Posts Tagged ‘sea-captain’


(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.



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.

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.


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.


















Read Full Post »

( Wang and Lung, the identical twins have made two predestined enemies on the New Year’s eve and their mother is aghast. She is too wrapped up in her mourning so she persuades her only surviving brother to take them off her hands. He agrees. He is a sea-captain who is aggressively trying to get into the good books of his Admiral. In order to please him he has even taken charge of his pet, a dog  that is very very temperamental. He takes his nephews along and is also smug in having quietly passed off the biggest headache in to their care.)

The Night Runners

That evening Wang and Lung had to agree: their uncle was not to be sneezed at. There were three carriages awaiting his pleasure and they were part of the glory, which Captain Lee of the Imperial Navy commanded. They saw a clutch of neighbors walking tiptoe around the horses as though they were connoisseurs of horseflesh. A few were admiring the panopoly of outriders and the glory the sea captain could command. As soon the captain came out of the gate the crowd in a trice melted into ring. The neighbors who always kept an eye on the house stood there in awe at the commotion the Admiral’s glory had caused.
As soon as the sea captain and the party had settled in their carriage the chief of the guards signaled and the carriages rumbled into the twilight that softened the landscape.
One carriage was for the exclusive use of the sea- captain; the other for his nephews and in the last traveled their baggage and attendants. The packhorses, which were maintained by the Navy, were sleek and very hardy with their broad hooves. They were comparatively smaller in build than those the Admiralty maintained for ceremonial purposes. They rode as a team and at brisk pace.
Late in the first night the horses stopped and the drowsy children peered into the darkness outside. It was a barren landscape.  With a few torchlights here and there the rump of their horses glistened with sweat. Their coal black hide and mane only added to give them a spectral aspect as if were steeds hauled from infernal regions to accomplish a very dangerous mission. ‘Curious’ Lee brought in a man of uncertain age. He did not condescend to acknowledge their presence; neither did he explain what he was there for. He let that to their uncle.
“Here boys I brought your personal attendant. He is a jewel.”
“How do you know that uncle?” Wang whispered into his ear, ”See that scar on his face? He looks more a cut throat.”
“Shh!” ‘Curious’ Lee said,” He is a jewel,”
“Once I gave him Mimi to look after”, the captain continued,” the dog just took to him, like duck to water.”
“So he will let us off in peace?” Wang asked.
“Not exactly,” the captain winked and said,” You will take over Mimi. She will make men out of you. Of course if any trouble comes up, your attendant will give you a hand.”
While their uncle appraised them of slight change in the seating arrangements the man with the scar brought a Pekinese on a cushion with some ceremony and deposited himself into their carriage. For hours they suffered the dog and the presence of the handler who kept a morose face. He sat immobile and did not show any response to the twins who wanted the dog from ‘yelping their dreams away’. Wang always had some nice dreams as much as Lung had. Now the Admiral’s pet was shredding them for very whimsical reasons they complained.
Next day at one point when the convoy stopped, they wanted to know why. “There is a meeting with the Admiral’s man,” the attendant said.
Wang decided to talk it out with his uncle.
‘Curious’ Lee said that he had no time at that precise moment for him. “It is about Mimi,” he complained. “She doesn’t let us sleep let alone dream,” he added, ”If she makes a swipe at Jen once more I shall not spare her. She may be the apple of your Admiral’s eye. In my eyes my cricket comes first.” Wang was adamant. Silently his uncle passed two pieces of silver and said,” Put it down for extra allowance, boy.” “I can’t be disturbed. State secret and all that“. Wang persisted that he had a headache with all that barking going on in his carriage.  Another piece of silver passed hands. Before the visitor could find what was going on the captain said in a low voice, ”That is for a night’s silence. Understood?”
Wang nodded and ran back to the carriage while the attendant was pacing in that strange landscape with a Pekinese who was having a fit of sorts.
“Why don’t you try harder to stop it from barking?” Wang asked irritated. “If I tried any harder I am likely to get a fit! My nerves are all frayed at the ends.” The man had a point. Wang could understand that.
“The Admiral must be a clever fellow,” mused Wang,” and my uncle is also clever to pass his headache to us!”
The man with the morose face grimaced as the dog began squirming. His order was never to let the dog from that silk cushion which bore the Admirals insignia.
After a lengthy silence Wang asked the attendant if he had some opium pills.
“Master, have you toothache?”
“Perhaps difficulty in falling to sleep?”
“Yes and No!” Wang said controlling himself, ”Can you get me some?”
“Of course I always carry some with me.”
He took over from the man the cushion and the whelping dog while he fished out pills from his cloak.  “What are you the captain’s right hand man or a dealer in opium?” Lung asked on seeing a generous supply at a short notice.
“I am trained as an apothecary but at the moment a seaman.”  “Why then a Pekinese?”  “My future! My promotion, so the captain assures me, is tied to the happiness of this little..”
He looked around to see no one else was around,   ” …rascal!” he said with a grim face.
Wang promptly passed a piece of silver and got enough opium pills. Wang felt for the first time a compassionate feeling for the man who he could see worked hard to keep his job. Wang wholeheartedly believed in ‘live and let live’ policy. He exacted from his uncle for his peace as much as he in turn paid for some peace and quietness around him. Mimi didn’t come cheap. In her welfare hung the captain’s whole career. Not to mention the poor fellow dancing in attendance to a highly temperamental pet. So Wang and Lung were particular that they went on with their treatment.
“It is my duty to advise extreme caution before you begin a habit.” The scar face admonished.
“Tell that to Mimi. She is about to get used to a habit like a monkey on a hawker’s back.”  “Like a parrot on a pirate’s shoulder.” Lung took up.
“And it will leave us all in peace.”  The twins concluded. The older man looked on wide-eyed as the twins administered a pill to Mimi. She tried to throw a tantrum but the combined strength of the three made her realize she had better obey them. She swallowed it and was soon as if she had, she left her earthly cares for a world so wonderfully quiet. Wang thought it made even his cricket do a few turns in appreciation. With Mimi being knocked out and Jen pleased with himself the rest of the journey was easy for all.
All through the night and a convoy of attendants who rode along saw to every convenience of the captain and his charges. Wang and Lung woke up only when they halted in front of an inn at Sungkiang.    They saw the captain pacing in his room very distracted. He was anxiously waiting for his contact.
Wang and Lung as with their solemn promise kept out of their uncle’s way. They saw the mysterious emissary who brought a number of crates and saw that they were properly counted in the presence of the captain. After exchanging some papers they went in. While they were palavering the children were discovering a new side to their attendant. He was no longer morose. He looked human almost. Wang wanted to know whether he had been a sea pirate. The man shook his head. “Were you ever in a ship wreck?” “No, never” he asserted, ”Master, your uncle is a good captain.”
The boys lost interest in one who had nothing by way of adventure to amuse them. That scar which gave his cheeks the look of someone worth talking to, was on account of a very commonplace accident. He said he got it while he once tried to take his unruly steer to its stall.
“I thought you were an apothecary?” “ I was a dirt farmer but couldn’t scratch a living. So I ended up with Mimi for company.” The boys knew their trip wasn’t going to be anymore exciting than the seaman’s scar. They only brightened when he answered to their question that he was a magician as well.
“What is your trick? Does it sell?” “Yes if it comes in forms like this?” Next moment he had a bottle in his hands. It was filled with some liquid, tawny in color.  “What’s it?” “Love potion naturally? I could sell you some of this if you think it would help your case?”
“Why didn’t then use it to further your career?”
“ If it falls in wrong hands I may end up at the bottom of the sea! Very potent stuff this!”
He was not much to look at but when he moved about and in his self confidence there was much more than met the eye and he moved with a certain suppleness that resembled a panther in its natural habitat.   The man in a matter of few days had begun to interest them immensely. In return he viewed them as special. It was as if they touched some tender chord in his heart.  His name he said was Ta Yi. “ I have been called a rat catcher, a weasel. It was by those who do not know me well enough.” “I have been a village school master, apothecary, a magician, a farmer and many things of which I shall not bore you.” Ta Yi said one afternoon seriously…

Read Full Post »

(This excerpt is taken from The Fox-Spirit of the Tiger Caves, a novel set in China. The story is set in China during the Ming period. WANG and LUNG are identical twins. They are fifteen. Their father disappeared under mysterious circumstances some 6 years before. Through some mysterious encounters they realize their father is dead. In those days when sons were duty-bound to give their fathers a decent burial and put their spirits to rest WANG and LUNG are at a loss. The novel is about their search for the body of their father.
The twins always get in and out of  trouble. On New Year’s eve they got  into deep trouble. Their mother concerned for their safety entrusts them under the care of her brother,  a sea-captain. Captain ‘Curious’ Lee is at the moment on a delicate mission. Success of it could make or mar him. His superior has entrusted his pet a Pekinese dog with him. Mimi is in turn passed on to the twins and they also have a handler to keep Mimi under control. Their uncle’s ineptness is monumental and yet he seems to climb up with every disaster he lets loose. But the combination of his nephews and a temperamental dog under his watch  is an explosive mixture. No wonder his indigestion is raging and has a memory lapse. Instead of meeting the Admiral at an appointed island he disembarks at another island that doesn’t figure in any of their maps. The Gimi people who were found there are vacated and the captain is glad that he has added an island to the empire. He also is jubilant that he may yet get the coveted prize of the captaincy of The Phoenix.
Wang and Lung were happy by the time the island was emptied of people. Much was their delight since they had a tree house to spend the night. One of the seamen found a stray dog in one of the ravines and he felt pity for it. He brought the stray to the twins.
Wang thought the dog was a dead ringer for Mimi. “ Well, we will take over this mutt till we are united with Mimi.”
Wang assured Lung that he would take care. “No we will both take care of him.” Lung said. In the end they settled the matter and decided to take turns in looking after their new foundling. Ta Yi who came in caught on their excitement to say that a new island has  just been added to the empire.
“Man Lu is discovered by our captain!” “What is his idea?” Lung queried. “A ship-building yard for Imperial Navy!” Ta Yi was proud of his sea captain.
After he had left the boys attended to their new find. Their ragged mutt was squirming all the while as if it had lost its marbles. They took him and picked up stock of articles of use. In one of the huts there were various items, which indicated to them, as were for ceremonial purposes. Pots for ash stood cheek by jowl with pile of burnt barks; besides were twigs apparently chewed at ends to form some sort of brush. They searched curiously for body paint and they found it in one corner of the hut. There were small pots still holding cakes of colors. From close examination they realized were made from powdered minerals. There was a scrubber from leaves, which were pungent to smell. Noting the flecks of paint on those scrubbers they brightened up. They could give a new look to their new find.
“ What is good for the Gimi ought to be good for the mutt.” Wang averred. Laying out various pots of colors, ‘Naming ceremony must be observed properly,’ they concluded.
They tried colors one after other which seemed somewhat odd with their pet proving so fidgety and quarrelsome. Bored with coloring they scrubbed it away. Next it was a mud bath and after a prolonged and arduous ceremony fitfully interrupted by an unwilling mutt they proceeded to the next item.
“What shall we call it Wang?” “ Handsome?”
“No,” Lung winced, ”How unimaginative!” Wang came up with so many names, which would not do for Lung who thought it, were too masculine or harsh to the ears. Similarly Lung came up with his list of names a lost and found dog could live up to. No. No. Wang found them too sweet or feminine to be considered.
“Or ‘the other Mimi’ if this also is a girl?” Lung asked beginning to be annoyed. ‘A dog without a name is less than a dog.’ That much he knew. At home dogs were a forbidden item which elders had from the start struck from their list of pets. A cricket was O.K but not a dog.  So all their knowledge about a dog had come from Mimi. It was then natural they should show more decisiveness with the new find.
The dog also was their last chance to their inventiveness and to happiness. Naming ceremony must be got through. ‘We must!’ Each seemed to be convinced. To this end in view they quickly examined the dog.
“Ah a bitch like Mimi!” Lung felt as Columbus on the threshold of a New World.
“Same Pekinese breed. We are lucky!” Lung added, “See it round head, brother? And I invite your attention to its flat nose. What does it tell you?”
“ The other Mimi!” Wang had it in a flash. Lung knew that they had both settled on a name. “Now the dog can begin her life!” Lung was relieved.
Lung stood up facing his brother. Wang had not let go of the mutt who was punctuating the solemn ceremony with its howls, which could have taught a banshee a few useful pointers. “ We name you the other Mimi!” Wang declaimed and passed the dog to Lung reverentially. Lung received the dog and said, the other Mimi. So be it!” They said a prayer to Jade Emperor to make the other Mimi live to please him for thousand years. ”Banzai!” They said in unison. The naming ceremony was over.
It was left for the keepers to settle on some hard facts as to the kind of life style they intended for the other Mimi. ‘The pet should have a cushion to sleep on. Just as Mimi had one with the Admiral’s initials.” Wang said matter of factly. Lung vigorously agreed as to the justness of his proposal. Wang forthwith appropriated one cushion from Lung who was happy to sacrifice his comforts for the night.
That night they bade goodnight to their pet that was exhausted from her crying episode and slept.
Next day Wang and Lung found their uncle most voluble. They had come to know their uncle better and in their world of freshness and inexperience a failure always had a stigma attached to it. Wang was certain that he would impale himself on a sword than live with ignominy. Lung also was for death than dishonor. But the never-say-die attitude of their uncle had something of a plaice that had developed legs and was passing for an elephant. Who else could turn every blunder to make it look a win every time? Wang knew no one. Neither did Wang. They were growing up. They thought of failure in a new light.
Unknown to the children the sea captain as he lay in bed was chewing over the same topic. He had slept well and was content to let his thoughts for a walk before his body was asking for action. Between sleep and wakefulness came his best ideas. ‘ I had landed on Man Lu in stead of Sze Chiao. So what?’  He had thousands of ideas to make the new island redound to the glory of Imperial Navy! It is inevitable that the emperor would come to hear of his brilliant idea. No other way! He had discovered an island, which the empire had forgotten! It was right before the nose of the emperor, a lonely outpost which none could find use for. ‘My blunder!’ the sea captain exclaimed,’ Who notices it with such a strategic importance?’
Instantly he corrected himself. ‘Yes, after the way I put its strategic importance to it who dare think it is a mistake?’ Man Lu would change the whole mission in the way he gave his slant. All he needed was a hard sell. He could see how his admiral was all too human to fall for honor if he could put the matter in a right perspective. He was pleased.

After his tasks were completed Ta Yi returned. He made tea and took orders for the day from the captain who was enjoying every minute of that morning. The captain checked with him about his nephews. Everything was going in his way, he knew. At that lucid interval where sleep was completely rubbed out of his system by his personal trainer who massaged him, Ta Yi came in to announce his bath was drawn and his gown laid out.
It was an affable uncle who greeted his nephews. He was voluble indeed and hungry too. “We shall get on with our breakfast.” he said.
Wang held out his pet that was still encased in mud bath and a roll of cotton wound over it gave the look of mummy. The dog was whimpering but not to avail. At first the friendliness of their uncle took a nosedive to see the dog.
“See what we found in this island! A Pekinese!”
“The other Mimi!” Lung chimed in.
“Here take a fresh roll of bread you naughty girl,” Wang had a fresh roll from the basket on the table. “Isn’t it better that we eat first and feed our pet thereafter?’ ‘Curious’ Lee asked.
“She is so famished,” Lung said while laying out a plate of fish roes, which ‘Curious’ Lee was so fond of, “she will whet her appetite with some eggs.”
Wang was about to appropriate the whole plate which the captain somehow managed to prevent. “These fish eggs are worth its weight in gold,” the sea captain remarked.
“The other Mimi does not mind.”
Just as the captain settled himself to enjoy the sumptuous fare spread before him Wang and Lung had seized up the items their pet could relish. Wang was nimble sidestepping the captain who wanted to make his nephew remain seated; Lung successfully used that diversion to position the mutt to an advantage. Before his eyes plates were being passed on at rapidity and he let out a groan. It was no conjuror’s trick: some twenty of the three inch dishes laid out on the captain’s table quickly vanished while he realized his mistake. Those ten-inch plates that he had saved carried only oodles of noodles. “If Mimi can have 5 inch plates to eat from, the other Mimi can have these!” Lung asserted as only a dog lover can appreciate.
“Children, these are prepared for us with great care! We are obliged to show our appreciation to our cook!” While Captain Lee argued with Lung for some five-inch plates, which had assorted short-eats, Wang was busy removing the fish roes in three-inch plates with great finesse. If the Other Mimi relished it she didn’t show it. She was for having it all. Such was her appetite.
“Oh I am famished!” the captain declared somewhat mirthlessly at the end of an exercise that seemed more of a scrimmage; and salvaged whatever dishes he could find among the shambles. “It is dog’s life,” their uncle muttered and his appetite somehow was no better than the mess the dog had made of the finest tablecloth.
At the end of the meal the captain muttered a half full stomach with noodles was better than an empty stomach.
“You may make the most of this mutt!” the captain grumbled,” till Huan brings Mimi to us.”
The Other Mimi on a full stomach made him feel that the whole world was turned against him.
“Don’t make too much of this mutt!” Captain Lee said in irritation, ”Mimi is our concern!”
“Uncle,” Lung said,” you were wrong. The Other Mimi loves fish roes and could do with another helping!”  “Over!” Wang exclaimed waving a clean plate,” May be at lunch, uh uncle?”
‘Curious’ Lee slumped on his chair half hungry and morose.
“Cheer up girl!” Wang was now soothing her,” We shall save what we can from this naughty uncle. You shall never starve. That we promise!”
Lung urged,” Uncle, swear to us that she will have whatever she wants!” “Yes.” Muttered a gloomy captain, “On my starvation diet, yes.”

Trying to be pleasant the sea captain asked after a long silence, “What is your plan for the day?” “Today is the Makeover day?” Lung said. “ We dress the Other Mimi in a style which will make Mimi bark for envy!” Wang said decidedly,” A Plain look is passé.”
“We shall try a Nothing On, a new hair style a must for every Pekinese.” Lung too wanted to have a say.
“ Mimi comes first,” ‘Curious’ Lee said testily,” Don’t you make her grieve whatever you may do to this mutt.”
The captain was still peeved over an interrupted breakfast.
Two days later the captain was surprised to see a fleet bearing up on the island with Pilot Huan on the lead. From the Admiral’s pennant he realized that the Admiral himself was coming to him.
He asked Ta Yi in a whisper, ”Is Mimi well taken care of?” “As you said, Mimi is with Huan himself. Here he comes!”
As soon as the boat touched the pier, the pilot came running. Flustered, he reported that Admiral was behind him. “HewaitsimpatientCaptain!”he blurted in one breath.
Before the captain could digest it he shoveled the rest over, “Master, he has come unexpectedly, and he has to have a look at Mimi. ‘He says I miss the old girl!” “Go on,” said the captain controlling his ire and his near panic, ”Put Mimi on her cushion as she is used to, and present to the Admiral with the words, “Whatever Mimi needed, we provided for her. Banzai!’
Huan wanted to speak but words failed him. “Didn’t you understand what I just said?” He spluttered and said “Mimi! I lost her!” The captain was stunned, to say the least. He well knew how much the Admiral doted on his pet. In the midst of such a bonding between a master and his pet, his pet theories ‘Strategy of islands of Man Lu’ would come a poor second. He knew it only too well. It was too late.
The Admiral was waiting in his flagship Chinghai (meaning Blue Waters) like a deity unhappy with the devotions of the supplicant, coming to curse than bless. Having lost that single formula of invoking his good humor the captain knew he was in peril of damnation. The Admiral looked pinched with his white flowing beard all in a bellow.
“Where is Mimi?” he asked as if he was the god of Doom, ”What sort of welcome is this?’ Ashen faced the captain mechanically turned to the pilot who was waiting for his orders, and said, “Bring in Mimi!” Only then the full significance of his words hit him.
“ I lost Mimi!” the sea captain whispered.
‘Curious’ Lee was stunned as well as crushed that the Admiralty revolved around Tao Teh-king; and among many homilies which he filled the Protocol of the Seas none filled him at the moment with bitterness as the line,” Who makes Mimi happy comes second to none.” He had carefully steered his career till now with this in view. For all his care his entire career now depended on a Pekinese.
The captain knew he was in a fix. Nevertheless years of service in the Imperial Navy had given him certain resilience to roll with the punches. He sensed a way out: a sliver of hope trickling before him.
But how could he wriggle out without producing Mimi, the offer of appeasement?
‘Curious’ Lee with a superhuman effort ignored the Admiral, and launched himself to narrate what he had discovered. He did not forget to preface his performance with the words, ‘ The Glory of the Admiral is a Meteor forever illumined!” Having quickly navigated through white waters of introduction he was onto the precipice of a subject proper, which somehow yawned more menacingly. Had he cared for a moment to look at the old man he would have had a glimpse of micro emotions of a face bellowing into macro emotions. Annoyance, anger and fury cannonaded into amazement on the admiral’s face, while his reasonable mind well tempered by his knowledge, as of one who had seen enough foibles of human race, melted as an icicle who went to peek inside a blast furnace. He looked at cherubic face of his captain prattling for the kingdom come and instead he felt he was looking at a prize booby. ‘Curious’ Lee in his freefall through his discourse was oblivious to all. He carried himself well on a roller coaster ride of special merits of his surprise find. He didn’t forget to fill the admiral with every positive use the Empire could benefit from it. This barrage weakened the Admiral and he would have pointed out to his negligence if he could. He thought he had a valid point to take him to task for landing on an island contrary to his express order. But the rapidity of ‘Curious’ Lee to careen through his ex tempore speech was not to be stayed. What heat, what passion made the words fly off like foam! Howsoever may be the capacity of his own lungs to have generated it he was after all human. He needed to take in fresh breath and at that point his superior deftly positioned himself to get his say, “I shall come to that but not now!” the Admiral said with finality. His eyes were blazing with disappointment. “What is holding up her?”
“Mimi, who else?” Admiral shrieked, “ He who lets down Mimi will be broken without mercy. Of course you have so far managed well.”
“Mimi comes first in my life!” declared ‘Curious’ Lee. Yes. The Admiral was somewhat relaxed but not entirely, ”If so, where is she?”
Before the captain could rush into another monologue the admiral forestalled it. “Yes, Captain it was all highly irregular.” Tao teh-king said, “Sometimes what I call a mistake is a bold plan whose time has not come. Your discovery must wait its time. Well, it was in a way full of initiative and guts.”
The captain felt he was light headed and out of danger. Almost.
At that moment Ta Yi came with Mimi. The Admiral with a cry of delight turned to his pet and wanted to take in his hands. All he saw was his Mimi was shorn of every hair; How dare anyone insult his pet thus? She looked worse than a plucked chicken, which had a certain dignity that it could be dressed for the table. In terms of utility what a bald Mimi could commend for? Nothing. ‘Curious’ Lee felt his head was reeling and heard muffled bells tolled somewhere. “It rings for a shattered career”, he couldn’t help thinking so. Ta Yi left the room discreetly while Captain Lee imagined he was impaled to one of the cabin walls by the sharp looks cast by his superior. He wished he were invisible.
The captain saw whom he could blame. “No, take it like a man!” he said to himself being prepared for the worst.
It was at this point the admiral said,” I send my trusted emissary with a message and what do you do?”
The captain felt faint. He wanted to speak but no words came.
“So I am Admiral Idiot First Class eh?”
Let us mercifully leave the captain in his unenviable state to see how the twins were coping with their loss.

Lung was downcast. “We found a lost dog. And we took care of it only to lose it in the end!” “It is the story of our life!” Wang added.
At that moment a beaming Huan passed them by.
The twins were wretched while the pilot was unusually ebullient, a mood which struck them as somewhat inappropriate. They had come to look Offcourse Huan by the same standards their uncle had laid. A failure. ‘Wasn’t he to be in charge of Mimi and what he did he do? Lost her.’
“Huan, what did you do with Mimi?” Wang asked still perplexed. “I cannot say, Master Lung” The pilot explained,” I only know that she made me lose sleep over her.” After thinking over he said emphatically,” She was present as large as life in my thoughts. She must have been real for all that agony I suffered.” “Where is she then?” “I dunno!” he answered,” the older man explained,” may be she just lost her outward shape. Or she is just hiding in the spirit world?”
“You think the Other Mimi is altogether different?” “I cannot say,” he said rolling his eyes heavenwards,” she has somehow taken care to rid me of every anxiety.” “I cannot say except all my problems are washed away!” Offcourse Huan said in a singsong fashion, which rather grated, on their ears.
There was silence after the pilot had left.
Wang observed, ”You needn’t count what he said. He cannot even tell us apart. Didn’t he?”
“May be we should explain the facts?” Lung wanted to know.
To whom?”
“The rightful owner. The admiral” Lung said.
“Can he make good of all our sacrifices? We lost sleep over his old girl. Didn’t we?” Wang was sorry.
“Who shall make good of all those hair styles we created exclusively for her?”
“The admiral cannot have come this far without being old and wise.” Lung interrupted,” So I shall have a word with him.”
It was thus Lung interrupted the admiral and the captain ‘with some true facts which you ought to know’ which he announced as he stepped in. The captain made good of this diversion and left.

Lung later met them all and said,“ We had it all sorted out!”  The captain wanted to know where he had been so long.  “Admiral realized in the end that he was rather hasty to call you names.”  The captain didn’t smile. He rather sunk into gloom.
“Uncle you owe us thanks!”
“What on earth for?”
“You can keep your captaincy.”
“It cannot be; Just now admiral has been talking of making me a deck hand.” “I talked him out of it.”
“Really?” Wang cut in. “He said it would give him pleasure to see the decks all spick and span.”    Lung added, ”Of course the old man said you would make a good mop. But then he said your brains are so dried out would spoil the paint job.” “You don’t say?” Wang was horrified while ‘Curious’ Lee sunk his head into hands and groaned.
“I told him that truth of our uncle being wedded to the Sea. It made the admiral laugh out so loud.
Even Mimi whelped as if she got the joke. The admiral was rather pleased at this point.” Lung began narrating what he just witnessed. “Uncle, hardly had the admiral mentioned your name, Mimi began barking as if a bee had got in her bonnet.”
“ Really?” Wang was shocked.
“ What will make you quiet, my pet? The old man asked to which I said,” Try some opium pills. She is hooked very much onto the stuff.”
At this point the captain got up too shocked beyond words. “You said it. Awful!” ‘Curious’ Lee shuddered. “I told the truth.” Lung declared. “We live in dangerous times. Never tell truth if you can help it!” Wang quipped.
“The admiral took me by my collar and threw out. As I was about to get up and go he kicked me mightily on my rear!” Lung said casually, “That somehow took the wind out of his sails.” “You know Wang, you got it all wrong,” Lung declared,” truth works like magic. The admiral ended by saying that ‘Curious’ Lee must be a man of great character to have taken responsibility for us.”
The captain still looked still sort of annoyed with them. It was a near thing, he ruefully murmured. “Uncle you want to hear a story?” “What kind of?” “A shaggy dog kind of?” Wang said as if Mimi didn’t exist at all.
He merely groaned.

Unknown to his nephews the captain had much to groan at that moment. What befell the Admiral’s pet was nothing compared to how he treated Admiral’s envoy back in Shanghai; much worse was his disposing of a crate entrusted under his care. He pleaded ignorance. What he knew for certain was that he was to be reduced on account of his ignorance, to eat as the admiral put it, ‘a humble pie stuffed with his brain, a pie nevertheless, which for want of sufficient fill shall come no bigger than a macaroon.’


Read Full Post »