Shaju-Imnai was a very beautiful planet, Marion thought. It looked very much like the Middle East of Earth with large undulating deserts and towns built of red mud bricks of the same colour as the sand.

It was one of those days when she, as First Lady of Gallifrey, was on a different agenda than the President himself, who was in the Capital city, Shaju-Aja with the planet’s senior politicians. They were negotiating new terms for trade with Gallifrey.

So Marion and Rodan had travelled across the western dunes on an anti-grav tri-shaw – a delightful form of transport that skimmed along a few inches above the sand while they were comfortably seated under a canopy and behind a soft gauze that kept the sand from blowing in their faces. They were both dressed for hot, dry weather with silk headscarves over their hair and a veil they could use to cover their faces if they chose. It was compulsory for women to cover their heads in public but not to hide their faces. That was only a guard against the sand’s drying effect on the skin.

Rodan was pleased to be dressed the same way as the grown up ladies in the market place of the walled town of Im. She looked with interest at the stalls selling spices and others full of brightly dyed fabrics, exotic hand woven rugs hung up to display their swirling designs so very like Gallifreyan text.

“I like the rugs,” Marion admitted. “But if I bought some what would I do with them for the rest of the afternoon?”

They had escorts, of course. Two men of the Presidential protection detail kept a close eye on them both at all times, but they walked discreetly apart from them. They could enjoy the freedom to enjoy the market without feeling under surveillance.

They would have been handy to carry the shopping, though.

Well, no, of course not. Protection details could never be used as mules. Kristoph had told her that long ago. They had to be free to protect her at any moment.

“We’ll leave the rugs for now,” she decided. “And the silks. But I WILL buy some of those spices and I know you want that set of carved wooden horses that we saw back there.”

Rodan smiled sweetly. When they returned to the stall, she did her own bargaining, making a good price in the end for the ornaments. She carried them in a brown hessian wrapping as they walked along looking for any sort of liquid refreshment that might come close to iced tea.

That was what Marion’s thoughts had turned to now. It was very hot in the market and she wanted a cool place where she could sit and drink something refreshing.

A side street with canopies over the fronts of the shops either side, almost forming a complete roof of canvas, tempted her. She turned into it and immediately noticed how much cooler it was in the shade. She hadn’t even realised how very hot she was until she was out of the blazing sunshine.

“This is nice,” she said. Rodan agreed. The little girl pointed to what looked like a drinking den. She had been warned about going into such places. They were strictly for men. Women on Shaju-Imnai never drank alcohol.

But a woman came to the door of the place and smiled warmly at them.

“Come within,” she said. “It is quite all right.”

Marion was unsure, but Rodan let go of her hand and approached the door. She had no choice but to follow.

Inside she was pleasantly surprised. It was not a drinking den at all. It was a café – just like an exotic version of the Conservatory, and like her favourite lunch venue in the Capitol, frequented by women. The staff were women, too. They were all dressed in the Shaju style of light cloth cut loosely and covering almost all of the body except for hands and feet, but they weren’t wearing any form of headcloths. Marion reached and took her own scarf off and Rodan’s as she was shown to a table.

“Welcome, madam, to the Garden of Pleasurable Rest,” said the woman who had brought them inside. “I am Tia, owner of this humble place of refreshment with such a grand name.”

“I am pleased to meet you, Tia,” Marion answered. “And to take rest in your garden. Is there any possibility of tea here?”

Tia waved her hand and a young waitress went scurrying away. The other patrons continued their meals and their conversations, but Marion had a strong feeling she was the subject of a lot of the chatter.

“Yes, madam,” Tia confirmed. “We are most surprised and gratified by your patronage. We have heard of the visit of the honourable First Lady of Gallifrey to Shaju, but we little expected you to visit us here in the Shamnu.”

“Shamnu?” Marion was puzzled. It was the only word she heard in the original language. There was no translation in Gallifreyan, the language she customarily used these days.

“The women’s quarter,” Tia explained as the young waitress brought a tray and placed it on the table. It contained, to Marion’s delight, something almost exactly like iced tea. She poured glasses for herself and Rodan, adding sugar to the little girl’s but liking hers with the unsweetened bite. It was cool and delicious.

“You mean there is a separate place for women?” she was surprised. “Where men do not go? But… in the capital city there was nothing like that?”

Or was there? She had been on an official tour. There was no deviation such as she had taken by herself this afternoon.

She looked at the menu that was handed to her and chose a light meal and a refreshing dessert.

“Please tell me more about this ‘Women’s Quarter’,” she said. “Is it strictly enforced?”

“Oh, yes,” Tia replied. “No man would dare set foot in the alleyway.”

“Oh dear.” Marion giggled despite herself. “That means the two men who were supposed to watch us will have been barred from following.”

“That is no matter. Women are safe in the Shamnu. That is its purpose. Here we may walk with heads uncovered and without male escorts. Unmarried women and widows have their homes within the Shamnu where they can live in peace. Only if they choose a husband will they move to his home.”

“It… sounds like a good arrangement,” Marion said. She was puzzled by her own reaction. Segregation of women was usually a bad thing. People complained about the way women were treated in those countries of Earth where it happened. But here it actually seemed like a delightful privilege to live within the Shamnu, to meet with friends in the Garden of Pleasurable Rest and to have a quiet, untroubled home away from the bustle of the town.

“It is a perfect arrangement,” Tia explained. “The women of Shaju have enjoyed the peace and comfort of the Shamnu for thousands of generations.”

That was another thing. It wasn’t forced upon them by men. It was their own choice.

Marion drank her iced tea and enjoyed the food, lingering over it leisurely. When Rodan was done, she asked if she might play with a group of children who were sitting together in a corner of the café. They had wooden toys just like the horses she had bought on the market, and she easily settled into the game with them.

She was a clever child even by Gallifreyan standards, who had learnt so much about the universe in her travels around it with her foster parents. She was almost ready to face the Untempered Schism.

But she happily played a game of pure imagination, adding her horses to the toy zoo, imitating their sounds as they trotted and cantered around.

Marion was never entirely certain about the Gallifreyan way of bringing up children. It seemed a very short time of innocence and play and a long time of being educated in the proper way to be Gallifreyan. Rodan was getting a far better time of it than most of her peers, and that made her foster mother very glad.

She poured another tall glass of iced tea and carried it with her as she went to see what kept a small group of women in conversation in another part of the Garden of Rest. Here were soft chairs and one was quickly made available to their VIP visitor.

The women were cutting pieces of stiffened silk into shapes and skilfully folding them into delicate-looking artificial flowers that they piled into baskets.

“What is this for?” Marion asked.

“Jiao is getting married tomorrow,” explained an older woman, indicating a young one sitting among them. “The flowers are thrown at her feet as she walks from the Shamnu to the home of her husband to be joined with him.”

Jiao blushed charmingly and smiled as a woman should smile on the day before her birthday.

“That is a charming tradition,” Marion said after congratulating the bride to be. “May I try making some of the flowers.”

The first one she made fell apart straight away. Marion laughed at her mistake and the women laughed with her. The next looked a little lop-sided but it stayed together. Her third effort looked just like the ones the women skilfully made. She did another and another. It was fiddly, repetitive work, but she hardly noticed the time passing as she chatted to the women about the ordinary domestic things of marriage, motherhood and the home.

More iced tea and more tasty food treats were provided for them all. It was a Shamnu equivalent of a hen party – a far more refined affair than those she knew in Liverpool and less formal than the Gallifreyan traditions.

Tia lit lamps around the café as the sun dropped low. Marion was too busy enjoying herself to realise that the afternoon was over. Rodan was still enjoying the company of the children. She was telling them about her adventures scuba diving in the ocean of Aestuno-Drueff. The very idea of that much water was incredible to the Shaju children who lived in a desert with water pulled from the groundwater and every drop guarded carefully. They asked her if the story of floating freely within such vast quantities of water was true. Rodan assured them that it was and demonstrated how to swim with her arms and legs kicking out in the air. The Shaju children laughed and copied her joyfully.

“I ought to go back,” Marion announced regretfully. She was having a pleasant time, and so was Rodan. “I am staying overnight with the Maji of Im. Tomorrow my husband joins us and there is to be a tour of the great rocks to the south of your town.”

“The rocks are a great wonder,” said one of her newfound friends. “You will enjoy seeing them.”

“Yes,” Marion agreed. “Though I think I would rather stay and see Jiao’s wedding. That would be special, too.”

Jaoi was gratified by such a remark from an important visitor, but Marion knew it could not be so. She had her agenda planned out already.

Rodan was as reluctant as she was to leave the Garden of Pleasurable Rest. Some of her playmates and their mothers walked with her and Marion as they made their way back out of the Shamnu. The women and children turned back as soon as they came in sight of the Presidential Guards waiting in the market square. The First Lady of Gallifrey stepped forward to greet them.

“Have you been waiting all afternoon?” she asked the Captain of the Guard.

“Yes, madam,” he answered. “Your personal protection officers reported that you had gone into the Shamnu. They were restrained from following you by the market traders. It was necessary to intervene to prevent them being imprisoned. We have been waiting to ensure your safe escort to the Maji’s house.”

“Oh dear, I am sorry it caused so much trouble,” Marion admitted. “But I was having such a nice time.”

Later, in the cool, comfortable suite the Maji – the Shaju equivalent of a Mandarin – had given to his guests, Marion called Kristoph on the portable videophone brought for that purpose. He agreed with her that she was safe in the Shamnu, and he smiled at the thought of her protection detail trying to break with tradition in such a way.

“In other places it would not have been wise to evade them,” he told her solemnly. “But on this occasion it was quite all right. I’m glad you and Rodan had a pleasant time.”

“I’m glad we’re going to be a few more days here in Im,” Marion answered. “I still want to buy some rugs and dress silks. I DO wish I was going to that wedding, tomorrow, though, and not to see some dusty rocks in a hot desert.”