Rika felt herself being shook awake. She opened her eyes in partial darkness. It was still very early, much earlier even than when she was a servant who rose before her mistress.

It was her former mistress, Lady Lily, who was woke her this morning with a cup of the tea. The very thing that Marion always wanted first thing in the day. The irony was not lost on either of them that it was Lily who brought the tea to Rika.

“You have ten minutes at most to enjoy it in peace,” Lily told her. “Thedera will have the car ready to drive us back to the Dower House in half an hour. After that, you won’t have a moment to yourself until you and Remonte leave the reception some time around midnight.”

“I think I might wake up in a moment and find it is all a dream,” she said. “And it is time to do my day’s chores.”

“It is real, my dear. And we’re all glad for you. Try to enjoy every moment, even the tedious and tiring ones.”

“I will,” she promised.

Lily left her to enjoy the tea. Then she just had time for a shower and to get dressed in travel clothes before they were all in the car. They ate a picnic breakfast of fruit and cúl nuts with milk in the car and a tinge of sunrise was on the horizon as they reached the Dower House where the female preparations for the Alliance continued.

And now Lily’s prediction proved true. Straight away, Rika had to shower again before she was dressed from skin out by her matrons of honour, first in soft, lace lingerie that was for Remonte’s pleasure much later today, then sheer silk stockings and the petticoat that went under the dress. Then while Marion and Hesthor went to get their own dresses on, Aineytta arranged her hair in splendid fashion and Lily applied cosmetics to enhance her beauty.

When that was done, her matrons of honour, now resplendent in coral coloured silk helped her to put on the dress of pure white silk and lace, glittering with diamonds that the couturiere and her seamstresses had worked so hard on.

It was a simple design that enhanced her petite figure. The lace and diamond bodice needed only light sculpting around her curves and the skirt was softly fluted, falling straight to her ankles where silk covered white pumps daintily covered her feet. The sleeves were fitted to her slender arms and the neckline scooped just low enough so that the necklace of red diamonds and pearls with matching earrings were set against her bare flesh.

Her mother pinned the veil over her hair and finished it with a diamond-encrusted tiara that glittered in the light just as the dress did.

“Let me see,” Rika begged, and everyone stood aside to let her look in the full length mirror.

“That’s not me,” she said. “It’s not real. It can’t be. That is somebody else.”

“It’s you, Rika,” her matrons of honour assured her as they stood by her side.

“It’s nearly time,” Lily told her. “What else is there to do? The flowers… Oh, of course, they’re in the car already.”

Rika looked at herself in the mirror one more time then took a deep breath as she turned to go downstairs to the hall where her father, dressed in the brown-black robes of a Gallifreyan merchant waited to take her arm and escort her out. The sun was starting to come up now on what was a bright, clear, crisp autumn day on Gallifrey. The orange-yellow sky was near uniform colour without a cloud in it as the bride and her father got into the first limousine and her attendants followed behind.

The Alliance ceremony was taking place in the garden of Mount Lœng House, on the lawn in front of the house itself. What had been a pristine expanse of green was now transformed. The guests already assembled were surrounded by marble columns and arches. Under each arch was either an ice sculpture or a fountain or a shorter column with a huge vase of flowers spilling out. The entrance to this bower was a tunnel of four marble arches with flowers festooned over them.

Because it was autumn and the clear sky might not stay clear, the whole arrangement was enclosed in an Envo-Sphere – a giant dome that looked like glass but was created by energy. It was the same as the one that covered the Capitol, but much smaller. Inside the dome it was a consistently warm autumn day and nobody would feel uncomfortably warm or uncomfortably cold.

Rika looked at the arrangements that had been made for her simple, uncomplicated Alliance and felt dizzy with astonishment. When she had left yesterday to spend the day at the Lodge, a few servants were setting out chairs. The rest she had not expected.

“All this for me?” she whispered as she entered the Envo-Sphere and stood before the archway. “It is too much. Too much.”

“It’s not too late to change your mind,” her father told her. “If you really don’t want to do this, don’t let all this fuss and what all those finely dressed people think matter. What you want matters.”

“I couldn’t let Remonte down,” she answered. “I want to be his wife. I don’t care about all this. What matters is… is him.”

Looking through the arches she could see straight down the aisle to where Remonte stood with Bolar Lundar at his side. He looked frighteningly magnificent in his Time Lord regalia of gold and crimson. He looked a world away from hers. A great Lord who was marrying her in a dress covered in diamonds.

“I would marry him in my maid’s uniform in a bare room,” she said. “I love him.” She nodded silently to her attendants. Lily, Aineytta, Thedera and her mother all stepped through the arch and quietly walked to the front seats reserved for them. Then the music, played by a quintet of musicians in a flower-festooned alcove began, quietly at first. The two matrons of honour went forward, scattering flower petals from the baskets they held. Both had admiring glances from the guests, especially Marion, who looked so very lovely in her maternity styled gown. But then the music swelled and, as is proper, the bridesmaids were forgotten in the presence of the bride.

Rika felt as if they were not her own legs that she was walking on. She felt she was seeing this wedding bower through somebody else’s eyes. But she smiled proudly as she walked behind Marion and Hesthor to the place where her husband-to-be waited. They stood to one side, and so did her father as Remonte took her hand. They all faced Kristoph, dressed in fine robes like his brother, who stood in front of a golden Seal of Rassilon and bowed his head to them all. They bowed in return and then all but the bride and groom stepped away and sat down.

Rika and Remonte stepped forward as Kristoph began the formal words of the beautiful, but excruciatingly long Alliance of Unity.

The only part of it that felt real to her was Remonte, holding her hand, smiling when he caught her eye. The rest felt like a pageant going on around her, that seemed connected to her, but at the same time remote, not touching her at all. The beautiful music that punctuated the solemn recitations of the binding laws of Alliance echoed in her ears but she didn’t really feel any emotional response to it.

She was emotionally detached from it all. The one thing she knew, the one thing she fixed on, was that she was with Remonte, and after this day was over, nobody could take her away from him. That was what all this was about, this spectacle, the diamond covered dress, the gold and the regalia, the flowers, the ice sculptures and fountains, the beautiful bower under the Envo-Sphere, all of it was just to confirm that she and Remonte belonged together.

And for that, she would have endured torture, walked barefoot over coals, let alone a twelve hour ceremony of splendour and pomp.

Even the three hours in which her mother knelt before Remonte and pledged allegiance to him and his House felt unreal. It was not easy for her mother, a proud, independent Caretaker of Polarfrey to come to terms with this archaic and rather humiliating part of the ceremony, but for her sake, she went through with it. Remonte, for his part, understood that it was difficult. When it was over he knelt, too, and took both of her mother’s hands in his and whispered, for her ears only, a heartsfelt thank you before he raised her to her feet.

A little after that part of the ceremony was completed, while they were listening to a love aria from the Pazzione Gallifreya, the bright sky darkened. The Envo-Sphere became a water feature as rain was repelled from it and ran in rivulets through which the dark-yellow-orange sky was refracted in quite beautiful ways. For a while, Rika found herself looking at those rivers of water falling all around her. She wished she could hear the rain, too, but the Envo-Sphere cut out external sounds.

After an hour or more the clouds parted a little. The sun shone even though it was still raining and the effect was even more beautiful. The refracted light was split into thousands of eight coloured rainbows that arced around the sphere. Rika couldn’t help gasping with joy at the sight of it, and when the pressure of her groom’s hand on hers made her turn her eyes away and look at him she was smiling. She turned from him and looked at Kristoph who was patiently waiting for her to begin her recitation of the duties of a wife under the terms of the Alliance. She had learnt them carefully, of course, and spoke them with a clear, steady voice before Remonte recited his duties as her husband and the ceremony continued.

The sun set gloriously before the ceremony was over. The Envo-Sphere shone golden behind the Seal of Rassilon, dazzling their eyes until it was low enough to shine red-gold through the trees. The sky darkened and stars were visible overhead.

As the final parts of the ceremony began, the moon rose. It was in its copper-gold phase, but full and bright. Rika wondered if some calculations had gone into the positioning of the bower, because as she and Remonte began their final, solemn vows to each other the moon was shining down on them both, bathing them in copper light.

“Remonte Pazienza,” Rika said. “I give you all that I am. I love you to the end of my days, never thinking of any but you. Wife and soulmate, bearer of your children, ever by your side. My life is yours. I am a planet in your solar system, a galaxy in your universe. I am yours.” She paused and drew a breath and spoke his full name. “Remontedesideropazienza de Lœngbærrow, Time Lord of Gallifrey, I give myself to you, body and soul, heart and head, and take you as my Lord and my husband for all eternity.” And she took the gold ring from a velvet cushion held by her former employer and friend Lady Lily. She took Remonte’s left hand and slid the ring onto his finger. It shone in the moonlight as if imbued with a power of its own.

Then Remonte took her slender hand in his and in a soft voice, with a smile on his lips, spoke the solemn words of his own vow. “Rika, as you consent to be my wife, I promise to love you to the end of my life, to treasure you in my hearts, to bless each day we have to share. I give you my own hearts to do with as you will. I beg you to treat them with care and with love. I will protect you from all harm, and strive to make you happy every day of your life.” Then he took a deep breath before the final words he had to say. “Rika Shea Laila Casarella Desau, Child of Gallifrey, I give myself to you, body and soul, hearts and head, and take you as my Lady and my wife for all eternity.” Then he slid the diamond engagement ring from her finger and placed it safely on the velvet cushion before taking the second gold ring and putting it on her hand. He replaced the diamond with it and kissed her fingers. Again the moonlight caught the gold and made it glow.

Next, she expected an official of the Gallifreyan civil service to step forward with the registry book to be signed. She wondered why there was a murmuring of excitement among the guests and half turned to see everybody bowing. She and Remonte bowed, too. So did Kristoph. The Lord High President himself in his full robes of office and the Sash of Rassilon over his finery, came forward with the book. The official walked behind him with the fountain pen and ink stand on a silver tray.

Rika stood, alongside Remonte, wondering where she got the strength, and almost forgot to breathe as she watched him sign his name in the book the President himself held open for him. Then she herself took the pen, and hoped fervently it would not blot or spoil the rich, cream coloured page as she signed her own name beneath Remonte’s, the last time she would be Rika Desau, of the Caretaker class. In a few moments now, she would be Rika De Lœngbærrow of the House of Lœngbærrow.

Kristoph smiled and stepped aside as the President himself took their hands and turned them to face the assembly.

“Let it be known, to all within these walls and within this hearing,” he said. “That these two have been joined this day in Alliance of Unity. Let them go forth from here as one soul in two beings, in love and in duty and in honour.” He put their two hands together and said the final words of the ceremony before he stepped back.

“I present to you the Honourable Remonte and Madam Rika de Lœngbærrow of Gallifrey and the Dominion of Polarfrey.”

The whole assembly stood then and bowed, not to the President, but to her and Remonte. Then as they remained standing in their honour Remonte took her in his arms and kissed her fully on the lips. The moon seemed to grow brighter as she responded to his kiss and forgot in that moment everyone else around her, every anxiety, every obstacle that had been put in the way of that wonderful moment.

Then her two matrons of honour took their places and began to scatter their petals once more as they walked back down the aisle. Rika wondered if the President was meant to go next, but apparently not. She and Remonte were more important than him at this moment. She glanced once behind her and saw that he was following, Kristoph walking at his side.

They walked out of the bower, through the archway, and out of the Envo-Sphere. The night was cold, but they only had to walk a little way, along a strip of carpet woven in gold threads, that led across the lawn, the driveway, and up the steps to the wide open front door of Mount Lœng House, the place she had come to as a servant and would leave in a few hours as a Lady.

The reception was in the grand banqueting hall in the west wing. This room was only rarely used even by Lord de Lœngbærrow. It was a simply beautiful room with a high roof decorated in plaster relief motifs and three great crystal chandeliers. The walls were alternatively great mirrors and tall windows, covered now with gold drapes to shut out the night. The floor was a purple, marble like surface called márrág stone that was imported centuries ago from a distant planet.

There would be dancing later. For now there were long tables set across the grand floor, covered in crisp linen and the best china dishes, silver cutlery and crystal glassware. Flowers that matched Rika’s bridal bouquet were on all of the tables, especially the high table where the cutlery was gold and two elaborately carved high backed chairs were in the centre. Again, Rika thought for certain the President would be seated first in one of those chairs. But again, it was herself and Remonte who had the pride of place. The President sat next to her, and by Remonte’s side, his brother, the Patriarch of the House of Lœngbærrow and beside him, his wife and his father. Rika’s parents, to their astonishment, sat the other side of the President.

“I am sorry I could not be in attendance for the whole of your Alliance ceremony,” The President said to Rika conversationally during the salad course of the banquet. “Matters of State go on even during grand days such as this. But I was glad to arrive in time to hear your final vows and make your first presentation.”

“I… thank you, sir,” Rika answered in a voice that didn’t feel like hers. “I never expected… such an honour.”

“An Alliance in one of the Twelve Ancient Houses of Gallifrey,” he said in reply. “It would be remiss of me not to attend and to wish you well.” He smiled warmly at her and then turned and addressed her parents. Proud and independent as they were, The President was The President and they struggled to find words to reply to him at first. Then he made a joke. It was not a very good one, a rather dry, political joke, poking satirical fun at the Minister for the Outer Planets who oversaw life on Polarfrey. Even so, after a moment of confused shock they both laughed. After that, it all seemed so much easier. They all enjoyed the meal, and the wine, and the speeches.

While the tables were quickly cleared and the floor made ready for dancing, the guests mingled. It was then that there was a moment that Rika would not care to dwell upon in future, a sour note in her beautiful day. Remonte was not at her side, because he was talking with Kristoph and a man she thought might be the Minister for External Affairs. She turned and found herself face to face with Orianna de Lœngbærrow. She had not been at the ceremony, but of course there was nobody who could refuse her entrance to the family mansion. She was dressed immaculately as ever, her hair and cosmetics perfect. She looked icily at Rika and tossed her head contemptuously.

“If my brother’s taste is for housemaids, how long do you think it will be before he strays from your bed?” she asked nastily.

Rika didn’t know what to say in response. Then to her surprise, Thedera was standing next to her. She didn’t raise her voice at all. In fact, she spoke quite discreetly.

“Orianna, my dear. That dress. You have worn it on at least three public occasions, now. I am sorry to see that your husband’s offworld gambling debts are affecting you so badly. Would you like me to ask Kristoph about an extra clothing allowance for you?”

Orianna said nothing in reply to that, but her eyes showed that Thedera had hit home. She turned and disappeared among the crowds.

“There is no truth in her comment, by the way, my dear,” Thedera told Rika. “My nephew loves you dearly and always will. Now, come and talk to my other niece, our blessed Renita, before it is time for you to dance with your husband.”

Nobody could feel anxious about anything in Renita’s presence. She seemed to exude calm and tranquillity, and by the time Remonte sought her out for that dance, Rika had forgotten how much being the centre of attention worried her, and she danced in her husband’s arms happily. She once caught a glimpse of Orianna, standing alone. But every other face in the crowd, whether Oldblood, Newblood or Caretaker – for all three castes of Gallifreyan society were there, her friends and Remonte’s, together – were looking upon her with pride and pleasure.

The dancing went on into the late hours of the night. The party would continue for many hours more. But as the clock struck thirteen, midnight, the happy couple said goodbye.

And it was really was goodbye, for when their honeymoon was over, they were taking up their new life on Ventura IV. Remonte was the new vice-consul, directly under the Ambassador himself, a very important position in the Embassy of one of Gallifrey’s strongest allies. She didn’t see who caught her bouquet when she threw it. She didn’t care. She walked on Remonte’s arm. Kristoph and Marion and her parents and Remonte’s, too, walked with her to the steps of the house. Below on the lawn, next to the now dark Envo-Sphere, Remonte’s TARDIS waited, its chameleon circuit disguising it as a classical folly with a great oak door between ionic pillars.

“I will miss you,” Marion told her as she kissed her cheek. “But I know you’ll be happy on Ventura.”

“I’ll miss you, too, Marion,” Rika told her. “Thank you, for everything. Goodbye, my dear friend.”

The two women looked to their husbands. Kristoph was hugging Remonte.

“Goodbye, my brother,” he said. “May Rassilon’s blessing go with you.”

She hugged her parents, and her mother and father in law, too, saying goodbye to them all. Then Remonte took Rika by the hand and they entered his TARDIS.

The honeymoon destination had been pre-programmed and he took only a moment to set the dematerialisation before he brought her through a door to the side of the console room that was a beautiful honeymoon bedroom. Rika had never slept in a room so beautiful in her life. She had never even cleaned such a room when she was a servant. The huge bed was covered in silk and lace and there was a plush carpet on the floor that she felt she wanted to sink her bare feet into, mirrors all around that made it look twice as big, and a Jacuzzi bath set into the floor where the carpet turned to marble tiles.

And yes, as Remonte took her in his arms and kissed her as he reached to slide the diamond covered dress off her shoulders, she really did feel as if this was the first time he had touched her that way and she sighed with anticipation of her honeymoon night pleasure.