There was a party at the Arcalian mansion. Lord de Lœngbærrow had declined the invitation for himself and his wife. He just wanted a quiet evening at home after a long week of difficult sessions in the Panopticon, but his House would be represented, nonetheless.

“You look simply beautiful, my dear,” Kristoph told his foster daughter as she walked down the wide stairs into the hallway of Mount Lœng House. She was wearing her first real ballgown, a dress of coral pink satin and appliqué lace that fell to her ankles. She was wearing silver dancing shoes and her hair was adorned with silver combs. A silver necklace and bracelet with small white diamonds completed the outfit.

“I wanted to look grown up,” she said. “Do I?”

“Grown up enough for a girl of nine and three quarters,” Kristoph responded. “And that’s quite enough for now.”

She smiled happily, if a little nervously, and waited on the last step as Marion came from the drawing room to look at her.

“That is a lovely dress,” she said. “Is it going to be warm enough for Octima? Should she have a cloak?”

“I’ll be inside most of the time,” Rodan pointed out.

“I’ll get you a shawl, at least,” Marion suggested and went to find a silver-grey cashmere one that she often wore with formal dresses. She wrapped it around Rodan’s shoulders. “There, that’s fine, now. You’re ready to go.”

Rodan took a deep breath and walked towards the front door. Caolin held it open and bowed his head to her. At the foot of the steps Gallis Limmon waited in his chauffer’s uniform. He held the limousine door as she stepped inside and sat back on the comfortable leather seat. She waved to her foster parents before Gallis closed the door and got into the driver’s seat. The car crunched over the gravel driveway before hovering six feet above and disappearing down the tree-lined avenue.

“You and I need a drink,” Kristoph said to his wife as they stepped back into the hallway. Caolin closed the front door and strode ahead of them to the drawing room. He had already poured the master of the house’s favourite single malt and a dry sherry for the mistress by the time they sat down. That done he withdrew from the room. Marion relaxed on the sofa with her shoes off and her legs up. Kristoph put on some of their favourite music before sitting in his preferred armchair and taking a long drink of the amber liquor that burned and soothed his throat at the same time.

“I do hope she has a good time,” Marion commented. “Just think, only a few years ago she was our baby. Now she’s off to her first proper ball.”

Kristoph smiled indulgently.

“She’s still our little girl, yet. It’s not her debutante ball or coming of age party. Plenty of time for all of that.”

“Yes,” Marion answered. She laid her head back on a silk cushion and listened to the music. Kristoph picked up a book and read it much more slowly than he could read it. He would speed read technical manuals and transcripts from the Panopticon, but a novel was for savouring.

After a while he put down the book and looked at his wife. There was no mistake. She WAS crying very softly. He crossed quietly and knelt at her side, stroking her face gently with his fingers.

“What is it, my dear?” he whispered. “What is upsetting you?”

“Don’t blame yourself,” she replied, reaching for a handkerchief to dry her eyes with. “It wasn’t your fault… but I started thinking about… about what you said….”

“What did I say?” Kristoph asked, perplexed. “What have I ever said that would make you cry?”

“You mentioned Rodan’s debutante ball… and coming of age party.”

“That was quite foolish of me. I forget, sometimes, that it is not up to me whether she would even HAVE such things in her future. Her grandfather will decide that. But….”

Then he understood. Those rites of passage for the daughters of Gallifreyan aristocrats happened when they were around a hundred and seventy years old. Even if she lived as long as any Human could hope to live, Marion would never see Rodan reach the age of womanhood for a Gallifreyan.

Kristoph had always known that, of course. But, even so, he had made that casual comment without considering how she might feel.

“I was stupid and thoughtless,” he told her. “I apologise unreservedly for hurting you.”

“Oh, Kristoph, you are forgiven,” Marion answered him, throwing her arms around his neck and accepting his kiss on her lips. “I’m being silly. I let the thought fester in my mind, that’s all. I should have just let it pass.”

“No, my dear. You have every right to feel aggrieved. It isn’t fair. You have raised Rodan to be a beautiful, clever young girl, fully capable of going to a grown up party and holding her own. It isn’t fair that you cannot hope to see her blossom into a woman as I am sure she will.”

“There is nothing to be done about it,” Marion conceded.

“There is one thing. I am not as good at it as mama, but I do have some skills of foresight.” He stood and looked around. He needed some small thing to focus upon. The sideboard yielded the very thing – a glove that Rodan had left behind before she went to dress for her evening out. He brought it to Marion and told her to hold onto it.

“Lie back and close your eyes,” he added. He put one hand on her forehead and the other closed over her fingers as she clutched the glove.

Time washed over Marion like a warm wave. She felt her mind slipping forward through the years until she was beyond the span of her own lifetime.

When her vision cleared she was standing once more in the hallway of Mount Lœng House. There were a few small differences that told her this was a different night to the one when Rodan had set out to the Arcalian mansion. There were paintings she didn’t recognise and the curtains were different, but it was very much the same hallway she had come to know so well.

Kristoph was standing there beside Rodan’s grandfather. The good man was dressed in a black and silver robe with the crest of De Lœngbærrow at the shoulder. Kristoph was elegantly dressed in red and black as always.

Both men turned to look as a figure in shimmering coral satin and lace appeared at the top of the stairs. Her hair was elegantly lifted up and woven into a slender diamond tiara and she wore a matching necklace and earrings. She paused on the first step, then came down the stairs slowly, silver shoes revealed beneath the long skirt of the ballgown. She was smiling proudly as she reached the bottom of the stairs and both men kissed her on the cheek in turn, taking care not to disturb the carefully applied cosmetics that enhanced her natural beauty.

“Rodan, my dear,” Kristoph said. “You are beautiful. You will be the most popular girl at the ball.”

“I don’t care about that, as long as Antion Gyes dances with me once.”

“I am quite sure he will,” Kristoph assured her. “So will Breissal Arcalian and Franci Kannois and both of the Coeus brothers.”

“Antion is the special one,” Rodan admitted. She turned to her grandfather who held her hand tenderly for a long moment.

“It doesn’t matter which of those young men you dance with. The important thing is that you have a wonderful night.”

“I WILL if Antion dances with me,” she insisted. “I wish you were coming with me, grandpapa.”

“I have no place at an Oldblood ball, my dear one,” Argis Mielles answered. “His Lordship will present you. It is his honour to do so. I will be content to wait here and hear all about it from you when you return.”

“I shall tell you everything,” she promised.

“Here, put your shawl on,” Kristoph said to her. He brought a grey cashmere that was as fine and soft as it was when Marion first gave it to her on the night of her first ball. She had kept it all those years to wear on this special night.

“I wish mama could see me,” she said in a sad tone.

“She can,” Kristoph promised her. “And she is proud of you, too.” Then he took her arm and stepped towards the door. Caolin opened it. They stepped out into a crisp Gallifreyan night with the stars shining from a burnt brown sky and the moon in her bronze aspect. Gallis Limmon was waiting by the limousine and bowed his head to Rodan as she slid gracefully into the back seat. Kristoph sat beside her and he closed the door before going to the driver’s seat. The car set off into the dark night. Rodan looked out of the window even though there was little to see. She was nervous, but she didn’t want to show it.

“You’ll be just fine,” Kristoph whispered. “I know you will.”

“Everybody there knows I am not an Oldblood,” she answered. “They might think I don’t belong there.”

“They have been your friends all through your years at the Academy, through every party and afternoon tea you have ever attended, every opera night and theatrical performance. This is no different, and nobody doubts your right to be there – especially not Antion Gyes… though I don’t know why you set such store by a knock-kneed, skinny creature like him.”

“He’s not knock-kneed or skinny,” she protested. “Not any more, anyway. He’s very handsome and he talks to me all the time. He’s interested in travel.”

“Shall I expect his father to call upon me to discuss your dowry, then?”

“No,” Rodan answered. “I just want to dance with him tonight.”

“That’s all right, then,” Kristoph assured her. He held her hand and noted that it was trembling a little. It was still trembling when the limousine stopped before the brightly lit path leading to the marquee where the Presentation Ball was taking place this year. She let go just long enough to slide out of her seat in the proper way she had been taught, placing both feet on the ground together and allowing her skirt to settle before taking her foster father’s arm. She walked proudly along the path and through an arched portal.

Inside, the twenty-five young women who were of age this year waited in the centre of the polished dance floor with their fathers or uncles, whoever was there to present them. Around the edge of the marquee were the cream of Gallifreyan aristocracy, especially the eligible sons of the right age and accomplishments.

The most important man there was the Lord High President who waited in his full regalia on a raised dais. Beside him was the First Lady of Gallifrey, resplendent in a cobalt blue gown with diamonds on her high collar. Slowly a line formed and the young ladies were presented to the Lord High President. This was a simple matter of a formal curtsey and a handshake, but all of the girls had practiced their part for months. All of them were nervous. Nobody wanted to be the one who slipped while performing their curtsey or tripped while stepping back afterwards.

Rodan certainly didn’t want to be the one. She took a deep breath before stepping forward and carefully made her curtsey. She reached out her hand and let the President hold it for a few seconds. He said a few words, but she hardly heard them for the pounding of her own two hearts and her reply was almost as indistinct.

Then it was over. Kristoph steered her away towards the group of onlookers that included Lady Lily D’Alba and his own aunt Thedera de Más??nt?n until the presentation line was complete and the important matter of the dancing began.

The first dance, of course, belonged to the fathers and uncles who had presented the girls. Rodan smiled happily as her foster father held her gently and danced a waltz with her. Then as the set ended her smile broadened and her hearts beat in quick time. Antion Gyes approached and asked for the next set. Kristoph pressed her hand into that of her handsome young friend and stood back.

“Mission accomplished,” he whispered to Lady D’Alba before inviting her to join him on the floor.

“Well done,” Lily answered.

“Well done,” Marion whispered as the soft wave of time washed over her again and she found herself lying on the sofa in the drawing room again. She looked up at Kristoph and smiled. “Thank you. That was wonderful.”

She sat up and looked around at the drawing room clock. Less than fifteen minutes had passed, but it had felt like hours.

“Was it real? Is that really how it will be in the future, or was it just a dream?”

“You doubt my powers of precognition?” Kristoph feigned indignation.

“Not at all.”

“It was real. That is what Rodan’s Presentation Ball will be like. She will feel like a princess and dance with her prince.”

“Antion Gyes?” Marion laughed. “He really is knock-kneed and skinny at the moment.”

“He’s going to grow up into a real hearts-throb.”

“And is he the one for her?”

“I didn’t look that far ahead, but I don’t think so. I think she just wanted to dance with the best looking man at the ball. I think when it comes to a husband she’s going to hold out for substance as well as style.”

“Then, that’s all right,” Marion decided.

“I think so, too. Are you going to sit up and wait for her to get home from the Arcalian Ball?”

“Yes, I am. I want to hear all about it from her the minute she gets in. Her first grown up ball.”

“The first of many.”