The Set Aside Wife – Part Two

Marion descended the stairs, determined to put a stop to a terrible, cruel injustice. At the bottom she hesitated a moment. The footman stepped down from the ladder and asked if he might assist her.

“No,” she answered. “Please continue your duties for Lady Lily. I know what I need to do.”

She turned to the main drawing room where there was a videophone. She put a call through to the Lord High President’s office in the Citadel. It was connected straight away, but as she expected, nobody was in the office to answer it but one of Kristoph’s aides.

“I want to speak to the President,” she said in a voice as firm and commanding as she could muster.

“His Excellency is in the Panopticon, Madam,” the aide informed her. “The High Council is in Session.”

“Go into the Panopticon and tell his Excellency there is a matter that requires his immediate attention. A matter of urgency and importance. Tell him... tell him anything... but... do it, now.”

The aide looked disconcerted. But he was just an aide. He had no authority to question the will of the Lord High President’s wife.

“It will be done, my Lady,” he said and hurried away. Marion waited several minutes looking at a videoscreen view of the empty chamber, half expecting a flustered and defeated aide to return with apologies and excuses.

Then Kristoph was there. He was wearing his formal robes of office and looked magnificent as always. His expression was grim and concerned, though when he saw her on the screen his face softened in relief.

“Marion? Are you all right? I was worried when I was summoned from the Panopticon.”

“I’m fine,” she replied. “But I need to talk to you. It’s important.... I’m sorry to bring you from the floor... But...”

“Nobody will have noticed my absence,” he assured her with a wry smile. “Lord Ravenswode is filibustering an amendment to the External Revenue Bill. He’s very eloquent about financial matters...”

“Filibustering?” Marion understood the word. It was one with the same meaning in political arenas far across the galaxy. “You mean he won’t stop talking and nobody else can take the floor until he does?”

“Quite so.”

Her heart fluttered hopefully and she carefully tried to calm her voice when she spoke again.

“Then Lord Reidluum’s petition has not yet been heard?”

“It is highly unlikely that any private business will be done today. We are a people known for our stoicism and our stamina, but Gold Usher will call a guillotine motion and put an end to the day’s session at five o’clock whether Ravenswode is done or not.”

“Then there is still hope. Kristoph, do you know what Lord Reidluum’s petition concerns?”

He didn’t, until Marion told him. She was disheartened to learn that he agreed with Lily’s view. There was nothing he, as President, could do to influence a private petition of that sort.

“It will not be heard today,” Kristoph promised. “In the unlikely event that Ravenswode develops laryngitis, I think I can probably do a bit of filibustering myself to round off the day, if that helps.”

“But that only delays the inevitable, doesn’t it? He will try again tomorrow.”

“I promise I will talk to Reidluum in my chamber when the session is over and try to get his side of this.”

“His side? This isn’t about sides. It’s about a cruel action against a desperate woman. Please make him see that.”

“He’s a Time Lord. Making him see anything he doesn’t want to see will be difficult. It may be there is little to be done, no matter how much you want it.”

“Please try,” Marion begged him. And he did promise, but he could do no more than that. It was a disappointing result to her effort. Marion closed the call and walked back into the hall, wondering if there was any hope she could offer to the troubled lady above. That her husband had not yet succeeded in destroying her publicly, but could try again tomorrow, was very little in the way of news.

There was a new arrival at the door. Marion watched as the elder Lady de Lœngbærrow, her mother in law, stepped into the entrance hall of Maison D’Alba and pulled off the lapin fur snood that kept her warm and dry in the dismal weather. The butler closed the door and dutifully took her outer wrappings from her.

“Aineytta,” Marion said, crossing the floor to greet her warmly. “I am so glad to see you.”

“Jules D’Alba was one of Kristoph’s boyhood friends,” Aineytta replied. “I am glad to join Lily in celebrating his life.”

Marion had almost forgotten that was the reason she was at Lily’s house, today. Despite the footman still at his polishing duty, the party had faded from her mind in her anxiety. She grasped Aineytta’s arm and urged her to come upstairs to see Lady Reidluum.

“Maybe there is something YOU can do,” she said, after she had explained the situation. “You’re as good as any physician on this wretched planet.”

“That is kind of you to say so,” Aineytta replied. “But even I cannot make a barren wife fertile. If I could, I should have done it for Lily and Jules a generation ago.”

Marion realised she was really clutching at straws now. She had imagined for a few seconds that Aineytta, the healer, gifted with potions and herbs, could have solved Mia Reidluum’s problems all at once.

But nothing was ever that easy.

“I will see if there is some way I can comfort the lady,” Aineytta promised. “But even I cannot make those sort of miracles happen.”

Aineytta went into the yellow bedroom. Lily and Talitha came from it to find Marion waiting on the landing. They descended the stairs together and went back to Lily’s private drawing room. Marion drank herbal infusion with her friends and tried not to be dismayed by what seemed inevitable.

The image of Perjules D’Alba in the silver frame drew her attention as the conversation flagged. Aineytta’s comment before, seemingly irrelevant, came back to her, and she asked a question that had it had never occurred to her to ask before, even though she had known Lily for so many years.

“Jules never worried that he would not have an heir?” she said. “He never tried to invoke this provision? Didn’t it matter to him the same - as a Newblood?”

“It mattered a lot to him,” Lily answered. “And to me. We would have liked to have children. It was a source of distress to us both and we comforted each other as the cold fact became more and more obvious.”

“But he never...”

“The problem did not lie wholly with me. Jules was infertile, himself. When we discovered that, we knew what it would mean. The House of Alba would have no heir, nor would Argenlunna, since my brother was expunged from the family line. We accepted the inevitable - the end of both our lines.”

“So... it isn’t just the women of Gallifrey who are at fault in these cases?” Marion asked. “But I suppose a wife has no right to set aside a husband who cannot do the ‘siring’ and find another one!”

Her two companions shook their heads sadly. The law that allowed Lord Reidluum to cast away his wife was written by men fifty generations ago without any thought to a woman’s rights in the matter.

“It’s not fair,” Marion commented.

“It most certainly is not,” Aineytta said as she stepped into the drawing room. “For once in my life I am glad that Lord Ravenswode is an insufferable bore. He might inadvertently have prevented an injustice against a good woman. I have spoken to my son. He was quite happy to leave the Panopticon for a second time and has taken some advice from me. I believe there might be a resolution to this unhappy situation, after all.”

Aineytta would not say more than that. Much still had to be done, and it was out of her hands. But she gave them reason to hope. Meanwhile, Marion had to content herself with helping Lily with the preparations for a dinner party that had lost something of its shine. Lily was adamant that Lord and Lady Reidluum would be joining them for dinner, and she and Aineytta spent a lot of time with Mia making sure that she looked her very best for the occasion, despite her unhappy situation. They reminded her that the petition had not yet been heard, and the shame and scandal was not yet upon her. She could stand proud beside her husband one more time, at least.

In a classic gown of golden white that only those with a phenomenal memory might remember Lily wearing once, Mia Reidluum looked as stunning as the host of the party when she emerged from the yellow bedroom and hesitantly mounted the stairs. Marion and Talitha were at her side. Aineytta followed them. They were still halfway down the wide stairs when the butler opened the front door with as much ceremony as he could muster for the Lord High President of Gallifrey accompanied by Lord Dúccesci and Lord Reidluum who had come directly to Lady Lily’s party after their day at the Panopticon. All three men stood on the marble floor under the sparkling chandelier and looked up at their wives. Kristoph smiled warmly at Marion. Lord Dúccesci had an indulgent smile for his own wife. Lord Reidluum looked startled, but when they reached the last step he reached out his hand gallantly to Mia. The elder Lord de Lœngbærrow stepped forward to take his wife’s arm, and they went into the ballroom together where soft music played while the rest of Lily’s guests arrived in time for dinner.

“They seem to be all right,” Marion said to Kristoph. She tried not to make it too obvious that she was watching Lord and Lady Reidluum, but she wasn’t the only one. Talitha Dúccesci was keeping a close eye on them. So was Aineytta.

“They need a bit of time,” Kristoph said. “For emotional healing. But I think they’ll be all right.”

“He’s not going to press his petition again, tomorrow?”

“It would be extremely embarrassing if he did so and the medical reports later confirmed my mother’s diagnosis. Lady Reidluum is perfectly capable of bearing him an heir... as long as HE keeps taking the ‘tonic’ to increase his fertility. Mother has promised to make up a batch straight away. But she warned him it could take a year or two before the effects may be known. He must be patient. That was his chief problem all along, I think. Impatience. A rare thing among Time Lords, in fact. Usually we are quite accustomed to being patient. Anyone in attendance at today’s Session in the Panopticon will bear witness to that truth.”

Marion laughed softly. Kristoph was making light of the matter, but she knew he had spoken very seriously to Lord Reidluum on the way to Maison D’Alba. It must have been a difficult conversation for Reidluum, but he seemed to have taken all that was said to heart, and he was holding his wife’s hand firmly as he talked with Aineytta and the elder Lord de Lœngbærrow. Mia looked relieved beyond words.

“How many women have suffered the indignation and humiliation she almost suffered when all along it might have been their husband who had the problem?” Marion asked. “It’s a barbaric practice. It’s time women had a lot more say about their lives on this planet.”

“Oh, dear,” Kristoph murmured. “Does this mean that I have to fight for the Women’s Franchise, now?”

“Yes, it does,” Marion replied. “And high time, don’t you think?” Kristoph got ready to reply to her, but Lily called for silence. She was ready to welcome her friends to her dinner to remember a gentle Time Lord whom she had loved wholeheartedly and still remembered with devotion.

“Jules D’Alba was a lucky man,” Kristoph said as he walked with his wife into the dining room. “And so am I. Don’t let me ever forget that.”