This was Marion’s first formal occasion since birth of her still born child. She had received guests at Mount Lœng House and had attended a few luncheons with her closest friends at their houses, but she had not yet taken part in any larger functions of Gallifreyan society.

Even now, the ball that she was attending was not on Gallifrey. It was a party at the royal palace of Ventura IV, in honour of the coming of age of the Crown Prince Rubein. She and Kristoph were attending along with Ambassador Stillhaeven and his wife, as well as Remonte, as the Consul, and his wife, Rika.

They all travelled to the palace in the City by horse drawn carriage, of course. Formal occasions on Ventura always called for fine carriages and the best groomed horses to pull them. Cars were for ordinary, everyday business.

“Don’t be nervous, Marion, dear,” said Rika, clutching her gloved hand as they rode together in the landau through the lamplit city street. “It’s going to be a splendid party. And you must meet the new Earth Ambassador and his wife. They are very nice people. Lady Margery often comes to lunch with us and I find her so easy to talk to. I know you’ll like her.”

Kristoph looked at his brother in surprise as he heard Rika talking that way. It was not so very long since Rika was being reassured by Marion and by Lady Stillhaeven about occasions such as this. Now she was perfectly confident about referring to somebody like ‘Lady Margery’, the wife of the Earth Ambassador, as a friend.

“Ventura IV is good for her,” Remonte told his brother telepathically as he listened to his wife’s chatter. “She has always felt equal to the other women, and that makes all the difference.”

Rika turned and smiled at her husband.

“The Alpha Centaurans,” she said. “Remind me again, which is the Consul and which is his wife. Or does it work that way with them? They do puzzle me.”

“The Consul is the one who wears a silver sash over his robe. Strictly speaking they are hermaphrodite, but we have always referred to him in the male gender and counted his partner as his Lady wife. It isn’t quite right, but there doesn’t seem to be a correct pronoun for their species. And neither of them mind. Alpha Centaurans are such easy going people. But do remember, of course, that the Augarian Ambassador is the lady. On that planet the female of the species is dominant. She has three husbands with her at her Augarian Embassy at present. One of them will be attending with her, and to call him ‘Excellency’ is embarrassing to him and insulting to her.”

“She scares me.” Rika admitted.

“She scares me,” remarked Lord Stillhaeven, and Remonte and Kristoph agreed.

“We are something of a misogynistic society,” Kristoph pointed out. We have only really accepted women in positions of power for the last ten millennia. It’s something we’re not quite used to. So, naturally, the Augarians puzzle us. But that’s the purpose of diplomacy, to accustom ourselves with the ways of others.”

“You can dance with her, then,” Remonte answered his brother, and that made everyone in the carriage laugh. Venturan citizens who saw them smiled to see three handsome couples in their finery, the ladies in silk and satin and the men in their fine robes. And certainly none would have guessed that two of them were not born to that life.

Nobody at the palace would have thought so, either. Both Rika and Marion were accustomed, by now, to entering grand halls, lit by sparkling chandeliers, and being announced by liveried footmen. Lord and Lady Stillhaeven, Lord and Lady de Lœngbærrow and the Honourable Consul and Madam de Lœngbærrow were all announced as representing Gallifrey of the Shining System, the archaic, but rather beautiful description of their homeworld. The men smiled at each other and knew that, despite being the ones with the power and position, it was their wives who everyone turned to look at and admire as they walked down the wide steps to the ballroom floor.

They went first to be formally presented to the Crown Prince, sitting on his throne with his princess at his side. Marion and Rika had both learnt to curtsey wearing a long silk dress and to step backwards afterwards without tripping on their hems. Both privately thought that it was something the high born ladies knew how to do instinctively, the way birds knew how to fly south in winter. But they had both practiced hard to achieve it, Marion with Lady Lily and Rika with Lady Alanna Stillhaeven’s guidance.

Once that formal presentation was over, though, it was much easier. They were free to mingle with the other guests, and Rika lost no time in introducing Marion to Sir Arthur Stevenson, the Earth Ambassador. Sir Arthur, was immediately interested in Marion, for reasons she had hardly expected.

“Surely,” he said to her. “That is an old Birkenhead accent. But you are with the Gallifreyan deputation?”

“I am married to Lord de Lœngbærrow of Gallifrey,” she answered. “But yes, I am from Birkenhead.”

“You are a long way from home, dear lady,” Sir Arthur told her.

“Gallifrey is my home,” she replied. “But Earth is never far away for me.”

“You really must meet my wife,” Sir Arthur continued. He looked around and smiled indulgently. “If she can get away from the Alpha Centaurans, that is. Delightful people, but they talk for hours and never really seem to say anything important.” He waved to his wife as she excused herself from those two strange but pleasant, non-humanoid delegates, and came to his side. Marion was pleased to discover that, beneath some careful elocution lessons, Lady Margery had a Birkenhead accent, too. It was nearly two hundred million light years to Earth, but two people from the same small part of it had found each other.

“Why don’t you two sit and chat to each other. I will take Madam Rika for a dance. I see that the Augarian Ambassador has taken a shine to her husband at the moment.”

Rika looked a little alarmed, but was assured that Augarians never tried to poach husbands from other women. Marion and Lady Margery found a quiet corner to sit and talk until Kristoph, having also had a turn as the dance partner of the Augarian Ambassador, sought her company.

“You seemed to be having a pleasant time,” he said to her as he held her close for a slow waltz.

“Yes,” Marion answered and told him all about Lady Margery coming from the same place as her.

“Lady Marion of Duke Street,” Kristoph said with a smile. “What a lovely coincidence.”

“I never even thought about it. My accent. I had almost forgotten I had one. When I’m at home, on Gallifrey, I don’t think I do. Not when I’m speaking Gallifreyan. I am sure I sound just like Lily and Hesthor and the other ladies. But of course, I automatically spoke to Sir Arthur in English and he knew at once.”

“I never thought about it, either,” Kristoph admitted. “At least not for a long time. I just think of it as my wife’s voice… the voice of my Lady. So did you enjoy chatting about home with Lady Margery?”

“Yes. But it’s not the same. It’s not really home, now. Margery comes from Birkenhead in the twenty-eighth century… I always forget that we live in a much later time than I was born in. It’s all different now. Earth… is different. Better different, I think. They have no pollution and there are no wars, and they have almost eradicated poverty and hunger. And that’s all good, of course. But Duke Street is gone. The place where I was born, where I grew up. The old docks were expanded and turned into a pleasure lake, and they excavated miles of land to do it. There are big houses with their own parklands around now. That’s where Lady Margery comes from. One of the big houses. I came from a little terraced house with a back yard… A good one with a proper indoor bathroom, and a bay window in the front room. But still… It was home. It’s what I remember. It’s what I know.”

“We could visit Earth in the twenty-eighth century if you like,” Kristoph suggested. “It would make an interesting detour on the way home.”

“No,” Marion answered. “I know you’ll think it silly, after all, we’ve been back in time on Earth, to Victorian times, and Shakespeare’s Globe, and all those opera first nights and concerts in different decades. And I even loved the millennium celebrations at New Year 1999. That was fun. Especially when we did it in Moscow and Tokyo, New York, Liverpool and Paris all in the one night. But in 1999, Earth still looked like I know it, except for the clothes and music. But the Twenty-Eighth Century – London, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow are all under great habitat domes just like the Capitol on Gallifrey. They have their own controlled weather systems and air conditioning. And the thought just makes me feel…”

She stopped talking, not sure quite how she felt, or at least how to express it to Kristoph.

“It sounds alien to you. You don’t mind Gallifrey or any other planet being alien. But you need Earth to look like you remember. And you’re afraid if you see it like that it will spoil your memories of home. I do understand, my dear. I truly do. You keep your memories. We shall not visit Earth in any time later than your own. But I think we should find somewhere to take a detour on the way home. I think we both deserve a little quiet time, away from Ambassadors and Ambassador’s wives, just the two of us. Lord Stillhaeven mentioned a place. I think you might like it.”

“I’m sure I will,” Marion answered him. She smiled warmly as he held her closer and loved her as he had loved her almost since the first moment he had heard her voice when they talked to each other in a waiting room on Leeds railway station. She had thought so little of herself, hidden herself behind dull clothes and a quiet demeanour. But he had seen her, even then, as something more. As Lady Marion of Duke Street, Lady Marion of Gallifrey.