Marion had been looking forward to seeing Li when she and Kristoph returned from Rumania, and she was quite disappointed when they arrived at the herbalist shop in Liverpool’s Chinatown to discover that he was not there. The young Chinese woman who was working there told Kristoph that Master Li was away for the week and gave him an envelope which had been left for him.

Kristoph opened the note as they walked back down the road to where they had left the TARDIS disguised as a fresh fish delivery van. He smiled and passed the note to Marion.

She was astonished to notice that the note was written in two languages. One was traditional Mandarin Chinese characters, the sort that were on the Mah-jongg set that the two Time Lords often played against each other with in the evening.

The other was Gallifreyan. Two languages that had no similarity to the alphabet she knew or the system of making up words from letters and arranging them in left to right rows. The Chinese characters were read from top to bottom of the page and Gallifreyan was read from the centre of the swirl outwards.

But she COULD read both. As she looked at the beautiful calligraphy, she found that the meaning of them translated in her head. The Mandarin told them that Mai Li Tuo was away on family business for the week.

The Gallifreyan words told them that Li Tuo was in China from 1871 to 1904 and would be delighted to receive his friends at any time.

There was a string of letters and numbers that she presumed was the co-ordinate the TARDIS would need to take them there. She looked at Kristoph who was smiling broadly now.

“I think Li is in love again. Why else would he take a thirty-three year holiday?”

“And spend only one week away!” Marion laughed. “You Time Lords!”


They went back to the TARDIS and Kristoph set the co-ordinate and then they both found suitable clothes for 1880s China. By that time, of course, Western missionaries had reached most parts of the country and they could have appeared as a Victorian lady and gentleman. But Marion decided she would prefer to dress as the local people dressed. She chose a loose fitting silk shirt with wide sleeves and intricate embroidery, and a skirt to match. Kristoph wore an ankle length robe with embroidery around hem, neck and the sleeves and a thigh-length jacket of quilted silk with a fur trim. Marion tried not to laugh at the hat that completed the ensemble since it WAS part of the look of a well off Chinaman.

Li Tuo was obviously living the life of a well off Chinaman, too. When Kristoph asked for him he was directed to the biggest house in the small town, behind its own gates and with beautiful gardens. A servant in black silk and a pigtail brought them to the Mandarin in his private quarters.

“The Mandarin is magistrate and administrator of the district,” Kristoph explained as they went up a set of stairs to the residential part. This is the town hall and courthouse and police station as well as his home.”

“You Time Lords,” Marion said. “You like to be the boss, don’t you!”

Kristoph laughed and was still laughing when they were brought to the elegant drawing room of the Mandarin.Li Tuo stood up from the silk-covered sofa where he had been relaxing and greeted his friends with a traditional Chinese bow before he abandoned all formality and embraced Kristoph like a brother and Marion as a long lost lover.

“It’s good to see you, Li,” she told him as she accepted his kiss on her cheek. “But what’s all this then?”

“First let me introduce my wife, the Lady Mae Ling.” And he reached out his hand to the young woman who had remained seated on the sofa until he signalled to her. She came now and put her hand in his. Marion looked at her with undisguised interest. What sort of woman would have stolen Li’s hearts?

A very small, slender woman with a perfect oval face and features that looked as if they were moulded in fine bone china. Marion thought she was the most beautiful and delicate looking woman she had ever seen. She was dressed in a long silk gown, elaborately embroidered in gold and red. She smiled at her husband’s friends shyly but when she looked at him her expression was one of love.

“Do you have a potion that makes pretty young things fall in love with an old rogue like you?” Kristoph asked with a smile. But Mae Ling looked shocked at his words. The Mandarin words for ‘rogue’ that she heard from his lips had a much stronger meaning than the joking way it was intended and the idea of him using a dishonest means of attracting her love was unthinkable.

“It is all right, my flower,” Li Tuo assured her. “Lord Kristoph is my oldest and dearest friend and his words are only in jest.” She looked relieved, but she clung to Li Tuo’s hand as they returned to the comfort of the sofas and the servant brought rice wine and savouries in china bowls to eat.

“How long have you been married?” Marion asked the girl and she replied that it was two summers now. And she smiled at Li again with a loving expression. “My Lord brought me to his house as a child. My parents died when fire swept through the town below. He took me in as one of his household. But my love for him became a woman’s love and he made me his wife.”

That was the most she had spoken in all the time. She was reluctant to even look at Kristoph and it seemed that she and Li needed no words to express their feelings for each other.

“Li, you sweet man,” Marion told him. “Looking after an orphaned child.”

“I have never been blessed with children, as you know,” he answered. “Mae Ling was a delight to my life in that way and now, she delights me in another way with a different kind of love.”

Marion thought it was a relationship that would be difficult to explain in modern day Liverpool. But this was 19th century China and things were different here. Mae Ling seemed happy, anyway. And she had no doubt that Li Tuo would be a loving and attentive husband for all of her life. He had been so many times before. Many hundreds of times if half the stories he had told her were to be believed.

“I can see that you are happy to be Mrs De Leon,” Li told Marion and she smiled and blushed.

“Yes, I am,” she said.

Li and Kristoph talked together about the affairs of a local Mandarin, and Marion went to sit in a quiet, cool part of the room where Mae Ling embroidered a design on a piece of fine silk while she talked about the sorrow of her early life, and the joy of growing up as Li Tuo’s ward, under the protection of the Yamen, the name for the Mandarin’s semi-official home. She talked of the many young men who had approached Li about her as she blossomed into a young woman, but she had not wanted to marry any of them.

He had asked her kindly what she did want and she had declared her love for him. She had expected him to reject her. He was a great man of learning and wisdom and she, after all, just the orphaned child of a street worker. But he had taken her hands in his and kissed them and told her he would make her his Lady. And so he had.

“I do my Lord’s duty,” she said. “I attend to his needs. He has many worries.”

“What sort of worries?” Marion asked looking at her friend.

“Tomorrow morning there is to be an execution,” Mae Ling said. “A murderer. The sentence was just. But my Lord feels the weight of it heavily on his soul.”

A Mandarin was a sort of Magistrate, Marion remembered. He must have been the one who sentenced the murderer.

She was shocked in one way. The idea of the death penalty appalled her. She was born after such practices were ended in her own country of birth and she was glad of it. She knew it happened rarely on Gallifrey. She knew it would happen more often if a more informal kind of execution carried out by agents such as Kristoph and Li once were didn’t happen in secret. She knew it happened in other parts of her modern world, in America, and in modern China and the Middle East and many other places. And she didn’t like it.

But Kristoph had taken her to many other times and places where there were customs that were different and shocking. This was one of them. The law in this time and place decreed that murderers were executed. And as the Mandarin, Li Tuo would have to pass such sentences.

“He does not like to do it,” Mae Ling said. “After the trial was heard, he was so very sad. He came to me, and I held him in my arms. A strong, great, wise man such as he, and he needed my embrace to soothe him. He said that even a guilty man whose life he was responsible for taking sat on his soul.”

“The man is DEFINITELY guilty?” Marion asked. “There is no doubt?”

“There were witnesses who swore it. Though the man did protest he was innocent.”

Marion looked at Li and Kristoph. They, too, were discussing the case. She caught the odd word or two of the quiet conversation, conducted in low voices rather than telepathically for the sake of appearance. Apart from Mae Ling, there were servants moving in and out of the room and a silent conversation between the two with no more than a raised eyebrow or twitch of the mouth would be suspicious.

The word ‘beheading’ reached her ears and at that she WAS shocked. She rose from her seat by Mae Ling and went back to the men.

“Beheading? That is how it is done here?”

Kristoph reached out and took her hand. It was trembling. He pulled her down on his knee and embraced her.

“It is quick and relatively painless,” he assured her. “A skilled man with a sharp sword does it in seconds. There are far worse ways.”

“But there must be better ways,” Marion said.

“Not that I have ever found,” Kristoph said with feeling. “Marion, Li and I have both killed men in exactly that way. I would do it that way rather than any other. If I had to die myself, I would choose such a death.”

That didn’t reassure her very much. She looked to Li.

“I wish it did not have to be so. But the man was tried according to the custom here. I examined the evidence carefully. I could see no cause for doubt. And as such I could not pass any other sentence. I wish it were otherwise. But it is one of the things I accept when I choose to live in this society. I do my best to judge correctly. I can do no more.”

Marion accepted that much, reluctantly. She was reassured to know that Li Tuo didn’t like doing it.

“We don’t have to see it, do we?” she asked.

“You don’t,” Li told him. “I must be there to see that justice is performed according to my command. You may keep my precious flower company until it is over.”

That was something at least. She was partially reassured and later when they ate dinner together and entertained each other she was able to feel much more content. She always enjoyed Li’s company, and Mae Ling was sweet. She seemed less scared of Kristoph now and talked much more freely.

Much later as Mae Ling showed Marion how to do that beautiful Chinese embroidery on a small sampler of her own, and Kristoph and Li played Mah-Jongg together, there was a sudden disturbance. There was shouting and crying from the public room below. Li asked his manservant to find out what it was all about. A few minutes later he returned to say that it was the sister of the condemned man, come to plead for his life.

“Bring her here,” Li said. “Let her speak.”

The manservant murmured something about it being unsuitable, but Li squared his shoulders.

“Do as I say,” he ordered. And a few minutes later a distraught woman was brought into the room. Li dismissed the servants and told her to come and sit by the low table where Kristoph set aside the Mah-Jongg board.

“I am Jin Zheng Ning,” she said. “My brother is Jin Bao Lin and he is not guilty. You must not let him be killed. A great wrong will be done if you do this.”

“He WAS tried,” Li Tuo said. “Do you dispute my judgement?”

“Yes, Lord,” she answered bravely. “Forgive me, but I do.”

“What evidence do you bring?” he asked. “And why did you not bring it sooner?”

“Because until this night I thought it WAS true. I believed he was guilty and I had rejected him as a disgrace to the family. He has been dead in my eyes for many weeks. But now…” She reached into a wide pocket and brought out a knife. Mae Ling gave a soft cry of fright, but she held the knife out on her palm. Li took it by the point and laid it on the table. Then he went to the door and spoke to one of the servants who had been sent outside. A few minutes later, a box was brought in and placed at his disposal. Li Tuo removed from it a knife that was identical to the one brought by the young woman.

They could all see that the knives were identical, except that the one from the box of evidence was blood-stained.

“The strongest evidence brought,” Li Tuo said, quietly. “Was this knife. It was identified as belonging to Jin Bao Lin. Even the accused himself admitted that it was his. It has a distinctive design of a willow tree on the hilt. ‘Lin’ means willow in Mandarin. He said his knife had gone missing. But as it was found in the back of the man who was killed, it had seemed a poor excuse.”

“I found it today,” Zheng Ning said. “There was a sound outside and I looked out of the door and the knife was there. I knew when I saw it…”

“It casts doubt,” Li admitted. “But it does not completely exonerate Bao Lin. Two knives…”

Fingerprints, Marion thought. They would prove who had held the knives.

But fingerprinting was an unheard of practice here in China in the late 19th century.

Kristoph must have been thinking of the same thing. He took the two knives, carefully, and went to the corner place where the embroidery stand was. Marion saw him take his sonic screwdriver from his pocket before Li distracted Jheng Ning and Mae Ling by asking his wife to bring a bowl of tea for their guest. There was no need, he said, to neglect to be hospitable. Mae Ling did as she was asked and Jheng Ning drank gratefully, and just a little humbly, having been served by the wife of the Mandarin himself.

Kristoph returned a few minutes later. He put the two knives down again side by side.

“Many people have held these knives,” he said. “But the one who used this one in his work, who touched it every day, did not touch the other. It is a very good copy of Bao Lin’s knife.”

“Is it magic?” Jheng Ning asked. “How can you know?”

“It is a different kind of wisdom from a far off land beyond China,” Kristoph answered. “But that wisdom has no place here. It will not be accepted as evidence. So we still have only two knives and one man who has already been found guilty and sentenced to death.”

Jheng Ning burst into tears again. Marion and Mae Ling comforted her. Mae Ling looked at her husband and, despite her shyness, her delicateness, the string of words that came from her mouth made it clear that she would not forgive him if he allowed an injustice to be done.

“Even if my wife had not told me so,” he answered when he could get a word in. “I would have acted. Lord Kristoph is correct. What he knows to be the truth cannot be accepted here. We need a confession from the true murderer.” He looked at the two knives. He picked them up in his hands and examined them both carefully. Now that Kristoph had found the fingerprint evidence there was no need to worry about touching them. “Both very good knives. Could it be that simple?” He stood and so did Kristoph. He turned to his manservant. “I want four men, all armed, to accompany us.” At that, Li and Kristoph took swords from a rack by the door and they went out of the room. Marion, Mae Ling and Jheng Ning looked at each other. Jheng Ning looked puzzled.

“My Lord does not believe your brother is guilty now,” Mae Ling told her.

“Then Bao Lin will be freed?” she asked.

“There is room for hope. But he must find the real murderer before the dawn. Otherwise the execution will go ahead. He will not be able to prevent it.”

There WAS hope. Even so, as the hours ticked by it was a tense time for all three women. Marion did not want an execution to happen even when she thought the man was guilty. She even less wanted it now she knew he was innocent. Mae Ling did not want her husband, a wise and respected man, to be unable to prevent an innocent man dying. Zheng Ning could hardly speak her thoughts on the matter. Mae Ling, as Lady of the House, and hostess to the other two, prepared tea in the Chinese way and the drink comforted them all for a little while. But the hours ticked away and before dawn they could hear sounds of preparation in the yard below.

“The execution will be here? Where you live?” Marion looked at Mae Ling in horror and reached to hold the other young woman. “I thought it would be in the town square or… or somewhere else.”

Then there were other sounds. People outside were shouting. And then there were footsteps outside the drawing room. The door opened and Kristoph came inside first, followed by a young man in a grey robe and shaven head that denoted that he had been a disgraced prisoner. Mai Li Tuo followed, after giving more instructions to his servants.

Zheng Ning gave a shriek and ran to embrace her brother. Kristoph came to Marion’s side. Li Tuo stood.

“There will be no execution today,” he said simply. “Nor any other in connection with this matter.”

“The killer?” Marion asked.

“He is dead.”

“Who?” Mae Ling asked.

“Gao Feng Fa,” Li answered. “The knife-maker. A skilled craftsman. Bao Lin and the man who was killed were rivals for the love of a young woman. It was believed that Bao Lin had killed him to remove that rival. It was not known that there was another rival. Feng Fa. He hatched a plan to remove both rivals. He killed one with a replica of a knife known to belong to the other. He was not only unsuspected, but free to make his suit after the execution had taken place.”

“But he is dead?” Marion asked.

“He tried to kill me,” Kristoph said. “When he knew the game was up, he came at me with another of his very good knives. Li was faster with his sword.”

“So it is all over,” Li said. “Jheng Ning, is your brother restored in your heart?”

“He is,” she answered.

“Then stay here, the two of you, until after sun up, then return to your home. Bao Lin, I have good reason to think that the young woman at the centre of this will be amenable to your suit after a period of calm to get over this unpleasantness. You have your lives before you. Good luck with it. And now, I shall retire to my bed. I am an old man who has more life behind me than you can imagine and I am tired. I think my friend also needs his rest.”

At that he took Mae Ling’s hand and left the room. Kristoph looked at Marion and took her hand, leaving the brother and sister to talk over all that needed to be talked over between them.

Waking late the next morning without the dread of a terrible thing happening outside, Marion felt content. Kristoph had said they would stay a few days with Li and Mae Ling and she was happy to do so. She was enjoying seeing Li in what he had made his natural environment.

When the days were up, though, they had to return to Liverpool. Marion DID have her first week of teacher-training college. On the evening of the Friday of that week, though, Kristoph met her off the train and they went up to Chinatown together. This time Li Tuo was home.

“Li,” Marion said as she stepped into the drawing room. He looked the same as ever, though perhaps a little sad. “It is good to see you home again.”

“Hello, my dear Marion,” he replied, kissing her cheek. “It seems a long time.”

“For you it IS a long time,” Kristoph reminded him. “You came home?”

“I did.”

“What happened to Mae Ling?” Marion asked, though she knew the answer.

“She died rather younger than I would have hoped. She was only in her 50s. But they were good years.”

“You give your hearts over and over again,” Kristoph told him. “I should have thought you would have had enough of the hurt.”

“The good years make up for the sorrow,” he said. “I have such fond memories of my latest wife and the love we shared.”

Marion looked at Kristoph and thought about the far future. He was always going to live much longer than she would. Would he, too, remember the good times they had? Would that be a comfort to him?