Across a smoke filled room, the host of an entertainment show on telly prattled on about a pieces of salacious news. And after a whirlwind trip across Europe, Theta Lungbarrow, the crown prince of Gallifrey, will be spending the next few days here in Rome. Tonight, the Gallifreyan Ambassador to Italy is throwing a ball in honor of the young monarch.
The official reason for the prince's tour is to spread goodwill across the continent; however, there has been much speculation about another reason. King Rassilon's health has been in decline for the past few months, and Gallifreyan law states that the prince must be married before ascending to the throne. If he fails to marry before his father's death, the throne will go to his cousin, Harold of Saxony.
The search for the future queen of Gallifrey is leaving lots of young ladies dreaming of becoming a real life Cinderella.
"Too bad for them. Most of those twittering ninny's don't have a chance. No royal blood," Rose Tyler muttered under her breath. The golden haired, brown eyed woman's eyes flicked up to the portrait on the telly. Prince Theta was handsome, very much so. His country should be proud to have that face on its currency. But in all of his photos he looked bored and a little sad. He probably was. One of the hazards of being a member of the nobility, she thought cynically.
Turning her attention back to the game, her teeth chomped down on an unlit cigar as she contemplated the cards in her hands. She threw a couple of chips into the middle of the poker table. "Call."
An Italian man next to her slid his chair a fraction of an inch closer. "It's good that you're not interested in the royal because then I would have no chance with you, pretty lady."
"You still don't have a chance with her to begin with," the American Jack Harkness replied from Rose's other side. "With me on the other hand..." Jack smirked and reached over to take the cigar from the blonde's mouth. "I'll raise 50."
"Arse. I wanted that," Rose growled at him. If the man wasn't one of her closest friends she just might have decked him.
The man had worked as her personal security for the past ten years, ever since she was seventeen. He walked a fine line of keeping the Vitex heiress safe and not inhibiting her freedom to grow, and they had been through a lot together. He had even packed up and followed her to Uni, and she loved him like a brother. Well, like a big brother. She had a little brother, Tony, who had just turned six.
Jack smiled his best playful smile. "Just looking out for your health, Sweetheart, and the bid's to you."
Her teeth sunk into her bottom lip and chewed for a moment. Why not, she thought. "I'm all in." She pushed her rather large stack of chips into the center of the table. Most of the men, including Jack, threw their cards down, folding.
The handsome Italian next to her pushed the majority of his pile into the pot and called. "You have a tell, Bella, and I'll wager that you have nothing in your hand." He laid his cards out one by one, four sevens with ace high. "At least not that can beat mine." He reached forward to collect the pile of chips, but Rose stilled his hands.
"Not so fast. This hand is in honor of Prince Theta." She smirked and laid the cards down one by one: a ten, a Jack, a Queen, a King, and an Ace, all in diamonds. "Royal flush."
The Italian man laughed and smiled jovially. "You are a magnificent actress, Bella. I won't let you pull the wool over my eyes again."
"Wanna bet?" Rose's eyes danced, and she threw the ante into the pot.
Across the city, Prince Theta was awaiting his entrance to the ball. Honestly, he hated it when people called him Theta; it was austere and cold. He preferred to be called the Doctor, it was a nickname he had earned when studying for his PhD in astrophysics.
So in actuality he was a doctor, not that he had been allowed to do anything with his degree. No, his entire life was planned out for him, a life of responsibilities and obligations all thanks to an accident of birth.
"Your Highness," his most trusted advisor, Sarah Jane Smith, said. "It's time for the reception line." He nodded and she reached up to adjust his silver epaulets. Unconsciously, he ran a hand over his slick-backed hair and across the full beard on his face. Sarah Jane batted a hand away and gave him a small smile.
The double doors in front of him opened and he turned on the mask of the future ruler of his country. Head held high and eyes straight forward, he walked through the crowd to the chairs set on a plinth at the opposite side of the room. Once he had reached his destination, he turned and addressed the crowd with his standard greeting. "On behalf of my family, my country and my people, I would like to thank all of the wonderful people here in Rome for their gracious hospitality." Applause broke out and the Doctor waved and smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.
With a pang of longing he spied the plush throne-like chair; it would be a long night with very little reprieve. His feet had started to move towards it of their own volition when Sarah Jane tutted. Stifling his sigh took a huge amount of effort, but he turned anyway and greeted the first person in the receiving line. "Pleasure to meet you," he said, shaking a hand.
Another couple stepped forward. The Doctor shook hands with the gentleman and kissed the lady's hand. "Thank you for coming."
His mind began to wander somewhere around the tenth person in line, and he went into autopilot. Shaking and kissing hands, expressing hollow pleasantries, over and over again. Is this all his life would ever be? For the foreseeable future the answer was a resounding yes. With his father's health on the decline, he was the face of the monarchy. And now he was expected to find a wife, someone who could rule by his side once he became king.
"It's a pleasure to see you again," he said to a woman he vaguely recognized.
"Thank you for coming." His mouth formed the words automatically as the seemingly unending line progressed forward.
This entire trip had been in search of that woman. It had been one beautiful (well, most of them had been fairly pretty) yet vapid, dull and frankly annoying woman after another. He didn't want to just marry some woman based on her breeding. His parents' marriage had been like that. There were very few times in his childhood that he could remember his parents being in the same room together if they weren't at some formal event.
"The honor is mine," he replied with another handshake.
"Lovely to see you again," he droned to another person.
King Rassilion hadn't even shed a tear at his wife's funeral. Not because the stoic king of Gallifrey was being strong for his people, no, it was because his father wasn't affected by her death. That was not the kind of life or marriage that he wanted. He wanted to marry a woman that he could not live without, a woman who set his world on fire. But that wasn't likely given the constraints as to whom he was allowed to wed. Perhaps, if he met the right woman who was from a respectable background, he could convince his father to change the law.
"No, thank you for hosting this wonderful ball. It is truly a fantastic occasion," he greeted the ambassador. Thankfully this was the end of the line and the Doctor was finally allowed to sit down. Of course it didn't last.
"Sire," Sarah Jane called softly from his right shoulder. "There are plenty of eligible young ladies of noble birth here. I've pointed out the ones with the best potential. You should dance with some of them."
For a split second, he thought about protesting, maybe even throwing a proper fit, but a stern look from Sarah Jane was enough to put an end to those thoughts. Instead he stood up and tried to spot the least objectionable lady in the room. It was going to be an exceptionally long evening.