The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH14

Chapter 10

Through the patience and understanding of his mandarin teacher, Phaulkon was able to learn the extremely refined and hierarchic court language of Siamese royalty. It was fair to say that he enjoyed his time spent with his teacher. They became fast friends, and Phaulkon felt he could speak openly on his most intimate feelings. Thamnon in turn taught Phaulkon more than the many dialects of the Siamese language. He taught him the intricacies of Siamese customs and habits. There were many things that interested Phaulkon, and many things he wanted to learn. He sincerely wanted to know why it was forbidden for the common people to look upon their king. Thamnon explained it stemmed from Hindu influence and not from Buddhism. Hinduism was the foundation of many things Siamese.

“The Ayutthaya kings assume the belief that they are earthly incarnations of the Brahman Gods, primarily Indra and Vishnu,” Thamnon explained. “The devaraja who inhabited this physical environment did not live the life of a mortal. In state functions and ceremonies, and even on royal hunts, as you saw, the king is dressed in the bejeweled costume of a god, with a pointed crown. He is borne everywhere on richly gilded palanquins, chariots or barges.” Thamnon went into detail about the ancient Indian myths of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, particularly the Rama avatar. “In this incarnation, Vishnu assumed the human form of Rama to quell evil on earth. Kings built their palaces to befit the cosmology. The royal palaces you see in Ayutthaya epitomize the vision of what the heavenly abodes of the gods on Mount Meru must be. The throne hall where the king grants audience to his princes and the nobility is roofed with a lofty pointed spire. The palace buildings, made of brick and masonry, are quite different from the timber houses on stilts of commoners. They stand on solid bases, and are highly ornate with decorative elements.” He explained to Phaulkon about the half-human, half-bird figures called Hong Birds that are seen everywhere on the roof gables, and he told about the frightful heads of the Nagas, the great snakes which protruded into the sky. Thamnon was a master storyteller.

Phaulkon gave thought to all this as he walked through his own small garden, mediating about the things he had learned, and about all the things there were to learn still. He felt, had he been a Buddhist, he would have been reincarnated but, being a Christian, he felt he was simply re-born. Life was getting more complicated. Knowledge was not setting him free, as he once heard that it would. Deep down he knew there were those aspects of his life he could not change, that no amount of learning would alter. He came to believe that with all his schooling and learning, to win the heart of Marie, he needed something more than fine talk and manners. He knew to win her hand, he must show her his love by presenting her with something more valuable than Sorasak had given her. But what? He remembered the sapphire. She loved it, but yet she gave it back to Sorasak. Phaulkon remembered Marie saying she would only accept gifts from those who meant something to her. What if he presented her with such a gift, perhaps one even more valuable than the gift that Sorasak had offered her? There was one person in Ayutthaya who might know something about that necklace. That would be Abu Umar, the Arab dealer in gems. Phaulkon went to see him.

“The sapphire necklace, yes, yes, I know it well,” Abu said. “A very valuable piece. That was very much money.”

“I would like one like it, maybe even a better one,” Phaulkon said. “Can you have one made?”

Unbeknown to Phaulkon, this was the break Abu Umar was waiting for. His mind began to race ahead, but he had to remain indifferent. Phaulkon would do anything for such a necklace, he thought. Indeed, he had been waiting for such an opportunity.

“It would cost a great deal of money, but perhaps we can work something out,” he said, waiting until another merchant in his shop had left.

“And what might that be?” Phaulkon asked when they were alone.

“I have a shipment of black market goods to deliver to Songkau,” he said, lighting a cheroot. “If you were in command the shipment could get through.”

”And why me and not someone else?” Phaulkon asked. “That’s an easy run and anyone could do it.”

“Paper work. Clearance,” he replied. “It all takes time, it’s that simple.”

”And for that, you would provide me with a sapphire necklace, better than the one you made for Prince Sorasak?” Phaulkon asked.

“Like the one Sorasak had made, yes,” the Arab gem dealer replied. “You didn’t answer my question. What about the cargo? What is the cargo that makes it so precious?”

“Nothing for you to worry about,” Abu said. “It will be sealed. No one will know.”

Phaulkon did not like the sound of it. A cargo he knew nothing about. He backed down, thanked Abu and turned to leave. “Let’s forget that I was even here,” he said and departed.

A week later, long after dark, Phaulkon was in his apartment when there came a knock at his door. His first thought was that Monica was back pestering him again. He opened the door and Abu Umar stood there. Phaulkon glanced up and down the street. He was alone.

“I have something for you,” he said when he entered the apartment and hastily unbuttoned his outer garment. From an inside pocket he withdrew a leather pouch. Seeing a lamp aglow on a table where Phaulkon had been reading, he opened the pouch and emptied the contents on the table. It was a sapphire necklace. So magnificent was it that it caught the light of the oil lamp and cast a million tiny stars about the room. “It’s yours,” Abu said.

Phaulkon was thrown off guard, and too stunned to speak. He picked up the necklace, turned it over and set it down again.

“It is real, if that’s what you are thinking, and the very best,” Abu said with a silly smile on his face. He looked at Phaulkon, straight in the eyes, and realized he still had not won the battle. He responded quickly. “Make no decision now. Give it to your lady and then tell me your decision,” he said and didn’t wait for an answer. He bowed, turned and let himself out the door.

Phaulkon slept little that night. By morning he had made up his mind. He decided to give it the test. No more hedging around. He put on his whites, a suit he seldom wore, and placing Abu’s leather pouch into his side pocket, he picked up his pith helmet from the hat rack by the door and stepped out into the street. In ten minutes he was knocking at the front door of Mr. Fanique’s house. A servant opened the door, and seeing who it was, motioned that he should go around to the back door. He did nothing of the kind. Pushing the servant aside, he barged through the front door. Fanique, hearing the commotion, came rushing into the house from the courtyard outside. He was dressed in full samurai clothing. At the same instant, Marie appeared from a side room. They both halted in their steps when they saw Phaulkon standing there.

Fanique had been practicing with his sword in the courtyard, and from where Phaulkon stood he could see bamboo figures tightly bound in straw that Fanique had been using to practice his cuts. “What is the meaning of this,” he shouted. “Is this not my house?” He clutched his sword tightly in his right hand. Even in the dim light of the room the blade sparkled. There was fire in his eyes.

“I have come to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage,” Phaulkon said boldly in a loud voice.

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