The Alliance of Anneka of the House of Drogban and Halliv of the House of Mírraflaex had been talked about for months. It was going to be one of the biggest Alliances for a decade, it was said, even eclipsing the marriage of Chrístõ Mian de Lœngbærrow to his foreign bride.

Well, that was what they said, at least.

“They look like a nice couple,” Marion said as she sat in Kristoph’s Presidential chamber down the corridor from the Panopticon and watched him putting the finishing touches to the complicated outfit he was required to wear for such a ceremony. As Lord High President, of course, he was presiding over the Alliance of the daughter of a respected Oldblood House and the son of one of the most powerful Newblood Houses. The men of the House of Mírraflaex were shrewd businessmen. The House of Drogban had old money. The combination of the two in this Alliance was going to be a profitable one for both families.

“The girl is pretty and the young man is handsome,” Kristoph acknowledged. “But whether they will make a ‘nice’ couple is another matter. ‘Nice’ doesn’t come into it when it is an Alliance of expediency.”

“You mean they’re not in love?” Marion asked, surprised by such a revelation, though perhaps she shouldn’t have been. She knew the love match she and Kristoph had was unusual among Oldblood families.

“I imagine there is some kind of mutual respect and perhaps even friendship. That’s not the worst basis for a union. Love may come in time. If not, there are other compensations in such an Alliance.”

“What compensations?” Marion demanded.

“Three offworld diamond mines are part of the contract of Alliance,” Kristoph answered. “The House of Drogban doubles its stake in that branch of commerce by the transaction.”

Marion wasn’t impressed. She especially didn’t like the word ‘transaction’ coming into a conversation about marriage.

“All the diamonds I own would be worthless if they hadn’t been given to me by you, with love. I don’t need them or want them without your hearts in them.”

“But you’re not a daughter of the House of Drogban.”

“Fortunately for me.”

“There is no cause for concern. This kind of Alliance is perfectly common in Gallifreyan society. Very few of the relationships fail.”

“That depends on your definition of success,” Marion pointed out.

“I agree. But the definition for many people on Gallifrey is different from yours, my dear. Anneka Drogban will have been groomed since childhood for such a marriage. She knows what is expected of her. Likewise her husband-to-be. Is this collar straight?”

“Yes, it is,” Marion replied after he had asked the question a second time. The abruptness of the change of subject had taken her by surprise.

“It doesn’t feel like it. Wretched thing. Call my aide in again to fix it.”

He wasn’t being unduly fussy. He was the most important person in the whole ceremony apart from the bride and groom. It was important for him to look his best. The aide spent several minutes re-adjusting the high, stiff collar that was an essential part of a Time Lord’s ceremonial costume. When that was done the jewelled skull cap was fitted onto his head. Marion tried not to giggle. The jewels at the front were so large it made him look like a junior rhinoceros whose horns were just starting to grow, but it was not fitting for her to say so.

The final part of his essential costume was taken reverently from the polished wooden box with velvet lining and put around his shoulders – the Sash of Rassilon. It was pure gold and very heavy. It required strong, broad Gallifreyan shoulders to carry all of that with dignity.

“In the past we have had Presidents of such age that wearing the Sash bent them almost double,” Kristoph said with a wry smile. “I am fortunate to be in the best of health, still.”

“I should hope so,” Marion told him.

The aide withdrew once his work was done. Kristoph turned to his wife and asked her opinion of his completed ensemble. Privately, she always thought the Sash of Rassilon was a clunky and rather unattractive thing, but set against the white robe with gold thread – real spun gold woven into the fabric before it was cut – it was spectacular enough. He looked every inch a President of Galifrey.

“You look magnificent, as always,” she told him.

“You may kiss me quickly before you go and find your seat in the Panopticon.”

Marion always felt she needed such permission when he was dressed that way. She reached to kiss him once then made her exit from the Presidential chamber. He would make his own way to the Panopticon in a few minutes, accompanied by the Presidential Guard. She was escorted by one of the Chancellery Guards in red and gold and took her seat in the front row among the guests of honour. She didn’t really know very many of the other people sitting near her. The Houses of Drogban and Mírraflaex both had residences in the Capitol and estates on the Northern Continent. Most of her closest friends were from the rural Southern Continent. When she had met members of either family socially she had always found them rather stiff and formal. She put that down to a social difference between the rural families and the city ones.

While others chattered around her she sat quietly and admired the Panopticon sumptuously decorated in gold and purple for a grand Alliance of Unity. She privately thought it wasn’t quite as beautiful as the way it was decorated for her wedding, but everyone got to choose what suited them, and Anneka Drogban clearly liked purple. There were drapes of purple silk with gold flowers all around the balcony and above the Great Seal of Rassilon where Kristoph would stand to perform the ceremony. The high ceiling was hung with more purple silk and the chairs for the guests, as well as the more elaborate ones the bride and groom would sit on for some parts of the ceremony had purple cushions with gold braiding. The choir and orchestra were all dressed in purple robes with gold cloaks.

The groom was waiting already with his best man. He was a handsome youth with light brown hair and green eyes. He was dressed in turquoise blue and gold and looked, Marion thought, like a young raja from colonial India. His family, like many other Gallifreyans, had grown rich from the intergalactic diamond trade. His bride to be was from an Oldblood family who had always been rich and owned lands on Gallifrey as well as Polarfrey and Karn.

But was the exchange of wealth really a good enough reason to get married? Of course, even on Earth it had been done for centuries. History was full of arranged marriages of one sort or another. It was said that Queen Victoria hardly even knew Prince Albert when they were engaged, but she came to love him so dearly that his early death was a blight on her life. If Anneka and Halliv could be like that, growing in love after their Alliance, it wouldn’t be so bad.

But what if they didn’t come to love each other? What kind of life would they have? Yes, they would have money and privilege. But was that really any use if they were both unhappy? Marion tried to imagine what it would be like to spend a lifetime in a loveless marriage, merely putting up with the situation. Her imagination failed her for once. She simply couldn’t imagine such a thing.

There was a fanfare from the orchestra that heralded Kristoph’s grand entrance. Everyone stood as he took his place in front of the whole assembly. Then he nodded, giving them leave to sit. The great doors were closed with a sonorous crash of old wood. Then there was a hush for several minutes before the traditional knocking on the doors announced the arrival of the bride. The doors were opened and the guests stood to greet her arrival as the choir and orchestra performed a solemn processional anthem.

She was wearing purple. Of course, white was only a tradition of Earth weddings. On Gallifrey it was entirely optional. The gown was satin and silk covered all over with the constellations of diamonds that formed part of the marriage contract, given to her by her husband to be. The veil was purple tulle and covered not only her head but fell over her shoulders as far as her elbows. It was impossible to see her face fully. Whether she was happy or not, nervous or confident, nobody could say. She took her place beside the groom and he lifted the veil gently. He said something to her and she nodded slightly before both of them turned towards The Lord High President who began the long, solemn alliance ceremony.

It was a very long ceremony, indeed. But it was all very beautiful and interesting. There were segments of music played by the orchestra and choir and solemn and binding words taken from ancient texts that were like poetry.

It was several hours into the ceremony when they reached a very important part of the proceedings. The bride and groom stood before Kristoph as he asked them a question upon which everything that came before and everything yet to come hinged.

“I am bound to ask you now,” he said, using the words that were customary. “Before you make the final vows and bind yourselves to each other, if there is a slightest doubt in your mind. The Alliance of Unity once made cannot be unmade except by death.”

There was the faintest rustle of satin and a slight movement from the bride. Kristoph looked at her questioningly. It seemed as if she had begun to speak. He leaned closer to her and spoke quietly.

“Do you wish to say something at this juncture?” he asked. “Is there a doubt in your mind about continuing the ceremony?”

“No,” she whispered.

“Are you certain?” he asked again. “If there is the slightest question about your commitment I must stop the Alliance.”

She shook her head emphatically. Kristoph still didn’t seem completely convinced.

“She is certain,” Halliv Mírraflaex said. “Please continue, sir.”

Kristoph stood up straight again and moved on to the next and equally important question.

“I am bound to ask the company present, if any one among them has a doubt as to whether this Alliance of Unity should be made?”

For a second, no more, there was silence. Then a voice rang out across the Panopticon.

“Yes! I have a doubt. She loves me, not him.”

Then there were gasps of surprise among all the assembly as a young man dressed in the blue of the Panopticon Guard mounted the parapet of the public gallery and grasped one of the purple silk drapes. He used it to swing out over the guests below and land in front of the astonished bride and groom and the equally astonished Lord High President. Marion looked at Kristoph’s face and thought he also looked ever so slightly impressed by the entrance this young man had made.

“No!” somebody shouted. “This is outrageous. He should not even be here. He was explicitly barred from attending the ceremony. Guards, arrest him.”

“Guards, stand to,” Kristoph responded. “Let him have his say.”