Where we hurry out of an opium den with a gentleman who is anxious to return home, we see the delightful streets of London and Perak ponders on the possible consequences of not listening to warnings.
Perak hurried past the Chinese employees of the opium den. He’d been a sailor long enough to have seen many a strange sight, and had been in ports stranger and more dangerous than London with its silly smog. The opium den held no surprises for him, except perhaps that it had been an obvious gentleman to have taken the map rather than someone more desperate for wealth. That he had
a coin clutched in his fist was an added bonus.
The man had still been in the grip of the smoke, that much was obvious to Perak. Why else had he offered to take the map, let
alone offered him money for something that he would have given away for nothing in exchange? He felt a momentary pang of regret for the man; he had no idea what he had just stepped into. The regret was fleeting however, overshadowed by the relief Perak
felt at no longer being the holder of the map.
He paused before leaving the den and its dubious safety and stepping out onto the street. The map was gone, passed to a
new owner. Surely that was enough. The curse and the burden
were no longer his. He spared a moment’s pity for the gentleman who now possessed the map, but like many people who had grown up poor and desperate, Perak assumed that with wealth came the ability to cope with anything life threw at you, including strange
and dangerous things like the map. The gentleman would be fine. Probably.
All he had to do now was to get back to the docks and find a ship that would take him in the right direction to get home. That direction was anywhere away from here. He knew they’d followed him from country to country, he’d seen the signs - but without the map he
was irrelevant to them.
Perak stepped from the doorway and onto the street, grateful for the smokes and smogs of London as they helped to keep him from watchful eyes. He had a sudden and intense flash of homesickness, for the soft caress of warm, humid winds and the torrents of rain that washed everything clean. A far cry from this drab, grey place where all the rain did was move the soot around.
He turned towards the docks and a ship, any ship that would take him away from this cold city and the map. The relief he felt from passing on the map was fading, replaced by an urgency to feel
a deck beneath his feet and the sight of London receding on the horizon. His unease grew stronger as he imagined sinister figures waiting and watching him from every dark alley mouth and behind every grimy window.
The thing about paranoia is that sometimes, very rarely, and only
if one has very real enemies, they really are out to get you.
Perak had held the map. He’d seen the map. He had enemies, and they were going to find him. There was no smog that could hide him from them. No ship that could sail fast enough or far enough to keep him safe.
From a purposeful walk to a quick stride to a halting jog, Perak moved through the streets closer to the docks, avoiding as far
as possible the few people still abroad at this time of night. This
was not a district of bright lights, laughing ladies and gentlemen
and the clatter of carriages. While he might blend in better with
the mix of sailors and immigrants found here, that by no means meant that he was safe here even at the best of times.
Drunken men stumbling on and off the pavements could turn violent at an offence real or imagined. Whores attempting to look
as if they weren’t whores but still touting for business could turn vicious if they even suspected a threat to themselves, their knives sharper than their tongues could ever be. Filthy, rat-like children huddled in doorways with eyes narrow and calculating or wide with shock and hope could converge on anyone they thought carried more than a coin or two and drag them down to be stripped of anything value before fleeing.
There were no police here, no one to call to for help. Perak had
been in jungles that had been safer than this ‘civilised’ place.
He felt watched. He felt awkward and clumsy, and he began
looking around him with jerky, erratic swings of his head. Sounds seemed muffled and distorted in the fog, and the white light from the gas street lamps flickered, only serving to make pitiful pools of light amid the stronger shadows. He fled from one island of light to the next, the darkness a sea of unknown dangers.
Get back to the docks. Find a ship. Those were the clear thoughts in Perak’s head, the others starting to swirl from caution to panic and fear. He’d come this far. He’d carried the map halfway around the world and despite the warnings and the threats had yet to see those following him. Yet follow him they had.
They’d followed him from port to port and country to country, always hidden, but always knowing which ship he was on and
which berth was his. Short, cryptic messages that nevertheless
told him all he needed to know. They knew he had the map.
They would find him. They would take the map back.
But Perak had heard the stories - who hadn’t when they were young? He knew what the map showed, the promise it held, the riches it promised. Who could let such a thing go? Let such wealth slip through their fingers? So from port to port and country to country Perak had kept the map, and still the warnings and the threats came.
He knew they were following him. He knew they were watching him. Would it be enough that he had passed the map on? Would they turn their baleful watch elsewhere now he no longer had the map?
A breath of the night air made the fog and smoke swirl for a moment, thick and cloying. Perak paused in his stride, unable to
see clearly. He stepped to the wall of the building next to him, away from the street, glad to have something solid at his back. He was very aware that he had no knife to protect himself with. All he was now carrying was his meagre purse containing the half crown from the gentleman and a few pennies, an escudo and a rupee. Hardly an effective weapon against an attacker.
He regretted leaving his knife with his gear in the Hook & Bowline,
a dockside inn that had a reasonable enough reputation. You could be fairly sure that all your belongings would still be there when you returned, if not in the same order you’d stowed them. He felt foolish and naive thinking that in a place as ‘civilised’ as London, a knife would not be needed.
After all this time, after all the strange warnings appearing when
and where he least expected it, it was now that he was finally rid
of the map that he felt most afraid.
These dark streets, riddled with alleyways, twisting and turning
like a maze. The shifting and turning fog. And an unknown fear
that although he had passed the map on he was not out of danger.
True, the warnings had told him to return the map, but it must be enough that he no longer held it himself. Their attention would turn elsewhere now.
He felt foolish for giving into his fears. He had faced many dangers both on the deck of a ship and on land head on and defeated them. This silly, dirty city was nothing compared to them. The fog that he feared held unknown foes hid him just as effectively as it concealed them, and he should take advantage of it.
Perak pushed himself away from the clammy bricks of the wall and set out for the docks with renewed confidence. Madam Wei’s wasn’t far from the docks - in this part of the city nowhere was too far from the docks, and he would soon be among the inns, warehouses and ships that were so familiar to him no matter what part of the world he was in.
He’d get back to the Hook & Bowline, retrieve his kit and then start asking around for a ship that needed hands to work it. In a busy port city like this, there was bound to be a ship needing an experienced hand sooner rather than later. He didn’t care where it was bound, as long as it took him away from the damned map.
Perak no longer took any notice of the whores or the street-rat children. He’d worked out of Ratnapore long enough that London would have to get both considerably more vicious whores and children to give it any kind of competition. And at least he was reasonably certain there were no poisonous snakes or spiders to be careful of here, although the smell from the gutters could quite likely do just as much damage.
The fog continued to billow and swirl like a gigantic sea creature, giving him glimpses of the street ahead and then closing in again. Not only would he be glad to get on a ship map-free, but he’d be eternally grateful to get away from this clinging damp and chill. This was no proper place to live. Where was the heat? Where was the sun? It had been far too long since Perak had felt the warmth of his native tropics on his skin, and he felt joy grow in his heart for the first time in an age at the thought of it.
Perhaps it was his fond memories of home that distracted him. Perhaps it was his unwarranted new confidence in his safety,
despite not having a weapon with which to defend himself.
Perhaps they were toying with him, and only chose to strike once Perak was within hailing distance of the quays and wharves.
But strike they did. Swiftly and without warning.
Perak felt himself grabbed by strong hands darting out from the dark alley he was passing, and he was pulled off the street and into the confines of the alleyway. Even the meagre light of the street with its weak gas lamps and shrouding fog seemed bright in comparison.
He was pulled deeper into the gloom, everything happening so quickly that he didn’t have time to react. He was kept moving backwards swiftly so that he had to move or else fall and be dragged.
Perak was slammed to the floor of the alley, and he caught a
glimpse of his attacker.
He expected some rough Londoner, a street thug who was going
to rough him up in the process of searching for anything valuable. This was no common thief though, and neither was he from London. Or, he looked wildly around him for any form of help or assistance, more accurately: them.
Out of the shadows formed the figures of men, swathed and wrapped in black fabric. Even their faces and heads were covered, leaving only their eyes visible, and they were cold, hard eyes, without a shred of pity in them. With sure movements, two of the figures held Perak by his shoulders while a third stooped over him. Perak’s gaze was drawn inexorably to the curved knife that was held in his cloth-wrapped hand. It gleamed in the light that fought its way this far into the alley.
“You should have listened.” the knife-wielding man said, and
Perak barely registered that he was speaking his native tongue.
“You should have returned the map.” His voice was quiet, his tone flat. The time for warnings had come and gone.
The knife darted forward and Perak felt a wet warmth washing
down his chest and stomach.
When the blood had stopped flowing and Perak’s body was still,
he was quickly and efficiently searched. I was clear he had little
With no small amount of fear, one of the men informed his
“He no longer has the map, Duka.”
The Monkey King of the Pearl Sea