Pacific Odyssey:

Book II: China

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

The Palace

 

 

The Chinese soldiers trotted along steadily, but by the time they had reached their destination, it was well past dark.  When they arrived, the doctor was waiting and followed the procession to the room that was being used as a holding cell, prepared for the eventual capture of the ‘Opium Bandit.’  Carefully, the soldiers laid the litter down on one side of the room and stepped back.  The physician sat near the makeshift bed and gazed thoughtfully at his patient.  He began his examination in the way he had been taught, by the methods developed over a millennia ago.  He noted the job that the captain had done on the arm and also noted the look of pain that occasionally crossed the features of the bandit.  As was customary, he examined the man’s tongue, and then he took a few seconds to peruse the slight amount of blood that had dried on one side of the bandit’s head.  He watched his chest rise and fall, leaning close to hear the bandit’s breaths traveling in and out of his lungs.  He was unable at the present time to question the European on his injuries, so he asked the captain what had happened.  After he had learned all he could, he took the bandit’s pulse in several places, careful not to move the immobilized arm.  After sitting back and pondering for a few minutes, the physician untied the sash and gently examined the injured arm, then he carefully removed the man’s black shirt. 

“Have you been able to determine what is wrong, Zhaou Haifang?” the captain asked.  

“Definitely his qi, his vital energy, is out of balance,” the physician answered without turning to the Imperial Captain of the Guards.  “Help me sit him up against the wall so I can examine his shoulder more easily.”   He continued to examine the bandit, manipulating the shoulder to determine the extent of the injury.  With a cry of pain the foreigner’s eyes flew open and he drew in a ragged breath.  He grabbed the doctor’s arm in a steel hard grip and stared coldly at him.  Trying to reassure the European, Zhaou Haifang said softly, his voice calm, “I am a physician.  I am here to help you.”   The bandit said nothing, but his gaze became more thoughtful and less filled with hate.  The doctor felt the fingers loosen their grip slightly.

“He has a dislocated shoulder,” Zhaou Haifang told the captain, at the same time hoping his newly awakened patient could understand what he was saying.  “I can take care of that now, then we will deal with whatever other injuries he has.”

Intense pain radiated up and down his arm, and Zorro fought to maintain consciousness.  He understood that the man poking and prodding at his shoulder was a doctor and he finally released the man’s arm.  The masked man concentrated on remaining still, though it was becoming increasingly difficult to do so.  His head throbbed, keeping time with the beating of his heart.  He gazed around the room.  It was a carcel.  The leader of the warriors stood nearby, his eyes hard, watching him.  Anger rose in Zorro’s heart.  He wanted to strike out, injure the man who had put him here, caused the hurt.  The doctor moved his arm slightly and another stabbing of pain shot across his chest.  Zorro’s attention returned to the physician.  He wanted to shove the man away, get rid of the throbbing that beat like a drum through his body.  Leave me alone! one part of this mind called out. The doctor is trying to help you, another part of his mind was saying.  Yes, both parts of his mind agreed.  Yes, he is helping me.  Let him help, then I can escape.  Zorro paid closer attention to what the physician was doing.  

“I will try to ease the pain for you,” the physician said, talking soothingly to the bandit.  The man was watching him carefully and Zhaou Haifang had the image of a newly captured hawk, watching, watching, waiting for a time to strike out, or to escape.  “If you hold still, it will not hurt as much.”  The physician still didn’t know how much the man understood, but he felt that some of his words were getting through.  “In a few minutes, I will be able to put your shoulder back in its proper place.”  He continued to explain what he was doing and the bandit continued to observe carefully. 

 Zorro watched the doctor open a box, which contained numerous tiny needles.  As he spoke, the physician began inserting the needles just barely into his skin on various parts of his body, including the injured shoulder.  Despite the physician’s reassurances, Zorro waited for the tiny objects to start hurting, but amazingly they didn’t.  In fact, the outlaw was astonished to find the pain in his left shoulder was subsiding somewhat.  

The doctor left the little needles in Zorro’s skin and then suddenly manipulated his injured arm a certain way.  Sharp, excruciating pain radiated down his arm and back and Zorro jerked and cried out in agony.  At almost the same time, though, he could feel the joint in his shoulder pop back in its right place and the pain begin to recede to a dull ache. 

Quickly, the tiny needles were removed and the doctor wrapped up his shoulder to immobilize the injury so that the damaged muscles and tendons could heal properly.  Next he devised a sling, which kept the bandit’s left arm inert.  The physician carefully slid the shirt back on over his right arm, leaving the left sleeve hanging free over his injured shoulder.   It was the best that he could do until he could get clothing for the man that would be more comfortable and better accommodate the sling.

The physician turned his attention to the head injury, having also noticed the same look of anger in the bandit’s eyes that the captain had noticed.  For a few minutes he and the prisoner simply gazed at one another.  “Do you feel better?” he asked.  Warily, Zorro nodded.  Turning to the Captain, Zhaou Haifang said, “I know you and his Highness have received numerous reports on this ‘Opium Bandit.’  Have any of them indicated any kind of excessive violence?”

“No.  Since he has been in our country, he has stolen provisions, destroyed opium and sometimes injured those who have fought against him, but never have the reports mentioned any kind of maliciousness.” 

“It is as I thought then.  The blow you said he suffered caused an imbalance of his vital energies and would be enough to cause him to exhibit behaviors normally kept under control.  I will clean the wound and then I will see if I can reason with him,” he said as he dabbed the blood away with a damp cloth.  Zhaou Haifang looked into the man’s face to see if there was comprehension of what he and the captain were saying to each other, but the bandit’s eyes were expressionless.  He wished he knew more about this foreigner.   He wished he knew just how much Chinese this European knew.  

“The reports say that he knows some Chinese,” the Captain said, as though reading the physician’s mind.  As the doctor cleaned up the wound, he touched the mask in the process.

Zorro jerked out of his reach and stood up as quickly as his injuries allowed, hanging on to the wall to control the wave of dizziness that swept over him.  He backed away from the little group, but realizing that he was in a sort of jail or prison, he wasn’t able to move further than the opposite wall.  One of the guards started to advance towards him, but Zorro reached for a stool and smashed it against the wall, leaving one of the legs to defend himself with.  He brandished it at the guard.  His head throbbed abominably, and he felt slightly unbalanced with the bound shoulder.            

“Understand that I will not stay a prisoner.  Kill me, but do not put me in prison.  No matter what you do, I will escape and return home.  By the Saints, I will return home,” he said, a little Spanish creeping into his declaration.  “Or die in the attempt.”  Yes, perhaps to die.  There is no hope for escape, he thought in despair.           

Ah, he knows the language fairly well, Zhaou Haifang thought.  The physician quickly placed himself between the bandit and the guard, commanding the guard to leave the room and the captain to move away.  He saw something in the man’s eyes behind the anger and hoped he could reason with the European.  Looking straight into the injured man’s eyes, he held out his hand for the bandit’s weapon.  As soon as the guard left, the prisoner wearily leaned up against the wall.  The doctor continued to hold his hand out for the weapon.  “I will not hurt you.  I will stay with you and make sure no one else hurts you either.”  Zhaou Haifang hoped that his sincerity was evident to the exhausted and injured bandit.   Slowly, the European reached over and placed the makeshift club into the doctor’s hand.  With exaggerated moves, Zhaou Haifang threw it in the corner.  

“Just let me go home, por favor,” the man whispered.  “I only wish to go home.”          

“No one here wants to harm you.  You are safe.  Believe me,” the physician said softly.  The look on the bandit’s face told the doctor that he understood and, at least partially believed him.  A servant brought in a tray with food and drink, and set it on a little table.  The physician sat down on the floor on one side of the table and calmly invited the bandit to sit down with him and have something to eat and drink.  The injured man warily sat down across from him.  Looking at the contents of the cup, and then at the doctor, the bandit handed it to him.            

Zhaou Haifang looked at the bandit in astonishment, surprised at how astute the prisoner was, and then explained that he had ordered something put into the drink to calm him down and ease the pain of his injuries.  “It is to help your body restore its vital energies.” 

Angry, the bandit picked up the cup and threw it against the wall.  Mei!  No!” he cried vehemently, “No opium!” 

The physician calmly ordered more tea.  “It did not have opium in it, pengyou, my friend,” Zhaou Haifang said.   “It only had Ghou Ji root, Dipsaci root and Bone Mender root to help your shoulder heal, and suan zao ren powder to help your head.  All of these are only to help calm the fire that your head injury caused to your system, and to restore your vital energies.  And there is nothing in the food other than a few herbs to do the same thing.

Zorro gazed into the physician’s eyes, saw no guile or trickery in them. “No opium?”

“No opium.”

“I believe you,” Zorro finally said.  The doctor handed him the chopsticks.  He was very hungry; it had been a long time since his last meal.   With no further qualms, he began eating.  The meal was delicious, although some of it was hot enough with spice to make a tamale dealer proud, and he soon finished it. 

More tea was brought in and Zorro drank the cup dry.  There began to be a small flickering of hope, the hope that, perhaps he was in the hands of friends.  He looked at the doctor sitting across from him, saw the concern in the man’s eyes, and favored him with a slight smile.  “Thank you,” he said when he was finished with his meal.

“The herbs will also help you sleep.  Sleep will help to restore you to good health,” the doctor explained. 

Zorro nodded, still sensing the sincerity of the physician’s words.  He felt his anger melting, but he still remained cautious.  Even though he felt otherwise, all of this could be a trick, so he had to be on his guard.

The Captain, standing discreetly in the shadows near the door, noticed that the haunted look in the man’s eyes was much less evident, although it was still there.  It seemed to him almost as though there was a battle going on inside the man’s head and reason was slowly beginning to win. The Captain worried what the bandit would do in the presence of His Highness.  If the man tried to attack the emperor’s nephew, he would be forced to kill him, regardless of what His Highness had told him before.

“My friend,” the doctor said when the bandit had finished his meal.  “You must sleep now.  Tomorrow you can talk to his Imperial Highness and tell him your story,” Zhaou Haifang said.  “He is very fair and will listen to you and, perhaps, help you.”  The physician noticed a flickering of hope in the man’s eyes.  Getting up from the table, the injured man wearily lay down on the straw pallet provided for him and got as comfortable as his injuries would allow.  The Captain brought a quilt over and gave it to the bandit. Very soon the man had fallen asleep.

“Sleep will help our ‘Opium Bandit’ to recover better than anything else, I believe.  I will stay with him until His Highness calls for him in the morning,” the physician said to reassure the Captain of the Guard.  “You and your men stay outside of the room.”

During the night, the man thrashed and moaned.  Zhaou Haifang was worried that the bandit might be fevered, but after checking, realized he must only be having incredibly intense nightmares.  I wonder what would cause such intense and powerful dreams? he thought.  Pengyou, wake up,” he said softly, gently shaking the injured man’s good shoulder.  The bandit jerked up with a cry and stared around him.  Only a flickering candle illuminated the room, casting strange shadows on the walls.  “Please, my friend.  It is all right,” the physician reassured his patient.  “You are safe.”

Panting, the bandit came to full wakefulness.  “I am in prison.”

“No, this is just the room that you were brought to after you had been captured.”

“But I am a prisoner,” the bandit said, tonelessly. 

“That remains to be seen after you have met with His Highness,” Zhaou Haifang said with a slight smile.  “I think that the prince has been favorably disposed to you, based on what little I have been able to observe.”

“Then why was I ambushed?  Why was I attacked?”

“I have not been privy to all of His Highness’ decisions, but I heard it was because you attacked a group of traders who were buying a concubine for a minor official.  And I believe that someone said you had stolen an Imperial horse,” the physician said.   He watched the bandit carefully.  He saw the injured man wince in pain.  “Please wait here quietly.  I am going to order more tea for you.”  The bandit said nothing.  After Zhaou Haifang had spoken to someone outside the room, he returned to his patient and sat down near him.  The man had not moved.  He reclined against the wall, with his head resting against the cool stones.   The ‘Opium Bandit’ was an enigma to the physician, one that belied the fact that he was a European.  Zhaou Haifang had met a few foreigners, but none had intrigued him like this man did. 

“What was the substance of your dreams?” the physician asked. 

“Why do you ask?”  The bandit’s tone was guarded.

“I am a doctor.  The working of the mind and the workings of the body intertwine to influence the vital energies of the whole person.  Sometimes when qi, or vital energy is imbalanced, it influences dreams.  Sometimes knowing the dreams helps me to know what to do to restore balance,” Zhaou Haifang said. 

“I do not understand,” the bandit said, now gazing at the physician in interest.  

“It is my understanding that most Europeans do not comprehend Chinese medicine.  I will try to explain it to you.  That is, if you would like me to.”  

“I cannot sleep anyway.”  The injured man smiled wanly. 

“The various functions of a person’s body are centered in different parts of the body.  One function is situated in the heart or mind, which is manifested in the consciousness and intelligence, another in the lungs which regulates various functions of the body, the third in the liver and the limbs and trunk, which controls the mechanism for emotions and the action of the organs, the fourth in the spleen, which regulates the distribution of nutrition in one’s body, as well as regulating one’s metabolism, and the last is in the kidneys, which regulates the storage of nutrition and use of energy.”  The physician had pointed to each body part as he explained.   “When all are working together, the qi is in balance and the person is healthy.  When something happens, and it could even be changes in the weather or excesses of emotions, that affects one of the functions to the extreme, the vital energies are imbalanced and the person experiences ill health.  You had a blow to the head as well as the injured shoulder, but I think there is something else that has unbalanced your qi.  

The bandit was listening carefully, but he still looked puzzled.  “So there are many things that can cause this imbalance, which in turn causes illness.”  

“Yes, that is a very simple way of putting it,” Zhaou Hiafang said.  “Although there is much more to it.”  He paused.  “Are you understanding me all right?”

“Yes, I think so.  There are some words that I do not recognize, but I think I know what you are saying,” the bandit said, then he, too, paused for a few minutes.  Finally he said, in answer to the doctor’s initial question, “I was dreaming of a man, an opium addict, laying near death on a dirty pallet.  I have dreamed of it often since I helped a woman whose husband was dying.  I helped her bury him.”

“That is a hard dream.  And those are hard things to experience.”

“In my dreams it is not just that man on the pallet, but others, people that I care about,” the bandit said, his voice low. 

“Who was the man on the pallet tonight?” Zhaou Haifang asked, thinking that he knew what the bandit was going to say.

“Me.” 

Zhaou Haifang nodded.  A soft tap at the door interrupted the conversation and the physician went to get the tea he had ordered.  Soon they were sitting quietly, sipping the pungent flavored tea.  

“What is in it this time?” the ‘Opium Bandit’ asked, a slight smile on his lips.

“Eucommia bark and a few other things to help you sleep dreamlessly,” the doctor told him. 

“Good.  I would like to sleep without dreams.” 

They sat quietly and drank the tea.   “What is it like where you come from?” the physician finally asked. 

“It is beautiful,” the bandit said wistfully.  “The sun shines warm on the back, the horses grow large and fast, the hills alternate between gold and the green of old copper.  Sometimes the fog rolls in from the ocean and makes it seem almost like a fairy tale.  During different times of the year, one can become almost drunk from the smell of juniper and pine.  And the wine, like the sun itself; the flavor….”  Here the bandit smiled and made a motion to show something exploding.  “….on the tongue.”

Zhaou Haifang understood the other thing that had imbalanced this man’s vital energies.  He was homesick.  “Why did you leave your country?”

“I was taken by force.  I had no choice.”

“That, too, is hard.”  The physician poured more tea for the bandit.  “I am very curious.”

“About what?” the bandit asked somewhat hesitantly. 

“Why do you wear a mask?” 

The bandit smiled.  “To hide my face.”

Zhaou Haifang chuckled.  “Yes, that is logical, but to me and most Hangyu all Europeans look alike.”

“Not where I come from,” the bandit responded. 

Zhaou Haifang was astonished.  “You do this in your own country?” he asked before he thought. 

“I think I have said enough,” the injured man said, laying down the teacup and leaning back against the wall. 

“I am sorry.  It was impolite to pry like that,” the doctor said, not wishing to antagonize his patient. 

“There is no offense.  I am just tired.”

“Yes, sleep will be good for you,” Zhaou Haifang said.  

“There is one thing that puzzles me,” the bandit said as he lay back down. 

“What is that?”  

“What happened after the man knocked me off my horse?  I do not remember much,” the bandit asked sleepily. 

“I was not there,” Zhaou Haifang said softly, seeing the bandit already dozing off.  The physician gently pulled the quilt over his patient and made himself comfortable on another pallet nearby. 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen
Chapter One
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