Rika had never travelled by TARDIS before. Marion had almost forgotten how interesting it was. She had been using the portal regularly to visit Liverpool or to spend an afternoon with Hillary at her lighthouse retreat. But Kristoph decided they all needed a weekend offworld.

He didn’t say so, but Marion knew he was thinking the same as she was. Rika’s introduction into Gallifreyan society was only a partial success. There were a great many people who did not like the idea of a Caretaker marrying into an oldblood family. Many who had accepted Marion, assuming her to be of high birth on her own world, or at least pretending she was to save face, would not accept Rika. And Marion felt she could not accept invitations that did not include Rika. It made things difficult for them both.

What annoyed Marion was that she had already been through this whole ‘blood’ issue once already, and now it was all starting again.

Of course, it would have started even without Rika and Remonte’s engagement. Once the news of her pregnancy went around it was inevitable that the discussions would start up about whether an Oldblood House could have a halfblood heir, whether it would weaken the very fabric of Gallifreyan society, whether the Ancient Houses were all doomed to fall if such a thing should come to pass.

“They never expected me to get pregnant, did they?” Marion had said to Kristoph. “They thought I would be your plaything for a decade or two, and then you would get married to one of your own kind – a proper marriage - and have the heir you’re supposed to have.”

Kristoph had been honest with her.

“Yes, they did expect that. But now it is a reality. They are having their narrow views challenged. That’s no bad thing. We are so set in our ways, we Time Lords of Gallifrey. We need a seismic shock through our society now and again.”

But he knew it was a strain on Marion to stand against all that gossip and displeasure. And Rika, though she smiled brightly and shone like she had an inner radiance of her own whenever Remonte was with her, was weary of the snubs and slights upon her. He didn’t want either to be made unhappy. This weekend was a respite from all of that.

“What a beautiful planet,” Marion said as she viewed Ventura IV from space. “It reminds me of Earth. Blue and green with lots of oceans… Beautiful.”

“Blue skies,” Kristoph told her.

Rika wasn’t sure if she was ready for blue skies, but she was ready to be presented as Remonte’s fiancée when the TARDIS landed in the beautiful grounds of the Gallifreyan Ambassador’s Residence. Ventura was one of only a few places where Gallifrey maintained a permanent embassy. The lovely house where the Ambassador lived was in the leafy suburbs of the capital city, set back from the road behind gates with the arms of Gallifrey in wrought iron. The gardens were beautifully kept. Marion loved the place right away. There were rose beds everywhere she could see, all in full bloom on a bright, sunny, summer morning. When she learnt that they would have lunch with the Ambassador and his wife in the garden she couldn’t have been happier. She and Rika in sundresses and shawls and wide brimmed hats happily accompanied their men on such a pleasant social encounter.

The Ambassador was a man called Lord Stillhaeven, who reminded Marion of Kristoph’s father, the old Lord de Lœngbærrow. He had the same pleasant, welcoming manner to her and Rika and spoke warmly to Kristoph and Remonte as if they were old friends.

Lady Stillhaeven was a middle-aged woman who put Marion in mind of a younger version of Lily. Perhaps it was her love of roses and for taking tea outside in the garden, but the association made it easy to like her. She chatted to both of them about weddings and babies, the two subjects nearest to their hearts just now.

Marion wondered if she knew that one of them was a foreigner and the other a Caretaker, and between them they were the undoing of Gallifreyan society?

“It is the role of an Ambassador’s wife to know everything about everyone she meets,” Alanna Stillhaeven said to Marion with a warm smile and an apology for reading her thoughts. “It is also my role to entertain anyone, whether I like them or not. But when I meet people I DO like, it makes the job so much easier. I see that you like the rose garden, Marion?”

“I do, very much,” she said, glad to change the subject. “Roses… they are one of the things Earth and Gallifrey have in common. And Ventura, it seems.”

“They’re not indigenous. My predecessor, the late Lady Patrexean had them imported from Gallifrey. I never knew they grew on any other planet. Do you visit Earth often?”

“I do,” Marion said.

“Perhaps you could bring me some rose plants from there. I should love to plant them among our Gallifreyan strains.”

“I would be delighted,” Marion told her. “I think I should bring some to plant in our garden on Gallifrey, too. I don’t know why I never thought of it.”

At that, the conversation became much easier. After lunch, the three ladies sauntered in the garden, enjoying the roses and talking together. Rika didn’t know a lot about flowers of any kind, so she didn’t say much, but she WAS happy and relaxed and that was the object of the exercise. Marion was happy to find she had another ally among the ladies of Gallifrey and was delighted to think that she might visit here again. The men, of course, talked about Gallifreyan politics. Men always did, Lady Alanna remarked. It was best to leave them to it.

At teatime, the men had a different topic of conversation. They were all talking about horses and carriages. Rika was completely puzzled. She didn’t know what a horse was. Gallifrey didn’t have horses, or dogs, for reasons nobody really knew. Alanna and Marion between them explained about horses and their versatility for sports and entertainment as well as beasts of burden and an old fashioned means of transport. Lady Alanna explained that carriage horses were prized on Ventura and tonight was the night of the annual carriage and buggy racing festival. It began with a procession through the city centre in which everyone who owned any kind of carriage or cart, buggy or so much as a saddle would take part, and then the races would get underway after sunset on the floodlit track. After a discussion between the ladies of what to wear to such an event, Kristoph waded in and insisted that Marion and Rika both took naps before supper so that they would be fresh for it. Lady Alanna said she would do the same. Both the Gallifreyan ladies were probably only doing it so that she wouldn’t feel she was weaker than them, Marion thought. But she knew she would need a little rest if they were in for such an exciting night.

After supper, though, they all dressed up in gowns suitable for an outdoor event on a summer evening. Hats were essential. Every lady wore a fine hat to the races. Marion thought of Royal Ascot as she pinned on a wide brimmed cream coloured hat with ribbons that matched her gold and russet dress. She never imagined in her former life on Earth that she would be a woman whose hat would have to stand up to scrutiny by other women wearing equally nice hats.

Rika’s hat had blue silk ribbons. Lady Alanna’s had pale yellow with gold coloured silk roses on. Their men decided they were not going to say who looked the most elegant. Lady Alanna congratulated them on their diplomatic manners as she stepped out of the house on the arm of Ambassador Stillhaeven. Her guests followed. Rika gasped with delight as she saw a horse for the first time. Four of them, in fact, in matched pairs, ready to pull the sort of open carriage that Marion would call a landau, the sort she remembered on the promenade at Blackpool, but never looking as beautifully polished and prepared and not with such fine horses.

The landau was perfectly big enough for six to sit comfortably. Lord Stillhaeven helped his wife into the carriage, and Kristoph carefully lifted Marion. Remonte joyfully held Rika’s hand as she stepped up between the wheels and then the men sat opposite them. The driver in smart livery set the horses off out through the gates of the embassy and along the well lit suburban streets. They were accompanied by several other very fine carriages as they reached the centre of the town and joined the procession. There were crowds lining the official procession streets, thowing real and paper flower petals as they passed. It was delightfully colourful and exciting. Ambassador Stillhaeven managed to make Rika laugh by suggesting that a procession like this ought to be introduced on Gallifrey, and since they had no horses, the High Council should pull the carriages.

The procession took an hour to reach the race ground, a place that Marion, who had lived most of her life not far from one of Earth’s most famous racetracks, Aintree, thoroughly approved of. It had a beautiful grandstand with boxes for the well to do. They, of course, were conducted to one of them and had a wonderful view of the racetrack, right by the start and finish line of the races. As well as plush, luxurious seats, the Ambassador and his guests were brought food and drinks by a liveried steward, and for those parts of the race that were too far away on the other side, they could watch the action on a huge viewscreen. Marion settled in a seat by the edge of the box, with a long cool drink and a supply of little savoury bites that tempted her palette. Rika, prompted by Lady Alanna, plucked up the courage to ask the steward for an iced tea and some mint cream sweets that she liked. Ordering things for herself from staff was something she was still not used to. Marion wondered how she ever got to take such things for granted herself.

The races got underway. The first was a fast, exciting race between very light two wheeled buggies that seemed to have been stripped bare of every unnecessary weight, and ridden by drivers who were small, slender men and women who had not an extra ounce on themselves. The horses were swift ones and the race, two circuits of the track, was as exciting as anything Marion could remember seeing. There were bets placed about who would win, and she was surprised that Kristoph and Remonte and Ambassador Stillhaeven indulged in that. But they explained that it was a part of the tradition, and that any money they won would be given to a charity that cared for retired race horses. Marion approved of that and asked if she might place a small bet on the next race. She looked at a short video of the paired horses pulling slightly bigger buggies, again designed for speed, but slightly more substantial looking. She chose a pair of chestnut brown horses purely because they looked so beautiful. When she was told they were a long shot, she insisted. And when the beautiful long shot came second and she won ten times her money in the each way bet, she was vindicated.

Rika was fascinated by it all. She had never even seen a horse until a few hours ago, but she was entranced by them now, whether walking or standing still, or running in the races. She sat forward in her seat, watching each race avidly. Remonte, beside her, was delighted that she was having a good time. All he wanted was to see her happy, and tonight she was.

There was a break in the races and they left the box and went down to the paddock where much mingling and admiring of hats went on, and where Rika got to see some of the horses close up. She found out something interesting and came to Remonte with her eyes shining.

“There is an amateur race next. Anyone can enter. It is for pairs of horses pulling a caleche with two people in them, a driver and passenger…”

“The passengers are usually ladies in well tied down hats,” Lady Alanna confirmed. “Do you fancy the idea, my dear?”

Rika clearly did, but Remonte shook his head.

“I am sorry, macishlughm,” he said, using a low Gallifreyan term of endearment that made her smile and blush. “I have never driven a horse in my life, and it is a sport that would be dangerous without some level of competence.”

“I have driven horses,” Kristoph said. “I could not possibly race with Marion. The possibility of an accident… But if you will trust me with your fiancée, brother, I shall enter.”

Marion would have loved to have raced beside Kristoph, but of course it was unthinkable. They had seen a good many spills in the course of the evening. She was happy to let Rika take her place on this occasion. She helped her fasten down her hat with more pins and a ribbon tied firmly under her chin as Kristoph went to register their entry in the race. When it was time to return to the box Remonte took her arm gallantly while Kristoph escorted Rika to the starting line.

They settled down to watch the amateur challenge. No drinks or savouries or sweets were wanted now. They were all too excited by the thought that one of their own was competing.

“Do you think Kristoph has a chance?” Marion asked the Ambassador, who seemed to know a great deal about these races.

“It’s an open competition,” he said. “There are prizes for finishing, as well as for the three placed leaders. I’ve put a wager on him being placed. But he will certainly finish. He’s a Lœngbærrow, after all. They always finish what they start.”

Marion thought about that. It seemed true of Kristoph. The only thing he never finished was his mission to kill a certain renegade. But then there had been a very different ending and a beginning of a deep and wonderful friendship.

The contestants lined up. Ten two wheeled caleches in all, with the ladies in fine dresses and hats tied down, sitting next to their men. Marion was delighted to see that the two chestnut horses she had chosen were hitched to the buggy Kristoph and Rika were in.

“Did you put a lot of money on them?” she asked the Ambassador. “Because I think they have a good chance of winning. And the retired horses will do well from you.”

“It is vulgar to discuss money in front of a lady,” he replied. “But I am confident we shall do well for that worthy charity, and for the honour of Oldbloods.”

They all held their breath as the starting gun sounded and the horses raced away, pulling their burdens behind them. Kristoph and Rika started well in the first four and were in third place as they rounded the first corner and were lost to immediate view. Everyone in the box turned to look at the viewscreen.

“Rika looks really happy,” Lady Alanna said. “She’s laughing. I’m not sure her hat will come out of this unscathed, though.”

“I’ll buy her another hat,” Remonte promised. He smiled proudly. Marion and Lady Alanna both saw in his eyes just how very much he loved Rika. He cared not where she came from. He simply loved her. He watched the screen intently, reaching out and finding Marion’s hand. He squeezed tight as the horses and caleches came around to the front of the grandstand on their second lap of the course. Kristoph and Rika were still in third place but gaining fast when the second placed caleche tipped over in the turn. Kristoph steered his team away from the danger as the driver and passenger picked themselves up from the ground, apparently not seriously hurt and race stewards ran out to halt the horses as they dragged the broken caleche along.

“They might win, now!” Marion exclaimed. “Oh, Ambassador, you’ll make plenty of money on your bet, now.”

“I think I very well might,” he replied. “I knew my faith wasn’t misplaced. The Lœngbærrow line never do anything by halves. And there’s a lot of his great grandfather in Chrístõ Mian, I think.”

Marion kept her eyes fixed on the race, but she mentally worked out that Kristoph’s great grandfather was the one with the peculiar suffix, Mal Loup, which in French meant something like bad wolf.

“In Gallifreyan, it means tenacious wolf,” Lady Alanna explained.

“The legend about our ancestor is rather colourful,” Remonte added. “He was a general in our army, when Gallifrey had a sizeable military force. He was sent with a small troop of men to put down an uprising on one of our dominion planets, and instead told the High Council that they had a just cause and demanded liberation for the planet. His speech to the High Council, putting the case, is kept in the Panopticon archives. They don’t tend to let anyone see it, though. Not without a special pass. I think they’re nervous about anyone being inspired to rebellious ideas. I shudder to think what would happen if anyone tried to emulate him these days.”

“The High Council would expire from shock if anyone so much as read a speech like that, now,” Ambassador Stillhaeven joked. “The very idea that the perfect society of Gallifrey should be challenged!”

“If anyone is going to, it’ll be a Lœngbærrow,” Remonte said with a hint of pride in his voice. “Our ancestors would be disappointed if it was not.”

They all laughed at the idea before turning their attention to the closing moments of the race.

“They’re in the lead!” Marion cried out as they turned from the viewscreen to watch the race track again. With only a furlong to go Kristoph had urged on the two beautiful chestnut horses and they took the lead. They crossed the finish line clearly ahead.

But the jubilation turned to heart-stopping concern as they saw the left wheel of the caleche buckle. Kristoph was slowing them anyway, but they were still moving fast enough for it to be dangerous.

Then in an eyeblink Rika was standing safely by the side of the track, pulling at the ribbons on her hat. Kristoph, meanwhile, was standing up on the caleche, like a Roman charioteer and balancing it towards the good wheel as he carefully brought the horses to a stop.

“What did he do?”

“He slowed time,” Remonte said. “Just around him and the caleche. He lifted Rika down and bought himself a chance to slow the horses safely.”

“He definitely has the blood of his ancestors,” Ambassador Stillhaeven said as they watched him jump down from the broken caleche and run back to Rika. She was obviously shaken, but unharmed. Remonte and Marion were both anxious to be with them, though, and they made their way quickly down to where they accepted the golden trophy that was their official prize and the kisses of their loved ones that were the unofficial reward.

“It was nobody’s fault,” Kristoph confirmed later as they returned to the box for the final races of the night and a firework display with silent fireworks that would not disturb the horses. “The wheel just buckled. It happens. I just hope it hasn’t put Rika off horses?”

It hadn’t. She sat close to Remonte, her rather worse for wear hat on her knee, and smiled joyfully. Marion held Kristoph’s hand. Ambassador Stillhaeven still wouldn’t tell how much money he had put on the race, but he assured her that the retired horses would do very well from it.