The business of government on Gallifrey went on all year, but even so there was a ceremony at the beginning of autumn that officially ‘opened’ a new session of constitutional business. It was one of those occasions when all of the High Councillors wore their most fantastic costumes, the Lord High President especially.

“This outfit is nearly fifteen hundred years old,” Kristoph said as he smoothed down the robe of white gold spun so thin it could be woven into fabric. His attendant brought the gown of silver and red that went over it. That was even older – more than two thousand years old. Both items of clothing were kept in a special cover when not being worn that nullified time around them and prevented them from aging.

“If they could find a way to do that to the President, as well as his robes, they would,” he added. Marion, watching it all happen in his Presidential Chamber, laughed. Then she put on her most reverential expression as the attendant placed the heavy collar upon his shoulders and the diamond encrusted skull cap. When that was done the Sash of Rassilon was placed around the shoulders already bearing a considerable weight.

Marion always thought the Sash was an ugly piece of regalia. The rectangular pieces of gold were too clunky looking. But perhaps fashions were different when it was made many thousands of years ago when Rassilon himself allegedly wore it.

Perhaps Rassilon was ensuring there would never be a female president – no woman could cope with the weight of all that on her shoulders.

“You look magnificent,” she told her husband.

“Thank you, my dear,” he replied, leaning forwards carefully to receive her kiss. “And now Arron is ready to make me look ridiculous, instead, this being an occasion for FULL pomp and ceremony.”

Marion giggled as the attendant stepped forward again with what looked like a paint box. It was the formal make up worn by high ranking Time Lords for these ceremonies. She watched as Kristoph submitted to much heavier and far more garish eye cosmetics than she had ever worn herself. Indeed, eye make up for women on Gallifrey was always light. It was the men who had layers of gold-flecked green and brown sculpted around their eyes.

And it always made Marion laugh, though only in private.

“Excellency, may I ask why her Ladyship finds the ceremonial cosmetics amusing?” asked Arron timorously.

“In her Ladyship’s culture men don’t, usually, wear make up at all, unless they are pop stars or something equally ostentatious. Of course, that is only in the culture of her generation. In the past history of her world powdered wigs and faces painted with quite unhealthy lead-based substances were de rigueur. And in fact the ancient Egyptian style came back into fashion for a while in the twenty-second century.”

“I understand, Excellency,” Arron said.

“I think you’re just being polite,” Kristoph answered. “Frankly, I am not fond of the tradition. Apart from anything else, if it is especially warm in the Panopticon the foundation cream will melt into my beard by the end of the ceremony.”

Marion laughed even more, then put on a serious face as the Chancellor and Premier Cardinal came into the Chamber. A Panopticon Guard in his smartest dress uniform accompanied them. He was there to escort Marion to the public gallery. The three men, all in their regalia, had important matters to discuss in the President’s Chamber before the ceremony began. She didn’t know what those matters were, but she knew she was supposed to leave the room before they began.

She didn’t mind such restrictions. Besides, the public gallery was filled already with people she knew and there was plenty of conversation going on. Aineytta was already in her seat beside the one reserved for the First Lady, and Thedera beside her. Lady D’Arpexia was at her other side. She was there to witness the part her own daughter, as one of the Inquisitors, played in the ceremony, as well as supporting her husband who was a High Councillor – though a low-ranked one if that was not a contradiction in terms.

“I do like the Opening ceremony,” Thedera said. “It’s so colourful and exciting. And there is always the possibility of something scandalous happening.”

“Not any year that I’ve been attending,” Marion answered. “What has happened in the past?”

“The year Moony first attended as a High Councillor, there was a protest by a group of radical women who wanted the right to be elected to the Council,” Thedera replied. “They were dreadfully noisy and quite unladylike. As much as I wanted to see women in the executive, their methods were quite unsuitable.”

“No, that was when Mooney was elected Chancellor,” Aineytta contradicted her. “On his first Opening, Gold Usher was missing from the procession. We found out later that he had been arrested for embezzlement minutes before the ceremony began.”

“Gold Usher?” Marion thought of the staid old gentleman she had left in Kristoph’s chamber.

“Oh, that was four incumbents back,” Thedera assured her. “That was the then Lord Charr. He was disgraced, of course, and the Patriarchy passed over to his brother. Lord Gyes was sworn in as Gold Usher, but not until days after the ceremony.”

“I recall many people saying they should have let him attend the ceremony to prevent gossip and ensure that the Procession was not spoiled,” Aineytta added. “But he had stolen a great deal of money. It was quite serious.”

Marion stole a glance at Madam Charr, sister of the present Lord Charr, an unmarried woman of a certain age who taught ethics at the Prydonian Academy, a surprising post for a woman on Gallifrey. If she was thinking about the time when a member of her family had acted scandalously she didn’t show it. But of course, she wouldn’t. She was Gallifreyan. Marion strongly suspected that the ‘stiff upper lip’ was evolved by the Gallifreyan aristocracy thousands of years before the English discovered it.

“Do you remember that other time when one of the High Councillors fell down dead in the middle of the Procession?” Thedera recalled. “Lord Artema. He WAS five thousand years old, but nobody had expected him to go just like that, with everybody watching.”

“How dreadful,” Marion commented.

“Not everybody thought so,” Lady D’Arpexia pointed out. “His wife didn’t seem distressed even though she had witnessed it first hand, sitting here in the gallery.”

“Really?” Marion was intrigued. Two scandals involving the wives of senior Time Lords had rocked the coffee houses and other meeting places of society women this month, but it seemed such bad behaviour went back far longer.

“She WAS very much younger than he was,” Thedera pointed out. “The marriage was one of political opportunity. Her family wanted to be connected with Lord Artema’s business interests.”

“So she didn’t love him all that much?” Marion guessed.

“I’m scarcely surprised,” Lady D’Arpexia said. “He was a quite unpleasant man. But the rumours that went around at the time were quite unfounded. The Surgeon examined him immediately after his collapse and confirmed it was natural causes.”

“The fact that she married again within a year of his death fuelled the gossip,” Thedera pointed out. Marion saw her turn slightly and glance at the proud Oldblood Lady sitting a few rows back in the public gallery. She was studiously avoiding looking at the group around Marion. She always did whenever they were in the same place, be it the Conservatory or the Opera House or the Panopticon.

“Lady Oakdaene?” Marion whispered her name in surprise.

“The very woman,” Thedera confirmed. “Lord Oakdaene was her second husband. Before him, she was the beautiful young wife of old Lord Artema.”

“Does that mean….” Marion very definitely didn’t look her way. “But did she marry Lord Oakdaene out of love, then? Not for business interests?”

“That could well be,” Aineytta commented. “Especially as he was the third son with no expectations of inheritance at the time.”

“Yes.” Marion knew perfectly well the scandals and complications of the House of Oakdaene that led to Minniette’s husband becoming patriarch of that line. As ever she remembered that her dearest friend, now known as Mai Li Tuo, was the true heir to that House who had been declared Renegade despite being innocent of the crimes he had been condemned for.

The idea that Lady Oakdaene had once been a young woman with hopes and aspirations of her own, married against her will to an old man for her father’s business advantage, but then being free to choose the man she really did love was a surprising idea. It was possibly the kindest idea Marion had every had about a woman who had set herself as a bitter enemy from the moment she came to Gallifrey.

She wondered what had made her so hard and cold, then, if she had finally got all she desired.

“That is a mystery that we shall never truly know the answer to,” Aineytta said quietly. Marion was surprised. She knew that telepathy was suppressed within the Panopticon so her mother-in-law could not have read her mind. Yet she knew exactly what she had been thinking. “Though I would guess that her husband’s blantant philandering and financial dishonesty are a source of distress to her. And the fact that they have been married a very long time without a child to bless their home.”

That was something Marion had never considered. Lady Oakdaene was one of the few women of her age who was childless. Yes, that was a reason for her to be unhappy.

“You are making me feel quite sorry for Minniette Oakdaene,” she said. “I never thought that possible.”

“Then perhaps we should mention the fact that Lord Oakdaene and Lord Ravenswode both voted against Mooney becoming a member of the High Council,” Aineytta remarked with an uncharacteristically bitter note in her voice. “They both absented themselves from that Opening when Lord Charr was arrested. They kept their noise behind closed doors, of course. They did not dare make their absurd objections openly.”

Marion was puzzled. What could those be?

“They repeated the old gossip about Aineytta bewitching Mooney into marrying her,” Thedera explained. “And suggested that he might not be of sound mind due to her continued use of love charms and glamours to befuddle his head.”

“Oh, dear!” Marion would have laughed, but she knew Aineytta found those accusations upsetting, even old ones.

That was another of those strange contradictions about Gallifrey, of course. It was a world with fantastic technology, renowned for the wisdom of its people. Yet those same people took the idea of ‘witchcraft’ perfectly seriously.

“They don’t,” Thedera assured Marion when she expressed that view. “Their Lordships were told to retract their objections lest they be charged with slander and neither have been able to say such things in public again. Of course, Minniette makes up for it with her acid tongue, but nobody pays her any attention when she does. Witchcraft… everyone with the slightest sense knows that an apothecary is a master chemist. It is science, not magic. It is only because it is a science practiced by the Caretaker classes that it is not recognised by our highest academies and societies.”

Thedera looked ready to stage a one woman protest about that inequality. She always struck Marion as like one of those energetic and utterly dedicated women who campaigned for Women’s Suffrage in Edwardian England. Aineytta smiled knowingly. Her skills did not need to be recognised by Academies and Societies as long as those who needed medical treatment knew where to come when it was needed.

And that included quite a few of the High Councillors, whose wives ordered potions some of them didn’t even know they were taking. If she wanted to befuddle the minds of those in government it would be a very simple scientific process.

“When are they going to start?” Lady D’Arpexia wondered aloud as the subject of the House of Oakdaene and their scandals staled and the conversation died. “This Opening will be remembered as the one where nobody turned up at all if they don’t get on with it.”

“Yes,” Aineytta agreed. “They do seem quite tardy.”

“Well, Kristoph was ready when I left him,” Marion commented. “So was the Chancellor and Gold Usher. I can’t imagine what is keeping everyone.”

They spoke lightly about the delay, making little jokes about uneven collars and crumpled robes and how the men of Gallifrey could take longer than the women to get dressed. None of them suspected that it was anything else than some trivial matter holding up the proceedings.

Then they became aware of the presence of many more Panopticon Guards on the floor below and a disconcerted murmur among the ordinary councillors gathered there.

That murmur spread to the public gallery as two of the Guards came down to where Marion was sitting and asked her to come along with them quietly and without question.

Why? What is the matter?” It was Aineytta who asked the question instead. She rose alongside Marion and insisted on going with her. “Is there something wrong with my son? What is happening?”

The guards did not answer the questions. They simply brought the two women to the smallest of the committee rooms near the Panopticon. There they were met by Lord Dúccesci, looking very grave.

“Lady Marion,” he said very formally. Usually he simply called her by her name. “Lady Aineytta. I am sorry to be the bearer of distressing news. I thought it best to bring you out of the public gallery before it became common knowledge….”

“What is it?” Marion asked. “What has happened?”

“The Lord High President is missing,” Lord Dúccesci told her. “Along with the Chancellor and the Premier Cardinal. They have vanished from the Chamber.”