It was late in the month of Melcus on Gallifrey and snow still covered most of the plains of the southern continent. On Earth it was late February and there was no snow, but it WAS bitterly cold with a sullen grey sky and the promise of rain. Three ladies of Gallifrey gathered their lapin fur coats close around them as they walked through the prettily decorated streets of Liverpool’s Chinatown as the sun began to set on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

“It feels strange to be wearing a knee length skirt,” Marion said. “I have got used to ankle length Gallifreyan gowns. My legs feel strangely cold.”

Lily and Aineytta agreed. They had never worn Earth clothes before. Neither of them had ever travelled away from Gallifrey or its sister planets before. But when Li had asked Kristoph and Marion to visit him for the New Year celebration, Marion had persuaded them to join them in the visit.

“You do look very pale, though, Marion,” Aineytta noted. “This Earth winter doesn’t seem as healthy as ours.”

“I’m quite all right,” she assured her mother in law. “Just a bit weary from travelling. I’m looking forward to seeing Li.”

“Let us at least carry that,” Lily said, taking the big and quite heavy basket that Marion was carrying. She and Aineytta shared the burden. “I think Aineytta is right, though. This is not a healthy winter.”

“Li will have a warm drawing room,” Kristoph promised them. “And if he thinks Marion isn’t quite herself he will have an invigorating remedy to perk her up with.”

They came to the herbalist shop with the name of Mai Li Tuo on the fascia. Aineytta was entranced by the idea of a shop selling the kind of things she had always loved to make in her own kitchen. Lily was dismayed by how small it was.

“This is where he lives?” she asked. “Li was born in a fine house of Gallifrey. This seems so humble for a man of his birth.”

“It suits his purpose,” Kristoph assured her as he opened the door and held it for them to step inside. Mai Li Tuo, known to them all just as Li, left his counter and met them with a wide smile across his face. He tried to hug all three women at once, saying their names over and over.

“Lily, Aineytta, Marion, it is wonderful to see you. It has been so long.”

“Too long,” Aineytta said. “Too long. Far longer for you, I think.” She touched his age lined face. “You’ve lived so much longer than we have on Gallifrey.”

“Yes,” he said. “I have. But let us not stay here in the shop. Marion, my dearest, lock the door and put up the closed sign and let us have our celebration supper in the warmth of my private rooms.”

He took Lily and Aineytta by their hands and Kristoph walked with Marion behind them, up to the beautifully appointed private quarters. The low table was already set for the meal. First, though, he served them tea in the Chinese style, and as Kristoph predicted, he insisted on them ALL taking a glass of something mysterious that was the colour of grass.

“Marion DOES look pale,” he said, agreeing with Aineytta. “And none of you are used to the pollutants of the air in this city at this time.”

The strange potion tasted pleasant enough, and Marion drank hers down and then smiled at her old friend as the cumbersome basket was presented to him.

“We brought you a present,” she said.

Li took the basket and lifted the lid. He laughed joyfully as he saw the collation of Gallifreyan cheese, Cúl nuts, moon fruits and other delicacies unique to his home planet and a bundle of herbs that he could not possibly have in the jars and containers down in his shop. He was overcome with joy and it was a few minutes before he was able to go and fetch the food for their New Years Eve feast.

“Did we do the right thing?” Lily asked as she watched him go to the kitchen. “We’ve just reminded him of his exile.”

“No,” Kristoph assured her. “He’s happy. His banishment does weigh heavily, but he has made a good life for himself. Just ask him about his love life.”

For some reason THAT made Lily blush. But as they ate their New Year supper she did ask him and he told her and Aineytta about the series of princesses and ladies and fragile young flowers of China that he had loved over the centuries of his exile. He showed them the album full of drawings and paintings that he had kept, and told them all their names.

“You’ve lived a full life, Li,” Lily told him. “But you’re alone now?”

“I am at peace,” he said. “I enjoy the respect of the people of this small community and the company of my friends from time to time. And I am no longer under sentence of death. For that I am eternally thankful. I have no regrets except one, and as there is nothing to be done about that, I do not let it cause me pain.”

“Dear Li.” Lily reached and took his hand. She held it for a long time and the others were sure something was passing between them. Something that made them smile at each other. Marion realised that Lily, as well as being Kristoph’s would be lover in her younger days must also have carried a torch for Li. They had all of them been friends, Li and his brother, Kristoph and Jules, the man Lily married eventually. But all of them, it seems, were fond of her and she fond of them.

Marion smiled to see them so happy, and tried to join in the conversation as joyfully, but she really didn’t feel as well as she should be. It seemed too much of an effort. After the meal, Kristoph brought her to one of the two big sofas in Li’s drawing room and insisted that she lie down.

“Perhaps you’re getting a cold?” he suggested.

“Yes,” she answered. “I think I must be. It’ll be a surprise to them at Isolatta’s dinner party next week. Nobody gets colds or flu on Gallifrey.”

“If you are ill, Isolatta won’t mind you not going to her dinner,” Kristoph assured her. “And we don’t mind if you lie quietly here and keep warm. And we can watch the fireworks at midnight comfortably from the window.”

Marion had Kristoph’s attention as well as his mother’s for the evening. Aineytta herself went down into Li’s storeroom and brought Earth equivalents of ingredients for a remedy she was sure would help and Marion drank it while she watched Li teach Lily how to play Mah-Jongg.

Watching the two of them together it was possible to imagine that they were both young people again, Li without the lines of age and his grey hair restored to deep black and Lily’s silver hair red again. They looked at each other fondly as they sat with the clacking tiles on the board between them.

There was plenty of talk, too. They drank more rice wine and green tea and little savouries that tempted the appetite as supper became a memory. Li asked Kristoph about what was happening politically at home, and he asked the ladies about the social scene, delighted to discover that Marion was still very much the VIP guest at all the important functions since the Alliance. Marion had meant to ask him what was happening on Earth, but she felt too tired to bother. She enjoyed listening in on the conversation without taking part too much. And she noticed how often Li addressed his questions to Lily rather than to everybody else.

At midnight, they put away their Mah-Jongg games. Lily and Li went out to the garden to let off their own share of Chinese fireworks that joined with those of their neighbours in lighting up the night sky with glorious colours. Marion watched from the window with Kristoph holding her in his arms and Aineytta beside them.

“I hope they are doing the right thing,” Aineytta said. “Li is an exile. Nothing can alter that fact. Lily is a lady of Gallifrey.”

“Perhaps,” Kristoph considered. “Perhaps she would be happy, after all, in a humble place like this with a man who will love her deeply for the rest of her life.”

“Oh, do you think so?” Marion asked. “I do hope so. Though I would miss Lily terribly.”

“A woman of his own kind for the last of his years?” Aineytta said. “Yes. It would be good for him. He cannot keep giving his hearts to fragile Earth Children. It causes him too much grief.”

She glanced at Kristoph’s own Earth Child. She looked fragile just now.

“Are you in pain, my dear?” she asked her.

“No, not at all,” Marion assured her. “But I am a little tired.”

“The traditions of Chinese New Years Eve are almost over,” Kristoph said. “When they come back up we’ll share another glass of rice wine before bedtime.”

“I think I shall have a bowl of green tea,” Marion decided. “Perhaps the wine is too much for me.”

But Aineytta and Kristoph both knew that wasn’t the case. Marion had never actually finished a glass of wine. She had sipped slowly and had given up her glass to be taken away when it was still quite full.

Li willingly prepared a bowl of tea for her while the rest of them drank to the New Year with rice wine. And then Kristoph took her to the main guest bedroom while Aineytta went to the smaller room. Li and Lily were going to play one more game of Mah Jongg, they said, before bed.

“Do you think…” Marion began as Kristoph helped her get ready for bed.

“Do I think what?” Kristoph asked, though he knew what she was going to say.

“Do you think Lily and Li might… you know…”

“They are both honourable Gallifreyans. I don’t think they intend to do anything more than rekindle a spark between them.”

“A pity. They WOULD be good for each other.”

“You have a romantic heart, Marion,” Kristoph told her. “Come on to bed, my dear.”

She stood up from the dresser where she had been brushing her hair. Then she clutched the chair dizzily. Marion at once felt Kristoph’s arms supporting her and he helped her to the bed.

“You’re feverish,” he said as he touched her cheek. “I think, perhaps you DO have a cold.”

“Li’s remedies will make we well again, then,” she answered. “I’ll try to sleep. I do feel tired.”

Kristoph sat with her as she fell asleep. He WAS worried for her. More worried than she realised. And he was quite sure it was NOT just a cold. He was certain Aineytta and Li didn’t think so, either. Both had enough skills in what Earth people called homeopathic medicine to realise there was much more wrong with Marion than that.

“I am sorry, my dear,” he whispered, stroking her hot, dry cheek tenderly. “But sleep quietly and perhaps it will be all right in the morning.”

That was his hope, though his intellect told him it was a vain one. He wondered if he should go and talk to Li about her. He knew his friend was awake still, sitting in the drawing room with Lily. He wasn’t trying to read the minds of either, but he could feel both of them emotionally. Rekindling was an apt word. They were both passionate exceptions of their usually stoic race. Lily, as a girl had held all of their hearts in the palm of her hand and touched them all in turn. Now Li was the only one who was free to pursue a suit in their latter years. But it would mean a tremendous upheaval for Lily if she did decide to reciprocate in more than the gentle, platonic way they were doing now.

Unless he COULD persuade the High Council to life the banishment. There were a few who might be sympathetic if he brought the matter to their attention again. He would give it a try, at least.

Marion stirred in her sleep and moaned slightly, then screamed as she woke in shock and obvious pain. He reached to hold her, calling out for help in frantic words as well as telepathically. Aineytta reached them first, then Li and Lily, clutching each other’s hands as they looked from the doorway.

“Come away,” Aineytta commanded as she took in the situation. “Kristoph, come away. Let me take care of her.” Reluctantly Kristoph stood back and Aineytta made Marion lie down again on top of the bed and examined her quickly, trying not to make the pain any worse as she did so. “Oh, my dear,” she said. “Oh, I am sorry.” She turned to Li and rattled off a list of mysterious sounding words. “I don’t know the names of the Earth equivalents but you must have them in your stores.”

“I do,” he answered. “But… Oh, that they should be necessary…” He ran at once, fear for his dear friend’s health spurring him on. Lily reached for Kristoph’s hand and took him from the room. He looked at her gratefully when she said she would make tea. Lily only knew tea existed because of Marion. It was the last thing he felt he wanted, but if it eased the anxiety for one moment to drink it with her, he would do so.

Li returned quickly with the ingredients Aineytta had asked for and began to prepare a complicated combination of them while she took two of the powders and mixed them together in a little water. She lifted Marion’s head and helped her drink it.

“It will take away the pain. Later I will give you something to make you sleep. But I’m afraid for a while I shall need you to stay awake. I fear there is nothing to be done except let nature run its course as quickly as it can.”

“You can’t…” Marion managed to say. “You can’t save….”

“No, I am afraid not. I am sorry. So very sorry.”

“Please don’t tell Kristoph,” Marion begged. “He will be so upset. Tell him it was stomach flu or something. Don’t let him know… I didn’t tell him. I wanted to be sure before I told him. But… But I’d rather he never knew.”

“Don’t worry about Kristoph,” Li told her as he came to the bedside with a bowl of something that smelt terrible. “You must drink this now, Marion. It will help to make what is inevitable less distressing to you.”

“Li…” she cried after she had swallowed the bitter tasting liquid. “Li, why is this happening? You told me I would bear a child for Kristoph.”

“You will, my dear,” Li promised. “Just not this time. It was not to be.” He looked at her frightened eyes and saw relief in them. For a while she had thought the worst. “No, my dear, I would never lie to you,” he said. Though he hoped she would never directly ask him the obvious question. The answer would break her heart. Bad enough that this should have happened so soon after their Alliance.


“It’s my fault,” Kristoph said to Lily as he heard his wife’s cries of pain. “It’s all my fault. I told her we would wait. And then… only a week after we got back from our honeymoon, I didn’t even tell her, but when we made love, I didn’t hold anything back. I knew she would conceive. I knew her body was ready and I thought she would understand why I did it. I felt it, Lily. I felt the life begin within her. But I didn’t tell her. She was so full of her plans for teaching and I thought it would be all right. She is young and strong, and there was nothing too strenuous about the work. Easier in so many ways than dinner parties with snobs that make her anxious. And she seemed happy. She didn’t even KNOW she was already carrying my child within her.”

“Even Time Lords don’t know the future,” Lily told her. “You couldn’t know this would happen.”

“Li knows,” Kristoph said. “He told her she would be mother to my heir.”

“Then she will be,” Lily assured him. “But not this time.”

Li came from the bedroom. It had become quiet now. Kristoph stood and met him halfway across the floor. Lily knew that something had passed between them telepathically, though exactly what remained secret. Then they embraced like brothers. Lily stood and embraced them both, adding her strength to Li’s as they tried to ease Kristoph’s sorrow.

Aineytta came from the room presently. She concealed a metal bowl under the sheets that she had changed when it was all over and went quietly to do the sad duty that a woman with her skills was often required to do. Then she returned and went to her son’s side.

“She’s sleeping now. Go and sit by her till morning. Be there when she wakes. She thinks…” Aineytta sighed softly. “She thinks you don’t know. She doesn’t want you to be hurt, bless her. It’s for you to decide how to show her that your hurt is less than your love for her.”

“Yes, mama,” he said. “Mama… Thank you.”

Aineytta hugged her son. He was so much taller than she was. She had to stand on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. But at that moment he was her child, hurt and unhappy, needing her love, her strength. She gave it, and he rallied his own strength that he would need in order to be a comfort to Marion.

Aineytta watched him go into the bedroom. There was nothing more to say or do. It was a terrible outcome of what they had meant as a happy reunion of friends. But Kristoph loved his wife and his mother knew that would see them both through this heartsbreak.

“Take tea with us, Aineytta,” Li said to her.

“No,” she answered. “I’ll go and sleep a little. You two…” She looked at them. Lily was holding Li’s hand tightly. Aineytta remembered when Li was a young man the same age as her son, when beautiful young Lily had gleefully enjoyed being courted by them both, and neither had resented the other as a rival. “Our rigid conventions of behaviour seem so pointless here and now. Take the opportunity while it is here. Tea, and conversations by the fireside… they are for people who have time for courtship.”

She didn’t exactly TELL them to forget that they were honourable Gallifreyans, but there was a hint in her words that nobody would condemn them if they did. For a few minutes after Aineytta had gone into the smallest guest bedroom they continued to hold each other’s hands silently. Then Lily nodded wordlessly. They didn’t even need telepathic words. They understood each other perfectly. Li led her by the hand to his own bedroom.


Marion woke to a grey English morning and kept her eyes closed against the light. She wasn’t in any pain now, at least not physically. But she was filled with anguish and regret.

“It’s all right, my dear,” Kristoph assured her, and she felt his comforting arms about her. “Don’t blame yourself. You did nothing wrong.”

“Oh,” she cried all the harder. “Oh, Kristoph. I told them not to tell you.”

“They didn’t,” he assured her. “I knew. And I am so very sorry. It’s my fault. I decided not to wait. After I had promised you. I let you become pregnant without even telling you. I was so selfish. I never even thought what it would do to you. I never thought that I was being dishonest to you. But I was. I lied to you, Marion. And I am so very sorry for that. And if you will forgive me, I promise I will never, never do that to you again.”

“I forgive you,” she told him. “I just wish you HAD told me. I wish… Oh… Kristoph… we never even knew if it was a boy or a girl.”

“It was a girl,” Kristoph told her. “I knew it was a baby girl. I thought that was why Li had predicted that it would be a while before we had the heir we knew would come to us. Because we would have a daughter first.”

Marion cried fresh tears. Kristoph held her and wished he COULD cry. It was cathartic. His race had no such outlet for their grief, and he wasn’t sure that made them more evolved than humans after all. He let her tears, her outpouring of grief. be his own catharsis. After the tears ran out, he held her quietly until she felt she could speak.

“Aineytta said…” she managed at last. “She said there was no harm done. We can still have a baby. She said we should wait a little while.”

“Yes,” Kristoph agreed. “We WILL wait this time. And next time, there will be no secrets. We will decide together when the time is right.”

She managed a weak smile. She still felt terrible. Her heart was heavy. Her body felt so empty and her mind was numb with grief. But she still had the love of her husband and they still had a lifetime before them.

The door softly opened and Lily brought in a pot of tea. Ordinary English tea. Marion managed to sit up and drink it. Kristoph kissed her gently and left the room while they talked together.

“Don’t say anything about…” Marion told her. “What’s done is done. Kristoph and I… We’re all right. Or we will be, in a little while. But Lily… Tell me… You and Li…”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I need something wonderful to think about. Instead of my own sorrow.”

“My one great regret of my life was never throwing aside the mores of our society and having one night of unbridled passion with Kristoph. Last night, Li let me give in to that desire. He and I shared that passion. We felt the heat of our youth again.”

“Oh, Lily!” Marion smiled warmly. “I am glad. But… what now?”

“We talked it over. Li does not want me to become an exile with him. He knows that Gallifrey means so much to me. We have had that one sweet night. I think, tonight, we shall have a second chance. But tomorrow I will return to my homeworld. We shall stay in touch. He has a videophone and now there is no price on his head I need not fear that our conversations would be monitored. It will be enough to know he is alive and happy.

“Oh, Lily…” Marion thought it was sad. But Lily smiled warmly. She had known more heartbreaks than Marion could begin to know. This wasn’t one of them.