A week later, with the plans in full swing Marion still wasn’t sure if she wanted a Reception, but she didn’t seem able to say anything as she was swept along with it all.

When Aineytta had said they were meeting with Lady Lily to buy her a gown for the Reception she had expected a shop of some sort. She had expected a town somewhere near where the houses were. But they had travelled by limousine and then by a shuttle craft like a plane, but much faster, that took them to the Capitol, the great city on the Northern Continent, hundreds of miles from the peace of Mount Lœng House or Lady Lily’s Maison D’Alba.

She didn’t see how they got through the shield, because the shuttle had shuttered windows, but when they emerged from it they were at the top of a tall tower that looked as if it was made of glass. She looked up at the yellow-orange sky through the glass bubble of the shield and then decided she didn’t want to look at it again for a while. She kept her eyes forward as she travelled down to the ground in a fast elevator with glass sides that let her see quite a lot of the marble like buildings of the city.

Then they were on the ground and they emerged onto marble like streets where people dressed in the colourful gowns and robes of every day wear on Gallifrey walked, while shuttles and hover cars moved overhead. She dared to look up once at the great height of all of the buildings. Then, again, she decided to keep her eyes level for now.

It wasn’t a shop they came to presently, but a Fashion House. They went into a reception room that was like that of a small but well appointed hotel and soon after a liveried footman escorted them up a grand flight of stairs to a room where a young woman in a long blue dress showed them books of designs and invited them to feel fabrics.

The dress was to be made by hand to her own choice of colour, fabric and style. While she decided, soft music played. A waiter brought glasses of wine and a maid brought a tray of some sort of canapés.

“Take your time,” Lily told her. “There’s no need to rush. Everyone is here at your convenience, not the other way around.”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “The designs are beautiful. The fabrics are so luxurious. But if I choose, if I tell these people what dress I want made for the Reception, there is no going back. It happens, no matter what I say.”

“But my dear,” Aineytta said. “Do you mean to say you don’t want a Reception?”

There may not be any point in having one,” she admitted. “Kristoph and I… last night we had… words.”

Lily and Aineytta said nothing but they looked at her anxiously.

“Not exactly a row,” she assured them. “But I was cross with him. And this morning, he was already gone when I came down to breakfast. And…”

“He didn’t mention anything to me,” Aineytta told her. “He just said to be sure you picked the prettiest gown on the planet and not to worry about how much it cost. And you really shouldn’t worry about those things, you know. He wants you to have the best.”

“He should know that I didn’t fall in love with him for his money. I didn’t even know he HAD any. I thought he was a teacher. But that’s not the point. The point is… nobody ASKED me if I wanted a… Reception. Not even Kristoph… he just assumed…”

“He ASKED me,” Lily said. “He intended it to be a surprise for you. He thought you needed one. He thought everyone needed it. You don’t know how difficult things have been here. There was a real fear for his father’s life. We were all worried. That’s why he had to come home. But he brought you, too, and we were delighted because we all wanted to see you. And he hoped that this might be good for everyone.”

“We didn’t realise you had been unhappy,” Aineytta told her. "I am sorry for that.”

“It’s not your fault,” Marion assured her. “Or you, Lily. You have both been wonderful. But Kristoph… Since we came here he has seemed so cold and distant. I have hardly seen anything of him. Only late at night and first thing in the morning and he was so distracted. I miss how it was back home. We would spend all our evenings together. In our own home, just the two of us. I could reach out to him any time and he would hold me and I would feel loved. But since we came here… he doesn’t seem the same man…”

She was crying. She didn’t mean to. She hadn’t meant to burden either Lily or Aineytta with her grievances. But it all poured out. Lily turned to the girl who was waiting with more fabric samples and told her to leave them alone for a while. Aineytta, meanwhile, reached and held her tightly. Tears were an unusual sight for them. Gallifreyans did not cry. But she understood emotions and she could see that Marion had her fill of them right now.

“You HAVE been unhappy, haven’t you, my dear,” she said. “Please try to forgive Kristoph. He didn’t mean to hurt you. He has just been very terribly busy since he came home.”

“Busy with WHAT?” Marion demanded. “WHAT could be so important?” Where IS he?”

“He is here in the Capitol,” Aineytta answered. “I don’t know what he has been doing all week, but I know today he was to meet with the Lord High President and the High Inquisitor.”

“The…” Marion shivered. “Inquisitor. What…”

Lily and Aineytta looked at her and exchanged puzzled glances, wondering why that had so frightened her.

“Ah,” Lily exclaimed. “I think the phrase lost something in translation. We should remember, also, that you are new to our language. An inquisitor is… well… what word do you use on Earth for somebody who presides over a court and passes sentences…”

“A judge,” Marion said. “Or a magistrate, depending on how serious the crime is. Inquisitor is a word used hundreds of years ago for somebody who tortured people for their religious beliefs. But… even so… Is Kristoph in trouble? Is he…”

“Not at all,” Aineytta assured her. “He hasn’t told me anything about it. But HE called the meetings. There is something he wanted to be attended to. And I am sure it must be VERY important or he would not have spent so much time away from you, Marion.”

“As for the Inquisitor,” Lily added. “She is a delightful lady. I went to school with her. You will meet her at the Reception. If you DO decide to have it, after all.”

“You see,” Marion said with a laugh. THAT’S what makes it worse. A party for ME with inquisitors and lords and ladies and High this that and the other. And WHO and WHAT are they going to see in me? You know, I don’t even know who my father is. I come from a place called Birkenhead, which is about as ordinary a place as you can imagine.”

“I DO understand that,” Aineytta assured her. “I used to come here as personal maid to my husband’s sister. I would sit on a chair in the corner over there while she was being fitted for her gowns. When I became the fiancée of his Lordship she brought me here as her equal, and was so kind to me. But the Reception was hard work. So many people whispering behind our backs. But I was so proud. And my darling man never let any word be said out loud in front of me.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Marion admitted. “How will they take to me? All these aristocrats?”

“I won’t lie to you, Marion,” Lily told her. “The same families who snubbed Aineytta when she married his Lordship will be no better disposed towards you. The latest generations of the Ravenswode and the Oakdaene ladies are snobs of the first degree. But there will be others who will be genuinely delighted to meet you. And those who aren’t won’t DARE to act anything but properly at one of MY Receptions.”

“Well,” Marion conceded. “I suppose it WOULD be interesting in a way. But I’m still not sure. I need to talk to Kristoph first. I need to know if he still… I think I need to find out if I still.... He just doesn’t seem to be the same man here in his own world. And I don’t know how I feel about him any more. I don’t even know if I know him. I just don’t KNOW.”

“I think we should leave gowns for another day,” Aineytta said. “We’ll call again after the weekend. Let’s go and find my son and he can explain his behaviour to Marion before this goes too far.”

Marion was happy to agree to that proposal. She felt much better when she was outside the Fashion House where she had felt so far out of her depth. Aineytta had summoned a car, something like a luxury taxi cab that hovered down from above and rose again when they were comfortably seated. Safely inside the car, where nobody could see her and know her as an alien, Marion felt a little more relaxed. If it was just Lily and Aineytta she had to deal with, if she could spend her days in the rose garden of Lily’s house or the drawing room of Mount Lœng House taking tea with Kristoph’s mother, then Gallifrey might not be so bad, she thought. But there was so much more to deal with and she wasn’t ready. Not by a long shot.

“Good heavens,” she gasped as the car stopped near a huge building. It was as big as Wembley Stadium, but with high, sheer walls. It was hexagonal and windowless except one row very high up. Above the main part of the building a spire rose up into the sky, right to the very top of the protective shield that covered the Capitol. It was almost impossible to look at without feeling dizzy. “What is that building?”

“That’s the Citadel,” Lily told her. “The seat of our government, and the centre of our society.”

“THAT is the Citadel?” Marion swallowed hard. Kristoph and Lee had talked about this place. They had mentioned that it was the parliament building. The Panopticon was within it, the great hall where the High Council sat in debate and passed laws. And it was also the place where all important ceremonies took place. Including the weddings of high ranking members of Time Lord society. “That’s where we would be…”

But before she could feel a new reason for anxiety she saw Kristoph come out of the grand entrance to the building. The driver stood to attention as he opened the passenger door to let him in, then Lily instructed the man to take them to the Conservatory.

“Excellent idea,” Kristoph agreed. “Lily, you have the most impeccable taste.” He slipped his arm around Marion’s shoulders as he relaxed in the car. “You’ll like the Conservatory,” he told her.

Marion said nothing. She didn’t trust herself to speak. She was a little reassured now that she knew that Kristoph had been doing something important. But she still felt neglected by him. She felt thrown in at the deep end of a world she didn’t belong in, and he had been no help to her. It was good to feel him near her. Yes, she did love him. But she wasn’t ready yet to forgive him.

The Conservatory was a restaurant. A beautiful restaurant in a glasshouse with beautiful views over the great red desert that she had seen from orbit. Inside it was like an oasis with beautiful plants, even fruit trees growing around the tables. A string quartet played soft music as they were shown to their table.

“I am sorry I have neglected you this week,” Kristoph said as the silence between himself and Marion lengthened. “I didn’t tell you what I was doing because I didn’t want to give you false hope.”

“False hope about what?” she asked. “What business between you and the Lord High President and the High Inquisitor and the Grand Vizier or whatever else you have in that building could possibly have anything to do with me?”

“Lee,” he answered. And he was aware that both Lily and Aineytta breathed in sharply when he said that.

“Li… what about him?”

“I have been presenting the true story to the Inquisitor. The reasons for his actions. The reasons he became a Renegade. There was an investigation. It wasn’t easy. It was necessary to re-examine events that happened centuries ago. But we FOUND the proof within the Matrix. Proof that the man Lee killed WAS the real traitor. It was there all along. But nobody looked. They were ready to accept the easier, simpler lie rather than look for a truth that would have been politically embarrassing. Even now, it won’t be made public. The facts will be known only to a few.”

“But it means Li can be forgiven… exonerated…. He doesn’t have to be an exile?”

Kristoph sighed.

“That’s what I meant by false hope. The truth cannot be disputed. But they won’t unbend. I managed to get a partial pardon for him. They have agreed to lift the sentence of death. There will be no more agents sent after him. But he must remain an exile on Earth. He can never come home. He cannot leave Earth for any other place.”

“Oh.” Marion thought about it and it was a distasteful thing he was telling her. “They are still punishing him, because it is easier to do that than to admit that one of their own was the real criminal.”

“Yes,” Kristoph said. “I have told them what I think of that. But I daren’t push it too far. I lied about Lee being on Earth and they’re not pleased about that. If I rock the boat too much I could be in trouble myself.”

“At least he is no longer under sentence of death,” Aineytta said. “That is something. But does this mean that you know Lee?” She addressed the last to Marion.

“Yes,” Marion said. “I didn’t know YOU did.”

“When they were boys, Lee and Chrístõ Mian were such close friends they could have been mistaken for brothers. When they were men, they both went to war together. Lee was the commander of the troops who liberated the prisoners of war. He brought my son home to me. It was a source of grief to me when Lee became a Renegade. I am glad that you two are friends again, at least.”

“So am I,” Kristoph said. “But what about you, Marion? Are YOU still my friend? Will you forgive me?”

“I wish you’d told me,” she said. “If I’d known it was for Li… Don’t keep secrets from me. You never did before. When we were on Earth. You told me the truth. But now we’re here, on Gallifrey, with its corrupt government, and the corruption seems to have rubbed off on you.”

“That’s a fair criticism,” he admitted. “I am sorry.”

“For yourself, or for your corrupt government?”

“Both,” he answered. “But never mind the government. Did you pick out a dress for the Reception?”

Marion looked away from him. Lily and Aineytta both looked uneasy.

“You don’t want the Reception?”

“I want you,” she answered. “I want to spend some time with you. Just you. I know I’m being selfish. I know you have so much to do here. But I just want for a little time, to feel as if I AM the most important person in your life.”

“I thought that was what the Reception was for,” Kristoph pointed out.

“No, the Reception was for showing me off to High Time Lord Society and working out which ones are always going to hate me for being a Human and how many are going to pretend to like me because you’re from a powerful family, and how many, if any, REALLY like me.” She looked at him and dared him to contradict her. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Pretty much,” he admitted. “But you’re worth Ten Lady Ravenswode’s any day. And if you believe in yourself you can wipe the floor with her.”

“You make it sound as if we’ll be mud wrestling,” she answered.

“Lady Ravenswode and mud in the same context,” Lily said with a laugh. Aineytta laughed with her. So did Kristoph. Marion couldn’t resist it. She, too, laughed even though she didn’t yet know Lady Ravenswode and didn’t quite know why she was the object of their humour.

But it seemed to clear the air a little.

“I don’t know about the Reception,” she said. “I need time to think. And I need that time with YOU, Kristoph.”

“The lodge house,” Aineytta said. “It was where your father and I always went to get away from it all. Take Marion there for the weekend. And we’ll talk about everything else next week.”

“I think that sounds a fine idea,” Kristoph agreed. “Marion, will you give me that much of a chance to make it up to you? After that, whatever you decide, I will accept. Even if you decide that you don’t want to marry me after all.”

Marion said nothing. She didn’t trust herself to speak. Again she laid her hand on his and smiled faintly. Aineyetta and Lily put their hands over hers reassuringly.