Cathay and the Spice Isles - Turnsheet 2

Jinshi Tsung Chang Mai and Baron Wilson Mandrake

Mission for the Honourable East India Company

The Journey East

The trip to Asia goes swiftly. The Atlantic in winter is trying, with a great storm blowing the ships of the small trading fleet perilously close to the land, and everyone constantly drenched and chilled by the driving rain and spray which seems to get everywhere and into every cabin.

The ships limp into Gibraltar and must spend a few days replacing sails that have been torn or even blown clean off, as well as re-rigging worn ropes. Upon departure though the weather has changed completely and the fleet sails east under clear skies and sound breezes. The Ottoman Empire is conducting manoeuvres in the Western Mediterranean and you meet a few of their messenger ships and small patrol craft which have kept the waters clear of pirates.

The good weather and following winds extend all the way through the Gerard Canal to the factory at India is your first destination. The ships of the trading fleet remain here, loading up with gunpowder purchased from the Mughal Empire and getting ready to return to Albion with a cargo that is becoming increasingly more important as the tensions with the rest of Christendom grow worse.

Baron Mandrake buys a large cargo of opium in India and fills the hold of the ship with it even as the wool and other goods that were brought from Albion are sold. The factors of the East India Company manage these affairs leaving you plenty of time to sample the markets and languages of India.

Sailing further east alone, without the need to keep pace with the rest of the fleet, Baron Mandrake can test the treatment he has applied to the timbers of the ship. It leaps forward, the experienced sailors greeting their pace with an awed silence before they break out in spontaneous cheers and run around the ship watching the spray and the water passing so swiftly beneath them.


You make the journey to the trade port of Guangzhou, on the Pearl River, in the south of the country in only a few weeks. Formally the Portuguese have a monopoly on trade in the region, granted by the Emperor in the north, but the local officials seem willing to forget to inform them of the presence of your ship in the port if you make it worth their while. This is easier than might be expected since the harbour is an enormous mass of shipping, some of the older sailors compare it to the crowded Pool of London before that city sank beneath the waves.

This is the first test of Tsung Chang Mai's translating skills and she proves to be an excellent translator. Especially since the officials of negotiable duty seem impressed that you have a Jinshi onboard. They are charmed to be met such exquisite etiquette by the foreign devils; Tsung Chang Mai gets the impression that the Portuguese treat them with much less respect. Gold changes hands and you find that your ship ceases to officially exist. This also eases the sale of the opium; Baron Mandrake decides to sell it in the south since he is unsure of the reception he will receive at the Imperial Court if he arrives with it in the hold in Beijing.

You travel on to Beijing, calling first at the city of Hangzhou on the Yellow River which has an improbably large Jewish community. You journey north to Beijing via the Great Canal which stretches a thousand miles from the Hangzhou, passing through the city of Kaifeng which has almost as large a Jewish population as Prague and supports a synagogue of its own!

This is also the closest you reach to the closed province of Shaanxi. It is clear to you that a careful watch is being kept on you to make sure that none of your crew slips away to seek the forbidden province. However, in conversation with the local Rabbi - with the able translation of Tsung Chang Mai, whom the Rabbi takes a shine to since she has clearly been spending time recently with others of his faith - Baron Mandrake does learn a little more. Apparently there is an enormous works in the lower mountains which belches forth smoke and so much flame that low-cloud is illuminated for leagues around by it. The stench of sulphur is overwhelming and those few have been close say that for miles around the land is dotted with prayer strips which seem to be regularly renewed.


In Beijing you are greeted at the Canal docks by a procession from the Forbidden City itself. Tsung Chang Mai bows extremely low to the illustrious party, an unexpected and anxiety-creating welcome. However they are so eager to do business that they even fail to be insulted by Baron Mandrake as he miscalculates each and every bow, giving every indication of having carefully calculated each display of disrespect, despite Tsung Chang Mai's coaching on the journey. (Tsung Chang Mai sighs deeply.)

At the enormous Forbidden Palace, covering more than half-a-mile squared, you are greeted by a senior minister and allowed into the Inner City. More than that in fact! You are allowed within the same building as the Son of Heaven himself, though you don't meet the Emperor. Tsung Chang Mai has been in such proximity before, but she is deeply puzzled by the warmth of their welcome and tells Mandrake so. The truth is revealed however when they are introduced to Lao Jungfei, who will travel back to Albion with them as a new Ambassador.

Lao Jungfei has been empowered to negotiate a new trade agreement with Albion and as an earnest of her good wishes she sees to it that Mandrake's ship is quickly loaded with the finest quality gunpowder. Since the Ambassador-to-be speaks excellent English, Tsung Chang Mai has more time to herself than expected.

Tsung Chang Mai uses some of her free time to purchase a tasteful tea set and a variety of teas, every type from white to green. While wandering the markets she notices a febrile atmosphere that was not there when she left. The people act normally on the surface but there is an impression of carefree abandon, as if the polite forms and dutiful roles of society were becoming just that - roles. People seem much more impulsive, given to wilder displays of anger and happiness.

Once Tsung Chang Mai has noticed it amongst the common folk, it is evident that the strange mood is even stronger at the Palace though the courtiers are more skilled at disguising it. Giggling assignations seem to be everywhere. Tsung Chang Mai receives a number of proposals for such a rendezvous of her own, though she politely refuses all. Even Baron Mandrake receives a few such proposals in halting English from those with a taste for the exotic, though he manages to clumsily insult most of those that ask. Though she is steered away from her old friends in the Palace Tsung Chang Mai does see a few familiar faces who seem to be merely going through the motions of their work.

The Spice Isles

With negotiations swiftly concluded you reboard the ship, accompanied now by Lao Jungfei, who is presented with Tsung Chang Mai's cabin. Tsung Chang Mai must now sleep with the common soldiers and as typhoon season approaches and the ship is constantly wreathed with rain catches a severe fever. Despite the ministrations of Mandrake she continues to worsen. (It is perhaps not helped by the fact that Mandrake, considering himself largely free of the responsibilities of negotiating with Cathay, has been indulging himself with the contents of a certain crate loaded in India. He may no longer be able to safely judge the danger his translator is in.)

Tsung Chang Mai hovers on the borders of death for weeks, till the ship approaches the equator and the Spice Isles. In the heat she seems to rally and after a few days makes it back above decks again, though she is still obviously weak.

The maps you possess of the area are imprecise, bought from Arab traders or stolen third-hand copies from the Spanish and Portuguese. Worse they do not tell you who rules and who merely pretends to. Eventually you find your way to the Court of the Sultan of Amboyna, who greets you most respectfully. (What intelligence you have managed to gather indicates that he has recently suppressed a rebellion sponsored by the Portuguese.) Members of his Court speak passing Cathayan and the recovering Tsung Chang Mai acts as translator once more.

Unfortunately, during an audience with the King it becomes frighteningly evident that she has pushed herself beyond her strength. She begins coughing; the Court waits politely for her to finish. Then she begins coughing up blood and suffers some kind of seizure. The courtiers and King rapidly evacuate, and you have picked up enough of their language to recognise the word for “plague”. You and the crew are rounded up and pushed onto the ship, where it is made clear that you are not welcome to stay. Worse, word that you are a plague ship circulates rapidly through the Islands and you are forced to depart.

The journey home is almost as swift as that out. The shock of seeing his translator collapse shaking uncontrollably is enough to snap Mandrake out of his deliriums and Tsung Chang Mai makes a good recovery, even if her health is likely to be permanently affected.

From the Merchant Companies Briefing

Expedition to the East

Baron Mandrake and his translator Tsung Chang Mai have returned from Cathay with a prize of incomparable value - the first Ambassador from that land for a generation, and moreover one authorised to make new trade agreements. This is of vital importance, the opening of the Mughal Empire to trade was enough to prompt the founding of the East India Company, and trade with Cathay could be every bit as valuable. Treat the ambassador Lao Jungfei with every courtesy and ensure that her stay in Albion is profitable for all.


Baron Mandrake and Tsung Chang Mai also bring with them further confirmation of the rumours that Chinese gunpowder originates in the mountain of the forbidden province of Shaanxi. Apply to them for further details.

bonus.cathay/2.txt · Last modified: 2008/03/11 23:19 by ivan