Snow and Ice

In the New Year, with one of the coldest winters for a century biting hard, the society ladies of Gallifrey wrapped their lapin fur coats tightly around them for a party everyone had expected to happen for most of the past year. It was held at the home of Lord Patriclian, to announce his daughter Calliope’s formal betrothal to Jarod Hadandrox.

“Well, we all saw this one coming, didn’t we,” said Hesthor Lundar as she walked alongside Marion through the snow covered formal garden of the Patriclian mansion. “Calliope has been smitten with him ever since they danced at your Alliance. It’s a shame for her that he’s so often away. But he seems to contrive ways of getting plenty of home leave. Of course, when they marry, he will become head of the House of Hadandrox and his father will retire. Calliope will have him to herself every day.”

“I’m pleased for them both,” Marion said. “They do look happy. But have you any idea where we’re going right now? I know Lord Patriclian is fond of putting on unusual entertainments.”

“Yes, indeed. Remember the aerial display at his wife’s 700th birthday?”

Marion remembered it well. It had been one of the spectacular highlights of the summer. They had all gathered in the extensive grounds of the Patriclian home and watched as a squadron of stunt jet pilots flew in spectacular formations that amounted to a ballet in the sky. Lord Patriclian was a man who loved to show off his wealth in ostentatious ways like that. His parties at any time of year were famous for having some surprise to them.

“Are you warm enough, Marion?” Kristoph asked as he slipped his arm around her.

“Yes, I am,” she answered. “Lapin fur is very cosy. These boots are lined with it, too. I’m perfectly warm inside a fur cocoon.”

“Good,” he said. “A cocoon is where I want you, my dear. Eight months, now. We’re doing well.”

“If I was having a Human baby, we’d be nearly there now,” she pointed out. “Nine months. I feel as pregnant as I can imagine I could be. I certainly don’t think I can get much bigger without falling over.”

“You won’t,” her female friends assured her. “After the first ten months it’s not about growth, but mental development. You’re having a Time Lord baby, my dear.”

“I know,” she answered them all. “I can’t forget that, even for one moment.”

“We shall have to get Lord Patriclian to put on a show for her naming ceremony,” said Isolatta Braxietel. “It will be such a proud day for you both. You deserve it.”

“I agree,” Kristoph laughed. “But this is Calliope’s day.”

They still weren’t entirely sure what Lord Patriclian had in mind when they crossed the meadow behind the formal garden and came to the private lake that was a unique and lovely feature of the Patriclian estate. It was about half the size of Coniston Lake, by Marion’s reckoning, but even so, Lord Patriclian kept a full size steam yacht, complete with stateroom, berths and a lovely dining room, as well as two promenade decks on it. In the summer they had all enjoyed some delightful times sailing around the lake while enjoying lunches or dinner parties or just cocktails while the moon came up over the lake. It had been on one of those occasions, when Marion had been unable to disguise how queasy she was, that most of her friends had guessed what had not yet been formally announced – that she was pregnant.

But the summer was a memory now. The yacht was beached until the springtime, and the lake was completely frozen over. Marion wondered if such a large lake could freeze on its own or was there some Time Lord trickery involved. Kristoph admitted that Lord Patriclian had probably arranged it.

There was a small grandstand built on the edge of the lake. The guests were ushered to their places by stewards who brought hot drinks and appetising food as well as blankets for those who weren’t wearing lapin lined boots. There were heaters that blew warm air around their feet anyway, and it didn’t really feel uncomfortably cold. In any case, excitement and expectation of the forthcoming entertainment was enough to take their minds off the temperature.

There was a second construction nearby, which turned out to be a covered orchestra stand. Marion expressed the hope that it, too, was heated, and was assured it was.

“They look like the same orchestra that played for our Alliance,” she said. “It is, isn’t it? And some of the singers, too. Not the full choir, but I recognise the male and female soloists, at least.”

“Yes, I think they are,” Kristoph agreed. “Well, after all, Calliope and Jarod met for the first time at our Alliance. It is appropriate.”

“She caught my wedding bouquet,” Marion added. “It was meant to be. I’m pleased for them.”

She settled herself comfortably, with her gloved hands tucked inside the lapin fur muff that went with the coat. The hood framed her face warmly. She was content.

The orchestra tuned up and then several people, Marion included, gave delighted sighs as the conductor brought them to order and then the first bars of the overture to the Pazione Gallifreya filled the crisp, cold air, augmented by a surround sound system in the grandstand. Marion was pleased. That, too, was a connection with their Alliance. She hoped it was a good omen for her friends.

And then she gasped with joy as ice skaters slid onto a performance area marked out on the ice. They were all in the costumes of the Pazione Gallifreya ballet and proceeded to perform it as an ice dance. Marion was not the only one entranced by it.

“I didn’t know people did ice skating on Gallifrey,” she said as they ate and drank hot food and drinks again at the interval. “It’s something that lots of people do on Earth, but I didn’t know it was done here.”

“Not by people of quality,” answered Lady Arpexia, who was sitting at her side with her daughter. “Entertainments of any kind, even the higher art forms like ballet, are generally done by the more talented of the Caretakers. It is quite unheard of for anyone of our class to be involved in such things.”

“Oh…” Marion wasn’t sure how to answer that. “But…”

“Lord Patriclian is a patron of the arts,” added Madame Arpexia. “He gives a lot of money to the training schools – the music academy, the ballet school. Now ice dancers, it seems.”

“He’s not alone,” Kristoph added. “Our family fund a bursary for Caretakers who wish to pursue such careers. And Lady Lily set up the D’Alba Trust in her late husband’s name to provide instruments and equipment.”

“Quite so,” agreed Lady Arpexia. “My husband prefers the fine arts. He subsidises the training of artists and sculptors. For myself, I enjoy opera and ballet. Do they have those on your planet, Marion, my dear?”

“Oh, yes, they do,” she answered. “And many other forms of performing art. We have television entertainments, too. Here, only news and important government information is broadcast. But then, there are many millions more people living on Earth, and they have different tastes in such things. But I don’t really miss most of it. I am always so busy here. There is hardly time to think about it.”

“I’m sure,” Lady Arpexia said, slightly perplexed by the vision of a busy, noisy world of broadcast entertainment that Marion had told her about. “But it is time you were a little less busy, Marion. You know, few ladies of Gallifrey would be seen socially after the seventh month of their pregnancies.”

“Oh.” She was a little disturbed by that. “Oh, dear. Do you mean that I am getting it wrong? I am making a social mistake?”

“More like setting a new trend,” Madame Arpexia assured her. “Mother, don’t be worrying Marion. It’s a silly tradition. When I am married and expecting a child, I don’t intend to hide myself away because a few purists think a pregnant woman is a distressing sight.”

“Times are changing, even on Gallifrey,” said Lady Arpexia. “Perhaps it’s time. But, still, you should not do too much, Marion. You are near your ninth month, now. You must take care of yourself, and that precious child.”

“I do,” she assured Lady Arpexia. “But I’m enjoying this afternoon. I’m glad I’m not confined at home and missing it.”

“I wonder if Patriclian has realised it will be dark before the last act,” Kristoph commented as the orchestra warmed up again and the skaters were seen getting ready to return to the ice. All conversations ceased as they were drawn into the Pazione once more.

Lord Patriclian had realised it would be dark before the end of the performance. As the sun went down, the corps de ballet skated around the performance area releasing gravity globes into the air – lights which had their own internal power source and which hovered in the air above the performers. As it became fully dark, the effect was magnificent. Now nothing else could be seen but the lit piece of ice where the ballet was reaching its dramatic finale. It was perfectly ethereal and beautiful.

The performers had a standing ovation from their select audience, and were persuaded to do two encores before they finally skated off and the gravity globes dimmed as they slowly descended to rest on the ice. At the same time lights came on in the grandstand and everyone stood to make their way down the steps to where Lord Patriclian had arranged for what looked like a power driven sled that would comfortably get them all back to the house where more drinks would be available before the guests all went home.

It was nobody’s fault. As the night grew colder, the steps had iced over and were slippy. Kristoph held Marion carefully as they descended, but somebody behind them both fell and bumped into them. Marion lost her footing. Kristoph tried to hold onto her, but somebody else was falling, too. He cried out in grief as he felt her hand wrenched from his and she fell onto the hard packed icy ground with a sickening thud. His feet barely touched the steps as he reached her. She was barely conscious, crying in pain. He was aware of another voice, he thought it might be Madame Arpexia, saying she was sorry over and over in a grief stricken voice. It was she who had slipped first and accidentally pushed into Marion. But it wasn’t her fault, either. He glanced around and saw her mother holding her and Lord Patriclian calling for everyone to stand clear while they brought the sled closer.

Marion screamed as they lifted her. She clung to Kristoph’s hand.

“It’s going to be all right, sweetheart,” he assured her as his mother fought her way through the crowd and climbed into the sled beside her and Lord Patriclian himself took the driver’s seat. “We just need to get you inside and warm.”

“No,” she answered with a white, scared face. “No, Kristoph. It’s not all right. Please… get me home, quickly. I want to go home.”

Kristoph looked from his wife to his mother who had been quickly examining her. Aineytta shook her head sadly. Kristoph thought his hearts were going to break.