Time Lords don’t celebrate birthdays in the same way as Humans. Marion knew that. Their very young, of course, had birthdays yearly up to the age of ten. After that, it was really only every half decade that they celebrated. Later, by the time they were fifty or so, it would be only the decade. And the older ones only really marked the centuries.

So she didn’t really expect anyone to pay much attention to her twenty-third birthday.

Kristoph had noted it, of course. At breakfast she found a huge bunch of roses by her place at the table, and a small, beautifully wrapped box that turned out to be a very lovely pair of teardrop diamond earrings. As she admired the sparkle of the stones Kristoph put another, larger box in front of her. That proved to contain a matching necklace, bracelet and a comb for her hair that completed the set of jewellery. She smiled at his generosity and thoughtfulness and reminded him that she still didn’t know what to do with the diamonds on her wedding gown. How many more did he plan to give her?

“An entire mine,” he answered. “A dozen at a time, for the rest of your life.” And how could any woman complain about that? She didn’t. She ate her breakfast happily then let him kiss her and wish her a happy birthday before he went to his day’s work dispensing Gallifreyan justice. She wore the earrings but left the rest of the new jewels on her dressing table as she got ready to go to her own work. She brought the roses with her to put in a vase on her desk at the estate school.

She was rather surprised to find that the children knew about the day. They all greeted her with ‘Happy Birthday’ when she entered the classroom, and she was presented with another bunch of flowers. She put them with the roses in vases around the room before settling down to a blissful morning teaching her young students.

And then, when she came out of school at midday, she found that Kristoph had something much more than a pair of diamond earrings to surprise her with. He was waiting with the chauffeured car, while Gallis Limmon, her patient bodyguard and personal chauffeur, was told he might drive her car back to Mount Lœng House and then consider himself off duty for the afternoon.

“Why aren’t you working?” Marion asked as she settled down in the back of the limousine.

“It’s your birthday,” he responded. “And I am taking you for a special afternoon. It’s a surprise. I hoped you’d be pleased.”

“I AM pleased,” she answered. He smiled and offered her a glass of champagne. “I haven’t had lunch yet,” she protested. “I can’t drink that on an empty stomach.” But then he opened a picnic basket and produced smoked salmon and crisp salad with a cool peach flavoured compote for desert.

“I give up,” she said. “I am all yours for the day. Where are we going?”

They were going to Athenica, the white city on the edge of the southern continent that she had visited before, but only to attend the law court. This time they went to see one of the art galleries, a bright, airy building with daylight coming in through a light well in the centre of the central arena. Here, works of art by the most famed painters and sculptors of Gallifrey’s proud history were displayed. Marion was particularly fond of a collection of paintings of Gallifreyan wildlife. It including a portrait in oils of a leonate that reminded her of Hecate, the tame lion owned by Silis Bonnoenfant and one of a proud Pazithi wolf, its head raised to howl at the full moon.

But the most impressive painting of them all, the one the gallery kept in pride of place, was not of animals. It was a huge canvas – a good twenty-five feet long and nearly as high. It was called “The Twelve Houses”, but it was not a picture of houses, of course. It depicted twelve men – proud, tall men, in fantastically elaborate Gallifreyan costumes, standing shoulder to shoulder with each other before a golden representation of the Seal of Rassilon, and an orange-black Gallifreyan night sky.

“The Twelve Sons of Rassilon,” Marion said and recited the names of the Twelve Houses sired by the Creator of the Time Lords. She looked at them closely and recognised from the symbols they held in their hands, which was which. She looked particularly, of course, at the man who represented the House of Lœngbærrow. He looked especially proud and erect as he held on the palm of his hand a miniature silvertree.

“He has YOUR eyes,” she told Kristoph.

“He is the first Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow,” Kristoph answered her. “He sat for the artist along with the heirs of each of the Twelve. That was twenty thousand years ago, seven generations, but even then Rassilon was a legend and the first Lœngbærrow a distant ancestor. This painting is famous, though. It is one of our national treasures, protected from aging by a null time field behind the glass.”

“But he DOES have your eyes,” Marion insisted.

“Brown eyes are a family trait. I don’t think there has been a son born to our House with any other colour. I am notable for the fact that I have had brown eyes in each of my regenerations. My father and grandfather, and even Remonte, have changed their eye colour when they regenerated.”

“Oh dear,” Marion sighed. “Now, not only do I have to give you a healthy heir, but he has to have the right eye colour.”

“If our son had your soft grey eyes, I would be happy to break with tradition,” Kristoph assured her. “But come, now. There is another part to your birthday afternoon.”

She tore herself away from the fascinating painting as Kristoph led her up a wide stairway to the upper gallery. There, a pair of doors between Doric pillars were opened by men in smart livery. She stepped through into a large, airy room with diffused light coming through the opaque glass ceiling. As they entered, a small string orchestra played “Across the Universe” and Marion smiled with delight as she saw all her closest Gallifreyan friends in the crowd that waited to greet her. Lily and Aineytta hugged and kissed her and wished her happy birthday first, then Hesthor and Bolar Lundar, Isolatta Braxiatel and her husband, the Castellan, and Calliope Patriclian, with her escort for the afternoon, the handsome young heir to the House of Hadandrox. Others, too, wished her well before they all took their seats for the musical recital. Some more of her popular music favourites opened the concert before the Gallifreyan musicians played Vaughn Williams’ Lark Ascending.

Marion sat back in the comfortable seat, her hand enclosed in her husband’s hand and remembered that this had been the first piece of music she had listened to in his presence. Then she had wondered if it could be possible that the Professor had any romantic interest in her. It seemed so long ago now. And at the same time, almost as if it was yesterday.

Mousy Marion who was so afraid of doing the wrong thing that day was now Lady de Lœngbærrow, surrounded by friends and wellwishers and her husband by her side.

And she was happy.

After the main part of the recital, the orchestra took a short break and then continued to play quietly while the guests enjoyed a buffet tea with champagne and tempting food. Marion, an accomplished society lady now, mingled with her friends, talking happily.

“It WAS your idea, wasn’t it!” she said to Lily.

“It was Kristoph’s idea,” she answered. “But he left it to Aineytta and myself to arrange it all. Your dear friend, Hillary, sent her apologies. She is engaged in an important political conference. But she hopes you will visit her soon.” She looked around to ensure nobody was listening in and added a second greeting from an absent friend. “Li sends his best wishes and his love.”

“You’ve been talking to him?”

“Quite often,” she answered. “We… seem to have a lot to say to each other.”

“I am glad of that,” Marion told her. “But do you think…”

“We both made our choices,” Lily assured her. “I belong here on Gallifrey. I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I will die here and be buried beside my Jules, the man who loved me most fully and completely. Li… can never return here. And even if he did… I don’t think he would be happy. What can Gallifreyan society offer him? He would be a short term source of amusement for those who love to gossip. That is all. His own dignity is worth more than that.”

“Perhaps we could visit again?” Marion told her. “I shall want to go to Earth before summer begins in earnest. Come with us and spend some time with him.”

“That would be a delightful idea,” Lily told her. “But let us not speak of it further in company. Li is our sweet secret. Yours and mine.”

“Come to lunch with me tomorrow, then,” Marion said. “And we shall be quite private. I will tell you all about Li’s adventures as a Chinese mandarin and lover of princesses, and you can tell me all about when he and Kristoph were young. We shall talk all we want of Li and how much we both love him dearly.”

“I shall look forward to it, my dear,” Lily assured her. “But… now… I believe your husband would like to dance with you. The orchestra is readying itself with another of your favourite tunes.”

The music room had only a small floor for dancing upon, but it was big enough for their needs. Even when other couples joined them, Marion and Kristoph danced alone, the music playing just for them.

Kristoph smiled and winked and she gasped as time slowed around them. Their friends were dancing, still, but they seemed to be moving as if through treacle, and the music itself was slowed right down. But within the time fold that Kristoph had conjured up around them, a few seconds were spun out into several delightful, private minutes.

“Remember when I did this on our honeymoon?” he said and raised a smile and a flush in her cheeks as she DID remember. It wasn’t a dance he had extended then, but the very climax of their love-making until her body felt like one single charged atom of pleasure. “We’ll try that again later,” he added before he let the time fold collapse and the music and dancing and chatter resumed. “Happy birthday, Lady Marion.”

Going home in the car, afterwards, they kissed and fondled lovingly, a pre-taste of that promise of ‘later’, and when they reached the house Kristoph told her to go on up to their bedroom suite.”

“Go and start a fragrant soak in the Jacuzzi,” he said. “I’ll order a light supper to be brought to the bedroom and then join you.”

Marion smiled joyfully and went upstairs. Kristoph turned and went to the drawing room, where he had been signalled by Caolin. He gave the butler the instruction for the light supper in the bedroom and turned to Gallis Limmon who solemnly informed him that Lady Marion’s car had been struck by a sonic crossbow bolt as he drove it home from the school. He showed his employer the bolt and described the damage to the front windscreen and the backrest of the passenger seat.

“You were not hurt?” Kristoph asked, concerned first for the life of his employee and then for the car. Limmon assured him he was not injured, only a little shocked by the suddenness of the attack and the thought that Lady Marion so often sat in the passenger seat on the way home from school when she was tired from her morning’s work.

Somebody knew THAT much about their daily movements, but not that today’s plans had been changed.

“Lady Marion will be having a long lie in tomorrow morning,” Kristoph said. “And then she has Lady Lily visiting for lunch. She will not notice if you take the car to have the upholstery repaired and security glass fitted.”

“I should be honoured to do that service for you and for Lady Marion,” Gallis Limmon said. “And you may rest assured she will not hear of this from me.”

“Thank you, for your loyalty to me and your consideration for my wife,” Kristoph answered. He nodded to the young man, who bowed loyally in return. Then he turned and went upstairs. A Jacuzzi bath, light supper, and interesting ways to use a time fold that weren’t taught at the Prydonian Academy. That was how he planned to end his wife’s birthday and nothing else would concern him for now.