The dress was almost complete. Marion went for a final fitting at the Fashion House in the Capitol. An earnest looking young man in a black robe accompanied her, carrying a silver inlaid wooden box with a lock and the crest of the House of Lœngbærrow on it. Marion commented to him that it looked heavy but he said it was fitted with an anti-gravity device and weighed nothing at all.

The man represented the Capitol Bank and the box came from the Lœngbærrow family vault. They were, he said, longstanding customers of the bank and he professed himself proud and honoured to do this duty.

Marion knew what was in the box, of course, and the purpose. But when she saw it opened she was startled, even so.

“May I?” she asked, her hand reaching towards the contents.

“Oh course you may, your ladyship,” answered the bank man. “The box and its contents belong to you in token of your Alliance to the future Lord de Lœngbærrow.”

Marion plunged her hand deep into the box full of diamonds. She had never seen so many in one place. She doubted if many people had. She caught a handful and looked at them as they glittered and shone. They were none of them very big. Larger ones were being sent to a jeweller to be made into a necklace and earrings for her to wear on the day. These were for her dress. Each one no bigger than her little fingernail, but absolutely perfectly cut and polished and set with a small silver loop at the back through which fine thread would attach them to the fabric. She wondered how she would stand up, let alone walk, in a dress covered with so many jewels, but it was a custom among the Oldblood Houses that a bride’s dress should be so adorned.

The bank man produced a receipt and the manageress of the Fashion House solemnly signed it, promising to be responsible for the jewels, ensuring that not a single one should go missing.

“You may rest assured, Ladyship,” she said to Marion. “There are no dishonest seamstresses here. The diamonds will be safe.”

“I am sure they will be,” she answered, wondering how anyone would be able to tell if one or two should go missing. Would she even mind if they did? There were more than enough.

That errand done, she went to lunch with her Lady friends and then she was driven back to the shuttle dock and a mere half hour later she was back on the Southern Continent. Her own car was waiting and she drove to Mount Lœng House where she and Kristoph had a duty to perform in preparation for their Alliance.

Mount Lœng House looked like a house that was in the midst of either renovation or removal. Furniture had been moved and rugs lifted. The great chandelier in the hall had been carefully taken down and dismantled and a small army of maids were polishing the crystal glass sections. Wall hangings and tapestries were being cleaned and restored, wooden panels varnished and plaster mouldings gilded.

“But the reception isn’t going to be here,” Marion pointed out.

“All this is for afterwards.” Kristoph answered her. “For when it is your home. The new rugs will be here any day, though they won’t go down until the day before we return from our honeymoon. There are plenty of other jobs to be done, though.

“Your parents must be sad, knowing that must move out soon. It’s their home…”

“It will be ours,” Kristoph insisted. “That is the way of things, Mama is more than happy to move to the Dower house. She is glad to relinquish the responsibility for a house this size. And as for my father, he DOES need to start to take things easy. So don’t worry, nothing is happening that is not perfectly natural and acceptable. Now, Father said the library was still untouched. We will be attended to there.”

The butler, Caolin, conducted them to the library, a beautiful room that Marion hoped would not change too much. It had great shelves of books lining every wall, some of them behind glass. There was a polished desk with a wooden chair with leather seat and big comfortable armchairs and low tables for putting the books on. There was a big globe on one table, showing the topography of Gallifrey. It could be lit from within to make a nice, ambient light. On another table was a model of Gallifrey’s constellation in silver and mother of pearl. When a button was pressed all the planets revolved in their orbits. Marion pressed it once because it was just so irresistible and then came to sit next to Kristoph on a wide leather sofa.

“Shall I send the first one in?” Caolin asked and Kristoph told him he may do so. The old butler went out and presently a young man dressed in a similar butler’s uniform entered. He bowed deeply to Marion and called her Ladyship and to Kristoph, addressing him as ‘Magister’ and told them both he was pleased to be appointed to serve them as butler when they made their home here after their Alliance.

“Oh!” Marion was surprised and a little upset. “But… well…” she leaned close to Kristoph and spoke in a low voice. “I thought… I hoped… Caolin was the first person to be kind to me the first time I came to Gallifrey. I have always liked him. I hoped he would stay on as our butler. One person at least I know and trust.”

“Caolin is my parents’ butler. He came to serve them when THEY were joined in Alliance. He will move to the Dower House with them. That is how it works.”

“Madam,” the young butler said. “I understand your reticence, but I AM fully trained and I shall endeavour to do my best to serve you, as my father served before me.”

“Oh.” Marion looked at the young man closely then and recognised a family resemblance. “Oh, you are his SON? Oh, that… that’s all right then. I would be happy for you to work for us. But… what do we call you?”

“My name is also Caolin,” he answered. “I am the eldest son. I follow in my father’s footsteps.” He bowed to her again and she didn’t know want to say. She was still not quite used to being bowed to. But Kristoph knew what to do and he dismissed his new butler appropriately.

“Still, though,” Marion said when they were alone. “It’s all very well for us. You followed your father’s footsteps. Our son will, too, I suppose. Though I hope he does so into law or diplomacy, not as an assassin. But at least it will be to a place of honour and respect. But to follow his father’s footsteps into SERVITUDE. What kind of tradition is that?”

“An honourable one, too,” Kristoph assured her. “Service is a matter of pride as much as mastery. His father and his father before him were proud to serve my family in a position of trust. After all, Caolin has more of the house keys than I or my father do. He is entrusted with the codes to the family vault, and the burglar alarms, to the expensive sections of the wine cellar and much more. He is the most trusted member of the household and the respect is mutual. If I had been rude to Caolin as a child because he is merely a servant I would have been severely punished. And that is true of all the household.”

It still felt odd to Marion, but she sat with Kristoph as the three women and a man who would be their cooks were presented. And the gaggle of kitchen maids. So many people to prepare food just for the two of them? It seemed wrong until Kristoph reminded her that the kitchen staff also made meals for the staff, and that after all, there would be plenty of those luncheons to give, and guests for dinner at least once every week. Kristoph’s position as Magister meant that he would entertain frequently with his wife at his side.

There were gardeners and two chauffeurs, one for Kristoph, one for Marion, on those occasions when she would not be driving herself. There was a housekeeper and another collection of housemaids. The housekeeper was called Mistress Callitha and seemed very severe. Marion wondered if it would have been possible to persuade their own Mrs Flannery to move to Gallifrey, but Kristoph thought that she would not be happy with their lack of religion, to say nothing of the whole ‘other planet’ part of it.

Then there was a manservant, a tall, thin man called Lozen. He would be in charge of Kristoph needs. And Marion was introduced to the startling idea of having FOUR lady’s maids to attend upon her.

“Lily is quite willing to let you have the girl who has been attending to you at Maison D’Alba. A familiar face,” Kristoph explained. “But these three will also be on hand.”

“I don’t NEED FOUR personal maids,” she protested. “Kristoph, I know how to wash and dress and do my own hair.”

“Of course you do,” he assured her. “But you are my lady. And you don’t HAVE to.”

“Do any of them know anything about childcare? When we have a baby, they could at least be useful in that way.”

“When we have a baby, there will be nursemaids and nannies appointed,” Kristoph told her. “And later governesses and tutors.”

“I give up,” Marion said. “All right. If this is the way I am to live in future, after our Alliance, then before then at least I will live the way I choose. And since we ARE formally recognised as man and wife by the High Inquisitor, it is time you and I had some time together. I’m taking you to the Lodge.”

Kristoph smiled. Women’s Lib had reached Gallifrey. He persuaded her at least that she should stay and have tea with his mother first. After that he was perfectly willing to be taken away in her car.

She drove very well now, he noted, keeping a steady pace as they took in the views of rural Gallifrey. She took a meandering route, following the course of the bærrow upstream for much of the way. Passing the Dower house with its boathouse with a motor launch moored beside it.

It was the first time Marion had seen the house and she was reassured by its substantial size and its terraced water garden going down to the river. The boathouse itself was a fine building, partially built over a wide meander and it had an apartment upstairs that made Marion think of the time, not so long ago, when she had been a virtually homeless student. An apartment like that would have been a palace to her then.

“Remonte is going to live there,” Kristoph told her. “He and my father can play long games of multi-dimensional chess and he can see that mother really DOES retire, too, and doesn’t do too much, and he will be on hand if I need him about the estate,”

“And NOT on hand for Idell,” Marion suggested.

“Indeed,” Kristoph answered. “But let’s not speak of that miserable creature this fine day. Why don’t you tell me what you intend to do with me when we reach the Lodge?”

Marion blushed and laughed and drew his attention to the village to the right of them. The one where the school was that she would be teaching in next year, after their Alliance.

They stopped once on the journey to watch the glorious sunset as yellow-orange turned to deep burnt-orange and, as they drove on, to a deep velvety brown, dotted with stars. The moon was rising by the time they arrived at the Lodge. They watched it together for a few minutes before they went inside. Kristoph set out the supper they had brought with them in the dining room and they ate happily before going to bed, tired and content.

The next morning, Marion woke refreshed and content and stretched comfortably before rising from the bed ready to enjoy the Lodge’s amenities to the full. She put a silk gown over her nightdress and went through to the poolroom. The water was clear and clean and fragrant, and deliciously warm. Water heated by the natural thermal energy beneath the rocks was fed in at one end and trickled out at the other.

She pressed the button that opened the wide glass door that cut the pool in half and opened it up to the outside, then she threw off both gown and nightdress and dived in. She swam joyfully for a long time before she climbed out and headed for the steam room. She sat on the bench and let the steam sink into her pores before transferring to the sauna. She poured a ladleful of water, scented with pleasant smelling herbs that were almost certainly of Ainyetta’s choosing, onto the logs and laid herself down on a towel on the wooden palette bed.

She liked saunas. She used to go to the one at the leisure centre after swimming, but she never felt completely confident about wearing nothing but a towel like many of the other women did and she never managed to join in their conversations. Lying here in her own private sauna, she felt completely relaxed and the fact that she was naked only made her feel more comfortable and free of concerns.

She was so relaxed she hardly heard the door open, but when Kristoph sat beside her and began to gently massage her shoulders, his hands slick with some pleasant scented oil that, like the sauna essence, was also of his mother’s making, she gave a soft sigh of pleasure and let him carry on. She wondered where a man of his history learnt the art of massage, but she didn’t bother to ask. She just gave herself up to the sheer sensual bliss as he continued to rub her shoulders and neck and moved gradually down her back.

“That’s nice,” she said in a slow, lazy voice. “Good way to start the morning.”

“When you’re ready, breakfast is on the poolside table,” he told her. “And as it is a nice, bright day I thought we’d take a walk with a picnic lunch after.”

“Sounds good. But I’m NOT ready yet. Carry on what you're doing. It’s so…”

“You looked beautiful, swimming,” he told her as he did as she asked willingly.

“You didn’t see me swimming.”

“Yes, I did,” he answered. “You’re not the only one with a personal perception filter. I wanted to watch you without you feeling inhibited. You’re so lovely when you’re not embarrassed. You’re quite lovely when you ARE embarrassed, too. You were adorable when I first knew you and you blushed all the time. But I do like to see you relaxed and carefree.”

She turned her head and looked at the reflective surface of the smoked glass sauna door. If she really concentrated he was there in the reflection, but if she relaxed, as her head kept telling her to do, she couldn't see him,. He was still wearing the perception filter. She closed her eyes and turned over, reaching out to him. She could feel him. Her lips found his as they shared a long, lingering kiss. She felt the metal of the filter against her as he pressed close. She felt his sauna-warmed flesh, but she kept her eyes closed, because she didn’t want to kiss an invisible man. She knew he was naked, whether she could see him or not. And in a way, the fact that he was naked but she couldn’t see him was proper. Another thing that would wait till their wedding night. But with her eyes closed she could lie there in his arms, his body pressed over hers and enjoy that pressure of him upon her.

“I know one thing,” she whispered to him.

“What’s that?”

“I’m a VERY lucky woman.” And the blush that came to her cheeks told why she thought so.