Admiral Shi Xian watched the tiny row of ships off in the distance from the deck of her flagship The Jade Toad. The row had departed early that morning from Hainan in the Gulf of Tonkin to the port of Abra de llog on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. The band of ships were rich merchant ships, heavy with silks, gold coins, fine porcelain, furniture, and swords. An escort of Yung-fa’s ships had guaranteed safe passage for the merchants, but Admiral Shi had amassed a fleet of 500 ships to support her ruthless raids on the wealthy traders.
“Admiral,” a voice startled her from behind. If she had not recognized it as her second in command, her son Shi Luo, she would have slashed his throat for his arrogance. “I’ve received word from the governor of the Abra de llog. He is offering a ransom equal to nearly a third of the wealth of the cargo, if we stand at ease, so they might reach port unmolested.”
“What do you think, Luo?”
Stunned by his mother’s answer, he burbled incoherently for a moment before finding his voice. “You are the admiral.”
“No, my son, I am a scrubwoman who has suffered countless indignities on her knees, while she listened for loose talk, a word or two on when a glut of merchant ships was ready to sail and if they had an escort or not. And do you know what I did with that information?”
He shook his head not wishing to interrupt his mother’s lesson.
“I sold the information to pirates, and when I had amassed enough money I bought a ship, The Jade Toad, and made it the most feared ship on the South China Seas. I slashed and cut a bloody path to the top and now I have my own fleet. Did I get it by turning away from the rich pigs who used to spit on me and kick me when I was in their way?”
“Exactly. Why should I be content with a third when I can have it all? You must always want it all.”
“But the magician, Yung-fa, has vowed to protect this cadre of merchants and has sent warnings for you to stay away.”
“A magician,” she laughed. “I should tremble at the threats of a sideshow entertainer.”
“He is the Emperor’s magician and has protected the palace from warlords and revolts. He warns that he will wipe out our entire fleet if we dare to raid these merchants. He will make a strong ally but a horrifying enemy. Should we not consider the governor’s offer? A third for doing nothing.”
Yung-fa had a reputation for wielding tremendous power. It was the reputation, which gave Xian pause.
Luo produced one from under the folds of his coat and handed it to his mother. She scanned the ships passing over the horizon and saw the escort ships were nothing more than six dragon painted ships. The detail on the scales and bat wings were impressive, but most commanding were the bowheads. Each dragonhead was unique and terrifying.
Returning the glass to Luo, she said, “Quoc plans to frighten us away. He shall find me without fear. Open full sails and make the cannons ready. They will give us their booty, or, they will forfeit it to the bottom of the sea.”
The battle, which followed was not recorded in any book on naval lore and it is retold here strictly for posterity’s sake. You may choose to believe it or just laugh it away as total fantasy.
When Xian’s fleet challenged the merchant convoy the dragon ships rose up out of the waves and came down on the pirate fleet with incredible fury. The ships had actually morphed into dragons, each slashing with sharp talons, that raked through the masts and sides of the pirate ships as if they had been made of balsa and rice paper, all the while breathing Greek fire from their wide-open mouths. Not a single pirate ship escaped, and not a single pirate survived, except for Shi Xian, who never spoke of the incident and returned to her old career of scrubbing floors.
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