The ring of gongs pierced the air, interrupting my train of thought.
The crowd went mildly silent, with the hint of a hushed whisper here and there. It was an impressive feat for a crowd of this size; there were people as far as the eye could see, on both sides of the river. From this vantage point on the battlements, I could see a great mass of tens of thousands, perhaps; enough to give the greatest armies of history to date a challenge. The sea of people stretched to the walls of the Capital. Residents of the town, as well as political entities, merchants, foreign diplomats, and the two branches of the military were all present to bear witness to the spectacle at hand.
Amassed were the “Treasure Fleets” in all their might - Decades before, they had made journeys all across the world, from the East African Coptic Kingdoms to the Japanese Shogunate, everywhere the fleets went they procured tribute and exotic goods and animals never seen before in the Empire. The size of the flagships has never been replicated to date.
Despite their name, the Treasure Fleets were a heavy expenditure on the government’s coffers. The death of Emperor Yongle brought about a change in the Dynasty’s imperial system - Yongle had driven the Mongols out of the North, and instituted a centralized, meritocratic government. (Anecdote, Characterization) Under his benevolent rule, the country had flourished; however his sudden death and the series of quick successions brought the Hongwu emperor into power; who was backed by the civil bureaucrats, looking to shut down maritime activity altogether and isolate the country.
My attention was again turned to the scene - in addition to the mass of civilians was the presence of the military. Dressed in ceremonial uniform, they stood out like a sore thumb. (Anthropomorphism)
The Nanjing garrison, famous for battling the invading Mongol Cavalry to a standstill. (Anecdote) Also present were the Sailors, the Marine detachment assigned to the fleet, and the standing army - which has no purpose in the expedition, but yet their commander would like to take credit.
Nanjing, the most significant city in the history of China. Although no longer the capital, the population numbered in the millions, (at a time when London barely peaked 75,000.) Consisting of people from all social classes and walks of life. Nanjing’s political weight in the Empire was unquestionable, there was a new upstart city to the north : Beijing, founded by the infamous Genghis Khan. The nobles of Beijing carried Mongol blood, and as such should be shown their place, even if I must do it myself.
Even so, Nanjing is the busiest and richest harbor in Asia, perhaps the entire world. The bright summer sun hallmarked the proud pagodas that dot the city, behind the towering walls. It was undoubted that those who matter most in the Empire reside within the walls of the city, and whomever can garner the most support and contacts within here would be closest to the Imperial Throne; perhaps even gather enough momentum to usurp the decadent “Emperor” at the moment.
The current reigning family that sits on the Dragon Throne is strikingly decadent. A regime change is long overdue, even if It must be done by someone such as me. There are rumors spreading of the Emperor’s intent to burn the Treasure Fleets and close China to the outside world. He has already taken measures to do so; the famines and latest uprisings show that the Heavens are not happy with this incompetent Emperor in power.
The sound of cannons cracked the silence.
Zheng He, quite the dramatic charlatan. He merely does this to earn favor points with the people, wasting gunpowder in the process. Little does he know, the people have little power in this Empire.
“Bow before his Lordship!”
On queue, the crowds of people fell and bowed, to the likeness of dominos.
“What’re you doing? Bend the knee, Norhachi.” Shenzhen. That damn bastard, he only outranks me by a razor’s edge.
“This is the last opportunity you’ll get.” Because I was of a respectable rank, I only had to kneel when my superiors asked me directly.
I will make sure once I maneuver myself into a favorable position, I will have his head.
“You make me laugh, Colonel. I’ve been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Admiral by his most gracious lordship.”
“What? He would have you transferred from the Marine division into the Navy? What blasphemy!”
“That is correct, I outrank you by three full Zhi. Have fun eating with the dogs, Colonel.”
He said this with a remarkable distaste, as if he were spitting every word out; and walked back to the Admiral’s escort.
I never expected this from the Admiral. Although I detest him to the bone, we have common goals in deposing the current Emperor - he’ll burn his precious fleet to the ground, and i’ll never be able to see my hometown again. He knows that Shenzen, that damn emperor’s pet, will hinder both of us.
Or perhaps this is what he intended.
The smell of salt and timber served as a constant reminder to the task at hand - throngs of Military personnel went back and forth, on the deck of the ship, fulfilling errands. As I surveyed the ship, eye contact was made with a errand boy - he motioned for me to enter the briefing room.
Inside the briefing room, old swords and spears decorated the walls, presumably sharp as snake’s teeth and ready to be used should a situation arise. (Personification) In the center of the room lay a giant map strewn across a large table, depicting the known world with China at the center.
There was a peculiar variety of people present - Cairen, the Fleet Admiral, Han Tzu, the Fleet Consort, and Niccolò de' Conti, a supposed Muslim who speaks of rich, faraway lands where the Roman Empire once existed.
“His most gracious… Majesty.... has already been reluctant to fulfill our request. His… Grand Counsel has already established our route - the Kingdoms of interest in the Indian Ocean, and East Africa.”
Niccolò seemed to be hiding his emotions - he must be displeased. The first day he appeared at the Imperial Court, suspicions were raised as he claimed to represent the descendants of Rome.
“But, my liege! I can offer much to the Emperor himself. And you! You have yet to see the splendor that is my hometown!”
His substandard grasp of Mandarin was noticeable, and almost a faux pas among the higher strata of society.
“I have already risked much by associating my name with you. Your presence on this journey was not a development welcomed by many.”
Cairen stroked his facial hair, a gesture of contemplation.
“However, we have already normalized relations with the Kingdoms in the area, perhaps an exception of some sort could be made, under my authority. However, if the Emperor were to be presented this information in a state of bad temperament, it would be my head, not yours. You are dismissed, Niccolò.”
Niccolò bowed out of the room, with what appeared to be a grateful expression. It is hard to read the emotions of foreigners. Han Tzu, the Consort, departed as well - presumably to tell those at the helm to change course - along with the rest of the detachment.
“What do you suppose are his intentions, Admiral? These foreigners cannot be trusted with matters of the state. There is a great risk in this voyage, both from the factions within the court, and who knows what Niccolò may be planning.”
“Nurhachi, I will have a messenger convey our new course to the court and Zheng He. If they have laid an ambush, they will know where to find us, and the Dynasty’s full might will come bearing upon them. To visit the lands of where the empire of the Romans once ruled would be worth the potential risk, and to have them be made our tributary state would bring the Empire vast prestige.”
“I must take my leave, and inspect the troops.”
I quickly departed from the briefing room. Niccolò cannot be trusted; dividing us off of Zheng He’s fleet would bring trouble.
Although Zheng He held the highest rank in the Navy, and could appoint admirals himself, those Admirals such as Cairen were given command of a detachment of the Treasure fleet - it was with Cairen’s detachment that I was assigned a Marine Battalion, and it was with him that we would travel to the supposed lands of the Romans. These Romans should be quite formidable in combat; in the times of the Han Dynasty, they are said to have controlled entire continents.
I reached the quarters of Zhenshi, my second in command; there was no noise inside. He must be resting or inspecting the troops quartered on the other ships. Now that it comes to mind, I must take rest myself.
“Colonel! The Admiral must see you in the briefing room at once!”
There was a crack in the air, which could be likened to artillery and the sounds of war. Thunderstorms. The sky around us was dark.
“Land, about 50 Li out!”
We could not last long in the sea in the current situation- the waves were teetering the boats as if we were children’s toys. The tribute and animals we had procured earlier would be at threat.
There, I spotted a ridge composed of rock…
“Helmsman, steer the ship towards the ridge! We can anchor at land.”
On the deck, there was great activity with sailors about - some vomiting from the sudden jerks of the ship.
We’ve been separated from the rest of Cairen’s detachment. Hopefully they would come to the same conclusion as us and sail for the island.
25 li, 15 li, 5 li away....
“Brace for impact!”
There was a great grinding “shlukkk” as the wood of the bow of the bridge met the rock below.
“Anchor at once, Captain!”
I entered the briefing room, Cairen stood alone; the Consort nor the Roman were to be seen.
“We should anchor here for the night, then find the rest of the detachment in the morning.”
I left the room, there was nothing else to discuss.
I awoke to the sounds of battle.
The sounds of Men screaming, the sound of gunpowder, in the form of handcannons or artillery, Swords clashing…
I could smell timber burning...
On the walls of my quarters, there lay a Dao, which my relative smelted for me. My armor was in the armory, it would take a few minutes of walking to reach it on the floor beneath me.
I heard heavy footfalls outside my door… In the room next to me, a door splintered. No non-officers are allowed on the floor, much less with vandalization of the officer’s deck.
Quietly, I slid the Dao out of the sheath… It shined brightly as the sun touched it. (Anthropomorphism)
There was a bang on my door, and then another… As if it were being hammered from the other end. The doors were made of thin bamboo, it would not last long. However, this could be used to my advantage; before I even come face to face with my assailant.
Presumably, the place above the point which it is being kicked and/or hammered by hand would be a vital organ, whether it be head, neck, or chest…
I thrust the Dao into the door, which it slid through like butter. There was a “chunk”!, signifying contact between my blade and a human body… This feeling is something i’m familiar with.
As I slid out my sword, the blood drain was put to good use as blood drained down onto it. A “thunk” was heard on the door… I held silent for a bit, perhaps there were friends of this assailant.
Contact must be made with the Fleet Admiral, who knows what has happened to him.
I opened the door, and it was still half-startling to see a dead, dark, body fall onto the floor.
Africans… I had only caught a glimpse of some of their rulers in Diplomatic meetings.
This particular one was dressed in purely a loincloth, and carried a crude, bloody, cudgel. He must have killed many servant boys to reach this point.
I crept silently down the hallway… There was no sign of battle yet - however I still heard it and smelled it in the timber that burned through the air. On either side of me, were broken doors - all empty of course. The man was probably sent to murder all those who still lay, half-awoke and unarmed.
The steps of the grand wooden staircase creaked as I descended... the visual cues and sounds of conflict grew… I quickly made my way out onto the deck.
The ship seemed to resemble a great, wounded beast after a battle. No signs of life were found on the ship, however I could see familiar faces in the corpses - the servant boys. There was a large hole on the starboard hull, where the cannons would fire from - an accident must have pierced the hull. The ship was charred, however the fire had been put out. On the shore of the Island, there lay strewn about dozens of corpses, I could make out signs of struggle.
The Sailors, although experienced in maritime combat; would not be my first choice in this ambush-style engagement. Although I could see some of the marines under my command on the shore, Zhenshi, my Captain was nowhere to be sighted.
I made my way to the rear of the ship, where rope ladders could be hoisted - however there was already a few mounted. Perhaps the crew of the ship employed these earlier to get onto the shore, and the assailant found his way onto the flagship with the prepared ladders.
I sallied out of the ship - the tide beneath me was shallow in depth. The warm, tropical waters lapped my sandals - perhaps I should have equipped my armor.
However, with my sleeping robes and sandals comes comfort and stealth.
Han, the Fleet Consort’s face peeked out from a barge nearby, behind the flagship.
“Last night, I grew suspicious as I saw smoke rise in the jungle. I’ve alerted the detachment and Zheng He, whom converge on our location as we speak.”
“Let us go! We must consult Zheng He!”
The sun beat down on my face,(Anthropomorphism) as the sailors peddled the barge around the island. I could still see the conflict rage on the shore; I will be back.
Needham, Joseph, and
Colin A. Ronan. “The Shorter Science And Civilization in China.” Print.
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