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The ship rocked gently at anchor. Favourable winds had meant a swift passage through the night and she had moored just before dawn. Vera, as Xui-Li’s companion for the night, had not been called upon, and now, after a light breakfast, she had been told to stand next to the bed where Xui-Li still lay. After a thorough inspection Xui-Li reached out and stroked Vera’s pubic mound.
“There’s a little too much stubble here,” she commented. “I shouldn’t have to tell you, I expect this to be shaven at all times.”
“I’m sorry, Madam Hong,” Vera replied. “If you have a razor….”
“There’s no time now, just make sure that next time you’re properly prepared. Now, your clothes are in that trunk. It’s time you got yourself dressed.”
Vera went over to the trunk Xui-Li had indicated and lifted the lid. Her clothes lay on the top, all neatly folded. She lifted out her chemise and slipped it on. The fine silk felt strange against her skin after the rough material of the sailor’s outfit. She searched for her knickers but couldn’t find them. She glanced over at Xui-Li.
“If you’re looking for your underthings, well, you may remember that they were somewhat soiled when you took them off and, as no one on this ship would stoop to washing them, I fed them to the sharks. Anyway, you had best get used to going without.”
“Certainly, Madam Hong,” Vera replied, wondering exactly what Xui-Li was implying about getting used to going without underthings. She reached for her corset; after so long naked or without any but the loosest clothing, it was strange to be forcing herself into its constricting shape. Its tight laced whale-boned lines may be all the fashion in London but the freedom of the sailors’ uniform, the ability to twist and turn any way she liked, she was going to miss that. Indeed, for all that it had been shocking at the time she smiled at the memory of her dip in the inlet, the shared freedom as the women bathed together as naked as the day they were born. The British community had strong views about ‘going native’, about letting standards slip just because one was away from home and the temperature was a little warmer than in England. They would be horrified to know that she had been bathing with the local girls, let alone her state of undress, but, for all that, she was going to miss the freedom.
Dressed at last she glanced in the mirror. She had nothing more than lipstick and her compact in her handbag and, much as she tried to patch herself up, it was only a makeshift job; on the other hand her short hairstyle was coming into its own and needed only the slightest bit of touching up.
“I had you blindfolded when you were brought here,” Xui-Li said. “That was so as you didn’t know the name of the ship, so you wouldn’t have any secrets to tell anyone but now, on second thought, I’m going to trust you, I mean, it’s not as if you’re a spy or anything stupid like that, and who would you tell, anyway?” Xui-Li gave Vera a long hard stare as if defying her to say otherwise.
“No, no, I won’t say a word, not to anyone,” Vera said, feeling guiltier than she had ever done before.
“Is that a promise?” asked Xui-Li.
“Yes, Ma’am, I promise.” How could Vera reply otherwise but inside she felt dreadful.
“Oh, and by the way….”
“Yes, Madam Hong?”
“Seeing as how you are leaving I think it is about time you took your collar off.” Xui-Li smiled.
Vera blushed as she reached for her neck and started to undo the buckle. Even in such a short time it had become natural, part of her and she had completely forgotten it as she had got dressed. If Xui-Li hadn’t reminded her she’d have walked back to the compound still wearing it.
Xui-Li leant on the rail and stared at the rowboat as it skimmed across the water, taking Jun-Nui back to the shore. The words of General Chang, and of the refugee camp leaders, came back to her. She might have misjudged this one, misjudged the strength of feeling that bringing a round eye to the camp had aroused. Her immediate thought was to dismiss them; who were they to say whom she could or could not bring with her? However that didn’t answer the nagging doubts at the back of her mind, doubts that a woman in her position could ill afford to ignore.
Firstly there was the political danger that she was putting herself into. Any leader has enemies and flirting with the round eye was playing straight into their hands. Sure, she had dismissed General Chang but she’d be foolish to think that that was the end of the matter and that he wouldn’t use it against her if the opportunity arose.
And then there was the matter of the very real security risk she was taking. Jun-Nui was, after all, an enemy spy and, whilst it was amusing to feed disinformation to Colonel Fortesque, it had, if she were honest with herself, been careless in the extreme to take her to the camp, to show her the very real workings of the rebel organisation.
But, more disturbing than either canlı bahis of these was the question of why she had done so in the first place, what was it about this girl that made her take these foolish risks? What had started out as a bit of fun, making the round eye girl squirm, was starting to take on another dimension. There was something about her, something more than the other girls. Indeed, whilst it was flattering that so many pretty young things from the club were more than willing to be her playmate, come the morning she was always eager to get rid of them, they had served their purpose and Xui-Li had no further desire for their company.
With Jun-Nui there was, however, another dimension and, after they had sated their various appetites and were cuddling together there was a warmth, a closeness, that she had never felt before with any other girl. She could sense a deep loneliness within Jun-Nui; the poor girl was crying out for someone to love her, someone to take care of her. If she were really honest, she knew this was because in Jun-Nui she could recognise herself, or at least a younger version. She knew only too well that yearning, that desperate desire, that need for love, and all the pain the came along with it. So much of her just wanted to reach out and hold her, to give her the warmth and security she so desperately needed. If only… if only….
With a burst of inner resolve she realised she had to put a stop to this. It would be foolhardy in the extreme not to end her involvement with Jun-Nui before it went any further; already it was affecting her judgement. Far, far too much was at stake, far too much could go wrong, Getting involved with anyone, let alone a round eye spy, was simply not practical. She had to put an end to it, really she had to. The rowboat disappeared behind some junks and, with a shake of her head, Xui-Li headed back to her cabin.
That afternoon Vera sat in her billet, pen in hand, trying to write her report. This time it wasn’t as easy as it had been on the previous occasions. Firstly, when it came down to it, she didn’t have that much real information. Sure, she had been to a refugee camp but beyond saying that it was roughly twelve hours sailing away she couldn’t tell if it were north or south. Then there was the matter of the General. Well, from what Xui-Li had said Colonel Fortesque was well aware of his existence and no doubt he would find it useful to know where he was. But then Vera didn’t know where he was any more than she knew where the camp was. And, even if she had known, she had now seen that passing on intelligence was more than just a game, it had very real consequences in the very real world. If she had have been able to pin point the general’s position, surely that would end with more raids and that would result in more camps. Espionage was a lot less thrilling now she had seen the aftermath.
Staring out of the window she thought back over her experiences around the campfire. How those with next to nothing had gladly shared what little they did have. How, even in all the filth and the squalor of the camp the women had had an inner dignity. Women who she would have dismissed as mere peasants just a few days ago now had faces, now had personalities. Could she, in her heart of hearts, betray them?
And when it came to betraying, there was the matter of a promise she had made, her promise to Xui-Li. If she were confused about her loyalties when it came to the women in the camps it was nothing compared to how she felt about Xui-Li. She hated, she loathed, she despised the humiliations she was put through; the woman was a tyrant, an evil witch who trapped and manipulated, who forced innocent young girls into monstrous perversions, lewd and disgusting acts, appalling depravities. But even in the heat of her anger the vision that came to mind was very different, a vision of a caring, compassionate woman, the woman who delivered rice to the starving, the woman who put a stop to rape, the woman who, when all the games were over, had shown Vera more care and compassion than any other.
And, if she were really honest with herself, did she really hate and loathe the things the Xui-Li made her do? She thought back to how Xui-Li had ordered her to pleasure herself whilst talking about dark desires. Even as she shuddered in moral repugnance an inner core thrilled to the memory, it had been deeply intoxicating to be that brazen and her groin tingled, reminding her of how good it had felt. She tried to tell herself that it was only the thrill of the espionage, that debasing herself was the price she paid for the information she gleamed but inside she knew she was lying.
With all this spinning in her mind she turned back to the report. Whatever could she say? What should she write? If she didn’t put something then Colonel Fortesque would never send her back again and the thought of returning to her old life was one she could not bear but, on the other hand, even telling the name of bahis siteleri the ship would endanger Xui-Li’s rice supplies and cause further hardship in the camp. And then it came to her; she could keep her promise to Xui-Li and still keep Colonel Fortesque satisfied; she just needed to… embroider things a little. She dipped her pen in the inkwell and started to write.
“So once again you didn’t actually meet this ‘crane’ woman then?” Colonel Fortesque asked as he flicked through the report. “She’s very elusive.”
“No, Madam Hong was going to travel up country to visit her but apparently she’s moved on. I didn’t quite catch where she’s gone; I can’t ask too many questions without arousing suspicions,” Vera answered.
“Of course, yes, you must be careful. Now tell me more about these wrestlers.”
Vera smiled to herself; remembering Colonel Fortesque’s enthusiasms from last time she’d hidden the lack of any real substance in her report with lots of flim flammery about women wrestling and had given quite full details of a tournament she said she had witnessed.
“The contests seem very popular,” she said. “There’s quite a lot of betting; it’s the highlight of the evening.”
“And what do they wear whilst they wrestle?”
“Just those light pyjamas; you know, the sort the peasants wear.”
“But, even so, it must get quite hot and sweaty…” Colonel Fortesque had a faraway look in his eyes. “Tell me, are they all old battle axes or are there some younger girls?”
“Oh, no; a lot of them are young and very pretty; some of them are even as young as me; those are the bouts that get the most cheering; that’s what the crowd want to see.” Vera was enjoying herself watching Colonel Fortesque get more and more worked up as she fed into his fantasies. “I guess mostly it’s poor peasant girls who need the money. It’s a shame they’re forced into something so unladylike.”
“And you weren’t made to join in this time?”
“No, sir. It seems I did enough last time to dissuade them from asking me again; I was just a spectator on this occasion.”
“Good thing too, really. All that grappling whilst wearing only the flimsiest of clothing; it must be impossible to retain any sort of modesty. Why in the heat of the fight almost anything might happen.” Colonel Fortesque stared out of the window but it was obvious his thoughts were elsewhere. With a jerk he pulled himself back to the here and now and, with his hands shaking slightly, closed the file in front of him. “Yes, indeed, almost anything might happen. I have to say I’m very pleased with the intelligence you’re bringing in. It was a pretty good idea of mine to send you in there, even if I do say so myself. Have you any idea when you’re next meeting is arranged for?”
“I’m not sure, sir. I thought I might leave it a few days. It doesn’t do to seem too keen,” Vera said guardedly. She hadn’t made up her mind about what to do next. Should she wait for another message under her pillowcase or could she return uninvited?
“Well don’t leave it too long. This is important work, not an excuse to laze around all the time. Now, off you go and see if next time you can get a real fix on where this ‘crane’ woman is operating from.”
“Thank you, sir,” Vera said as she got up to leave. “I won’t let you down.”
“Is that Jun-Niu’s report?” Mei-Xing asked as she settled down with Xui-Li. “How much did she tell about your trip to the camp? As far as I’m concerned we should never have let her in to the club in the first place and, as for taking her to the camp… respectfully may I suggest that it was unwise to trust a round eye so much.”
“Mei-Xing, you’re talking nonsense, and before you get on your high horse maybe you should learn to trust my judgement a bit more. Here, take a look for yourself.” Xui-Li handed over the file that Huan-Yue had purloined from Colonel Fortesque’s office.
“But this is… this is nonsense. She’s making it all up! And what’s all this twaddle about wrestling contests?”
“I suspect that our young friend is cleverer than I thought. My guess is that she’s feeding the Colonel what he wants to hear and, in this case, the old fool wants to hear about women wrestling. The important thing, the crucial thing, is that there’s nothing of any value. In fact it’s better than that; the colonel thinks he’s getting secret information and instead he’s getting nothing.”
“I still don’t trust her. She lies too easily for my tastes and, anyway, she’s a round eye. You can never trust a round eye,” Mei-Xing said grumpily.
“Well, that’s a moot point now; I don’t intend to invite her again.”
“Oh, what’s made you change your mind?”
“I’ve had my fun,” Xui-Li said airily. “But enough is enough. She doesn’t interest me any more.”
“And if she turns up at the club, what will you do then?” Mei-Xing asked.
“I’ll send her away. As I said, enough is enough,” Xui-Li replied firmly.
“I bahis şirketleri find myself somewhat concerned, General,” Mei-Xing said as she sat down a few days later with General Chang. “I don’t wish to sound disloyal but I can’t help but query our leader’s judgement. Although she seems to be seeing some sense now it still has to be said that taking that round eye girl to the refugee camp was not the wisest course of action.”
“Much as it pains me to say so I am forced to agree,” the general replied. “She was most disrespectful when we met the other day. Although I realise how valuable she has been to our endeavours I sometimes wonder whether we might benefit from a change in leadership; someone who might bring some fresh ideas; someone with a clearer vision of our struggle against the English.”
“I appreciate your frankness but we must continue to be circumspect,” Mei-Xing continued. “Xui-Li commands considerable loyalty amongst some of the troops and it would be inauspicious to start a dispute unless we were completely certain of success.”
“Maybe if something were to happen, if it could be shown that, for example, she had put the movement at risk by bringing an outsider into our midst….”
“Indeed. I’m sure that, working together, we can get some of the other leaders to see the danger. There’s a council meeting next month; I’m sure that gives us enough time to prepare ourselves to raise the matter there.”
“And afterwards…,” General Chang’s smile was that of a crocodile.
“And afterwards there will be a need for more appropriate leadership.”
“I’m so glad you came to me with this. Now, if we start with some of the south eastern leaders; I have heard that there’s already some dissatisfaction in the rank and file down there.”
“I’m due to visit in a week or so. Leave that one to me,” Mei-Xing said, her mind whirling with the possibilities.
It had been a long day when Xui-Li returned to the house for some relaxation. Although it was owned and used jointly by all the rebel leaders it was she who paid for it and, more importantly, it was she who picked all the staff. What she needed was a bit of pampering; a session in the pool followed by a massage from the skilled fingers of the beautician’s assistant, that would be just the thing and, after that, and a meal, there was a new serving maid who would round the evening off nicely.
So it was that two hours later, cleaned and refreshed, Xui-Li sat down to eat her evening meal. It was served, as expected, by the new maid who, as she approached, looked extremely nervous. Xui-Li was both pleased and annoyed; having a fearsome reputation helped keep order but this little one needed to learn that she had nothing to fear.
“Please, Madam Hong…,” the maid started after she’s put down the dishes.
“What concerns you? Please, feel free to tell me,” Xui-Li urged.
“It’s… It’s just that…,” the maid could hardly get the words out she was so nervous.
“If you’re trying to tell me that you’ve been a naughty girl,” Xui-Li gave the maid a reassuring smile, “that will have to wait. Let me finish my meal first.”
“No, Madam Hong, it’s not that. It’s… It’s… Well sometimes people forget the serving maid, forget that she’s there, I mean, and sometimes we overhear things, things that we shouldn’t. Normally I’d keep quiet, I mean it’s not my place but….”
“Come, sit down here beside me.” Xui-Li patted the seat of the couch beside her. This was a whole different kettle of fish and she realised the turmoil the poor girl must be going through. Discretion was the most important consideration when employing staff and they were taught from the very beginning not to discuss what they might overhear; whatever it was that the girl was trying to say must be important. She put her arm around the girl to calm her. “Now then, why don’t you start from the beginning?”
“Please, Madam Hong, it was two days ago. General Chang and Mei-Xing were here and I, I was serving the wine. I tried not to listen, really I did, but I couldn’t help it and what I heard, what I heard….” The poor maid was nearly in tears.
“It’s OK,” Xui-Li gave the girl a friendly hug, “I understand. Now, take your time.”
“But they were plotting against you!” the maid blurted out. “They want someone else as leader! Madam Hong, please, you must believe me; they say they’ll use the round eye girl as evidence. You must be careful. Please. Madam Hong, we don’t want to lose you. I’d rather die than have that General Chang as leader.”
“And you heard all this whilst you were serving the wine?” Xui-Li realised just how serious this was. “Thank you, my dear, you did well to come to me about it. Have you told anyone else, anyone at all?”
“Oh, no, Madam Hong,” the maid assured her. “I haven’t told a soul.”
“Well, let’s just keep it that way, keep it as our little secret and, don’t you worry about me; you’ve done well to tell me and now that you’ve done so I’ll be on my guard. Thank you. Now, my wine glass is empty; would you be so kind as to fetch a refill.”
“Certainly Madam Hong.” The maid got up from the couch where Xui-Li sat. “And, please, Madam Hong….”
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