It was snowing hard, and had been doing so all the previous night and all through the day. The extensive gardens of the Gallifreyan Embassy on Ventura were a winter wonderland. The bare trees were silver-grey against the blanket of white.

Marion and Rika looked out of the floor length window in the main drawing room. the snow was pretty, but it was giving them a certain amount of anxiety, too.

“We could be snowed in,” Rika noted mournfully. “We don’t have hover cars on Ventura. And even a sleigh conversion would have problems if it gets any deeper.”

“It won’t be a problem,” Marion pointed out. “Kristoph can take us to the palace by TARDIS.”

“Yes, of course he can,” Rika acknowledged. “Silly me, I still haven’t learnt to take TARDIS travel for granted. Caretakers don’t use them, of course. They are expensive to own. And Remonte usually prefers the diplomatic shuttle unless we need to get somewhere quickly.”

“I take TARDIS travel far too MUCH for granted,” Marion admitted. “I am spoiled that way. Especially just now with the Portal still out of action. I hope we won’t need it, though. I would rather travel the ordinary way to an event like we have tonight.”

“Remonte won’t want me to go at all if the weather worsens,” Rika added. “He is terribly protective of me lately. He would carry me everywhere if he could.”

“You’re having his baby,” Marion reminded her. “Of course, his only thought is for you.” She smiled warmly at her sister in law. She looked positively blooming in every sense of that cliché. At twenty-five weeks she was wearing distinctly maternity style gowns. Every time Remonte looked her way he smiled a special smile for her.

“All the same, he has to let me leave the drawing room from time to time. I cannot spend the next eleven months as his virtual prisoner.” She sighed softly and looked at the falling snow again. “Last winter Remy and I built snowmen out there on the lawn. He won’t even think of it this year.”

“But next year, you can build them for your son. And the year after he will be able to help. Isn’t that worth waiting for?”

“Yes, it is,” Rika admitted. She put her hand on the small bulge beneath her gown. “I can feel him kicking. It feels wonderful.”

Marion smiled gladly for her sister in law and tried not to think sadly of when she had reached this stage in her pregnancy. She knew exactly how Rika felt about those first kicks before her hopes had been cruelly dashed.

But this was no time or place for regrets. She looked around as their husbands, the esteemed ambassador and the Lord High President, came into the drawing room. The two men had affairs of state to concern them even on what was a national holiday on Ventura – New Year’s Day. They were still talking about the appointment of a consul on the newly colonised Ventura II as they sat before the huge open fire. Marion and Rika came to sit with them and they changed the subject to the gowns their ladies proposed to wear for the ball, later.

“As if either of you REALLY care about ballgowns,” Rika teased her husband. “You’re just pretending to be interested.”

“I admit I have always been more interested in you taking the ballgown off at the end of the evening,” Remonte answered with a wicked smile. Marion and Rika both pretended to be shocked by his comment. Kristoph said nothing, but he was laughing with his eyes.

“You will both comport yourself as gentlemen of Gallifrey outside of this private drawing room,” Marion told them. “That is if we are not snowed in, anyway. I do hope not. I have looked forward to tonight’s celebrations.”

“Be assured,” Kristoph said. “I have made arrangements. “Even the deepest snow will not prevent us from attending the New Year gala as special guests of the Crown Prince, and we shall travel in grand style.”

He would give no further clue to their travelling plans, and they couldn’t prise anything more out of him before it was time to change into their evening gowns. Since the men were keeping secrets, they kept some of their own. When they emerged from their dressing chambers they were already wearing full length lapin fur coats with thick hoods over their hairstyles. They were surprised, though, when Remonte led them upstairs rather than down to the front door. Clambering single file up the narrow steps to a skylight onto the flat roof of the ambassador’s residence was not something Marion and Rika expected to do in their evening dresses and court shoes.

“I didn’t even know there WAS a way onto the roof,” Marion said as Kristoph held her hand on the snow-covered surface. Remonte held even more tightly to Rika as they walked towards the parapet. Then she gasped as she saw their mode of transport for tonight, bobbing in the night air.

“I had a word with the Ambassador from Orissa III,” Kristoph explained. “He was happy to accompany us to the ball in the official Orissan State Carriage.”

The Orissan State Carriage was an elegantly carved and painted gondolier, suspended beneath a silver cigar shaped balloon. On Orissa, where the weather was always warm, the four male Orissans who rowed it through the air would have been shirtless. Here on Ventura they wore leather jerkins with slits through which they could unfurl their wings. The Orissan Ambassador, with his own wings hidden beneath his elaborate robes greeted them formally as they stepped aboard. They settled onto comfortable, fur-lined seats before the rowers began their work. The air was cold, but they were warmly wrapped, and the Orissan Ambassador gave them a hot drink that had the bite of apple brandy but not the alcoholic properties.

Flying gently above the rooftops in a balloon powered boat was a surreal experience even for seasoned TARDIS travellers. Marion thought of the film ‘The Snowman’ and the song that accompanied the flying montage stayed in her head as she looked down on snow-covered roofs and gardens, first in the affluent part of the city where the ambassadorial residences were mansions in acres of garden, then across more ordinary streets where houses were side by side in ribbons of rooftops interspersed with tracts of gardens. Almost every home had a stable in the garden. Venturans had motorised transport when it was needed – for emergency vehicles and long distance travel, but for every day travel they would hitch up a horse to a carriage or cart - or in this weather, a sled or sleigh of some description. She could see many such vehicles on the snow-covered roads below, all heading towards the same destination.

There were two parties going on at the Venturan Royal Palace. The esteemed representatives of Gallifrey were invited to the Crown Prince’s own grand ball, of course, as were the ambassadors from all the worlds that gregarious and friendly Ventura had diplomatic ties with. But there was also a huge marquee in the grounds where the ordinary people of the Capital were invited to feast and dance. Great pits full of burning coals were dug, despite the snow, and whole ox were roasted for the feasting. Their brightness, and the glow from torches lit around the field, were a guiding beacon as the balloon gondola dropped lower and came to a halt by the grand balcony at the front of the royal palace. Below, elaborate sleighs with teams of glossy horses and strings of jingling bells were arriving with the other honoured guests who looked up in surprise at the unusual arrival of the Orissan and Gallifreyan guests. Men in the livery of the Venturan royal household hurried to help them out of the boat and onto the balcony, and from there into the great ballroom. Their entrance was from the gallery rather than the grand door, but they were announced formally by the heralds and presented to the Crown Prince and Princess in due course.

That was something that used to terrify both Marion and Rika, neither having been born to such a life. But Rika was a firm friend of the Crown Princess, by now. She, too, was with child, and they had plenty to talk about. Marion found her own friend, Lady Margery Stevenson, the wife of the Earth Ambassador. They always had plenty to catch up on when they met.

Of course, there was dancing. The Crown Princess and Rika sat out all but the first set, so Crown Prince Rubein danced with all of the ladies as well as the hermaphrodite Alpha Centaurans and the gendermorph Haolstromnian Ambassador and her spouse. Remonte did his share of mingling, too, and was the toast of the whole ballroom when he performed a magnificent tango with the Ambassador from Mizzone, a planet where there was only one gender – male. His spouse, a handsome young man, was also sitting out most of the dancing with Rika and Princess Ria, for the very same reason.

“It’s a wondrous universe,” Lady Margery commented about that to Marion.

“My brother-in-law dances the tango very well,” Marion remarked.

“You know, the tango was originally performed by male couples,” Lord Stevenson said. “In the high class brothels of Argentina, men waiting to see the most coveted ladies would dance with each other to impress them, like peacocks putting on a fine show for the peahen.”

“His lordship knows these things because he is a history scholar,” Lady Margery said with a soft laugh. “Not because he has any special personal experience of Argentinean brothels.”

“Naturally,” Marion replied.

A little before midnight – fourteen o’clock in local time – the Crown Prince led his guests out of the warm ballroom. They donned their winter coats again and the ladies swapped court shoes for fur lined boots. Then they went to join the ordinary people outside. That is to say that the ordinary people stood around a roped off area while the Prince’s guests sat in a special grandstand. They were all in place when the great bells of the Venturan Cathedral sounded the hour and as it did, fireworks coloured the sky with false but brilliant stars while a huge bonfire shaped like a pagoda was lit. The people, led by the Crown Prince and Princess and all of their court, made a gesture towards the bonfire as if they were throwing something onto it. The ambassadors from other worlds and other cultures did the same.

“The bonfire is to say farewell to the remnants of the past year,” Lady Margery explained. “We are symbolically throwing onto it all regrets and mistakes made in that time so that we might begin again with our best intentions when the first day of the New Year dawns in a few hours’ time.”

“I think I like that idea,” Marion said. There were more good things than bad in her memories of the past year. But there were disappointments enough that she was glad to throw onto the bonfire and be glad of a chance to begin again when the sun came up on a new day.

It was tradition to wait for that to happen. The ordinary people danced away the night in the marquee once the fire and the fireworks were over. The guests did so in the grand ballroom. A quiet sideroom with silk covered couches was provided for those with reasons not to be awake all night, Rika, the Princess and the Mizzonian Ambassador’s spouse took advantage of it. So did the visiting Queen of Ryemym Ceti, since she was only eleven years old and the wife of the Gondian Ambassador who was one hundred and five. Everyone else danced a little more slowly, with waltzes taking place of tangos and foxtrots as the hours lengthened. Remonte partnered the Mizzonian ambassador more than once, before the gentleman was called away urgently. Remonte took Marion onto the floor for a dance and told her that the Mizzonian spouse had gone into labour and the child would likely be born by sunrise. The news went around the guests quickly and the Venturans proclaimed it a good omen. A child born with the dawn of the New Year was a bonus for them all.

And so it was. When the Crown Prince and Princess stepped out onto the balcony in the first cold light of morning he brought with him the most exalted of his guests – the Lord High President and First Lady of Gallifrey, the young King and Queen of Ryemym Ceti and the Sultan of Hruni. The Mizzonian Ambassador with his tired but jubilant spouse and their newborn son wrapped warmly in soft cloth, were given pride of place among that company. The High Cardinal of Ventura blessed the new family and they received the cheers of the assembled people below. It was not planned that way, but it had proved to be a special and wonderful addition to the celebration to greet the New Year on Ventura IV.