1636 The China Venture – Snippet 30
Year of the Pig, Fourth Month (May 16-June 14, 1635)
On the deck of the Eagle’s Claw, off Tianwei Point
Zheng Zhilong stood on the deck of Liu Xiang’s flagship, the Eagle’s Claw, sword in hand. He could no longer hear the sounds of battle from the hold below; his Black Guard had plainly prevailed, or Liu Xiang and his men would be seeking even now to recover control of the deck.
Jelani emerged from the main hatch, and Zheng Zhilong hurried over to speak to him. “You have him, Jelani?” Zhilong demanded in a harsh whisper.
“Yes, Admiral,” Jelani responded in kind. “He is unconscious, however. Do you wish to kill him now, or wait until we can revive him?”
Zhilong considered these options for a moment. “Neither. Liu Xiang should be put to the torture, and my brothers should have the opportunity to watch him suffer as we have suffered. Gag him, hood him, and take him back to my flagship. Better hood a few of his crew, too, so it doesn’t appear that we have singled him out.
“Take all of the hooded men below, then separate him out. By the time they are brought back on deck, no one will recall just how many hooded men there were. All prisoners save Liu Xiang may be turned over to the magistrate at Guangzhou for trial and execution as pirates. But I will have personal vengeance on him. Put it about that Liu Xiang, grievously wounded, jumped into the sea and was devoured by sharks.”
Zheng Zhilong and his fleet triumphantly sailed into the port of Guangzhou to report on the battle to the governor of Guangzhou and to deliver the captured pirates to his justice. All of the captives save for the secret one, Liu Xiang himself.
He stopped first at the Zheng family offices in that city, sending word to the governor that he needed to make himself presentable after the battle. In truth, he wanted to check with his brother Zheng Zhiyan, “the Swallow,” to make sure that there were no unpleasant surprises.
“Yan is not here,” he was told. “But he has left word for you.”
The message that Yan’s lieutenant handed him was written on silk in Chinese characters, but some of the characters were phonetic renderings of Dutch words and others were part of a Zheng family code.
You left standing instructions that if any “Americans” came to Macao or Guangzhou, they were to be coaxed to go to Xianmen instead. They arrived off Tiger Island on the twelfth day of the third month, and I visited them shortly thereafter. They declined to join their two ships to your fleet action against Liu Xiang, and seemed very determined to stay here and meet with merchants and officials.
I was well aware that you didn’t want to risk the Americans’ precious gadgets and knowledge falling into the hands of our family’s trade rivals in Guangzhou. With the southwest monsoon making it impossible to send a message to you after you left in pursuit of Liu Xiang, it was clear that I had to act on my own and at once to protect our family’s interest, and hence I thought it justifiable to take extreme measures.
Extreme? Zheng Zhilong didn’t like the sound of that.
You had told the family that the Portuguese feared for their survival after the triple blows of the death of their great protector Xu Guangqi, the Japanese seizure of the Portuguese “Japan Fleet,” and the fall of Manila to the Dutch-Japanese alliance.
Hence, I made sure that the Portuguese knew that the USE ships were near Guangzhou, and, through one of our contacts, I offered them the men and boats for mounting a fireship attack, at a suitable price of course.
Fireships? Against the Americans that Zheng Zhilong had been trying so long to find? If Yan the Swallow had killed them, and was now making excuses for his failure, Zhilong the Dragon would make sure that Yan spent the rest of his miserable life trying to sell Chinese porcelain to the Taiwanese headhunters.
Zheng Zhilong curbed his temper and read on.
The Portuguese were pathetically grateful for the warning and the offer of assistance, not realizing that the assistance was provided to make sure that no actual harm would come to the USE mission.
Knowing exactly when the attack was coming, I warned the Americans, so they could lift anchor and hurry away unscathed. Moreover, I had agents among the attackers who would have made sure that the fireships went astray, if need be.
I have persuaded the Americans that they would receive a friendlier reception from you in Xiamen, and I am sailing with them, having made provisions to send you this message. For the sake of security, I encased it in a ball of wax, and instructed my messenger to swallow it, to be recovered at our office in the usual way.
For our further benefit, I have made sure that I have witnesses who can attest to the Portuguese instigation of the attack. Perhaps this could be used to blackmail the Portuguese at some point?
I assure you, Brother Dragon, of my assiduous loyalty to you, and I hope I can be of further service to you in the near futureâ€¦
It appeared that Yan the Swallow had done well. Zheng Zhilong was not one to complain about the taking of risks, at least when those risks paid off.
The same southwest monsoon that had hindered communication earlier would speed Zheng Zhilong back to Xiamen, once he broke free of his social commitments here in Guangzhou. He would tell the governor that much as he would enjoy a long visit, he had to return to his own province to make sure that no splinter of Liu Xiang’s forces had found refuge there. And that no new pirate leader sought to take advantage of Zhilong’s absence.
Soon, he would get his wish and meet the mysterious visitors from Grantville.
En route to Liaoluo Bay
Jim Saluzzo looked up from his reading. “Yes, dear?”
Martina pointed at her belly. “Feel here.”
Wearing a somewhat goofy expression, he followed orders, then kissed her. “I guess you better start knitting baby clothes.”
“I guess. Given when I first missed my period, I am figuring that I have until sometime in December.”
“We’ll be safely in some city in China way before then, I’m sure. And their physicians are probably as good or better than anyone in Europe who isn’t trained up-time or in Grantville.”
Martina nodded. “I took a history class in which the professor said that the early modern life expectancy was several years longer in China than in Europe. Fifty percent longer if you were comparing city folk.”
Jim waited to see if Martina had anything more to say, then returned to his reading. But after a few moments, he said, “Martina?”
“If you’re pregnant already, there’s no need for abstinence, right?”
“Well, aren’t you hot to trot! Are you sure it won’t hurt the baby?”
“Absolutely. The baby is like one of those guys who dresses up in an inflatable Sumo wrestler costume and can run into walls without getting injured.”
‘That’s an image that will give me nightmares….”
On the Rode Draak
Anchored in Xiamen Harbor
“Something’s up,” said Mike Song. Something was: an ornate barge was coming their way. It was being poled rather than rowed along, by men dressed in fashions several cuts above the usual harbor folk. And while many watercraft had some kind of hut on deck for shelter, this one had what looked like a small pavilion that would be perfectly in accord with a formal garden. It had a red roof with upturned “flying” eaves. There was a Chinese official of some kind seated beneath this roof, with attendants flanking him.