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Archive for October, 2013

You see me here, grown old and feeble. I have been squeezed dry as many who sit staring vacantly and my past keeps coming, recurring nightmare of the waking time.

In my time I was nurse and my oath ringing before me every time I took rounds. But routine takes away something from each and what have I in return? Nothing!

I was a nurse sent to care the old senile hags  in institutions where I worked. I worked to go higher and raise a family that shall be proud of me.

I was also young. I worked while my skin glowed and full twenty years made me curse my work every minute of it. None found me cross or less than my professional image I set for myself.  My smile and my teeth all well cared for made even a smile passed for truth. My body hygiene and appearance impressed my superiors.

Every day I signed the register and took my wards through their paces.  Did I enjoy it? To tell the truth, no Oh no.

I cursed the hags in their diapers. I ladled porridge spoonsful into their dead flaccid mouth wishing they would choke. But for the money that I made I would have thrown the whole filth I daily cleaned on the matron’s head. A battle-axe who never smiled at us nurses nor at the imbeciles whom we cared for. Oh when the director and trustees of the Bethesda Old Home came trooping in she smiled. As on cue we four nurses smiled and trooped the well fed starched straight-laced bible carrying Samaritans to their car. They earned the places in heaven and we kept our jobs.

It was not that we hated the old. Caring them was not of the same league as caring our mother or children. But tell me how long one can bring out her best under all provocations? The old who left under our care just didn’t care for our lot. For them time just stood still. Whereas we walked our line whether we fell short paying mortgage or could not afford an affordable education plan for our young. Our wards just sat in their wheelchair to be moved about and expected clean up the mess they left. OhI hated it. I do not regret it even for a moment. I stoically converted our frustration into work that was all.

As I am in this Home for the Aged do I care? Oh no. Now the nurse, a poison pill has her lipstick all wrong and hair  tucked in her cap,- she tells se is a Goth!, and she finds me as her millstone. I sit all day staring into TV and the nurse need not even see me twitch and squirm in pool of my own filth. She knows it by closed circuit beeps that warn her. Only she switches it off so she can rifle through her fashion catalogues or text message her boyfriend. My calls to ease my distress she treats as mere nuisance and she has learned to swat away as I did in my time. That is routine for you. I know she finds work just as I found: a A filthy business.

This evening the night nurses are planning a pillow fight for the entertainment of us,  inmates. And we are all watching the nurses fight it out. It is playful and it goes spirited and when all the feathers fly helter-skelter,  it is our secret night of horrors. All the feather fluff smelling of urine and shit would need mop after and some hard work. But we are the thing, morons laughing at our own cruel world we only let get this far. This night as hours tick by we only feel our private horror.

We see nurses have just shed their clothes, appearances of civility are gone. They have taken us back when we were as full as they.

Work was filthy for the peaches, the juicy young twenty something and they are us all in their ugly shapes, jeering at us.

Ah now they lug us into the heap of filth and dress us with cunning care, as chickens! It was a costume I never dreamed up! Hideous Jezebels are not done with us yet. As we scramble from mass of bodies, and pulled by hands to teeter and fall back with thud, there are screeches of merriment. There is a professional photographer who is creating a video diary. I know this age even our shame titillates some creep. We shall be in YouTube. It may be a viral hit among the viewers. 

I wept at the injustice of it. One of my tormenters leaned over and pulled out a feather from my toothless mouth to say,’ Nothing personal Martha, Work these days is still a four letter word.’

Now we are a spectacle and our carers have no excuse that they are kept short on money. They make money on us.
Work is still the same soulless aspect,- the world taken through a shredder of hell just gives some compensation for it. Money they call it. 

benny 

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Chapter- 5

Up And Down

Captain Kous-Kous has found an enemy in the Mullah. The Mayor puts in a word for the Captain and the Prince promotes him as his viceroy.

 

 

The Admiral was in a huff.

He called for Captain Kous-Kous to report to him. The old seadog thought all hell broke loose at that part where the fleet had moored. The Sleepy Heads were out two days in a row calling out for their presents. The sea dog had only one remedy. He instructed the captain to take a message to the mullah.

Mullah Murad was in his quarters. After the exchange of greetings the captain said, “ People out there want a gift. It is the express wish of the grand mufti that you speak to them.” Laying aside his books he said, “ Ah I knew it. It is willed that I make these infidels hear reason. Allah wills it.”

Turning to Captain Kous- Kous he said, “May Allah requite you for your pains. Carry this bundle. I may have to refer to it.”

But it is rather heavy O Wise One!”

Indeed. Wisdom indeed comes in thick volumes!”

The sight of mullah made the Sleepy Heads break the queue and surge towards him. “ Here comes my angel!” One said. Another said, “You are jumping the queue, he is mine!” There was a minor scuffle, which was only broken up by the captain who heaved his heavy sack wildly beating back the mob. The Sleepy Heads got the hint and they drew back. All agreed the angel was as dirty as a goats tail. One ventured to ask,‘If one got a personal angel as bad as this one, may be his gifts also bound to be as vile(as his figure). He bowed to the other, ”well Luke, you can have him. I shall wait my turn.”

Take care, my books!” mullah shouted. Next moment he pulled the captain by his sleeve, “Who is Santa Claus?” he whispered to the captain who was struggling to keep his balance. “ Santa Class? How do I know? You are supposed to know. You are the wise one.”

As mullah and the captain drew near one Sleepy Head asked, “ Santa supposedly come in a carriage with horse. Instead..”

Horse?” another cut in.

Instead he is bringing an ass!.”

The Sleepy Heads had no respect for persons. They would have once again broken the order but the appearance so many janissaries with drawn swords coming down the ships restrained them.

Murad Mahoud stood on a stool, which was brought by one of the slaves. “ Hear me well.” “ We are hard of hearing” one shouted, “ Give us our presents. It works like magic every time.” The mullah ignoring their comments took out a book to read. “ Watch him fellows. He does not know where the book begins or ends. And now he wants us to listen him well.” Some sniggered at which the crowd took up instantly. “We want gifts!” They chanted. What a din they created!

He talks just like our doctor. But our Jerry Can is full. This one is almost dry”. One Sleepy Head said. “ He smells even like him.” another Sleepy Head said. The former commented, “A street Arab he is under his burnoose! The other took up an old ditty, ”No noose is good noose/ under his burnoose”/Nothing is good under..!” The crowd of course sang out of tune but they were having a good time.

Why do you believe in Santa Claus? Because you are an infidel. Why are you called a Sleepy Head? Because you are a kaffir.” Mullah Murad shouted. At that point some one in the crowd threw a rotten egg at the speaker who got it right on the nose. “ He is also as impressionable as our doctor.” They laughed. The mullah screamed,” Guards, let them not get away.” One soldier managed to catch hold of one who tried to run. “ How dare you throw a rotten egg at our wise one?” “ What else is a rotten egg good for?” The Sleepy Heads were practical. They never allowed rotten eggs to pile up.

At another corner one soldier had managed to restrain a Sleepy Head who was running.“Hey you there,” he stood before the running man, “ Why are you in a haste? Some one in the crowd threw eggs, tomatoes and also pears.” “No, friend,” the Sleepy Head said, “I smell food around here. It makes me hungry.” After catching his breath he added, “Let me be. I must be home in time for my dinner.” Before a few soldiers could charge, he hollered at his wife to run faster. The Sleepy Heads made good of their escape.

The janissaries were distracted by a guard who came with a message from the grand mufti. Their superior who read the note from the prince waved his fellows to stop. Having read it loud he ordered the Sleepy Heads were to be let off from all harm. Meanwhile the captain escorted Murad Mahoud who was wiping the dripping egg from his face, “ The crowd made an impression on you. Didn’t they?” Kous- Kous asked. The mullah merely glared at him. Confidentially he spoke to Murad, “When you went there to address the crowd, you carried a particular smell.” “Must be my piety” the mullah felt somewhat easy,”I pray five times..”

May be it has its order but you also carry a certain odor which I cannot stand.” Murad felt anger rising in him. “But now,” Kous-Kous slapped on his back in good humour and said, “you come up smelling like roses!”

Mullah Murad Mahoud gathered his flowing cloak in tatters about him and walked into the safety of his ship. “ Infidels! How can they throw an egg at me?”

They showed they can, didn’t they?” Captain Kous-Kous akh al jaha’lah(* Brother of ignorance) said.

You are an ignoramus.” Replied Mullah angrily. Little did the captain realise that he had that evening made an enemy in Mullah Murad Mahoud.

2.

Next day. The mayor had come at the time previously agreed and the prince received him. Throughout dinner in which the prince made much of the mayor as if he owed his very life to him and passed on choicest pieces to him in the best traditions of a good host. While entertaining him he also thought the mayor was a scream. Mayor Calisthenics was natural and he carried his dignity as gingerly as a posy of violets in a hand. His dress was shabby with coat tails and a waistcoat which was one size smaller. Everything about him was so strange and the way he joked and said things the host had to remind himself not to laugh loud. ‘He must do his duties worthy of a prince.’he said to himself. Yet.

After dinner Calisthenics burped and the Turk smiled for he took it as a compliment. He had the satisfaction that he had pleased his guest.

Mayor Calisthenics had never eaten so grand a feast and he was full. The prince waited his turn while his guest washed his hands from a basin of water held by a liveried servant. Another held out towel for him to dry himself. The mayor was clumsy since he had no idea of their manners and custom. In the meantime the plates were cleared and bowls of fruits and glasses were brought in.

After the prince had washed himself dry he escorted his guest to the couch where they settled themselves to chat. Pointing to the glasses he asked his guest what he would like to drink.

Oh some wine.”

Wine!” The grand mufti was shocked. “ Wine ? It is forbidden for us. It is allowed to us only after this life.” “ On the other side uh?” A painful silence. He asked his guest, “ May I offer you some dates?” Calisthenics shook his head. He said,”Pass me some apricots please.” The prince obliged him.

The mayor without feeling embarrassed observed, “You do have strange customs and beliefs. You offer drinks before dinner whereas we never drink on empty stomach.”The prince immediately corrected, “What I offered before dinner was sherbet. No alcoholic drinks.”

I followed a custom what we are used to, O prince!”

No offence intended,”The host countered with a bow,” I followed the custom allowed by the prophet.”The mayor smiled. Al-Wa’sik explained, “Our prophet forbids wine in this waking life because it makes one lose one’s head. If one cannot judge what is right or wrong one is no better than a beast.”

Oh?” the mayor said.

Yes. Without judgment life is meaningless.” The grand mufti commented.

We drink wine only at times. Only when it is absolutely necessary” the mayor defended himself, “At other times, nothing, not even a drop enters our throat.” The Turk was impressed. “ As a matter of necessity. Did you say?”

Oh yes. When we are thirsty.”

Oh Grand Turk, I am thirsty now.” Calisthenics added. “Oh certainly,” The Turk said and he clapped his hands thrice. The wine steward came. “ Bring us some wine, immediately.”

Shall I pour it for you?” grand mufti asked his guest after the mayor made his choice. The steward who brought a cart full of wines took leave. “No thanks, I will drink it myself.”

It is not the custom in Turkey” replied the Turk. “ Who is thirsty? You or me?” The mayor wanted to know. The host held his silence. The mayor said,” Our custom any day is better than yours.”

What do you mean?”

When we are thirsty we do not pour. We drink to quench our thirst.” He gulped the bottle down in one stretch. He did not notice the eyes of the host growing wider. After the mayor had emptied his bottle he reached for another bottle. “Are you thirsty still?” the Turk’s jaw dropped.

No. But our custom dictates one good turn deserves another. Besides it is always nice to know how far I am tolerated by my esteemed host.” He finished his second and said. “My compliments for your excellent choice. My dear sire you have a good taste almost as mine.”

Almost! Almost did you say?” The Turk was red in the face, ”If you were not my guest I would have boxed your ears for impertinence.” The grand mufti said seriously. ”That speaks well of you O prince!”

Calisthenics said, ”You are perfect as a host. For you play it so well.” The grand mufti smiled. The mayor said,” If I did make mistakes as a guest I can get away with it. As a host you have not the same freedom.”

You have good choice of wines yet you do not drink them. Is that not a lack of taste? Is it not a serious error in judgment?” He asked his host.

If you had a taste like I have, why you would drink as I do.” He added. The wine made the mayor very playful and reckless too.

The host was now beaming like a cat who had its ear scratched. “What do you smile for?” He wagged his forefinger before his nose,” I drink to my fill and you smile as if you were the one who drank it.”

Al-Wa’sik could not help laughing as the mayor reached out for a few dates,” His waist-coat was so tight that a few buttons popped. “Even your waist-coat tells that you have had enough.” The Turk said, “ Is it a good custom to eat bellyful?”

We are not accustomed to luxury. But our life as it is lived, is luxurious which are not the same. Let that pass. If the host spreads a feast as rich as these, well we gobble it up. That is the truth.” Said the mayor seriously.” I shall tell something more. ”We don’t drink this kind of exquisite wine. We cannot afford it. So we have learnt to be content with what we drink. It is the truth,” The host was evidently embarrassed. “Even so our culture is better than yours.”

How can you say that you have a better culture than us?” “ We eat only to satisfy hunger.”

Ah, animals also do that.“ The mayor said shaking his head. “ We Sleepy Heads have a better culture. Isn’t it your culture which is linked to things than people?”

What do you mean?”

If a woman asked you to dine with her alone would you go?” The prince was horrified. Quickly he controlled himself and treated it as a joke.” I risk my reputation? Oh never!”

Would you go to dinner?”the prince asked somewhat diffidently. He was shocked.

Why not,” Calisthenics asked, “a Sleepy Head doesnot think on sex lines. One desires your company or seeks to know you better. Why a question of her sex should come in between?” The mayor asked,” Would you go to a party thrown by a peasant when there is also an invitation from another prince?” “Do I have to answer that?” “ O.K I shall qualify my question thus. The peasant is a model of prudence and full of wit. While the prince is a dreadful bore but of great lineage.” The prince looked at him searchingly. “Is n’t it obvious?”

Calisthenics shook his head.

What is wrong with wealth? Or keeping company of people of the same class and the means?” the prince asked, “Not so much as it gives one to despise another or judge another by the price of the dishes served. What matters in the end is being seen among your equals.”

So wealth makes that decision for you?”The grand mufti nodded. “Though reason tells you the sex and riches are besides the point. A woman who could give you far superior company is refused on account of her sex. The table of a man who is well accomplished is denied because of his low station. Is it wise to be known as civilized and yet must go against the obvious?”

Yes. We Turks live and show ourselves so, as best as money can provide.” the prince said,” so we may not be badly spoken of. Isn’t that our obligation to our society?”

Precisely,” the mayor said,” you make the society and yet you are slave to your own creation.” After a pause the mayor continued,” We live for the simple pleasures, which cost nothing. Our people get on each other’s nerves at times but they cannot live without sharing their pleasures. If we get a chance to sit at a feast or get a hand-out we take it but we are not overawed by it. We let society only as it should be,- at arm’s length.” The prince did not answer.

Our ways are better than that of yours,”the mayor said,”Can an ordinary Turk leave his home keeping the door open and be away for days without being burgled?”the mayor asked slightly heady with wine,”Here we can.”

Of course,”the grand mufti retorted,”theft is a serious offence.” “ Yes,”replied Calisthenics,” cut off the arm so says your law.” He added after a pause, “An eye for eye, a tooth for tooth.”

Yes. We have Laws. It stops thieves and burglars from breaking them.

True,”the guest chuckled,”In our case we have no Laws. As written down. Still our people would not think of stealing.”

They will not eh?”the prince asked in a fit,”We shall see. You had the other day asked freedom for your people. I shall offer freedom to you on that basis. We shall see whether you live up to your bragging.” It was late. The mayor would have risen but the host politely pressed him to give his company. He stayed for a short while and insisted he had to go home and catch up with his sleep.”I should not let Sandman wait!”he said with a smile.

Before he would let him off Al-Wa’sik wanted to know if he had any favors to ask.

Now that you have promised to grant us freedom I will ask a favor for one in your service.” The mayor mentioned the name of Captain Kous-Kous and his request. After hearing him the grand mufti said, “ You boast that your culture is better than ours. “ I shall appoint him my viceroy to the Garden of Neden. He shall live among the Sleepy Heads and learn. He shall acquaint himself with your ways and customs and shall report to me.”

Yes, let him see for himself.” The mayor said.

We shall see which of the culture is better. Yours or ours?” “What do you personally think, sire?” Calisthenics asked.” Prince Al-Wa’sik looked away and he said, ”Let me see what my viceroy will have to say from his experience.”

Agreed O Turk,” Calisthenics said.

Al- Wa’sik clapped his hands once and instantly came one of the guards. In low voice he spoke to him. Deeply bowing the guard withdrew and he brought the admiral along. The grand mufti picked a spear and tied a white banner at the tip and gave to him.

To hear is to obey” he said and went out.
”As I said I have made the captain of the
Golden Dawn my viceroy,” announced the Turk.

My grateful thanks.” Calisthenics said rising and he bowed. He took leave of the Turk. 

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Chapter-1

Love comes In All sizes

Duke Wushamao’s plans thwarted.

Wang is attracted to Lin Lang. Lin Lang disappears leaving Wang distraught.

 

 

How dreary! So boring I could smash everything in sight!” Well, Duke Wushamao could well afford it. During the reign of Wan Li, the Ming emperor the duke was lording over every privilege he could lay hold of and it was becoming an addiction. On this side of Chechiang known as Three Pavilions he gorged on whatever he collected. He was becoming voracious and it made him a terrible foe if thwarted.

Since the emperor had ceased to interest himself in upholding the Will of Heaven the duke’s power grew: he could make entire towns disappear at least in terms of tax, these towns annually paid to the provincial governments. It went straight into his coffers. The eunuch Youtiao who attended to the revenue for the province of Chechiang on behalf of the emperor was his brother and he was ever behind him to pick up the pieces. Except some areas that not even Duchess Peony Su could have helped.

The duke loved to spend time away from her company. He came only to sleep or receive men of importance. Otherwise his palace was at his duchess’ hands to throw her fits anywhere or anytime. So often she had a permanent scowl settled on her ivory skin. Neither the duke nor the duchess was willing to palaver. When she fumed he cruised outside and took low life in his stride. It was thus he found himself in his ducal carriage that morning.

Lately his lackeys had hinted some suspicious things going on in one of the most backward spots in the province. “Who shall set up an inn in a swamp?” What made him all the more curious was the news of a girl whose bearing was more of nobility than of peasant stock. He ordered his coachman to drive in the direction of the village with a curious name Blown Away.

Sitting in that four horse carriage bobbing along the rutted roads of the village Blown Away the duke could only see houses and these were barred. With his bile rising he peered along the blurring landscape and not a soul was in sight.

Not for long.

A solitary dot was looming in sight growing ever larger. As he took it in, he smiled. A girl was coming carrying a bundle of firewood. He briskly asked his coachman to stop.

Duke Wushamao was dying for company.

Luckily there she was. She was simply dressed in working clothes but she pleased him. He snapped his fingers and two of his lackeys who rode behind the coach jumped off their perch and ran towards her. She was hauling the load on a pushcart with wooden wheels. The cart was more a toy than for load. One zeroed in on the hapless girl and wrenched her off the ground. The bundle of firewood tumbled down scattering pieces pell-mell. Before she could scream the two brutes reached out and held her by the hand. As if by reflex she bit one in desperation and broke loose. It was followed by a swing of her foot that connected the groin of the other. The wretch howled in pain and fell.

She bolted!

Duke Wushamao grimaced and barked his men to chase her. The girl ran through a narrow alleyway with three brutes in pursuit.

2.

There was a public house that was hidden from view. Inn of the Seventh Serenity was a question mark as was the inn keeper. Obviously he was holding it on to cover some one’s folly. No one could have for a moment thought the inn was meant to cater to the needs of travelers. No travelers would have thought of being bogged down in a swamp.

Yet the inn was full.

On that morning Ta Yi, the fox-spirit of the Tiger Caves was in residence. He served as a counselor for the Wushamao League. Hardly had he stepped out before there was commotion.

To his amazement one peasant was coming towards him all in a lather herding a girl of thirteen towards him and crying, “Save my child, sir!”

Ta Yi asked him to step inside and make himself no worry.

The peasant was blubbering, “The duke is out to do her harm!” He heard enough.Ta Yi firmly said, “ That’ll do.”

There were a few customers sitting around playing backgammon and they were engrossed in the game. At least they pretended that they had no time for anything other than their game. Their patois was that of Beijing than of Checkiang. What were they for? None knew. They looked askance at Ta Yi and they knew everything was in order. The electrifying aura of the fox spirit seemed to make them feel relieved.

They were indeed the spies sent from The Pavilion of Heavenly Bliss in Beijing. They sent as part of the weekly report: ‘the sky is still blue and not a cloud is in sight.’ Reading it the favorite concubine to the Emperor could relax.

The guests paid no heed to the threesome who cast shadow as they clicked their tiles and arranged the combination.

Ta Yi drew them into a hall where the peasant, teary eyed looked at Ta Yi and said, “Duke Wushamao has come for my child!” Ta Yi caught the eye of the innkeeper who had sized up the situation and said, “ Back room. They are there.” Ta Yi nodded and guided the peasant and his daughter across the central courtyard. The innkeeper signaled the waiters and they quickly fell to their tasks.

Ta Yi herded the peasant and the girl into the room where Chuan and Wang were whiling away their time. They put away their straws and looked up.

They had visitors.

Even as they rose to greet Ta Yi and his company, Zheng Dong their host silently drew the curtain behind. The innkeeper went to his writing desk. He wrote a few lines, ‘ The hat is still too narrow for the head. The fox will take the bait.’ It was addressed to the King of Canton.

Zheng Dong called one of his servants who left immediately.

Next morning the king called Duke Mulberry who was his intimate friend and said, “Our man has found the means to cut Duke Wushamao to size. ” They had a good laugh. One whom they only knew as the Fox would do the job for them.

While the innkeeper was busy the inner room was all set to receive the assailants of the girl. First Ta Yi asked the peasant to speak. He explained how he was reduced to straitened circumstances due to the new economic policies of the province and he owed arrears in tax like so many others in his position. “ So Duke Wushamao sends his men to round up all that he could gather. This village is ruined. You may ask the worthy Zheng Dong who had lost his daughter only eight months ago.” Ta Yi asked him to stick to his story. “My child went out to collect firewood this morning and came screaming as though her hair was afire. I didn’t know what to do. Till I saw you. Please protect us.”

Zheng Dong coughed and put head past the curtains to say there were duke’s men, charging in.

How many?”

Two, and one is guarding the entry.”

Well let them in.” Wang conversationally asked the girl who sat demurely opposite to him, “ Have you broken an egg? ”

She had somehow taken possession of herself. She smiled coyly. Wang made room for her to sit by him while she hesitated.

You are sitting where Ta Yi is about to break some, ahem, heads.” There were footsteps outside and the girl quickly went over to the wall where Wang sat.

Ta Yi meanwhile got up and he had his staff in his hands. The two ruffians barged in and spotted the girl who had almost fallen into the lap of Wang in fright. Wang put his arm around her to steady her and the peasant moved aside to cover her.

One of the ruffians let out an oath and said, “ You! ”He was about to reach out but Ta Yi flicked his wrist to bring the tip of his staff on his knuckles. He let go her hand as though hit by an electric eel. The other assailant turned to him and barked, “Don’t you dare? This is Duke’s order. You interfere at your peril.”

We must show respect to the Duke. Mustn’t we?” Ta Yi laid aside his staff that Wang quickly got hold of. He showed his hand and told the fellow, “This is a working hand. Using this I show respect.” Calmly he folded his hand towards his chest and flicked his forearm straight to connect to his jaw and he fell backward. Wang had meanwhile blocked the other with the staff. The girl looked on as if transfixed by Wang who showed no fear.

As quickly as they came they disengaged. Both thugs were downcast and retreated. “I dread to think what shit you will be in after the duke gets hold of you all.”

Chuan was watching Wang and the girl who was in no hurry to disengage her from his company. He just smiled when Wang said, “There shall be no breaking of heads. Isn’t that a shame?” She smiled. “I thought we had an omelet here.” She shyly retorted, “ The Duke certainly knows how to pick out bad eggs.”

Before the peasant led the girl out Wang asked for her name, “Lin Lang.”

The innkeeper came in hurry to say, “The duke shall surely seek you out.” Ta Yi was unperturbed. “ Don’t worry. I shall pay him a visit instead. ”

Later in the evening Ta Yi asked about his missing daughter. Poor Zheng Dong quaked and he burst into tears. “ The duke thought she would go places if she were taken at hand and guided properly. He sent his wife to show he meant well. Two years ago it was. I thought his proposal was honorable.”

After a pause he sullenly mumbled. He offered me silver and to free me from tax burden. “

So you agreed?”

I asked for time.” He sniffled and added, “Soon after she was waylaid while she was visiting her maternal aunt.” He moped his forehead and said lugubriously, “From enquiries I come to understand her trail stopped at Fragrant Pavilion by the Pebble Lane.

That is where the Duke stays whenever he visits the Province. Is it not?”

The innkeeper nodded.

Zheng Dhong stood there as lost in thought. Ta Yi called out of his reverie. “Is any thing the matter?”

He hesitated and walked up to Ta Yi and whispered, “My daughter is almost identical. Lin Lang may have a smoother complexion and a more mysterious air.”

Ta Yi thought a while and said, “ I get the idea. But don’t worry over such matters.”

Of course I ought not make comparisons,,” the innkeeper said without much conviction, “but,-oh, where my girl has gone to.” He left.

Ta Yi thought Zheng Dong wasn’t entirely level with him.

 

Lung barged in all excited. He was amazed to see Ta Yi, which was least expected. The fox-spirit knew that he had left on a hunch and hoped to see what he could do in life. Ta Yi asked, “ Did you meet your contact?” Lung said, “ Of course, he taught me to gamble. I got into a scrape because I won too easily for his liking.”

Lung took a week to be himself with his thoughts as he put it. Now he was back. ‘It was pretty risky.’ Wang felt he was irresponsible to not to protect him.

Lung was in a cheerful mood, “Here is what I won!” Instantly Wang cheered up. Lung knew how to protect himself, He had to agree.

Lung carefully took out a flask and held out. Ta Yi was an apothecary among other things. He took it examined it and carefully opened the stopper. Taking a whiff of it he closed his eyes as if in intense concentration. He said quietly, “ No mistake of it!” Wang and Lung who were watching this dumb show asked, “What is it?”

Love potion!” was the reply.

Chuan sidled up to the twins and said, “ I guess you are ready for it.”

I met a really a sweet girl, dear brother. You missed the fun”. Wang filled him with news. Lung looked at his brother quizzically and said,

Care to try this?”

Wang firmly said, “No, Lin Lang is sweet but is she the girl? Only time will tell.”

Wang knew fate was in his favor and the love potion was merely skirting his tryst with destiny. Later in the night Lung poured love potion in a smaller flask and presented to his brother. “ One never knows how fate comes knocking. Be prepared, as our tutor would say.”

Wang put it away among his personal belongings. He was certain Lin Lang would not taste it for better or worse.” 

  (2 be cont’d)

benny

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Chapter- 4

The Mayor Parleys With The Grand Mufti-

The Mayor and Prince compare notes and Al-Wa’sik offers freedom on condition.

 

Prince Al- Wa’sik (meaning Terrible Eyes) was the grand mufti of the Turks. Never was he known to have laughed. He had always known that he was different from others. When he got angry he wore flaming red, which to any Turk meant bad news. It meant that some one would have to pay the price.

Head will roll!” It was the case so far. Because of it he was also called Kismet or Fate.

On that day in April he discovered he could laugh. It was priceless. The discovery made him very happy. It had taken some forty years and the prince could not believe it would have come as it did, far away from home and in one of the strangest places. Laughter was not what his father the most dazzling figure of his age could give him. Having learnt many things from the sultan, of which duty was preeminent, he had kept going never realizing he lost what was of necessity a precious gift.

 

As a young prince he did not laugh; neither did he let himself go. Why? He did not like being thought as irresponsible. He had cultivated gravity, which he had been told by the so called wise men of his age, as appropriate for the movers and shakers of the world.

His tutor let him mix with other children of princely blood. They helped him hone up his skills in hunting and riding. Laughter wasn’t one quality, which they cultivated. ( Isn’t laughter at the right time and in right places sure sign of humanity in its pure form? In that spontaneity it seems to tell all,’Here I am with all defenses down!) The princes took themselves seriously. So did Al-Wa’sik.

So seriously the prince took himself that others for fear of displeasure could not have done otherwise. Had anyone in his suite was in the middle of telling a joke he would have instantly killed it hearing his master’s foot steps. The prince allowed people come to him with their problems and they never laughed to show how he had relieved their distress. His seriousness must have given warning signal to all: “I am Terrible Eyes! Laugh at your own risk!”

In the process what had he become but a human machine to which men in fear paid their respects?

It took a scrappy but lively human being who was in no way his equal in form, advantages or in rank to undo the damage. That day he laughed hard before he could realize what had come over him. In the end he had to agree it was very pleasant.

So naturally he esteemed Calisthenics highly as someone special.

After having spent some time alone disposing of many supplicants and writing orders the prince whispered to his bodyguards to call the mayor. During their first round each wanted to know the other. So they chatted this and that. When it was time for his evening prayer he excused himself. Before parting the grand mufti asked,“ What makes a smile the same as a tear?” “ By facing up to it, of course.” the mayor replied with a laugh.

2.

The next day the prince received the mayor and he was seated in a princely tent erected on the beach. Above the tent flew the prince’s personal standard and around the tent were many janissaries who watched the crowd with suspicion. The grand mufti was still friendly and said,“ As a mayor what sort of problems do you face?”

People are fine O grand Turk. It is just what they have to put up with is the problem. We are called the Sleepy Heads. Do I look sleepy?” The mayor asked. “ No, not by any means.” The prince said with a polite emphasis. “Do you know another joke?” the host asked eagerly.

O Prince why does a peanut come in a pod?” The grand mufti thought for a while and gave up. “You tell me.” The mayor replied, ”Because there are too many nuts jumping the queue.” The Turk laughed. ‘You know what makes a Turk tick?’ the mayor asked. The prince waited eagerly for a surprise. ”Because he is Turkeyed up!”

In the meantime the admiral came in with letters of request from various officials.

The mayor took care not to distract Prince Al- Wa’sik while he worked. He could see so many people with different insignias were cooling their heels to have a moment to speak their cases. Having disposed of the letters the prince stroked his beard, which was neatly trimmed and he turned towards him. His face showed a touch of regret as if he could not call that moment as his own. The mayor was about to rise up and go but he restrained him. ‘This shalln’t take much time’, he seemed to say. He beckoned his personal secretary to let the people come one after the other. Calisthenics had a new respect at the way he disposed them. A look said volumes; a gesture in place of so many words saved him time and effort; it put one in a dither and another cheery eyed. Where comfort or encouragement merited the prince spoke softly and as the mayor could hear, his voice acquired a peculiar timbre. His authority expressed with his proud gaze combined with such clear-cut enunciation of syllables so softly spoken was unmistakable. In him was power and gentleness. Even while walking tightrope between duty and mercy neither did betray the other. He had learnt how to perform as a prince who must at all times be just.

Each went off kissing his hand as if he were a holy relic. After he had sent the last man he turned to his guest and the seriousness, which had made his sharp features points of steel gave way to ease. His eyes seemed to say,”Where were we?”

Mayor Calisthenics began. He spoke concisely the history and cultural traditions, which he said if he should write it all down it could be done in one sitting. ” But the Sleepy Heads are known for breaking all such classifications. We have a saying among us, which goes thus:’ In a world of right-handed traditions we are left handed.’ Even there they do not strictly adhere to the rule.”

Really?” the prince could not imagine such a lawless society did really exist.“ If the Sleepy Heads hate to work with me or my council it is the tradition of the ruling class to make the work simplified in a manner the people can understand.”

Must you descend to their level?”

Yes,” the mayor replied seriously,” I am sent to bring order among the Sleepy Heads. Imposing it from the top I think is not a permanent solution.”

The prince was sure an iron fist would make order among the lawless at which the mayor showed in mock-seriousness his agreement. “Only that my Venetian Masters themselves are losing their grip. What avails me then to mould the Sleepy Heads according to their ideals once power itself has changed hands?” After a pause he added,” People friendly that is how the ruling class should be.”

So easily you give in to the mob?”

No, not at all.”the mayor was sure,”I can only work as one who respect the people who are governed. I govern better, so it seems to me, O prince, by turning their natural inclinations into something worthwhile. A catalyst perhaps.”

He defended his people by saying they were yet to divide people according to haves and have-nots.”He paused and the prince was impassive. “Yes it would seem so, we are backward not to let the things rule us.” the mayor added.

So the Sleepy Heads do not put things above the people?” Calisthenics nodded and said,”People come first. Always!”

You rule and your power..”

The mayor replied,” Our power is good up to a point. With such power as I have to hurt, will the ruled trust me freely?”

But should you not correct those over whom you have authority by setting a good example?” “If I set an example to the one lower in rank all that benefits me would be his ill will. Who knows he may complain to the king that I am itching to stand in his shoes. Or some other report to damn me.” “Come, come you are being cynical!” the prince said. “I said from what human nature is capable of,”replied Calisthenics simply, ”I am only human, I am only a Sleepy Head’ as our prayer to the Great One goes.”

I can appreciate you to some extent. But being good… “ “Good in some parts and spoilt in some others ,sir. None of us are perfect. You shall not convince me, prince that you are perfect.”

The prince solemnly admitted he was far from perfect. ‘O Allah kerim!’ and he was quick to add, “ I will not think of using my power for any thing other than to correct…”

By correcting do we change their basic nature or by arm-twisting do we achieve lasting results?” replied the mayor. The prince was deep in thought. Calisthenics asked,” What makes you think you know better how a matter leads to? Did not your prophet, as you believe the truth is, speak the last word on the subject?”

Yes Truth,”the grand mufti said reverentially, ”Nabi-mursil (Prophet-apostle) spoke the truth.”

You revere his message. Don’t you? If that be the case why Shi’ites or Sunnis?” The prince suddenly stiffened. “ Surely we can keep the matters of religion out of our discussion?” The mayor bowed and he soft-pedaled to say, “Merely because I have the power, would it mean I can see the outcome of things better? Or what I say to be the truth will be the last word on it? You may win an argument at the sword point and make the ‘infidel’ retract his stand. He who so retracts does only because he sees some perceived advantages. He is only human.”

You may see it well, O prince,” the mayor explained, ”from the manner a thing is done.” The prince heard him seriously. “You may teach your camel to carry you but he must stop whenever he has come to end of his tether. No amount of your truth or words of wisdom shall suit him if his legs are too tired.”

So human weakness in the end dictate truth?”

Not really,”Calisthenics replied,”the one who dictate what is the truth is as human as the one who must show what it is to be true.”

Whom I rule have their own viewpoint as we who make rules,” the prince said,”is it what you wanted to say?” The mayor nodded and explained by letting the people decide how they wish to be led ‘makes my office easier and leaves me enough time for my own

things.’ The prince frowned at times but he listened to him without interruption.

Somewhere along the line the topic about the Great One came up. Immediately the face of the prince lit up,” We have something common there. Allah the compassionate, Merciful and Just!” The grand mufti spoke the name reverentially and with great wonder. “But I was given to understand we should keep religion out of our discussion?” Calisthenics asked with a mischievous glint in his eye. ”Yes,”the grand mufti said, “My fault. I forgot myself for a moment.” “No, “replied the mayor,”Belief is so essential part of our nature. As easy as we walk. Do we ever wonder if our legs are adequate enough? No, faith is sufficient. If we did not think our legs would hold up would we walk? It is faith.”It surprised the prince. “That faith which we possess sometimes makes us just as you admitted a moment ago, forget ourselves. We are, as I said earlier, humans and imperfect too.”

That is why Allah has kept the paradise for those who trust in his mercy and do good.” Al-Wa’sik declared. “Paradise is an idea.” The mayor replied,”We have to think of what is so basic, in

terms of ideas. Whereas my dog will approach the same differently.”

Why bring a dog into discussion?” the prince snapped with a frown,”so many other examples would have equally fitted.” Calisthenics excused and said he had a dog which he considered was his trustworthy companion. “I did not know it was a contemptible animal according to your beliefs.”

Where were we?”the mayor asked and he got back where he had been diverted,” We make sense of our world in terms of ideas. If I do hold an idea others will also be at liberty to hold their ideas and of course some may hedge it with some special meanings.”

Touché.” The prince said with a smile and added,

Yes we are ready to fight for our faith and guard it with our lives.” ”Yes, your standpoint is different from mine. As different as your paradise.” the mayor observed.

Still such a vast difference? How is that possible? ” Calisthenics had thought on such things and he explained, “If we believe we live on solid ground it shall lead us to an idea so we may make our house also permanent. Another who loves a life of the open spaces may only want to spend the night under a tree or snuggle into a cave and move on with the first light. My brother is a nomad whereas I love a laid-back and sheltered life style. If my brother cultivate a life devoid of all luxuries and I a sybarite, O prince our standpoint is yet again the cause. Each of us with each day, from cradle to grave, merely adds to that essential self. O prince!”

Do not feel shocked. O prince,” the mayor said.

God is in the laws of Nature and in everything which serve a purpose. As proper for imperfect beings we are, we see Him as some one to serve our purpose. The Great One!”

The grand mufti imperiously waved his hand to desist the mayor from saying something awful. The guest took the hint and said, “In our respect and our love for one another we may still prove all such ideas as coming from one source.”

The prince asked,” The Great One?” The mayor nodded,”Or Allah, since we are calling names!”

Love and other romantic notions serve for a brief wink of time,”the prince commented,”where shall you be hereafter?” “You talk of paradise as if it is not yet come. We believe in the present.”

We Sleepy Heads live for the day,”Calisthenics added,” and we fear neither man nor their rank. For all that we do not consider ourselves as perfect or good. They pray to The Great One. So what? They pray for gifts. I expect their asking for gifts is not for improving their lot but merely a childlike curiosity. They seem to tell the Great One, ’Surprise me!’ The gifts are for the present and not for hereafter as you believe.” Al-Wa’sik heard him out patiently.

 

They talked of this and that. Calisthenics explained they had come to adopt customs on from hearsay. The mayor spoke about Santa Claus and of Sandman who came nightly to give them sound sleep and the prince thought were old wives tales. The mayor quoted Doctor Jerry Can who the prince thought was a dunce beyond belief.

Dismissing what the mayor said as something of a joke he could not understand, he moved to other things. At the end of their meeting he asked the mayor, “You shall dine with me tomorrow?”

At this point the mayor could hear a low roar, which came in waves from outside. It sounded as if people were all shouting and screaming. The grand mufti heard it too. He clapped once. A guard came to whom he spoke in whispers. After a while the same guard returned and spoke in whispers.

After he was dismissed the Turk laughed. “ Do we look like angels sent by Santa Claus whoever he is?” Calisthenics explained, “ Pardon me. Santa Claus is what we call our Great One. It is what our Doctor Jerry Can swears by.”

Outside your people are getting very restless. They want gifts.” The grand mufti said. “If Santa is an angel and one of them happens to take your shape I could believe in Santa as I believe in you.” the mayor answered. “Funny you believe in angels bearing gifts? And you expect me to give them gifts!” The Turk exclaimed.

So what you propose to do?”

Calisthenics knew that the Turk had friendly feelings towards him. So he dared to ask him questions as if he were his equal. “ You, my friend tell me. What sort of gifts you want some cash, clothes or freedom?” “Freedom of course “ the mayor replied.

You made an excellent choice.” The Turk said,” But no one is going to hand it over to you in a platter.” The mayor nodded.

I shall make it easier for you. Prove me your way of life has something good.” “ That is easy.” Replied the mayor, “ There was nothing to laugh for with your way of life. Was there?” The prince gravely nodded. ” The fact that you could laugh now proves the point.” After a pause Al- Wa’sik said, “ Perhaps you are right. I shall make my intentions clear.”

Prince Terrible Eyes wrote an order and folded it many times till it was no wider than an inch. Having folded it crosswise he sealed where the edges met. While the red wax was hot he pressed his signet ring. He instantly brought his guard to whom he commanded,” Here take this to the admiral.” “Hearing and obeying!” the guard went off quickly. The prince had let word around that the Sleepy Heads were under his personal protection.

3.

That night the mayor on reaching home asked his son if he knew two boys of 14 with strange accents. “One is called Rufus and the other a twelve year old, Nevis is his name.” His son replied they were as mysterious as the west wind. After a pause Maxim who was his firstborn wanted to know what was the matter with them. The father with a chuckle answered,” My lips are sealed. Act of Official Secrets and all that.”

He knew his son knew much more than he was willing to tell. So he played dumb in his turn. Like son, like father.

 (To Be Cont’d)

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(The Tower of Mists is the sequel to The Fox Spirit of the Tiger Caves where Wang and Lung are the central characters. They are identical twins and each complementing the other like a pair of chopsticks. One sets up the pranks and the other sets every thing in order once the prank is pulled off. There is a pirate who also figures in the Sword of Osman Bey.b) 

 

Book -1

A Deadman’s Chest

 

Prologue-The dead man

Wang and Lung in the port town of Hungzhou. In the midst of intrigue between two dukes. An empty chest and the unclaimed body of a foreigner.

Prologue

 

The Dead man

 

 


Four weeks before the New Lunar year,one busy morning Wang and Lung arrived in the port city of Hangzhou. They had just come from Shibung and had said farewell to one who shared a part of their youth. They still had another minor detail to attend to. Their uncle ‘Curious’ Lee of the Fudan clan was convalescing in his crumbling family home. It was unhappy times and their respects to the worthy sea captain must be paid. But it cast a certain pall on their already strained cheerfulness.

Even as they stepped out of the junk and walked down the pier they knew there was something wrong. The air they breathed crackled and the throng of peasants was as noisy so many pigs in a poke demanding a hearing. Oh their squeals went overdrive as two mandarins hovered in their line of vision. One cried, “We will rough them up!” and if they did breathe annoyance a little ago there was crackling of fire; Ducking a hail of brickbats about Wang whispered, “ Let us not get involved.” They quickly beat a retreat. They knew in the ensuing riot nothing they stood to gain.
Lung grimaced, “A regular war zone, it looks. Scoot!” They clambered across flailing hands and missiles in all shapes. The knots of men still holding merely swung them about. The sharper the cry went they pushed harder. Only at the point the road cut into the main thoroughfare they found an opening: They ran the gauntlet of flying projectiles and swinging poles to take it. On putting a safe distance they asked a coolie who had sat down to get his breath, “What was all that for?” “The people want their bird’s nest soup.”
Lung looked around and there were several eateries. Each displayed a board, ‘No bird’s nest soup’
The wizened coolie said as if to no one, “ No Emperor Soup ! No wonder it is topsy- turvy at all levels.”
Wang asked, “Emperor Soup? Is it for real?”
Wang didn’t think much of it anyway. The coolie looked at them as though they were some aliens and muttered, “ You don’t know what you have missed.”
Lung sighed and said, “I know what I miss.” “Our youth?” Wang asked as they walked farther. They still missed their past. It was then they realized there was a little matter about their uncle. He was suffering some sort of malady that incapacitated him. It sounded mighty curious. He was out of action and yet one imposter Captain Lee was happily sailing the seven seas and his ship Phoenix was in the news. It didn’t strike them then that he was by an imperial decree the real while their uncle, on whose bumbling ways their mischief always took a shine was languishing. He was indeed a large part of their youth.

Everyone in that section of the city knew Captain ‘Curious’ Lee. A few even escorted the youth to the crumbling mansion where the sea-captain was istalled to fend for himself from further insult to his dignity. The identical twins announced their names to the factotum who still put up a brave face and went in. Quickly he came back with a little more obsequious air to deliver the guests as though ‘on a silver platter ‘to his lord and master.
On a signal he disappeared from the hall.
‘Curious’ Lee brightened up and his wisps of scanty grey stubble of a beard fluttered. The sight of one whose jowls and belly still rippled in unison with the swell of the sea now made the twins look away. Yet he pressed manly his hospitality on the travel weary nephews. For a good measure he groaned even as he forced himself to play straight as before to the irrepressible youth of his nephews. It was dismal. As much as they tried to cheer up their uncle whose Panda-like size had stonewalled their snide remarks in the earlier times brought Wang to ask instead if he intended to write his memoirs. He shook his head and said, he was a man of action and not a scribbler.”
He moped and slowly opened his tale of woe. He began ‘In terms of career he had beached with a leak in the hull.’ From their reckoning the Admiral did not carry anymore weight with the emperor and it’s consequences had settled on his head. The admiral let him languish while one who was the favorite of Duke Wushamao was given his command. He even had his girth and took on his name and the unkindest cut of it all, the command of the Phoenix. It made the uncle tremble with rage and at his impotence.
To the twins his presence brought the image of his mother and his feeble attempts to cheer them was pathetic. It was no go. They raised as if to go. The sea captain stood up and led them to the hall. At the end their uncle said morosely, ‘If you ever board the Phoenix and sail think I am still in control.’ They nodded mechanically and exited.
‘We have a life ahead, for sweet Mercies of Buddha!’ they muttered as they reached the street level. Poor ‘Curious’ Lee was a shadow while the liquid sunshine that hit them stirred up the ever present.
The full weight of their sixteen years had hit them only when they came across the knot of rabble here and there and they could hear it had to do something with the bird’s nest soup. Lung muttered, “I never knew it was worth getting your skull broken up for?” “May be we are not really grown up?” They mentally brushed aside the incident.
‘What path should we take now?’ This was becoming a constant refrain.
Standing in middle of ebb and flow of life around them Wang said rather loud, ‘Carefree youth? Our life was one scrape after another.’ Gritting his teeth he pulled his brother aside and said, “We shall settle down just as Cowrie Shell.”
Lung shook his hold and hissed, “You are prying into my thoughts.”
Wang excused himself. “I didn’t mean getting married. We both shall get around to that when we are ready.”
They shook hands on it and they smiled at each other.
Wang and Lung were like two chopsticks, and inseparable. They looked alike and also thought the same thoughts, well most of the time. While they suffered the pangs of days that were, each was beginning to show a certain individual streak. Recalling the incident at the Two Gorges where they had broken journey to look at a temple perched on the top. Enveloped by mists and the quaintness of the panoramic view that lay at their feet, they had a tiff and it was over soon. Yet Wang knew they were growing apart in some of the things. It was marked when it came to the topic of love. Recalling the love struck bridal pair Wang was sure he was ready for love but Lung was all for waiting till the right one.
“How will you know it?”
“That is my secret.” Lung retorted as they descended. Recalling it Wang felt uneasy. And very ominous. After that occasion they traveled onwards as though nothing had happened. Yet there it was. But it wasn’t a comforting thought.
Sidestepping flocks of geese and pigs, which were being herded by peasants to the market the town breathed life. Lung mused, ‘Life could be so exciting.”
Wang suddenly said out of the blue. “We ought to be excited also, right?” Lung stared at him but said nothing. “Seventeen we shall be soon. What have we got to show for our pains?” he asked Silence . Wang insisted, “Pity we cannot show it when someone wants to know what we have done with our life.” Lung said testily. “ Why should we want to show?” Wang was practical, “May be when we think of finding a bride.” Wang was ready to impart his considered opinion. For didn’t he think it over for a month? A sharp jab at his ribs by the end of a stick sent him reeling. Lung saw the sedan chair and the outrider who had rudely shoved Wang aside. He wheeled around and shot his foot out. It connected the jaw of the fellow and sent him reeling to the ground. Wang saw from his head knot the man was the factotum of a duke. Instinctively his eyes darted to the chair. A duke was seated in his sedan chair glaring at him. Wang tugged at his brother and whispered,”Four to one. Beat it. ”
They quickly took to heels. They plunged into the crowd and sought the safety of an eating-house. They were in the Avenue of the Dancing spirits. While they sat down and ordered for some soup they collected their thoughts. Wang could recall the duke who had a good look of him. He said, “Duke Wushamao has found us. Or me in particular.” Before Lung could fully understand the seriousness of their fix he added, “But why he is here?” He recollected it was his favorite that had usurped the command of the flag ship. Weaving their path through knots of vendors and artisans their concerns were somewhat lessened by what they saw around them. Wang thought he was being watched. He held on to his purse that he carried in the inner tunic.
Suddenly Wang froze. He saw the silent warrior who had played a crucial part in their growing up, and it was an omen. He tugged at the sleeve of his brother and said, “I saw Chuan!”
Lung grimaced and said, “In your dreams!” Lung was sure that Chuan was an excuse for him to escape the future that lay before them. Wang said, “Didn’t we leave Chuan and Blia at the wedding feast as we left Shibung?” Wang asked breathlessly, “What did he tell you then?”
Lung agreed that Chuan was going directly to Hunan. ‘How come then you fancy he would be elsewhere?”
Wang thought Lung was testing his patience. “If he had to be here alone he has a crisis on hand!” As he said that Wang sought out the bobbing figure in his line of vision. The easy stride of Chuan was not to be missed, nor were some men who followed him discreetly at a distance.
He was distracted by Lung who said he had things to do. He said cryptically that he would wait for him at The Four Winds. Lung added,”You cannot miss it. It is where you can order for the Emperor soup.”
Wang didn’t want to miss Chuan so he ran into the throng as though his shirt- tail was on fire.
Lung wanted to taste the bird’s nest soup, the Emperor Soup in particular. He walked in that direction.
3.

Wang was rather morose when he joined Lung who said he was let down. Wang knew it already. He confided in Lung that Duke Wushamao had a bitter rival in Duke Mulberry. Lung said his visit o the Four Winds didn’t give him a taste of heaven but he felt in his bones there was something in their quarrel that made the ‘Emperor soup disappear from the menu?”

You mean he created the artificial scarcity?”

Lung wasn’t sure. Wang suspected the soup was very much part of their rivalry.

The quarrel between two dukes was indeed played for high stakes. The twins had no part in the quarrel between two. Nor did they want to take sides. Yet they had become drawn into it.

Pity that Destiny has other plans,” Lung observed. To this Wang added, “We need to fight as one.”

They agreed, ‘Yes if it came to that.’ Like chopsticks they needed one another.

As they sauntered they saw another eatingplace. Lung looked at his brother who turned to follow him. They went in.

Our life is exciting I ought to say,” Wang saw the waiter hovering about him. He asked for bird’s nest soup. Waiter asked with sarcasm if they were from the backyard of the empire. Wang asked what made him say that. He replied, “We haven’t had bird’s nest soup for almost a year.” He explained the foreign devils were out to give trouble. “They would put a knife in our throats.” In order to silence him they quickly ordered a bowl of lentil soup and some dumplings. As left Wang exclaimed, “ So we have arrived here in the middle of troubles!” The city is breaking apart because they have no bird’s nest soup! The idea seemed preposterous. But they had seen it spilling over onto the streets.

By the time they finished their hefty meal and tossed two copper coins to the bearer and Wang announced they would stay with Chuan.

We shall seek out Mandarin’s Cupcake.” As they proceeded along the dusty lane they sensed were followed. Lung hissed, ‘A spy for the duke, to be sure’

Wang and Luke had not quite lost the penchant for trouble. Trouble was ever at their heels whether they wanted it not.

The Mandarin’s Cupcake was a rundown eatery and anonymity that Chuan desperately required at that moment. It was an inn of lost and desperate souls. Soon they were knocking at the door. A stranger with a simple head knot appeared and waited. Wang held out half of a red lacquer disk to which he produced the other half. The disc had an ideogram that said: Hope.

Quickly a warrior came out from the inner hall where three others still sat on the mat. The twins brightened to see the man who sat facing the three. Chuan was in town and he received them and whispered, “ You haven’t seen those three and do not ask them any thing.” The twins understood. They quickly glanced at them and turned their eyes away.

One thing struck them as odd. All the three had a red sash around their waists and they sat before a wushamao that was torn. It was on a cushion as though a ceremonial object.

Who is dead?” the twins were still wondering as the warriors silently took leave of Chuan who seemed to be like a master of ceremonies. They waited till they were alone with Chuan who explained the situation in few words. They understood from the look in his eyes not to ask any further.

Later after the ceremony Chuan came to them. They were alone in a room.

Late in the night Chuan returned quietly and whispered to them, “ Are you game? We shall see a bit of action very soon.”

The twins quickly got up from their beds and dressed themselves to follow Chuan.

It was a desolate stretch at that time of the night. The twins could see they were climbing on the slope of a hillock that almost jutted into the highway. One end they could see the harbor dotted with lights and there were silhouetted of junks and tall masts. Their gaze was broken by rustle of the bushes and they quickly moved to the spot where Chuan crouched. He whispered, “Keep your eyes peeled to that point.” Wang was curious to know where had the three warriors had hid themselves. In the thick blanket of darkness nothing was visible.

To-who’, ‘to-who’ they heard the signal. Chuan drew his breath. Slowly they could hear tramping of hooves and a sudden movement of feet. Horses whinnied and they heard a pistol shot and suddenly there was a scuffle and a body falling with a thud breaking the silence. One moaned and two were cursing as they scuffled with their assailants. One warrior came up in a couple of bounds while Chuan went out to meet him. The warrior said, “ There is no duke.”

Who shot?”

The warrior looked over the shoulder and motioned Chuan to follow. Chuan could see the carriage and two men who were trussed up. One held the lantern to show the captives and one gave silently the pistol to him. He passed to one of the warriors.

Chuan exclaimed, “ Where is Duke Wushmao?” The prisoner sniggered, “ How do we know?” One of the warriors held up a pistol and said, “ This belongs to a foreign devil. I might as well try on him”. He held it against the temple of the man while the other shuddered, “ The thing will go off.”

That is the idea.” The other warrior said with a short laugh. The first prisoner said with a hiss, “ We are Duke Mulberry’s men.” He warned Chuan of dire consequences since the duke’s men were crawling all over the city. Yes indeed Hangzou belonged to Duke Mulberry.

Chuan meanwhile took a peak at the inside of the carriage and let out a squeal. Standing guard over the prisoners Chuan asked the warriors to comb through the carriage and bring whatever was found there.

Wang and Lung could see from their hiding place the outline of a chest. By the light of the lantern they broke the locks and opened.

Nothing of value except a book and a sheaf of papers.”

Chuan ordered the warrior to take the chest while the other motioned after completing his search of the carriage that there was nothing else.

Chuan collected the pistol and a canister containing shots. We will meet at our place, fellows. The prisoners will find help.” Hardly looking at the captives he ordered, “Now every man to his safety.” The warriors quickly disappeared and Chuan beckoned the twins to follow at a safe distance.

By early morning Chuan woke up the twins to show the contents of the chest. There was a diary that bore the superscription of a name. Pedro Cavallo. Rifling through the book Chuan muttered an oath to say,” The chest should have carried silver worth 3 million. But where has it gone?”

Wang and Lung thought ‘Who got the loot?” Three millions was an astronomical sum and it impressed them. They discussed between themselves possibilities. In the end they picked one as the winner. “So one point for Duke Wushamao. Whose turn next?” Wang asked.

But what interested Lung was, “ How did the chest land here in the first place? Or who brought it here?”

Chuan asked, “ What makes you think it was brought here?”

Look at the design? ” Chuan was impressed to look at the embossings on the chest. The cross was unmistakable.

Chuan had to agree Lung was right. “ Wang asked, “But what brought the foreign devil bring here?”

Chuan nipped their curiosity in the bud. “ This isn’t any game, kids.” He explained that they were dealing with treason. “And it will save you much bother, and even your necks, if you just keep out of this.”

Before Chuan took leave he left a piece of paper in which was written, ‘Inn of the Seventh Serenity.’ Without saying farewell he just disappeared among the crowd of people. Wang scanned the name and tore the paper into bits. Caution was becoming second nature to Wang.

Lung observed, “If we had some three millions in silver we have something to show. ‘They are only seventeen and they are rich, so they will say.”

Wang merely replied, “If.”

Chuan having checked the chest inside out beckoned Zheng Dong the innkeeper and told him to keep it. On second thoughts he added, ‘Leave it in your office and it is a piece of evidence. The League may need to produce it if things go right.’

But there is nothing of value here?’The innkeeper was puzzled. Chuan said ‘I also wonder. But if an empty chest takes a ride from one end of the realm to another we need to ask why.’ It was pure Tao and the box had acquired become a person represented, an evidence! It only remained to find if it spelled evil, or anything else.

4.

Wang and Lung asked the innkeeper where Duke Wushamao was in residence whenever he was in town. The innkeeper scratched his head and said the name was unfamiliar. He suddenly brightened up and asked one who was quietly drinking his tea in corner.

He beckoned the twins to come closer and introduced them to the old fellow. With a smile he said, “ My son works in the palace kitchen of the King Foo Yong. He is a busboy. He is right outside waiting for me to finish my breakfast.”

In a trice he brought his son who bowed to the twins and waited. They repeated the question. “ The duke stays at the palace, naturally”.

When did he come here last?”

Three days ago.”

He had brought a foreign devil from far off lands. He presented him before his majesty the king. It seems there was a letter from the Queen of that land. I know nothing beyond that.” That made sense to the twins. The envoy must have wanted to present the King with the chest full of silver, which was to be the gift from the Queen. But Duke Mulberry must have waylaid the chest and relieved the silver in order to discredit the duke from the realm of Three Pavilions. Or other way round. The matter was getting murkier.

 

Lung had enough. He got up early at dawn. He told his brother that he was ready to seek his chances.

What sort of?” Wang asked incredulously.

Anything that would fit my mood of the moment.” Lung seemed to be his own man. Wang hugged him and they parted. Wang went back to catch up with his broken sleep.

Meanwhile Duke Wushamao got up from his sleep in high spirits. He had played a trick on the duke as well as on the King of Canton. The foreign devil indeed passed for an envoy from the Queen of England.

He called two of his bodyguards and gave the order.

That night a body was thrown into the river Fuchun, which was fished out next morning by some boat people who plied along the river selling their wares.

Li Zhi was the Prefect of Hangzhou. He checked the body and rifled through his pockets and wrote his verdict: death by violence. Probably a Folangji (Spanish or Frank?) Name: unknown.

Of course the Prefect consulted with the Magistrate and they agreed that it was one of those cases that had all the hallmark of being relegated to the list of unsolved crimes.

Still they were puzzled: What was the dead man doing in the Middle Kingdom? Who was behind his death?

Chun Yen who looked after the Secret Service later reported before the Prefect. He bowed and placed papers that described the presence of an envoy from England who had an audience with the Royal Highness King Foo Yong at the Jade pavilion.”

After quickly going over the minutes Li Zhi trembled.

An alliance proposed by the Queen of England.”

What has this got to do with the case?” The Prefect looked uncomfortable.

Chun Yun bowed deeply knowing the gravity of the situation. “ May it please the Reflected Glory of the Emperor.”

Speak up, man!”

Chun Yun said, “ But there was no one from England allowed into our province according to the Foreigner’s registration Act.”

Who was the last foreign devil let into this kingdom then?”

One Pedro Cavallo.” Li Zhi wiped the sweat from his face and waited,

He was in the Fort, a prisoner.”

On whose order?”

Duke Wushamao.” Chun also added, “Under Undesirable Aliens Act article 3.clause 14.”

The Prefect said, “ The case is closed.” And he hastily dismissed the mandarin who ran the Secret Service too diligently for his liking.

After his subordinate was gone he sent his attendant for the sub-prefect who came in a hurry. The Prefect said, “ This is regarding the unclaimed body. Here are the papers.” Handing them over he ordered, “Put the lid on this case. Fix the seal ‘Not to be reopened’. Understand?”

The sub-prefect kowtowed and said, “understood, master.”

He understood to the extent the Prefecture functioned but not to the why a dead man made his superior all in a fluster. Following that time honored tradition of concluding work at the end of a day he said, ‘Banzai,’ and left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Jan 23 1957 V.K Krishna Menon started delivering a marathon 7 hour 48 minute speech in UN Security Council.Some one wanted to know what is the Malayalam word for that memorable marathon speech In malayalam I can roughly indicate it as a  'vachaka kasarthu' literally meaning 'circus with words'

benny

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Chapter- 3

Captain Kous- Kous Asks A Favor

Captain of the Golden Dawn gives a tip to the Mayor; he also wants the favor returned if he succeeds with the Grand Mufti.

 

It was the month of April.

When the Turkish fleet landed there was a great rejoicing among the Sleepy Heads who had never seen so many ships all together. The ships were moored in the open sea and the Turks came in so many boats to the Bay of Morphou. They awaited their grand mufti to make his entry.

The Sleepy Heads did not see Turks but as so many Santa Claus whom they had only heard of. If those Turks strutted and preened themselves, so much the better said they. They knew in that case their gifts would be handsome too. Being Sleepy Heads they were waiting to be surprised; and they wondered what kind of gifts would come their way. ’What did it matter? If only we got something free!’ Ask a Sleepy Head if Santa were rich he would say without batting his eyelid, “ Of course he is rich. If he is not, can he give gifts?” They were reasonable people.

 

From far and wide people came. The musicians brought their instruments to play loud. They played a cheerful melody and then another. The Sleepy Heads kept on playing their instruments while the crowd watched. They were all the time gawking at the great wealth and richness of their ships. Whereas they were dressed in coarse goatskins and wore clogs, the Turks were all dressed in muslin and calf leather. They were a sight to see. So many hours went by and still the Sleepy Heads kept playing. In the end captain of one of the ships motioned the mayor to come closer. He asked the mayor, “ Say fellow, are they musicians?” The mayor proudly answered “ Yes, they are. Every one of them!” He added, “ They belong to The Sleepy Heads’ Band.”

Captain Kous-Kous commanded the ship the ‘Golden Dawn’. He was a man of medium height and with pleasant features. He looked a little down in the mouth as if he was in pain. He wearily asked the mayor,“ What are they playing?” “ Deadbeat” replied the mayor with a flourish.

Yes, yes, if you say so” the Turkish captain said,“ but are they keeping time?” “ Sure. “ said the mayor airily. “ Watch how the second fiddle tries to catch up with the kettle drum? Normally the drummer wins hands down. Have no fear sire, the fiddler will get to finish it sooner or later.”

I wanted to speak to the mayor. Where is your leader?” “ I am the mayor,” Calisthenics bowed politely. The captain introduced himself.” Captain Kous-Kous at your service. The grand mufti wants to have a word with you.” The Turk said.

The mayor of the Sleepy Heads followed him to the boat and there they went together friendly and chattering of this and that. If two total strangers on their first meeting could so freely talk and put each other at ease any talk of war must seem incredible. Is it not? Why would a nice captain like Kous-Kous want to slash a jolly mayor with his scimitar? Or mayor stick the Turk with a stiletto, which he carried only as a part of his Mayoral office? Had any one asked either of them each would have answered, ’No way!’

The captain let himself easily into the ship and helped the mayor to come in. Before the mayor was let into the suite where the grand mufti sat the captain said to him in a whisper, “ Do not ever look at the turban of his Lordship”. The mayor looked at him somewhat confused.

Why then is he wearing one?”

I don’t know,” the Turk replied, “But I have seen many who have come to grief on account of his turban.”

Is it OK if I laugh to his jokes?” asked the mayor and the sea captain stopped in his stride, “laugh! Never!”

The Turk explained the prince had never laughed and death was to anyone who displeased him. He added, ”If he smiles you have nothing to fear. If he frowns of course it would not be the end. But if he is angry, brother I shall not be there to help you!” The captain seemed nervous as they approached the Hall, which led to the suite of the grand mufti.

Prince Al-Wa’sik was a prince by birth. The mere mention of his father would have made many breathless. His father was none other than Suleiman the magnificent and the present sultan had entrusted the entire operation to his half brother. Selim ‘the Sot’ knew the prince, truly enlightened and pious that he was, did not covet his throne. Still, he had in a matter of precaution given him charge over state affairs, which kept him away from the power center. Thus throughout the year he was fighting wars overseas or negotiating with powerful rulers for the weal of the empire. He had acquired sensitivity from his mother an Arabian princess who safely kept herself out of harms way while the sultana held sway. She had pulled her strings from long distance to preserve him as he rose steadily in his career. He rose in time to be recognized by his sire, who elevated him to the powerful rank of grand mufti. After the death of his father he had kept rising without attracting the envy of the powerful. He was given charge of the Operation Stymie. The captain who briefed the mayor as to the many qualities of prince cautioned him, ” Under pain of death do not make any comment about the shape of his head. Death is for any one who displeases him. Understand?” “What makes his head special?”The captain said,”His head is OK. But his turban. Ooh!” Without stopping in his stride he continued,”Don’t ever stare at the turban of his Lordship.You know what is an onion like. And I have seen many. But you take a look at his turban; what does it bring to your mind, but an oversized onion?”The mayor was impressed. “Oh, brother how terrible! A word like ‘onionhead’ can cost your life, He is all too powerful.”

The mayor nodded. “ Is there something which will please the grand mufti?” He asked feeling a little afraid. “ Oh yes,” said the captain with a knowing smile. “ Tulips are his passion. A mere word will make him break out in goose pimples.” The mayor rubbed his hands as if he knew he could get away. “ My neck is in no danger of being broken.” The mayor said with obvious relief. “ I know of a thing of two about tulips. I am a tulip fancier myself.” The captain felt somewhat relieved, “A tulip fancier ah! What do you know of tulips?”

You have lips. So have I. We have two lips” said Calisthenics grandly. “ That will do.” Kouskous for the first time smiled, “ I am impressed. “ Do you grow tulips around these parts?”

O Brother, Don’t you have eyes?,” the mayor asked, “Look at my lips. How well they fit. Can you imagine me without two lips. They grow well here.”

Before this information could sink in Calisthenics added, “We wet it with our wines and wipe it clean with bread.”

The captain sniffed and said, “ I guess you are right. But I thought tulips were something of a horticultural talking point?” “A point well taken!” the mayor said with a bow. Kous-Kous said, “Fancy meeting a tulip grower here. You have to make an impression on the grand mufti. That is what counts.”

Not my two lips?” The mayor played it up.

Captain Kous-Kous suddenly became nervous and he said, “ He in there,’ pointing to the Hall,’ is very dangerous. His name means Terrible Eyes. There is death in them eyes.” The captain stopped short and turned to the mayor, “Let us be positive. If he is happy with you, Ah, then your fortune is made.” The captain whispered, “ If every thing goes well you can do me a favor.”

Come, ask me?” Calisthenics asked. “Do not forget to say something good about me during the interview. I am waiting for a promotion which is long over due.” He added,“ I Captain Kous- Kous believes in returning the favor. Scratch me I shall scratch your back.”

Oh sure!” The mayor said, ” Consider it as done.”

Captain Kous- Kous was a sea captain and not one blessed with a bright mind. Just the same he had a mind always to help those who needed help. Kous- Kous walked over to the guards who stood before the anteroom. “ The mayor is here.” One of the guards went inside and after a while returned. The captain before he took leave said,” Put in a word for me. Captain Kous- Kous is the name. Remember, on pain of death no mention of the word, Onion Head. That is one word, which makes him mad. Understand?”

At his point the gong struck. Hearing the sudden sound the captain almost panicked. He just made off. The guard motioned the mayor to enter. Before he could recover from his daze he was in. He reeled to step on rich Persian carpets and the sight of the grand mufti made it still worse. He did not for a moment or two know whether he was going or coming. So confused he was. The figure who sat on the carpet at the far end of the suite, with his elbow leaning on a large cushion was fierce and he said, “Enter!” His heart sank a little to realize that he had forgotten that word which he was not supposed to say. It was a long walk and he was careful not to stumble. At every step he was searching his memory for that one word. “Bulkhead? Minion? Or is it Dome? He rattled many words and discarded them all. “Oh no. it may never come back. I lost it.” The grand mufti was fair of form except for his turban, which was unusually large. Quickly he noted that his turban gave his head the shape of an onion head. “ Ah I got it!” Calisthenics exclaimed, “ Onionhead ! That was the word I should not speak on pain of death. The captain said so.” All the way to the platform where the grand mufti sat he kept reminding himself, “I must not say Onionhead whatever happens. Onionhead is the word.”

The prince beckoned him to approach still closer. The mayor did. He bowed politely. The Turk asked him to sit. He introduced himself. “Who are you?” Mayor Onionhead, sire!” The hapless mayor realized his mistake only after the words flew out of his mouth. It was out. ‘Nothing can get it back. Awful.’ The mayor blanched. He dared not look at the eyes of his host. ‘They must be like daggers now!’ Calisthenics shuddered,“ But I am a tulip fancier.” He bellowed with all his might. He thought that by shouting the word ‘tulip’ he might drown the words he had mistakenly said. There fell a dead silence. Then the grand mufti laughed. He laughed so hard that the wooden beams of the hall echoed it. The guards peeped. So did the executioner who had a large broad sword. He was laughing which burst out all at once. A full blown laughter and it shook his lithe muscular princely frame. “ This is a scream,” The Turk said, “ You made me laugh for the first time!”

So this is what it is to laugh?” The Turk asked loud. Being unused to laughter he tried a few more times.” No it does not sound good.” Of course the prince felt laughing but laughing for nothing was not good. ‘Laughter and jokes go together; like horse and carriage!’ the grand mufti mused.

Go on tell me another and make me laugh!” the Turk urged the mayor. “What can an Onionhead do that a coat of paint cannot do? The mayor began.

You tell me, make me laugh, Go on.” The Turk interrupted waving his hand as if he could not wait. The mayor said,” A coat of paint you can peel but you try peeling an Onionhead,” Calisthenics took time out and added the punch line,” you are sure to lose your head.” Did that make the Turk laugh? Of course he laughed harder and he almost doubled with it till he thought his stomach would burst. He thought laughter was all the time hiding within. He thought it was not his fault he never could laugh. ‘Only if I had heard something funny before’. He was in a wonder.

The mayor was sure enjoying himself. “What is the difference between my bald spot and my arm?”

You tell me,” the prince said straightening up.

The mayor could see the prince was in a good mood looking forward to let himself go. Showing his crown Calisthenics said,” On my head there are no split ends but,” shaking his hand loosely he continued,” my arm has a split end!” he said. “Ho Ho your fingers!” The Turk got the joke. The mayor stopped. He thought too many jokes in one go were as a no go. So he waited now for the Turk to say something.

The grand mufti asked finally, ” Do you sleep with all these jokes?” “Who wants to go to bed with a bagful of jokes?” Calisthenics asked, “ Give me a good night’s sleep and it is in the bag!,” He said snapping his fingers “just like that!” The mayor thought it all a dream. He pinched himself to make sure. It was real. He made the grand mufti laugh for the first time. He could not believe it. “Onion head, uh,uh” The Turk rolled again in mirth. He said,” My physicians said it was impossible”. He excused himself to inform his wives who were in another part of the ship.

When the Turk had gone a fellow in dirty clothes and with a clean-shaven head adorned only by a felt cap peeped in. Looking around to see that the grand mufti was out he entered boldly and said, “Who are you?” “Mayor Calisthenics. And who are you?”

Mullah Murad Mahoud, “ said the stranger,” I wasn’t expecting interruption.”

That makes two of us.”

You know who I am?” he glared.” I can smell your presence.“ the mayor said under his breath. The newcomer asked,“ Where Grand Mufti Al- Wa’sik has gone to?” “I have no idea. He did not tell me.” Mayor Calisthenics replied.

Did he go in long strides or with short steps?”

With a laugh he went.” Calisthenics replied.

Laugh? Impossible!” Mullah Murad was sure, “ He has no use for laughter. He is a Turk!” The mullah was angry. “Laugh once, Allah hears you O stranger, But laugh twice, you are committing blasphemy. So watch out!” Hearing footsteps he hurriedly disappeared.

The fellow came second time leading a black bear and the mayor was taken aback at its size. “ The bear is under my care. I can make him do what I will!” He had never seen such a beast. “ Can you make the beast laugh, O mullah?” “ What for?” “So I may grin and bear it. Laughing is forbidden, no?”

At that point a rat gallivanted across the carpeted hall and the mayor thought it had no sense of respect; Mahoud saw him too and he said, ”Kill him!” The next moment the bear just reached out its muscular and hairy paw to dispatch the unfortunate rat to the next world. The mayor shuddered to confront the evil glint in the eye of the mullah. He said, ”All I need to give him a command and it is done!” The mayor knew it was a veiled threat. From that point Calisthenics ignored him.

To his relief the grand mufti came in and it surprised the guest to see the way the mullah changed over. The prince told him something and hastily he left the hall with the lumbering giant. Conversationally Al-Wa’sik said the bear was his pet. “I call him No Malice. You don’t care for pets?” “Of course I do.” Said the mayor with a serious face,” Except when I am in a pet.” His host laughed politely. The mayor did not mention about the little drama the animal played in his absence.

Quickly the two got to converse. The prince spoke about his tulips and the mayor was passionate about trekking. Calisthenics realized the prince was hard pressed for time. He was called up again by a guard, who came in and whispered something into his ears. The prince first frowned and smiled weakly to say,” This is a matter of compassion. Allah requite me kindly for this.” He got up and left.

After half an hour he came back. He had the look of a man who had earned his place among mankind by such deeds as worthy of a human being. He said,” Two young boys were almost at the point of drowning. One of my men saved them; and they are even now being attended to. By my personal physician.”

Calisthenics asked if they could speak. “At least their names?” The grand mufti replied,” I will lead you to them and you can satisfy yourself and may be your presence would be of comfort.” The mayor straightaway followed his host into the private chambers of the prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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