The regular daily fast shuttle left the spaceport at Athenica on time. Two hours later it arrived on Karn. Two of its first class passengers didn’t go from the spaceport to one of the tourist hoverplanes to view the magnificent flora and fauna of the planet. Instead they crossed to the freight section and boarded a Venturan mineral freighter heading out of the Kasterborus sector. This was not going to be luxury travel, but nobody was asking for identification when they came on board, and nobody would until the neutral spaceport of Bathisa Porto three galactic days away.

By then they would be safe.

Marion was sitting with Aineytta and her sister, Thedera, in the garden of the Dower House where they had taken lunch and tea and enjoyed the sunny afternoon. Rodan was there, too, drinking fruit juice under the sunshade and looking very grown up about it. She was, after all, a Candidate, now, having faced the Untempered Schism fearlessly.

They all turned happily to greet Kristoph when he arrived there after his day at the Citadel. His aunt, wife, foster daughter and mother all kissed him fondly as they invited him to sit and have tea and sandwiches.

“Has it been a difficult day?” Marion asked him as he ate.

“It’s been an interesting one,” he replied. “The matter of Lady Hedin’s Adultery was raised in the Panopticon.”

The capital letter inserted itself in the air like the ‘scarlet letter’ of Earth literary infamy.

“Only on Gallifrey would a private matter like that become a matter for political discussion,” Marion sighed.

“Not true, my dear,” Kristoph answered. “Benuvia IV is currently having a constitutional crisis over the issue of whether lower class women should be allowed to have more than three husbands the same as the aristocratic ladies do. And I could mention a few choice scandals that were heard in Westminster over the years. Charles Parnell’s adulterous relationship with the wife of a fellow MP, the Abdication debate in 1936. This kind of thing happens everywhere except possibly on the Sontaran homeworld since they don’t have any concept of love and marriage.”

“On the other hand, nobody would bat an eyelid on Haollstrom,” Marion pointed out. Rodan had realised that the adults wanted to talk about things she had no interest in, and wandered off to play on the rope swing fastened to a sturdy tree.

“That is certainly true,” Kristoph admitted. “But here, where we are somewhat formal about marriage vows it is a huge issue.”

“What was said in the Panopticon?” Thedera asked her favourite nephew.

“Lord Hedin wanted to invoke some very old statutes in order to send the Chancellery Guard after his brother and wife,” Kristoph said with a sigh. “He was voted down, not because anyone had any special sympathy for his wife or his brother, I think, but because of the expense and trouble involved in sending the Guard offworld.”

“So they will get away with it?” Aineytta asked. It was hard to say if she was scandalised or in sympathy with the runaway couple.

“’Get away with it’ is a moot point,” Kristoph answered. “They WILL be exiles. They can never come home to Gallifrey without facing arrest and punishment.”

Marion frowned. The punishment for a man who committed adultery was public flogging. She wasn’t sure what the penalty was for a woman.

“Banishment from her marital home,” Kristoph said even though she hadn’t asked the question. “Cut off from all social contact with friends or family, disowned except for an essential living allowance. Nobody would ever acknowledge her, visit her or invite her to their home. Her life would be a living misery of isolation.”

“That is better than being flogged,” Marion admitted.

“Not for a Gallifreyan lady,” Thedera told her. “Look how miserable Idell was when she was set aside by Remonte. Even her sister, with wardship of the child, is hardly spoken to and it is scarcely her fault.”

“Yes.” Marion had not thought about her brother-in-law’s first wife for a long time. Remonte was so happy with Rika and baby Remy it almost seemed like it had all happened to somebody else.

But, yes, she understood what being ‘set aside’ would mean for a woman.

“And, of course, she would not be able to see her lover again,” Aineytta confirmed. “That would be out of the question.”

“So there is very little reason for them to come back,” Marion concluded. “Not by choice, anyway. And… they are not going to be pursued and forced to return?”

“No,” Kristoph assured her.

“I’m glad. I know it would shock all of Gallifreyan society to say so outside of present company, but I’m glad they did what they did. If they really love each other….”

“I think I agree,” Thedera said. Aineytta didn’t say anything, but there was a look in her eyes. Marion was sure she was siding with the eloping couple.

“I always thought Parnell was a very fine man,” Kristoph said, apparently as a non-sequitur to the conversation. “It is a shame what the scandal did to his career, and to his Party.”

“You mean you sympathise, too,” Marion told him. “But you can’t admit it, even to us, because you are Lord High President and you have to uphold the law of Gallifrey, which treats adultery as a crime. The flogging penalty is horrible. It’s as bad as what happens in some countries on Earth. At least the men are punished here, not just the women, but it is still a barbaric thing for a civilised people to do.”

“I agree about the flogging. It is an archaic punishment. But the fact remains that adultery is a felony under our law. They were carrying on with each other behind Lord Hedin’s back for a very long time.”

“Not exactly behind his back,” Aineytta pointed out. “Unless he was turning his back almost all the time. There can’t be a woman on this planet who didn’t KNOW what was going on.”

Aineytta emphasised the ‘KNOW’ very firmly. Of course, there was ‘knowing’ and ‘KNOWING’. The distinction was not in any dictionary, but in the expressions on the faces of women in The Conservatory in the luncheon hour when Sarita and her brother-in-law Jastin had sat at a discreet corner table talking quietly. It was in Valentins in the evening when the Panopticon was in closed debate and Jastin had taken his brother’s wife to dinner with candles and flowers on the table and imported champagne to drink. It was at the opera when Sarita was on her husband’s arm and Jastin was with a charming and unmarried lady, but all through the performance the lady had been shamelessly ignored and Jastin had paid attention instead to whether Sarita had a cool drink or a plate of strawberries to eat and neither appeared to have taken any notice of the opera, but only had eyes for each other.

“I’m not sure anyone paid attention to the opera that night,” Thedera pointed out with a wry smile. “We were ALL watching Lord Hedin’s box.”

“Lord Hedin was paying attention to it,” Kristoph contradicted his aunt. “Otherwise he should have realised something was going on.”

“There’s none so blind as those who don’t want to see.” Marion quoted the old Earth proverb. “He MUST have known. But to call out his brother would have been so scandalous.”

“It would have reflected badly on him, too, not being able to keep his wife satisfied,” Aineytta added. “If only he had come to see me. I could have helped him out.”

“Your love potions and marital aids couldn’t have helped in this case, mama,” Kristoph answered her. “It wasn’t lack of passion in their marriage that caused her to stray.”

“Kristoph!” Marion looked at him and smiled. “Do you mean to say that you know something about this juicy little scandal? Do tell.”

Kristoph smiled back and shook his head, but he had given the game away.

“I should be ashamed of myself. Indeed, we all should be, sitting here talking about other people’s misfortunes for amusement.”

“Yes, we should be,” Aineytta agreed, though without conviction. “I remember the former Lady Hedin, mother to Jarrack and Jastin. She snubbed me every day of her life because I was a Caretaker, and her friends turned away and began new conversations every time I walked by. Do you imagine I don’t know where those nasty stories about witchcraft came from?”

“Mama, Schadenfreude is a very distasteful thing,” Kristoph said.

“It’s a very strange word,” Aineytta answered. “And a foreign one, at that. I don’t think there is a translation in our language.”

Kristoph conceded as much, though he thought the concept existed. It was what fuelled every conversation in The Conservatory, Valentins or the opera house foyer. The open indiscretions of Jastin and Sarita had been a bonus for the gossip-mongers.

“We ought to try to rise above it all,” Kristoph told the ladies of his family. “Knowing how much it hurts to be talked about that way, we could be magnanimous.”

“That is another foreign word, my dear boy,” Aineytta said. “Don’t blame us for being no better than anyone else here in the privacy of our own garden. We WILL endeavour not to indulge when we are in the Capitol among our friends.”

“But DO tell us what you know about this scandal,” Thedera added. “Or we shall be quite disappointed with you.”

“Only that Jarrack Hedin has a mistress in the Capitol,” Kristoph said. “She is the youngest daughter of a Newblood House the name of which I shall NOT divulge to anyone. Unlike his wife and brother he keeps the affair discreet. There is no suspicion of wrong-doing on his part.”

“Then how do you know about it?” Marion asked.

“I received a report from the Castelan,” Kristoph explained. “It was suspected that Hedin’s personal accounts were not quite adding up. The matter was quietly investigated and regular payments into an offworld investment fund were discovered. This fund was equally regularly drawn upon by the lady in question to pay for her gowns and other necessities for life in the Capitol.”

“A ‘kept woman’,” Marion commented. “What did you do about the report?”

“I buried it in the miscellaneous files,” Kristoph answered. “He wasn’t paying for inside information on the intergalactic stock exchange or anything that might affect the economy or security of Gallifrey, and he IS a very good treasury minister. I saw no reason to upset the applecart, to use – at risk of chastisement from mama - another foreign expression.”

“So it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle?” Marion was foreign born, so she was allowed to use such expressions.

“Disgraceful man,” Aineytta said. “Did Sarita know of this?”

“That I could not say,” Kristoph admitted. “It did not come into the purview of the Castellan’s report.”

“If she knew, perhaps she began the affair to get back at her husband,” Marion suggested.

“That would not be considered an excuse,” Thedera pointed out. “They would still have been punished if the affair was discovered… or should we say acknowledged, since discovery was a matter of removing the scales from his Lordship’s eyes.”

“Even so, he started it,” Marion said. “He was the adulterer first. It’s like… Charles and Diana… or… Henry VIII. He had LOADS of mistresses, but he had Anne Boleyn executed just on the SUSPICION of adultery.”

Despite what she had said earlier about Gallifrey being the only place where such things were a matter for constitutional debate, any number of examples from Human history, ancient and modern, came to mind. The only reason it was causing such excitement here on Gallifrey was that it DIDN’T happen very often – or at least not so obviously as it had happened on this occasion.

“Again, the fact that her husband was keeping a mistress wouldn’t mitigate them if they were brought to trial,” Kristoph reminded his wife. “They are the ones who have made themselves well and truly guilty by running away together.”

“I hope they really ARE in love and it isn’t just a foolish whim, then,” Marion said. “To have risked so much only to realise it was a mistake would be so miserable. I really hope it works out for them, wherever they have gone.”

That was her ‘foreign’ opinion, of course. But Thedera and Aineytta both smiled warmly.

“I agree,” Aineytta decided. “I hope they ARE happy, though I don’t imagine we will ever know.”

Bathisa Porto was a place where ships docked from all over the space sector, both huge, bulk freighters and streamlined passenger cruisers. Jastin Hedin brought two drinks from the bar in the first class lounge. He brought them to the window table where Sarita looked out at the magnificent starfield.

“We can’t even see the Kasterborus stars from here,” she mourned. “We’re further from home than I have ever been in my life.”

“Richa Devo will be our home from now on,” Jastin told her. “I have money in the bank and business interests there. We will be able to live comfortably, and we will be free.”

“Yes,” Sarita admitted as she sipped her drink. “Free.” She gripped her lover’s hand and let him reach to kiss her. “Free, at last.”