Chapter 1: Anomaly
That's odd, Li Shou Yuing thought.
She was kneeling in a trench, carefully clearing the compacted earth away from a stone block that, a few hundred years before, had been part of the foundations of Tarrick Manor. Along with half a dozen other students, she'd been brought in to help with a quick survey of the site before it was covered by a new exhibition centre. No-one had anticipated anything out of the ordinary, and indeed the finds so far had all been exactly as they'd expected: clay pipes, musket balls, fragments of broken pottery.
This was different. Setting down her trowel, Shou Yuing reached for a brush, and cleared the last few fragments of soil away from what might have been a piece of wire. It had a glassy sheen, with no sign of corrosion or tarnishing.
Of course, there was no reason why one shouldn't come across a length of optic fibre on a dig. But the stratigraphy was all wrong. It was at the same level as the seventeenth-century debris she'd been cataloguing yesterday, and she'd be prepared to swear there hadn't been a later disturbance.
This wasn't something for a lowly student to deal with, she decided. Setting her brush down, she looked around for Professor Fulton—
And instead found herself face to face with a stranger, a curly-haired man crouching down beside the trench. He was wearing a long, old-fashioned coat with what looked like a cravat at the neck. As Shou Yuing opened her mouth to tell him he wasn't allowed here, a delighted grin appeared on his face.
"How nice to see you again!" he said, in a faintly Liverpool-accented voice. "I never forget a face."
"Again?" Shou Yuing repeated. She was positive she hadn't seen him before.
"Now names," the stranger went on, "that could be a bit harder... Guinevere? Vivian?" He snapped his fingers. "Little Cloud! That's right, we met at Carbury."
Shou Yuing felt her fists clenching. She wasn't sure if he was a spy, a conspiracy theorist or a journalist, but in the weeks after her adventure at Carbury she'd had her fill of all of them.
"I've never met you," she said. "And if you don't get out of my sight right now..."
The man looked hurt. "That's no way to talk to an old friend. Or... am I too early? Has Carbury happened for you yet? No, it must have done. I can see it in your eyes."
Even by the standards of the conspiracy nutters she'd met, this man seemed to be dancing at the fringes of sanity. "Just stop bothering me!"
"Is that what you said in the chalk circle?"
Shou Yuing opened her mouth, but no words came out. She'd never spoken to anybody about that. Only Ace would know about it. Or...
Feeling hot and shaky, she sat down on the grass at the edge of the trench.
"Merlin?" she said.
He shook his head. "Not yet. I've still got that to look forward to."
"Ancelyn said you had many faces." Shou Yuing stared at him, trying to find some trace of the Doctor she'd known in this stranger. "I didn't think... are you really the same person?"
"Are you the same person you were this morning? Last month? Ten years ago?"
"Point." Shou Yuing tried to pull herself together. "So what are you doing here? Is this a courtesy call?"
"If you like." He made a pretence of looking around the site. "Are we anywhere near the O2 Arena?"
"I don't know where that is."
"Probably not, then." He licked his finger and held it up. "Wrong time, wrong place... and the first person I meet here is you. I don't think that's a coincidence. Have you just made the discovery of the century?"
"I don't know if you'd call it that — but there's something I can't explain."
The Doctor's face lit up. "I love a good mystery."
"I was just going to ask Professor Fulton about it." Shou Yuing knelt in the trench again. "Look, it's a bit of optic fibre. But it's under the seventeenth-century material. In fact... yes, look, it goes right under this fallen stone, here. How's that possible?"
"Intriguing. May I?" And without waiting for an answer, the Doctor was in the trench beside her, sensitive fingers exploring the ground. Then he was on his feet again, the short length of fibre — just a few centimetres — between his finger and thumb.
"You're right," he said. "That is a mystery. Shall we solve it?"
He held out his other hand. "Come with me and I'll show you."
Thinking back on that moment, Shou Yuing would find it hard to believe how quickly she'd made her mind up. After all, the last time she'd got mixed up with the Doctor and his works, she'd nearly ended up being eaten by a demon from another dimension. But she'd always had a reckless streak. Almost before she knew it, she'd taken the Doctor's hand and he was leading her away from the excavation, through the well-tended gardens. She scarcely had time to wonder where they were going, before the Doctor had come to a halt, in front of a tall blue booth. At first glance Shou Yuing would have dismissed it as somewhere that sold ice creams or drinks. Except that, now she thought about it, it hadn't been there when she came that way a few hours ago.
The Doctor extracted a key from his waistcoat, unlocked the booth, and disappeared inside. Shou Yuing waited for a second, but since he didn't return she followed him—
—Stared dumbfoundedly at the cavernous space she was in, vaulted with iron and domed with stars—
—Rushed out of the door and round all four sides of the booth—
—And stepped inside once more, walking on tiptoes as if afraid to disturb something.
"Yes," the Doctor said. "It takes a lot of people that way."
"I can see why they called you Merlin."
"Will call me Merlin." The Doctor walked across to the six-sided control panel at the centre of the room. "Welcome aboard the TARDIS, Li Shou Yuing."
"Thanks." Shou Yuing tried to affect a casualness she certainly didn't feel. "OK, I've got some questions."
"Is this your ship? The one Ancelyn talked about?"
The Doctor patted the control panel. "That's right."
"So it's a time machine?"
"She certainly is."
"Right." Shou Yuing took a deep breath. "So when you said we were going to find out how that bit of optic fibre got there... you're going to go back in time and take a look?"
"When you put it like that, it sounds simple, doesn't it?"
Shou Yuing found herself giggling. "I suppose it does."
"Shall we go, then?"
"Wait." Shou Yuing strove for self-control. "When I met you before, you were travelling with a girl."
He nodded. "Ace."
"What happened to her? Because she isn't with you now."
"She decided that she'd had enough." His expression was wistful. "I had plans for her — I was big on plans, back then — but there's no arguing with Ace once she's made her mind up."
"I remember." Shou Yuing took a few steps closer to him. "OK, that's all I wanted to know."
The Doctor grinned. "Then what are we waiting for?" he said, and pulled down a large, important-looking lever on the console.
Chapter 2: In Distress
If there had been any doubt in Shou Yuing's mind that the TARDIS could travel in time, it vanished as soon as she stepped through the doors into the outside world. Instead of broad daylight, it was the twilight of just after sunset, and the ornamental gardens had become coppiced woodland. A rutted path led through the woods, and looking along it to her left she could make out the silhouette of a substantial building looming against the dim sky.
"That's Tarrick Manor, isn't it?" she said.
"If I got my coordinates right," the Doctor said.
"All the trouble we're taking to excavate it." Shou Yuing shook her head. "You're right, it's much easier just to come and look at—"
She broke off. Nearby, there were sounds of running feet and shouting. As she spun round, trying to see where the noise was coming from, she caught sight of brief flashes of fire, and heard two or three gunshots.
"Come on!" the Doctor said. He caught hold of her hand, and they were running through the woodland toward the noises. But running through these woods wasn't as easy as it sounded; within moments Shou Yuing had become enmeshed in brambles that tore at her jeans, and as she finally crawled free received painful nettle stings on her bare arms. The Doctor was nowhere to be seen.
"Doctor?" she called.
There was no answer. Only the distant sounds of combat, which seemed to be even further away. She hurried in that direction, stumbling over tree roots and splashing heedlessly through rivulets.
Stung, scratched and shivering, Shou Yuing forced her way between two bushes, lost her footing, slithered down a steep bank, and made an ungainly landing on what might have been a path. As she recovered her breath and her bearings, she caught sight of something that turned her blood to ice. A man was lying on the ground, clutching his arm, and even in the twilight it was possible to make out the blood dripping through his fingers.
"Doctor?" she asked, crawling towards him.
The man merely groaned. Now that she was closer, she could see he wasn't the Doctor; he was younger, with fair hair. His arm... well, she couldn't make out much in the fading light, but it looked pretty serious.
Trying to remember half-forgotten first aid lessons, she searched the man for anything that might serve as a bandage. With the aid of his neckerchief and a fallen branch, she was able to fashion a rudimentary splint and reduce the bleeding; but it was hardly adequate, even so.
"Doctor!" she shouted at the top of her voice. Whether the Doctor heard her, she didn't know, but from the distant answering shouts she feared she'd attracted attention from other, less friendly sources.
"Hey!" she said, shaking the man's uninjured shoulder. "We need to get out of here!"
He raised his head and seemed to see her for the first time. "The Manor," he said, his voice thick with pain. "We must go there."
Getting him to his feet was an ordeal, but eventually he managed to stand. Leaning heavily on Shou Yuing, he began to stagger along the path. Behind them, it sounded as if the pursuers were gaining.
"They're following us," Shou Yuing said. "Who are they?"
"Footpads, mayhap. Highwaymen. Or Roundheads. In these times, what difference is there?"
These times, Shou Yuing repeated to herself. The chilly realisation was creeping over her that she'd spent the morning excavating traces of a civil war — and now she might well be in the middle of that war.
"What's your name?" she said.
"Henry. Henry Blunt."
As Shou Yuing tried to introduce herself, they emerged from the shadow of the trees into the clearing surrounding Tarrick Manor. She looked up at the building, trying to reconcile it with the artists' impressions she'd seen in her briefing notes, and the foundations she'd been studying that morning. But there was no time to gawp. The iron-studded oak front door was before them; she lifted the knocker, and brought it down as hard as she could.
At first the house appeared to be deserted; Shou Yuing's knocking called forth no answer, and no lights could be seen behind the shuttered windows. Behind them, in the woodland, the pursuers must be closing in; she could hear their urgent calls, and imagine the hurrying footsteps, the drawn weapons.
Then the welcoming sound of bolts being drawn back, and the door was opened a crack.
"Who there?" a woman's voice asked. It seemed to Shou Yuing somehow odd — as if the woman had a minor impediment in her speech.
Henry raised his head. "'Tis I, Henry," he said, speaking slowly and clearly. "You know me, Nell. Let us in."
"You be Henry," the voice said. "But more than one I count."
"A friend. Open the door, Nell!"
Slowly, the door was opened, revealing 'Nell' — a tall, muscular woman wearing a plain dress, with blonde hair peeping out from under a white bonnet. Her face was set in a dull, surly expression. She looked from Henry to Shou Yuing and back, then reluctantly stood aside. Shou Yuing helped Henry across the threshold, trying to ignore the unfamiliar, and none-too-pleasant, odours that hung in the air of the Manor. The hall was panelled with oak, with rushes on the floor; apart from the door, the only source of light was a sullen glow from the huge fireplace on the far wall.
Nell closed and bolted the door behind them, shutting out all light save that of the fire.
"I get mistress," she said. "You stay here."
Henry, it was plain, could do no more; he was relying more and more on Shou Yuing for support. She wondered if she'd manage to keep him on his feet, or whether his weight would eventually bring her down. In the event, she was still upright when hurrying footsteps were heard, and Nell returned, accompanied by several other men and women, some holding rushlights.
As the newcomers took in the scene, one of them, a dark-haired girl of no more than twenty, dashed forward with a cry of "Henry!"
Henry's eyelids flickered. He looked up, and his lips managed to form the word "Anne..." Then his eyes closed again, and he slid to the floor, bringing Shou Yuing to her knees as he did so.
"Henry! No!" The girl, presumably Anne, looked around wildly. "What has happened? Who are you?" For the first time, she seemed to take cognizance of Shou Yuing. Holding up her rushlight, she stared mutely at her.
I suppose she's never seen anyone from China before, Shou Yuing thought. Or anyone wearing jeans and a T-shirt, come to that.
"I found him in the woods," she said. "He's been shot or something. Can you get him help?"
Anne gave Shou Yuing one last stare, and returned to her previous preoccupation.
"Will!" she called. "Robert! Bring him to the upper chamber. Nell, hot water. And bandages!"
Within moments the unfortunate Henry had been helped away, supported by two surly-looking servants. Anne hurried after them, pausing only to call 'wait here' back at Shou Yuing.
Left alone in the hall, Shou Yuing gave the barred door a rueful look. Getting out didn't sound like a problem — but where would she go after that? She wouldn't have a hope of finding her way back to the TARDIS in the dark, and without the Doctor she wouldn't be able to get in, either.
She sat down on an uncomfortable-looking settle, and wondered what her sense of adventure had got her into this time.
Chapter 3: Visitor
Presently Anne returned, accompanied by a middle-aged lady who radiated unforgiving rectitude.
"Who are you?" Anne said, speaking as slowly and carefully as Henry had to Nell. "Where are you from?"
"My name is Li Shou Yuing," Shou Yuing said. "I'm Chinese."
Seemingly reassured by the fact that Shou Yuing didn't talk broken English or gesticulate with her hands, Anne began to speak more naturally. "This is Mistress Roper. How do you come to be here?"
"I'm a stranger here," Shou Yuing said. "I was travelling with someone. A Doctor. We got separated in the woods."
"And you found... Henry?" There was a catch in Anne's voice as she said the name.
"That's right. I'd heard fighting. He said to bring him here, and I did. I think there were people following us — the ones who hurt him."
Anne wrung her hands. "Did he say who they were?"
"He said someone had attacked him. But he didn't say who. It could have been bandits or Roundheads."
Shou Yuing hadn't thought it possible for Mistress Roper's aspect to become more forbidding, but it unquestionably had.
"Sorry," she added. "Did I say something wrong?"
"In these parts, most people are for Parliament," Anne said. "But Henry has always been a King's man."
"King!" It seemed that Mistress Roper had heard enough. "Nothing but a creature of the Whore of Babylon. And you would keep one of that brood of vipers in this very house, against all your father's commands."
"My father is not here," Anne said. "He has placed his trust in me. You know that."
"And see how you repay his trust! Letting yellow-faced heathens and servants of the Beast into the house..."
"Servants of the Beast! Mistress Roper, you've known Henry from a child."
"'Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child,'" Mistress Roper said, with the composure of one delivering a winning argument. "'Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from Hell.'"
Anne raised her eyes to Shou Yuing's face and seemed, for the first time, to see her as something other than a dangerous unknown.
"Have you anywhere to spend the night, Miss... Miss Ying?"
"Miss Li, I suppose. And no, I don't."
"Then you shall pass the night here. I have told Nell to make up a bed in my chamber."
Mistress Roper's expression suggested she'd rather have seen the heathen foreigner thrown out and devoured by a pack of wolves. She muttered something that sounded to Shou Yuing like "'He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed.'"
"'And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him,'" Anne said. "Come with me."
She led Shou Yuing up the stairs and to the bedchamber they were to share, with Mistress Roper following closely behind. The room was sparsely furnished, its walls whitewashed and grimy. The principal piece of furniture was a large four-poster bed; on one side of this, a smaller truckle bed had been set up. The maidservant Nell was standing demurely close at hand.
"The heathen girl is to sleep there?" Mistress Roper said, indicating the truckle bed.
Nell curtseyed. "Aye, Mistress."
"That I should live to see such things!"
"You need see nothing more," Anne said. "You may go. Both of you."
Mistress Roper curtseyed, favoured them both with a last glare, and departed. Nell plodded obediently after her.
"She's scary," Shou Yuing said.
Anne perched on the edge of the four-poster. "My father chose her," she said. "She thinks as he does."
"So he's a Parliament man?"
"Body and soul. He has ridden to join the Earl of Essex and his army. Had he been here, he would have turned Henry away" — her voice trembled. "He would have let him die. But I could not have been so— so heartless."
So her dad's on one side and her boyfriend's on the other, Shou Yuing thought. Whatever happens, it'll mess her up.
"What's up with Nell?" she said out loud. "She seems — I don't know — not quite right."
Anne nodded. "She is dull-witted. When she first came to us she could not even speak, only mumble. But she works hard at what she can." She looked across at Shou Yuing. "We had best go to bed. Tomorrow's need will be all the more. If it was Parliament soldiers who were chasing Henry, they will come here in search of him." She struck petulantly at the bedding beside her. "If the servants let as much as a word fall, Henry is lost. If only he could be moved tonight to a place of safety! Miss Li, what am I to do?"
"Get some rest," Shou Yuing said. "Wearing yourself out worrying won't help anyone."
Though Shou Yuing had spoken of the advantages of rest, she hadn't been able to get to sleep herself. Thanks to jet lag, or whatever the TARDIS equivalent was, she was going to bed while her body still felt it was mid-afternoon. It didn't help that the room was cold, and the bed none too comfortable, but the main problem was that her mind was racing. The excitement of being whisked away in a genuine time machine was mixed with worry about her situation — she was in a time riven by religious wars, and none too welcoming of an obvious foreigner.
In terms of time she wasn't sure how long she'd lain there. But in terms of her endless train of thought, it was about the fifth time she'd wondered where the Doctor had got to. Had he been captured by whoever was lurking in the woods? Had he fallen into some kind of trap and been knocked unconscious?
It was at this point that her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of stealthy footsteps. At first she put them down to someone who, like her, was having difficulty sleeping or had got up for some other purpose, moving about on the floor above. A few moments later, though, the same footsteps could be heard in the corridor outside.
Shou Yuing's boundless curiosity, combined with a conviction that there was no way she could get to sleep, propelled her to her feet almost before she realised what she was doing. Barefoot, wrapped in her borrowed shift, she crept to the door and fumbled it open, in time to see a dim outline heading down the main staircase. Although she wasn't sure — particularly from behind — the thought flitted through her head that this was the maid Nell.
Giving chase, Shou Yuing followed the figure down the staircase, and through the passageways at the back of the house until it vanished into a doorway. A dim light snapped on — not flickered, as one might expect from an oil lamp — and a muted, mechanical humming could be heard.
As Shou Yuing tiptoed closer, intending to peer through the crack between the open door and its frame, there was a flash of light that briefly dazzled her and left her vision filled with multicoloured afterimages. Shou Yuing closed her eyes tightly; a few seconds later, another flash was visible even through her eyelids. Still disorientated, Shou Yuing took a step back, tripped, and fell against another door with an audible thud.
The humming noise cut off. Shou Yuing, deciding that it would be an excellent idea not to be found by whoever she'd followed, retraced her footsteps at as close to a run as could be managed on tiptoe. Only once she'd made it all the way back to her temporary bed did she even consider relaxing.
Lying there, with her eyes once again tightly closed, and the afterimages almost completely faded, she tried to nail down what she'd seen. In the first flash of light, she'd caught sight of Nell — and she was pretty sure that it had been Nell — bending over something that really didn't look like it belonged in the seventeenth century. Shou Yuing wasn't sure what century it did belong in, but it reminded her vaguely of the audio gear they used in the Ram, back at university.
Another thought darted into her head. She hadn't been completely sure of whereabouts in the building Nell had been at work, but it couldn't have been far from where, three hundred and fifty-odd years hence, Shou Yuing had come upon that fragment of optic fibre.
Chapter 4: Hostages
The next thing Shou Yuing knew, the room was lit by daylight and Anne was already dressing.
"You had better wear these, Miss Li," she said, indicating a small pile of clothes beside Shou Yuing's bed. "Your own clothes are..."
"An abomination, I suppose."
"I was only going to say 'in rags,'" Anne said, venturing a hesitant smile.
Fumbling with unfamiliar fastenings, Shou Yuing began to dress. "Did you notice anything in the night?"
Anne shook her head. "What could there be to notice?"
"I thought..." Shou Yuing considered relating her experience of the previous night. But who was going to believe her, an untrustworthy heathen foreigner? "I thought I heard someone moving about."
"I am sure it was not—" Anne began, but before she could get any further the familiar sound of somebody hammering at the door echoed through the house. Half-dragging Shou Yuing, Anne raced out of the room, across the upper corridor and into another chamber, one with a window giving a view of the front of the house. A handful of soldiers were standing outside, and it was one of them who appeared to be knocking.
Anne flung the window open. "What is this?" she called down.
The knocking stopped, and the soldiers looked up.
"Beg pardon, miss," one of them said. "We're looking for young Blunt."
"Oh. It's you, Tom Locksby. And what has Henry Blunt done, that you're looking for him?"
"Why, he struck down Jem Potter over by the Bishop's Arms. And it's Captain Locksby to you, miss."
"Captain! And who made you a captain?"
From her position standing beside Anne, Shou Yuing could see the crafty look spreading over Locksby's face. "Why, your father, miss. I'm to keep an eye on these parts while he's away."
"Then you know my father would never let you enter his house uninvited."
"Nor he wouldn't, miss. But me and my men'll stop around, see, and if Blunt should show his face, we'll nab him neat as neat." He touched his helmet. "Wishing you a good day, miss."
"Wait!" Shou Yuing called down.
Locksby had been about to turn away, but now directed his attention fully at Shou Yuing properly for the first time.
"What in the world..." he muttered.
"This is Miss Li," Anne said hastily. "From distant Cathay."
"Is she now?"
"Captain!" Shou Yuing said. "Were you in the woods last night? Or your men?"
"Might have been, miss," Locksby said, still focusing on her with a look of the deepest suspicion.
"Did you meet a man there? With dark curly hair and a long coat?"
"Friend of yours, is he?" He nodded slowly. "Well, now. Supposing I could lay my hands on him?"
"You'd have to prove that."
"So I would." He touched his helmet again. "You'll have your proof before noon, miss."
Anne and Shou Yuing watched him amble away from the Manor, giving directions to his men.
"He knows Henry is here," Anne said, her hands white where they gripped the windowsill.
"Probably asked the servants," Shou Yuing said. "You said they're all for Parliament, didn't you?"
"He's watching us now. Like a cat at a mousehole. There is no way out."
"No secret passages or priest holes or anything like that?"
"Why would my father have such things?" Anne shook her head. "Captain Locksby knows this house as well as his own. Nobody could leave without his consent." She gave Shou Yuing a puzzled look. "What did he mean with his talk of proof?"
"I think... I think he's got the Doctor. Or knows where he can get him. And he'll offer a swap."
"Your Doctor for my... Oh!"
Shou Yuing nodded. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Anne wheeled on her. "If you had not spoken to him, he would not have thought of such a Devil's bargain! I wish I had never seen you!"
Shou Yuing's own temper flared up. "Then where would your boyfriend be? Dead in the woods out there!"
Anne made no answer, but ran weeping from the room.
The next few hours of the morning passed for Shou Yuing in miserable waiting and drudgery. Out of politeness, and to try and keep busy, she asked if there was anything she could do to help with the housework. It quickly became apparent that there were few tasks the Manor's inhabitants were prepared to trust her with, and even fewer that she might have the ability to do.
To begin with, she'd been set to kneading bread, under the direction of Mistress Roper. It was clear that Mistress Roper had no particular faith in Shou Yuing's skills — not that Shou Yuing herself did, come to that — and half-suspected her of trying to introduce poison into the food she was supposed to be preparing. Any attempts by Shou Yuing to start a conversation were firmly rebuffed.
When the bread had finally made it into the oven, Shou Yuing was sent to the room where Henry lay, watching over him with strict instructions to call for help if anything happened. Initially, she was relieved to get out of the kitchen, though the sickroom was scarcely a more pleasant environment. Henry lay in an uneasy sleep, his clothes cut away and crude bandages around his shattered arm. Shou Yuing was unable to avoid the thought that his condition had changed for the worse since the previous day; but whether it truly had, or whether she was just imagining, there was no chance of sneaking him out of the house unnoticed.
Presently, she heard the door open and looked round to see Nell entering the room.
"He any different?" she asked.
"He's not getting any better," Shou Yuing said.
Nell shrugged. "Lot of daft fuss over him."
"You mean because he's Miss Anne's friend?"
"Because of what be between his legs," Nell said scathingly. "You folks and your men."
Shou Yuing gave her a curious look. "What do you mean, 'you folks?' I don't live here."
"Speaks as I finds," Nell said.
And what do you find, when you look at me? Shou Yuing wondered. In comparison to the stares and whispers she'd got from the other inhabitants of the Manor, Nell seemed to have taken Shou Yuing completely in her stride. Maybe it was a consequence of whatever had inspired Anne to call her 'dull-witted' — some sort of learning disability, maybe? Or perhaps—
Before she could follow her line of thought any further, Henry stirred in his bed and groaned. Nell bent over him, her bonnet slipping a little out of place as she did so.
"Lie still," she said, mopping his brow with a damp cloth. Straightening, she turned to Shou Yuing. "Throw him away and get another, say I."
"Your... your bonnet's crooked," Shou Yuing said, trying not to stare herself.
Wordlessly, Nell pushed it back into place.
For a moment, Shou Yuing was on the point of blurting out the question 'what were you doing downstairs last night?' But in the event, she didn't. Nell was tall and muscular, and if she had some secret she might go to unpleasant lengths to keep it.
Some secret that might be connected with the remarkably unusual beauty mark Nell concealed under her bonnet.
As noon approached, Captain Locksby's imperious knock was once again heard at the door, and Anne and Shou Yuing approached the upper window with trepidation. There were more soldiers this time, though their uniforms and discipline were those of an amateur militia rather than a well-trained army.
"You wanted proof, girl," Locksby called. "Bring him up, lads."
A small knot of soldiers came forward. As they halted beside Locksby, Shou Yuing felt her heart leap at the sight of the Doctor standing between them. He looked uninjured, and hardly even concerned at the men surrounding him; Shou Yuing was positive that as his escort straightened to some approximation of attention, he winked at her.
"Now, then," Locksby went on. "It's simple enough. You give me the man I want, this man goes free. You don't, he stays with us."
"How do I know I can trust you?" Shou Yuing called down.
She'd half expected him to reply that she didn't have a choice, but he seemed inclined to engage with the question.
"All the folk in the Manor know I'm a man of my word," he said. "Mistress Roper will vouch for me."
"How long do we have to decide?" Anne asked.
"One day." The Captain once more touched his helmet. "Bring him, lads."
"No!" Shou Yuing called, as the Doctor was marched away. "Doc—" She broke off suddenly, and repeated the word slowly and thoughtfully. "Doctor."
"What is it?" Anne asked.
"Hang on a moment." Shou Yuing paused to get her thoughts in order. "Captain Locksby. Would you say he's honest?"
"He's a puffed-up coxcomb who should be sent to the pillory!"
"I know, but that's not what I asked. Suppose we did give up Henry—"
"I would never consent to it!"
"But if we did. Would he let the Doctor go?"
"I..." Anne bit her lip. "I think he would. But if you so much as think of selling Henry for thirty pieces of silver—"
"That's not what I'm thinking."
Anne gave Shou Yuing a hard look. "Then what are you thinking?"
"I think we need the Doctor. Henry's getting worse—"
Shou Yuing gripped Anne by the shoulders. "Look in my face and tell me I'm lying!" she said, trying to keep her temper. "Henry. Needs. A. Doctor. And Captain Locksby's got one."
"Let me go," Anne said, not making any effort to disengage herself.
"Locksby won't just give us the Doctor. But maybe if we asked him to do a swap..."
Anne seemed to be following the idea. "Somebody offers to take the Doctor's place as Locksby's hostage?"
Shou Yuing nodded silently.
"I don't think it would work with me. He doesn't know me. He'd just say I was a yellow devil trying to trick him." Shou Yuing swallowed. "But he knows you."
The blood drained from Anne's face. "You want me to act as hostage for your Doctor?"
"Can you think of anyone else?" Shou Yuing let go of Anne's shoulders, and let her ponder the question.
"No," Anne said slowly. "No, I cannot. And you think this plan will save Henry?"
"No promises," Shou Yuing said. "But I don't see any other way."
Anne sighed. "Then I will do it. Whether you are a devil or not, I shall dance to your tune." She crossed to the window and called out. "You there! I would speak with Captain Locksby!"
Chapter 5: Exile
It had taken some time to agree the exchange of hostages, but by mid-afternoon the Doctor was in the Manor, and Anne was in Captain Locksby's custody. Shou Yuing had so far not had time for more than a word with the Doctor; Mistress Roper, who clearly trusted neither her nor the Doctor in the slightest, was keeping a stern eye on the pair of them.
"Can you do anything?" Shou Yuing asked, once the three of them were standing by Henry's sickbed.
"I could probably get him on his feet — briefly," the Doctor said. "And if the TARDIS was here I could set his arm properly and make sure the wound wasn't infected."
"But it isn't here." Shou Yuing shook her head. "And even if he could walk out of here, Captain Locksby's waiting outside for him."
"Well, I'll stay with him for a bit. See what I can do to ease his pain." He glanced at Mistress Roper. "Charity to the afflicted. I'm sure you'll approve."
"He has chosen the path of wickedness," Mistress Roper said coldly. "If you were to kill him today, 'tis no more than the Captain would do tomorrow."
"Thank you for that vote of confidence," the Doctor said, and proceeded to perform a series of swift touches and squeezes to Henry's limbs. There was little visible effect, though Henry's tight expression of pain slackened and his posture became a little more relaxed.
"I'll keep an eye on him," the Doctor said. "You don't have to hang around — I'll be fine."
"'Tis my duty to keep watch with you," Mistress Roper replied, with frosty courtesy.
Shou Yuing didn't say anything, but derived some comfort from clenching her fists and thinking a good, loud scream of frustration.
Fortunately even Mistress Roper's unbending rectitude could not hold physical needs back for ever, and those needs eventually forced her to leave the Doctor and Shou Yuing alone in the room with Henry. Obviously she would return as soon as she could, but for the time being they were free to talk.
"It's about Nell," Shou Yuing whispered, the moment the door had closed. "Have you seen her?"
"The maid?" The Doctor nodded. "Tall and blonde."
"That's her. She creeps downstairs at night and does something with a machine."
"What sort of machine?"
"I don't know, but it looked pretty advanced. I bet it's where that bit of optic fibre came from."
"And that's not the only thing. She always wears this white bonnet on her head. Well, this morning it slipped and I saw her forehead. She had this dot over her eye. Like a mole but blue and metal."
"Now that is out of the way." The Doctor's face broke into a smile. "You have been busy."
"Does it mean you know how to sort this mess out? Because I've been thinking about it all day and—" She spread her hands. "Nothing."
"In life, there isn't always a right answer." The Doctor patted her on the shoulder. "But don't give up trying to find one. And don't talk yourself down. You were the one who got me in here, weren't you?"
"That's right. I talked Anne into it."
"Take care when you're doing that sort of thing." The Doctor slapped his own wrist. "I think my past self may have been a bad influence on you."
Mistress Roper's footstep outside the door put an end to any further conversation, for the time being.
For the rest of the day, Shou Yuing could do nothing but wait, feeling the hours and hope slip away in tandem. Mistress Roper's vigilance remained as keen as ever, her tongue as sharp, and Shou Yuing's only consolation was that Mistress Roper couldn't be planning a covert handover of Henry while she was spending so much time heaping abuse on Shou Yuing and, to a lesser extent, the Doctor.
When night finally fell and the inhabitants of the Manor retired to their bedchambers for what rest they could find, Shou Yuing thought it as well to make a meek retreat to the bedchamber she had shared with Anne. Not bothering to change out of her dress, she lay down on the truckle bed and resolved not to fall asleep.
While she didn't fall asleep as such, she must have dozed, at least, because she jerked awake at the sound of footsteps — first overhead, as before, then outside the door. When she was sure they had passed, she once again set out in pursuit, and presently found herself in the passageway at the back of the building, seeing the flickers of light and hearing the humming of a technology that certainly didn't belong in this century.
She wondered where the Doctor had got to. She'd told him what was going on; surely he wouldn't miss something like this? She hesitated for a few moments, then made her decision. Tomorrow, one way or another, there was going to be a crisis. Tonight was probably her last chance to find out what was going on.
Summoning up her courage, Shou Yuing walked through the doorway.
By day, the room beyond served as some kind of handyman's workshop. A long bench ran along one wall, with tools such as chisels and saws that seemed hardly different from those of Shou Yuing's own century. But the machine at the near end of the bench was obviously of a far different quality. A stack of circuit boards, supported in a timber frame, were linked together by fabric-wrapped cables. At the top level, glass globes flickered with blue-tinted light. And, tending to the machine as a mother hen might fuss over a sickly chick, was Nell.
Before Shou Yuing could say anything, Nell looked up. She was not wearing her bonnet, and the gleaming metallic dots above her eyes were unmissable.
"You," she said, her voice still sounding uninflected. "Shouldn't have come. Seen what you shouldn't."
She picked up a hammer, and advanced on Shou Yuing.
"That's not going to work," Shou Yuing said, backing away.
"But if I make enough noise everyone'll come running. They're all on edge tonight, wondering if the soldiers will try anything." Shou Yuing darted to one side as Nell approached, and realised too late she was backing into a corner. "Could you really fight everyone?"
"Fight them and win."
Shou Yuing tried to back away again, but she was now trapped in the corner with nowhere to run. "You don't have to do this. I promise I won't tell."
"Can't trust promises." Nell raised the hammer. "Won't talk if you're dead."
"Of course, strictly speaking, that isn't always the case," the Doctor's voice said, from somewhere to Shou Yuing's left. She couldn't risk taking her eyes off Nell's, but it sounded as if he was somewhere near the door.
"But even if you do kill Shou Yuing," he continued, "that won't help now. I know what you're trying to do, and why it'll never work. And I know what you are, as well."
Nell hissed, dividing her attention between the Doctor and Shou Yuing.
"Or what you were," the Doctor went on. "I don't think you're quite the same now as when you got here. If you were still just another warrior, you'd have killed her long before."
"Don't want... to waste..." Nell mumbled. She was letting the hammer hang from her hand, as if she'd forgotten even carrying it.
"You've been stuck on Earth some time, haven't you? Cut off from your fleet, having to fend for yourself. You couldn't survive in that situation without learning to think independently. Not just following orders from on high." He nodded at the electronic mishmash on the bench. "A mindlessly obedient soldier wouldn't have been able to build that communicator."
"Doesn't work," Nell said.
"I'll give it the once-over if you like. But I don't think that's the problem. You're trapped in Catch-22, Nell. A warrior gets marooned on a planet of primitives. If she's just a mindless soldier, she can't build the technology to call for help. But if she can build the technology, that shows she's thinking for herself. And in that case, do you think Drahvin High Command would take her back?"
Nell looked down at the hammer in her hand as if seeing it for the first time. Slowly, she raised it, turned to the Doctor, then to Shou Yuing, lowered the hammer, raised it again, and swung it, not at either, but at the glowing, humming device on the workbench. As she did so, the Doctor caught at her arm, spoiling her aim.
"Don't do that, Nell," the Doctor said. "You shouldn't ruin your best work."
"You said it's useless," Nell growled. "Let me smash it if it was. So 'tisn't useless."
The Doctor nodded approvingly. "There's no getting anything past you, Nell. I don't think it's any good for the purpose you built it. But just possibly it might help us end the standoff we're caught in. Without any blood being spilled."
"Human blood. What's it to me?"
"Humans who've given you food and clothing and shelter."
"And taught you to speak their language," Shou Yuing added. "Anne said you couldn't speak when you came here. At least, you couldn't speak English."
"Daft language," Nell said, but almost affectionately.
"And if what I'm planning works, I've got a ship less than a mile from here, that can take you anywhere in the Universe. Just in case you're tired of scrubbing floors and churning butter."
Nell looked from the Doctor to Shou Yuing. "Can he?"
"He can," Shou Yuing said.
"Then say what's to be done," Nell said, with a gesture that might have been a salute.
Chapter 6: Surrender
About an hour after dawn, the front door of the Manor opened, and a triumphant Mistress Roper took a few steps out onto the path. One of the soldiers on guard, who appeared to have been dozing on his feet, looked at her and came to attention.
"Stand there, Mistress," he said, trying to suppress a yawn. "What news?"
"They'll be bringing young Blunt out directly. So you run and tell Tom Locksby to be here when they do."
The soldier tried to stand on his dignity. "If this is some trick of them heathen foreigners, Mistress..."
"Heathens they may be, but they can't turn into birds and fly away, can they? There'll be two of them and a score or more of you. Now you run and tell Tom what I've told you." She watched him hurry away. "'Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.'"
Hastily, the Roundheads gathered: most of them at the front of the house, their eyes fixed on the door, with a few watching the other sides in case of subterfuge. Anne, looking distraught and grubby after her night as a hostage, was staring at the door with brimming eyes and trembling lips.
As the soldiers took up their positions, movement could be seen in the house, and a stretcher borne by four people emerged slowly from the shadowed hall. At the front was the Doctor — at least, the watchers presumed it was he, for he was wearing a leather headpiece, shaped like the beak of some gigantic bird, with two circles of glass for the eyes. The soldiers backed away, muttering about plague, until Mistress Roper reassured them that Henry had shown no signs of such illness.
Beside the Doctor was the foreign girl, dressed in the dark clothes of a servant, her black hair hidden under a bonnet. Her appearance brought forth a cry of "Judas!" from Anne, but the insult seemed not to have any effect. The rear was brought up by the servants Robert and Nell, familiar to most of the men and beneath their notice.
Once outside, the stretcher party laid their burden down. The besiegers darted forward, looking closely at the recumbent figure to be sure that they had not been gulled.
"'Tis him, right enough," one of the men said.
Locksby nodded. "Best if you go inside now, Miss Anne. This ain't something for you to see."
"But how could they do this?" Anne rushed to the stretcher. "You can't—"
"It's the only way," Shou Yuing said. "Nell, look after your mistress."
Nell hurried forward and took Anne by the hand.
"Now!" the Doctor shouted, his voice muffled by the mask.
Shou Yuing dropped to her knees beside the stretcher and pulled a heavy, fabric-wrapped bundle over Henry's face. With her other hand, she pulled the front of her bonnet down, covering her own face with thick, fluid-impregnated fabric. Even so, the pulse of light and sound and pressure from the stretcher nearly knocked her senseless. She was on hands and knees, a swarm of insects crawling over her, tearing at her flesh...
As the roaring and pressure faded, Shou Yuing tore off the bonnet. The soldiers, Mistress Roper and Anne were lying on the ground, unmoving. The Doctor, his mask discarded, was already leaning over Henry, hastily touching one pressure point after another. Smoke was rising from the stretcher as the alien circuitry it contained succumbed to the horrendous overload the Doctor had inflicted on it.
"Up you get, Henry," the Doctor said. "We're not out of the woods yet."
"Anne..." Henry croaked, staggering to his feet.
"She'll be fine."
"I bring her," Nell's voice said. Shou Yuing looked round; Nell was standing there bareheaded, with the unconscious Anne slung over her shoulder like a bag of turnips.
"Come on!" The Doctor was already supporting Henry as they hurried in the direction of the woods. "They'll wake up soon enough."
Nell and Shou Yuing lost no time in complying. As they reached the trees, Shou Yuing risked a look back. Some of the soldiers were beginning to make feeble attempts to move. The stretcher was now well ablaze; through the flames and smoke she caught sight of Mistress Roper, already on her feet and pronouncing some inaudible malediction. Then Shou Yuing was in the woodland, and once more had to devote all her attention to the thorns and rough ground. At least this time she managed to keep the Doctor and Nell in sight.
By the time they reached the TARDIS, the sounds of pursuit were all too close. At a gesture from the Doctor, Shou Yuing took his place supporting Henry, while the Doctor delved in his pocket for the key and unlocked the TARDIS door. Still carrying Anne, who by now was moaning feebly, Nell disappeared into the narrow opening. Henry and Shou Yuing followed, and the Doctor brought up the rear. As Locksby and his men burst through the trees in hot pursuit, the TARDIS was already fading into thin air.
"You say this is Cornwall?" Anne asked, gazing at the cluster of fishing boats drawn up on the beach, and the sea beyond.
"Porthgenna," the Doctor said. "A couple of hundred miles away from where you were. Captain Locksby won't think to look for you here."
"Or your father," Shou Yuing added. "I'm sorry."
"My choice is made," Anne said.
"And as for you," the Doctor said, turning to Henry, "don't go doing anything rash until that arm of yours is better. And remember, it might never be completely right."
Henry laughed. "I thank you for your concern, Doctor. But I wager you'll see me carrying my sword for the King before the year is out."
"That's your choice, of course." The Doctor gave the village one last look. "Shou Yuing. Nell. Shall we be on our way?"
"Not coming," Nell said. "Staying here."
"But you were stranded," Shou Yuing protested.
"Still am." Nell gestured at the Doctor. "He be right. No place for me on Drahva. Might as well be here. Keep these two out of mischief." She prodded Henry in the chest. "You know what Miss Anne wants you for."
"Then it's just the two of us." The Doctor held out his hand to Shou Yuing. "Where do you want to go now? Back to where I found you? Oh, and that reminds me." He looked back at Nell. "No more littering. Leaving your offcuts around where they shouldn't be. That sort of thing leads to trouble."
Nell came the closest to smiling that Shou Yuing had ever seen her. "Like the clothes she come in? Back at the Manor for anyone to find."
Shou Yuing found herself unable to resist a giggle at the thought of Mistress Roper experimenting with dressing in T-shirt and jeans.
"Do as I say, not as I do," the Doctor said. "Where was I? Ah, yes. Now we've solved the mystery of Tarrick Manor, do you want to quit while you're ahead? Because if you don't want to rush back, I can think of a couple of other places that might be worth a visit."
Shou Yuing laughed again. "Do you even need to ask?"