Book II: China
Horses is Frowned Upon
reports of the mysterious ‘Opium Bandit’ kept filtering in to the
Trade Commission, Enrique was delighted, because he knew that it had to
be Diego and that his friend was still alive.
What he couldn’t totally understand was Diego’s reasoning for
the destruction of the opium, but he knew that his fencing instructor
was only acting according to his conscience.
Nor could he understand Diego’s travels so far away from
Canton, either. Enrique’s father exclaimed in exasperation, after the
second such report came in, “We are going to have to find your fencing
master, just to keep me and every other trade envoy from killing him
with our bare hands.”
What the trade commissioner didn’t tell his son was that it would be virtually impossible to help the Spaniard at this time. His various spies had reported de la Vega’s aborted attempt to return to his residence, and they had reported on the efforts of the British to capture the young man. He had also heard of Sir William Buckley’s threat against himself if he should help their quarry. Sighing, Batisto wondered just how de la Vega was going to get himself out of this mess.
his residence in the mountains, Imperial Nephew Qing Kang Zhu listened
to the reports of this bandit whose depredations kept coming closer and
closer to his province. Unlike
his advisors, he viewed the activities of this ‘Opium Bandit’ with a
great deal of amusement. It
seemed that all the man did was destroy opium and steal food and
sometimes weapons; he never killed anyone, nor hurt them.
Kang Zhu assumed this was the same mysterious black clad man who
had destroyed almost an entire shipment of opium on a British ship right
under the noses of the crew, the one the British wanted so badly.
As he finished listening to the reports, he turned to his young
bride, a dainty girl of exquisite beauty.
“Ai, I think I would like to meet this bandit.”
my husband, he is a barbarian. Why
would you want to meet him?” she asked.
he reminds me of someone I met when I was kidnapped and taken to
America. The man saved me
when I was a stranger in a very strange land,” Kang Zhu murmured.
last year. The one who wore
I will wait until this European bandit comes closer to the palace
and then I will invite him to meet with me.”
Kang Zhu laughed softly. Reluctantly
turning his attention back to the scribe, he said, “Go, but leave the
reports.” The servant kowtowed, touching his forehead to the ground and
then quickly left. The
Imperial nephew turned back to his wife, kissing her gently on the
have never met a barbarian before,” his wife said with a slight
giggle, letting her fingertips stray up the back of his neck.
if he is not too uncivilized, I will let you meet this one,” the royal
nephew said, kissing her with more passion.
The bandit was temporarily forgotten.
it was realized that the bandit was heading in the general direction of
his province, representatives of the various foreign governments came to
Qing Kang Zhu to protest. The
British were especially adamant, offering a reward that caused even him
to blink in surprise. The
different representatives implored him to send troops out after the
cursed bandit. His advisor
assured them all that His Highness would do everything within his power
to capture the elusive outlaw and punish him if he came into his
province, but Kang Zhu had done nothing so far except keep up with the
bandit’s progress. The
foreigner had not acted against the Chinese government or its people.
In fact, he had heard that the man had actually helped some of
the peasants during his travels. As
the nephew of the Emperor, who had himself ordered the opium dealers out
of China, Qing Kang Zhu secretly relished what this outlaw was doing and
hoped that he had the opportunity to meet him.
woke up in a cold sweat, resulting from the same recurring nightmare he
had had every night since he had been in the little house of Lui Yuling;
the nightmare of an emaciated man on the pallet.
Each night he kept seeing different people he knew lying in the
same condition on the bed. It
was a short while before dawn, so at least this time he had received a
bit more sleep before the hideous dream had come again.
Eating some of the provisions he had stolen the day before, he
pulled out the knife he had taken from one of the opium traders two days
previously and began to shave. Without
shaving soap, it was difficult to do a good job, but at least he
hadn’t cut his throat yet, he thought wryly.
Washing up in a little stream nearby, he continued on the now
caravan that he came upon today wasn’t dealing with just opium.
A crying woman was taking money for a young girl, apparently her
would seem that opium isn’t enough, Zorro thought.
They have to deal with slaves. After
the coins had passed hands, one of the men reached down and jerked the
girl up by the arm. She
screamed in pain, but the man just handled her more roughly, cuffing her
and throwing her across his lap. Several
of the others in the caravan laughed.
The girl’s captor simply reached down and patted her bottom.
The girl did not cry out again.
felt the heat of his anger grow inside him.
Whatever the customs of this land, he would not see the abuse of
any woman and stand idly by. Spurring
his horse, he rushed in, shooting off two of his pistols into the air.
Horses bucked and screamed, throwing their riders and scattering
in all directions. Zorro
tossed the empty pistols to the ground and pulled out another one with
his left hand, drawing his sword with his right.
In the few days that the outlaw had ridden the horse, it had
learned to follow leg commands. “Go!
If you value your lives, you will go now!” Zorro called out.
Most of the men left quickly, galloping down the road that led to
the south. Several men
stayed, facing him, drawing their muskets.
Putting away the pistol and using a whip that he had confiscated
from a caravan two days previously, Zorro relieved two of the men of
their weapons before they hardly knew that their hands were empty.
They turned their horse’s heads and rode after their comrades.
man with the girl growled some kind of an oath and charged him, after
flinging her to the ground. He
had a musket in his hand, but in his anger he only brandished it at
Zorro. The ‘Opium
Bandit’ easily moved his horse out of the way and snapped the whip
against the man’s back as he passed.
With a howl of pain, the man turned his horse and finally
remembered to fire his weapon. The ball whizzed above Zorro’s head, entirely too close for
comfort. With another snap
of the whip the man was disarmed.
Seeing the glint of anger in Zorro’s eyes, the leader of the
caravan decided to retreat.
went through his ritual of destroying the opium and then approached the
two women. “You are free
to go,” he said. The girl
and mother began to cry even more loudly, both of them holding to each
other as though they were afraid of something.
Him? Now Zorro was
thoroughly confused. “What
is wrong? Was selling your daughter what you wanted to do?”
Yingyu, but this was the only way we could feed the rest of our
family. It is legal.
Now the men will come back with more men and destroy our house
and fields. We will all
die. If not from the
beatings they will give us, then from starvation in the winter,” the
woman explained, punctuating her comments with hand signs when Zorro
didn’t understand. “When
the agreement is made, they who break it must pay.
It is the way it has always been.”
Zorro wondered how he could apologize for doing something he had felt
justified in doing. Am
I trying to force my own moral judgments on these people; people
whose customs are totally different than my own?
Their government says that the opium is bad, but nothing is done
to stop it. Their
government says that selling your own children is all right and allows
the killing of those who back away from such an arrangement.
Ai, how can things be so twisted?
Or is it just my thinking? What
am I doing here? What
difference am I making? He
looked around at the hills that were similar to those he had grown up in
and yet so very different. How
I wish I were home . . . where I understand what is going on, where
helping others is so simple.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
girl and her mother were still crying, but they had turned to walk back
to their home. Perhaps
to them, this way of life is simple. “Wait,
please. I will go with you
to help you protect your property.
I am sorry for my mistake.” But
it’s still wrong to have to sell your child to buy food! he
thought in anguish. They
simply nodded, but said nothing. As
he had done with the young widow and her son, Zorro offered the use of a
horse to the pair, allowing them to rest their bound feet.
Quickly, he gathered supplies and the money that had been left
behind. Mounting, he
took the reins of the women’s horse and rode in the direction the
woman pointed out to him.
the little farm, the woman explained what had happened to her husband.
Zorro bowed and apologized.
“Please accept my humblest apologies, Xiansheng, for my
mistake,” Zorro said, bowing.
you acted out of ignorance, as most barbarians do,” the farmer said
crossly, but then his features softened. “But I know that you acted to
help my daughter. Now we
must go hide in the hills. Maybe
we will not come back. The
memories of the traders are long, longer than the Yangtze River.”
this would help you buy another farm,” Zorro offered, handing the man
a bag that contained money that he had confiscated from the opium
caravans. “I will make
sure that the money that they gave you for your daughter goes back to
them, but this is all from the sale of the opium caravans.
It would be good for it to help someone.”
farmer bowed and smiled. “Yes,
it would help to buy a very nice farm east of here,” he said. “Xiexie, I am most grateful.” As soon as they had gathered most of their belongings and
loaded them on a handcart, they left, leaving the farm to the crickets
and soft winged bats that rustled in a hollow tree.
Zorro remained, stationing himself near the house.
The sun slowly sank over the western hills and the bats flew out
of the tree. Frogs began a
symphony in the tiny stream that ran nearby.
traders didn’t see him at first when they came down the road, but when
they attempted to burn the house he made sure they found him very
quickly. He fired one
pistol and wounded the man with the torch, and then with the other
pistol, shot a trader who had drawn on him.
Using his sword, he scattered all of the others.
The traders had been joined by what appeared to be soldiers, who
were carrying lances and large knives.
Ah, these are more of a challenge!
They appear a bit more formidable then the lancers in Los
Angeles. Zorro mounted and rode to meet his remaining opponents.
At that moment, another trader fired a pistol and the Portuguese horse that had been so faithful for all of these past days pitched forward. Zorro rolled out of the saddle with his sword drawn. When he saw the lancers bear down on him, he sheathed it quickly, so he could use both hands to dodge the first lance, and grab the second. The rider landed heavily in the dust, where he lay groaning. Using the appropriated lance, he knocked the other man off of his horse, and then dropping the lance, vaulted onto the animal. In the saddle again, he galloped toward the traders who were still trying to destroy the house. This time they scattered, mounted their horses, and fled. Zorro rode up to a trader slowly getting up from the dust. “Here is the money that was paid for the girl. Now go!” The trader picked up the money pouch that had been tossed at his feet, mounted and then rode away. Astonished at his good fortune in routing all of his adversaries, he felt that if he left now, the brunt of the retribution would fall on him. He turned the soldier’s horse to the east and continued swiftly down the trail.
Kang Zhu frowned, his dark eyes troubled.
This report was disturbing.
The ‘Opium Bandit’ had flouted local custom.
He had routed and beaten government officials, and stolen an
Imperial horse. As long as
the bandit had kept his activities to stealing breakfast and destroying
opium, Kang Zhu didn’t mind, but now he would have to act upon this
turned to the Captain of his Imperial Guard.
The man was stockily built, a bit taller than the norm, but he
could not be accused of being fat.
Heavily muscled, the Captain was a master of the martial arts.
“I want you to get your best men, those trained in wushu, as
well as the regular soldiers. This
bandit seems to have routed several soldiers and a contingent of
traders. The one thing I
want to impress upon you is that I want the man taken alive.
And I will unmask him, not you or your men,” he commanded.
“Do you understand?”
Captain understood. He
bowed deeply and left.
woke screaming about mid-morning of the sixth day since he had fled
Canton. His dream had been
the same, but the victim on the pallet had been his own father. Sucking in a ragged breath, Zorro jerked off the bandanna and
mask and found them to be soaked in sweat.
He noticed his hands trembling as he rinsed the cloth in a nearby
stream. He wiped his face
and neck with it, and rinsing it again, he wrung it out and then put it
back on. The mask
back on his heels, Zorro surveyed the hills ahead of him.
In the mid-morning sun, they appeared startlingly green.
In the distance he watched harvesters picking tealeaves.
If he remembered Bowman’s map correctly, beyond the hills was
the sea. Shaking his head,
he realized that he had been tilting at windmills.
It was not that he hadn’t kept his ultimate goal of escape in
the back of his mind. However,
he had not kept his focus entirely on getting home.
Now the inner fire that he had felt the last few days had burned
itself out. He still felt
the same way about the opium, but it was simply that he knew he was
fighting a losing battle and he felt he was in danger of never getting
home due to his involvement in local politics.
He felt groggy and drained of all ambition, except for one, to
get back to California. The
last confrontation had shaken him, and he had slept badly the night
before, even before the nightmare that woke him.
The only way to avoid another night like this one is to avoid
any more confrontations, he thought.
that new resolve in his mind, Zorro finished the last of the provisions
and took a long drink from the stream. Suddenly his horse snorted,
alerting him to possible danger. In
an instant he had drawn his sword, swung around and found himself facing
three soldiers who also had their swords drawn.
By the Saints, how did they get so close without me hearing
them? Indeed it is time to
end my sojourn as a bandit in the faraway place, he thought,
berating himself over his inattentiveness.
Assuming a defensive stance, the outlaw noticed another man
nearby, one simply dressed in white cotton trousers, a loose flowing
shirt with a band around his middle.
A large stave was in his right hand.
He stood statue still on a top of a large rock, watching
intently. The spectator
seemed to have no other weapons, but somehow Zorro felt that he was
dangerous and he would have to keep an eye on him, too.
of the soldiers closed for an attack.
These Chinese swordsmen used a two handed method of fighting,
instead of the one handed fencing that he was accustomed to. It gave them more strength in the blow, but he believed that
he had more agility. He
parried the man’s blow lightly, backing a step to take most of the
force out of his opponent’s swing.
He didn’t want the other’s sword to make direct contact,
fearing it would probably snap his thinner blade.
Zorro ducked from under the soldier’s next thrust and used his
foot to shove him down. The
next two men came towards him simultaneously, and he advanced on one
before the man knew what had happened, scoring a deep cut on his arm.
His assailant dropped his sword and stumbled away to take care of
his wound. The third man
saw that he would have to be more aggressive; he came on with a yell,
brandishing his long saber-like sword directly in front of him.
laughed, ducked out of the man’s way and used the flat of his blade
across the man’s posterior. The
soldier screamed in rage and came at him again, this time with the sword
held lower. This time when
he ducked, Zorro swung his left fist and let the man use his own
momentum to give added force to his punch.
The soldier dropped like a stone.
The outlaw turned his attention to the man on the rock, and found
that he wasn’t there anymore.
the horse, Zorro swung onto its back.
He had no intention of waiting around and seeing what surprises
the fourth man had in store for him.
As he was spurring the horse into a gallop, he saw the man step
out from behind the boulder, already in mid swing with a long pole. The weapon struck the horse across the chest, causing it to
stumble and fall. Zorro
leaped from the stricken animal’s back, slashing at his assailant with
his sword at the same time. The
man was extremely agile and so the outlaw’s blow was only glancing,
simply making a tear in his opponent’s sleeve.
Quickly glancing around, Zorro saw the soldier’s horse only a
few paces away. Without
slackening his speed, he used an old vaquero’s trick and started the horse in a gallop before getting
into the saddle. He ran
several steps with the animal and then sprang onto the horse’s back,
but he was shocked as he looked back down the trail to see that his
opponent had almost caught up with him before he got on the horse.
wasn’t sure what kind of a soldier this man was, but he knew that it
would be much harder to escape from him the next time they met.
But there will not be a next time, Zorro thought, mentally
laughing. I will be on
the ocean, riding eastward, going home. For some uncanny reason, the outlaw also had the distinct
impression that the man had been sizing up his fighting abilities when
he was standing on the rock watching.
Feeling the rhythm of the horse beneath him, hearing the steady,
non-labored breathing of the animal, Zorro realized that he had stolen a
very good horse. The other
one had been sturdy, but a bit small for his taste whereas this horse
was very responsive and quick. He
set his path on a more southeasterly course in order to get to the ocean
hours later, Zorro realized this animal had a great deal of stamina,
much like Tornado’s. It
had run at an easy cantor the entire time after fleeing his attackers
and the horse didn’t even appear to be the slightest bit winded.
Stopping near a stream, Zorro drank and then rested, letting the
horse do the same. As a
precaution, he didn’t take the gelding’s saddle off, and he kept his
sword by his side, but he did let himself relax a bit in the shade of a
tree, the horse’s reins wrapped around his wrist. After about an hour,
Zorro took another drink from the stream, remounted and continued down
sun continued making its journey toward the western hills and his
stomach growled, reminding Zorro that the only thing he had eaten today
was the tiny bit of rice that had been left of his provisions this
morning. Several times he
had come across streams and had drunk his fill, but as the hot late
afternoon sun beat down on him, Zorro realized that he needed to find
something to eat. He had avoided caravans and farms, detouring away from the
road when he saw either. He
felt that such strategy delayed his journey, but he had avoided any
stomach growled again as he came over a rise on a trail that paralleled
the main road to the southeast.
Pulling the horse to a stop, Zorro perused the territory ahead.
It was quiet, although not empty.
The smoke of numerous little homes rose to the sky, indicating
that the inhabitants were having their supper.
Forget about your stomach.
Surely the ocean is nearby!
Food enough then. He rode on,
not bothering to hide from the farmers and laborers that were still
traveling to their homes. Some
made exclamations of fear, but many just gazed at him quickly and then
continued on their way. Zorro
journeyed onward, returning to the main road as the sky darkened,
checking each rise, hoping to see evidence of the ocean in the distance.
A slight breeze seemed to hint of salt and fish, but he thought
it might be his imagination playing tricks on him.
Finally, just before it became too dark to safely see the road,
the bandit saw a thicket where he could sleep without being disturbed.
Zorro hobbled his horse and smoothed a piece of ground, and then
he rolled up in his cape, ignoring the protests of his empty stomach.
Tomorrow he would reach the ocean, and then the beginning of his
in his bedroom one night, Alejandro picked up the worn piece of paper
that sat on his bedside stand and read it again, even though the words
were burned in his heart. ‘My
Father, I will come home. By
whatever means possible, I will return.
Do not give up hope.’
it is so hard, Diego, so very hard,” he murmured. It became harder and harder to go to Diego’s room, to pass
through it and into the secret room.
The last time he had gone down the secret passage from his own
room and then back up the stairs to the secret room where all the
accoutrements of Zorro were stored.
All of this so he could avoid going through Diego’s room.
He wondered when it would be too hard to even do that. There was so much of Diego in that secret little room.
At times when he put on the black clothes, he turned quickly,
feeling the presence of his son, knowing that Diego was not there, but
having to look anyway. He
sighed. How long
would it be? How long
could he keep this up? Alejandro
looked at the letter again. He
read the emotion of Diego’s words, his son’s fierce determination,
and the old don felt overwhelming love for his son well up in his
chest. Alejandro realized
that he would continue for as long as necessary.