16: Chinaman

They waited until they were four towns over before handing over the body. Wrapped in tarp, it took two of the men to lay it over one of the horse’s back, and another two to deliver it to the marshal for the $750 bounty. Gino and Jeremiah were nominated, since it was unlikely for a Chinaman or woman to successfully capture one of the Court, and the Black Prince had other, better things to do that had a much lower risk: leaving C.C. alone with Xingke for what was probably the first time.

He wasn’t much talkative, which suited her just fine, and as the Prince vanished elsewhere to consult what maps and tools he had, they sat together in the shady silence. Resting her chin on her knees, she watched the breeze ruffle through what sparse trees covered the rolling fields below before toying with both of their long hair.

She had been fed bits and pieces of his story thanks to Suzaku and Gino’s generosity and boredom and so knew of how he had immigrated to the land of the free and the brave to slave away under the white man and his iron horse. It had clearly been back-breaking work that hadn’t been made any easier by the prejudice and at times inhumane treatment that was so standard for those foreigners from the East, but he had done it for love and for the hope of one day adopting that little girl – Lihua – from that hell of an orphanage. She was just so sweet and so endearing; so worthy of a good life that, to him, the torture he underwent was like water off a duck’s back. That is, until he had been unjustly accused of theft, at which he had fled. He had heard the stories of what happened once you were shackled, and seeing as how he was burdened with the disadvantage of race, he had decided to run. There was no point, after all, in toiling away if he couldn’t return to fulfill his dream.

So Li Xingke – the quiet, obedient Chinaman who had wordlessly and graciously accepted each and every horrible act of his superiors with dignified silence – had gathered what meager belongings he had to his name and ran. Slipping away in the dead of night, he had picked his way among the bush before breaking out into a full-on sprint until the unfinished railroad was but a mere bump on the horizon.

This however seemed to displease the Fates as he was then pushed to the brink of starvation, when a pair of dusty black boots appeared before his glassy eyes. The boots stood before him and studied him for a long, long time, until they had nudged him. Groaning, he had squinted up at the black brim that partially blocked out the blinding sun, oblivious to the fact that those boots – this man – would be his savior and leader of many moons.

Once he had regained enough strength, Xingke had retold his story, using only the sparsest of details, to the patient man whose face had never once been bared in full. He listened carefully as he fed and watered the ghost of a man, and when he was finished and his stomach suffered no more, he offered him a position in the Court. At the time, there had only been Suzaku and Jeremiah, both of whom had had no complaints or prejudice and had willingly taught the newcomer how to handle a gun.

Thankfully, he was a quick learner, and it didn’t take long for him to become a formidable marksman in his own right. The Prince watched from a distance until he was satisfied by his improvement, at which point the two men had discussed the terms of Xingke’s employment. A dividend would be provided, as well as food, water, and ammunition for his loyalty. Though they didn’t make much profit, when they did, Xingke would be ensured some so that one day, he may return to his homeland and to his future daughter: that is, so long as he was cooperative and did all he could to help the gang with their business.

Seeing as how it seemed to be a significantly more attractive offer than working on the railroad, he readily agreed, and it was in that fashion that the West gave birth to one of the most dangerous gunsman there was.

Obviously she thought it intriguing how he’d go as far as kill simply to be with that little girl, though after some thought, she realized it shouldn’t be so. Not as much as it was anyway. For what was so peculiar about a father’s love for his daughter? What was so strange about a father doing all he could for his offspring? A proper, loving father anyhow, unlike the one she had been blessed with.

But of course, what would she know? What was it that her father had said? That she was just a girl? A child who didn’t know any better and should leave all the decisions to those qualified to make it? To the adults. To the men. To him.

What would she know? She was just, after all, a woman, which was quite frankly almost as bad, if not worse, than being a Chinaman. They at least had some use; you could cheat a foreigner, but what could you possibly cheat out of a woman? Nothing, that’s what.

Not one little fucking thing.

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