Marion walked into the Conservatory with her two friends, Isolatta Braxiatel and Calliope Haddandrox. They had spent a pleasant morning at the fashion house where Isolatta ordered several new gowns designed for her ever changing silhouette now that she was in the eleventh month of her pregnancy. She was delightfully happy. The birth of her much wanted child was still another seven months away, but she was enjoying being pregnant. Her friends were happy for her and had enjoyed the dress fittings as much as she did.

Now, as they came to their favourite restaurant for lunch, the maitre-d smiled widely and bowed in greeting to them.

“Is it just the three of you ladies dining or will others be joining your party?” he asked. It was not unusual for Lily or Aineytta, or Lady and Madam Arpexia to join them over a protracted luncheon date.

Marion, who had made the reservation earlier in the day got ready to say it would be just the three of them when Isolatta caught her arm.

“No,” she said. “Marion…” She turned her slightly so that she could see the woman who had just walked into the Conservatory behind them. She looked tired and worried and everyone knew why.

Marion decided quickly.

“Geollo, please tell Lady Thayla that we would be delighted to have her lunch with us.”

“I will do so, Ladyship,” Geollo, the Maitre-D answered with another graceful bow before he, personally, escorted the three ladies to their favourite table by the big picture window overlooking the Red Desert.

A few minutes later, the worried Lady Thayla was brought to the table by the senior waiter who laid an extra place while Geollo held a chair for her. Heads had turned as she walked to the table and nobody could have failed to notice where she had been seated and who with.

“The wife of the Castellan, the wife of the Southern Magister and the wife of a retired officer of the Gallifreyan Military Service,” Calliope pointed out. “We are the people everyone wants to be invited to lunch with.”

She wasn’t bragging. She was simply stating the facts to reassure Lady Thayla that she was in the best possible company.

“Thank you,” she said. “For your kindness to me at this time.”

“Bear up,” Isolatta told her. “This will all be over in a few hours. And then you can put it all behind you.”

“It will never be over,” Lady Thayla answered. “My family is… My family doesn’t exist any more. We are three separate people bound together by nothing but the worst scandal to come upon Gallifreyan society for millennia.”

“Lord Thayla doesn’t think so,” Marion assured her. “His statement to the court…”

“Your husband told you?” Lady Thayla asked her. “He would, of course. Lord de Lœngbærrow was… he was very kind.”

“He judged wisely,” Marion said. “Wisely and justly.

“Yes, he did. But the talk will go on forever. The gossip. I shall always be looked at wherever I go, whispered about as the woman who… I shall never be able to show my face in a place like this again.”

“Yes, you will,” Calliope told her. “You must hold up your head, Dessia. Hold it up proudly and defy the gossips.”

The waiter brought lattes for them all and Geollo, the Maitre-D brought their food. For a little while the conversation turned on trivial matters, but it took an effort to do so. Lady Thayla said very little and ate even less. She kept her face turned away from the other tables in the restaurant.

Marion looked around at those other tables and wondered what was really being said telepathically, behind the eyes of the people who tried not to look towards them. She had experienced something like it herself when she first came to Gallifrey, the foreign bride-to-be of the Lœngbærrow heir. She had walked past tables where people stopped talking and looked away until she had gone by, then turned and stared at her back. She knew exactly what it was like.

But she couldn’t begin to imagine what Lady Thayla was going through. The gossip about her had been about nothing more than the fact that she was a foreigner. That was the only thing they could lay against her. But Lady Thayla had gone through the very worst humiliation possible. She had been accused of adultery, and worse, of bearing a son who was not her husband’s child.

Kristoph had been the Magister who heard the case. It was a distressing one for all concerned. Lord Thayla had been forced to bring the matter before the court when he discovered, quite by accident, that the young man he had raised as his son did not, in fact, have any of his DNA. Lady Thayla denied the charges of adultery, swearing that she had never been unfaithful to her husband, that she loved him dearly and would never betray his trust in such a way. She swore, too, that the son they had both raised, who they both loved, was his own flesh and blood.

But the scientific evidence went against her. Lord Thayla’s DNA tests and those of his supposed son, Garron Thayla, were clearly different. There was no blood relationship between the ‘father’ and ‘son’.

Still, Lady Thayla denied adultery. And well she might, since the punishment for such a misdemeanour was a severe one. Men convicted of it were flogged publicly, of course. Women were cast out. If convicted, Lady Thayla would no longer be a Lady. She would no longer be able to call herself a married woman, even. She would be cut off from all financial resources. She would not even own the clothes on her back. She would have to leave her home, and even her own family, her parents and siblings, would be forbidden to give her shelter. She would be reduced to a beggar in the streets - if Gallifrey even had such things. Marion tentatively asked and was told that she might find sanctuary in one of the Houses of Contemplation – if she was lucky. More likely she would crawl away and die of shame. There was no place in Gallifreyan society for a woman who cheated on her husband.

Marion had thought, and said out loud, that Gallifrey was a cold, narrow place if that was so. Some of her friends had agreed with her. Others had not. The law was the law, and it must be obeyed by everybody. It was the law for high born aristocrats and for Caretakers alike and was applied evenly. It was a fair law.

Even Kristoph thought it was right that those who broke the law should be punished. And that annoyed Marion since she knew perfectly well that he had conspired to protect his own brother when he was committing adultery with Rika. She pointed that out to him and he agreed that it was hypocritical of him. He had acted to protect the good name of his family, and out of love for his brother.

But what about the good name of the House of Thayla?

Kristoph had not given anything away. He could not. The case was ongoing and he could not speculate with anyone, not even his wife, about the outcome. But he did tell her that he thought there was more to the case than met the eye and assured her that he would do his best to ensure justice was served, even if it was not served in the way everyone was expecting.

But he had said one thing more. He had reminded Marion that nobody actually knew the truth, yet, and asked her to be careful what she said and to whom about the subject. He urged her not to join in with speculation and gossip. She had, in turn, urged her friends to do the same. When she and Isolatta and Calliope had met with the ladies of their social circle they had all tried very hard to put a halt to the wild notions being spread around about who Lady Thayla had committed adultery with and other favoured topics of conversation.

Then a very startling fact emerged in court. Kristoph had ordered that Lady Thayla’s DNA was also tested and when the results came back it emerged that her son, Garron, was not related in any way to her, either.

After he had quietened the court, Kristoph had dismissed the adultery charge and instead ordered an investigation into the true parents of the young man called Garron Thayla. Who, in fact, WAS Garron? At home, that evening, after those startling facts had been revealed, Kristoph described Garron to Marion. He was a tall, striking young man with red-brown hair and green eyes. He was two hundred and twenty years old and was hoping to marry a young woman called Dallia Arunden. The match had been approved by her Newblood father, but the questions about Garron’s parentage meant that the Bond of Betrothal could not be completed.

Marion’s sympathy was mostly with Lady Thayla, who was the chief subject of the worst of the gossip even after the adultery charge was dismissed. But she also felt deeply for the young man who was, after all, an innocent in all of this.

The most dramatic day of the trial was the day that Kristoph had come home early and taken Marion and Rodan away for that pleasant afternoon on Kos. The court had just reconvened that morning when the lawyer acting for Lady Thayla had asked to put a new witness on the stand. Kristoph had assented. An elderly woman of the Caretaker class faced the whole court, trembling in fear, because what she had to say laid herself open to charges of deception, at the very worst.

But the time had come, she said, for the truth to be told, regardless of consequences. And she told the court that she had been a maid in the Thayla household two hundred and twenty years ago when Lady Thayla was giving birth to what they hoped would be a strong son and heir. This was the sixth child Lady Thayla had carried for her husband, but each time before she had miscarried. This time she was almost full term when he labour began and hopes were high at first. But after fifty hours of struggle it was clear to everyone except the poor lady herself that the child was already dead. It would be stillborn.

That part of the story had chilled Marion when she heard it. Her thoughts went to her own baby, her little Anna, who had never drawn breath despite the best efforts of a fine physician. Kristoph had obviously been thinking the same when he listened to this woman’s testimony. Perhaps it was one reason why, when the truth was finally told, he had ruled that neither the Caretaker woman, nor anyone else involved in what happened so very long ago, should be prosecuted. Now that the truth was known, let it end here, he had said.

The woman went on to explain that, while Lady Thayla was giving birth to a stillborn son in the master bedroom of the mansion, in a basement room, a healthy son was born to a chamber maid who had promptly died of exhaustion. The father of the child was thought to be a chauffeur who had left Lord Thayla’s employment a year and a half before without explanation, though the maid herself had never named the man she had been intimate with.

Kristoph had asked whose idea it had been. The woman telling the tale said it was hers. That might not have been the truth, but Kristoph let it pass. In any case, what happened was simple. The orphaned child of the chamber maid was brought up to the master bedroom where the midwife was trying to conceal the lifeless body of Lord and Lady Thayla’s child from the exhausted and delirious woman. The healthy baby was placed in her arms and she had accepted him as her own son. She knew no different. Garron Thayla was duly named by his ‘father’ and the household rejoiced that an heir was born. A quiet cremation of the mother and child who had been less fortunate took place later that day. The few people who knew the truth swore to keep the secret.

But that oath now had to be broken. The truth had to be known.

Kristoph had given his word that there would be immunity from prosecution. In any case, he wasn’t sure what statute of the Laws of Gallifrey covered such actions. He then put the court into recess and asked Lord Thayla to join him in his chambers.

What passed between the two men in private would remain private. Even Marion didn’t know anything about that. But when they returned to the court, Lord Thayla had announced that he was fully reconciled with his wife, who was cleared of any wrongdoing. He also announced his intention to petition the High Council. He intended to have Garron Thayla formally adopted as his son and heir, with all the rights due to him.

Obviously, that had been Kristoph’s advice to the man. To accept that blood was not all that mattered after all, and that the young man he had loved and cherished as his son WAS still just that.

It was a new and startling notion in Gallifreyan society. Blood counted for everything. To everyone, including the father of Garron’s would be sweetheart, he was nothing – he was the illegitimate son of a servant. There were those who thought he ought to be rejected and cast out of the House of Thayla. They thought Lord Thayla had taken leave of his senses in suggesting that millennia of tradition could be overturned by this petition of ‘adoption’.

There were those who believed that the High Council would reject the petition and that Garron Thayla would be dispossessed, his ‘father’ and ‘mother’ both forced to reject him.

“I loved him from the moment I set eyes on him,” Lady Thayla said to the three women who looked kindly upon her. “He was my son. I watched him grow into a fine boy. I saw him take his place at the academy and achieve so very much. When he transcended, his father and I were so very proud. And when he told us that he was in love with the daughter of Lord Arunden, we couldn’t have been happier. But now… if the High Council rules against us… now he is a stranger to me. My son… my son died at birth and this young man who I thought... He is nothing to me.”

“You love him as your son,” Marion reminded her. “Lord Thayla does, too. That is what he told the court. That is what he is telling the High Council right now. That Garron IS his son, regardless of blood. And no matter what they decide, how you feel about your son won’t change.”

“Yes, it will,” she insisted. “Because I won’t be ALLOWED to love him. I won’t be allowed to be proud of his achievements. Not that he would have anything to achieve. What will become of him if we are forced to disown him? What life will he have as… nothing more than a Caretaker?”

Nobody could answer that question. Or nobody wanted to answer the question, because they knew what the answer would be. Garron was well qualified, of course. He was a graduate of the Arcalian Academy. He was a transcended Time Lord. But if he was disowned by his family his chances of any kind of work in government, in the civil service, in the diplomatic corps, any of the jobs open to the sons of Oldbloods, would be closed to him. He might manage to secure a low position in the Chancellery Guard or even in the Transduction Barrier Traffic Section or some such place. But it would be a poor job with little reward.

And his marriage prospects would be gone. Even if the High Council ruled in favour of him nobody was sure whether his Bond of Betrothal would still stand. Lord Arunden had refused his communications. His daughter was forbidden to contact him in any way.

There was a sudden silence in the restaurant, and then the conversations resumed in much louder and more animated levels. Marion looked around and gasped as she saw Kristoph coming towards the table. He was accompanied by Lord Thayla and by Garron. Lady Thayla turned and then stood, hesitantly. She looked as if her legs were barely holding her up. Calliope waved to the Maitre-D and indicated that four more chairs were needed at their table. Marion reached out her hand to Kristoph as he quietly sat beside her.

“Did it… was it all right?” she asked.

“It was,” he answered. “The High Council accepted his petition. Garron is officially declared as the son and heir of the House of Thayla. He is Olan and Dessia’s son, regardless of blood. And anyone who questions his lineage is in breach of the judgement of the High Council. And that includes Mauri Arunden. If he refuses the Bond of Betrothal now, he will be prosecuted for Breach of Promise. Garron will be able to marry his sweetheart.”

“I’m glad,” Marion said. “Was it… the vote… how close was it?”

“VERY close,” Kristoph admitted. “I feared it might come down to the President’s casting vote. There were some who objected. You can probably guess which ones – the same traditionalists who still think our Alliance was the doom of Gallifrey. But there were enough forward thinkers to carry the vote. The President’s endorsement was given. It cannot be undone.”

Geollo brought chairs. The newly restored family sat and enjoyed lattes with their friends. No doubt there would still be hurdles to cross. They would still be the subject of gossip for time to come. But they had each other, and they would get through it together.