When Marion thought of having a mid-summer garden party in the grounds of Mount Lœng House, she imagined a marquee pegged out on the lawn. But this was Gallifrey. The canopy that kept the sun off the strawberry pavlova and the lemon cheesecakes worked by an anti-gravity field that kept it at the optimum height. Indeed, it could do much more. The fibres had reactive properties so that the harsh direct glare of the sun could be blocked out while still letting a cool diffused light onto the party-goers.

The roses were in full bloom, of course, both the indigenous varieties and the ones Marion had brought from elsewhere, including many Earth ones and some from Ventura where they grew equally well. The ladies all congratulated her on a very fine display.

“I did nothing at all about them this year,” she admitted. “I have been away so very much. The gardeners did all the work. And you can’t congratulate me on having good gardeners. They’ve all been here longer than I have.”

Madame Arpexia and Lady Hext both laughed at her humorous denial and asked her about her travels. She told them a little about it but that wasn’t really the reason why she had invited so many of the ladies of Gallifreyan society to this afternoon.

What she really wanted was to know all the news from home, from Gallifrey, even the tiniest piece of trivia about the embroidery on Lady Gye’s daughter’s spring gown. She had never realised before just how much of that kind of news was an integral part of her life, and having been away from Gallifrey since the depths winter she was completely out of touch.

“There is nothing VERY exciting going on,” Valena d’Arpexia admitted to her as they walked among the rose trellises and accepted smoked salmon canapés from a maid who circulated with a tray. “Carissa Arunden is with child. Sarita Hedin ISN’T, which is fortunate for her, because the fact that she is uncommonly close to Lord Hedin’s brother is far too well known. I have heard that he plans to take an offworld position in the diplomatic corps just to get her away from the possibility of scandal.”

“Yes, it might be a good idea,” Marion answered, smiling at the way Valena considered all of that unexciting news. Of course, she had an important job as an Inquisitor. For her these WERE unimportant matters.

Carissa Arunden was at the party. She was in the centre of a small clique of women and it was easy to guess what they were all talking about. The baby would be Lord Arunden’s first male heir and that was extremely important in the patriarchal Gallifreyan society.

Sarita Hedin wasn’t in attendance. Marion couldn’t actually remember if she had been invited or not. She was somebody she only vaguely knew from the opera season in the Capitol. But that wasn’t unusual. Many of the ladies here were only passing acquaintances noted in her organiser because their husbands were important to Kristoph.

“Sarita almost never leaves the city,” Valena said as if she had read Marion’s thoughts. “She would never come all the way to the southern continent. I think she imagines she would shrivel up outside of the envirodome.”

Marion laughed and thought of many of the places she had visited on her long travels.

“An offworld posting will be a shock to her, then,” she commented, before telling Valena about Shaju-Imnai and the ancient Shamnu in the desert where the women had held their own council with their own judges to decide on matters of importance. Valena, as a member of the Gallifreyan judiciary, as well as one of the few society women with a strong sense of independence from male-dominance was extremely interested in that wonderfully matriarchal arrangement.

“It would never work here,” Valena commented. “Our ladies are too domesticated. Their minds are too concerned with trivial gossip and the latest fashions.”

“Yes,” Marion agreed. “Though I think the women of Imnai manage to be domesticated and liberated quite equally. They are rather to be admired in that.”

“I wish I could have seen such a place,” Valena said. “You are fortunate to have visited so many remarkable places. For a people with such power over time and space as we have, most of us travel so rarely.”

Marion had noted that about Gallifreyan society long before. Few of her friends, few even of Kristoph’s male friends, had been outside their own solar system. Her own social circle were amazed at how widely travelled she was in a few short years.

Valena was very interested in the Shamnu system, so despite wanting to hear news from Gallifrey, Marion was happy to talk to her of it as they went around through the long rose walk and came back to the lawn where the rest of the guests were. There, Valena returned to her mother and her friends while Marion sought out Mia Reidluum who was sitting with Lady Dúccesci under the shade of the canopy. Mia looked like a fragile china doll of a woman as always. She was still unable to walk after the plague affected her spine, but she had happy news to share with Marion.

“I am with child again,” she said. “A girl, this time. Jarrow is beside himself with joy. The thought of having a daughter that he can dote upon pleases him so very much.”

After giving him the first born son and heir he desired, of course. These things were important to Oldbloods like Jarrow Reidluum.

“I am so very glad for you, my dear,” Marion said. “For both of you. And for little Jari who will have a sister.”

“You don’t have any news of that sort yourself?” Talitha asked. “We were wondering if there might be an announcement when you got back from your travels.”

“No,” Marion assured them. “We didn’t even think of such a thing while we were away. I think when we do I shall have to make up my mind not to set foot anywhere further than this garden for the whole sixteen months to ensure there are no problems. A schedule as hectic as the one I had while we were offworld would certainly be too much.”

“Jarrow is treating me as if I am made of glass,” Mia confirmed. “He won’t let me do anything more strenuous than needlework, and he intends to quit the High Council before I am in my tenth month and devote his time to me and the baby.”

“I don’t think he should,” Talitha Dúccesci said. “Not a whole six months. No Gallifreyan man would know what to do with himself for so long, especially not a High Councillor. They need politics to give their lives meaning.”

“I think you’re right,” the young mother-to-be answered her friend. “I may try to gently persuade him to wait until a little closer to the time.”

“Perhaps Kristoph could make him head of a Committee to keep him busy,” Marion suggested. “Then you can concentrate on the baby by yourself without any ‘help’ from your husband.”

“That would be better.”

“Closer to the time, I shall have to pick up a Mothercare catalogue for you,” Marion added. “The dresses for baby girls are adorable. Nobody in the galaxy does them better, not even the seamstresses of the Capitol.”

Mia laughed happily as Marion advised her about the Human fashions for baby clothing that differed hugely from the Gallifreyan ones. Mia promised to let her shop on Earth for the first layette.

As they made those plans the tone of the conversations going on at tables and in small groups around them changed. The reason was a late arrival to the party. She was unaccompanied by any of Marion’s friends and she wondered who had invited her.

“Her name is Marita Ravenswode,” Talitha whispered to Marion. “At least she says it is.”

Marion was puzzled. She tried not to stare at the woman. Enough people were doing that already, and she felt sure there were conversations going on behind telepathic walls that nobody would hold out loud. The woman didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t care, that she was the subject of so much attention. Perhaps, Marion thought, it was because she knew she outdid so many of the women with her perfect make up, her hair carefully styled and a gown that bore the unmistakeable look of haute couture, but couture from another planet entirely. The seamstresses of the fashion houses of the Capitol didn’t make gowns like that one.

“She turned up a month ago with Lord Ravenswode. He had been offworld for a while, doing business of some kind. When he arrived back he had a wife.”

“An offworld woman?” That was startling. Lord Ravenswode and his late wife had been among the hottest opponents of ‘foreign’ marriages when Marion came to Gallifrey as Kristoph’s fiancée. The idea of him marrying somebody whose blood was not one hundred per cent pure Gallifreyan was incredible.

No wonder there was so much gossip.

“I wonder….” Marion began. Then she saw Lady Lily step towards the newcomer, greeting her warmly. There was a quiet conversation between them before Lily steered the new wife towards Marion and introduced her.

“I am very pleased to meet you,” Marion said. There was, after all, nothing else to say. She disliked Lord Ravenswode intensely, but she couldn’t hold it against a woman who had nothing at all to do with the past feud between the houses of Lœngbærrow and Ravenswode or the present patriarch of that House’s behaviour at any time.

“I am Marita Ginella Ravenswode,” she said in a stiff voice. “Duchess of New Ashher, high prefecture of Nerussia. It is usual for lower ranks to stand when they are introduced.”

“Well, as my husband is Lord High President of Gallifrey I don’t think I AM a lower rank,” Marion answered. “And as Mia is unable to stand, it seems hardly fair to expect Talitha to be the only one. May I invite you to sit with us and then there will be no need for anyone to stand on ceremony.”

Marita Ravenswode was clearly surprised by that reply, but there was no way she could refuse without showing bad manners. Marion DID outrank her on this planet, at least.

She sat. Marion introduced the other ladies at her table formally. Marita again mentioned that she was a Duchess on her own world.

Nerussia was in the Ganymede quadrant. Marion knew that much from Rodan. It was a planet that Gallifrey had trade with. The little girl had heard all about it from her grandfather along with many other places he had visited in return for her descriptions of all the worlds she had been to on tour with her foster parents.

It was an autocracy that set a lot of store by titles. Rodan’s grandfather, a working man taking time off while the Gallifreyan freighter was in dock wouldn’t have mixed with Duchesses, of course. His view of the place would be very different to that which the Lord High President and First Lady would see if they visited officially.

“Your marriage is something of a surprise to everyone,” Marion ventured. “I should be very interested to know how you and Lord Ravenswode met. Everyone wants to know, in fact, so do tell us all about it.”

Marion had hoped that Marita would understand that she was among friends and social peers and would open up to them despite her first coldness, but her reply was as haughty as before.

“At a social function,” she answered shortly. “A much grander affair than this one, of course!”

She looked around almost dismissively at the ladies in afternoon gowns enjoying the garden party.

“This IS only an informal afternoon,” Talitha Dúccesci pointed out. “We have GRAND social occasions here, too. I expect we will see you at many of them.”

“Probably not,” Marita answered. “I really don’t think I will be spending much time on this planet. There cannot be much of a ‘season’ to speak of. I would prefer to spend my time at the palace on Nerussia.”

“Then I hope you get to do that,” Mia told her. “Did your new husband explain about the Transduction Barrier? All traffic to and from Gallifrey is closely monitored and the Civil Service are very strict about how often citizens travel offworld.”

“I am no citizen,” Marita insisted. “I am a Duchess of Nerussia. If any mere servant attempts to prevent me travelling there will be serious consequences.”

With that, Marita stood and left their table. She circulated among the guests at Marion’s party, occasionally speaking to a few of the ladies, but mostly disdaining them. She ate food when she thought nobody was observing her, almost as if to do so was beneath her.

By the time the guests were beginning to drift away from the party and the servants were clearing the empty plates from the buffet table, she had spoken with almost everyone, but she had hardly endeared herself to anyone.

Lady Lily summed it up when the Duchess and all of the other guests apart from Mia Reidluum who was waiting for her husband to come for her had departed.

“It’s as if she was trying deliberately to be rude to absolutely everybody,” she said. “I have never come across such an unsociable woman. Even the late Lady Ravenswode was pleasant to those she felt she had to keep in with.”

“Very curious,” Mia added. “You would think she would value the friendship of other ladies. She is going to have a very lonely time at Ravenswode House if she carries on that way.”

Marion could only agree with them both. She had felt far from sympathetic towards the only other offworld wife in her social circle.

“I have certainly heard all of the gossip there is to hear this afternoon,” she admitted. “I think I can consider myself up to date and back in the social circle again.”

But what, she wondered, was going to become of the new Lady Ravenswode?