Rika and Remonte’s Alliance of Unity was not going to be a grand affair at the Panopticon like Marion and Kristoph’s had been. Rika was glad of it. She didn’t want to be the centre of such a spectacle. But the reasons were nothing to do with her private fears. Nor was it anything to do with the fact that she was a Caretaker and Remonte marrying ‘beneath him’.

It was, quite simply, because the Alliance was taking place so soon after Remonte became a widower. A grand wedding was not appropriate in such circumstances. Nobody - at least those who wished them both well – doubted that it would be a happy occasion for them both, but it was acknowledged that this Alliance took place in the shadow of a tragedy. Remonte had said very little about his feelings for Idell since her death. He said little about his feelings for her before, for that matter. But everyone close to him knew that it had been a traumatic time. In the quiet ceremony, conducted in the grounds of their home, he would be ready to make a new life for himself and his bride.

Even the modest, quiet ceremony threatened to become something huge and daunting as the day approached. Rika spent much of her time at the Dower House with Aineytta and her own mother. Marion, too, sought the peace of the smaller house by the river, where Aineytta seemed much more at home than she ever did as Lady de Lœngbærrow at Mount Lœng House. The Dower House was much more her private domain, and seemed redolent of her personality in the way the patriarchal house, where so many parties and balls and dinners with government officials went on, didn’t.

Rika was very much at peace there. She got on very well with Aineytta. Of course she did. They had so much in common. Aineytta the Gentle, who had once been a ladies maid, and was now a Lady, had a great deal of advice for the girl who was about to make the same step.

The day before the Alliance, of course, the men, Kristoph, Remonte, their father, Bolar Lundar, who was to be Remonte’s Best Man, and Rika’s father, all retreated to the meditation room. The women went to the Lodge House, driven by Thedera in one of the larger of her cars. It was a strictly female affair. Rika and Marion, Aineytta, Ria Desau, Thedera, Lady Lily, and Hesthor Lundar, Rika’s second matron of honour, after Marion, all made the most of the day together.

There were two obvious absences. Renita, Remonte’s youngest sister, was attending the ceremony tomorrow, but a lady of chastity and meditative study would not be expected to take part in pre-nuptial rituals.

Orianna had not even responded to the official invitation. Nobody expected her to have any part in the proceedings at all. Aineytta was saddened by the behaviour of her eldest daughter but even she knew that the day was probably not going to be enhanced by her presence and accepted that.

For most of the day, they simply enjoyed themselves in and around the swimming pool that began in the pool room and continued out into the open air. Even with the glass doors wide, it never felt cold because the whole area was warmed by thermal heat in the very rocks around the Lodge. They all swam and relaxed by the poolside and talked together happily. All but Marion, for whom the heat was too dangerous in her precious condition, enjoyed the steam room and sauna inbetween swimming.

At lunchtime they ate a picnic out on those warmed rocks, dressed in their bathing costumes and silk robes.

“There is only one sad part of it all,” Marion sighed. “After tomorrow you won’t be around, Rika. I have got so used to you being here as my friend. And I am glad you’re going to be my sister in law. But you’ll be on Ventura IV, so far away.”

“I will miss you, too,” Rika admitted. “But it is a wonderful job. And I think I will be happier living there in the Ambassadorial residence, organising lunches and dinners with Lady Stillhaeven. There, people won’t know I am of a lower caste, and I won’t have to put up with the rudeness. And maybe, by the time we return, when Remonte’s term of office is over, some of them might have FORGOTTEN I was born a Caretaker.”

“Just so long as you never forget that you were born a Caretaker, Rika,” said her mother. “Don’t become one of those snobs.”

“I won’t,” she answered. “But perhaps that’s another good reason. As much as I love Lily and Marion, I WAS their servant once. And the servants who serve me now, used to be people I sat in the kitchen with, and though they ARE glad for me, and nobody wishes me anything but the best, I think I do need a new start. When I have ladies maids of my own, they need to be people I have not made up beds and dusted furniture with.”

“That is quite true,” Aineytta said. “I found that one of the most difficult things to come to terms with myself. Giving orders to servants I had once shared an attic bedroom with. Yes, a fresh start in a new place is for the best. But we will ALL miss you, my dear, and we shall hope you and my son will visit home often.”

They spent the afternoon informally, too. Then, after tea, while Rika, who had so much to do tomorrow, and Marion, who was tired because of the baby, took a quiet hour’s rest in the bedrooms of the lodge, the water in the pool was drained and replaced by water that was scented with special oils that Aineytta prepared in advance. When they gathered again in the pool room, costumes were discarded and the women all took part in the special ritual bathing that purified the body and mind of tomorrow’s bride and her attendants. Rika’s hair and body were covered with the special purification oils that she slowly soaked out again before she was considered thoroughly purified. Then they all covered themselves in silk wraps and ate a purifying meal of fruit and bread by the poolside.


Then, came a ritual that was common among the Caretakers, which Ria Desau insisted on. Rika knelt on a cushion, and her mother, first, then her future mother in law after her, and all the other women in attendance combed her oiled and scented and purified hair. Each had to give her long tresses fifty strokes of the comb. It took quite some time.

“I never realised how long Rika’s hair was,” Marion commented as they watched Aineytta take over from her mother. It was very long by Earth standards, coming right down to her waist. But in her duties as lady’s maid, she wore it pinned up in a bun at the back of her head. Even after she became officially engaged to Remonte and gave up those duties, she had maintained a modest hairstyle. Even, Marion recalled, those accidental intrusions upon their privacy, when she had seen Rika lying with Remonte, she had not had her hair down at all.

“It is a sign of chastity,” explained Aineytta. “A Caretaker woman is always proud of her hair, and it is never cut, but she would never let a man see it fully extended except on her wedding night. That is why such careful attention is paid to the combing. It is the delight of her husband when he takes her to their private room.”

Rika blushed slightly and her mother looked away. Of course, it was known among only this small group, that Rika and Remonte had been ‘private’ already.

“It does not matter,” Lily assured them all. “It is merely a tradition. Besides, for all of the stolen nights they have shared, tomorrow night, their honeymoon night, when Remonte takes her as his bride, it will be as if they are making love for the first time. That is the point of the purification ritual. The past is stripped away. The future is what matters now, for both of them.”

“Do you think so, Lily?” Rika asked, looking at her anxiously. Everyone noted an important detail there, of course. Rika said ‘Lily’. For all her working life, she had addressed her as ‘Lady Lillianna’ or ‘Madam’. But now she was not her employer, she was her friend, almost a second mother, caring for her on this day before her Alliance in the same way.

“I know so,” Lily answered. “It was that way for me when I married my dear Jules, Rassilon protect his spirit.”

“Lily?” Aineytta, Thedera and Hesthor all looked shocked by that. Ria Desau looked faintly embarrassed. She had managed to accept this small group of Oldbloods as friends and, for the duration of the Alliance preparations, as equals, but what seemed to be a confession of immorality among her ‘betters’ was disturbing.

“Yes,” Lily admitted. “Jules and I had ‘known’ each other before our Alliance. It was just the once. I had a time of doubt, about whether I ought to be marrying him. There is no use in anyone pretending. Jules was not my first choice. Kristoph de Lœngbærrow was the man I had loved from an early age. But we thought him dead. Lee was still a soldier, still on active duty, far away. And my other childhood sweetheart, Legæn Koschei Oakdaene, had renounced his name and hidden himself away on Mount Lœng with the Brotherhood. Perjules D’Alba, was my consolation, my comfort. But I did wonder if I should be marrying him for comfort. I wondered if I loved him enough…” Lily sighed and looked at her left hand. There were two rings on it. One was a gold wedding band, the other a Ring of Eternity, a gold band encrusted with tiny diamonds that shone like a rainbow in the light. Every Time Lord was given a Ring of Eternity when they became Time Lords. That one belonged to her late husband. “I confessed my doubt to my dear Jules. He confessed that he understood my doubt. He had doubted whether he could measure up to the men who had previously occupied my hearts. Then he brought me to a place of his own, out across the plains. His place of solitude where he came to meditate and think when he needed to do so. It lies about fifty miles south-west of here, a ring of great stones raised by our ancient ancestors long before Rassilon. We sat there together in meditation, searching our hearts for the answer to our doubts, while the sun went down and the moon rose. Then, with Pazithi Gallifreya shining down onto our place of solitude, we looked at each other and knew that there was no reason for doubt. Yes, we loved each other. And… Jules reached for me… in such a way… And I gave myself to him, though it was still a week to our Alliance. We made love under the moon, sealing our bond to each other. Even so, on the day I became his wife, when the ceremony was over, and the reception, and I left with him as his bride, I felt as if I was his for the first time.”

“Lily,” Aineytta said with a hint of reproach in her quiet voice. “What a tale to tell on a Day of Purification!”

“Jules and I never told a soul about our indiscretion,” Lily answered her. “But you see, when it is true love, I do think our traditions are too strict. What harm did it do? Jules and I loved each other deeply every day of our married lives. Remonte and Rika will, too. Does it matter that they shared that intimacy before their Alliance? Is it really so shocking? Only here on Gallifrey where we live by such rules. Elsewhere… even on Marion’s planet, nobody would think any of us had done wrong.”

“Mrs Flannery, our old housekeeper in Liverpool would,” Marion commented. “On Earth, some people do believe in waiting. Others don’t. It’s different there.”

“At least people have the choice,” Lily replied. “Here, we ARE too strict.”

“Perhaps we are,” Aineytta agreed. “Certainly this family have known so much distress because of the rules. Remonte was an unhappy man because he was bound to a woman he could no longer love, and could not be openly with the one he truly loved. But what is done is done. That is what this day is about. We are putting the past behind us and making ready for a bright, brand new day tomorrow.”

“That is so,” Thedera agreed as she took her turn combing Rika’s long, dark hair. One by one they took their turn. Then, when it was over, they all held Rika’s hands tightly. They kissed her cheeks and wished her well for the future.

“Yes, my dear,” Aineytta said happily. “I am glad to welcome you to our family.”