Mia Reidluum was already entertaining Marion de Lœngbærrow and Annice Amycus when two more guests presented themselves. The arrival of Lady Arrette and her half-brother, Lady Amycus's son, Ardine, was a bombshell, since they had not yet heard the news of Lord Arrette's death and it fell to Marion to break it to them.

Mia watched their reactions from her specially adapted armchair with extra support for her back and a row of buttons to hand which summoned any of her servants instantly. This was not exactly a quiet, civilised afternoon in convivial company and the fact that she would have first hand knowledge of the main luncheon topic for weeks to come was a poor consolation.

But by accident or design things were happening within her drawing room and despite her own difficulties she was determined to be a sympathetic hostess to all concerned.

"Murdered? In the citadel itself?" Ardine looked shocked, though perhaps not as upset as he ought to be.

Marea Arrette was not upset at all. She sat by the window overlooking a quiet city square with a cup of herbal tea clutched in her hand. She said nothing at all, but every now and again she seemed almost to smile before remembering herself.

"Was he cruel to you?" Marion moved to sit near Marea Arrette and asked a question she felt she had wanted to ask for some time. Of course, it was difficult to know a Gallifreyan woman was suffering domestic abuse. They did not bruise. Besides, the uneven nature of relationships between the genders was such that many women didn’t even realise that they WERE being abused when their husbands physically hurt them.

"Yes," Marea answered readily. "Not physically. He didn't hit me or any such thing. But he kept me in the house every day. I could not socialise. We never attended an opera or theatre. I could not read books. I certainly could not dance. From the day we were married I felt as if I were dead."

"Why?" Marion asked.

"He was a believer in asceticism. He felt that there was no need for gaiety and laughter, for social enrichment. He believed that living quietly within our own home without external influences was the TRUE Gallifreyan way."

"That used to be more common than you would think," Annice Amycus pointed out to the group in general and especially to Marion who was still puzzled. "My dear husband's own grandfather was a practitioner and so were most of the Time Lords of his generation. I have seen images of the Panopticon in those times. All of the councillors in plain black robes and skull caps. The whole planet was black and dour. They closed the Transduction Barrier and banned any outside contact, any trade or exploration. They banned women from the Academies and locked most of the books concerned with offworld matters in the libraries away in restricted space. Only those who applied for special licences were allowed to study."

It sounds like England under Oliver Cromwell," Marion remarked, though none of her companions understood the reference. "It seems as if societies all go through a time like that. I'm glad it ended. I don’t think if even be here if Gallifrey was still that way, though. No offworld travel, no contact. I must be everything the aesthetic Time Lords hated.”

“We live in more enlightened times," Mia commented. Marion recalled that she, herself, had suffered some mental anguish before her husband realised that he truly loved her and that she was more to him than a chattel. Even so, she was appalled at Marea's story as it slowly came out amidst herbal tea and delicate sandwiches.

"For Lord Arrette there was no enlightenment. He stuck to the old ways," she said. "I don’t think my father knew how much when he agreed to the marriage. Or if he did the estate in the northern reaches and the five buildings in the Capitol and Athenica he got in exchange for me quashed any doubts.”

“My dear, I don’t think he really meant it that way,” Annice assured her. “The land and property were not… I am sure they were not what he coveted more than your happiness. He only thought it was a good match for you.”

“He thought wrong – and he scarcely ever bothered to see if I was happy. Ever since my wedding day I have lived more confined than the contemplative sisters of the plains... except that once every six weeks my Lord comes to my bed to demand his… his right as a husband. Or he did. In recent times even that was too much excitement for him. He declared that it was unnecessary until he required an heir. I wasn’t sorry. There was as little joy in it for me as any other activity within that grey house."

This was the other side to the story that had been missing from the drawing rooms and coffee houses of Gallifrey ever since Lord Arrette had begun publicly denouncing his wife as an adulterer, citing the fact that he had not exercised his conjugal right with her.

"So little affection from my Lord and husband, and so little to do every day. I was as good as dead,” Marea continued.

"That was why I started taking her to parties and dances and to the theatre," Ardine explained. "At first he hardly knew she had left the house. Then he got suspicious and searched her chambers.”

"He found my party dresses and some books from the free library," Marea added.

"Oh dear," Marion remarked, feeling as if the library books were her own fault. The free libraries were her largest mark yet on Gallifreyan society.

"He burned everything," Marea admitted. "And locked me in my room for six months. After that he let me out in public only in his presence. I never spoke. I wasn't even allowed to smile or make eye contact with anyone. Even then he wasn't satisfied. He was convinced I was doing something wrong. I do believe he was going mad. The things he said....”

“You… never did commit an adulterous act?” Mia asked. She tried to ask it kindly, but it was not a kind question.

“Never. Even if the match were not so loveless, I know what is expected of a wife. I have not. I would never ...."

"I never for one moment thought it was true," Marion assured her, though she guiltily recalled so many afternoons when speculation was rife among the ladies of her social circle. The possibility that she HAD been indiscreet had been the subject of almost gleeful conjecture.

"But all the same, if you have done nothing wrong, then what was that display at Calliope Patriclian's ball?"

"It was DANCING," Marea answered with a weary fearsomeness as if she was tired of the question. "JUST dancing. Nobody other than my husband finds dancing objectionable."

"You were not invited to that ball," Marion pointed out. "Your invitation was fake. I cannot understand why...."

"That was me," Ardine admitted. "I did it for her. Do you know what it is like to be the only woman NOT talking about the big event of the season?"

“Not for a long time,” Marion thought. When she was a teenager, before Kristoph transformed her life, she had not received many invitations to go anywhere. She understood that sort of isolation, though perhaps not on a scale such as Marea seemed to have suffered.

"I was tired of seeing that anguish in her eyes," Ardine explained. "I determined that she would go to the ball and that everyone would notice her and know that she is beautiful and graceful and a wonderful dancer and deserved far more than a lifetime married to a dried up old fossil."

Several ideas struck Marion about the desperate situation, but she left them unsaid.

"I suppose it is over now," Mia Reidluun said instead. "Lord Arrette is dead. You are free of him, now. "

That was one of the things Marion had thought about. She was glad that Mia had asked the question rather than herself, though.

She was glad, also, that Marea hesitated before answering the question. Too quick a response might seem premeditated.

"I don't know," she admitted. "I have hardly had time to think about it. I am free of his oppression, and better than that... I have his fortune. As his wife it is my right. I can do anything I wish."

"I'll tell you what we will do," Ardine contradicted. "We will leave Gallifrey – Marea and I, together. We will go where we are not known and we will dance whenever we choose. We will go to the theatre and opera and show pleasure at such things."

"WE?" Mia queried. "Are you not half-siblings? You make it sound as if there is a greater affection... one which few societies would accept."

"My love is the love of a brother," Ardine answered. "I am sworn to protect my sister from men who would crush her spirit as Lord Arrette crushed it. I shall do what my father failed to do - find a worthy husband for a jewel of a woman who must be allowed to shine."

Everyone looked at Ardine Amycuss with new eyes. There was something so fiercely passionate about his voice as he spoke.

His words were admirable. His chivalric love for his sister was in all other circumstances thoroughly commendable.

But something felt wrong. Marion wasn’t even sure what at first. She looked at Ardine and at Marea, then she looked at Annice, his mother and her step mother.

Annice wasn’t showing any surprise about this plan, or any obvious distress about her son’s announcement that he planned to make himself an exile from Gallifrey.

“When did you tell your mother about this?” she asked suddenly, catching him off guard.

“A week ago,” he answered. “I told her that….”

He stopped, realising his mistake. For a long, frozen moment Lady Amycus, Ardine and Marea looked at each other. Mia glanced at Marion then at each of the three main players in an affair more complicated than lunchtime gossip had begun to fathom. Marion looked at Mia who shook her head imperceptibly, but confirming to her that the three were not passing anything telepathic between each other. They could not do that as long as their thoughts might be picked up by somebody else, and none had been trained to block their thoughts so effectively as that.

“A week ago, you discussed with your mother the idea of taking Marea offworld?” Marion queried. “But a week ago Lord Arrette was still alive, and he would have been within his rights as her husband to pursue you both. Only now, with him dead, could that plan be viable. But you and Marea didn’t even KNOW he was dead until you arrived here, so you couldn’t have talked about it today.”

The stunned silence grew almost to be a noise itself. In the midst of it there was another arrival at the Reidluum house. Jarod Reidluum, the master himself, was with the Lord High President, and Valena d’Arpexia, the young but able Inquisitor. The fact that Valena held that position struck Marion forcefully as the three of them entered the drawing room. Of course she was a social friend, but was it possible that she was here officially on this occasion?

The possibility clearly occurred to Ardine Amycus, too. His face froze in shock, and his hands gripped the chair as if he was about to launch himself out of it and run.