Marion was in the Capitol for the day. She had lunched at Valentin’s before spending the afternoon having her portrait painted while wearing a very heavy and elaborate gown made of red velvet and gold embroidery. Kristoph had commissioned the painting to hang in his Presidential Chamber at the Panopticon. The gown was in a traditional Gallifreyan style that she only rarely wore for very formal occasions. She thought she looked like a native born Gallifreyan lady in the picture. In a hundred years, maybe longer than that, if the painting was still there, it might have been forgotten by future High Presidents that she was a ‘foreigner’ and only remember that she was First Lady of Gallifrey for a time.

She went to tea at the town house of Lord and Lady Dúccesci. It was a pleasant house on the edge of the city. The window of the drawing room looked out over the Red Desert through the enviro-shield that protected the city. She still loved that view even after her trip into the desert last week and the difficult duty she had to carry out there.

She didn’t talk about that today, not even with Talitha Dúccesci who was one of the friends who joined her for tea. It was no secret that the two of them had been to the desert camp, of course. But it was not something they wanted to talk about with anyone who wasn’t there.

Talitha’s other afternoon guests included Isolatta Braxietel who had brought her son with her. He was a healthy nine months old, now, and Isolatta was rightly proud of him. Calliope Haddandrox looked at him enviously. Mia Reidluum and Talitha herself smiled knowingly and revealed secrets both had been keeping close in their hearts until now.

“Both of you?” Marion exclaimed in excitement. “Oh, I am so very glad.”

Of course, the fact that Mia Reidluum’s husband had recently threatened to have her set aside for failing to conceive was known only to a very few people. So was the fact that Talitha had consented to ‘bear her husband’s fruit’ only a few weeks ago. It was welcome news from them both, for those very reasons.

“Malika is overjoyed,” Talitha said about the news. Isolatta laughed.

“I’m sorry, my dear,” she said. “But I don’t believe I have ever seen Lord Dúccesci smile. The idea of him overjoyed is almost inconceivable.”

Talitha smiled wryly. It was perfectly true that her husband was known for his serious and dour persona, even on social occasions. In the Panopticon his reputation was for harsh and caustic criticism of any policy that might be labelled as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ was legendary.

“He DOES smile when we are at home,” she said. “He has smiled a lot these past three weeks. He kisses me all the time. Yesterday, he even called me Tally. He hasn’t done that for so long... not since we were just married. I don’t know how long it might last... but just now I think I could ask him for the moon and he would get it for me. He is so pleased with the thought of having a son.”

Mia nodded and admitted that her husband could be described as ‘mellow’ just now.

“Of course, there will be no official announcement, yet. It’s still early. But we have reason to hope.”

That was usual, of course. The early weeks of pregnancy were always dangerous for Gallifreyan women. All of Marion’s friends had known the heartsache of miscarriage more than once.

“Oh, Marion,” Talitha said. “I hope you don’t think... I mean, I know you and Kristoph can’t...”

“Who said we can’t?” Marion answered. She didn’t need any telepathy to know what her friend was thinking.

“I heard... somebody said...” Talitha began, a little hesitantly, and clearly trying to avoid saying any name. “That you couldn’t conceive... and that Kristoph had decided not to attempt it. I heard that he intends naming his brother’s child as his heir when it is born... and that...”

Talitha stopped speaking. She looked a little embarrassed.

“I won’t ask who said it,” Marion told her. “But I’ll bet the idea of naming the son of a former Caretaker as heir was almost as outrageous to her as a weak-blooded foreigner trying to produce a son. And as dangerous to Oldblood society.”

Talitha nodded, a little awkwardly, it had to be said.

“That’s nonsense,” Isolatta pointed out. “Aineytta de Lœngbærrow was a Caretaker, and yet Kristoph and his brother are both very fine examples of Oldblood manhood.”

“Nobody can say anything about Aineytta,” said Calliope. “She is an elegant and refined lady, whatever her birth.”

“Yes, but that’s the point,” Talitha said. “Remonte de Lœngbærrow’s mother was a Caretaker. His wife is. There are some who think... the worst.”

“So they’d prefer the Lœngbærrow heir to be of watered down foreign blood instead of from common Gallifreyan stock?” Marion asked. Again she had a shrewd idea who had been talking in that way. It was nothing she hadn’t heard a thousand times before. “Well, they will have to wait, either way. Kristoph and I WILL have a son, when we’re good and ready. Kristoph will probably retire from the Presidency first, so he can enjoy being a father in peace. But it will happen in due time. Meantime, I wish Rika all the best for a safe delivery of her child. And you, Talitha, and you, Mia. And I hope you are both taking Aineytta’s tonics daily.”

“I certainly am,” Mia said. “She recommended I take it three times a day, at meals.”

“Yes, me, too,” Talitha agreed.

“You should ask her for her Agi flower astringent and the balix leaf lotion,” Isolatta told them. “When you have hot flushes the cool astringent is so soothing, and the lotion is ESSENTIAL to keep your skin supple and avoid stretch marks.”

“And all of that from a woman the pureblood snobs call a ‘witch’!” Calliope remarked. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”

“I think the biggest pureblood snob of all has other things to be ashamed of just now,” Mia remarked, speaking aloud the thought that was in all of their minds just now. It was one reason they were having tea privately instead of at the Conservatory or one of the other restaurants or tea rooms in the Capitol. They wanted to avoid being drawn into the speculation and gossip going on in those places.

And yet, they could none of them avoid the subject coming into their conversation.

“She was at the couturier this morning,” Talitha remarked. “And was blanked by Lady Maxic and Madame Vansig snubbed her.”

“When the mothers of two Arcalian rebels look down on her, then she really cannot get any lower,” Mia remarked. “I feel sorry for her.”

“It isn’t even her fault,” Calliope added. “It’s her husband who is in trouble.”

“How did it come to be public knowledge?” Marion asked. “Kristoph wanted it to be kept quiet.”

But she knew there was no point in asking such a question. This was Gallifrey. Things had a way of becoming known. And it was now quite obvious that everyone knew about Lord Oakdaene’s arrest on a distant planet, even if they didn’t know what his crime actually was.

“The fact that the Lord High President has gone to intervene on his behalf is fuelling the speculation,” Isolatta added. “Pól was expected to go, of course. As Castellan he is responsible for any Gallifreyan citizen arrested offworld. But Kristoph’s decision to go with him...”

“I really don’t know why he did that,” Marion admitted. “I wouldn’t have thought Lord Oakdaene being arrested for racketeering was a matter for the President. He said he didn’t want to burden me with details.”

“Oh!” Calliope exclaimed. “Oh dear. It’s not THAT, surely?”

“Not what?” Marion asked.

“Are you sure he’s only been arrested? What if Lord Oakdaene has already been tried... and found guilty? Oh, that would explain it. But how dreadful.”

None of the other women understood, even Isolatta, who was aware of her husband’s work even if he didn’t discuss the details with her.

“If a Gallifreyan citizen is convicted of a capital crime offworld, he is entitled to ask for observers to bear witness to a clean and fair execution.”

“Oh!” Marion rarely socialised with Minniette Oakdaene at the best of times. She was even less likely to seek her out just now. She might have been the most gossiped about, and possibly the most pitied woman in the Capitol, but she was still proud of her pure-blooded Gallifreyan aristocrat status. And even if Marion WAS the wife of the President that meant nothing to her except proof that standards were slipping desperately on Gallifrey.

But she wondered if she knew just how much trouble her husband was in, and if there was anyone who would console her in such trouble.

“But why would he ask for Kristoph?” she added “Surely that isn’t part of his duties as President?”

“Minniette’s brother is married to Kristoph’s sister, Oriana,” Calliope reminded Marion. “It’s a rather loose family connection, but there IS one. Perhaps Lord Oakdaene requested his presence for that reason. Or perhaps Kristoph felt he owed it to him, due to that family connection.”

“There’s nothing he can do, I suppose, even as Lord High President. That won’t mean anything on that other planet, will it?”

“It depends whether they need anything Gallifrey has to export badly enough,” Isolatta pointed out. “It’s not even in our galaxy. I heard they’re not even humanoid. I really don’t think they would be interested in swapping a trade agreement for Lord Oakdaene.”

Marion wondered if Kristoph would even consider such a deal. He knew that Lord Oakdaene was a shady businessman at best. He was almost certainly guilty of whatever he was accused of. Perhaps he would consider Gallifrey well rid of the embarrassment of his criminal activities.

That was a terrible thought. She regretted it as soon as she thought it. Especially as she had not hidden it at all. She knew by their faces that her friends had known what she was thinking.

“If he did, he would be perfectly justified,” Isolatta said. “You’re quite right. Lord Oakdaene IS a criminal, and this time he HAS been caught. It would be unbecoming of the Lord High President to seek to make ‘deals’ on his behalf. He should not expect it. Nor should anyone else. I feel very sorry for Minniette. It’s a terrible thing to happen. But he brought it upon himself.”

She hugged her baby on her knee. The little boy gurgled and laughed contentedly, reminding them all that there were brighter prospects on the horizon for two of them, at least. They tried to put the fate of Lord Oakdaene out of their minds again. Marion told her friends about the portrait she was sitting for and Calliope talked about a ball her mother was hosting very soon. They covered the uneasiness in all of their hearts with such things.

Even so, Marion wondered how it would affect Gallifreyan society to have an Oldblood patriarch executed for a sleazy crime on a far off world. At the very least it would leave an Oldblood House without a future, since Minniette had no children and nor did either of Lord Oakdaene’s brothers.

She so often forgot in her dislike of both Lord and Lady Oakdaene that two men she liked and respected very much were of that House. She didn’t see Rõgæn Koschei Oakdaene’s eldest brother, Legaen Koschei very often. He kept himself secluded with those mysterious Brothers in the monastery on Mount Lœng. But when he did visit, she enjoyed his company and the tales he always told of the wild days of youth when he and his brother Lee and Kristoph de Lœngbærrow gave their mothers so much anxiety with their adventures.

And Lee Koschei Oakdaene, of course, was her own dear Mai Li Tuo of Liverpool, who she loved and trusted so very much.

How would either of them feel if their brother was killed in such a way? Estranged they might all be, but surely they would grieve.

For their sake, if not for Minniette Oakdaene, she very much hoped Kristoph could do something clever and inventive to prevent what was almost certainly justice from being done. She clung to the hope that he would, even thought it seemed unlikely.