The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 11-15

Chapter 11 At the end of spring, a shadow departs the small courtyard; in the night, light garment emitting faint fragrance.

Xiao Junzhu giggled, she lifted the quilt and got down from the bed. “My acupoints have been unsealed early on,” she said with a laugh, “I have been waiting for a long time, why are you back only now?”

Wei Xiaobao was puzzled, “Who unsealed your acupoints?” he asked.

Xiao Junzhu replied, “Sealed acupoints will open after twelve, fourteen hours, no need for someone to open it. I’ll help you to the bed, and then I’ll go.”

Wei Xiaobao was very anxious, “You can’t, you can’t!” he called out, “The scars on your face haven’t healed yet. I must apply some medicine on you before you will be healed completely.

Xiao Junzhu giggled and said, “You are really bad, always deceive people. When did you carve my face? You made me worry for half a day.”

“How do you know?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I was able to get down the bed early on and looked at the mirror,” Xiao Junzhu replied, “There is nothing on my face.”

Wei Xiaobao looked at her face and noticed that it was bright, spotlessly white and soft; the bean paste, lotus seed paste and other things he applied on her face had been washed clean, he felt quite regretful, “I was in such a rush that I did not look at her face first, if I had seen that she had washed her face, whatever it was, I would never come close to her.” he said, “It was because I applied my miracle cure on you, naturally you will be healed. Otherwise, why would I go to buy more pearls for you? I went to jewelry stores all around Beijing before I can find these two strings of pearls. I also bought a pair of exceptionally pretty toys for you.”

“What kind of toys?” Xiao Junzhu asked hastily.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Unseal my acupoints first, then I’ll get it for you.”

“Alright!” Xiao Junzhu said. She was just stretching out her hand to unseal his acupoints when suddenly she saw he was rolling his eyes incessantly; her heart was moved. She laughed and said, “I almost fell into your trick. If I unseal your acupoints, you won’t let me go.”

“Can’t be, can’t be,” Wei Xiaobao busily said, “A real man gave his words, that horse cannot chase it.”

“You mean ‘team of four horses cannot chase it’!” Xiao Junzhu said, “What do you mean ‘that horse cannot chase it’?”

“That horse can run faster than a team of four horses,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “If that horse cannot chase it, naturally a team of four horses cannot chase it even more.”

Xiao Junzhu did not know which horse he was talking about, she was half believing half doubting; she said, “‘That horse cannot chase it’, this is the first time I’ve ever heard it.”

“Now you have learned it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “These toys are very amusing, one is male, the other female.”

“Are they rabbits?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “No, they are not. They are ten times more fun than rabbits.”

“Are they goldfish?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

Wei Xiaobao shook his head vigorously, “What’s so fun about goldfish?” he said, “These toys are a hundred times more fun than goldfish.”

Xiao Junzhu guessed several more toys, all were incorrect. She said, “Take it out quickly! What is it?”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to lure her into unsealing his acupoints first, he said, “As soon as you unseal my acupoints, I will show it to you.”

Xiao Junzhu shook her head, “No, can’t do. I am leaving now, Gege has not seen me, he must be very worried.”

“Your acupoints have been opened for a long time,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why haven’t you left? Why must you wait for me?”

Xiao Junzhu said, “You are kind enough to buy me some pearls, I must thank you first and say goodbye to you. If I simply leave without saying anything, won’t I be too unfair to other people?”

Wei Xiaobao sniggered in his belly, “Turns out this little miss is a little idiot; Mu Palace people are blockheads, they are really not being surnamed incorrectly.” He said, “That’s right, I was so worried that being alone, you might be afraid in here, so I desperately ran along the streets, I wanted to buy the pearls as soon as possible, but looking from store to store, I couldn’t find any that met my satisfaction, I was very anxious in my heart, I tumbled down several times.”

“Aiyo!” Xiao Junzhu cried out softly, “Are you hurt?”

With distressed look on his face Wei Xiaobao said, “One time, I fell and hit a big stone on the pit of my stomach, the pain was unbearable.”

“Are you feeling better now?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

Wei Xiaobao groaned several times, “My injury is not light, it is getting more and more painful. You … you … sealed my acupoints and unwilling to unseal it, my … my … my breath can’t … can’t … can’t come up … I … I …” His voice was getting lower and lower, suddenly his eyeballs rolled until only the white part was visible, as if he fainted, his breathing also stopped.

Xiao Junzhu reached out to feel his breathing, and indeed he was not breathing; she was shocked. “Ah!” she cried out; with a trembling voice she asked, “How can you die?”

Wei Xiaobao said intermittently, “You have … have mistakenly … mistakenly sealed my … sealed my death … death acupoint.”

“It can’t be, it can’t be,” Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “Shifu taught me acupoint sealing technique, it can’t be wrong. I clearly sealed your Ling Xu and Bu Liang, two acupoints, and also Tian Chi[1] acupoint.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You … you were flustered, you sealed … sealed the wrong acupoint. Aiyo! The chi and blood in my body are welling up, the channels of chi are reversed, my world is turning upside down, I suffer from fire … fire …”

“Fire deviation?” Xiao Junzhu said.

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Aiyo! How can you be so muddleheaded? You haven’t properly mastered the acupoint sealing technique, but randomly and blindly use it on my body? You did not seal any Ling Xu or Bu Liang acupoints, but you sealed my death acupoint. I am ninety percent sure it was the death acupoint!” He did not know any acupoint names, otherwise he would have mentioned the name of several fatal acupoints.

Xiao Junzhu was still very young, naturally she had not mastered her family’s martial art skill. Acupoint sealing technique was indeed very difficult and complicated; there are several hundred major acupoints in human body, located only several fen away from each other. In a great rush, it was not uncommon to seal the wrong acupoint. However, she had received directions from good master, and was very familiar with the locations of these three acupoints. Although her strength was somewhat lacking, the acupoints she was sealing was not the slightest bit incorrect. It’s just that it was a new skill and this was the first time she used it, hence she did not have too much self-confidence. With Wei Xiaobao looking so distressed, and his acting was extremely believable, she thought she had indeed mistakenly sealed the fatal acupoint. “Could it be … could it be that I have sealed your Shan Zhong [lit. mutton smell] acupoint?” she asked anxiously.

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s exactly the Shan Zhong acupoint. But don’t be grieved, you … you … you did not do it intentionally. After I die, I won’t blame you. When Yan … Yanluo Wang asks, I won’t say that you sealed my death acupoint … I will say that I was not being careful, that my finger has sealed my own death acupoint that I died.”

Hearing that he was willing to cover her up in front of the Yanluo Wang, Xiao Junzhu felt grateful, but also apologetic; she busily said, “Quick … don’t say anything, quickly unseal your acupoints, perhaps you can still be saved.” Hastily she reached out to massage his chest and armpit.

Since the force with which she seal acupoint was not too strong, only by massaging a little while, Wei Xiaobao was already able to move. He groaned several times and said, “Ay, you have sealed my death acupoint, I won’t live!”

Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “Perhaps I can still save you. I was not being careful and sealed the wrong acupoint. Really … really sorry.”

“I know you are a good person,” Wei Xiaobao said, “After I die, I will bless and protect you from the netherworld; from dawn to dusk, my ghost will always be your side.”

Xiao Junzhu shrieked. “Your ghost will always be my side?” she asked.

“You shouldn’t be afraid,” Wei Xiaobao said, “My ghost will not harm you. It’s just that there is a rule that whoever killed me, my ghost will always follow that person.”

The more Xiao Junzhu thought about it, the more scared she was; “I did not kill you intentionally,” she said.

Wei Xiaobao sighed; he said, “Little Miss, what is your name?”

Xiao Junzhu took a step back. “Why do you ask?” she said. Her face showed astonishment. “You are going to tell on me in the netherworld, aren’t you?” she asked, “I won’t tell you.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “I won’t tell on you,” he said.

“Why did you ask, then?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

“So that when I am in netherworld I can bless and protect you,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I have a lot of ghost friends in the netherworld; I will ask everybody to work hard together to bless and protect you, no matter where you go, several thousand several hundred of ghosts will follow you.”

Xiao Junzhu was so scared that she screamed and hastily said, “No, please don’t! Don’t follow me.”

“How about only me, one ghost, following you around?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Xiao Junzhu hesitated for a moment; she said, “If you … if you won’t scare me, then it’s alright.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Of course I am not going to scare you. When you are sitting down in the day time, my ghost will drive the fly away from you; when you are sleeping at night, my ghost will keep the mosquitoes away from you. When you are bored, my ghost will come to you in a dream, telling you stories that are very, very pleasant to hear.”

“Why do you treat me this good?” Xiao Junzhu asked; sighing gloomily, she said, “It would be better if you don’t die.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There is something you promised me, but you haven’t done it yet. Ay, I won’t die with my eyes closed.”

“What is it? What did I promise to you?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You promised to call me ‘Good Gege’ three times. If before I die I can hear you call, then I will die with my eyes closed.”

Xiao Junzhu was born in the Palace, into a noble family who ruled Guizhou province for generations; her parents, older brother, as well as her elders, all doted on her very much. Although by the time she was born the country was already ruined and the people perished, as a minister’s family whose ancestors had done meritorious deeds, they had numerous slaves and servants who cherished this ‘golden-branch, jade leaves’ Junzhu in every possible way. In all her life, no one had ever lied to her or scared her. Growing up, she always heard that she must never tell even half a word of lies. Consequently, when she heard Wei Xiaobao’s nonsense, at first she accepted every word as the truth. But after a while she saw that the more he talked the more spirited he was, and when talking about her calling him ‘Good Gege’ three times his eyes were gleaming with mischief. She was only naïve and kind-hearted, but not at all an idiot. Realizing that Wei Xiaobao was teasing her, she took a step backward and said, “You deceived me, you are not going to die at all.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily and said, “Even if I am not going to die for the time being, I will die in several days anyway.”

“You won’t die in several days,” Xiao Junzhu said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Granted that I may not die in several days, but in the future I will die. If you don’t call me ‘Good Gege’ three times, my ghost will follow you day and night, I will continuously call you, ‘Good … Mei … Mei … Good … Mei … Mei …!’” He pinched his throat hard that his voice was dragged long and shrill, it sounded like a wretched ill wind, extremely scary. He also stuck out his tongue, pretended to be a ghost who died of hanging.

“Ah!” Xiao Junzhu screamed and turned around to run out of the room. Wei Xiaobao ran after her. Seeing she was stretching out her hand to pull out the door bolt, he hurriedly grabbed and pulled her waist, saying, “You must not go out, there are too many evil spirits outside.”

“Let me go,” Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “I want to go home.”

“You can’t go,” Wei Xiaobao said. Xiao Junzhu hacked down with the edge of her right palm toward his right wrist.

Wei Xiaobao flipped his palm and caught her forearm, Xiao Junzhu pulled back her elbow. Forming a fist with her left hand, she struck down the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head. Wei Xiaobao drew back and down to evade this punch blow, but he grabbed her calf. Xiao Junzhu launched the stance ‘Tiger Tail Scissors’, her left palm hacked diagonally down. Wei Xiaobao was unable to dodge; ‘smack!’ his shoulder was hit. He pulled with all his might, Xiao Junzhu was unable to stand, she was pulled down to the ground. Wei Xiaobao scrambled up to wrestle her, Xiao Junzhu legs flew out with ‘Mandarin Ducks Chain Kicks’ toward his face. Wei Xiaobao rolled away, but he caught and twisted her left arm.

Xiao Junzhu’s punching and kicking skill was taught by a prominent master, it was far more superior to the essence of skill Wei Xiaobao had learned. If the two of them were having a real martial art competition, Wei Xiaobao was not her match. However, the two of them were wrestling on the floor right now, one wanted to go, the other grabbing and twisting her, preventing her from leaving. In this kind of twisting, pouncing and wrestling skill, Wei Xiaobao had undergone an extensive training, he had had martial art competition with Kangxi for almost a year. Although the martial art skill Hai Laogong taught him was half true and half fake, plus he trained carelessly, in the end his body was still trained and he still knew several tricks of qin na.

In these several rounds, although the pit of Wei Xiaobao’s stomach had received two blows, he managed to catch Xiao Junzhu’s right arm, which he bent and twisted backward. “Surrender?” he asked with a laugh.

“No!” Xiao Junzhu replied.

Wei Xiaobao raised his left knee and knelt on her arm, he asked again, “Surrender?”

Xiao Junzhu still said, “No!”

Wei Xiaobao increased the force on his hand to twist her arm behind her back harder. “Ah!” Xiao Junzhu screamed and began to cry.

During Wei Xiaobao’s bouts with Kangxi, no matter how severe the pain those two boys experienced, they had never shown any weakness, much less crying. Whenever one of them was pinned down by the opponent and was unable to move, he would simply called out, “Surrender!” and then he would be considered the loser of that round, before they started wrestling again. Unexpectedly Xiao Junzhu’s attitude was totally different from Kangxi, she cried as soon as she lost. “Pei!” Wei Xiaobao spat, “Useless little girl!” and he let her go.

Right this moment, suddenly they heard a ‘crack!’ on the window lattice. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in a low voice, “A ghost!”

Xiao Junzhu was shocked; she reached out to hug him. They heard some noise on the window frame, the window was shoved open with creaking noise. This time, even Wei Xiaobao was frightened. “It’s really a ghost!” he said in trembling voice. Xiao Junzhu threw herself forward and crawled underneath the quilt; her body was trembling all over.

The window was slowly pushed open, someone in gloomy voice called out, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi!”

At first Wei Xiaobao thought it was Hai Laogong’s ghost coming to demand his life, but the voice was a woman’s voice. “It’s a female ghost!” he said tremblingly, while successively took several steps backwards. His legs grew numb and he fell sitting down on the head of the bed.

Suddenly a gust of wind blew in, the candle in the room was extinguished, something blurring their eyes, there was one more person in the room. The female ghost creepily said, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi! Yan Wangye is calling you, Yan Wangye says you killed Hai Laogong!”

Wei Xiaobao was scared out of his wits; he wanted to say, “I did not kill Hai Laogong.” But his mouth was wide open and his tongue tied; how could he speak out? He heard the female ghost said again in shrill voice, “Yan Wangye is going to seize you and take you, going up the mountain of blades, going down into a deep fryer. Xiao Guizi, today you can’t run away!”

Hearing these sentences, Wei Xiaobao suddenly realized, “It’s the Empress Dowager, not a female ghost!” But he did not feel less frightened, he thought, “If it was a female ghost, there is a possibility she can’t catch me, but Empress Dowager will definitely kill me to close my mouth.”

Ever since he knew the Empress Dowager’s secret, at first he was constantly in fear that she would kill him to close his mouth, but all along there was nothing astir. After a long time, his fear gradually diminished, he thought that the Empress Dowager believed him, that he really did not hear what Hai Dafu was saying; or perhaps even if he did, she thought he would not dare to leak the secret, plus since he was promoted to be the head of the Catering Department, he must be very grateful to her, then all was well. How would he know that the reason she did not promptly deal with him was because when she fought Hai Laogong that day, she had suffered a very heavy internal injury? Moreover, she also saw that Hai Laogong’s heavy kick unexpectedly did not kill Wei Xiaobao; she thought this child must have profound internal energy cultivation. If she did not recover completely and have her strength restored, she did not dare to act without careful consideration. This business of killing people to close their mouths simply cannot be delegated to others; she must do it personally. Otherwise, if at the point of death the child spoke several sentences, wouldn’t her important matter go bad?

This important matter carried too great of implications, not to mention that Wei Xiaobao was an insignificant little eunuch; even if it were imperial wives, imperial concubines, crown prince, generals or ministers, as soon as they find out about this secret, if there were a hundred people knew, she would kill a hundred, if there were a thousand people knew, she would kill a thousand.

She had been waiting for too long; although right now her strength had not fully recovered, she thought that if she delayed for a day, the danger of her secret leaking was also increased by a notch, until that night she could no longer wait and decided to act, and thus she went to Wei Xiaobao’s room. As she pushed the window open, she heard Wei Xiaobao said, ‘A ghost’, and so she pretended to be a ghost. She did not know there was another person on the bed; slowly concentrating her strength, she raised her right hand, and step by step walked toward the bed.

Wei Xiaobao knew he could not resist, hence he crawled into the quilt. The Empress Dowager brought down her palm, ‘slap!’ she simultaneously struck Wei Xiaobao and Xiao Junzhu. Fortunately the quilt was very thick, so most of her strength was dissipated.

The Empress Dowager raised her palm again to deliver the second strike, this time she increased her power. Her palm had just touched the quilt when suddenly she felt a severe pain on the center of her palm, like an injury from a sharp object. She cried out loudly and leaped backward.

Suddenly from outside the window she heard three, four people shouting and yelling, “Assassins! Assassins!” The Empress Dowager was stunned, “How did they know?” she thought. The fact that she came personally to kill a little eunuch must not be known to anybody, plus the pain on her palm was so severe that she did not have time to see whether Wei Xiaobao had died or not. Her feet kicking the ground, she flew out of the window. Yet before she landed, two people attacked her from behind. The Empress Dowager sent her palms backward in the move ‘Looking Back Without Any Concern’, both her left and right palms simultaneously hit the two people’s chests. The two people fell straight to the ground.

She heard the ‘Tang! Tang!’ sound of the gong, in a short moment all around her the gongs were sounded. From a distance some people were calling out, “First and Second Guard Units protect His Majesty, Third Guard Unit protects Empress Dowager.” Immediately afterwards, from the eastern end of the rockery someone called out, “Assassin in here!” Empress Dowager knew that these people were the Imperial Bodyguards; immediately she shrank back and hid behind some flowering shrubs. She felt the pain in the middle of her palm was getting worse, she saw indistinctly seven, eight people were fighting fiercely, their weapons collided unceasingly; she thought, “Turns out there really are assassins in the Palace. I wonder if they are Hai Laogong’s friends, or Oboi’s former subordinates?” She heard from the distance the unending voices of people giving orders; the light from torches and Kong Ming lanterns[2] appeared in the darkness, gathering together from all directions. The Empress Dowager realized that if she tarry slightly and did not leave right away, it would be difficult for her to escape undetected. She crouched down and suddenly leaped out from behind the flowering shrubs, and then bolted toward the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.

She was only rushing for several zhang when directly in front of her someone attacked; with the pair of steel awls in his hands he swiftly stabbed the Empress Dowager’s face, while shouting, “Audacious rebel, unexpectedly dare to come to the Palace to create havoc.”

The Empress Dowager slanted her body slightly, her right palm feigned a move, her left palm struck toward his shoulder. The man pulled his shoulder back to evade, then he spun around as the steel awl in his left hand rose up. The Empress Dowager dodged to the left and sent her right palm backhandedly. In an instant the two of them had exchanged several moves.

The man bawled, “Rebel thief, turns out you are a woman.”

The Empress Dowager saw that this Imperial Bodyguard’s martial art skill was not weak; although she could subdue him, she would need more than a dozen moves, by that time perhaps the rest of the Imperial Bodyguards would catch up. In a moment of desperation she called out, “I am the Empress Dowager.”

The Imperial Bodyguard was stunned; he held his hands and asked, “What?”

“Audacious servant,” the Empress Dowager said, “You dare to offend the Empress Dowager?”

The man hesitated slightly, the Empress Dowager sent out both palms, ‘Bang!’ she struck the pit of his stomach. The Imperial Bodyguard was killed instantly. The Empress Dowager gathered her chi and leaped, she ducked away into the flowering shrubs.

When Wei Xiaobao crawled into the quilt, his waist was slapped by the Empress Dowager, he was almost suffocated; in desperation he pulled the dagger in his boot and held it facing up inside the quilt, raising the quilt somewhat higher. When the Empress Dowager sent the second palm strike toward the bulging quilt, due to the extremely sharp dagger and the powerful strike of the Empress Dowager’s palm, the point of the dagger immediately penetrated the quilt and pierced the center of her palm all the way through the back of her hand.

After the Empress Dowager jumped out of the window, Wei Xiaobao raised the corner of the quilt and heard the commotion outside his window. The very first thought that came into his mind was, “The Empress Dowager has sent people to arrest me.” He leaped out of the bed, lifted the quilt, and said, “Hurry, we must run away!”

Xiao Junzhu cried and said, “It hurts … it hurts so much!” What happened was the Empress Dowager’s first strike hit Wei Xiaobao’s waist and Xiao Junzhu’s left leg. Xiao Junzhu bore most of the brunt that unexpectedly the calf bone of her left leg was broken.

“What happened?” Wei Xiaobao asked, while trying to pull her by the collar of her clothes. “Hurry up, hurry up!” he said, pulling her down the bed.

Xiao Junzhu stepped on the floor with her right foot first, but she felt the pain on her left leg was unbearable, her body leaned to one side, and she tumbled down on the floor. “My … my leg is broken,” she said while crying.

In a moment of desperation Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Xiao Niang Pi, why do you have to break your leg not sooner or later …” In his heart he said, “Saving my own life is more important for Laozi; forget that you broke one leg, even if you broke four legs, eight legs into seventeen, eighteen pieces, Laozi won’t care.” Turning around, he rushed to the window and peeked out. He was hoping there wouldn’t be anybody outside so that he could leap out.

But as he looked out, he saw the Empress Dowager struck backward with her palms, followed by two people flew up and fell heavily down on the ground. One person happened to land right in front of his window. In the dark night he saw faintly that this man was dressed in an Imperial Bodyguard uniform; he was extremely baffled, “Why would the Empress Dowager strike the Palace’s Imperial Bodyguard?” He saw the Empress Dowager dodged into a flowering bush; he also saw several zhang away six, seven men were engaged in a close combat, each one had a weapon in his hand, the battle was really intense. He heard people shouting from the distance, “Catch the assassins! Catch the assassins!”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised, “Turns out there really are assassins in the Palace; they are not here to catch me.” Focusing his attention outside, he saw the Empress Dowager was fighting with another Imperial Bodyguard. The Imperial Bodyguard was wielding a pair of steel awls. Although they were fighting quite some distance away from his window, he could still see the flashing of the steel awls. After fighting for a while, the Empress Dowager killed the Imperial Bodyguard, and then she flew into the darkness and disappeared.

Wei Xiaobao turned his head to look at Xiao Junzhu; she was sitting on the floor, whimpering softly. Since now he knew he was not in any danger, his mood improved considerably. Walking toward her, he said in a low voice, “Does it hurt so much? There are people outside who want to get you. Don’t make any noise.”

Xiao Junzhu was so frightened that she did not dare to make any noise. Suddenly somebody outside the window shouted, “Black feet and dog’s teeth are formidable, go up the Diancang Mountain!”

“Huh?” Xiao Junzhu exclaimed, “Those are our men.”

“They are your friends?” Wei Xiaobao wondered, “How do you know?”

“What they said was our Mu Palace’s code words,” Xiao Junzhu said, “Quick … quickly help me up, I want to look.”

“They are coming to the Imperial Palace to rescue you, aren’t they?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I don’t know,” Xiao Junzhu replied, “Is this the Imperial Palace?”

Wei Xiaobao did not reply; he thought, “If they knew that this little girl is in here and broke into the Palace to rescue her, Laozi’s two fists cannot fight the enemy’s four hands.” He reached out and firmly covered her mouth, while with a low voice he threatened, “You must not make any noise, if they find out, your other leg will be broken, I won’t be able to bear it!”

They heard someone shouting outside, “Ah!” while another voice cheered, “Two assassins are killed!” and yet another voice called out, “The assassins are running away to the east, everybody, pursue them!” The voices gradually went far away.

Wei Xiaobao released his hand and said, “Your friends run away!”

“They did not run away!” Xiao Junzhu said, “They said ‘go up the Diancang Mountain’, that means they are retreating temporarily.”

“What is ‘black feet dog’?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“‘Black feet dogs’ are Tatars warriors,” Xiao Junzhu replied.

The voices in the distance were still faintly heard, people were transmitting orders incessantly, obviously the effort of capturing the assassins was still going on. Suddenly they heard someone was groaning twice below the window, it was a female voice. Wei Xiaobao said, “There’s an assassin that has not died yet, let me stab her twice!” The Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace were all male, so this voice definitely belonged to the assassin.

Xiao Junzhu said, “No … don’t kill her, perhaps she is from our Palace.” Propping herself on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, she stood up and with only her right leg she hopped to the window. She saw two people outside the window. “Southern sky northern land …” she said. Wei Xiaobao stretched out his hand to cover her mouth again. But the female voice outside the window replied, “Under the throne of bright peacock. You … are you Xiao Junzhu?”

Wei Xiaobao thought that since this woman had discovered Xiao Junzhu’s trail, the incoming disaster was not small; raising his dagger, he wanted to throw it down. Suddenly he felt his right wrist tightened as it was being grabbed by Xiao Junzhu, followed by a stabbing pain on his flank so that involuntarily his hand holding down her mouth came loose.

“Is it Shijie [older martial sister]?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

“It’s me,” the woman below the window replied, “What … what are you doing in here?”

“Your granny,” Wei Xiaobao cut her off, “What are you doing in here?”

“Don’t … don’t curse her,” Xiao Junzhu said, “She is my Shijie. Shijie, are you injured? You … please think of a way to save my Shijie. Shijie is very good to me.” She said those words to two different people.

The woman underneath the window groaned and said, “I don’t want to be saved by this kid. He doesn’t even have the ability to save me.”

Wei Xiaobao struggled hard to free himself, Xiao Junzhu then loosened her grip. Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Stinky woman! You said I don’t have the ability to save you? You, this little girl, are just a ninth-class martial artist. Humph, Laozi only needs to stretch my little finger, then I will be able to save twenty, thirty, or even seventy, eighty mothers like you.”

By this time the cry ‘catch the assassins, catch the assassins’ was resounding again from the distance. Xiao Junzhu was greatly anxious, she hurriedly said, “Please hurry, save my Shijie. I … I will call you three times, Good … Good … Gege, Good Gege, Good Gege!” Originally she was unwilling to utter these words, but now in order for him to save someone, she had called him three times in a row.

Wei Xiaobao was very happy; he said, “Good Meizi, what do you want your good Gege do?”

Xiao Junzhu’s entire face turned deep red; she said in low voice, “I am asking you to save my Shijie.”

The woman under the window was extremely obstinate; she said, “Don’t ask him, this kid is powerless; he won’t be able to save even himself.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, “Looking at my good Meizi’s face, I am bent on saving you. Good Meizi, we have said the words, you must not deny; you want me to save your Shijie, later you can’t go back on your own words, you must call me ‘Good Gege’ forever.”

“I will call you whatever you want,” Xiao Junzhu said, “Good Shushu, Good Bobo, Good Gonggong[3]!”

“I only want to be your Good Gege,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you called me Gonggong, I am afraid I am a little lacking.”

“Alright,” Xiao Junzhu said, “I will forever … forever call you ‘Good’ … ‘Good’ …”

“’Good’ what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Xiao Junzhu said, “Good … Gege!” While saying that, she gently pushed his back.

Wei Xiaobao jumped out the window. He saw a woman dressed in black, her body curled into a ball, was lying on the ground. He said, “The Palace’s Imperial Bodyguards are coming to arrest you, they are going to behead you and chop you into mincemeat and use you as the stuffing for the steamed buns.”

The woman said, “What’s so strange about that? Our people will avenge me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You, little girl, are so stubborn. The Imperial Bodyguards won’t kill you right away, they will strip you naked, everybody … everybody will take you as a wife.”

The woman angrily said, “Quickly use your blade to kill your Miss.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Why would I want to kill you? I also want to strip you naked, and then take you as my wife.” Finished speaking, he bent over to pick her up. The woman was extremely anxious, she waved her palm to slap his ear, but she was heavily injured, her hand did not have the least bit of strength, when the palm reached his face, it only felt like a gentle brush.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You haven’t become my wife, yet you tickle your husband first.” Carrying her body, he handed her over the window. Xiao Junzhu was greatly delighted, she stepped forward to receive the woman, and then slowly lay her down on the bed.

Wei Xiaobao was about to follow by leaping into the room when suddenly someone by his feet said in a low voice, “Gui … Gui Gong-gong, this woman … this woman is a rebel thief … an assassin, you must not … must not save her.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked, “Who … who are you?” he asked.

The man replied, “I … I am the Palace’s … Imperial … Bodyguard …”

Immediately Wei Xiaobao understood that he was the Imperial Bodyguard who was hit by the Empress Dowager just a moment ago, unexpectedly he did not die; he lay on the ground, unable to move a single step, his speech was also discontinuous, obviously his injury was very heavy. Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I handed over this woman in black, it would be a meritorious service, but what about Xiao Junzhu? This matter would fall through and stand exposed, than the disaster would be even greater.” Raising his dagger, ‘stab!’ he thrust it into the man’s chest. The Imperial Bodyguard did not even grunt; he died instantly.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Forgive me for this, if just now you did not open your mouth, you would not have to die, but then Gui Gong-gong’s head would not sit smooth and steady on my neck.” He thought further, “Perhaps there are more injured people nearby, I have no choice but kill them all to close their mouths.” Thereupon he looked around the surrounding flowering bushes and rock garden thoroughly; altogether he found five bodies on the ground: three Imperial Bodyguards and two assassins from the outside, they all had breathed their last breath. Wei Xiaobao picked an assassin’s corpse and placed it over the window sill, with head inside and legs outside, and then with his dagger he stabbed the corpse’s back several times.

Xiao Junzhu was startled, “He is our Palace’s man; he is dead, why do you kill him again?”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, “He is dead, I can’t kill him anymore. Try killing a dead man and show it to me! But if you want me to save your stinky Shijie, I have to do this.”

The woman, who was lying on the bed, said, “You are the stinky one!”

“You haven’t smelled me, how do you know I am stinky?” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“This entire room is reeking with stench,” the woman said.

“It was originally very fragrant,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It smells as soon as you came in.”

Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “The two of you do not even know each other, yet quarrel as soon as you meet. Quickly stop bickering. Shijie, how did you come here? Is it … is it to save me?”

“We did not know you are in here,” the woman replied, “Everybody did not see you, we went everywhere to look for you but could not find you …” Speaking to this part, she was already out of breath.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You don’t have strength to talk, you’d better talk a little less.”

“I want to talk, what are you going to do about it,” the woman said.

“If you have the ability, go ahead and talk,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Other people’s Xiao Junzhu is so gentle and refined, not at all like you who are rude and unreasonable.”

“No, no, you don’t know,” Xiao Junzhu busily said, “Nobody’s better than my Shijie. Don’t curse her, then she won’t be mad at you. Shijie, which part of you is injured? Is it heavy?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Her martial art skill is not good, she overestimated her own capabilities, she came to the Palace just to lose face, naturally her injury is heavy. I’ll say she won’t live pass six hours; perhaps before daylight she will return to heaven.”

“She can’t die,” Xiao Junzhu said, “Good … Good Ge … please think of something quickly, save my Shijie.”

The woman angrily said, “I would rather die, I don’t need his help. Xiao Junzhu, this kid is glib-tongued, why do you call him … call him like that?”

“Call me what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The woman did not fall into his trick, “Call you little monkey,” she said.

“I am a male monkey,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are a female monkey.” Bickering and quarreling with women, he had had an extensive practice when he was in Lovely Spring Courtyard; he had experienced major conflicts and major battles, how could he lose against other people? When the woman heard him speaking vulgarity, she no longer paid him any attention, she simply breathed deeply.

Wei Xiaobao raised the candlestick on the table and said, “First we must find where her injury is.”

“Don’t look at me! Don’t look at me!” the woman shouted.

Wei Xiaobao shot back, “Don’t shout loudly! Do you want people to catch you and take you as wife?” Picking the nearby candlestick, he saw half of the woman’s face was covered in blood, she was approximately seventeen, eighteen years of age, she had an oval face, and looked very beautiful; he could not help but praise, “Turns out this stinky Xiao Niang Pi is a beautiful girl.”

Xiao Junzhu said, “Don’t curse my Shijie, she … she is indeed a beautiful girl.”

“Very well!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Now I want to take her as my wife even more.”

The woman was startled, she struggled, wanted to slap him, but she only managed to lift her body a little, then she cried, “Ah!” and fell down on the bed.

Naturally Wei Xiaobao had heard a lot about the matters of men and women in the brothel, but knowing and doing are not the same. He said ‘take her as wife’, but he was still young, and the thought of actually doing it had never crossed his heart; it’s just that he was a natural prankster. When he saw how the woman became very anxious as soon as he mentioned he was going to take her as his wife, he could not help feeling very smug. He laughed and said, “Don’t be impatient, we have not performed the wedding ceremony yet, how can we be man and wife? You think this place is the Lovely Spring Courtyard? As soon as you talk about being man and wife you want to do it immediately. Aiyo! Your wound is bleeding, you are spoiling my bed!” He saw blood continuously seeped out her clothes; her injury was indeed not light.

Suddenly he heard footsteps, a group of people came hurrying, someone called out, “Gui Gong-gong, Gui Gong-gong, are you alright?” After the Imperial Bodyguards repelled the assassins, they sent people to protect the Emperor, Empress Dowager, and comparatively high-ranking imperial concubines, then they also protect department heads and eunuchs with authority. Wei Xiaobao was the Emperor’s favorite, so they sent a dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards to curry his favor.

Wei Xiaobao said in low voice to Xiao Junzhu, “Hide in the bed.” He pulled the quilt to cover the two women, pulled the mosquito net down, and called out, “Come here quick! There is an assassin here!”

The woman was shocked, but she was seriously injured, how could she struggle? Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “Don’t shout, don’t call people to arrest my Shijie.”

“She does not want to be my wife,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why should I be polite to her?”

While they were still talking, the dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards had already arrived in front of the window. “Aiyo!” one of them cried out, “There is an assassin here.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “That fellow wanted to climb into my room, Laozi finished him off with several stabs of my blade.”

The Imperial Bodyguards raised their torches and saw several cuts on the dead man’s back; there were blood on his clothes, on the window sill, and on the ground. “Gui Gong-gong must be startled.” Another man said, “What do you mean Gui Gong-gong was startled? Gui Gong-gong’s martial art skill is superb, he is able to kill the assassin in just one move. If there were more coming, he would simply kill them all the same.” The rest of the Imperial Bodyguards immediately followed by fawning him; they praised Wei Xiaobao greatly, saying that he had rendered a great merit tonight.

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “The merit is nothing, coping with one or two assassins did not need too much effort. Arresting the Manchu’s Number One Warrior Oboi is a bit harder to do.” The crowd of Imperial Bodyguards naturally seized this opportunity to flood him with flattery.

One of the Imperial Bodyguards said, “Shi Laoliu and Xiong Lao’er [Ol’ Six and Ol’ Second, respectively] died in the line of duty, those assassins were truly very fierce. If it were not Gui Gong-gong, how would he deal with it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s more important for you all to protect His Majesty, in here I am alright.”

Another man said, “Dolong Zongguan is leading more than two hundred brothers to personally guard outside His Majesty’s private chamber. The assassins have either escaped or killed, the Palace is quiet now.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Tomorrow I will ask His Majesty to grant some comfort and aid to the families of those Imperial Bodyguards who died in the line of duty. Everybody has been working hard, His Majesty will definitely grant generous reward.” Everybody was delighted, they all bowed and expressed their gratitude. Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “As long as I don’t have to spend my own money, why not become the mediator between them and the Emperor?” He said, “I do not remember very clearly everybody’s surname and given name; would you all report to me? If His Majesty asks who has exerted himself using extreme force of will, and has rendered great service tonight, Xiongdi will mention your names.”

The Imperial Bodyguards were even more delighted, they hurriedly reported their name and surname. Wei Xiaobao had an extremely good memory, he was able to repeat the full names of those dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards without any mistake. He said, “You all should patrol everywhere, perhaps there are assassins still hiding in some dark and remote places. If you catch one alive, if it’s a man, beat him severely, if it’s a woman, strip her naked and take her as wife.” The Imperial Bodyguards laughed heartily and repeatedly said, “Yes, yes!”

“Would you take away the corpse?” Wei Xiaobao asked. The Imperial Bodyguards compiled; they snatched the corpse and left after paying their respect once more.

Wei Xiaobao closed the window, turned around and lifted up the quilt. Xiao Junzhu laughed and said, “You are so bad, you scared us in a big way … Aiyo …!” She saw blood all over the bedding, her martial sister’s countenance was deathly pale, her breathing was very weak.

“Where is her injury?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Quickly stop her bleeding.”

The woman said, “You … go away, Xiao Junzhu, my … injury is on the pit of my stomach.”

Seeing the blood flowing from her wound was indeed a lot, Wei Xiaobao was afraid she might die from her heavy injury; he did not dare to tease her. Turning his head away, he said, “What’s so good about bleeding wound anyway? Do you think it’s a peep show or something fun to watch? Xiao Junzhu, do you have the medicine?”

“I don’t,” Xiao Junzhu replied.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Stinky mother, do you have any medicine with you?”

“I don’t!” the woman snapped, “You … you are the stinky mother.”

He heard light ripping noise, Xiao Junzhu was undoing the woman’s clothes. “Aiyo!” suddenly she cried out in fear, “What … what should I do?” Wei Xiaobao turned his head around, he saw a cut about two cun long below the woman’s right breast, from which the blood was flowing continuously. Xiao Junzhu was at a loss of what to do; she cried and said, “You … you … quickly help my Shijie …”

The woman was frightened and ashamed; with a trembling voice she said, “Don’t … don’t let him see.”

“Pei,” Wei Xiaobao spat, “You think I’ve never seen one?” Seeing her blood was flowing endlessly, he was unable to restrain being panicked. He looked around the room, trying to find some cotton cloth to stop the blood stream from her wound. He spotted the medicine bowl and saw that he still had more than half bowl of his concoction of ‘mashed lotus seed, bean paste, honey, candy and pearls’. “My miracle medicine can also stop bleeding,” he said happily. Fetching a handful, he applied it on her wound.

This mixture of honey paste was very viscous, as soon as it was applied to the wound, the blood flow stopped. Wei Xiaobao spread the entire bowl of honey paste onto the wound, his fingers were also covered in honey paste. Seeing her nipples shivered, this little urchin restrained his mischievous thought with great difficulty; casually he smeared the paste on her breast.

The woman was ashamed and enraged at the same time, she called out, “Xiao … Xiao Junzhu, quickly … quickly kill him for me.”

Xiao Junzhu explained, “Shijie, he is treating your wound!” The woman was so furious she almost fainted. Unfortunately she could not move.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Quickly seal her acupoints, don’t let her speak or move randomly; otherwise she might bleed again and her life will be in danger.”

“Yes!” Xiao Junzhu complied; she sealed several acupoints on the woman’s lower abdomen, flanks, and legs. “Shijie,” she said, “Don’t move randomly!” By now the pain on her own broken leg was almost unbearable; tears started to gush out of her eyes.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You should also lie down and not moving.” He remembered his childhood in Yangzhou, when he had a fight with the little hoodlums and someone broke an arm or leg, the doctor would use splint to set the bone, and applied herbal medicine on it. Immediately he drew his dagger and cut two legs of a bench and clamped them on either side of her broken leg, and used a piece or cord to firmly tie them together. “Where can I find the medicine for her injury?” he mused.

After pondering for a while, he had an idea; to Xiao Junzhu he said, “The two of you must lie down on the bed, do not make any noise whatsoever.” Releasing the mosquito net, he blew out the candle and pulled the latch to go out.

Xiao Junzhu was startled. “You … where are you going?” she asked.

“To find medicine for your leg,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Please hurry and come back soon,” Xiao Junzhu said.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. Hearing the tone of Xiao Junzhu’s voice, which unexpectedly she regarded him as someone she could depend on, Wei Xiaobao could not help but feeling very proud of himself. He had already turned around to close the door when he thought something was not right; he pushed the door and went in again, bolted it from the inside, and then he jumped out the window and closed it behind him. In this way, other than Empress Dowager and the Emperor, no one in the Palace would dare to enter his room without permission.

He only walked a dozen of steps when he felt a dull pain on the edge of his lower back; he thought, “That Old Whore Empress Dowager dealt me a vicious blow. If I continue living in the Palace, sooner or later laozi’s old life will be difficult to protect; I’d better slip away as soon as possible.”

He walked toward the torch light, which turned out to be several Imperial Bodyguards on patrol duty. As soon as they saw him, they rushed forward to greet him. Wei Xiaobao asked, “How many Imperial Bodyguard brothers in the Palace are injured?’

“Reporting to Gong-gong,” a man replied, “There are seven, eight men heavily injured, about fourteen, fifteen men lightly wounded.”

“Where do they have their injury treated?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Take me there to look.”

The Imperial Bodyguards all said, “Gong-gong is concerned over Imperial Bodyguards brothers, not a single one among us does not feel grateful.” And thus two of the Imperial Bodyguards led the way, taking Wei Xiaobao to the building where the Imperial Bodyguards stay when they were not on patrol duty.

Twenty something Imperial Bodyguards lay down in the hall, four imperial physicians were busy attending to their injuries.

Wei Xiaobao stepped forward to express his sympathy, continuously praised everybody, saying that in order to protect His Majesty, they all dashed on bravely with no thought of personal safety, valiantly fought and kill the enemy. He also inquire the injured names one by one. Immediately the Imperial Bodyguards’ spirit was aroused, as if their wounds did not feel too painful anymore. Wei Xiaobao asked, “To which group do those rebel thieves belong to? Are they that servant Oboi’s follower?”

An Imperial Bodyguard replied, “They seem to be Han people. But I don’t know if we manage to seize a living witness?”

Wei Xiaobao inquired the details of the fighting between the Imperial Bodyguards and the assassins, while his eyes carefully watched the imperial physicians applying the medicine. Among the wounded Imperial Bodyguards, some received external cuts from sabers and spears, some received internal injury from fists and palms, some had their bones dislocated or broken. Wei Xiaobao said, “I’d better have some of those medicines by my side; if the Imperial Bodyguard brothers in the Palace are wounded while there’s not enough time to summon the imperial physicians, I can give everybody good treatment first. Humph, those assassins are extremely vicious and wicked with enormous guts; since we cannot catch everybody in one net today, it’s difficult to say that they won’t come back.”

Several Imperial Bodyguards said, “Gui Gong-gong shows great empathy to Imperial Bodyguard brothers, indeed it is a thorough thought.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A moment ago I was besieged by three assassins, I killed one, the other two fellows ran away. But my waist was also severely hit by the assassin’s palm, at this time it is still sore.” While in his heart he said, “The Old Whore came to assassinate laozi, isn’t she an assassin? This time laozi did not lie.”

As soon as the four imperial physicians heard this, they left the Imperial Bodyguards immediately to attend to him. They untied his gown to examine him, and saw a large purplish black bruise on his lower back; busily they prepared the medicine for him, to be applied externally and taken orally.

Wei Xiaobao asked the imperial physicians to wrap each kind of medicine into a large package, which he then tucked into his bosom, while also asking for directions on the usage of the medicine. He also took two pieces of splint to be applied to the injury. And then again he praised and expressed sympathy to everybody before leaving.

His experience was limited, his words were a mess, and extremely inappropriate; during praising and expressing his sympathy, he used a lot of marketplace obscenities. Although the Imperial Bodyguards mostly came from imperial clan and noble families, but most of them were uncouth military people, who did not care much about ‘his granny’ or ‘eighteen-generation ancestor’. Since they were injured by the assassins, they came to the realization that their skill was still inferior to the intruders. When they saw that His Majesty’s favorite eunuch was also injured in the fight against the assassins, they were even more depressed. But then suddenly they received praises from Gui Gong-gong, which was equal to receiving His Majesty’s imperial decree commending their effort. Even if he rained curses on them, they would have accepted it gladly, much less praises scattered with random words? Their hearts were in full bloom, while wishing that the wound in their bodies was several cun longer.

Returning to his own room, Wei Xiaobao inclined his head and listened attentively outside the window first; after making sure that the room was quiet, he said in a low voice, “Xiao Junzhu, it’s me, I’m back.” He was afraid that if he rashly climbed over the window, the woman would chop him with a saber or stab him with a sword, then he may have to use the several packages of medicine in his pocket first.

Xiao Junzhu happily said, “Um, I have been waiting for you for a long time.” Wei Xiaobao crawled into the room, closed the window, lighted the candle, and raised the mosquito net. He saw the two maidens were lying side by side on the bed. When the woman’s gaze met with his, she closed her eyes immediately. But Xiao Junzhu was looking at him with her bright and clear eyes, her gaze revealed gratitude.

“Xiao Junzhu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me apply to medicine on you.”

“No,” Xiao Junzhu replied, “Treat my Shijie first. Please give the medicine to me, I will apply it on her.”

“What do you mean ‘you’ and ‘I’?” Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s not how we call each other.”

Xiao Junzhu laughed vaguely, “What’s your real name?” she asked, “I heard they call you Gui Gong-gong.”

“They call me Gui Gong-gong, but what should you call me?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Xiao Junzhu closed her eyes slightly and said in a low voice, “In my heart … in my heart I call you Good … Good Gege, but if I keep calling you that with my mouth, this can’t be … can’t be … good.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s make a rule; when there are people around, I call you Xiao Junzhu, you call me Gui Dage. When nobody’s around, I call you ‘Good Meizi‘, you call me ‘Good Gege‘.”

Before Xiao Junzhu replied, the woman opened her eyes and said, “Xiao Junzhu, that’s so sickeningly disgusting, he is taking advantage of you, don’t listen to him.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, “Nobody asked you to call me, why do you have to meddle into other people’s business? You want to call me Good Gege, I don’t want to hear it.”

“What do you want her to call you, then?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

“I only want her to call me ‘Good Husband’, ‘Dear Husband’,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The woman blushed, a look of disdain appeared on her face; she said, “You want to be someone’s husband? You need to be reincarnated.”

“Alright, alright,” Xiao Junzhu said, “You two are not nemesis from the previous incarnation, why do you bicker as soon as you meet? Gui Dage, please give me the medicine.”

“I’ll apply the medicine on you first,” Wei Xiaobao said. Lifting up the quilt, he rolled Xiao Junzhu’s pants up and disassembled the bench legs he used as splint earlier, and then he spread the medicine on the broken calf bone before tying it firmly with the new splint. Xiao Junzhu expressed her gratitude repeatedly, she sounded very sincere.

“What is my wife’s name?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Xiao Junzhu was startled. “Your wife?” she asked. Seeing Wei Xiaobao pouted toward the woman, she smiled and said, “You love to crack jokes; my Shijie is surnamed Fang, her given name …”

“Don’t tell him!” the woman anxiously said.

Hearing that her surname was Fang, Wei Xiaobao immediately recalled the Mu Palace’s Four Great Generals, Liu Bai Fang Su; thereupon he said, “Her surname is Fang, of course I know. That ‘Divine Physician Hermit’ Su Gang and the ‘Twin Tree of the Bai Clan’ Bai Hansong and Bai Hanfeng are all my relatives.”

Hearing him mentioning the names of Su Gang and the Bai Brothers, both Xiao Junzhu and the woman was greatly amazed. “How … how are they related to you?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

“Liu Bai Fang Su, four great generals,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally we are related.”

Xiao Junzhu was even more surprised, “It’s really hard to believe,” she said.

“Xiao Junzhu,” the woman said, “Don’t believe his nonsense. This boy is very bad, he is not my relative. Having a relative like him will only bring bad luck.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily; he gave the medicine to Xiao Junzhu, and then leaned close to her ears and whispered, “Good Meizi, whisper her name to me.”

However, the two young girls were lying next to each other, although Wei Xiaobao was whispering, the woman heard it clearly. “Don’t tell him,” she said anxiously.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It’s alright if you don’t want to tell me, then I must kiss your mouth. I will smell your fragrance on this side of your face first, then smell your fragrance on that side, and then I’ll kiss your mouth. Tell me, you prefer to be kissed, or to tell me your name? My guess is you will definitely choose to be kissed.” Under the candle light the woman look very beautiful, her clothing was thin, his nose smell a faint scent of the woman [alright, I know it is not original, but I think this is the best translation of 女儿体香] . His heart was very happy; he said, “You are indeed very fragrant, I can enjoy smelling you very much.”

The woman was unable to move, she was very angry to be sniffed by this mischievous kid’s nostrils; fortunately he was a young boy, and listening to the Imperial Bodyguards a moment ago, she knew that he was a court eunuch, so he must be only fooling around by saying those naughty things, he would not possibly molest her for real, so there was no real reason for her to be frightened. However, seeing him pursing his lips to really kiss her, she busily said, “Alright, alright, tell my name to this little demon!”

Xiao Junzhu laughed, and then said, “My Shijie is surnamed Fang, her given name is a single character, ‘Yi’ [harmony/joy], the ‘yi’ (怡 ) character with ‘xin’ ( 心 ) radical on the left and ‘tai’ (台 ) on the right.”

Wei Xiaobao simply did not know how to write the character ‘yi’, he just nodded his head and said, “Um, this name is not so bad, but cannot be considered very good either. Xiao Junzhu, what is your name?”

“I am called Mu Jianping [or Mu Jianbing],” Xiao Junzhu replied, “Ping from ‘ping feng’ (standing screen) and not from ‘fu ping’ (duckweed).”

Wei Xiaobao did not know the difference between those two ‘ping’ characters; he said, “This name is comparatively better, but still not a first-class name.”

“Your name must be first class,” Fang Yi said, “I wonder how good is your respected surname and great given name?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, he mused, “I can’t tell them my real name, while there is nothing special about the name Xiao Guizi.” Thereupon he said, “My surname is Wu [I/my (old)], since I am an eunuch in the Palace, everybody call me Wu Laogong[4].”

Fang Yi sneered and said, “Wu Laogong, Wu Laogong, this name is actually very …” Speaking to this point, she suddenly realized that she had fallen into his trick. “Pei!” she spat, “Talk nonsense!”

Xiao Junzhu Mu Jianping said, “You lie again, I heard they called you Gui Gong-gong, you are not surnamed Wu.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Men call me Gui Gong-gong, women call me Wu Laogong.”

Fang Yi said, “I know your real name.”

Wei Xiaobao was slightly startled. “How do you know?” he asked.

“I know your surname is Hu ( 胡 ),” Fang Yi said, “And your given name is Shuo ( 说 ) character written eight different ways ( 八道 )[5].”

Wei Xiaobao burst out in laughter; hearing Fang Yi, his breathing was back to normal. He said, “Good Meizi, apply the medicine on her, don’t let her die of pain. I, Wu Laogong, only have one wife, if this wife died, the second wife cannot live up to the first.”

Mu Jianping said, “Shijie said you talk rubbish (see footnote 5), sure enough, she is right.” Releasing the mosquito net, she raised the quilt to apply medicine on Fang Yi. “Gui Dage,” she asked, “What should I do with the blood-stopping medicine you applied earlier?”

“Has the blood stopped flowing?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“It has,” Mu Jianping replied. Actually, honey is very effective to stop bleeding, it has high viscosity, and will adhere well to the wound, hence unexpectedly her bleeding stopped. As for the lotus seed paste, bean paste and the other ingredients, although they were not medicine, but when applied to the wound, they could also stop the bleeding.

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he said, “The effectiveness of my miracle medicine surpasses Bodhisattva’s magic potion, do you believe it now? With those many pearls in it, when applied to her chest, after the wound is healed, her breast will be exceedingly good-looking, will have the ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ appearance. Too bad only my son will be able to see it.”

“Pfft,” Mu Jianping stifled her laugh. “Your talk is really amusing,” she said, “Why is it only your son can …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “When she nurses my son, naturally my son will be able to see.”

“Pei!” Fang Yi spat. Mu Jianping just stared with her big round eyes; she did not understand why her Shijie would nurse his son.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Gently wipe the blood stopping miracle medicine clean, then apply the cut wound medicine.”

“Yes,” Mu Jianping complied.

Right this moment, suddenly they heard someone outside the door calling out with a loud and clear voice, “Gui Gong-gong, are you asleep?”

“I am,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Who is it? Whatever it is, let’s talk about it tomorrow!”

The man outside said, “Subordinate Officer Rui Dong.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked, “Ah!” he exclaimed, “It’s Deputy Chief Rui, I wonder … I wonder what’s the matter?”

Rui Dong was the Deputy Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards. When he was chatting with the Imperial Bodyguards, he learned that everybody admired this Deputy Chief Rui’s profound martial art skill, which was second only to Dolong, the Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards; he was an extraordinary character among the Imperial Bodyguards. For the last few years he was frequently outside the Palace on official business, so Wei Xiaobao had never seen him.

Rui Dong said, “Subordinate Officer has an urgent business I need to discuss with Gui Gong-gong. My apology for disturbing Gui Gong-gong’s peaceful slumber.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “What is he up to, coming here in the middle of the night? I’m sure he knew I am concealing an assassin in my room, so he came to search; what should I do? If I don’t open the door, he may break it down. These two young girls are injured, it’s too late to run away now. I will have to act according to the circumstance, I’ll trick him to go away.”

Rui Dong continued, “This matter is of great responsibility, otherwise I would not dare to disturb Gong-gong’s dream.”

“Alright, I’ll open the door,” Wei Xiaobao said. Turning toward the bed, he said in a low voice, “You must not make any noise.” He walked to the outer room, closed the door behind him, and braced himself to open the front door. He saw a tall and powerfully built man standing outside the door, the top of his own head was still shorter than the back of the man’s neck.

Rui Dong cupped his fist and said, “Gong-gong, please forgive my disturbance.”

“You are too kind! You are too kind!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He looked up to examine Rui Dong’s countenance, but saw neither smiling expression nor angry look, so he really could not read his intention. “What is the urgent matter, Deputy Chief Rui?” he asked; but he did not invite Rui Dong in.

“Just now I received the Empress Dowager’s imperial order,” Rui Dong replied, “She said that assassins were breaking into the Palace tonight, committing treason and heresy. She ordered me to inquire clearly from Gui Gong-gong.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard ‘Empress Dowager’s imperial order’, four words, he knew the turn of events was not too encouraging. “That’s right!” he said, “I was just about to inquire clearly from you. A moment ago I paid my respect to His Majesty, His Majesty said, ‘This servant Rui Dong is very brazen, as soon as he returned to the Palace, humph, humph …’”

Rui Dong was greatly shocked. “What else did His Majesty say?” he asked.

Actually, Wei Xiaobao was talking nonsense to him to stall for time, while he thought about a way to escape. Seeing those few words had enticed him to take the bait, he said, “His Majesty instructed me to conduct investigation among the Imperial Bodyguards as soon as it is daybreak. He wanted to know who has prompted this servant Rui Dong to lure the assassins to enter the Palace? What is the plot behind it? Who else is involved in this conspiracy?”

Rui Dong was even more shocked; with a trembling voice he said, “His … His Majesty said … said that I lured the assassins to enter the Palace? Which crafty villain has told His Majesty that nonsense? This … isn’t this an enormous injustice?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty instructed me to do the investigation quietly, he said, ‘If that servant Rui Dong heard the rumor, he is bound to come and kill you; you must be very careful.’ I said, ‘His Majesty, please be rest assured, even if that servant Rui Dong has courage as big as the sky, he will not dare to commit murder inside the Palace.’ His Majesty said, ‘Humph, that is not necessarily true. If this servant unexpectedly dared to lure the assassins into the Palace to harm me, what other business he did not dare to do?’”

Rui Dong anxiously said, “You … you talk nonsense! I did not lure the assassins to enter the Palace, His Majesty … His Majesty will not recklessly accuse a good man. Tonight I have personally killed three assassins; a lot of Imperial Bodyguards brothers witnessed it. His Majesty can summon them to be questioned.” While speaking, the blue veins on his forehead suddenly appeared, his hands were clenched into fists.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I must scare him out of his wits first, so that he will be at a loss of what to do, then come daybreak, Laozi will flee from the Palace. But what should I do with that Xiao Junzhu and Fang Yi? Humph, like a clay Bodhisattva fording a river, laozi can’t guarantee my own safety; if I can escape alive, then we’ll talk. I don’t care if she is Xiao Junzhu or Lao Junzhu, Fang Yi or Yuan Yi[6]. Laozi won’t become fake eunuch anymore, won’t become the Xiangzhu of the Green Wood Hall. I am taking that four hundred fifty thousand taels back to Yangzhou, to open Lovely Summer Courtyard, Lovely Autumn Courtyard and Lovely Winter Courtyard.” He said, “So it wasn’t you who lured the assassins into the Palace?”

“Of course not,” Rui Dong said, “The Empress Dowager said that it was you who led them into the Palace. Empress Dowager ordered me not to listen to your graceful words, flowery speech, to execute you with a palm strike.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am afraid the two of us have been framed by some crafty villains. Deputy Chief Rui, don’t you worry, I am going to explain everything to His Majesty. As long as you really did not lure the assassin, although His Majesty is young, he is very wise, plus he trusts me completely, so this matter can be brought to light.”

“Alright,” Rui Dong said, “Thank you very much! Now come with me to see the Empress Dowager.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “In the dead of the night, why would I see the Empress Dowager? It will be better to see His Majesty as soon as possible. I am afraid people are coming to arrest you on imperial orders by now. Deputy Chief Rui, let me tell you this: when the Imperial Bodyguards come to arrest you, you must not resist at all; if you do, it won’t be easy to wash away the criminal charge against you.”

The muscle on Rui Dong’s face trembled continuously; he angrily said, “Empress Dowager said that you like talking nonsense the most, and she was right. I did not commit any crime, why would I want to resist arrest? Come with me to see the Empress Dowager!”

Wei Xiaobao leaned over and said in a low voice, “Look, those who want to arrest you are coming!” Rui Dong’s countenance changed; he turned his head around to look. Wei Xiaobao turned around and bolted into the room.

When Rui Dong saw there was nobody behind him, he knew he was being swindled. Quickly he ran after him into the room; he leaped and stretched out his hand to grab Wei Xiaobao’s back.

Actually, Wei Xiaobao’s threat had frightened Rui Dong very much. If Wei Xiaobao insisted on seeing the Emperor, most likely Rui Dong would not dare to stop him with force. However, Wei Xiaobao had hidden two women in his room, one of them was definitely an assassin who entered the Palace to create trouble. Since the plot had already fallen through and stood exposed, plus the Empress Dowager had personally come to take his life, how could he dare to explain everything to the Emperor? As soon as Rui Dong fell into his trick by turning his head, Wei Xiaobao dashed into the room, hoping that he could escape via the window. He was thinking that the imperial garden was full of fake rocks and flowering shrubs, hiding in the dark of the night, perhaps he would not be too easy to be found. Unexpectedly Rui Dong was very quick; Wei Xiaobao had just reached the door, Rui Dong had caught up with him.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao was inside the room, he jumped toward the window sill, and was about to jump out, Rui Dong sent out a palm strike toward Wei Xiaobao’s back with a strong gust of wind. Wei Xiaobao’s legs buckled and turned soft, and he fell down. Rui Dong reached out with his left hand to grab Wei Xiaobao’s waist. Wei Xiaobao unleashed the full potential of qinna technique he knew, parrying Rui Dong’s hand with both hands; but he was small, and his strength was feeble, his body swayed and ‘splash!’ he fell into a large water tub. The water tub was originally used by Hai Laogong to treat his injury. After Hai Laogong’s death, Wei Xiaobao had not ordered his men to take it out.

Rui Dong laughed aloud and reached down into the tub, but he only grabbed empty space, because Wei Xiaobao had quickly curled his body up. Yet because the water tub was not too big, by the next grab Rui Dong managed to seize the back of Wei Xiaobao’s collar, and raised him up, still dripping wet.

Wei Xiaobao opened his mouth and spurted water into Rui Dong’s eyes, while throwing himself forward to embrace Rui Dong’s chest, and snaked his left arm behind Rui Dong’s neck. Rui Dong let out a loud shout and shook his body several times, his hand holding the back of Wei Xiaobao’s collar gradually loosened. His face was full of water, but his eyes were open very wide, with a mixture of startled, frightened, and perplexed expression on his face. His throat made a gurgling noise, as if he wanted to speak but could not speak. There was a light stabbing noise, the tip of a dagger appeared on his chest and sliced down to his lower abdomen, cutting up a long gash along his torso.

With eyes wide open Rui Dong looked at the dagger, he did not know where the dagger had come from. From his chest down to his abdomen blood was gushing out wildly, suddenly he fell backward. Until his death he still did not know how Wei Xiaobao had killed him.

“Hey!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed; he pulled the dagger with his left hand, while bringing out his right hand from his own long gown. What happened was that when he fell into the water tub, while curling up his body, he extracted the dagger and hid it inside his long gown facing outward. He spurted the water onto Rui Dong’s face that he could not open his eyes, and then Wei Xiaobao threw himself forward. As he embraced Rui Dong, the sharp dagger that can cut iron like slicing mud pierced Rui Dong’s chest. If they were in a real fight, ten Wei Xiaobaos were not Rui Dong’s match, but in the flurry of hasty and strange turn of events, this awe-inspiring, illustrious Deputy Chief Rui had fallen into Wei Xiaobao’s plot.

How Wei Xiaobao and Rui Dong, two people, dashed into the room, how Wei Xiaobao fell into the water tub, Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were able to see everything clearly from behind the mosquito net; but as Rui Dong grabbed Wei Xiaobao out of the tub and was killed immediately, Fang and Mu, two women were unable to make head or tail of what trick Wei Xiaobao had used.

Wei Xiaobao wanted to toot his own horn, he said, “I … I … this … this …” only to head his own voice sounded hoarse, unexpectedly he was unable to speak, but his narrow escape from the death just now had scared him out of his wits.

“Thank Heaven and thank the Earth,” Mu Jianping said, “Unexpectedly you … have killed this Tatar.”

“This Rui Dong’s nickname is ‘Unequalled Iron Palm’,” Fang Yi said, “Tonight he had killed three or our Mu Palace’s brothers. You have avenged us, very good, very good!”

Wei Xiaobao calmed down and said, “He was the ‘Unequalled Iron Palm’, but he could not match me, Wei … Gui Gong-gong, Wu Laogong. I am a first-class martial art expert, naturally it’s not the same.” Stretching out his hand, he groped Rui Dong’s pocket, and took out a booklet full of small characters, and several other documents.

Since Wei Xiaobao could not read, he casually set everything aside. Suddenly he felt some kind of solid object hidden behind Rui Dong’s lower back. Using his dagger he cut open Rui Dong’s gown, and found a package wrapped in cloth. “What kind of treasure is this?” he wondered, “Why did he hide it well like this?” Cutting the silk cord on the package, he opened the cloth wrapper and found a book. Surprisingly, the cover of the book had these five characters on it: ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’. The size of this sutra was identical to the ones he had seen, only the seal was of red silk with white border around it.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out; hastily he put his hands into his pocket and extracted the copy of ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’ he took from Prince Kang’s mansion. Luckily when he jumped into the water tub he was immediately grabbed by Rui Dong so only the outer surface of the envelope was wet, the pages of the book stayed dry.

He placed both copies on the table, the two books were identical except the red silk and the red silk with white border covers. Up to this point he had seen four copies of ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’. Presently, two were in the Empress Dowager’s hands, and two were in his own hands. “There must be something odd inside these sutras, too bad I can’t read” he mused, “If I ask Xiao Junzhu and Miss Fang to take a look, I’m sure I will understand. But if I did, they would look down on me.” Pulling the drawer open, he put the two books away.

He thought, “A moment ago the Empress Dowager personally came to kill me, she must be afraid I would find her secret and reveal it out. Afterwards she also sent this Rui Dong to kill me, on a random accusation that I led the assassins into the Palace. She has been waiting for a while now, if she did not see Rui Dong return, she would send another man over. I might as well strike first and gain the upper hand by immediately going to His Majesty to lodge a complaint. Come daybreak, laozi will flee the Palace and won’t comeback.”

He said to Fang Yi, “I must go out and start a rumor that this Rui Dong has colluded with your Mu Palace people. Good wi … good wi … Miss Fang (he was going to call her ‘good wife’, but realizing the urgency of the situation, he knew he must not fool around and thus fail the important matter, therefore, he corrected himself by calling her ‘Miss Fang’), what was your real intention in entering the Palace tonight? Did you intend to assassinate the Emperor? I urge you not to assassinate the young emperor; that old wh0re the Empress Dowager is not a good thing, it would be much better if you assassinate her.”

“Since you are one of us, it’s not a big deal to tell you the truth,” Fang Yi said, “We disguised ourselves as the subordinated of Wu Yingxiong, Wu Sangui’s son, coming to the Palace to assassinate the Tatar Emperor. If everything went well, of course it would be great, but if not, we hope in his anger the Emperor would kill Wu Sangui.”

“Phew!” Wei Xiaobao let out a breath and said, “Brilliant scheme! Brilliant scheme! But how are you going to implicate Wu Sangui?”

Fang Yi said, “On our undergarments we deliberately leave some marking, the seal of troops under Ping Xi Wang’s command, also our weapons and secret projectiles are engraved with Ping Xi Wang’s Palace inscription. We have several old weapons bearing the inscription ‘Regional Commander Office of Shanhai Pass[7] of The Great Ming’.”

“What for?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Fang Yi explained, “Before that servant Wu Sangui surrendered to the Tatars, he was the Regional Commander of our Great Ming’s Shanhai Pass.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “This scheme is very formidable,” he said.

Fang Yi continued, “We entered the Palace this time, in all likelihood there would be people die for our country, in that case the marking on their clothes will be discovered by the Tatars. Supposing that we were caught, at first we won’t confess, then after the Tatars beat us until we are hovering between life and death, only then will we confess that we have received Ping Xi Wang’s order to come and assassinate the Emperor. As soon as we entered the Palace, we abandoned engraved weapons everywhere, so that if by chance we all are lucky enough to retreat completely, we have already left some incriminating evidence.” She was talking with excitement, her breathing gradually quickened, a blush appeared on her cheeks.

Wei Xiaobao said, “So you came to the Palace not to rescue Xiao Junzhu at all?”

“Of course not,” Fang Yi replied, “We are not immortals, how could we know Xiao Junzhu was unexpectedly in the Palace?”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Do you have any engraved weapon with you?” he asked.

“I do!” Fang Yi replied. From the quilt she produced a sword, but her arm was lacking strength that she was unable to raise the sword up.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Luckily I did not sleep by your side, otherwise you would have killed me with the sword.” Fang Yi blushed, she glowered at him.

Wei Xiaobao took the sword and concealed it in Rui Dong’s dead body’s waist. “I am going to lodge a complaint that this Rui Dong was in cahoots with the assassins; isn’t it enough evidence?” he said.

Fang Yi shook her head and said, “Look at the sword, what characters are engraved there?”

Wei Xiaobao asked her back, “What characters are engraved there?” In any case, even if he looked at the engraving he would not recognize any character, so he would rather not look.

Fang Yi said, “Those are the eight characters ‘Regional Commander Office of Shanhai Pass of The Great Ming’; this Rui Dong was a Manchu, he could not be an officer under the Regional Commander of Shanhai Pass of The Great Ming.”

“Um,” Wei Xiaobao retrieved the sword and put it back on the bed, saying, “What kind of booty should I hide on his body then?” And then he got an idea, “Got it!” he said. He took the two strings of pearls he received as gift from Wu Yingxiong earlier, and the pair of emerald chicken, and also the bundle of gold banknotes, and stuffed everything into Rui Dong’s pocket. He knew the gold banknotes were issued by a Beijing bank, Wu Yingxiong must have sent his men to buy them. They only need to investigate the bank, and then the origin of the banknotes would be found out. This way of framing somebody was truly flawless; he said in his heart, “Heir Apparent Wu, oh Heir Apparent Wu, it’s very important for laozi to save my own life, I have no choice but to offend you.”

Picking up Rui Dong’s body, he was thinking of moving the body into the garden outside, but he only took a single step when suddenly he heard footsteps outside the room. He lay the body back down gently, and heard someone called, “His Majesty’s order: Xiao Guizi to wait upon His Majesty immediately.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he thought, “I was worried that I could not see His Majesty tonight, and then everything will go wrong again. Presently His Majesty is summoning me, nothing’s better than that. I can’t move Rui Dong’s body now.” He replied, “Yes, let your servant change clothes, and then I’ll go immediately.”

He gently shoved Rui Dong’s body underneath the bed, and then made some hand signals to Xiao Junzhu and Fang Yi, telling them to stay under the quilt and not make any movement. Then he hurriedly took off his wet clothes and changed into another set of clothing. Although the black silk padded vest was also wet, he did not remove it.

He was about to walk out when he suddenly had a thought, “This little girl surnamed Fang is not too trustworthy, she might steal my belongings.” So he took the two copies of ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’ and a large bundle of banknotes and stuffed everything into his pocket before leaving the room, but he forgot to take along the martial art manual which his Shifu had given him.

[1] Lit. Spirit Mound, Stepped Corridor, and Heavenly Pool, respectively.

[2] Paper lanterns supposedly invented by Zhuge Liang (Romance of the Three Kingdoms).

[3] Younger uncle (father’s younger brother), older uncle (father’s older brother), grandpa (or father-in-law), respectively.

[4] From the dictionary: Laogong – 1. Husband (informal), 2. Eunuch.

[5] Together, 胡说八道 means ‘nonsense/rubbish’.

[6] Xiao Junzhu and Lao Junzhu are little and old princess, respectively. The ‘fang’ and ‘yuan’ of Fang Yi and Yuan Yi are ‘square’ and ‘round’, respectively.

[7] Shanhai Pass is the Eastern pass of the Great Wall.

Chapter 12 With comical words I play charade, thus defeating Qing like a deity.

Wei Xiaobao went out the front door and saw four eunuchs standing outside, but he did not recognize a single one.

The leader said, “Gui Gong-gong, very late at night His Majesty wanted to see you, tsk tsk tsk, the way His Majesty is treating you needs not be mentioned. Where is Deputy Chief Rui? His Majesty also sends for him, so he can have audience together with Gui Gong-gong.”

Wei Xiaobao shivered inwardly, he said, “Has Deputy Chief Rui returned to the Palace? I have never seen him.”

“Is that so?” the eunuch said, “Let us go first then.” Finished speaking, he turned around and walked off.

Wei Xiaobao was inwardly bewildered, “Why did he ask me about Deputy Chief Rui? How did His Majesty know that Deputy Chief Rui came to see me?” He also thought, “I am a Vice Manager eunuch, my rank is a lot higher than yours, how can you walk in front of me? You are not a young eunuch, could it be that you don’t understand the Palace’s custom?” He asked, “Gong-gong, what’s your honorable surname? We haven’t seen each other often in the past.”

The eunuch replied, “I am only a low-level eunuch having no fixed duties, naturally Gui Gong-gong does not remember me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty is sending Gong-gong to summon me, that’s not the job of a low-level eunuch having no fixed duties.” While talking, he noticed that the eunuch was turning westward, while the Emperor’s personal palace was on the northeast side. “Are you lost?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“No,” the eunuch replied, “His Majesty is paying his respect to the Empress Dowager. With the disturbance of the assassins just now, he was afraid it startled the Compassionate One. We are going to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard that they were going to see the Empress Dowager, he was shocked and instantly halted his steps. From the three eunuchs walking behind him, two suddenly moved to the side and stood to the left and right of him, so that the four people surrounded him in the middle.

Wei Xiaobao was even more alarmed; he cried inwardly, “Bad, bad! It’s not His Majesty who sent for me, clearly it is the Empress Dowager who wants to get me.” Although he did not know whether these four people knew martial art or not, with one against four he would not be able to achieve a short victory, as soon as the fight started, the Imperial Bodyguards would hear and would rush in, how could he escape? His heart was thumping madly, but with a chuckle he said, “So we are going to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful? That’s great! Each time the Empress Dowager sees me, she always bestows me, if not money, then candy, cakes and pastries. The Empress Dowager treats her servants very well. She said I am a gluttonous little child, she always bestows me a lot of things to eat.” While speaking, he started walking again toward the winding corridor leading to the Empress Dowager’s personal palace. Seeing him heading toward the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful just like he said, the four eunuchs resumed their former position of one in front and three behind.

“Last time I saw the Empress Dowager, my luck was really good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager said that by arresting Oboi, my meritorious service was not small, so she bestowed me five thousand taels of gold and twenty thousand taels of silver. My strength is indeed too small, how could I move them all? Empress Dowager said: ‘If you can’t move them all, move them slowly. Xiao Guizi, what are you going to do with your money?’ I said, ‘Reporting to Empress Dowager: your servant loves to make friends the most, now that I have gold and silver in my possession, whichever eunuch comes to your servant, your servant will simply give them some. Let everybody become rich and spend the money together!’” His mouth was blabbering nonsense, his brain was racing with thoughts of escape plan.

One of the eunuchs behind him said, “How could she bestow you that much?”

“Ha, you don’t believe me?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Look at me.” From his pocket he fished a large bundle of banknotes; some were five-hundred tael denominations, some were a thousand tael denominations, and some were two-thousand tael denominations.

Under the lantern light, the banknotes looked genuine. The four eunuchs were breathless, they all halted their steps.

Wei Xiaobao pulled four banknotes, and said with a laugh, “His Majesty and Empress Dowager unceasingly bestow me with money, how can I spend everything by myself? Here I have four banknotes, two-thousand taels and one-thousand taels worth, four brothers may try your luck, each of you draw out one banknote.”

Four eunuchs did not believe him, where in the world would there be anybody who handed several thousand taels of money casually like that? Nobody reached out to draw.

“I have too much money with me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “And I have nowhere to spend it, sometimes I am not too happy. Right now I am going to see Empress Dowager and His Majesty, I don’t know how much more money they are going to bestow me.” While saying that, he held the banknotes high above his head that the banknotes fluttered in the wind, while with the corner of his eyes he looked around at the surrounding terrain.

One of the eunuchs laughed and said, “Gui Gong-gong, are you really going to give the banknotes to us? You are not joking, are you?”

“Why would I joke?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Which brother in our Catering Department has never received a thousand or eight hundred taels from me? Come, come, come, try your luck. Which brother will draw first?”

Giggling, the eunuch said, “I’ll draw first.”

“Wait a moment,” Wei Xiaobao said, “All of you, look clearly.” He held the four banknotes under the lantern light. The four eunuchs looked distinctly, the banknotes were really of one-thousand tael and two-thousand tael denominations, they could not restrain their faces from changing. Eunuchs cannot take wife and raise a family, they cannot serve in the army or take official post; therefore, they are twice more fond of gold, silver and other belongings than ordinary people. Although these four men had been serving in the Palace for a long time, they had never seen a one-thousand tael or two-thousand tael banknotes.

Wei Xiaobao raised his hand and let the banknotes fluttered in the wind, he laughed and said, “Alright, this Dage can draw first!”

The eunuch reached out, but before his finger touched the banknotes, Wei Xiaobao let go, four banknotes were blown by the wind, lightly fluttered in the air, and flew toward the cluster of flowers. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out, “Why didn’t you grab firmly? Hurry, hurry, whoever grabs the banknote, it will belong to him.” The four eunuchs leaped to run after the banknotes.

“Grab it quick! Don’t let it fly away!” Wei Xiaobao called out. He ducked down and quickly slipped into an opening between the fake rocks, which he had already picked beforehand. He knew that the fake rocks in this area of the imperial garden were extremely numerous, with series of winding caves. Once he entered in, he would not be easy to find in a short time.

The four eunuchs ran after the banknotes, two picked one banknote each, one caught two banknotes, but one was left empty-handed. These two immediately broke into an argument. One eunuch said, “Gui Gong-gong says that whoever grabs the banknote, it will belong to him, so these two banknotes are mine.”

The other one said, “We have agreed on one banknote per person, quickly give my share of one banknote to me. I’ll be happy to take the one-thousand taels note.”

“What one-thousand taels note?” the other eunuch said, “It’s easy for you to say. You won’t get even one tael.”

The one who did not get any banknotes grabbed him by the chest, saying, “Are you or are you not going to give it to me? We’ll ask Gui Gong-gong to be the judge.” But when he turned around, Wei Xiaobao had already disappeared. The four eunuchs were shocked; they cried out together and looked for him everywhere. The one who did not get any banknote was unwilling to give up; he grabbed the one who had two banknotes by the front of his jacket and demanded him to give his share.

Wei Xiaobao had already a dozen of zhang away inside the cave, hearing the two people shouting and arguing, he was secretly amused; he thought, “I am going to hide until daybreak, then I’ll slip out of the Palace from the side door, and never to come back.”

He heard one of the eunuchs said, “Empress Dowager has ordered us that whatever happens we must summon Gui Gong-gong and Deputy Chief Rui immediately. He … he … where can he hide?”

Another eunuch said, “He is in the Palace, he can’t hide too far. Only, we must not say anything about him giving us banknotes. Hao Xiongdi, you’d better give one of your two banknotes to Xiao Lao, otherwise he might reveal it, then we all cannot get the riches, that will be really bad.”

Suddenly Wei Xiaobao heard footsteps, there were people coming from the west. One of them said, “With the disturbance of the assassins in the Palace tonight, I am afraid everybody will receive disciplinary action tomorrow.” As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard this, he knew they were Palace Imperial Bodyguards.

Another man said, “I hope Gui Gong-gong will speak several words of praise in front of His Majesty.”

Yet another man commented, “Although Gui Gong-gong is young, he really treasures friendship with other people; someone like him is truly rare.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he slipped out of the cave and said in a low voice, “Brothers, please be quiet.”

The two leading Imperial Bodyguards raised their lanterns. “Gui Gong-gong,” they called softly.

Wei Xiaobao saw there were about fifteen, sixteen Imperial Bodyguards, they were precisely the group of men who came to his window a moment ago. He remembered some of their names. “Zhang Dage, Zhao Dage,” he said, “The four eunuchs over there are colluding with the assassins, quickly arrest them, your meritorious service won’t be small.” He then proceeded by calling several other names, “He Dage, E Dage, please seal those four people’s mute acupoints first, or strike their chin first, don’t let them shout loudly and thus disturbing His Majesty.”

Hearing it was only four eunuchs, the Imperial Bodyguards thought nothing of it; they made hand signal and blew out the lanterns. Crouching down low, they slowly crept forward. Out of the four eunuchs, two were busy looking for Wei Xiaobao in the caves, while the other two were still bickering over the banknotes, nobody paid any attention to their surroundings. The Imperial Bodyguards closed in from all directions; with a low whistle everybody come out, three, four men rounded up one eunuch, very soon the four eunuchs were pinned to the ground. These Imperial Bodyguards did not have high level of martial art skill, nobody knew how to seal acupoints; some of them used qin na technique, some used their palms and fists, they all struck and dislodged the four eunuchs’ chins. The eunuchs tried to open their mouths, but were unable to make any noise. Not knowing what had happened, they were extremely frightened.

Wei Xiaobao pointed toward a building off to the side. “Drag them in and interrogate!” he shouted. The Imperial Bodyguards dragged the eunuchs on the ground toward the front hall of the building. Somebody lighted the lantern and raised it high. Wei Xiaobao sat in the middle of the hall, the Imperial Bodyguards dragged the eunuchs and made them kneel down in front of him.

These four eunuchs had received the Empress Dowager’s order to arrest Wei Xiaobao, how could they be willing to kneel down in front of him? The Imperial Bodyguards punched and kicked and made them kneel.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Just now the four of you were sneaky, what were you fighting about? Saying one-thousand taels is yours, two-thousand taels is mine? You also said something about the luck of the friends from the outside was not good, that a lot of them were killed by the dogs Imperial Bodyguards. Who are these ‘friends from the outside’? Why did you call Imperial Bodyguards the ‘dogs Imperial Bodyguards’?”

The Imperial Bodyguards were angry, they kicked these four people’s backs. In their belly the four eunuchs cried out, ‘Injustice!’ but how could they utter anything?

Wei Xiaobao continued, “I was following behind you, I heard one of you said, ‘It was me who lead the way, those two banknotes were given to me, how can I share it with you?'” While saying that, he pointed to the eunuch who caught two banknotes, and then he pointed to the eunuch who did not get anything and said, “You said, ‘We all did this important matter together, beheading or confiscation of property, the criminal charge is the same, why can’t you share it with me? That won’t do, you must share.'” And then he pointed to another eunuch and said, “You said, ‘Hao Xiongdi, you’d better give one of your two banknotes to Xiao Lao, otherwise he might reveal it, then we all cannot get the riches, that will be really bad.’ You did say that, didn’t you? What important matter did you do together? Why is there any criminal charge of beheading or confiscation of property? What banknotes have to be shared?”

The Imperial Bodyguards said, “They guided the assassins into the Palace, naturally the criminal charge is either beheading or confiscation of property. As for the banknotes to be shared, let’s just search their bodies.” As soon as they searched, immediately those four banknotes were found. Seeing such a huge amount of money on the banknotes, the Imperial Bodyguards were shouting and yelling. One ordinary eunuch’s monthly salary was only four to six taels of silver; suddenly each of them had a huge sum of money in their possession, how could the accusation be false?

The Imperial Bodyguard by the surname Zhao asked the eunuch who had two banknotes, “Are you surnamed Hao?” The eunuch nodded. The Imperial Bodyguard surnamed Zhao also asked the eunuch who did not have any banknote, “And you are surnamed Lao?” The eunuch’s countenance turned ghastly pale, but he also nodded.

Another Imperial Bodyguard said, “Alright, the assassins gave you this much money, and you led them in. You call them ‘friends from the outside’ and call us ‘dogs Imperial Bodyguards’. Your granny!” He lifted his foot and kicked as hard as he could, the eunuch surnamed Hao’s eyes were bulging, while his mouth repeatedly made a ‘heh, heh’ noise.

“Don’t be rude and hasty,” the Imperial Bodyguard surnamed Zhao said, “We must interrogate well.” Stooping down, he reached onto the eunuch surnamed Lao’s jaw and fixed his chin.

Wei Xiaobao shouted, “What you did was a big thing, who actually prompted you? How dare you! Quickly confess!”

“Injustice! Injustice!” the eunuch cried out, “It was the Empress Dowager who ordered us …”

Wei Xiaobao leaped forward and closed his mouth; “Nonsense!” he shouted, “You dare to say such thing? If you talk too much, I’ll kill you immediately.” With his right hand he drew the dagger, turning over the hilt, he knocked the crown of the eunuch’s head twice so that he fainted. Turning his head toward the Imperial Bodyguards, Wei Xiaobao said, “He said they received the order from the Empress Dowager. This … this … we are facing an imminent catastrophe.”

The Imperial Bodyguards’ countenances immediately changed, they said, “The Empress Dowager ordered them to let the assassins entering the Palace?” They all knew that the Emperor was not the Empress Dowager’s son, the Empress Dowager was always astute and firm, could it be that the Emperor had offended the Empress Dowager, and thus … and thus

there was a constant strife within the Palace gates? It was such a dreadful intrigue, and unexpectedly they were now being implicated, which was really a matter of life and death.

Wei Xiaobao asked another eunuch, “Was it really the Empress Dowager who sent you to do this thing? This a matter of great responsibility, you must not talk nonsense. Was it really the Empress Dowager?” The eunuch was unable to speak, he could only nod his head repeatedly.

“These several banknotes,” Wei Xiaobao asked again, “Did the Empress Dowager give you?” Three eunuchs shook their heads together. “Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You only received order, it was not your own idea at all, was it?” The three eunuchs repeatedly nodded their heads. “Do you want to live, or do you want to die?” Wei Xiaobao asked. This question was not easy to answer by simply nodding their heads. Of the three eunuchs, one nodded his head, one shook his head, another one nodded first, then shook his head, but thinking it was not the right answer, he nodded his head vigorously again.

“So you want to die?” Wei Xiaobao asked. The three men shook their heads. “So you want to live?” Wei Xiaobao asked again. The three men quickly nodded their heads.

Wei Xiaobao pulled away the two Imperial Bodyguard leaders, they walked outside the room. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “Zhang Dage, Zhao Dage, I am afraid our livelihood has just been taken away.”

The one surnamed Zhang was Zhang Kangnian, the one surnamed Zhao was Zhao Qixian, they were both Han people, and both were already scared out their wits. “What … what should we do?” they both asked.

“I don’t have the slightest idea,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Zhang Dage, Zhao Dage, do you have any idea?”

Zhang Kangnian said, “If this matter is known, I don’t know how big the uproar it will create, it would be best if we can cover it up.”

“That’s right,” Zhao Qixian said, “It would be better if we can just let these four eunuchs go, and everybody simply pretend it never happened.”

Zhang Kangnian said, “But I am afraid the human did not harm the tiger, the tiger has the intention to harm the human.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It is indeed fabulous if we can let them go, but we must tell them not to report anything to the Empress Dowager. Otherwise, in her anger the Empress Dowager would kill people to close their mouths; these four eunuchs would not live, but most likely the seventeen of us here would also turn into thirty four pieces.”

Zhang and Zhao, two people shivered. Zhang Kangnian raised his right palm and made a hacking motion. Wei Xiaobao looked at Zhao Qixian. Zhao Qixian nodded, he asked, “What about those four banknotes?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You may divide these six thousand taels among the brothers. I am scared out of my wits, I only hope that I won’t be implicated in this matter, I don’t want the money.”

Hearing there would be six thousand taels to be divided among them, which translated to more than three hundred taels per person, Zhang and Zhao’s hesitation was gone. They went back into the room, and whispered something to their four trusted aides’ ears. The four men nodded; they pulled the four eunuchs up and said, “Since you are Empress Dowager’s men, we’ll take you back!”

The four eunuchs were delighted, they left the room with the four Imperial Bodyguards following behind them. Suddenly they heard a series of blood-curdling screams from the outside, followed by an Imperial Bodyguard shouted, “Assassins, assassins!” Another Imperial Bodyguard cried out, “Aiyo, not good, the assassins killed four eunuchs.”

The four Imperial Bodyguards returned to the room, and reported to Wei Xiaobao, “Gui Gong-gong, there were assassins outside, they killed four Gong-gong.”

Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh and said, “It’s a pity, it’s a pity! The assassins ran away and could not be apprehended?”

An Imperial Bodyguard replied, “We can’t even see the assassins’ shadow.”

“Um, there’s nothing we can do then,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You’d better report this matter of four Gong-gong assassinations clearly to Dolong Zongguan!”

Suppressing their smile, the Imperial Bodyguards replied together, “Yes!” Wei Xiaobao could not hold his laugh anymore, he burst into loud laughter. The Imperial Bodyguards also broke into continuous laughter. “Brothers,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Congratulations on your newfound wealth. I will see you tomorrow.”

Wei Xiaobao hurriedly returned to his dwelling. When he reached the front door, a cold voice from the flowering shrub greeted him, “Xiao Guizi, how are you?”  Wei Xiaobao recognized it as the Empress Dowager’s voice; he was shocked. Turning around, he started to run, but after only five, six steps, a hand had touched his left shoulder, and his entire body went numb, as if a several-hundred-catty large boulder was pressing down on him that he was unable to take another step. Hastily he stooped down to withdraw the dagger, but his fingers had just touched the hilt when his right arm was hit by a palm. “Ah!” he could not bear not to scream.

He heard Empress Dowager’s chilly voice said, “Xiao Guizi, you are young, yet have really good ability. Without lifting a finger you managed to kill my four eunuchs and still planted some booty to shift the blame on someone else, you even dare to plant false evidence against me. Humph, humph …”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao groaned bitterly, he was desperate, thinking that the Empress Dowager hated him to the bone, so no matter how he plead with her, it would be useless. He could only gamble with his life, trying desperately to scare her so that he could gain a little time, and thus thought of an idea to escape. “Empress Dowager,” he said, “If you kill me now, it would be too late. It’s a pity, it’s a pity.”

The Empress Dowager coldly said, “Pity what?”

“You want to kill me to shut my mouth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s a pity you are one step too late. Just now what those Imperial Bodyguards have said, presumably … presumably you have heard everything.”

The Empress Dowager grimly said, “You said I sent those four useless eunuchs to lead the assassins into the Palace. Humph, why would I do that?”

“How would I know?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But most likely His Majesty would know.” In all honesty he already felt that he was ninety percent dead, so he might as well swindle her to the end.

The Empress Dowager was furious; with a cold laugh she said, “Once I send away my palm, your life will be gone immediately. Unavoidably it will be too easy for you, this little thief.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as you exert strength on your palm, you would kill Xiao Guizi. By tomorrow everybody would know, ‘How did Xiao Guizi die?’ ‘Naturally the Empress Dowager killed him.’ ‘Why did the Empress Dowager kill him?’ ‘Because Xiao Guizi accidentally expose Empress Dowager’s secret.’ ‘What secret?’ ‘This matter is complicated and not easy to explain succinctly; come, come, come, you come to my room, I’ll tell you everything. But you must never tell it to anybody else, this matter is … is of an utmost importance.’”

The Empress Dowager was so angry that her hand on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder did not stop trembling; after taking a slow breath she said, “At worst it’s only those dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards. After I killed you, I will order Rui Dong to arrest those dozen fellows and put them to death immediately, and then what else should I worry about?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. The Empress Dowager said, “Death is imminent, and you can still laughing.” Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager, you said you wanted Rui Dong to kill those people? He … he … ha ha …”

“He what?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He has already …” Originally he wanted to say, ‘he has already been killed by my blade,’ but suddenly he was hit upon an inspiration, he laughed ‘ha ha’ several more times.

The Empress Dowager asked again, “He has already what?”

“He has already listened to me, he won’t obey your orders anymore,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The Empress Dowager laughed coldly and said, “You are but a little demon yet you think you have that kind of ability, you can tell Deputy Chief Rui not to obey my orders anymore.”

“I am only a little eunuch,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally he is not afraid of me. But the one Deputy Chief Rui is afraid of is another person.”

With a trembling voice the Empress Dowager said, “He … he is afraid of His Majesty?”

“We all are servants,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally we are afraid of His Majesty; you can’t blame him for that, can you?”

“What else did you tell Rui Dong?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“I told him everything,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“He told him everything,” the Empress Dowager muttered to herself. After a half day of silence, she said, “He … where is he?”

“He went far away,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Very, very far away, and he won’t come back. Empress Dowager, if you want to see him, naturally that’s a good thing, very, very good thing; however, I am afraid it won’t be that easy.”

The Empress Dowager was startled. “Has he left the Palace?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao pushed the boat with the current. “Exactly,” he said, “He said that he was afraid of His Majesty, but he was also afraid of you. Pressed between the two, he felt it would be hard for him to conduct himself as a human being, he is also afraid he will have his own life to be worried about. Before facing the calamity of losing his life, it would be better for him to take the high road and fly away.”

“To fly high and run far[1],” the Empress Dowager corrected.

“That’s it, that’s it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager, how did you know? Have you heard him saying those words? He has flown high and run far!”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager snorted, “He doesn’t even want to be an officer anymore?” she asked, “Where is he going?”

“He … he is going …” he had another idea, “He said he is going to some Tai mountain, some Liu Tai, Qi Tai, or Ba Tai mountain.”

“Wu Tai[2] Mountain!” the Empress Dowager said.

“That’s right, that’s right! It’s Wutai Mountain,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager, you know everything.”

“What else did he say?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“He did not say much,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Just that … just that this matter that I entrusted to him, he will accomplish no matter what, he even put himself under a heavy oath, that even if he is to be chopped to pieces, he would definitely have his son and grandson to do it.”

“What matter you entrusted to him?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“Nothing much,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Deputy Chief Rui actually said that it’s not a big deal to him not being an officer, but he is to go on a journey without any traveling allowance, plus it is not a matter that can be accomplished in a year or half a year. Thereupon I gave him banknotes worth twenty thousand taels.”

The Empress Dowager said, “You suddenly become very wealthy, where did the money come from?”

“Those are gifts from others,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Prince Kang gave me some, Songgotu Daren gave me some, Wu Sangui’s son also gave me some.”

“The way you act is forthright, naturally Rui Dong is grateful and he is seeking to repay your kindness,” the Empress Dowager said, “Actually, what did you want him to do?”

“Your servant does not dare to speak,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Are you going to speak or not?” the Empress Dowager asked with a stern voice. She increased the pressure of her palm, which was resting on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out. The Empress Dowager relaxed her grip somewhat. “Quickly speak!” she shouted.

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Deputy Chief Rui promised me, if your servant is killed inside the Palace, he will immediately report everything clearly to His Majesty. He said he is going to write a memorial to the throne, which he will carry with him. He and your servant have agreed that every two months, your servant … your servant will …”

The Empress Dowager’s voice was trembling when she asked, “What is it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Every two months, your servant will go to the Heavenly Bridge, looking for someone … a man selling candied fruits[3]. I should ask him, ‘Do you have jadeite cornelian candied fruits?’ He will reply, ‘I do, it’s a hundred taels per skewer.’ I’ll say, ‘That expensive? Will you sell it to me for two hundred taels?’ He will say, ‘No, I will not. You haven’t returned to the heaven?’ And then I’ll say, ‘Go tell that old man then!’ And then he would report to the Deputy Chief Rui.” In this desperate situation, he did not have time to fabricate a fresh story, so he simply modified the code words taught by Chen Jinnan if he wanted to communicate with Xu Tianchuan.

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager snorted, “That’s the way the network of people and warriors of Jianghu communicate with each other, I believe a little thief like you won’t come up with stuff like that yourself. It was that coward Rui Dong who taught you that, wasn’t it?”

Wei Xiaobao faked a surprised look. “Uh!” he exclaimed, “How did you know it was Deputy Chief Rui who taught me? I get it, when he taught me that, you must be eavesdropping.”

He felt the Empress Dowager’s hand on his shoulder was trembling continuously. It was after a long time that she finally asked, “When the time comes and you do not go to find that candied fruits seller, what will happen then?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Deputy Chief Rui said that he will wait for ten more days. If I still do not show up, then that means your servant’s little life has gone. He … he will think of a way to report to His Majesty. By that time your servant is already dead, so there is nothing to be gained actually, but your servant is loyal to His Majesty, I want to warn His Majesty to be really careful, to requite any wrongdoings, to avenge any enmity, and to guard against others’ evil scheme, which are actually Deputy Chief Rui and your servant’s primary devotion anyway.”

“To requite any wrongdoings, to avenge any enmity,” the Empress Dowager muttered to herself, “That’s very good.”

“These days,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “When your servant is waiting on His Majesty, I have never revealed anything. As long as your servant is alive and well, I am serving His Majesty by his side, I will forever not let His Majesty know about this matter; why would I want to worry His Majesty?”

The Empress Dowager let out a breath and said, “You are actually a very good boy.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty treats your servant very well, the Empress Dowager also did not treat your servant badly. Your servant is loyal to the Empress Dowager. Who knows? Perhaps when the Empress Dowager is happy, she would reward your servant something; won’t everybody be good?”

“Hey, hey, hey,” the Empress Dowager let out a cold laugh, “You still want me to reward you? Your face indeed has a very thick skin.” Surprisingly, there was a hint of delight in her cold laugh; by the tone of her voice, she also seemed to be greatly relieved.

Hearing the change in her tone, Wei Xiaobao knew the tension was greatly relaxed; he said hurriedly, “What else does your servant covet? As long as Empress Dowager and His Majesty are safe and sound, everybody’s getting along politely and amiably, that will be great fortune for us as servants. Empress Dowager, I wish you, Senior, ten thousand good fortune and peace like gold, your servant will go to the Heavenly Bridge tomorrow, I’ll find that man, and will tell him to inform Deputy Chief Rui as soon as possible, telling him to guard his mouth like a closed bottle. Your servant … wants to bring him three thousand taels, I will say that it is a gift from the Empress Dowager.”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager said, “This man did not do his job to the best of his ability, he abandoned his duty and fled away. He is lucky that I don’t chop off his head, and you want me to reward him?”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally your servant will have to foot the three thousand taels bill myself, how can the Empress Dowager still reward him some money?”

The Empress Dowager slowly released her grip on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, and she slowly asked, “Xiao Guizi, are you really loyal to me?”

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down on the ground and kowtowed repeatedly, saying, “Your servant is loyal to the Empress Dowager, and will enjoy countless benefits, if I am not loyal, let my melon-seed-shape head be removed. Although Xiao Guizi is muddleheaded, this head is still very important to me.”

The Empress Dowager nodded; she said, “Very good, very good, very good!” As she said one ‘very good’, her palm struck his back once, repeatedly she struck three times. Immediately Wei Xiaobao felt dizzy, and had a strong urge to vomit, his throat emitted continuous ‘eh eh eh’ noise. The Empress Dowager said, “Xiao Guizi that night Hai Dafu, the old thief said that in this world there is a martial art skill called ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’, which if trained to perfection, when it hit a body, it can make the bones in the entire body broken. This martial art skill is very difficult to learn, naturally I can’t do it. But since you are a very smart child, very intelligent child, I am thinking that trying three palm strikes on your back will be very interesting.”

The chi and blood in Wei Xiaobao’s chest and abdomen bubbled up, finally he could not repress it anymore. ‘Wah!’ he vomited a big mouthful of blood and water. He thought, “The old wh0re did not believe me, she is striking me with such a vicious blow.”

“You don’t have to be afraid,” the Empress Dowager said, “I am not going to kill you. If you died, who would go to the Bridge of Heaven to find that candied fruits seller? I only want to injure you a little bit, to show you that the way you handled this matter is not particularly clever.”

“Thank you for the Empress Dowager’s kindness,” Wei Xiaobao said. He stood up slowly, but his body swayed and he fell back sitting down, and vomited several mouthfuls of water and blood again. The Empress Dowager laughed aloud, turned around, and disappeared into a flowering shrub.

Wei Xiaobao struggled to stand up, then slowly circled toward the rear window of his room. He leaned against the window frame, gasping for breath for a few moments before finally crawling into the room over the window.

“Gui Dage,” Xiao Junzhu Mu Jianping asked in low voice, “Is that you?”

Wei Xiaobao was not in a good mood, “F*ck your mother,” he cursed, “It’s not me.”

Fang Yi interjected, “Xiao Junzhu asked you nicely, why did you curse her?”

Wei Xiaobao had just crawled over the window opening, he said, “I …” but before he could finish, ‘Bang!’ he fell from the window onto the floor, and was unable to get up again.

“Aiyo!” Fang Yi and Mu Jianping cried out together. “What … what happened?” they asked in alarm, “Are you injured?”

Wei Xiaobao’s fall was really not light, but hearing the deep concern in the voices of these two women, his mood improved considerably. He laughed aloud and gasped several times while thinking, “I don’t know if the Old Wh0re’s strike was ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ or not, maybe she has not trained it proficiently. Laozi is wearing the treasured vest, also my bones are hard; whatever it is she wanted to transform, I don’t think she can transform laozi’s bones …” He said, “My Good Meizi and Good Wife are both injured, if I don’t receive some injury, how can we be called ‘fortune we enjoy together, disaster we face together’?”

“Gui Dage,” Xiao Junzhu asked, “Where is your injury? Is it painful?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Good Meizi is conscientious, asking me if it is painful. Actually, it was very painful, but hearing your concern, suddenly it is not painful anymore. Tell me, isn’t it strange?”

Mu Jianping laughed and said, “You are cracking jokes again.”

Propping himself on the table and gasping for breath, Wei Xiaobao got up. He thought, “Right now I still have my old life, but it depends entirely on Deputy Chief Rui’s friendship, whether he is willing to support me or not. If the Old Wh0re knew Deputy Chief Rui is dead, Wei Xiaobao’s old life will not stay for more than an hour.” From the medicine chest he fetched the triangular greenish-blue with white dot medicine bottle. Hai Laogong’s medicine chest was full of medicinal powder and pills, but he only recognized this one bottle of ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’. Pulling Rui Dong’s corpse from underneath the bed, he took back the banknotes and the precious knick-knacks he stuffed into Rui Dong’s pocket earlier.

Mu Jianping said, “All along when you were away, this dead man was lying under our bed, the two of us were so scared that we might die ourselves.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If he scared the two of you the death, won’t this dead man have two bashful flower obstructing the moon female companions?”

“Pei!” Fang Yi spat, “Xiao Junzhu, don’t talk to him too much.”

“I have a magic trick,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Do you want to see it?”

“I don’t want to,” Fang Yi replied.

“If you don’t want to look, then close your eyes,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Fang Yi immediately closed her eyes. Following her example, Mu Jianping also closed her eyes, but immediately she opened her eyes again.

Wei Xiaobao took a small silver spoon from the medicine chest, he pulled the wooden cork from the bottle, and took a small amount of the ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’ with the silver spoon, and poured it on Rui Dong’s wound. A moment later, smoke started to rise from the wound, followed by strong odor. A few moments later, the wound emitted yellow liquid, while it rotted bigger and bigger. “Eek!” Mu Jianping cried out.

Fang Yi’s curiosity was piqued, she opened her eyes. As soon as she saw this scene, her eyes opened very wide, she did not want to close them anymore.

As the corpse came in contact with the yellow liquid, it started to rot. The more the yellow liquid was produced, the faster the corpse rotted.

Seeing the frightened expression on these two women, Wei Xiaobao said, “When one of you is being disobedient to me, I will sprinkle a little bit of this precious powder on your face, then you will immediately rot like this.”

“You … don’t scare people,” Mu Jianping said. With glaring eyes Fang Yi stared at him, but her frightened expression was difficult to conceal. With a grin Wei Xiaobao took a step forward, he shook the medicine bottle twice in front of her face before he put it back into his pocket.

Not too long afterwards, Rui Dong’s corpse had rotted into two sections. Wei Xiaobao picked up a chair, and using the legs of the chair he pushed the two sections of the corpse toward the yellow liquid. In less than an hour, everything had turned into yellow liquid. Wei Xiaobao let out a deep breath, thinking, “Even if the Old Wh0re sends a million troops to Wutai Mountain, they won’t find Rui Dong.” He went to the water jar to fetch a bucket of water to wash away the yellow liquid from the corpse. But only after several buckets of water, his body skewed, he fell onto the bed, and in utmost exhaustion he fell asleep immediately.

When he awoke, the sky was already bright. His chest felt nauseous, so he tried to vomit, but nothing came out. He heard Mu Jianping’s concerned voice asked, “Gui Dage, are you feeling better?”

Wei Xiaobao sat up, and only now did he realize that for the rest of the night he had been sleeping, fully clothed, by Fang and Mu, two women’s feet. Seeing it was not early morning anymore, he hastily jumped down from the bed and said, “I have to hurry to see the Emperor, you two just lie down and don’t move.” He wanted to crawl out from the window, but the pain on his lower back was so severe that he had no choice but open the front door and locked it behind him.

Wei Xiaobao only waited for less than an hour at the Upper Study Room, Kangxi returned from his morning court. He said with a laugh, “Xiao Guizi, I heard you killed an assassin last night.”

Wei Xiaobao paid his respect by saying, “May Your Majesty has good health.”

Kangxi said with a laugh, “Your luck was good, you get to fight with an assassin. I did not even see the assassin’s shadow. How was the martial art skill of the one you killed? What move did you use to kill him?”

Wei Xiaobao did not fight with any assassin at all, the Emperor’s martial art skill was not weak, he simply could not speak thoughtlessly. A bright idea suddenly occurred, he recalled the fight between Feng Jizhong and Bai Hanfeng at the Bai family residence on the Willow Tree Lane the other day; he said, “It was dark, I only entangled him blindly. Suddenly his left leg swept across to the right, his right arm swept across to the left …” He was narrating and giving demonstration at the same time.

Kangxi clapped his hands, “Exactly right, exactly right! It’s exactly this move!” he said.

Wei Xiaobao was startled; “Your Majesty,” he asked, “Do you know this move?”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Do you know the name of this move?”

Wei Xiaobao knew it was called the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, but he said, “Your servant does not know.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Let me tell you, so you’ll know: this move is called the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’!”

Wei Xiaobao was very amazed, he said, “This name is very pleasant to the ears!” He was startled not because of the name, but because unexpectedly Kangxi also knew.

Kangxi said, “When he attacked you using this move, how did you deal with it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “For a split second I panicked, I was unable to deal with it instantly, suddenly I recalled when you and I were having martial art competition, I remember you used an extremely clever move when you flung me down from the top of your head. I think you said that it was Wu Dang Pai’s martial art, ‘Immortal Crane Combing its Plume’.”

Kangxi was delighted, he called out, “You used my martial art to break his move ‘sweeping away a thousand army’?”

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “My martial art training is actually not too superior, fortunately the two of us have had martial art competition, we have fought a lot, so I remember more than half of the techniques you used. I remember how you attacked, how you parried …”

“Right, right,” Kangxi said, “This is ‘Purple Cloud Hand’ and ‘Snapping Plum Flower Hand’.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Since I am licking his boot, I might as well go all out!” He said, “I then copied your style, I hastily grabbed his hand, and I did grab it, it’s just that my strength was not enough, plus my position was not too accurate, he shook his left hand forcefully and thus managed to free himself.”

“What a pity, what a pity,” Kangxi said, “Let me teach you: you ought to grab here, in between the Hui Zong and Wai Guan [lit. reservoir assembly and outer pass, respectively] acupoints. No matter what, he wouldn’t be able to shake himself free.” While saying that, he grabbed the acupoints on Wei Xiaobao’s wrist.

Wei Xiaobao struggled as hard as he could, but as expected, he was unable to struggle free. He said, “If you taught me earlier, the following dangerous situation would not have happened.”

Kangxi let go of his hand, he asked with a laugh, “What happened next?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as he was free, he circled around behind me, and struck my back with both of his palms …”

“High mountain flowing water!” Kangxi called out.

“So this move is called ‘high mountain flowing water’?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “At that time I was so afraid I might be completely routed by him, in my desperation I used another one of your moves.”

“You are useless!” Kangxi said with a laugh, “How come when you fight with others you did not use the move your Shifu taught you, but always use my moves instead?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “During training, the moves taught by Shifu are clear and logical, but when one is in a life and death fight, how would one know which move will be effective? On the other hand, those moves of yours just jumped out from the bottom my heart. Your Majesty, at that time the edge of his palms had already hit my back, I was already scared out of my wits, how could I think about which move to use? Borrowing the momentum, I threw myself forward, then I turned around from the right side.”

“Very good!” Kangxi said, “That is the ‘circling wind step’!”

“Is that right?” Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as I evaded his attack, I seized the opportunity to draw my dagger and stabbed him backhandedly with the blade, while crying out, ‘Xiao Guizi, do you surrender now?'”

Kangxi laughed heartily. “Why did you call him ‘Xiao Guizi’?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant was desperate, I don’t know what came into me, unexpectedly it was your technique that I remembered completely. The backhand stab was originally your backhand palm strike, when it hit my back and you called out, ‘Xiao Guizi, do you surrender now?’. Without thinking I used that technique, while my mouth also called out. He grunted; without having enough time to call ‘surrender’, he died right away.”

Kangxi laughed. “Wonderful, wonderful!” he said, “My backhand palm strike is called ‘lone cloud coming out of mountain peak’. I did not think that you changed it into a sword move and with one strike you succeeded.” After starting martial art training, Kangxi had fought only with Wei Xiaobao, he had never had the satisfaction on being in a seriously desperate fight against an enemy. And now hearing that Wei Xiaobao had killed an enemy with his own hand, with the technique that he learned entirely from him, Kangxi was very happy and excited. He thought that if he personally went into action, he would be ten times more brilliant than Wei Xiaobao. He said, “Those assassins’ guts were not small, but their martial art skill is sloppy and ordinary.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The assassins’ martial art skill is not that bad, there are several Imperial Bodyguards in our Palace who suffer injury in their hands. On the whole it was Xiao Guizi’s good luck that he had once served Your Majesty practicing martial art for so long that I managed to steal your three moves two styles. Otherwise, Your Majesty, today you would have issued an imperial edict, comforting and aiding the bereaved family of loyal subject who died in the line of duty, little eunuch Xiao Guizi, by one thousand taels of fine silver.”

Kangxi laughed, “How can one thousand taels be enough?” he said, “At least ten thousand taels.” The two of them burst into loud laughter together.

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “Do you know who are these assassins?”

“I don’t know,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your Majesty recognizes their martial art style, most likely you already have a guess.”

“At first I still cannot ascertain,” Kangxi said, “But your demonstration just now has added another layer of proof.” He clapped his hands, ordering the eunuch on duty at the Upper Study Room to summon Songgotu and Dolong, two people.

Those two have been waiting outside the Study Room, as soon as they were summoned by the Emperor, they came in and kowtowed.

Dolong was a military officer of the Manchurian’s Plain White Banner, during the invasion inland he had established not a few of outstanding military service, his martial art ability was also very profound, but all along he was pushed aside by Oboi, so he was very dissatisfied with his position in the officialdom. It was only after Oboi’s demise recently that Kangxi promoted him to be the Imperial Bodyguards Chief, in charge of protecting the Qian Qing Gate[4], Zhonghe Palace, Taihe Palace[5], and other living quarters within the Palace. There were altogether six Imperial Bodyguard Chiefs inside the Palace, two from each banner: Plain Yellow, Plain White, and Bordered Yellow. But the ones with real power were the Imperial Bodyguard Chief and Deputy Chief in charge of the imperial living quarters. Dolong was newly appointed to this key job, suddenly assassins appeared in the Palace. He did not sleep the entire night, his heart was weighed down with anxiety, he did not know whether the Emperor and the Empress Dowager would place the blame on him.

Seeing his bloodshot eyes, Kangxi asked, “Have you interrogated clearly the captured assassins?”

Dolong said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: altogether there are three revolting thieves that are captured alive. Your servant has interrogated them separately. At first they rigidly refused to speak, afterwards they could not endure the torture and confessed. As expected … as expected they are Ping Xi Wang … Ping Xi Wang Wu Sangui’s subordinates.”

Kangxi nodded. “Hmm,” he said.

Dolong continued, “The weapons those revolting thieves left behind have the inscription ‘Ping Xi Wang Palace’ engraved on them. On the undergarments of the killed revolting thieves, there are also the markings of Ping Xi Wang. We have conclusive proof that the revolting thieves who came to invade and harass the Palace last night were Wu Sangui’s subordinates. Even if Wu Sangui did not personally send them, he … he simply cannot escape the responsibility.”

Kangxi asked Songgotu, “Have you also investigated clearly?”

Songgotu said, “Your servant has examined the revolting thieves’ weapons and undergarments. Dolong Zongguan has recorded the revolting thieves’ confession; that is indeed their confession.”

“Go get those weapons and undergarments, I want to see,” Kangxi said.

“Yes,” Dolong complied. He knew that although the Emperor was young, he was very astute, plus this matter carried great responsibility, hence he had already prepared various exhibit packages, which he had his trusted aides, the Imperial Bodyguards, to carry as they waited outside the Upper Study Room. He stepped out and returned immediately; untying the cloth wrapper, he put everything on the table, then immediately took several steps back. The Manchurian Qing had fought hundreds of battles all over China, from the founding Emperor to the current one, all practiced martial art, and thus did not avoid weapons. However, inside the Study Room, for a government official to expose any weapon in front of the Emperor was still a taboo. Dolong was simply being careful; hence the reason he withdrew first.

Kangxi stepped forward, he picked up the sabers and swords and looked at them closely. He saw the inscription ‘Regional Commander Office of Shanhai Pass of The Great Ming’ on the saber’s hilt. He smiled slightly and said, “Trying to hide it makes it more conspicuous, no doubt something is not right. By deliberately lighting the fire to play trick, they actually raised other people’s suspicion.” Turning to Songgotu, he said, “If Wu Sangui was to send assassins to the Palace to rebel against his superior, he would have had deep plans and distant thoughts, his plan and preparation would be comprehensive, he knew such sabers and swords cannot be used, why would they want to carry weapons with inscriptions? How could they not know these sabers and swords could be lost in the Palace?”

“Yes, yes,” Songgotu said, “Holiness has seen it clearly, your servant admires it extremely.”

Kangxi turned toward Wei Xiaobao and asked, “Xiao Guizi, tell me, what moves did the revolting thief that you killed used?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “He used the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, and also ‘high mountain flowing water’ moves.”

Kangxi asked Dolong, “What kind of martial art are they?”

Although Dolong was a noble official of the Manchus, he had an extensive knowledge of various martial arts of different schools and sects; these ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ were not unfamiliar moves to him, he replied, “Reporting to Your Majesty: those are apparently former Ming’s Mu Palace of Yunnan’s martial art.”

Kangxi clapped his hands, “That’s right, that’s right,” he said, “Dolong, your knowledge is extensive.”

Dolong was elated by this favor from his superior, a thread of smile appeared on his face as he kneeled down and kowtowed. “Thank you for Your Majesty’s compliment,” he said.

“Think about it carefully,” Kangxi said, “If Wu Sangui sent people to the Palace to commit assassination, he could not have chosen the time when his son is in Beijing. Assassins can come at any time, why did he have to pick the time when his son is having an audience with the Emperor? This is my first suspicion. Wu Sangui is adept at military strategy, the way he handled affairs is thorough. Sending these revolting thieves to do his work, the number of people was small, their martial art skill was not high, he should know it would be hard to succeed, why bother? This matter is incompatible with Wu Sangui’s character. This is my second suspicion. Moreover, even if he sent people to assassinate me, what would his benefit be? Could it be that he wanted to raise a rebellion? If he wanted to rebel, why did he send his son to Beijing? Isn’t that the same as deliberately sending his son so that we can behead him? This is my third suspicion.”

When Wei Xiaobao listened to Fang Yi’s explanation on how they were scheming on framing Wu Sangui, he felt that it was an excellent plan; however, as he listened to Kangxi’s analysis, he now felt that the scheme had flaws everywhere. He could not help but was full of admiration, and repeatedly nodded his head.

Songgotu said, “Your Majesty is an enlightened sage, your wisdom is not within reach of your servants.”

Kangxi continued, “Think about it again, if the assassins were not sent by Wu Sangui, but carried Ping Xi Wang Palace’s weapons, what was their real intention? Naturally it was to frame him. Wu Sangui has helped out Great Qing to pacify the land under the heaven, his merit was really big, the number of people who hate him is indeed not small. In the end, who prompted these revolting thieves? You must investigate it well.”

Songgotu and Dolong complied together. Dolong said, “Your Majesty is an enlightened sage. If Your Majesty did not give direction and straighten things out, your muddleheaded servant will fall into their trick, and unavoidably wronged good people.”

Kangxi said, “Wronged good people? Hey, hey!”

Seeing the Emperor did not have further instruction, they kowtowed and took their leave.

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “Can you guess how do I know those two moves ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’?”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping madly, he said, “I was wondering myself, how did Your Majesty know?”

Kangxi said, “Early in the morning today, I already summoned a lot of Imperial Bodyguards, I asked them about the fight with the assassins last night, trying to investigate the martial art the assassins used. There are unexpectedly some from the Mu Family of former Ming. Just think, for generations the Mu Family ruled in Yunnan, after my Great Qing’s dragon rose, we bestowed Yunnan to Wu Sangui, how could the Mu Family not angry? Much less the last of the Mu Family, Duke Mu Tianbo of Guizhou province, died under Wu Sangui’s hands. I asked my men to demonstrate Mu Family’s most formidable moves, among which were these two moves ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty truly able to prophecy with supernatural accuracy.” But in his heart he was anxious, “I am hiding two women of the Mu Family in my room, I wonder if he knew about it.”

Kangxi laughed and asked, “Xiao Guizi, do you want to be rich?”

Hearing the words ‘to be rich’, Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was immediately aroused, his anxiety gone. With a giggle he said, “Your Majesty did not order me to get rich, I do not dare to get rich; Your Majesty ordered me to get rich, Xiao Guizi did not dare not to get rich.”

“Alright,” Kangxi said with a laugh, “I order you to get rich! Take these sabers and swords, and the undergarments taken from the assassins, along with the assassins’ written confession, give everything to certain person, and then the great wealth will come to you.”

Wei Xiaobao was stunned, but he immediately understood. “Wu Yingxiong!” he called out.

Kangxi laughed, “You are so smart,” he said, “Just go!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This kid Wu Yingxiong’s luck is really good this time, his entire family’s lives has been rewarded by Your Majesty.”

“What are you going to say to him?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll say: The one surnamed Wu, our Majesty’s insight spans ten thousand li, whatever you, father and son, did in Yunnan, not a single one is missed by His Majesty. You did not revolt, His Majesty can see it clearly, but if, hey hey, you are having ‘three hearts and two intentions’, ‘two-faced, three knives’ [both idioms mean ‘double-cross/double dealing and back stabbing’], His Majesty will also see it clearly. Damn it, you, father and son, better be nice to me.”

Kangxi burst out in laughter, he said, “You are very clever; although you did not go to school, your words are coarse and vulgar, in the end you still capture my intention. Damn it, you, father and son, better be nice to me. Ha ha ha ha …”

Hearing the Emperor unexpectedly learned to say ‘damn it’, Wei Xiaobao could not refrain his heart from blooming. He also burst out in laughter. Taking the sabers, swords, and other objects, he left the Study Room and returned to his own room.

He had just about to unlock the door when he felt a stabbing pain on his back, his head spun and he felt he was about to vomit. Forcing himself to unlock the door, he sat on a chair, and continuously gasping for breath.

Mu Jianping said, “You … you are not feeling well?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Seeing your ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ appearance, I am feeling well already.”

Mu Jianping laughed and said, “My Shijie is the one with ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ appearance, I have a little turtle on my face, I am so ugly, extremely ugly.”

Hearing she was bantering with him, Wei Xiaobao’s mood brightened immediately; he laughed and said, “How can there be any little turtle on your face? Ah, I know, Good Meizi, your face is bright and smooth, it is fair and clear, almost like a mirror, therefore, it may have a little turtle on it.”

Mu Jianping was puzzled. “How come?” she asked.

“Who are you sleeping with?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Your face is like a mirror, so it reflected that person’s appearance. Naturally there will be a little turtle on your face.”

“Pei!” Fang Yi spat, “Just come over and look, then there will be a little turtle on Xiao Junzhu’s face.”

“If I come over and look,” Wei Xiaobao said, “A handsome and vigorous big master will appear on Good Meizi’s face.”

Fang and Mu, two women laughed. Fang Yi said, “Little turtle big master, which one is the big master?”

The three of them laughed together. “Hey,” Fang Yi said, “We must escape from the Palace, you need to think of a way.”

These days wherever he went, Wei Xiaobao was always flattered by other people, but as soon as he returned to his own room, he would be extremely lonely and bored. Now that he suddenly had Fang and Mu, two young women to accompany him, although there was the danger that someone else might find out any minute, in all honesty he hated to have them leave him; thereupon he said, “We need to think about it slowly, you are both injured, as soon as you take a step out of the door, you might be caught instantly.”

Fang Yi sighed gently, she asked, “Among our people who entered the Palace last night, I wonder how many have died, and how many were captured? Would you possibly know the names of the people who ran into misfortune?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “I don’t know,” he said, “But since you are concerned, I may be able to find out for you.”

“Thank you very much,” Fang Yi said in a low voice. Ever since he met her, Wei Xiaobao had never heard her speaking politely like this, he was very astonished in his heart.

Mu Jianping said, “Especially we wanted to ask whether a certain man surnamed Liu was able to escape safely or not.”

“Surnamed Liu?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “What’s his name?”

“He is our Liu Shige [martial (older) brother],” Mu Jianping replied, “He is called Liu Yizhou. He … he is my Shijie’s sweetheart, so … so …” Suddenly she squealed, since Fang Yi had tickled her armpit, she did not want her to continue.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, “Liu Yizhou, hmm, this … this might be bad.”

Fang Yi was unable to restrain her emotions; she asked hastily, “What is it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Isn’t he a tall, fair-complexion, approximately twenty some years, handsome young man? This man’s martial art skill is really good, is he the one?” Naturally he did not know what kind of person Liu Yizhou was, but thinking that this man was Fang Yi’s sweetheart, he must be a handsome young man. And since he was their older martial brother, he could not be wrong if he said the man’s martial art was really high.

Sure enough, Mu Jianping said, “That’s right, that’s right, it is he. Fang Shijie said that when she was wounded last night, she saw Liu Shige was being overthrown by three Imperial Bodyguards, one Imperial Bodyguard was holding him down, most likely he was captured. I wonder what happened to him?”

“Ay,” Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Turns out this Liu Shifu is Miss Fang’s sweetheart …” He did not stop shaking his head and heaving sighs.

Fang Yi showed concern on her face. “Gui Dage,” she said, “What happened to that Liu … Liu Shige?”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Stinky girl, you have never talked amiably with me, as soon as mentioning your Liu Shige, you call me Gui Dage. I’d better scare her a bit.” He heaved a deep sigh again and shook his head as he said, “What a pity, what a pity!”

Fang Yi was alarmed. “What happened?” she asked, “Is he … is he … is he injured, or … or is he dead?”

Wei Xiaobao burst into loud laughter; he said, “Laozi has never seen any Liu Yizhou or Liu Liangpi[6], how would I know if he is dead or still alive? You call me ‘Good husband’ three times, I’ll find out for you.”

When Fang Yi saw him shaking his head, heaving a sigh and repeatedly saying ‘What a pity’ earlier, she thought that the chance of Liu Yizhou being unfortunate was greater than the chance of him being fortunate. Hearing what Wei Xiaobao suddenly said, she was delighted in her heart, but with her mouth she spat and said, “You never said anything serious. Are you telling the truth, or was it a lie?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If this Liu Yizhou fell into my hands, humph, humph, I will tie him up first, and give him a good flogging, until his butts turned into four pieces. I’ll ask him what graceful words, flowery speech he used to win my wife’s heart. Afterwards I’ll raise my blade and chop down, whoosh …”

“You are going to kill him?” Mu Jianping asked.

“No,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will cut off his balls, turning him into a eunuch.”

Mu Jianping did not understand what he was saying. But Fang Yi understood, her face turned deep as she cursed, “Little smart-aleck, always talks rubbish!”

“Most likely your Liu Shige has been captured,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Whether I want him to be eunuch or not, as soon as I, Gui Gong-gong, say the word, not a few people will be willing to listen. Miss Fang, are you or are you not going to ask me to help?”

Fang Yi’s face blushed deep red again, she mumbled intelligibly. Mu Jianping said, “Gui Dage, if you are willing to help, you need not wait for others to ask you, then you are a true chivalrous hero.”

Wei Xiaobao waved his hand and said, “Wrong, wrong! I like it the most when people are asking me. The more intimate they call me ‘Good Husband’, ‘Dear Husband’, the more spirited I will do things to help them.”

After hesitating for half a day, Fang Yi said, “Gui Dage, Good Dage, I am asking you to help.”

With a straight face Wei Xiaobao said, “Must be ‘Husband’!”

“You are wrong here,” Mu Jianping said, “My Shijie is going to marry Liu Shige, Liu Shige is her husband, how can she call you ‘husband’?”

“That won’t do,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If she marries Liu Yizhou, laozi will drink vinegar, I will be seriously jealous.”

“Liu Shige is a very good man,” Mu Jianping said.

“The better he is, the more I will drink vinegar,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Aiyo! It’s so sour, it’s so sour! I drank too much vinegar, ha ha ha ha …!” Amidst his laughter, he picked up the bundle, went out of the room, and locked the door behind him. And then bringing along four eunuch attendants, he rode a horse to West Chang’an Street, where Wu Yingxiong stayed during his visit to Beijing.

On the horseback, his right hand did not stop punching the air while he yelled, “Bang bang bang, bang bang bang!” His attendants did not understand his meaning, and how could they know that this time Gui Gong-gong had received an imperial edict to get rich? Naturally the ‘bang, bang, bang’ was the sound of knocking onto Yunnan’s bamboo shoulder pole [See note 11, Chapter 10].

Hearing about the arrival of the Emperor’s personal envoy, Wu Yingxiong hurriedly went out to kowtow and greet, and then he took Wei Xiaobao to the main hall.

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty ordered me to take these stuffs to show to you. Xiao Wangye, do you have big guts or not?”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Humble officer’s guts is the smallest, I am easily terrified.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, and then he laughed and said, “You are easily frightened? What about staging a rebellion? You must be very bold!”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Humble officer does not understand Gong-gong too clearly, please explain it to me.” At Prince Kang’s mansion the previous night, he referred to himself as ‘zaixia’, today Wei Xiaobao came on imperial orders, and he saw how arrogant he was, he had a faint feeling that things did not look too good; thereupon he repeatedly called himself ‘humble officer’.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Altogether, how many assassins did you send to the Palace last night? His Majesty sent me here to ask.”

Wu Yingxiong had heard some news about some assassins creating disturbance in the Palace the previous night; hearing Wei Xiaobao suddenly said those words, his shock was indeed not small. Immediately he fell down on his knees and kowtowed again and again toward the courtyard, saying, “Your Majesty treats your humble servants, father and son, with kindness as heavy as the mountain, even if your humble servants, father and son, became oxen or horses, we still cannot repay Your Majesty’s grace. Your humble servants, Wu Sangui, Wu Yingxiong, father and son, are willing to give up our lives for Your Majesty, we have never been double-minded.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Stand up, stand up, it won’t be too late to kowtow later. Xiao Wangye, let me show you something.” While saying that, he untied the cloth wrapper and spread the contents on the table.

Wu Yingxiong stood up and looked at the weapons and clothes in the bundle; he could not restrain his hands from trembling, as with a trembling voice he said, “This … this … this …” Picking up the written confession, he read it clearly that the assassins were sent by Ping Xi Wang Wu Sangui, they entered the Palace to commit assassination, they were determined to kill the Tatars Emperor, and set up Wu Sangui as their master, and so on and so forth.

Despite his ability to adapt to the circumstances and his extensive knowledge, Wu Yingxiong could not help but was scared out of his wits. His knees buckled and he kneeled down again, this time in front of Wei Xiaobao. He said, “Gui … Gong … Gong … Gong, this … this is not true, humble officers, father and son, are being … framed by crafty scoundrels. I beseech Gong-gong to present a memorial to the Holiness, to … to … make clear …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “These weapons belonged to the revolting thieves who entered the Palace, who conspired against the law, who committed treason and heresy. The weapons actually bear the insignia of your precious palace.”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Humble officers, father and son, have a lot of personal enemies; this must be our enemies’ sinister plot.”

Wei Xiaobao was doubtful. “What you said has a thirty percent truth in it, but I don’t know if His Majesty would believe it or not.”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Gong-gong’s great kindness and great favor are clearly understood by humble officers, father and son. Humble officers, father and son’s bodies, family and lives are all due to Gong-gong’s graciousness.”

“Xiao Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Stand up. Last night you sent me some gifts first, presumably you have anticipated early on that this matter would happen. Hey, hey, hey, hey.”

Actually, Wu Yingxiong was about to stand up, but hearing this serious accusation, he hastily kneeled down again and said, “As long as Gong-gong explains everything clearly to His Majesty on behalf of humble officers, father and son, His Majesty is an enlightened sage, he will definitely believe Gong-gong.”

“This matter is already made public,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Songgotu, Suo Daren, and Imperial Bodyguard Chief Dolong, Duo Daren, have already seen His Majesty to report the assassins’ written confession. You know, a matter as big as rebellion, who would have a gargantuan guts and try to hush it off? Explaining everything clearly to His Majesty on your behalf is not impossible. I have an excellent idea, although not extremely certain, most likely I can clear up the criminal charge against the two of you, father and son. It’s just that it will be troublesome.”

Wu Yingxiong was delighted, “We are relying on Gong-gong’s help,” he said.

“Please stand up, let’s talk,” Wei Xiaobao said. Wu Yingxiong stood up, but still repeatedly bowed with cupped fist.

“You really did not send those assassins?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Absolutely not!” Wu Yingxiong replied, “How can humble officer do something so heinous and unpardonable, a crime deserving ten thousand deaths?”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am considering you as a friend, so I believe you this time. If the future investigation proves that the assassins were sent by you, I will be buried alive, but I will make sure your whole family unto the third generation will accompany me.”

“Gong-gong, rest assured,” Wu Yingxiong said, “Please set your hundred and twenty hearts at ease, there is absolutely no such thing.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Then in your opinion, who sent these assassins?”

Wu Yingxiong hesitatingly said, “Humble officers, father and son, indeed have a lot of enemies, it is really hard to determine which one in this short moment.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You want me to clear up the charges against you in front of His Majesty, you must identify an enemy to take the responsibility, only then will His Majesty believe.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Yingxiong said, “For the Great Qing to subdue the land under heaven, the number of rebels my father exterminated is truly not just a few. The remnants of these rebel groups extremely hate my father; such as that rebel Li Chuang[7], followers of former Ming’s King Tang, King Gui, and the remnants of Mu Family of Yunnan. They all harbor a grudge against my father, they would do anything to rebel against the authority.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded; he said, “Those remnants of rebel Li Chuang, Mu Family, and so on, what kind of martial art do they have? Show me some moves, I will demonstrate it in front of His Majesty, I’ll say that I saw it with my own eyes last night, I’ll say that these are the moves that the assassins used. Genuine goods at fair prices, guaranteed it won’t be wrong.”

Wu Yingxiong was delighted, he hurriedly said, “Gong-gong’s idea is very clever. Humble officer only know one school of martial art, my understanding is truly limited, I must ask my subordinate to help me. Gong-gong, please sit down for a moment, humble officer will be back very soon.” Finished speaking, he bowed and cupped his fist again, then hurriedly went in.

A moment later, he brought someone into the hall, it was the leader of his attendants, Yang Yizhi, whom Wei Xiaobao helped to win seven hundred taels the previous night. Yang Yizhi stepped forward to pay his respect to Wei Xiaobao; his face showed deep anxiety, apparently Wu Yingxiong had told him the reason of Wei Xiaobao’s visit.

“Yang Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “No need to worry, during the martial art practice at Prince Kang’s mansion last night, you have created quite a stir, many civil and military ministers witnessed it with their own eyes, they cannot possibly say that you entered the Palace to commit murder. I can also bear witness on your behalf.”

“Yes, yes! Thank you very much Gong-gong,” Yang Yizhi said, “But I am afraid the crafty scoundrel will frame us up, they could say that Heir Apparent took us to Kang Wangye‘s Palace as an alibi, to have various civil and military ministers witnessed it with their own eyes, while surreptitiously sent another group of people to commit treason and heresy.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “We can’t not guard against people saying that,” he said.

Yang Yizhi said, “Heir Apparent said that Gong-gong is willing to uphold justice, to clear up the charges against us in front of His Majesty, truly you are out great benefactor. Ping Xi Wang’s enemies are indeed numerous, each one’s martial art is very mixed, only Mu Palace’s martial art style is unique, very easy to recognize.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Um, what a pity we can’t find Mu Palace’s people, otherwise we can have him to demonstrate several moves and styles that we can see.’

Yang Yizhi said, “Mu Family Fist and Mu Family Sword have been around in Yunnan for a long time, Xiaoren also remembers some. Let me demonstrate some moves, I am asking Gong-gong to give directions. The assassins entered the Palace carrying sabers and swords, how about Xiaoren demonstrate the ‘circling wind sword’?”

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “So you know Mu Family martial art, nothing better than that. I know nothing about sword technique, I won’t be able to learn it in a short period of time. I’d better learn from you the Mu Family Fist.”

“I do not dare,” Yang Yizhi replied, “Gong-gong has the power to capture Oboi, your name became famous over the four seas, your fist and kick skill must be very high, Xiaoren cannot reach that level, Gong-gong, please advice.” Finished speaking, he moved to the middle of the hall, and started demonstrating each move and each style slowly.

This particular Mu Family Fist was handed down from Mu Ying’s hands, generation to generation for over three hundred years. The successive generations were all martial art masters who, in turn, taught it to their disciples. It could be regarded as ‘thousand-time forged, hundred-time refined’ skill, its practitioners in Yunnan was indeed very numerous. Although Yang Yizhi was by no means an expert in this fist technique, his own martial art skill was very high, his knowledge extensive, as he demonstrated move by move, his bearing was very dignified, his style was exquisite.

Seeing the move ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, Wei Xiaobao praised, “This move is fabulous!” Afterwards he also saw the ‘high mountain flowing water’, and praised again, “This move is also amazing!” After Yang Yizhi finished demonstrating the Mu Family Fist set, Wei Xiaobao said, “Very good, very good! Yang Dage, your martial art is indeed very profound. Of those martial art masters at the Prince Kang’s mansion, ten of them against you alone, they still are not your match. In this short period of time, I won’t be able to learn too much, perhaps I can learn only one or two moves that I can demonstrate in front of His Majesty. When His Majesty will summon martial art experts within the Palace to identify, do you think they can recognize the origin of this martial art?” While saying that, he moved his hands and feet in imitation of the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ styles.

Yang Yizhi happily said, “Gong-gong’s comprehension of the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ is very deep, when those experts see, they will know immediately that it is Mu Family Fist technique. Gong-gong has an outstanding intelligence, you can do it just by looking at it one time. Our Wu Family will be saved.”

Wu Yingxiong repeatedly bowed with cupped fist and said, “Hundreds of Wu Family members depend on Gong-gong’s help to save our lives.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “There are gold and silver mountains in Wu Sangui’s household, I don’t need to negotiate the price with him.” Immediately he bowed to return the propriety and said, “We all are good friends. Xiao Wangye, why do you keep talking about benevolence and saving your lives, and thus considering me as an outsider? Besides, though I will try my best, I don’t know whether it will be effective.”

“Yes, yes!” Wu Yingxiong repeatedly said.

Wei Xiaobao rewrapped the bundle and tucked it on his side, he thought, “There’s no hurry for me to give this bundle to him.” Suddenly he remembered something; he said, “Xiao Wangye, His Majesty ordered me to ask you something: there is a government official from Yunnan who is coming to Beijing, a certain Lu Yifeng; do you know such person?”

Wu Yingxiong was startled; he thought, “Lu Yifeng is just a petty officer [orig. ‘mung bean and sesame seed petty officer’] who came to Beijing for an audience, but has not seen the Emperor yet, how did His Majesty know?” He said, “Lu Yifeng is a newly appointed county magistrate of Yunnan’s Qujing prefecture, presently he is in Beijing, waiting to kowtow to His Holiness.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty ordered me to ask you: a few days ago that Lu Yifeng bullied common people in a restaurant, he tolerated his wicked servants beating people, I wonder if his temperament has improved recently?”

To get Wu Sangui appointed him as the county magistrate of Qujing prefecture, Lu Yifeng had spent more than forty thousand taels in bribe, from which Wu Yingxiong had drawn his share of three thousand taels. Hearing what Wei Xiaobao said, he was shocked and busily said, “Humble officer will definitely give him a good lesson.” Turning his head to Yang Yizhi he said, “Go get that Lu Yifeng, give him fifty flogging first before we speak further.” To Wei Xiaobao he said, “Gong-gong, please report to His Majesty: humble officer Wu Sangui failed to understand people and has recommended unsuitable candidate, we ask His Majesty not to blame us. This Lu Yifeng will be deposed immediately, and forever will not be employed anymore; we ask that the Official of the Ministry of Appointments entrusts another able person.”

“Does he need to be punished that heavily?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Wu Yingxiong said, “This servant Lu Yifeng is audacious, he dared to usurp higher authority, his crime must not be tolerated indeed. Yizhi, beat him heavily for me.”

“Yes!” Yang Yizhi replied.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I am afraid the life of this official surnamed Lu cannot be guaranteed.” He said, “Xiongdi is going to return to the Palace to see His Majesty, it would be best if I can demonstrate these two moves ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ as close to the original as possible.” Finished speaking, he took his leave and headed toward the door.

Wu Yingxiong took out a large pouch from his sleeve pocket, which he presented with both hands and said, “Gui Gong-gong, your great kindness and great favor are not easy to repay, but I must show a little respect to Dolong Zongguan, Suo Daren, as well as numerous Imperial Bodyguards. Here is a tiny bit of my token of appreciation, I will have to bother Gui Gong-gong to pass it on to them on behalf of humble officer. If His Majesty asked, everybody will help put some good words for us, then the unjust treatment of the humble officers, father and son, will be wiped out.”

Wei Xiaobao received the gift, he said with a laugh, “You want me to do a favor for you? This errand is not difficult to do.” He had been living in the Palace for more than a year, and had learned enough of court eunuch’s lingo and Beijing accent, so that not even half a part of Yangzhou accent was left. If right now he pretended to be Xiao Guizi, perhaps the blind Hai Laogong would not easily discover his masquerade.

Wu Yingxiong and Yang Yizhi respectfully sent him off outside the mansion’s gate. On the sedan chair, Wei Xiaobao opened the pouch to take a look; unexpectedly it was banknotes worth a hundred thousand taels. “His granny,” he thought, “Laozi will take half as my share first,” and took fifty thousand taels and put it into his pocket. The remaining fifty thousand taels he returned to the pouch.

Wei Xiaobao went to the Upper Study Room first to see Kangxi, reporting that the mission had been accomplished, that Wu Yingxiong had been informed that the Emperor was an enlightened sage, that the injustice against father and son had been clarified, and that they were grateful beyond description.

Kangxi laughed and said, “We have given him a big scare this time.”

Wei Xiaobao also laughed, “Only scared him till he piss in his pants,” he said, “Your servant has repeatedly warned him that this kind of matter will most likely happen again in the future, I told him to pass on to Wu Sangui that to repay your kindness, he has to be completely loyal and devoted in rendering his service to Your Majesty.” Kangxi repeatedly nodded.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “After I thought that he is scared enough, I told him that the Emperor is able to see ten thousand li, that he examined the assassins’ martial art and found out that it belonged to the Mu Family rebel thieves. That Wu Yingxiong was startled but also happy, from his buttocks all the way to his eyes he was all smile, while did not stop praising Your Majesty’s sage-like brilliance.” Kangxi smile slightly.

From his pocket Wei Xiaobao took out a pouch and said, “He was exceedingly grateful that he took a lot of banknotes, fifty thousand taels altogether, saying that ten thousand taels is for me, the other forty thousand taels is to be distributed to the Imperial Bodyguards who have exerted themselves last night. Your Majesty, look, we are indeed getting rich.”

Those banknotes were of five-hundred-tael denomination, so it was a thick pack of one hundred notes. Kangxi laughed and said, “You are just a little kid, you won’t spend the entire ten thousand taels in your lifetime. The rest of the money you may distribute to the Imperial Bodyguards.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Although His Majesty is an enlightened sage, there is no way he would know that I, Wei Xiaobao, still have several hundred thousand taels at home.” He said, “Your Majesty, I am with you, what else I am lacking? Why would I need this money? Your servant will serve you with devotion for the rest of my life, you are going to look after me. It would be better for all this fifty thousand taels to be distributed to the Imperial Bodyguards. I will tell them that it’s a reward from Your Majesty, why should we let Wu Yingxiong buy the hearts of the people?” At first Kangxi did not want to pretend he was giving rewards while in fact he was not, but hearing the words ‘buy the hearts of the people’, he could not help but was moved.

Seeing Kangxi was hesitating without saying anything, Wei Xiaobao added, “Your Majesty, Wu Sangui sent his son to Beijing. The amount of gold and money he brings is indeed not small, as soon as he sees someone, he would give gifts, not necessarily with good intentions. From the ancient of times, all the gold, silver and jewels of the common people everywhere in your realm actually belong to you, the Emperor. But this old fellow Wu Sangui is extremely perverse, he treats Yunnan as his Wu family’s own.”

Kangxi nodded and said, “You are right. You may say that this monetary reward is from me.”

From the Upper Study Room, Wei Xiaobao went to the Imperial Bodyguards compound. To the Imperial Bodyguards Chief, Dolong he said, “Duo Zongguan, His Majesty instructed that those Imperial Bodyguards who set up meritorious deed in protecting the Palace last night are to be rewarded fifty thousand taels of silver.” Dolong was ecstatic, he quickly kneeled down to express his thanks for the reward. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Right now His Majesty is very happy, why don’t you go yourself and say thanks?” While saying that, he handed the fifty thousand taels banknotes to him.

Dolong followed Wei Xiaobao back to the Upper Study Room; he kneeled down and kowtowed to Kangxi and said, “Your Majesty bestowed the money, your servant Dolong and the Imperial Bodyguards thank you for the reward.” Kangxi laughed and nodded his head.

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty instructed: you must distribute these fifty thousand taels to those who have meritorious deed in killing the thieves, those who summoned up courage and determination and thus were wounded are to have a little bit more.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong said, “Your servant will obey the Emperor’s decree.”

Kangxi thought, “Not only is Xiao Guizi loyal, he is not greedy either, it’s really hard to come by. Unexpectedly he really gives away all fifty thousand taels to the Imperial Bodyguards, without taking a single qian for himself.”

Wei Xiaobao and Dolong withdrew together. Dolong pulled a stack of banknotes, ten thousand taels worth, and said with a laugh, “Gui Gong-gong, just consider this the Imperial Bodyguards’ filial piety, please take it and hand it over to the little Gong-gongs.”

“Aha, Duo Zongguan,” Wei Xiaobao said, “By saying that, you do not consider me as a friend. In all my life, I, Xiao Guizi, most revere friends who are exceptionally skilful in martial arts. If His Majesty bestowed these fifty thousand taels to the civil officials, if I, Xiao Guizi, did not take ten thousand taels, I would at least take eight thousand. But since he bestowed it to you, Duo Zongguan, even if you share with me one tael, I can’t take it. I consider you as my good friend, so it’s only proper that you also consider me as your good friend.”

Dolong laughed and said, “The Imperial Bodyguards brothers all say that among many Gong-gong with office duty in the Palace, Gui Gong-gong is the youngest, but reaching to friends the most, indeed it is a fully justified reputation.”

“Duo Zongguan, I am asking you to investigate for me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “See if among the rebel thieves that were captured last night there is a certain Liu Yizhou. If there is one, we may find out from him the ins and outs[8] of the rebel thieves.”

“Yes, yes!” Dolong promised, “The rebel thieves naturally will give us false names. I will investigate carefully.”

Wei Xiaobao went back to his residence. As he arrived at the front door, he saw a little eunuch from the imperial kitchen was waiting by the pathway. The little eunuch came up to meet him and said in a low voice, “Gui Gong-gong, that Boss Qian is delivering another pig, this time it is called something like ‘bird’s nest ginseng pig’, he says he wants to show filial respect to Gong-gong. Right now he is waiting for Gong-gong’s arrival at the imperial kitchen.”

Wei Xiaobao frowned; he thought, “That Fu Ling Hua Diao pig [see end of Chapter 9, beginning of Chapter 10] has not been properly taken care of, and now he is sending another ‘bird’s nest ginseng pig’. You think here in the Palace is a pig pen?” But since that man had already come, he could not think of a way to send him away.

Arriving at the imperial kitchen, Wei Xiaobao saw Boss Qian’s beaming face as he said, “Gui Gong-gong, Xiao Ren’s Fu Ling Hua Diao pig has really done you unusually good, after Gui Gong-gong ate it, look, your spirit is clear and your chi bright, your complexion is ruddy. Xiaoren appreciates it that Gong-gong took care of it, so I send you a ‘bird’s nest ginseng pig’.” While saying that, he pointed toward a live pig by his side. This pig was covered in white hair; it looked very beautiful as it constantly moving in a circle inside the bamboo cage. Wei Xiaobao did not know what kind of trick Boss Qian was playing, so he only nodded.

Boss Qian came closer and held Wei Xiaobao’s hand as he said, “Tsk, tsk tsk! After eating the Fu Ling Hua Diao pork, Gui Gong-gong’s pulse is strong, it is substantially different from before.” Wei Xiaobao felt a piece of paper in his hand, but since there were too many people around the imperial kitchen, he felt it was inconvenience to ask.

Boss Qian said, “This bird’s nest ginseng pig’s feeding is not the same, please tell Gong-gong’s subordinates to feed distiller’s grain for ten days. Ten days later, Xiaoren will personally come over to prepare it and will have Gong-gong enjoy it.”

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows and said, “That Fu Ling Hua Diao pork has raised my internal heat, it is unbearably uncomfortable. Whatever ginseng pork, bird’s nest pork, Boss Qian, you’d better enjoy it yourself, I don’t want to eat it.”

Boss Qian laughed heartily and said, “This is just Xiaoren’s way of showing a little bit of appreciation. Next time I won’t dare to bother Gong-gong anymore.” He then said several good wishes and took his leave.

Wei Xiaobao thought there must be some characters written on that piece of paper, but he could not recognize any character even if it was the size of a watermelon. He instructed the kitchen manager to take care of the pig well, and then returned to his residence alone, thinking, “This Boss Qian is really smart. The first time he concealed a living person inside a dead pig and carried it into the Palace. The second time, if he delivered another dead pig into the Palace, unavoidably he will draw suspicions; therefore, he delivered a live pig and have it fed in the imperial kitchen. There is no pattern here, even if someone was originally suspicious, the suspicion would have gone. That’s right, in using trick to scam people, not only I have to give it thorough thought in advance, subsequently, I also have to patch any hole.” He also thought, “I have no choice but to ask Xiao Junzhu to have a look at this note. Damn it, why didn’t he simply tell me what he wants? Why did he have to write a damn note?”

As he entered his room, Mu Jianping said, “Gui Dage, there was someone on the door, he was probably delivering the meal. Seeing the door was locked, he left without knocking.”

“How did you know he was delivering our meal?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Hey, you must be smelling the delicious aroma and were very hungry, weren’t you? Why didn’t you eat the cakes and the pastries?”

Mu Jianping giggled and said, “We are really impolite, we already ate long ago.”

Fang Yi said, “Gui … Gui Dage, have you …” Speaking to this point, she stammered slightly.

“I have not found out anything about your Liu Shige,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace said that they did not capture anybody by the surnamed of Liu.”

“Thank you very much,” Fang Yi said in low voice, “I wonder if he has been killed by the Tatars. Besides, even if Liu Shige was captured, he would not say that his surname was Liu. We have agreed that he would pretend to have the surname of Xia. Wu Sangui’s son-in-law is surnamed Xia, Liu Shige could confess that that surnamed Xia man was his uncle.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Won’t that make you Wu Sangui’s relative?”

“He was only pretending,” Xiao Junzhu hastily said.

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “But even if Miss Fang wanted to be the wife of Wu Sangui’s grandnephew, she could not. Let’s say that your Liu Shige has escaped out of the Palace, outside he is thinking about you, inside the Palace you are thinking about him. For the rest of your lives you would think about him, he would think about you, a pair of passionate older brother and older sister won’t be able to see each other, wouldn’t it be hard to bear?”

Fang Yi’s face turned red as she said, “How can I live in the Palace for the rest of my life?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Once the young women entered the Palace, where can they see the day they can go out? A bashful flower obstructing the moon elder sister like you, for example, as soon as I, Xiao Guizi, saw you, I want to take you as my wife. If the Emperor saw you, it’s impossible if he did not bestow you the title Huang Hou Niang-niang [empress/imperial consort]. Miss Fang, I advise you to be the Huang Hou Niang-niang!”

Fang Yi anxiously said, “I don’t want to talk too much to you. Everything you say always irritates me, you always tease me and make me worry.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. He handed over the note in his hand to Mu Jianping. “Xiao Junzhu,” he said, “Can you read this note?”

Mu Jianping took the note and read, “Gaosheng Teahouse, Legend of Heroic Deeds. What is this?”

Wei Xiaobao understood immediately, “Tian Di Hui people want to see me, they ask me to go to the teahouse to meet them.” He laughed and said, “It’s useless for you to be the Mu Family’s later generation, you don’t even know the ‘Legend of Heroic Deeds’?”

“Of course I know the Legend of Heroic Deeds,” Mu Jianping said, “That is the story of Taizu Huangdi’s dragon rose as he founded the country.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There is a chapter called ‘Mu Wangye Subdued Yunnan with Three Arrows, Gui Gong-gong embraces beautiful women with his pair of hands’, have you heard about it?”

Mu Jianping spat and said, “Our Qian Ning[9] Wangyeye pacified Yunnan, naturally it is recorded in the Legend of Heroic Deeds, but where did the Gui Gong-gong’s pair of hands … pair of hands come from?”

With a straight face Wei Xiaobao said, “Are you saying that there is no chapter about ‘Gui Gong-gong embraces beautiful women with his pair of hands’?”

“Of course not,” Mu Jianping said, “You are making it up.”

“Let’s have a bet,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What if there is? What if there is not?”

“I have heard the Legend of Heroic Deeds until I am very familiar with the stories,” Mu Jianping said, “I am sure there is not. You can bet anything. Fang Shijie, there is no such thing as the story he mentioned, is there?”

Fang Yi had not answered, Wei Xiaobao already leaped into the bed and crawled into the quilt, with shoes and all, and then he lay down in between the two women. With his left hand he embraced Fang Yi’s neck, with his right hand he embraced Mu Jianping’s waist. He said, “I say, there is!”

“Ah!” Fang Yi and Mu Jianping cried out in alarm, but it was too late for them to evade, Wei Xiaobao had already held them firmly in his arms. Mu Jianping stretched out her right hand and pushed him as hard as she could. Wei Xiaobao seized this opportunity to lean sideways and stole a kiss on Fang Yi’s mouth. “Smells good!” he praised.

Fang Yi was about to struggle, but as soon as she moved ever so slightly, she felt a shot of severe pain from the wound on the pit of her stomach and her broken rib. With the back of her left hand she slapped Wei Xiaobao’s face. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Murder of your own husband! Murder of your own husband!” Rolling down, he jumped out of the quilt, with Mu Jianping still in his arm. He also kissed her and praised, “Smells as good!” Laughing heartily, he snatched a bundle of his clothes, dashed out of the room, and locked the door behind him.

[1] ‘Gao Fei Yuan Zhou’ (高飞远走), Wei Xiaobao said, ‘Gao Zhou Yuan Fei’ (高走远飞).

[2] Wu, Liu, Qi and Ba are five, six, seven and eight, respectively. See Chapter 6.

[3] Orig. ‘bing tang hu lu’ – a common Chinese snack; candied fruits dipped in sugar syrup, usually on bamboo skewers.

[4] ‘Qian’ is one of the Eight Trigrams (Ba Gua), ‘Qing’ refers to either ‘Qing’ Dynasty, or simply ‘clear’ or ‘pure’.

Courtesy of Ace High: It’s better known as Gate of Heavenly Purity, which connects to the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the residence of the Emperor, by a raised walkway to its north. It is also the main gate of the Inner Court. In front of the gate, there is a courtyard which is 200 meters long from east to west and is 30 meters from north to south. This courtyard both separates the Outer Court and the Inner Court and integrates them.

[5] Zhonghe means ‘neutralize/counteract’, Taihe is the central pavilion of the Forbidden City, commonly called ‘Hall of Supreme Harmony’ in English.

Courtesy of Ace High: Hall of Complete Harmony (中和殿; Zhōng Hé Diàn) is used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies. It is one of the three halls of the Outer Court and the smallest of the three.

Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿; Tài Hé Diàn) is the largest hall within the Forbidden Palace. In the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held court here to discuss affairs of state. During the Qing Dynasty, Emperors held court far more frequently. As a result, the location was changed to the Inner Court, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings.

[6] Yizhou and Liangpi mean ‘one boat’ and ‘two farts’, respectively.

[7] His real name was Li Zicheng, a real historical character, the leader of peasant rebellion at the end of the Ming Dynasty, he called himself ‘The Roaming King’ (Chuang Wang).

[8] Orig. ‘mountain has a connecting pulse throughout like a dragon’, an idiom from fengshui, meaning the sequence of events, cause and effects, the whys and wherefores, where something comes from and where it goes … you get the idea.

[9] Guizhou and Ningxia, respectively. Here Mu Jianping said Wang Yeye (grandfather king).

Chapter 13 Overturning family and heaven by borrowed hand, seizing prosperity and decline, replacing the old with the new.

Wei Xiaobao’s residence was west of Qian Qing Gate [Gate of Heavenly Purity], south of the southern warehouse, to the side of the Imperial Catering Department. Heading north, winding around the Yang Xin Hall [Hall of Mental Cultivation], Wei Xiaobao turned abruptly to the west, walking passed Western Three Places, Yang Hua [Magnificent Nurturing(?)] Gate, Shou An [Longevity Peace] Gate, to the north passed Shou An Palace, by the side of Ying Hua [Heroic Splendor] Palace Hall, turning east passing Xi Tie [Western Iron] Gate, and then turning north again out of Shen Wu Gate [Gate of Divine Might]. Shen Wu Gate was the Imperial Palace’s back door, as he walked out the Shen Wu Gate, he was practically out of the Imperial Palace, and he went straight away to the Gao Sheng Teahouse.

As soon as he sat down, the teahouse proprietor served him tea. He saw Gao Yanchao was slowly walking in and signaling him with his eyes. Wei Xiaobao nodded. When he saw Gao Yanchao was leaving the teahouse, he took several sips of the tea, then threw a coin on the table, while saying, “The story today is not worth hearing.” And then he leisurely strolled out. He saw Gao Yanchao was waiting on a street corner. Walking several steps further, he saw two sedan chairs.

Gao Yanchao let Wei Xiaobao sit on one, while he walked behind the sedan chairs for a short section of the street. After making sure that nobody followed them, he climbed into the other sedan chair.

The porters ran as fast as flying. After travelling for the time needed to cook rice, they stopped. Wei Xiaobao noticed that the sedan chairs stopped in front of a tiny courtyard house. He followed Gao Yanchao in. As soon as they entered the main gate, he saw Tian Di Hui brothers came out to welcome him by bowing and cupping their fists. This time Li Lishi, Guan Anji, Qi Biaoqing and the others had all rushed in from Tianjin, Baoding, and other places. In addition, Fan Gang, Feng Jizhong, Priest Xuanzhen, as well as Boss Qian were also present.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and asked, “Qian Laoban [Boss Qian/Money], what is your real honored surname and great given name?”

“I don’t dare,” Boss Qian replied, “Subordinate’s real surname is Qian, my real name is Laoben, ‘ben’ from ‘ben lai’ [originally/initial/at first], not ‘ban’ from Laoban [boss], the idea is that doing business will eclipse the initial capital.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily and said, “You are very astute, if you are really doing business, you will turn other people’s initial capital to be your profit.”

Qian Laoben smiled and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, you praise me too much!”

They let Wei Xiaobao walked ahead to the main hall and be seated. Guan Anji was most impatient, he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, please look at this.” While saying that, he handed over a large gilded red card, filled with several lines of characters written in black ink.

Wei Xiaobao did not take it; he said, “These characters, they recognize me, but I do not have any friendship with them, so this is the first time that we meet each other, I do not recognize them.”

Qian Laoben said, “Wei Xiangzhu, it is an invitation, we are invited to have dinner.”

“That’s very good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Who has done us the honor?”

“The name on the card is Mu Jiansheng,” Qian Laoben said.

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “Mu Jiansheng?” he asked.

Qian Laoben said, “He is the Xiao Gongye [young duke] of the Mu Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “Fu Ling Hua Diao pig’s Gege,” he said.

“Precisely,” Qian Laoben said.

“Is he inviting all of us to come?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Qian Laoben said, “On the invitation, he is writing very politely: inviting Green Wood Hall’s Wei Xiangzhu, to lead Tian Di Hui’s heroes to come for a banquet. It is tonight, at the South Bean Sprout Lane of Chaoyangmen district in Beijing.”

“This time it’s not at the Willow Tree Lane?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“That’s right,” Qian Laoben replied, “Doing business in Beijing, it’s only right to change the lodging place frequently.”

“What do you think he wants?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Do you think they would put damn drug in the food and drink?”

Li Lishi said, “It is reasonable to say that, one: Mu Palace has such a big reputation in Jianghu, two: with his capacity as the young duke, Mu Jiansheng is a great personality who stand and sit at the same level as our Zongduozhu, they could not possibly resort to this kind of third-rate shady business. However, there is no such thing as a good meeting, there is no such thing as a good banquet; there is no harm in guarding against Wei Xiangzhu’s concern.”

“Shall we go to the feast or not?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Humph, humph, Xuanwei ham, Guo Qiao rice noodle, Yunnan’s steamed chicken, those are enough to make a festive occasion.”

Everybody else looked at each other in dismay, nobody made any noise. After a long while, Guan Anji said, “We all want to ask Wei Xiangzhu to decide.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Nice wine, good food, everybody will have some in your tummy tonight. If you want just average, peaceful dinner, let me play the host, we can go to a restaurant. After dinner, we can play Pai Gow and gamble, or call on some pretty girls, Xiongdi will foot all the bills. But if you all want to save my money, then we all go to harass that man surnamed Mu.” He sounded so magnanimous, but actually he was being very sly; whether they were going or not, he did not make the decision.

Guan Anji said, “Wei Xiangzhu is inviting the brothers to eat, drink and be merry, indeed that is the happiest thing, but if we did not answer the surnamed Mu’s invitation, Tian Di Hui’s reputation will unavoidably take a dip.”

“So you say we should go?” Wei Xiaobao asked, his gaze swept Li Lishi, Fan Gang, Qi Biaoqing, Xuanzhen, Feng Jizhong, Qian Laoben, and Gao Yanchao’s faces. He saw everybody was slowly nodding his head.

Wei Xiaobao said, “If everybody say we should go, then we’ll go eat his food, drink his wine. We’ll counter soldiers with arms, counter water with an earth weir. When the tea is served, we’ll hold out our hands, when the rice is served, we open our mouths; but what if poison is being served? We’ll simply swallow and take the damn poison into our bellies. It is called ‘hero does not fear death, those who fear death are not heroes’.”

Li Lishi said, “We’ll have to be careful, always on the lookout for some clues. Let’s discuss it over, some of us will drink tea, some won’t drink, some will drink wine, some won’t drink, some won’t eat meat, some won’t eat fish. Even if they put poison, we won’t let them catch everything in one net. But if everybody did not do anything, we would be their laughingstock.”

After reaching decision, they chatted for a while. When it was close to the ninth hour [3-5pm], Wei Xiaobao took off his eunuch uniform and took the appearance of a pampered son of an official. He rode on a sedan chair, with everybody else crowded around him as they walked toward the South Bean Sprout Lane. Wei Xiaobao mused, “In the Palace, day in and day out I am always very scared and on edge, afraid that the old wh0re will come to kill me. How can it be compared to the free and unfettered, happy life of the Xiangzhu of the Green Wood Hall? It’s just that Shifu ordered me to be a spy in the Palace. If I get out on my own initiative, I might not be the Xiangzhu anymore, then I don’t know if I can keep my little life. I guess we’ll just have to ride the donkey and read the songbook; we’ll wait and see!”

The South Bean Sprout Lane was less than two li away. The sedan chair had just stopped, they already heard the beating of drums and the sound of bamboo flute. Wei Xiaobao got out of the sedan chair and heard the sound of suona[1]; he thought, “Are they having a wedding? It’s so lively.”

He saw the main gate of a large house with a courtyard opened, a dozen or so men in uniform stood outside the door to welcome them. A young man of about twenty five or twenty six stood on the front, his stature was tall and slim, with exuberant heroic spirit. The young man said, “Zaixia Mu Jiansheng, respectfully welcome Wei Xiangzhu’s honorable self.”

These days Wei Xiaobao had made friends with royalties, nobilities and high-ranking officials, so he was accustomed with this kind of etiquette and the respectful aspect of greeting each other. As the saying goes, “Residence alters the manner, nurture alters the body.” He was with the Emperor every day, he constantly met princes, nobles, high officials, and generals, they were almost nothing to him; as a result, although he was young, he had already automatically acquired dignified air. Although Mu Jiansheng had quite a reputation, he could not be compared to people like Prince Kang or Wu Yingxiong. Presently he cupped his hand in salute and said, “Xiao Gongye is overly courteous, Zaixia does not dare to accept.” Seizing up Mu Jiansheng’s appearance, Wei Xiaobao noticed his countenance was rather dark; in general, there was a faint resemblance between his facial features and those of Mu Jianping’s.

Mu Jiansheng was already aware that Tian Di Hui’s leader in Beijing, Wei Xiangzhu, was a child, he also heard from Bai Hanfeng that this child’s martial art skill was very low, and that he was a smooth talker, in short, a little rascal. Presumably he could be a Xiangzhu only because of his Shifu, Chen Jinnan’s support. But presently he saw Wei Xiaobao’s calm demeanor, his unrestrained and indifferent manner, and thought, “Perhaps this child has a little bit of martial art school background after all.” Immediately he led them all in.

The chairs in the hall were covered in red satin sheath, with brocade cushions on them. Each one was assigned his respective side, as the host and the guest. ‘Divine Physician Hermit’ Su Gang, Bai Hanfeng, and about a dozen or so men stood behind Mu Jiansheng with hands hanging by their sides.

Mu Jiansheng and Li Lishi, Guan Anji and the others introduced themselves one by one, they all exchanged conventional pleasantries like ‘I have been looking forward to meeting you for a long time’ and so on and so forth. Li Lishi and the others thought, “This Xiao Gongye of the Mu Family does not show arrogance at all, the way he speaks actually follows Jianghu’s customs.”

The servants served fragrant tea, the musicians by the hall entrance started to play again; it was a grand ceremonious courtesy in welcoming honored guests. Amid the sound of music, Mu Jiansheng gave his order, “Let the banquet begin!” while inviting everybody to enter the inner hall. His subordinates promptly closed the hall door behind them.

There was a large Eight-Immortal table[2] in the middle, draped in embroidered table cloth, with two smaller tables on the left and right. Although the utensils on the table were not as grand and extravagant as the ones in Prince Kang’s mansion, they were quite exquisite. Mu Jiansheng bowed slightly and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, please take the seat of honor.”

Looking at the current situation, Wei Xiaobao knew this seat of honor was prepared especially for him. “This time,” he said, “We have no choice but to be impolite.” Mu Jiansheng took the seat on his right-hand side as the host.

After everybody was seated, Mu Jiansheng said, “Please invite Shifu.”

Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng went into the inner chamber and reappeared with an old man. Mu Jiansheng stood up to welcome him and said, “Shifu, Wei Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall honored us with his presence today, he truly gives us a lot of face.” Turning toward Wei Xiaobao, he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, this is Liu Shifu, the benevolent master under whom Zaixia has studied.”

Wei Xiaobao stood up, cupping his fist across his chest he said, “It’s an honor to meet you at last.” This old man was big and tall, his face ruddy, with long white beard hanging from his face; he must be over seventy years old, but he was full of vigor, his eyes were shining lively.

The old man’s gaze swept on Wei Xiaobao once, then he laughed and said, “Recently Tian Di Hui’s reputation is growing …” His voice was really loud, the words he just said sounded like an ordinary person shouting, “… it’s because a large number of heroic people with talent come forth. Wei Xiangzhu is this young, truly a rare genius of the Wulin world.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am young, that is true, but am not heroic person with talent, let alone a genius; in fact, I am only a fool. That day my hand was twisted by Bai Shifu, I was unable to move a single step, even the cry ‘Mommy!’ almost came out. Zaixia’s martial art is really poor and extremely ordinary. Ha ha, it’s laughable! Laughable, ha ha!”

The others were stunned to hear this, their countenances changed. Bai Hanfeng’s expression was even queerer.

The old man burst out laughing, and then said, “Wei Xiangzhu is frank, it is indeed a hero’s true quality. Lao Fu [the old man] may have 30% admiration on you.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “30% admiration is a bit too much. 10% or even 5%, as long as you don’t regard Zaixia as hopeless little beggar, little acrobat or little monkey, that is enough.”

The old man burst out in laughter again. He said, “Wei Xiangzhu loves to crack jokes.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “Senior’s prestige has shaken the southern sky, in Wulin you are known as Iron Back Blue Dragon, Old Hero Liu, is that right?”

The old man laughed and said, “That’s right, Priest Xuanzhen actually know the old man’s lowly name.”

Priest Xuanzhen’s heart shivered, “I haven’t introduced myself, he has already known my name. The Mu Family this time is very well-prepared. The Iron Back Blue Dragon Liu Dahong has made his name a long time ago, I heard even Mu Tianbo also had deep respect to him. When the Qing army attacked Yunnan, with all his might Liu Dahong rescued the children of Mu Family, and so Mu Jiansheng became the first disciple whom he personally teaches, and other than Mu Jiansheng himself, he became Mu Palace’s number one character.” Thereupon Priest Xuanzhen bowed and said, “In those days Old Hero Liu put the three tyrants of Nujiang[3] to their deaths and killed Qing troops at Tengchong, your chivalry spread out all over the world. When the younger generation and young men mentioned the Old Hero, nobody is not awed with respect.”

Liu Dahong said, “Hey, hey, that was the matter of many years ago, why do you have to mention it?” But his countenance looked very pleased.

“Shifu,” Mu Jiansheng said, “You, Senior, accompany Wei Xiangzhu over here.”

“Alright!” Liu Dahong said, and sat down next to Wei Xiaobao.

The side facing outward of this Eight-Immortal table was empty. On the head position were Wei Xiaobao and Liu Dahong, on the left were Li Lishi and Guan Anji, on the right were Mu Jiansheng and an empty seat of honor. The Tian Di Hui warriors were wondering in their hearts, “Which formidable character your Mu Palace is going to invite next?”

They heard Mu Jiansheng said, “Help Xu Shifu out to sit, let these good friends see him and set their hearts at ease.”

“Yes!” Su Gang responded. He went in and returned supporting someone in his hand.

As soon as Li Lishi and the others saw the man, they were pleasantly surprised, and called out together, “Xu San Ge [Third Older Brother]!” This man had a bent back, he was none other than the Eight-Armed Ape Xu Tianchuan. His complexion was wax yellow, apparently he had not recovered from his injury, but his life was obviously not in danger. The Tian Di Hui warriors crowded around him and greeted him noisily, they could not hide their delight.

Mu Jiansheng pointed at the seat above his own and said, “Xu Shifu, please sit right here.”

Xu Tianchuan took a step forward, he bowed and cupped his fist toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, how are you?”

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the salute and said, “Xu San Ge, how are you? The medicinal plaster business is not too good lately?”

Xu Tianchuan sighed and said, “Practically there is no business. Subordinate was captured by Wu Sangui’s dogs and narrowly lost my old life. Fortunately Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye and Old Hero Liu appeared to rescue me from danger.”

The Tian Di Hui warriors were stunned. “Xu San Ge,” Fan Gang said, “Turns out the affair that day was that traitor Wu Sangui’s people’s doing.”

“Exactly,” Xu Tianchuan said, “Those bunch of traitors broke into the Return Of Spring Drug Store, seized me, and that dog thief Lu … Lu Yifeng cursed me and pasted a medicinal plaster on my mouth, saying that he wanted to starve me, and old monkey, to death.”

Hearing that Lu Yifeng was involved in this, they knew it must have had happened just like he said. Fan Gang, Priest Xuanzhen and the others turned toward Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng and said, “That day we have offended you, yet the heroes take yi qi very seriously, our Tian Di Hui can’t thank you enough.”

“We don’t dare,” Su Gang said, “We only followed Xiao Gongye’s order, we do not dare to claim credit for ourselves.” Bai Hanfeng snorted; obviously the rescue of Xu Tianchuan was greatly against his wish.

Guan Anji said, “After Xu San Ge was captured, we went looking for him everywhere, but did not find any clue; obviously our anxiety needs not be mentioned. Unexpectedly your honored Palace has rescued Xu San Ge, making us quite admire you.”

Su Gang said, “The Yunnan’s dog officials under Wu Sangui are Mu Family’s archenemy, naturally we always follow them up very closely. It’s not strange that we found out about this dog official offending Xu San Ge.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “This Xiao Gongye is very astute, his Meizi is being locked up by me, he rescued old man Xu first so that he can ask me to release his Meizi. I’d better pretend I don’t understand, see what else he is going to say.” He said to Xu Tianchuan, “Xu San Ge, you were heavily injured by Bai Er Xia, the strength of his hands was very fierce, are you going to live? You are not going to return to heaven, are you?”

Xu Tianchuan said, “Bai Er Xia was acting with leniency that day, after recuperating these past several days, subordinate feels a lot better.” Bai Hanfeng glowered at Wei Xiaobao, but Wei Xiaobao simply chuckled, as if he was completely oblivious.

The servants poured the wine and served the dishes, it was a very sumptuous banquet. Tian Di Hui warriors thought that since the Mu Family had rescued Xu Tianchuan, and with the presence of renowned old hero such as the Iron Back Blue Dragon Liu Dahong, they could not possibly put poison in the food; all anxiety had left their hearts, they drank the wine and ate the dishes to their hearts’ content.

Liu Dahong drank three cups of wine; stroking his beard he said, “Brothers[4], within the capital district[5], which brother is in charge of your precious society?”

Li Lishi said, “In our humble society in the capital district, the one with the most revered position is Wei Xiangzhu.”

Liu Dahong nodded. “Very good, very good!” he said, and drank another cup of wine. He asked, “But I wonder if this little brother is able to somehow take responsibility in the dispute between your precious Society and our Family?”

“Laoyezi[6],” Wei Xiaobao said, “Whatever instruction you have, there is no harm in telling us here. I, Wei Xiaobao, am small in stature and have narrow shoulder. Small matter, I can take care of 10% or 5%, big matter may crush me flat.”

The Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace warriors could not help but frowning slightly; they thought, “This child talk hoodlum talk; as soon as he opens his mouth, he speaks like a rascal, not like a hero or a warrior talks.”

Liu Dahong said, “If you cannot take responsibility, while we cannot simply let the matter drop, then we will have no choice but to have little brother pass on to your revered master, asking Chen Zongduozhu to rush over and deal with it.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “What is it that Laoyezi wanted me to pass on to my Shifu? Just write a letter, and we will deliver it to him.”

“Hey, hey,” Liu Dahong laughed, “This matter concerns the death of Bai Hansong, Bai Xiongdi, in the hands of Xu San Ye [third master]. I wonder how we are going to settle this, I want to ask Chen Zongduozhu to say a few words about it.”

Xu Tianchuan suddenly sprang up and boldly said, “Mu Xiao Gongye, Old Hero Liu, you have snatched me back to life from the hands of the traitors, you have spared me from the humiliation from those wicked men, Zaixia is deeply grateful. Bai Da Xia was accidentally injured under Zaixia’s hands. Zaixia will pay a life for a life, my old life to compensate his; why would you make things difficult for Chen Zongduozhu and Wei Xiangzhu? Fan Xiongdi, let me use your blade.” While saying that, he held out his right hand toward Fan Gang. His meaning was very obvious, he wanted to cut his own throat right there and then to bring this contentious issue to completion.

“Slow down, slow down!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Xu San Ge, please sit down, don’t be this impatient. You are already old, how come you still have such temper? I am the Xiangzhu of the Green Wood Hall, am I not? If you do not obey my order, you are not giving me a face at all.”

In the Tian Di Hui, ‘not following order’ was a major offense, Xu Tianchuan hastily bowed down and said, “Xu Tianchuan understands his offense, I am obeying Wei Xiangzhu’s order.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Now that’s only proper,” he said, “Bai Da Xia is dead, nothing we can do about it. Even if Xu San Ge pay with your own life, human’s life cannot be transferred. No matter what it is a lose-lose situation, it’s not a good business sense at all.”

Everybody’s gaze was fixed on his face, nobody knew what nonsense he was going to say next. Tian Di Hui warriors were especially anxious, they all thought, “Our Society’s reputation in Wulin simply cannot be ruined by this ‘do-not-understand-anything’ little Xiangzhu. If he continues speaking rubbish and this matter is known throughout the Jianghu, we won’t have any face left to see other people in the future.”

“Xiao Gongye,” they heard Wei Xiaobao continue, “This time from Yunnan you come to Beijing, do you only bring along these several friends? It seems like a little bit is missing, is that right?”

“Humph,” Mu Jiansheng snorted and asked, “What is Wei Xiangzhu saying?”

“Nothing,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Xiao Gongye is such a respectable figure, you are totally different from me, Wei Xiaobao. You came to the Capital, if you don’t have a bit more escorts, and you are not being careful, some might be arrested by the Tatars’ running dogs; won’t that be greatly not worthwhile?”

Mu Jiansheng raised his long eyebrows as he said, “It’s not that easy for the Tatars’ running dogs to get me.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Xiao Gongye’s martial art is astonishing, in this world … hey, hey … perhaps very few people can be your match, naturally the Tatars won’t be able to catch you. It’s just that … it’s just that not necessarily the rest of the friends from Mu Palace would have Xiao Gongye’s level of skill. If the Tatars are leading away a goat in passing, taking away an ox with hands behind their backs, they were inviting several friends over to their place, that won’t be too amusing.”

While Wei Xiaobao was giggling and talking frivolously, Mu Jiansheng had been listening with calm face. When Wei Xiaobao finished, he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, are you mocking Zaixia?” When he spoke those words, his expression became even more unsightly.

“No, no, I did not,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In all my life, I have always been bullied by others, I have never bullied other people. Others have grabbed my hand, look, the black and blue has not gone yet, it was so painful that I hovered between life and death. This Bai Er Xia, hey, hey, his hand strength is really extraordinary. Those two moves, ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ are amazing, surely they will be effective to be used to rescue your friends that are captured by the Tatars. No matter what, you will win a victory on raising the flag, it will be an instant success.”

Bai Hanfeng’s countenance turned ashen, he was about to speak, but in the end he struggled to endure it. Liu Dahong shot a look at Mu Jiansheng before saying, “Xiao Xiongdi, your speech is immeasurably tall and deep. We don’t quite understand it.”

“Laoyezi is too polite,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Immeasurably low and shallow is possible, but immeasurably tall and deep? I do not dare to accept. It is extremely low and shallow, extremely low and shallow.”

Liu Dahong said, “Xiao Xiongdi is saying that some people from our Mu Palace were arrested by the Tatars, I wonder what you mean by that?”

“I don’t have the slightest meaning,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Xiao Wangye, Liu Laoyezi, my drinking capacity is immeasurably low and shallow, most likely it’s because I have drunk the wine that I talked nonsense; damn it, I must not say anything.”

“Humph,” Mu Jiansheng snorted, he was trying hard to control his anger. He said, “Turns out Wei Xiangzhu was only chatting to kill time.”

“Xiao Gongye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You want to chat to kill time? Have you taken a stroll around Beijing?”

“What do you mean?” Mu Jiansheng’s voice was threatening.

“Beijing is very big,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your Kunming in Yunnan is not as big as Beijing, is it?”

Mu Jiansheng sounded angrier. “What do you mean?” he shouted.

Hearing Wei Xiaobao was rambling incoherently, was getting more and more unreasonable, Guan Anji interrupted, “Beijing is very beautiful, it’s a pity it is being occupied by the Tatars. We, people with slight courage and uprightness, are angry and full of grievances.”

Wei Xiaobao ignored his remark, he kept rambling, “Xiao Gongye, you invited me to drink wine, Zaixia does not have anything to repay you. When you have a spare time, I’ll take you for a stroll around Beijing. With a friend guiding your way, you won’t go astray. Otherwise, if you rush and wander aimlessly, and not being careful, you might enter the Imperial Palace. Although Xiao Gongye has high level of martial art, it might not be too convenient for you.”

Liu Dahong said, “Xiao Xiongdi, there must be another meaning beyond your words. If you regard me as a friend, may I ask that you speak a little bit clearer?”

“I can’t speak any clearer than this,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Friends from the Mu Palace all have high level of martial art. Those moves, ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’, nothing is more formidable than those. It’s a pity that within the Beijing’s city wall, everything is unfamiliar. When you roam around the street in the depth of the night, you can’t look everything clearly; confused and muddleheaded, you might end up entering the Forbidden City.”

Liu Dahong shot Mu Jianzheng another look; he asked Wei Xiaobao, “What do you mean?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard there are so many gates and so many palaces in the Forbidden City, if you walked in carelessly, without the Emperor or Empress Dowager to show the way, it is so easy for you to get lost, and then you won’t be able to get out forever; it has happened before. Zaixia does not have enough face, I don’t know if the Emperor or Empress Dowager will have a free time to show me around, daytime or nighttime. Perhaps Mu Palace’s Xiao Gongye has a lot of face, your subordinate friends may bring Xiao Gongye’s reputation and may scare the young Emperor and the Empress Dowager, that old wh0re, away. It’s really hard to say.”

Hearing him calling the Empress Dowager ‘the old wh0re’, everybody was quite amused. Guan Anji, Qi Biaoqing, and the others could not help laughing. In his belly, Wei Xiaobao often cursed the Empress Dowager as ‘the old wh0re’, unexpectedly this time, in front of a big crowd of people, he was able to say it out loud; the delight in his heart was unspeakable.

Liu Dahong said, “The people under Xiao Gongye’s leadership are all cautious, they can’t possibly enter the Imperial Palace recklessly. I heard that traitor Wu Sangui’s son, Wu Yingxiong, is also in Beijing. He might send people into the Imperial Palace to do some shady business, we don’t know.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “Liu Laoyezi is right,” he said, “Zaixia has a friend with whom I play dice, he is a servant to the Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace. He said that they have captured several assassins in the Palace last night, the assassins confessed that they are Xiao Gongye of Mu Palace’s subordinates …”

“What?” Mu Jiansheng was shocked. His right hand trembled, the wine cup in his hand fell down, ‘crash!’ it broke into several pieces.

Wei Xiaobao said, “At first I was convinced, thinking that the Mu Family is a greatly devoted subject of the Great Ming, they must have sent some people to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, indeed … indeed that is the conduct of a great hero and warrior. But now, listening to Liu Laoyezi, I know that they were the subordinates of that traitor Wu Sangui, we must never spare them. I will go to that friend immediately and tell him to think of a way to fix those assassins. Damn it, the subordinates of big traitor, what good are they? I must have them suffer some more.”

Liu Dahong said, “Xiao Xiongdi, what is your friend’s honored surname and great given name? Which post does he hold in the Tatars’ Palace?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “He is only a little servant to the Imperial Bodyguards, sweeping the floor, making them tea, cleaning their chamber pots, it’s really embarrassing just to mention him. Others call him Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi[7]. What honored surname and great given name? Those assassins are being tied up, originally I was going to ask Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi to sneak something good for them to eat. But now that Liu Laoyezi said that they are the traitor’s men, I am going to tell him to take a knife and poke several holes on their thighs, so that those turtle bastards cannot escape.”

“I was just guessing,” Liu Dahong said, “I cannot ascertain. But since they dared to enter the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, they must be real great hero. If Wei Xiangzhu can ask your noble friend to look after one or two of them, that is also showing the yi qi of Jianghu.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi is very good to me, when he lost in gambling, I always lend him ten taels, eight taels, and I have never asked him to pay me back. Whatever instruction Xiao Gongye and Liu Laoyezi have, I will ask Xiao Sanzi to do it for you, he won’t dare to make excuses.”

Liu Dahong let out a relieved sigh, he said, “In that case, I wonder if you could tell me how many assassins were captured, and what their names are. Those assassins’ courage is not small, we admire them very much, at present I wonder if they have already suffered very much. If your precious Society can inquire for us, Zaixia will be very indebted to Wei Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao struck his own chest and said, “That’s easy. Too bad those assassins are not Xiao Gongye’s subordinate brothers; otherwise, I will try to get one out and hand him over to Xiao Gongye, a life for a life, then the matter of Xu San Ge accidentally harmed Bai Da Xia can be written off in one stroke.”

Liu Dahong turned his head to look at Mu Jiansheng; he nodded slowly. Mu Jiansheng said, “We don’t know who those assassins are, but since they dared to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, they are men with lofty ideals, our compatriots in fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. Wei Xiangzhu, if you can find a way to save them, regardless of whether you will succeed or not, Mu Jiansheng will be eternally grateful. Naturally the matter of Xu Sanye and Bai Dage needs not be mentioned anymore.”

Wei Xiaobao turned to look at Bai Hanfeng and said, “Xiao Gongye won’t mentioned it, but I am afraid Bai Er Xia is not willing to let the matter drop. Next time he will grab my hand again and crush it until I cry; now that will be very upsetting.”

Bai Hanfeng suddenly stood up and said loud and clear, “If Wei Xiangzhu can rescue our … our … can rescue those chivalrous patriots who have fallen into the enemy’s hands, and the one surnamed Bai offended Wei Xiangzhu, I will cut off my own hand as my apology to Wei Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “No need, no need,” he said, “You give me your hand, what shall I do with it? Besides, that Lai Li Tou brother of mine has no skill whatsoever to save people in the Palace, so it will be very hard to say. These men have come to assassinate the Emperor, that was a major criminal offense, I don’t know how many fetters and shackles are binding their bodies, I also don’t know how many guards are watching over them. I said I was going to save people, I was only bragging; just consider we all are chatting to kill the time.”

Mu Jiansheng said, “Naturally we know that entering the Imperial Palace to save people is extremely difficult, we do not dare to hope for any success; but as long as Wei Xiangzhu is willing to give your all in trying, it does not matter if you succeed nor not, you can get them out or not, everybody will be grateful all the same.” After a short pause, he added, “There is one more thing, my sister suddenly went missing the other day, Zaixia is very concerned. Tian Di Hui friends’ network of friends in the Capital is extensive, your informers numerous; if you could help us inquire around and find a way to rescue her, Zaixia simply can’t thank you enough.”

“That’s easy,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Xiao Gongye may put your hundred and twenty hearts at ease. Very well, we have drunk enough wine, I am going to look for that Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi to talk it over. Damn it, I’ll play two rounds with him and make him bankrupt.” He put out his hand and groped something from his pocket and threw it onto the Eight-Immortal table. Surprisingly, it was four dice. The dice rolled for a moment, then four red dots faced upwards. Wei Xiaobao clapped and said, “Success across the board, success across the board [lit. ‘Hall full of red’], it’s extraordinary good luck! Ay, it would be good if they all were not beheaded, not killed that the hall is full of red.” Everybody looked at each other with changed expression, they were completely stunned.

Wei Xiaobao picked up the dice, cupped his fist and said, “Thank you for your hospitality, we are taking our leave. Xu San Ge is coming back with us, can he?”

“Wei Xiangzhu is too polite,” Mu Jiansheng said, “Zaixia will send Wei Xiangzhu, Xu Sanye, and Tian Di Hui friends off.”

And thus Wei Xiaobao, Xu Tianchuan, Li Lishi, Guan Anji, and the others left the banquet tables and walked out. Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong and the others sent them off outside the main gate; they did not return back to the house until Wei Xiaobao had climbed onto the sedan chair.

The warriors returned to the small courtyard house. Guan Anji was most impatient, he asked, “Wei Xiangzhu, were there assassins in the Palace last night? Looking at their expression, most likely they were sent by the Mu Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Exactly. The assassins entered the Palace last night, nobody dared to leak this secret. No one outside the Palace knew about it, yet they did not seem to be surprised, naturally it was their doing.”

Xuanzhen said, “They dared to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, they can be considered extremely daring, indeed they deserved other people’s admiration. Wei Xiangzhu, their men were captured, did you say you could rescue them? I’m afraid this is an extremely difficult matter.”

When talking with Mu Jiansheng and Liu Dahong at the banquet table, Wei Xiaobao had already hatched a plan. To save the captured assassins was definitely not a possibility, but in his own room, one Xiao Junzhu and one Fang Yi were lying down nicely on the bed. Xiao Junzhu was not an assassin; she was kidnapped by Tian Di Hui and brought into the Palace, so her release did not count. Fang Yi, on the other hand, was an assassin who broke into the Palace; he thought that finding a way to smuggle her out should not be a difficult matter. As he heard Xuanzhen’s question, Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “To save all is impossible, but to get one or two out, most probably it is still manageable. Xu San Ge only killed Bai Hansong one person, we only need to get one person out to be returned to them. One life for one life, they do not suffer any loss. Much less not only they will get both the capital and profit, they will also get the interest; we will return to them that little miss Boss Qian has kidnapped, what else can they say? Boss Qian, early tomorrow morning, bring two dead pigs to the Catering Department, we will pack the people inside, then I’ll throw a fit in the kitchen, scolding, swearing and berating you [orig. ‘pour dogs blood on you’], saying that those two pigs are not good, and will force you to take them out of the Palace at once.”

Boss Qian clapped his hands and laughed. “Wei Xiangzhu’s idea is marvelous,” he said, “The dead pig for fixing Xiao Junzhu is not a problem, but the other one must be a jumbo size.”

Wei Xiaobao uttered several words of encouragement to Xu Tianchuan; he said, “Xu San Ge, don’t you worry, that dog thief Lu Yifeng offended you, I have told Wu Yingxiong to break his dog legs.”

“Yes, yes,” Xu Tianchuan replied, “Thank you Wei Xiangzhu.” But in his heart he did not believe him, “This child is babbling nonsense again. Wu Yingxiong is the Heir Apparent of Ping Xi Wang, he is extremely arrogant, how could he listen to you?” Wei Xiaobao was helping him settling the intractable problem of unintentional killing of Bai Hansong. Although Xu Tianchuan was deeply grateful, he was not completely convinced that Wei Xiaobao would be able to accomplish this important matter.

Wei Xiaobao returned to the imperial palace. He had just entered the Shen Wu Gate when he saw two eunuchs meeting him and said together, “Gui Gong-gong, quick, quick, His Majesty is summoning you.”

“What important matter is it?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“His Majesty has been asking for you several times,” one of the eunuchs said, “There must be a very important matter. His Majesty is at the Upper Study Room.”

Wei Xiaobao rushed toward the Upper Study Room. Kangxi was pacing up and down the room, seeing Wei Xiaobao come in, his face revealed a happy expression. “Damn it,” he cursed, “You died and went to where?”

“Reporting to His Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant was thinking that the assassins were so daring; if we do not catch everything in one net, I am afraid it won’t be too good for us, perhaps they will come back to cause us trouble and make His Majesty worry. We must find the leader who managed that operation in secret. Therefore, just now I changed into civilian clothes and went to great streets and small alleys everywhere; I wanted to try to find out who is the assassins’ leader, is he in the Capital?”

“Very good,” Kangxi said, “What did you find?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I say that as soon as I wanted to find out and immediately find something, it would sound too much of a coincident.” Thereupon he said, “After walking around for half a day, I did not see any suspicious person. I am thinking of going out again tomorrow.”

Kangxi said, “You wander around aimlessly and groping blindly, it may be useless. I have an idea.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “Your Majesty’s idea must be very good,” he said.

Kangxi said, “Just now Dolong came to report that the three captured assassins kept their mouths tightly shut; no matter how much flogging and swindling, they keep saying that they were sent by Wu Sangui. Apparently, we cannot get a sentence of truth by torturing them. I am thinking of simply letting them go.”

“Let them go?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “This … won’t that be too easy for them?”

“These assassins are following orders,” Kangxi said, “Although they rebelled against the authority, killing them is of little significance, what’s more important is to find the master mind behind them, eliminating them in one fell swoop, so that we won’t have future trouble.” Speaking to this point, he smiled and said, “If the wolf cub is released, won’t the wolf cub go find the mother wolf?”

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic, he clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “Wonderful, wonderful! We release the assassins while scooping them up in secret, they will go to meet with the rebellious thieves’ ring-leader. Your Majesty’s divine strategy really surpasses three Zhuge Liang.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “What do you mean surpasses three Zhuge Liang? Your boot-licking is excessively over the top. The problem is how to scoop the assassins without them knowing it; it won’t be too easy to do. Xiao Guizi, I am sending you on an assignment: you pretend to be the good person, rescue them from the Palace, then those assassins will regard you as one of their own, naturally they will lead you to their leader.”

Wei Xiaobao hesitated. “This …” he muttered.

“Naturally this is a dangerous mission,” Kangxi said, “If they find out, they would immediately want to take your little life. It’s a pity I am the Emperor; otherwise, I am seriously considering doing it myself. It would be very exciting.”

“Your Majesty is giving me order, naturally I will do as you bid,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Even if it was a more dangerous mission, I am not afraid.”

Kangxi was delighted, he patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said with a laugh, “I already knew that you are smart, and brave, and is most willing to do the job for me. You are but a child, the assassins won’t suspect you. I originally wanted to send two Imperial Bodyguards with high level of martial art to do it, but the assassins are not stupid, they might not be easily fooled. If the first try failed, we can’t try it again the second time. Xiao Guizi, when you are doing this, it will be the same as if I am doing it myself.”

After learning martial art, Kangxi was very eager to give it a try, all along he wanted to do some dangerous things, but as the Emperor, he could not afford to take any risk. By sending Wei Xiaobao to do the job for him, Kangxi regarded him as a substitute. Even if an Imperial Bodyguard could handle this matter better, he would still prefer to send Wei Xiaobao. He thought that in term of age, Xiao Guizi was comparable to his, in term of martial art skill, he was inferior, in term of intelligence, he was also inferior; if he was successful, then Kangxi would definitely be successful as well. Therefore, by sending Xiao Guizi, it was more or less the same as if he personally doing it. Although he could not personally experience it, he could imagine it.

Kangxi also said, “You must be as convincing as possible; it is best if you can pretend to be one of the assassins, kill one or two Imperial Bodyguards on guard duty, let these assassins do not have the slightest doubt toward you. I will order Dolong to relax the check-points to let you take them out of the Palace.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied, he said, “But those Imperial Bodyguards’ martial art is good, I am afraid I can’t kill them.”

Kangxi said, “You’d better adapt to the situation, but you must be careful, don’t let the Imperial Bodyguards kill you first.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and said, “If I get killed by the Imperial Bodyguards, that means I would die without knowing the rhyme or reason, Xiao Guizi became rebellious traitor’s collaborator instead.”

Kangxi rubbed his palms together in extreme excitement, he said, “Xiao Guizi, if you successfully accomplish this mission, what reward do you want from me?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I successfully accomplish this mission, Your Majesty will be happy. As long as Your Majesty is happy, any reward is good. Next time Your Majesty is thinking about something fascinating, something fun but dangerous thing to do, you will send me again, and that will be very good.”

Kangxi was delighted. “Certainly, certainly!” he said, “Ay, Xiao Guizi, too bad you are an eunuch, otherwise I will definitely make you a high-ranking official.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” but in his heart he thought, “The day will come when you will discover that I am a fake eunuch; at that time I don’t know how angry you will be.” He said, “Your Majesty, I am asking you for one favor.”

Kangxi smiled, “Do you want to be a high-ranking official?” he asked.

“No!” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I will do whatever you want me to do with red-bellied devotion, if I came across a misfortune, and provoked Your Majesty’s anger, I am asking you to spare my life and do not take my head.”

Kangxi said, “As long as you serve me with utter devotion, your melon-shaped head will sit steadily on your neck.” Finished speaking, he burst into loud laughter.

Coming out of the Upper Study Room, Wei Xiaobao mused, “I was thinking of freeing Xiao Junzhu and Miss Fang for the Mu Palace, but based on what His Majesty said a moment ago, the release of the assassins has become an imperial order, so there is no hurry to let those two young ladies go. About the assassins’ true leader, Laozi has just had a drink with them a while ago; shall I let the Emperor know and have that little turtle Mu Jiansheng and that old fellow Liu Dahong arrested? But if Shifu knew I did it, he would never forgive me. Damn it, in the end, do I still want to be a Tian Di Hui Xiangzhu?”

In the Palace, everybody fawned on him, plus Kangxi doted on him and trusted him very much. In that instant, he was really thinking of staying in the Palace and be an eunuch for the rest of his life. But then he thought about the Empress Dowager and could not stop his heart from trembling, “That Old Wh0re is determined to seek my demise, Laozi will not last for too long in the Palace.”

He arrived at the Imperial Bodyguards’ compound west of the Palace of Heavenly Purity. The leader of the Imperial Bodyguards on duty was precisely Zhao Qixian. The previous night he had already distributed money, and today from the Imperial Bodyguards Chief Dolong he received some more rewards; he found out it was because Wei Xiaobao had spoken words of praise in front of the Emperor. As soon as he saw Wei Xiaobao arrived, his delight was unspeakable; he sprang up to greet him, saying with a laugh, “Gui Gong-gong, what good wind has blown your honorable self’s presence in this place?”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “I am here to take a look at those brazen rebellious thieves.” Stepping closer to his ears, he said in a low voice, “His Majesty sends me here to help with the interrogation, he wants to know who the master mind behind their action.”

Zhao Qixian nodded. “Yes,” he said, and continued in low voice, “These three rebellious thieves are so tight-lipped, we have already broken two leather whips, they still stick to their original statement, that Wu Sangui sent them here.”

“Let me try to ask them,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Entering the western hall, he saw three men were tied to the wooden pillars, their naked upper bodies had already been badly mutilated by flogging. One was a big man with beard like a young horned-dragon, the other two were twenty-something young men, one was fair-skinned, the other had tattoo all over his body, he had a fierce looking tiger head tattooed on his chest. “I wonder if one of these two young men is Liu Yizhou?” Wei Xiaobao mused. Turning his head toward Zhao Qixian he said, “Zhao Dage, I am afraid you have caught the wrong persons. Please go out for a moment.”

“Yes,” Zhao Qixian replied; he turned around and left, closing the door behind him.

Wei Xiaobao asked, “May I know your honored surnames and great given names?”

The one with dragon-beard opened his glowering eyes, “Dog eunuch,” he cursed, “Do you think you are worthy to ask Laozi’s name?”

Lowering his voice, Wei Xiaobao said, “I received a request from someone to save a friend by the name of Liu Yizhou …” As soon as he said those words, astonishment appeared on the three men’s faces as they cast a glance toward each other.

The dragon-bearded man asked, “Who requested it?”

“Is there any Liu Yizhou among you or not?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “If there is, I have something to say; if not, that’s all I can say.”

The three men were looking at each other again, they looked doubtful, afraid that they might be duped. The dragon-bearded man asked again, “Who are you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The two friends who asked me, one is surnamed Mu, the other is surnamed Liu, ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’. Do you know him?”

The dragon-bearded man loudly said, “Who does not know the ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ Liu Dahong in the Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan region? Mu Jiansheng is Mu Tianbo’s son, he is wandering destitute in Jianghu, at this moment nobody knows whether he is dead or alive.” While saying that, he repeatedly shook his head.

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “Since the three of you do not know Xiao Gongye and Liu Laoyezi, you can’t be their friends, so it may be assumed that you do not know these styles.” While saying that, he struck a posture, and then demonstrated the two moves of the Mu Family fist technique; naturally it was the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’.

“Ah!” the young man with tiger head tattoo on his chest exclaimed. Wei Xiaobao halted, “What is it?” he asked. “Nothing,” the man replied.

“Who taught you those styles?” the dragon-bearded man asked.

“My wife taught me,” Wei Xiaobao replied with a laugh.

“Pei!” the dragon-bearded man spat, “What wife does a court eunuch have?” While saying that, he was constantly shaking his head. At first he cursed Wei Xiaobao as ‘dog eunuch’, after hearing the strange thing he said and the unusual way he behaved, he dropped the ‘dog’ character.

“Why can’t a court eunuch have a wife?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Others are willing to marry, why do you care about it? My wife is surnamed Fang, with the single character given name Yi …”

The fair-skinned young man suddenly bellowed, “Nonsense!”

Wei Xiaobao saw blue veins suddenly stuck out on his forehead, his eyes were spouting fire, his anxiety had reached its extreme point, so he presumed this man must be Liu Yizhou. He had a rectangular face, quite handsome; it’s just that under his violent rage, unavoidably his appearance looked rather fearsome. Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “What nonsense? My wife is the later generation of the surnamed Fang of the Mu Family four great generals, Liu Bai Fang Su. The one acting as our matchmaker is surnamed Su, his name is Su Gang, nicknamed ‘Divine Physician Hermit’. There is also another matchmaker surnamed Bai, his older brother Bai Hansong was recently killed. That Bai Hanfeng is extremely poor, so he is acting as a matchmaker to earn money, to prepare for his older brother’s funeral …”

The more that young man listened, the angrier he got. “You … you … you …” he roared.

The dragon-bearded man shook his head and said, “Xiongdi, don’t make noise.” To Wei Xiaobao he said, “You seemed to know a lot about the Mu Palace’s affairs.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am Mu Palace’s son-in-law, how could I not know the affairs of my old man father-in-law? Originally Fang Yi, Miss Fang was unwilling to marry me, she said she was engaged to her Shige Liu Yizhou. But then she heard that this surnamed Liu did not make any progress, he threw himself under the leadership of the big traitor Wu Sangui, and entered the Imperial Palace as an assassin. Just think … that big traitor Wu Sangui …” Speaking to this point, he lowered his voice and continued, “… colluding with the Tatars, surrendering our beautiful Great Ming’s rivers and mountains to the dog thieves Manchurian Qing with both hands. Not one of our Han people does not want to peel this fellow Wu Sangui’s skin and eat his flesh. Why would that fellow Liu Yizhou rely on a bad master, Wu Sangui? Naturally Miss Fang’d face is downcast, she does not want to marry him anymore.”

“I … I … I …” the young man anxiously said.

The dragon-bearded man shook his head, “Everybody has his own ambition,” he said, “Sire became a court eunuch in Qing Palace, which not a very honorable thing.”

“Right, right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally it is not a very honorable thing. My wife is anxious over her old flame, she wanted me to investigate clearly, whether that Liu Yizhou has died or not. If he is really dead, she will marry me with a clear conscience, henceforth does not have to worry over the deceased. She only wants to set up a memorial tablet for her Liu Shige, and burn some ritual paper money for him. Friends, there is no Liu Yizhou among you, is there? Then I shall return to Miss Fang, tonight we are going to bow to the Heaven and Earth to get married.” Saying that, he turned around to leave.

The young man said, “I am …” But the dragon-bearded man shouted, “Don’t be fooled!” The young man struggled a moment, he said angrily, “He … he …” suddenly he spat toward Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao dodged sideways. He saw that the hands and feet of those three were firmly bound to the pillars using thick ox tendon, it was definitely very hard for them to struggle free. He mused, “This man is obviously Liu Yizhou, he was about to confess, but was stopped by that bearded man.” After thinking for a moment, he had another idea; he said, “You wait here, I am going to ask my wife again.”

Returning to the outside, he said to Zhao Qixian, “I have found a clue. Don’t beat them anymore; I will be back in a moment.”

By this time the sky had darkened, Wei Xiaobao thought that Fang Yi and Mu Jianping should be very hungry by now, so he did not go straight back to his room, but stopped by the Catering Department instead, to instruct his subordinate eunuchs to deliver a sumptuous banquet to his room, saying that he wanted to invite the Imperial Bodyguards who had set up some merits the previous night to a banquet to congratulate them, that they were going to discuss some confidential matter on capturing the assassins during the banquet, therefore, he did not need any little eunuchs to wait upon them.

He unlocked his room and lightly pushed the door to the inner room. Mu Jianping cried out lightly and sat up. “What took you so long to come back?” she asked in soft voice.

“I made you very anxious waiting for me, didn’t I?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have good news.”

Fang Yi lifted her head from the pillow and asked, “What good news?”

Wei Xiaobao lighted the candle on the table, he saw Fang Yi’s eyes were red, apparently she had been crying. He sighed and said, “This good news is for you, but for me it is a very bad news. I have just succeeded in obtaining a good wife, now she flew away into the thin air. Ay, that fellow Liu Yizhou unexpectedly has not died.”

“Ah!” Fang Yi let out a cry, her voice was brimming with joy.

Mu Jianping happily asked, “Is our Liu Shige safe and sound?”

“He has not died all right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But it might not be easy for him to stay alive. He was captured by the Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace, and stated decisively that he was sent by the big traitor Wu Sangui to assassinate the Emperor. With his capital crime, no doubt it will be difficult for him to escape, but if this news ever spread out, the Jianghu heroes and warriors will all say that he has become Wu Sangui’s lackey, after he is beheaded, his reputation will stink very much.”

Fang Yi raised her upper body and said, “Before entering the Imperial Palace, we have already considered this possibility, but in order to topple this traitor Wu Sangui and avenge the bitter hatred and deep enmity of the late emperor and Mu Gongye, we have already abandoned any thought to our own lives and our reputation after we died.”

Wei Xiaobao raised his thumb, “Good,” he said, “You have moral backbone! Wu Laogong [see footnote 4 of Chapter 11] admires you very much. Miss Fang, we have an important matter we need to discuss. If I can save your Liu Shige’s life, what would you do?”

The light in Fang Yi’s eyes flickered, her cheeks blushed, she said, “If you can seriously save my Liu Shige’s life, no matter what difficult or dangerous thing you want me to do, Fang Yi will not knit my brows.” She said those words with determination in her voice, it was extremely straightforward.

“What if we make a deal?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Xiao Junzhu can be our witness. If I can save your Liu Shige and get him out, and hand him over to Xiao Gongye Mu Jiansheng and ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ Liu Dahong …”

“You know my Gege and my Shifu?” Mu Jianping interrupted.

“The Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye and ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ have grand reputation,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Who does not know them? Who has never heard of their names?”

“You are a good person,” Mu Jianping said, “If you save Liu Shige’s life, everybody will be very grateful of your kindness.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “I am not a good person,” he said, “I am simply making a deal. This man Liu Yizhou is not a small matter, he is a criminal who came to assassinate the Emperor himself. By wanting to save him, I am placing my own life in great danger, am I right? If the government authority found out, not only my own head would roll, my grandpas, grandmas, papa, mama, my three Gege, four Meizi, plus my uncles, aunts, cousins[8], everybody at home would lose their heads, am I right? This is called ‘execution of the whole family unto the third generation’. The gold, silver, house, pots and pans, pants, shoes, everything in my home would belong to the government official, am I right?”

Each time he asked, ‘am I right?’ Mu Jianping nodded her head.

“Exactly right,” Fang Yi said, “The implication of this matter is too great, I can’t simply ask you to do it. In any case, if my … my … my Shige died, I don’t want to live. Let’s just resign to our fate.” While saying that, tears flooding down on her face.

Wei Xiaobao said, “There’s no hurry to grieve, there’s no hurry to cry. You are such a ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’, as soon as your tears flow, my heart turns soft. Miss Fang, I’ll do anything for you. I will definitely save your Liu Shige’s life and get him out. Let’s settle this now: if I cannot save and get your Liu Shige out, I will become your ox or your horse, your slave for the rest of my life; if I can save and get your Liu Shige out, you will be my wife for the rest of your life. A real man gave his words, some horses cannot chase it, and that’s that.”

Fang Yi looked at him in a daze, the color on her cheek gradually vanished, until her face turned deathly pale. “Gui Dage,” she said, “In order to save Liu Shige’s life, whatever … I am willing to do whatever you want me to. If you really can rescue him to safety and he is safe and sound, and you want me to serve you … to serve you for the rest of my life, it won’t be impossible. It’s just that … It’s just that …” She had just spoken those words when there were footsteps outside, and then someone called out, “Gui Gong-gong, the food and wine is here.” Fang Yi stopped talking immediately.

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said. He walked out the room, locked the inside door, and open the front door.

Four eunuchs carried food, bowls and cups on a shoulder pole. They entered the room and set up the table in the front room. There were twelve large bowls of vegetable and meat dishes, plus one pot of Yunnan’s steamed chicken. The four eunuchs arranged eight set of bowl and chopsticks, and then respectfully said, “Gui Gong-gong, is there anything else you need?”

“This will do,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You may go back.” Each person received one tael tip. The four eunuchs returned, pleased with the heaven, happy with the earth.

Wei Xiaobao bolted the front door, and brought the food into the inner room. He pulled a table to the front of the bed, poured three cups of wine and scooped three bowls of rice. “Miss Fang,” he said, “Just now you said, ‘It’s just that … It’s just that …’, what was it that you were going to say?”

By now Mu Jianping had helped Fang Yi to sit up, the color on her face had returned. She lowered her head and was silent for half a day before finally spoke in a low voice, “I was going to say that you are an officer in the Palace, how can you marry? But no matter what, if you can save my Liu Shige’s life, I will accompany you for the rest of my life.”

Her countenance was sparkling and translucent like jade, shining pink under the candlelight, so out-of-the-worldly tender and beautiful. Although Wei Xiaobao was very young, he looked at her as if his soul had left him. He laughed and said, “Turns out you wanted to say that I am an eunuch, and thus cannot take a wife. Whether I take a wife or not, it’s my business, it’s none of your concern. I just want to ask you: are you or are you not willing to be my wife?”

Fang Yi’s delicate eyebrows were slightly wrinkled, a faint trace of anger appeared on her face. After half a day she made up her mind and said, “Let alone be your wife, even if you sell me to the pleasure house to be a prostitute, I am also willing.”

If any other man were to hear it, he definitely would not be happy, but Wei Xiaobao grew up in a brothel, so he did not feel anything strange. With a chuckle he said, “Alright, it’s a deal. Good wife, Good Meizi, let the three of us drink a cup.”

At first Fang Yi did not even regard this little eunuch as someone worthy of her attention, and then she saw how he personally stabbed the Imperial Bodyguard Deputy Chief Rui Dong and dissolved his body with some strange medicine. She also saw how the Imperial Bodyguards and his fellow eunuchs were very respectful toward him; now she believed definitely nothing was ordinary about him. Liu Yizhou was the man she fell in love with, although they had not formalized their engagement, their two hearts already beat as one; one would not want to take another as husband [orig. ‘lord’], the other would not love another as wife. The previous night the two of them entered the Palace on mission together, Fang Yi saw with her own eyes Liu Yizhou slipped and was captured by the Imperial Bodyguards, while she herself suffered an injury, so that she was unable to help. She thought that her boyfriend had given his life for their common cause; who would have thought that this little eunuch said that not only her lover did not die, he even said that he could find a way to rescue him. She thought, “As long as Liu Lang[9] can escape from danger, although I have to suffer hardship for the rest of my life, I will still thank the Heaven for not treating me badly. How can this little eunuch take me as his wife anyway? He’s just oily-mouthed and a smooth-talker, he only wants to win the argument, I might as well play along with him.” As she thought about this reasoning, she showed a faint smile as she raised the wine cup with both hands, saying, “I will drink this cup of wine with you, but if you do not save my Liu Shige, you won’t escape being a ghost by my sword.”

Seeing her flowery dimples, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was very happy; he also raised the wine cup with both hands and said, “May our words be like striking nail through the foot, there will be no denial. If I save your Liu Shige, but you go back on your words and marry him, then what? With the two of you join hands and feet, I won’t be your match; he sweeps his saber across, you hack your sword down, I, Gui Gong-gong, will immediately turn into four pieces. I simply cannot not guard against this thing.”

With a smile on her face Fang Yi solemnly said, “By the Emperor of Heaven above and the Queen of Earth below, if Gui Gong-gong can rescue Liu Yizhou and bring him to safety, the lowly woman Fang Yi will be willing to be Gui Gong-gong’s wife, and will be loyal and dependable to my husband with singleness of heart for the rest of my life, even if Gui Gong-gong cannot take me as wife for real, I am dead set on taking care of him for a lifetime. If I am double-minded, let me be cut into ten thousand pieces and will not be reincarnated.” Finished speaking, she poured the wine to the floor. She also said, “Xiao Junzhu is my witness.”

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic, he turned to ask Mu Jianping, “Good Meizi, do you have any sweetheart you want me to rescue?”

“Of course I don’t!” Mu Jianping replied, “How can I have any sweetheart?”

“What a pity, what a pity!” Wei Xiaobao said.

“What a pity what?” Mu Jianping asked.

“If you have a sweetheart,” Wei Xiaobao explained, “I will also rescue him and get him out, then won’t you also be willing to be my wife?”

“Pei!” Mu Jianping spat, “You already have one wife and it’s not enough? What an endless greed[10]!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “The toad wants to eat the swan’s flesh! Hey, Good Meizi, other than your Liu Shige, there are two other men being captured, one with jaw full of whiskers …”

“That must be Wu Shishu [martial (younger) uncle],” Mu Jianping said.

“The other has tattoo all over his body,” Wei Xiaobao said, “With a tiger head on his chest.”

“That must be Blue Haired Tiger Ao Biao,” Mu Jianping said, “He is Wu Shishu’s disciple.”

“What is that Wu Shishu’s name?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Wu Shishu’s name is Wu Lishen,” Mu Jianping replied, “His nickname is Shaking-head Lion.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “That nickname is very appropriate, whatever other people say, he always shakes his head.”

“Gui Dage,” Mu Jianping said, “Since you are going to rescue Liu Shige, you might as well try to rescue Wu Shishu and Ao Shige.”

“Do your Wu Shishu and Ao Biao also have ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ women?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I don’t know,” Mu Jianping replied, “Why do you ask?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am going to ask their good-looking women first, to see if they would be willing to let me take an advantage, otherwise, won’t I be staking my life to save others in vain?” Suddenly a dark shadow flashed before his eyes, some kind of object flew toward his face. Wei Xiaobao hastily ducked, but he was too late. ‘Crash!’ that object smashed right in the middle of his forehead. It was a wine cup.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao and Mu Jianping cried out together. Wei Xiaobao leaped three steps backward, and crashed into a chair. Blood streamed down from his forehead, wine blurred his vision that all he saw was a vast expanse of whiteness.

He heard Fang Yi shouted harshly, “Go and kill Liu Yizhou immediately, your miss does not want to live anymore, so that I won’t receive this kind of senseless humiliation from you all day!” Turned out the wine cup was thrown by Fang Yi. Luckily, due to her severe wound, she lost the strength of her hand. Wei Xiaobao’s forehead was hit by the wine cup, but the scratch was only skin deep.

Mu Jianping said, “Gui Dage, come here, let me look at your wound, don’t let the broken porcelain pieces remain in your flesh.”

“I am not coming near you,” Wei Xiaobao said, “My own wife wants to murder her husband.”

“Who told you to speak nonsense?” Mu Jianping said, “You want to take advantage of other women. Even I was angry to hear it.”

Wei Xiaobao burst into loud laughter. “Ah, I get it,” he said, “Turns out the two of you are drinking vinegar. Hearing that I was going to take advantage of other women, my first wife, my second wife, are drinking vinegar in a big way.”

Mu Jianping picked up her wine cup and said, “What did you call me? See if I don’t throw this wine cup on you.”

Wei Xiaobao used his sleeve to wipe his eyes. Seeing Mu Jianping pretend to be angry, but with a slight smile at the tips on her brow and the corners of her eyes, also Fang Yi look apologetic, although his forehead was painful, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was very happy. He said, “My first wife threw a wine cup, if my second wife did not throw, it would be unfair.” He took a step forward and said, “Second wife may throw the wine cup!”

“Alright!” Mu Jianping said. Raising her hand, she splashed the half-cup of wine onto his face.

Unexpectedly Wei Xiaobao did not evade; the half-cup of wine trickled down his face. He stuck his tongue out and licked the blood and wine on his face, saying, “Delicious, delicious! The first wife cut the blood, plus the second wife splashed the wine. Aiyo! I die tasty, I die tasty!”

Mu Jianping was the first to laugh, followed by a ‘pft!’ from Fang Yi; she could not restrain her laughter. “Rascal!” she cursed. From her bosom she produced a handkerchief and gave it to Mu Jianping, saying, “Wipe his face.”

Mu Jianping laughed and said, “You are the one who hurt others, why do I have to wipe it?”

Covering her mouth, Fang Yi said, “Aren’t you his second wife?”

“Pei!” Mu Jianping spat, “You promised yourself to him just a moment ago, I did not promise him anything.”

Fang Yi laughed and said, “Who said you haven’t promise him anything? He said, ‘Second wife may throw the wine cup’, and you raised your wine cup and splashed him; isn’t that the same as you agree to be his second wife?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “That’s right, that’s right!” he said, “My first wife is hurt, my second wife is also hurt. The two of you may set your hearts at ease; I am not going to fool around with other women.”

Fang Yi told Wei Xiaobao to come over; seeing there was no porcelain fragment in his forehead wound, she wiped the blood from his face.

The three of them could not drink wine anymore, their stomachs were hungry, so they ate quite a lot of food. Chatting and joking, gaiety filled the room.

Finished eating, Wei Xiaobao yawned and said, “Shall I sleep with the first wife tonight, or the second wife?”

Fang Yi’s countenance was grim, she sternly said, “You should stop cracking jokes; if you ever get into the bed, I’ll … I’ll kill you with a sword.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and said, “There will come a day when my old life will be delivered in your hands.” Moving the food to the outside hall, he fetched a woven mat and spread it on the floor, and slept fully clothed. At this time he was really weary, so in just a short moment he fell fast asleep.

The next morning when he woke up, he felt his body was nice and warm. When he opened his eyes, he saw that his body was covered with a quilt; he also felt a pillow under his head. He sat up and noticed the muslin curtain above the bed was hanging down. Through the mosquito net he could faintly see Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were sleeping side by side.

Quietly he stood up and opened the curtain. He saw Fang Yi was tender and beautiful, Mu Jianping was exquisite. The two beautiful women’s smart faces were reflecting each other, they looked like bright pearl or beautiful jade; his heart was unspeakably moved by their beauty. Wei Xiaobao could not bear the desire to give each one a kiss on the mouth, but he was afraid he might awaken them. “Damn it,” he cursed in his heart, “If these two young ladies truly became my first wife and second wife, Laozi will be very happy. There is no young lady as charming as they in the Lovely Spring Courtyard.”

As quietly as possible he opened the door. The door hinge creaked, Fang Yi immediately opened her eyes; she smiled and said, “Gui … Gui … Good morning.”

“Gui what?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “You did not even call me Good Husband.”

“But you have not rescued him yet,” Fang Yi replied.

“Don’t worry,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am going to rescue him.”

Mu Jianping also woke up, “What are you talking about this early in the morning?” she asked.

“We did not sleep at all,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The two of us talked heart to heart the entire night.” He yawned, patted his mouth, and said, “I am so sleepy, I am so sleepy! I want to sleep now.” And then he stretched.

Fang Yi blushed, she said, “How can I talk anything good with you? How can it be considered the entire night?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Good wife,” he said, “We were talking decently. Please write a letter, I am going to give it to your Liu Shige, so that he will believe me and follow me out of the Palace. Or else he would become Wu Sangui’s son-in-law …”

“He pretends to be Wu Sangui’s son-in-law’s nephew,” Mu Jianping said.

“Since Miss Fang is going to be my wife, Liu Yizhou won’t have any choice but to be Wu Sangui’s son-in-law,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Don’t prattle!” Fang Yi said, “Writing a letter is good. But … but what should I write?”

“Anything is alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just write that I am your husband, the number one good person in the world, one with most yi qi, one who accepted your commission to come and rescue him. Genuine goods at fair prices, a hundred percent real gold.” He found Hai Dafu’s writing brush and ink stone, and some paper. He rubbed the ink, placed a sheet of white paper on the small table, and pushed the table to the front of the bed.

Fang Yi sat up and received the writing brush. Suddenly tears gushing out of her eyes; sobbing, she said, “What should I write?”

Seeing her cute but pitiful appearance, Wei Xiaobao’s heart suddenly turned soft. “You may write whatever you want to write,” he said, “I am illiterate anyway. You don’t need to write that you have become my wife, otherwise your Liu Shige will get angry and won’t want me to save him.”

“You are illiterate?” Fang Yi asked, “You are lying.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I know how to read, I am a turtle bastard, and not your husband; I am your son, your distant descendant.”

Fang Yi took up the pen, she hesitated, feeling that it was hard to put the pen to the paper, she sobbed and sniffled, and finally broke into crying again. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was filled with heroic spirit, which was hard to suppress; he said in a loud voice, “Alright, alright! After I rescue Liu Yizhou and take him out, you can marry him, I don’t want to fight with him over you. Besides, even if you followed me, you would still want to be together with him anyway. Rather than wearing a green cap[11] in the future, becoming a cuckold, I’ll let you go free and happy, marry that damn Liu Yizhou. Just write whatever you love to write. Damn it, Laozi won’t care.”

With a pair of big eyes still brimming with tears, Fang Yi looked at him, and then she lowered her head, her gaze revealed a happy expression mixed with gratitude. She wrote several lines of characters on the paper, and then folded the paper into a square. “Please … please give it to him,” she said.

Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “Damn it, now you don’t even call me Dage. Tear down the bridge after crossing the river, after setting off the flame, the monk is not needed anymore.” But since he had flaunted his heroic spirit, he had to put an air of hero, he could not force Fang Yi to be his wife anymore. He took the folded paper, put it into his pocket, and left without looking back. He mused, “Want to be a hero, one must suffer losses. Such a nice wife, and I have to present it with both hands to another man.”

By this time, the leader on duty at the Imperial Bodyguards’ compound by the Palace of Heavenly Purity was Zhang Kangnian. The previous night he had received the order from Dolong to give assistance to Gui Gong-gong who was on rescue mission to take the assassins out of the Palace, but he had to do it discreetly, without rousing the assassins’ suspicion. Seeing the arrival of Wei Xiaobao, he busily stepped forward to greet him. He gave an eye signal to Wei Xiaobao as he took him to the rockery outside. “Gui Gong-gong,” he said in low voice, “How are you going to rescue them?’

Seeing his friendly attitude, Wei Xiaobao thought, “His Majesty told me to kill one or two Imperial Bodyguards on this rescue mission, so that Liu Yizhou and the others won’t be suspicious. But this Zhang Laoge [‘Ol’ older brother Zhang’] is very good to me, I can’t bear to kill him. Luckily I have that stinky girl’s letter, that ‘deserved-to-die’ surnamed Liu will believe me a thousand times, ten thousand times.” After slight hesitation he said, “I’ll go in and interrogate these three sons of a turtle again, and then I’ll act accordingly.”

Zhang Kangnian laughed while cupping his fist and said, “Thank you very much Gui Gong-gong.”

“Thank me for what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Zhang Kangnian replied, “Xiaoren simply handling matters following Gui Gong-gong’s suggestion. In the future I am sure Gong-gong will enjoy unceasing promotion. Xiaoren will get promoted and enjoy riches, I won’t fail in everything I do.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “You only need to serve His Majesty with utter devotion, and then in the future you will have only one thing to fear.”

Zhang Kangnian was stunned. “What thing?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “That the storage in your home is too small, you can’t store more money.”

Zhang Kangnian laughed aloud. And then he lowered his voice and said, “Gong-gong, about a dozen of us have made a secret agreement that all of us will do our best to help Gong-gong to accomplish your missions. Whatever happens we will support Gong-gong to achieve the Head Court Eunuch position in the Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled, “That would be wonderful!” he said, “Let’s wait until I am a few years older before we talk about it again.” Recalling how Qian Laoben delivered a live pig to patch a loophole, he asked, “Where did Deputy Chief Rui Dong go? Dolong Zongguan and all of you are very busy, how come I do not see Deputy Chief Rui?”

“Most likely the Empress Dowager sends him on a mission outside the Palace,” Zhang Kangnian replied.

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “When you see Deputy Chief Rui, tell him to come to my room,” he said, “His Majesty wanted me to ask him some questions.” Zhang Kangnian promised to do that.

Wei Xiaobao entered the Imperial Bodyguard building and went straight to the room where Liu Yizhou and the others, three people, were bound. He did not see them for only one night, but their spirits seemed to be weakened a lot. Although they did not receive any more beating, but two days and two nights without any food and drink, even a man made of iron would not be able to withstand. The seven or eight Imperial Bodyguards keeping watch over them stood up and paid their respect to Wei Xiaobao; their manner was very respectful.

Wei Xiaobao loudly said, “His Majesty has issued an imperial decree: these three rebellious thieves committed treason and heresy, they are to be immediately beheaded in public. Quickly get some wine, meat, rice and vegetables, let them eat until they are full, so that when they die, they won’t be hungry ghosts.” The Imperial Bodyguards complied with one voice.

The dragon-bearded man Wu Lishen said in loud voice, “We will be loyal to Ping Xi Wang to the death, we are leaving a good name for hundreds of generation, ten thousand times better than you, animals who become the lackeys of the Tatars.” One of the Imperial Bodyguards raised his whip and lashed it down, while cursing, “That rebellious thief Wu Sangui will be executed soon, along with his entire family to the third generation.”

Liu Yizhou looked agitated, his eyes were staring at the ceiling, his lips were trembling slightly, but nobody knew what he was saying.

The guards brought in three large bowls of rice and three large bowl of wine. Wei Xiaobao said, “When these three rebellious thieves heard they are going to be beheaded, they are shaking from fear all over. I am afraid that the wine, they won’t be able to drink, the rice, they won’t be able to swallow. I must bother three Xiongdi a little bit, please feed each of them two mouthful of wine, I don’t want them to drink too much. About the rice, please feed them. If they are drunk, they won’t feel the pain on their neck when their heads roll, it would be too easy for them. When they get to the underworld and Yanluo Wang sees three drunk ghosts, he will be very angry, and then each drunken ghost will get three hundred floggings with the stick. That means we are giving them too much of a bad time.” The Imperial Bodyguards laughed; then they fed the three prisoners the wine and the rice.

Wu Lishen gulping the wine and gobbling the rice, his expression was calm and composed. With each mouthful of rice he ate, Ao Biao uttered a curse, “Dog servant!” Liu Yizhou looked deathly pale, he could not swallow his food, only less than half a bowl later he shook his head and did not want to eat.

“That’s enough,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Everybody out. His Majesty ordered me to ask them some questions. After that, the beheading.”

Zhang Kangnian bowed and said, “Yes!” He led the Imperial Bodyguards out of the room and closed the door behind him.

When Wei Xiaobao heard the sound of their footsteps were far enough, he coughed and then leaned his head toward Wu Lishen, three people, sizing them up; his face showed a furtive smile.

“Dog eunuch,” Wu Lishen cursed, “What’s so funny?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am laughing on my own, what does it have to do with you?”

“Gong-gong,” Liu Yizhou suddenly said, “I … I am Liu Yizhou!”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, but before he could respond, Wu Lishen and Ao Biao shouted together, “What nonsense are you talking about?”

“Gong-gong,” Liu Yizhou said, “I am asking you to save me, please … please save us.”

Wu Lishen shouted loudly, “Greedy for life, afraid of death; what kind of hero or warrior are you? Why should you open your mouth asking for help?”

Liu Yizhou said, “He … he said Xiao Gongye and my Shifu asked … asked him to save … to save us.”

Wu Lishen shook his head and said, “He’s just trying to swindle us, and you believe him?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Shaking Head Lion Wu Laoyezi [old master], when you look at my face, could you shake your head a little less?”

Wu Lishen was startled, “You … you …” he said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “And this gentleman Blue Haired Tiger Ao Biao, Ao Dage, is your proud disciple, isn’t he? Famous master must produce outstanding disciple; my utmost admiration.” Wu Lishen and Ao Biao’s countenance changed greatly; they were so surprised that they were at a loss.

From his pocket Wei Xiaobao produced the folded letter Fang Yi wrote. He unfolded it and held it in front of Liu Yizhou’s face. He laughed and said, “Look, who wrote this letter?”

As soon as Liu Yizhou looked, he was overjoyed; with a trembling voice he said, “It’s really Fang Shimei’s [younger martial sister] handwriting. Wu Shishu, Fang Shimei said that this … this Gong-gong came to rescue us, she is telling me to obey him in everything.”

“Bring it here, let me look,” Wu Lishen said.

Wei Xiaobao held the letter in front of Wu Lishen; he thought, “I wonder what words of love are written on it; my first wife has no sense of shame, she only wants to snatch a husband, she would write any overly romantic words of love.” He heard Wu Lishen read: “‘Liu Shige, Gui Gong-gong is one of us, his righteousness reaches the clouds and the sky, his action braves strange dangers, he has come to save, you must listen to Gui Gong-gong’s directives to escape from the tiger’s mouth. Younger sister Yi stated with her own hand.’ Um, there is special mark of our Mu Palace at the top; it’s actually not a fake.”

Hearing in the letter Fang Yi praised him with the words ‘his righteousness meager[12] to the clouds and the sky’, Wei Xiaobao was puzzled; he thought that the thicker the righteousness the better. When the righteousness is meager, it would only disappear into the air, what else there is to be left? But he had heard people saying those words several times before, so he knew it must be very good words of praise. He also heard that in the letter Fang Yi did not write any overly romantic words of love, he was even more delighted. “What do you mean it’s fake?” he asked.

“Gong-gong,” Liu Yizhou asked, “Where is my Fang Shimei?”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao said, “In my room.” But with his mouth he said, “At this moment she is hiding in a very safe place. After I save you and take you out, I’ll find a way to save her, so that you can meet her.”

Tears streaming down from Liu Yizhou’s eyes, sobbing, he said, “I don’t know how to repay Gong-gong’s great kindness and benevolence.” When a moment ago he heard Wei Xiaobao said that they were going to be beheaded right after eating and drinking, he was originally brave; but suddenly confronted with life juncture, his fear could not longer be restrained, and he blurted out that he was Liu Yizhou with the hope that in the face of imminent peril[13] he could somehow save his life. By the time he saw Fang Yi’s letter, he found that the chance of survival looked promising, his joy was beyond description.

Yet when facing death Wu Lishen was without any fear; he still wanted to investigate thoroughly. “May I know Sire’s honorable surname and great given name?” he asked, “Why are you willing to lend a hand?”

“I might as well explain everything clearly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “All my friends call me Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi. Don’t feel strange, I used to have skin disease and dysentery, but now I am healed. I have a good friend, the Xiangzhu of Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui, his name is Wei Xiaobao. He said that there is an old fellow in Tian Di Hui by the name of Eight-Arm Ape Xu Tianchuan, because of a dispute involving supporting Tang, supporting Gui, whatever, he killed your Mu Palace’s Bai Hansong. The Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye and Bai Hanfeng are unwilling to let the matter rest, but the dead can’t come back to life. Without any other option, that Wei Xiaobao came and asked me to rescue the three of you, to compensate the Mu Palace, giving careful consideration to the yi qi between the two sides.”

Wu Lishen was fully aware of the dispute with Tian Di Hui, his suspicion gone instantly, he shook his head continuously, and then nodded, saying, “So that’s how it is. Just now Zaixia said some offensive words, I have offended you.”

“You are too kind!” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that we must think of an ingenious way of escaping from the Palace.”

“Whatever way Gui Gong-gong thought must be ingenious,” Liu Yizhou said, “We will obey your instructions.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I haven’t thought of any plan.” He asked Wu Lishen, “What strategy does Wu Laoyezi have?”

“There are too many dog Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace,” Wu Lishen said, “We can’t break out in the daytime, we’ll wait until night, you try to cut off the ox tendon binding our hands and feet, let us rush out and kill the enemy under the darkness.”

“This plan is wonderful,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But I am afraid it is not extremely certain.” He paced back and forth in the room, pondering the best solution.

Ao Biao said, “We’d better just make a dash out, if we fail, the worst that can happen is we die anyway.”

“Ao Shige,” Liu Yizhou said, “Don’t interrupt Gui Gong-gong’s train of thought.” Ao Biao glared angrily at him.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “It would be best to use some drug; if the Imperial Bodyguards are drugged, I don’t have to harm any human life.” Walking out the room, he said to Zhang Kangnian, “Zhang Dage, I want to use some drug, I wonder if you could fix some for me immediately?”

“Sure, sure,” Zhang Kangnian said with a laugh, “Zhao Er Ge [second older brother] has some ready-made knockout drug; I’ll get it right away.”

“Zhao Er Ge has some ready-made knockout drug?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Whatever for?”

Lowering his voice, Zhang Kangnian said, “Not concealing anything from Gui Gong-gong; the day before yesterday Deputy Chief Rui ordered us to arrest somebody, he told us to do it quietly, not to make it known publicly. This man’s martial art skill was profound, we were afraid that to fight him openly with saber and spear would mean sacrificing a lot of human lives; not only that, we would not be able to capture him alive, so Zhao Er Ge fixed some knockout drug to do the trick.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Unable to defeat others, you use a dirty trick.” He asked, “Was it a great success?”

“Stretch a hand and grab it,” Zhang Kangnian replied.

Hearing it was Rui Dong who sent them on a mission, Wei Xiaobao probed further, “Who was it that you were supposed to arrest? What did he violate?”

“It was the Commander of the Bordered Red Banner Hochabo,” Zhang Kangnian replied, “I heard he offended the Empress Dowager. After the Deputy Chief Rui arrested him, he forced Hochabo to hand over some kind of scripture; afterwards, he pasted a sheet of mulberry bark paper on his mouth and nose, and thus suffocated him to his death.”

Hearing this, Wei Xiaobao was secretly terrified, “Turns out that old wh0re is after that Forty-two-chapter Sutra again. After obtaining the sutra, why didn’t Rui Dong give it to the old wh0re immediately, but hid it on his body instead? Was he thinking of embezzling it for himself?” But then he immediately thought that in no way would Rui Dong dare to embezzle the sutra for himself. “Ah, right, as soon as the old wh0re saw Rui Dong, she did not have enough time to inquire about the sutra, because she immediately sent him out to kill me. Rui Dong was thinking of killing laozi first before handing over the sutra. In the end, it turned into the opera of the ‘Battle of Chang Ban Po’ [Long Sloping Hillside], in which that clown [lit. Little Flowery Face] named Xiahou-something died and lost his treasured sword. Doesn’t that turn laozi into Zhao Zilong of Changsan, who charged in and out of enemy formations seven times in succession?”[14] He casually asked, “What kind of sutra was that? It sounds very important.”

“We do not know,” Zhang Kangnian replied, “Let me go get the knockout drug.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll have to bother you some more: please tell the Catering Department to deliver two tables of top-notch feast here. I want to invite all brothers for a banquet.”

Zhang Kangnian happily said, “Gong-gong wants to reward us with food and wine. As long as we follow Gong-gong, we won’t have to worry about the lack of food and drink for the rest of our lives.”

Not too long afterwards, Zhang Kangnian was back with the knockout drug. It was packaged in a very large bundle, perhaps it was more than half a catty. In a low voice he said, “This large bundle of drug is enough to put several hundred people to sleep. For only one person, take a little bit with a finger nail like this, mix it with tea or wine, it should be enough.” He then ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to move the table and arrange the stools, telling them it was Gui Gong-gong who bestow them the wine. The Imperial Bodyguards were delighted, they busily do the bidding.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Set the banquet in the prisoner room. We are having a good time, let those three damn assassins watch and be jealous, I want them to drool.”

The banquet table set up, the eunuch manager of the imperial kitchen, leading several little eunuchs and ‘sula’ [Book note: The low-level, odd jobs servants in the Qing Palace were called ‘sula’ in the Manchu dialect.] arrived, carrying boxes of food on shoulder poles. They set the dishes and wine pots on the table.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You, three rebellious thieves, have committed treason and heresy, your death is imminent, yet you still reluctant to admit your mistake. Right now you may watch your masters eating and drinking, if you can’t endure your appetite, just bark like a dog, laoye will reward you with a piece of meat.” The crowd of Imperial Bodyguards burst out in laughter.

“Dog Imperial Bodyguards, stinky eunuch,” Wu Lishen cursed, “Our Ping Xi Wang will soon dispatch troops from Yunnan all the way to attack Beijing, he will seize all of you, Imperial Bodyguards and a bunch of eunuchs, and will throw you into the river to feed the tortoises.”

Wei Xiaobao’s right hand entered his pocket, his palm grabbed half a handful of knockout drug. With his left hand he picked up the wine pot, and walked toward Wu Lishen. Raising the wine pot he laughed and said, “Rebellious thieve, do you want to drink wine?”

Wu Lishen did not understand Wei Xiaobao’s intention, he said loudly, “Drink or not, I don’t care! When Ping Xi Wang’s troops arrive, it will be difficult for you, little eunuch, to escape alive.”

With a cold laugh Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s not necessarily true!” Raising the wine pot high, he tossed his head backward, and poured the wine from high in the air into his open wide mouth. He swallowed a mouthful of wine and praised, “Nice wine!” He positioned the wine pot in his left hand level with his chest and pushed the pot’s lid aside with his right-hand’s forefinger, and then spilled the knockout drug in the palm of his right hand into the pot, and quickly pushed the lid back. He raised the pot in his left hand again, and shook it continuously in the air, while saying with a laugh, “Good rebellious thieve, death is near at hand, you still talk nonsense.” When he dropped the knockout drug into the pot, his body was covering the wine pot; other than Wu Lishen, nobody else saw him doing it. He shook the wine pot to mix the knockout drug with the wine.

Wu Lishen looked at Wei Xiaobao’s eyes; he understood immediately, and was secretly delighted. With a loud voice he said, “Real man looks at death in the eye, if I open my mouth to beg forgiveness, I am not a real man. Just give that pot of wine to me, laozi will drink it without a moment’s hesitation.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You want to drink wine, I am not going to give you any, ha ha, ha ha!” Turning around, he walked back to the banquet table and filled the Imperial Bodyguards’ cups to the brim.

Zhang Kangnian and the guards all stood up, saying, “We don’t dare; how can we let Gong-gong pour the wine?”

“We are all brothers,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why be so polite?” Raising his own cup, he said, “Please, please!”

The Imperial Bodyguards were just about to drink the wine when suddenly there was a shout from the outside, “The Empress Dowager summons Xiao Guizi. Is Xiao Guizi here?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “In here!” he replied, and put the wine cup down. He thought, “The old wh0re is looking for me? What does she want?” as he walked outside to meet the newcomers. He saw four eunuchs; the leader was a big man with both his chest and belly sticking out, he looked rather impressive. Wei Xiaobao kneeled down immediately and said, “Servant Xiao Guizi receives the imperial decree.”

The eunuch said, “The Empress Dowager has something important for you; you are to report to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful immediately.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He stood up, while thinking, “The drugged wine is already poured. As soon as I leave, naturally the Imperial Bodyguards will drink it immediately, then my trickery will be exposed. Nothing I can do about it. But I must not go to Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Do you think Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful is Lovely Spring Courtyard? Where the old wh0re invites moneybags, young and old?” Right now he had numerous Imperial Bodyguards by his side, so he was not afraid at all. He laughed and asked, “Gong-gong, what’s your honorable surname? How come we have never met before?”

“Humph!” the eunuch snorted; he said, “My name is Dong Jinkui. Let’s go now. The Empress Dowager is waiting, we have been looking for you for half of the day!”

Wei Xiaobao stepped forward and got hold of the eunuch’s wrist, saying, “Dong Gong-gong, come and see something interesting.” He pulled the eunuch toward the inside room.

Hearing it was something interesting, Dong Jinkui followed him inside. But as he entered the inner hall, he saw two banquet tables. “Good!” he said in a loud voice, “You live a very happy and prosperous life. Xiao Guizi, the Empress Dowager appointed you to be in charge of the Catering Department, yet you use your official authority for private interest, you are squandering the Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s money.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “These Imperial Bodyguards brothers have rendered great service by capturing the thieves, His Majesty ordered me to reward all of them, from top to bottom. Come, come, come, Dong Gong-gong, and these three Gong-gong, please sit down and drink a cup.”

Dong Jinkui shook his head and said, “I don’t drink! The Empress Dowager summons you, why don’t you quickly go?”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “These Imperial Bodyguards officers are all good friends, if you do not even want to drink a cup with them, you will look down on them too much.”

“I don’t drink wine,” Dong Jinkui said.

Wei Xiaobao turned to Zhang Kangnian and gave him a wink; he said, “Zhang Dage, this Dong Gong-gong’s arrogance is not small, he does not want to drink with us.”

Zhang Kangnian raised a cup and pushed it toward Dong Jinkui’s hand; he said with a laugh, “Dong Gong-gong, we all enjoy this reward together.” Dong Jinkui did not have any choice, he dried up a cup.

“Now that’s what I call a good friend,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “The other three Gong-gong must also drink a cup.” The three eunuchs received three cups from the Imperial Bodyguards’ hands, they also drank the wine.

“Good!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Now everybody accompany them by drinking a cup.” He poured wine into four more empty cups. The Imperial Bodyguards raised their cups and drank their wine.

When raising his cup, Wei Xiaobao used the sleeve of his left hand to cover the wine cup, when he tossed the cup, he poured the wine into his sleeve. Afraid that one cup was not potent enough, he wanted to pour another cup for everybody, but an Imperial Bodyguard took the wine pot from him and said, “Let me pour!”

Dong Jinkui frowned and said, “Gui Gong-gong, when we heard the Empress Dowager summons us, everybody would be on our feet and rush to answer. Why do you leisurely mind your own business by drinking wine? Aren’t you being too disrespectful?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Of course I have my reason. Come, come, come, everybody drink another cup, and then I’ll explain.”

Zhang Kangnian raised his cup toward Dong Jinkui and said, “Dong Gong-gong, please.”

“I don’t have time to drink wine,” Dong Jinkui said, but when he said that, his body swayed slightly.

Wei Xiaobao knew the knockout drug in Dong Jinkui’s stomach was about to take effect; he stooped down suddenly and cried out, “Aiyo, my tummy hurts!”

The Imperial Bodyguards felt dizzy; someone cried out, “What happened? Something’s wrong with the wine!”

Wei Xiaobao shouted angrily, “Dong Gong-gong, you received order from the Empress Dowager to reward us with poisonous wine, didn’t you? Why did you put poison in the wine?”

Dong Jinkui was greatly shocked, with a trembling voice he said, “There … there’s no such thing.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your method is quite ruthless, you dare to poison the wine? Brothers, let us stake our lives to fight him.”

The Imperial Bodyguards were dizzy and light-headed, they were already at the brink of losing their consciousness. ‘Crash! Bang!’ Two of the eunuchs were already unable to withstand the power of the drug, they fell down first, followed by Dong Jinkui, Zhang Kangnian, the rest of the Imperial Bodyguards and the remaining eunuch crashed down one after another onto the tables and the chairs; it was very chaotic.

Wei Xiaobao rushed forward and landed a kick on Dong Jinkui’s body. “Ugh!” Dong Jinkui grunted, his hands and feet twitched, but he was unable to open his eyes. Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic; he rushed to close the door first, and then pulling his dagger, he stabbed Dong Jinkui and the three eunuchs on the chest. “Ah!” Liu Yizhou cried out in great surprise. Wei Xiaobao used the dagger to cut off the ox tendon binding Wu Lishen, Liu Yizhou and Ao Biao’s hands and feet. His dagger could cut iron like cutting mud, it cut the ox tendon like cutting noodles. Wu Lishen and the others, three people’s martial art skill was not weak, especially Wu Lishen whose skill was very profound. Although they were tortured, it was no more than skin and flesh wound, their muscles and bones were not harmed at all.

“Gui Gong-gong,” Liu Yizhou said, “How … how are we going to go out?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Laoyezi, Ao Shixiong, find Imperial Bodyguards whose statures are similar to yours, wear their uniforms. Liu Shixiong, you don’t have any facial hair, you may disguise yourself as an eunuch, take this surnamed Dong’s clothing.”

“Can I disguise myself as an Imperial Bodyguard?” Liu Yizhou asked.

“No, can’t do! You must dress as an eunuch,” Wei Xiaobao said. Liu Yizhou did not dare to argue, he simply nodded. The three of them quickly changed their clothes.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Come with me. No matter who talk with you, just act dumb, do not reply anything.” From his pocket he took out the dissolving powder. He pulled Dong Jinkui’s body to the corner of the room. Using his dagger, he stabbed several times on the upper and lower parts of the corpse, and then sprinkled some powder on each hole to dissolve the body quicker. Only then did he open the door and led the three people out.

Once they were out of the Imperial Bodyguard building, he closed the door behind him, and walked directly toward the Catering Department.

The Catering Department was located east of the Heavenly Purity Palace, it was very close to the Imperial Bodyguard building, so they arrived in almost no time at all. They saw Boss Qian had already been waiting respectfully, his men were carrying two big pigs, already washed out and very clean.

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance sank, “Old Qian,” he shouted harshly, “You are very unreasonable! I told you to bring several good pigs, not thin and dry like this, some old sows that look like they have given birth to seventeen, eighteen litters to skimp on Laozi. You … you … damn it, do you still want to eat?”

As he prattled on, Boss Qian bowed down in fear and repeatedly said, “Yes!”

The eunuchs of the imperial kitchen saw that the two pigs Boss Qian brought were actually big and fat, but the details in which the goods was delivered was actually the only way the eunuch manager of the imperial kitchen took a cut. It did not matter if the cattle, sheep, chicken or duck you delivered was extremely superior, in the mouth of the eunuch manager of the imperial kitchen it all turned into a spoiled, low quality goods that even if it were given as alms to the beggars, nobody would want it. Only if the delivery was accompanied by a bag of money the spoiled, low quality goods would then turn into high-quality goods fit to be eaten by the Emperor or Empress Dowager. When the eunuchs heard Wei Xiaobao, it dawned on them what was going on; they echoed Wei Xiaobao, “Take them out! These two pigs are stinky and rotten, they are only good to be used as fertilizer in the vegetable garden.”

Wei Xiaobao grew angrier, he waved his hand and said to Wu Lishen and the others, three people, “Imperial Bodyguard brothers and Gonggong, please escort this fellow out, kick them out of the Palace altogether and don’t let them come back in.”

Boss Qian did not know Wei Xiaobao’s intention; showing his concern, he said, “Gong-gong, please forgive me for this incident, Xiao … Xiaoren will come back with fatter and bigger pigs, plus some meager … meager gift for Gong-gong. This time … I am asking Gong-gong to bear with me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I want pork, I will send someone to get you. Now go, get lost!”

Bowing deep, Boss Qian said, “Yes, yes!”

The eunuchs of the imperial kitchen looked at each other with a smirk on their faces, they thought, “If you have brought a gift, naturally Gui Gong-gong won’t drive you away.”

Wu Lishen, Liu Yizhou and Ao Biao, three people followed behind Boss Qian, busily pushing him out of the kitchen. Wei Xiaobao also went out after them. When they reached the corridor, he looked around and after ascertaining that nobody else was around, he said in low voice, “Qian Laoxiong [old brother], these three gentlemen are Mu Palace’s heroes; the first one is none other than the renowned Shaking-head Lion Wu Laoyezi.”

“Ah!” Qian Laoben exclaimed, “It’s an honor to meet you at last,” he said happily, “Zaixia did not turn my head to greet the three gentlemen, please do not hold it against me.”

Hearing that he was Wei Xiaobao’s companion, Wu Lishen was delighted, and said busily, “We are in a dangerous place, this ought to be so.”

“Qian Laoge [old brother],” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please tell your honorable society’s Wei Xiangzhu that Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi has accomplished the mission, please take these three good friends to see Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye and Liu Laoyezi. As soon as these three friends left, the Palace will pursue the assassins immediately, you might not be able to enter the Palace anymore.”

“Yes, yes,” Qian Laoben said, “My humble society, from top to bottom, is highly indebted to Gong-gong’s kindness.”

Wu Lishen asked, “So this Qian friend is from Tian Di Hui?”

“Exactly,” Boss Qian replied.

The five of them quickly walked toward the Shen Wu Gate. The guards on the gate saw Wei Xiaobao and respectfully asked his well-being, “Gui Gong-gong, how are you?”

“Everybody, how are you?” Wei Xiaobao replied. Although the Imperial Bodyguards did not recognize Wu Lishen and the others, three people, seeing Wei Xiaobao was pulling Wu Lishen’s right arm, nobody dared to ask anything.

The five of them left the Shen Wu Gate and walked several dozens more steps. Wei Xiaobao said, “Zaixia will have to return to the Palace, I’m sure we will meet again someday. You don’t need to be overly courteous.”

Wu Lishen said, “We do not dare to hope for repaying your kindness in saving our lives. Hereafter if Tian Di Hui has any urgent business, the Old Wu and Old Ao, master and disciple, will go through water and tread on fire without hesitation.”

“I don’t dare,” Wei Xiaobao said. He saw that Liu Yizhou, who was walking ahead in big strides, turning his head to look at them, as if blaming Wu Lishen for not walking quicker; this place was not far from the Palace Gate, they were not out of danger yet.

Wei Xiaobao smiled slightly, and walked back toward the Shen Wu Gate. He said to the Imperial Bodyguards at the Gate, “That Gong-gong is the Empress Dowager’s trusted aide, he said he is being sent on mission by the Empress Dowager, he asked me to personally escort those few men out of the Palace. Damn it, don’t they know the way out?”

“They are so arrogant!” the Imperial Bodyguards replied, “How can they dare to tire out Gui Gong-gong? Who do they think they are? The Prince[15]?”

Another Imperial Bodyguard said, “Even the Prince will not ask Gui Gong-gong to personally escort him out.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “They are the Empress Dowager’s envoy, they action is unfathomable, I have suspicion in my heart, but that eunuch showed me a decree in the Empress Dowager’s personal handwriting, so we as the servants won’t dare not to obey, right?”

“Yes, yes!” the Imperial Bodyguards replied, “What can we do about it?”

Wei Xiaobao returned to the Imperial Bodyguard building and saw everyone was still unconscious, nobody awoke yet. He scooped a pot of cold water and splashed it onto Zhang Kangnian’s head. Zhang Kangnian slowly woke up, he smiled and said. “Gui Gong-gong, how could I be drunk that easily?” He was embarrassed as he sat up. As he saw the condition of the room, he was greatly shocked. “How … how … those assassins … are they gone?” he said with a trembling voice.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Empress Dowager sent that surnamed Dong eunuch to drug us all, and took the three assassins away.”

The knockout drug was clearly coming from Zhang Kangnian who had personally fetched it and given it to Wei Xiaobao. When he heard this, he did not believe it the least bit, but the effect of the drug had not vanished completely, his mind was still muddled, he did not know how to reply.

“Zhang Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Chief Dolong secretly told you to let the assassins out, didn’t he?”

Zhang Kangnian nodded. “Chief Dolong said that it was His Majesty’s secret order; after the assassins are released, we are to investigate who the rebellious thief boss is.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “That’s right. But when the assassins escape from the Palace, are the guards watching over them guilty or not?”

Zhang Kangnian was startled. “That … that … naturally we are guilty, but … but it was Chief Dolong himself who gave us the order. We are the subordinates, we only followed orders.”

“Did Chief Dolong give you any written order?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Zhang Kangnian was even more startled. “He … he did not,” he replied, “He said it with his own mouth, why should … why should I need a written order? Chief Dolong said it was His Majesty’s order.”

“Did Chief Dolong show you His Majesty’s imperial edict in his own handwriting?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“No … he did not,” Zhang Kangnian’s voice trembled, “Could it be … could it be that Chief Dolong did not tell the truth?” His entire body trembled, his teeth chattered, making a ‘click, click’ noise.

“Not that he did not tell the truth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am only afraid Chief Dolong would not want to admit mistakes, at the last moment he might shift the blame on you; won’t that be terrible? Zhang Dage, why did His Majesty want to set the assassins free?”

Zhang Kangnian said, “Chief Dolong said that we want to extract the information on who is the mastermind behind this from the three assassins.”

“That is the truth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that when the assassins escape from the Palace, and this matter is not investigated, even the assassins won’t believe it. And then the mastermind behind them could not be found. Perhaps His Majesty would execute several people and announce it publicly, so that the assassins won’t get suspicious.”

By saying this, Wei Xiaobao was not slandering the Emperor; Kangxi did order him to kill several Imperial Bodyguards to make the assassins believe him.

Zhang Kangnian was so frightened that he fell on his knees and cried out, “Gong-gong, please save me!” While repeatedly kowtowed to Wei Xiaobao.

“Zhang Dage is overly courteous,” Wei Xiaobao said. He reached out to help him up, and said with a laugh, “We have some friends readily available to take the blame. We’ll shift the blame onto those four eunuchs’ heads. We’ll say they used knockout drug to drug us all and set the assassins free; won’t that clear you from responsibility? When His Majesty hears that these four eunuchs were sent by the Empress Dowager, naturally he won’t investigate it further. His Majesty did not really want to kill you, as long as there is someone to take the blame, we will cover up this matter of escaping assassins. His Majesty may even reward you.”

Zhang Kangnian was ecstatic, “Wonderful, wonderful!” he cried out, “Thank you Gong-gong, for your kindness in saving my life.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Even if I did not save your life, but by not killing you with a stab when you were unconscious, I have actually shown you mercy. With his own golden mouth the Emperor has ordered me to kill several Imperial Bodyguards.” He said, “Let us quickly awaken the brothers, we’ll tell them that those four eunuchs have come to set the assassins free.”

“Yes, yes!” Zhang Kangnian replied, yet he was still unsure whether he could really escape the responsibility. In his frightened state, his limbs felt weak. He scooped up some cold water and revived the Imperial Bodyguards.

When they all heard that eunuch Dong Jinkui had drugged them, killed the other three eunuchs, and rescued the three assassins, they all broke into cursing and swearing. But in their hearts they all wondered, “Why did the Empress Dowager want to release the assassins? Could it be that those assassins were sent by the Empress Dowager?” But since it involved the Empress Dowager, they only dared to ponder it in their hearts, nobody dared to voice their doubt publicly. By this time Dong Jinkui’s body, as well as his clothes, had already vanished completely, they all assumed that he had led the assassins out of the Palace.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his own residence. As soon as he entered the inner room, Mu Jianping busily asked, “Gui Dage, do you have any news?”

“Gui Dage does not have any news,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But Good Gege has some.”

Mu Jianping smiled and said, “It’s not me who is anxious about the news. The one who is anxious is the one who should call you Good Gege.”

A burst of redness appeared on Fang Yi’s face. “Good Xiongdi[16]!” she said in a low voice, “You are younger than I am, I’ll just call you Good Xiongdi, is that alright?”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “My good wife has turned into my good Jiejie[17], in an instant the hen has turned into a duck. It’s alright. I have rescued him!”

Fang Yi sat up abruptly. With a trembling voice she said, “You … did you say my Liu Shige has been rescued out?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A real man gave his words, some horses cannot chase it. I promised you I would rescue him, naturally I did.”

“How … how did you save him?” Fang Yi asked.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “A recluse sage possesses a brilliant scheme. Next time you see your Shige, he can tell you in person.”

Fang Yi heaved a deep sigh, she raised her head toward the ceiling and said, “Thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, it is indeed Bodhisattva’s blessing.”

Seeing Fang Yi’s expression, which clearly showed her delight from the bottom of her heart, Wei Xiaobao was enraged, he snorted softly, and no longer said anything.

Mu Jianping said, “Shijie, you thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, and thank Bodhisattva, how come you did not thank the Good Xiongdi?”

Fang Yi said, “Good Xiongdi‘s great benevolence and kindness cannot be repaid by simply saying one ‘thank you’.”

Listening to her, Wei Xiaobao’s cheerful mood returned; “You don’t need to repay me,” he said.

“Good Xiongdi, did Liu Shige say anything?” Fang Yi asked.

“He did not say much,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He only asked me to save him.”

“Um, did he ask about us?” Fang Yi asked.

Wei Xiaobao cocked his head to think, then he said, “He did not. I told him that you are in a very safe place, and that he doesn’t have to worry, soon I may send you out to meet him.”

Fang Yi nodded. “Yes!” she said. Suddenly two lines of tears flowing down her cheeks.

“Shijie,” Mu Jianping said, “Why are you crying?”

Fang Yi said with a sob, “I … I am so happy in my heart.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Damn it, for that pretty boy[18] Liu Yizhou you are this happy, laozi does not like to look at this tumultuous wave too much. Xiao Xuanzi told me to investigate the mastermind behind the assassination attempt, I’d better go out to fool around a little bit, then come back to report to him.”

Leaving the Palace immediately, he strolled leisurely around the Heavenly Bridge area.

[1] Chinese shawm, a double-reed woodwind instrument, similar to modern day Oboe.

[2] An old fashioned square table to seat eight people.

[3] Nujiang river, south of Tibet and northwest of Yunnan, the upper reaches of Salween river, forming border of Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand.

[4] Orig. ‘Lao di’ – old younger brother. Also in subsequent paragraphs. Liu Dahong always refer to Tian Di Hui people as ‘lao di’.

[5] Orig. Jing Cheng Zhili, i.e. Ming and Qing dynasty provinces directly administered by Beijing, including Beijing, Tianjin, most of Hebei, Henan, and part of Shandong.

[6] Lit. Old Master. The online text has ‘Laobobo’ – Old Uncle (someone older than one’s own father), or Grandpa, a polite form of address for old man.

[7] Lit. ‘scabies/skin disease dysentery little third’. Xiao Sanzi can also mean ‘the other man (or woman), someone who is romantically involved with married woman/man.

[8] I just want to point out that Wei Xiaobao’s list was a lot longer than this: paternal and maternal grandparents (yeye, nainai, waigong, waipo), maternal uncles and aunts and their spouses (yizhang, yimu, jiujiu, jiumu), paternal aunts and their husbands (guzhang, gumu), maternal cousins, male and female, younger and older (biaoge, biaodi, biaojie, biaomei). Interestingly, he did not mention other relatives from his father’s side (paternal uncles and their spouses and paternal cousins).

[9] Lit. ‘youth’; it is also a term of endearment to address one’s husband (or in this case, husband-to-be).

[10] Orig. ‘coveting Sichuan once Gansu has been seized’.

[11] Wearing green cap – one’s spouse is having an affair behind one’s back.

[12] Orig. 义薄云天. Only in formal Chinese does ‘薄’ mean ‘approach/reaches’; thus, it’s very natural for Wei Xiaobao to interpret it as meaning ‘thin/meager’, which is what ‘薄’ usually means. (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

[13] Orig. ‘a thousand pounds hangs by a thread’.

[14] The battle of Chang Ban Po was one of the most famous battles in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in large part due to the heroics of Liu Bei’s general Zhao Yun, also known as Zhao Zilong. In the battle, Zhao Zilong slew Xiahou En [whom Wei Xiaobao called ‘Xiaohou-something’) and took the precious ‘Qinggang Sword’, which actually belonged to Cao Cao himself, from Xiaohou En’s corpse. With the Qinggang Sword, his own spear, and while carrying Liu Bei’s only son Liu Shan, Zhao Zilong charged in and out of Cao Cao’s formations seven times in succession, slaying over 50 of Cao Cao’s commanders, before finally being able to break through and escape with Liu Bei’s child. Cao Cao, witnessing his valor, had ordered his archers not to shoot at Zhao Yun, hoping to take him alive and sway him to his own side. (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

[15]Orig. 亲王贝勒 (qin wang bei lei) 亲王, meaning ‘royal prince’, and 贝勒, which is a Mongolian title which means much the same thing; i.e., a prince with blood ties to the royal family, usually a son of an Emperor. (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

[16] Reminder: Xiongdi is a generic term for ‘brother’, as opposed to Gege, which is a term of endearment (sometimes even carries romantic notion) to address a male older than oneself.

[17] Jiejie is the female counterpart of Gege. See note 18 above.

[18] Orig. Xiao Bai Lian – little white face.

Chapter 14 Exiles willing to perish for the hatred of a nation, seasons change the grieve for suffering people.

The area nearby the Heavenly Bridge of Beijing was full of peddlers selling all kinds of goods and street performers, it was also the place where Jianghu wanderers congregate. Wei Xiaobao had not come near the area when he saw twenty officers from the yamen with two bailiffs on the lead, dragging an iron chain, in which five shabby-clothed peddlers were locked. The officers were carrying seven or eight poles made of straw bundled together, the straw poles were full of candied fruits on sticks [bing tang hu lu, see previous chapter], so those five peddlers were obviously selling candied fruits.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved, he dodged to the side; as he watched the five peddlers locked by the officers passed by, he heard from among the crowd an old man said with a sigh, “These years, even selling candied fruits is violating the law of heavens.”

Wei Xiaobao was just about to inquire when suddenly he heard a cough, someone was coming close to him, the man had bent waist and hunched back, all the hair on his head was white, he was none other than the Eight-Armed Ape Xu Tianchuan. He signaled Wei Xiaobao with his eyes, and turned around to leave. Wei Xiaobao followed behind him. When they were in a secluded spot, Xu Tianchuan said, “Wei Xiangzhu, great news!”

Wei Xiaobao smiled slightly, he thought, “So you knew about I rescued Wu Lishen and the others out.” He said, “It was nothing.”

Xu Tianchuan stared at him. “Nothing?” he said, “Zongduozhu is here!”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “My … my Shifu is here?” he stammered.

“Exactly,” Xu Tianchuan said, “He arrived last night, he wanted me to try to contact Wei Xiangzhu, and have you meet the Senior immediately.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said. He had not seen his Shifu for more than half a year, and had not practiced martial art at all. When Shifu saw him, he might inquire the progress of Wei Xiaobao’s training, and he would have had to turn in a blank exam paper, how would it be good? Trying to stall, he said, “I am on an errand from the Emperor, I must return and report immediately. Let me finish this mission, and then I’ll see Shifu.”

Xu Tianchuan said, “Zongduozhu instructed me that he cannot stay in Beijing for long, he is asking Wei Xiangzhu to see him immediately no matter what.”

Seeing he could not make any more excuses, Wei Xiaobao did not have any choice but to brace himself and follow behind Xu Tianchuan toward Tian Di Hui’s temporary lodging. He mused, “If only I knew, these days I would simply stay inside the Palace and do not go out. Shifu can’t possibly come into the Palace and grab me out.”

Before they even entered the alley, he had already seen Tian Di Hui brethrens scattered around on the side of the street and at the mouth of the alley, acting as lookouts for their Zongduozhu. As he entered the building, he saw more people standing on guard by the doors.

When they reached the rear hall, he saw Chen Jinnan was sitting in the middle, talking to Li Lishi, Guan Anji, Fan Gang, Priest Xuanzhen, Qi Biaoqing, and the others. Wei Xiaobao rushed forward and kneeled down on the floor, calling out, “Shifu, you, Senior have arrived, now you may bring your disciple to a stop.”

“Good, good, good child,” Chen Jinnan said with a laugh, “Everybody praises you very much.”

Wei Xiaobao stood up; seeing his Shifu’s expression was very warm, half of the load in his heart was gone. “Shifu, are you well?” he asked.

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “I am very well. How is your martial art training? Is there any area which is not clear to you?”

Wei Xiaobao had already considered how he was going to offer excuses when his Shifu investigate his martial art training. Shifu was very astute, he would not be easily fooled, Wei Xiaobao would have to change according to the situation; he said, “There are a lot of areas not clear to me, I was hoping Shifu would come so I could ask Shifu for directions.”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Very good, this time I want to stay with you for a few days so that I can instruct you well.”

As he was saying this, the brother guarding the gate hurried came in, bowed and said, “Reporting to Zongduozhu: some people are paying a visit, they say they are from Mu Palace of Yunnan, Mu Jiansheng and Liu Dahong.”

Chen Jinnan was greatly delighted; he stood up and said, “Let’s greet them quickly.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Disciple has not changed my attire, it’s rather inconvenient to meet them.”

“You’re right,” Chen Jinnan said, “Wait for me in the back.”

Tian Di Hui people flocked out to greet the guests, Wei Xiaobao turned around toward the back of the hall, pulled a chair, and sat down.

Before long, he heard Liu Dahong’s loud and clear laughter, saying, “Zaixia’s lifelong aspiration is to see the world-famous Chen Zongduozhu. Today my desire is fulfilled, I am truly delighted.”

Chen Jinnan said, “To received Old Hero Liu’s respected affection, Zaixia is ashamed and dare not accept the honor.” They were entering the hall as they talked, and sat in their respective places as guests and hosts.

Mu Jiansheng said, “Is your honorable Society’s Wei Xiangzhu not here? Zaixia wants to personally thank him. Not one in my humble home, from top to bottom, does not appreciate Wei Xiangzhu’s great benevolence and kindness.”

Chen Jinnan had not known the reason, he was puzzled. “Wei Xiaobao is a very young child, Xiao Gongye holds him in such a high regard, you are praising the little kid too much.”

Someone said with a loud voice, “Zaixia, master and disciple, along with this Liu Shizhi [martial nephew Liu], our lives are saved by Wei Xiangzhu. Wei Xiangzhu’s righteousness reaches the clouds and the sky. Zaixia has told your honorable Society’s Qian Shifu, if honorable Society ever has any urgent business, the one surnamed Wu, master and disciple, will receive the orders any time.” From his voice, Wei Xiaobao knew he was the ‘Shaking Head Lion’ Wu Lishen.

Chen Jinnan was still unclear, he asked, “Qian Xiongdi, what matter was that?”

Qian Laoben accompanied Wu Lishen and the other, three people, to Mu Jiansheng’s residence, and was invited to enjoy meat and wine together with them. Afterwards, Mu Jiansheng and Liu Dahong personally took their people, asking Qian Laoben to lead the way, to Tian Di Hui’s temporary lodging to express their gratitude. They did not expect Zongduozhu to be there. Presently, hearing Chen Jinnan’s question, he briefly narrated what had happened. He said that Wei Xiangzhu had a good friend, who was an eunuch in the Qing Palace. This friend had accepted Wei Xiangzhu’s request, in spite of the danger, he had rescued Wu Lishen, three people, and had them out of the Palace.

As soon as Chen Jinnan heard the story, he knew that this good friend of Wei Xiangzhu was none other than Wei Xiaobao himself. He was very pleased, and said with a laugh, “Xiao Gongye, Liu Laoyezi, Wu Dage, the three of you are too polite. Our humble Society and your Mu Palace are working on a common cause. When one of our own is in trouble, we ought to lend a hand, that is only proper; how can you consider it as some benevolence or kindness that needs to be repaid? That Wei Xiaobao is Zaixia’s young disciple, he is young and does not understand much, it’s just that concerning yi qi, these two characters, he holds it in such a high regard …” Speaking to this point, he hesitated, “Xiaobao mingling in Qing Palace is actually a top secret, I hope he can pry into important classified information in the Palace to the benefit of the great undertaking of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. Since he had accomplished this major mission, sooner or later this news will spread in the Jianghu. If I conceal it from the Mu Palace, it will mean I am not regarding them as friends.”

Wu Lishen said, “We really want to see Wei Xiangzhu to express our gratitude in person.”

Chen Jinnan laughed and said, “We are all good friends, although the implication of this matter will not be small, I can’t conceal it from you. The one mingling in the Palace and became a little eunuch is my young disciple Wei Xiaobao himself. Xiaobao, come out and greet these Seniors.”

From behind the wall of the hall Wei Xiaobao replied, “Yes!” He turned around and came out, cupping his fist to salute everybody.

Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong, Wu Lishen, and the others stood up simultaneously, they were greatly amazed. They did not expect Wei Xiangzhu to be a little eunuch. Wu Lishen, Ao Biao, Liu Yizhou, three people did not expect the little eunuch who saved their lives was Wei Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui.

With a giggle Wei Xiaobao said to Wu Lishen, “Wu Laoyezi, just now in the imperial Palace, junior was telling you a fake name, would Senior please don’t blame me.”

Wu Lishen said, “We were in a dangerous place, it ought to be so. I was just talking to Ao Biao, that young hero handles the matter neatly, he has guts, he has lofty quality, he is truly an extraordinary character; how can there be such distinguished person in the Tatars’ womb? We were feeling strange. Turns out he is a Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui. That’s … hey, hey, no wonder, no wonder!” While saying that, he raised his thumb and did not stop shaking his head, his face showed his great admiration.

‘Shaking Head Lion’ Wu Lishen was Liu Dahong’s younger martial brother, his reputation in Jianghu was quite resounding. Hearing him praising and commending his disciple, Chen Jinnan was greatly delighted. He laughed and said, “Wu Xiong should not praise him too much, you are spoiling a little child.”

Liu Dahong tossed his head backwards and laughed aloud, he said, “Chen Zongduozhu, you alone can occupy the most prestigious position in the Wulin world. Your martial art skill is profound, your reputation is resounding, Tian Di Hui prospers like this under your leadership, moreover, you have received such a disciple who adds glory to you.”

Chen Jinnan cupped his fist and said, “Liu Laoyezi, by saying that, you are spoiling me.”

Liu Dahong said, “Chen Zongduozhu, in all my life, the number of people whom the one surnamed Liu admires is not that many. Your elegant manner has made me admire you from the bottom of my heart. Someday when the Tatars have been driven away and our Fifth Prince Zhu ascends the dragon throne, there won’t be a better person to be the Prime Minister other than yourself.”

Chen Jinnan smiled slightly and said, “Zaixia is without virtue and without ability, how can I dare to accept such an eminent status?”

Qi Biaoqing interrupted, “Liu Laoyezi, after the Tatars are driven away, the Third Prince Zhu will become the Emperor, he will restore the Great Ming. Everybody will definitely invite you, Senior, to hold the Grand Marshal position over the soldiers and horses.”

Liu Dahong’s eyes grew wide, he said, “You … what did you say? What Third Prince Zhu?”

Qi Biaoqing said, “When the Son of Heaven Longwu died for his country, he left behind the Third Prince Zhu, who is temporarily taking his residence in Taiwan. When our rivers and mountains are restored, naturally he will become the ruler.”

Liu Dahong sprang up, he said fiercely, “This time Tian Dihui saved my Shidi [younger martial brother] and his disciple, we have received great favor from you. But about the legitimacy of the Great Ming’s Son of Heaven, we must not make the least bit of mistake. Qi Laodi [old younger brother], the rightful Emperor ordained by heaven is clearly the Fifth Prince Zhu. Emperor Yongli was the rightful Emperor of the Great Ming, everybody in the world knows. You must not speak nonsense.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Liu Laoyezi, please don’t lose your temper. There is an important task in front of us, namely contacting Jianghu heroes; together we will oppose the Manchurian Qing. As for whether it will be the Third Prince Zhu or Fifth Prince Zhu who will become the Emperor in the future, it is still too early to mention, we should not harm the friendship between us. Naturally who will be the legitimate Emperor of the Great Ming is an important matter, but it is not for us as the officers to understand clearly for a short while. Come, come, come, let’s have some wine, we’ll drink and be merry first. As long as everybody work together for a common purpose, namely to wipe out the Tatars, what matter cannot be discussed slowly?”

Mu Jiansheng shook his head and said, “Chen Zongduozhu is wrong here! When the man is not just, the words will be unfavorable, when the words are unfavorable, the endeavor will not succeed. We are supporting the Fifth Prince Zhu not to covet any glory and riches. If only Chen Zongduozhu understood the ‘Mandate of Heaven’, you would display utter loyalty to the Fifth Prince Zhu. We from the Mu Palace, from top to bottom, exhort Chen Zongduozhu to the greatest extend not to dare to disobey.”

Chen Jinnan smiled and shook his head. “The sky cannot have two suns, the people cannot have two rulers. The Third Prince Zhu is alive and well in Taiwan. Taiwan’s several hundred thousand troops, Tian Di Hui’s more than a hundred thousand brothers, have already vowed loyalty and devotion to the Thirds Prince Zhu long ago.”

With glowering eyes Liu Dahong loudly said, “Chen Zongduozhu is talking about several hundred thousand troops, more than a hundred thousand brothers, are you trying to rely on numbers to gain victory? But the millions of common people all know that the Son of Heaven Yongli perished for his country in Myanmar, he was the last emperor of the Great Ming. If we do not stand up for the Emperor Yongli’s offspring, won’t we let this Son of Heaven of the Great Ming, who had suffered untold hardships, and finally died a horrible death, down?” If his voice was originally sounded like a mighty bell, this loud speech was even more ear-splitting; but at the end of his speech, his heart ached and his voice unexpectedly turned hoarse.

Chen Jinnan’s visit to Beijing this time was actually to learn more about Xu Tianchuan, who because of the dispute about the legitimacy of King Tang over King Gui had had a fight with the Bai Family Brothers of the Mu Palace, to such an extent as to accidentally kill Bai Hansong. Chen Jinnan was wholeheartedly devoted to the great undertaking of fighting the Qing, restoring the Ming. If the Tatars had not been driven out, yet there was a struggle between partners of the common goal, the great endeavor of fighting the Qing would face severe obstacle. Therefore, as soon as he learned about it, he rushed in that same night from Henan to the Capital, hoping that by exercising extreme forbearance he would be able to obtain Mu Palace’s forgiveness.

Upon his arrival in Beijing, he inquired right away and found out that the situation was much better than he anticipated. Tian Di Hui people in Beijing, under the leadership of Wei Xiaobao, had already met face to face with the head of the Mu Palace, neither side dishonor each other, there was hope yet for the better. After learning that Wei Xiaobao had saved Wu Lishen and the others, three people, he had no doubt that the unintentional killing of Ban Hansong by Xu Tianchuan would be settled. Unexpectedly Qi Biaoqing and Liu Dahong raised the subject of Tang-Gui’s strive for the throne; the situation had once again become gradually tense [lit. ‘with swords drawn and bows bent’].

Seeing Liu Dahong shedding tears when talking about Yongli losing his life for his country, he could not help his own heart from hurting; he said, “His Majesty Yongli died for his country, man and heaven were angered. The people of old said, ‘Although Chu has only three households, when the Qin perishes, Chu must rise[1]’, much less our Han people, who are a hundred times more numerous than the Tatars? Although the Tatars’ power is great, our Han people must be ‘millions of people all of one mind’, there’s no need to worry about not able to drive out the barbarians and restoring our rivers and mountains. Mu Xiao Gongye, Liu Laoyezi, our hatred is unavenged, why do we have a dispute among ourselves first? Today we make a plan, we ought to work together with our heart and soul, to kill that servant Wu Sangui, to avenge His Majesty Yongli, and to avenge Mu Lao Gongye [old duke Mu].”

Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong, Wu Lishen, and the others stood up and said together, “Very true, very true!” Some people had tears streaming down their faces, some people shook all over their bodies, they were all overwhelmed with excitement.

Chen Jinnan continued, “In the end, whether it will be Long Wu or Yongli on the throne, we need not haggle over it now. Mu Xiao Gongye, Liu Laoyezi, heroes all over the world, whoever kill Wu Sangui, everybody will accept his orders!”

Mu Jiansheng’s father, Mu Tianbo, was killed by Wu Sangui; day and night he always considered how to kill Wu Sangui. Hearing Chen Jinnan, he was the first to call out, “Exactly, whoever kills Wu Sangui, the heroes all over the world will accept his orders.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Mu Xiao Gongye, my humble Society will make a pledge to your honorable Palace, if your honorable Palace’s hero kills Wu Sangui, Tian Di Hui, from top to bottom, will accept Mu Palace’s orders …”

Mu Jiansheng caught on and said, “If Tian Di Hui’s hero kills Wu Sangui, Mu Family of Yunnan, from Mu Jiansheng to the next in line, each and every one will accept Chen Zongduozhu’s orders!” The two of them stretched out their hands and ‘clap!’ they struck each other palm.

In Jianghu, an oath set up by three strikes of palms means neither side could renege on their words.

The two of them had just about to strike their palms the second time when suddenly from the roof came a long laugh and a voice said, “What if I killed Wu Sangui?”

From the east and west corners of the house some people shouted, “Who’s there?” Tian Di Hui people on guard duty rushed in to question the newcomer. There was a light clapping noise as someone leaped from the top of the house to the courtyard, the long window of the hall opened without any blowing wind, with speed beyond imagination, a dark green shadow flashed and entered the hall. From the east Guan Anji and Xu Tianchuan, from the west Liu Dahong and Wu Lishen, simultaneously stretched out their arms to block. The man lightly leaped up and flew over the top of the four men’s heads, and stood in front of Chen Jinnan and Mu Jiansheng.

With Guan, Xu, Li and Wu, four people cooperating, unexpectedly they still failed to block. The man’s one foot barely landed on the floor, four people’s fingers had already grabbed his body. Guan Anji grabbed his right shoulder, Xu Tianchuan grabbed his left flank, Liu Dahong pinched his left arm, Wu Lishen wrapped his arms around his lower back. All four had used high-level qin na technique.

The man did not resist at all, he laughed and said, “Is this the way Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace treat a good friend?”

They saw this man was wearing a dark green long robe, his age was about twenty five, twenty six, his stature was tall and slim, his appearance looked like a feeble scholar.

Chen Jinnan cupped his fist and said, “May I ask Sire’s honored surname and great given name? Are you a good friend?”

The scholar said with a laugh, “If not a good friend, I won’t be here.” Suddenly he shrank his body as if he turned into a lump of meat. Guan Anji and the others, four people’s grip suddenly loosened, they grabbed empty air. Amidst the ripping noise of the silk, a dark shadow rose upward. Chen Jinnan let out a long laugh as he grabbed with his right hand. The scholar escaped from the four people’s clutch, but suddenly he felt his left ankle was grabbed as if it was bound with an iron hoop. Swiftly he moved his right foot to kick Chen Jinnan’s face. It was a powerful kick; with one swift motion Chen Jinnan picked up a small table beside him and raised it to block. ‘Crash!’ the mahogany table was smashed. Chen Jinnan swung his right hand to throw him to the ground. The scholar’s buttocks landed on the floor, but like a skater, his body slid several zhang on the dark green brick floor. Straightening up his waist, he stood up leaning against the wall.

There was a piece of cloth remained in each of Guan Anji, Xu Tianchuan, Liu Dahong and Wu Lishen, four people’s hands; it was the piece they pulled from the scholar’s long gown. This turn of events was as swift as a falcon swooping on a rabbit, it was unbelievably fast and nimble. The six of them moved with such agility and clarity that the spectators on the side could see everything clearly, they all could not help but broke in loud cheer. The one cheered the loudest was still the ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ Liu Dahong, while Wu Lishen shook his head repeatedly; his face showed part ashamed, part full of admiration.

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Since Sire is a good friend, why don’t you sit down and drink some tea?”

The scholar cupped his fist and said, “I’ll drink the tea to thank you for your hospitality.” With slow and measured steps he walked toward the row of chairs, cupped his fist toward everybody to salute, and then sat down on the last chair. If they did not see him demonstrating his agility just now, nobody would believe this gentle scholar possessed such a profound martial art skill.

Chen Jinnan laughed and said, “Sire, why too modest? Please take the seat of honor!”

The scholar shook his hand, “I don’t dare, I don’t dare!” he said, “That Zaixia can sit together with gentlemen, the heroes, is already the biggest good fortune in my entire life, how can I dare to take the seat of honor? Chen Zongduozhu, just now you asked my name, but I have not replied; it was very disrespectful. Zaixia surnamed Li, my given name is Xihua.”

When Chen Jinnan, Liu Dahong and the others heard him announcing his name, they all thought, “I have never heard of Li Xihua in Wulin world, most probably it’s a fictitious name. But among the young generation heroes, I have never heard someone with such excellent martial art skill either.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Zaixia is ignorant and inexperienced. That there is such excellent hero in Jianghu, unexpectedly I have not heard, I am indeed ashamed.”

Li Xihua laughed aloud and said, “People say that Chen Zongduozhu of Tian Di Hui treats people with sincerity, and sure enough, it is a fully justified reputation. When you heard my lowly name, if you had said, ‘It’s an honor to meet you at last’, then unavoidably in my heart I would have a thirty percent lack of respect. Zaixia has just made my debut[2], I have not made the least bit of name in Jianghu. Even I won’t greet myself with ‘It’s an honor to meet you at last’, much less other people? Ha ha, ha ha …!”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Now that we meet, Li Xiong‘s great name will spread throughout the Jianghu; after this, whoever meet Li Xiong will have to greet you with ‘It’s an honor to meet you at last’!” Indeed it was the highest praise, everybody could hear it. Four high-level martial art experts from Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace unexpectedly failed to block and hold him down. Chen Jinnan exchanged two moves with him, but he barely gained the upper hand. In a matter of days everybody near and far would naturally hear about such skill.

Li Xihua shook his hand and said, “Not so, the style Zaixia displayed just now was no more than minor skill, unavoidably it is considered somewhat heretical. This old gentleman used ‘Claw Appears from the Cloud’, he grabbed my arm until it nearly broke. This bearded friend who loves to shake his head wrapped his arms around my waist, presumably it was the move ‘Seizing-Rabbit Hand’, his grab made me neither cry nor laugh. This white-bearded grandpa used the moved ‘Ape Fetches the Peach’, he really grabbed my flank as if it was a Pantao[3], he grabbed so firmly and was not willing to release again. This long-bearded friend used the technique … um, um, it was a very ingenious move, wasn’t it the ‘Cheng Huang[4] Pulls Little Demon’?”

Guan Anji raised his left thumb, acknowledging that he was right. Actually, the move was called the ‘Little Demon Pulls Cheng Huang’; by reversing the name, i.e. calling himself ‘liitle demon’, he was being modest.

From the time Guan Anji and the others, four people, made their move together to grab his body to the time he struggled free and leaped was only a moment, yet he unexpectedly was able to name the moves these four people had used without the slightest mistake; apparently his knowledge and experience was above his martial art skill.

Liu Dahong said, “Li Xiong, you skill is profound, your insight is even more profound.”

Li Xihua shook his hand and said, “Laoyezi praises me too much. The moves the four gentlemen used on my body, any one of those is able to take my life. But the four gentlemen were careful not to overdo it, hence did not harm Zaixia the slightest bit. The four Seniors were being lenient, Zaixia is very grateful.”

Liu Dahong and the others were very pleased in their hearts. Each one of the four moves ‘Claw Appears from the Cloud’, ‘Seizing-Rabbit Hand’, ‘Ape Fetches the Peach’ and ‘Little Demon Pulls Cheng Huang’ could turn into extremely fierce killer strike just by adding a little bit more force to it. By pointing out this fact, Li Xihua had considerably increased the four people’s face.

Chen Jinnan said, “Li Xiong has honored us with your presence, I wonder what instruction do you have for me?”

“I am here to admit my guilt first,” Li Xihua replied, “Zaixia always admires Chen Zongduozhu. This time, quite by accident, I learned about Chen Zongduozhu‘s arrival in Beijing. No matter what, I have to come to express my admiration. It’s just that I do not know anybody who would present me to you. Without any better option, I took the liberty to come uninvited, eavesdropping the gentlemen’s conversation on the rooftop. Zaixia hates that traitor Wu Sangui to the bones, I wish to dismember his body into ten thousand pieces, thus I could not bear not to open my mouth. I hope gentlemen would forgive me.” While saying that, he stood up and bowed to salute.

Everybody also stood up simultaneously to return the salute. Several leaders of Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace introduced themselves. Although Wei Xiaobao was a Tian Di Hui leader, and presently his rank was second only to Chen Jinnan, but since all along Li Xihua’s gaze had never landed on his face, Wei Xiaobao did not say anything.

Mu Jiansheng said, “Since Sire is the enemy of that thief Wu, we share a common enemy, which means we are of the same principle; there is no harm in us joining hands, in scheming together to punish this big traitor.”

“Absolutely, absolutely,” Li Xihua said, “Just now Xiao Gongye and Chen Zongduozhu were making an oath by striking your palms three times, but Zaixia brazenly interrupted it. After the two gentlemen finished the three strikes, may Zaixia also strike your palms three times?”

Liu Dahong said, “Sire is saying that if you killed Wu Sangui, all heroes and warriors of Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace should accept your orders?”

“I absolutely do not dare,” Li Xihua said, “Zaixia is just a kid of younger generation, I will be perfectly contented to follow the heroes here; how can I dare to say I want to hold command over all of you?”

Liu Dahong nodded and said, “In that case, in Sire’s mind, which one is the Late Emperor’s legitimate successor to the throne of the Great Ming, Longwu or Yongli?”

In the past, Liu Dahong followed Emperor Yongli and Mu Tianbo fled to the southwest, entering Myanmar from Yunnan, experiencing inexhaustible hardships and perils; the result was Yongli was still killed by Wu Sangui. For this reason he made a blood oath to assist Yongli’s descendant to ascend the dragon throne. In general, Chen Jinnan was more thoughtful toward their goal, he was unwilling to let internal strife damage their mission, but unexpectedly this hot-blooded old hero could not forget this matter.

Li Xihua said, “Zaixia has something that might be offensive to you, I am asking everybody’s forgiveness first.”

Liu Dahong’s countenance changed slightly; he blurted out, “Sire is King Lu’s former subordinate?” After Ming Dynasty’s Emperor Chongzhen died, independent resistance against the Qing arose in various regions. There was King Fu, and then King Tang, King Lu and King Gui. As soon as Liu Dahong said that, he realized he was speaking incorrectly. Looking at Li Xihua’s age, he was most likely born after the Qing troops entered the pass, so he could not possibly be King Lu’s former subordinate. He asked, “Was Sire’s former generation King Lu’s former subordinate?”

Li Xihua did not answer his inquiry, he said, “When the Tatars are driven out in the future, any descendant of Chongzhen, King Fu, King Tang, King Lu and King Gui could become the emperor. Actually, as long as he is a Han, who cannot be the Emperor? Why can’t Mu Xiao Gongye or Liu Laoyezi be the Emperor? Zheng Wangye from Taiwan, even Chen Zongduozhu himself, not necessarily cannot be the Emperor. When the Great Ming’s Taizu Huangdi [founder emperor] drove out Mongolian Emperor, he did not ask any descendant of the Song Dynasty’s Zhao family to be the Emperor, but he himself ascended the great throne, yet everybody was delighted and sincerely willing to accept him.”

Nobody had ever heard such reasoning before, without exception their countenance changed.

Liu Dahong slapped a small table by his side with his right hand, “Your speech can be considered treason and heresy,” he said in stern voice,  “We are the remnant of the Great Ming, lone officials and unfilial sons; we only strive to revive the Ming Dynasty, how can we store this kind of ambition of the wild wolves in our hearts?”

Li Xihua was not angry, he showed a faint smile and said, “Liu Laoyezi, there is one thing Junior does not understand, I’d like to consult you about something we have just talked about. During the last years of the Great Ming, the Mongolian Tatars took possession of our Han people’s beautiful rivers and mountains, our Great Ming’s Emperor Hongwu rose to the dragon throne by popular support. After the Tatars were driven out, why didn’t he set up a descendant from Zhao family to be the Emperor?”

“Humph,” Liu Dahong snorted and said, “Zhao family descendants were already exhausted; these rivers and mountains were won by Taizu Huangdi with bloody battle, naturally he could not possibly pass it on to the Zhao family? Moreover, in the driving out the Tatars, the Zhao family descendants did not have any merit. Even if Taizu Huangdi was willing to hand it over, the common people of the world, along with all the generals and soldiers would definitely not want to accept.”

“That’s exactly right,” Li Xihua said, “Whether the descendants of the Zhu family will have merit in the future or not, at present nobody knows. If they make major contribution, everybody will endorse them as the leader, then other people will not be able to snatch away the throne. But if they do not make any contribution, even if they ascend onto the dragon court, I am afraid their position will not be steady. Liu Laoyezi, the undertaking of fighting the Qing is very complicated, there are things that need to be done quickly, there are things that have to be done slowly. Killing Wu Sangui needs to be done quickly, setting up the new emperor can be done slowly.”

Liu Dahong was agape and tongue-tied, he was unable to answer. “What quickly or slowly?” he muttered, “I want everything to be done quickly; I wish everything is already accomplished, only then would it be good.”

Li Xihua said, “Killing Wu Sangui must be done quickly, because that traitor Wu is already old. If we don’t kill him soon, he might die of old age, won’t it be a lifelong regret to people of the world with lofty ideals? Setting up the new ruler is a matter we need to address after the Tatars are driven out. My concern is that we are not able to defeat the Tatars. As for setting up learned and virtuous lord, we can always find one.”

Observing his assurance and composure, and hearing his sensible and reasonable speech, Chen Jinnan was full of admiration. “Li Xiong,” he said, “What you said is very reasonable, but on how we are going to assassinate Wu Sangui, I want to hear Li Xiong’s well-informed opinion.”

“I don’t dare,” Li Xihua said, “Junior was about to ask everybody’s advice.”

Mu Jiansheng said, “What brilliant idea does Chen Zongduozhu have?”

“In Zaixia’s opinion,” Chen Jinnan said, “That traitor Wu’s sin is too great, just by killing him absolutely will not make up for his crime. We must make him losing his standing, his entire family, old and young, must be killed, not a blade of grass must be spared, even the troops under his command who followed him breaking the law and committing crimes must be eliminated in one stroke, and thus the hatred in millions of common people’s hearts will be appeased.”

Liu Dahong slapped the table and shouted, “Very true, very true! Chen Zongduozhu’s words really touch the bottom of my heart. Laodi, hearing you talked, my heart is unbearably itchy. What ingenious plan do you have, so that we can kill that traitor Wu and his entire family, and not leaving even his chicken and dogs?” He grabbed Chen Jinnan’ arms and repeatedly shook him, saying, “Say it quickly, say it quickly!”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “This is everybody’s wish, Zaixia does not have any ingenious plan to deal with Wu Sangui.”

“Oh,” Liu Dahong said, he released Chen Jinnan’s arms, while disappointment appeared on his face.

Chen Jinnan stretched out his palm to Mu Jiansheng and said, “Xiao Gongye, we still have two palm strikes we haven’t finished.”

“Precisely,” Mu Jiansheng said, he stretched out his hand and struck Chen Jinnan’s palm twice.

Chen Jinnan turned toward Li Xihua and said, “Li Xiong, what about we also strike our palms three times?” While saying that, he held out his palm.

Li Xihua stood up and respectfully said, “If Chen Zongduozhu can kill that traitor Wu, the old Li will accept Tian Di Hui’s orders, I will not dare to disobey. If by luck the old Li can put to death with my own hand this devilish wicked traitor, I only wish for Chen Zongduozhu to do me the honor to become the old Li’s sworn brother, let Zaixia reveres you as the elder brother. Apart from this, I do not dare to request anything else.”

Chen Jinnan laughed and said, “Li Xiandi [worthy younger brother], you esteem me too much. Very well, a real man gave his words, a team of four horses cannot chase it.”

Watching from the side, Wei Xiaobao saw the heroes’ fervent expression, he could not help but feeling very excited[5]; he really wished he could grow up right then and there, his martial art skill would reach high level immediately, just like this Li Xihua, who created quite a stir in front of all these heroes. Hearing Shifu said ‘a real man gave his words, a team of four horses cannot chase it’, he could not refrain from muttering to himself, “A team of four horses cannot chase it, a team of four horses cannot chase it.” While thinking, “Damn it, what kind of horses are a team of four horses anyway? How can they run that fast?”

Chen Jinnan instructed his subordinates to prepare a banquet table to have a feast with these outstanding heroes. During the banquet, Li Xihua talked and laughed cheerfully, his knowledge was indeed extensive, but all along he never revealed his martial art school, family background, or his origin.

Li Lishi and Su Gang introduced the rest of their groups to Li Xihua. Seeing Wei Xiaobao was young, yet held the position of the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, Li Xihua could not hide his astonishment; when he was told that Wei Xiaobao was Chen Jinnan’s disciple, he thought, “So that’s how it is.” He drank several cups of wine, and then took his leave.

Chen Jinnan walked him to the door, and in a low voice said, “Li Xiandi, just now your humble brother did not know whether you were a friend or a foe, I have offended you. When I grabbed your ankle, I have surreptitiously used special power. It will flare-up after four hours. You must not use the slightest bit of internal energy to defuse it. You must dig a hole in a muddy ground, and bury your entire body in it, revealing only your mouth and nose to breathe. Every day you must be buried for eight hours, for seven days in a row, then there won’t be any future trouble.”

Li Xihua was shocked. “I was hit by your ‘Blood Clotting Divine Claw’?” he said in loud voice.

“Xiandi must not be alarmed,” Chen Jinnan said, “By treating it according to the prescribed method, there should not be any major problem. Your humble brother was reckless and has offended you, I am asking Xiandi not to blame me.”

Immediately the panic-stricken expression on Li Xihua’s face subsided. He laughed and said, “Indeed Xiaodi [little brother] suffers the consequence of my own action.” He sighed, and then said, “Only today I know there is heaven outside the heaven, there is an expert above the expert.” He bowed to salute, and then floated away.

“Chen Zongduozhu,” Liu Dahong said, “Did you use the ‘Blood Clotting Divine Claw’ on him? I heard that people who got hit by this divine claw will have the blood in his entire body slowly clotting after three days, turning into paste just like starch paste; there is no medicine to cure it. Is that so?”

Chen Jinnan said, “This skill is extremely sinister and ruthless, usually Xiaodi does not dare to recklessly use it, but seeing his formidable martial art skill, plus he was eavesdropping on our secret, I was unclear whether he harbors any evil intention, so I took this drastic action. It’s not a straightforward and upright thing to do, I am ashamed just to mention it.”

Mu Jiansheng said, “If this man is Tatars’ falcon or dog, or perhaps Wu Sangui’s troop, and Chen Zongduozhu did not control him, our secret may be leaked out, then the disaster won’t be small. Chen Zongduozhu is able to control the enemy in one move, damaging the other side without him knowing it. This kind of divine skill deserves the admiration of other people.”

Chen Jinnan reiterated his deep apology on the death of Bai Hansong to Bai Hanfeng. “Chen Zongduozhu,” Bai Hanfeng said, “Let this matter rests and do not raise it again. My late brother has died, he can’t come back to life. Wei Xiangzhu has rescued Wu Shishu and the others, three people, Zaixia is very grateful.”

Mu Jiansheng was concerned over his missing little sister’s whereabouts, but since Tian Di Hui warriors did not say anything, he felt it was inappropriate for him to inquire, so as not to appear that he doubted the opposite party’s intention. After drinking several more rounds of wine, Mu Jiansheng and the others stood up to take their leave.

“Xiao Gongye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It would be best if you move from your lodging, sooner or later the Tatars will dispatch troops to harass you. Although you are not afraid of them, the Tatars might send more and more troops. I am afraid you cannot kill them all.”

Liu Dahong laughed aloud and said, “Xiao Xiongdi is right, thank you very much for your reminder, we will move immediately.”

Mu Jiansheng said, “Chen Zongduozhu, Wei Xiangzhu, friends, the green hills will not change, the clear water will always flow, I’m sure we will meet again someday.”

After the Mu Palace people left, Chen Jinnan said, “Xiaobao, come with me. I want to see the progress of your martial art training these past several months.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping madly, his countenance changed immediately. “Yes, yes,” he replied, and followed his Shifu into a room in the east wing. “Shifu,” he said, “The Emperor sends me to investigate the assassins’ whereabouts, disciple may have to hurry back and report.”

“What assassins’ whereabouts?” Chen Jinnan asked. He had just arrived the previous night, so he only heard bits and pieces about the assassins in the Palace. Thereupon Wei Xiaobao told him how the Mu Palace warriors entered the Palace to assassinate the emperor, with the intention of shifting the blame onto Wu Sangui.

Chen Jinnan let out a breath, “Is there such thing?” he said. Although he had gone through many storms, he was rather shocked to learn about this matter, he said, “Those friends from Mu Family are courageous and forthright, unexpectedly they carried out a large-scale operation into the Palace. I only knew that three of their people went to assassinate the Emperor, and thus were captured; turns out it was to deal with that traitor Wu Sangui. You have rescued Wu Lishen, three people, and now you want to return to the Palace, aren’t you afraid of the danger?”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to flaunt his heroism, naturally he did not say that he released the assassins under the Emperor’s order, so there was absolutely no danger in him returning to the Palace. He bragged, “Disciple has dragged several scapegoats, I shifted the blame on them. Looks like for the time being the suspicion will not fall onto your disciple. Shifu told me to spy for news in the Palace, if for the sake of saving three of Mu Palace’s people disciple henceforth cannot return to the Palace, wouldn’t I have harmed Shifu’s important mission?”

Chen Jinnan was very happy. “That’s right,” he said, “We have struck palms three time with Mu Jiansheng to seal our oath. It is reasonable to say that Mu Palace does not have too many people left, so they can’t possibly match Tian Di Hui. I made that agreement with them, first, to avoid the argument about the legitimacy of King Tang versus King Gui, and thus harming the friendship between two families. The Tatars have not been wiped out yet, if we, Han people, massacre each other first, how can we accomplish the great undertaking? Second, if we can get the Mu Palace under our Society, it will enormously increase our Tian Di Hui’s power. The fact that they dared to enter the Palace and create havoc shows that in order to topple that traitor Wu, they would stop at nothing. We also must spare no effort to accomplish this goal, otherwise, if they gain the initiative, Tian Di Hui must accept Mu Palace’s orders, won’t everybody be ashamed then?”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Xiao Gongye does not have any real skill, he only relies on his good Papa. If I re-enter the womb of his mother, I could be born as the Xiao Gongye. For such a great hero like Shifu to be forced to take orders from him, if it were me, I would be angry too.”

In all his life Chen Jinnan had heard countless flattering words, but since this time it came from a teenage kid, it sounded so sincere and encouraging; he could not help but showing a faint smile. He did not know that Wei Xiaobao’s natural disposition was quick-witted and clever, plus he had lived in both a brothel and the Palace, two most hypocritical and devious places in the world. By living in these places, Wei Xiaobao had early on acquired craftiness, which was far above ordinary grownups. Chen Jinnan was used to dealing daily with heroes and warriors of Tian Di Hui, who treated one another with absolute sincerity, how could he know that this little disciple say something without meaning it? That in ten sentences, perhaps there were five or six sentences that can’t be trusted? He patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said with a smile, “What does a child like you understand? How do you know Mu Xiao Gongye does not have real skill?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “By sending assassins to the Palace, he has delivered many of his subordinates’ lives for nothing, without really doing any damage to Wu Sangui. Not only he does not have any real skill, I can say that he is a big idiot.”

“How do you know he is not doing any damage to Wu Sangui?” Chen Jinnan asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “This Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye used a very stupid strategy. He had the assassins who entered the Palace to wear undergarments with ‘Ping Xi Wang Mansion’ written on it, and use weapons with ‘Ping Xi Wang Mansion’ or something like ‘Regional Commander Office of Shanhai Pass of The Great Ming’ carved on it. The Tatars are not stupid, naturally they can think, if they were really Wu Sangui’s men, why would they want to use such weapons?”

Chen Jinnan nodded, “You are right,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Wu Sangui’s son Wu Yingxiong is in Beijing right now, carrying a large quantity of jewels and precious objects as a tribute to the Emperor. If Wu Sangui really wanted to assassinate the Emperor, he would not pick this time. Besides, why would he want to assassinate the Emperor? Unless he wants to dispatch troops to revolt and set himself up as the Emperor. But as soon as he dispatch his troops, the Tatars will immediately kill his son; why would he send his son to Beijing to die?”

Chen Jinnan nodded again. “That’s right,” he said.

Actually, although Wei Xiaobao was very astute, his age was still too young, his knowledge of military and government affairs, as well as the ways of the world, was very limited, he could not possibly come out with even half of the logic he had just presented. Luckily Kangxi had told him everything, which, in front of his Shifu, he pretended to see those logic himself.

When listening to him, Chen Jinnan thought that this disciple could see things clearly. Tian Di Hui did not lack martial art masters, but people with such clear brain were not many. Initially he let this little child to be the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu just to avoid the friction between the two rivaling factions, he needed to comply with everybody’s oath first, and then slowly seeking a talented person to replace him. Since Wei Xiaobao was his own disciple, he could always ask him to abdicate his position honorably. By now, as he listened to him, he mused, “This child has both courage and insight, even now he is quite amazing, after several more years of discipline, he could be a real Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, which is not necessarily inferior to the other nine Xiangzhu.” He asked, “Did the Tatars know it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Presently they are not very clear yet, but the Emperor seems to have suspicion already. This morning he summoned several Imperial Bodyguards and ordered them to demonstrate the martial art the assassins had used. Some Imperial Bodyguards performed the moves, and then everybody discussed it. Disciple was watching on the side, I remembered two moves.” And thus he immediately demonstrated the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, and ‘high mountain flowing water’, two moves.

Chen Jinnan sighed and said, “Mu Palace really does not have talented people anymore. These moves are obviously Mu Family Fist technique; there are not a few martial art experts among the Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace, how could they not recognize the moves?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Disciple has seen Feng Jizhong, Feng Dage and Priest Xuanzhen demonstrated these moves, I expect the Tatar Imperial Bodyguards would also recognize them. I was afraid the Tatars would search and arrest people, therefore, just now I urged the Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye to move out of town to avoid the trouble.”

“Very true, very true!” Chen Jinnan said, “You’d better go back to the Palace to report, come again tomorrow, I will teach you martial art some more.”

Hearing his Shifu was not going to check his martial art right away, Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; hastily he saluted and took his leave, thinking, “Tonight I need to clasp the Buddha’s feet[6]; I will ask Xiao Junzhu to read Shifu’s martial art manual to me, good or bad I will remember some, and then when Shifu ask tomorrow, whatever little things I know I can recite. Shifu can only blame me of not training correctly, but he can’t blame me for being lazy and not want to work hard. Who told him not to have time to teach me? If he wants to blame somebody, he can only blame himself.”

Wei Xiaobao returned to the Palace and went straight to the Upper Study Room. Kangxi was reviewing some memorial to the throne; as soon as he saw him, he laid down his pen and asked, “Have you found any information?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty predicts with supernatural accuracy, you were not wrong at all, the rebel mastermind is indeed the Mu Family of Yunnan.”

“Is that so?” Kangxi happily asked, “That’s wonderful. Looking at Dolong’s expression, he still does not believe it. What did you find?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Those three captured assassins stuck to what they initially say, that they were Wu Sangui subordinates, Dolong Zongguan beat them until they were hovering between life and death, but no matter what, they were unwilling to change their statement.”

“Dolong’s martial art skill is not bad,” Kangxi said, “But he is a boorish fellow.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Under Your Majesty’s imperial edict, your servant has used knockout drug to drug the Imperial Bodyguards, just when the Empress Dowager was sending four eunuchs over, saying that the assassins must be executed immediately. Your servant gathered my courage and acted according to the strategy Your Majesty planned, I killed the four eunuchs in front of the assassins and led the assassins out of the Palace. Those three rebellious thieves did not suspect anything at all.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “A moment ago Dolong came to report that an eunuch leader under the Empress Dowager has set the assassins free; I was feeling strange, turns out it was your trick.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty must not tell the Empress Dowager, otherwise your servant’s lowly life will be difficult to protect. The Empress Dowager has scolded me for showing utter loyalty to His Majesty, but not utterly loyal toward the Empress Dowager. Actually, what’s the difference between Your Majesty and the Empress Dowager? Besides, the sky cannot have two suns, the people cannot have two rulers; in the end, only Your Majesty’s imperial decree counts. Without asking Your Majesty, the Empress Dowager has ordered the assassins to be executed; what kind of logic was that?”

Kangxi did not bother that Wei Xiaobao was trying to drive a wedge between him and the Empress Dowager, “I won’t say anything to the Empress Dowager,” he said, “About those three assassins, what happened next?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I took them out of the Palace, without my asking they told me their real name and surname. Turns out the old man is called the ‘Shaking Head Lion’ Wu Lishen, the two younger ones, one is Ao Biao, the other Liu Yizhou. They thanked me profusely, but in the end your servant managed to swindle them, they took me to their leader. Sure enough, it is as Your Majesty expected, the mastermind behind all these is a young man, whom the rebellious thieves call Xiao Gongye, his real name and surname is Mu Jiansheng, he is Mu Tianbo’s son. Under his command there is an old man whose martial art skill was very high, he is called something like ‘Iron Back Dragon’ Liu Dahong. And then there are also ‘Divine Physician Hermit’ Su Gang, the second hero of the Bai Family Two Heroes, Bai Hanfeng, and so on. They are staying separately at Willow Tree Lane and South Bean Sprout Lane, two places.”

“Did you see both places?” Kangxi asked.

“I did,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “They said that common people all over the world all say that although the Emperor is young, he is a matchless enlightened sage, a good emperor that is hard to come by in several thousand years. They said that even if they had guts as big as the sky, they would not have dared to harm the Emperor. Therefore, the night before last

they entered the Palace to deliberately create trouble, it was completely to frame Wu Sangui, to avenge their big hatred because he killed Mu Tianbo.”

Unavoidably some of these words of flattery hit its target. Kangxi had not personally taken over the government for too long, the common people of the world could not possibly sing praises over his meritorious deed or virtue, but as the saying goes, ‘anything gets through me except flattery[7]’. Hearing the common people praise him as ‘a good emperor that is hard to come by in several thousand years’, he could not help but feeling very pleased. He smiled and said, “I haven’t produced any benevolent policy to the benefit of the people yet, ‘matchless enlightened sage’ and so on is your own fabrication, isn’t it?”

“No, no!” Wei Xiaobao said, “It came straight from their own mouths. Everybody says that that big treacherous official Oboi cruelly harmed common people, they all hated him to the bones. When Your Majesty decided to put him to his death, it was a very, very good decision. They speak highly of you as some raw bird [niao sheng] or some fish soup [yu tang]. Your servant did not understand, I assumed it was words of praise, so I was very happy to hear it.”

Kangxi was taken aback, but then he understood immediately and broke into loud laughter. “It’s ‘Yao Shun Yu Tang’,” he said, “Damn it, what do you mean ‘niao sheng yu tang’?” He thought that Wei Xiaobao could not possibly come up with ‘Yao Shun Yu Tang’, therefore, the compliment must be real. He did not know that when telling the story of ‘Heroic Deed Commentaries’, the storyteller mentioned that the crowd continuously praised Zhu Yuanzhang[8] as ‘Yao Shun Yu Tang’. Wei Xiaobao heard the story often. Although he did not understand the meaning of it, he knew that ‘Yao Shun Yu Tang’ was words of praise to flatter the emperor; it was said that each time Zhu Yuanzhang heard it, his ‘dragon countenance looked very pleased’.

This time Wei Xiaobao used the same flattery toward the young Emperor, and sure enough, Kangxi’s his ‘dragon countenance looked very pleased’, his laughter was very joyous and free, so he knew the bootlicking was right on target. “Your Majesty.” he asked, “What exactly is ‘niao sheng yu tang’?”

Kangxi laughed and said, “You still say raw bird and fish soup? This kid really does not have the least bit of literary knowledge. Yao Shun Yu Tang[9] were four learned and virtuous wise monarch of the ancient times, great sages with great knowledge, due to their benevolent integrity, they are recognized as good Emperors of the land under the heavens.”

“No wonder, no wonder!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Those rebellious thieves are not completely ignorant of reasons.”

“Even so,” Kangxi said, “We must not let them escape. Quickly summon Dolong over.”

Wei Xiaobao complied; he went out to summon the Imperial Bodyguard Chief Dolong into the Upper Study Room. Kangxi instructed Dolong, “The rebellious thieves are really Mu Family’s people from Yunnan. Take the Imperial Bodyguards and arrest them immediately. Xiao Guizi, why don’t you tell Dolong the background of those rebellious thieves’ group?”

Wei Xiaobao immediately told Dolong the names of Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong, and the others. Dolong was startled; he said, “Turns out it is the ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ who manage this operation in secret, these bunch of thieves’ background is indeed not small. That ‘Shaking-Head Lion’ Wu Lishen, your servant has also heard his name; I did not expect him to be locked up in the Palace for a day and a night, yet I could not obtain any real information from him. If your servant is a little bit smarter, seeing him always shaking his head, I should have guessed it early on. If not for the Sage’s wise judgment, we in the Imperial Bodyguard building would still think that those people were sent by Wu Sangui.”

Showing a faint smile, Kangxi said, “I am afraid they have already gone by now, this time you may not necessarily able to arrest them.” After a short pause, he continued, “Since we already know the mastermind, it’s not a big deal even if this time we can’t arrest them. I am just afraid that we will be kept in the dark[10]; we still don’t know that we have fallen into other people’s trick.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong said, “Your servants are muddle-headed, fortunately our Master is wise, otherwise it would be disastrous.” He kowtowed and took his leave, immediately selected some of his men to arrest the rebels.

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “I am going to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to pay my respect, come with me.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied; but thinking that he was going to see the Empress Dowager, he could help but trembling with fear and appeared apprehensive.

Kangxi said, “Why are you frowning and look distressed? I am taking you to see Empress Dowager is exactly to preserve your head.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Arrived at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, Kangxi paid his respect to the Empress Dowager, reporting clearly the assassins’ background, telling her that it was he, personally, who ordered Xiao Guizi to release the assassins and finally ascertained the actual facts.

The Empress Dowager smiled and said, “Xiao Guizi, you can work very well!”

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down and kowtowed, “It was due to His Majesty’s ability to prophecy with supernatural accuracy, everything has been calculated beforehand,” he said, “Your servant was only bidding His Majesty’s order, nothing more than that. Although it was your servant who did the legwork, from head to tail I was just following His Majesty’s order, your servant did not have the least bit of idea of his own.”

The Empress Dowager cast a glance at him, snorted, and then said, “You are naughty, and it was not His Majesty who orders you to fool around! A little kid who left home to enter the Palace must want to play everywhere. Have you been to the Heavenly Bridge to see some acrobats? Have you bought some candied fruits?”

Wei Xiaobao recalled seeing government officials arresting candied fruits peddlers, he guessed they must be sent by the Empress Dowager; she was afraid the man would transmit the information to Rui Dong on Wutai Mountain, therefore, without distinguishing red-blue or black-white, she had all candied fruits peddlers around the Heavenly Bridge arrested. Wei Xiaobao was sure that without distinguishing red-blue or black-white, they would all be beheaded. Thinking about her ruthlessness, he could not help but shiver. “Yes, yes!” he said.

The Empress Dowager smiled and said, “I am asking you, have you bought some candied fruits lately?”

“Reporting to the Empress Dowager,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your servant heard people on the street say that the Heavenly Bridge is not really safe these days, the Nine-Gate provincial governor office has arrested the candied fruits peddlers, saying that there are many bad men among them. Therefore, those who originally sell candied fruits now change their professions; some sell cool cakes, some sell peanuts, some change their professions to sell sour dates, sell sweet cookies. Your servant has often seen many of these people, I am somewhat familiar with their faces, they say they are not going to sell candied fruits anymore. One of them was really funny, he said he was going to go to some Wutai or Liutai[11] Mountain to sell some plain steamed buns to the monks.”

The Empress Dowager raised her eyebrows in anger; naturally she understood that by saying that, Wei Xiaobao was telling her that the man who was supposed to transmit information had not been arrested, and that she could forget about arresting him later. With a cold smile she said, “Very good, you are very good, you are really competent. Emperor, I want to have him by my side, doing things for me. What do you think?”

These days Kangxi always sent Wei Xiaobao to do errands for him, and Wei Xiaobao was very efficient, so Kangxi started to rely on him like his own left and right hands. The purpose of his visit to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful this time was exactly to explain to the Empress Dowager that Wei Xiaobao killed the four eunuchs she sent under his order, so he would ask that the Empress Dowager did not blame him. Suddenly hearing that the Empress Dowager wanted Wei Xiaobao, he could not help but was startled. He was very filial to her. Although the Empress Dowager was not his own mother, but she raised him up from childhood until he grew up, so she was no different than his own mother. Not daring to disobey, he smiled and said, “Xiao Guizi, the Empress Dowager is promoting you, why haven’t you thanked her for her favor?”

Hearing the Empress Dowager wanted to take him from the Emperor, Wei Xiaobao was already scared out of his wits, in that instant his mind went blank, he only wanted to flee; this time he wanted to run away from the Palace and never come back. Hearing Kangxi, he busily replied, “Yes, yes!” And then he kowtowed and said, “Thank you Empress Dowager for your grace, thank you Your Majesty for your grace.”

“What is it?” the Empress Dowager said with a cold laugh, “You only want to serve His Majesty and do not want to serve me, is that it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Serving the Empress Dowager and serving His Majesty are the same, your servant will do it with the same loyalty and devotion, I will strive hard to do your bidding.”

“That’s good,” the Empress Dowager said, “You don’t need to take care of the Catering Department’s business anymore, you will concentrate on doing the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful’s business.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Thank you Empress Dowager for your grace.”

Seeing the Empress Dowager wanted to take over Wei Xiaobao, Kangxi was unhappy; he made some small talk, and then quickly took his leave. Wei Xiaobao followed him out.

The Empress Dowager said, “Xiao Guizi, stay here. Let other people escort His Majesty back. I have something I want you to do.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. In a daze he watched Kangxi’s back as he left the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, thinking, “This time you leave, I will be in big trouble. I don’t know if I can see you again in the future.” He almost could not hold his desire to cry aloud.

The Empress Dowager drank her tea slowly, while her gaze had never left Wei Xiaobao, sizing him up. She noticed that he was very scared. After a long time she asked, “The man who is going to Wutai Mountain to sell plain steamed buns, when is he going to return?”

“Your servant does not know,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“When are you going to see him again?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Wei Xiaobao said whatever came into his head, “Your servant has agreed to meet him in a month, but it won’t be at the Heavenly Bridge anymore.”

“Where is it?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “He said that when the time comes, he will find a way to notify your servant.”

The Empress Dowager nodded, she said, “In that case you may stay in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, waiting for his news.” She gently clapped her hands, and from the inner chamber a palace maid appeared.

The palace maid looked like she was thirty five or thirty six years old, very fat, yet her footsteps were very lithe. Her face looked like a full moon, with small eyes and big mouth; she giggled while bowing to pay her respect to the Empress Dowager.

The Empress Dowager said, “This little eunuch is called Xiao Guizi, he is audacious and is a trouble maker, but I like him very much.”

The palace maid smiled and said, “Yes, this Xiao Xiongdi looks very clever. Xiao Xiongdi, my name is Liu Yan, but you can just call me Jiejie.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Damn it, you are a fat pig!” But he laughed and said, “Yes, Liu Yan Jiejie, your name is very appropriate, your figure looks like a willow tree, your steps are light and quick, just like a little swallow [Liu – willow, Yan – swallow].” In front of the Empress Dowager, no other eunuch or palace maid had ever dared to say even half a frivolous word like that, but Wei Xiaobao knew he was doomed anyway; there was no difference whether he said it or not, but even if he did not say it, he would not be spared anyway.

Liu Yan giggled and said, “Xiao Xiongdi, your mouth is sweet indeed.”

The Empress Dowager said, “His mouth is sweet, his feet are quick. Liu Yan, think of a way to keep him from running this way and that, wandering and rushing aimlessly around the Palace.”

Liu Yan said, “Empress Dowager may hand him over to your servant, let me look after him well.”

The Empress Dowager shook her head and said, “This little monkey is very slippery, you can’t continuously keep your eyes on him. I sent Rui Dong to summon him, he smooth-talked him so that that coward ran away. I sent four eunuchs to summon him, he colluded with the Imperial Bodyguards and killed those four eunuchs. I sent four more eunuchs; I don’t know what kind of trick he had, unexpectedly Dong Jinkui and the others, four people, were also killed.”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Liu Yan clucked her tongue repeatedly; she laughed and said, “Aiyo, Xiao Xiongdi, you are too naughty, aren’t you too difficult to be dealt with? Empress Dowager, if we chopped both of his legs and just let him lie down nicely, won’t we enjoy a lot more of peace and quiet?”

The Empress Dowager sighed and said, “I’ll say it might be the only way.”

Wei Xiaobao sprang up and bolted toward the door. His left leg had just stepped over the threshold, suddenly he felt his scalp tightened, someone pulled his pigtail. His head was jerked backward, his body refused to obey him and he fell flat on his back, there was a severe of pain on the pit of his stomach as a foot stepped on his chest. It was a big and fat foot, wearing red satin shoe embroidered with golden flower; Liu Yan’s foot had landed on him. In desperation Wei Xiaobao’s mouth rained curses, “Stinky mother, take your stinky foot off!”

Liu Yan added more force into her foot, a dozen or so ribs in Wei Xiaobao’s chest were making random cracking noise, he could not even breathe. He heard Liu Yan said with a laugh, “Xiao Xiongdi, your pair of feet is very fragrant, I really want to chop them down and have a smell.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that the Empress Dowager hated him to the bones; she would not hesitate to chop both of his feet, and then have him carried up to see the man who was supposed to transmit the news to Rui Dong. She might also dispatch a martial art master to follow the man going up Wutai Mountain in secret, and had Rui Dong killed. But Rui Dong was no longer on the world of the living, so his trick would eventually be exposed. The most important matter right now was to save his legs; since a threat would be useless right now, he could only try to entice her with something she wanted. Thereupon he coldly said, “Empress Dowager, it’s not a big deal for you to chop my legs; even if you chop my head, Xiao Guizi will only getting a bit shorter; there is nothing special about it. Too bad about the Forty-two-chapter Sutra. Hey, hey, hey, hey …”

As soon as the Empress Dowager heard the words ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, she stood up immediately and asked, “What did you say?”

“I said, unavoidably it will be too bad about that book ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

The Empress Dowager said to Liu Yan, “Let him get up.” Liu Yan lifted her left foot from Wei Xiaobao’s chest; inserting her foot underneath Wei Xiaobao’s body, she kicked Wei Xiaobao’s back that his body shot up. Stretching out her left hand, she grabbed Wei Xiaobao by the back of his collar, lifted him up high in the air, and then put him down heavily on the floor. All along Wei Xiaobao was unable to neither resist nor struggle free, as if he was merely an infant. The curse ‘stinky mother’ was already on the tip of his tongue, but he was so scared that he swallowed it back into his belly.

The Empress Dowager asked, “About the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, where did you hear it from?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You are going to chop my two legs anyway, I won’t say anything, we are all going to go our own way[12], I won’t have any legs any head, you won’t have the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.”

Liu Yan said, “I advise you to answer the Empress Dowager’s question nicely.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I answer, I will die, if I don’t answer, I will also die; why would I want to answer? At most you will punish me heavier, I am not afraid.”

Liu Yan picked up his left hand; she said with a laugh, “Xiao Xiongdi, your fingers are slim and long, they look exceptionally good.”

“At most you can cut off my fingers,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Nothing special about it …” before he finished speaking, he felt severe pain on his finger. “Ah!” he screamed, as Liu Yan’s two fingers held his left-hand forefinger and pinched it hard, that his bone was nearly broken. The fat woman had a smiling, affable face, but they way she made her move was very ruthless, the power of her fingers was even more astonishing, her pinch felt like a pair of iron pliers.

This time Wei Xiaobao suffered a major pain, tears flowing continuously from his eyes. “Empress Dowager,” he called out, “Kill me quickly, that book ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, the one called ‘the old cat smelling salted fish’, just smell the wine-preserved pomfret, just smell the fish!” [Book note: the word ‘smell the wine-preserved pomfret’ (xiu xiang – 嗅鲞 ), sounds alike ‘don’t even think about it’ (xiu xiang – 休想 )]

“Just tell me the truth about the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, I’ll spare your life,” the Empress Dowager said.

“I don’t need you to spare my life,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am determined not to say anything about the book.”

The Empress Dowager frowned slightly, she was actually at a loss of how to deal with this stubborn child. After half a day, she slowly said, “Liu Yan, if he does not want to talk, you may dig out his two eyeballs.”

Liu Yan laughed and said, “Very good, I will dig out one eyeball first. Xiao Xiongdi, your eyeballs grew to be very pretty, they are black and round, and can spin and roll around. But after I dig them out, they won’t look too pretty anymore.” While saying that, she placed the thumb of her right hand on his right eyelid and pushed it slightly.

Wei Xiaobao felt a stabbing pain on his eyeball, he had no choice but to surrender. “I surrender, I surrender!” he cried out, “Don’t dig my eyeballs out, I’ll talk.”

Liu Yan let off her hand; she said with a smile, “Now that’s a good child. Just talk nicely, the Empress Dowager will love you very much.”

Wei Xiaobao reached up to rub his eye, blinking the hurting eye several times. He closed the other eye, cocked his head and looked at Liu Yan for a moment, and then he shook his head and said, “It’s not right, it’s not right!”

“What’s not right?” Liu Yan asked, “Don’t put on an act, the Empress Dowager is asking you a question, quickly give her an honest answer.”

“You have damaged my eyeball,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The things I look at change shapes. I see you as having a human body, but on your neck grew a big fat pig head.”

Liu Yan was not angry; she giggled and said, “That sounds fun. I must damage your left eyeball too.”

Wei Xiaobao took a step back and said, “Please excuse me this time, thank you very much.” He shut his left eye and looked at the Empress Dowager, and then he shook his head.

The Empress Dowager thought, “This little demon looked at Liu Yan with one eye and said a pig’s head rested on her neck. Now he looked at me the same way; although his mouth did not say anything, I don’t know how he is cursing me in his heart, he must be saying that he saw some animal’s head resting on my neck.” She said coldly, “Liu Yan, you’d better dig his eyeball now, so that he won’t look to the east and to the west.”

Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “If I don’t have any eyeball, how am I going to get the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ for you?”

“You have a ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’?” the Empress Dowager asked, “Where did you get it from?”

“Rui Dong gave it to me,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He asked me to take a good care of it, to keep it in a very secret place. He said, ‘Xiao Guizi Xiongdi, there are a lot of people in the Palace who want to harm you. If in the future you have some unfortunate things happen to you, like taking your eyeballs out or chopping your legs, this book henceforth will not see the light of the day. The person who harms you, although his eyeballs are not blind, he won’t see this treasured scripture, so he won’t differ from someone whose eyeballs are blind. This is called ‘acting for oneself and suffer the consequences’. Empress Dowager, the scripture has a red silk envelope with white border around it. I don’t know if it is the one you want.”

The Empress Dowager did not believe Rui Dong said those words, but it was a fact that she sent Rui Dong on a mission to put to death the leader of the Bordered Red Banner Hochabo and took the copy of Forty-two-chapter Sutra hidden in his mansion. When Rui Dong came back to report that day, she was anxious to have Wei Xiaobao killed to close his mouth, hence she did not have time to inquire about the sutra. This time she heard Wei Xiaobao said so, she was angry and happy at the same time; angry because unexpectedly Rui Dong handed over the sutra to this little demon, happy because finally she found the sutra’s whereabouts. “Since that’s the case,” she said, “Liu Yan, go with this little demon to fetch the sutra and give it to me. If the sutra is not fake, we will spare his life, and return him to the Emperor. Afterwards we won’t allow him to enter the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful forever, to avoid I seeing this little demon and get angry.”

Liu Yan pulled Wei Xiaobao’s right hand and said with a laugh, “Xiao Xiongdi, let’s go!”

Wei Xiaobao shook her hand away, he said, “I am a man, you are a woman, what do you want holding and pulling my hand like that?” Liu Yan seemed to hold his palm only gently, who would have thought that it was as if there a very strong suction force from her fingers? Wei Xiaobao’s palm was firmly stuck onto her hand, he was unable to shake her hand away.

Liu Yan said with a laugh, “You are an eunuch, how can you be regarded as a man? Even if you are a real man, you, this little demon, is still too young to be my son.”

“Is that right?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “You want to be my mother? I think you look exactly like my mother.”

How would Liu Yan know that in a roundabout way, Wei Xiaobao was cursing her as a wh0re? “Pei!” she spat, and then she laughed and said, “Your Miss is a virgin, don’t talk nonsense!” Pulling his hand, she took him out.

As they reached the long corridor, Wei Xiaobao was frantically trying to find an ingenious way to escape from her clutch. The extremely sharp dagger was inside his right boot, if he could stretch out his right hand, he could pull it out, but as soon as he made a move, she would detect it immediately. This woman’s martial art skill was very profound, even if he had a very sharp weapon in his hand, he might not necessarily able to exchange three moves or two styles with her. He muttered under his breath, “Damn it, where did this fat pig come from? Why didn’t Boss Qian deliver a good pig? When he sent that fat pig, I already felt something inauspicious. When the old wh0re fought the old turtle, I am sure this fat sow was not in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful yet; otherwise, as soon as she came out to help, the old turtle would die immediately. This sow must have arrived in the Palace within the last couple of days, otherwise, a few days ago the old wh0re would have sent her to kill me, she did not have to personally do the job.” Thinking to this point, he had a sudden idea, he led her eastwards, toward the Upper Study Room next to the Palace of Heavenly Purity. He figured out that all he need to do was to ask Kangxi to save his life. This fat pig had not been in the Palace for too long, she might not necessarily know the pathways around the Palace.

He only took one step to the east, the second step had not been taken, the back of his collar tightened, Liu Yan had seized him. With a giggle she said, “Good Xiongdi, where are you going?”

“To my room to fetch the scripture of course,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Why are you heading toward the Upper Study Room, then?” Liu Yan asked, “You are thinking of asking His Majesty to save you?”

Wei Xiaobao could not bear not to curse, “Stinky pig, you know the way around the palace.”

Liu Yan said, “Other places I might not know, but around the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, and your, Xiao Xiongdi‘s dwelling, I can’t be wrong.” She exerted her strength to the right, Wei Xiaobao’s body was twisted westwards. She said with a laugh, “Just walk obediently, don’t waste other people’s time.” Her voice was gentle, but the power with which she twist Wei Xiaobao was really heavy. Wei Xiaobao’s neck bones made some cracking noise, he yelled in pain, he thought that his neck bone had been wrenched apart by her.

There were two eunuchs ahead, when they heard his scream, they turned their heads around. Liu Yan said in a low voice, “The Empress Dowager ordered me to kill you immediately whenever you want to run away or make noise to call people.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that even though he cried for help and alarmed the Emperor, Kangxi would not possibly defy the Empress Dowager’s order. Although the Emperor was good to him, in no way would he anger his mother for the sake of a little eunuch. It would be best if they could come across several Imperial Bodyguards, so that he could instigate them to kill Liu Yan. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain on his waist as with her elbow she struck him hard; he heard her saying, “Thinking of using some trick?”

Wei Xiaobao had no choice but to walk toward his own room. He mused, “When we get to my room, although I will have two helpers, both Fang Yi and Xiao Junzhu are injured; even if we fight three to one, we still cannot overcome this big fat pig. If she saw any sign of those two girls, I would only deliver those two people’s lives in vain.”

When they reached the front door, Wei Xiaobao took out the key to unlock the door. He deliberately bumped the key to the lock, making a loud clinking noise. “Stinky mother,” he said loudly, “Big fat pig, you torment me like this, I’ll say that there will come a day that you will not die a good death.”

Liu Yan laughed and said, “You can’t even tell if you will die a good death or not, yet you meddle into other people’s business.”

‘Bang!’ Wei Xiaobao shoved open the door, he said, “Whether I give the scripture to the Empress Dowager or not, you will kill me anyway. Do you think I am a fool, thinking that I will be lucky enough to escape with my life?”

“The Empress Dowager already said she will spare you,” Liu Yan said, “Most likely she will spare your life, at most she will dig your eyeballs and chop off your legs.”

Wei Xiaobao cursed, “You think the Empress Dowager is treating you very well? After you kill me, the Empress Dowager will definitely kill you to shut your mouth.” These words seemed to echo the load in Liu Yan’s mind. She stared with blank expression for a moment, but then she exerted her strength to give Wei Xiaobao’s back a push. Wei Xiaobao could not stand his ground, he crashed into the room. He talked a lot outside the room with the hope that Fang Yi and Xiao Junzhu would hear and know that an extremely ferocious enemy was coming, so that they could withdraw inside the quilt and not dare to breathe too loud.

Liu Yan laughed and said, “I don’t have time to wait for you, get it a little quicker please.” And she pushed heavily on his back again. Wei Xiaobao stumbled several steps into the inner room. Liu Yan followed him in.

Wei Xiaobao took a glance and saw two pairs of women’s shoes arranged neatly in front of the bed. It was already dark outside, there was neither lantern nor candle lighted in the room. Having entered the room later, Liu Yan did not immediately see the shoes. “Not good!” Wei Xiaobao cried out inwardly. Seizing the opportunity he threw himself forward and pushed the two pairs of shoes underneath the bed, while he himself also crawled inside, thinking that perhaps this time he would be able to kill the fat pig the same way he killed Rui Dong. As soon as he was in, he pulled his right leg in so that his right hand could reach and pull the dagger inside his boot. Unexpectedly, his right ankle tightened, it was grabbed by Liu Yan.

“What are you doing?” he heard Liu Yan asked.

“I am getting the book,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I keep it under the bed.”

“Alright!” Liu Yan said; thinking that he would not be able to run anywhere from under the bed, she released her grip. Wei Xiaobao shrank his body as small as possible, while pulling the dagger and held it in his hand. “Take it out!” Liu Yan shouted.

“Uh, there must be some rats in here,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Aiyo, aiyo, it’s really bad, why did they chew the book into pieces?”

“It’s useless for you to play any trick in front of me!” Liu Yan said, “Give me the book!” She stretched out her hand to grab, but she grabbed an empty air, because Wei Xiaobao had withdrawn and leaned against the wall. Liu Yan crawled two chi forward, the upper part of her body was already under the bed, again she stretched out her fingers to grab.

Wei Xiaobao turned around slightly, without making any noise he stabbed the dagger forward. The tip of the dagger had just touched the back of her hand, Liu Yan had already detected it; her reaction was extremely fast and nimble, flipping her right hand over, she grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s wrist and squeezed it hard. Wei Xiaobao entirely lost the strength in his hand, and had no choice but to let the dagger dropped.

Liu Yan laughed and said, “You want to kill me? I’ll dig out your eyeballs first.” With her right hand she grabbed his throat, with her left fingers she was about to dig his eyes.

“A snake!” Wei Xiaobao cried out.

Liu Yan was startled. “What?” she said. Suddenly, “Ah!” she screamed, the hand grabbing Wei Xiaobao’s throat slowly loosened, her body twisted several times, and then she dropped down to the floor.

Wei Xiaobao was startled but happy; quickly he crawled out from under the bed, only to head Mu Jianping said, “Are … are you injured?”

Wei Xiaobao lifted the mosquito net open and saw Fang Yi sitting on the bed, holding the sword’s hilt with both hands, continuously gasping for breath. The sword blade penetrated the mattress to the bottom of the bed, right up to the hilt. Turned out she heard Wei Xiaobao’s desperate situation and thrust the sword down from above the bed, passing through the cotton-padded mattress and the bed frame strung with palm fiber, straight into Liu Yan’s back.

Wei Xiaobao kicked Liu Yan’s buttocks. Seeing she did not move at all, he was very happy. “Good … Good Jiejie,” he said, “You saved my life.”

Based on Liu Yan’s martial art skill, Fang Yi’s sneak attack would not easily succeed; but since seeing Wei Xiaobao unlocking the door, Liu Yan had never thought that there was someone else in the room. Moreover, the sword had come from above the mattress, stabbing down, so that she did not have the slightest indication of the incoming attack. By the time she realized it, the sword had already pierced her heart. Even if her martial art skill was ten times stronger, she would still be incapable to evade. But then a real martial art master of her rank would not crawl underneath the bed to grab others. Wei Xiaobao was afraid she had not died completely, he pulled the sword and thrust it through the mattress two more times.

“Who is this wicked woman?” Mu Jianping asked, “She was quite vicious, she wanted to dig out your eyeballs.”

“She is the old wh0re Empress Dowager’s subordinate,” Wei Xiaobao replied. Turning to Fang Yi he asked, “Is your wound painful?”

With a crease of her eyebrows Fang Yi replied, “Tolerable!” Actually, she had exerted an enormous effort in thrusting the sword a moment ago that her wound was affected; the pain was so severe that she nearly fainted, beads of perspiration were dripping from her forehead.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Very soon the old wh0re will send someone else here, we have to think of a way to escape immediately. Um, you two girls change into men’s clothing, disguise yourselves as eunuchs, we’ll sneak out of the Palace. Good Jiejie, can you walk?”

“I can force myself to,” Fang Yi replied.

Wei Xiaobao took out two sets of his own clothing. “Put these on,” he said.

Dragging Liu Yan’s body from under the bed, he stabbed it several times with his dagger, and then sprinkled some ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’ on the wounds. Hastily he packed his banknotes, gold, silver and jewels, two copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, as well as the martial art manual from his Shifu into a bundle. Naturally he also brought along the large bundle of knockout drug and the ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’.

Mu Jianping finished changing her clothes and she got out of the bed first. “What a smart-looking little eunuch,” Wei Xiaobao praised, “Let me help you with the braid.”

A moment later, Fang Yi also got out of the bed. Her stature was slightly taller than Wei Xiaobao, the clothes she wore was stretched tight, it was not a good-fitting at all. When she looked at the mirror, she could not help laughing.

Mu Jianping said with a laugh, “I let him helped me with my braid, let me help Shijie with your braid.”

Wei Xiaobao took Mu Jianping’s long hair and carelessly braided big pigtail. Mu Jianping looked herself in the mirror and said, “Aiyo, it’s so ugly, I have to redo the braid.”

“We don’t have time to redo it right now,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s already dark, we can’t go out the Palace. When the old wh0re realizes the fat pig is not coming back, she will send someone else to get me. We must find another place to hide, early in the morning tomorrow we will sneak out of the Palace.”

Fang Yi asked, “Won’t the old … the Empress Dowager send people to investigate all gates of the Palace thoroughly?”

“We have no choice but to take it one step at a time,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He remembered the room where he used to have martial art and wrestling contest with Kangxi was very quiet, he had never seen a third person come over there, thereupon he helped the two girls walking out of his residence.

Mu Jianping’s leg was broken, she took the door bolt[13] and used it as a crutch. Fang Yi took a step, but her chest was hurting. Wei Xiaobao wrapped his right arm around her waist, half lifting and half pulling, he helped her walk. Luckily it was already dark outside, plus he picked the most secluded pathway. They came across several eunuchs, but nobody paid them any attention. When they reached the room, all three of them breathed a sigh of relief. Wei Xiaobao turned around and bolted the door, and then helped Fang Yi sitting on a chair. He said in a low voice, “We must not talk in here, there is a corridor outside, it’s not as secluded as my room.”

The night grew darker, at first they could still see each other’s facial features, afterwards all they could see was dim silhouette of each other. Mu Jianping did not like the pigtail braided by Wei Xiaobao, she untied it and redid it herself. Fang Yi pulled her own pigtail and rubbed it in her hands and played with it. “Ah!” suddenly she exclaimed softly.

“What is it?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Nothing,” Fang Yi replied, “I dropped a silver hairpin.”

“Ah,” Mu Jianping said, “It was me. When I untied your hair, I put that silver hairpin on the table, after I finished braiding your pigtail, I forgot to give that silver hairpin back to you. Oh no, it was a gift from Liu Shige, wasn’t it?”

“Only a hairpin, it doesn’t really matter,” Fang Yi said.

Although she said it did not matter, Wei Xiaobao could hear the extreme disappointment in her voice; he thought, “I must be a good person to the end, I’ll go quietly and get the hairpin back for her.” But he did not say anything for the time being. After a while, he said, “I am very hungry, if I have to wait until tomorrow, I am afraid I won’t have the strength to walk. I’ll go out to find something to eat.”

“Come back quickly,” Mu Jianping said.

“I will,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He went to the door and listened, after making sure there was nobody outside, he opened the door and walked out.

He quickly returned to his room. Afraid that the Empress Dowager might send someone to wait for him, he circled to the back of the room and listened for quite a long time. When he was sure there was nobody inside and outside, he pushed the window open and climbed in. Sure enough, under the moonlight he could see the silver hairpin lying on the table. The workmanship of this silver hairpin was very crude, at most it only worth one or two qian. He thought, “Liu Yizhou is very poor, he presented Miss Fang with such an ugly gift.” He spat on the hairpin before putting it inside his pocket. From tin cans, wicker baskets, drawers, shelves above the bed, and so on he carelessly took some cakes, pastries and other snacks and stuffed everything into a cardboard box and put it inside his pocket.

He was about to climb out the window when suddenly he saw a pair of red shoes embroidered with golden thread in front of the bed, unexpectedly, there was a foot in each shoe.

Wei Xiaobao jumped up in fright. It was indeed terrifying to see under the dim moonlight a pair of cut off feet wearing a pair of bright-colored red shoes. But he understood immediately: when Liu Yan’s body was dissolved by the ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’, the ground in front of the bed was uneven, the corpse turned into yellow liquid and flowed toward the bottom of the bed, leaving behind a pair of feet that did not melt. He turned around, wanted to kick the pair of feet into the yellow liquid, but the yellow liquid had dried out. His ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’ was in the bundle by Fang Yi and Mu Jianping’s side. Racking his brain, suddenly his childish mind was aroused, “Damn it, this time laozi leave the Palace and won’t see the old wh0re anymore. Laozi will throw these two feet into her room to scare her half dead.” Fetching a long gown, he took the pair of feet complete with the shoes and wrapped everything firmly before he finally climbed out the window and quietly walked toward the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.

As he approached the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, he did not dare to walk straight into it but circled around the flowering bushes instead. For each step he took, he stopped and listened for a while; thinking, “If I am not careful, the old wh0re might get me; won’t that mean I am walking into a trap?” He was excited, but scared at the same time. Step by step he crept toward the Empress Dowager’s personal chamber. His palms were sweating more and more, he mused, “I’ll put these pig hooves on the step stone in front of the door, she will definitely find it tomorrow, it’s too dangerous to sneak into the courtyard.”

He quietly took two more steps forward, suddenly he heard a man’s voice saying, “What’s wrong with Ah Yan? Why she has not come back by now?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised, “How can there be a man in the room?” he thought, “The voice does not belong to an eunuch. Is it possible that the old wh0re has a lover? Ha ha, laozi must catch these adulterous lovers.” Although in his heart he wanted to ‘catch these adulterous lovers’, he would not dare to do it, even if he had ten times more courage. But his curiosity was greatly piqued, he was unwilling to simply put down the cutoff feet and leave.

He tiptoed toward the voice for several steps, with each step he carefully lifted up his foot and even more carefully put it down, to guard against stepping on a deadwood and thus make a noise. He heard the man snorted and said, “Perhaps something has changed. Since you already knew this little demon is very crafty, why did you let Ah Yan went with him alone?”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Turns out you are talking about laozi.” He heard the Empress Dowager said, “Ah Yan’s martial art skill is ten times higher than his, she is also very astute, very vigilant in each step she takes, how can she meet with any mishap? Most likely the sutra is kept far away from here, so Ah Yan has to go with that little demon.”

The man said, “Naturally it is very good if we can get the sutra; otherwise, humph, humph!”

The tone of his voice was very stern, speaking like that to the Empress Dowager was indeed extremely rude. Wei Xiaobao was getting more and more puzzled, “Who in the world can talk to her like that? Could it be that the Old Emperor is back from Mount Wutai?” Thinking that Emperor Shunzhi was back at the Palace, he was very excited; he thought he was going to see some good action very soon. What he found very strange was that there was not a single palace maid or eunuch around; presumably the Empress Dowager had sent them all away.

He heard the Empress Dowager said, “You know I have done everything possible. With my capacity right now, I can’t personally go back and forth around the Palace with a little eunuch. As soon as I took a step out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, a large entourage of palace maids and eunuchs will follow me around, how can I manage to get anything done?”

The man said, “Can’t you wait until it was dark to send him out? Or just notify me, let me go with him to fetch the sutra.”

“I do not dare to toil your honorable self,” the Empress Dowager replied, “We must not reveal any trail of your presence here.”

With a cold laugh the man said, “Coming across an important matter like this, why do we care? I know, you did not want to notify me for fear I would snatch away your meritorious service.”

“What is there to be snatched away?” the Empress Dowager asked, “So what if I have meritorious service or not? I only hope to go through one year in peace and security, without any problem.” The tone of her voice was brimming with grudge and hatred.

If it were not for the fact that Wei Xiaobao knew it clearly that it was the Empress Dowager’s voice, he would have thought it was an old palace maid complaining because someone was blaming her. The two of them were speaking in very low voices, but Wei Xiaobao was very near, plus there was no other noise in the calm night, hence he was able to hear everything clearly. Hearing those two talking about ‘snatching away some meritorious service’, he knew the man was definitely not Emperor Shunzhi.

Wei xiaobao could not suppress his curiosity anymore, slowly he crawled to the window and peeked inside from a crack on the window. He had already had enough experience standing outside the window and peeping inside like this at the Lovely Spring Courtyard; he mused, “Before I was peeping the brothel patrons chasing my mother, tonight I am peeping the old wh0re receiving a patron.”

He saw the Empress Dowager was leaning sideway, sitting on a chair, and a palace maid was pacing back and forth in the room with hands behind her back; other than these, there was no other person inside. “Where did that man go?” he thought.

He saw the palace maid turned around and said, “I can’t wait, I am going out to look.” As soon as she opened her mouth, Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright, because the palace maid had a male’s voice, it was she who had just spoken. From the crack on the window Wei Xiaobao could only see her chest, but not her face.

“I am coming with you,” the Empress Dowager said.

With a cold laugh the palace maid said, “You don’t feel at ease.”

“Why wouldn’t I feel at ease?” the Empress Dowager said, “I suspect Ah Yan is doing something strange, by working together, it will be easy for the two of us to control her.”

“Hm, we can’t not guard against that,” the palace maid said, “Don’t let the boat capsize in the gutter. Alright, let’s go.”

The Empress Dowager nodded, she walked toward the bedside, lifted the bedding open, and pulled a piece of wooden board. There was a flicker under the candle light, a dagger appeared in her hand. She insert the dagger into its sheath and put it inside her pocket. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out the old wh0re has such a secret compartment. To guard against assassination, she did not have the dagger inside the sheath, so that with one grab she could make a kill, no need to pull the dagger from its sheath. In such a critical moment, she would not lose precious split seconds.”

He saw the Empress Dowager and the palace maid walked out of the bedroom, unlatched the palace gate, and left the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, but the candle in the bedroom was not extinguished. Wei Xiaobao thought, “I’ll put these pig’s feet in that secret compartment on her bed, when she returned the dagger, she would grope this pair of pig’s hooves. I guarantee she will be scared out of her wits.”

Thinking that this plan was indeed ingenious, he sneaked into the room, lifted the bedding up, and saw a small copper ring on the bed board. He reached down and pulled, a wooden plank, about one chi wide and two chi long, rose up smoothly. Underneath he saw a rectangular secret compartment. Astonishingly, there were three books inside, the books were precisely the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ that he had seen before. The first two were the copies he got from Oboi’s mansion, only the jade box where the books were originally kept was missing. The other copy had a white silk envelope. From what he heard that night when Hai Laogong was talking to the Empress Dowager, he mentioned that Emperor Shunzhi gave a copy to Consort Donggo as a gift; the Empress Dowager must have took it after she killed Consort Donggo. Wei Xiaobao decided it must be this copy.

He was greatly delighted. “I don’t know what the fart these books are for,” he thought, “But everybody seems to regard it so highly. Laozi might as well leading away the goat in passing, so that the old wh0re will be angered to half-dead.” Immediately he took the three sutras and stuffed them inside his pocket. And then he shook Liu Yan’s feet from the long gown to let the feet fall into the secret compartment. He put the wooden plank back and replaced the bedding. Kicking the long gown underneath the bed, he was about to turn around and leave when he suddenly heard the creaking noise of the door; someone was pushing the door and coming in.

This time he was really scared out of his wits, he did not expect the Empress Dowager and that palace maid to be back this quickly. Having not enough time to think, he ducked and crawled under the bed, while groaning in his heart. He only hoped that the Empress Dowager had simply forgotten something and came back to get it, and would quickly go out again to look for him, he also hoped that whatever it was that she had forgotten was not kept in the secret compartment under the bedding.

He heard the footsteps were light and quick, one person was entering the room, it was a woman. The woman was wearing a pair of light green shoes, her pants were also light green. Looking at the style of the pants, it seemed to him that she was a palace maid. “It must be the palace maid who is waiting on the Empress Dowager,” he thought, “She knows martial art, so she can’t be Rui Chu. If she does not leave immediately, I might have to kill her. It will be best if she came to the front of the bed.” Drawing the dagger quietly, he waited for the palace maid to come to the bed. With one thrust up from below, he could stab her lower abdomen, then he could guarantee that she would lose her life without knowing any rhyme nor reason.

He heard her opening the drawers, opening the cabinet doors, moving and turning things, as if she was looking for something, yet all along she did not come near the bed. Then Wei Xiaobao heard some ripping noise, apparently she had used some sharp weapon to cut open two chests. Wei Xiaobao was startled. “This woman is not an ordinary palace maid; she came to the Empress Dowager’s room to steal something. Could it be that she is here to steal that ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’? She has a sword or a saber in her hand, looks like her martial art skill can’t be inferior to laozi; if I go out, not only I can’t kill her, I am afraid I will be killed first by her.”

He heard the woman was randomly rummaging the chest, she also cut open three more chests on the west and searched around. Wei Xiaobao did not stop cursing her in his belly, “If you are not leaving, the old wh0re may come back soon. I don’t care if you want to deliver your life away, but you might drag Wei Xiaobao along to return to the heaven together; you think you have that much face?”

Failing to find whatever she was looking for, the woman was very anxious, she rummaged the chest even faster. Wei Xiaobao was thinking of surrendering, “It would be better for me just to toss these sutras to her, so that she would leave in a hurry.”

Right this moment, there were footsteps outside the door, he heard the Empress Dowager said in low voice, “I say that s1ut Liu Yan took the sutra and left.”

The woman also heard the voice; it was too late for her to escape, she quickly entered the wardrobe and closed the door.

The palace maid with a man’s voice said, “Did you really send Liu Yan to fetch the sutra? How would I know you are not lying to me?”

“What did you say?” the Empress Dowager said angrily, “Did you say I did not send Liu Yan to fetch the sutra? So what did I send her out for?”

The palace maid said, “How would I know what trick you are playing? Perhaps you were following Liu Yan closely and killed her.”

The Empress Dowager snorted angrily, she said, “Aren’t you ashamed, being my Shixiong yet say some brainless thing like that? Liu Yan is my Shimei, you think I have such guts to kill her?”

The palace maid coldly said, “You are indeed brazen, vicious and merciless, what matter you can’t do?”

The two of them spoke in very low voice, but in the quiet night every word could be heard clearly. Hearing the Empress Dowager called the palace maid her Shixiong and Liu Yan her Shimei, Wei Xiaobao was even more puzzled. The two of them were talking as they entered the room. As soon as they saw the chests were cut open and various objects scattered over the floor, ‘Ah!’ they cried out in shock together.

“Someone was here to steal the sutra,” the Empress Dowager shouted. She rushed toward the bed, flipped the bedding over, and pulled the wooden board. Seeing the sutras were gone, she cried out, “Aiyo!” And then she saw Liu Yan’s pair of cutoff feet. “What is that?” she cried in alarm.

The palace maid reached out and picked the feet. “These are women’s feet,” he said.

The Empress Dowager was scared, “It’s Liu Yan, she … she has been killed,” she said.

With a cold laugh the palace maid said, “I wasn’t wrong, was I?”

The Empress Dowager was startled and angry at the same time, “What do you mean you weren’t wrong?”

The palace maid said, “You are the only one in the world who know the secret hiding place of these books. If it was not you who killed Liu Shimei, how can her feet end up here?”

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “You are still accusing me blindly in here? The sutra thief can’t leave too far, let’s quickly pursue him.”

“Correct,” the palace maid said, “Perhaps this person is still in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. You … are you sure you are not playing trick?”

The Empress Dowager did not reply, she turned around and looked at the wardrobe. Step by step she walked toward it, apparently she began to have suspicion toward the wardrobe.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart almost jumped out of his throat; the dagger in her hand reflected the flickering light from the candle, the reflection flitted across the floor, presumably the Empress Dowager was opening the wardrobe door with her left hand, while holding the dagger in her right hand. If the dagger was thrust into the wardrobe, undoubtedly the palace maid inside would not be able to evade.

He saw the Empress Dowager was taking a step closer that she was now less than two chi away from the wardrobe. Suddenly ‘crash! bang!’ the wardrobe toppled over toward the Empress Dowager. The Empress Dowager was caught off guard, hastily she leaped backward, quite a few clothing of every color flew out of the wardrobe, some landed and wrapped around her head. The Empress Dowager hastily reached out to grab, a piece of clothing was thrown onto her body, suddenly she screamed pitifully, while a dagger, dripping with blood, appeared from within the clothing. Turned out someone was hiding inside the bundle of clothing. The palace maid inside the wardrobe threw clothing to the Empress Dowager so that she was at a loss, and then with one strike she succeeded in stabbing her.

At first the palace maid with a man’s voice seemed to be watching with blank expression on his face, only after hearing the Empress Dowager’s miserable scream did he send a palm strike toward the bundle of clothes. Wei Xiaobao saw the bundle of clothes rolled away rapidly, the palace maid wearing green clothes leaped out of the bundle of clothes, with a blood-soaked dagger in her hand she pounced toward the palace maid with a man’s voice. The palace maid with a man’s voice sent out another palm strike, the palace maid wearing green clothes leaned sideways to evade, and then immediately pounced on the enemy again.

From under the bed, Wei Xiaobao could only see those two persons’ four feet. The palace maid with a man’s voice was wearing grey pants and black satin shoes. The feet wearing green shoes were swiftly advancing and swiftly retreating, the feet wearing black shoes only occasionally took one step forward, and one step backward. The two people were engaged in an intense battle, but Wei Xiaobao did not hear any clashing of the weapons, obviously the palace maid with a man’s voice did not have any weapon. Wei Xiaobao cast a sideways glance toward the Empress Dowager; he saw her lying on the floor, motionless, apparently she had died.

He heard the whooshing noise of the palms. After the fighting had been going on for a while, suddenly he saw the room grew darker; one of the three candles had been blown out by the palm wind. Wei Xiaobao mused, “As soon as the other two candles are blown out, I am going to dash out in darkness.”

‘Whoosh!’ another candle was extinguished by the palm wind. The two palace maids were fighting in silence, neither one dared to make the least bit of noise, as if both were afraid of alarming people on the outside. Actually, there were a lot of eunuchs and palace maids in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, the ruckus had been going on for quite a while, somebody should have had come to check early on, but obviously these people were always under the Empress Dowager’s strict order, without her summon, nobody dared to come over and spy on her.

Wei Xiaobao heard ‘Crack! Crack!’ as table and chair’s fragments flew everywhere, secretly he was apprehensive, “This palace maid who talks like a man seems to have a profound martial art, the wind from his palms are everywhere, the table and chair that got hit are smashed.”

Suddenly there was a light shout, followed by a flash of white light, and ‘pop’; the palace maid wearing green clothes’ weapon flew up from her hand and nailed itself on the roof. And then the two of them fell to the ground, wrestling each other into a tangled heap.

Now Wei Xiaobao could see clearly, the two combatants were unleashing their qin na skills, attacking and defending from each other within an area of several chi wide, each move was extremely dangerous. Wei Xiaobao’s knowledge of other type of martial art was very limited, but his training in qin na was quite extensive, he had enough daily sparring with Kangxi. He saw the two palace maids were moving very fast, each attack was ruthless and fierce: gouging the eyes, pounding the chest, twisting the neck, locking the throat, sealing acupoints, cutting off arteries, hooking the wrist, striking with their elbows, not a single move was not attacking the enemy’s vital point. Wei Xiaobao was secretly flabbergasted, “If it were me, I would have cried out ‘surrender’ long ago!”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was beating in sync with the two people’s palms and hands movement, his only thought was, “Why hasn’t that candle gone out yet?” He was fully aware that those people were entangled in a very tight battle, even if he was crawling out from under the bed in full view, walking out the door with grandiose, the two palace maids would have been no more than stunned to a certain degree, nobody would try to stop him; it’s just that he could not muster enough courage to do just that.

Suddenly the last candle flickered, a female voice grunted, the candle flickered back to light, he saw the palace maid wearing grey pants was pinning down the palace maid wearing green pants, her right elbow was pressing down the palace maid wearing green pants’ throat. The palace maid wearing green clothes’ left arm was suppressed by the enemy that it was hard for her to attack, her right hand made repeated attempts to hook, hit, seize and jab, but was always parried by the opponent’s left hand. Her throat was crushed by the enemy, she was gasping for breath with difficulty, the movement of her right hand gradually slowed down, both of her legs kicked up frantically, it looks like very soon she was going to be strangled to death by the enemy.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “As soon as this grey-clothes palace maid strangled the opponent, she would look under the bed to find the sutra. Wei Xiaobao will turn into Wei Sibao[14]!” Without giving himself any time to think, he sprang up from under the bed, raising the dagger in his hand, and thrust it into the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ back, and pushed it upward, slicing a very long gash, and then leaped back immediately.

The palace maid wearing grey clothes shouted loudly and sprang up, pouncing on Wei Xiaobao, her hands grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s neck and tightened the grip as hard as she could. Clutched by her hands, Wei Xiaobao’s tongue stretched out, bursts of blackness appeared in his eyes. The palace maid wearing green clothes flipped over and jumped up, her right palm fell ferociously down on the left side of the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ neck, and then using her left hand she grabbed her hair and pulled it backward. Suddenly her hand felt loose, she had pulled the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ entire hair away, revealing a bald head. Turned out it was only a wig. Right this moment the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ hands came loose, off of Wei Xiaobao neck. Her own neck twisted several turns, and then she fell to the ground in a heap, while blood gushing out of her back, right away her life had left her.

Still gasping for breath, the palace maid wearing green clothes said, “Thank you Xiao Gong-gong, for saving my life.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. He was still shaking from fear, while stroking his own neck. With his left hand he pointed to the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ bald head and said, “She … she …”

The palace maid wearing green clothes said, “This man dressed as a woman and mingled in the Palace.”

Suddenly someone was shouting outside the door, “Help, there’s assassin in here!” The voice was half male, half female, it was a eunuch.

With her right hand the palace maid wearing green clothes seized Wei Xiaobao, broke the window and leaped out. Her left hand waved, ‘puff!’ followed by a miserable ‘ah!’, the eunuch was hit by a secret projectile and fell down on the ground.

The palace maid wearing green clothes wrapped her left hand around Wei Xiaobao’s waist to lift him up off the ground and take him rushing northward, going passed the Western Three Places and entered the Yang Hua Gate. By this time Wei Xiaobao was quite a lot taller than when he first entered the Palace, he was quite heavier too. This palace maid in green clothes was more or less the same height as he was, and she was slim, but when rushing forward while carrying him, it was as if she was carrying a baby, she did not show that she was expending the slightest effort. “Good skill!” Wei Xiaobao praised.

The palace maid carried him via a small path winding around the Yuhua Pavilion, Baohua Palace Hall, and arrived at the bank of burning ground by the Fujian Palace[15], before she finally let him down. The burning ground was near the Xi Tie [Western Iron] Gate, it was where the trash and waste from the Palace was incinerated, it was extremely secluded in the evening.

“Xiao Gong-gong,” the palace maid in green clothes asked, “What’s your name?”

“I am Xiao Guizi!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, “You are the Xiao Guizi Gong-gong who personally arrested Oboi, the Emperor’s most favorite Gong-gong.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled. “I don’t dare!” he said. Although he had seen this palace maid in the Empress Dowager’s bedroom, it was such in a rush that he did not have time to look at her carefully. He thought vaguely that she looked around forty years old. “Jiejie,” he said, “How must I address you?”

The palace maid hesitated slightly, then said, “You and I share fortune and calamity together, I can’t conceal it from you. My surname is Tao, people in the Palace call me Tao Gong’e. What were you doing under the Empress Dowager’s bed?”

Wei Xiaobao said whatever came into his head, “I am under the Emperor’s imperial edict to catch the Empress Dowager’s fornication!”

Tao Gong’e was slightly startled. “Did His Majesty know that palace maid was a man?” she asked.

“His Majesty knew a little bit, but he is not too sure,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“I … I killed the Empress Dowager,” Tao Gong’e said, “Very soon the commotion will turn the sky and the earth, the Palace gates will be shut, there will be great search. I must leave the Palace immediately. Gui Gong-gong, we’ll meet again someday.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “The old wh0re finally went to the netherworld to become a wh0re, now I can live in peace and quiet in the Palace, but if they close the Palace gates and launch a great search, Fang and Mu, two girls will face certain disaster; what shall I do?” A bright idea suddenly occurred, “Tao Jiejie,” he said, “I have an idea. I am going to report to His Majesty immediately, I will say that I witnessed that fake palace maid killed the Empress Dowager, but the Empress Dowager had also killed the fake palace maid; the two of them fought until they perished together. The Empress Dowager is dead anyway, she could not testify, you don’t have to escape from the Palace.”

Tao Gong’e hesitated for a moment, then she said, “This idea just might work. But what about that eunuch? Who killed him?”

“I will say it was the fake palace maid who killed him,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Gui Gong-gong,” Tao Gong’e said, “This matter is very dangerous. Although His Majesty likes you, he will most probably kill you to shut your mouth.”

Wei Xiaobao shivered. “His Majesty also wants to kill me?” he asked, “Why?”

Tao Gong’e said, “His mother had illicit relation with a man, if the rumor leaks out, how do you think His Majesty would react? Even if you guard your mouth like a closed bottle, each time His Majesty sees you, he would unavoidably feel ashamed. Sooner or later he would have to kill you.”

Wei Xiaobao was scared. “He … is he that ruthless?” he asked. But in his heart he knew Tao Gong’e was right, he must never say anything about this to the Emperor.

Right this moment, from the south came several sounds of gong, followed by other gongs all around. It was the Palace’ alarm system whenever there was fire or some other emergency; immediately all the Palace’s Imperial Bodyguards and eunuchs were being dispatched.

“We can’t get out now,” Tao Gong’e said, “You go and pretend to join the hunt for the assassins, I will go back to my room and sleep.” Stretching out her left arm, she wrapped it around Wei Xiaobao’s waist and took him off westward, toward the Yinghua Palace Hall, and put him down by the Palace. “Be careful!” she said in soft voice. Turning around, she disappeared behind a corner.

Wei Xiaobao was worried over Fang Yi and Mu Jianping, hastily he went toward the room where the two of them were hiding. He heard the sound of gongs was getting increasingly urgent, followed by the clamor of people shouting everywhere. Desperately he ran toward the room. “It’s me!” he shouted.

Fang and Mu, two girls were already frightened that their faces were drained of blood. “What’s that gong?” Mu Jianping asked, “Are they coming to arrest us?”

“Not that,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The old wh0re is dead! People are shouting and jumping over everywhere. We’d better return to my room, it’s relatively safer there.”

“Return to your room?” Mu Jianping said, “We … we killed someone there …”

“Don’t be afraid,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They don’t know about it. Quickly go!” He bent down to help Fang Yi; grabbing his bundle with his left hand, he rushed outside.

The three of them staggered along as they rushed forward for a while, they saw from a fork on the pathway several Imperial Bodyguards were rushing toward them. The leader raised up his torch and shouted, “Who’s there?”

“It’s me,” Wei Xiaobao shouted back, “You must go quickly to protect His Majesty. Is there a fire[16]?”

The guard recognized Wei Xiaobao, hastily he handed the torch over to the guard beside him. With hands by his side he respectfully said, “Gui Gong-gong, I heard something bad happened at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You go first, I’ll come soon after.”

The Imperial Bodyguard bowed and said, “Yes!” Leading his men, he left.

Mu Jianping said, “They seem to be very afraid of you. And just now I said we were bad.” While saying that, she struck her own chest repeatedly.

Wei Xiaobao wanted to crack some jokes, to toot his own horn, but he was concerned over the disturbance caused by the Empress Dowager’s death, he wondered what would the aftermath be, he was panic-stricken and could not think of any joke. Along the way they met another group of Imperial Bodyguards before finally arrived at his own residence. Luckily Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were wearing eunuch attire, plus the Imperial Bodyguards were such in a frantic mode that nobody paid any attention to them.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The two of you stay here, whatever happens, do not change your clothes.” Putting his bundle into the chest, he left after locking the door behind him, and rushed to the Palace of Heavenly Purity, where Kangxi’s personal chamber was located.

[1] Chu – a kingdom during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States (722-221 BC), Qin – Qin dynasty (221-207 BC).

[2] Orig. ‘coming out of the thatched cottage’.

[3] The peaches of immortality, kept by Xi Wangmu.

[4] Cheng Huang (Shing Wong) is a deity in Chinese mythology, a City God,

[5] Orig. ‘hundreds of arteries and veins open up brightly’.

[6] Idiom ‘to clasp the Buddha’s feet without ever having to burn incense’, meaning ‘to profess devotion only when in trouble’.

[7]Orig. 千穿万穿,马屁不穿 [qian chuan wan chuan, ma pi bu chuan] – lit. ‘thousand times bore through, ten thousand times bore through; horse’s fart does not bore through’. Horse fart is an idiom for ‘flattery’ or ‘boot-licking’.

[8] Founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, with regnal name Hongwu.

[9] Yao (c. 2200 BC) – one of five legendary emperors of ancient China, Shun (c. 22nd century BC) – mythical sage and leader, Yu (c. 21st century BC) – mythical leader who tamed the floods. Tang refers to King Tang of Shang (1675 BC -1646 BC) who was the first ruling king of the Shang dynasty in Chinese history. He overthrew Jie, the last ruler of the Xia dynasty. Tang’s reign was regarded as a good one by the Chinese. He lowered taxes and the conscription rate of soldiers. His influence spread to the Yellow River, and many outlying tribes became vassal states. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[10] Orig. ‘kept hoodwinked inside a drum’.

[11] Reminder: ‘wu’ and ‘liu’ means ‘five’ and ‘six’, respectively.

[12] Orig. ‘yi pai liang san’ – one strike, two parts, meaning separation/breaking up of marriage or business partnership.

[13] Door bolts in those days are long pieces of wood placed across the door.

[14] Xiao Bao means little treasure, Si Bao means dead treasure.

[15] Yuhua – Rain Flower Pavilion. The pavilion here is usually two-storied. Baohua – maintaining/guarding splendor (different ‘hua’ character from Yuhua). Fujian – Established Prosperity, same character as Fujian Province.

[16] Orig. ‘Has the water flowed?’ [是走了水吗] Many people consider saying 失火 [catch a fire] a taboo so they use 走水 instead. (Courtesy of Forgot Pasword)

Chapter 15 Alliance undergoing concern over the wind and the rain, with a casual order roaming the extensive Rivers and Mountains.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “The Empress Dowager told your servant to retire to my own room for the night, and to come back tomorrow to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Who would have thought … who would have thought something bad happened in the Palace. I don’t know what it is, your servant is trying to find out.”

“I am going to pay my respect to the Empress Dowager,” Kangxi said, “You come with me.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Kangxi was very filial to the queen mother, without changing clothes, he draped a long robe over his shoulder and hurriedly went out the door. While walking quickly he asked, “Empress Dowager wanted you to serve her, why did you come to my place?”

“Your servant heard the sound of gongs, I was concerned over Your Majesty’s safety, so I rushed over,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I really … really deserve to die.”

As soon as Kangxi left his bedroom, the eunuchs around him, as well as a large number of Imperial Bodyguards, followed him, more than a dozen lanterns were lighted all around them. He noticed Wei Xiaobao’s clothes and hair was in a complete mess, but how could he guess that it was because Wei Xiaobao had been crawling underneath the Empress Dowager’s bed? He thought it was because of his loyalty in protecting his master, his wholehearted concern over the Emperor’s safety that without having enough time to change properly, he rushed to the Emperor’s room; Kangxi was quite pleased and was reassured.

Walking several more zhang ahead, two Imperial Bodyguards rushed over and reported, “The assassins broke into the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, they killed an eunuch and a palace maid.”

Kangxi hurriedly asked, “Was the Empress Dowager’s sacred self being disturbed?”

“Dolong Zongguan has already had the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful surrounded tightly to protect the Empress Dowager,” the Imperial Bodyguard replied. Kangxi was slightly relieved.

In his heart, Wei Xiaobao said, “Even if he led a hundred thousand troops and horses to protect the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, it’s already too late.”

It was not too far from the Palace of Heavenly Purity to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful; they arrived after winding around the Hall of Mental Cultivation and the Taiji [Supreme Ultimate] Hall. They saw the area was as bright as daytime with lanterns and torches, row after row of several hundred Imperial Bodyguards surrounded the Palace, perhaps even a mouse would not be able to pass through, let alone any assassin. Seeing the Emperor, the Imperial Bodyguards kneeled down together. Kangxi waved his hand while quickly entered the Palace. Wei Xiaobao lifted the curtain on the door. Kangxi walked through the door and saw the chests, baskets, and all kinds of stuffs scattered around the bedroom, blood flowed everywhere, two corpses lay on the floor; he was so scared that his heart was thumping madly. “Empress Dowager, Empress Dowager!” he called.

From the bed came the reply in low voice, “Is it the Emperor? Don’t worry, I am alright.” It was the Empress Dowager’s voice.

To say that Wei Xiaobao was mildly shocked was an understatement; he thought, “The old wh0re did not die. I was really muddleheaded, why didn’t I stab my dagger onto her body? She is not dead, I may be dead soon.” Turning his head around, he was thinking of running away, but outside was fully packed with the Imperial Bodyguards; if he ran away, in less than three steps he would have been captured by them. In his fright his legs went weak, his head dizzy, he felt he was about to collapse.

Kangxi rushed toward the bed and said, “Empress Dowager, you, Senior, were frightened. Child was not able to protect you satisfactorily, it was a grave sin indeed. Those rice bucket Imperial Bodyguards must be punished severely.”

Panting, the Empress Dowager said, “No … nothing. It was just an eunuch and a palace maid fighting … they ended up killing each other. It has nothing to do with the Imperial Bodyguards.”

“Is the Empress Dowager well?” Kangxi asked, “Has it alarmed you?”

“It hasn’t!” the Empress Dowager replied, “I was just angry looking at those servants. Emperor, you may leave; tell everybody to go away.”

Kangxi said, “Quickly summon the imperial physician to check the Empress Dowager’s pulse.” Wei Xiaobao was hiding behind him, he did not dare to comply, for fear that the Empress Dowager would see him, or recognize his voice as soon as he opened his mouth.

The Empress Dowager said, “No, don’t summon the imperial physician, I will feel better after sleeping. You don’t need to move these two people’s … these two servants’ bodies … My heart is really troubled, I don’t want to hear people making noise in here. Emperor, tell … tell everybody to leave quickly.” Her voice sounded very weak, she was gasping for breath, obviously the injury she received was not light.

Kangxi was very anxious, but he did not dare to disobey. Actually, he wanted very much to investigate thoroughly why these eunuch and palace maid fight, so that the Empress Dowager was this angry. Although the two of them had died, they had committed such a big crime that their family members must be examined. However, listening to the Empress Dowager, it was obvious that she did not want this matter to be made public, so much so she did not even allow the bodies to be removed. He had no choice but to pay his respect to the Empress Dowager and withdrew from the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.

Having narrowly escaped from mortal danger, Wei Xiaobao’s legs were still weak, holding on to the wall, he also walked out. Kangxi was busy thinking with his head down, he thought that what happened tonight in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful was quite major, there must be a secret in it, but the Empress Dowager clearly did not want him to get involved. Only after walking with head hung low for a good while did he finally look up and saw Wei Xiaobao was following behind him. “The Empress Dowager wanted you to serve her,” he said, “Why are you following me here?”

Wei Xiaobao was thinking that come daybreak he was going to run away from the Palace anyway, hence he felt there was no harm in him saying whatever came into his mind. “The Empress Dowager has just said that her heart is really troubled, she would be angry at the sight of an eunuch. Seeing the Empress Dowager’s holy self is not too well, your servant thought that it would be better to leave her so that she won’t be annoyed.” Kangxi nodded.

Returning to his personal chamber at the Palace of Heavenly Purity, he waited until all the eunuchs serving him had withdrawn before saying, “Xiao Guizi, stay here!” Wei Xiaobao complied.

Kangxi paced back and forth from east to west and back from west to east. After quite a while he asked, “What do you think, why did that eunuch fight the palace maid to their deaths?”

“I may not be able to guess correctly,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “There are so many palace maids and eunuchs with very bad temper in the Palace, they quarrel frequently, sometimes they fight in secret, it’s just that they never let the Empress Dowager and Your Majesty know.”

Kangxi nodded. “Go tell everybody not to mention this matter anymore to avoid provoking the Empress Dowager’s anger,” he said.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Kangxi said, “You may go!”

Wei Xiaobao paid his respect, turned around and left, thinking, “This time I leave, I will never see you again.” He turned his head around to cast another glance at Kangxi.

Kangxi was also looking at him with a smiling expression on his face. “Come back here,” he said. Wei Xiaobao turned around and walked back. Kangxi opened a golden box by the head of his bed and took out two pieces of pastry. “We have been busy for half a day, your tummy must be very hungry!” he said with a laugh, and then gave the pastries to him.

Wei Xiaobao received the pastries with both hands, thinking that the Empress Dowager was dangerously ruthless, she concealed a man in her bedroom; there would come a day where she would harm the Emperor, while the Emperor was kept in the dark inside a drum, he did not know anything. The Emperor treated him very well, just like a friend or a brother, if he did not make the Emperor aware of this matter and he was killed by the Empress Dowager, Wei Xiaobao thought he was really lacking yi qi. Thinking to this point, a vision appeared in his mind, in which all the muscles and bones in Kangxi’s entire body were broken, his corpse lying on the ground in a miserable condition. His heart ached, he could not hold tears from flowing out of his eyes.

“What is it?” Kangxi asked with a smile, he reached out and patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, saying, “You want to be with me, don’t you? That’s easy; wait till the Empress Dowager is feeling better in a few days, I will talk to the Empress Dowager. To be honest, I also do not want to lose you.”

Wei Xiaobao was overwhelmed with excitement; he thought, “Tao Gong’e said that if I tell the Emperor the truth, he would unavoidably want to kill me to shut my mouth. A hero or a warrior can do anything, but has no choice but to uphold yi qi. If a real man must die, so be it.” Placing the two pieces of pastry on the table, he grabbed Kangxi’s hand and with a trembling voice said, “Xiao Xuanzi, can I call you Xiao Xuanzi again?”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Of course you can. I have already said that whenever there’s nobody else around, we will be just like in the past. You want to have a martial art contest, don’t you? Come, come, come, let the horse come out.” While saying that, he flipped his hands to grab Wei Xiaobao’s hands.

“There’s no hurry to have a martial art contest,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have a secret important matter I want to tell my good friend Xiao Xuanzi. I simply cannot tell my master, the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, if His Majesty hears it, he will immediately chop my head. But Xiao Xuanzi is my friend, so it is alright.”

Kangxi did not know the gravity of this matter; in his young frame of mind, he only felt that this was all very amusing. Hurriedly he pulled Wei Xiaobao to sit side-by-side on the bed and said, “Tell me quick, tell me quick!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “At this moment you are Xiao Xuanzi, and not the Emperor?”

Kangxi smiled. “Right,” he said, “Right now I am your good friend Xiao Xuanzi, not the Emperor. I have been the Emperor all day long, without any really caring friend; there is no fun in that.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll tell you everything. If you want to chop my head, I can’t do anything about it.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “Why would I want to chop your head? How can a good friend kill his good friend?”

Wei Xiaobao took a very deep breath, and then said, “I am not the real Xiao Guizi, I am not a eunuch, I killed the real Xiao Guizi.”

Kangxi was flabbergasted. “What?” he asked.

And so Wei Xiaobao briefly narrated his family background and his origin, followed by how he was captured and brought to the Palace, how he poisoned Hai Dafu that he turned blind, how he pretended to be Xiao Guizi, how Hai Dafu taught him martial art; he explained everything in detail.

Listening to this part, Kangxi laughed and said, “Damn it, take your pants off, let me see.”

Wei Xiaobao knew that the Emperor was astute, how could he not personally verify this kind of important matter? He took off his pants immediately.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao really had not been purified to be a eunuch, Kangxi laughed aloud and said, “Turns out you are not a eunuch. Killing the little eunuch Xiao Guizi is not that serious. It’s just that you can’t live in the Palace anymore. Otherwise I would assign you to be the Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards. Although that servant Dolong’s martial art is not bad, the way he handles his affairs is very muddleheaded.”

Wei Xiaobao buckled up his pants and said, “I thank you very much for that, but I am afraid it won’t work. I have heard some secrets relating to the Empress Dowager.”

“Related to the Empress Dowager?” Kangxi asked, “What is it?” When asking that question, there was a nagging feeling in his heart that something was not right.

Wei Xiaobao clenched his teeth and started to recount what he heard that night at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, when the Empress Dowager was talking to Hai Dafu. When he heard that his father, the Emperor Shunzhi, had not died but had become a Buddhist monk at the Qing Liang Temple on Mount Wutai, Kangxi’s shock was not a small matter. This delight particularly had made him as if he was jolted and was giddy with excitement. He was shaking all over as he grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s hands and with a trembling voice said, “Is this … is this really true? My Fu Huang [father emperor] … Fu Huang is still alive?”

“It was exactly what I heard from the Empress Dowager and Hai Dafu,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Kangxi stood up and loudly shout, “That’s … that’s marvelous! Marvelous! Xiao Guizi, come daybreak, we will go immediately to Mount Wutai to have an audience with Fu Huang, we will invite him, Senior, to return to the Palace.”

Kangxi ruled the land under the heavens, in everything he could do as he wish, his only regret in life was that his father and mother died prematurely. Sometimes in the middle of the night the memory of when his father and mother were still alive came back to him in a dream, and he could not bear but shedding some tears and weep. This moment, after listening to Wei Xiaobao, although unavoidably he had some doubt, he was so happy that his heart was turned upside down.

“I am afraid the Empress Dowager would not approve,” Wei Xiaobao said, “All along she concealed it from you, there must be an important reason behind it.”

“That’s true,” Kangxi said, “What reason that might be?” When he first heard that his father had not died, the delight had clouded his inner feelings, but as he thought about it further, countless doubts started to emerge.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t understand anything about any important matters in the Palace, I can only repeat word for word everything that the Empress Dowager and Hai Dafu were saying.”

“Yes, yes!” Kangxi said, “Tell me quick, tell me quick!”

Hearing about how Empress Duan Jing and Empress Xiao Kang were harmed, Kangxi sprang up and shouted, “You … are you saying that Empress Xiao Kang was … was murdered?”

Seeing Kangxi’s expression underwent huge changes, his eyes were bulging, the muscles on his face were continuously twitching, Wei Xiaobao could not help but was scared; with a trembling voice he said, “I … I don’t know, I was only repeating what Hai Dafu told the Empress Dowager.”

“What did they say, exactly?” Kangxi asked, “You … repeat the whole thing.”

Wei Xiaobao had a very good memory, when he recounted the exchange between the Empress Dowager and Hai Dafu that night, even his intonation was very much alike those two people.

Kangxi was staring blankly for half a day; he said, “My own mother … my own mother was unexpectedly murdered by others?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Xiao Kang is … is … is your mother?”

Kangxi nodded. “You may continue,” he said, “Do not omit a single sentence.” His heart was broken, tears flowing down his face.

Wei Xiaobao then recounted how the murderer had used the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ to kill Empress Duan Jing’s son, Prince Rong, and then murdered Empress Duan Jing and Consort Zhen. After Emperor Shunzhi left home to become a Buddhist monk, the Empress Dowager murdered Empress Xiao Kang. He also recounted how the undertaker who prepared Empress Duan Jing and Consort Zhen for burial had accepted Hai Dafu’s order to visit the Mount Wutai and report everything to Emperor Shunzhi, how Emperor Shunzhi had sent Hai Dafu back to the Palace to make thorough investigation, and finally how the Empress Dowager and Hai Dafu had exchanged some palm strikes. He did not dare to say that it was he who killed Hai Dafu, he only said that because Hai Dafu was blind, he was not the Empress Dowager’s match, so that he died under her palms.

Kangxi calmed himself down, then he asked in detail what happened that night; he often cross-examined Wei Xiaobao by repeatedly asking the same question, until he was convinced that Wei Xiaobao could not possibly make up the story. He looked up in deep thought for a while, and then asked, “Why did you wait until today to tell me all these things?”

“The implication of this matter is too great,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “How can I dare to make irresponsible remarks? But tomorrow I am going to run away from the Palace, I won’t come back; I thought that it will be very dangerous for you to be alone in the Palace, so I can’t conceal it from you anymore.”

“Why do you want to go out of the Palace?” Kangxi asked, “Are you afraid the Empress Dowager will harm you?”

“Let me tell you this,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The palace maid who died at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful tonight was a man, he was the Empress Dowager’s Shixiong.”

The fact that a palace maid in the Empress Dowager’s palace was actually a man was naturally unthinkable, but tonight Kangxi had just learned that his father, the late Emperor, unexpectedly was not dead, plus his own mother was murdered by the Empress Dowager, whom he had always had solemn affection to. When he heard that a palace maid was actually a man in disguise, he did not feel strange at all; besides the little eunuch in front of him turned out to be a fake eunuch. “How do you know?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “After I listened to the Empress Dowager and Hai Dafu that night, the Empress Dowager always wanted to kill me to shut my mouth.” Thereupon he told Kangxi everything, how the Empress Dowager had sent Rui Dong, Liu Yan, as well as groups of eunuchs one after another to kill him. He also related how he heard the Empress Dowager was talking to a man at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, how that man, who disguised himself as a palace maid, was killed by the Empress Dowager, but the Empress Dowager also suffered injury. Naturally he did not tell the whole truth; he did not mention Tao Gong’e, neither did he mention anything about him killing Rui Dong and Liu Yan, and him stealing several copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, and so on.

“That man was the Empress Dowager’s Shixiong?” Kangxi muttered to himself, “From the tone of his voice, it seems that the Empress Dowager was forced to accept someone else’s order, I wonder who that person might be? Could it be … could it be that person knew there was a fake palace maid in Empress Dowager’s bedroom, and thus …”

Listening to Kangxi touching upon the subject of Empress Dowager’s ‘adultery’, Wei Xiaobao did not dare to open his mouth, he only shook his head. It was only a moment later that he said, “I don’t have any idea.”

“Summon Dolong here,” Kangxi said.

Wei Xiaobao complied, he thought, “Is the Emperor going to deal with the Empress Dowager? Is he going to order Dolong to arrest the old wh0re and behead her? Shall I run away as quickly as possible? Or should I stay and help him?”

Dolong was just burning with anxiety; there was accident after accident in the Palace. Although the head above his neck might not be removed, the hat above his head, and the plume above his hat, might be highly unstable. Hearing that the Emperor had summoned him, he hastily came to the Palace of Heavenly Purity.

Kangxi instructed him, “There is nothing at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, you may immediately withdraw the Imperial Bodyguards all around the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. The Empress Dowager says that hearing the Imperial Bodyguards standing outside, her heart is very much troubled.”

Dolong noticed that although the Emperor’s expression looked rather strange, he did not say even half a word of blame. Dolong was ecstatic, he busily kowtowed and went out to transmit the order.

Kangxi’s heart was still filled with all kinds of suspicion; he asked Wei Xiaobao a lot of detailed questions. After a long time, he presumed all the Imperial Bodyguards had been withdrawn. He said, “Xiao Guizi, you and I will scout around the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful tonight.”

“Are you going to personally scout around?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Exactly!” Kangxi said. First, it was a matter of great importance, he could not simply listening to a little eunuch impersonator’s one sided story and suspected the queen mother who raised him up; second, ‘dangerous night spying mission’ was something that people who learn martial art must do. Now that an opportunity had presented itself, how could he let it off easily? He was the Emperor, he could not go out of the Palace to test his skill, being a ‘nightwalker’ in the Palace was better than nothing. It’s just that he had already ordered the Imperial Bodyguards around the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to be withdrawn, so that when he did the ‘night mission’, it could not be compared to ‘wulin professionals’.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Empress Dowager has already killed her Shixiong, right now she is sleeping peacefully to nurture her injuries, I am afraid we won’t find anything.”

“We haven’t gone scouting, how do you know we won’t find anything?” Kangxi said. Immediately he changed into a casual dress, and wore a pair of thin-soled light boots, it was precisely the same attire he always wore when he had martial art contest against Wei Xiaobao. He fetched a yaodao saber[1] from the head of his bed and hung it on his waist, then they went out from the Palace of Heavenly Purity’s side door.

Numerous Imperial Bodyguards and eunuchs were standing in layer upon layer on guard duty around the Palace of Heavenly Purity, as soon as they saw the Emperor, they all kneeled down hurriedly. Kangxi ordered, “Everybody stand, no one is allowed to move randomly.” It was the Emperor’s imperial edict, who would dare to disobey? Therefore, more than two hundred Imperial Bodyguards and eunuchs were standing straight on their original position, nobody dared to move.

Kangxi took Wei Xiaobao to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful’s garden. It was very quiet, nobody was around. He crawled under the Empress Dowager’s bedroom window and crouched down to listen attentively. He heard the Empress Dowager was coughing incessantly, in that instant, his feeling bubbled up like a tide, it was a mixture of sorrow, bitterness, and excitement. Hearing the Empress Dowager’s coughing, he felt like he wanted to rush in and cry in her bosom, but he also wanted to wrap his fingers around her neck and interrogate her sternly: what actually happened to his father and his own queen mother? For a moment he hoped that everything Xiao Guizi told him was a lie, but he also hoped that it was entirely the truth. He did not stop shaking, all the hair on his body stood up on its end, a slight chill penetrated his bone and marrow.

The candle in the Empress Dowager’s bedroom was still burning, it flickered continuously, making the paper on the window pane sometimes bright, sometimes dark. After a while, he heard the voice of a palace maid saying, “Empress Dowager, I have finished sewing.”

“Hmm,” Empress Dowager said, “Put this palace maid … palace maid’s body inside … inside the quilt sack.”

“Yes,” the palace maid said, “What about the eunuch’s body?”

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “I only told you to wrap the palace maid, why do you … do you care about any eunuch?”

“Yes!” the palace maid busily said. And then they heard the noise of something was dragged along the floor.

Kangxi was unable to show restraint any longer, he craned his neck to peep through the crack on the window, but all the cracks on the Empress Dowager’s bedroom window had been sealed with greased lime, not even a narrow slit existed. In the former days, he had heard Wei Xiaobao’s story about the trick and taboo of the nightwalker of the Jianghu, which was passed on by Mao Shiba along the way from Yangzhou to Beijing. Now, seeing the window was without any crack, which was what he had expected, immediately he moistened his finger with his saliva and lightly wet the window paper, exerting a light force on his finger, he made a tiny hole on the window without making the slightest bit of noise.

Through the hole he could see the embroidered screen on the Empress Dowager’s bed was hanging low, a young palace maid was trying to stuff a body on the ground into a big cloth sack. The corpse was wearing palace maid attire, but the head was completely bald that it did not have even a single strand of hair. After stuffing the corpse into the sack, the palace maid picked up a wig from the floor. After hesitating for a moment, the palace maid also stuffed the wig into the sack; with a low voice she said, “Empress Dowager, I have finished … finished wrapping!”

The Empress Dowager said, “Have all the Imperial Bodyguards outside with drawn? I seem to hear some voices.”

The palace maid went to the door, looked out for a while, and then said, “There’s nobody outside.”

The Empress Dowager said, “Drag the sack to the lotus pond, put four large rocks into the sack, use … use string … (cough, cough) to tie the sack’s mouth, and then … and then … (cough, cough) push the sack into the pond.”

“Yes,” the palace maid replied, her voice trembled, obviously she was very afraid.

The Empress Dowager said, “After you push the sack into the pond, dig up a lot of dirt and toss it on top of the sack, don’t let anybody see it.”

“Yes,” the palace maid replied again, and then she dragged the sack out of the room and to the flower garden.

Kangxi thought, “Xiao Guizi said that that palace maid was a man, most likely he was right. If there was no huge secret surrounding this matter, why must the Empress Dowager sink the corpse into the pond to erase any trace of it?” Seeing Wei Xiaobao was standing by his side, he could not refrain from reaching out to grab his hand. Both of them felt the other’s hand was moist and cold.

A moment later they heard splashing noise as the sack containing the body fell into the lotus pond, followed by the sound of mud and dirt thrown into the pond. Another moment later the palace maid returned to the bedroom. Wei Xiaobao had already recognized her voice, she was Rui Chu, the little palace maid.

“Is everything done?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“Yes,” Rui Chu replied, “Everything is done.”

The Empress Dowager said, “There were originally two corpses in here, how come the other one suddenly disappear? If someone asks you tomorrow, how are you going to explain?”

Rui Chu said, “Your servant … your servant does not know anything.”

“You are serving me in here, how can you not know anything?” the Empress Dowager said.

“Yes, yes!” Rui Chu said.

“What do you mean ‘Yes, yes!’?” the Empress Dowager angrily said.

With a trembling voice Rui Chu said, “Your servant saw that dead palace maid stood up, turns out she was only injured, she did not die at all. She slowly … slowly walked out. That time … that time the Empress Dowager was sleeping peacefully, your servant did not dare to alarm the Empress Dowager, I saw the palace maid walked out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, I don’t know … I don’t know where she went.”

The Empress Dowager sighed and said, “So that’s what happened. Amitabha Buddha, she is not dead but walked out on her own. That’s very good.”

“Exactly,” Rui Chu said, “Thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, she is not dead.”

Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao waited a moment longer, the Empress Dowager did not speak anymore, she seemed to fall asleep; therefore, they quietly, step-by-step, left and returned to the Palace of Heavenly Purity. They saw the Imperial Bodyguards and eunuchs were still standing straight, motionless. Kangxi laughed and said, “Everybody can move as you wish!” Although he was laughing, the sound of his laughter and his speech was very dry and heavy.

Back to his bedroom, he fixed his gaze on Wei Xiaobao and did not say anything for a long time. Suddenly tears flowing down his face, he said, “Turns out Empress Dowager … Empress Dowager …” Wei Xiaobao was at a loss of what to say.

Kangxi thought for a moment longer, then he clapped his hands, two Imperial Bodyguards appeared on the bedroom door. Kangxi said in a low voice, “I have a secret mission I want the two of you to do, but you must never leak it out. There is a large sack in the lotus pond in the garden of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, I want the two of you to bring it here. The Empress Dowager is sleeping peacefully, if you two make the least bit of noise and awaken the Empress Dowager, you will lose your own heads.” The two guards bowed in compliance and left. Kangxi was still sitting on his bed, silently pondering everything over and over in his head.

A good half a day[2] later, finally the two Imperial Bodyguards, lifting a dripping wet big cloth sack, came back outside the bedroom door.

“Did you wake up the Empress Dowager?” Kangxi asked.

The two Imperial Bodyguards replied together, “Your servants do not dare.”

Kangxi nodded. “Bring it in!” he said. The two Imperial Bodyguards complied, they brought the cloth sack in. “You are dismissed!” Kangxi said.

Wei Xiaobao waited until the Imperial Bodyguards had left, and then he closed and bolted the door before untying the rope on the sack’s mouth and dragging the corpse out. Although the corpse’s face was clean-shaven, the hair roots were clearly visible. There was a lump on the corpse’s throat, and its chest was flat, undoubtedly it was a male. The muscles on this man’s entire body were bulging, his knuckles were protruding, a sure sign of someone who had an extensive training in martial art. Apparently this man masquerade a palace maid in the Palace only recently, otherwise, with this kind of appearance, which was ugly even for a man, how could he masquerade as a palace maid and not being discovered?

Kangxi drew out his yaodao and cut open the man’s pants. After taking a glance, his anger rose; brandishing his saber repeatedly, he chopped the part between the corpse’s loins into a pulp.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Empress Dowager …”

“What Empress Dowager?” Kangxi angrily said, “That s1ut forced my Fu Huang to leave, murdered my mother, defiled the imperial court with illicit sexual relations, and did many injustice. I … I want to cut her body into ten thousand pieces and execute her whole family unto the third generation.”

Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh; immediately he felt relieved, “The Emperor no longer recognize her as the Empress Dowager, whatever bad things that old wh0re has done, I know everything, he can’t possibly kill me to shut my mouth.”

Kangxi raised his saber and hacked the corpse several more times, momentarily his indignation was difficult to endure. He was thinking of sending some Imperial Bodyguards to detain and interrogate the Empress Dowager, but then he had a second thought, “Fu Huang is not dead, but became a monk on Mount Wutai; this is a very important matter. As soon as this information leaks out, it will create quite a sensation among the officers and common people of the world. I must not act recklessly.” Thereupon he said, “Xiao Guizi, early tomorrow morning, I will go with you to Mount Wutai to verify the truth.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He was extremely delighted. Traveling together with the Emperor, going to Mount Wutai was definitely more fun than being stifled in Beijing.

But Kangxi’s knowledge, experience and understanding was far above Wei Xiaobao’s, after a careful consideration, he immediately remembered that when the Emperor was going on an inspection tour, it was an extremely grand occasion, which would require at least several months of preparations. Along the way, hundreds of government officials must be prepared to welcome and protect the Emperor; it would be a lot of trouble, he could not simply go whenever he wanted to. He also remembered his own young age, he had not taken over the government for too long, the princes, dukes, and the ministers of the imperial court had not submitted to him yet; if the Empress Dowager seized the opportunity while he was out of the Capital to seize the government and usurp power, he should consider that she might oust him and set up another ruler in his place. Moreover, if his father emperor was in fact dead, or perhaps he was still alive, but was no longer on Mount Wutai, while with much fanfare he went up the mountain to seek an audience, but failed to see the old Emperor, not only he would be the laughingstock of all the people in the world, but he would be ridiculed by the later generations as well.

After thinking for a while, he shook his head and said, “It’s no good, I can’t casually leave the Capital. Xiao Guizi, you must go for me.”

Wei Xiaobao was quite disappointed, “I must go alone?” he asked.

“You must go alone,” Kangxi said, “Wait until we investigate clearly that Fu Huang is indeed on Mount Wutai, I will fix a good way to deal with that s1ut in the Capital, then the two of us will go up the mountain together. It’s a completely safe plan.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that since the Emperor already decided to deal with the Empress Dowager, he could not easily decline to go alone to Mount Wutai for an inquiry. “Alright,” he said, “I’ll go to Mount Wutai.”

Kangxi said, “According to our Great Qing’s customs, an eunuch cannot leave the Capital unless he is accompanying me. It’s good that you are actually not a court eunuch. Xiao Guizi, later on you won’t be a eunuch anymore, you’d better be an Imperial Bodyguard. However, everybody in the Palace has already known you, if you suddenly cease to be an eunuch, they will feel strange. Um, I can declare to the people that in order to capture Oboi, you received my order to disguise yourself as a eunuch. Now that the prime criminal has been eliminated, naturally the masquerade cannot continue. Xiao Guizi, in the future you must study a bit, I will appoint you as a high-ranking official.”

“That’s nice!” Wei Xiaobao said, “But I have a headache as soon as I see a book. I will study a little bit less, then you can appoint me as a little bit lower-ranking official.”

Kangxi sat in front of the table, he raised his writing brush and started to write a letter to his father the Emperor: he reported clearly that he had been unfilial, that only today he learned that Fu Huang was still alive, that his heart was unusually happy, that he would go up the mountain in the next few days to respectfully welcome the Emperor’s holy self back to the Palace, to again manage the ten thousand affairs of the state, while the son would also receive a parent’s favor once again. But after thinking several more lines of characters, he suddenly thought, “If this letter fell into a wrong hand, it would be greatly inappropriate. If Xiao Guizi got captured or even killed, this letter could be found by others.”

He took the sheet with half a page already written, and burned it over the flame of the candle, and then he took up his writing brush and wrote: “Imperial edict: the Imperial Bodyguard Deputy Chief Wei Xiaobao, hereby being granted by the Emperor himself to wear Yellow Magua[3], is being sent to visit the Wutai Mountain region on official business. Various provinces’ civil and military officials are ordered to give assistance. By the Emperor himself.” Finished writing, he affixed the imperial seal and handed it over to Wei Xiaobao, saying with a laugh, “Now you are an officer, take a look, what officer are you?”

Wei Xiaobao opened his eyes wide, but all he could recognize was his own name, the character ‘five’ [‘wu’ from wutai], ‘one’ [‘yi’ from ‘yidai’ – region], and ‘civil’ [‘wen’ from ‘wenwu’ – civil and military], six characters altogether. But he only recognized the character ‘wei’ and ‘bao’ of his name simply because they came on either side of the character ‘xiao’, if they were standing alone, he would not have recognized them. He shook his head and said, “I don’t know what officer. It is personally appointed by Your Majesty, so it can’t be a petty official, can it?”

Kangxi laughed and read the imperial order. Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and said, “It’s Deputy Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards; awesome, awesome! And I get to wear the Yellow Magua?”

Kangxi smiled and said, “Although Dolong is the Chief, he does not get to wear the Yellow Magua. If you handle this assignment well, when you return to the Palace I will promote your official position. It’s just that you are still too young, if your position is too high, it would be too unseemly. We’ll do it slowly.”

“High-ranking or low-ranking official, I don’t care,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As long as I can be with you frequently, it would be very good.”

Kangxi was both happy and sad, he said, “You must be very careful, your mission is top secret, if not absolutely necessary, do not show this imperial edict to anybody. You may go now!”

Wei Xiaobao bade Kangxi farewell, he saw a streak of marble white color of the dawn on the eastern horizon. He returned to his residence, quietly opened the door and came in. Fang Yi had not slept at all. “You are back,” she said happily.

“Everything is fine[4],” Wei Xiaobao said, “We can leave the Palace now.”

Mu Jianping woke up in a daze, “Shijie was very anxious,” she said, “She was afraid you ran into danger.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and asked, “What about you?”

“Of course I was worried too,” Mu Jianping said, “Are you alright?”

“I am alright, I am alright,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

They heard the noise of activities, the Palace gates were opened, one after another the civil and military officials entered the Palace to wait for the morning court. Wei Xiaobao lighted the candle on the table, he examined the two girls’ attire and did not find any flaw; he laughed and said, “The two of you are too pretty, you need to rub some dirt on your face.” Mu Jianping was somewhat reluctant, but seeing Fang Yi reached down to the ground to get some dirt and rubbed it on her face, she followed suit.

Wei Xiaobao put the three copies of sutra he snatched from under the Empress Dowager’s bed into his bundle. He took the silver hairpin from his pocket and handed it over to Fang Yu, saying, “Is this the hairpin you were looking for?”

Fang Yi blushed, she slowly held out her hand to take it, saying, “You are willing to brave danger, it was to … was to fetch this hairpin of mine.” Her heart was touched, her eyes turned red, she turned her head to look another way.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It’s not that dangerous.” While in his heart he said, “This is called ‘good deed has its own reward’. If I did not go to get this hairpin, I would not get to wear the Yellow Magua.”

He took the two people toward the back of the imperial city and left the Palace via the Shen Wu Gate. By this time the sky had not brightened, the Imperial Bodyguards at the gate only saw Gui Gong-gong with two little eunuch companions going out of the Palace. Other than uttering some flattering words, who would dare to ask a single question?

After leaving the Palace for a dozen of zhang or so, Fang Yi turned her head around to look back at the Palace gate, all sorts of feelings welled up in her heart, everything she underwent seemed to happen a lifetime ago.

On the street, Wei Xiaobao hired three sedan chairs, he told the porters to go westward toward the Chang’an Street, where they alighted and took another small sedan chair to Tian Di Hui, about two streets away, where they finally got off. He said, “Your Mu Palace friends have all left the city yesterday. I must consult my friends to see where we must send you.” After being bestowed the title Imperial Bodyguard Deputy Chief wearing Yellow Magua, he was conscious that he had become a grownup, moreover, he was under an imperial edict on mission to investigate an enormously important matter, suddenly he felt like he must shed the glib-tongue way he used to talk. Besides, his Shifu was not far away, he did not dare to act wantonly.

Fang Yi asked, “You … where are you going?”

“I do not dare to stay in Beijing much longer,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I must go, the farther the better. I must wait until the Empress Dowager is dead, all is calm, then I will dare to come back.”

“We have good friends in Shijiazhuang, Hebei,” Fang Yi said, “If you … if you don’t look down on us, why don’t you … why don’t you come with us to temporarily make yourself scarce?”

“That’s right,” Mu Jianping said, “You are the benefactor who saved our lives, you are one of us. If the three of us travel together, it will be somewhat more fun.” The two of them looked at him with hopeful eyes. Mu Jianping looked naïve and earnest, but Fang Yi looked shy.

If Wei Xiaobao did not bear an important mission, accompanying two beautiful women on a long journey would, by far, be more interesting, would be extremely free and unfettered; but this moment he had no choice but would have to think of a way to make an excuse. He said, “I promised a friend to handle a very important matter for him, I cannot go to Shijiazhuang at this time. Both of you are injured, it would be inconvenient for two young ladies to hasten on with your journey. I will ask one or two reliable friends to escort you to go first. Let us rest for a while, eat until we are full, then we can talk it over slowly.”

Presently they arrived at Tian Di Hui’s lodging. As soon as the brother guarding outside the lane saw that it was him, he quickly led them in. Gao Yanchao went out to greet them; he was very surprised to see he was accompanied by two little eunuchs. Wei Xiaobao whispered in his ear, “It’s the Mu family’s Xiao Gongye’s sister, the other one is her Shijie. I saved them out of the Palace.”

Gao Yanchao invited the two ladies to take a seat in the hall and served them tea. He pulled Wei Xiaobao to the side and said, “Zongduozhu has left the Capital last night.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; first, he was most afraid Shifu would inquire about the progress of his martial art training, second, he was not sure whether he should confide with Shifu about Kangxi’s order. Hearing Shifu had already left the Capital, it was as if a large rock was lifted off of his mind. But on his face he showed an utmost disappointment. He stomped his foot and said, “This … this … this … Ay, why did Shifu have to leave so quickly?”

Gao Yanchao said, “Zongduozhu instructed subordinate to inform Wei Xiangzhu that he, Senior, suddenly received an urgent report from Taiwan, and must hurry back there to handle the matter. Zongduozhu wanted Wei Xiangzhu to be very careful, to act as circumstances dictate. If it is inconvenient for you to stay at the Palace, you must leave the Capital to escape temporarily. He also said he wanted Wei Xiangzhu to diligently train martial art. He was wondering if the poison inside Wei Xiangzhu’s body has been completely cleared up, if you feel something is not right in your body, you are to let Zongduozhu know immediately.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu keeps thinking about my injury and martial art training, I am deeply grateful.” It was not a false statement, hearing in his rush Shifu was still thinking about his well-being, he was deeply touched. “What happened in Taiwan?” he asked.

Gao Yanchao replied, “I heard the mother and son of the Zheng family are at odds with each other; they killed a minister, probably there is an internal strife. Zongduozhu has quite a prestige, whatever the turmoil over there, he, the Senior, will be able to settle it as soon as he arrives, Wei Xiangzhu does not need to be anxious. Li Dage, Guan Fuzi, Fan Dage, Feng Dage, Priest Xuanzhen, and the others are coming with Zongduozhu. Xu San Ge and subordinate are staying in the Capital to wait for Wei Xiangzhu’s orders.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “Get someone to invite Xu San Ge over.” He thought, “Not only the ‘Eight-arm Ape’ Xu Tianchuan has superior martial art skill, he is very astute, and is an old man. No one is better than him to escort these two ladies to Shijiazhuang.” He also thought, “The mother and son in Taiwan are at odds with each other and killed people. They are no different than the Empress Dowager and the Emperor in Beijing.”

He returned to the hall to eat some noodles and dimsum with Fang and Mu, two girls. Mu Jianping ate less than half a bowl of noodles, she could not bear not to ask, “Are you sure you can’t come with us to Shijiazhuang?”

Wei Xiaobao cast a glance toward Fang Yi; she stopped her chopstick and she stopped to eat. She was looking down, but her eyes were filled with earnest hope. Wei Xiaobao could not restrain his heart from burning; he really wished he could take these two girls with him to Mount Wutai, but immediately thought better: “What kind of important mission am I in? Taking these two injured young ladies will be a hindrance and will draw unnecessary attention, which absolutely must not happen.” Thereupon he sighed and said, “After my business is done, I will come to Shijiazhuang to visit. Where does your friend live? What’s his name?”

Fang Yi slowly lowered her head and pinched a string of noodle with her chopsticks, but did not put it in her mouth; she said in a low voice, “That friend opened a mule and horse dealership at the Shijiazhuang’s western market. He is called the ‘Fast Horse’ Song San [lit. Song the third].”

“Fast Horse Song San, got it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will definitely come to visit you.” Suddenly a mischievous look appeared on his face, as he casually said, “How can I not come? How can I give up this pair of ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ first wife and second wife?”

Mu Jianping laughed and said, “You have been well-behaved only for less than half a day, and you are back to your flippant and glib-tongued way already?”

Fang Yi firmly said, “If you really regard us as your good friends, we … we will hope for your visit every day. But if you are being frivolous and won’t respect others, you … you don’t need to come.”

Wei Xiaobao had bumped into a nail; he only felt the fun had been lost. “Alright,” he said, “If you don’t like to banter, I won’t say anything at all.”

Fang Yi was somewhat apologetic, she said in a gentle voice, “Even bantering has its own propriety, its own time, and its own place. You … are you angry?”

Wei Xiaobao cheered up, he quickly said, “No, no. As long as you are not angry, I am fine.”

Fang Yi laughed, and then gently said, “Toward you, nobody can be really angry.”

Fang Yi was smiling so sweetly that even though her face was smeared with dirt, her beauty was very difficult to cover. Wei Xiaobao immediately felt a burst of warmth going through his body, he ate mouthful by mouthful of noodle soup and temporarily could not find anything to say.

Suddenly they heard footsteps in the courtyard, an old man walked in, Xu Tianchuan had arrived. He went straight to Wei Xiaobao and bowed to pay his respect, there was only happiness across his face, as he respectfully said, “How are you, Senior?” He was being very discreet, seeing there were outsiders present, he did not address Wei Xiaobao as ‘Wei Xiangzhu’.

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the salute and said with a laugh, “Xu San Ge, let me present to you two friends. These two are ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ Liu Laoyezi’s distinguished disciples. This one is Miss Fang, this one is Miss Mu, she is Mu Palace’s Xiao Junzhu.” To Fang and Mu, two girls he said, “This is Xu San Ge, he is acquainted with Liu Laoyezi and your family’s Xiao Gongye.” He was afraid Fang and Mu, two ladies still harbor a grudge, so he quickly added, “At first there was a tiny bit of grudge between them, but presently the resentment has been resolved.” After the three of them had exchanged propriety, he said, “Xu San Ge, I have a favor I’d like to ask you.”

Hearing that these two women who were disguised as little eunuchs were unexpectedly important personage of the Mu Palace, Xu Tianchuan thought that since Mu Jiansheng and the others already knew Wei Xiaobao’s real identity, naturally these two young ladies were also well-informed of the fact; thereupon he said, “Whatever Wei Xiangzhu wishes to send me, subordinate will accept your orders.”

But Fang Yi and Mu Jianping did not know Wei Xiaobao’s real identity. Hearing Xu Tianchuan addressed him as ‘Wei Xiangzhu’, they were greatly surprised.

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “These two young ladies had the same fate as Wu Lishen, Wu Laoyezi, and Liu Yizhou Liu Dage, they had fallen into the enemy’s hands inside the Imperial Palace; they came out just now. Have Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye, Liu Yizhou Shixiong and the others left the Capital?”

Xu Tianchuan said, “Numerous heroes of the Mu Palace have left the Capital safely yesterday. Mu Xiao Gongye also asked me to make discreet inquiry on Xiao Junzhu’s whereabouts. I asked him to set his heart at ease, since he has entrusted this matter to Tian Di Hui, we will definitely find Xiao Junzhu.” While saying that, there was a hint of smile on his face.

Mu Jianping asked, “So Liu Shige is with my Gege?” She asked that question on Fang Yi’s behalf.

Xu Tianchuan replied, “Zaixia sent them off out of town separately. Liu Shixiong went with Liu Laoyezi, they were heading south.” Fang Yi blushed as she lowered her head.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Hearing your sweetheart is out of danger, your heart must be in full bloom.” Little did he know that this time his guess could not be more wrong. The thought in Fang Yi’s mind was: “I gave him my words that if he saved Liu Shige’s life, I would marry him and be his wife, and will be steadfast to the death. But he is a court eunuch, how can I marry him? He is very young, but can pull a hundred tricks. What’s this ‘Wei Xiangzhu’ business anyway?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “These two young ladies strenuously fought the Imperial Bodyguards in Qing Palace, and have suffered injuries. Presently they want to go to a friend’s house in Shijiazhuang to recuperate from their wounds. I am thinking of asking Xu San Ge to accompany them.”

Xu Tianchuan was delighted, “I ought to serve in this capacity,” he said, “Wei Xiangzhu has given me a very good assignment. Subordinate has wronged the Mu Palace’s friends, but Mu Xiao Gongye has saved my life instead, I am very ashamed in my heart. If I can accompany these two young ladies to their destination safe and sound, I can somewhat repay one out of ten thousand kindness he had shown me.”

Mu Jianping cast Xu Tianchuan a glance, what she saw was a small and thin old man with a bent waist and a hunched back, someone who could give up his ghost any minute. He talked about escorting her and her older martial sister, perhaps along the way they would have to look after him instead. Much less Wei Xiaobao did not go, so she was already quite disappointed. She was unable to restrain the disappointment from appearing on her face.

But Fang Yi said, “In all honesty, we do not dare to trouble Xu Laoyezi’s honorable self, we only asked you to hire a large carriage for us, and then we will be off on our own. Our injuries are nothing serious; you really do not need to take the trouble.”

Xu Tianchuan laughed and said, “Miss Fang does not need to be too polite. Wei Xiangzhu has already issued the order, whatever happens I simply must accompany you. Both ladies are exceptionally skilful in martial arts, you really do not need an old man incurring your dislike on the side. This old man really does not have the ability to do this ‘accompany’ word. But I can run errands and do odd jobs like serving the ladies in finding an inn to stay, waiting on you for a snack during the journey, hiring carriage, buying stuffs, and do all kinds of tricks, so that along the way the ladies do not need to waste your time to deal with characters like mule dealer, carriage driver, inn waiters, shop attendants.”

Seeing she could not decline anymore, Fang Yi said, “We don’t know how to repay Xu Laoyezi’s great kindness.”

Xu Tianchuan laughed aloud. “What is there to repay?” he said, “I am telling the two ladies the truth: my admiration towards our Wei Xiangzhu shows no bound. Don’t look at his young age; in reality, he has an extensive divine ability. Not only he has saved my old life, just yesterday he helped this old man vented my anger. I was just thinking in my heart, how can I handle several matters for him to express my gratitude, who would have thought that today he is sending me on an assignment? Even if the two ladies do not allow me to accompany you, this old man will have no choice but be tactful; I will precede you on your journey to manage your trip, to open a way when you come across a mountain, to build a bridge when you meet a river, to wait upon you until you arrived at Shijiazhuang safe and sound. Let’s not mention from Beijing to Shijiazhuang is only a few days journey, even if Wei Xiangzhu ordered the old man to follow the two ladies all the way to Yunnan, I will simply go, I will accompany you to your destination.”

Mu Jianping noticed that although his appearance looked wretched, his speech was actually very charming. “What anger he helped you vent yesterday?” she asked, “Yesterday, he … was he not in the Imperial Palace?”

Xu Tianchuan laughed and said, “That traitor Wu Sangui has a dog official under his command called Lu Yifeng. He kidnapped the old man, beat me up and insulted me; he also took a medicated plaster and stuck it on my mouth. Luckily your esteemed older brother sent people to save me and take me out. Wei Xiangzhu promised me that he would have someone break this dog official’s legs. I thought that this time Wu Sangui’s dog son came to Beijing, the number of capable people he brought along must be very great. Last time that servant Lu Yifeng has suffered some trouble from me, he would know better than to go out alone, it would not be easy for us to seek revenge. Who would have known that at the Zhong De Tang [lit. Hall of Virtue Cultivation] drugstore of the western town district yesterday I met a doctor friend specializing in external injury, who mentioned that the Ping Xi Wang dog den was sending people out, carrying a dog official everywhere to find an injury doctor. I found this matter to be really strange, they went to see injury doctors one after another; a total of twenty, thirty doctors, but they did not let those doctors to treat him. They only told the doctors that this dog official was called Lu Yifeng, a muddleheaded scoundrel. Ping Xi Wang’s dog son personally took a stick and broke both of his dog legs, and wanted him to suffer the pain for seven days and seven nights, without allowing him to be treated.”

Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were completely baffled; they asked Wei Xiaobao, “Where’s the logic in that?”

“That dog official has offended Xu San Ge,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Naturally we want him to suffer a lot of pain.”

Mu Jianping asked, “Why did the Ping Xi Wang dog den’s people bring him everywhere to let everyone know?”

“That kid Wu Yingxiong wanted people to pass the news to me,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I told him to break that dog official’s legs, he wanted me to know that he has completed the task.”

Mu Jianping was even more puzzled, “Why did he obey you?” she asked.

With a smile Wei Xiaobao replied, “I was just talking rubbish, I lied to him and he believed me.”

Xu Tianchuan said, “Originally I wanted him to die a horrible death, but then I thought that this dog official was being carried around like a prisoner being paraded through the streets, with his legs broken without he was allowed to seek treatment; it would be too easy for that servant if I killed him. Yesterday afternoon I finally saw him with my own eyes, 9 out of 10 of that dog’s life has gone, his pants were rolled up, exposing his two broken legs, swelling and purple. He was so much in pain that he cried, calling on his mommy. Ladies, won’t you say it gives this old man reason to be delighted?”

By this time Gao Yanchao had returned with three large hired carriages, waiting outside the door. He was also a competent member of Tian Di hui, but according to the Society’s law – a violation of this law was punishable by beheading, if it was not absolutely necessary, the less they reveal their true colors the better. Therefore, he did not appear before Fang and Mu, two ladies.

Wei Xiaobao deliberately considered, “In my bundle I have a total of five copies of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, I do not have the slightest idea what these books are for, but there were so many people staking their lives to steal and rob these books, so there must be a great reason behind it. If I bring them along while I am hastening on with my journey, I might lose them.” After pondering for half a day, he finally found a solution. He called Gao Yanchao over and spoke to him quietly, “Gao Dage, I had a good brother in the Palace who was killed by the Tatars’ Imperial Bodyguards. I brought his ash out to give him a proper burial, could you send someone to buy a coffin?”

Gao Yanchao complied. He assumed that since Wei Xiangzhu‘s good friend was killed by the Tatars, he must be a patriot in the resisting Qing movement, thereupon he personally selected a top quality coffin made of Liuzhou wood. He knew that this Wei Xiangzhu was really extravagant, from the three hundred taels given to him, he still had more than thirty taels, so other than the coffin, he also bought some burial clothes, earthen jar for the ashes, lime, silk paper, oilcloth, spirit tablet, spirit banner, ritual paper money, and everything else needed for burial; all were top quality products. He also bought several sets of men’s clothing, shoes and hats for Fang and Mu, two ladies, to change into, as well as dry rations, cake and pastries for the journey. He also ordered a coroner and a lacquerer. By the time all the goods were delivered, Wei Xiaobao and the two ladies had already been asleep for four hours.

Preceding the others, Wei Xiaobao changed into an ordinary man’s attire. He mused, “I am on a mission to Mount Wutai on an imperial order, I might be very busy, how can I find time to train martial art? I must not let Shifu’s martial art manual to be stolen.” Thereupon he wrapped the five copies of the sutra along with his Shifu’s manual inside layer upon layer of oilcloth completely and tightly. And then he went to the kitchen to get a big handful of firewood ash and put it inside the earthen jar, thinking, “It would be best if there was a real corpse inside the coffin, so that even if someone opens the coffin to look, there won’t be any suspicion. But in such a short period of time, I can’t find a bad person to kill.” Therefore, he took some water and wiped it on his eyes and face, and then with a sorrowful expression he went to the rear hall, holding the oil cloth package and the urn of ashes with both hands. He put the oil cloth package and the urn of ashes in the coffin, and then he knelt down and cried loudly.

Xu Tianchuan, Gao Yanchao, as well as Fang and Mu, two ladies, were waiting in the main hall. Seeing him kneeling down and weeping bitterly, there was no suspicion in their hearts, they thought it was definitely his good friend’s ashes; they also kneeled down to pay their respects.

Wei Xiaobao had seen how the deceased’ family members returning propriety during a funeral service, he scrambled to the side of the coffin and kneeled down and kowtowed to return the four people’s respect. In a moment the coroner placed the silk paper, lime and other things in the coffin, and nailed the coffin’s lid. The lacquerer then began painting.

Gao Yanchao asked, “What is the patriot’s honored surname and great name? It would be better if we paint his title on the coffin.”

“He … he … he …” Wei Xiaobao was sobbing and sniffling continuously, while his mind was churning; he said, “His name was Shi Guidong.” That is, Shi Song, Xiao Guizi and Rui Dong, three people’s names put together; he thought, “I killed the three of you, right now I am kowtowing to you and burning some ritual paper money for your use in the netherworld. Shouldn’t your wronged ghosts stop entangling me now?”

Seeing how bitter he was crying, Mu Jianping tried to console him, “Manchurian Qing Tatars killed our good friends; there will come a day we will kill them all, to avenge and wipe out the grudge of our good friends.”

Still crying, Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally the Tatars must be killed, but this good friend’s enmity absolutely cannot be avenged.”

Mu Jianping opened wide her pair of beautiful eyes; she looked at him in a daze while thinking, “Why not?”

The four of them rested for a while, then they took their leave from Gao Yanchao. Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me send you off for a while.” A happy expression appeared on Fang and Mu, two women’s faces.

The two women rode on a large carriage, Wei Xiaobao and Xu Tianchuan separately took the other two carriages. The three carriages left from the Eastern Gate. After traveling eastwards for several li, they turned south. Seven or eight li later, they arrived in a small town at the outskirt of Beijing. Xu Tianchuan ordered the carriages to stop, he said, “Sending off the lord for a thousand li, in the end we must part. The day is no longer early, we will drink some tea in here and then take our separate way!”

They entered a roadside teahouse, the shop attendants promptly served them tea. The three carriage drivers sat on another table.

Xu Tianchuan assumed Wei Xiangzhu and his two companions would certainly have some personal matters they need to discuss; with hands behind his back he strolled out to enjoy the scenery.

Mu Jianping said, “Gui … Gui Dage, you are actually surnamed Wei, aren’t you? And what is a Xiangzhu?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “I am surnamed Wei,” he said, “Given name Xiaobao; I am the Xiangzhu of Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui. This moment I can’t no longer conceal it from the two of you.”

“Ay!” Mu Jianping sighed.

“Why did you sigh?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“You are the Xiangzhu of Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui,” Mu Jianping said, “How did … how did you become a court eunuch in the Palace? Isn’t that … isn’t that …”

Fang Yi knew that she was going to say ‘such a pity’, but first, it was rather improper for her to say it out loud, second, she did not want to arouse Wei Xiaobao’s downheartedness; and thus she interrupted, “For the sake of our country’s great cause, a hero and warrior does not hesitate to humiliate himself, indeed he is worthy of our complete admiration.” She presumed Wei Xiaobao must have received Tian Di Hui’s order to mutilate his own body and entered the Palace to be an undercover agent; he was definitely worthy of other people’s admiration.

Wei Xiaobao showed a faint smile; “Shall I tell them that I am not a eunuch?” he mused.

Suddenly they heard Xu Tianchuan shouted, “Good friend, you still don’t want to reveal your true colors until now?” He stretched out his hand to strike the shoulder of a carriage driver on the right.

Xu Tianchuan’s right palm was just about to land on the carriage driver’s shoulder, the carriage driver leaned sideways, Xu Tianchuan’s right palm hit an empty air, but his left fist had already reached the carriage driver’s right waist. The carriage driver flipped his hand to pull and push, and thus redirected the fist outwards. Xu Tianchuan then brought his right elbow to strike the back of the driver’s neck. The carriage driver raised his right hand to feign a strike on the crown of Xu Tianchuan’s head. If Xu Tianchuan continued his elbow strike toward the driver’s neck, then it was as if he was delivering the top of his own head toward the man’s palm. Immediately he exerted his strength on his feet and leaped backward. Altogether he had launched three moves: a palm strike, a punch and an elbow strike, all were delivered using a very swift and fierce technique, but unexpectedly the carriage driver was able to neutralize each move without too much trouble.

Xu Tianchuan was startled and angered at the same time; he expected this man to be a martial art expert from the Imperial Palace, who was acting under orders to arrest them. Immediately he waved his left hand to signal Wei Xiaobao, three people, to run away quickly, while he himself entangled the enemy to give the three people an opportunity to get away. But how could those three forego yi qi? Fang Yi was injured, it would be difficult for her to fight. Wei Xiaobao and Mu Jianping drew their weapons and rushed forward in a converging attack.

The carriage driver turned around and said with a laugh, “The Eight-armed Ape has good eyesight!” His voice was rather sharp. The four of them saw that his face was yellow and swollen, his clothes were filthy, his overall appearance was ugly; momentarily they could not tell his age.

Hearing him calling his nickname, Xu Tianchuan was even more shocked; he cupped his fist and said, “Who are you, honored sir? Why do you impersonate a carriage driver and play tricks on Zaixia?”

The carriage driver said with a laugh, “I would never dare to play tricks. Zaixia and Wei Xiangzhu are good friends, knowing that he is leaving the Capital, I have come to send him off.”

Wei Xiaobao scratched his head, “I … I can’t remember seeing you,” he said.

The carriage driver laughed and said, “Last night the two of us joined hands to fight a powerful enemy, how can you forget?”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly saw the light, “Ah,” he exclaimed, “You … you are Tao … Tao …” He inserted the dagger back into his boot, and rushed forward to pull her hand; only now did he know that the carriage driver was Tao Gong’e in disguise.

Tao Gong’e applied paste of butter, water and starch on her face, so it was difficult for others to know whether she was happy or angry, but her eyes were shining with delight as she said, “I was afraid the Tatars would send people to stop you, and thus I disguise myself to escort you for a while, unexpectedly Xu Laoyezi has a keen vision, I can’t deceive his eyes.”

Looking at Wei Xiangzhu’s expression, Xu Tianchuan knew this person was a friend and not a foe; he was delighted, but also ashamed. He cupped his fist and said, “Honored Sir’s martial art is superb, my admiration, my admiration! Wei Xiangzhu karma’s is good, he always makes friends with martial art experts everywhere.”

Tao Gong’e laughed and said, “I don’t dare! May I ask Xu Dage, in my disguise, which part has revealed the flaw?”

“There was no flaw,” Xu Tianchuan replied, “It’s just that along the way I noticed the way honored sir waving the whip and urging the mule was unlike ordinary carriage driver. Honored sir did not move your wrist but the whip was extended very straight; you did not raise your elbow but the whip was pulled back immediately. I am afraid not too many friends among the carriage drivers in Beijing possess this kind of brilliant martial art.” The five of them laughed heartily.

Xu Tianchuan continued with a laugh, “If Zaixia was more sensitive, seeing honored sir’s martial art skill, I would not have dared to put out a hand to offend, it’s just that this old man did not know what’s good for me. I can’t help it.”

“Xu Dage has spoken discreetly,” Tao Gong’e said, “I do not blame you at all.”

Xu Tianchuan cupped his fist again. “I don’t dare,” he said, “May I know your honored surname and great given name?”

“This friend is surnamed Tao,” Wei Xiaobao said, “With Xiongdi he has a … a life and death friendship.”

Tao Gong’e seriously said, “That’s right, it’s a life and death friendship. Wei Xiangzhu has saved my life.”

Wei Xiaobao hurriedly said, “Why did Senior say that? We were cooperating to kill a scoundrel, that’s all.”

Tao Gong’e smiled. “Wei Xiongdi, Xu Dage, Fang and Mu, two ladies,” she said, “I bid you farewell.” Cupping her fist, she leaped onto the driver seat of a large carriage.

“Tao … Tao Dage,” Wei Xiaobao called, “Where are you going?”

Tao Gong’e laughed and said, “From the place I come, to that place I will return.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Very well,” he said, “I hope to see you again later.” Straight away she drove the large carriage without saying anything else.

“Xu Laoyezi,” Mu Jianping asked, “Is that man’s martial art skill really high?”

“Superb martial art!” Xu Tianchuan said, “What’s more amazing is that she is a woman.”

“She is a woman?” Mu Jianping asked in surprise.

Xu Tianchuan said, “When she leaped onto the carriage, she swayed her waist from side to side, no doubt the style looked good, but unavoidably it looked sissy; she is definitely a woman.”

“Her voice is too high,” Mu Jianping said, “It did not sound like a man’s voice. Wei Dage, is her … her original appearance attractive?”

“Forty years ago, perhaps she was attractive,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But forty years later, you will still be much more attractive than she is now.”

Mu Jianping laughed and said, “How can you compare me to her? Turns out she is a granny.”

Recalling that very soon he would have to leave them, Wei Xiaobao could not help but feeling sad. Thinking that he was about to embark on a journey alone, he could not help but was somewhat afraid. From Yangzhou to Beijing he was travelling together with Mao Shiba, a Jianghu veteran. In the Palace, although repeatedly running into danger, he knew almost everybody. In desperate moments, he often turned danger into safety by relying on his quick-wit. This time going to Mount Wutai in Shanxi, while admittedly he had never travelled this road before, what bothered him more was that he did not even know what the outcome of his mission would be. He had never travelled long distance alone; he was, after all, only a child, so it was hard for him to avoid feeling timid. For an instant he thought about going back to Beijing to ask Gao Yanchao to accompany him to Mount Wutai, but he remembered that this matter concerned Xiao Xuanzi’s lot in life, if he let someone else know, he would be unfair to a good friend.

Xu Tianchuan only knew that Wei Xiaobao was going back to Beijing. “Wei Xiangzhu,” he said, “It’s getting late, please hurry back. If you are too late, I am afraid the city gate would have been closed.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Fang Yi and Mu Jianping said, “We hope after your business is done you would come to Shijiazhuang to see us. We will be waiting for you.” Wei Xiaobao nodded, his heart was bitter-sweet, he could not say anything.

Xu Tianchuan invited the two women to get into the carriage, while he himself sat by the driver’s side. The carriage started to move southwards. Wei Xiaobao saw Fang and Mu, two girls leaned out of the carriage and waved goodbye. The carriage travelled for about thirty zhang, then made a turn, and disappeared behind a row of red willow trees.

Wei Xiaobao mounted the remaining carriage. He ordered the driver to turn westward, not returning to Beijing. The carriage driver was somewhat hesitant, Wei Xiaobao took out ten taels of silver and said, “Ten taels to hire you three days, is it enough?”

The carriage driver was delighted; he busily said, “Ten taels is enough for even a month. Xiaode [the humble one, referring to self] will serve Master well; Master wants to go we’ll go, Master wants to stop we’ll stop.”

That evening they stopped at a small town about twenty li southwest of Beijing, to rest and lodge for the night at a small family inn. Wei Xiaobao wiped his body and washed his feet; without waiting for dinner he lay down on the kang[5] and fell asleep.

When he woke up the next morning, he felt his head was about to crack, his eyes were heavy, he was not able to open it for a long time, his four limbs were even more limp and painful that he could move only with difficulty; it was as if he was in a nightmare. He wanted to shout, but nothing came out of his mouth. When he was finally able to open his eyes, he saw three men lying down on the floor. He was shocked and was only able to stare blankly for half a day. Calming himself down, he struggled to sit up, only to see someone was sitting in front of the kang, looking at him, smiling.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed in surprise.

The person laughed and said, “Are you awake only now?” It was none other than Tao Gong’e.

Finally Wei Xiaobao was relieved. “Tao Jiejie, Tao Gugu[6], what … what happened?”

Tao Gong’e laughed and said, “Look, who are these three people?”

Wei Xiaobao crawled down from the kang, but his legs were soft, he fell kneeling down, but quickly sat up, then reaching out his hand for support, he managed to stand up. He saw the three people had already died for a while, but he did not recognize any of them. “Tao Gugu, did you save my life?”

Tao Gong’e laughed. “In the end, are you going to call me Jiejie, or Gugu?” she asked, “Just don’t call randomly, thus showing no respect for your elder.”

Wei Xiaobao also laughed. “You are Gugu, Tao Gugu!”

Tao Gong’e smiled and said, “You are traveling alone, next time you must be a bit more careful with what you eat and drink. If you were together with that eight-armed old monkey, you would not have fallen into these people’s trick.”

“Someone drugged me with knockout drug last night?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“More or less,” Tao Gong’e replied.

Wei Xiaobao thought for a moment, then he said, “Most likely it was the tea, when I drank it, there was a bit of sour taste, and a bit of sweetness too.” He thought, “I myself have a big bundle of knockout drug on me, but I ate other people’s knockout drug. Damn it, if I did not have a taste of knockout drug this time, how would I know it tastes bitter-sweet?” He then asked, “Is this a ‘black inn[7]’?”

“This is actually a white inn,” Tao Gong’e replied, “But when you came in, it turned black.”

Wei Xiaobao was still having a splitting headache, he put out a hand to hold his forehead and said, “I don’t understand that one.”

Tao Gong’e said, “Not long after you entered the inn, there were other people came in, they tied up the shop owners, husband and wife, and the inn attendant, and turned this white inn into a black inn. One of the men took the attendant’s clothes and put some medicine powder into the teapot and delivered it to you. I saw you were changing clothes; I thought I would wait until you finished changing before giving you a warning. Unexpectedly, other than changing clothes, you were also wiping your body. I waited for a moment before coming back, but you already drank the tea. Fortunately it was only knockout drug, not a poison.”

Instantly Wei Xiaobao blushed from ear to ear; when he was wiping himself last night, he was fantasizing what would it feel like if Fang Yi really became his wife and he was embracing her tightly? At that time his emotion was surging, the situation was beyond his control. Although Tao Gong’e was not young anymore, she was, after all, a woman; looking at this kind of disgraceful situation from outside the window, naturally she could not bear to look too much.

Tao Gong’e said, “When we parted yesterday, I went back to the Palace, but I noticed inside and outside were peaceful without any commotion, there was no announcement about the death of the Empress Dowager, I felt very strange. After hurriedly changing my clothes, I went to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to look. I saw everything was as usual, turned out the Empress Dowager did not die. I know something was wrong. At first I thought the Empress Dowager had died, so the two of us can continue living in the Palace. But since last night we failed to kill her with a blade, we have no choice but must leave the Palace immediately. I wanted to rush over to tell you, so that you won’t rush into the Palace and thus delivering your own life.”

Wei Xiaobao pretended to be surprised. “Ah!” he exclaimed loudly, “Turns out the old wh0re did not die, it’s very bad!” While in his heart he was ashamed, “In my haste yesterday, I forgot to mention this, I thought you already knew.”

“I was just turning around to leave,” Tao Gong’e continued, “I saw three Imperial Bodyguards walked out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Their action was sneaky, I thought the Empress Dowager must have sent them out to arrest me, but I noticed they were not heading toward my residence. I did not have time to pay them any more attention, I returned to my dwelling and packed up, I also changed clothes again, and slipped out of the Palace via the Catering Department’s side door.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “Turns out Gugu dressed up as a Catering Department’s sula.”  [see Chapter 13] The Catering Department had always used a lot of sula for odd jobs like chopping firewood, carrying coals, killing chickens, washing vegetables, lighting the stove, washing pots and pans, and so on. Practically all low-grade works were performed by sula. These sula were able to go in and out of the Catering Department, very few people would pay them any attention.

Tao Gong’e said, “As soon as I left the Palace, I saw those three Imperial Bodyguards again. They have changed clothes, they carried a bundle on their backs and rode on horses, obviously they were on a long journey.”

“Ah,” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, he stretched out his left foot to kick a corpse, saying, “They must be these three friends who opened the black inn?”

Tao Gong’e smiled and said, “Actually, I should thank these three friends. If they did not lead the way, how could I find you? Who could have thought that you detoured westward? They left the city via the western gate and asked around along the way, if anybody had seen a thirteen, fourteen years old boy traveling alone. They really did receive the Empress Dowager’s order to get you. By the evening, they found this place, so I followed them here.”

Wei Xiaobao was very grateful in his heart; he said, “If Gugu did not save me, by this time I can’t even answer Yanluo Wang’s [Yama, King of Hell] question. He would ask, ‘Wei Xiaobao, how did you die?’ I would have to answer, ‘Reporting to the Great King: I am muddleheaded, and can’t make head or tail of it!'”

Tao Gong’e had lived deep inside the Palace for decades, normally very seldom did she had a chance to talk to someone else. She found Wei Xiaobao’s talk very amusing talk. “This kid!” she said with a laugh, “Yanluo Wang would surely say, ‘Drag him down and beat him up!'”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “But isn’t it true? Lord Yanluo’s beard would stick up, and he would shout, ‘Being muddleheaded and can’t make head or tail of it when you were alive is alright, how come after you die you are still muddleheaded? If all I have here are muddleheaded ghosts, won’t I turn into muddleheaded Yanluo Wang?'” They both burst into loud laughter. “Gugu,” Wei Xiaobao asked, “What happened next?”

Tao Gong’e said, “I heard them talking among themselves in low voice in the kitchen, one man said, ‘The Empress Dowager’s imperial order, it is best to capture this little demon alive, otherwise we can kill him with a slash of the saber; but the thing he has in his possession, we must bring it back at all cost, not a single one must be missed.’ Another man said, ‘This little demon dares to steal the Buddhist scripture the Empress Dowager reads every day, truly he is bored of living. No wonder the Empress Dowager is so angry. Empress Dowager instructed us that those several copies of scripture are the most important.’ Xiao Xiongdi, did you really steal the Empress Dowager’s Buddhist scripture? Your Zongduozhu ordered you to steal it, didn’t he?” Saying that, she fixed her gaze on him without blinking.

Wei Xiaobao suddenly understood, “That’s right, the object she was looking for in the Empress Dowager’s bedroom must be those several copies of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.” But on his face he feigned a perplexed expression, “What Buddhist scripture?” he asked, “Our Zongduozhu does not worship Bodhisattva, I have never seen him reading any scripture.”

Although Tao Gong’e’s martial art skill was high, but since childhood she had lived in the Palace, toward the ways of the world she knew very little. Although both of them were of the same Palace, day in and day out Wei Xiaobao intermingled with the Emperor, Empress Dowager, princes and dukes, high-ranking ministers, Imperial Bodyguards and court eunuchs, he was always swaying back and forth among treacherous plots, so he had enough practice to be quick-witted; practically his entire body was his weapon. Tao Gong’e, on the other hand, only worked together with a couple of old palace maids, she did not even talk more than a couple of dozen sentences in a year, and she barely saw anybody else. In term of craftiness and resourcefulness, the difference between these two people was simply too far, it was even greater than the disparity between their respective martial art skill levels.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao’s innocent expression, Tao Gong’e thought, “I have just saved his life, he must be very grateful to me, how can a little child like him tell a lie? Much less I have personally searched his belongings?” She nodded and said, “I saw them opening up your bundle and searched through it. They found a lot of jewels and several hundred thousand taels of banknotes, and were green with envy, so they talked it over how to share the booty. Upon hearing it, I was angry, so I came in and took care of them.”

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “The old wh0re Empress Dowager knew about my wealth and sent some Imperial Bodyguards to murder me for my money, using the knockout drug and opening a black inn. That old wh0re is doing some lowly shady business, she not a good thing.”

“I don’t think it was her idea,” Tao Gong’e said, “What the Empress Dowager wants is Buddhist scripture, not jewels or money. Those several copies of Buddhist scripture concern a matter of great importance. I was thinking, could it be possible that you gave those books to Xu Tianchuan and the two ladies to be brought to Shijiazhuang? Since the enemy has been eliminated, I thought I would let you rest for a while, so I rushed on horseback to the south to catch them up. I found their carriage outside an inn. I was thinking of searching quietly, but that man Eight-Armed Ape was very vigilant. As soon as I set my feet on the roof, he had already detected my presence. I can’t tell him anything, so without any better option I fought him one more time.”

“He is not your match,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“I really did not want to offend your Tian Di Hui,” Tao Gong’e said, “But I had no choice. After sealing his acupoint, I apologize to him profusely, I asked him not to be angry with me. Xiao Xiongdi, next time you see him, please tell him again that I am really sorry and had no choice. I went through those three people’s luggage, I even searched through their carriage, but did not find anything, so I unsealed their acupoints and riding a horse, I rushed back here.”

“Turns out while I was muddleheaded and did not know anything, you have done these many matters,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Tao Gugu, how did you know I belong to Tian Di Hui?”

Tao Gong’e smiled and said, “I drove the carriage with you for half a day, how could I not hear what you were talking about? You are this young, yet have become the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, in Tian Di Hui you are in charge of a very big responsibility, aren’t you?”

Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself. He laughed and said, “Indeed, it can’t be considered small.”

Tao Gong’e was lost in thought for half a day, then she asked, “You have been with the Emperor for a long time, have you ever heard him mentioning some Buddhist scripture?”

“He did,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The Emperor and Empress Dowager seem to hold this annoying Buddhist scripture in a very high regard. Actually, damn it, what’s the use? The Empress Dowager is so bad that even if she chanted ‘Amitabha Buddha’ ten thousand times a day, Bodhisattva won’t possibly bless her …”

Without waiting for him to finish, Tao Gong’e busily asked, “What did they say, exactly?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Emperor sent me and Songgotu Daren to Oboi’s mansion to take inventory of that criminal’s confiscated property, he told me repeatedly that I must find two copies of some ‘four’ sutra. I think there is a ‘two’ character and perhaps a ‘ten’ character.”

Tao Gong’e looked very excited. “Right, right!” she said, “It must be the ‘Forty-two[8]-chapter Sutra’. Did you find it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am totally illiterate, how would I know if it is ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ or ‘Fifty-three-chapter Sutra’? Later on Songgotu Daren found it and I gave both copies to the Empress Dowager. She was very happy, she rewarded me with many candy, cakes and pastries. Damn it, the old wh0re is really stingy. Instead of giving me gold or silver, she treated me as a child and deceived me, and only gave me candy, cakes and pastries. If I knew she was that bad, I would have thrown those two copies of sutra into the kitchen stove of the Catering Department, to be used as fuel to cook …”

“Don’t burn, don’t burn!” Tao Gong’e hastily said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I know I must not burn it; if the Emperor ask Songgotu Daren, my trickery would be exposed immediately.”

Tao Gong’e muttered to herself, “If that’s the case, the Empress Dowager has at least two copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’?”

“Perhaps she has four,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“She has four?” Tao Gong’e said, “How … how do you know?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “When I was hiding under her bed the other night, I overheard she mentioned to that man who was disguised as a woman that originally she had one copy, from Oboi’s residence she got two copies, and then she sent the Deputy Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards Rui Dong to get another copy from some banner commander’s office.”

“That’s correct,” Tao Gong’e said, “It was from the Bordered Blue Banner’s Banner Commander’s office. So she has a total of four copies in her hand; perhaps she has more … five, or six.” She stood up and paced back and forth several paces before saying, “Those sutra are extremely important. Xiao Xiongdi, I do hope you can help me to steal those several copies of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ from the Empress Dowager.”

Wei Xiaobao hesitated; he said, “In the event that the old wh0re’s injury is heavy, eventually she won’t live. I am afraid she might bring those sutra along in her coffin.”

“That is unlikely to happen,” Tao Gong’e said, “I am worried that the Jiaozhu [Cult Leader] of the Shen Long Jiao [Divine Dragon Cult] would make a move by acting swiftly and get there first, then it would be really bad.”

It was the first time Wei Xiaobao had ever heard about the Cult Leader of the Divine Dragon Cult. “Who is that?” he asked.

Tao Gong’e did not answer. She was pacing around the room several times. The window paper gradually turned bright, soon the sun would shine. She turned around and said, “It’s not convenient to talk in here, I am afraid the walls have ears. Let us go!” She carried the three dead bodies outside the inn and dumped them onto the carriage.

She killed those three men with a jolt of her heavy hand, they did not shed any blood at all, the corpses were clean. She said, “They tied the innkeeper and your cart driver, let them struggle free on their own.” Sitting together with Wei Xiaobao on the driver seat, she drove the carriage westward.

Seven or eight li later, the sky had already brightened. Tao Gong’e tossed the corpses on a graveyard and piled large piece of rocks to cover them. Returning to the carriage, she said, “Riding on the carriage, we can talk while hastening on our journey, no need to fear someone is listening.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I wonder if someone is listening under the carriage.”

Tao Gong’e was startled. “Right,” she said, “Your thought is more thorough than mine.” Brandishing the whip, she coiled the whip, ‘Shua!’ and struck the bottom of the carriage. Repeatedly she struck three times before she was convinced nobody was hiding underneath the carriage. She laughed and said, “I don’t know anything about guarding against the bad act of the Jianghu people.”

“Then I am worse than you are,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are always a step ahead of me, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to save me last night.”

By this time the carriage was traveling along a main road, all around them were quiet open space. Tao Gong’e slowly said, “You have saved my life, I have also saved your life. The two of us can be considered friends in times of tribulation, in life and death. Xiao Xiongdi, based on our age, I can be your mother, I can look after you and won’t abandon you, just call me your Gugu. Are you willing to consider me as your Gugu, you be my nephew?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I won’t lose anything by being a nephew, besides, I have already called her Gugu anyway.” Thereupon he hurriedly said, “That’s wonderful, but I have something really bad I need to tell you. I am afraid after you find out, you won’t want me to be your nephew anymore.”

“What is it?” Tao Gong’e asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t have a dad, my mom is a wh0re in a pleasure house.”

Tao Gong’e was startled, but instantly a happy smile appeared across her face as she said delightedly, “Good nephew, a hero is not worried over low family background. Our Taizu Huangdi was a monk, was a hoodlum riff-raff, yet it was irrelevant. You do not even conceal this kind of fact from me, it goes to show that you are being sincere to your Gugu, naturally I won’t conceal anything from you either.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “My mom is a wh0re, Mao Shiba Dage is already aware, eventually I cannot conceal it from anybody. If you want to swindle someone else, the most hidden secret in your heart must be shaken out first.” He jumped down at once and kneeled and kowtowed, saying, “Nephew Wei Xiaobao pays his respect to Gugu.”

For decades Tao Gong’e lived deep within the Palace, she had no relatives no family members, she had even less friendship and heard less friendly talk; hearing how affectionate Wei Xiaobao called her, she could not help but was very touched. Hastily she also got down from the carriage and said, “Good nephew, from now on I have a close relative in the world …” Speaking to this point, she could not refrain from shedding some tears. She was smiling and wiping her tears at the same time, saying, “Look at me, this is a very happy occasion, yet your Gugu is crying.”

The two of them climbed back onto the carriage. Tao Gong’e held the reins with her right hand, and held Wei Xiaobao’s right hand with her left, letting the mule walked step by step slowly. She said, “Good nephew, my surname is Tao, it’s my real surname, my humble given name is Hongying; I entered the Palace when I was twelve. By my second year I was already serving the Princess.”

“Princess?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Yes, Princess,” Tao Hongying replied, “Our Great Ming’s His Majesty Emperor Chongzhen’s own princess.”

“Ah,” Wei Xiaobao said, “So Gugu entered the Palace during our Great Ming’s Emperor Chongzhen.”

“Exactly,” Tao Hongying replied, “When the Emperor Chongzhen left the Palace, he swung his sword to cut off the Princess’ arm. When I heard that Princess had run into misfortune, I rushed out, thinking to save her. In my panic, I fell heavily and my forehead hit the stone steps and I fainted. By the time I came to, His Majesty and the Princess had already gone, the Palace was in total chaos, nobody cared about me. Not too long afterwards, that Chuang [lit. rushing] thief[9] entered the Palace, and then the Manchurian Qing Tatars drove away the Chuang thief and took possession of the Imperial Palace. Ay, that was many, many years ago.”

“Wasn’t the Princess the Emperor Chongzhen’s own daughter?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Why did he want to hack her to death?”

Tao Hongying sighed and said, “Princess was the Emperor Chongzhen’s own daughter, she was the daughter he most doted on. By that time the Capital had already fallen, the evil troops had already entered the city, His Majesty was determined to sacrifice himself, he was afraid the Princess would be disgraced by the traitors; therefore, he wanted to kill the Princess first.”

“So that’s what happened,” Wei Xiaobao said, “To kill one’s own daughter is really not easy. I heard Emperor Chongzhen later hung himself on the Coal Hill, is that right?”

“Afterwards I heard people say so,” Tao Hongying replied, “The Manchurian Qing Tatars were led through the pass by Wu Sangui, they defeated the Chuang thief and occupied our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains. From all the eunuchs and palace maids in the Palace, eight or nine out of ten were let go, they said they were afraid those people would be unreliable. At that time I was still very young, plus my injury from the fall was quite heavy so that I was lying down in a dark room, nobody cared about me. It was more than three years later that I met my Shifu.”

“Gugu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your martial art skill is this high, your Shifu, the Senior’s martial art skill was naturally even more amazing.”

“My Shifu said that there are a lot of capable people in the world,” Tao Gong’e replied, “Our martial art skill cannot be considered anything special. My Shifu had received my Tai Shifu’s[10] order to enter the Palace and become a palace maid.” Brandishing the whip in the air, she made a ‘crack!’ noise before continuing, “The reason my Shifu entered the Palace was exactly those eight copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.”

“Altogether there are eight?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Altogether there are eight,” Tao Hongying replied, “The Manchus have eight banners: yellow, white, red, and blue, four plain banners, and four bordered banners. Each banner’s commander has one copy, altogether there are eight copies.”

“That’s exactly right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The two copies of sutra we got from Oboi’s house have different colored envelopes, one has yellow envelope with red border, the other has plain white envelope.”

Tao Hongying said, “Turns out the color of the eight sutra envelopes are identical to the eight banners’ color; I have never seen any copy.”

Wei Xiaobao pondered in his heart, “I have five copies in my possession, that means there are three more. In the end, what is so strange about these eight sutras? I am sure Gugu knows. I must find a way to sound her out.” Feigning ignorance, he said, “Turns out your Tai Shifu, the Senior, was also a devout worshipper of Bodhisattva. The Buddhist scriptures of the Palace are naturally precious; some people said that those scriptures are written using golden ink.”

“That’s not it,” Tao Hongying said, “Good nephew, what I am going to tell you today, you must never divulge it to anybody else. Please make an oath.”

To Wei Xiaobao, ‘making an oath’ was extremely trivial and ordinary; he could make an oath in the morning, and had totally forgotten about it in the afternoon, he could make an oath in the afternoon, and had totally forgotten about it by the time he went to bed. Much less out of eight copies of sutra, he had already had five, how could he easily tell the secret to other people? He hastily said, “By the Emperor of Heaven and Empress of Earth, if Wei Xiaobao leaks the secret of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, may he suffer the most terrible fate, may he die just like that turtle Shixiong of the old wh0re who dress in drag.” While in his heart he said, “I will never dress in drag and sleep with that old wh0re, so I can’t possibly die like that turtle Shixiong of hers.” He did believe that when he made an oath, he would have to answer to it someday; consequently, when he made an oath, he would always leave a room to maneuver.

Tao Hongying laughed. “This oath is actually very fresh and weird,” she said. “Let me tell you: When the Manchurian Qing Tatars entered the pass, they did not expect to obtain our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains. Manchu people are very few, their soldiers are not many; they would be perfectly contented if they could occupy the area outside the pass for a long time. Therefore, when they entered the pass, whenever the eight banners’ soldiers saw gold, silver and jewels, they would immediately snatch it away. They moved all these money and valuables to outside the pass. At that time the one wielding power was Emperor Shunzi’s father’s younger brother the Regent Prince, but each of the Manchu’s Eight Banners also have some power. That time the Eight Banners’ commanders got together to draw the secret location where the treasure was collected, and each commander of the Eight Banners held one piece of the map …”

Wei Xiaobao sprang up. “Ah!” he exclaimed loudly, “I know it!” Unable to contain his joy, the carriage shook. He sat back down and said, “These eight pieces of the map are hidden in those eight copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.”

Tao Hongying said, “It appears that it’s not entirely like that, but only those Eight Banners’ commanders knew clearly. Forget that no one among us, Han people, knows; I am afraid even among Manchu princes and dukes, and high-level ministers, only a few know about it. My Shifu said that the mountain on which the Manchu hid those jewels is the location of their dragon’s vein[11]. That the Tatars can occupy our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains, ascend the throne and become the Emperor, it is entirely dependent upon this mountain’s dragon vein.”

“What is a dragon’s vein?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Tao Hongying replied, “That is an extremely good place according to feng shui; the Manchu Tatars ancestors were buried on that mountain, their descendants prospered greatly, they came to China and became the Emperor. Shifu said that if we can find that treasured mountain and cut off the dragon’s vein, plus dig out their graves, not only the Manchurian Tatars would fail to be the Emperor, everything they have would die inside the pass. This treasured mountain is that important, and that was the reason my Tai Shifu and my Shifu spent their hearts and blood to find the location of this mountain range. This great secret is hidden inside those eight copies of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.”

“Gugu,” Wei Xiaobao asked, “How did your Tai Shifu know this Manchu people’s matter?”

“This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly,” Tao Hongying replied, “My Tai Shifu was originally a Han woman of Jinzhou [prefecture level city in Liaoning province], who was captured by the Tatars. That Tatar was the Bordered Blue Banner Commander. My Tai Shifu said that after the Tatars entered the pass, they saw how big our China is, how many people we have, they were both delighted and afraid. The commanders of the Eight Banners successively held several meetings for many days, there were heated arguments during the meetings, they could not settle on any single idea.”

“What were they arguing for?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Tao Hongying said, “Some banner commanders wanted to occupy the whole China, some others said that Han people were this many, if they rose in rebellion, a hundred Han people could fight one banner man, how could the banner man live? It would be better if they loot the whole place and return to outside the pass; it would be much safer. Finally the Regent Prince made a decision; he said that while plundering and transporting the gold, silver and jewels outside the pass, they would establish an emperor in China. If the Han people rebelled and the situation became critical, the banner men would withdraw to the Shanhai Pass.”

“Turns out the Manchurian Qing Tatars at that time were really afraid of us, Han people,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Why not?” Tao Hongying said, “Even now they are still afraid. It’s just that we are not of one mind. Good nephew, the Tatar young emperor is very fond of you, if you can search out the location of those eight sutras, we could steal those sutras and break the Tatars’ dragon’s vein, then those gold, silver and jewels could be used to cover the expense of raising a militia [orig. ‘righteous army’ – volunteer army]. So long as we raise arms, the Qing troops would be frightened and flee outside the pass.”

Wei Xiaobao did not have any zeal to breaking the dragon’s vein or raising militia, but thinking about that mountain hid an innumerable wealth, he could not help but palpitating with eagerness. “Gugu,” he asked, “Is the secret of this treasured mountain really hidden inside those eight sutras?”

Tao Hongying replied, “My Tai Shifu told my Shifu that one day the Bordered Blue Banner Commander got drunk and told his young Manchurian wife that when he died, he wanted to pass on a copy of sutra to the young wife’s son, and not giving it to his first wife’s son. The young wife was really not happy, saying what’s so rare about a Buddhist scripture. The Banner Commander said that it was their Eight Banners’ lifeblood; it was more important than anything, and roughly mentioned the origin of the Buddhist scripture. Tai Shifu was eavesdropping outside the window, only then did she understand the fact. Afterwards Tai Shifu trained martial arts, my Shifu also learned from her, Senior, for many years. Tai Shifu attempted to steal the sutra, as a result, she was beaten and was seriously hurt. Before her death, she told Shifu to infiltrate the Palace and become a palace maid, to find a way to steal the scripture. There were martial art experts in the Bordered Blue Banner Commander’s mansion, she thought her effort of stealing the scripture in the Palace would likely go smoothly. Who would have known that not long after Shifu entered the Palace, she found out that the imperial ground was even more strictly guarded, palace maids cannot carelessly wander around, so stealing the scripture became extremely difficult. When she was talking to me, she found out about the Great Ming’s Princess, her heart remembered her old ruler with fondness, and thus she accepted me as her disciple.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “No wonder with thousand ways, a hundred plans the old wh0re is trying to get hold of the scripture. She is a Manchurian, she can’t possibly want to break the dragon’s vein, presumably she wants to obtain the treasured mountain’s gold, silver and jewels. But she is the Empress Dowager, she could have anything she wants, what does she needs the treasure for?” He also thought, “Then why did the old turtle Hai kept this matter constantly in his mind? Why did he always want me to go to the Upper Study Room to steal the book? Hmm, perhaps he did not really want the scripture, he only wanted to trick me into revealing who was the mastermind who sent me to poison blind his eyes, or perhaps to investigate who the real assassin who murdered Empress Duan Jing. He must be thinking that the mastermind and the assassin was the same person. I am afraid I do not have the ability to deceive the old turtle Hai into revealing his mind; perhaps even Yan Luo Wang do not have that ability.”

How could Tao Hongying guess that Wei Xiaobao’s thought had turned toward Hai Dafu? She said, “Perhaps there is something else, something strange in the treasured mountain, which even Tai Shifu did not know. Not long after Shifu entered the Palace, she fell ill and died. At the death’s door, the Senior imploring me over and over again, telling me to find a way to steal the scripture. She warned me that stealing the scripture is extremely difficult, based on my own strength, I might not succeed, so she wanted me to take a reliable disciple inside the Palace and pass the secret of the sutra onto her. This generation failed, the next generation would try again, never to let this secret to be buried and forgotten.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, “If this great secret is lost in transmission, those countless gold, silver and jewels would be … it would be a great pity.”

“The gold, silver and treasure is not important,” Tao Hongying said, “But to let generation after generation of the Tatars occupying our Han people’s rivers and mountains would be the greatest regret.”

“Gugu is right,” Wei Xiaobao said. But in his heart he was thinking, “It would be the greatest regret indeed if those gold, silver and jewels by the thousands and tens of thousands are not taken out and being spent.” He was still very young; about the massacre of Han people by Manchu soldiers, he only heard it from others, he had never personally experienced it. Among the Manchu people in the Palace at that time, only the Empress Dowager was hateful to him. Although Hai Dafu also conspired against him, in the end he did more harm to Hai Dafu than Hai Dafu did harm to him. The rest of the people, from the Emperor down, all had treated him very well, so he had never thought the Manchus were fiendish, bloody and cruel people. He was also aware however, that if he did not receive the Emperor’s favor, those Manchurian nobilities and ministers could not possibly show that kind of warmth or flatter him like that. But when all is said and done, he saw more kindness and less brutality from those Manchus; therefore, the enmity between the races, the hatred of his nation, was rather dull in his heart.

“These past few years,” Tao Hongying continued, “I haven’t received any disciple. The number of palace maids I saw is not many, the ones I met were either stupid and muddleheaded, or flirtatious and narrow-minded, all they think about daily was how to be lucky to have the Emperor’s visit so that they could rise from the palace maid to imperial concubine. How can we tell this great secret of ours to this kind of people? In recent years I often worried that if this situation continues, not only I could not obtain the slightest clue of the scriptures’ whereabouts, I could not get a good disciple either. When I die later, I would bring this secret to my grave, then the Manchu Tatars would sit steadily on our rivers and mountains. The fact that I would wrong Tai Shifu and Shifu needs not be mentioned, worse yet, I would become great sinner toward our Han people. Good nephew, I came across you inadvertently and could tell you all about this matter, in my heart I am really happy.”

“I am also very happy,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But not because of the sutra or whatever, I don’t even think about it in my heart.”

“Then what makes you happy?” Tao Hongying asked.

“I don’t have any relative,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “My mama is like that, I seldom see my Shifu, but now I have an aunt, a good aunt. Naturally I am very happy.” His mouth was sweet, he knew how to coax Tao Hongying and made her happy.

Indeed she was very happy; she smiled and said, “And I get a good nephew, so I am also very happy.” After a short pause, she asked, “Who is your Shifu?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “My Shifu is the Zongduozhu of Tian Di Hui, surnamed Chen, given name Jin at the top and Nan at the bottom.”

Even such a famous personality like Chen Jinnan, Tao Hongying seemed to hear it only for the first time. She simply nodded and said, “So your Shifu is Tian Di Hui’s Zongduozhu, his martial art must be superb.”

“It’s just that the time I follow my Shifu is too short,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I haven’t learned any skill. Good Gugu, how about you teach me some?”

Tao Hongying hesitated before saying, “If you have never learned any martial art, naturally I would be happy to pass on everything I learned to you. But most likely your Shifu’s martial art is completely different to my martial art school, I am afraid it would be harmful if you learned it. In your opinion, your Shifu and I, whose martial art skill is stronger?”

When Wei Xiaobao asked Tao Hongying to teach him martial art, his intention was only to make her happy. Supposing that Tao Hongying really agreed to teach him, he would have tried to make other excuses instead. Once he started martial art training, he would not be able to go to Wutai Mountain, much less his natural character was that he only loved to loaf around and play, without any patience to learn martial art. Hearing her saying that, he seized the chance by saying, “Gugu, in front of you, I can’t tell a lie.”

“Naturally it is better for a little child to be honest,” Tao Hongying said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have seen Shifu fought with someone with very good martial art, in only three moves he managed to subdue him; that man lost miserably. Gugu, I am afraid you are still inferior to Shifu.”

Tao Hongying smiled and said, “That’s right. I also believe I am inferior to him by far. When I struggled against that man disguised as a palace maid, if you did not stab him in the back, I would have been finished early on. I am sure your Shifu can’t be that useless.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “But that fake palace maid was really formidable; even now, when I remember him, I am still afraid.”

Suddenly the muscles on Tao Hongying’s face were twitching, her eyes revealed a frightened look, she stared straight ahead with blank expression on her face. “Gugu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Are you feeling ill?”

Tao Hongying did not reply, as if she did not hear him. Wei Xiaobao asked her again. Tao Hongying’s body shivered, she said, “No … I am not.” ‘Splat!’ suddenly the whip in her hand fell to the ground. Wei Xiaobao leaped down the carriage to pick it up, and then he jumped back onto the carriage; his movement was very neat and nimble. He was feeling very proud of himself, hoping that Tao Hongying would utter some words of praise. But he saw she shook her head and said, “Child, after you made a decision, you should painstakingly train before you can succeed. With your martial art level right now, to deal with the eunuchs in the Palace, it is too good; but if you want to roam the Jianghu, it is too bad, you are actually inferior to people who do not know martial art at all.”

Wei Xiaobao’s face blushed deep red, “Yes!” he replied. But in his heart he wondered, “Although my martial art is not that good, why am I inferior to people who do not know martial art at all?”

Tao Hongying said, “If you do not know martial art at all, people would not easily kill you. But since you know martial art, your opponent will guard against your counterattack, when they make their move, they won’t easily spare you; won’t it be bad instead?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “What if I meet small bandits who beat randomly with some stick?”

Tao Hongying was taken aback, momentarily she was at a loss of what to say. A moment later she said, “That’s true, perhaps there are more small bandits in Jianghu than martial art experts.” She looked disturbed; pointing to a large tree on the right ahead of them, she said, “Let us take a rest before continuing our journey, let the mule eat some grass.” She drove toward the tree. The two of them jumped down the carriage and sat side by side on the tree root.

Tao Hongying was lost in thought again. Suddenly she mumbled, “Did he say it? Did he say something?”

Wei Xiaobao did not know whom she was asking, he raised his head to look at her, not knowing how to answer her question. The two of them looked at each other, one was waiting the other to answer, the other did not know what she was talking about.

After a while, Tao Hongying asked again, “Did you hear him saying anything? Did you see his lips moving?”

Seeing her strange expression, Wei Xiaobao was rather scared. “Gugu must be under a spell. Or did she see a ghost?” he mused. “Gugu,” he asked, “Whom did you see?”

“Who?” Tao Hongying said, “It’s that … that man who dressed as a fake palace maid!”

Wei Xiaobao was even more afraid. With a trembling voice he asked, “You saw that fake palace maid? Where … where is he?”

As if she had just awakened from a dream Tao Hongying said, “That night in the Empress Dowager’s room, when I fought that fake palace maid, did you hear him or see he opened his mouth to speak?”

Wei Xiaobao let out a breath; he said, “Um, so you are asking about that night. Did he say anything? I did not hear it.”

Tao Hongying pondered for a moment, and then she shook her head and said, “My martial art skill is far too inferior to his, he did not need to use any incantations.”

Wei Xiaobao was completely at a loss. “Gugu,” he said consolingly, “No need to think about him anymore, we have killed him early on, he won’t come back to life.”

“We have killed that man, he won’t come back to life,” Tao Hongying echoed. She seemed to be consoling herself, but when she said those words, her expression showed that deep in her heart she was extremely terrified.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Although your martial art is good, you are afraid of ghosts. Just killing one person you are this anxious, much less it was me who killed that fake palace maid, it wasn’t you. You killed the old wh0re, actually you killed a tactless and impulsive person; you killed her half dead, half alive, in the end she still came back to live. How disappointing!”

Tao Hongying said, “Since he is dead, naturally we can forget about him, right?”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Even if he turned into a ghost, we don’t need to fear him.”

“What ghost?” Tao Hongying asked, “I am worried because he was the disciple of Divine Dragon Cult’s Jiaozhu. That … that … um, Empress Dowager called him Shixiong, it’s impossible, it’s definitely impossible. Looking at his martial art, it was totally different that hers, right? You really did not see him moving his lips when he was fighting, right?” She seemed to be talking to herself, her voice trembled, as if she was hoping Wei Xiaobao would confirm her speculation.

But how could Wei Xiaobao distinguish the fake palace maid’s martial art? He said loudly, “Don’t worry, you are right, that fake palace maid’s martial art was different. When he was fighting, his lips were shut tight, he did not utter a single word. Gugu, what kind of fellow is that Divine Dragon Cult’s Jiaozhu?”

Tao Hongying hurriedly said, “Hong Jiaozhu of Shen Long Jiao‘s [if you don’t mind too much, I’d like to use Shen Long Jiao from now on, in my mind ‘Divine Dragon Cult’ is just too clumsy] magical power is extensive, his martial art is deep and immeasurable, how can you casually call him a ‘fellow’? Child, even behind his back, your speech must not offend him. Da Jiaozhu [Great Cult Leader] Hong’s disciples and grand disciples are numerous and very well-informed, as soon as you utter a sentence or half a phrase disrespectful word toward him, it will be transmitted to his ear, you … just consider your life is over.” While saying that, she looked left and right, as if she was afraid a Shen Long Jiao Jiaozhu‘s follower was around.

“Shen Long Jiao Jiaozhu is that powerful?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Could it be that his power exceeds that of the Emperor?”

“Naturally his power is not as great as the Emperor’s,” Tao Hongying replied, “But if you offend the Emperor, you can run and hide, the Emperor may not necessarily able to find and seize you; but if you offend Shen Long Jiao Jiaozhu, even if you run to the ends of the earth, you won’t find a hiding place.”

“If that’s the case,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Shen Long Jiao has more men and greater force than our Tian Di Hui?”

Tao Hongying shook her head, “It’s not the same, it’s not the same,” she said, “Your Tian Di Hui is fighting the Qing, restoring the Ming; your deeds are just and honorable, all hero and warriors in Jianghu respect you deeply. Shen Long Jiao on the other hand, is substantially different.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Are you saying that all hero and warriors in Jianghu are afraid of Shen Long Jiao?”

Tao Hongying had to think for a moment before responding, “What I understand about the Jianghu matters is very, very little; I only heard Shifu mentioning it a little bit. My Tai Shifu had such a superb martial art skill, yet she still perished under the hands of Shen Long Jiao disciple.”

Wei Xiaobao swore without any restrain, “Damn it, if that’s the case, Shen Long Jiao is our sworn enemy, why should we fear him?”

Tao Hongying shook her head, then slowly said, “My Shifu said that the martial art taught by Shen Long Jiao has countless changes, admittedly, it is very formidable; but even more difficult to resist is the many incantation practiced by their Cult, which they read as they are facing the enemy, which can make the opponent’s heart alarmed and trembling with fear, while the more they fight, the braver they become. When Tai Shifu was trying to steal the sutra from the Bordered Blue Banner Commander’s mansion, she was involved in a fierce battle against several disciples of the Shen Long Jiao. One of them started to read the spell, Tai Shifu’s fist wind and palm strength became weaker and weaker, until finally her lower abdomen was hit by a palm and she suffered a heavy injury. At that time my Shifu was watching from the side, she said that she mustered up her courage to rush forward to help, but after hearing the incantation, her whole body turned limp and painful, and she had a strong desire to kneel down and surrender, unexpectedly her fighting spirit was gone. When Tai Shifu was wounded, that person no longer read the spell, my Shifu immediately felt her courage surged back, she rushed toward Tai Shifu and took her away. When she recalled this event afterward, she always felt ashamed but was also scared, thus she repeatedly warned me that among the most dangerous things in the world, nothing surpasses fighting with Shen Long Jiao’s people.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Your Shifu was a woman, her courage was small, seeing the strength of the opponent, she was frightened and thinking about surrendering.” He asked, “Gugu, did you hear what kind of spell that man was reading?”

“I … I did not hear it,” Tao Hongying replied, “I was afraid that fake palace maid was a Shen Long Jiao disciple, that’s why I asked you if you hear him saying anything or see his lips moving during the fight.”

“Oh, so that’s the reason,” Wei Xiaobao said. He tried to think if he saw or heard anything from under the bed. “No, I did not. But did you hear it?”

Tao Hongying said, “That fake palace maid’s martial art was a lot stronger than mine, I fought him with everything I have, I neither hear nor see anything that happened around me. I just felt that after I fought him for a while, my heart suddenly became afraid, I wanted to run away. When I think about it, I feel very strange.”

“Gugu,” Wei Xiaobao asked, “After you learned martial art, how many people have you fought? How many people have you killed?”

Tao Hongying shook her head and said, “I have never fought anybody, I have never killed even one person.”

“That’s the reason,” Wei Xiaobao said, “After killing several more people, you won’t feel afraid when you fight again.”

“Perhaps you are right,” Tao Hongying said, “But I don’t want to fight anybody, I don’t want to kill anybody even more, as long as I can safely and peacefully get those eight copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ and break the Manchurian Qing Tatars’ dragon vein, I will be perfectly satisfied. Ay, but there is a 80, 90% chance that the Bordered Blue Banner Commander’s copy of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ has fallen into Shen Long Jiao’s hands. It would be very difficult to recapture the book from the Shen Long Jiao’s hands.” She was still wearing disguise on her face, Wei Xiaobao could not see her expression, but from her eyes, he could see clearly that deep in her heart she was still very much afraid.

“Gugu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What do you say about joining our Tian Di Hui?” He was thinking, “You are very scared! Our Tian Di Hui has many men and great force, we don’t have to be afraid of Shen Long Jiao.”

Tao Hongying was startled; she asked, “Why do you want me to join Tian Di Hui?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Tian Di Hui’s main objective is to fight the Qing and restore the Ming, the same idea your Tai Shifu and your Shifu had.”

“That is actually a very good idea,” Tao Hongying said, “But let’s talk about it later. I must return to the Palace now. Where are you going?”

“You are returning to the Palace?” Wei Xiaobao asked in amazement, “Aren’t you afraid of the Empress Dowager?”

Tao Hongying sighed and said, “Since I was a child I grew up in the Palace. After thinking it over, only in the Palace I can live without fear, I don’t understand anything about the matter of the outside world. Originally I was afraid this great secret would follow me to my grave, but now that I have told it to you, even if the Empress Dowager kills me, it’s nothing. Besides, the Palace is very big, I will find a place where I can hide, where the Empress Dowager won’t find me.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You return to the Palace, someday I will definitely come to see you. Right now Shifu has something for me to do.”

Tao Hongying knew it was inappropriate to ask about Tian Di Hui’s business, so she said, “When you are back to the Palace later, how are you and I going to meet?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “When I am back at the Palace, I will pile up rocks at the burning ground, and will stick a piece of wood on the pile of rocks, with a picture of a bird on the piece of wood, then you’ll know that I am back. That same night, we can meet at the burning ground.”

Tao Hongying nodded, “Very good,” she said, “Let’s do it this way. Good child, the wind and waves in Jianghu are dangerous, in everything you must be careful.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “Yes,” he said, “Gugu, you must be careful yourself, the Empress Dowager, that old wh0re’s heart is vicious, you must never, ever fall into her plot.”

The two of them arrived at a town, Wei Xiaobao hired another carriage, they parted ways to the east and to the west. Wei Xiaobao saw Tao Hongying drove her carriage eastwards, he was unable not to turn his head to look at her back as he thought, “Although she is not my real Gugu, she treats me very well.”

[1] Yaodao is actually a type of saber commonly used by government official. The word ‘dao’ itself means ‘saber’. Following Pokit’s example in ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’, I repeat the word ‘saber’ just to clarify it.

[2] I thought I’d better clarify this: two paragraph above (…did not say anything for a long time), the original character was 良久 (liang jiu), hence I translated it as ‘a long time’; in this paragraph, however, the original was 好半晌 (hao ban shang). I’ll leave it to your own discretion whether you want to interpret it as a literal 12-hour period or not. Just FYI, when Jin Yong meant specific period of time, he usually used ‘sichen’, or something like ‘the time needed to eat rice’ or ‘burning incense stick’ or something like that.

[3] Buttoned mandarin jacket of the Qing Dynasty.

[4] Orig. ‘ten thousand matters are greatly propitious’.

[5] A kang is a heatable brick bed common in northern China.

[6] Jiejie – older sister, Gugu – auntie, to be precise: paternal aunt.

[7] From the dictionary: ‘black inn’ is an inn that kills and robs guests (esp. in traditional fiction).

[8] In Chinese, ‘forty-two’ is written as ‘four’, ‘ten’ and ‘two’.

[9] Li Zicheng, the leader of peasant rebellion at the end of the Ming Dynasty, he called himself Chuang Wang – ‘The Roaming King’. The character ‘Chuang’ (闖) means to rush / to charge / to dash / to break through / to temper oneself (through battling hardships).

[10] Lit. ‘great’ shifu, in this case, ‘grand master’, shifu of shifu.

[11] My dictionary has an additional definition: terrain that looks like a dragon.

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