“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.”

It was Lord Mírraflaex who had demanded the young man’s arrest. He and Lord Drogban were both on their feet. Both looked ready to explode with anger. But the guards obeyed the order of the Lord High President who overruled everyone else.

“Let’s start with a simple question,” Kristoph said, turning to the interloper. “Who are you, exactly?”

“I am Orin,” he replied. “Of the House of Salaza.”

There was a contemptuous sound from Lord Mírraflaex. Lord Drogban merely looked embarrassed.

“He is my secretary,” the father of the bride explained. “And it is true that there was a friendship between him and my daughter, but a wholly inappropriate one which I thought had been set aside.”

“Father!” The bride turned to him with a pleading note in her voice but he turned away from her.

“This is outrageous,” Lord Mírraflaex repeated. “Arrest this trespasser and let us continue the ceremony.”

“I’m afraid that is impossible,” Kristoph replied. “An objection has been raised. It is the right of any citizen to do so. The ceremony must be halted while his claims are investigated.”

Lord Mírraflaex grunted angrily, but he had been overruled by the law enforced by the word of the Lord High President. He had no choice but to accept the situation.

“Marion,” Kristoph said, looking at his wife. “My dear, will you take the bride to my chamber to rest a little while in a quieter atmosphere.”

Marion was startled to be summoned into participating in this painful scene instead of merely being a spectator, but she stood and came to the girl’s side. She was so stunned by what had happened that she let herself be drawn away without protest. Two guards stepped into place behind them as they walked away. All eyes were on them, of course, and the door seemed a very long way off as the disrupted bride tried to keep her dignity intact.

“Lord Mírraflaex,” Kristoph continued once they were gone. “You and Lord Drogban go to the treasurer’s chamber and wait until I am ready. The groom can be accommodated in the Chancellor’s office. Young man, come with me.”

The last was to Orin Salaza. He looked terrified, but the President’s instruction could not be ignored.

It was quiet beyond the great door, away from the murmuring of startled wedding guests and the outraged exclamations of Lord Mírraflaex. It was even quieter in the President’s own Chamber. The walls and even the door were designed to cut out any exterior sound so that the President had perfect peace in his private rooms.

“Sit down,” Marion told the girl. “Would you like some tea? It is very good for shock. And this has certainly been a shock to everyone. You really didn’t expect this to happen, did you?”

“I… don’t know what ‘tea’ is,” Anneka replied.

“Try some.” A silver samovar that kept water hot at all times and a teapot and other accoutrements of tea-making were a feature of the President’s Chamber these days. It didn’t take long for Marion to prepare some. Anneka tasted the foreign brew cautiously. It was distraction enough from her own problems for a few moments.

“No,” she said. “I didn’t expect him to do anything so… precipitous. I told him it was impossible. My Alliance to Halliv Mírraflaex was all arranged. I thought he understood.”

“I’ve never heard the surname Salaza before,” Marion said. “He said ‘House of Salaza’ so he must be Newblood at least, not a Caretaker….”

“He is the last of his House,” Anneka explained. “His mother died in childbirth. His father… died shortly after being declared bankrupt. He speculated heavily on some foreign commodity exchange. I don’t quite know the details, but the family were ruined.”

“When you say his father died….” Marion ventured.

“Yes, it was by his own hand. Again, I do not know the details. It was some years ago. Orin was still at school. My father… had also invested in the failed enterprise, but not so heavily. The loss was not so acute. He felt a responsibility for Salaza’s son. He supported his education and gave him the job as his secretary.”

“That was good of him,” Marion said. “Your father is generous… kind.”

“Yes, he is. But… but he is an Oldblood. When it came to selecting a husband for me… his only daughter… it had to be a son of a well-founded family.”

“Did you tell him how you felt about Orin?”

“I did,” she answered. “He told me it was just a youthful fancy and I should set it aside. He said that Halliv would make a good husband. And… I am sure he will. I have known him for many years. I think I could be happy as his wife. I meant to be. I told Orin he had to let me make my own choice.”

“But is it your choice?” Marion asked. “Or simply what everyone expects of you?”

“I…” She shook her head. “I am an Oldblood. They are one and the same thing.”

“No, they’re not,” Marion assured her. “Even for an Oldblood.”

“What sort of life would we have? Orin has nothing without my father’s patronage. Not even a home. Halliv is his father’s heir. Our future is assured.”

That still seemed to be somebody else’s logic, Marion thought. The girl had been coached to say such things.

The chamber door opened. Orin Salaza stepped in, followed by Kristoph. Marion glimpsed two guards taking up position outside the door before it was closed firmly. Nobody else could enter without express permission.

Anneka said nothing as her penniless sweetheart crossed the room and embraced her. She didn’t have to say anything. Her actions spoke volumes. They kissed urgently, knowing that the time they might have to do so was short. The wedding veil fell from her shoulders as they clutched each other tightly.

“Let us give them some privacy,” Kristoph said to his wife. “You sit in the ante-chamber. I need to speak to the groom next. Then the two fathers. I doubt there will be an Alliance today, but we might get to the bottom of all this.”

Marion did as he said. The two guards remained in the ante-chamber with her, guarding the inner door. She had no doubt that there were more of them in the corridor outside. She felt assured of the peace and quiet, at least.

But that was all she was sure of. What was going to happen to these young people? It was quite clear that Anneka loved Orin, and he was prepared to go to any lengths to be with her. But her father was never going to allow it, and Lord Mírraflaex looked ready to commit murder.

And what did Halliv, the groom, think of it all? He had said nothing when Orin disrupted the ceremony. Was that because his father was saying enough for everyone?

The answers to some of those questions were forthcoming. Kristoph returned to the ante-chamber with Halliv Mírraflaex and asked Marion to bring Anneka out to speak to him. She did so. The two of them were both in their wedding clothes, but it was obvious when they looked at each other that continuing the ceremony was impossible.

“Do you love Orin Salaza?” Halliv asked very simply.

“Yes, I do,” Anneka replied.

“If we married, would you still love him? Would your feelings for him come between us?”

“I think they would,” she answered him honestly. “But if you insist on continuing, I have no choice but to accept my fate.”

“I don’t want you to see an Alliance with me as your ‘fate’,” Halliv said. “I like you, Anneka. You are from a good family and would make a suitable wife. But if you are not going to be content with me… then I release you from the terms of our Betrothal. I hope you will find the happiness you seek.”

“Thank you,” Anneka said to him. He clasped her hand and leaned forward to kiss her cheek gently, then he turned and left the room.

“That is an honourable man,” Kristoph said. “I think he will make a good husband to some young lady in the course of time.”

“I hope so,” Anneka said. “I will have to change out of this dress, soon. The diamonds… belong to him now.”

It seemed a strange consideration, but in these circumstances it was hardly surprising that she wasn’t acting entirely logically.

“I’m afraid you ARE going to have to face your father, now. And that isn’t going to be as easy or as gentle as breaking off your betrothal. He is angry and humiliated. He and Mírraflaex have argued bitterly about the financial arrangements. I have had to ask the Chancellor to mediate a settlement between them.”

“My father thinks this is all about money,” Anneka responded. “So does Lord Mírraflaex.”

“The Mírraflaex family always have been about money,” Kristoph observed. “But now you and Halliv have formally dissolved your arrangement in my presence there is no reason why you should have to speak to them. Your father is another matter, and I don’t think I’d better leave him pacing the corridor for much longer.”

“Let him come in,” Anneka said. She sat down in a chair. Marion sat beside her. She looked like she needed the moral support. Lord Drogban entered the ante-chamber. He looked at his daughter. For a moment, there was a flicker of sympathy, understanding. But then his face hardened.

“You have humiliated me in front of everyone,” he said. “Mírraflaex has only just been appeased by the promise of financial reparation. You have made a fool of yourself before all of Gallifrey.”

Anneka didn’t reply. Every one of the accusations was true.

“I renounce you. You are no longer my daughter. I take no further responsibility for you, morally, legally or financially. Go where you will. You are no concern of mine.”

He said all of that before the Lord High President. It was legally binding and could not be undone. Anneka simply gasped in shock. She didn’t try to plead. She knew there was no use. Lord Drogban turned and left the ante-chamber without another word.

Marion looked at Kristoph in astonishment. Was this any kind of solution to the problem?

He seemed to think so.

“Come back into my Chamber, both of you,” he said. Marion held Anneka’s hand. She was trembling with emotion. Not surprisingly, she ran to her lover and they embraced desperately again.

“I have just one question,” Kristoph said. “Orin, are you a good secretary?”

“I… think so, sir. Lord Drogban never had any complaints about my work. Only… my affection for his daughter.”

“I somehow doubt he would give you a reference for future employment in the circumstances,” Kristoph added. “You are jobless and penniless. So is your young lady. She has been renounced by her father. You have both sacrificed much for your love.”

“Only money,” Orin insisted. “And possessions. My father set so much store by those things he killed himself rather than live without them. I will take a Caretaker job and live in a single room if I must, as long as I can put clothes on our backs and food on the table.”

Anneka looked rather startled by the stark prospect her lover outlined. Perhaps the consequences of being renounced by her father hadn’t completely sunk in yet. It was difficult to imagine living in poverty while wearing a dress of silk-satin covered in diamonds.

“We might do better than that,” Kristoph assured him. “Do you know the Gallifreyan Ambassador on Minas Luimnea?”

“I know of him,” Orin answered. “But I have never met him socially.”

“He is in need of a secretary,” Kristoph said. “It is quite different work than secretary to the junior minster for the treasury… a promotion of sorts. More responsibility, longer hours. The salary includes quite a large expense account for clothing. The secretary and his wife would be expected to attend diplomatic functions.”

“Sir… are you suggesting….”

“I am not suggesting anything. This is a day for decisive action. There has been quite a bit of that already, starting with your dramatic entrance into the Panopticon. I hope you realise that is not the way to enter the State Ballroom at the Palace of Minas Luimnea?”

Orin took several confused seconds to realise that the Lord High President had made a joke at his expense.

“I know that, sir,” he managed to say.

“Then I will let Bolar Lundar know that you are coming on the first available diplomatic shuttle. His wife, Lady Hesthor, will be glad to receive an accomplished young woman in the residence. And bear in mind, the Ambassador has full powers to conduct Alliance ceremonies, and since you are responsible only for each other, now, that can be arranged fairly quickly.”

The two young lovers clasped hands hopefully. A little while ago all seemed lost. Now they had a chance to live a dignified life together.

“We shall have to leave Gallifrey,” Anneka said mournfully.

“Under the circumstances, that may be the best thing. Lord Mírraflaex has no business interests in the Luimnea system. He has never, to my knowledge, attended any diplomatic function there. Nor has Lord Drogban.”

Anneka’s eyes betrayed the words she didn’t express about her father.

“Would you like me to pass on a message to him?” Kristoph asked kindly.

“Tell him I still love him, and I am sorry,” Anneka replied. “That is all.”

“Very well. I shall arrange for the two of you to stay in a suitable place in the Capitol until your travel arrangements are finalised. Lily d’Argenluna is happy to make her city apartment available. That expense account can be advanced so that you both have suitable clothing to begin your duties as soon as you arrive on Minas Luimnea. Is there anything else that I have overlooked?”

“No, sir,” Orin answered for them both.

“The wedding guests,” Anneka said. “They’re not all still waiting, are they?”

“I believe they have gone to the reception hall for refreshments,” Kristoph answered.

“You mean they are eating the wedding feast?” Marion asked. Despite everything she couldn’t help smiling. “Paid for by Lord Mírraflaex!”

Anneka and Orin managed to smile at that notion, too.

“I shouldn’t worry about any of them,” Kristoph said. “Go with Marion now to the robing room and change out of that dress into something more suitable and I will arrange a car to take you to the apartment. Some food and an early night is what you both need, now.”

Later, when all that had been accomplished, Kristoph took Marion to dinner at Valentins. In common with all the other restaurants in the Capitol they were having a quiet night. Most of their patrons had been guests at the Alliance and had no wish to dine out after the dramatic turn of events – or perhaps because they were all satisfied by the food at the reception. Anyway, the Lord High President and his wife were always assured of a good table and they were served the best.

“You are a very kind man, you know,” Marion told her husband. “You didn’t have to do what you did for them.”

“I married for love. So did my father and grandfather, and quite possibly my great-grandfather, though stories about him are rather sketchy. The idea of an Alliance of expediency does not sit well with the de Lœngbærrow blood for all that it is acceptable in our society. If the girl had been happy with the arrangement I would have allowed it. But when her hearts lie elsewhere….” He smiled and raised his wine glass. “Here’s to love.”

“To love,” Marion agreed.