Pacific Odyssey:

Book II: China

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen 

Plans

   

 

Zorro had dozed off, but his dreams were tangled jumbles of flying ships, their sails flapping like so many huge, white wings, and dying men, opium sick Chinamen trying to capture the ship-birds.  Then Tornado charged toward him, eyes blazing.  “You forgot me!” the stallion screamed.  “You left me!”

“But I’m coming home!” Zorro responded plaintively. 

There was a soft click, the whisper of slippered feet impinging upon his consciousness and his eyes snapped open.    When Zorro saw who had entered, he started to sit up, but Kang Zhu stopped him with a hand motion.   The prince pulled up one of the fancy chairs and sat next to the bed.  “How is the headache?” he asked.           

“Better,” Zorro said, and then he very bluntly asked,  “How did you find out?”         

“That you are Diego de la Vega?”  Kang Zhu asked.  Zorro nodded.  “That was fairly easy, once I knew what to look for in the reports my spies sent me.  I became interested when I first got the report of a British cargo ship, the China Star, which had almost been sunk by a storm last week. What was curious was that the report told of a man wearing a totally black costume who had destroyed the cargo.  This ‘Opium Bandit’ sounded suspiciously like Zorro.  I had met you before, no one else here in China had.           

“Based on what I had been told, I sent a letter to my imperial uncle’s spies at the various trade commissions, and received reports back from them.  However, I didn’t pay very close attention to the names in them until I saw the jacket with the ‘Z’ slashed in it.  Then I looked back in the reports much more carefully and learned that Diego de la Vega, you, were listed on the rolls of the China Star, and that a Spanish national had stayed at the Portuguese residence for a short while before someone had told the British that the ‘Opium Bandit’ was hiding there,” he continued.  “I am informed that I am a smart young man.  I added the facts and saw that you and de la Vega had to be the same man.”  He paused to let Zorro consider what he had just said.           

“And you are the only man in China who would be able to figure that out, just with reports,” Zorro finished for him, “Because you are the only man in China who had been to California, met Zorro and Diego and come back.”

“Yes,” Kang Zhu said simply.  “And that is how you are going to be able to go back to Guangzhou.”  Zorro looked puzzled.  “You ride back in as Diego, a Portuguese trader.  No fuss or bother,” he explained, then paused.  After a moment he continued.  “I think it will be necessary, though, to arrive in Guangzhou looking slightly different than you do now.” 

“Oh, you mean my costume?  Or a disguise?” 

“No, part of your costume must sacrifice itself to the British, who are sure to send representatives here to take you into their custody,” Kang Zhu explained.  At Zorro’s puzzled look, he explained his plan.  

“Ah, I understand, Your Highness,” Zorro replied.   He pondered and then made a suggestion.  “A beard might help, although it may not be very full by the time I return.” 

“That would help a great deal, full or not.  And perhaps we can lighten your hair somewhat,” the prince added.  “Yes, that will help.  But I will make sure that your escort is a strong one.  Nothing on your journey home will be left to chance.”

“I cannot thank you enough, Your Highness,”

“I remember how much you helped me, your kindness, trying to communicate with me in the sergeant’s office and how hard you worked trying to translate what I had written.  The priest told me.  Little did I know just how hard you were working to help me.”  Kang Zhu’s eyes shone with gratitude.  “And now I am able to pay back both of the men who made it possible for me to come home.”            

The prince and the bandit sat quietly for a moment.  “And I go in right under everyone’s nose,” Zorro finally said with a smile.  “But don’t the British know who the ‘Opium Bandit’ is?” he asked.  “The man who, ah, tried to turn me over to the British knew my name.”

“But he must not have given them your name,” His Highness surmised.  “The reports only said ‘Opium Bandit’ and never furnished a name.  By the way, I think the word you were trying to think of is ‘betrayed.’”

“I wonder what happened to Miguel do Santos?” Zorro murmured.  He pulled off the mask and bandanna. Even the cloth mask had seemed to make his head hurt, and there was no need to keep it on at this point.          

“If you are talking about your Portuguese betrayer, he is dead,” Kang Zhu answered simply.

Diego shrugged.  Do Santos had received his reward; he was content.          

“One other question, your Highness,” Diego asked seriously.  “It is something that has been on my mind since I jumped ship.  I had a very close friend on the China Star.   He helped me when I was first kidnapped and he was like a father to me, teaching me everything I needed to know to survive on board a ship like that.  Did your reports mention anything about a George Bowman?” Diego asked hopefully. 

I vaguely remember seeing that name, but don’t remember what was said in the report about the man.  I will have to look again.”  Kang Zhu got up to leave.

A tap at the door interrupted them and the physician came in with a tray of food as the prince left.  He started out by asking the same question that Prince Qing Kang Zhu had asked and Diego gave him the same answer.  The doctor wasn’t surprised that the mask had been removed, as His Highness was very persuasive.  Taking the opportunity to check the head wound a little closer, he saw that Zorro had taken a very nasty rap to the head.  No wonder his qi had been so dangerously thrown out of balance.  “By the way, by what name do I call you?  I am assuming that Zorro is not your proper name.”

Diego introduced himself formally.  “And I must apologize for my behavior last night.”

“It was nothing that could be helped,” the physician answered.  “I am just glad you are better and that your vital energies are beginning to balance.  And quickly at that.”  

Kang Zhu returned and Diego asked him anxiously, “Were you able to find out anything?”

Kang Zhu nodded.  “On the report, it said that George Bowman died the night of the storm.  It was believed his death was related to a heart ailment that he had been suffering from and not the storm itself.  The report also said he was buried at sea the next day.”  From Diego’s stricken look, Kang Zhu knew the man had been very close to him.  “I am very sorry, Diego, for the loss of your friend and teacher, but you must remember and keep in your heart that you enriched his last days.”           

“Later, would it be possible to visit with the leader of the warriors who captured me?” Diego asked softly, changing the subject.  Both men agreed. The doctor admonished Diego to eat something and then rest.  Kang Zhu ushered Zhaou Haifang out of the room and they left the caballero to his thoughts.            

Diego felt almost like he had lost a father.  Ah, Mr. Bowman, what pain did I cause you?  The pain in his own heart made it hard to breathe, and he couldn’t eat or relax, so he slipped out of his room and made his way out to the grounds of the Imperial residence instead.  He remembered something that Leiching had told him about a holiday the Chinese celebrated, but he hadn’t understood it all.  All he had been able to figure out, was that it was a holiday to honor the dead.  Something like All Saints Day, he supposed, but more serious, because the remembrance of ancestors was a more solemn thing to the oriental people he had met.  The people cleaned off the graves and left offerings of food and flowers and gifts in memory of dead ancestors.

The grounds were expansive, with well-manicured flowering trees and shrubs everywhere.  The fragrance was heady, the feeling of serenity pervasive.  A stone lined path led to a large tranquil pond and Diego walked toward it.  Huge stones were placed in various places in the garden. Water lilies floated lazily, only occasionally disturbed by orange and white fish swimming just below the surface.  

Diego remembered the first full night he had spent on the China Star.  His despair had been almost more than he could bear and then had come the frustration of not being able to properly get into his hammock.  Diego could almost hear Mr. Bowman’s hearty laughter.  Irritation flared for a few seconds but disappeared quickly.  Even that early into the voyage, Diego realized that the older man was not ridiculing him, but simply seeing the humor of the situation.  

“Diego,” Bowman had said at the time, “God gives us some kind of purpose in all that comes our way, good or bad.  It is up to us to decipher what that purpose is and to be the best we can be in that situation.”  

 Diego crouched at the edge of the pond and watched the fish for a few minutes.  Then he gathered twigs, bark and other materials lying around.  He struggled, only having the use of one hand, but finally a tiny makeshift mast was stuck into a piece of bark.  A large leaf served as a sail.  The entire time he was working Diego remembered his time aboard the China Star and he realized just how fortunate he really had been to have a mentor like George Bowman.  

Placing the little ship in the pond, he made the sign of the cross and then stood up, watching the little ‘boat’ float part way out on the pond before it bumped into a water plant.  Several of the large fish nudged at it until the little craft slowly sank.  “Good bye, George Bowman, my second father.  I hope your reunion with your family was sweet and full of happiness,” he whispered in English in honor of the one Englishman who had treated him with unconditional respect and friendship.  Diego felt the presence of someone behind him and turned to see Kang Zhu standing silently a few feet behind him. 

“I am sorry to intrude on your grief, Diego, but my servant saw you leave the residence and I worried, because even though the possibility is remote here, I know there are those who would enjoy capturing and executing you right now,” Kang Zhu explained quietly.  He pointed to where the little boat had sunk.  “That seems to me to be an appropriate way to honor and remember one who lived at sea.  Is that a custom among your people?”

“No, your Highness,” Diego answered.  “It just seemed fitting, the right thing to do.”  Nothing more was said for several minutes. 

“When I was on the ship going east and despairing of ever getting home, I occasionally saw tiny spots of moonlight and remembered a poem that I had learned when I was younger.  It is by one of our most famous poets, Li Bai, and is very, very old.  It is called “Night Thoughts.”

 

Bright shines the moonlight at the foot of my bed,

Perhaps reflected from frost on the ground.

Lifting my head I gaze at the bright moon,

Bowing my head I think of my family home.”

 

Kang Zhu then became very quiet and both men stood looking at the quarter moon that had recently risen, pale in the daylight.  A small cloud briefly obscured the sun and the wan moonlight reflected on the pond and danced softly.  It contrasted with the reflection of the sun, which had been harsh and glaring.  “I had never thought of the poem that way before,” the prince continued.  “I never could see the moon on the voyage east, only tiny bits of its light at my feet.  I was shut up in the hold at night.  But when you freed me and I stayed at your house for several days, I saw it rise one night on your patio.  Do you remember?” Kang Zhu asked, gazing at Diego.  The Californiano nodded.  “Then I realized that the moon that was shining over me and you was the same moon that was shining over my home.  This above us is the same moon that shines over your home as well, and your father and friends.”

“Yes,” Diego said, his voice husky with emotion.  “And it is a very appropriate, very moving poem.  I feel my home deeply and now see it when I look at the moon, even more than I did before.”

“I suppose you would, living as you do so much in its light,” Kang Zhu said enigmatically with a smile.   A fish swam to the surface and caught an insect.  Soon the water was tranquil again and the two men stood reflecting.  “It is amazing how the moon, so cold and lifeless can still show itself during the day, even when the sun, which is filled with its own inner fire, is so bright,” the prince said softly.  Diego nodded.  They watched the pond for a few more minutes.  “Let us go in so you can rest before supper.”

                        

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Whatever it was the physician gave him, along with the nap, made Diego feel much better.  When he awoke, he found an older man and a teen-aged boy sitting quietly inside the door, gazing at him.  As soon as he stirred and sat up, the pair stood and brought him a new light colored shirt and turquoise blue trousers, similar in style to those that the captain wore.  Laying the clothing on his bed, they proceeded to take a string and measure him.  They worked quietly and quickly, only giving brief answer to his questions. 

While the servants were working, Zhaou Haifang entered the room followed by a servant carrying a tray with a pot of tea.  The pair finished and, bowing, left.  The physician’s servant poured tea for Diego and the doctor, and then, he too, left.  Zhaou Haifang poured some powder from a small pouch and added it to Diego’s tea.  This time the Californiano did not ask what it was, only taking it for granted that it was something to help him feel better.  Whatever the philosophy of Chinese medicine was, it seemed to be working in his case, so Diego wouldn’t question it.

Zhaou Haifang gazed at Diego for a moment before taking his pulse.  “You seem much better,” he stated, handing his patient a cup of tea.  

“I feel much better,” Diego concurred. 

“Good,” the physician said.  They sat and drank their tea, bantering.  When they had finished, Zhaou Haifang picked up a tiny bell and rang it.  The older servant almost immediately entered the room.  “This is Wang Cho.  He will help you change into these clothes and then we will visit with the Captain as you had requested.”

Carefully, the servant drew on the oversized shirt, not disturbing the immobilized shoulder and arm, only covering it.  Diego was slightly embarrassed that he had to have someone almost completely dress him, but felt much more comfortable when the servant was finished. 

Diego and Zhaou Haifang walked down the opulent corridor of the living quarters of the palace to the attached, but separate building that housed the Imperial guards and troops.  Several men were practicing hand-to-hand fighting in a fairly large room just inside the barracks.  Diego stared, entranced at the dance-like movement that, at the same time, seemed so very powerful.  He remembered the men capturing him using those same movements. 

The captain noticed their presence after a few moments and turned to greet them.   He looked curiously at Diego for a few seconds until he saw the left arm bound under the shirt.  “So, our bandit does take off the mask sometimes,” he said with a smile, bowing.  “You look much better than you did this time yesterday.”           

“I feel much better, too,” Diego admitted.  “I want to apologize for my actions yesterday.”          

“It is understandable, considering the blow to the head,” the Imperial Captain said.  “But head injury or not, you are the only foreigner I have ever met who could hold off that many warriors of wushu.  My foot, even now, still aches a little.” 

Diego flushed slightly in embarrassment.  “I am wondering what that fighting was.   I vaguely remember fighting with your warriors and feeling very annoyed that I could not escape,” Diego told him.  “Would you be able to show me some wushu later?” he asked. 

The Captain nodded.  “Maybe later this evening, Zorro.  If the royal physician agrees.”           

“Please, just call me Diego,” he said.

“Very well, then Diego.  I look forward to meeting with you again.  Perhaps you can show me the way you fight as well.”

“Before you two make great plans, let me remind you that it has not been quite a day since your injury,” Zhaou Haifang said sternly to Diego.  “Tonight, the breathing exercises.  Tomorrow you can do more.”

Diego chuckled and then laughed.  He had not felt this comfortable since the day after his rescue of Marguerita.  His heart burned with pleasure as well as contentment. 

 

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The revolutionaries struck again and again.  Twelve of Don Ramon Santillo’s cattle were slaughtered in a most gruesome manner, Don Alfredo’s tanning shed was burned to the ground, one of Don Sebastian’s young servant girls was kidnapped.  A week later her battered body was dumped in front of the cuartel gate.  People looked over their shoulders, whispering invocations to the saints.  No one went anywhere alone and children no longer played chase in the plaza.  Women didn’t go anywhere without an escort of at least two men.  

Alejandro had been out as Zorro, as had Bernardo, but they seemed to be ineffectual for the most part.  The mozo had not been able to glean any information recently, at least not enough to satisfy them. Zorro was able to stop a robbery, save a child from her kidnappers, chase some of the bandits away from Don Carlos’ herd of cattle and horses.  But both men were exhausted.  Alejandro felt the weariness more in the ineffectualness of his efforts rather than a physical exhaustion, although he felt that, too. 

As he sat down on a chest in the secret room to take the dusty black boots from his swollen and sore feet, the don felt someone’s presence.  Wearily, he looked up and saw Bernardo.  The mozo signed and then bent down to pull the boots off. 

“Thank you, Bernardo,” Alejandro said, with a sigh. 

The servant helped him remove the rest of the black costume and brought him his robe.  Then Bernardo signed again.  ‘You will make yourself ill.  You are trying to do too much.’

Alejandro gazed at Bernardo, noticing the dark circles under the servant’s eyes.   “You are a fine one to talk about doing too much,” he returned. 

Bernardo smiled and then his fingers moved again.  ‘It is time for the rancheros and the rest of the people to do their part.’

“But how?  We have talked and talked about what to do.  Many of my neighbors have sent out large groups of vaqueros to hunt for the camp of these revolutionaries and all that has happened is that the accursed bandits have found out somehow and struck somewhere else.”   Alejandro sighed again and shook his head. 

Bernardo tapped him on the sleeve.  The hacendado looked up.  ‘Perhaps you need to change how you are fighting the bandits.’ 

“But how?” Alejandro began and then stopped, pondering.  Maybe they were going about this all wrong.    He paced the confines of the little room for several minutes.  It was apparent that the revolutionaries had their own spies amongst the haciendas and in the pueblo.  Or they were as clever in gathering information as Bernardo was.  Alejandro remembered the supposedly blind man who spied for the Eagle.   How easy it would be to gather information about a group of vigilantes as large as those that had been scouring the hills.  All it would take would be someone who would say a word or two over a mug of wine.   

“You may be right, Bernardo,” he said.  “Let us go to bed and think on that.”

Alejandro thought while he lay in bed, waiting for sleep to overtake him.  What if each rancho had its own posse, a force made up of trusted men, men who would be responsible for just that ranch?  The information would remain within that group, with only a few of the area’s leaders knowing everything.  That might work, he thought.  Yawning, Alejandro turned over and fell into a deep sleep. 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen
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