Book II- China
Have to get air. Why can’t I get air?
Diego thought as he struggled against the thick morass of his
unconsciousness. The sun
was well above the horizon now, but it didn’t seem to help him feel
any warmer. Weakly he
coughed and spat out enough seawater to draw in small breaths.
He realized that he had slid down to the bottom of the boat.
Then he noticed that the boat had more water at the bottom than
when he had righted it. Diego tried to splash some of it out, but his
numb and stiff hands mocked his desires. It was just too much effort.
So abominably tired. Madre
de Dios just let me die. Oh,
Father, Zorro wasn’t able to save the day this time, he thought
thoughts turned to the rolling hills and azure blue skies of his
homeland. He felt Tornado
beneath him, the powerful muscles surging, propelling him forward, the
wind whistling beneath his hat, stinging his eyes.
He felt the laughter of the warm wind caressing his body; he saw
the dust puffing under the stallion’s hooves.
a bump brought him out of his reverie, as though the boat had hit
something, and Diego heard voices, saying things that he wasn’t able
to understand. He vaguely
felt something nudge him; a pole or stick, he couldn’t tell.
He pawed for it weakly with one hand, but couldn’t get a grip
on it. The effort was
too much and he let his hand fall back into the water.
His awareness went beyond the here and now, beyond his beloved
homeland, sinking into the depths of the cold, dark sea….
Wang Leiching watched the wind billow his lateen sails as his ship headed slowly for Canton from the island harbor in which he had taken refuge during the previous night’s storm. If I were a writer of poems, I would create one that described this beauty after such a storm as we had last night, he thought. His wife’s shouting brought him out of his reverie and he turned to see what she wanted.
“Husband, there is something in the water,” Cho Xian informed him. He looked in the direction she was pointing and, as his junk approached the object, he realized with astonishment that it was a small boat. And inside there was a man. A foreigner. The craft was half filled with water. How in the world anyone could have survived out in a storm like the one that had swept through in the night, he couldn’t guess. The man’s ancestors must have been working very hard to keep him alive. Is he even alive? Leiching thought. When the little boat bumped against the side of the junk, the man stirred a little. He was alive, but he had the look of near-death about him. Leiching turned and quickly pulled the docking hook from where it was tied to the wall of the cabin.
Xian also noticed that the
man was a foreigner, a very tall one at that.
“Leave him,” she said caustically.
“I do not want a foreigner on our ship.
They are uncouth, barbarous and cruel.
Let him drown.” Her
husband was trying to get the stranger to grab onto the docking hook,
but even though the foreign devil tried to, he was simply too weak.
To her exasperation, Leiching dropped the pole and climbed down
the side of the junk and into the battered little craft.
Carefully, trying to keep the foundering boat steady, Leiching
bent down and pulled the foreigner out of the water.
With a sigh, Xian stayed close to the railing, knowing that her
husband would need help hauling one so big up on deck. With a rope that was attached to the little boat,
Leiching reached up and tied the craft to their own junk, keeping it
from drifting away.
“Summon Eldest Son and
Second Son. I have need of them,” Leiching called up to his wife.
With another sigh, Xian
did as she was told. The
two boys were soon at her side. “Get
a rope,” she ordered. Second
Son quickly complied and Leiching tied it around the man’s chest.
As the boys began pulling the foreigner’s unconscious body on
board the junk, Leiching scrambled up and helped them.
Soon the limp form was on the deck and Xian checked to see if he
was breathing. He
wasn’t. “Ah, husband,
the foreigner has died. Toss
it back into the ocean.” She
peered at the half submerged boat bumping alongside.
“But you might get something from the little boat.”
Without saying anything, Leiching jerked the man up by his arms and threw him onto the rail. The force on the foreigner’s diaphragm caused much of the water in his lungs to be expelled. Leiching gently lowered the European to the deck as the man started coughing weakly and then with more force. A series of racking coughs finished the job that Leiching had started and the European sat wheezing hoarsely, trying to get air into his oxygen deprived lungs. Finally, opening eyes that were sore from hours of salt water, the stranger tried to push himself up from the deck, and with Leiching’s help, was finally able to sit up against the rail. Resigned to her fate, Xian hobbled down into the little kitchen and prepared some tea.
Leiching thought it curious that the man was dressed all in black. He had never heard of a foreigner who did so, even to having a long black cape. This is a strange one, probably with an equally strange tale to tell. The man was looking wearily at him, and trying to rub his eyes to clear them of saltwater residue. He tried to talk, but his throat was too sore, so he pointed to himself and managed to whisper ‘Diego.’ Leiching pointed to himself and told the foreigner his own name.
Diego knew this man had
saved his life. His sore
stomach and ribs attested to the fact, along with his presence on board
this ship. He was grateful, but wasn’t able to speak in order to tell
the man, so he did the only other thing that he could think of that
might let Wang Leiching know he was appreciative; he bowed his head to
show his respect for his rescuer. Even
that action was painful. Leiching bowed slightly to him in
acknowledgment. A woman
came from inside the ship with a cup of some kind of steaming drink, and
held it to his lips. “Cha,”
she said simply. Diego
didn’t know if she was telling him to drink it or if that was the name
of the drink, but he really didn’t care.
Even though he was out of the water, he was still cold and the
steamy warmth of the drink felt good against his face.
With gratitude, he drank it down and sighed as the gentle warmth
slid down his throat. Diego
inclined his head and whispered, “Gracias, señora.”
Leiching pointed to the woman and said, “Cho Xian.”
He nodded his acknowledgement, and then tried to get up, but was
not able to even get to his knees.
Diego realized that he couldn’t even feel his legs, much less
Leiching grasped one of his arms, while a teen-age boy grasped the other to help him up, but Diego’s legs were unable to support his weight and he collapsed back onto the deck. Two other boys were scrutinizing him, much like they might a strange specimen pulled from the sea. Ai, but I suppose that I am, he thought. Diego could only look apologetically at them for the trouble he was causing. He felt so tired. Wearily he closed his eyes and leaned his head against the railing of the junk. Remotely, he was amazed at how something as innocuous as water could cause so much damage to his body. He let darkness cover his thoughts once more.
“Eldest Son, Second Son,” Leiching said to them. “Help me get this stranger into the sleeping room. He is alive, but barely. Xian, get quilts ready to cover him. He feels as cold as the northern winds. He will also need more warm tea to drink,” he ordered. This Diego would need to rest to regain his strength. Everyone scrambled to help the foreigner. Used to hauling great sharks on board, the three of them easily carried the man to their living quarters.
Xian shuffled ahead of them, holding the door covering aside. “This is, indeed, a very large fish you have landed, Husband,” she quipped, resigned to the fact that her husband was determined to save this foreigner.
“Yes, Xian, a fish with
a great determination to live,” Leiching answered thoughtfully,
wondering from what ship he had been washed.
They laid him on a pallet not far from the cooking area, but Xian had noticed while they were helping him that the man had begun to shiver as though he was freezing. She knew he had been in the water for some time, and even though the ocean temperatures were warm here, it was not as warm as the human body. Leiching was right, he was too cold and the foreigner was now shaking uncontrollably. He moaned softly, hoarsely, making sounds that told her that he was also in pain. She grabbed one of the quilts that her eldest daughter had gathered, and with the girl’s help, pulled off the water soaked boots, the black shirt, the sash around his waist, the scabbard and sword, and the leather gloves. Then she and Eldest Daughter wrapped him tightly. Motioning for another quilt, they wrapped him in that as well. For a while, he shook violently and they had to hold onto him to keep the quilts from falling off. Then the shaking began to subside. Confident that the foreigner would now live, Leiching handed the man’s black cape to his wife and went to take care of his shipboard duties with his sons, leaving the foreigner in Xian’s care.
She sent her eldest
daughter to the brazier to make more tea.
“Get a bucket,” she told Second Daughter.
“He will probably need it.
After all the seawater he had undoubtedly swallowed, when the tea
hits his stomach this time, it will most likely protest.”
Xian noticed something that had fallen out of the man’s shirt. She held it up. It was a mask. What, by our ancestors, have we rescued? she thought in horror, staring at the sodden piece of black cloth in her hand. She shoved it inside her outer dress until she could talk to her husband. Right now the foreign devil was half-dead and posed no immediate danger to her family.
Eldest Daughter brought
the stranger some more tea. Xian
lifted his head, and as he came back to partial consciousness, she held
the cup to his lips. They had wrapped him well but he pulled his arms out from
under his covers and reached for the warm drink.
“Cha?” he asked hoarsely.
She nodded, and he took it from her with only slightly trembling
hands. He drank it dry and
then his eyes widened in shock. Xian
grabbed the bucket and held it close to the foreigner.
He heaved until his stomach was relieved of all he had swallowed
during the night. Trembling
again, he lay back down and closed his eyes.
Soon Xian noticed that he was breathing deeply, evenly, with only
a slight rattle in his chest. Satisfied,
she handed the bucket to her daughter to clean out.
“When you are done, you will need to make more tea. I will fix dinner. Soon he will be hungry and it will take much to fill that large body of his,” she said, sighing, thinking again of the mask safely tucked away. Maybe we won’t have to feed this one, especially when I show this to Leiching, she thought. For now he was no threat, but Xian tucked a small knife in her waistband just to make sure.
A short time later, Diego
woke up again, feeling somewhat better.
He remembered the recent past and gazed about him gratefully.
The horrible nausea had disappeared, his head had stopped
pounding, and even though he was left feeling bruised and battered, with
aching muscles and stiff joints, he definitely felt better.
He felt well enough to realize just how fortunate he had been.
By rights he should be dead.
A young woman approached him with another cup of tea, bringing
him out of his reverie. Her
smile was warm and friendly, and he felt increasingly grateful for this
family seemingly sent from heaven.
She helped him sit up again and held the cup for him.
Xian gazed at him from the other side of the room.
He bowed his head slightly toward her in acknowledgement and she
soon turned away.
Looking at the cup in the girl’s hand, Diego hesitated, not wanting to repeat his past performance. She spoke to him, but at his puzzled look of incomprehension, she pantomimed that it would probably be all right to drink it now. He sipped from the offered cup, savoring the warmth of the steam against his face and the soothing heat as the drink traveled down his throat and spread through his middle. There was no protest from his stomach and he smiled at the girl to show his gratitude. Suddenly, Diego felt very tired again and only wanted to sleep. Bowing his head to the girl to thank her for her help, he lay back down. The warmth of the quilts lulled him quickly to sleep.
Xian hobbled back over to the sleeping man and gazed at him. “Eldest Daughter, take these clothes and wash them,” she said, pointing to the things they had removed from the foreigner. She herself got the stranger’s sword, with its scabbard, and took it into the next room, advising her two youngest children not to touch it. The youngest child, a little boy not more than six, sat near the sleeping man and just stared at him. It fascinated him to sit this close to a foreign devil, since he had never seen one before except from a great distance. His mother did not like them and said that they were all bad, but this one didn’t seem bad to him at all. He only seemed strange. Second Daughter helped her sister rinse the salt water out of the man’s black clothing, and they both speculated where the stranger could have come from.
“He is from a very far away land,” Youngest Son said, not taking his eyes off the foreigner. “Farther away than England.”
“Nothing is farther away
than England. I say he is
English,” Eldest Daughter said. “All
we have seen recently are English ships.”
“He is Portuguese,” Second Daughter said, not wanting to agree with her older sibling.
“No, he is from
somewhere else. Maybe not as far as England, but somewhere else,” Youngest
Son said, with an air of finality.
“Where then?” Eldest
Daughter asked, exasperated that everyone was disagreeing with her.
“I do not know, but he is,” Youngest Son declared.
“At least he is polite,” Eldest Daughter quipped, choosing not to argue with her brother any further. She turned back to washing the clothes out in the large bucket that had been filled with rainwater. “Stop staring at him and help me hang up his clothes,” she ordered her younger sister.
“Call for me if he
awakens and tries to do anything to you,” Xian told the two girls.
She left and sought out her husband.
Shaking the mask in front of his face, she said angrily, “Look
what you have brought on our ship, my husband.
This man is a pirate or an outlaw.
Why else have a mask?
He was probably thrown overboard to die for piracy.
You must talk to him when he wakes up.
If he is a pirate, we must throw him overboard, too.
You should have left him to the ocean in the first place instead
of bringing him on board where he might harm one of us.”
Her eyes snapped with resentment.
Leiching was uneasy, but he pondered a moment before saying
“But if that was so, why
would they waste a good boat on him?”
“I don’t know, but I want you to talk to him when he awakens. I do not like the idea of a pirate on our boat,” she retorted. “If he even thinks about doing anything to our children, I will use this on him,” she added, holding out the small knife.
“I will talk to him when
he awakens,” Leiching said.
“Good.” Xian returned to the family’s living quarters where she continued in the preparation of their midday meal.
Diego slept most of the
day, only awakening long enough to drink more tea and eat a bit of fish
soup that Xian prepared to go with lunch.
Most of his dreams were filled with relentless waves, beating
against him, and thunder and lightning.
Occasionally, he felt the warm sun caressing him, making him feel
warm as he lay on the bottom of the little boat.
In one dream he found himself near the mission, riding the hills,
the scent of oranges overwhelming, but comforting.
When that dream faded, he almost cried out, his longing was so
A short time before the evening meal, Diego awoke and looked into the face of a very young Chinese boy. Youngest Son had moved closer to the sleeping man until he was lying on the floor less than a foot from Diego’s face. This disconcerted the caballero for a few seconds until he remembered where he was. He looked around and saw the two girls and their mother fixing food in a small cooking area just beyond the large area that he was in. He looked back at the little boy, and, smiling, pushed off some of his covers, since he was feeling much warmer.
“Hello,” he said and sat up, stretching stiff, protesting muscles. The feeling had returned to his fingers and a slight tingling in his feet told him that they were recovering as well. He felt the need to stand, stretch, and see just how much damage the storm had done to his body. When he sat up, though, he kept one of the quilts wrapped around him. He noticed that his shirt had been removed, and with a marriage-aged young woman in the room, he was feeling a touch of modesty. In amazement, Diego saw his clothing hanging on pegs on another wall of the room, drying, and realized that someone had washed them for him.
The girl brought him some more tea, which he took gratefully. “Gracias, señorita,” he said softly. His throat felt better and not so abraded and sore as it had earlier. Again he drank the tea slowly, enjoying its comforting warmth, sighing as it settled in his abused stomach. The girl brought him a light blue colored shirt, one that appeared to have been modified for his larger frame. Quickly, Diego put it on. He wondered at the speed with which the seamstress had worked. But then he wondered how long he had been asleep. Looking outside the one window, he saw signs of sunset. Ai, most of at least one day, he thought.
When Second Daughter reported that the foreigner was awake, Xian left the room and soon returned with her husband, Leiching. They sat down in front of him. With a frown, Xian noticed that Eldest Daughter had taken the liberty of enlarging one of her husband’s shirts for the pirate. She was going to have to talk to that girl about her impropriety. Why waste good thread when the man might be thrown overboard anyway?
“Yingyu,” Leiching said to Diego. There was a frown on his face.
Alarmed, Diego wondered what he might have done to annoy them so. He shook his head. “I am sorry, I do not understand what you are saying,” he said in Spanish and then in English.
“Yingyu,” Leiching repeated and then translated. “English, who are you?” He held out Diego’s mask. “What is this? Are you a pirate?”