Marion had so many questions while she drank her tea that Li had trouble answering them all.

“Yes, of course we knew the child did not belong to the man we had just assassinated. For one thing his body had reverted to its natural shape in death. He was a Foramian - something like a man-sized dung beetle, complete with a thick carapace on the back and exo-skeleton. It was bleeding yellow bile into the floor and giving off a sickening smell.”

“This is a Risan child, newborn from the incubator egg just this minute,” Kristoph said. “A mother somewhere is missing this most precious moment in her child’s life.”

“Kidnapped, of course,” Lee noted.

“Kidnapped from the royal nursery.” Kristoph looked at the child’s arm and noted a distinctive birthmark in the shape of a crown. “All the children of the Risan royal family have that birthmark.”

“The Crown Princess – heir to the throne,” Lee recalled. “The egg was missing for a month already when we were in the spaceport – it was practically old news. The Crown Prince died two months ago. His wife cannot rule in her own right because she was a commoner, so the planet is without a legal heir until the child is of age. The royal family had paid three ransoms but the kidnapper went quiet. No more demands, and no return of the egg. They had given up the child for dead and mourned their loss.”

“And she was here all the time?” Kristoph was puzzled. “Why? It doesn’t make sense. When Laqizole Tuqisuvi took the President’s sister the demand was for secret information or she would be killed. Information, of course, that he intended to sell to the highest bidder. But what reason did he have to keep the child? What gain was there from that?”

One thing they knew for certain was that Laqizole Tuqisuvi had expected to gain something more than merely ransom money. He was a high end mercenary who would not have settled for the mere millions in rubies and gold that were paid by the desperate royal family. Whoever hired him to take the child had offered far more.

“We will have to take the child with us.” That much was obvious. But the prospect was a daunting one.

“She must be fed before we can think of going anywhere,” Kristoph pointed out. “He must have planned for this. There will be what we need in the house somewhere.”

There was. It looked and smelt like pulped Risan groundnuts, but the baby accepted the food in the prepared bottle without complaint. Afterwards, Kristoph dressed her in an all in one outfit of soft yellow fabric that was in the same box of provisions for a child. He noted something unusual about the other items in the box, though.

“These aren’t just for a newborn. There are clothes for a child at several different stages of life – right up to youth.”

“How long was this kidnapping supposed to go on for?” Lee wondered. “Never mind. Bring everything. Let’s get out of this house and do what we planned to do with it.”

They brought the child and laid her comfortably and safely in a nest of furs in the back of the gurdet. The box of provisions for her welfare was secured for the journey. Lee started the two ponnets walking while Kristoph completed the mission by setting the wooden house on fire with the body of the alien mercenary and kidnapper within it. He ran to catch up and they were a good mile away before the neighbouring Risan people came to put out the fire that had engulfed the house. By the time they succeeded there would be very little left of the body to give away the fact that it was an alien descended from insects.

They drove with the Risan sun before them, gradually dropping lower in the sky. They had put many miles between them and the township by the time it set. They kept on going for another ten miles in the gradually darkening night, using the stars to keep on the proper path. At regular intervals they had taken it in turns to feed the baby. They did so again before settling down for the night in the back of the gurdet.

“Should we take it in turns to keep watch?” Lee suggested. “We have a precious cargo to worry about on this return journey.”

“She’s a newborn,” Kristoph answered. “She’ll wake us regularly anyway. We can afford to get as much normal sleep as possible inbetween feeds and changes.”

“You’re an expert on babies?” Lee asked.

“My mother is the expert. Aineytta the Gentle. She has been midwife to every Caretaker woman of the Lœngbærrow demesne who ever gave birth. There have been more babies born in Mount Lœng House than traitors I’ve assassinated. I always thought there was a balance to life in that, somehow. Anyway, I picked up a few ideas about this sort of thing from her.”

Lee made no comment. He left it to Kristoph to change the child and make her ready to sleep beside them both in the back of the gurdet. It was surprisingly warm under the blankets of natural fur. They had both roughed it in worse circumstances. They had little doubt that the baby would be all right with them.

It was just before dawn when Kristoph woke and was aware of an unusual light in the gurdet. It was coming from the baby. She was glowing with something that looked extraordinarily like artron energy. But that was impossible. Artron energy was only generated by the bodies of Gallifreyans and it only acted in this way when they were regenerating. Other species couldn’t produce it.

He woke Lee and they both stared in wonder. What was happening to the baby was very much like regeneration. Her body was changing within the glow. She was growing, her limbs stretching, her face changing as teeth grew in her mouth and soft yellow hair grew over her head as was usual with the female Risans.

The glow faded and in the dawn light they looked at a one year old child with strong limbs, full milk teeth and bright, intelligent eyes. She looked up at her two unusual nursemaids and gurgled happily.

“I’m assuming this is something we don’t know about Risan childhood,” Kristoph said at last. “Rapid growth spurts.”

“That explains the collection of clothing. If she only needs each size for a single day…”

“Well, a one year old has to be easier to take care of than a newborn. But we have an eight day journey back to the ocean and the possibility of contacting any competent authority. Assuming she grows at a rate of a year per day, she will be a young girl by the time we bring her back to her family. That is going to be something of a shock to them. But I’m wondering if we can educate her as we go along. She needs to learn to walk and talk, all the ordinary skills of a toddler in the course of a single day. Later she’ll need to learn to read and start writing and calculating….”

“We can do it. Let’s get her fed and make some breakfast for ourselves then get going. We’ll think about it as we’re travelling.”

The child took two of the specially prepared food packs that were in the box of provisions. That satisfied her hunger and thirst. After that she was happy to let Kristoph change her into a larger all in one suit. He had an idea that they were called ‘babygrows’ somewhere in the universe and in the case of the little Risan princess that was going to be more appropriate than usual.

She was content to sit on Kristoph’s knee as they trekked across the Shrow for a long, hot day under the relentless sun. When they stopped to eat in the shade of one of the rare rocky outcrops around which groundnut bushes grew she surprised them both by struggling to her feet and walking a few tentative steps. She had by-passed the crawling stage and gone straight to walking. They surmised that Risans must have some kind of instinct that told them when the time was right for such developmental milestones.

Her stumbling steps across the grass led her to Kristoph’s lap where she sat happily. He put his hand on her forehead and gently read her thoughts. They showed a bright, wide awake, burgeoning intelligence.

She said her first words as the sun was setting ahead of them. The words were ‘pretty colour’ or something very close to it. As they made camp she learnt several more words. ‘Lee’ was the easiest. ‘Cistof’ was the closest approximation to Kristoph.

“We should have a name for you, apart from princess,” he said as he gave her the prepared food and noted that the package for the morning was a more solid diet.

“Allia,” she replied. Kristoph wasn’t sure at first if that was meant to be her name or if she was trying to pronounce something more complicated.

“Allia will do for now,” he said. “You lie down quietly now and I’ll tell you a story before you go to sleep.”

Lee raised his eyebrows at the idea. Chrístõ Mian de Lœngbærrow was known by those who knew such things, as a coolly efficient assassin. That he could play nursemaid, too, would surprise them. But Allia laid her head on the pillow he put in place for her and fell asleep listening to him tell the tale of the Toclafane, just about the closest thing Gallifrey had to a fairy tale. He kept talking softly even after he was sure she was asleep.

She’s a little young to understand,” Lee pointed out.

“I’ll tell it again tomorrow when she’s older,” Kristoph answered. Then he stretched himself beside the child and prepared to sleep.

Again just before dawn Princess Allia went through the transformation. Now she looked like an alert two year old. As Lee prepared breakfast for himself and Kristoph from their rations and she ate her own specially provided food, she showed how much her vocabulary was expanded by naming everything within the gurdet. Sitting between them on the journey towards the still endless horizon she learnt new words all morning.

The next night she listened to the story of the Toclafane all the way through before she went to sleep. Near dawn she was transformed again and the next day a sturdy three year old dangled her feet from the wooden seat as the wagon continued on its journey. She was stringing sentences together now and Kristoph was surprised to note that she knew the name of the planet she was on and the animals that inhabited it. They didn’t need to educate her. It seemed as if the knowledge and the skills she needed for life were already there, waiting to be opened up as each stage of her growth from babyhood to childhood passed.

On the fifth day when Allia was learning to run on sturdy legs and could sing along with little songs Kristoph and Lee knew, as well as introduce them to the nursery rhymes of Risa, they saw a cloud of dust ahead. It soon resolved itself into a column of soldiers riding great-ponnets, the larger type of animal bred for hard riding. Lee was driving, with Kristoph at his side. Allia was having a nap in the back of the gurdet.

“Don’t let them search the wagon, and don’t mention that we have Allia,” Kristoph said as they approached the column.

“Aren’t they in the uniform of the Risan army?” Lee asked. “They may be looking for her. We could hand her over to them safely.”

“No,” Kristoph replied sharply. “There’s something not right. Don’t ask me what. I don’t quite know. I wish my mother was here. Her precognitive skills are phenomenal. She would know exactly what the problem is. But something is nagging at me about those soldiers. I don’t want to tell them we have the princess with us.”

Lee nodded. He trusted his friend even if he wasn’t making any sense. He trusted the son of Aineytta de Lœngbærrow’s incomplete precognition. If he had inherited even a fraction of his mother’s instinct he was going to turn out to be right about these soldiers.

He slowed the ponnets to a stop and they waited as the soldiers drew closer and spread out around the gurdet, their rifles at the ready in case the two apparently unarmed men turned out to be more trouble than they appeared to be.

“Stay asleep, Princess,” Kristoph whispered softly as the commander of the troop drew closer. “Don’t make a sound, for your life’s sake.”

Li Tuo stopped talking. Marion shook herself. She hadn’t exactly been asleep. But her eyes were closed and his voice was lulling her into a perfectly lucid vision of the wide plain where the wagon had just been stopped by soldiers who Kristoph believed might harm the little princess.

“You should be in bed, my dear,” Li told her. “This story has gone on longer than I intended. I should not have lingered over so many details of mere scenery.”

“I’ll go to bed,” she said. “But please come and tell me the rest before I sleep. I need to know what happened to you and why the soldiers weren’t to be trusted.”

“Very well,” Li said. “I will make a calming brew for you to drink and when the story is over you will sleep soundly.”