Jarod Hadandrox woke from his deep meditative trance in darkness. His knees felt numb from being in the same position for twenty six hours, but he didn’t mind that. He didn’t mind the darkness. His eyes were getting used to it now. He could see the three other men in the room with him as well as sense their minds as they, too, woke from the ritual meditation.

He was the only unmarried man in the group, he reflected with a smile. Elsewhere, his bride to be was the only unmarried woman in the group of friends she gathered around her for her pre-nuptial purification rites.

By tonight, that would all be changed. Calliope would be his wife.

“Save those thoughts until we have left this place of celibacy,” Pól Braxietel said to him telepathically. “You might upset the delicate balance of mental tranquillity.”

“Mental tranquillity? What’s that?” Jarod asked. “My mind is anything but tranquil. I am marrying the woman I love today.”

“That’s a good reason for inner turmoil,” Bolar Lundar told him. “But try to contain yourself until we are at the Panopticon. Remember we still have a mountain to climb down yet.”

“Whose idea was it to come to the Brotherhood of Mount Lœng for the meditative fast?”

“Mine,” Remonte de Lœngbærrow answered as he lit a lamp that spread its light around their meditation room. “Come, the Brothers have arranged for a light breakfast for us before we climb down the mountain. And my own brother will be waiting at the bottom of the mountain to bring us to the Panopticon in plenty of time. The exercise will do us all good.”

They stretched their limbs as they stood and went to the side room where the breakfast had been brought for them. They ate cheerfully, and talked about the climb down the mountain and the Alliance ceremony, and nobody could quite decide which was the hardest task before them.

The door opened and one of the senior Brothers entered, the one everyone knew as Maestro, even those who knew his history and his real family name.

“You will need to take care on your descent,” he said. “Overnight, a thick fog has covered the plain and visibility is poor.”

Jarod looked concerned. Maestro assured him at once that he would get to his Alliance in good time.

“If you say so, Maestro,” he answered. “I will believe you, sir.”

They did not rush their breakfast. Nor did they linger. They had planned this part of the day knowing they would have time. This news was disconcerting, but far from an insurmountable problem.

They stood on the mountain side, looking down at the sea of white only twenty feet below, stretching to the horizon. But they were Time Lords. They all had an innate sense of their place in the universe. They could find their way down a mountain easily enough, surely?

“We’d better get on with it,” Remonte de Lœngbærrow said. “Come on, my friends.”

He swung down on the fixed ropes that yesterday had helped them over the sheer cliff that was the most difficult part of the climb. The others followed him. Maestro stood at the top of the cliff and watched until all four disappeared into the fog. He looked up at the grey-yellow-orange sky. Cloud above, obscuring the newly risen sun, fog below. The Halls of the Brotherhood were in a clear strata between them.

He wondered if he should have told the four young men to stay where they were safe. But then he doubted if a hurricane would have prevented Jarod Hadandrox from trying to reach his Alliance ceremony.

Calliope was able to sleep a little later than her groom. She was already in the Capitol. It was a ten minute journey to the Citadel. First, she had a breakfast with her bridesmaids, Hesthor Lundar, Isolatta Braxietel, Marion de Lœngbærrow and Rika de Lœngbærrow. That was the first part of the most important day of her life.

“I hear there is heavy fog over the southern continent,” Hesthor said as the five women enjoyed the fresh fruit and cereals provided for their breakfast.

“Oh…” Calliope looked worried. But Marion assured her it would not be a problem.

“Kristoph is bringing the men in his TARDIS. They will all be here on time. Everything will be fine. Your Alliance will be perfect, Cally.”

“The sun is shining over the Capitol,” Isolatta assured her.

Calliope sighed happily.

“Where are we?” Pól Braxietel asked out loud as he reached out for the nearest shadow in the fog and touched Jarod’s arm. “Have we gone the wrong way?”

“We must have,” Jarod answered. “This path is so narrow. And I’m sure it’s going up, not down.

“We’ve gone wrong somewhere,” Bolar Lundar agreed. “We should stop and think. Before one of us falls.”

“Come this way,” Remonte called. “I’ve found a cave.”

They all edged themselves along the narrow ledge that they had mistaken for a path until they felt a gap in the rockface behind them. It wasn’t much of a cave, but there was room for all four of them to sit on the sandy floor and look out at the white wall of fog.

Jarod was pessimistic.

“I am not going to get to the Panopticon,” he said gloomily. “Cally will never forgive me. This is her special day… and I’ve ruined it.”

“Not yet, you haven’t,” Remonte assured him. “We’re a bit behind schedule. But we just need to rest for a few minutes, get our bearings, and hope that the fog lifts a little.”

“I don’t think that fog will lift for a month,” Jarod replied. “We have nothing to communicate with. We can’t even use telepathy on this mountain. All the psychic energy the brothers create blocks it out. Nobody even knows we’re here.”

“Were you as optimistic as this when you were in the Space Corps?” Pól asked him. “Come on, Jarod, it’s going to be all right. You’ll be there to see your lovely bride to be step into the Panopticon, dripping with diamonds and lace. And later….”

Jarod smiled as his three friends reminded him of just what the Alliance was all about – his wedding night. Then he looked at the curtain of fog across the cave entrance again and his optimism faded.

The ladies travelled to the Citadel. The gowns and jewellery had been brought already, and a troupe of maids were ready to attend to them in the room made available for preparing the bride and her attendants. Chancellery Guards stood outside the room, protecting them.

“Are they protecting us or the jewels?” Marion wondered as they admired the diamond necklaces and earrings that they were all going to wear, provided by Lord Patriclian so that his daughter and her bridesmaids would dazzle the eyes of the assembled guests.

“I think it is both,” Hesthor told her. “Though I can’t imagine anyone would dare try to steal jewels from within the Citadel. They wouldn’t get ten feet before they were caught.”

They all laughed at the thought. Calliope put on the necklace and earrings as well as a silver and diamond headpiece and a dozen silver and diamond bracelets on each arm and five more on each ankle.

“An old Gallifreyan tradition,” she said as Marion admired the bracelets. “It…” She hesitated, knowing her Earth born friend was going to find this strange. “We chose the old form of the vows. I intend to give myself to Jarod fully and completely. He will own me body and soul. The bracelets are a symbol of my being bound to him eternally, giving to him my obedience and my loyalty as well as my love.”

“Cally is totally smitten,” Isolatta pointed out. “But it is only to be expected, of course. She is from one of the Twelve Ancient Houses, and so is Jarod. The old, traditional vows are appropriate.”

“This is the first Alliance for two generations between two of the Twelve Houses,” Hesthor added. “The last was when Chrístõ Dracœfire de Lœngbærrow married Kierinia Ravenswode. This is an important day for more than just Jarod and Cally. It is a reaffirmation of our society.”

“You mean… after Kristoph and I broke with that tradition?” Marion asked quietly, remembering when she was the one dressing in diamonds from head to foot in this same room ready to be joined in Alliance.

“No more than I did, marrying a Newblood,” Isolatta assured her. “If the sons and daughters of the Twelve only married each other the blood truly would be thin by now. We have all mixed thoroughly. But an Alliance within the highest caste is something special, all the same. And don’t you think Cally looks the part?”

Calliope stood before them all, now, glittering in the light. Her gown was white voile, but almost every square centimetre of it had diamonds sewn onto it. The sheer silk headdress had diamonds around the edge. When she walked, she actually did tinkle very slightly with a clear, pure, diamond sound.

The door opened and Aineytta de Lœngbærrow stepped in. Everyone looked at her in surprise.

“There is a small delay,” she told them. “The groom and his attendants are not yet here.”

“The weather has delayed them?” Calliope’s bright smile faded. She sat down, tinkling a little more.

“We don’t know. Kristoph called to say that they had not yet reached the place where he arranged to meet them and bring them to the Capitol.”

“But the ceremony is in fifteen minutes,” Marion pointed out. “What will happen?”

“Fifteen minutes until the ceremony should begin,” Jarod sighed. “I am in big trouble. You know the rule. If an Alliance does not start within half an hour of the designated time it is cancelled. We shall have to arrange a new date. That’s if Cally will have me after this disaster.”

“She’ll have you,” Pól Braxiatel assured him. “Calliope loves you. She’ll marry you even if she has to arrange a Dawn Alliance for you both by the lake where you proposed to her.”

“A Dawn Alliance!” Jarod smiled despite himself. “Two of the Twelve Ancient Houses cannot be joined by a ceremony used by Caretakers.”

“You can if Calliope wants her man,” Remonte told him. “Though I’m not sure either of you will be able to look the Lord High President in the eye again. Keeping him waiting is almost as bad as keeping your bride waiting.”

“Ohhh,” Jarod groaned and buried his face in his hands. “I am ruined!”

Calliope looked up at the elegant clock on the wall, though she didn’t need to do so to know that it was now the ninth hour. She should have been walking through the ante-chamber with a phalanx of Chancellery Guard saluting her. But she couldn’t, because her husband to be was missing.

The other women were equally worried. Their husbands, after all, were now officially missing with him.

A bigger clock sounded the hour in one of the Committee rooms nearby. Calliope groaned miserably.