Before they headed for Ventura, Marion and Kristoph stopped off at Polarfrey to pick up Mr and Mrs Desai, Rika’s parents. They were torn between excitement at visiting their daughter and grandson and extreme awe because they were travelling by TARDIS with the Lord High President himself.

“Please, don’t bow,” Kristoph said to Ria Desau. “Nor do you need to address me as ‘Excellency’. Both are strictly only necessary when I am wearing the Sash of Rassilon. Besides, you are my brother’s guests on Ventura. You need not worry about formality.”

Ria did not know how to answer him. Marion brought her to sit down by the wide viewscreen that showed the neutral colour of the vortex when they were simply travelling in space, not time. A pot of tea materialised on the table and she poured two cups. Ria tasted the strange Earth concoction that she only drank when she was in company with the mistress of Mount Lœng House and relaxed a little.

There was little to be done for Mr Desau. Nothing was ever going to make him relax. He was pacing the floor of the console room anxiously.

“Is he worried about Rika?” Marion asked his wife. “She is perfectly well, you know. She had the very best midwife on Ventura, and that is a world where they take the birth of children very seriously. It is a blessing on the whole community when a baby is safely delivered.”

“I am delighted to hear that,” Ria said. “But it would be useless to tell Jonelle. He wanted Rika to return to Gallifrey before the birth. He has heard that the gravity on other planets is dangerous to our kind. He is afraid that the child will have suffered a handicap of the brain.”

“Oh.” Marion was surprised by that. She had never heard of such a thing, and was quite certain the gravity on Ventura was perfectly fine. From all she heard, baby Remy was perfectly healthy.

She wondered if there was anything she could say to reassure his grandfather.

“It would be such a terrible disgrace if the child was not right,” Ria continued. “I must say the thought did occur to me from time to time. I know Rika is very happy in her life on that other world, but if it costs her child its health, it is hardly worth it.”

“I am sure it will be all right,” Marion said. “If Remonte thought there was any difficulty at all, he WOULD have made arrangements, I am sure.”

“Remonte has never put Rika’s well-being before his own ambition,” Ria commented. “He took her all that way from home. We have not seen her since her Alliance. I wasn’t even with her when she gave birth. It isn’t right. I hope the proper rites were gone through.”

Marion wasn’t entirely sure what proper rites Ria even meant. She could say nothing on that matter at all. She offered her more tea and wished that the journey was over. She was sure that everything would be all right when Mr and Mrs Desai were reunited with their daughter and the baby.

At last she heard Kristoph speaking to the Venturan frontier control and then to one of Remonte’s aides at the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s Residence in the capital city. He was confirming the special clearance to land his TARDIS within the grounds of the Residence. Ordinarily that was not permitted. But after all, he WAS the Lord High President. He was not expected to present himself at the gate like the grocery delivery boy.

Moments later the TARDIS materialised in the formal garden at the front of the Residence. It immediately blended into its environment, disguised as a statue of Lord Rassilon on a plinth. Marion stepped out first along with Ria Desau, then Jonelle who, despite misgivings, was persuaded to walk beside Kristoph as a near equal.

That much was almost undone by the Guards who stood to attention either side of the front door and the Embassy staff who were lined up inside the entrance hall to greet the Lord High President and First Lady with bows of obeisance. Kristoph had no choice but to accept their greeting. Even Remonte was formal in his first moment, bowing to him. Only when they had passed through another door and were away from servants and guards did he finally hug his brother.

“I am glad to see you,” he said. “And you, Marion. Rika has been longing to see you.” He turned to his wife’s parents. “She is waiting to see you all. Please come to her day room.”

The day room was a delightful, airy room with a big window looking out over the rose garden that Marion always loved when she visited Ventura. Rika, dressed in a rest gown, was sitting on a wide, comfortable sofa and a maid was brushing her hair. The girl finished the job and made herself scarce when the visitors came in. The nursemaid who was also there lifted the baby from the cradle by her side and placed him into Rika’s arms before she, too, left.

“Mamu,” Rika cried happily. “It is good to see you. Paru, I am so glad you could come.”

“We should have been here before this,” Ria told her. “Why weren’t we sent for?”

“There was no time. The labour took only five hours. Everything was perfectly safe. Remy is absolutely perfect.”

“Let me see him, properly,” Ria said. Rika passed her the child. Jonelle watched carefully as she unwrapped the blankets that covered him, the gown and even the nappy he was wearing until he was completely naked. They both seemed to want to inspect him just as he was when he was newborn.

“Rika!” Jonelle looked at the baby once and then spoke sharply to his daughter in the dialect of Polarfrey miners. Marion understood his words, but not the reason why he seemed to be upset, or why Rika’s mother passed the child back to her without a word.

“Paru, please do not make a fuss,” she said as she re-dressed the baby and held him in her arms. “There is no more to be said about it.”

“Marion!” Kristoph touched her on the shoulder and spoke quietly. “Come outside for a while. You can spend some time with Rika and the baby later.”

Marion realised there was urgency in Kristoph’s tone and did as he asked quietly and quickly. He brought her to a pleasant drawing room where they could wait.

“This matter is between Remonte and Rika’s parents,” he said. “It is not for either of us to intervene.”

“Yes, but… what is the problem? I know Ria and Jonelle were both worried for the baby’s health, but surely they realise now they have seen him that there is nothing at all to be concerned about?”

“You don’t know the Caretaker tradition of Eperanu?” Kristoph asked.

She didn’t. But she understood the word to mean something like the Human tradition of circumcision.

“But Remy wasn’t….”

“Caretakers always have it done within the first twenty-six hours of the birth of a male child. It is NEVER done within Oldblood or Newblood families. It is purely a tradition of our underclass, and I have always railed against it because it marks the men out as of that underclass. It is as bad as a slave-owner branding his slaves with a mark. Worse, even, since it is the Caretaker parents themselves that do it.”

“Rika’s parents expected her to abide by that tradition?” Marion asked. Now she understood what Ria meant about rites. And it seemed it was a stumbling block.

“It appears so.”

“What will happen?”

“Nothing. Remonte is an Oldblood. His son will not be subjected to the Eperanu knife. He will stand firm on the matter.”

“I don’t think Ria and Jonelle will like that.”

“Then they will have to deal with it,” Kristoph said. “There is no compromise to be made in this matter.”

Kristoph was annoyed. He had not expected this. He wanted to see his brother and sister in law and their child, his nephew. He didn’t want an argument over traditions he disagreed with on principle. His patience was not going to be stretched far on this issue.

There was a banging of doors. Remonte stormed into the drawing room. He was angry and clearly upset. His eyes glittered with emotion as he looked at his brother.

Ria and Jonelle followed him into the room.

“We must have the Eperanu rite at once,” Jonelle said. “Rika is of our class and tradition. It must be done.”

“No,” Kristoph said, not loudly, but very firmly. “It will not be done. Rika may have been born of the Caretaker class and Tradition but she is the wife of an Oldblood. The child born of her and my brother is not only an Oldblood child, but my heir presumptive. As such, I absolutely forbid any such rite. And as Patriarch of the House of Lœngbærrow, to which the child belongs, I forbid you to mention the subject in my presence or the presence of my brother and his wife from this day forward.”

Marion was surprised by the ferocity of his words. He had always treated Rika’s parents with respect, endeavouring to put them at their ease and stop them feeling inferior to him and Remonte. But now he asserted all of his aristocratic authority over them.

They didn’t say anything in response. Both seemed startled by his forcefullness. Perhaps they expected something more lenient from him.

“Marion, go and sit with Rika,” Kristoph added. “Enjoy looking at the baby. Remonte and I will be in to see him in a few minutes.”

Marion left the room gladly. She had a feeling there were more harsh words to be said, and she didn’t need to be present to hear them. She went back to Rika’s day room. She was sitting there, clutching her baby, still. When she saw Marion she managed to smile.

“Oh, let me hold him,” Marion said. Rika gladly handed him over. He was asleep, now, hardly aware of the controversy surrounding him. “He is so small. I had forgotten how tiny they are when newborn. He’s perfect.”

“Are my parents still angry?” Rika asked. “I am sorry they are upset. But Remonte is my husband, and Remy’s father. It is his decision.”

“And so it should be. Yes, they are angry, but not as angry as Kristoph. I think he may have the last word on this. I hope it WILL be the last word. I should hate for this to come between you and your parents.”

“I was hoping they would not make a fuss. Remonte wanted to ask them to stay with us…. For good, I mean. He wanted to make a set of rooms available to them, so that they would always be near. I was afraid Paru would not accept. He is so stubborn about being a working man and beholden to nobody. Now, I fear he would never allow it.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Marion told her. “But you mustn’t let it worry you. You have a beautiful baby. He is the only thing that matters. Has he been named fully? Remy isn’t the only name he has, surely?”

“Remy is short for Remonte, of course. He is named after his father in true Oldblood tradition. Remontedesideropazienza-go-hAille de Lœngbærrow. hAille - the suffix - is a Polarfrey dialect word meaning fair – of face and of mind. He has the first, already. I feel sure the rest will come when he is older. He was born before dawn two nights ago. Remonte was with me all the way. He named him in the first light according to the tradition that all Gallifreyans share, Oldblood, New and Caretaker. But I think he will just be Remy to me for as long as he lives.”

“It suits him,” Marion agreed. The little boy woke and gave a tearless cry. His eyes were deep brown with those vestigial tear ducts that were peculiar to his race. Marion reluctantly gave him back to his mother, who fed him at her breast. She sat quietly and watched. In the past few months, as the time grew closer, Marion had wondered how she would feel when she saw Rika with her baby. Would she be jealous? Would she feel the loss of her own babies all the more keenly again? Kristoph had drawn attention to the fact that Remy, his brother’s child, was his heir. He did so in order to settle the matter of the Eperanu rite, not to cause hurt to her.

And she wasn’t hurt. Nor was she jealous or sorrowful for her own childlessness. She was glad for Rika and Remonte. They had gone through so much to be together in the first place, and it was fitting that they should be parents, now.

The door opened and Ria came into the room. She said nothing at first, but she leaned over and kissed her daughter on the forehead and reached to kiss the baby, too.

“We will not press the matter,” she said at last. “Rassilon’s blessing on the child.”

“Is Paru satisfied?” Rika asked. “I do not wish his eyes to be darkened in my sight.”

“He is talking with his Lordship and Remonte just now. My child… do you really wish your father and I to remain with you on this foreign world?”

“I do,” she answered. “Won’t you think about it?”

“We have always worked for a living,” Ria said. “To be kept in idleness….”

“You would not be idle,” Rika told her. “Maru, I should be glad of your help in the nursery. And Paru can… The grounds of this house are large. They take many men to keep them up. Paru could manage them. It would be just like his foreman’s job in the mine – except in the good, clean open air. Please, won’t you think about it?”

“I shall talk to your father about it,” she promised. Rika smiled with relief. Her mother hadn’t said as much, but she liked the idea. She would prevail upon her husband to agree. After a difficult start, it looked like all would be well, after all.