Marion sat in the back of the chauffer-driven hover car and watched the scenery that passed swiftly by. It was nearly sunset on an autumn evening and the yellow sky was turning to burnt orange. Unfamiliar stars were already visible. At this time in the evening, the planet always looked the most alien to her. The strange atmospheric elements that made the sky that unnatural colour made all the natural shades and colours of the planet look different. Greens and blues looked yellow. Reds and yellows and oranges looked more deeply so. It was very beautiful. But it was also very alien to her eyes. And right now she wished it was not. She needed something familiar to reassure her.

“You look beautiful, Marion,” Kristoph assured her, squeezing her hand. “There is no need to be nervous.”

“It’s not just about looking beautiful,” she replied. “It’s about looking filthy rich and sure of your own self-importance.”

“Yes,” Kristoph laughed. “That sums up Lady Ravenswode’s dinner parties. And you don’t even know her.”

“She’s NOT going to like me, is she?” Marion sighed.

“Do you expect to be liked by everyone you meet? Lady Ravenswode is a snob. Just like Lady Oakdaene. Just like Idell and Oriana. None of them are ever going to be your friends. And in the case of Oriana that makes me sad. Because she IS my sister. But there will always be people who don’t like you. I can guess which ones. Just try to be dignified around them, and enjoy the company of those people you DO like. There will be many there who you know already. Lily, of course. And the ladies you lunched with last week.”

“Madame Braxiatel and Lady Patriclian, and Madame Lundar,” she said, reciting the names of the people she had enjoyed meeting. Yes, but that only makes four women – six including your mother and aunt – who definitely want to be my friends. The rest…”

“Be yourself. You are a charming woman and there is no reason why anyone should not find you so. Except the snobbish core who would never be won over. Forget them.”

“Even at a dinner party at the home of one of those snobs?” Marion asked.

“Even so.”

 

She wasn’t reassured. She was still dreading it all when the car began to descend from its cruising level of some twenty feet above the ground to hover in front of the great gates of the House of Ravenswode. The gates were swiftly opened and the car continued up a long drive between tall trees interspersed with long columns upon which were statues of a black, foreboding bird with its wings outstretched and its beak jabbing forward as if to peck at the eyes of any uninvited guest.

“Ravens?” Marion asked. “Ravenswode?”

“Yes,” Kristoph answered. “Except the ravens we have here are twice the size of Earth ones. Lord Ravenswode keeps several of them for hunting with.”

“He hunts? I didn’t think people did that sort of thing on Gallifrey.”

“Ravenswode does,” answered Kristoph in a tone that implied distaste.

The house was a big, sprawling one of grey granitelike stone, decorated with more of the raven statues around the big main door from which light pooled.

The car stopped and a liveried footman came to open the door. Kristoph stepped out first and reached to take Marion’s hand. Lily and Thedera had taught her one thing in the past weeks. How to get out of a car gracefully, both feet together, standing up smoothly and gracefully, never touching any part of the car door. And having accomplished that she walked beside Kristoph into the house.

In the reception hall there was proof that Ravenswode did, indeed, like to hunt. Every part of the wall was covered in the heads of stuffed animals. Kristoph looked at them in disgust, especially two graceful heads of creatures a lot like lions. Marion did her best not to look.

“Ambasador de Lœngbærrow and guest,” announced another liveried footman as they were ushered from the reception hall to a grand looking ballroom with mirrors all along one side and arched, full length windows on the other. The windows were all open making the paved garden beyond seem like an extension of the room. Many guests were out there. Those outside did not hear that announcement, so they did not know how angry Kristoph was.

“I’m sorry, Marion,” he told her. “Both Lord and Lady Ravenswode know your name. There isn’t a house on the Southern Continent where it is not known. That was a pathetic attempt at putting you down.”

“Lœngbærrow!” A voice called. Kristoph turned as a tall, broad-shouldered man bore down on him. Kristoph pressed his lips together and seemed to be composing himself carefully. “There was some doubt about whether you were going to show your face, after all.”

“Lord Ravenswode, why should there be any doubt? My fiancée and I were invited. May I present to you, by the way, Marion, the future Lady de Lœngbærrow.”

The man bowed very slightly to Marion and then turned back to address Kristoph again.

“The future is uncertain, even for the Lords of Time,” he said. “Suppose the anti-alien laws were re-introduced before your Alliance could take place.”

“Those are ancient and outmoded laws and no such thing is likely to occur,” Kristoph answered.

“You had better hope so, Lœngbærrow,” Ravenswode continued with a hollow, humourless laugh.

“What did he mean by that?” Marion asked when Ravenswode moved on and Kristoph steered her towards the cool night air outside. It was pretty there. The lights from the house were supplemented by flaming torches on top of tall pillars and the flickering light reflected off the water of a large pond.

“Stay away from that,” Kristoph warned her. “It’s not an ornamental carp pond like Lily has. Ravenswode keeps a breed of deadly fish, something like freshwater piranha.”

“Uggh,” Marion shuddered. “But please… what did he mean before?”

Kristoph sighed. “There was a time, in my grandfather’s day, it goes back THAT far, when Gallifrey was a much more insular place than even now. Few Time Lords went offworld and foreigners were banned. It… went without saying that a mixed marriage was impossible. There was even a law preventing interbreeding. It was abolished. And we have been trying to become a more open society in recent years. Ravenswode, I think, would prefer we were that insular, self-serving place again.”

“They COULDN’T do that, could they?” Marion asked. “Bring back those laws.”

“Never. Ravenswode is a minority in that view.”

Marion was about to speak again when she was distracted by the voice of Hesthor Lundar calling to her. Kristoph smiled and kissed her cheek and told her to go and talk to her friends while he mingled with the political men as he was supposed to do at such functions. She was swept into the group of women and they talked about clothes and such things as women do for a while.

“Oh, look,” Hesthor said. “No, don’t look. Especially you, Marion.”

“What is it?” she asked and dared a glance around. Then she knew the cause of the frozen expressions all around. Idell de Lœngbærrow had arrived. She was no longer pregnant, of course. Her baby must have been born a few months before.

“This is her first formal appearance since…” Calliope Patriclian began then stopped.

“Since the baby was born?” Marion prompted.

“No,” Hesthor said. “Since she left Remonte de Lœngbærrow. Do you know, he has not even SEEN his son, yet.”

“I didn’t know that. I have not actually seen Remonte since I returned. She had a son, then?”

“So we are told. Though nobody has seen the child. She has been secluded at her family home all this time. But here she is…” Hesthor touched Marion on the arm and she turned as Idell approached, Lady Oakdaene beside her, and another woman who Marion just knew, without having to be told, had to be Lady Ravenswode. All three women looked at her at once. And then, quite deliberately, they turned away without acknowledging Marion or any of the women she was with.

“That was a snub. Absolutely a snub. I can’t believe they did that openly. They have no shame.”

“They’ve just done the same to Lily and Aineytta,” Isolatta Braxiatel gasped. “It’s unheard of. Nobody snubs Lilianna D’Argenlunna.”

But it seemed they had. Lily and Aineytta, she noticed, had not given the slightest indication that they were bothered by the snub. They continued to talk to each other and to other guests until a gong was sounded announcing that dinner was served. Everyone went through to the dining room.

In the seating around the table it was clear there was a snub going on, too. Marion and Kristoph were placed far away from the head of the table where Lord and Lady Ravenswode sat. Lady Oakdaene and Idell were the chosen ones, sitting next to them, and the pecking order was clear.

Not that Marion minded. It meant she did not have to talk to any of them, and she enjoyed talking to the people who were seated close to her. She didn’t worry about the conversation at the other end of the table. She was complimented on her dress and when she was asked about the planet she came from she talked about Earth. When she was asked if she liked living on Gallifrey she smiled and said she was getting used to it. She thought she was doing all right.

And she was right. Most of the guests she spoke to were friendly to her. It really DIDN’T matter that a few people didn’t even want to look her in the eye.

After dinner, again people wandered out into the warm evening under the torchlight. Marion found herself in the midst of a group of women who all wanted to talk to her. They were interested, as Hesthor, Isolatta and Calliope had been, in hearing about the places she and Kristoph had travelled to. She found that very few women on Gallifrey had ever left the planet, even if their men had, and they were interested in hearing of her experiences. They listened to her talking.

Then in an instance the mood changed. Idell pressed her way towards Marion. For a long moment she stood in front of her, just staring.

“You don’t belong here,” she said. “You’re not a Lady. You’re just a #?£$%.”

Marion didn’t know what the word meant, but the shocked gasps around her told her it was not one a Lady of Gallifrey was meant to use.

“Idell, you are being foolish,” said Calliope Patriclian. “Go and sit down. Calm yourself.”

“I will do nothing of the sort,” she answered. “This foreigner will leave. She is not one of us.”

“I have done nothing to you, Idell,” Marion told her. “I don’t know why you are angry with me.”

Idell didn’t answer her. Not in words, anyway. She raised her hand as if she was going to strike her. Then a hand grabbed her. It was Remonte, her estranged husband. He said nothing to her, just held her arm. For a moment nobody moved. Nobody said anything. Then Idell pulled away from his grasp. She pushed Marion, who screamed as she lost her footing and fell backwards into the pond. Idell fell with her and she, too, screamed. As she hit the cold water with a splash and sank down, Marion wondered briefly if Kristoph had been joking about the pirhana fish.

Then she felt something bite her arm. Several somethings, with sharp teeth that cut into her skin. She screamed as her head broke the surface. Idell was screaming, too. Marion reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder as she found her footing on the bottom of the pond. It was deep, coming up to her shoulders, but she was not out of her depth. She could reach the edge of the pond if Idell would stop screaming and struggling, and if these things would stop biting her.

Then Kristoph was beside her. He had plunged into the water without a second thought.

“I’ve got Idell,” he said. “You hold onto me. You’ll be all right.”

She reached her hands around his neck as he pulled them both to the water’s edge where other hands reached to lift them out. Idell was still screaming as Remonte came with his own coat to put around her. Kristoph had already wrapped Marion and lifted her in his arms.

“Get them both inside,” said Lily’s commanding voice, and nobody dared say otherwise. Even Lady Ravenswode stood aside as Lily took charge of the two women. She ordered them made comfortable on two sofas, ignoring the fact that they were very expensive looking silk brocade that was ruined by the pond water that dripped from their clothes.

Marion looked at her arms and was shocked. She was bleeding from hundreds of wounds where the fish had bitten her. Her dress was ripped and her legs and neck were bleeding, too. Her face was relatively unscathed, but every other part of her exposed flesh was cut.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Kristoph assured her as he and Lily helped to clean the blood away. “I’ll get you home now.” He turned and looked at Idell. She had stopped screaming now, and was complaining to Lord Ravenwode about her dress being ruined and demanding that he pay for a replacement.

“It’s your own fault,” Remonte told her coldly. “Everyone saw you push Marion. You’re lucky those fish are lethargic at night or both of you would be dead. Just be quiet. I’ll take you home in a minute.”

“She does not need to be taken anywhere,” Lady Ravenswode said. “Idell can stay here tonight as my guest.”

“As you wish,” Remonte replied and walked away. He came to Kristoph’s side as he lifted Marion into his arms again and carried her away. Lily, with Aineytta and Lord de Lœngbærrow came with them. Marion was placed carefully into the car that was ready outside on the drive. Kristoph and Lily got in with her.

“I am sorry,” Remonte told his brother. “Idell should not have done that. I am very sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Kristoph assured him. “I’ll talk to you later.” Then he closed the door and told the chauffer to drive as quickly as he could. A second car with Remonte and Lord and Lady de Lœngbærrow followed behind as they travelled swiftly back to Maison d’Alba. Marion was only half aware of what was happening. The bites were not deep, but they were painful and she felt dreadful, and the journey felt never ending.

“Stay awake,” Kristoph told her, stroking her face gently. “Stay awake, my love.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if she slept?” Lily asked.

“No,” he answered. “She’s in shock. We need to keep her warm and keep her awake.”

“I’m awake,” Marion told him. “But I want to sleep. I feel so cold, and it hurts so much.”

“I know, my love. I know,” Kristoph said. He touched her forehead and she sighed as she felt him drawing off the pain, taking it into his own body. It still hurt, but not so unbearably.

“My dress is ruined,” she murmured.

“I know,” Kristoph answered. “I’ll send the bill for it to Ravenswode. Though I can’t imagine he’ll pay. He’s a miser. Did you notice how substandard the wine was at dinner?”

Marion managed to giggle slightly at his attempt at humour. It lifted her spirits, anyway and she fought to stay awake. She just wished she didn’t feel so cold. She felt as if the water was still closing over her.

She still felt cold even when they reached Lily’s house and she was taken up to her room. Lily and Aineytta undressed her and put her to bed. Aineytta sent Kristoph and Remonte to Lily’s herb garden with instructions and she made up an infusion that she made Marion drink.

“None of your Earth tea this time,” she said gently. “This is to make you better. Those infernal fish, and that filthy water.”

Her herbs had made a soothing ointment, too, that she rubbed into the cuts on Marion’s body.

“You can sleep now, my love,” Kristoph said at last as he pulled the blankets around her. He kissed her forehead and passed his hand over her face. Her eyes grew heavy and she was soon asleep.

“I’m staying with her,” Kristoph told his mother and Lily. “Tradition can go to hell for tonight. I’m not leaving her side.”

“That’s all right,” Aineytta told him. “You take care of her, my son. Your father and I, and your brother are going to wait, too. I’m sorry it turned out this way.”

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for, mother,” Kristoph answered. “Nor does Remonte. Idell was always jealous of Marion. Sooner or later she was going to have her big scene. I just hope she’s learn her lesson.”

Kristoph kept his promise. He sat by Marion’s side all night. She slept soundly, because the light trance he had induced in her made sure she would. And while she slept his mother’s herbal remedies did their work. It would take a few days for her Human flesh to repair. But she would not be scarred.

He remembered the very first week he knew her, when she had caught pneumonia in the rain of Harrogate. He had spent hour after hour by her bedside as she slept off the illness, and he had known then that he loved her. He still loved her.

He was troubled. The first few weeks of her new life had been happy. But now this had ruined everything. What if she wanted to go back home to Earth, where there were no snobs who slighted her and petty jealousy to taint her life.

If she did, then he would go with her. She meant more to him than Gallifrey. Of that he was certain. It would be hard. He had promised his mother they would make their life here now, that he would take up his responsibilities.

But if Marion wanted to leave, then he would leave with her.

 

Marion woke late. The clock by her bedside told her it was after ten in the morning. She felt stiff and sore, and her memory of last night dismayed her.

“Oh,” she murmured. “All those people. They’ll all think I am some kind of idiot. And I had hoped to make friends…”

“You HAVE made friends, Marion,” Kristoph told her. “Here, sit up. There’s tea made for you.” He helped her sit up in the bed and she looked around. The room was full of flowers.

“You did that?” she asked. “They’re lovely.”

“Not me,” he answered. “Well, the roses there, they’re from me. And Remonte brought the big basket of fruit. The rest are from almost everyone who was at the dinner party. There are cards with them. They all wrote things to you. Needless to say there’s nothing from the Ravenswode or Oakdaene Houses. But the rest – you have friends here, Marion. Be assured of that. People who would miss you if you went away again.”

“Why would I go away?” she asked as she picked up the cards and read them. She looked at Kristoph as he sighed with relief. “Did you really think…” He didn’t say anything but she understood. “I am hurting, still. But you don’t have to worry. I’m here to stay. I’m not going to let Idell scare me away. Or anyone else.”