The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH19

Chapter 13

For the swelling crowd of Siamese, the monks and the masses, the aristocrats, the boat people, the noblemen, the Hindus and the Muslims and Moors, the Malays, the Burmese, the Laotians, the Chinese and the multitude of European foreigners, both men and women, for them all, as they walked down the busy streets in Ayutthaya, it was just another day, a normal day. No one on the street that morning paid much attention to three men, three European men, on their way to an unknown fate that awaited them. No one gave thought that these three men could very well be walking to their own execution. But the three men knew; and they walked solemnly knowing that the man in the middle, the one with the dark complexion, was in control of their destinies. This the other two didn’t like. If one could have entered the minds of these two men, one could have seen the regret they harbored for bringing the third man to Ayutthaya. But there was little they could do about it now. Their fate was irrevocably sealed. They never once considered that it was due to their fault, through their own miscalculations, that they were headed to see the Governor of Ayutthaya that morning and possibly to their doom.

They reached the Audience Hall at the governor’s office, passed the soldiers guarding the door and entered to find the hall was packed. In the wings were mostly Europeans, the English, the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese, and quite a number of Arab Muslims. Noticeable among the Muslims was Abu Umar, the merchant and his entourage of followers. Less noticeable in one corner was a lone Chinese gentleman, Phaulkon’s teacher, Thamnon. And, of course, present were all of the employees of the East India Company, and many of the VOC as well. A clerk greeted the new arrivals and ordered White and Burnaby to take seats at one side. He motioned for Phaulkon to follow him.

Sitting on a raised platform sat the governor in military dress with all his decorations and at his side sat the Barcalon, dressed in his splendid silk robes with a wide jeweled cummerbund. On the desk before the governor was a dark brown packet; its two red ribbons had been opened and the wax seal broken. Phaulkon prostrated himself before the governor, his forehead touching the floor. When everyone in the hall was assembled and had quieted down, the governor picked up the packet and ordered Phaulkon to rise. He then withdrew a parchment from the packet and read aloud for everyone to hear. He read that the Governor of Ligor suggested that all in the courtroom that day listen to what this man called Phaulkon had to say before judgment was made. The governor laid the parchment down on the table, and looking directly at Phaulkon said, “Let us be quick. What do you have to say for yourself?”

In a commanding voice, like an actor on stage giving his soliloquy, Phaulkon, speaking in high Siamese, addressed the governor, the Barcalon, court and officers of the foreign delegations. He knew, of course, that few people in the room would understand the royal dialect, but he also knew the effect it would have. After he spoke for a few minutes he switched to polite Tai. He told them, passionately, that if it was a crime to protect Siam against its rebels, then he was guilty and accepted whatever punishment might be due him. The room became silent.

The Barcalon asked the first question and wanted to know if it was true that foreigners were organizing in secrecy against the Muslims in the south. Phaulkon was quick to defend himself by disclosing that the intentions and ambitions of the Muslims, that they were not always honorable. They resorted to subterfuge and more often than not they were disloyal to the kingdom that gave them asylum. He rattled on and on, giving example after example, until the question asked by the Barcalon was forgotten.

The Barcalon then asked Phaulkon what was the name of the organization of foreign traders responsible for arming the Muslims. Phaulkon was tempted to look in the direction of Burnaby, White and Abu Umar, to see the reactions on their faces, but he did not. He was certain he would see them squirm in agony. Instead he spoke directly to the Barcalon. He did not falter in speech and avoided the question by diverting the court’s attention to the threat of Muslims operating in the Kra Peninsula.

He pointed out to the Barcalon that the king had an interest in the Kra, and the Muslims were moving into the area. Moreover, the power the Muslims had is not only commercial but political as well. If they were not controlled they could easily take over the king’s storehouses, and they could, with support, say from the Dutch, possibly seize the king himself and force him and his subjects into converting to Islam. He pointed out that the Dutch already had control over the East Indies, and he reminded them that the East Indies was a Muslim country. The courtroom erupted into loud murmurs.

The governor demanded that everyone quiet down. Taking the advantage, Phaulkon continued to hammer home that if the Muslims joined forces with the Dutch, the kingdom could be in great peril. He spoke about the Dutch having already blockaded the river and having forced King Narai to sign a trade treaty in their favor. The Dutch delegation stood up in anger, and in protest they stormed out of the hall, their wicked eyes focused on Phaulkon. Phaulkon quickly turned their departure into his own advantage. “What’s that saying?” he said out loud for the last of the departing Dutch to hear, “If eyes could kill, I guess I would be dead.” He brought laughter to the hall.

The Barcalon, still smiling, told Phaulkon that he need not remind him of the hardship the Dutch had inflicted on the kingdom in times past. Phaulkon said he would not mention it again but he would like to remind the court that there was evidence that the Dutch were arming the rebels.

The Barcalon asked Phaulkon what concern the political affairs of Siam was to foreigners. Phaulkon admitted that, to be honest, foreigners were more concerned about their own business ventures than they were in problems Siam might have. However, if Siam found itself in hard times foreign businesses suffer; even their lives might be in danger. The foreign concern was not Siam’s internal problems; it was about Siam’s enemies-the Dutch and the Muslims who were uniting against them, the foreigners, and against Siam as well.

The Barcalon was impressed with Phaulkon’s honesty. He nodded in agreement, and Phaulkon took the opportunity to speak on his own behalf. “I am no more than a clerk in your great country,” he said, “but I have had many years of experience in trade. I am Greek by birth but a citizen of no country, having left my homeland when I was very young. Siam is my new adopted home; I have no other land I can call home. I can be very useful to Siam, especially to the treasury. The minister of trade, you, my good sir, might find me very useful since the treasury has to deal with foreigners of many nationalities, and it would certainly be very helpful to have someone in His Majesty’s employ who knows the customs and habits and can speak Siamese and other languages as well, to act as interpreter.”

Phaulkon turned away from the governor and the Barcalon, and seeing a Portuguese official in the gathering, he addressed him in fluent Portuguese. To Abu Umar, who looked like he wanted to slide down in his robe, he spoke in perfect Malay, and then quickly switched to Arabic. “Which do you prefer I speak, Malay or Arabic?” he said to Abu, and then made a gesture of a Muslim salutation. When Phaulkon saw his teacher, Thamnon, he spoke to him in Mandarin, and then added a few words in Tonkin. He turned to Richard Burnaby and George White, both of whom were dazed, and in the King’s English, he spoke to them flawlessly in their own language. Phaulkon did this with great showmanship and theatrics. Everyone in the room was impressed. And one was even proud-his teacher Thamnon.

But still Phaulkon was not finished, “Your Majesties,” he concluded, “I am thirty-three years of age, but with the experience of a man twice my age. I am still young, and energetic as you will see.

I am a friend of Siam not an enemy. I beg your leave to go about my business and may that be to honor and show respect to your kingdom even more.”

Phaulkon cleverly managed to get the issue of the shipwreck pushed aside and he overshadowed the incident by stressing that the kingdom had more pressing problems at hand that needed to be settled. Burnaby and White were pleased with the results of the day but they also realized they had created a force that was unstoppable, a formidable force that could be a threat one day. They had already seen it happen. Phaulkon was the victor for now, but only time would tell if it was a Pyrrhic victory.

Before closing the hearing, the Barcalon raised a hand and announced he would like to see Burnaby and Phaulkon in his chambers the next day. The court was dismissed. It was Burnaby who couldn’t sleep that night. He asked himself over and over, what could the Barcalon possibly want with him.

The next day, as scheduled, Burnaby and Phaulkon met the Barcalon in his elaborate chambers in the palace grounds. He was relaxing when they entered, reclining on a couch, puffing on his water pipe, surrounded by smoke and servants. A bevy of young servant girls waited on him, fanning him, providing him with drink from cups of carved silver. A tray of fresh fruit was at his one side and a bowl of sweets in neat little packets of banana leaves on the other. When they entered the room, Burnaby and Phaulkon got down to their knees in front of the Barcalon. He motioned for them to rise and be seated, with Burnaby far co one side upon cushions that the servants brought for that purpose. Another servant came with tea. While she was serving Burnaby, the Barcalon focused his attention on Phaulkon. As was the custom in such formal meetings, he asked Phaulkon again his name and age, and about the languages he spoke, and how he came about them. He then asked if he could keep records and accounts. He seemed pleased with Phaulkon’s replies. Burnaby was kept in suspense as he looked on. What was the Barcalon hoping to achieve? Burnaby didn’t trust him, not at all. The mistrust came, most likely, from way the Barcalon avoided him. Burnaby found it annoying. He still couldn’t figure out why he was there. He was about to find out.

The Barcalon raised himself to a full sitting position, clapped his hands and the doors opened. In walked a half dozen ministers, all bowing graciously to the Barcalon. They prostrated themselves before him. Seemingly satisfied, he motioned for them to be seated upon the cushions the servant girls hastily brought in. When all were seated, and tea poured, the Barcalon dropped the bomb. It was a silent explosion, but a tremendous one. He asked if there was one among them who would disagree if Phaulkon were to be employed in the service of Siam, on his behalf, the Minister of Trade. Burnaby was shocked and displeased. No one had asked him about the decision. After all, Phaulkon was in his employ, wasn’t he? The ministers were likewise as shocked as Burnaby, but there was nothing they could do. They forced themselves to remain calm, as if loaded muskets were pointed at their chests ready to be fired if they disagreed. Finally, they nodded approval, but the displeasure that registered upon their faces could not be easily wiped away. The fear they had of the Barcalon was obvious.

The Barcalon now faced Phaulkon and asked if he would accept the position offered to him. Phaulkon said he would be most pleased to accept the position but he requested that the incident of the shipwreck be forgotten and that it must not to be held against him nor the others involved. And most important, he asked that his guards, Diego and Christoph, be released from bondage: The Barcalon agreed and Phaulkon was now in his employ as Ass1st~t Trade Minister. Diego and Christoph were to become, upon their acceptance, his personal bodyguards.

When Phaulkon and Burnaby left the Barcalon’s chambers and were in the street, Burnaby expressed his feelings to Phaulkon. “How rude these Asians,” he said. “He could have asked me. Not once did he even acknowledge that I was even there. After all, you were working for me. I brought you here, didn’t I, or did you forget?”

Phaulkon didn’t reply. He didn’t need to.

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