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Chapter-5
A Friend in Need

Master Josh riding a donkey through the mountainous region was dispirited and downcast. He was in a bandit country. However much as he wanted to take his mind off ‘evil of the age’ he could not. It stuck to him like a piece of chewing gum.
“Evil was in being born with a golden spoon in my mouth,” he recalled his tutor Bombassino. ‘Oh he hated me and envied also because I had everything I wanted.” Suddenly he said,”So when he speaks of evil he means something else.” “Evil is in the world outside!” he recalled his nurse Katrina. “Perhaps she was afraid of leading her own life. So she sought refuge in Sans-Souci. So much for her idea of evil.” He would have gone on thinking thus but some shadowy figures loomed menacingly in front of him. He looked about and saw there were none to help him in case of need. Suddenly their shrouds were dropped revealing their weapons. They were armed to the teeth and they were for a bite! Master Josh came across bandits whom he had only heard about in stories. Now they stood in his path squarely,- and deadly too!
One figure yelled and our hero merely shuddered,” this must be evil of this age out to cut my throat!” In response three ruffians jumped over him and pinned him to the ground. “We have hit the jackpot,” one screamed. Master Josh could only feel hands groping for his purse strings. They had found what they looked for. Gold pieces clanked about and cheery whistle of one bandit as if in signal to the other two. “Where they laughing?” he asked in fright,”because of gold?” Even as he was trussed up he murmured their laughter was soft.”… but it cuts deep like a scream!” Master Josh cried,”Alas my life ends here.” Before he fainted he heard that the bandits had only that morning got another victim. “Was he loaded Oh boy!” he heard another voice,”like this spring chicken!”
When he opened his eyes he saw he was entombed in a cave. There lay another victim in shadows. He was also chained up and he sighed deeply as he had no hope of ever getting out alive. There stood by his side a plate of food untouched. Josh glanced at the black bread and the jug of wine and his stomach revolted. Hearing that the prisoner looked up. Even in that dim light it was unmistakable. The victim was none other than ‘Blunder’ Buss the banker! He muttered,”the chieftain is new on the job but his knife cuts just the same!”Suddenly he saw whom he spoke to. His eyes showed some life and he said with feeling ,”I owe thanks to you. Those physicians took good care of me. But it was for nothing I suppose.”He fell again into gloom.
Soon the robber baron came in. Master Josh was slumped at the spot he was left by his captors. He sighed as if the presence of the banker merely added to his woes. He had kept his head bowed thinking of sad thoughts. He wondered how it fared with his father and Nimrud. His nostalgia even as it like a spark flew up, the scraping of boots sent a sudden chill. He had company!
Before the young prisoner could shudder the voice boomed,”Cheer up!” He added breezily,”I don’t go on cutting heads if I can help it.”Master Josh shuddered. It was uncanny he recognized the voice! It belonged to Gabriel who was once his dear friend. “This was turning out into a reunion of sorts!” he pinched himself. It wasn’t a bad dream!
Meanwhile the bandit realized whom he had in his power. “Oh Josh, I didn’t think of ever doing harm to you!” He himself loosened his ropes. “As to the other his head shall fall before the night is out.” Poor banker! he just fainted. Master Josh explained how he had been lately discharged from a looney house. “OK I shall cut his head just the same!”he said with a laugh looking askance at the banker. He almost slumped in fright. “Think of that poor man, Gabriel!”
“His case is sad. But I shall cut just the same!”Gabriel said with a wink, ”with tears in my eyes. I shall also keen like a banshee.”
“I will pay to the last kopek!”the hapless banker blubbered without daring to look up, ”I own a Bank or two!”
If the banker expected some sympathy he was greeted in response with an abrasive guffaw! The robber baron said, ”In that case I shall hire some musicians to entertain the crowd. You shall have the most wonderful send-off!”, The banker didn’t hear him since he had fainted. The chief clapped hands and two of his goons came. He ordered them to release the fellow and treat him well.
Gabriel took Master Josh by the hand and led him to his own chambers. They sat down to eat and after refreshing themselves they talked things over. He narrated the circumstances that led him to his life in crime. He could understand. Sans- Souci affected him also; and he faced evil of the age in his way. Gabby explained he held no grudge against his father. “For me you come above everything else.” He sighed,”For your sake I shall suffer any loss if that be unavoidable.” Master Josh asked a favor and before he explained what he had in mind the robber baron expansively assured that it would be done. Josh had wanted him to release the banker. He in so many words explained the circumstance in which he got to know him. The bandit reeled in shock but he somehow managed,”Josh, you don’t know what a sacrifice I am making by sparing him?”
“ Please for my sake.” An uneasy pause. ”I shall make it your worthwhile.” The bandit chief thought over it and laughed it away. “That is alright. I ought not be so greedy I suppose. I have a long career ahead.” Then he shrugged off,”Or a rope rudely knotted but very effective.”
Master Josh could see he was really desperate. Before he could broach on the topic any further he changed the subject. Gabby explained what news he had of Sans-Souci. He continued,” The same economic disaster has hit Sans-Souci. Your father had incurred large debts in order to modernize Sans-Souci. Now he finds it difficult to make payments. Old age hasn’t dealt kindly with him.” Master Josh couldn’t help but cry a little. Partly for causing him sorrow. He expressed his desire to see him directly. “I am at your service,” his friend Gabby said with feeling.
Later in the day Master Josh could talk things over with the banker who was now in a cheerful frame of mind,”Yet again Master Joshua,”he leant over and kissed the hand,”you have saved my life once again.” He pressed him to let him help in whatever way. He said he would see Sans-Souci himself so he might lend whatever help that would be necessary. So Gabriel had already talked things over with the banker. ‘Who else but a friend would walk an extra mile for you?’ A bandit, a cut-throat nevertheless. He mused wryly he owed his life to people of all hues and persuasions.
Next morning Master Josh and the banker were on the road towards Sans-Souci. He mused,”Evil of the age is not a cut-throat or some parasites. If they could be sent by providence, evil must be something else.

Chapter-5
Evil Of The Age

The banker on the way to Sans-Souci talked freely and treated him as though he was one of the family. He told of his family and of the bank that he had inherited from his father. He asked why he wasn’t married. Master Josh truthfully replied he never had thought of it. “You are young and have a good heart.” The banker averred. He was sure the young man was ready for raising a family. In fact he was sure his daughter would make him happy. Master Josh mulled over the idea and said,”We shall discuss over it when we reach Sans-Souci.”
‘Blunder’ Buss was impressed with the stately mansion that stood still as a swan surrounded by so many jackdaws. “Those hovels are an eye sore.” the banker commented casually. Master Josh winced and said,”Those belong to the tenants.” Master Josh knew Gabriel as a bandit chief was a telling commentary on Sans-Souci. He was also equally involved in keeping such conditions longer. His good deeds didn’t change the situation but thought it was a good time as any to address his responsibility as best as possible.
When they arrived travel weary Nimrud came in haste and called him aside,”How dare you insult us? Your leaving made our father a wreck and made me take the whole yoke myself. Now your coming will upset him and incovenience me…”
“We were riding for days and we would like to rest awhile before we talk further. Once again joining up with the banker who quietly asked who he was he replied,”My elder brother. Never mind. It is my father I want you to meet.”’Blunder’Buss nodded.
Master Josh guided his companion into the wing where he had his own apartments. He called his attendants to look after the needs of his companion. Later the banker came and said how impressed he was. The banker had never seen such luxury.
“Unlimited credit,” he chortled,”the bank can offer.” Josh asked him to talk things over with his father. While they waited for Father Adonai they saw Nimrud leave in a huff.
They also saw his father coming towards him. And they could see he was still sore to complain. His father told him in a firm voice to behave himself. Nimrud came back and waited for his father. He stood a little away from them. He looked away as if was still angry with his younger brother. Both noticed how his father was upset. Master Josh saw he was also much older than he imagined.
2.
You see Father Adonai? He is still forbidding and gargantuan in size. His hairs are all white and as soon as he strides into the room he announces as if to no one in particular,” I have cause for annoyances. Some tenants were supposed to meet me. But they stood me up.”
He looks at his firstborn and his annoyance is still visible. “Nimrud I am sorry you feel so beefed up.” Suddenly he freezes. He apologizes and says,”I didn’t know we had company.” He walks to his younger son and hugs him. “My dear son you made an old man happy!” See how he changes his tone, and speaks warmly to the guest? Also note how elated he is to note his younger son is safe and sound? See pride in his eyes?
Shh He has to be polite to his guest. He tells in so many words he is impressed to have him under his roof. They speak in low tones. Heard what the Lord just said?
He says,”It is for my son to worry about. I have since last week stopped racking my head over trifles.”
“Trifles, father?” Nimrud is incensed. Look how he scowls at his brother and blurts out,” He left you in a lurch when you needed him most.” Nimrud was certain if it weren’t for him Sans-Souci would have been in shambles. “I am not ashamed to tell it to the whole world!” he said with ill-concealed temper. He wants to leave the table but his father shouts him to stop. Before such a thundering voice that Nimrud is shaken.
You understand don’t you, why they sit at their places and eat silently? Yes the family has a problem. See Nimrud doesn’t look up from his plate. Doesn’t that speak volumes?
Father Adonai slowly warms up and chats pleasantly.
He even tells his guest why his son stepped out of his care. He laughs low and says,”It was for him to find out. Evil of the age, it has stopped worrying me.”
Master Josh perks up. See how his youthful face brightens up? “It has stopped worrying me also.”His father looks perplexed. His son says in a measured tone,” Evil is in the way we are connected. Even whom we condemn as bad has in him the means to add something to us. Those whom we look up as good have in them meanness, cruelty and so many other vices. Only time and circumstances will tell.”
See how the old Adonai looks pleased. “That’s my boy!” his eyes seem to tell. The banker looks impressed. See how Nimrud receives it? He dares not look up. He still is furious. That makes it difficult for him to eat. Let us leave him with his problems.
Let us leave a happy family to deal with their problems in their own manner.
The End

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Chapter-2
Parting Of Ways

The day Joshua became eighteen his father allowed him to step out of Sans-Souci and see the world himself. “By lunch you ought to be here,” he said. Master Joshua agreed. As the groom brought his favorite horse, an Arabian stallion completely black and with a white crescent on its forehead, he was sure he was going to be bored. So he asked his older brother whether he wanted to come along. Nimrud gave him such a strange look that he was sorry he had asked. Josh didn’t understood why. He knew he and his brother didn’t see eye to eye. Over years it had grown so wide, it took an effort to talk.
Well, he had asked and his brother obviously preferred to stay put. That was that. So he went to the town on an easy trot. He was nevertheless somewhat apprehensive.
Sans-Souci was a world in itself. Everything he had known of life came from within its massive walls. He was dressed as richly as his father or his brother was used to wear. But having never before seen the world at large he wasn’t sure whether his dress was proper or not.
He was dressed in silk: and the silk came from so many millions of silkworms his father had cultivated in a mulberry orchard. Or take his riding boots. These were made of finest leather cut from hides of animals that were reared for the purpose. Wool, milk, butter, meat and what not were aplenty and each article came from the estate. Bevy of swans and cygnets bounded in the streams and the sight always pleased the eye; and their downy feathers lined the couch: so plump and soft no one in the family ever complained of being wide awake at unusual hours. Such a restful place it was. He could take ease and think paradise was where he lived. Leaving it for what? Wondered master Joshua. Naturally letting his reverie canter, he rode on a little dispirited.
After a quarter of an hour he came into the first town. What a shock! What a bedlam of sounds! Screeching matrons, peasants who went by with their nail-studded boots scraping,- ho the cries of the sick and the hungry, so mingled could not have spared such a sensitive young man. He galloped hard. Ahead was a village. He was shocked that there were too many cottages around a square. Those cottages were set cheek by jowl. “Who would live so close with everyone breathing on the other?” He saw clothesline with all sorts of articles left in the sun to drip dry. Filthy rags along some undergarments. A matron went on chattering to another among these unmentionables. He shuddered, ”Have they lost all their sense of dignity?” He never thought any self respecting woman would put her laundry out for all the world to see!” He could see here and there men who lolled about in casual clothes and least mindful of their language. He was disgusted with their crude manner and slovenly appearance. Their conversation was no better. Every sentence was punctuated with swear words that insulted his fastidious mind.
“By Jiminy!” he exploded. He held on to the reins lest he should fall off the horse. His face went white at what confronted him. ”Look at them! Can people take delight in their misfortune?”

Sans-Souci was never like this! His stable boys talked in low voices and they cast their eyes down when spoken to. His servants walked tiptoe in order not to disturb him. His nanny dressed herself primly and washed her person and hands scrupulously clean so as not to offend his senses. But what he saw outside his palace was offensive to him in every way. Why this difference, he wondered.
Further away he saw some people who were idling. He watched from far and they just did nothing. Never had he felt thus. ”Preposterous!” he thundered and tied the horse to a tree. He went to them and his face was a-tingle with outrage. In Sans-Souci all worked from sun up till sunset. His father’s tenants worked to death in a manner of speaking. ‘Work got them out of mischief,” as his father had often said.
“Hey you!”he shouted and they just stood up in alarm. Josh asked, ”Aren’t you ashamed that you waste your time?” He was sure there was nothing more shameful than wasting a beautiful day like that morning. One wizened old man replied with his sad eyes looking elsewhere, ”We cannot find work.”
“Go to Sans-Souci!” Master Josh said, “You shall find work there.” ” Yes we know.” “Do you refuse then?”
“Oh no master,” the old man replied. ”We are free men and we would like to live our own way. What for do we work? If not for giving us some dignity?”
“Does idleness give you dignity? He asked passionately,” I am sure you are not so misguided as to believe that?” “No master,” the old man explained that they wanted work so they could earn enough. “But if we cannot spend it in ways we think it necessary for us what is it?”
“What is the use of my hands if I cannot hold my baby in my leisure?” another asked. ”Or play cards with friends?” another one croaked.
Josh could get the drift. He asked the old man somewhat subdued, ”So you have your own idea of leisure?” He nodded and said he would on his part like to fish in the river. “Fishing clears my head and eases my tensions.”
“Do you fish?”
“How can I,” the old man replied sadly, ”the river belongs to your father.” “May be you can take up hunting or set traps?” The old man shook his head, ”All game, and fowls belong to your father. If we shoot a wild bird without his express order we would be thrown into gaol. For poaching. No doubt on that point.”
They shuffled away not willing to recite any more misery that blighted their lives. Josh stood there as if he were pole-axed. No shock could have come greater in his tender heart than the way Sans-Souci had emptied the their fortunes and happiness.
Master Joshua rode back in order to be present for lunch. His heart was in turmoil. Perhaps his father ought to explain better so he might find peace. He had lost it completely. So shocking was his first foray into the world.

Over lunch Father Adonai furtively watched his younger son. Even while his sons chattered of this and that he knew his younger son gave him ‘the spooks.’ In his eyes he saw ‘evil of the age’ as he would often refer to it. He knew it was the shock of his stepping out into the big bad world, alone and unprotected. “Did I go wrong?” he asked himself. Mercifully Josh said at the end of the meal, ”Papa I have reached the age of maturity.” His father waited for the axe to fall. The boy added,” If you love me, at least let me sort out my problems myself.”
“Problems?” the older boy quizzed, ”We live in Sans-Souci for god’s sake.”
“Yes, problems,” Josh said with a grim face,”I see evil of the age as Papa would often say, in Sans-Souci.”
Swallowing hard he added,”From here I can’t fight it.”
“I knew you were stepping out for disaster,” retorted Nimrud. The boy said quietly,”Allow me to go into the world. I intend to rub shoulders with it. Perhaps I can grind that monster to some manageable size.”
Father Adonai didn’t answer him directly. Instead he turned over to Nimrud to query. “No I stay put. I want to be with my papa. I have put my neck for the yoke and I intend to stay by your side.”
After the plates were cleared, they sat for a while. His father was deep in thought and at time he sent sidelong glances and turned his head away. Nimrud looked angry and chafing at the silence. It was the first time silence had come upon their free chatter. Father Adonai stood up and told his younger son that he was right. He had to face ‘evil of the age’ by himself. He asked if he had thought of his travel plans. The boy said he should know in a week’s time. His father placed his hand over his shoulder and said, ”Fine. Your share to Sans-Souci I shall arrange to pay you wherever you be and whenever you desire for it.” Father Adonai managed to reach his study and slumped onto his divan. He wept. In sorrow and also a little in pride. His younger son had in him the pluck. “He is not a quitter where his heart is concerned,”he mused,”I wish I could say the same for Nimrud.” Of Nimrud he reflected thus,’he knew his mind. A pity it is. Alas!’

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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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Chapter- 1

At Sixes And Sevens

Mayor Calisthenics takes office and for the Sleepy Heads it is business as usual; Dr.Jerry Can gives them an idea.

 

Some five years before the Turks landed on the island of Cyprus a new mayor had his first day in office.

 

In a town with the curious name “ The Garden of Neden” the townsmen were yet to come to grips with the day. While the sun steadily rose in the sky most people were still indoors. Each day was something special for them. They loved to sit around in their parlor, read, sew or chat. If they thought there was not much fun being indoors invariably they stayed in. They did not set their clocks according to the sun but according to their own convenience.

 

Neither did they plan their days for fear or favor.

 

The day the new mayor took office they definitely stayed put. They had certain misgivings of the new mayor who according to the reports was too clever for his own good. You see they saw nothing good in being present to cheer a mayor who may turn out to be dull or very officious. So they were content to remain indoors on the day Mayor Calisthenics took charge of them.

 

 

 

Mayor Calisthenics was average in height and a ripe pear fruit just described him. A pear fruit walking on two well-formed legs. The head was similarly matched but similarity ended there. His intelligence shone in his eyes and twinkle in his eyes seemed to say, ‘you get what you see here.’ He showed he meant what he said which all together in looks and deeds expressed him. He was endowed with many qualities all of which were set in place and given a polish by his sense of humor.

 

 

 

Before his arrival he had made enquiries and heard stories many of the people whom he was to govern and lead. He heard quite a few which were calculated even to discourage a Hercules from his labors. He shall however fulfill his office, he said to himself since it was expected of him. Besides he knew he could. Before he walked to his office that morning he assured himself thus: “I am here to represent the Sleepy Heads. So I would not burden myself with matters to which the Sleepy Heads have no sympathy.” And he had planned his moves very carefully.

 

There were a few handpicked representatives of King Nicias to formalize his assumption of office. His Master of Ceremonies, a Venetian count before parting took him aside and said, ”Failure is not an option.” With a wave he left.

 

After taking the seal of office the mayor came out of the Town Hall. It was time he put together his Council.

 

2.

 

The Town Hall an apology for a civic building stood on an elevated ground overlooking the Bay of Morphou. The new mayor came out of his office and stood at the porch. Like a dog sniffing the wind. He was before a public square to which three roads ran into. It took a while before a few here and there came into view. Mayor Calisthenics waited patiently. A Sleepy Head, who came closer was immediately buttonholed by him. Columbus would have liked to leave and he said he stepped out only out of curiosity. “You will do!” the slaphappy mayor said explaining such curiosity in civic matters showed he was ready.

 

Ready for what?” the Sleepy Head asked. “I hereby by the powers vested in me, appoint you as a councillor.” Columbus did not realize that assuming office could be so painless. Besides one who had the trappings of a mayor, the one who just had moved in on that part of the Garden was positively beaming at him. Columbus was too surprised for words. He could only stand and watch Calisthenics with pleasure as he rounded up another. He knew Lyckus who lived in the Lower Case. Before his very eyes the mayor was rubbing the glad oil of his charm all over the gasping fellow. Lychus was disoriented and he said he had only thought of taking a short cut and had no intention of startling his eminence. “ Oh no!” the mayor assured him smoothly, ”I, Calisthenics was in fact waiting for you.” He explained how often the efficiency of a mayor’s office was stalled by routine and minutiae. “If you are capable of taking short cuts well, you could as well save the daily grind of mayoral duties.” Without further ado he was inducted into his team. Before noon he had handpicked a team of ten councillors.

 

He assured them to be at rest and he spoke of what he intended to do. He ended by asking them “Don’t you want to be known as the Founding fathers?” Calisthenics had a way of putting the weighty matters of local administration as if it were a child’s play. The newly inducted councillors thought it saved them time and bother to go along with the wily mayor than resist him. They held their silence.

 

The mayor knew he had won them over. With utmost solemnity he led his councillors inside. Having them seated around a large table he seated himself.

 

Henceforth this is where you call the shots. From here you shall make a difference to the lives of our people.” After their first sitting was concluded he asked, “ I would like to meet the worthy townsmen of Neden.” He was told that it was not possible.

 

Why not?”

 

They cannot reach here in time.” replied one.

 

Where are they?” the mayor asked one of his councilors who replied. “ They are busy.”

 

Busy of what?”

 

Wool gathering” replied his councilor.

 

The mayor was not surprised. In Venice it was said a Sleepy Head could only be impressed with a hit of shovel on his head or at gunpoint.

 

Mayor Calisthenics hated extreme measures.

 

3.

 

One day it brought home the reason why the Sleepy Heads were difficult. ‘If only I could think of a challenge something very vital to them!” If his councillors could be won over silently and so smoothly it was only a matter of time. He was happy at the way the weight of responsibilities carried with office had straightened out his councillors who in most cases shared his enthusiasm. Hardly the mayor had suggested the piteous condition of their Town Hall they knew the matter required their immediate attention. They had for months worked daily under the threat of a roof, which was almost coming apart. ‘Yes they would need a new Hall.’ The mayor knew if the Sleepy Heads took their part the new building would bond them for greater things.

 

To his dismay he found there was opposition.“ We must keep the great traditions of Neden,” said one townsman who said he was for conservation. “Yes,” said another,” No sooner we get a Town Hall than the talk will be to improve our lot. To which purpose the mayor has already drawn up a list of things to be done.” He was very sorry to change his very laid- back lifestyle. Doulos who was a conservative agreed. They went public haranguing to all and sundry about the need for keeping the status quo. Of course there were a few who stood for progress more out of a feeling for contrariness than of any deep conviction.

 

The mayor had learnt his lesson. Columbus one day asked,”We failed. Didn’t we?” The mayor shook his head.

 

Some who did not join with any faction said, ”Look at our Town Hall! It does not leak. It pours!” ”It is not bad if you plug the holes when it is n’t raining.” There was some talk of repairs and maintenance but nothing came of it.

 

If you had in those days walked to the Town Hall which stood on a rock jutting into the sea you could have seen the name in large red letters “The Garden of Nde”. The painters had not yet found time to complete the name board.

 

In some five years the town by the sea slowly became backward and run down. The Garden of Neden. It was a Garden, which was beginning to smell of weeds. The roads were paved with stones and broken tiles began disappearing. One day some wagons pulled by oxen were stuck in mud. The wagon drivers complained to the mayor.“ It is on account of rains,” one councillor said. The mayor agreed, “ Precisely!” From that time no wagons ever passed through the town.

 

Calisthenics said: “ The town has gone to the dogs!” at which some dogs took offence and some people who would have liked to see the town improve said:” It is a dog’s life.”( to be continued)

 

 

 

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