Gallifreyans have no religion as such. Their years are not marked by festivals such as Christmas and Easter. Rather, they divide the time according to its natural rhythm. The winter and summer solstices are the biggest days on the calendar, marked by balls and parties and solemn rituals.

The spring and vernal equinoxes, are lesser festivals, but still marked by ceremony and celebration. The Spring Equinox is traditionally the time when the young ladies of Gallifrey are presented at their first formal balls, while those of a quieter disposition, like the Sisters of Contemplation and the Sisters of Pazithi, and the Brotherhood of Mount Lœng spend it in fasting and meditation.

The Vernal Equinox is also a day of fasting and meditation for those Gallifreyans who had chosen such a life. Elsewhere, it marks a meeting of extremes – the wisdom of age and the vigour of youth, the latter paying respect to the former.

And it is a festival that is always faithfully observed by the House of Lœngbærrow.

Marion thought the formal part of the ritual very charming, and said so often. Kristoph, she found, was a little less enchanted, for one particular reason.

“I am proud to be patriarch of our noble House,” he complained as he dressed for the ceremony in the mirrored dressing room where the ceremonial robes were kept. “But I object to being classed as an old man. How can I be? I have a beautiful young wife who is pregnant with my first child. How can I be considered one of the dusty elders of our society?”

“You ARE nearly four thousand years old, brother,” Remonte reminded him. “Some would consider that old.”

“Li is at least three times that. And he is still enjoying a love affair with Lily,” Kristoph answered.

“Considering you and he were born in the same year, that’s a remarkable fact in itself,” Remonte said. “Even you have lived more years than you should. I was born only two hundred and twenty years after you, but you have stretched the age gap to nearly three thousand while you’ve been travelling the universe and bending time. It’s a good job you’ve come home to live your life one day at a time.”

“Can’t do anything else now I have Marion. But honestly, do I really deserve to be considered one of the elders?”

“Yes,” Remonte answered. “You’re the second eldest of our family, after father. As such, you stand with him for the ceremony. Or sit rather. As elders, you get chairs, of course.” Kristoph scowled at his younger brother’s humour. “You’re grumpy enough today. Don’t you want to grow old gracefully?”

“Not so long as I have Marion to keep me young,” he replied. “I don’t want to grow old at all while I have her. She looks so very lovely lately. Have you noticed?”

“I’m not supposed to ‘notice’ how lovely my brother’s wife is,” Remonte told him. “But, yes. She is blooming. There is nothing more sublime than a pregnant lady. She is positively glowing with joy. Although….”

“Although what?” Kristoph looked sharply at his brother.

“I understand that the child is a girl?”

“A daughter, yes,” Kristoph paused in the act of fastening his high, ceremonial collar and smiled. “My daughter. A baby girl with Marion’s eyes. What a delight she will be. Tell me then that I am an old man with my own little daughter in my arms.”

“I was thinking of Marion. How many sixteen month pregnancies could her body stand? You said that she would be the one to bear you an heir…”

“And she will. But this child is a daughter.”

“Then you should ensure that the next is a son. For her sake.”

“You mean well, Remonte. But there is no need for concern. Marion is strong. And bearing my children is something she does willingly.”

“She would die willingly to bear your children. What good would it do to have an heir without his mother?”

“You sound like all the other fools who murmur about weak foreign blood.”

“Take care of her, that’s all I’m saying,” Remonte replied. “Just take care of her. And… come here. You’ll still be putting on that collar when Marion is giving birth at this rate.” He reached and took charge of the complicated set of diamond-headed studs that had to be engaged so that the heavy, black leather collar sat in place. It fitted over his shoulders like a mantle and rose up behind his head, framing his face. A close fitting cap went over his skull to complete the effect. A Gallifreyan dressed for ceremony had no choice but to be square shouldered and straight backed, with his head erect and proud. The collar ensured it.

“You look magnificent,” Remonte told his brother. “The black and silver is very dignified.”

“Hmmm. That’s not what Marion thinks.” He touched the arrangement of large, semi-precious stones set into the skull cap. “She says I look like a baby rhinoceros with my horns starting to grow.”

“If I knew what a rhinoceros was, I might be able to comment.” Remonte laughed as he felt a picture of one in his mind. Kristoph laughed, too, before putting on a suitably dignified expression as he went to join his father in the hall.

Remonte thought his father and brother, both in black and silver, looked magnificent. He, himself, less formally encumbered, went ahead to the marquee while they waited for the signal that all was ready for them.

“There will come a time when you will perform this ceremony alone,” the senior Lord de Lœngbærrow said to his son as they walked together.

“Not for another millennia, father,” he answered. “You’ve plenty of years left in you.”

“But before then, I might decide I’m too old to be an elder and let you do it by yourself.”

“Mama won’t let you be THAT old,” Kristoph told him. “Not so long as there are enough Pallis flowers to make your bedtime tonic.”

His father laughed heartily before they both assumed grave and venerable expressions and entered the marquee. They walked side by side down the aisle between two rows of seats as a choir of children sang a very old song in High Gallifreyan. Pride filled their hearts. For all his pretence of grumbling Kristoph WAS proud to be an elder of a High Oldblood House with its own Equinox ceremony.

He glanced once to his right as he saw Marion, looking lovely in a shalwar outfit in shades of copper, the deep colour of beech trees on Earth in autumn and pale copper like the Gallifreyan moon in its waning aspects. Beside her, his soon to be sister in law looked slightly amazed to be sitting at the front with the family members, not at the back with the servants. They both watched as he and his father mounted the raised dais and seated themselves on two grand old chairs made a millennia ago of dark, aged, hardwood. They had been preserved and polished time and again, and were as redolent of age and wisdom as the two Time Lords who sat upon them.

Then the youth were called upon to pay respect to them. Marion was especially proud when two of her own pupils from the estate school brought forward the tribute – a basket of newly picked cúl nuts, still in their green-brown husks, a symbol of the bounty of nature and of fertility. As they brought the gift, the children’s choir, all in their best clothes, sang a traditional song about nature and her bounty.

Marion knew it well by now. She had listened to them practicing it often. But she hadn’t realised what the practice was leading up to. Now she listened proudly to her students as they sang for Kristoph and his father.

The next to be presented were the babies. Marion smiled blissfully as she watched the mothers of all the infants born on the Lœngbærrow estate in the past year present their children to the elders. Next vernal equinox their own child would be among those receiving the special blessing – a simplified form of the seal of Rassilon traced on their foreheads in fragrant oil by the senior Lord de Lœngbærrow, who held each child carefully as he wished them a good and fruitful life.

Or would it? Marion remembered that a Gallifreyan pregnancy was sixteen whole months. She was only just five months pregnant yet. Another eleven months to go. Yes, her baby would be born just in time to be blessed in this way next year.

She smiled as she touched the bump under her dress. She could feel movement all the time now. The thought of those little kicks inside her every day for another eleven months filled her with joy as well as trepidation. It seemed such a long time, still. She was weary so often. She always slept in the car coming home from the school lately and she could not cope with evening functions unless she had a nap first. Most afternoons found her resting in her drawing room or library. And this was still only very early. How would she cope with the later stages of the pregnancy?

Sometimes it frightened her. She remembered what people said about her being too weak to bear a Gallifreyan child and wondered if she could survive the birth. Many people expected her to die giving Kristoph his heir.

But of course she would survive! This wasn’t his heir. That would be a boy child who would come later. First they were having a baby girl and she knew it would be all right. She pushed away her doubts and smiled as she looked upon the babies who would be her child’s friends and playmates in time to come.

The young men and women of the same estate school came next to be presented. Many of these were going to the university or into the civil service or the Chancellery Guard, or even the Gallifreyan Space Service. These young people had much to give thanks for when they bowed graciously then shook hands with Kristoph and his father. Their future careers had depended on sponsorships and recommendations which they had willingly given. Marion knew that Kristoph set aside money from the estate’s income for that purpose.

Others among them did not intend to follow such careers. Some would work in the mines, the source of Lœngbærrow wealth. Others would come to them as servants in the house. But even they would enjoy the bounty that was given willingly by their Lords. The school they had attended, the medical facilities of the village, the homes they lived in were all provided by the Lœngbærrow Estate. They and their own children in the course of time would be provided for.

The last group who came to be formally presented to the elders were the seven year olds who had gone up from her infant class in the summer. They would be eight next summer, when the Solstice festival came around and would be ready to face the Untempered Schism. This was their first act of preparation for that task. At the Winter Solstice they would have another more formal ritual, and in Spring, another. Then next summer they would discover if they have what it takes to be a Time Lord along with the sons and daughters of the Oldblood and Newblood families.

Her child would do that, too, in the course of time. That idea both thrilled and terrified Marion. She was thrilled that her child would be put forward as a Time Lord candidate, but terrified of what that meant. It still seemed not quite right that such young children had to face such a task, with such risks attached.

But the ones being presented today looked proud of themselves. Their parents were proud, too. Perhaps it was something that Gallifreyans got used to. She supposed she would, too.

There was more singing and a speech by the elder Lord de Lœngbærrow about the many years he had been presiding over such festivities and how proud he was to see so many of the children of the Estate going on to good jobs and fine futures. Then there was a party. Marion herself had done most of the organising of that, though now she was glad to sit quietly and watch the children and adults enjoying themselves. Aineytta sat with her. Kristoph and his father were busy, still, talking to the young people who they were sponsoring in their future careers.

“You must not worry too much about the future,” Aineytta told her.

“How did you know that I…” Marion smiled. “Of course, you can read my mind…”

“I don’t have to. It told in your face,” her mother in law answered. “Don’t worry. Live one day after the other and bless each one. Your little one… who knows what her future is. But right now, she is yours, and yours alone.”

“Kristoph’s, too. He loves her as much as I do. He talks to her. He puts his hand on my stomach and he can reach out and feel her tiny mind. And he talks to her. He tells her he is her father, and he loves her.”

“Ah, yes. De Lún used to do that, too. With all of our children. He was delighted by Orianna when she was growing within me. And Kristoph… his first born son… I used to think he was going to train him to follow in his footsteps before he was even born.”

“That sounds about right,” Marion agreed. “Kristoph is nearly as impatient as I am for the birth.”

“Then you must both slow down and not wish your lives away. Treasure every moment. As I do. My son is to be a father in due time. And that’s a thing I look forward to. But I can wait. And so should you.”

“Then I will,” Marion answered.

Marion enjoyed every aspect of the Vernal Equinox festival. When it was over, though, Kristoph insisted that she retire to bed straight away. And she was weary enough not to argue. She showered and changed into her nightdress and was drifting to sleep comfortably when her husband came to their room. He came already changed for bed, having divested himself of the elaborate regalia in the dressing room. He slipped into the bed beside her and reached to kiss her. She roused herself from her half slumber in order to respond to the kiss.

“You should be asleep,” he told her. “Is the baby troubling you?”

“She could be no trouble to me. I just wanted to be awake for you. I had a lovely day. I like some of your Gallifreyan ceremonies. This one was fine.”

“I’m still not happy about being counted as one of the old men,” Kristoph answered. “But I’m glad you enjoyed it, my Gallifreyan Lady. Now, go to sleep.”

Marion smiled and snuggled close to her husband and gladly did so. He kissed her cheek as she slumbered and let himself happily fall asleep.