Marion had insisted that Rodan needed some new clothes. Kristoph thought she already had enough, but Marion was determined to have her way.

“Rodan is nearly six months old, now,” she said. “She can’t wear the same clothes she did when she was only two months old. You didn’t. I’ve seen pictures of you when you were small. Aineytta has them all in a big leather album. You were a magnificent baby at six months. In a gold robe.”

“That was for my presentation at the Vernal Equinox,” Kristoph pointed out. “A special occasion. For every day wear I don’t think I wore anything special.”

“Yes, you did,” Marion answered him. “And I want Rodan to look special. After all, she comes to all the society luncheons with me. She has to look her best like all the ladies.”

Kristoph gave up, as he always knew he would. Besides, Marion preferred to buy baby clothes in Liverpool, so it was an excuse to visit Li while they were there. Kristoph never minded that.

Nor did Marion. After they had finished shopping, they left their purchases in the TARDIS – disguised as a newspaper kiosk in Williamson Square, and walked up to Chinatown in the sunshine, Rodan napping in her pushchair. They came to the familiar little traditional herbalist’s shop with the name of its proprietor – Mai Li Tuo – on the fascia over the window.

Marion breathed in deeply as they stepped into the shop. She loved the myriad smells of the dried herbs and spices and the colours of the mysterious preparations in the jars that filled the shelves.

Li came through the bamboo curtain from the back room and greeted his friends with a formal bow in the oriental style. Kristoph replied with a formal bow from Gallifrey before they abandoned all such ideas of form and etiquette and hugged in the way of friends with a long history between them. Li turned and embraced Marion lovingly, kissing her cheek.

“It’s a fine day,” he said. “We are in the garden. Come on through and take tea.”

“We?” Marion queried. Then as she stepped into the charming little Chinese meditation garden she remembered that Lily had used the portal yesterday to visit Li, saying that she would be back after the weekend. She was sitting there, in the garden, under a beautifully carved pagoda shaped wooden canopy that provided shade from the sun. She had Chinese tea on a tray.

“Marion, dear,” she said. “Come and sit with me while the men go off and talk about dull affairs of State. You look well, my dear. And so does the little one.”

“So do you,” Marion answered as she sat, leaving Rodan asleep in her pushchair beside the table. “But you make it sound as if we’ve not seen each other for ages. It was only yesterday that we lunched in my white drawing room before you came here to see Li.”

Lily smiled inscrutably as Marion sat with her. She poured tea for her. Li and Kristoph didn’t want tea. They walked to the pond with a shrine to Buddha on the other side of a little wooden bridge. The two men stood on the bridge looking down at the Koi carp swimming and talked together. Lee always wanted to be told about Gallifreyan affairs when Kristoph visited. He had lived as a Chinaman for thousands of years, but his thoughts still turned to Gallifrey.

“It still hurts him,” Lily said. “Even though he would never admit it. She looked at the two men and sighed. When she looked back at Marion her expression was a sad one. “He likes to hear of home from us. But it tears at his hearts all the same.”

“Poor Li. I wish the government could relent and allow him to come home.”

“They have given in already in allowing him to remain here on Earth without enforcing the death warrant against him. And allowing him the use of his TARDIS to travel in Earth time and space.” Despite herself, she smiled then, her face lighting up with a secret joy. “We both have enjoyed that freedom,” she added.

“Lily!” Marion caught a glint in her eye. “You and Li…” She looked at her carefully. The clues were subtle, but they were there. She was wearing a Chinese cheongsam dress of green silk with a heavily embroidered neckline. It wasn’t a modern type of cheongsam with a slit down the side to allow walking, but the traditional style from the days when Chinese ladies took very small steps, and her shoes were obviously hand made in the days long before machines did the work of cobblers. There was a deeper tan to her complexion, too, as if the sun had shone on her much more often than usual, and there was something in her eyes, a secret satisfaction.

“Lily, you’ve been to China with Li, haven’t you?”

“Yes, “ she answered. “He asked me to come and see the country he loves as much as Gallifrey, the place where he knew peace and love. And I was honoured to do so.”

“How long were you there for?”

“Five years. Li wanted to show me what it was like to live there as one of the natives.”

“Five years!” Marion was astonished. “Since yesterday lunchtime!”

“That is why it is so good to see you, my dear. I thought of you and Kristoph often. And this little one. I knew the time would come when I would talk of this with you. And I know it does seem strange to think that it is only a day since I lunched with you in your white drawing room, with Rodan sitting on my knee cutting her new teeth on a Cúl nut biscuit.

“Yes,” Marion recalled it far more easily. “Then you went to the portal. But, Lily, never mind that. Tell me more about you and Li in China. Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Yes, I did, very much,” she answered. “Marion… if I tell you a secret, will you promise not to breathe a word to another soul?” She looked at the two men and smiled. “Well, obviously you can talk to Kristoph about it. Li has just told him. Marion… one of the first things we did when we reached China in the 14th century AD… we were married by a traditional Chinese ceremony.”

“Oh, Lily!” Marion clutched her friend’s hand. “Lily, that is wonderful for you. I am so pleased.”

“It was a very delightful ceremony,” she continued. “And afterwards… our honeymoon was very passionate. Very passionate, indeed. We spent the time in a small house on the side of a mountain in the Xinjiang region of north-western China. We drank goats milk and ate goat cheese and wild mushrooms that grew on the slopes, and made love with abandon, knowing that nobody could possibly disturb us.”

Marion laughed.

“Yes, Kristoph and I have some places like that,” she said. “The Eye of Orion is particularly interesting. Lying in the grass, under the stars on a warm night, knowing there is nobody else on the whole planet has a certain ‘dash’ to it.”

“Li made me feel as if we were the only people on the planet,” Lily said. “I could have stayed there forever, in his arms. But he wanted me to see the country – as much of it as possible. We travelled down the mountain in the TARDIS and then disguised it as a large trunk that was carried on an ox cart while we joined a caravan travelling all the way across China from the North-West to Beijing. There were at least a dozen merchants and their wives and children travelling together, protected by mercenary soldiers. We had closed carriages, while precious silks and spices and jade were brought by ox carts. It was amazing. The journey took more than a year. We travelled through some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There were high mountain passes and grassy plains, valleys with huge rushing rivers beside our path. Every day was a new adventure. I ever grew tired of it. And at night, sometimes we slept in silk tents. Other times there would be inns, or sometimes we would lodge with the local Mandarin and would dine in splendour.”

“Wasn’t it dangerous?” Marion asked. “What were the soldiers for? Were there bandits?”

“Sometimes,” Lily admitted. “We were often followed by scouts from bandit clans. But the soldiers would ride out and deal with them and return to the caravan. Two or three times we had to stop and gather the carriages together while the soldiers defended us. It was slightly terrifying at those times,”

“Slightly terrifying?” Marion was astonished by her understated choice of words to describe what must have been a very dangerous situation.

“Li was magnificent – though he frightened me, too. He joined with the soldiers in the fighting. I remember one particular occasion – we were out in the open on the plain, and we saw the bandits approaching steadily from a distance. It was a huge band, far bigger than our protectors had expected. The wives and children were all put into one wagon where we could be protected. Some of them were frightened. I must admit I was, too. I had never… never seen violent death before. And I wondered what would happen if we were overrun. They would kill us all, surely. I kept thinking how worried you would be if neither of us returned home. Li was magnificent, though. Magnificent and rather alarming, it must be said. I knew of his past. But to see him with a sword, actually striking the heads from the enemy as they attacked, stabbing and slashing – it was dreadful to see. But he had no choice. He had to fight to protect us. When it was over, the plain was red with blood. Li was covered in blood, himself, though none of it was his own. He would not let me come near him until he had cleansed himself of it. When he did, he held me so tightly. He regretted having to kill, but there truly was no choice.”

“He has been a soldier, of course,” Marion commented. “He understands when it is necessary.”

“Yes, quite. It was a revelation to me, even knowing of his past, his work for the Celestial Intervention Agency. But it did not make me love him any less. I assured him of that when we lay together in our tent that night.”

“I’m glad of that,” Marion said. “But, do go on. What happened afterwards? Did you reach Bejing? Wasn’t that the time of the Forbidden City?”

“It was, indeed. But when we arrived, we were welcomed by the emperor. What a magnificent place it was. I have never seen such splendour, not even on Gallifrey. There were gold and jade, and precious stones adorning every wall, and silk hangings of such fine quality. And we ate and drank from gold plates and gold goblets. The emperor and empress were like jewelled dolls themselves in their finery. Li brought me to be presented to them. I felt more nervous than if I was meeting Lord Rassilon himself. But Li took it all in his stride. The next thing I knew, we were part of the Imperial court. Li was appointed Imperial Astrologer. I was a lady of the Court. Lady Mai Ling Sen. I wore clothes as magnificent as the empress herself and we had a beautiful apartment within the Forbidden City. We were happy there for three years. Li was a great success. He predicted rains and droughts, floods, even an earthquake once. The Emperor looked to him for advice on everything. And as Li was favoured, so was I.”

“What made you leave?”

“The Empress became ill,” Lily said. It was something quite normal for humans, but impossible to treat. Li was asked to predict when she would get well again. And that was the problem. The Emperor didn’t say ‘if’, but ‘when’ and though Li saw the future clearly he did not dare tell the truth. To suggest that the Empress was going to die was a treason, almost as much as if he had made her ill. He told the Emperor that his wife would get well within a few days, and on the night that she died we fled from there in the TARDIS. We went far from there, to Henang Province, where his beloved Shaolin temple is. Li wanted me to see that before we left China. We stayed a year there, on the same mountain where the temple was. Li often spent long hours in meditation with the monks and I enjoyed the sweet, fresh air of the mountains. And we had each other’s love each night, of course. I almost regretted that our time there was limited. We had to come home, of course. We had always meant to do so. We said one last farewell to that lovely place and came back here, and I meant to go back through the portal in time to have supper with you at Mount Lœng House, and tell you all about our very long weekend away.”

“Five years in China for you, and a day on Gallifrey for me,” Marion said. “Only a Time Lord can give us such wonders. And Lily… I am so glad that you and Li were able to be together for all that time.”

The two women looked at each other and smiled the smile of those who have known the love of a Time Lord.

“It doesn’t quite make up for all the lonely years,” Lily admitted. “After my dear Jules passed away I never thought to have such passion again. But I have more than satisfied that need for a while to come.”

“But does that meant…” Marion began. She stopped talking as Kristoph and Li came to join them under the pagoda. Lily poured tea for them both and they drank it in contented silence. Lily gave a little sigh.

“I shall miss Chinese tea almost as much as I shall miss you, Li, my dear,” she said.

“But Lily,” Marion protested. “You are going to leave him again? After all of that?”

“We always knew that would be so,” Lily replied. “When we are here, together, I shall be Lady Mai Ling Sen again. But on Gallifrey, I am Lady Lillian D’Alba D’Argenlunna, widow of the last Lord D’Alba. There is no possibility that our vows to each other would be acceptable under Gallifreyan law. That must remain a secret between the four of us.”

“Of course,” Marion agreed. “But can you stand it? Can you bear to be apart from him again?”

“I always have the portal,” she answered. “And if you and Kristoph and the little one will stay here until the morning, we shall all go home to Gallifrey by TARDIS this time.”

Not all, Marion thought as she caught a flicker of emotion in Li’s eyes. That word, home, cut into him like a knife. For all that he had been so happy with Lily for all that time, there was a wound that could not be healed.

But the moment passed. Li smiled warmly at his friends gathered here with him and was content.