|As always, Highlander, the characters, series concept, etc., belong to
Rysher and so forth. Not getting paid to do this. (But would have been nice!)
Featured regulars: MacLeod and Richie
For God and Country
The jumbo jet finally touched down on the runway, rubber burning on the
tires momentarily until they gripped the
Richie Ryan got his first glance of China out of the airplane portal and felt disappointment. "Looks like every other big city."
Duncan MacLeod, seated on the isle seat, grinned. "Well, China has probably changed a little since the 1700s. But I'm sure it's still worth seeing."
They exited the plane with the rest of the westerners and passed through customs. They moved along with the flow towards the main tourist section of Peking where a Holiday Inn announced its name from the neon sign loud and clear in English.
"Tell me we are not going to hang around all these--tourists," Richie muttered gesturing towards a middle-aged man in a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses who was swaying a video camera around.
"Trust me," MacLeod replied.
Richie rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right."
Mac had anticipated the trip to China for weeks. He couldn't quite put a finger on what he hoped to accomplish. He just knew that the learning he'd received there had become so much of what he was, not just as an Immortal warrior, but as a man. He led Richie through the expected wonders of Beijing, explaining the meanings behind the ancient temples and sharing glimpses of his past. It was a bit disappointing that Richie did not seem to share his enthusiasm for the culture.
"I don't get it, Mac," the student repeated, boredom evident in his tone, "a garden here, a shrine there. So what? It's all dead history. I guess I don't really relate to it."
Duncan masked his displeasure. "Relate?" he asked. "I'm
not asking you to marry somebody; you just need to
"Why?" he replied flatly.
Mac set his jaw, feeling the frustration crawl along his neck. He quickly
sought for something Richie might relate to and almost immediately
came up with an answer. "Okay, let me take you somewhere else."
He knew The Forbidden City and its Hall of Supreme Harmony housed ancient
artifacts from the past had one of the world's best arms displays.
Gesturing to some pottery he remarked. "Han Dynasty. It was a time of tremendous technical advancement. It saw the invention of porcelain, paper, the first written language."
Richie had spotted the period. "202 BC to 220 AD. A little before your time, Mac."
He nodded. "The Chinese were civilized long before the rest of the world. The emperors were treated as gods. called The Sons of Heaven. The right to rule was given by divine inspiration called Ti'en. They had a remarkable culture." He stopped as they both sensed a new presence.
"So good of you to say so." A Chinese man in a simple dark
suit with white, open collared shirt stood in the
Mac burst into a smile. "Hsin-Pao!"
"Duncan MacLeod." He returned the smile and extended a hand which Mac gripped in a friendly handshake. "It is good to see you, old friend. But it has been so long."
"I had hoped we'd see you," Mac replied. "Richie Ryan, Hsin-Pao."
"Hi," Richie said simply and they shook hands, but there was
a suspicious glint in his eyes. He never quite trusted
Hsin-Pao gave his attention back to MacLeod. "Now that you are here, you must remain as my guests. There is so much more to see of China than the tourists do. Much much more."
"You guys go back a way, huh?" Richie murmured to Mac.
He gave a nod. "Yeah."
"You could put a freeway up here," Richie commented in awe.
"Built during the first Ch'in Dynasty, the third century BC," Hsin remarked to him. "No automation. It took sweat, hard work, and cost many lives.". His eyes seemed to glaze over as he envisioned the sights, the smell of smoke and filthy, starving bodies. The cries of pain of the dying slaves driven until they fell. He touched the brick and murmured softly: "Untold hundreds of slave workers are buried within the walls; buried where they died. 1500 miles of sacrifice."
"And you were here when they did this?" Richie asked.
Hsin smiled with pride, becoming taller as he spoke. "I was born in the year 432 BC. Much of China's history is my history." He gave an amused glance at MacLeod. "A contemporary of your famous St. Patrick." He led them back through Buddhist and Taoist Temple sites--most unused and converted into museums explaining, their past and the theology behind them. "Modern China has no need of such superstitions any longer. The Cultural revolution freed us from such enslavement. If you would truly like to see our cultural heritage, I know of a play tonight, a Chinese opera is playing, we call it Hua Chu."
Richie made a face. "Sounds like somebody with a cold. I think I'll pass on the opera stuff."
"It's not like that, Richie," MacLeod offered.
As they made their way back through the throngs of people in the crowded streets, all wearing the blue shirt and pants of working people, Richie did see something that caught his eye. "Check it out," he announced, spotting a store whose windows were cluttered with bright colorful dragon costumes, masks, and kites.
"MacLeod," Hsin remarked. "I have bored your young student too long today. Let us leave him to do a little of his own exploring. We can talk old times and new times?"
Mac glanced at Richie. "I don' know. He sure knows how to get into trouble."
Hsin smiled with pleasure. "Beijing is a friendly city." He
turned to Richie. "The market place is full of China's best
Richie had barely listened to anything but the "explore on his own" and was in quick agreement. Giving a quick high sign he vanished into the crowd.
Mac's gave followed the head of red hair as it moved down the street
in a sea of black heads and blue caps. He
Hsin sensed MacLeod's mild apprehension. "So," he said quietly, "after so many years, why do you come?"
Mac gave a simple shrug. "Some of my best learning came from China, Hsin. From you, from May Ling Shen."
Hsin gave a slight nod as they made their way up the street. "And you hope to pass some of this on to him?"
"Something like that."
Hsin smiled as they entered the doorway to his home. "You told me once that you did not have the patience to be a mentor."
"I was younger then," Mac remarked.
"Yes, you were," Hsin said with a smile of memory, "you
still are. I have had sixteen students in two thousand years, MacLeod.
You are the only one who remains. Students must always be chosen with
great care. Not all young immortals are worthy." He sighed. "And
so many fail the test of time. It is not the patience, young friend. It
is the disappointment."
He returned the smile, noting her simple beauty. He wished he knew more
Chinese than the one phrase Mac had
She gave a one syllable invitation and extended a rice ball towards him.
He came close. Still staring into her black almond eyes, he fumbled in his pocket for a handful of Chinese money. He let her pick the coins from his hand, feeling embarrassed as she giggled. "Thanks," he replied in English and nibbled on the rice. He was surprised that it had so much more nutty flavor than the bland rice of America he was accustomed too. It was quite good. He nodded an approval.
She smiled again.
"This chick definitely likes me," he whispered. "But I can't even talk to her."
"You like?" she suddenly said.
He looked at her in surprise. "You speak English?"
"Of course. I smart, go to school. I Mi-Tu Wang."
"Hi, Richie Ryan," he replied, praising his good luck. "You, uh, have a time you get off work?"
She gave a puzzled look. "My family has work, yes."
"No. You. Can we go somewhere?"
"Ah," she nodded an understanding. "Where we go?"
"I don't know. Some place for a drink?"
"Drink?" she whispered. "Ass of tea?"
"That's glass," he corrected. "How about you showing me the sites?" he said, trying again to make her understand.
"We must take Liang."
A small girl popped out from under the counter curtain with a captivating grin and giggle. She wrapped herself tightly around Mi-Tu's legs and turned her beaming face upwards towards Richie.
Mi-Tu pointed to her. "Sister. Liang."
They sat by the roadside snacking on the rice cakes Mi had brought along as little Liang took a brief nap curled up in the sun. The small hovels of homes looked nothing like downtown Beijing. Richie guessed this was what old China had been more about. A young boy passed by tapping a stick against the pavement as he herded a gaggle of geese towards market and an old man nodded to them from a bike.
"It's really nice here, you know," Richie remarked to Mi. "More
visitors should get out of the city and see the
She gave a smile. "Our leaders, they no want us to look like--" she searched for the word, "--how you say -- hickeys?"
He looked confused then brightened. "Oh, they think country people
are hicks?" He guessed and she burst into a
She now looked puzzled. "As are?"
"Yeah, you know. Like this village is what China really is-- not the McDonald's in downtown Beijing."
"We are taught to fear Imperialists. They must see we are strong."
"Do you feel strong?"
She gave a smile, but looked away. "China is strong."
"But are the people?" he asked more pointedly.
"You see Liang?" she whispered. "My parents suffered because they chose to have her."
He scowled. "What do you mean?"
"Here is China, it is honorable to have just one child. Dishonor if more. Family is denied certain good things."
"I get it. To limit population growth, they want families to limit
their size. Birth control and all that," he replied with
"More," she said, sadness in her tone. "A woman should remove her unborn baby. Or, if she has a female baby and desires a male she must have the child taken away."
He found it hard to believe. "Remove? Taken away? Like orphanages?" He felt bitter memories rising.
She brushed a hand over her sleeping sister's hair. "Sometimes, worse."
He shook his head. "That is unbelievable." In spite of the
warm sunshine on his shoulders, he gave a shiver. The
She watched him for a moment and he wasn't sure what her thoughts were, her face seemed to be a mask. "We are taught we are China and we are strong. But we fear foreigners. Fear our own leaders."
"Are you afraid of me?" he finally asked slowly.
There was a sudden flush to her waxen cheeks and she gave a little giggle.
"No." She dropped her gaze to the
"Hi, guys," Richie said sheepishly.
"Where have you been," MacLeod demanded a bit coldly.
He scowled. "There's this girl, Mac--"
"A girl?" It was Hsin who spoke.
MacLeod raised a hand. "You were supposed to stay in the main market area."
He shrugged, hands jammed into his pants' pockets. "I didn't. So
sue me. It was harmless. You wanted me to see
"And do you think this is Los Angeles or New York!" Hsin- Pao exploded. "You are in China, the People's Republic of China! Here we have learned discipline, obedience, and respect!" He turned on his heel and angrily left the room.
Richie slumped down onto a tapestry covered chair and stared at the floor
rather than MacLeod's angry gaze. "I
Duncan came to stand before him solemnly. "Then you'd better stop
acting like one. You have to abide by the laws and rules of the country
you are in. These people are a proud group. We are the guests of Hsin-Pao.
MacLeod had diplomatically lost to Hsin twice, and taken him once. They both understood it was the proper thing to do. "You're a little out of practice," he commented as a servant delivered them each a towel to wipe away perspiration.
Hsin laughed. "I can count on you for honesty, Highlander. My current
position does not provide me with the
MacLeod nodded. "It has been said that in politics the pen is mightier than the sword."
"In this century, at least, that seems to be true." Hsin walked
back to the tray and sipped the left-over tea. "I have
"Are they?" Mac asked.
He looked surprised at the question. "Such a thing from you? We dipped from a cultural hiatus in 220 to little more than peasants before the Sino-Chinese war of 1937. We will never again fall so low. I serve the government thirty years or so, disappear awhile, then resurface again. At this time, Communism is good for us."
"I remember you saying that about the Manchu Dynasty," Mac pointed out.
Hsin chuckled. "In its time, it served a need. I serve, just as you serve in your own way. I serve my people as they see fit. I don't interfere with their lives. They lead, I obey."
"But with all the knowledge and wisdom of thousands of years, Hsin,"
he commented. "Think about how much
Hsin just chuckled. It was an old debate they had waged many a time.
MacLeod picked up his shirt and put it on. He admired Hsin-Pao's ability
to do what so many other immortals
An officer appeared at the door to the patio, ushered in by a servant.
Hsin went to them and they spoke a few words. Hsin turned back to MacLeod.
"Your young student is once again, off the beaten path."
She seemed shocked to see him. "You come here?"
"Of course!" He scooped up little Liang into his arms. "I brought you something." He pulled out a pack of gum and handed it to the child.
She smiled, waved it around, and ran to her grandmother.
"You come for why?" Mi asked again.
He blinked. "We had a great time yesterday. I wanted to help you in the shop today."
She looked away a moment. "My father say this not wise. You and me. They watch, they see."
"Not good for you here," she repeated. She picked up a basket
of unshelled rice and carried it to the rear of the
"Mi, I can be the judge of what's good for me," he replied, taking the basket from her. "Let me get that." Something fell and they both reached for it. He scooped the small black book up first. The title was in fine golden Chinese hieroglyphics.
She gingerly took it from his hand, stealing glances around. No one had seen. She relaxed a little.
"Say, what is that?" he asked.
She motioned him to silence. "The Book," she whispered.
Her look hid desperation. "You must go."
"I just got here." He frowned, inwardly realizing his relationship
with this lovely Chinese girl was over before it
Mi cast a glance over her shoulder, satisfying herself that her grandmother was looking the other way and darted after Richie. "Richie!" she called, stopping him just as he reached the street, "I sorry. Things are not simple here."
"I like you, you like me, how tough is that?" he answered.
He had not seen MacLeod appear at the corner, but Mi had. She lowered her gaze. He turned now, sensing him.
"Go ahead and tell him how tough it can be," MacLeod commented.
Richie put up a hand, annoyed. "Mac."
"Hello, Richie," he remarked.
"How did you--"
"The same way the secret police did. They followed you and reported to Hsin. Next time they just may report to their General instead. You are placing her and her family in danger by coming here."
"I don't get it, Mac. What harm is there?"
Mac moved him away from Mi. "What harm?" He stopped himself
from launching into a dissertation about Richie's ignorance. "Hsin
wants to see you," he said icily. Internally he raged. The embarrassment
was not only to Hsin but to himself. Richie was his student, willfully
disobeying his teachers to do as he saw fit. It went against everything
Hsin stood for. And MacLeod felt ashamed.
Richie stood in the center of the room before him, his sword at his side. Mac like an inanimate statue of stone, sat on a couch, legs crossed indian style, staring fixed at the tiled floor. "What's that got to do with Mi?" Richie asked, a hint of pride in his voice.
Hsin barely glanced at him. His face was set, eyes blazing, jaw tight. "Everything. Mi has a place, you have a place--it is not with her."
"What makes you so--"
Hsin's blade suddenly sliced the air in front of him and he came alert instinctively, blade up. The steel clanging as the blades crossed. Hsin chuckled coldly. "I have lived China for over two thousand years. My people have tradition, a way of all things."
Richie moved as Hsin parried. He countered the move neatly. They fenced several more moves.
"What happens to Mi when you leave?" Hsin asked.
Richie frowned. "I don't know. We can worry about that later."
Hsin made a step and gave a quick side kick catching the back of Richie's knee. He went down in surprise and Hsin's sword was against his neck. Richie gave a little gasp. Mac did not move. "You see," Hsin said quietly, "always plan. You expect to live forever? You must plan to live that way." He stepped back. "Up."
Richie got back to his feet, his humiliation showing. He brought his
sword back to a ready position. He was angry
"China has been civilized with an organized government since 1000 BC. Your ancestors were still wearing mud and barking like dogs. We developed written language by 100 AD but most of your western cultures couldn't read until the 1700s. You look on us as backward." Hsin drove his blade in. "You see us as unliberated." He drove in again causing Richie to take several steps back. "You think we live in the past." The blade whistled and clanged several times quickly against Richie's. "We see that it is you who are children. We have been there, done that--as you would say." The swords set off a set of sparks as they parried.
"Just maybe we can enlighten you a little," Richie remarked, attempting a quick thrust of his own. "We've done a bit of growing ourselves. I don't see the micro-chip or the vaccine for polio coming out of China you know."
Hsin avoided Richie's move and struck close. Richie missed the counter
and the blade cut his leg. He gave a
Richie turned away from him, nursing his leg wound, anger on his face. He glanced at MacLeod. "Great place here, Mac. Maybe next time your great teacher can slice a little higher." In fury, he limped away to the guest room.
MacLeod raised an eyebrow and glanced at Hsin whose face was set in determination.
"He is too young," Hsin judged bluntly.
"He is what he is," Mac answered without emotion. He could
feel Hsin's disappointment in him. It cut like a knife
There was less than an hour of daylight left and not many people were on the street this time as he quickly traveled the path away from the tourist area. He knew Mi's family lived in a very small apartment behind the rice shop. When he knocked on the door, it was almost dark. He knocked again.
At last, it was opened a crack by Mi's father, a small graying man who looked unhappy to see this American at his door. The frown deepened on his face.
"I'm a friend of Mi's," Richie said in English, wondering if the man would understand him.
"She spoke of you," he replied, not opening the door any farther. "You cannot come here."
"Hey, look, I just want to tell her I'm sorry," he tried to explain.
"You must not stay," he repeated anxiously.
He heard Mi's voice in a beautiful sing-song Mandarin, and the father answered her. They spoke a moment or two, then the door opened and Richie was pulled inside. It closed firmly behind him.
He was staring at a group of twenty people squeezed into a tiny eight by ten room. He felt suddenly embarrassed. "I'm interrupting something here?" he murmured to Mi.
"This our worship," she whispered.
"Buddhism or something?" he asked.
She showed him the small book she'd dropped earlier that day. "Christianity."
He frowned. "I don't get it. Isn't that a missionary thing?"
Mi's father spoke. "Do you Americans think you invented Jesus Christ?"
He blushed. "No, but--"
"My father was a pastor and his grandfather before him. Christ is part of China over 130 years. You Americans," he said with a disgusted shake of the head, "you think you take credit for everything."
He glanced at the floor, his face crimson, not knowing what to say. "Sorry," he said lamely. "You want me to go?" he whispered to Mi.
She looked at her father.
The old man's look softened as he looked into the pleading eyes of his daughter. "Too dark now anyway. You are welcome," he decided with a gentleness in his tone.
Richie glanced around at the worshippers. "Do you have to hide like this?"
"If we found out, the authorities put us in prison--all of us," Mi whispered intently, placing a protective hand on young Liang who was tugging on Richie's shirt. "Very bad, some who are not strong would die."
"I'm not going to report you," he said quickly. "In my country everyone worships as they see fit."
"Here is China," Mi replied. Mi took Liang by the hand and led her to a corner. She said something to the child and the small girl obediently swatted on the floor. "I say to her be so quiet we can hear a mouse dropping."
Richie blinked. "What?" He half laughed. "That's a pin dropping."
Mi nodded. "A mouse pin dropping."
There was a sudden loud knock at the door. Fear gripped them all. A woman took hold of Liang and pushed her to the rear of the group just as the door was kicked open and three uniformed officers barged in. There was a great deal of shouting and gestures. Uniformed men began grabbing hold of the members of the group.
"Mi!" Richie shouted trying to pull her back.
"No, Richie!" She cried out in English. "Do not fight them!"
Even as she warned him, an officer clubbed him over the head knocking
"Imperialist," he said with distaste. "Empty your pockets."
He slowly placed his wallet, pen knife, a few coins, and passport on the desk.
The officer scooped up the passport at once and checked it. "American. You come to spy, to lie to our people."
"I'm not a spy," he snapped back.
"Why you come?"
"I'm a tourist--I heard about your warm hospitality."
"You think you can do what you like? No laws?" the officer declared. He opened a drawer and dropped the passport inside, then shut and locked it. "You are American no longer. You are revolutionary."
"Hey, wait!" Richie shouted. The hard reality of the situation suddenly enveloped him in terror.
The guards had already taken hold of him and pulled him from the room.
"You learn respect," a guard snarled as they shoved him down
the hallway towards the prison cells. The corridor
They came to a halt before a block that housed ten of the people from Mi's home. Mi was amongst them. "This your Imperialist American boy!" the guard shouted at her. He pulled out a baton from his belt and slammed it into Richie's stomach. He bent double with a gasp of surprised pain. The second guard joined in. The second blow knocked him to his knees as they continued to pound the batons over his back and sides. He knew they could not kill him, but being immortal would not spare him the pain of the beating. They hit and kicked him several minutes until he lay on the wet dirty floor, curled up and moaning. One opened the cell door and they tossed him inside. They slammed the door shut and left.
Several of the people of the house church reached down to help and among them Mi. "Richie," she whispered. "So sorry. You hurt?"
"Nothing serious," he replied, protecting his painful ribs and trying to turn to hide the bruises on his face. Already he could feel the tingling as the broken ribs were healing themselves and it would be a matter of minutes before his bruised face restored itself. How would he explain that if they saw the wounds?
"Richie?" Mi could not understand why he turned away from her.
"I'm all right," he replied truthfully. "It's not as bad as it seems." He glanced around the group, noticing how old and feeble some were. Just how much could some of these people take if the guards beat them?
"They take Liang away," Mi went on. "We not know where. My father and another man, they already beat because they will not give up their faith."
"I don't understand. Why won't they just leave you alone?" Richie asked.
"We enemies of the state," she whispered.
"Then just pretend. Tell them you changed your mind. Lie to them."
She stared at him. "Deny what I believe? I could not do that."
"Mi, if you don't, these people are going to be hurt."
Mi's mother said something to her daughter softly and Mi nodded. "She
say Americans are timid people. We are
He scowled in bewilderment. The concept of dying for an ideal seemed such a waste. What was the point? It couldn't stop anything, change anything. He didn't know what to say to Mi.
Mi touched his arm and he jumped from deep thought. Her black Asian eyes were filled with sorrow, but he could tell it was not for her circumstances, but for him. "Richie, have you no purpose?"
"Purpose?" he whispered. His mind echoed with the question:
Have you figured out what it's all about? What's it all about anyway?
Surely there had to be more than lopping heads off in the Game. The Darius
had thought so. The emptiness and uselessness seemed to consume him like
dropping off some bottomless cliff. He passed the remainder of the night
in the blackness of the cell in silence, watching Mi-Tu sleeping on his
shoulder and wondering at the peace she had in the face of disaster.
"Another westerner come to see you," he claimed as he opened
the door. Richie stepped into the hallway. The
Richie's gave a cry and grabbed his injured hand.
The guard snapped angrily, "You try to make me look foolish. Do just as we say, and you will see less pain."
"I'm tryin' here," he answered. They led him to a small whitewashed room that was divided in half by a chicken wire fence. After he was inside, the door from the other side of the fence opened and MacLeod entered.
"Richie," he spoke first, "are you all right?"
"Mac, these people were only conducting a church service,"
he said excitedly, his words tumbling out on top of
MacLeod studied him in silence a moment. It would be the easy thing to do to take up the cause of a people wronged. But the facts dictated otherwise. "They were operating an unauthorized house church. It is against the law here to practice religious worship without state approval," he said coldly, hating himself for the way he needed to respond.
Richie blinked, shocked at Duncan's stand. "Why?"
"It just is."
"What the hell kind of an answer is that, Mac?"
"It's the law. They broke the law. So did you."
"It's a bad law."
"That's not the point." He sighed. "I'll talk to Hsin and try to get you out."
"It's not me, Mac, it's them. Mi and her family." He gripped the chicken wire. "Some of those people are old. They won't live through this."
Duncan noticed the still unhealed bruising on Richie's left hand. "Try to stay out of trouble till we can get you out."
"Mac. This just plain isn't right."
He couldn't look Richie in the eyes and internally his conscience writhed.
Why does it always have to be this
"Come on," Jacque called as they ran through the underbrush. "Make it to the bridge."
In wet shoes and soaked clothing, MacLeod had raced towards the bridge
with his three companions in the
There were sudden gasps of fear and the men swung their guns in the direction.
Perrie, youngest of the troop, turned on his flashlight and shone it ahead. The faces of four children were illuminated in the beam, huddled together, shivering, crying. "Who are you?" Perrie had demanded, trying to sound older than his thirteen years.
"Do not shoot, please!" the young girl, no older than Perrie, had begged.
MacLeod had stepped forward. "They are just children." He extended a hand. "Don't be afraid. We won't harm you. Why are you here?"
"We were trying to get to England," the girl sobbed. "Our escort was killed. We don't know where to go from here."
He handed her an old piece of bread from his pack, then offered some to the other youngsters. The eight year old and ten year old took the bread, but the smallest, no older than four, had been too frightened. "Where are your parents?"
"Dead," the ten year old boy replied without emotion. "They
went to the camp. The good Sisters hid us until Carl
"But now Carl is dead," the older girl added.
"Come with us," Jacque decided. "There's a farm house up the road a pace from here. The people there are good and will hide them until we can get them away."
"I know where it is," Mac agreed.
"You and Perrie take them," Jacque stated. "Meet us at the old tower tonight."
Mac gestured to the youngsters, hoping to gain a degree of trust from them. How much trust could they possess for all they'd been through. "I am MacLeod," he offered. "Come with me."
The oldest girl sized him up for a moment with critical eyes. "I am Annette." She took the smallest by the hand and stepped forward; the other two following her lead.
Mac and Perrie escorted them into the deep wood.
"MacLeod, why would the Germans hurt them? They are just children," Perrie asked.
Mac looked down at the boy and the saw confusion in his dark eyes. Perrie had only been with the Marquis a month. He'd not seen the results of the German purification. He didn't know about Mein Kampf or the Kristallnacht. "They are Jewish." He answered.
"Their law is Jewish people must be placed in camps."
Perrie shook his head. "It is a bad law."
"Don't worry, Perrie, we'll see them safely out."
It was dark when MacLeod and Perrie arrived at the farm with the four
children. The youngest was now sleeping
"Have you the room?" Duncan asked as the two middle children
hid behind him. The teenage girl eyed the couple
"The cellar is clean and empty," the old woman offered openly with a smile. "Just this morning Andre was by for my boarders."
"This morning!" Perrie was disappointed.
"We'll keep them as long as it takes, but they must be very good, and very quiet," the man commented coming close to the young ones. There was a glimmer of affection in his eyes. "Come now."
His wife took the little one from Mac's shoulder. "Such a dear,"
she whispered, "such a little dear."
"Leave us," Hsin instructed his male secretary as Mac entered.
He noticed right away MacLeod was wearing his
"Really? I think it is just right," Mac answered.
"In that case: the Forbidden City is still Holy Ground."
"My mistake. I thought the People Republic outlawed religion."
Hsin crossed from his desk to the window and looked out. "Only certain forms. I know what you want, MacLeod. I am sorry, but I cannot help you."
"Cannot or will not?"
Hsin gave a thin smile. "There is a difference?"
"Mi-Tu Wang and her family. They've done nothing wrong."
"This is not America, this is not France. Here western religions are forbidden! Our people must have their worship in an approved fashion. We are fighting to keep a people pure!"
"Pure or isolated?" he argued. "This is a small world now, Hsin. One country cannot just decide to outlaw thoughts and feelings. People have a right--"
"Not here they do not! I have seen China better than two thousand
years!" Hsin shouted back. "I have seen her
"And what of the Chinese students run over by tanks and shot by
Chinese soldiers right outside your window in
Hsin sighed audibly. "This is not really a debate on Chinese political structure," he whispered quietly. "Governments come and go. We both know that. Communism and its oppression to free thought will eventually die. It must. The Chinese people are too great for that. But it will not come in time for Mi-Tu Wang--or Richie Ryan."
Mac came more erect. "Hsin, you have the power to free them."
"Do I, MacLeod? I serve my government. Shall I abandon all that is dear to China simply because you desire it. I have my duty and my honor."
"This is not a matter of honor."
Hsin paced back to the window again. "You are wrong. Where does honor end and duty begin?" He slowly shook his head. "I said your student was too young," he murmured softly. "I had to execute a young guard today. He was just 24. He observed that following an interrogation last night, young Ryan was without blemish this morning. His superiors reported him for negligence of duty. I do not have such a multitude of guards I can afford to sacrifice many of them because of one of us." He turned back to face MacLeod, his face like stone. "I believe I shall have to take your student's head."
"Then you'll have to go through me." Mac replied through tight lips.
"I would hope not. You are a man of duty and honor yourself. You
know that I must do what I must do."
Richie recognized Hsin-Pao instantly and heaved a sigh of relief. Thank God, he's finally here. Mac's getting us out of here. "I'm sure glad to see you," he muttered, gratefully.
Hsin glanced at him coldly. "Silence," he snapped in English,
then turned and spoke in Mandarin to Mi. "You
She just stared at him through tear filled eyes.
Richie's relief collapsed at the hostile sound of Hsin's voice.What is this? Maybe it's just for show. After all, those two guards are here.
You have the opportunity to restore your family honor, Mi- Tu. Renounce this false religion and I shall set your family free and spare his life." He motioned towards Richie.
"He is American," she whispered.
"No more. Now he is a criminal, like you, like your parents, like your little sister."
"Liang!" she gasped.
Richie had been unable to follow the conversation, but recognized Liang's
name. "Mi, what about Liang?" he
She looked at him, her face pale. "He calls Liang a criminal."
"Is this your great Chinese culture and honor?" Richie demanded. "You threaten girls and arrest little children?"
Hsin turned to him and said quietly: "You know nothing of honor, that is clear. You understand not the importance of what and who you are. I told you to stay away--your teacher told you to stay away, yet you disobey. It was you who led the officers to the Wangs. I knew of their little religious group for months and chose to do nothing--to let them be. It was you to forced them into the spotlight. You are their destruction."
He glanced at Mi, wondering if what Hsin was saying was true. Could he really be the cause of all their suffering? Oh no, don't let that be so! "If that is really true, keep me in prison and release them."
Hsin managed a small grin. "It has already gone too far for that.
" He gestured to the guards and commanded in
They departed immediately, closing the door behind them.
He drew a stiletto from his sleeve.
Richie stared at him in open shock. Just a few minutes before he'd looked
at Hsin-Pao as his savior; the picture
Hsin seemed unimpressed. "So she is. She shall not leave this room alive, so what does it matter?"
"Mac'll take your head, you bastard." Richie could feel the sweat running down his face and back.
"MacLeod is also a man of honor. He knows what must be." He
placed the knife against the left side of Richie's
"Don't do it, Mi!" Richie told her. "Don't do it!"
She was sobbing. "I sorry--I cannot. I cannot renounce!"
"Hsin, would you really want her to?" Richie knew this might be his last moment to talk his way out. It's what I've always been best at. "All your talk about advanced Chinese civilization, and honor and all. Look at her! She is China with all her courage to stick to her truth no matter what. She is more China than you'll ever be." He felt something deep inside, something he'd never known. There wasn't the time to analyze what to call it; be it courage or strength or something more. "Mi, I know now. The faith to die for what you believe."
A slight hint of light sparked in Hsin's eyes. "Too late you learn,
Richie. You die not for her beliefs, but for mine." Hsin, without
further word, suddenly drove the blade deeply into Richie's neck, severing
the carotid artery. Richie gasped at the deep stabbing pain, a brilliant
moment of red before his eyes. Then nothing.
"Some lessons come hard, my old student," Hsin said gently,
touching his arm. "This is as it had to be; there
He nodded without giving a verbal response and turned away back to the guest room. He entered and shut the door behind him, leaving Hsin outside. He walked to the bed and looked down at Richie, lifeless and as white as the linens.
Richie gave a sudden gasp, his eyes flew open. At the same moment, he could still feel the searing pain in his neck and his head pounded with a headache. "Mac," he panted, breathing deeply, "what happened? I thought that son of a bitch was gonna have my head."
Mac stood stoically by, not expressing any of the monumental relief he
had felt when Hsin had brought Richie
He touched the side of his neck. "I don't get it. What's this all about?"
"You're alive. Consider that enough." He tossed the passport
to the bedside table. "We're leaving China
"Mac, what about Mi's family?"
He stared at him in disbelief. "Richie, give it a rest!" He felt a rage of unbelievable anger. Doesn't he understand what it took for Hsim to grant him his life? He compromised everything he believed in for him--for me.
"Mac, you don't understand. They're going to kill them. Her father
and mother are old. They'll die in there! And
"Richie, Mi saw you die. You are dead to her. Got it?"
He rubbed his head. "Mac, I can't just leave them there! You gotta help me in this."
"They broke the law of their country. They knew that risk and they accepted it."
"Liang is only six, Mac, six years old! Tell me she's old enough
to make that choice."
"Will we be safe now?" Annette asked of Mac.
"I hope so. Annette," he had replied, biting of a bit of homemade bread. "We will do all we can."
"I have a snug warm place for all of you to stay," the woman laughed. "And there are new baby lambs in the barn. Tomorrow you may feed them."
The old farmer climbed up into the room through the trap door from the wine cellar. "I have it prepared. Children, it is time you got some rest."
The three older ones quietly headed for the ladder, but little Natalie clung to Mac's neck. "No," she whimpered, "please, no. I scared."
The woman reached forward to take her, but the grip intensified.
"It's all right," Duncan assured them. "Okay, Natalie, I'll stay with you till you go to sleep."
Perrie shifted his feet by the door. "We gotta go. Jacque will be waiting."
"You go ahead. Tell Jacque I'll meet you by the windmill at sunup."
The boy nodded and left.
"You have a kind heart," the old farmer told Mac and helped him into the basement with the children. It was dimly lit by a lantern that flickered on the wall casting peculiar shadows across the old racks of wine and cobwebs that cluttered the walls and floor. One side was clean, swept, with a water barrel and mounds of blankets. The couple had been housing fleeing Jews regularly. Mac knew that somehow by morning, the old farmer would have alerted someone in the underground to receive these children to safety.
"Mama always sang to me," the little girl told him.
"You wouldn't want me to do that," he replied with a laugh. "I sing like a goat. Perhaps your sister here-"
"No," she said firmly, digging deeper, if possible, into his lap. "You."
He felt a little helpless, and all four children were now watching him.
He cleared his throat. "You'll not be wanting
"Where is your Highland laddie gone?
He looked down and into the sleeping face of little Natalie. His heart was touched and he wanted nothing more than to keep her innocent and safe and protected forever.
"I'm going out," Mac announced to Richie, completely devoid of emotion.
He frowned. "Just like that?"
"Yes," he said, picking up his coat, "just like that. Get your strength back. I won't be very long."
He moved to follow him. "I'm coming."
MacLeod turned back, fury in his face. "No, you're not! Hsin won't give you another chance. You got that? If you really want to help Mi's family, stay here." Without giving Richie an opportunity for further discussion, he stormed out of the room.
Richie gave a sigh of exasperation. He noticed his reflection in a mirror
and moved to it. There were copious
"Consider it a reminder of your lesson learned," Hsin said solemnly.
Richie spun around to face him. "I suppose I should be grateful, right?" he remarked, sounding anything but that.
Hsin came closer. "It was your pride and arrogance which created
this situation. It was MacLeod's courage and my generosity that saved
you. Don't you ever forget that. Every time you look into the mirror you
"And do you call it protecting the Wangs when they are in prison?
And what about the repression of this whole
"You are obviously too young," Hsin muttered angrily, his face
like a mask. "I must stand by and let China find
Richie turned away from Hsin slowly which was hard for him to do because he was afraid of the older immortal and had no idea where his sword was. "Mac told me you were a great man. He told me about how you were a counselor to the Han--the true royal emperors of China--and about Ti'en. And the divine responsibility of The Sons of Heaven."
Hsin's expression flinched, but only for a moment. "That was a very long time ago."
"He said Ti'en was the pure essence of ultimate moral government. Is it?" Richie glanced back at Hsin.
Hsin was silent a moment. "Yes."
"Then if the emperor's right to rule was ordained by following the
ways of Heaven--what went wrong here?"
Hsin shook his head and turned his back. "You are too young. Remain
here, Boy. Your flight is in just a few
Richie looked back at the mirror and grimly touched the small scar with
MacLeod easily made his way to the back streets undetected. He knew
just where to go amongst the black-
He had not intended on falling asleep with the children, but he had.
In the wee hours of the morning, loud banging and stomping had brought
him to a sudden alertness and attention. Loud men's voices shouting, a
"Drop it!" the German soldier had ordered in French.
He glanced back at the four terrified children huddling in the corner and did so. "I'm coming up." He prayed they would believe he was the only one there. He fired one more glance back at Annette who stood staring in terror, her hand over Natalie's mouth, then ascended the ladder to the room above.
"Where are the children?" the German officer shouted at him.
"No children" he replied in German, hands over his head.
They motioned him outside to where the farmer and his wife stood illumined in the headlights of a half ton truck that had carried the German troops to the house. The German captain walked before the three of them flaunting his authority. "I know the children are here," he announced.
Mac could see German soldiers routing through the barn without results. "I don't know what you're talking about."
The officer motioned towards the barn and a soldier with him walked away, issued an order and in moments the barn was ablaze. "We captured a marquis traitor tonight," the officer announced. "He was too young to die. Such a pity. We did get information from him before we hanged him." He tossed the cap Mac recognized as young Perrie's to the ground at their feet.
There was a shout from a soldier in the house and he came out, young Natalie tucked, kicking and scream in terror, under one arm.
In rage, Mac leapt forward trying to grab the machine gun from the hands
of the young German soldier who was
...When he awoke, it was daylight. The air was still stale with the smell
of burned wood. Mac lifted his head and
They'd been hanged by the house, their eyes gouged out. The man's shirt had been torn open and a bloody swastika carved into his chest. Mac looked around quickly, praying the children had been taken and could still be rescued. But he quickly found all four of them thrown into a heap like discarded little dolls, each shot once in the head. He collapsed before them, weeping, and collected the cold body of little Natalie into his arms. He'd seen children die in war before and knew he would again. But all that mattered right now was right now.
Mac finished packing his duffel and tossed Richie his. "Ready?"
He nodded without comment and followed him out of the room.
Hsin-Pao was at the front door to his home, waiting for them. Night had fallen outside where a taxi waited for them.
"MacLeod, perhaps our next meeting will be more pleasant," he said politely, shaking his hand.
"I hope so," Duncan said solemnly.
"Richie?" Hsin extended his hand.
He did not take it. "I don't think we'll meet again," Richie said coldly. "Except for me to take your head."
Hsin seemed neither surprised nor concerned. "You may try. Until then." He gave a slight bow of the head.
They walked away headed for the cab. Mac took Richie's arm. "It's
not wise to leave someone like Hsin with a
"What did you want me to say--'have a nice day.'?" Richie retorted.
Mac lifted an eyebrow and opened the cab door. They got in and he commented something in Mandarin to the driver. They traveled several blocks before he instructed the man to stop. "It's almost 9:30. I've told the driver the address you need. He'll leave you there, no questions asked. The boat will leave the coast at three a.m. and that's a hundred miles from here."
"We'll be there," Richie assured him.
MacLeod nodded and gave one more command to the driver, slipping the man a large sum of money. He got out of the car and disappeared into the night. He crossed three blocks under cover of the dark, always looking behind him and confident he was not followed. The prison loomed before him, lit up by passing spotlights. A lone guard stood at the entrance to the compound. The young man looked mildly bored with his duty and was inattentive. It was a simple task to approach him from the rear in the shadow and render him senseless. Taking his weapon, MacLeod propped him up against the wall hoping someone equally as bored might think he was still at his post. He slipped through the gate, into the courtyard and silently made his way to the building.
The hallways were poorly lit, and smelled of stale air. The walls definitely needed a new coat of paint. Mac noticed a man sitting at a desk at the end of the hall. He shouldered the weapon, knowing the guard could not recognize anybody in such dim light from a distance, and strode down the hall like he had a right to be there.
The guard called out to him in Chinese as he approached.
"Evening," Mac commented to the man in English as he stepped out of the shadow.
The soldier now came to alert.
"You are a sorry ass, aren't you?" Mac remarked, knowing the
man would not understand him, but the English would confuse him the few
moments it took. He reached out and pounded the guard's face into the
desk. He dropped unconscious to the floor.
A door opened at the end of the cell block. Most of the people looked
up with hopelessness in their eyes. Mi's
MacLeod hurried in. "Away from the door!" he shouted.
The prisoners returned expressions of confusion, but scrambled to do as he ordered. He fired two rounds into the lock and the door swung open. They needed no instructions to follow him.
Mi was the only one to recognize him. "You are Richie's friend!" she gasped a flicker of life in her vacant eyes.
"Come on," he told her, seeing the deep sorrow in her face.
"Richie's dead," she whispered.
"Never mind that," Mac said quickly. "Come now." He led them down the hall where the bodies of three guards still lay sprawled and out into the dark courtyard. He gestured to a mid-sized dump truck parked in the corner and the ten people moved as one to climb into the rear.
Mac got into the cab and quickly reached under the dashboard for the
wiring. In moments, the truck had come
Richie exited the cab and gazed for a moment at the structure before
him. The modest brick building looked
He peered around the railing at the top. The hall was empty. There were
three doorways each lettered in
The first lock was rusty and difficult. It took three minutes to open. Inside the room were eight children rolled up on mats on the floor. In the dark, all the little black haired children looked the same and he moved from child to child to try to find Liang. She was not there.
The second lock came easily. He quickly abandoned the room though when
he realized it was occupied by over
The third lock was hardest of all. And it was a bit noisy. He was becoming more and more nervous. He'd already been in the building over half an hour. This was taking too long. At last it came free with a click and he slipped into the room. He glanced around at the small children sleeping on the mats and recognized Liang as he checked the third mat.
"Liang!" he whispered, placing a hand over her mouth.
She gave a squeak of shock, then recognized him.
He put a finger to his lips.
"Richie!" She whispered loudly in delight, and began chattering in Chinese he couldn't understand.
"Sssh!" he admonished. "We're going to Mi."
She didn't know his English, but she understood Mi's name and jumped to her feet.
There was a sound and Richie turned to see an older girl sitting up watching them. "Ssh!" he said to her. "It's okay, really."
The girl jumped up and ran towards the door shouting. In moments, all the girls were awake and screaming.
Trying to take advantage of the panic, Richie grabbed Liang and dashed out the door into the hall. The woman was on her way up the stairs. Carrying Liang, he bolted past her, knocking her down and was down the steps and out the front door in seconds. The woman was screaming after him.
Still carrying Liang, he raced into a labyrinth of alleyways. There was a siren in the distance. They would be looking for him now. A Westerner and a six year old child would stand out easily. More police vehicles were approaching. He needed to act now and get them out of here. Liang's fingers dug into his neck in fear.
"Don't worry," he tried to soothe her, then spotted a motorbike parked in the alley by the wall.
The truck lumbered down onto the beach and parked on the sand. MacLeod got out and walked to the shoreline. Out beyond the breakers he could see a small red light, the beacon of the Taiwanese smuggling ship awaiting its human cargo. He hurried to the rocks of the pier and found the long boat that had been hidden there for them. He motioned the refugees.
Mi's father hesitated. "Liang," he whispered.
"I know," Mac replied. "She's coming, but let's get you to safety first."
"We need to keep our church here," the old man insisted.
"You can make arrangements to return later when things are better," Mac said quickly. "You will not help your church movement if you are dead. Please, into the boat."
One by one they got in. He shoved off, and taking the oars, began to row towards the small light.
"Why you do this?" Mi whispered.
He glanced at her between oar strokes. "We owe it to you."
Richie and Liang had fled Beijing headed for the coast. A hundred miles
on the small moped bike would be grueling but it was their only hope.
He knew the authorities were just minutes behind them. As they came to
a long straightway at one point, he looked back and could see the flashing
lights only three or four miles behind them. He hoped they would not be
overtaken. He could not read any of the road signs and prayed they would
not get lost and that the tiny moped engine wouldn't quit. There was no
time to consider it now, but he realized he really was praying. To what
or whom? There are no atheists in foxholes. He couldn't recall
where he'd heard that and right now it didn't matter. As long as they
continued southeast Mac had told him they would make it. He glanced down
at Liang and wished there was something he could say to her she would
understand. The small child's eyes were filled with both fear and hope.
This was too much for a six year old. He hated himself for ever having
gotten into the lives of Mi and her people. He hated Mac for ever bringing
them to this god forsaken land.
Mac helped the refugees up the rope ladder onto the ship deck where they were greeted by the ship's captain. "One more," he told the captain who glanced at his watch and frowned.
"Almost time," the man bit off his words.
Mac gave them the money--and a healthy amount more. "Wait."
The moon had risen and although it was not full, it did illumine the
beach a bit. Mac suddenly spotted movement
Mac with long strokes headed the two hundred yards back towards the beach.
Richie jumped off the bike with Liang. He saw the abandoned truck and
footprints on the beach and hoped he
"Hide in the rocks!" Mac shouted, pointing to where the boat had been hidden. He began the trip back to the ship, pulling with all his might.
Three vehicles, yellow lights flashing skidded onto the beach and soldiers
and officers began piling out onto the
"Get down!" Mac shouted, forcing Liang below the gunwale. The
little child started to cry. Duncan pulled hard
"Oh no!" Richie shouted from his hiding place and jumping up from the rocks dove into the waves, headed towards the floundered boat. Mac had been better than fifty yards off shore and the water here was deep. It took almost a minute for Richie to find Liang, terrified and sputtering, clinging to an oar. He grabbed hold of her under the arms and began to swim towards the ship.
The soldiers had stopped firing once the boat had capsized. One had gone
for a spotlight. He now returned
Richie had nearly reached the ship. He took hold of the rope ladder, gasping for breath and pulled Liang to it. "Up!" he told her gesturing for her to climb. But the little girl was terrified, had swallowed water, and would not let go his neck. With her clinging to him, He began to climb, reluctantly. He didn't know who would see him at the top, and he needed to get back into the water to find Mac. A sailor reached down over the side, extending a hand and Richie pried Liang free and gripping the child's soaking shirt, lifted her towards him.
Mi's father and Mi looked over the side. Mi gave a gasp of disbelief and Richie looked up. Their eyes met.
On shore, a soldier noticed something and pointed the light past the
longboat. It reflected the side of the ship. He
The sailor pulled Liang over the side just as the bullets peppered the
steel plates of the ship. Richie began to
The captain of the smuggler shouted to get under way.
The soldiers' captain wanted to take no chances. He sent men out into
the surf to retrieve the bodies. When they
He turned as a car arrived. Hsin-Pao got out and approached.
They both nodded in respect.
"Your men did well," Hsin praised him. "You will be commended."
"Thank you, Sir," the Captain replied, stiff faced.
"I will take charge of this disposal."
"These men were westerners. I will find a diplomatic way to deal with this."
"As you wish, Sir." The captain headed away with his men. Mission accomplished.
Hsin-Pao sat patiently on the tailgate of the dump truck, listening to the seabirds calling to the sunrise as the first red streaks lit the sky over the gulf. At last he heard the sound of a deep cough in the truck bed behind him. He did not move, but waited for MacLeod to collect himself.
After another minute, he crawled over Richie's body to Hsin. "Morning," he muttered and stretched.
Hsin nodded, without a word.
They both remained in silence for several minutes until they heard Richie's moan as he began to move. He seemed unhappy at Hsin's presence and gave Mac a suspicious look.
Hsin picked up a sack of rice balls and handed them each one. The three
of them ate in total silence. At last, Hsin
MacLeod stood up. "Hsin, why?"
He gave a sigh and gazed at the tumbling surf. "Ti'en."
Mac nodded quietly.
"I was reminded that I dishonor the ancients of the past when I
close my eyes to the wrongs of the present." He
Richie managed to crack a smile.
Hsin extended his hand to him and they shook.
The airliner reached cruising altitude and an air of relief settled
over the passenger cabin. Wasn't the most
"They'll be okay, right?" he asked quietly.
Mac glanced up. "Who?"
The Wangs--they'll be all right?"
Duncan could tell he was looking for a closure to this painful saga. Sometimes there were none. But maybe this time-- "Yeah, they'll be okay."
He nodded and was silent. He wanted to keep the conversation going, but didn't know how.
Sensing his desire, Mac commented. "Mi and her mother rode with me in the front of the truck to the coast. She told me she thought you might have discovered the truth before you died."
He frowned. "Whose truth?"
"Not whose truth, the truth." He fished into
his pocket for a moment. "She gave me this." He pulled out a
He looked at it for a moment. One side was an official form written in Chinese. It looked like some kind of work order to get the truck repaired. There was a Seal of the People's Republic of China on one corner. He turned the paper over and there were a few hand written Chinese letters, hastily written. "What does it mean?"
"John 14:6," Mac replied.
"Something from the Bible. Book of John, chapter 14, verse 6."
"What's it say?"
MacLeod shrugged. "Maybe you can look it up sometime."
Richie held the note carefully, gazing at the handwriting for a long time. It was something of Mi. It didn't matter that she had written it to Mac. It didn't matter that she thought he was dead. It didn't even matter that she had been left with a deep mystery about how he came to be rescuing little Liang from the water. This was from Mi.
Touching the small scar on his neck, he smiled sadly. He would always remember Mi.