Marion had an appointment at the Fashion House. She was ordering gowns for the autumn season that would take into account her as yet unannounced pregnancy. Her usual couturière was thrilled to know the reason for the special order. She was even more pleased when Marion introduced a new customer, Rika, with her own dressmaking needs.

“Madam Rika will be needing a full autumn wardrobe,” Marion said. “In particular, a dress for a formal reception when her engagement to the Honourable Remonte de Lœngbærrow will be officially announced.”

Rika stepped forward shyly. She was wearing a gown that Marion had bought but never worn. It had been adjusted for her petite figure, but it must have been obvious to the couturière’s practiced eye that it was not originally made for her. This was a matter that was to be rectified today.

“I think blue is madam’s colour,” the couturière said after a moment’s appraisal. “Deep midnight blue for a cloak and pale blue for day gowns. Azure for the special gown for the reception…”

Rika nodded vaguely and smiled. She didn’t know if blue was her colour or not. Marion didn’t know, either. She had accepted that her autumn colour was gold with russet brown. But she helped Rika to examine the fabrics brought for her choosing and enjoyed knowing that her own maternity gowns were going to be the most luxurious she could imagine.

When the session was over she brought Rika to the Conservatory, her favourite restaurant in the Capitol. They sat at her usual table and drank latte coffee while they waited for their luncheon guests. Rika sat far back by the window, hoping nobody would notice her. Marion knew that feeling well enough. It was only a little over a year since she arrived on Gallifrey, uncertain of herself, guided by Lily along with Aineytta and Thedera.

She remembered what Aineytta had told her long ago. She had been Thedera’s maid when they were both much younger. Then Chrístõ De Lún fell in love with her and made her his fiancée She came to the Fashion House as a customer and to the Conservatory as an equal, not as a servant accompanying her mistress.

Now history repeated itself. Rika was the young woman who had been raised from the ranks by Remonte’s love. She wasn’t yet announced as his fiancée. The period of official mourning for Idell was only just over, and it was going to cause some gossip no matter what happened. But Rika was living in Mount Lœng House as a guest now. Remonte had officially returned to living in the apartment over the boat house at the Riverside Mansion, though he stayed overnight often enough, and Rika shared his bed when he did so. Neither Marion nor Kristoph raised any objection. They did not blame Remonte for not wishing to be constrained by the traditional values of their society, and Rika just wanted to be with her ‘Lord’ as she insisted on calling him now.

Their three luncheon companions arrived at once. They turned heads as they swept through the Conservatory together. All of them mature women even by Gallifreyan standards, but elegant and self-assured. Aineytta and Thedera, friends for centuries now; Lily, who might have been wife to Aineytta’s first born son if things had happened differently. They came to the table smiling joyfully and refused to let Rika sit quietly. They drew her into the conversation, asking her about the fabrics she had chosen.

“But I think Marion’s gowns are going to be much better than mine,” Rika said. “Maternity. I am so glad for her.”

“We all are,” Thedera agreed. “And Marion, you look so healthy. That is good to know.”

“I feel healthy,” she answered with a smile. “It feels so right. I can’t wait to announce that I am expecting. I have known since she was conceived and I just want to share the joy with everyone.”

“She?” Aineytta repeated joyfully. “A little girl? I am so pleased. Of course, my son will want an heir, but if he is like his father, he must be overjoyed by the thought of a daughter. De Lún was. He said nothing would make him happier than a girl child with my eyes.”

“Does Oriana have your eyes?” Marion asked. “I’ve never really looked.

“She has her father’s eyes,” Thedera answered. “Though not his nature. Nor Aineytta’s, either. She was a delightful child. But as an adult, a disappointment.”

“I love all my children,” Aineytta insisted. “And so will Marion love hers.”

“Yes, I will,” she said.

Lily looked at her and wished she didn’t know what Li had told her. She wanted Marion to give birth to this girl child successfully. She wanted her two friends to know the joy of parenthood. But she knew that tragedy lay ahead.

She gently changed the subject to the reception that was to come.

“Please don’t make it too big,” Rika begged. “I don’t think I could bear it. Being paraded in front of all the snobs who will hate me for being of the Caretaker Class.”

“It will be smaller than Marion’s reception. We have nothing to prove, only that Remonte loves you dearly. There will be only friends invited.”

“I don’t yet have any society friends,” Rika added.

“Yes, you have,” Marion assured her. “You have me, and Lily, Aineytta and Thedera. And Madam Braxiatel. She is delighted that Remonte is going to formally present you. Lady Patriclian, too, and Madam Lundar, Lady Dúccesci and Lady Arpexia – and her daughter, Madam Arpexia, too.”

“They’re your friends, Marion,” Rika reminded her.

“Which is why they will accept you. I am a foreigner, after all. You are Gallifreyan. Even some of the snobs will accept you rather than me. Though not, I suppose, the ladies Oakdaene and Ravenswode.”

“Or Oriana?” Rika added.

“The ladies Oakdaene and Ravenswode won’t be invited,” Lily assured her. “Oriana will have to be there. It is a family occasion. But she will behave.”

“Indeed, she will,” Thedera said. “I have spoken to my brother about her. If she slights Rika in any way, Moony will cut her off financially. And she can’t afford that.”

Rika laughed nervously and thought of her future father in law, Lord de Lœngbærrow, senior. He was a strong, great man, who seemed at odds with the affectionate nickname ‘Moony’ from his sister.

“You’ve all been kind to me,” Rika said. “Thank you.”

“Not kindness,” Aineytta told her gently. “But if you will allow us… love.”


The First of Septima, was the official first day of autumn on Gallifrey, when the High Council gathered after the summer recess the Academies welcomed back their students, and the high born Ladies wore their new autumn colours for the first time. And for the select of those Ladies the place to wear their colours was the Reception at the House of Lœngbærrow.

Rika’s colours were azure and midnight blue, as the couturière suggested. And she looked beautiful in her first formal gown. It was not a traditional Gallifreyan gown, it had to be said. Rika chose what on Earth was called a Cheongsam dress – at least in that part of Earth Li Tuo treasured. It was high necked with short sleeves that accentuated her slender arms and was long and tightly fitted with a slit in the skirt to allow her to walk. The azure satin twinkled here and there with diamonds that Marion had given her from the hundreds that had adorned her wedding gown. At her throat was a simple teardrop pendant on a silver rope chain that Remonte had presented to her as a symbol of his devotion. The sheer tulle shawl in midnight blue that finished it, also shone with diamonds. The Lœngbærrow House made its fortune with diamonds. Rika was sharing that fortune even if she was only the favourite of the youngest son of the House.

Marion’s outfit also drew inspiration from Earth culture, this time from the Indian subcontinent, where the style was called salwar kameez. The words literally meant pants and shirt. A pair of loose fitting pants in soft silk and a loose shirt that was long enough to be a calf length dress, also in silk. The pants were red and the dress gold, with rare red diamonds sewn into it. It was an outfit that she felt both glamorous and comfortable in.

She didn’t really look pregnant yet. It was only just three months since the child was conceived in that sweet night of love. But when she looked at herself in the mirror she felt it. She turned sideways and tried to imagine the same outfit when the pleated trousers with flexible waist was filled out and the loose shirt hid a swelled stomach. She smiled happily in anticipation of that time before she and Rika got ready to be presented at the Reception.

Kristoph and Remonte waited at the bottom of the grand stairs. In black with hints of the red and gold of the Prydonian chapter and the silver of Lœngbærrow, they both looked handsome. The two women descended the stairs hand in hand, smiling proudly, and took the arms of their men.

“Are you ready, my dear?” Remonte whispered to Rika.

“As ready as I shall ever be,” she answered. Remonte kissed her cheek and then the four of them made their way out of the house and through the formal garden to where the great marquee was set up. There was music and the buzz of conversation from the invited guests, but both stopped as they entered and walked to the low stage where the string quartet was playing. Kristoph waited for a few moments to be sure he had everyone’s attention before he spoke.

“My friends,” he said. “Thank you for joining us on this fine first day of autumn. It is a day which has two causes of celebration. First, I wish to announce to you all that my wife, Lady Marion, is bearing the fruit of our union. We are both proud to announce this to you, and I know you all, my friends, will wish her well.”

There were delighted murmurings all around the marquee and warm applause. Marion smiled proudly as Kristoph took her hand in his and kissed it. Then she stepped back as he continued with his other news.

“But of course, the real reason for this reception is to announce something even more important. My brother, Remonte de Lœngbærrow, is from this day formally betrothed to Rika Desau. Few of you yet know Rika as well as my Lady and I know her. I hope you will come to do so in the weeks before the Alliance. She has made my brother the happiest… no, if he will forgive me, the second happiest man on Gallifrey.”

“I forgive you that, my brother,” Remonte answered as he stepped forward with Rika’s hand held in his. He kissed her hand before the crowd, and then drew her into his arms and kissed her on the lips. The applause was as warm for their announcement as it was for the first announcement, and as they looked around at their friends the smiles seemed genuine. Even Marion felt Rika’s relief as they found the first hurdle so easily crossed.

There was dancing after the formal announcements. The guests stood and watched as the two sons of the House of Lœngbærrow danced with their Ladies. It was a slow waltz and Marion had no trouble with it. But she was glad when it was over and she could sit down. Remonte and Rika kept on dancing. Kristoph sat out the next dance, but at Marion’s insistence, he left her and took the dowager Lady Dvoratre, the great aunt of Marion’s friend, Hesthor Lundar, onto the dance floor. Marion sat quietly, drinking a long, cool fruit drink, watching all the gaiety and accepting the individual congratulations of her friends on her news.

“How are you feeling, my dear?” Aineytta asked her as she decided she had danced enough for a woman of her years and came to join her.

“I feel fine,” she said. “Except from time to time I’m a little out of breath. I think my dancing days are over for a while. Kristoph will have to take the Dow Dvoratre to the President’s Ball next week.”

“I am sure she would be delighted,” Aineytta answered her with a smile. “But I think he would sooner sit out each dance with you. The shortness of breath is normal, even from so early on in the pregnancy. Your Gallifreyan baby is drawing a great deal of oxygen from your bloodstream. Take care not to exert yourself, and to regulate your breathing when these spells come upon you. I understand you are still teaching?”

“That is no trouble. Kristoph has insisted that I am chauffeured to the school. Gallis Limmon is such a sweet man. He treats me like a precious piece of china in the car. And the children don’t tax me at all. Teaching is easier than being Lady of the House with all these social engagements to consider. I will have to give it up eventually. But not for many more months. There are thirteen of them before the baby is born and I cannot imagine being totally idle all that time.”

“I shall prescribe a daily tonic for you,” Aineytta promised. “The ingredients are all in the kitchen garden here. Kristoph has skill enough to make them up. I taught him some of the art of herbalism many years ago. That is if he has not forgotten in the years that he was a warrior instead of a healer.”

“I have not forgotten anything you taught me, mama,” Kristoph said as he came to them. He bent and kissed his mother then sat by his wife. “I should be glad to make any effort for Marion and for the health of our child.”

“Good,” Aineytta said. “For there is another thing you can do. I looked for it in an old manuscript from the days when men of Gallifrey took foreign wives more often than they do now.”

“There were such times?” Marion asked in surprise.

“There were,” Aineytta said. “In the far past. And when their wives were with child, the Time Lords gave a precious gift to them, daily. Their blood.”

“Blood?” Kristoph looked surprised.

“A half measure of your blood, taken fresh from your veins and injected into Marion’s, each day,” Aineytta said. “It will give her and the child strength. I shall oversee you later. To make sure you understand how to do it properly. Then I shall trust you to do your duty after that.”

“Mama,” Kristoph laughed. “When have I ever failed in my duty. I would give Marion my last drop of blood if it were necessary.”

“It is not. Only a small amount each day, which you can replenish easily.”

And that settled the matter, it seemed. Kristoph took his mother onto the dance floor for a set of slow, traditional Gallifreyan dances. Marion watched the dancers for a while, especially Remonte and Rika, then turned her attention to the ladies who had come to sit with her. Lady Arpexia and her daughter, Madam Arpexia, lived on the estate next to Lily’s Maison D’Alba. Lord Arpexia was an important man in the government, and somewhat unapproachable, but she had warmed to the mother and daughter.

“We are glad to hear your good news,” Lady Arpexia said. “Lord de Lœngbærrow told us that it is a girl child. But plenty of time to produce an heir, all the same.”

“We are happy to have a girl,” Marion said.

“Of course you are,” Lady Arpexia added. Marion thought that both women seemed a little stilted in their conversation with her. As an uneasy silence settled, with glances from one to the other, she wondered what it is about.

“Mother.” Madam Arpexia said, finally. “We must speak the truth. Marion, my dear, I am sorry. This is difficult for you to hear. But Remonte’s decision to marry this girl is not going to be accepted by all.”

“We knew that,” Marion answered her. “But he loves her. And she is a charming young woman. I am sure you would like her.”

“I have spoken to her,” Madam Arpexia said. “I thoroughly agree. She is charming. And between you and me, an improvement on Idell Malthis – a sour woman at the best of times. But she is a Caretaker.”

“I’m a foreigner,” Marion reminded them. “Most people have accepted me.”

“Yes, they have. But a Caretaker… one who was born to serve… I know Lady Aineytta was of the same class. And she is a good woman, honoured by all who know her. But she is the rare exception. I'm not sure another such exception will be made.”

“Some are saying that the House of Lœngbærrow is destroying the Oldblood traditions,” Lady Arpexia added. “Aineytta… then you… and now this Caretaker girl.”

“Some?” Madam Arpexia sighed. “We agreed on the truth. Marion, my father, Lord Arpexia, is one of them. He refused to attend this Reception, though he did not forbid us to come. He says… that neither Rika nor you… the foreigner… are welcome at our House from hereon. He thinks that you encouraged alien manners and low morals, and that is why Remonte strayed from what is right.”

“I see,” Marion said slowly. “Well… thank you for your honesty, and be assured that you will be perfectly welcome in OUR home. And I hope this will not affect our friendship. But do you think other doors will be closed to us?”

“Yes, I do,” Madam Arpexia told her. “I am sorry. I truly am. I shall try to prevail with the women at least. But a lot of the men are going to be adamant.”

It did make for difficult hearing. It was not entirely unexpected, but to have it said so baldly was hard. Marion felt sad about it. She adored Rika. She felt like a sister to her. She had never had a sister. Even in foster homes with other children she had never felt any bond with anyone. But she had been looking forward to having Rika as a sister in law, to having her by her side at the luncheons and soirees and tea parties that were a part of her daily life. And the thought of having to fight for acceptance all over again was disheartening.

But she looked at Remonte dancing with his fiancée, the azure gown dazzling under the lantern light, and she smiled for their personal happiness. Whatever problems may arise, they would face them together – as sisters. And that thought at least made her smile.