The preparations for the transformation of Mrs Kristoph de Leon into Lady de Lœngbærrow began in earnest the next day with the arrival at Maison d’Alba of the carpet maker. Marion listened in amazement as she was told that Mount Lœng House was to have new carpets throughout and they would be woven to her specifications.

“But there is nothing wrong with the carpets,” she protested. “Mount Lœng House has beautiful carpets and rugs.”

“But you will be the Lady of the House,” Lily told her. “And it is customary for the Lady to choose the design of the carpets for her new home.”

It sort of made sense. Young couples starting out in their first home DID go and buy carpets. But in that sense she and Kristoph were NOT a young couple. There already were beautiful carpets in the house in Knowsley and she assumed that Mount Lœng House already had everything a house could possibly need apart from a plentiful supply of PG Tips.

“I can actually choose a design and it will be MADE for me?” That astonished her. There were carpet warehouses on Earth that advertised 1,000s of rolls. That was their selling point. But they didn’t promise to make them to the customer’s own design.

And she couldn’t help thinking of Aineytta. This was another step in her usurpation as the Lady of the House. She wondered if Aineytta had chosen the carpets that were in the house now. She remembered especially the one in the main hall. It was a burgundy red with a crest in the middle of it, like the pictures she had seen in the oval office of the American President. Only this one was two silver trees whose branches met in the middle, and between them, what looked like a posy of some sort of herbs, that she supposed represented Aineytta’s skill with natural infusions.

In the hall of Maison D’Alba, on the other hand, the carpet was white with a depiction of a moon surrounded by lilies.

“Something that represents our marriage, Kristoph and I?” she said. “His family crest, and something that represents me?”

“Yes,” Lily told her. “Exactly that.”

“All right,” she decided. “But… I don’t see quite what I want here.” She took a pencil and a piece of paper and tried to draw it, but it looked wrong. “No, I can’t go through life with a carpet that looks like a lob-sided pelican got squashed into it. Wait…”

She excused herself from the presence of the carpet designer and went to what she thought of as her room. And it WAS her room, with her own things around it. She found one small memento of home that sat on a shelf near the dressing table and brought it back to the drawing room.

“THIS is what I should like incorporated into the design for the main hall,” she told the carpet designer as she handed him a china mug. The designer looked at it for a few minutes then began to draw on a sheet of thick paper. A shield, with a stylised bird within, its wings outstretched and its head held high, and an olive branch in its beak. The mug was coloured in shades of golden yellow for the bird and russet-brown fading to deep red and in her mind’s eye she could see those colours in the new carpet. She watched as the designer put the two silvertrees of the House of Lœngbærrow around it and showed it to her for her final approval.

“Yes,” she said happily. And she saw Lily’s smile of approval.

 

“So you ARE of noble birth then?” said Hesthor Lundar, one of the guests at her first ladies luncheon in Lily’s beautifully appointed dining room as she looked approvingly at the colour version of the final design which the carpet maker had left with Marion. “I had heard…”

Hesthor blushed as she sought a word that did not sound insulting to her luncheon host.

“A foreigner,” suggested Madame Isolatta Braxiatel. “You are not from Gallifrey, of course. But that is not to say…”

“I’m not ‘noble’ in the sense you mean,” Marion answered truthfully. “But on Earth, at least in the part of it I come from, we don’t really have that sort of idea. People are supposed to be equal, whether rich or poor. The crest… it’s the arms of the city I come from. Liverpool.”

“Liv…erpool?” The word was new to the Gallifreyan ladies and their pronunciation of it brought a smile to Marion’s face. Hesthor Lundar asked her what it was like, and she smiled even more widely and painted a rather rose-tinted – it had to be admitted – picture of Liverpool. The Mersey river took on mythical dimensions and the tall, graceful buildings of the waterfront, the great cathedrals, the shopping malls, the parks and all made it sound a noble city. And why not, she thought. These ladies were never likely to visit there, and she was the only person from Liverpool ever likely to visit Gallifrey. Let it be thought of as a great and noble city of beauty and grace.

“Nearly half a million people live there?” Calliope Patriclian, youngest daughter of the House of Patriclian, looked at her in amazement. “Even our Capitol has no more than a hundred thousand souls in it, including Caretakers. The whole population of Gallifrey is less half a billion. I cannot imagine such a huge number of people in one city.”

“There are much larger cities on Earth,” Marion answered. “Liverpool is small, really. And there was a planet Kristoph took me to for a weekend - Ara Quartus. It has a city with one billion people, all enclosed under a great glass bubble. It was magnificent.”

“A billion…” Isolatta Braxiatel looked unnerved. “And you have seen many such cities? You have travelled?”

“Kristoph has taken me to many wonderful places,” she answered. “But haven’t you been anywhere like that? Time Lords have the power to go anywhere in time and space. And yet…”

“My Lord Braxiatel has been offworld many times,” said Isolatta.. “But it is not customary for wives to accompany their husbands on business. Besides, for the most part, Gallifrey is a self-sufficient planet. We have no need for contact with other worlds. We are content.”

“Speak for yourself,” replied Hesthor Lundar. “I would love to travel as Marion has. The furthest I have ever been is Karn.”

“The next planet to Gallifrey?” Marion recalled.

“Karn is a wild place,” Isolatta Braxiatel said. “I wouldn’t want to go there.”

“It was rather interesting,” Hesthor continued. “We were in a group, of course. Travelling in hover capsules. But the great plains and the mountains are remarkable. And the animals… Karn Leonates, great fearsome creatures. They could snap a full grown man in half in their jaws. But to see one come right up to the capsule, its breath steaming the exo-glass, its great eyes seeming to bore right through, the power of such a creature is something to behold.”

Marion smiled and thought of the time when she and Kristoph had been waylaid in Knowsley Safari Park by a lion. But what Hesthor was describing seemed much more remarkable.

“Did you meet any of the Witches?” Calliope asked.

“Witches?” Marion looked at the other ladies cautiously. “Does that word mean the same here as on Earth?”

“It does,” Lily answered her. “But it’s not a polite word for them. They call themselves The Sisters.”

“You mean… like Renita?”

“No, no,” Lady Patriclian answered her quickly. “Nobody would call the Sisters of Contemplation “Witches”. They are honoured and respected. The Sisters who live on Karn are women who…” Lady Patriclian paused, trying to find a way to explain it to Marion.

“Very few women become Time Lords,” Lily said. “We, for the most part become the wives of Time Lords. Some DO go to the Academies and qualify. Hesthor did. She is a well respected Time Lord in her own right.” Hesthor smiled at the compliment to her. “But the sisters reject the Academies with their mysogenistic attitudes and perform the Trancension among themselves. They have the power of Time Lords. They use the power as they choose. Some say for dark purposes….”

“The ones who say it are the MEN who would prefer women did not Transcend at all,” Hesthor responded with an ironic laugh. “I would not be inclined to join the Sisterhood myself, but I doubt there is any real harm in them. I think they enjoy the notoriety and the dark reputation. And of course the way they live in that commune in the cave system.”

“Still, Lady Ravenswode would sooner have lunch with a Caretaker or a foreigner before she’d invite one of the Sisters,” Isolatta commented.

“Kristoph and I are going to a dinner party at the Ravenswode mansion next week,” Marion commented. “And I am sure Aineytta is invited.”

“Yes, but she really doesn’t have any choice about that,” Hesthor pointed out. “To snub Lord and Lady Lœngbærrow would be a mistake on her part. And any dinner party happening before the winter solstice that you are not a guest at will be a poor affair. Your Alliance is going to be the biggest social event of the year. And before then people want to get to know you. Lady Ravenswode HAD to invite you.”

“Good heavens!” Marion said with a sigh. “I never thought my being here was going to make such an impression. And… I want to marry Kristoph because I love him dearly. The biggest social event of the year! Oh dear.”

“Hesthor, you’re frightening her,” Lily admonished. “Don’t worry, Marion. On the day of your Alliance you will be the only person who matters.”

“I think Kristoph will have some part in the proceedings, too,” Marion pointed out and the women all laughed together at the idea of an Alliance of Unity in which the groom was NOT involved.

 

Marion enjoyed her luncheon with the three Gallifreyan ladies chosen by Lily for her first such social occasion. She managed to forget that she was a different species to them, and from another planet. She managed to forget that they were high born ladies and she was an illegitimate orphan from Birkenhead. She enjoyed it all and wondered why she was ever nervous about meeting them.

Later, when Kristoph came to supper and then walked with her in the dying light of the day in her favourite rose garden she told him all about it and he was not in any way surprised.

“Why should I be?” he pointed out. “I KNEW you would get on well with those ladies. They were easy to win over. I’ve known Hesthor since we were both at the Prydonian Academy. And Calliope Patriclian and Isolatta Braxiatel are lovely women.”

“They both seem to dislike Lady Ravenswode,” Marion said. “Yet they’re going to her dinner party next week, too.”

“Lady Raveswode.” Kristoph laughed. “To hear her talk you would think she was one of Rassilon’s own wives. She is so obsessed with purity of the blood and preserving the old Houses.”

“She’s NOT going to like me, is she?” Marion said. “I’m not an Oldblood.”

“Neither is she. She came from the house of Chárr. One of the Newbloods.”

“Charr is a sort of fish on Earth,” Marion said.

“Yes.” There was a twinkle in Kristoph’s eye as he replied. “A long, thin fish with beady eyes and a wide mouth. Not unlike the lady herself, in fact. I always try not to think of fish when I talk to her. Sometimes I can’t help the image in my head and I have to concentrate very hard not to smile inappropriately.”

“Oh dear,” Marion sighed. “You shouldn’t have told me that. I will be thinking of it, too when I meet her. I’ll laugh. I won’t be able to stop myself.”

“If you do, I’ll be unable to stop myself either,” Kristoph said with a laugh. “We had both better practice self-discipline when in the presence of freshwater fish or Lady Ravenswode. But I didn’t come here to talk about either right now.” He brought her to the summer house and they stepped inside. “I came to see my bride-to-be. Let me hold you and tell you how much I’ve missed you today.”

“I missed you, too,” she said. “Even though it was fun.” She let him kiss her and let herself forget everything but that kiss. He caressed her gently as he pressed her down on the cushioned seat and covered her body with his as he continued to kiss her with increasing passion. She felt the quicksilver of his mind reaching into hers and surrendered to the sensual mental love-making that had satisfied them both for so long, while both longed for the day, not so far away now, when they could surrender to each other, body and soul.