The Monkey King of the Pearl Sea
Lord Durnleigh is inconvenienced. Return to the House of the Grey Dragon.
Lord Durnleigh was inconvenienced - which did not make him a happy man, and it was hardly as if he was an overly cordial fellow to begin with.
Unfortunately, Lord Durnleigh was inconvenienced by a great many things a great deal of the time, it’s just that being of the British upper class and male, he was expected to grin and bear it with fortitude, or at the very least to complain very loudly until some underlings corrected the problem at hand.
His family were one of the biggest inconveniences in his life, but there was not a lot to be done about them, and Lord Durnleigh had found many ways in which to mitigate their influence on his life. Actually staying at Stones and avoiding them as much as possible was one of the most effective methods, but there were unfortunately times when he simply had to return to Starvecrow Place, and it was on these occasions that ever since the fateful evening of the stewed eels that Lord Durnleigh was practically assaulted by the Lady Iolanthe who had badgered, needled and importuned him whenever possible about visiting Doctor Membly-Hawls. A strategic retreat had become necessary, but it had served to keep Lord Durnleigh from the growing itch behind his eyes, and his increasing tendency to sweat in copious amounts.
It was also an inconvenience for Lord Durnleigh to have to actually go through the pretence of managing some of this father’s estates. This usually entailed him leaving the actual running to the very competent stewards on those estates, but he sometimes had to liaise with them. Such had been the case in the last few days; it
had been an almost perfect storm of annoyance for him, an unwelcome intrusion of the real, responsibility-laden world and
a growing need to satisfy his own growing needs - which Lord Durnleigh thought were the most important needs.
Even by escaping the nagging attentions of his sister by spending his evenings and nights at Stones only allowed Lord Durnleigh to relax to a small degree, despite making significant inroads to Stones’ supply of excellent brandy.
Even in the serene, excellently provisioned and staffed surrounds
of Stones, Lord Durnleigh was inconvenienced. Excellent food, well-provisioned rooms and above all the lack of anything resembling family members did nothing to stop Lord Durneligh from thinking. Thinking was not usually considered an inconvenience, but for Lord Durnleigh his thoughts should be one of those things that most definitely should not be bothering him. Despite having, shall we say, some ‘specialised’ tastes in some of his recreational activities, Lord Durnleigh thought of himself as essentially a straightforward and simple man. Having thoughts intrude into his day to day activities was not something he was used to and he was becoming distracted by them.
One of the most distracting thoughts was his increasingly urgent desire and need to return to the House of the Grey Dragon. It did not occur to Lord Durneligh that this need was becoming more frequent, nor that this should be a matter of some concern to him. He had the funds and he had the time with which to indulge himself, so he saw no reason to not indulge. He might be forced to change this opinion in the near future. For the present time however, Lord Durnleigh dealt with whatever business matters he couldn’t foist off onto someone else, with the aim of clearing some time in his not-so-busy schedule for him to be even more not-so busy. Lord Durnleigh, reclining in a leather armchair in the smoking room of Stones, nursing a brandy and a cigar mused that he would soon be in a much more pleasing room where smoking took place, even if it
was not quite so sumptuously decorated.
Thoughts of the map were also intruding on Lord Durnleigh’s thoughts more often than he found convenient. Admittedly, it
was not so much the map that was on his mind, but rather what the map - in Lord Durnleigh’s now over-active imagination - promised. Despite being landed gentry and because of that being genuinely wealthy, Lord Durnleigh, like so many genuinely wealthy people, did not actually have a solid grasp on the meaning of wealth and value. So the phrase ‘Wealth beyond your dreams’ was hazy at best. Yet
he didn’t seem to be able to set the idea aside. Visions of jewels and pearls and silver and gold would arrest his attention at the oddest of moments, with the amount of said jewels and metals increasing as Lord Durneligh adjusted his expectation of what was and was not beyond his dreams.
He could go and chivvy Dr Membly-Hawls along, mused Lord Durnleigh, although on reflection he wasn’t sure what that would actually achieve and it would necessitate another visit to the Museum, something he wished to avoid - he did have a reputation
to uphold after all!
These thoughts led Lord Durnleigh to the next subject that was causing him some inconvenience: when Dr Membly-Hawls had translated the map, what next? It would be easy if it just contained some gibberish that meant nothing to either of them, but what if the map was just that, a map to extreme wealth? The answer was too obvious, so obvious that Lord Durnleigh’s mind had difficulty in grasping the concept. Someone would have to go and retrieve said extreme wealth, but Lord Durnleigh being Lord Durnleigh, this meant that he did not exactly trust anyone to do that for him.
He was slowly and not without some agonising coming to the conclusion that his alleged passion for all things Oriental was about to become a practical experience rather than an imaginary one.
One step at a time thought the suddenly practical-minded Lord Durneligh. He could do and plan nothing without understanding the map, and that was in Dr Membl-Hawls’ capable hands for the moment, and he grudgingly knew that there was no use in hurrying him along. He would have to be patient - a novel experience for him to be sure, but it was bound to be character building. So, while he was waiting for the good doctor to complete his work, he may as well visit the House of the Grey Dragon and get rid of this damnable itching and sweating - it was becoming unseemly.
Try as he might, it did not escape Lord Durnleigh’s notice that his visits to the venerable House were becoming more regular and that they were becoming just as much about removing certain symptoms associated with opium smoking as the pleasure of opium smoking. He filed this away as something to be dealt with later. After he had smoked again.
He would visit the House tomorrow, lose himself for a time and then, well hopefully Dr Membly-Hawls would have something interesting to tell him.
Lord Durnleigh had been nervously excited all day in anticipation
of his visit to the House of the Grey Dragon late that evening. No matter how severe the itching of the sweating, even he had some sense of decorum, or at least self-preservation, that made it much safer to approach under darkness, and with any luck a shroud of fog. Not that he was likely to bump into anyone he knew in that particular area of London, and if he did, they would have as many questions to answer as he did, but it was better to err on the side
He could feel himself getting more excited as the cab approached the House, and he fought for the restraint and control that was an Englishman’s armour. It didn’t matter that Dewbury either suspected or knew what he did in the House, appearances had to be maintained. So it was with his usual aplomb that he climbed down from the cab and strode to the welcoming portal of the House of
the Grey Dragon, manfully ignoring the filth on the pavement while steering a discreet course around it and of course leaving Dewbury to settle up with the cabby.
Lord Durnleigh entered the dread portal of the House of the Grey Dragon, dreadful only in its sheer decrepitude and grubbiness. It was one of those establishments that appeared to be nothing at all from the outside, just another in a sea of nondescript buildings that were slowly decaying from being shoddily built in the first place and of neglect. He negotiated various corridors and staircases until he was once again in the sparse hallway littered with several chairs. Dewbury would await him here, and needed no instructions to do
so - this routine was now familiar and he knew what was expected
Before Lord Durnleigh was another door, this one considerably more stout and secure, which he went through with his usual blitheness. At this point, all the itching, sweating and other symptoms were replaced with anticipation, even if he had to do his duty to Madam Wei first. Soon enough that would be done and he would be reclining on a couch, and attendant helping him with the first of many pipes.
So it was with no small measure of surprise that when he scanned the beautiful parlour of Madam Wei, he saw nothing of that august personage, which was very unusual indeed.
Instead of a rather large, flamboyant, overly made up and manicured lady, there was instead a small, rather unassuming old Chinese man standing in front of the desk where Madam Wei was usually to be found doing accounts before welcoming him profusely. This man did not welcome him profusely. A small - almost curt it seemed to Lord Durnleigh - bow was all the acknowledgement he received.
Even Lord Durnleigh, not a man noted for his emotional intelligence or observation skills, could tell that something was… different about the House. Not wrong as such, but the lack of Madame Wei turned
it into something else, a place that seemed less silly and frivolous.
The old man, clad in a long, soft grey robe that was the exact opposite of the riot of colour that usually swathed Madam Wei’s form stood patiently. Neither welcoming nor hostile, merely patient and waiting for Lord Durnleigh to approach and begin negotiations. This was so far from Lord Durnleigh’s usual experience of this place that he was temporarily thrown off and his usual assurance was shaken.
Shen watched the gentleman enter - it was clear that he was a gentleman from his confident manner and dress alone. Plus Shen had watched this particular client many times before and had made his deductions about him a long time ago.
“Good evening,” Lord Durnleigh began, falling back on good manners as a default position. “I’m here for…” and here he faultered. Even though he was standing in an opium den that he had visited many times before, even though both men knew why he was here,
it didn’t seem prudent to simply blurt out the truth. This showed
that while Lord Durnleigh may have often been blunt, rude and went through life knowing exactly his position in the strata of society - and what this position allowed him to get away with - there were times when he displayed an intelligence that he rarely let others know that he possessed. Everything about this situation, even more than usual, screamed at him to be cautious.
His caution - while appreciated - however, seemed to be unfounded, as the Chinese man helpfully filled in the gap of Lord Durnleigh’s unfinished statement of intent.
“Yes, honoured sir, I know why you are here, one of our attendants will see to your needs shortly.” he said, with another small bow.
This was another change from the usual round of flattery, mild flirtation and circuitous conversation that greased the wheels of business with Madam Wei.
No other conversation seemed to be needed, and yet Lord Durnleigh’s curiosity got the better of him as he asked,
“It’s unusual for Madam Wei to be absent, is she quite well?”
What he had meant to be a polite aside seemed to lower the temperature of the room sharply. While he did not change his expression in any way, there was nevertheless a certain stony closure on the old man’s face that told Lord Durnleigh that he
was sailing into uncomfortable territory.
“It is with great sadness that I must inform you that Madam Wei passed away several days ago.” said Shen with great solemnity. While he certainly didn’t blame Lord Durnleigh for Madam Wei’s death - he knew exactly where to place the blame for that despicable act - Shen also knew with absolute certainty that Lord Durnleigh had a part to play as the owner of the object the murderers were searching for. While he might be outside of the walls now, Shen had seen and heard a great many things, things that he made note of to use in the future. In this case however, he needed some more information, which he would have to be more proactive in obtaining.
Lord Durnleigh was, as always when one heard news such as this, temporarily rocked with surprise, but his social training kicked
in in short order, and he proffered his condolences. After a very awkward pause, he continued,
“Is the House still open for business in this time of mourning?” with
a slight emphasis on ‘business’ and no small amount of hope in his tone - while he could cope with the itches and sweats for a while longer, Lord Durnleigh knew that more severe symptoms would swiftly follow them in due order if he did not have a chance to smoke tonight.
Shen could not blame the gentleman for his priorities, he had no illusions about the enterprise that he was now in charge of, and he also knew that - unless he frequented more than one opium-supplying establishment - the gentleman was more than likely to be experiencing some discomfort at this point considering that it had been some time since his last visit. While he had admirable control, Shen could see small tell-tale signs that the gentleman’s needs were quite pressing, and would only become more urgent with the passage of time. A slight sheen of sweat, small twitches of the hands, a tightness around the jaw - all would be swiftly remedied.
“Of course honoured sir. One of our attendants will see to you shortly, but first there is the matter of payment?” Madam Wei may be gone, finally able to return to the Middle Kingdom, but the reason for the House continued, and transactions needed to be made, however undignified.
Lord Durnleigh was momentarily surprised - such boldness and direct language! Usually he would spend some time fending off Madam Wei’s flirtations and in the process an exchange of money would delicately take place, but this man was far more unambiguous. A change to be sure, but he appreciated such candour as it speeded up the process considerably and would see him reclining in a dimly lit room that much sooner.
With remarkable speed and a lack of fuss, Lord Durnleigh handed the usual amount over, noting that the old man counted it before secreting it up one of his loose sleeves. A quiet command in Chinese, directed past him brought an attendant from behind a bead curtain to begin to see to Lord Durnleigh’s needs.
“确保他睡得很深” said Shen to the attendant, who nodded her understanding. There was a range of product on offer at the House of the Grey Dragon, some of higher quality than others and with varying effects, but for Shen’s purposes, the gentleman needed to
be in a certain state.
With a bow to indicate that their business was done, Shen left Lord Durnleigh in the capable hands of those ladies who monitored the smokers in the inner recesses of the House. It would take some small amount of time for the drug to overcome the gentleman,
so Shen did what he did best - he waited.
Shen looked around the parlour as the gentleman was led away, as he had many times in the days since the death of Madam Wei and the other attendants. No sign of the brutality remained - order had been restored, blood washed away from walls and delicately sponged out of priceless carpets, but Shen knew where every drop had been.
Madam Wei’s last words had been copied onto fine paper, both a correct, observed copy and a finer, more classically rendered version in the appropriate calligraphic style. It was this copy that was accompanying Madam Wei’s body back to the Middle Kingdom and would be buried with her. It, along with the report that Shen had himself penned would be read by certain high-ranking officials, and perhaps Madam Wei’s revenge would begin to spread in small ways in the Forbidden City as well. While she had been banished, Madam Wei’s years of service would not be ignored or forgotten.
In the mean time, Shen had his own role to play in enacting her revenge, and he - as always - needed more information in order
to begin. Information he would gain tonight.
As soon as he’d taken his first draw on the pipe, Lord Durnleigh immediately relaxed, both with the anticipation of the pleasure
to come, but also because of the knowledge that the inconvenient symptoms of not smoking were about to disappear. He took pleasure in the smoke itself, but also in the ritual and the process
of it all, and he watched appreciatively the deft movements of the attendant as she went about her business.
The more he smoked and the more pipes he had, a warm lethargy spread throughout his body, and it was a measure of the experience of his attendant that she took the pipe from his hands just as he was falling asleep, not that Lord Durnleigh was in any position to appreciate such service as he was firmly in the grip of the drug and was dreaming strange and delightful things.
Had he not been dreaming strange and delightful things, he would have been able to observe Shen enter the room a short time later and - had he known Mandarin - would have heard him question the attendant as to his state and the likelihood of his waking. Had he not been dreaming he would have heard the attendant assure Shen that he would be asleep for quite some time, and have seen the glimmer of satisfaction on Shen’s face. Had he not been asleep, Lord Durnleigh would have heard Shen say with determination,
“Then we can begin.”
But Lord Durnleigh slept on.
“Search him.” came the quiet command from Shen. He knew that it was a long shot that the gentleman would still have the map on his person, but Shen was nothing if thorough and methodical.
With the softness of a falling feather, two of the more senior attendants began to search Lord Durnleigh’s clothes and despite their obvious skill, they discovered nothing of note. Lord Durneligh was deeply asleep and would remain so for some time, but every fold of fabric was replaced as they had found it. It was almost as if they had done this sort of thing before.
No surprise or disappointment showed on Shen’s face - he had
far more control and patience than that. With a small hand signal,
a stool was brought for him and he sat close to Lord Durneligh’s reclining head and leaned forward.
“Where is the map my lord?’ he asked softly. “Where is the map?”
he repeated again and again, no frustration or anger colouring his tone - he knew that it might take some time for the question to pierce the smoke-induced dreams, but they would eventually. “Where is the map?”
Lord Durnleigh came around slowly, this time not disturbed by anyone hissing about a map. As there was no attendant waiting patiently next to the tray with all the necessary tools for enjoying opium to its fullest, he came to the conclusion that it was time to leave. The House of the Grey Dragon did not hurry its patrons out the door, but it was clear when their resources had run out. Either you handed over more money or went to get some - whether you returned immediately or in a few days was your choice but return you would.
Lord Durnleigh was alone in the dim room, and he wondered if the passing of Madam Wei and the change in leadership had affected business. He rose from his couch, straightened his clothing as best he could and prepared to leave. As ever, he had hazy memories of what he had dreamed, but he had a feeling that this time they had been more rooted in reality, which was a minor annoyance - if he wanted to experience reality he wouldn't be coming here, but he also knew that he had little control over his subconscious mind.
Lord Durneligh walked down the dingy hall to the main parlour, and - as he had expected - saw the old Chinese man standing where he had been when he entered, apparently having not moved from the spot the entire time. As before, the old man gave a small bow.
“It has been an honour to serve you revered gentleman.” he said. The implication was clear: ‘Thank you very much, don’t linger too long and of course we’ll be seeing you in a few days.’ Lord Durnleigh was moved for once to make a reply. As annoying as Madam Wei could have been, there had been a certain gratification to the ego in her attentions. This brusqueness was far more business-like, which made the whole experience somewhat less indulgent and more grubby.
“As ever, it was a pleasure sir.” said Lord Durnleigh with his own, far smaller, bow. Nothing more apparently needed to be said, and Lord Durnleigh swept from the House, Dewbury rising from his station and following his master.
Shen watched them leave. The information he had gained was small and at this point not exceedingly helpful, but it was a start, and there would always be an opportunity to get more very soon. As always, Shen waited.
In what was dangerously close to becoming a pattern, Lord Durnleigh’s post-smoking destination was the British Museum.
There wee some habits that he nurtured that he knew were not exactly socially acceptable - his visits to the House of the Grey Dragon among them - but Lord Durnleigh could justify them all to himself in one way or another. Regular visits to a place of culture and learning however were another thing entirely.
But the map had been on his mind. It nagged. It intrigued. It promised. And so, Lord Durnleigh concluded, he must go back to
the Musuem, to find out if Dr Membly-Hawls had been able to make head or tails of what was written on it.
Part of Lord Durnleigh hoped that it said nothing of import, that it was just a piece of an embroidered map and nothing more. That was the part of Lord Durnleigh that was lazy and bored and a cad. That part of Lord Durnleigh hoped it came to nothing so that he could get on with the business of pursuing his own agendas and pleasures without inconvenience or distraction.
Yet there was another part of Lord Durnleigh that hoped that the map was exactly what the sailor had said it was: a map to treasure beyond his dreams. It was this part of Lord Durnleigh, the part that was greedy, the part that believed in the superiority of the British and of the British aristocracy over everyone else that was proving
to be stronger.
But there was another part of Lord Durnleigh that hoped that the map proved to be what it had been promised to be. The part of him that - despite the obvious superiority of the everything British - yearned for something different, for something new, for something exciting. In much the same way that Lord Durnleigh could ignore the itching behind his eyes and the sweating and the growing urgency to smoke again, there was only so log that he would be able to ignore this part of him.
It was with some confidence that Lord Durnleigh, followed by Dewbury once again entered the British Museum and made their way into the depths of the basements. They passed several Museum employees, but as Lord Durnleigh radiated confidence and an unspoken assurance that he was exactly where he was supposed to be, they were not challenged or redirected to the main galleries.
Once again outside room 33, Lord Durnleigh paused, thought for a moment and then, making a decision, signalled for Dewbury to wait outside. Lord Durneligh trusted him in many things, and trusted his loyalty and discretion, but at this point the fewer people with information the better. If the map turned out to be nothing more than an overpriced curio then no harm would have been done. If, however, it turned out to be exactly what it was alleged to be, then a certain level of secrecy needed to be maintained. After all, the more people that knew what the map was meant that more people would want a share of its rewards.
Lord Durnleigh entered the room quietly and made his way through the odds and ends that littered it. Had he been a different kind of man, he would have stopped and marvelled at them, admired their beauty and the skill of their craftsmanship. as it was he ignored them and made his way to Dr Memly-Hawls, who he could see was at his desk, bent over something and as he approached could hear was muttering to himself. If he didn’t know any better, Lord Durnleigh would have guessed that the good Doctor had not moved or left his room since the last he had seen him, but such matters were not important in this context. He wanted to know what the Doctor had to tell him.
“Good morning Dr Membly-Hawls,” said Lord Durnleigh as he neared the desk, as the Doctor was clearly unaware of his approach. “I hope you are quite well today. Do you have anything to tell me?”
“What? Oh, Lord Durnleigh! You got my message, how splendid!”
Dr Membly-Hawls went from confused to delighted at the sight of Lord Durnleigh in the blink of an eye, and as always he radiated enthusiasm from his very being to have an interested visitor in his domain.
“I received no message from you Hector.” said Lord Durnleigh, the censure in his voice, mild as it was, completely lost on Dr Membly-Hawls.
“I’m practically certain I sent you a message…” said Dr Membly-Hawls, doubt creeping into his voice, which promptly disappeared. “But you’re here now, and I have something marvellous to tell you!”
“Some marvellous news?” said Lord Durneligh, in a tone that suggested that only the truly stupendous would be able to provoke wonder and delight in him. “How… marvellous. So, what is this news Dr? I’m agog with anticipation.”
Long association to Lord Durnleigh and perhaps a certain lack of social awareness had made Dr Membly-Hawls immune to or unaware of Lord Durneligh’s vocal barbs.
“Well, after studying the artefact most closely, I can say with some amount of reliability that it does in fact show Kandacharia.”
The pause after this statement, coupled with the carefully triumphant note in the good Doctor’s voice suggested that this
was marvellous news indeed.
Unfortunately, such marvellous news fell on the selectively deaf ears of Lord Durnleigh, who - rather than lavish the doctor with praise - merely frowned slightly and asked,
“Does that help us?” although what he of course meant was: Does that help me?
“Oh, it helps us immeasurably,” gushed Dr Membly-Hawls who was displaying remarkable immunity to Lord Durnleigh’s obtuseness. “It narrows down our options considerably. The nation of Kandacharia isn’t a single island you see, rather it’s a small archipelago in the Pearl Sea. The main island in the archipelago is called Kandacharia, and the nation - and the old empire - was named after it. It is the main island, and some of its neighbours that is depicted on the artefact.” Dr Membly-Hawls beamed. Lord Durnleigh looked unimpressed.
Dr Membly-Hawls paused and looked expectant, possibly waiting for the effusive praise such a pronouncement would have elicited from an esteemed colleague. Sadly, this was Lord Durnleigh, not an esteemed colleague and something more spectacular would be needed in order to trigger any form of praise. Dr Membly-Hawls bravely soldiered on.
“I’ve been able to translate some of the text, but not all of it as yet.” As an academic, Dr Membly-Hawls always gave himself room to manoeuvre and more importantly ample plausible deniability. “What I have been able to translate seems to be quite poetic - if you like that sort of stuff, but then considering the source of the artefact, that is of course to be expected.” He gave a small chuckle, assuming that Lord Durnleigh would understand the small joke and laugh along too. He didn’t.
If anything, Lord Durneligh looked even more bored than before, and that was saying something.
“On the surface, the text seems to be quite - how shall I put this? Flowery? Verbose? Dramatic, even? But when you analyse the language used, you can see that some of the words can actually be read in several different ways which changes the content and meaning entirely.” Again, the Doctor paused, waiting for the series of rapidly-fired questions that his colleagues would have asked at this point. Unfortunately, his audience was the somewhat more stoic Lord Durnleigh, who only managed to drawl;
“And…?” and indicated with an idle flip of the hand that the good Doctor may need to continue.
“And if read one way,” continued the Dr, who despite being a rather focussed man in regards to his studies was also something of a showman in his own small way, and a showman determined to
get the desired response from his audience, “It could be read as sentimental poetry of a somewhat middling quality. But if read another way, the text gives,” here he paused with no small sense
of anticipation “A set of directions!” He smiled proudly at this vast achievement. As ever, Lord Durnleigh got to his point rather more quickly.
“Directions to what, exactly?” he asked in a level voice with barely
a hint of boredom at this long-winded explanation. In reality, Lord Durnleigh was having to exert rather a lot of control over himself in order not to show the level of excitement he was feeling upon hearing Dr Membly-Hawls’ announcements.
“Well, I’m not entirely sure at the moment.” said Dr Membly-Hawls, the sadness that he couldn’t declare with absolute certainty an amazing discovery clearly evident. “I haven’t translated all of the text fragments yet. But what we have seems to hint rather strongly that the artefact is connected to the palace.” He said this in such a way that implied it should mean a great deal more to Lord Durnleigh than it in fact did.
In a rare show of patience and diplomacy, Lord Durnleigh reined in his impatience, knowing that it would be much more advantageous in the end to keep Dr Membly-Hawls amenable and talking.
“Yes, but whose palace Dr? And does that help us in any way?”
“Oh, it helps us immeasurably” said a once-more overly-enthusiastic Dr Membly Hawls.
“While on the surface they seem quite flowery, the directions can be read with some surety as directions to the palace of… “ and here the showman in Dr Membly-Hawls came out, and he paused for effect. If he had been presenting to an audience of his esteemed colleagues, he might expect one or two of them to lean forward out of sheer intellectual excitement. However, his sole audience member was Lord Durnleigh, who despite feeling quite excited was quite adept at keeping his face a controlled mask of disinterest in the vast majority of situations - being English did have its advantages sometimes. He filled Dr Membly-Hawls’ pregnant pause with a drawled,
“The palace of what Doctor?”
“I cannot be entirely sure, but I am fairly confident that this it is the palace of the Monkey King.” Again, if he were before an academic audience, there might have been gasps of appreciative wonder or appropriate comments, but all he received was a blank stare from Lord Durnleigh.
Dr Membly-Hawls struggled bravely on.
“I can be quite sure that this is a representation of Kandacharia - the main island of the Kandacharian empire.” Lord Durnleigh flicked a hand to indicate that he understood the point. “This means that the figure on the back of the artefact is in fact the Monkey King. This might seem trivial,” said Dr Membly-Hawls, perhaps sensing the mood of his irritable audience of one, “but being able to eliminate Hanuman and Sun Wukong is important. There are many legends about the Monkey King, and some are referenced in the text on the map - which supports the theory that it is the Monkey King’s palace.”
“There seems to be something you’re not telling me Doctor. You’re skirting around an issue - just spit it out, I’m sure I’ll be able to take it. I’m made of stern stuff.” Like most Englishmen, the good Doctor was more than a little reticent generally, but more specifically in regard to matters financial, and this carried over to the current subject matter. Discussing anything as crass as money was tantamount to discussing trade.
“There are references to the treasury.”
Another pregnant pause was inserted into the conversation and left to gestate fully.
Someone more perceptive that Dr Membly-Hawls may have observed a change in Lord Durnleigh’s demeanour and interest level. One may have been tempted to say that he perked up upon hearing the word ‘treasury’, as far as Lord Durneligh was able - or willing - to display any level of perkiness.
“Really?” he asked, his tone mild and friendly, suggesting and encouraging Dr Membly-Hawls to continue. This very friendliness should have tipped a more wary person as to the fact that there were other motivations involved.
“There are numerous stories that focus heavily on the Monkey King’s fabulous wealth. The word ‘fabulous’ doesn’t really do the contents of the treasury justice however. The Monkey King was fascinated by wealth and was very successful in amassing vast quantities of it. Even the word ‘treasury’ underemphasises the size of each vault -
of which there were several. The palace itself was merely a small part of the treasury complex.”
“And this is a map to the treasury complex?” asked Lord Durnleigh
in a curiously flat tone, almost as if he were exerting a high degree
of control over himself.
“I think it may be difficult to separate the palace from the treasury - they are essentially just parts of a single sprawling building, so yes, any map to the palace would be also be a map to the treasury.
Of course, there are many stories about the fabulous wealth of the Monkey King. Some are clearly exaggerations, possibly ancient propaganda highlighting the success and wealth of the Kandacharian Empire. Most empires did this to a certain extent, most noticeably… “ Dr Membly-Hawls continued to ramble on about various empires both ancient and modern assuming incorrectly that the silence of his audience meant that he was listening with rapt attention. He wasn’t.
Lord Durnleigh was focussing on the notion of a fabulous amount of wealth. Despite being an Englishman through and through, and a product of the English education system which positively discouraged the development of a strong sense of imagination, Lord Durleigh - perhaps because of his intimate association with a certain narcotic - found it remarkably easy to imagine the quantities of wealth required to qualify as ‘fabulous’. It pleased and captivated Lord Durnleigh that he found he could imagine quite a lot.
Lord Durnleigh was broken out of his reverie of fabulous wealth - perhaps the South East Asian fellow had been correct about the map after all - by a certain phrase that Dr Membly-Hawls had just said.
“I’m sorry Doctor, did you just say ‘security obsessed’?”
While a little annoyed at being interrupted, Dr Membly-Hawls was always more that happy to take - and answer in full, excruciating detail - questions during a presentation.
“Yes, I did. The Monkey King, while being fascinated by wealth and the acquisition of it, he was obsessed its security once it was his and the strength and effectiveness of the treasuries he stored it in. There are stories - again, no doubt greatly exaggerated - of a myriad of traps, mazes, labyrinths, guards and all sorts of surprises for an unwary intruder or extremely optimistic thief.” The good Doctor paused, and looked thoughtful. “Now I come to think of it, the text does seem to mention one or two things that might be linked to these security measures.”
Lord Durnleigh felt a surge of excitement that - along with the rigid control that was the natural result of his education - he managed to prevent from appearing on his face or in his voice.
“Are you telling me we have a precise set of directions to the treasuries and advance warning of the security measures around them?” Despite his rigid control, a small amount of wonder and excitement crept into his voice at this point. Dr Membly-Hwals, good academic that he was, said nothing definite.
"I still have a lot of work to do my Lord.” he demurred.
“You’ve given me much to think about Hector.” said Lord Durnleigh after a small pause.
“I have?” asked Dr Membly-Hawls, surprised that anything could interest Lord Durnleigh. “Jolly good - thinking is always a good thing I’ve found.” he said, beaming at the sudden interest in the academic by his friend.
“Carry on Doctor!” said Lord Durnleigh in a confident manner as he turned away and began to walk towards the door. “I think I have some planning to do!”