The second month of the Gallifreyan winter passed slowly for Marion. She was confined to the house, and in particular the rooms of her White Suite. Even after she came home from the hospital ship and despite the medicines especially made for her by Aineytta she often felt weak. She didn't have the strength to walk much further than between the drawing room and the library or the dining room. The afternoon sleep in the day bedroom that completed the suite of rooms was compulsory now and she had no reason to argue against it. She needed that extra rest more than ever.

There were oxygen tanks in all of these rooms and beside the bed upstairs in case she needed them. She often did in the first weeks. She was starting to need it less now, a sign that she truly was recovering, but she still needed to sit down after moving from one room to the next.

She wasn't spending these days alone. She had plenty of visitors. Aineytta came every day, of course, and Lily almost as often. Rodan came twice a week, anxious to know that her foster mother was recovering.

Marion was glad to see all three of them - her closest 'family' in every way that mattered.

But she really longed for her other society friends. She needed to know what was happening in the salons and the coffee houses of the Capitol.

She needed the gossip.

Kristoph had been reluctant to allow too many visitors at first, but he relented in the last week of Fibster, the month of the clown, and allowed a group of her younger friends to come for an afternoon. She rested all morning so that she would be able to cope with their visit.

Talitha Ducesci, Isolatta Braxietel, Calliope Hadandrox and Valena D’Arpexia came with small gifts of flowers and biscuits that went on the tea tray. They all remarked how well she was looking, but Marion caught a look in their eyes. She was looking well for somebody who had almost died, but she knew she was far from recovered. Though they were too polite to say so, she knew they were shocked at how pale and tired she looked.

She fielded questions about her health for a while, but then demanded that they change the subject. She wanted to hear what was happening in the city.

Her friends obliged willingly, regaling her with all the news, some of it trivial, some of it less so.

"Lady Oakdaene hasn't been seen in public for months," Talitha Ducesci told her as the parlour maid poured tea from a pot deemed to heavy for the Lady of the House to manage and passed the sandwich platter around the guests. Kristoph had given instructions that a servant had to be on hand at all times. The girl in crisp salmon coloured afternoon uniform dutifully sat back and took no notice of the conversation of the society ladies.

"Why not?" Marion asked.

"Because Lord Oakdaene has been offworld for that long and she had run out of excuses for him," Isolatta replied while Talitha tried to find a diplomatic way of explaining the problem.

"What is he doing offworld for so long?" the question was inevitable. Nobody knew the answer for certain, but speculation that it was something illegal was spreading among those who least liked Lord Oakdaene or his wife.

"I feel sorry for her," Marion declared, speaking of her arch rival Lady Oakdaene in tones that surprised her friends. "It isn't nice being the subject of gossip. I know there has been plenty about me and why I was ill. Kristoph wouldn't let me pay attention to any of it, but I know it went on."

Chief among those rumours were tales of miscarriage and stillbirth, despite no suggestion of her being pregnant, and various imagined illnesses that pureblood fanatics like Lady Oakdaene imagined non-Gallifreyans were susceptible to. Rumours had even gone about for a while that she was dead and Kristoph merely pretending that all was well. It took Lady Lily's scathing denial to put paid to that one.

"Minniette Oakdaene was chief architect of most of the really nasty ideas," Talitha pointed out. "So it really serves her right to have a taste of it herself."

"I still pity her. Especially if her husband HAS done something illegal offworld. He has got away with it twice in my knowledge. The next time he will not be so lucky. What will she do if he is sentenced to jail in some offworld penitentary and she has to live with the shame.”

“She will HAVE to live with the shame,” Valena replied. “It would be interesting to see how many REAL friends she has if that should come to pass. I suspect it will be very lonely for her.”

“I won't take any pleasure from that,” Marion promised. “But never mind about Minniette Oakdaene for now. Is it TRUE that Lady Arcalia is pregnant?"

This rumour had even reached Marion in her seclusion. Lady Noria Arcalia was the very young third wife of a very elderly Time Lord who was becoming frantic for an heir.

"The official announcement was yesterday," Isolatta confirmed. “His Lordship is practically dancing jigs in the Panopticon over it. I'm going to tea with Noria at the weekend. I shall find out how she's feeling about it all, though I suspect it is obvious. She must be delighted.”

"That's good. And Lady Arrette?"

"Very definitely NOT with child,," Calliope replied with a wicked smile. "And just as well since Lord Arrette swears they have not 'conjugated' for over four years."

That was shaping up to be the chief scandal of the Winter season. Lord Arrette himself had started it by publicly accusing his wife of infidelity. She had said nothing public at all in denial, but had retreated to the summer residence of her mother's family where she refused to see anyone. The gap in the story had been filled in over coffee at the Conservatory and in the drawing rooms of the ladies of Gallifrey.

"We really shouldn't keep talking about it," Talitha admitted. "If he keeps insisting that she has been unfaithful it will lead to a court case. It will be difficult enough to separate the truth from speculation without making more of it.”

"If it comes to court it may well fall to me to adjudicate," Valena, the only one of the women with a professional position, pointed out. “I certainly shouldn’t make any prior judgements.”

"For that matter, If Lord Arrette brings a petition to the High Council it may fall to Kristoph to make the final judgement, " Marion added. "I shouldn't discuss the affair, either. I think we really should leave this subject and talk about something that isn't likely to be sub judice in the future. "

To facilitate the transition to less contentious subjects Isolatta made a joke. It was not a great joke, but she tried, and everyone laughed.

Marion laughed.

Then she began to breathe heavily and reached for the oxygen. She was better in a few minutes, but until then her friends watched in horror. This kind of ailment was unknown in one so young. Only very old Time Lords suffered in this way.

“It's all right,” she said when the incident had passed. “I'm fine now.”

“You are far from fine, Marion,” Isolatta contradicted her. “Why didn't you tell us you were still so very ill.”

“I'm not,” she insisted. “It's just now and again... when I try to move too quickly or... laugh.”

“My birthday ball is in three weeks time,” Calliope reminded her. “It wouldn't be the same without you there. I know it isn't the MOST important thing, but still....”

“I'll be there,” Marion promised. “Rosanda is making me a gown especially for it. I might not be able to dance all night, but I will manage a couple of slow sets. I AM getting better every day. It's just now and again....”

“But you LOOK so very ill, Marion,” Valena exclaimed. “I'm sorry. We all promised not to mention it, but I can't help it. You look far more ill than we expected. If Lady Oakdaene saw you now she would be making up a whole new set of tales about you being on the brink of death.”

“I've been to the brink,” Marion answered her. “I'm getting better every day. When Cally's birthday party comes around I'll be MUCH better. I'll have a facial and a new hairstyle and a brand new gown and nobody will have anything to comment about.. except where they can get a gown like mine.”

They were reassured and at her instigation they again turned the topic of conversation to less worrying subjects, confining their talk for a while to the upcoming spring fashions and the latest culinary sensations at Valentins. There had been a whole week of food from the Nova Italiano colonies which were proving very popular. Marion could confirm that as Kristoph had invited the head chef to cook dinner at Mount Loeng House two evenings ago to celebrate the fact that she had recovered her appetite and was enjoying the taste of fine food once more.

She didn't need the oxygen again during the afternoon and on the whole it was a successful time. Strangely, it was the distressful affair of Lord and Lady Arrette which stuck in Marion's thoughts long after her friends had departed and she took a quiet hour before Kristoph came home.

At dinner, she carefully introduced the topic.

"You and Valena are quite right not to discuss the matter,” Kristoph told her. “It is going to become a legal issue very soon. The way his Lordship is carrying on, he must either formally accuse his wife or she will have to request a gagging order preventing him from slandering her in public."

The second option was least likely as Lady Arrette would have to prove beyond doubt that she was not having any extra-marital affair and nobody was sure if she could do that.

"You might have to order a public whipping for Marea Arrette," Marion said with as little emotion as she could manage. She was not supposed to let herself become overexcited and this was an excitable topic. "I have said more than once that the adultery laws on Gallifrey are barbaric – to say nothing of misogynistic.'

"I agree," Kristoph told her. "But I have not succeeded in getting the High Council to reform them, and as it stands, if she is found guilty, I have very little choice."

"I know," Marion sighed. "I just wish it were not so. I feel for her. She needs pity not punishment. "

Kristoph agreed with that, too, but he was tied to the ancient and unsympathetic laws and their harsh penalties.

"I'll try to find some way," he promised. "But unless there is some unexpected turn of events, it will be difficult to avoid the inevitable. But enough of that. Right now, I am more concerned about MY wife than with Lord Arrette’s."

“I’m fine,” Marion assured him. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

“Yes, I do. You didn’t mention that laughing with your friends made you breathless and sent you reaching for the oxygen.”

“You read my thoughts?”

“Your maid is under orders to report these things to me. All the staff are. Don’t be cross with them. In any other circumstances I would never ask them to spy on you. But I need to know these things. You still struggle to do ordinary things. That concerns me deeply.”

“I don’t want to go back to hospital. Everyone was wonderful there, but it was still a hospital and I wanted to come home.”

“No, not a hospital,” Kristoph assured her. “But not here, either. If you intend to go to Calliope Hadandrox’s ball in three weeks, then you need far more than three weeks’ convalescence, and somewhere where it isn’t still winter. You need sunlight on your face and fresh sea air. I believe I know the very place.”

He smiled reassuringly and laid his hand across hers. She smiled back and teased him to find out where he thought she might convalesce with sea and sunshine, but apart from denying it was either Blackpool or Hillary’s lighthouse on the Haollstrom coast he would not be drawn.