Caolin showed the two guests into Marion’s drawing room. Marion wasn’t, in fact, there. She was spending the day with Lady Lily. Rika sat nervously on the clean white sofa. She looked even more nervous when the butler called her madam and announced her parents.

“Mamu, Paru,” she said, in the local dialect she spoke when with her own family. “I am so glad to see you. I wish you could have come here sooner.”

“We could not have come before,” her father answered. “I was unable to get leave from work for this many days. And it takes two weeks for the shuttle to travel from Polarfrey.”

“You should have said. Kristoph… I mean… Lord de Lœngbærrow… would have made arrangements gladly. There are much faster ways to travel than the service shuttle.”

“For Oldbloods, yes,” her father insisted. “For us, the shuttle is within our means. We do not wish to be beholden to Lord de Lœngbærrow. And I am astounded to hear you refer to an Oldblood so familiarly.”

“I am betrothed to his brother,” Rika reminded them. “We are to be married in a few weeks. How else should I refer to him?”

Her father sighed. Her mother looked at her with sad eyes.

“Rika, my dear,” her mother said. “This is why we are here. To stop you ruining yourself as this man’s ‘yeigliss’.”

“Mamu!” Rika was shocked. “I am not… he isn’t… We love each other.”

“He spoke of love? An Oldblood?” Her father shook his head. “Rika, my child, Oldbloods do not marry for love. They marry for political gain.”

“What possible political gain would he have from me?” Rika asked.

“Precisely. He wants you as his bedroom pleasure, and that is all.”

“No, Paru!” Rika protested. “It is not true. Remonte loves me. I love him. What we have been through to be accepted… his friends speaking against us. I thought you would be pleased, my parents. I am marrying a good man who loves me dearly. And we are going to be happy. I am not his ‘yeigliss.’ I would not give myself to a man who would use me that way. Remonte is a good man and he… Mamu, when you meet him, you will see. He is a good man. He would never use me that way.”

Rika’s mother looked at her for a moment, then put her hand on her daughter’s forehead. Rika felt her touch inside her mind. Caretakers, of course, were not trained in telepathic arts beyond being able to take instructions from their employers. But her mother had always been naturally adept. Rika blushed as she felt the memories her mother was touching.

“He has used you already that way,” her mother said in a voice that trembled with anger and betrayal. “Rika… you let him… You shamed yourself with this man.”

“With the man I love, who has formally announced our betrothal. We are going to be married.”

“No, you are not,” her father insisted. “You will not throw your whole life away on this ‘sudifan’.”

“Paru!” The heartbreak was evident in Rika’s voice. “No, it is not like that. You don’t know. He was so gentle with me. So kind. I have never known a moment of unhappiness with him. He didn’t force me into anything. I gave myself willingly to my lover. The man I knew I would never stop loving, the man who would risk all to love me.”

“This is worse than I thought,” her father said. “Rika, look at you, in borrowed clothes, in a borrowed house, pretending to be a Lady. Your mother and I came to the kitchen entrance… where you belong.”

“These are not borrowed clothes,” she protested. “They are my clothes. They were made for me by a couturier in the Capitol.”

“He pays for her services with silk dresses!” Her father’s voice was filled with outrage. “Rika, you will change into a dress suitable to your status and pack your belongings – those belongings you came to this house with. You will… leave those jewels and fripperies. And you will come with us.”

“Come with you WHERE?”

“To Polarfrey. Living in the mining community, working for your living in a decent, respectable job, will put these ideas from your head.”

“No. I don’t want to live on Polarfrey, in an artificial habitat, under artificial lights. And I won’t leave Remonte. Do you expect me to go, without even a word to him?”

“Yes. We will leave, now. You will not see that man again. You will… I don’t know what is to be done with you. You have shamed yourself. When it is known that you are not… that you have given yourself to a man like a common ‘yissigk’, I doubt any decent, hard working man would have you as his wife. But you can work, at least.”

“No,” Rika insisted. “No, I will not. I am not going to do that. You cannot make me. I am not a child, Paru. I am a woman. I will marry Remonte. I would rather do so with your consent, knowing that you give your blessing. But I mean to marry him. Even if… if… if I have to set aside my family name to do so.”

“He has you entranced,” her mother said. “Some Oldblood power. What are we to do?” She turned to her husband. “What must we do?”

“She must be brought from this place. By force if necessary.”

“No!” Rika screamed as her father reached and took her by the arm forcefully. “No, I will NOT! Caolin! Help me!”

The door opened, but it was not the butler who came in. It was Remonte and his mother, Aineytta. Remonte flew to his lover’s side, pushing her father’s hand away as he swept her into his arms protectively.

“It’s all right, my love,” he said. “You’re safe.” He looked at her father. “How dare you use my Lady so ungraciously. Who are you, anyway?”

“I am Jonelle Desau, and she is my daughter,” he replied. “You, I presume are the “sudifan’ who defiled her.”

Remonte’s eyes glittered as he heard the words her father used to describe what to him had been nothing but the most beautiful relationship of his life. He clutched Rika tightly in his arms.

“Sir,” he answered with controlled anger. “If you were of equal rank I would be free to call you out to answer for those words.”

“I may only be a Caretaker,” Desau answered. “But I am more than equal to a man who thinks a servant girl is his for the taking. You pretend to be superior to us. But you’re just…”

“Stop!” Aineytta’s gentle voice rose louder than Remonte had ever heard it raised in his whole life. “Sir, say no more before you say something you will truly regret. Remonte… my son, take Rika to the garden. Walk with her in the pleasant sunshine. I will speak with her parents.”

Her father began to protest at that, but there was something about Aineytta’s voice that silenced him. Remonte took Rika by the hand and led her out through the French doors from the drawing room, out into the garden. Aineytta watched them both walk out of sight of the house. As she did so, Caolin entered, along with a maid, bringing refreshments.

“Thank you, Caolin, Hinta. That will be all.” The servants departed. Aineytta sat herself on the sofa and indicated to Desau that he should come and sit, also. He looked on the point of refusing, but changed his mind and came to join his wife.

“They made English tea,” Aineytta said. “It is from Earth, the planet where Lady de Lœngbærrow comes from. My first son’s wife. A gracious lady. She brought this tea with her. And even I have developed a taste for it. And I thought I knew all there was to know about infusions. Will you try some? I prefer it plain, but Marion takes a spoon of sugar and some milk in hers. Madam Desau, I think you would enjoy it the ‘English’ way.”

“I…” Rika’s mother was surprised to be addressed as ‘Madam’, let alone being told she might enjoy a foreign drink. She took the prepared cup and drank it without any other thought. Her husband refused to drink anything.

“I will take nothing in this house of iniquity,” he said.

“My goodness,” Aineytta said, pouring a cup of Earl Grey tea for him anyway. “I haven’t heard that word under this roof since my own betrothal to the elder Lord de Lœngbærrow was announced. I think it was Lord Ravenswode who said it – the late Lord Ravenswode that would be, not the present patriarch of that family. He believed it was ‘iniquitous’ that a Caretaker woman should be marrying the Heir to a great Oldblood House and vowed never to set foot here again. And I don’t believe he ever did. My dear husband said the house was better for his absence.”

“Do you mean that…” Mrs Desau looked at Aineytta. “Do you mean that you, you are from… you are a Caretaker?”

“I am Aineytta de Lœngbærrow, wife of the elder Lord de Lœngbærrow,” she answered. “Long ago now, I was Aineytta Mitabrev. My father was a herbalist. We lived in rooms above the shop. My mother and father, my sister and brother. At least until my father fell ill. I tried to run the shop, but people didn’t think a young girl could possibly have enough experience in the herbal arts. Eventually we had to sell up and move. I came to this house to be trained as a lady’s maid. I served the elder Lord’s sister. When his Lordship took interest in me I was shocked, frightened. I thought the worst. I had heard tales of Oldblood men who take advantage of servants. But he was not that sort. He courted me honourably. His father gave his blessing upon us, and his sister brought me to have gowns made and arranged for my reception. It was frightening at first. But my dear man never let me think I was anything less than equal to all the new people I had to get to know. He never treated me as less than his Lady. And I have never regretted a moment of our life together. As I am sure Rika will not regret a moment with my son.”

“Your son, has defiled our daughter. Marriage was not on his mind when he took her to his bed as a ‘yeigliss’.”

“Sir, please don’t use such terms. Rika is nothing of the sort. She is a gracious and delightful young woman. Yes, I confess, I do not approve of Remonte’s actions. When I found out that he had taken a lover outside the bounds of an Alliance I was shocked. I told him so. He assured me he loved Rika and would marry her if it were possible. At the time, it was not possible. Now it is.”

“Why wasn’t it possible?” Desau asked. His tone was suspicious. Aineytta knew that her answer to his question would have to be chosen carefully.

“Yes, it is true, that my son was technically still married. His wife was set aside. The marriage was over. He was an unhappy man, who found happiness in the love of a good woman. In that, I cannot blame either. Our laws and our customs are hard on lovers. When his wife died, he observed the formalities of mourning. He regretted her death, bitterly. But it cannot be denied that it freed him of a burden and allowed him to make right the wrong he had done by making Rika his lover against the customs of our society. He was free to marry Rika, and they have both been very happy since. At least until today. Would you now deny them that happiness?”

“I cannot…” Mrs Desau was clearly uncertain. “He used our daughter… How can we be sure that he means to do right by her? He set aside one wife. What is to stop him doing the same again? When he tires of her…”

“Have some more tea,” Aineytta replied, pouring another cup. “You live on Polafrey, I understand. You don’t know much about the affairs of Gallifreyan society?”

“We work hard. We make an honest living,” said Mr Desau. “We have never asked for more. We haven’t sought ways of ‘bettering’ ourselves. I am foreman of the night shift in the northern sector mine. My wife works in the hospital. Rika never liked living in the habitat. We had no objection to her working in service here on Gallifrey. She simply wanted to live in the countryside. But we expected her to be safe.”

“She will be safe,” Aineytta assured him. “She will be the wife of a good man, with prospects. She will want for nothing.”

“Except friends,” Mrs Desau answered her. “Can you honestly say that the high born ladies of Gallifrey treated you well when you married your Lordship?”

“They did not,” Aineytta replied honestly. “Many of them were very rude to me. I expected that. But I made enough friends to disregard the others. Rika has friends already. She is a charming young woman and there are plenty who have learnt to accept her. Including… I should not say this. It has not yet been confirmed, let alone formally announced. But Remonte has been asked to take up the post of consul at the Embassy of Ventura IV. The Ambassador’s wife was so taken with Rika when they visited, that the Ambassador himself asked him to take the vacant position. Rika will be the honoured wife of a diplomat, and on Ventura there is no caste system such as we have here. She will be treated as a Lady, as she deserves to be.”

Madam Desau gave a soft sigh. Aineytta knew she had won half the battle. Yes, Mr and Mrs Desau were proud people. Living on Polafrey, where there were few Oldbloods, where even the Newblood managers of the mining corporations tended to be the younger sons who sought salaried employment, there was far less deference among Caretakers. They did their work well and earned a fair wage. They paid their bills, they saved a little money. They were independent people who were beholden to nobody. Mr and Mrs Desau were of that sort. A daughter in ‘service’ where she was expected to defer to rich people, her social superiors, rankled. And Remonte’s actions were difficult for them to accept. But Mrs Desau had been swayed by the idea of her daughter as the wife of a consul, travelling to a far distant planet where Gallifrey’s caste system was irrelevant.

Mr Desau was going to be much harder to convince.

“Why don’t you go and talk to Rika in the garden,” Aineytta said to Mrs Desau. “And ask my son to step back inside. There are things we should discuss with him.”

Mrs Desau set down her teacup and stood to do as Aineytta suggested. A few minutes later, Remonte came back inside alone. Outside, Aineytta noticed mother and daughter hugging. They at least were reconciled.

“Remonte,” Aineytta said in a cool voice. “I have said this to you before. Your father has spoken, too. But it should be resaid. You were wrong, very wrong, to commit an adulterous act while your marriage to Idell still stood. You were wrong to take advantage of a girl who was unable to refuse your advances.”

“Mama, I never took advantage. It was love… mutual love… Neither being a woman, or a Caretaker, made Rika’s part in this any less equal and consensual.”

“No, my son,” Aineytta said to him. “This is not the time for excuses, for justifying your actions. This is a time for begging forgiveness from those you wronged, and for asking their pardon.”

“Mama?” Remonte looked at his mother with puzzled eyes.

“This is Rika’s father, who you have wronged. You will beg his forgiveness for that wrong. On your knees.”

Remonte’s puzzlement deepened. So did his sense of indignation.

“You ARE an Oldblood son,” she reminded him. “And perhaps in some other House such a son would be too arrogant, too sure of his own superiority, to bow his head to one he considers below him. But in this House, MY son, should have no such notions. You have wronged this man. Now do what you know, in your own conscience, to be right. If you cannot, then you are not worthy to marry a sweet, blameless child like Rika.”

Remonte bowed his head to his mother. Then he turned and stepped closer to Desau. He bowed even lower to him, then he dropped to his knees, hands held out in supplication.

“Sir, I have wronged you, and the good name of your daughter. I ask your forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, for myself, for Rika, for my family which I have dishonoured by my deeds and my thoughts. I shall willingly submit to any punishment of your choosing.”

“Punishment?” Desau looked uncertain.

“If his adultery was made known beyond these walls, the penalty is well known. It would mean a public flogging, possibly imprisonment, disenfranchisement.”

“Rika would be punished, too,” Desau said. “At least, she would be publicly disgraced.”

“You were prepared to punish her by taking her away from here,” Aineytta reminded him. “For her sake, for her mother’s sake, if for no other reason, I would ask you not to press for that public humiliation of my son. But if you wish to privately administer the punishment, I and his father, and my elder son, the present Lord de Lœngbærrow, would concede you that right.

Remonte, to his credit, did not flinch.

“You are giving me permission to flog him as he deserves?” Desau was astonished.

“I don’t need to give you permission. That is your right. You are the one he wronged. As his mother, I should beg you to spare him. But I know he deserves that punishment.”

Desau looked from her to Remonte, still kneeling before him.

“Get up,” he said. “I… for your mother’s sake… I will spare you. I don’t… Forgiveness, is harder. I will, at least, accept that you are ashamed of your deeds. I accept that your intentions are honourable. If I have reason to believe that you are treating my daughter as anything less than she deserves, I will seek you out and administer that punishment until you beg me for mercy.”

“I… concede you that right,” Remonte said as he stood. “Sir, if you will only set aside your objections to our Alliance, I can assure you, Rika will never have a moment’s unhappiness that I can prevent.”

“I will allow the Alliance,” Desau conceded. “On those conditions.” He reached into the pocket of his coat and took out a document that Remonte recognised. It was the Bond of Betrothal that had to be signed by Rika’s father, formalising their engagement. It was many weeks ago that he sent the document by courier to their home on Polarfrey. He had forgotten about it until now. He had felt himself betrothed to Rika for much longer than that – since the day they both gave into their desire for each other, never even hoping for more than an illicit affair, he had felt she was his. The contract was meaningless to him.

It was meaningless to Desau, too. He opened it at the page where the payment offered to him was set out. He took the promissory note that was attached and ripped it into tiny pieces.

“My daughter is not for sale,” he said. “We will not be beholden to you in any way. We do not need your money.”

“We have already agreed the terms of the Alliance,” Remonte said. “It is paid for by the flesh on my back if I fail in my duty.”

Desau looked at him and nodded, then he signed. Remonte tried not to look too relieved. Of all the obstacles to his future happiness, this was not one he had expected. But now nothing stood in their way.

Desau handed the document to Remonte and then turned away. He walked outside where his wife and daughter waited. Remonte and his mother watched as he hugged his daughter and noted the relieved smile on her face.

“You… were bluffing, weren’t you?” Remonte said. “About letting him flog me. We don’t even have a whip anywhere in the house.”

“There’s one somewhere. Your grandfather kept a pack of semi-wild Pazithi wolves.”

“You really would have…”

“I think I might have turned my face away. You’re still my baby boy, and it would have pained me to see you hurt. But you do deserve such a punishment. You can count yourself lucky. Instead you are marrying a wonderful young woman. She will be a better wife to you than Idell ever was. And you have a good future assured.” She smiled at her son then and took him by the arm as she led him outside. Rika came to his embrace as they met in the garden. Aineytta turned to her parents.

“Have you made arrangements to stay here on Gallifrey until the Alliance?” she asked them.

“We have not,” Desau answered. “We did not come with the intention of there BEING an Alliance.”

“Then may I extend my own hospitality. You are welcome to be my guests at the Dower House. The elder Lord de Lœngbærrow and I live a much simpler life there, in our retirement. I think you would be comfortable.”

“Yes,” Mrs Desau said before her husband had time to raise any objection.

Rika smiled gladly as she hugged her husband to be tightly. An obstacle neither had expected seemed suddenly to have been removed from their way. Their happiness was assured.