None of Marion’s injuries were more than superficial, but there were so many of them that it was a week before she felt well enough to venture out of Maison d’Alba. The silver lining, at least, was that Kristoph spent far longer there with her than he had in the previous weeks, giving her all the attention and love she wanted from him.

She still had a few of the deeper scars and scratches on her arms and legs when she and Lily travelled to the capitol to visit the Fashion House for her first wedding dress fitting. This involved first having to put on a tight fitting corset so that she was the exact shape she would be on the day of the wedding.

“Of course, on the DAY, the foundation garments will be more spectacular,” Lily told her as she helped her to tighten the laces. “You will have corsetry of finest satin and lace. All for the pleasure of your new husband later, of course.”

Marion blushed and smiled at the idea. She had already looked at a catalogue of lingerie garments that she was sure he would appreciate, though she didn’t dwell too much on that side of things, yet.

“It WILL be your first night, won’t it?” Lily asked. “I know that you and Kristoph went though a form of marriage on Earth. But…”

“No, we waited,” Marion assured her. “It is important to Kristoph. The traditions of his world mean so very much to him. It has been such a long wait. I keep wondering, if something might yet come between us, something prevent the Alliance.”

“Nothing will come between you,” Lily assured her. "You are going to have the perfect wedding and a perfectly happy marriage. Don’t worry.”

Marion sighed and looked at herself in the long mirror as the Fashion House proprietor herself fitted the muslin pattern of the dress that would be made up in the finest of fabrics, with a fortune in diamonds sewn onto it in keeping with the Gallifreyan tradition. She DARED to imagine it.

“He will be mine,” she whispered. “My husband, my Lord.”

“Modern Gallifreyan ladies only call their husband ‘Lord’ in the bedchamber,” Lily told her.

“I know,” she answered with a giggle. “I was THINKING of the bedchamber.”

After the fitting they lunched at the Conservatory. It had become very much her favourite place when she was in the Capitol. She even had her favourite table that the maitre-d escorted her to, and where she met with her friends Hesthor, Isolatta and Calliope, all three of whom were titled ladies, but whom she had come to know simply by their first names.

The table was by the window, and as she enjoyed her lunch Marion looked out through it often, fascinated by the strange landscape beyond. The Capitol, a great city of tall spires and graceful architecture, nestled between a sharp-peaked mountain range and the edge of the Great Red Desert. The view here was of that desert that lay beyond the protective dome that covered the whole of the Capitol. It looked like glass, but it was actually an energy shield that had been built for the protection of the seat of government on Gallifrey at the time of that terrible war Kristoph and Li and others of their generation had fought in. It also served as an environmental shield, maintaining an ambient temperature and humidity in the city and protecting against UV rays and Gamma rays and other dangers from space itself.

Yes, the shield was amazing technology and the Capitol was a magnificent city, the kind of thing science fiction writers of Earth dreamt of when they invented planets and species beyond the stars. And she sat there in a restaurant within that fabulous city calmly eating a seafood salad and drinking chilled white wine as she talked with women who were born under that shield.

She looked beyond it to the desert. It looked lifeless and dead. But she knew from reading the books in Kristoph’s library that it was home to many creatures, including a sort of desert lion and many snakes and reptiles as well as an insect population that would make an Earth naturalist giddy with excitement. There were even nomadic tribes who made temporary homes around the oases, called Outlanders by polite people and ‘Sheboogins’ by the less polite.

“Do people travel across the desert?” Marion asked her friends.

“There are mining towns scattered across it,” Hesthor told her. “They are linked by shuttles. But you mean actually on the ground? Mostly just for sport. We have solar yacht races and speed trials and such, and sometimes parties of young Time Lord candidates test their endurance with desert walking.”

“If you are interested, Kristoph could take you on a solar yacht,” Lily told her. “He was a very good pilot in his younger days.” There was a smile in her eyes that told Marion that she had gone solar yachting with him in the times when they were lovers. She wasn’t jealous. She knew Kristoph and Lily had shared memories that she would never begrudge to either.

“Yes,” said a scathing voice. “And he could give you to a Sheboogin for his lunch. They’re not too particular about what they eat, I’m told.”

Marion looked up at Idell de Lœngbærrow as she stood by the table. Close to her was a servant pushing a very elaborate pram. The baby inside was asleep and quiet.

“Look all you like,” Idell continued as she saw Marion looking at the baby. “HE will be the heir of Lœngbærrow. I shall see to it.”

“Idell, don’t make a scene,” Calliope Patriclian said to her. “You are already the laughing stock of Gallifreyan society. Don’t embarrass yourself further.”

“I will not be usurped by an upstart foreigner,” she went on. “Your days on this planet are numbered. Lord Ravenswode is addressing the High Council this very afternoon. He intends to re-enact the anti-Alien laws. He will see that your Alliance with the Lœngbærrow heir is prevented.”

Marion was startled by that. She could say nothing. Her friends, though, were contemptuous.

“Ravenswode is as deluded as you are,” Calliope responded. “Go away, Idell. Go back to your husband and behave yourself and you might regain a little respect.”

“Do you think these people support you?” Idell asked Marion, ignoring Calliope’s words. “Do you think they are your friends? You don’t have telepathy, do you? How do you KNOW what people really think? How do you know that everyone in this restaurant isn’t talking about you behind your back, laughing at you? How do you know THESE at the table with you aren’t really laughing at you in their minds as they pretend to be your friends?”

“That is ENOUGH, Idell,” Lily said firmly. “GO away. Go and take a seat and order your meal or leave the restaurant.”

The Maitre-d finally managed to steer her away to a table on the other side of the room. She directed the servant to leave the baby with her and go and sit by the kitchen door. Around her, conversations resumed.

“It’s not true,” said Isolatta Braxiatel. “People are NOT talking about you telepathically. There are a few talking about Idell now, after she gave them so much to talk about. But none of them are talking about YOU. When we came in a few commented to each other about what a nice dress you were wearing and asked if the invitations to your Alliance had been sent out yet. But no more than that.”

“And AS for the idea that WE…” Hesthor’s expression completed the sentence. “Put the thought from your mind, Marion. We would never do such a thing. Nor would most decent people. Yes, almost everyone on this planet is telepathic to some level. But we don’t use it in ordinary conversation. We would never hear ourselves THINK if we did.”

“Idell has very few friends left now,” Lily added. “Everyone knows that you helped rescue her when you both went into the pond. Those who saw it have retold the story time and again. You are the heroine. She is the ungrateful wretch.”

“What about Lord Ravenswode?” Marion asked. “Is he really…”

“He HAS given notice of tabling a motion,” Isolatta answered. “My Lord spoke of it this morning. He was annoyed as he had hoped to have a quiet session, but Ravenswode will demand to be heard.”

“If he succeeds…. I won’t be able to marry Kristoph…”

“He will NEVER get his way,” Hesthor assured her. “He would need a two-thirds majority just to have it sent to committee. He won’t get anything like that. It’s nonsense.”

“Did you hear that Idell is living with the Ravenswode’s now?” Isolatta added. “That’s what it’s all about. They are closing ranks. But almost nobody supports them.”

Marion was partially reassured. But it spoilt their lunch and afterwards she hadn’t the heart for the opera they planned to attend.

“Come on,” Hesthor told her. “There’s only one thing for it. Time you saw how the High Council deals with the likes of Ravenswode.” She summoned her car and directed her driver to take them to the Citadel, the greatest, tallest building at the heart of the city. The great, hexagonal building rose up to a dizzy height before tapering into a graceful tower. Within it, was the whole government and administration of Gallifrey. The Panopticon was there, where the High Council sat and where important ceremonies took place. So were all the departments of government and much more, besides.

Hesthor led the way. At the reception she obtained security passes for them all and they travelled by a turbo lift to the public entrance to the Panopticon. There, they showed their passes and were each given a medallion on a ribbon to wear.

“What is this?” Marion asked as she looked at the familiar Seal of Rassilon on the medallion.

“It’s a personal perception filter,” Isolatta explained. “So that we’re not a disturbance to the proceedings on the floor. It sort of makes us invisible.”

“Not EXACTLY invisible,” Lily corrected. “Just not noticeable. If a Councillor looks up at the gallery he will know somebody is there, but he won’t bother about who we are or what we are doing.”

“Oh.” Marion thought about it for a while as they took their seats in the gallery above the floor of the Panopticon. “What if we were assassins come to shoot the Lord High President, then?”

“The perception filter would fail because we would be acting out of character and that would draw attention to us,” Calliope said. “But it’s probably better NOT to talk about assassination in the Panopticon. It HAS happened once or twice in our history.”

They settled down to watch the proceedings. The High Council sat in a half circle, all dressed very grandly in high collared robes of glorious colours. A far cry from the House of Commons, Marion thought.

They were finishing a discussion about a trade agreement with some place called the Isop Galaxy. Then Lord Ravenswode stood and there was a murmur among the Councillors before a man in gold regalia stamped a long staff for silence.

“I stand before you today in order to draw attention to the dangerous infiltration of our society by aliens of inferior blood who, if this trend is allowed to continue, will result in the…..”

For nearly half an hour he spoke in a rather dull tone about the diminishing of Time Lord society by the introduction of alien ideas, alien culture, alien blood. It was all quite dull and boring in its way. And all thoroughly bigoted and unpleasant. It was the sort of pure race nonsense that Nazism grew from, except Lord Ravenswode was so DULL about it that it seemed incredible that anyone should be convinced by him.

“And so, in conclusion,” he finally said. “I propose a limit of 30 days on any alien visiting this planet, the immediate deportation of any alien who has exceeded that limit, without exception or appeal.”

“Oh, no,” Marion whispered and imagined herself sent away from Gallifrey for being there illegally. She listened as the Councillors debated what was presented as a means of ensuring that Gallifreyan citizens were not denied work and homes by alien beings taking them. Several of the Councillors seemed to agree that there WAS a danger of that happening and were tentatively in favour of a limit on aliens remaining on Gallifrey.

Finally, the Gold Usher, for that was the title of the man with the long staff, called for a show of hands. Some dozen or so of the fifty high Councillors agreed with Ravenswode. The rest voted against.

His proposal to re-enact the ban on interspecies marriage had no support at all. Ravenswode looked a little less certain of himself.

“Very well,” he conceded. “Then I shall call for the enactment of Disinheritance. If any Gallifreyan marries an alien, then the progeny of such a union must not be allowed to inherit titles or property. And they must under no circumstances be allowed to attend our educational institutions.”

“Wait a minute.” One of the Councillors who had originally voted WITH Ravenswode stood. “How many Gallifreyans are planning to marry an alien?”

“Just one,” somebody else said.

“That’s what I thought. Re-enactment of some of the alien laws to prevent the subversion of our society… with some amendments I could see the point of that. We have become far too open in my opinion. The space lanes are chocked with incoming traffic. But this is not for the good of Gallifrey. This is for the good of Idell de Lœngbærrow.”

“Indeed, it is,” said another Councillor. “Your proposals are out of order, Ravenswode. The High Council is not to be used for one-upmanship, or for the personal and financial gain of any one citizen.”

“It is the thin end of the wedge,” Ravenswode responded. “If one alien is allowed to produce heirs, where will the Oldblood houses be in a few generations?”

“Perhaps better off,” was one of the responses. “If a few more Oldbloods chose wives as attractive as Lœngbærrow has.” And there was laughter all around the chamber.

Marion felt embarrassed. Perhaps the councillor was meaning to be complimentary, but it was embarrassing to be talked about that way.

It was also quite ridiculous.

“How can I be causing this much trouble?” she asked. “I’m being talked about in the parliament. All I want to do is marry Kristoph. I don’t care about Oldbloods and Newbloods and inheritances.”

“Don’t worry,” Lily assured her. “Ravenswode is not having his way. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

“I’m not afraid,” she said. “Just… embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted by it all.”

The argument was becoming heated. Ravenswode was declaring that the whole of Gallifreyan society was going to be destroyed if the house of Lœngbærrow became a house of impure blood. Others were arguing against him. Finally the Gold Usher brought the debate to a close. A vote was taken. Only three Councillors voted with Ravenswode.

Ravenswode spoke rapidly in High Gallifreyan that Marion hardly managed to follow.

He stormed out of the chamber as the Gold Usher called for the adjournment.

“Come on,” Lily told Marion. “Let’s go. Now you see there was nothing to worry about.”

“This time,” she answered. “But what if he was to try again and have more support?”

“Once you are married to Kristoph there is nothing anyone can do to prevent you taking the place you deserve in our society. Nor can your children be disinherited once Lord de Lœngbærrow settles the title upon him. And that will be done at your Alliance. After that, you WILL be Lady de Lœngbærrow and no law can be passed to prevent it. Ravenswode has failed completely.”

“Who wants to tell Idell?” Hesthor said with a giggle. All the women laughed. Even Marion, though it worried her. In all her life on Earth she had never had ‘enemies’. There were people who were indifferent to her, a few people who liked her. But nobody who hated her with the sort of vehemence that Lord and Lady Ravenswode hated her, or Idell or Oriana, and Lady Oakdaene. Five people she could name outright who wished the very worst for her, and who actively sought to hurt her in all the ways.

And she was still not certain… Yes, she trusted Hesthor and Isolatta and Calliope. And she certainly trusted Lily. But WERE there others who didn’t speak truly when she was around?

They were outside the Citadel again, and Lily proposed refreshments after such a dull, dry afternoon’s entertainment and steered them towards a small café within walking distance of the great building. Her friends did their best to cheer her up, but Marion was despondent. Even though Ravenswode had been defeated, the fact that there was such hatred for her disturbed her. As well as the other doubts that were filling her mind.

As they were drinking a tasty herbal infusion that passed for ‘tea’ on Gallifrey and eating biscuits made of Cúl nut paste, a woman came into the café. Marion vaguely recalled her from the Ravenswode dinner party, but for the moment could not put a name to her face. Lily greeted her as Madame Dúccesci and invited her to sit with them.

“Just for a moment,” she said. “I am meeting my sister-in-law and her husband in a few minutes. But I have to tell you what I just saw. Lord Ravenswode has been stood down from the High Council for conduct unbecoming a gentleman.”

“No,” Lily said on behalf of them all. “We didn’t hear that. We DID see him fail to have one of his pet projects tabled for debate in the Panopticon. And he was not pleased.”

“He had a blazing row with Remonte de Lœngbærrow in the ante-chamber. He demanded that he take back his wife and renounce his brother.”

“And Remonte…”

“Told him that his wife was a very foolish woman and that he would not take her back until she apologised fully to his brother’s fiancée. Ravenswode called her a &#@%$£. Not Remonte’s wife, I mean, but Marion, his brother’s….”

“And what did Remonte do?” Lily asked.

“He didn’t have to do ANYTHING at that point,” Madame Dúccesci answered. “Because he said the same word again louder, and Gold Usher, the Chancellor AND The Lord High President were coming from the Panopticon and heard him say it. He was told to apologise and when he refused… He was forcibly removed from the Citadel by the Chancellery Guard on orders of the Castellan himself. Oh, Lady Ravenswode is going to be so embarrassed when she finds out.”

“He really said THAT? Within public hearing?” Isolatta was outraged. Marion made a note to ask what the word meant later, though she hazarded a guess.

“Yes, he did,” replied Madame Dúccesci. “And about such a gracious and good woman, too. He should be ashamed of himself.”

She chattered on a little more in that way, mentioning more than once that she thought Marion a delightful and charming woman who was going to make a good wife to a fine and gracious Oldblood Gallifreyan. Marion said nothing. Her friends looked at her once or twice and were puzzled, but said nothing, either. Finally Madame Dúccesci’s sister-in-law and husband arrived and they found a table together.

Calliope Patriclian turned to Marion with a conspiratorial smile.

“You are still wearing the perception filter medallion, aren’t you?” she said. “Madame Dúccesci didn’t even realise you were there. Or she SAW you but didn’t recognise YOU.”

Marion touched the pale blue ribbon that was tucked into the top of her dress and smiled.

“I don’t have telepathy,” she said. “But I’m not stupid. Is she typical of what people think of me? Are there more like her than like Idell and Lady Ravenswode?”

“FAR more,” Hesthor assured her. “If you need proof, keep wearing the perception filter. But I think your fiancée wants you to be noticed and admired, not to hide away.”

Marion nodded. She took the ribbon off and put the medallion in her handbag. Madame Dúccesci was too busy recounting the same story to those at her own table to notice that she was there. She let Lily pour her another cup of ‘tea’ and relaxed.