Marion clung tightly to Rodan’s hand and let Li be her guide as they walked through the river district of the busy city of Lanzhou in North-West China. She was both excited and a little frightened at the same time. It was exciting to be in such an exotic place, but frightening because there were so many people around. Though she had known the bustle of Liverpool’s crowded streets all her life, she had become too accustomed to the peace of Gallifrey and this was a little unnerving.

“Come, my dear ones,” Li told her. “I promise you the fresh noodles at Wen Heng’s shop are the finest in the province.”

“This seems a long way to come just to eat noodles,” Marion replied with a gentle laugh. “I could have bought a packet at Tescos.”

Li made a disparaging sound and then laughed, too. Of course, she knew there was a huge difference between the dried products sold in modern supermarkets and the noodles made and sold in the Imperial China of the 1870s that Li had brought her to see.

The ‘noodle shop’ was a very different concept to the supermarket she envisaged when she talked of buying a packet of dried noodles. It didn’t even look like a shop at all. There was no actual building, just a collection of tables and chairs placed within a square of pavement sectioned off by bamboo poles with paper lanterns on top. The ‘kitchen’ was a curious piece of ironmongery on wheels with a fierce fire burning beneath the hotplates and a fragrant smell coming from the pots that were cooking on top. Wen Heng himself was the master noodle maker. Watching him stretch the dough and fold it, stretch and fold again until it began to separate into strands and look like a skein of knitting wool held between his two hands was fascinating. When the noodles were made they were either added to a pot of stock to make noodle soup or dropped into a huge iron wok with fresh beanspouts and water chestnuts, a closely guarded secret recipe of herbs and spices and a handful of freshwater prawns that Heng’s son, Wen Ho had skilfully shelled. The food that was put into wooden bowls and served by Heng’s almost impossibly small wife, Wen Su-Lin was delicious in ways even the carefully made dishes at the Welcome Friend restaurant couldn’t begin to emulate. Marion ate skilfully with chopsticks. So did Rodan, sitting on a cushion beside her. Both woman and child were dressed in silk Hanfu dresses and Marion’s hair was fastened in a high topknot with a bamboo pin holding it in place. They looked just like any Chinese boatman’s wife and child.

And that had been the role she and Rodan had played for these past few days. It had been Kristoph’s idea, curiously enough, that she should take this holiday with Li. The High Council were in closed session for two weeks and the weather was too miserable for social engagements. The idea of travelling down the Yellow River, known to the people who lived by its precarious shores as the Huang He, in a flat bottomed Chinese barge was a pleasant idea. The barge was, in truth, Li’s TARDIS in suitable outer disguise. Inside they had access to modern bathroom facilities and a videophone by which Marion talked to Kristoph when his work was done in the evening. But they spent their days on deck, sitting beneath a silk canopy that kept the sun from their faces even in the hottest part of the day. They watched the shores of the lazy, loess-heavy river as they travelled down stream. They saw both men and women with wide brimmed ‘coolie’ hats and loose peasant clothes working in the rice fields and merchants driving ox-carts along narrow dirt roads. They saw women with small children tied to their backs with bands of colourful cloth spinning, weaving and dyeing silk clothes along the riverbanks. They passed tiny hamlets with only a few small houses in them and substantial towns where a Mandarin held court over the people of the district.

Lanzhou was the first city they had come to. Li had moored the TARDIS among the dozens upon dozens of nearly identical barges at the wooden jetty and they walked among the boatmen and merchants, fishermen and the less reputable types that would hang around these busy places. Li had his money pouch hidden within his clothing. Marion and Rodan kept close to him, never letting him out of their sight as they came from the bustle of the jetty to the bustle and noise of the market close by. Li wanted to purchase spices for his shop in Liverpool. He spent a long time going from stall to stall testing the quality of the goods and haggling prices before purchasing stock. A boy with a wheelbarrow brought the tightly packed cloth bags back to the jetty and Li gave him a small coin for his trouble before storing the goods safely. Then he said he would take Marion and Rodan to eat the best noodles they had ever eaten.

And they WERE very good noodles. Marion ate slowly, appreciating the subtle flavours. Around her men and women alike tended to eat fast with the noodle bowls close under their chins. They were busy people with only a little time to sit and eat. It looked like terrible bad manners by her own standards, but she supposed it was how things were here.

“You don’t need to gobble it all up like that, child,” Li told Rodan as she emulated the local people, using her chopsticks to cram noodles into her mouth. “We have plenty of time.”

Rodan swallowed a large mouthful and then took a smaller portion. Li smiled indulgently at her. His censure of her eating habits did not diminish his affection for her. She looked at him with bright eyed joy.

“You’re talking to her telepathically, aren’t you?” Marion said. “What about?”

“The history of a magnificent people who invented both the noodle and the wheelbarrow as well as a culture and history so deep and colourful that the great Library at the Prydonian Academy couldn’t hold enough books to fully cover the subject.”

“You’re teaching her about China, by telepathic transfer, while eating noodles!” Marion laughed softly. But of course, Rodan was fully ready to embrace it all. She was a child of Gallifrey. She had learnt so much already, even though she was still at the age when children of other worlds were still learning their alphabet. Her own grandfather had taught her about the many planets he had visited in his work for the Gallifreyan freight service. Kristoph had taught her even more. Now Li was another surrogate parent showing her things other children of Gallifrey could never hope to experience.

For a moment Marion wondered if they had all done the right thing. When Rodan came to them first as an orphaned baby in need of a home, Kristoph had warned against spoiling her, about letting her grow up to be dissatisfied with her status as an ordinary Caretaker child. They had not done that. But between them all they had already shown Rodan so much more of the universe than even most Oldbloods had ever seen. She was never going to be an ordinary girl, satisfied to take a Caretaker job and know her ‘place’ in society.

“Then we’ve done well,” Li told her quietly. “Rodan will be much more than any ordinary woman of Gallifrey. She will be singular, and she will be magnificent. Don’t you fear, Marion. Her future is going to be a bright and colourful one, and she won’t regret for one moment the things we have shown her.”

“That’s good to know,” Marion said. Then she stopped talking. She had been doing so in Gallifreyan, the language she was used to using, now. Nobody could possibly have followed their curious conversation. Around them, Mandarin was the most common language.

But somewhere among the chatter of merchants, boatmen and fishermen who talked even faster than they ate noodles, there was another accent, another language. Marion looked around and saw two people speaking English, not only to each other, but to Wen Heng’s customers. They seemed oblivious to the fact that the mandarin speaking Chinese people had no idea what they were saying as they pressed small printed pamphlets into their hands. Most of the people looked at the pamphlets and then used them to wipe their fingers after eaing. A few read them with interest. Some threw them down dismissively.

Marion found one of the pamphlets pressed into her own hand and she glanced at it quickly. It was written in Mandarin and was a portion of the Gospel of St. Luke. In the small print on the back, there was a note in English that told her this Christian message was printed in London for the Chinese Education Mission.

Something struck her as amusing. She looked up at the young woman dressed in a severe black linen dress and tightly laced leather shoes. She had a crisp white linen collar and a starched bonnet covering her pinned up hair.

“Do you realise that the Chinese INVENTED paper, ink and the printing press thousands of years before monks in England were copying the Gospels by hand?” she said. “They really don’t need to be educated by people from the other side of the world who think they know better than them.”

The woman looked startled to be addressed in English by a woman wearing a Chinese dress. She stared at Marion for a moment then fled back to her companion, a much older man dressed in a black suit and the starched collar of a missionary preacher. The young woman spoke to him quickly then they both returned to speak to Marion.

“You are English?” he said to her. “Deborah… my daughter here, told me that you spoke to her in English. And I can see, despite your dress, that you are not a native of this place….”

“Yes, I am English,” Marion answered. Beside her, she felt Li shift in his seat. Rodan looked curiously at the strangers, wondering what they wanted and what might happen next.

“Then… what are you doing dressed in such a way, and in company with….” The preacher’s glance fell upon Li. To all outward appearances he was an elderly Chinaman, dressed as a boatman of the Huang He. The preacher leaned closely and spoke in a whisper. “Were you and the child taken away by this man? Are you afraid to ask for help? We can bring you to the Mission. You will be safe there, among Christian people.”

“Don’t be silly,” Marion answered him. “Mai Li Tuo is a trusted friend of my husband. My daughter and I travel under his protection. I don’t need your help. I… really don’t need your pamphlet, either, though I am sure it was meant well. Nor do most of these people. You know, they have a religion of their own, a very fine one with some magnificent ideas. I’m really not sure that trying to force western notions of Christianity upon them is necessary.”

The preacher looked taken aback. His daughter seemed surprised to hear a woman speak in such a way to him.

“I agree with Lady Marion,” Li added in perfectly enunciated English that surprised both of the Missionaries even more. “Your motives are good and honest, but your actions may do more harm than good to these people.” He glanced around to see most of the pamphlets dropped on the floor and trodden underfoot as those who were done with their meal break returned to work and others took their places, ready to rapidly swallow more bowls of noodles and wash it down with green tea. “It would be better if you looked for practical ways to help them. There are many villages along the Huang He where water for drinking is still drawn from the river. Why don’t you try showing them how to build wells and protect themselves from water-born sickness? That would be far more use than all this preaching of foreign religious notions.”

“And you might find that dressing more appropriately helps,” Marion added. “Deborah, you must be hot wearing linen in this humid climate. Loosely fastened silk is actually far more comfortable, and the people will be more accepting of you if you make an effort to understand them.”

Deborah said nothing, but the idea of wearing something like the colourful wrap around Hanfu dress Marion was wearing, with its wide embroidered sleeves and jade ornaments along the hem of the skirt to weigh it down was quite beyond her comprehension.

“It isn’t you know,” Li whispered as the two missionaries drew away from them and prepared to spread their gospel elsewhere. “It isn’t beyond her comprehension. She was envious of you. She would love to wear hand coloured silk, but her father would think she had turned into a painted Jezebel if she did.”

“Poor girl.”

“Indeed,” Li agreed. “But never mind, my dear. I think there is time to look in the silk market for some lengths of cloth for you to take back to Gallifrey. I shall want to hear about the sensation you cause at the Spring Equinox Ball dressed in Hanfu style. Then we shall return to the river before sunset and be on our way downstream under the canopy of stars. I shall give Rodan a lesson in astronomy before her bedtime and then you and I shall drink a glass of rice wine and eat supper before we sleep.”

“Yes,” Marion agreed. That was the way they had gone on after nightfall every evening since they began their voyage, and she was happy for it to go on that way for a little while longer, yet. Even the Spring Equinox Ball was a far off prospect, yet and she was glad of it.