The Monkey King of the Pearl Sea
In which various plans are considered
Lord Durnleigh was once again ensconced in a comfortable leather armchair in a secluded corner of Stones, his mind occupied by thoughts of a decidedly unusual nature. What was unusual about this was not that Lord Durnleigh, a man who generally sneered at the very notion of cogitation, was not inconvenienced by these thoughts but was rather engrossed in them. He nursed a fine brandy - an astute observer would note that Lord Durnleigh was taking rather longer to drink his brandy than was usual for him, a sure sign that deep thoughts were being thought - and considered what he had to do next.
It seemed clear to Lord Durneligh that at least on some level the map was authentic, something which he now accepted with considerable ease, a notion that would have been utterly unthinkable even a short time ago. If one accepted the fact that the map was real, and that the treasure associated with it was also real, the only logical and indeed sensible thing to do would be to go and get it. It seemed like a criminal waste to simply leave it there at best unused and unappreciated, or at worst, unused and unspent by no doubt uncivilised savages who knew no better than to keep it hidden away. It seemed not only sensible but well within the spirit of the Imperial remit to go and retrieve the treasure and begin to spend it himself - it was clearly the right thing to do!
At the forefront of his mind, right on the heels of a growing list of what he could do with a sudden injection of fabulous wealth to his life, as usual and inconveniently so, were his family.
They were a sticking point that he kept returning to.
Knowing his family as he did, there were several scenarios that Lord Durnleigh could foresee that would arise if he announced his intention to go to Kandacharia without some forethought and planning. The most obvious was that his father would simply scoff and forbid him from going - not that that would actually stop him, but the expedition would go far smoother and much, much more comfortably if he had his father’s blessing and funds behind him.
A trip into barely civilised territory might be necessary, but living without social comforts was not!
He would just have to convince the family that this was an utterly essential journey and that his presence was required. Lord Durnleigh mused that an appropriate angle to approach this from might be an academic one. Matters academic not only bored him, but were generally disdained by the family too. They recognised that that sort of thing was all well and good, but was much more suited to quiet, pale indoorsy-types who had nothing better to do. An academic venture would be something to vaguely approve of, but not look too deeply into, and at the very least the addition of the Durleigh name to the expedition would give them bragging rights to their extremely socially-aware friends and associates. Yes, this might actually work!
If that were to be the plan, he would have to lay some ground work first. He would have to persuade Dr Membly-Hawls to accompany him, something that Lord Durnleigh assumed would be a relatively easy task. The mere mention of an original discovery would surely be enough to entice the Doctor from his subterranean den, and the idea of him being able to publish his findings would no doubt have him sprinting for the door. Yes, the Doctor would be a willing accomplice and would lend Lord Durnleigh some needed credibility to the family. If the Doctor were involved, it would be a real expedition, and not some half-baked idea to get out of his responsibilities, something that all the family knew that Lord Durnleigh only engaged in with extreme reluctance and unease.
Lord Durnleigh had no doubt in his mind that the Doctor would
be willing and enthusiastic to accompany him to the Orient. With
a small amount of detachment, Lord Durnleigh knew that he could be both charming and persuasive on occasion - although mostly,
he admitted, when that occasion involved something that he wanted that someone else possessed. As it was, there was no doubt still work to be done on the translation of the map, especially if they were to be encountering any of the Monkey King’s ‘security measures’, but it was a long journey to Kandacharia, so the Doctor would have time aplenty for working. The family would be more tricky to persuade, but he knew that it was just a matter of time
and stubbornness before they either accepted what he was suggested or simply gave up trying to argue him out of it. There were certain advantages to being the first-born heir of British aristocracy, and one of those was that he tended to get his own
way, which suited Lord Durnleigh’s needs admirably.
Taking a measured sip of his brandy, Lord Durnleigh considered
the nature of the party that was forming. Obviously, the Doctor and himself could manage in practically any situation imaginable - British arrogance kicking in with a vengeance here despite the blindingly clear evidence that Dr Membly-Hawls was a closeted academic who avoided interaction with the real world whenever possible and Lord Durnleigh, whilst having certain talents, could not count adventuring in South East Asia among them - but who else to include? Dewbury would of course accompany them, being a man of many talents that would be of invaluable assistance, and besides, Lord Durnleigh could hardly be expected to dress himself could he? They might be travelling to the Orient, but that was no excuse to let standards slip.
If any other manpower was required, Lord Durnleigh supposed that any number of strong backs could be hired in Singapore, or if they were in a tight corner in Ratnapore. They would have some local knowledge and would be cheaper to hire (and if necessary, pay off) than anyone they might hire in London. In Lord Durnleigh’s mind - not the most practically-minded intellect ever birthed or cultivated - the smaller the party the better as it would be more discreet, and
be easier to manage.
Lord Durneligh’s thoughts strayed, as he watched one of the club’s staff glide soundlessly past, topping up his brandy as she passed him, as they often did to opium. Perhaps he could persuade himself - if he needed to justify his thoughts about opium - that it was the sight of the Chinese maid that drew his thoughts in that direction, as his mind associated excellent service, Chinese ladies and indulgence with smoking in the House of the Grey Dragon. Not that this severely-dressed maid was anything like the exotic beauties that served in the House, but in Lord Durnleigh’s unobservant and mildly racist mind one servant was pretty much like the next regardless of their gender, race or how they dressed.
With remarkable honesty and self-awareness, Lord Durnleigh considered that opium was going to be a problem, but typically for him, not in a way that was truly accurate. He would have to procure a supply for himself, to use with discretion on the long journey to Kandacharia. The only other option - heaven forbid! - would be to stop taking it for the duration of the expedition. Anger at having to curtail what he saw as his god-given right to pleasure himself in any way he saw fit flashed though Lord Durnleigh to be immediately replaced by a disturbingly cold shiver that ran up his back. He was not entirely unaware of the dangers of opium use, but being true to himself, Lord Durnleigh had chosen to ignore this knowledge as not being relevant to someone with as obvious mental fortitude as himself, but the facts pressed with considerable strength into his mind at the thought of a journey of several weeks without opium. The cold shiver was a prescient foreshadowing of what Lord Durnleigh would be experiencing in those weeks.
With those chilling thoughts in the forefront of his mind, other considerations of the expedition having been banished to the part
of his brain that served as a mental waiting room for the many day-to-day practicalities he routinely ignored, Lord Durnleigh focussed on the fact that he would have to visit the House of the Grey Dragon soon, not only for his usual purpose of visiting, but also to discreetly - as ever - discuss certain matters with the new proprietor of the House.
While he mused on the possibility of being able to smoke aboard ship, something that a part of himself knew was grasping at straws as he always left the preparation of the drug to the House’s attendants, Lord Durnleigh failed to notice that the Chinese maid, unseen due to her lowly status, was watching him. It might be assumed that she was merely being scrupulous in her duty to keep Lord Durnleigh’s brandy snifter generously full, but this ignored the fact that Shen’s orders superseded those of the club’s: watch the gentleman closely. Find out more about him. Find the map.
Huling, like her honoured father, was very good at watching.
Shen sat in a sparsely yet exquisitely decorated room in the inner sanctum of the House of the Grey Dragon and considered what to do next. Thanks to the cunning and ruthless business practices of Madam Wei, the House practically ran itself, leaving Shen considerable time to oversee other matters. The chief of these of course was the ongoing planning, plotting and preparation for the revenge of Madam Wei’s undignified and unnecessary death. This however, would be resolved sooner rather than later so Shen was looking to the longer game.
Madam Wei’s remains had been prepared and preserved according to strict Confucian precepts which assured her a place within the noble hosts of Heaven, but also ensured that the body would not spoil or decay. As fast as modern transport was, it was a long way to the Forbidden City, and the rituals and ceremonies that would need to be conducted there required Madam Wei’s remains be in good condition. So it was that Madame Wei was currently resting - if not quite at peace - in the cellar of a local Chinese ice merchant. Many people owed Madam Wei favours, and those debts did not disappear simply because Madam Wei was not breathing.
As soon as a suitable ship was ready to sail for China, Madam Wei would bid farewell to these dreary shores and be on her way to paradise via Beijing. All had been done that could be done in this matter and Shen was satisfied that the remaining details would be resolved to his satisfaction shortly.
It was the matter of revenge that consumed him, which might seem unlikely considering his placid demeanour, but Shen was a man consumed and engulfed with grief and anger. Like many of those who worked at the House, his connection to Madam Wei had been a personal one, and his was more intimate than most. Consequently, Madam Wei’s revenge would be Shen’s main focus until it had been enacted to utter completion. People thought that the Romans had been somewhat angry when they had destroyed then salted the earth of the former site of Carthage. That would be considered a minor tantrum when compared to the eventual consequences of Madam Wei’s death and those who had perpetrated it. The Chinese were not generally known for their forgiving nature when it came to insults as grave as this.
Shen sipped on the delicate jasmine tea that had been presented soundlessly to him by one of the many beautiful women who worked in the House, a rare and exquisite blend that only a refined palette could truly appreciate, It was a far cry from what these English people laughingly called ‘tea’, which bore the same resemblance grape juice did to a finely aged wine.
While his calm exterior hid a boiling furnace of grief-fuelled revenge, that did not mean that Shen was in any way out of control or unable to plan in methodical and excruciating detail. His agents had spread throughout the city, all looking for Madam Wei’s assailants. They had gone to ground without a trace, but they could not remain hidden for long. People vastly underestimated how many Chinese nationals were actually in London, and they largely went uncounted due to the British arrogance that meant that they all looked the same to their dull, round nouveau-Imperial eyes. The Chinese had been building empires before the British had even thought that it would be a good idea to build with the rocks they were bashing each other over the head with!
The veritable army that were Shen’s agents had rippled out into the city and quietly and patiently watched for any sign of the attackers. While nothing vital had been seen, nothing that would trigger the swift and terrible reprisals from the House of the Grey Dragon, Shen was amassing an impressive amount of increasingly valuable information.
In the quiet, inner temple of his mind, Shen was prepared to admit that while he had experienced a small amount of pleasure from watching and listening from his sanctum behind the walls, it was nothing compared to what he was now learning. It was a heady rush and it opened up many, many business opportunities for the future. Of course, by ‘business’ he meant theft, bribery, extortion, blackmail and other such illicit activities, but they were such coarse terms, and ‘business’ covered the whole range of possibilities in a much neater and civilised way.
It would be a mistake to think that the Chinese community in London was a unified or even friendly one and such was most definitely not the case. There were feuds both minor and major that took place with much enthusiasm in the dirty terraces of the city, just as they did in the Middle Kingdom, and these disagreements were just as subtle and hidden here as they were there as well. Shen knew that, should he ever feel the actual need to leave the House of the Grey Dragon, there would be certain streets that it would be incredibly unwise of him to walk down if he wished to reach the end of them unscathed or even alive. Some of those streets were remarkably close to the House, yet all the Chinese expatriates knew exactly where they stood, and conducted their daily lives accordingly - with extreme care and caution.
Madam Wei however, despite ruffling the odd social feather here and there, had swum through the boiling waters that was Chinese society like a magnificent, sightly overdressed swan - with grace, serenity, beauty and an awful lot of hidden hard work. Not everyone had loved her with equal enthusiasm, it was true, but news of her death had swept through the community causing shock and anger which resulted in a rare sense of unity. Shen had been able to call in favours from people who would usually have cheerfully killed him without a second glance, such was the esteem in which Madam Wei had been held. It was not an understatement to say that practically all of London was being watched by Shen. They would be found.
His other major concern was what the attackers had been searching for in the first place. The gentleman had proved to be a more worthy opponent than Shen had anticipated, even when under the influence of both opium and a certain ancient blend of herbs that should have made him more open to suggestion and loose-tongued. Despite lengthy questioning, Shen had not learned what he had wanted to know, and had become a little irritated with the gentleman’s repeated requests to punish him as he had been a
‘bad boy’. Shen had an appreciation for a wide range of pleasures both refined and more… direct in their nature, but he had found the gentleman’s requests for punishment a little dull and pedestrian.
In the end, after exhausting his lines of questions, Shen had been forced to be quite inexcusably blunt, and yet this had gained him nothing and had only seemed to push the gentleman further into
a dream that prompted him to slur repeatedly,
“I’m sorry Mrs Gorely-Smythe! Harder, yes, harder!” which had caused some of the attendants to titter in a mocking manner. Usually he would have had to reprimand them for their bad manners, but at that moment he had found the gentleman worthy of such mockery himself and had merely glared at them until they stopped. Even now however, several days after the questioning, he had heard some of the attendants calling each other Mrs Gorely-Smythe and even seen them presenting their pert behinds to each other for a smack. Shen had decided to retain his male dignity and ignore such behaviour for the moment.
With the questioning providing nothing of worth, Shen had decided that patience might prove to be more fruitful, and had assigned Huling to follow the gentleman. As such, Shen had learned much about the habits of the gentleman and after accessing the wider knowledge of the network he now had at his fingertips, now knew where he lived, where he spent his days and after only the smallest amount of effort had learned his name. Shen knew, as did the smallest of children who had been educated in the proper manner, that names had power, and he now wondered if another attempt
at drugged interrogation would prove to be more successful if he employed Lord Durnleigh’s name with care and precision.
Curiously, despite the multitude of eyes and minds employed in the matter, and Huling’s not inconsiderable talents, no one had been able to uncover the identity of the apparently stern and disciplinary-focussed Mrs Gorely-Smythe. This both irritated and intrigued Shen in equal measure.
What Huling had uncovered was that the gentleman had begun to visit the British Museum, which was not in keeping with what else
he had uncovered about Lord Durnleigh’s habits. The Museum was proving to be one of the more challenging places to infiltrate, but Shen had no doubt that a way would soon be found, and the purpose of Lord Durnleigh’s visits discovered.
In the mean time, Huling continued to watch the gentleman as closely as she could, and in the brief times when she had reported to Shen in person had complained most eloquently on the cruel and unusual nature of the fabrics used to construct the serving staff’s uniforms at Lord Durnleigh's club. Despite her discomfort, Huling persevered watching and listening, amused that she appeared to be effectively invisible to Lord Durnleigh, despite having served him just as attentively at the House of the Grey Dragon, albeit in serving him much less socially acceptable delicacies.
Shen took another sip of his tea, satisfied that all was proceeding according to the plan laid out by the Heavens, and that his own preparations were falling into place. He allowed himself a small, tight smile. Madam Wei would soon be revenged in a most satisfactory way.