put him under an obligation he could not refuse.

“This compromises my independence from this case,” Kristoph said. “I shall withdraw from the proceedings.” He stood up and nodded to his colleagues and turned away. He was escorted out of the secure area and was shown into a comfortable waiting room with soft chairs and a videophone terminal. He booked a call straight away and was pleased when it took a little less than twenty minutes to be connected with Gallifrey. He was even more pleased when Marion came straight to the screen in her white drawing room.

“Hello, my dear,” he said. “It’s good to see you.”

“And you,” she answered. “I’ve missed you. Has the trial begun yet?”

“It’s just about to.” He explained his reasons for not being in the courtroom. Marion was pleased by the idea.

“No, I still don’t like her,” she said. “But you should have been in the Conservatory this lunchtime. She was so lonely. Even Oriana, her sister in law, took a table at the other end of the restaurant and ignored her. If she at least has money to call her own, from the legitimate business interests, if you’re taking care of that for her, then she can hold her head up. I’m quite proud of you for accepting the responsibility.”

“It wasn't by choice. I have no love for Rõgæn or his wife. His two brothers are both good friends of mine, and for their sake at least, for the House they were once proud sons of, I will do my duty. But not for him.”

“You’ll do what’s right, Kristoph. I know you will,” Marion told him. “I miss you. I hope this trial is over quickly. Then you’ll be back home with me and Rodan. She misses you, too.”

“I miss you both,” he told her. He talked happily with his wife for a little longer before reluctantly closing the call. He felt lonelier afterwards. But he had responsibilities to discharge. The warmth of home and family would have to wait.

Not very many years ago, he reflected as he sat down to wait, home and family were things other men longed for. He thought he had no need for them. That chance meeting in a railway station waiting room changed his life as much as it changed Marion’s. And he had never looked back. He considered himself a lucky man.

He let himself think warmly about Marion and Rodan and the life he would be glad to return to when this duty was over. The pleasant thoughts passed the time he had to wait. He was almost surprised when Pól Braxietel came into the room.

“Is the court in recess?” he asked.

“Yes. They resume after lunch. But we don’t need to be there. The case against Oakdaene has collapsed. The first three prosecution witnesses all swore that he was nothing to do with the gun-running. The judge acquitted him.”

“What?” Kristoph made a disgusted sound in his throat. “I don’t believe it. Did he pay them off?”

“He may well have done. But we can’t prove it. Neither can the prosecution council. Oakdaene is free. We’re going to escort him back to Gallifrey. I intend to impose a warrant of restriction on him. He won’t be allowed to leave Gallifrey again for a decade or two. That should put a stop to his activities.”

“Minniette will be relieved,” Kristoph answered. “It will put a stop to his philandering, too.”

Bolar Lundar arrived with Lord Oakdaene beside him. He was dressed more appropriately for a Time Lord of Gallifrey now. He was smiling triumphantly. Kristoph scowled at him.

“I don’t know how you did it,” he said coldly. “You’re obviously guilty. Your offworld business activities are all criminal. You should be in prison. You belong in prison.”

“On paper, I am innocent and a free man,” Lord Oakdaene replied.

“Yes, you are. But Pól and I will be watching you from now on. If we find the slightest trace of evidence of wrongdoing you will be arrested and subjected to the Gallifreyan justice system, which you will not corrupt so easily. If you wish to remain free, you will go home to your wife and live very quietly from now on.”

Lord Oakdaene had nothing to say in response to that. He came with the three men to the car that was waiting outside. He said nothing as the car brought them to the space port where a Gallifreyan diplomatic ship waited to take them all home.

Four Gallifreyan wives would be pleased about that, at least.