Zhu Ro, My Hero
"Back from Cool Ranch, I see! Did you find Clark's piece of the map?" Captain Avery asked us as we stood inside his office on Skull Island.
"Aye, we did, and trouble too - the Armada was there, and almost took it from us!" Ratbeard answered.
"Then it's as I feared. We're not on a search for Marco Pollo's map - we're in a race. You keep the pieces - the Armada won't find it on the move." Captain Avery said.
"Sadly, now that we have Gunn's and Clark's pieces of the Map, I don't know where to look for the next one."
"Here, show him the photograph." Bonnie whispered to me, and I nodded as I brought out the photograph and handed it to Captain Avery.
"What's this? A photograph - I know these faces! So young. Erika the Red, Egg Foo Yung! Even Catbeard! I wonder if..." Captain Avery said, chuckling.
"Clark and Pollo each had a piece - these pirates must have the rest! Seven pirates, seven pieces! Now we know where to look!"
"So, Catbeard has a piece of the map. Egg Foo Yung too... Proposition: I'll talk to Catbeard, you go on to MooShu. We'll get two pieces at once!"
"There's a stormgate to MooShu near Port Regal. Egg Foo Yung is the Pirate Lord of MooShu. I'll wager he holds the next piece of Marco Pollo's map."
"The Samoorai won't any but their own ships through the gate. The Santo Oro's a MooShu junk - you've got a golden ticket!"
"Egg is not an easy bird to find, but I know someone who can help: Zhu Ro, proprietor of a reputable teahouse in Hamamitsu, the only port foreigners can visit. Going anywhere else is trespassing, punishable by death! Good luck, Matthew, and you too, Captain Raden."
We all nodded as we stood up from the carved wooden chairs inside Captain Avery's office, and within the hour, the Santo Oro was ready to set sail.
While we were on Skull Island, Rena had recruited several men to crew the Santo Oro, now armed with sixteen heavy iron cannons.
As for the Aquila, I had left herin the temporary command of David Clutterbuck as a privateer for Captain Avery, and told him in no uncertain terms that if he was to abandon the Aquila to sink, I'd make him go down with her when I came back.
Anyway, we were soon underway to Port Regal, where we would be taking the stormgate to MooShu. My trusted associates, excluding Rena, and I were just passengers for now aboard the Santo Oro, as we didn't want to undermine Rena's authority.
As the Santo Oro neared the stormgate, Rena pressed the green windstone installed into the pilot's wheel, and the Santo Oro was surrounded by a transparent force field that would protect it from the winds of the stormgate.
An officer issued orders for tacking to the men, while Rena constantly adjusted the Santo Oro according to the constantly shifting winds.
As we reached the bottom of the stormgate, we all tied ourselves down, and she leaned forward as we entered, so that the deck was nearly vertical while the winds howled in our ears.
My eyes were closed and my heart was beating rapidly, as if it were trying to achieve a lifetime's worth of heartbeats before what could be the end, but then the ship suddenly righted herself.
As I opened my eyes, it was as if we were traveling through a dark tunnel illuminated by the light at the end and the sky blue auroras surrounding us like a loose glowing braid.
As we neared the light at the end and entered the stormgate on the other side, the deck went almost vertical again as the wind howled in our ears, but then the Santo Oro righted herself, and as we were out of reach of the stormgate, I breathed a sigh of relief.
As we passed by the MooShu junks blockading the stormgate to Skull Island, the gunnery officers opened the bulkhead doors at the base of the main mast, and the men poured out from below decks.
"Set course for Hamamitsu!" Rena shouted, and the men hurried to bring her to full sail. As we drew closer to Hamamitsu, I could see the bright red rooftops and smell the cherry blossoms in the cool breeze.
We dropped anchor in Hamamitsu's harbor without incident, and as my trusted associates and I walked past a stone dragon carved to look like it was emerging from the rock garden, Rena sighed.
Hamamitsu. It's been too long since we last came here, huh Matt? Zhu Ro's teahouse is on the hill." Rena said, and she pointed to a fairly large building on a hill overlooking the rock garden.
As we trudged up the hill, I could smell the tea wafting from the open sliding doors as I pushed past a paper lantern to get inside.
Instead of the usual round tables inside taverns, there were square tables so low you had to kneel on soft cushions to be able to reach your cup of tea with convenience, and there was also a low-lying bar at the back of teahouse.
Rena and I sat down at the bar, and a Pig with a black ponytail, fu manchu mustache, and a goatee served us steaming hot tea from a china teapot. He wore red robes with golden hems and a purple sash was draped around his neck.
Then the Pig that could only be Zhu Ro then spoke graciously to us, unusual for a native of MooShu, since most people here would avoid small talk with strangers, especially outlanders. "Welcome to my humble teahouse."