Rodan ran ahead along the path on her own toddler feet. Marion watched her solicitously, but she was perfectly safe and happy here in the rose garden of the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s residence on Ventura IV.

“She’s strong of limb,” said Lady Alanna Stillhaeven, their hostess on this pleasant summer afternoon. “Thriving under your care, Marion, dear.”

“It’s not difficult with the number of maids I have to do all the hard work,” she pointed out. “I have never done any washing or ironing of her clothes. I order all her meals along with my own each day. I mostly have the pleasurable tasks of parenthood.

“Marion feels guilty about being a Lady of means, still,” Lily teased gently. Alanna laughed softly. Marion didn’t mind. She liked both of the Oldblood ladies, and they were her acknowledged friends.

“I just don’t want to take credit where it isn’t due,” she answered. “But I must admit, it does still surprise me sometimes, this way of life.” She looked back at the two gardeners who were following on behind them, one with gardening tools and the other carefully carrying the new rose plants she had brought with her from their recent holiday on Earth. She had promised Lady Alanna that she would bring some Earth roses to grow alongside her Gallifreyan ones in the garden of the Residence, and now they were going to plant them out. But none of the ladies would have to do any of the hard work of digging, of course. They had staff to do that.

“Here we are,” Rika said as they came to a paved walkway with climbing roses over a wide atelier. There were benches on one side and a lawn on the other with rose beds around it. “This is my favourite part. I love to sit here on these summery afternoons and smell the different scents of the roses. I think this is the perfect place for Marion’s roses to go.”

“I agree,” Marion said. “This is lovely. I think… yes, they would do nicely in that bed there, with those Gallifreyan moon roses.”

The moon roses would have delighted the eyes of the man whose shop just outside Liverpool she had bought her Earth roses from. The same plant had blooms in both silver and bronze colours and there were silver and bronze streaks on the deep green leaves. It was her favourite of the Gallifreyan varieties. She sat with her friends as the gardeners set about carefully preparing the ground, then she planted the roses and told Rika and Lady Alanna all about them.

“This white variety is called Anna Pavlova, after a famous ballerina on Earth,” she said. “The flowers are like the dresses she wore to perform her most famous dances. The golden yellow one is called goldbusch, and its petals are like fine porcelain. And the last one is called Mary Rose. It’s buds when they’re opening are a deep red, but the flower itself is a delicate pale pink. They won’t bloom until next summer, of course. But when they do, they’ll be lovely.”

“I’m sure they will be,” Lady Alanna said as Marion dusted down her hands and came to join the other ladies on the benches. The gardeners tidied up and left the new rose plants looking a bit plain and ordinary yet, but promising to be beautiful in the next growing season. Meanwhile they had plenty of other roses to enjoy in Rika’s favourite spot. Presently, three of the maids arrived with a portable table, cloth, cutlery and china, and an array of sandwiches and cakes. There was also a pot of the fragrant herbal infusion that was drunk by Gallifreyan ladies everywhere other than Mount Lœng House where English tea was always served. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon while Kristoph was with his brother and the Ambassador, talking affairs of state.

“Ahh,” Lady Alanna sighed as she looked around. “I think I shall miss this garden more than anything when we leave.”

“You’re leaving Ventura?” Marion asked in surprise. “Why?”

“I should have said ‘if’ we leave,” she amended. “There is some talk… I fully expect that is what our men are talking about right now. Almanzo… Lord Stillhaeven… is highly favoured for nomination at the Presidential Resignation.”

“Oh.” Marion’s response was a quiet, almost disappointed one. Rika and Lady Alanna were both puzzled.

“I’m sorry,” she said, aware of their glances. “I don’t mean to sound begrudging. Only…”

“Lord de Lœngbærrow is also being considered,” Lily said, finding the words Marion couldn’t manage to get out.

“Oh, I see,” Lady Alanna said. “You don’t want our husbands to be in competition with each other? But of course it isn’t that kind of election, where candidates must actively seek to gain votes at each other’s expense. It is entirely the choice of the Retiring Lord High President. I was a little surprised that Almanzo was asked. We have been here for so long, almost as if forgotten by the High Council back on Gallifrey.”

“It’s not that, exactly,” Marion answered. “It’s…. oh, it’s hard to explain. When Kristoph told me he might be a candidate, I was excited. Then the more I thought about what it would mean to us – he would be away so often in the Capitol, far from our southern continent home, and the house would be under siege by the Chancellery Guard. It was bad enough when we held the formal dinner for the President. I don’t think I could live with that constantly. And I would have to give up teaching, because the President’s wife would be expected to have so many duties, and in any case, I couldn’t have the school full of Guards every time I was teaching. And we wouldn’t be free to go away on holiday like we’ve done this past two weeks. And I don’t know what people would make of us being Rodan’s foster parents. And I could think of a hundred other reasons why I don’t want Kristoph to be President.”

“And they all sound like very good reasons, my dear,” Lady Alanna said. “I am a little more accustomed to the guards. We have plenty of them around the Residence, after all. But I can understand how you feel. And your teaching is a very worthy occupation. And yet… you sounded disappointed before.”

“Yes, I know. That’s where it gets complicated. There are all those reasons why I don’t want Kristoph to be nominated. And yet, when I think about it… I read about the ceremony of inauguration. It is so grand and beautiful and I kept thinking of Kristoph making those solemn vows and accepting the Coronet of Rassilon and what a great honour it would be for him. And I think how proud I would be of him… and… and yes, I felt disappointed. Because Lord Stillhaeven is much better qualified. He’s been ambassador here for so long. And he is such a good man. And… you would be a perfect First Lady of Gallifrey, and everyone would accept you. There wouldn’t be anybody grumbling. You’re not a foreigner like me.”

“Do people still think of you as a foreigner?” Lady Alanna asked, taking that last point rather than her own or her husband’s fitness for high office.

“I’m afraid there are still a few bigots,” Lady Lily told her. “Lady Ravenswode was the core of them, may Rassilon rest her soul. They lack a centre to fix upon without her. But there are still a great many of the Ladies who smile politely in public but gossip behind closed doors. As for the men… unyielding chauvinism is bred into the males of our species from birth, I think. Or if not, there are special classes in the academies.”

“It doesn’t bother me most of the time,” Marion assured Lady Alanna, who seemed rather shocked by the revelations. “I have enough real friends not to care about those others. But it would all be rehashed if Kristoph was elevated to such a position.”

“But the thought of being First Lady tickles you,” Lady Alanna said with a smile. “There’s no shame in admitting that. And there is much you could do, to make that role more than just a matter of wearing gowns to official functions. Even if you couldn’t teach any more, as the President’s Lady, you could visit every school on Gallifrey and talk to the teachers about the issues that concern you. You could do a lot of good for the people you care about.”

“I’ve thought of that, too,” Marion admitted. “And it makes my own reasons against it seem rather selfish. But Alanna, you could do those things, too. If you were chosen, I mean if your husband were to be chosen, you could do that kind of good, too.”

That seemed a surprising idea to Lady Alanna. But she clearly gave it some thought then.

“Perhaps I shall call on you to advise me,” she said.

“I would be glad to do so,” Marion answered her. “Oh, but we are both being quite silly, aren’t we? There must be other possible candidates. It might be neither.”

“That is certainly true,” Lady Alanna agreed. “But… I think if Almanzo wasn’t nominated, I should be least disappointed if Lord de Lœngbærrow was.”

“And I would be happy if it was Lord Stillhaeven and not Kristoph who was chosen,” Marion replied. “I know he would be a magnificent President. I do hope somebody who will look after the roses will take his place here on Ventura, though.”

“Oh, that will be certain,” Lady Alanna said. “If Almanzo and I move on, there is no doubt that Remonte de Lœngbærrow would be confirmed as the new Ambassador. He is already very popular here on Ventura.”

“With the ladies,” Rika said with a wry smile. “He dances so well at the formal balls, they’re all desperate to have him as their partner. I’m lucky if I get the first and last set with him. Still, I can’t complain. We are very happy here. And if there is a chance of promotion, I know it will please Remonte. It is good for him, to be his own man here, rather than the younger de Lœngbærrow son on Gallifrey.”

Marion was about to say something in response to that when Rodan’s voice cut into her thoughts. The child was distressed by something. Marion sought her out and found her in amongst the climbing roses, protesting because the flower she had tried to pick had thorns in it.

“Never mind, my dear,” Marion told her as she picked her up and soothed her grazed hands. “Let’s leave the flowers to grow where they belong. Come and sit and have cakes with us. And later, I have a new dress with flowers on that you can wear tonight at the firework display in the city.”

Rodan gurgled happily. That seemed a suitable arrangement to her.

Later, as Marion got herself ready for the fireworks that marked the start of the official summer holiday time for Venturans, Kristoph had a word to say to her that had a bearing on what she and her lady friends had been discussing.

“Marion,” he said, putting his hands on her shoulders as she sat at the dressing table applying her make up. “I have been talking to Lord Stillhaeven, and I have decided to decline the presidential nomination in favour of him.”

“Oh,” she said, keeping her voice steady.

“It means that Almanzo will almost certainly be the one named by the President next spring,” he said. “You don’t hear the political chatter the way I do. Most of the other candidates have given way to either myself or Stillhaeven. My backing him will make him a sure thing.”

“I’m glad,” Marion said. “He will be a good president. And Lady Alanna will make a fine First Lady.”

“It means that I won’t be able to take up the issues of universal suffrage that you are so keen on,” Kristoph added. “But it might interest you to know that Stillhaeven is probably more passionate about it than I am. He’s lived offworld on planets with other definitions of democracy than ours and is keen to shake things up.”

“Then, that’s all right,” Marion said. “Do you mind not being President, though? It sounds as if you really had a good chance.”

“I could still be in the future,” he answered. “Just not this time.”

“In the future…” Marion thought about that. A presidential tenure on Gallifrey could be as much as seventy years. So his next chance could be long after she was dead and gone. He could still be president, but not with her at his side. And perhaps….

“It’s not because of you,” Kristoph’s assurance came so quickly she knew he must have read her thoughts just then. “Nobody objected to a president with a ‘foreign’ wife. In fact, a lot of those who backed me did so because you would be a strong support at my side. But I do think Stillhaeven would be a better man than me. So don’t imagine for one minute that you held me back. It just isn’t the right time for either of us.”

Marion nodded. She was reassured by his words. She continued to dress and waited for their fosterling in her new dress to be brought from the nursery before they joined their friends for an exciting evening’s entertainment that almost put the thoughts of presidential nominations out of her head. Now and then, she did think about it a little. The prospect had been exciting, and knowing that Kristoph had ruled himself out was a little disappointing. Then she thought of all the reasons why it would have spoilt their present happiness and she knew he had made the right decision. She looked at Lord Stillhaeven and looked forward to seeing him inaugurated as President. The best possible choice for the position.