Threats and Safety
Marie had her maid Nana move the couch from the bedroom out onto the balcony where Phaulkon could look out over the city while he recovered from his wounds. It was a quiet street with giant cassia trees that gave shade to those who walked along the stone pathway. But Phaulkon was hurting too much to sit up and enjoy the scenery. Marie patiently attended to his wounds with soothing oils and hot water compresses. She kept up a continuous patter of trivial talk to keep his mind away from his pain. When she wasn’t chattering, she asked him an endless array of questions. Which palace does the king like better, Ayutthaya or Louvo? Will they ever improve the ferry service from Ayutthaya to Louvo? When will the new clay water system in Louvo be completed? Do they plan to complete the gate through the east wall in Louvo? Who did the king choose for the envoy to Paris? Has the new Barcalon learned his trade yet? She also asked him about the hunt. She wanted most of all to know all about this rebel Mosafat.
“Who is this man we hear so much about?” she asked. “He is a very brave man,” Phaulkon said.
“But an evil man,” she answered.
“It depends upon whose side you are on. The Muslims or ours. Both sides claim they are right. The Muslims think they are right and that they have the blessing of Allah.”
“Is that what Mosafat thinks, that with Allah’s blessing he can kill and he doesn’t care if he dies?”
“That’s what he believes, what his religion teaches him, and one doesn’t change one’s beliefs without cause.”
“Then why do you challenge him when he doesn’t care if he dies? He can’t lose, win or die. How can you possibly win against these people?”
“There are ways but neither our Christian principles, nor our Buddhist, would permit it.” “And what is that?” she asked.
“This man, like his followers, is not concerned about his own skin, but he is concerned about his family, his children, his mother and his father?”
“You mean we should go after them and not him?”
“That’s one sure way of stopping these extremists, go after their families, their loved ones. Threaten them, but I am not advocating it.”
“Then what do you advocate?” she questioned.
“They can believe what they want to believe as long as they are no threat to me, to you, or to the Kingdom of Siam.”
Marie’s questions now turned to scorn. “No, it’s more than that. You were trying to prove something. What is it you were trying to prove?”
Phaulkon quickly tried to analyze her words, finding in them that perhaps she was right. He was no longer the seaman before the mast, fighting for his every scrap of food. His life was no longer the same. Marie continued, “To fight a losing battle might be noble in the West, but in Asia, here in Siam, the Asian mind, it is-“
“What I am doing is stupid. That is what you mean, isn’t it?” he answered her in a mocking tone and reached up and grabbed her hand. “You are so right, and I shall heed your advice.”
“Now you make fun of me,” she sighed.
“I could never make fun of you but I must say we have to be cautious. Ayutthaya is entering into a time of troubles. Every foreign power wants a piece of Siam, her neighbors, the French, the British, the Dutch, and now the Muslims.”
“What can we do?” she asked.
“To start with, I want us to move to Louvo,” he said. “I didn’t want to tell you, for it was to be a surprise, but I can no longer hold back telling you the great news. The king has given us land and the architects and workers are building us a new house, right at this very moment. It was to be a secret. And now I have told you. I am not good at secrets.”
“A new house!” she exclaimed.
“Yes, a new house, and everything you might want,” he replied. “It will be ready soon. King Narai is making Louvo his summer palace. It’s much better protected than Ayutthaya and a more pleasant place to live. Besides, the king wants us to be near to him.”
Marie was delighted with the news and instantly began designing the interior. After a while, growing weary of talk, she lay down on the couch next to Phaulkon and soon they were both quietly asleep. After some time, he awoke, sat up, gasping with relief that he was not in the jungle. He looked down at Marie, her figure reduced to almost nothing beneath the silk cover. He kissed her gently on the cheek; she didn’t move. He slid off the couch and stepped out on the balcony, under a cluster of brilliant, unhelpful stars. Wide awake now, without regard of the pain that had racked his body, he fell into deep thought.
Yes, he had fought, and sung, and survived storms and shipwrecks. He was old friends with hunger, cold and fatigue. But this new life with Marie was something that made all else turn vague and shadowy. That was her charm-no, her magic; it was wonderful and he felt his life changing with new and fresh meaning. She gave him complete fulfillment and little else mattered. With her standing by his side, he could deal with the obstacles that he faced as the King’s Favorite. He then noticed Diego in the far end of the courtyard below. He seemed to be brooding about something. He went down to the courtyard to join him.
“I didn’t have the chance to thank you for bringing help so quickly,” he said. “We could have all been chopped to pieces had you not arrived when you did.”
Diego explained that it all happened so fast that he couldn’t even remember running through the forest. “I can’t remember anything. It must be one of those things,” he mumbled.
Phaulkon asked what he meant, ‘one of those things,’ but Diego didn’t answer. He had slipped back into his forlorn reverie.
Ignoring his mood, Phaulkon continued: “Do you remember the conversation we had when the ship went down and we thought we were all going to die?”
“You mean the one about no hell, about coming back to earth?” he replied, snapping out of his reverie. “Yes, that one. I vaguely remember. Why do you ask?”
“I recall what you said,” Phaulkon answered, “but I am not sure if you were saying what was true, or perhaps it was just talk from swallowing too much sea water.”
“What do you remember me saying?” Diego asked.
“About an old man who showed you the Holy Book, and what happens after we die. I don’t know why it matters to me so much now but, I guess, I do not want to be separated, ever, from Marie. If there is a place where the dead continue to live, I will make it my aim that Marie and I will end up there, wherever it is, still together. Death does not disturb me as long as I am with Marie even after it takes me.” Phaulkon then asked Diego to tell him the story about the old man.
Diego hesitated for a moment, gathering his thoughts and then began. He explained he was only a young man at the time. His family did not have much but they were happy. They were Catholics and went to church together as a family. Everything was normal and then his mother died. His father became so bitter with life that he made living unbearable. Then his father met an old man who was hungry and he brought him home. ‘The old man carried the Holy Book with him,” Diego said, “and showed my father many things in the book, things the Catholic Church has transgressed. I did not understand much about what they were discussing. All I could remember was the expression in my father’s face, an expression of total disbelief. When the old man had gone my father had changed and there was a look of peace and serenity in his face, like he knew something we didn’t. He wrote down something the old man showed him from the book on a piece of paper and pinned the writing next to my mother’s comb that he had kept next to his bed all the years.”
“You remember this?” Phaulkon asked.
“Yes, I remember what my Pa wrote down,” Diego replied, speaking slowly, reverently, almost like he was praying. “It was Psalm 37 with the number 29 after it. I spent many moments just staring at that writing. My father explained to me what the writing meant, that one day we will see my mother again, and we will be a family again, here on the earth. That there is no hell, but we all, if we do God’s will, will come back to inhabit the earth. I have never read the Holy Book nor have I seen a copy of it again. But I will never forget that writing on that piece of paper. That’s the only piece of religion I know, if you call that religion. My father always spoke the truth. He loved everything true. Whatever he spoke to me about, I took it as truth. If he believed what he saw in the Holy Book, I do not question it.” “What became of your father?” Phaulkon asked, feeling now was as good time as any to get to know his friend. But before Diego could answer, Phaulkon heard Marie calling. He excused himself and as he went upstairs he wondered how he could get a copy of a Holy Book. Any Holy Book. It didn’t matter which one. It was important, with all the missionaries in Ayutthaya preaching their gospel, he longed to know what they were teaching. He wanted to know the truth for himself, but he also knew that King Narai would bring up the subject one day and he wanted to be prepared.