The Summer Ball was happening, after all. For a long time it looked as if it wouldn’t be. Not only could the ladies not get their gowns made while the seamstresses were striking, but it very much looked as if there would be no caterers prepared to make the food for the buffet, no orchestra to play the music, nobody to erect the marquee and lay out the dance floor upon which the aristocracy of Gallifrey would dance.

“They see it in no deeper terms than that, though,” Kristoph observed as he sat back in the limousine travelling across the southern plain in the slanted sunlight of the glorious mid-summer evening. “They don’t realise that the carpenters who smoothed down the boards for them to dance upon might just have easily been building gallows to hang the lot of us from if a popular uprising had gained ground.”

“Kristoph, please,” Marion told him. “Put such ideas out of your mind. It didn’t happen – mostly thanks to you. It was your determination not to let the guards fire upon the people, and to negotiate with the leaders of the disaffected groups that prevented it going that far. With you as president, Gallifrey is always going to be safe. I wish you, of all people, would believe that.”

“I do believe it, my dear. But I feel as if I am surrounded by complacent fools who don’t realise how fortunate they are.”

“I’ve often thought that,” Marion replied. “But many of them are our friends, and this is a special night. Let’s go and enjoy it and set politics aside for a while. No more talk of popular revolt, and absolutely NO discussion of Athenican autonomy or the price of real estate in Arcadia”

“I promise, my dear,” Kristoph assured her. “Though I fear I may be kept silent all evening trying to keep that promise. Those last two topics are all anyone ever wants me to talk about lately.”

“Introduce the emissary from Elbrach Prime to everyone and steer the conversation towards exports of industrial diamonds. That’s a subject that should interest most of the Oldblood men. After all, there are few of them who aren’t going to profit from the trade agreement.”

“That’s a very diplomatic suggestion,” Kristoph told his wife. “I ought to send you to the next intergalactic trade conference.”

Marion laughed. She took an interest in her husband’s work, but no more than that. She much preferred to support him as a hostess greeting his distinguished visitors and as his companion when he visited them. Her political ambitions lay no further than that.

“You look beautiful, my dear,” Kristoph said, changing the subject skilfully. “The Elbrachtian waistline is very becoming.”

“I hope I don’t look too out of place. The Empire dress is very much in vogue.”

“It will be until you arrive, then they will all be pressing their dressmakers to make them gowns like yours. Though I fear some of the high-born ladies of Gallifrey will have to invest in some VERY efficient corsetry in order to achieve a waistline.”

“That is NOT at all diplomatic,” Marion pointed out. “Though it is certainly true. I think that is WHY the Empire gown has been fashionable for so long – to hide the fact that too many waistlines are not what they ought to be. But I shall refrain from giving diet and exercise advice to them.”

She reached out and held Kristoph’s hand. He looked very handsome tonight, though for the men of Gallifrey fashion invariably gave way to convention. He was in a red satin gown with gold trim and a high collar of silk - lighter fabrics than the formal gowns of office with their heavily embroidered linen and collars made of actual precious metals that needed broad shoulders and straight backs to support.

The sun was dropping ever lower over the yellow-green southern grasslands of the southern plain as they came in sight of where the Summer Ball was taking place this year. It was at the easternmost edge of the D’Alba estate, where the River Argien, a tributary of the Bærrow, was spanned by an elegant white stone bridge. Beyond the bridge a huge white marquee had been erected, but that was not the whole of the effort. The road from the bridge to the marquee was laid with sparkling white quartz and on either side were pilasters topped by overflowing vases of white flowers interspersed with carved marble swans and tall columns topped by diffused globes of light. Every dozen yards there was an archway with white roses trained over it and the entrance to the marquee itself was another grand archway.

“Lily has stamped her own mark on this year’s ball,” Kristoph remarked as they walked across the bride, listening to the sound of the river flowing beneath and the music spilling from the marquee ahead. “White is the new gold and crimson.”

Marion laughed as she remembered the bold colours that distinguished the ball last summer at the home of Lord Gyes, a traditional man of the Prydon Chapter.

“It looks lovely,” she said. “Lily has done very well – or her party organiser has, anyway. Even she would not have arranged all of these planters personally.”

Marion would have preferred to go into the marquee quietly and find Lily among her usual clique of friends, but that would never happen. As the Lord High President and First Lady entered, there was a fanfare. Everybody ceased their chatter and turned, bowing obsequiously.

Fortunately, Kristoph did not allow such formality to last for long. He waved to the orchestra to continue playing and drew Marion onto the dance floor. Slowly everybody around them relaxed and danced and chatted, helped themselves to food, or sat in small gossiping groups at the white linen covered tables with delicate floral arrangements, set around the edge of the floor.

After two sets of dancing Marion went to find her friends while Kristoph talked with the Premier Cardinal and the High Chancellor. Lily was sitting with the Ladies Reidluum and Lady Dúccesci. She took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and sat with them.

“Your dress is beautiful, my dear,” Lily told her. “What was the inspiration for such a unique design?”

Marion explained about Elbrach Prime and the ballgowns worn even by the Duchess and the ladies of the Ducal Court that were based on the traditional peasant style of tight waists and loose bodices with wide, flowing skirts for dancing.

Both Lily and Talitha Dúccesci were wearing dresses in the suchan style. Mia Reidluum was wearing an outfit of the Salwar Kameez style – a long silk satin shirt with loose silk trousers of a contrasting colour. The style was comfortable for her and covered her legs when Jarod carried her from the car to the seat where she was compelled to spend the evening due to her disability.

Both of those styles were introduced into Gallifreyan high society by Marion over the seasons she had ordered gowns made to her own chosen pattern. They contrasted starkly with the almost uniform style worn by other ladies. Those with slender figures looked dazzling in an array of satins and silks that swished as they danced. A few ladies were pregnant in this summer season and the ‘Empire waist’ suited them well enough.

It suited the matrons, too, with the less flattering figure, but it was clear that a lack of adventure prevailed this Season. Few ladies had dared to break the mould.

“They’re afraid of being thought unGallifreyan,” Talitha remarked.

“Un what?” Marion replied, startled.

“Un-Gallifreyan,” Lily echoed. “With or without a hyphen it is the ‘buzzword’ about the salons just now. There is a movement among the fashionistas to avoid any style, any mannerism, that has not been a part of Gallifreyan culture for at least three millennia.”

“Anthis Cerulean tried to say that spoons were unGallifreyan last week,” Mia said with a laugh. “She said that they were imported from the Venturan empire. I asked her how babies were fed before the importation of spoons and she described something that sounded like a blunt knife with a sort of indentation on the end. She called it a ‘pollinger’.”

“It sounds like a prototype spoon to me,” Marion pointed out. “It just needed to evolve a bit more.”

“Just what I said,” Mia answered. “Un-Gallifreyan or not, I intend to carry on feeding my little girl with that lovely plastic spoon set you brought from Earth for me, and I shall dress her any day I please in the dresses that came from the same source. They are beautiful dresses, far nicer than the cotton smocks that ‘tradition’ dictates.”

“The whole thing sounds quite silly,” Marion remarked. “Where did it start? I must have missed it all while I was away in Liverpool.”

“Lord Ravenswode started it,” Lily explained. “I think he is still a little burnt by his ‘foreign’ wife and the amount of money she siphoned from his galactic bank accounts before he could freeze them. He’s going to try introducing a ban on offworld marriage next week in the Panopticon.”

“Oh dear,” Marion said with a worried frown. “I suppose that means MY marriage.”

“He won’t get away with banning marriages within the bounds of Gallifreyan law and tradition,” Talitha confirmed. “But he wants any wedding that takes place under any other custom between a citizen of Gallifrey and an offworlder to be ruled void.”

“I always thought it WAS,” Marion acknowledged. “That’s one of the reasons why Kristoph and I had a ceremony on Earth as well as a Gallifreyan wedding nearly a year later.

“By custom, it is,” Mia pointed out. But it is not an actual law. That’s where Lord Ravenswode went wrong, of course. He should have done the same as you and Kristoph, binding his wife to him by Gallifreyan law as soon as he got her here. That way she couldn’t have taken all his money and then divorced him once she was far enough away.”

“She could still have taken his money,” Talitha added with a laugh. “But she couldn’t have divorced him and she’d have been stuck with him as much as he was with her – and serve them both right.”

“He should have been more careful in the first place,” Marion concluded. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure, as they say on my world. But we are getting away from the original topic – this unGallifreyan movement.”

“I wouldn’t call it that,” Lily told her. “A movement. That gives too much credence to a bit of nonsense among the purist snobs. It will blow over in a week or so.”

“Of course, it will,” Mia and Talitha added. “Anything Lord Ravenswode thinks of blows over eventually. He’s nothing but bluster.”

That was generally true, Marion conceded, recalling the many times Lord Ravenswode had failed to get some piece of absurdly self-serving legislation passed by the High Council.

But this was the Summer Ball, and Kristoph had promised no politics. Marion smiled warmly as Jarod Reidluum came to sit with his wife while Lord Gyes asked Lily to dance with him, and Malika Dúccesci and Kristoph both came to take their wives back into the throng of dancers. Marion forgot all about the idea of ‘un-Gallifreyan behaviour’ as she danced in the arms of her husband.

She was reminded of it only once more as they swirled around the floor. Marion was certain she heard somebody whisper ‘unGallifreyan’ close by her ear. She turned to look but the only thing she could see was Lady Charr’s wide back swathed in yellow lace and the chubby hand of her dance partner holding her shoulder.

“Is anything wrong, my dear?” Kristoph asked her.

“No… at least, I don’t think so,” she answered. She turned back to face him and he pressed her close for a slow, romantic dance. She let herself forget everything else except the joy of being in the arms of the man for whose love she had crossed a galaxy and called a new planet home.