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Archive for October 22nd, 2013

 

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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