Book II: China
The Hand is Quicker than the Sword
next day, Zorro awoke as the golden hint of the sunrise manifested
itself in the east. Stretching
stiff muscles, the bandit took the hobbles off of the horse, put his
cape back on and mounted. A
short time later, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon, Zorro
found a small pond where he freshened up.
Soon he was back on the main roadway and again, as he traveled
south, he saw farmers and merchants in small groups, but he ignored
them. About midmorning,
Zorro saw a small troop of traders leading packhorses carrying chests of
opium. Sighing, he felt his
earlier resolve softening. He
was hungry, having been over a day and a half without any provisions,
and he could see no other way to get any food other than to steal it
from the opium traders. Since
Zorro was going in that direction anyway, he might as well lighten their
load a bit, too, he thought with a grin.
With drawn sword, the bandit rode down on the procession and
slashed the ropes holding the chests, dumping several of them before he
realized that this was a trap. The
powder spilling from the container didn’t look like opium; it looked
more like flour.
‘traders’ shed their outer clothing. Soldiers! Zorro thought,
angry with himself for not keeping his resolve.
Better hungry, than dead.
Some had pistols and began shooting.
Several balls whizzed above his head, then he heard someone
shouting for the soldiers to stop shooting, which he thought was
strange, but he ducked low and kept going, until two horsemen blocked
his way in front. In alarm, Zorro realized what they were doing.
They don’t want to kill me, they want to capture me!
I will not let that happen.
It must not happen!
the well-trained horse with his legs, he used a quick slashing movement
to disarm the first horseman and he ducked the blow of a staff that the
second swung at him. Turning
the horse into the shoulder of the second man’s mount, Zorro knocked
the soldier slightly off balance, and then he finished the job with his
fist. The outlaw ran the two horses off with a yell, then turned
and charged back into the melee. One
of the foot soldiers tried to stop him with a lance, but Zorro kicked it
out of the way and out of habit slashed a ‘Z’ in the man’s padded
cotton vest. Then he
wheeled the horse and continued down the road to the southeast, at which
time he noticed that again, a man on horseback, watching from a slight
rise. This one, however,
didn’t attempt to stop him, he simply watched until the bandit was out
of sight. Zorro felt more
uneasy about this man than he had the last. There was something powerful about him, something he
couldn’t quite understand.
Now more than ever, it was imperative that he reach the ocean
soon. A strange sense of foreboding came over him.
Highness,” the Captain of the Imperial guard reported to Qing Kang
Zhu. He was chagrined at
his inability to capture this man already and while not afraid of his
prince’s disfavor, he felt he had let his Highness down.
“I have observed this bandit and even though he is a cunning
and courageous warrior, one with a great deal of skill, I feel that with
several wushu warriors we can corner and capture him. He fights
in the European style, but he is vastly superior to any foreign soldier
I have seen fighting. He very quickly disarmed the two best men I sent
against him. Again, I
feel the only way to catch this bandit is with the Chinese martial arts,
with which he seems unfamiliar. I
also have a man trained in the Okinawan style of fighting.
That would enable us to unhorse this foreign bandit, as he also
very, very good on a horse.”
he fights like a foreigner because, according to my understanding, he is
a foreigner,” Kang Zhu said dryly.
His Highness resented it sometimes when his advisors treated him
as though he was still a child. Having
been to another continent and back, and almost twenty, he was more than
able to make important decisions and judgments.
Calm down, the royal nephew admonished himself.
My advisor is right. Anger
serves no one except one’s adversary. He
brought himself back to what the captain had been saying. “It
is also my understanding that he was able to steal your adjutant’s
horse,” his Highness said evenly.
“That means that he has the capability to outrun any soldier
that I have.” Kang Zhu
sighed. This was getting
more and more difficult. He
had sincerely hoped that his men could corner and then convince the
‘Opium Bandit’ to surrender peacefully to them.
For some strange reason, he felt drawn to this man who had the
courage to act against custom for something he believed in.
It was practically unheard of.
Is that a European trait?
Have I been influenced by my contact with these barbarians?
Highness, that is true. Underestimating this man will not be a mistake
we will make again,” the captain told him.
“The bandit seems to be heading with some purpose to the south
now. I think he is trying
to get to the ocean. For
what reason, I know not. But
we will be able to ambush him anywhere along the southern road.”
think the reason is obvious, Captain,” Kang Zhu said smugly, positive
in his conclusions. “The
man is trying to escape from the country.
If he can find someone to sail him to a harbor where his exploits
are unknown, then perhaps he figures he will be able to get to his
homeland or someplace equally safe.”
captain nodded and then said, “Yes, your Highness, that makes sense.
He is in trouble with the Europeans because he has destroyed the
opium. He cannot go back to
least not without help,” Kang Zhu said thoughtfully.
Highness, we have this also.” The
captain showed the royal nephew the vest that the bandit had slashed.
“It is most curious. The
bandit did this as he was riding away, seemingly without thought.
None of the reports had mentioned anything like this before.”
Zhu gasped when he saw the vest. He
felt as though he had been instantly transported back to the land of his
confinement, back to the land where a man in black had rescued him.
How can this be? The
young man took it from his captain’s hands and felt the ‘Z’ cut
into the cloth. Again, he
saw the man in black, riding on an equally black horse, blocking the
path as his tormentor, the American, John Vincent, was taking him back
into captivity. He did not
understand the words, but he saw the scene again as though it was
yesterday and not months ago. He
heard the authoritarian call of his rescuer as the black horse reared.
He could only guess the words, but he knew that the man was there
to rescue him, by force if necessary.
There was a whip held tightly in one hand and when Vincent did
not do as he was ordered the masked man swept down the hill.
his mind, Kang Zhu heard the whistling of the whip, the sharp retort of
the pistol as it fired. He
felt the pain as he fell off his horse and landed on his ankle. The black clad man whipped out a sword and used it as though
it was an extension of his own hand.
Even with a stout branch, Vincent did not have a chance. The two men fought in a way that was rough and undisciplined,
in his way of thinking, but even in that, the masked rescuer was elegant
in his moves. That
someone he did not even know, whose language he didn’t understand, in
whose land he didn’t even belong would swoop down, like a dragon and
save him, still haunted him. In
his mind he saw his savior slashing a ‘Z’ into the cloth of
your Highness know what this means?” the Captain of the Imperial Guard
asked, interrupting the prince’s reverie.
He watched with concern as his master seemed to go pale and began
feeling the slashing mark that had been made in the soldier’s vest.
believe I do, Captain,” he said softly, continuing to finger the
garment. “I am going to
admonish you again, this man is not to be killed or wounded.
I want him brought to me. I
want you to do this personally,” he commanded, his voice brooking no
disobedience. “I will hold you responsible for his safety as well as
Captain of the Guard bowed deeply and left, wondering at the change in
His Highnesses’ demeanor. However,
he wouldn’t question it. He
felt his master was still a little young to be in command of a large
province such as this one, but he nevertheless was a more able
administrator than some men three times his age.
If His Royal Highness had a special interest in this bandit, then
that was fine with him.
the captain left, Kang Zhu continued to finger the vest as he walked the
corridors of his past in the hot, dry place across the ocean, where a
stranger had saved him from death and dishonor.
The man seemed to be an outlaw in that place, too, but
nonetheless respected by most for his courage and honorable actions.
He had been told that the man’s name was Zorro.
His hand lightly covered the three slashes on the cotton vest,
while his mind continued to remember events months ago and thousands of
how could Zorro be all the way over the ocean in China?
he thought, incredulous. Perhaps the same way that I was all the way across the ocean there, he
thought. If so, would he
feel as helpless and hopeless as I did?
Would he despair of ever getting back home?
Suddenly, he felt as though he had missed something in the
reports that had been sent to him recently. Kang
Zhu called for a servant. When
the man came close and kowtowed, the royal nephew ordered, “I
want all the reports that have been sent here about the ‘Opium
Bandit.’ I want the reports that I have received from my Portuguese
spies as well as my British spies. I also want the reports that my
uncle’s spies sent here about the British ship that the ‘Opium
Bandit’ was on. Bring
them here quickly.” The
servant kowtowed again and ran out of the room.
‘Opium Bandit’ was enjoying a few hours of respite from being chased
and ambushed. The previous
night had been long and sleepless, having to be constantly on his guard
against ambush or attack. He
had been chased several times since his encounter with the fake caravan,
including twice today, and even the hardy military horse was beginning
to show signs of fatigue. When
he felt he had lost his pursuers, Zorro had stopped at a small stream to
let the horse drink, and also to refresh himself.
The water felt cool on this warm afternoon, and he now sat up on
a small rise where he could observe the road without being seen.
Ah, if it had not been for Miguel do Santos and his greed,
I’d most likely be on a ship sailing to Manila by now.
Picking up a rock, he threw it at a boulder, where it made a
satisfying plink. He did
that several more times, until he ran out of rocks, all the while
wishing darkly that he had Miguel do Santos in front of him. He would do
more then throw rocks at him. Then
he looked back to his activities these past six, or was it seven,
days and sighed. And if I hadn’t gotten so much involved in local
politics, I might have made it to the coast by now.
I have been my own worst enemy.
had decided it would be wise to wait until near dark to continue.
Apparently he had irritated some local official over his little faux
pas with the slave traders, since he had not been bothered until
that time. Somehow, he
figured that taking the soldier’s horses hadn’t endeared him to the
local bureaucrats either. Settling
himself in a concealed thicket, with the horse hobbled nearby, Zorro
tried to take a short nap. He
succeeded in dozing off for a little while, but was not able to
accomplish anything that could be considered restful. After giving up
his attempt to sleep, he continued to lie there for a short while
longer, listening to the insects and birds, until the sun was no longer
blazing down quite as hot. Then
he got up from the hard ground, stretched and reconnoitered.
Other than workers in a distant field there were few people to be
seen. It is almost
got another drink from the stream, and checked the saddle, making sure
the straps were secure. The
bulkier, higher pommeled saddles of the Chinese warriors needed heavier
straps to hold them on than the ones he was used to.
The outlaw remounted his horse.
Darkness is not too far off.
Perhaps I can get close to the ocean before it gets too dark,
he thought. He wished he
knew the territory enough to be able to ride off the main road, but that
was something that couldn’t be helped.
to a particularly beautiful bird in a nearby tree, Zorro realized that
it was very quiet and peaceful this far from Canton.
This is a beautiful country, but it is not my home.
In his mind’s eye he saw the hills around the hacienda de
la Vega and his heart constricted with longing. Then he pictured his father, Bernardo, and the casa grande
itself. Most of the time
the memories were still vivid, but he had sometimes awakened from
nightmares in which he felt he had forgotten the things of his past.
Lately his life in California seemed remote and inaccessible.
Not wanting to be gone so long he could no longer remember his
homeland, he spurred the horse into a canter.
mile to the south, the Imperial Captain of the Guard sat his horse
easily, assured that this time he would have success.
One of his scouts galloped up to him and reported that the bandit
was coming towards them on the main road.
The captain looked down at the warrior standing next to him.
“You are sure you can unhorse him without hurting him?” he
he will certainly know he has been unhorsed, he will carry the bruises,
but I will most assuredly not kill him,” the warrior reassured the
Captain. “The methods of
fighting that I learned in Okinawa can kill, but they don’t have to.
The foreigner will be rendered harmless with a minimum of
had better be positive, because His Highness was most adamant about
making sure this man is not harmed,” the Captain said, thinking it
strange that His Highness seemed to be anticipating this man as a guest
rather than a prisoner. He
gave orders to his warrior to stand ready for the ambush.
With silent deliberation, the men found their pre-arranged
while later, the scout hissed a warning that the bandit was approaching
the curve of the road. The
soldiers took on a look of eager anticipation.
he rounded a curve in the road, Zorro was shocked to see a man seemingly
flying at him from the right, feet first.
There was no time to draw his sword or a pistol.
Jerking on the reins caused the horse to cut left only slightly
before the man made contact. Zorro knew that he could not avoid the warrior’s
assault and had pulled his feet out of the stirrups even as he was
reining. When the
man’s feet hit him in the side, Zorro felt the air rush out of his
lungs, but there was surprisingly little pain from the blow.
The force was incredible, though, and by the time his lungs had
emptied, he felt himself hit the ground.
This time there was pain, a great deal of it as his left shoulder
hit the hard-packed earth with a popping noise.
His momentum caused him to roll several times and the pain in the
shoulder and arm was joined by sharp pain in his head when he hit a
sky and the ground blended into shades of white, then black as his
vision blurred, wavered and slowly returned to some semblance of normal.
His stomach lurched and he swallowed several times to get control
of the sudden nausea. Breath
finally came in a heaving gasp, but Zorro continued to lie still on the
ground until his breathing evened.
He heard footsteps; saw feet approach within the line of vision
that his half-closed eyes afforded him.
Hoping that it was the leader of the group of warriors, Zorro
continued to wait motionless.
the man was within reach, Zorro’s arm shot out, grabbing one foot at
the ankle and jerking the soldier off balance.
As the man hit the ground, Zorro tried to get up before anyone
else could attack. The
soldier was very agile; he rolled backwards and was up before the outlaw
could get to his knees. It
was then that Zorro realized his left arm was useless, with excruciating
pain radiating outward from the shoulder.
Biting his lip against the intense throbbing, he gazed at his
adversaries, wondering what they were going to do to him.
I am their prisoner, his mind yammered. The warriors
seemed to be waiting to see what his next move would be.
As he pushed himself off the ground unsteadily, the leader of the
soldiers seemed to be saying something to him. What is he saying?
Surrender? No! his mind said.
To surrender would be to never go home.
He would be here forever. Better
that he die in battle here in this strange land.
Die as he had lived, with a sword in his hand.
No more! What choice
do I have? To die! To die with honor! “Father,
I have lived honorably and I will die honorably!” he shouted in
then all he wanted to do was to kill these men who were keeping him from
his goal. Because of
them, I cannot go home, his mind raged.
They will pay! His
unreasoning anger intensified the pain in his head, which in turn
continued to fuel his anger until it became a raging flood.
Zorro let it grow; it increased his resolve to not be taken
prisoner. Never will I
be taken prisoner, he thought.
Like a volcano, a great outpouring of the despair, hopelessness,
and helplessness of his situation of the past weeks overflowed into a
fiery wrath. I
will not be captured again! he continued to rage illogically
in his mind. With a loud
challenging cry, he untied his cape and let it drop.
He would not be able to keep it out of his way with his useless
left arm, which he had stuck in his sash. The warriors momentarily gave
way to him when he unsheathed his sword and with a loud cry, advanced
quickly and savagely. They fell back even more from his ferocious attack and his
feral grin disconcerted them.
Captain was surprised at the vehemence of the man’s assault.
He had entertained a great hope, when the wushu expert had
unhorsed this bandit, that the capture would be simple and without
incident, but when he looked into the injured man’s eyes, what he saw
greatly disturbed him. The
eyes were full of rage, an almost insane rage.
Warning the others of this new development, the Captain
admonished his men to try and restrain the bandit without hurting him.
At the same time, he noticed the blood trickling from a head
wound, and the useless left arm, which fact the Captain pointed out to
the others, also. Several
of the soldiers had withdrawn; frightened, and fearing the bandit was
demon possessed. The Captain reminded them of their duty, but was
considering that possibility himself.
bandit advanced on the Captain of the Imperial Guard again, and he used
the heel of his hand against the outlaw’s jaw, snapping his head back
and then grabbing his sword arm. The
Captain was able to restrain his arm to prevent him from using the
sword, but the foreigner seemed to have gained an almost superhuman
strength; he simply couldn’t pry the sword from the man’s hand.
Then, the foreign warrior stamped on his instep with his boot. The Captain let go with a short cry of pain, berating himself
for his inattentiveness. This
man was an excellent warrior in his own right, and in his present
condition that made him very dangerous to them as well as to himself.
for his part, was able to keep the soldiers at bay, but wasn’t able to
gain an advantage. They
didn’t fight straight on, but they stood in positions where only their
sides were exposed, and their hands kept moving and flashing in all
directions, disconcerting him. One
kept jabbing at him with fingers that were close together like the beak
of a bird and when they connected with his bruised body, they felt like
bird’s beaks. Zorro cried
out in pain as one warrior hit him in the side, the same spot where the
‘flying man’ had hit him. Another
danced around, and every time Zorro tried to advance, the man found a
vulnerable place to hit him. Angry,
the bandit shouted a curse and slashed with his sword, but the warrior
danced out of the way. Still
another kept trying to kick him, but the outlaw’s flashing sword kept
that one from making contact with him.
He became more and more infuriated as the soldiers kept advancing
on him. All he wanted to do
was hurt them, get away to the ocean and go home, but the outlaw found
that even in his rage, there was something that refused to allow him to
actually kill them.
his horse standing nearby, Zorro whistled to it as he would Tornado, but
the horse didn’t respond. Why
won’t he come? Ai, this is not Tornado, he reminded himself.
He could still escape, though, if he could get to the horse.
It was fast. With
another challenging cry, one meant to baffle his opponents, he ran to
jump on the horse, but in the fogginess of his thinking, he forgot that
he no longer had the agility he needed for vaulting on the horse.
at his disability, he threw the sword down and tried to swing into the
saddle. However, Zorro was
immediately jerked to the ground. With
a cry of deep despair and rage, he fought with all of his strength,
which his adversaries found to be considerable.
Forgotten was the pain in his shoulder, forgotten was his
fatigue, remembered was the homeland that seemed to get further and
further away from him. Now,
he just wanted to get away. He
just wanted to go home. He
could not be a prisoner. He
had to be free! His thoughts thundered like runaway horses. I have lost!
I cannot even die honorably.
I have lost…. He tried to struggle more, but his strength was gone.
There was nothing left inside with which to fight.
The warriors were too great in numbers for him to overcome and
soon they had overwhelmed him.
soldiers tied up his feet; another held his good hand in a viselike
grip. Only then, the Captain noticed, did the man stop struggling and
lay very still. There was
still rage in his eyes, but it was as though all of his will had drained
out of him, and he suddenly looked very weary.
Despair was also plain to see, and the Captain suddenly had the
impression that this man, who despite the mask, appeared to be young,
had been through much, seen much and experienced more than most men
encounter in an entire lifetime. The bandit unexpectedly murmured something in another
language, closed his eyes and went limp.
Captain checked to make sure of his breathing, which he found to be
rapid and shallow. This
didn’t seem natural to the warrior leader; they would need to get the
prisoner to the Imperial physician as soon as possible.
we must get him to the palace. Make
a litter, and be careful with him.”
While his men were preparing the litter, using the materials at
hand, the captain undid the sash at the bandit’s waist to bind his
left arm against his body to immobilize it.
The European moaned softly in pain, but did not regain
consciousness. When they had the bandit secure on the litter, with his cape
around him for warmth, they began the journey back to the Imperial
residence. The Captain sent
a warrior ahead with the horses and with instructions to have the royal
physician waiting for them. He
personally took charge of the bandit’s sword, a very fine saber of