“What about Hillary and Claudia Jean, then?” Calliope asked. “Haolstromnians DON’T pair for life. Will the Portal reject them?”

Everyone looked at each other as if considering that question. Then Rika asked the question aloud that had occurred to them all.

“What happens to them if it does reject them?”

“Why should it reject them?” Kristoph asked. “The love between two Haolstromnians who have chosen to bond is as strong, if not stronger, as anything I have ever witnessed. The length of that love is immaterial.”

“Does the Guardian know that?” Marian asked. “What if… you know… I don’t want any harm to come to either of them. Perhaps…”

Hillary reached out and touched her on the shoulder. He smiled warmly at her.

“What matters is that the love is true, not how long it lasts. And Claudia Jean and I are very much in love right now. The Guardian won’t know what hit it.”

Marion felt a little reassured as they all put their shoes back on and got ready to start on the last stage of the pilgrimage together. They were supposed to walk in their respective couples, but for part of the way Marion walked with Claudia Jean and Kristoph with Hillary. The two diplomats talked politics. Marion and her friend talked about their lovers. She told Claudia Jean about the recent crisis in her life when she really thought Kristoph was being unfaithful to her.

“That’s not why we’re here, of course,” she added. “I have no doubts at all about his love for me. I was silly to think it even for a moment. Valena and I are great friends now. We laugh about the idea.”

“Hillary talks about Kristoph a lot. She respects him as a diplomat, and she has never forgotten her love affair with him. Platonic love isn’t something we really know about in our world. But he made an impression on Hillary.”

“He made an impression on me, too,” Marion said with a warm smile. “I love him so much.”

“I can tell,” Claudia Jean told her. “You two will have no trouble convincing the Guardian of your true love.”

Marion nodded. A few weeks ago, for that brief time, she might have wondered about that. But not now.

They came, at last, to the plateau of the Great Guardian, where the Marriage Portal stood, protected by more of the robed acolytes. It was, on the one hand, an impressive sculpture. Marion thought it resembled something like a native American totem, or rather, two totems, made of grey stone, joined with a cross piece. The abstract designs were what was sometimes called ‘naïve art’ by ‘experts’. After looking at it for a while she realized it was a stylized sculpture of two people holding hands.

Then again, she suppressed a giggle as the idea that it was a stone age set of football goalposts popped into her head.

Even without telepathy, Kristoph guessed what she was thinking. He smiled, but laughing out loud at such a thought would have been a little blasphemous, and certainly rude to the very earnest and pious acolytes who guided them towards the line of couples waiting to pass through the Marriage Portal.

Those waiting were kept quite far back from the Portal, and the view was restricted by the lines of acolytes. So until they were near the front of the queue it was hard to see what happened to those who went up to it. When Jarod and Calliope’s turn came, Marion watched eagerly. She was half expecting nothing. It was just ceremonial, like passing under an archway into church. Then again, everyone took it so seriously it had to be more than that.

Jarod and Calliope walked up to the Portal and stood under it, holding hands. For a few moments nothing happened, then a soft blue light enveloped them both. From where she was standing Marion couldn’t see their expressions, but the way they held themselves they seemed to be enjoying the experience.

The light faded after a few minutes and they stepped out through the other side of the Portal and were guided by the acolytes to a rest area with silk canopies shading the blessed couples from the sun.

Remonte and Rika went forward. They, too, seemed to enjoy their experience and they joined Jarod and Calliope under their canopy.

Kristoph grasped Marion’s hand and they stepped forward. An acolyte walked part of the way with them, giving final instructions.

“Only the most pure of heart dare pass through the Marriage Portal,” he told them. “The Great Guardian sees into the hearts of all. Those whose love for each other is true receive his blessing. Those who are false lovers, receive his judgement.”

He stopped and they walked on in silence. Marion’s heart beat fast. Suddenly, even though she thought she was pure of heart, and that her love for Kristoph was as true as it was possible to be, she was nervous. What DID happen to those who were untrue?

She gripped Kristoph’s hand firmly as they stood beneath the Portal. She looked up. It seemed to be solid rock. She wondered where the light came from.

Then it happened. She found her vision blurring as the blue light enveloped her. She couldn’t even see Kristoph clearly. But she felt as if she could hear his two hearts in time with hers and she gasped with joy. Every inch of her body trembled with ecstatic pleasure. She felt as if her loving feelings for Kristoph were being boosted through an emotion amplifier and transmitted back into her tenfold. She knew that Kristoph was feeling it, too. Her hand held in his felt like a conduit to sharing the wonderful sensation.

When it was over, she breathed in deeply and looked around at her husband. He looked at her, his eyes shining brightly. Then they turned and walked towards the place where their friends already were.

“Oh, did it feel the same to you?” Marion asked Rika and Calliope. “Was it like…”

But it was impossible to describe the feeling to anyone else. Their powers of description failed them all.

“Hillary and Claudia Jean are going up,” Rika said.

Marion’s joy faded a little as she remembered her concern for her friends. She turned and watched as they stepped under the Portal. She held her breath as the blue light enfolded them both. They looked as if it was all right, but…

It seemed to take ages, but finally they were done. They walked towards their assembled friends and were greeted with hugs and kisses.

“You see,” Hillary told Marion as he held her in his masculine arms and kissed her before morphing into the female form and kissing her again. “Love for our kind is fleeting, but for as long as it lasts, it is true. The Guardian recognised that.”

“I am so relieved,” Marion admitted. “I was so…”

But Hillary wouldn’t hear of her worrying. She kissed her again and Marion sighed deeply as she felt herself overwhelmed by Haolstromnian pheromones which gave her a sensation almost as wonderful as the Portal had given her.

“I think you’d better stop now,” Kristoph said with a laugh in his voice. “Before it constitutes adultery and the Guardian gets upset with us all.”

Marion stepped back from Hillary’s embrace into a kiss from her husband.

Then the sweet contentment was shattered by a scream. They all turned and looked at the Portal. They were shocked to see a red light enveloping a youth while his young lady screamed in horror.

Kristoph left Marion’s side and ran to intervene, despite the protests of the acolytes. He reached the Portal as the red light faded and caught the youth before he collapsed. He ran back to the shade of the canopy with him. The young lady ran after him, crying pitifully. Marion and Rika both went to comfort her.

“He wasn’t true to me!” she cried. “He doesn’t love me… I thought… I thought… I really thought…”

“It could be a mistake,” Marion told her. “It could be that….”

“Where are you from?” Kristoph asked as he laid his hands on the unconscious youth’s forehead and tried to bring him around. “What are your names?”

“I am Gia,” the young woman answered. “He is Mal. We are from Judan Veni.”

“Ah,” Kristoph noted. “You know that place, don’t you, brother?” He looked at Remonte who nodded in understanding.

“Arranged marriages… even stricter than they are on Gallifrey. But…”

“We were promised to each other since birth,” Gia said. “We have done everything together. Our wedding is on the next moon. But… but… We talked of love. We said it to each other…. We felt that it was real… but….”

“Arranged marriages can be loving,” Kristoph noted. “I know of many that are.”

“My parents were Allied by arrangement,” Calliope admitted. “They came to love each other deeply.”

“But that doesn’t mean it always works,” Marion pointed out. “Is the boy going to be all right?”

“He’s coming around now,” Kristoph said. He helped the youth, Mal, to sit up and gave him water. He looked scared and hurt. Gia went to his side and hugged him.

“It isn’t true,” she said. “We ARE in love. Mal… I love you. I really do. I promise you. I truly love you.”

“I believe you,” Kristoph told her. “I believe you think you are in love. And I believe Mal thinks he is in love with you. But I also think that’s the problem. You have spent too long saying you love each other, and that you ARE going to be happy. And you haven’t let yourselves fall in love.”

“Sir…” Mal looked up at Kristoph and was met with reassuring sympathy. “I…. don’t understand.”

“You and Gia are friends. Good friends. And in your culture or mine, and even that of my dear wife’s people, that would be an excellent basis for a marriage. I think you will learn to love each other in time if you stop thinking about it and stop trying to make it happen. You have every chance of perfect happiness together. But you aren’t quite there yet, and the Guardian of the Portal saw the hesitancy within you. The reaction seems a little over the top, but there’s no lasting damage.”

“But if the Guardian thinks our love is not true….” Gia began.

“The Guardian is wrong,” Kristoph insisted. “The Guardian measures love by too narrow a yardstick. It cannot encompass your definition of it. But go home to your own world, and do not let this experience colour your future. You have a good one ahead of you. Even without the blessing of the Guardian of the Marriage Portal.”

Then he took Gia’s hand and pressed it together with Mal’s hand.

“You have my blessing. Go with it in your hearts and be happy.”

Mal stood, a little unsteadily, but with his girl supporting him. The two of them thanked Kristoph for his kindness and walked away towards the teleport that brought those who had made the pilgrimage back down the mountain far more quickly.

“They’ll be all right,” Kristoph said as he watched them.

“Are you sure?” Marion asked. “I mean… arranged marriage… they don’t even really know what love is. They think it’s what they have been told to expect from each other.”

“They’ll be all right,” Kristoph insisted. “They will learn to love each other. They will be happy. I saw into their future. They’ll be just as happy as we are. Their way of finding love is just different to ours – or to the Guardian of the Marriage Portal. So don’t you fret. If we should come back here in a few years time and find them here again, you’ll see them experiencing as much joy as we did. They’ll have learnt what we know by then. The joy of being utterly in love – whether for eternity or just for a while.”

He winked at his Haolstromnian friends and then drew his wife into a long, lingering kiss that proved that even stoic Gallifreyans knew a few things about pheromones. Marion surrendered completely.