Marion’s gown shimmered in the light as she stepped into the grand ballroom on Kristoph’s arm. She smiled as she looked around at the assembled guests of the Gallifreyan embassy on Minas Luimnea. Many of them, especially the males, looked back at her, and some of them kept looking. She still found that amazing. Very briefly she remembered that she was born in Birkenhead and had no further ambition than becoming a teacher. She always reminded herself of that whenever she stepped into rooms like this. It kept her feet on the ground.

“I could make them forget where the ground is,” Kristoph whispered as they joined Hesthor and Bolar and the Ambassador and his wife, Lord and Lady Coeus, to greet the guest of honour tonight, the High Mage of Minas Luimnea. Marion knew, because Kristoph had explained to her, that a High Mage was something like a king, or emperor, but elected like a president. He was the ruler of the planet and one of the most powerful men in the galaxy. His robes were even more elaborate, if that was possible, than the robes worn by Kristoph and the other Gallifreyans.

As she made a very proper curtsey, she wondered if the girl she used to be in Birkenhead would have been able to cope with all of this. She had never even met the Mayor of Liverpool. Now a Grand Mage, absolute ruler of a whole planet took her hand and kissed it.

And she knew how to respond to that. She knew the protocol. She knew how to step back without falling over the hem of her ankle length gown. She knew how to walk on Kristoph’s arm at a certain speed, without getting out of step and tripping somebody else. She no longer worried that she was going to do that. She was confident about herself in the presence of so many people who were more important than she was.

“Quite a lot of them aren’t more important than you,” Kristoph whispered as he led her onto the dance floor in proper order after the High Mage and the Ambassador and the Vice Consul. . “I am here as representative of the Lord High President – our equivalent of a Viceroy. I am, therefore, almost as important as the High Mage himself. And as my Lady, you are fully equal to them all.” He smiled at her and then whispered again. “And, my dear, you need not worry. Your psychic wall is working perfectly on everyone else. But I, after all, am your husband. I know your mind much better than anyone. I can see your thoughts.“

“Good,” she said. “I don’t want to have secrets from you.”

“You remember of course, that I have to spend some time talking to the High Mage later. You will be expected to mingle and dance. Most of the guests are humanoid, you’ll be relieved to know.

“I noticed the Denassian Ambassador,” she said “Those extra arms make him a very creative dancer!”

“A very diplomatic description of the gentleman in question.” Kristoph remarked. “Remember, that diplomacy or no diplomacy you have the right to slap him if he does anything other than dancing.”

Marion laughed and enjoyed the two arms of the man she loved for this dance at least. He was with her for two more sets before he bowed formally and allowed Bolar Lundar to take her onto the floor for a waltz. By the time that was done he had left the room along with the High Mage. She didn’t know what the negotiations were about. After all, Gallifrey had full diplomatic relations with Minas Luimnea. But she wasn’t worried. Kristoph knew what he was doing. He had been negotiating treaties with far off worlds a thousand years before she was born. Whatever it was, she knew he would do his very best for everyone involved.

And she, meanwhile, played the role of diplomat’s wife, dancing with the other guests. That was a little more complicated than it might be if she lived on Earth, because not all of those who asked her to dance were male in the sense she understood the word. Apart from the Denassian with two pairs of arms, she actually danced a polka with the Vice Consul of Alpha Centuari, who had a big rounded head with one huge eye in it and a body like a tube covered in a formal robe. He – or she – had spindly arms rather like an insect, and at first Marion wasn’t sure how to hold onto them. She was slightly afraid of breaking his arms if she put too much weight on them. But he was a charming and polite partner and she was almost sorry when the set ended.

“Marion, may I have this dance,” asked a voice and she turned happily to greet a friend.

“Bertin!” she said as she let him take her in his arms for a slow dance. “How are you? How is the baby?”

“He is doing very well,” she answered. “He is with us at the Mizzonian Embassy along with our older boy. I think Grady is dancing with the Imperial Representative of Gall Fossia just now. But I intend to claim him back for the last dance of the evening.”

“Kristoph promised to find me in time for that, too,” Marion said. “But you are a perfectly good substitute for now. You are a very good dancer.”

“Thank you for saying so,” Bertin answered her. “I’m not sure it is true. I am not used to the convention of ‘leading’. Grady is usually the one who takes me dancing, not the other way around. But I shall do my best.”

He did very well. And when the set was over, Marion was delighted to find another of her friends from among the diplomatic wives and spouses waiting to dance with her.

“Claudia Jean!” she cried in delight. “How lovely to see you. You’re with the Haolstromnian Ambassador, of course?”

“I am,” she replied. “Although she is busy at present and I find myself without a partner. Would you do me the honour?”

Marion was slightly taken aback. Claudia Jean was in a golden brown evening gown with her hair shimmering with what looked like powdered gold and more of it on her eyes, cheeks and lips, giving her the appearance of a very lovely moving statue. She held out her arms to Marion and she reached out automatically. She was glad that Claudia Jean WAS accustomed to leading, and after a little while she realised that nobody was surprised that she was dancing with another woman. Why would they, after all? It was no more peculiar than Bertin and Grady, both in tailored dinner jackets, holding each other closely as they danced.

“I know you’re more used to dancing with the males of your species,” Claudia Jean said to her, almost as if she was reading her mind. “But this dress would not fit at all if I morphed into Jean Claude.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Marion replied with a laugh. The dress was very close fitting around Claudia Jean’s curvaceous and sensual body. It would probably split at the seams if she changed into her male form. But it really was all right.

“I’ve been hearing all about you,” Claudia Jean said. “From Hillary Bar Dey,” she added when Marion looked puzzled. “She told me you are very good friends.”

“Yes, we are,” Marion answered. “I didn’t know you knew Hillary.”

“The Haolstromnian aristocracy is a smaller gene pool than the Gallifreyan one,” Claudia Jean answered. “I have known her for many years. She and I pair-bonded for a while before her eldest child was born. In fact…” Claudia Jean smiled. “You are married for life to a Gallifreyan. But the Ambassador and I have been together for five months now, and we will probably part company, soon. That’s our way, of course. We had a wonderful few months. But it is almost over. And… Hillary isn’t pair-bonded at the present. I think she and I…”

“Oh, I am so glad to hear that,” Marion said. “I hope you will be happy together. And your child can be friends with hers. How lovely for you all.”

“Our children are all friends anyway. But it will be nice for them to live together for the summer. You’ve been to the lighthouse, I suppose? Hillary’s getaway?”

“Yes,” Marion answered. “I know she takes all her lovers there. You’ll love it.”

“I think I shall,” Claudia Jean replied. “I know many people think us Haolstromnians are terribly immoral creatures. But it is our nature. We love only for fun and only for a very short time. But we never break each other’s hearts. We leave each other only with good memories.”

“I think your way has its merits,” Marion said. “But I want to spend my life with Kristoph. He’s the only man I could possibly love in that way.”

“Of course,” Claudia Jean told her. “And I am quite sure you will. Gallifreyans are honourable people. Your Lord Kristoph will never break your heart, either.”

Marion was quite sure of that. She smiled happily as she continued to dance with her so glamorous partner. When the set ended, she blushed happily as Claudia Jean kissed her on the cheek. Then she found herself dancing with Grady, Bertin’s partner, the Ambassador for Mizzone XIII.

Then, to her delight, Kristoph was there. He bowed to her and took her hand and they danced together until the ball was formally over. They stood proudly to hear the Gallifreyan Anthem followed by the Anthem of Minas Luimnea.

After that, there was a short formal farewell to the High Mage as he returned to his palace. Marion said less formal goodbyes to her own friends.

Finally, they were able to go to the private residence and retire to bed.

“You’re exhausted,” Kristoph said to her as she brushed out her hair at the dressing table. “Did you dance with everybody in the room?”

“Not quite,” she answered. “Just a few special people.” She told him about Bertin and Grady, and Claudia Jean, passing on the news of her likely relationship with Hillary.

“Glad to hear it,” Kristoph said. “I don’t care what they say, even Haolstromnians need companionship. Hillary has lived alone for some years, now. Time she had a lover for a bit.”

“I agree,” Marion replied. “Did you conclude your business with the High Mage?”

“Yes, I did,” Kristoph told her. “Come here.” She stood and joined him at the window. They looked at the ice mountains rising up higher than the towering buildings of the city. “Do you see that bright red star near that peak?” Marion looked at it. “Not a star, in fact, but a planet. Mbsa Luimne. A near neighbour. But not a friendly neighbour. There was a very real risk of war between the two worlds. But we managed to forge an agreement. The High Mage signed it. So did the Seriph of Mbsa Luimne.”

“So you were The Peacemaker, tonight,” Marion said, remembering the name he was known by in diplomatic circles. “I’m proud of you. Well done.”

“I was asked by the President to try to avoid a war that would damage one of our allies. I have done my duty. But, yes. I think there is room for pride, here.”

He held her tightly for a while and they looked up at the formerly hostile world. Then Kristoph took his wife’s hand and brought her to bed. She sank into his arms happily, the music of the ballroom still dancing around her head.

“You know,” Kristoph said as he hummed the tune she was thinking of. “In some parts of the galaxy dancing is a metaphor for another activity entirely that goes on between two people.”

“What activity?” Marion asked before she realised what he meant. “Oh… then… I really did save the last dance for you. And I always will.”

“So will I,” Kristoph promised.