Pacific Odyssey:

Book II: China

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen  

The Court of Qing Kang Zhu

 

 

The next morning, after Qing Kang Zhu had arisen, dressed and had his morning meal, he was told that the Captain of the Imperial Guard was waiting to see him.  When the Captain came in and kowtowed, Kang Zhu noticed that he was limping slightly.  “What happened to you?” he asked.   

“It was the bandit,” his captain explained, in chagrin. “I made a mistake and underestimated him again.”

“Then you have brought him here?”  Kang Zhu asked hopefully.

“Yes, Your Highness,” he said. “It was very late last night and he had been injured, so we had the physician attend to him.”

“I thought I told you that he was not to be injured,” Kang Zhu pointed out irritably.  “How great are his injuries?”

“Highness, the injuries were unavoidable, but not serious as far as the physician is able to determine.  He had a dislocated shoulder, which has been set, and a head injury, which seems to be better,” the Captain explained.  “But, your Highness, I am really worried about the state of the prisoner’s mind and the wisdom of bringing him into your presence.”

“Explain yourself,” the Imperial Relative ordered.

“After we had unhorsed him, he went berserk. It took all of us to effect his capture.  If he had not lost consciousness, we would still be trying to get here, I imagine.  He is an excellent warrior, for a foreigner,” the Captain said wryly.   “The physician seems to think the head injury may have had something to do with his behavior and that it will pass eventually.”

“And what does the physician say about his state of mind now?”

“I have not talked with Zhaou Haifang this morning, but he stayed with the bandit all night.  He did seem to be more reasonable when I left him last night, but anger was still in evidence, and I worry for your safety, Your Highness,” the Captain said in concern.  “I do not think it will take much to cause him to explode.”

The royal nephew remembered the self-assured and confident man he had met in California, and he wondered if Zorro’s privations had caused permanent harm.  It matters not.  As Zorro reassured me in my time of need, so too, will I do the same for the man who saved me, Kang Zhu determined.  “Have the bandit brought into the main audience chamber and have the physician present,” Kang Zhu ordered. 

The Captain bowed and left.  This time he thought that the Imperial Nephew wasn’t being very wise.  He went down to the prison area where the bandit was being held.  The physician, true to his word, was with the man, who was still asleep.  When he told the doctor of the summons, the physician went over to the bandit and gently shook him awake.  Jerking into wakefulness, the prisoner immediately began searching for the sword that wasn’t there. The Captain frowned.

He walked up to the bandit, who stood up and looked at him guardedly.  “You have to understand something, Yingyu,” the captain said, slowly, because he wanted the man to understand his message. “You are going to see Qing Kang Zhu, my prince, who is a nephew of the Emperor.  If you try to hurt him, I will kill you.”   He paused a moment to let the message sink in.  “Do you understand me?” he asked.  The bandit appeared to be pondering and then he nodded.  “Come.”  The captain turned to leave the room. 

“I am not English,” the bandit corrected him.  “I am Californiano.  Spanish.” The Captain turned back and considered the man’s revelation.  He seemed to remember His Highness mentioning something once about a place called California, but he couldn’t remember what it was.  The man continued, “I will not hurt your prince, because the doctor said His Highness would try to help me,” he said, pointing to the physician. 

The physician was elated at the bandit’s last words, which told him that his vital energies were restoring themselves to proper balance.  “How do you feel?” he asked him pointing to his patient’s head.

The bandit frowned.  “My head hurts a little and I feel as though I am fighting against something.  It is strange….”   He turned to the doctor and smiled.  “I feel as though my qi is unbalanced, but not as much as last night….”  His voice trailed off again and then he looked puzzled.  “Last night, I do not think I was winning this fight in my head.  But I remember only a few things.  I do remember feeling much anger.  What did I do?  Did I hurt anyone?” he asked, concern coloring his voice. 

The Captain of the Imperial Guard felt the bandit’s sincerity.  The man seemed very vulnerable this morning, nothing at all like the raging demon that they had captured the day before.  He explained a little of what happened the night before, making sure to point out the injury that had precipitated it, as the bandit seemed to be increasingly embarrassed. 

The physician assumed the man was feeling uncomfortable at his loss of self-control and felt that, too, was a good sign of his recovery. “I am ashamed I did not ask this of you last night.  What is your name, pengyou?” Zhaou Haifang asked gently.

“I am called Zorro,” came the cautious answer.

The Captain was startled.  Somehow that name was one he thought he had heard before, too; he wished he could remember where. “His Highness has summoned you, we must go now.”

Zorro did not move.  “Is there a possibility that I could clean up a little first?  I am seeing the Emperor’s nephew after all and I would like to shave and wash my face before I see him.”

“He seemed eager to see you right away,” the captain said.   

Zorro frowned, clearly irritated.  “The King of Spain allowed me to make myself presentable,” he snapped. 

The captain and the royal physician gazed at each other and then ogled at the injured man.

With great effort, Zorro squelched his irritation and sighed.  “Very well, if we must go now.”

“Wait,” Zhaou Haifang said.  “I do not see that twenty minutes would be too much to ask.”  The captain gazed at both men and then sent a soldier to inform the prince of the delay. 

Zorro nodded his thanks and asked for shaving accessories and soap.  With the physician’s help the injured man quickly finished shaving and washing his face and hands.  The cape and gloves were put back on and the trio turned to leave the room.            

“Captain,” the bandit said seriously, before they walked through the door, “I am still fighting a little war, I think,” he pointed to his head.  “If I do something to hurt anyone, then you must do your... duty.”   The Captain was struck by Zorro’s earnestness and dignity, and sincerely hoped that the royal nephew could help this man.

               

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Qing Kang Zhu sat quietly in the large audience chamber impatiently awaiting the arrival of the ‘Opium Bandit.’  It was all he could do to keep from pacing.  Advisors and their servants stood along the walls of the chambers, several visitors from the Emperor’s court sat near the front of the room.  His bride sat in an ornate seat a little bit lower than his; her maid crouched on the floor next to her. Liu Mei Ling could feel her husband’s eagerness and shared it.  This European had almost obsessed him for the past six days and she was eager to understand why.  Her husband had hinted of things that had to do with his kidnapping, but when she had asked, he was strangely reticent to say anything.  A servant announced the arrival of the ‘Opium Bandit’ and she turned her gaze toward the door. 

When the man was brought in, he didn’t have on the entire costume Kang Zhu remembered, mainly lacking the hat, and he was a little disheveled and looked thinner.  However, he knew that before him stood Zorro, the man who had saved him in California.  He saw the same dignity and bearing that had been in evidence when he had seen him before, but he also saw some of the same emotions that he himself had felt when he was taken to a strange land with no way to get home, totally alone and helpless.

One of the guards walked in front of Zorro and was attempting to force him to kowtow.  The Californiano’s eyes flared with sudden anger and with his good hand he reached out to grab the guard’s hand.  “Stop,” Kang Zhu commanded.  Everyone stood quietly and waited for the prince’s next command. To their surprise, he rose up from his seat, and approaching the outlaw, motioned the guard out of the way.   He thought he saw the man’s eyes widen in surprise. Good, thought Kang Zhu. He may be remembering as I have remembered.  Evidently, the man had recovered quite a bit during the night, because, except for the short burst of anger, there was nothing except confusion and hope in the man’s countenance.

Kang Zhu stopped a few feet away from Zorro, gazed into his eyes and heard him gasp in recognition.  His heart leaped with happiness to see recognition for him in his liberator’s face. Then said the only three words of Spanish he remembered.  Señor Zorro, amigo.”

Zorro smiled wanly at him and then he did something that astonished everyone except the prince.  He bowed as best as he could with his injured shoulder and then said quietly, “Your Highness, we meet again.”

Gently turning his friend around to face those in the chamber, Kang Zhu addressed the group in general.  “You see before you, Zorro, the man who saved my life and honor in California and made it possible for me to return home to my family and friends.  You will afford him the respect due one of Imperial favor.”  Those watching bowed and murmured their approval of the prince’s words.  Kang Zhu turned to Zorro, who appeared almost weak with relief. “My friend, I plan on doing the same for you.  You will soon be on your way home to your family.”

Zorro felt as though he had finally won a very long, desperate and bloody battle.   He felt an overwhelming sense of relief and joy. What he had been trying to do, seemly for an eternity, the prince was going to accomplish with the snap of his fingers. His mind felt numb, his body felt drained.   He knew the prince and the doctor were both saying something to him, but it didn’t register.   I am going home!  Finally, I will see my homeland again!  The pendulum had finally swung the other way.  Looking at Kang Zhu, he bowed again.  “Thank you so much, your Highness,” he said. “I am forever grateful.”

Kang Zhu chuckled.  He had been talking with Zhaou Haifang about sleeping quarters more suitable for his honored guest, but he knew Zorro hadn’t heard that part of the conversation.   Señor Zorro, I wish you could stay here and visit for a long while, but you need to get home to your father who no doubt is worried about you.  It will probably take a week to find a ship going eastward that will be safe for you to board.  Would that be suitable for you?”

“That is most suitable, Your Highness.”

 Kang Zhu motioned for a servant to attend to his honored guest. Zhaou Haifang walked with Zorro as he was led to a guestroom in the same wing of the palace as the prince’s living quarters.  The room was furnished in a style fitting for Chinese royalty, but with a European bed.  Zorro presumed that Prince Kang Zhu did entertain European visitors on occasion.   It looked very inviting.

The physician had noticed the bandit’s faltering steps.  He made Zorro sit down on the bed.  “How do you feel?” he asked in concern. 

“Very happy to be able to go back home,” the outlaw answered in a low voice.  Despite his happiness, his head was throbbing again, almost to the point of nausea, and his body felt as though it had no strength left in it.

“No, not that,” the doctor said.  He pointed to Zorro’s head and shoulder.  “How do you feel physically?” he asked.

“My head hurts, but there is no more anger,” he said.  “My shoulder is fine.  There is little pain there.  I am just very tired.”

“I have an herb that will help with the pain and it will help build your strength back up,” he said and ordered a servant to bring in some tea.  “You rest now.  I will be back soon with your medicine.”

Zorro relaxed on the bed, but, strangely, wasn’t able to sleep. He thought about the happy reunion with his father, and then he remembered what the prince had mentioned earlier about needing to be home with his father.  The realization of what Kang Zhu had said made him momentarily forget his pain.  He knows, Zorro thought. But how? 

About that time the doctor came in, carrying a tray with a cup, a pot of tea and a small container with dried herbs of some kind.  “You must drink this and then lie still to let it work,” the doctor admonished him. He mixed the herbs in the tea.            

“Must talk to His Highness,” Zorro said, unable to keep his eyes open.            

“Drink this and I will let His Highness know of your desire,” he said.  He watched the bandit drink all of the tea, and then the physician made sure his patient was comfortable.           

“Please tell him... need to talk to him,” Zorro mumbled. “Important.”  He started to drift off into a light sleep.

“Yes, I will,” the doctor promised.  He quietly left the room, and went to report to Kang Zhu that Zorro was settled in a guestroom.  He also conveyed the man’s request to see His Highness.  “But right now, I believe that he is sleeping.    I gave him a combination of herbs to ease his headache, it will also help him to sleep.” 

Kang Zhu nodded.  “That is good.  Now we only have the problem of keeping Señor Zorro out of the hands of the British.  I have already been in contact with the Portuguese Trade Envoy.  Discreetly, of course, as the British are very upset with our friend,” confided with a smile  “They had been harboring our ‘bandit’ for almost a day before the British were enlightened of the fact.  For some reason, the British have no idea who the ‘Opium Bandit’ really is, but they are aware that he was last seen in our province.  I expect them to send a representative to demand that our bandit be released to them.”

“What will you tell them, when they come, my Prince?  Handing him over is out of the question,” Zhaou Haifang said. 

“We will tell them the man has already been executed for stealing Imperial property and his body thrown into the sea, as is Imperial custom,” he chuckled at the thought of the foreigners’ discomfiture.  “We will give them Zorro’s cape as proof.”            

“That is very wise, your Highness,” the doctor agreed. “Then Zorro can be smuggled out of the country.”           

“No, Zhaou Haifang, he will ride into Guangzhou without undue notice, but there will be nothing unduly secretive about his entrance,” Kang Zhu explained simply.  “Because he will not ride in as Zorro or the ‘Opium Bandit,’ but as an ordinary Portuguese citizen/merchant.  I am trusting you to accompany him and make sure he safely sails out of the city on a Portuguese ship.”            

“But, Highness, he seems very secretive about his identity. Yesterday, he didn’t even want me to touch the mask,” the physician protested.  “And there is always the possibility that someone from the same ship as the Opium Bandit will recognize him.”            

“Yesterday he was ill,” Kang Zhu retorted.  “He knows he can’t just go on a ship in that guise.”  The Royal Nephew turned and gazed meaningfully at the doctor.    “His secret will be safe with us, Zhaou Haifang, because I owe him my life.  And besides, I already know who he is.  If I told you the name, it would mean nothing to you.  But it too, is the name of a person who helped to save my life.  So you see I am helping two people, who actually turn out to be one.”  He paused and looked toward the door of the guest room.   “As to recognizing him, I will talk to our bandit about a way to fool his fellow Europeans.  I am going to see how Señor Zorro is doing now.”

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen
Chapter One
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