The entrance hall of Maison D’Alba looked even more beautiful than usual when the guests arrived for the first Christmas dinner ever on Gallifrey. The tall fir tree decorated with silver and gold baubles and tinsel and twinkling lights was the first thing that caught their eye. Then the ceiling festooned with more silver and gold and metallic red streamers that met in the centre around the crystal chandelier. The walls, too, had loops of the same streamers and fresh greenery as well as gold bells and silver poinsettias alternating.

Opposite the tree was a table with a crisp white cloth on it, and on top of that, illuminated with candlelight, was something that was a talking point to every one who stepped into the hall. Marion joyfully explained the significance of the Nativity scene to them all.

“So a child of humble parents, born in a stable among the animals, became King of your world?” queried Rika, Marion’s personal maid, dressed in her best party dress for this evening and feeling free enough to ask such a question of her mistress.

“Yes,” Marion answered. “Yes, He was. And for many people on my planet still IS the King of all Kings.”

It was a curious thing for a girl of a servant class to grasp. Even more so her high born friends, who thought it a charming story but didn’t quite understand the significance. Of course, on Gallifrey they had no concept of religion. She expected that. It was the spirit, the goodwill of Christmas, she hoped to share with them all, not a conversion.

“No, it’s not so difficult to understand,” Aineytta told her when she stood and looked at the Nativity that had been brought all the way from Earth along with all of the decorations, the gifts, and much of the food and drink for tonight’s feast. “Here, on Gallifrey we have a legend that a child will be born who will bear the Mark of Rassilon and he will be the greatest Time Lord of all.”

“Greater than Rassilon?” Marion asked.

“Indeed,” Aineytta continued. “Once in a dozen generations one is born with the Mark of Rassilon, and he is a great leader or a great philosopher. But there is the belief that one day the greatest of all will be born. One who will be more than just another Time Lord. One who will stand tall amongst our own people, and the people of the universe. One who will be as great as our Creator, who will fulfil a great destiny.”

“What sort of destiny?” Marion asked.

“The legend is a bit vague about that,” Aineytta admitted. “But he will be a singular man among us all.”

“As was this child who was born on your planet?” Lord de Lœngbærrow stood by his wife’s side and smiled on his soon to be daughter in law and what seemed to him a whim of hers when the idea was first outlined. But now as he looked at the figures made of fine china clay dug from the soil of the planet she was born on and the “stable” made of the wood of a strong tree grown on that same planet, he wondered if there was something meaningful after all.

“Jesus Christ…” he spoke the name slowly. It was the first time he had heard it in his long life. “Born of Mary?” He smiled and looked at Marion and wondered if she realised that the son and heir she was destined to bear for the House of Lœngbærrow would, by tradition, have the forename of Chrístõ. Chrístõ born of Marion, son of a humble mother and a father whose lineage went back to the Creator of their Time Lord race.

And there were those who thought that prophetic child with the Mark of Rassilon was going to come from one of the Oldblood lines.

He shook his head. The girl had burdens enough coming from her world to theirs without worrying her head with legends and symbolism of that sort.

Kristoph came to her side. He had caught his father’s thoughts even from across the room. No, he had said to him telepathically. Marion isn’t ready for that. I’m not sure I’m ready to be father of the Child of Rassilon, for that matter. If she bears me a healthy heir I would be grateful enough for that.”

“So would I,” his father assured him. He took his wife’s hand and kissed it, and turned to Marion. He took her hand and kissed it, too. Then he gave her to her soon to be husband with a smile.

“I believe everyone is ready,” Kristoph told her. “Marion, my dear, it is your party. Shall we lead them in?”

“Yes,” she answered in a suddenly small voice. For all the luncheons she had been hostess at, the parties and balls and receptions that had taken place at Maison D’Alba since she had been here, this was the first party SHE had organised. She felt a little nervous. But she drew herself up proudly as Kristoph offered her his arm and managed to call to the murmuring crowd that gathered. She and Kristoph walked in the space that was cleared, towards the grand dining hall. Lord de Lœngbærrow took Lady Lily’s arm gallantly and his youngest son accompanied his wife. The rest of the guests, Oldblood, Newblood and Caretaker class alike followed behind.

The grand dining hall was already beautiful. It was a wing of the house by itself and had tall, slender windows either side of its width and a balcony at the far end upon which a string quartet played soft music. But Marion’s preparations had made it all the more lovely. Beneath the balcony was another Christmas tree and the same silver, gold and red decorations along with real greenery festooned the ceiling among the three chandeliers, and framed the windows.

A long table was set for all the guests. Crisp white cloths and silver cutlery and fine china plates, shining crystal glassware, table decorations of green and gold had been prepared by a team of outside caterers so that the servants who were Marion’s guests tonight had not to lift a finger. At each place setting there were gifts wrapped in gold paper. Those for her friends were bigger, of course, but every guest had a gift with his or her name on it to open later.

Everyone stood by their seats until Marion was ready. They watched her expectantly. She swallowed hard and felt Kristoph’s hand in hers. Then she spoke.

“Thank you all for coming tonight,” she said. “Christmas on my planet is a time for sharing and goodwill. I have had the goodwill of all of you since I came to your planet. I thank you all, each and every one of you. And I bid you to sit now and enjoy Christmas dinner with me in that same spirit.”

She sat. Everyone else sat. Then Kristoph nodded to the waiters who stood by ready to serve the first course. Marion had chosen and discussed the menu first with Lily and Aineytta and then with the caterers. It began with a light watercress soup to tempt the palette without filling the stomach before the main course.

The Christmas turkey had given her a bit of a puzzle. She was aware that on Gallifrey nobody actually ate real meat and had not done so for generations. Everything that looked and tasted like meat was actually processed Cúl nut, the tree that grew in all the verdant parts of Gallifrey. She had eaten the nuts raw and they were pleasant tasting, and she had got used to the fact that many other things she had eaten on the planet were also made of the nuts. The processing was so remarkable that she had almost forgotten when she ate what seemed to be meat that it was vegetable protein.

But she had not quite believed it when Kristoph told her they could reproduce the taste, texture, the smell, the very appearance of a roast turkey. Not until the waiters brought out the silver platters with a dozen of what looked like golden brown turkeys and placed them up and down the table. Kristoph stood to carve the one placed at the head of the table. His father and brother carved, too, as well as the butlers and head footmen of the two houses who sat to eat together. Marion looked in surprise as they sliced into what looked like good white meat with clear juices flowing. Yes, it looked like turkey. It smelt like it. And when he passed her a morsel to test it certainly tasted like it.

There was only one thing ‘wrong’ about it at all.

“There are no bones!” she said with a laugh as she watched Kristoph carve through solid meat all the way to the silver platter and pass the slices around to the guests. When everyone had a plate of turkey meat the waiters brought vegetables and roast potatoes and chestnut stuffing and gravy. Cranberry sauce in silver dishes was placed at their disposal. Everyone ate heartily and enjoyed the flavours of the food and good wine to drink and cheerful company.

The ingredients for the Christmas puddings had come from Earth and special instructions were given to the caterers. Marion watched with glee as the diners found in the rich pudding tokens of riches. Kristoph had provided that part of the festivities; ‘Coins’ specially struck from Lœngbærrow silver with the words ‘Peace and Goodwill’ in Gallifreyan swirls on one side and ‘Christmas Blessings’ in English on the other. By chance a good many of the coins were found by the Caretakers among the diners.

Afterwards, if anyone was still tempted by food the stilton cheeses that Marion had talked of in her sleep as she worked through her shopping list were brought to the table along with baskets of fruit from both Earth and Gallifrey. And as the diners lingered over those last treats Marion announced that it was time to open the gifts. She smiled as she watched the faces of those who unwrapped the boxes and packages. Lily, near her, gave a soft sigh of pleasure as she looked at the beautiful ornament Marion had chosen for her. A china vase with two delicate china calla lilies, as fragile and fresh looking as real flowers. Aineytta was equally charmed by a bone china basket with china herbs and poppy flowers laid in it. Her other lady friends smiled as they unwrapped pieces of fine Waterford Crystal that glinted in the light of Gallifreyan chandeliers.

And they all watched as the servant guests all opened their smaller packages and their faces lit with joy. For the women, there were gold chains, Earth gold, with medallions on them with the symbol of Liverpool, Marion’s former home, on the one side, and on the other, as well as on the boxes, their names engraved. For the men, tie pins and cufflinks with the same symbol, and again their names engraved.

At least that was the intention.

“Mistress,” said Rika, her maid, coming to her side and holding out the box. “Will you tell me what this is? I do not know the symbols.”

“It is your name in my language, English,” she answered. “I thought you would know it.”

Rika seemed happy to have that explained but Marion was puzzled.

“I talk to people all the time. They understand me. I read books, papers. I write things and other people can read it. But…”

“When you speak to people here on Gallifrey,” Kristoph explained. “They hear you in Gallifreyan. When you write a note they read it. And you, likewise can read Gallifreyan. This whole planet has a low level of psychic energy in its very air. It allows you, a stranger, to be able to understand us and we to understand you. But your gifts were engraved on Earth. They are Earth gold. They are an alien language to those who have never learnt to read English.”

“Oh.” Marion was puzzled and a little disappointed. She had gone to such effort with those names, and nobody could read them.

“The gifts are appreciated thoroughly nonetheless,” Kristoph assured her. “Do you see a despondent face here?”

“Your Earth custom has much to commend it,” agreed his father, Lord de Lœngbærrow as he admired the shine on the brass model of a telescope with his name inscribed in English on the wooden plinth. “We should have Christmas again on Gallifrey.

“Only once a year,” Marion insisted. “Even on Gallifrey Christmas should only be once a year.”