The servant knew not to ask too many questions when Lord Borusa came in with that look on his face. The cardinal, a man in his first incarnation, and getting on in years but still retaining much of the good looks of his youth, looked like a thundercloud. He grunted a curt greeting to the servant, who took his cape from him.
“Her ladyship is…” the servant began.
“Out on the terrace, yes, I know,” Borusa interrupted. “Her ladyship” had taken to doing her reading on the terrace with the onset of the nice weather. This area of South Gallifrey was often blessed with beautiful spring weather.
He strode through the house to the back door, which opened onto the terrace, where he paused to look at his wife, who had her back to him and was perusing the book on the table before her. A pot of strong tea waited on the table as well, with two full cups. He smiled despite his foul mood. So he was that predictable…she knew the exact moment he’d come in, and had his cup waiting.
Without looking up, she greeted, “Good evening, my lord.”
“And to you, my lady,” he answered, striding up to her and leaning down to kiss her briefly. Varra had, like her husband, retained much of the beauty and trimness that had distinguished her in youth.
He sat in the chair next to hers and picked up his cup, but merely looked into it for a few moments as if he believed in the old tale that reading tea leaves would offer him answers for his problems.
She sensed his mood through their psych-bonding, and merely waited for him to speak first. He’d never open up if she pressed him.
“I grow more and more tempted,” Borusa began, “to leave the Academy behind and join the High Council like they keep asking me to do. Even the intrigues and intricacies of Gallifreyan politics have got to be easier than dealing with classfuls of students all afflicted with the collective madness known as ‘youth’!”
Varra did not even pause in her reading as she inquired,
“And what has young Theta Sigma done this time?”
Borusa looked at her sharply, then a rueful smile crept over his features, softening the annoyance that had been there moments ago.
“This time,” he began, “strange as it may seem, it has nothing to do with his radical ideas, or his impudence, or his rebelliousness. No, it’s a bit more…personal than that. You know his ladylove, your student? Well, she’s been sent off on some field research assignment.”
“Yes,” Varra mused, putting her book down to glance over at her husband. “Earth…you know, Sol 3, Mutter’s Spiral…Italy, the sixteenth century, I believe.”
“Exactly,” Borusa sighed. “And he’s pining over her. It isn’t merely the fact that he misses her, though he does. But whenever she had to go away before, he at least took the rather mature view that mere distance was not enough to separate those who truly love. I was actually quite pleased that he’d taken such a clear-headed, practical attitude…then this came up. You see, he’s gotten it into his head that this place and time she’s visiting is an especially romantic one, and he’s out of his head over the fact that he can’t be there to share it with her. Then, of course, it’s spring here…as it is in the time and place she’s visiting…and apparently, that has a rather strange effect on young minds…” this last, spoken with the complacency of one who seemed to have jumped over his youth. “She’s just contacted him through temporal shortwave…she’s stopped in some city called ‘Verona’. Got a reputation for itself hinging on the fact that two silly teenagers killed themselves for love of each other after knowing each other all of five days. So of course, he’s gone all moony over this. The joke’s going around class,” and here Borusa adopted the working-class accent of Theta’s friend Drax, ‘Whatever yer do, don’t ask ol’ Thete how his ladyfriend’s doing…Time’s Originator forbid, he’ll tell you.’ I almost wish he were up to his old tricks, challenging my ideas and such…better that than seeing his mind in another time and place. And today he left his notes behind…or what I thought were his notes…when he left class…and when I went to pick them up I discovered, not notes on temporal physics, but drawings of his ladylove in Renaissance garb…that, and several lines of sonnetry!”
Varra’s lips twitched in amusement, but she answered rather calmly, “Indeed?”
“Indeed…certainly not what he should have been thinking about at that particular time. He came back to get them and I scolded him for not paying attention…and for his poor meter and rhyme scheme. I told him to keep his mind where it should be. His response was, ‘But my mind is where it should be, sir.’” The cardinal reflected silently a moment, then ruefully muttered, “Damn his charm. Every time I set out to scold him, he deploys it, and I end up smiling, and the game’s up. Don’t expect I’ll ever be able to discipline him if I don’t learn how to resist it. His father was the exact same way.”
“We’d all hoped we’d been able to tame that a little,” Varra sighed.
“And I thought we had. Until he met her. Then those qualities re-surfaced, and strengthened…I daresay, even his father’s a little shocked! Not that he was exactly conventional in his choice of bride…” Borusa looked into his teacup again. That was one subject that often went discreetly unmentioned among those in the know. Theta’s father was, after all, a respected physician and citizen.
“She could have her choice, I’m sure,” Varra reflected, thinking of how young Time-Lords-in-training often grew tongue-tied around her student. “Another student of yours, a former friend of Theta’s…Gamma Alpha, isn’t that what they call him? The handsome devil with the dark hair and eyes. Wasn’t he a suitor of hers?”
“A hopeless suitor,” Borusa answered. “And don’t forget, that was some time before she ever met Theta. He wasn’t even on Gallifrey at the time…off traveling with his father someplace, I think. Anyhow, she made it quite certain that Gamma’s was a hopeless case. Quite enamored of her, he was…and I don’t think he’s dropped the torch. All her girlfriends thought she was crazy to reject him…but she’s got her reasons, and she won’t talk about them. Seems very uneasy…I’d even say frightened…whenever the subject’s brought up. Theta seems to have the same reaction. As though they both know something about him they don’t want to talk about.” The cardinal hesitated, deciding against mentioning his own misgivings about this particular pupil.
“Theta’s a handsome lad, too,” Varra mused
“You mean you’ve noticed, my lady?”
She glanced disdainfully at him before continuing. “He could have his choice too…but she’s most definitely his choice.”
Borusa seemed to be more lost in thought. “It appears to be love, all right. Do you know, he doesn’t even want to be called ‘Theta Sigma’ anymore. Insists on being called ‘Doctor’…”
“But he hasn’t even gotten his doctorate yet!”
“I know, my lady, but it’s some nickname she’s given him…because he always seems to want to fix everyone else’s problems. She teased him about being a doctor like his father, only on a different scale. So it stuck…” Borusa’s voice trailed off as he looked toward the sunset.
“She has been quite an influence on him,” Varra sighed, setting down her teacup. “Well, if anything, it’s a good match…she’s every bit as outspoken and stubborn as he, and has many of the same notions…thinking we should intervene more, all that. Unconventional, the both of them.”
Borusa chuckled absently. “I overheard them giggling together a few weeks ago. He said something about how I’d chided them for not acting more proper in public. I believe Theta’s exact words were, ‘To hear old Borusa talk, you’d think he and Lady Varra were chaperoned up until the wedding night.’ Didn’t she answer…” the cardinal suddenly checked himself.
His wife wasn’t letting him off that easily. “Didn’t she answer what, my lord?”
Borusa looked into his cup before muttering, “She said, ‘Knowing them, they were probably chaperoned on the wedding night.’”
Varra tried to look indignant…a difficult task at best when the corners of her mouth were twitching suspiciously. “The little minx!”
“Neither were far wrong, at that,” the cardinal answered quietly. “About how strictly we were chaperoned, and all that…Things certainly have changed since our courting days, haven’t they? No chaperones, no matchmakers, no parental negotiations…just a young man and a young woman in love.”
In the old days, marriages had been, if not completely arranged, carefully thought through. Parents and matchmakers would consult with the young people on a list of possible mates, and meetings would be arranged. If the young couple liked one another’s company, the courtship would take place, strictly chaperoned. Then, if the courtship was successful, marriage would follow. Those ways had long since died out, but, in all fairness to the old traditions, parents had never tried to push their children into matches they did not want, nor were any marriages truly unhappy, due to matrimonial psychic bonding that allowed the bonds of marriage to last despite regenerations.
“At least they seem to hold to the tradition of getting married before the wedding night,” Varra sniffed. “But just look at the way Theta Sigma and his ladyfriend have been behaving…running barefoot through the forests and fields unchaperoned…Why, if you and I had ever conducted ourselves in such a manner, our reputations would have been ruined and our families scandalized!”
“Varra,” Borusa asked, “…do you love me?”
The question had come out of a clear orange sky, and caused Varra to nearly drop her cup. Her usual equilibrium shot to pieces, she stared at her husband, brown eyes wide.
“Do I WHAT?”
“Do you love me?” Borusa insisted.
“Do I love you?” Varra repeated. “Borusa, I think that all that’s been on your mind has affected you emotionally…I suggest you have some more tea and lie down a while!”
“My dear wife,” the cardinal stated, “I don’t think it’s such a difficult question. Do you love me?”
“My lord…I am your wife,” Varra answered uneasily. Then, trying to regain her composure, “Besides, my dear, you know how much I have always cared for you.”
“And I for you, my lady…but what I am asking is if you are in love with me.”
Varra floundered for words.
“Borusa,” she finally managed, “we have been married for over five hundred years…we have been partners in every way…we have shared our bed, our home, good times and difficult times…for the Maker’s sake, why do you ask me now if I’m in love with you?”
“I…I have been thinking these past weeks,” the cardinal began, trying to put the thoughts and feelings he’d been pondering into words. “I suppose it started with seeing the way young Theta and his girlfriend have been together. I started by thinking that they were terribly improper, that our old ways were better. Then…I became less sure…”
He absently poured another cup, and drank down nearly half of it in one swallow before continuing, “I remember my parents. They’d courted and married under the old rules, but they truly did seem to love one another. As did the parents of my friends. So I asked my father how that came about…how it got from chaperones and matchmakers and strict courting rules to being in love with your own spouse. Father chuckled, I remember, and said, ‘My boy, we have those rules in place because we know what is best for our children. You choose a good girl of good family, and make sure she’s compatible with you personally. Then, at your wedding, you will be psych-bonded…and from that bonding, love will come. Yes, son, it will come if you seek it…but after marriage, not before.’ I’m sure you got the same sort of lecture from your parents.”
“I did, my lord,” Varra replied. “I was always told that such traditions were in force because marriages had to last us a while, with our long lives and our capacity to regenerate. And I’ve never known any marriages on this planet under the old rules to be unhappy.”
“No, my lady…but neither are those under the new rules. The psych-bonding seems to do the trick no matter how the courtship comes about. And I was just wondering…”
“…if there was anything you’d missed out on?” Varra asked gently.
Borusa lifted his eyes to his wife’s face. She was looking at him questioningly.
“When I came out onto this veranda just now,” he began, “I looked at you and thought that mere prettiness may fade...but beauty, true beauty, is ageless."
Tears came into her eyes.
“I thought that,” he continued. “I have been thinking and feeling such things from the beginning of our courtship. Why is it so difficult to say them? To my own wife?”
She blinked back the moisture in her eyes. “Well…you know, my lord, that in our youth it was considered bad form to speak of such things in public or among company.”
“And I’ve learned that lesson so well that I find it difficult to speak of them even in private,” the cardinal said quietly. “And then…I see the old ways change before my eyes, and I convince myself, for a while, that the old ways were still better after all. But then I start really noticing how couples nowadays are able to show affection for each other publicly…to show the world how strong their bond is…especially my student and yours. Varra…I was actually jealous of Theta. I’m not supposed to be jealous of my own students…I’m supposed to be the role model for them. But seeing them together has made me wonder…not what I’ve missed out on…but what you might have.”
He looked at her forlornly. She put down her cup and crossed over to him, sitting next to him on the divan.
“Borusa,” she said gently, pressing her palm against the side of his face, “remember what I said earlier…we have spent more than five hundred years together, have weathered storms and enjoyed good times together. I have shared my thoughts, my dreams, and my life with you, and will continue to do so until my last life. In truth I can say there is probably no one else on this planet still living who knows you as I do, nor you me. And you have made me happy, my husband…” she looked boldly into his eyes, “…in every way.” He flushed slightly. “Do you think that I consider myself to have missed anything, when I have all this to look back on? And can you ask if I love you, when I would not trade our life together for all the wealth of this planet?”
He had his answer…and could not have been happier with it. He leaned forward to kiss his wife tenderly.
“This…” he murmured, “is what Father was talking about…This is what I wish for my student.”
“And as long as this is where the road leads,” she answered, “what does it matter how the courtship has come about…whether or not you ever tried your hand at poetry in my honor?”
“Well…” Borusa muttered, “…I did, you know. Shortly after our engagement.”
She smiled. “And whatever became of it?”
“Gave up on it when I couldn’t find a rhyme for ‘Varra.’”
Their laughter echoed through the terrace.
“I was thinking, my lady,” he continued, “that perhaps a little field research of his own might do young Theta Sigma good. Better that than to have his mind a million miles away in my class. I suppose I could convince my elders to use one of our old time machines to take him to 1540, Earth, Italy. And perhaps I could drop a hint or two that such lovely surroundings–at least, as I have heard of them–might be a perfect backdrop for proposing to one’s ladylove.”
She laughed, settling back against his shoulder. “So my suspicions are true, my lord…you are a closet romantic. I promise I won't tell."
They relaxed there, content in one another’s company. Neither of them could have known that one day, only a little more than a year from now, Borusa would sit on this terrace alone in the chill of an autumn twilight, looking outward towards the place where his wife was buried and shedding silent tears over his memories of this very night. Neither could know that this bereavement would leave political ambition as the only thing to fill Borusa’s empty life.
But for now, they sat quietly on their terrace in the warmth of the spring night, full of the happy memories of five hundred years together.
And somewhere in the Prydonian Academy, Theta Sigma gazed out his window through the twilight sky as if he could will himself onto fifteenth-century Earth.
“So ol’ Borusa gave yer an earful, did he, Thete?” Drax asked, laughing, from the doorway.
“Of course he did,” the young Gallifreyan sighed, without looking at his friend. “Old statue…what would he know about being in love?”