The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 16-20

Chapter 16 Sweet talk hidden in musk deer powder’s fragrance, new ghosts wailed in the midst of ornaments.

On the carriage, Wei Xiaobao closed his eyes and took a nap. Towards the evening, he suddenly heard the sound of horse’s hoof, a rider was coming fast from behind. When it came close enough, he heard a man’s voice shouted, “Driver, does your passenger happen to be a child?”

Wei Xiaobao recognized the voice as Liu Yizhou’s; without waiting for the driver to reply, he poked his head out of the carriage and said with a laugh, “Liu Dage, are you looking for me?”

Liu Yizhou’s brow was beaded with sweat, his face was dusty; as soon as he saw Wei Xiaobao he called out, “Good, finally I found you!” From behind the carriage he galloped around to the front and shouted, “Roll out!”

Seeing his ill-expression, Wei Xiaobao was shocked; “Liu Dage,” he asked, “How did I offend you? Why are you so angry?”

Liu Yizhou brandished the horsewhip in his hand and lashed it out forcefully on the head of the mule pulling the carriage. The mule neighed in pain and reared on its hind legs, bringing the carriage up that the driver almost fell down. The driver shouted, “The sky is clear, the sun is shining, are you seeing a ghost? Why are you acting so unreasonably?”

Liu Yizhou shouted, “Laozi wants to act unreasonably!” Brandishing the whip one more time, he wound it around the driver’s whip and pulled it hard, throwing the driver to the ground, and immediately lashed the whip again and again, cursing with every strike, “Laozi wants to act unreasonably! Laozi wants to act unreasonably!”

The carriage driver struggled, but was unable to crawl back up, he could only curse ‘yeye’, ‘naynay’ [(paternal) grandfather and grandmother, respectively] left and right. Liu Yizhou struck heavier and heavier; blood started to splash as the whip went down relentlessly. Wei Xiaobao was greatly taken aback; he mused, “This carriage driver had neither grudge nor enmity with him, yet he beats him this bad, while he is actually rushing to get to me. Laozi is not his match, after he is done with the carriage driver, he will most likely beat me like that; the turn of events would be far from good.” Drawing the dagger from his boot, he lightly poked the mule’s buttocks.

The mule felt pain and was startled, it kicked back and then dashed wildly, pulling the large carriage along the main road. Liu Yizhou left the carriage driver, he slapped his horse’s back to give a chase, while calling out, “Good kid, if you have guts, don’t run!”

From the carriage Wei Xiaobao stuck out his head and called back, “Good kid, if you have guts, don’t pursue!”

Liu Yizhou whipped his horse to rush over. Although the mule was running very fast, it was, after all, pulling a large carriage; after running for a while, Liu Yizhou managed to close the distance. Wei Xiaobao was thinking of throwing the dagger toward Liu Yizhou, but he thought that he would most likely miss, and would lose the dagger with which he protect himself instead. He yelled and shouted wildly, urging the mule to run faster. Suddenly there was a sharp wind by his ear, followed by a burning pain on the right side of his face as Liu Yizhou’s whip struck him. Hastily he pulled his head back into the carriage, from the slit on the carriage cover he could see the head of Liu Yizhou’s horse was already by the carriage’s side, only a few more steps, Liu Yizhou would then be able to jump into the carriage. With an inspiration in a moment of desperation, he put his hand into his pocket and got an ingot of silver, which he hurled out as hard as he could, it happened to hit the horse’s left eye. Blood spurting out of the horse’s left eye as its eyeball disintegrated and blinded instantly. The horse bolted toward the hillside. Liu Yizhou hastily pulled the reins, but the horse was hurt so bad that with a few fierce jumps it threw Liu Yizhou off its back. He rolled on the ground and immediately stood up, but the horse had already entered the forest, neighing repeatedly while galloping away.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and called out, “Liu Dage, if you can’t ride a horse, I advise you to catch a turtle and ride it!”

Liu Yizhou was very angry, he raised his chi and ran after the carriage. Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright and quickly urged the mule to run faster. When he turned his head around, he saw that although Liu Yizhou was about twenty, thirty zhang away from the carriage; he did not stop pursuing in large strides, it would not be easy to throw him off. Wei Xiaobao pulled his dagger and lightly poked the mule’s buttocks again. Who would have thought that this time it was not working? The mule jumped up and down several times, suddenly it turned around and ran toward Liu Yizhou.

“Wrong way! Wrong way!” Wei Xiaobao yelled, “You dirty beast, I feed you but you help my enemy[1]. Now you’re really putting laozi in a bad spot!” With all his strength he tried to pull the reins, but the mule was showing its true nature, how could he pull it back? Seeing the situation was far from good, Wei Xiaobao hastily jumped down from the carriage and ran into a forest by the side of the road.

With a big leap Liu Yizhou flew on top of him, while stretching out his left hand to grab the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck. Wei Xiaobao stabbed the dagger in his right hand backward, Liu Yizhou used his right hand to press Wei Xiaobao’s arm downward, using the move ‘Floating Cloud Running Water’ he grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s wrist and bent it backward toward his own arm so that the tip of the dagger was pointing toward Wei Xiaobao’s throat.

“Little thief!” he shouted, “You still dare to resist me?” ‘Slap! Slap!’ with his left hand he slapped Wei Xiaobao’s ears.

Wei Xiaobao’s wrist was in so much pain; he felt a cool breeze on his throat and knew that his dagger could cut iron like mud, it would shear his throat like cutting a tofu. “Liu Dage,” he said, smiling and giggling, “If you want to say something, just say it; we are on the same side, why play rough?”

Liu Yizhou spat on his face. “Pei! Who’s on the same side with you? You … you … you, little thief, you dare to sweet talk and deceive my Fang Shimei in the Imperial Palace, and … and slept with her on the same bed. This … this … I … I … I must kill you …” The blue veins on his forehead were bulging, his eyes looked like they were about to spout fire, his left hand curled into a fist, which he held in front of Wei Xiaobao’s face.

It was only then did Wei Xiaobao realize why Liu Yizhou was that angry, turned out it was because of Fang Yi; but how did he find out? Right now he was facing a ‘thousand pounds hanging by a thread’ situation, if he let his anger flared up and he increased the strength of his hand by 5%, a hole would immediately appear on his own throat. Thereupon he said with laugh, “Miss Fang is your sweetheart, how could I dare to be rude to her? In Miss Fang’s heart there is only one man, you. From dawn to dusk, she is only thinking about you.”

Liu Yizhou’s anger immediately abated. “How do you know?” he asked. The dagger was pulled back several cun.

Wei Xiaobao said, “It was only because she asked me to save you that I took you out of the Palace. As soon as she learned that you were out of danger, her joy was indescribable.”

Suddenly Liu Yizhou’s anger flared up again; with a clenched teeth he said, “You, little son-of-a-b1tch, laozi does not want to receive your pity! I don’t care if you saved me or not, but why did you deceive my Fang Shimei into agreeing to marry … to become your wife?” The dagger advanced several cun.

“Uh,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can there be such thing? Who told you that? Miss Fang is a ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ type of beautiful woman, only a handsome and established hero like you is fit to marry her!”

Liu Yizhou’s anger diminished thirty more percent, the dagger withdrew several cun back; he said, “You still want to deny? Fang Shimei has agreed to marry you and be your wife, right?” Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. “What’s so funny?” Liu Yizhou asked.

“Liu Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Let me ask you: can a eunuch take a wife?”

Because of his anger, Liu Yizhou had rushed to pursue Wei Xiaobao, without remembering that Wei Xiaobao was a eunuch, and that eunuchs do not marry. Reminded by Wei Xiaobao’s words, his heart was in full bloom, he could not help but burst out in laughter, but he did not release Wei Xiaobao’s wrist. “Then why did you swindle my Fang Shimei into agreeing to marry you?” he asked.

“Where did you hear that from?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I heard it with my own ears, Fang Shimei was talking to Xiao Junzhu,” Liu Yizhou said, “Are you saying they are lying?”

“Were they talking to each other, or did they tell you?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Liu Yizhou hesitated before replying, “They were talking to each other.”

What happened was that as Xu Tianchuan, Fang Yi and Mu Jianping set off toward Shijiazhuang, they had not travelled far when they came across Wu Lishen, Ao Biao and Liu Yizhou, three people. In the Qing Palace, Wu Lishen, three people were tortured; although their muscles and bones were not seriously injured, their bodies were beaten that their skin was broken and their flesh burst open. They were also on their way to Shijiazhuang, riding  on a carriage, to recuperate from their wounds. Meeting each other by chance, they were very delighted. But Fang Yi’s expression when she met Liu Yizhou was entirely different from in the past, other than greeted him with a “Liu Shige” when they met, she was totally indifferent, she did not even pay him any attention.

Twice, then three times, Liu Yizhou tried to pull her aside so that they could have a heart-to-heart talk, but Fang Yi was unwilling to leave Mu Jianping’s side. Liu Yizhou was both anxious and angry, he pressed on tighter. Fang Yi said, “Liu Shige, from now on the two of us only share the Shixiong, Shimei sentiment, apart from this, don’t mention anything, don’t think anything.”

Liu Yizhou was startled. “Wh … why?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Fang Yi coldly replied.

Liu Yizhou pulled her hand and anxiously said, “Shimei, you …”

Fang Yi struggled hard to free herself and shouted, “Please show some respect!”

Suffering a major embarrassment, at the inn that night Liu Yizhou was tossing and turning without able to put his head down to rest. His mood surged, he crawled out quietly toward the window of Fang Yi and Mu Jianping’s room. As expected, he heard the two of them were talking to each other in low voice.

Mu Jianping said, “You treated Liu Shige like that, wouldn’t you make him broken-hearted?”

“What can I do?” Fang Yi replied, “The sooner he is broken-hearted, the sooner he will forget me, the sooner he won’t be broken-hearted anymore.”

Mu Jianping said, “Are you really going to marry … marry that little child Wei Xiaobao? He is so young, can you be his wife?”

Fang Yi said, “It is you who want to marry this little monkey, therefore, you urge me to treat Shige well, am I right?”

“No, no, it’s not that!” Mu Jianping hurriedly said, “In that case, you’d better marry Wei Dage sooner.”

Fang Yi sighed and said, “I have made an oath, putting curse on myself; have you already forgotten? That day I 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.’ I also said, ‘Xiao Junzhu is my witness.’ I can’t forget this, you must not forget it either.”

“You did say those words,” Mu Jianping said, “But I thought … I thought that he was only joking, you don’t need to take him seriously.”

Fang Yi said, “I don’t care if he was serious or was only joking, but as women, if we have personally agree to give ourselves to him in marriage, we must never go back on our promise, we must be faithful unto death[2]. Much less … much less …”

“Much less what?” Mu Jianping asked.

Fang Yi said, “I have thought carefully, even if I can deny the words I said, but he … he had shared the same bed with the two of us, slept under the same quilt …”

“Pfft!” Mu Jianping stifled her laughter, “Wei Dage is really naughty. He also said that in the ‘Legend of Heroic Deeds’ there is a chapter called something like ‘Mu Wangye subdued Yunnan with three arrows, Gui Gong-gong embraces beautiful women with his pair of hands’. Shijie, he did embrace you and kiss you!” Fang Yi heaved a sigh and no longer said anything.

Listening from outside the window, Liu Yizhou felt as if his five internal organs were burning, as if the sky was spinning and the earth was turning, his knees went weak. He heard Fang Yi continued, “Actually, although he is young, he can talk smooth, and his treatment to the two of us is not bad at all. This time we part, I wonder when we will see him again.”

Mu Jianping stifled another laugh, with a low voice she said, “Shijie, you miss him!”

“If I miss him then I miss him, so what?” Fang Yi said.

“That’s right,” Mu Jianping said, “I miss him too. Several times I tried to invite him to come with us to Shijiazhuang, but he always said that he has an important business to attend. Shijie, do you think he was telling the truth, or was he lying to us?”

Fang Yi said, “When we stopped by for a snack earlier, I overheard him chatting with the carriage driver, he was asking the way to Shanxi. Apparently he is going to Shanxi.”

Mu Jianping said, “He is so young, yet traveling alone to Shanxi; what would happen if he came across bad people along the way?”

Fang Yi sighed and said, “I was thinking of asking Xu Laoyezi not to escort us, but to escort him instead, but I know Xu Laoyezi would not agree.”

“Shijie,” Mu Jianping said, “I … I think …”

“What is it?” Fang Yi asked.

Mu Jianping sighed. “Never mind,” she said.

Fang Yi said, “Too bad both of us are injured, otherwise, we can accompany him going to Shanxi. Now that we met Wu Shishu, Liu Shige, we cannot go looking for him.”

Listening to this part, Liu Yizhou’s head was dizzy. ‘Bang!’ his forehead bumped onto the window frame. “What’s that?” Fang Yi and Mu Jianping asked together.

Liu Yizhou’s heart was burning with jealousy, it was as if he turned mad; his only thought was, “I must kill that boy, I must kill that boy!” Rushing toward the front courtyard, he pulled a horse, pushed open the inn’s gate, mounted the horse and rushed off. He thought that since Wei Xiaobao was going to Shanxi, he headed to the west.

Galloping until daybreak, he asked the way to Shanxi, then rushed along the main road in pursuit. Each time he came across a large carriage, he would ask, “Does the one sitting on the carriage happen to be a child?”

Listening to Liu Yizhou, Wei Xiaobao knew that Liu Yizhou’s knowledge came from listening to Xiao Junzhu and Fang Yi’s conversation, presumably he was eavesdropping; therefore, what he knew must be limited. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Liu Shige, you have fallen into your Shimei‘s trick.”

“What trick?” Liu Yizhou asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Miss Fang told me that she wanted to make you mad, because she put her heart and soul to save you, but you did not have her in your heart at all.”

“How … how can that be?” Liu Yizhou asked anxiously, “How could she say that I do not have her in my heart at all?”

“You gave her a silver hairpin, didn’t you?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “There was a plum blossom on the head of the hairpin.”

“Yes, yes!” Liu Yizhou replied, “How do you know?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “During the tangled battle in the Palace, she dropped the hairpin, and she seemed very anxious about it. She said that it was given by her sweetheart, so whatever happens she must not lose it, even if she has to stake her life, she must find it.”

Liu Yizhou was taken aback. “She … she is that good to me?” he muttered to himself.

“Of course,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can it be false?”

“And then what happened?” Liu Yizhou asked.

“You twist my hand like this, I am in great pain,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can I talk?”

“Alright!” Liu Yizhou said. Hearing Fang Yi’s deep affection toward him, his rage had dissipated for the most part; also, he thought that this child could not escape from his palm anyway, thereupon he released his grip and asked, “And then what happened?”

Being grasped by him, Wei Xiaobao’s arm went numb and was hurting bad; he slowly put the dagger back into his boot, and saw that there were some red and swollen finger prints on his wrist. “Mu Palace people love to grab other people’s wrist. You are like this, Bai Hanfeng was also like this. The ‘Turtle Grasping Technique’ of the Mu Family Fist Technique is very well-developed.”

When saying the ‘Turtle Grabbing Technique’, the word ‘turtle’ was spoken very obscurely that Liu Yizhou did not hear it clearly, but he did not take any notice anyway; Liu Yizhou asked, “Fang Shimei lost the silver hairpin I gave her, and then what happened?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You have gripped me with your ‘Turtle Claw’ that I am unable to breathe easily, I must take a rest before I can tell you anything. In short, whether you can or cannot take Miss Fang as your wife, it involves a great responsibility.”

This time Liu Yizhou could hear the words ‘Turtle Claw’ clearly, but his rage stemmed from the fact that Wei Xiaobao has swindled Fang Yi into agreeing to marry him; he really did not care if Wei Xiaobao took advantage of him orally. Also, hearing Wei Xiaobao said, ‘Whether you can or cannot take Miss Fang as your wife, it involves a great responsibility’, he was quite concerned; therefore, he said urgently, “Tell me quickly, don’t dawdle.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I must sit down first and slowly rest before I’ll have the energy to talk.” Liu Yizhou was helpless; he had no choice but to follow Wei Xiaobao to a big tree by the forest. Seeing Wei Xiaobao sat on the tree roots, he also sat down by his side.

Wei Xiaobao sighed. “What a pity, what a pity,” he said.

Liu Yizhou immediately felt uneasy, “What do you mean ‘what a pity’?” he anxiously asked.

“What a pity your Shimei is not here,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Otherwise, if she could sit side by side with you like this, discussing passion and talking of love with you, she would be very happy.”

Liu Yizhou was greatly delighted, he could not refrain from laughing as he asked, “How do you know?”

“I heard her personally saying it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That day when she dropped the silver hairpin, she staked her life and braved enormous danger to rush through three palace gates heavily guarded by the Imperial Bodyguards. Although heavily injured, she managed to kill three Qing Palace’s Imperial Bodyguards, until she was finally able to retrieve that silver hairpin back. I said, ‘Miss Fang, you were very stupid, it’s just a silver hairpin, how many qian does it worth? I’ll give you a thousand taels of silver; in one breath we can easily find three, four thousand silver hairpins just like it. Even if you wear ten pins every day, different pins each day, in one year, three hundred and sixty days, you will wear new hairpins daily.’ Miss Fang said, ‘You are just a kid, what do you know? This is a gift from my dear one, Liu Shige. Even if you give me a thousand pins, ten thousand pins, gold hairpins or pearl hairpins, how can it beat this silver hairpin, or a copper hairpin, or an iron hairpin, which my dear one Liu Shige gave me?’ Liu Dage, tell me, don’t you agree that Miss Fang is muddleheaded?”

Listening to this, Liu Yizhou was beaming from ear to ear that he could not close his mouth. “Then … then why did she say different things when she was talking to Xiao Junzhu in the middle of the night?” he asked.

“You were eavesdropping outside their window in the middle of the night, weren’t you?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Liu Yizhou blushed slightly, he said, “I wasn’t eavesdropping, I wanted to go pee in the middle of the night, and happened to hear them.”

“Liu Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are at fault here. Why didn’t you pee anywhere else, but peed outside Miss Fang’s window? Won’t it stink to high heaven and the stench overwhelm the two ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ ladies?”

“Yes, yes!” Liu Yizhou said, “And then what did my Fang Shimei say?”

“My tummy is very hungry,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t have the energy to talk. Quickly go and buy something for me to eat. Only after I am full that I will tell you those corny, sickening words your Fang Shimei said.” He was hoping to swindle Liu Yizhou into agreeing to take him into a small town, so that he could slip away in the crowd.

“What corny, sickening words?” Liu Yizhou asked, “Fang Shimei has always been very proper, she has never said any corny, sickening words.”

“Fine, she is very proper, she has never said any corny, sickening words,” Wei Xiaobao said, “She said ‘my dear one Liu Shige’! She also said, ‘my considerate and handsome Liu Shige’. Damn it, you may not find it corny and sickening, but I was embarrassed just listening to it. Humph, she was not ashamed to speak those kinds of words.”

Liu Yizhou’s heart was in full bloom, but he said, “It’s impossible, how can Fang Shimei speak those kinds of words?”

“Fine, fine!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just consider me speaking incorrectly. Liu Dage, I want to find something to eat, excuse me, I must leave.” While speaking, he stood up.

Listening to his story, Liu Yizhou’s heart was unbearably itchy; how could he let Wei Xiaobao leave? Hastily he gently pushed down Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said, “Wei Xiongdi, don’t leave too quickly! I have brought some flat cake with me as my dry rations. Why don’t you eat it first? After you are done talking, when we get to the town ahead, I will invite you to drink wine and eat some noodles to apologize to you.” While saying that, he opened the bundle he carried on his back and took several flat cakes.

Wei Xiaobao took a cake; he tore a piece and chewed it several times before saying, “This flat cake is neither salty nor sour, what kind of goodies is this? Here, try this for me.” And he handed the torn piece of flat cake back to Liu Yizhou.

Liu Yizhou said, “This cake has hardened, naturally the flavor is not too good. We’ll just have to deal with it to allay our hunger, we’ll talk about it later.” While saying that, he tore a piece and ate it.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I wonder how these cakes would taste?” He rummaged through the flat cakes to select one. After flipping around several times, he said, “Damn it, I want to go pee; I will eat later.” He went to a big tree nearby, turned his body around, pulled his pants and peed. Liu Yizhou fixed his gaze on him, he was afraid Wei Xiaobao would suddenly run away. After urinating, Wei Xiaobao returned to Liu Yizhou’s side, flipped around the flat cakes again, before finally he picked one, tore a piece, and ate it.

After pursuing Wei Xiaobao for half a day, Liu Yizhou was very hungry. He also took a piece of flat cake and ate it. While chewing, he said, “Could it be that Fang Shimei and Xiao Junzhu said those things to deliberately annoy me?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am not the roundworm inside your Fang Shimei‘s belly, how would I know her real intention? You are her dearly beloved Shige, how come you do not know and ask me instead?”

“Alright! Alright!” Liu Yizhou said, “I was hot-headed just now and have offended you. Just tell me, don’t keep me in suspense!”

“Since that’s the case, I will tell you the truth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Fang Shimei is very good-looking. If I were not an eunuch, I would love to take her as my wife. It’s just that even if I did not take her as my wife, I am afraid it’s not for you to marry her either.”

“Why? Why?” Liu Yizhou anxiously asked.

“Don’t be impatient,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Eat some more flat cake, I will slowly tell you.”

“Damn it,” Liu Yizhou cursed, “You are always humming and hawing, keeping me in suspense …” Speaking to this point, suddenly his body swayed.

“What is it?” Wei Xiaobao said, “You don’t feel well? I am afraid this flat cake is not too clean.”

“What?” Liu Yizhou asked. He stood up, staggered a circle, and suddenly fell down to the ground.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; he kicked Liu Yizhou’s buttocks once and said, “Hey! It’s your own flat cake, how come there is knockout drug inside? It’s very strange.” Liu Yizhou made an “Oh” noise, and then lost his consciousness.

Wei Xiaobao kicked him a couple more times; seeing he was completely motionless, Wei Xiaobao pulled Liu Yizhou’s belt and tied his legs firmly, and then he also tied Liu Yizhou’s hands behind his back. Seeing a large boulder by the big tree, he huffed and puffed to push the boulder away, revealing a hole underneath, with a pile of loose rocks inside. Moving the loose rocks out one by one, he made a hole in the ground about four chi deep. “Laozi will bury you alive today,” he said with a laugh.

Dragging Liu Yizhou to the hole, he stood him up vertically, and then he pushed the dirt and rocks back into the hole. After working steadfastly, he managed to bury Liu Yizhou up to his arm with the dirt, so that only his shoulder and head were exposed. Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself. He went to a nearby creek, took off his long gown and soaked it in the water, then returning to Liu Yizhou, he wrung the long gown and let the creek water drenched Liu Yizhou’s head.

Aroused by the cold water, Liu Yizhou slowly regained his consciousness. Temporarily he was still at a loss; he wanted to struggle, but he could not move at all. He saw Wei Xiaobao was sitting in front of him, hugging his knees and chuckling while looking at him. A moment later he finally came to his senses and realized what had happened. He struggled again, but still was not able to move the least bit. He said, “Good Xiongdi, don’t play a joke on me!”

Wei Xiaobao cursed, “F*ck your mother, Laozi has many important things to do, why would I want to play a joke with a stinky thief like you?” Heavily he kicked again, Liu Yizhou’s right cheek was immediately drenched with blood. Wei Xiaobao cursed again, “Miss Fang is my wife, you are not fit to even think of her. Stinky thief, you twisted Laozi‘s hand and hurt me real bad, you slapped my face, and used whip to strike me. Laozi will cut your ears first, and then shear your nose; I will deal with you slice by slice.” While saying that, he drew out his dagger, stooped down and run the tip of the blade on Liu Yizhou’s face, twice.

Liu Yizhou was scared out of his wits; he called out, “Good Xiong … Wei … Wei Xiongdi, Wei Xiangzhu, please consider your good relation with the Mu Palace, please raise … please raise your hand.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “From the Palace I saved you and took you out, but you actually repay my kindness with enmity, unexpectedly you wanted to kill me. Humph, humph, based on your meager ability, you want to move the dust from Taisui’s[3] head? You told me to consider my good relation with the Mu Palace; when you grasped my hand just now, how come you did not consider your good relation with Tian Di Hui?”

Liu Yizhou said, “Indeed I was mistaken, Zaixia was wrong! Please … please … please forgive me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I want to cut three hundred and sixty your mother’s cuts on your head, to vent off the hatred in my heart!” Lifting up Liu Yizhou’s braid, he cut it with his blade. The dagger was extremely sharp, with a ‘swish!’ the braid fell down, and then he ran the blade back and forth on Liu Yizhou’s head. In a short period of time, all the hair on Liu Yizhou’s head fell off that he turned into a bald man.

“Dead bald thief,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “As soon as I see a monk, laozi is angry, I must kill you!”

Liu Yizhou forced a smile as he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, Zaixia is not a monk.”

“So you are not a damn monk,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Then why did you shave your head clean? Want to deceive Laoye?” [lord or master, referring to self]

Liu Yizhou said in his heart, “Clearly it was you who shaved my head? Why do you blame me?” But since his life was in Wei Xiaobao’s hands, he did not dare to argue; he had no choice but to say with a laugh, “A thousand mistakes, ten thousand mistakes, it’s Xiaoren  in the wrong. Wei Xiangzhu Daren is magnanimous, please do not hold it against me.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me ask you then: Fang Yi, Miss Fang, whose wife is she?”

“This … this …” Liu Yizhou stammered.

“What this or that?” Wei Xiaobao shouted loudly, “Answer it, now!” Raising his dagger, he waved it in front of Liu Yizhou’s face.

Liu Yizhou thought that a real man should not suffer disadvantage from the outset; this little demon was an eunuch anyway, just let him had small verbal advantages. Otherwise, he might brandish his dagger and then Liu Yizhou would lose a nose or an ear, then it would be bad indeed. Thereupon he busily said, “She … naturally she is Wei Xiangzhu‘s … she is Wei Xiangzhu‘s wife.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “She? She who? Speak up! Laozi cannot understand monks’ mumbling speech.”

Liu Yizhou said, “Fang Yi, Fang Shimei, she is Wei Xiangzhu‘s wife.”

“Let me be clear on this,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Are you or are you not my friend?”

Hearing the tone of Wei Xiaobao’s voice was slacking, Liu Yizhou was delighted; he hurriedly said, “Xiaoren actually does not dare to pull myself up high. If Wei Xiangzhu is willing to treat Zaixia as a friend, Zaixia … naturally it is what Zaixia always seek but fail to obtain.”

“I regard you as a friend,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In Jianghu, friends always uphold yi qi, right?”

“Yes, yes,” Liu Yizhou busily said, “Good friends should uphold yi qi.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A friend’s wife, you must not touch. If in the future you act like a thief toward my wife, speaking nonsense, then what will happen? I want you make an oath!”

Liu Yizhou groaned inwardly, he realized he had fallen into Wei Xiaobao’s trick. Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s alright if you don’t want to make an oath. I knew it all along that you are sneaky, always harbor malicious intentions, and with heart and soul you want to take liberties with women, you want to fool around with my wife.”

Wei Xiaobao waved his dagger again, Liu Yizhou saw flickering white light in front of his eyes. “No, no,” he hastily said, “Toward Wei Xiangzhu‘s wife, Zaixia definitely does not dare to harbor any evil intentions.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If you ever cast one more glance to Miss Fang in the future, speak one more word to her, then what will happen?”

Liu Yizhou said, “Then … then let the Heaven punish me, the Earth extinguish me.”

“Then you are a turtle bast@rd!” Wei Xiaobao said.

With a bitter smile Liu Yizhou said, “Right, right!”

“Right what?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your fart is right?” He put the tip of his dagger onto Liu Yizhou’s right eyelid.

Liu Yizhou said, “If in the future I cast one more glance to Fang Shimei, speak one more word to her, then I am a turtle bast@rd!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. “Since that’s the case,” he said, “I’ll spare you. I’ll drench your head with my pee first, then I’ll let you go.” Finished speaking, he put the dagger back into his boot, and untied his belt with both hands.

Suddenly from the forest came a female voice, “You … you are bullying people too far!”

Wei Xiaobao recognized it as Fang Yi’s voice; he was pleasantly surprised. Turning his head around, he saw three people come out of the forest; the first to appear was indeed Fang Yi, with Mu Jianping and Xu Tianchuan behind her. A moment later, two more people came out, they were none other than Wu Lishen and Ao Biao.

These five people had been hiding in the forest for quite a long time; they heard everything Wei and Liu, two people’s conversation. Seeing Wei Xiaobao was about to pee on Liu Yizhou’s head, which would result in deep, unsolvable resentment, Fang Yi could not bear not to shout to stop him.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Turns out you are already here. Looking at Wu Laoyezi‘s face, you are exempt from being soaked with urine.”

Xu Tianchuan hurriedly came over and with both hands pushed aside the rocks and dirt surrounding Liu Yizhou’s body. He wrapped his arms around Liu Yizhou and lifted him up, then he untied the belt binding Liu Yizhou’s hands and feet. Liu Yizhou was unbearably ashamed; he lowered his head and did not dare to meet anybody’s eyes.

Wu Lishen’s face turned ashen as he said, “Liu Xianzhi [worthy nephew], our lives were saved by Wei Xiangzhu, how can you repay kindness with enmity, relying on power to bully the weak? You beat him, your cursed him, and you twisted his arm. If your Shifu find out, how would you explain to him?” He was speaking and shaking his head at the same time, the tone of his voice showed that he was very upset. He continued, “Living in Jianghu, we pay most particular attention to these two characters ‘yi qi‘; how can you use force toward a good friend, to fight over a woman’s affection? Forgetting favor and violating justice, that was an action even lower than a pig or a dog!” While saying that, ‘Pei!’ he spat on the ground. The more he spoke, the angrier he got; he said, “Last night, in the middle of the night, like an explosion of thunder you rushed out, everybody knew something was wrong, thus we went looking for you all the way. You slapped Wei Xiangzhu‘s cheek red and swollen, you twisted his arm, you threatened his throat with the tip of a dagger; if you slipped and unexpectedly harmed his life, how would you answer to that?”

Liu Yizhou indignantly said, “A life for a life, I’ll simply pay for his life with mine.”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “Hey, is it that easy? What kind of hero or warrior are you? Do you think you can pay for one of Tian Di Hui’s ten Xiangzhu, Wei Xiangzhu‘s life with yours? Besides, where did you get your life from? Wasn’t it because of Wei Xiangzhu‘s help? You are not grateful and seeking to repay the kindness, other people are already looking down on you; unexpectedly you dare to fight Wei Xiangzhu?”

When he was forced by Wei Xiaobao to make an oath, Liu Yizhou’s life was hanging on Wei Xiaobao’s hand; hence he did not any choice but to comply. But now that he was free, he realized that all these speeches were heard by Fang Yi; the shame and resentment he felt in his heart was indeed difficult to bear. Although Wu Lishen was his martial uncle, listening to his endless prattle in lecturing him, he could not stop his shame from turning into anger. Hardening his heart, he said harshly, “Wu Shishu, what’s done is done. Not even one hair of the one surnamed Wei is injured. You, Senior, can do whatever you want to do to me!”

Wu Lishen jumped up in anger, pointing his finger to Liu Yizhou’s face he roared, “Liu Yizhou, you are this disrespectful toward your own Shishu. You want to fight me, don’t you?”

“I did not say that,” Liu Yizhou replied, “I am not your match anyway.”

Wu Lishen was even more angry; with a stern voice he said, “If your martial art skill surpasses mine, you are definitely going to fight me, aren’t you? In the Qing Palace you were greedy for life, afraid of death. As soon as you heard we were going to be beheaded, you busily begged for mercy in loud voice, hurriedly announced your real name and surname. Considering Liu Shige‘s face, I sealed my lips and did not say anything about this matter. Humph, humph! Just consider yourself lucky you are not my disciple.” It was obvious he was saying that if you were my disciple, I would have killed you with a blade.

Hearing his shameful act as he cowardly begged for mercy in the Qing Palace was exposed, Liu Yizhou hung his head low, his face paled, he did not dare to say anything.

Knowing that he had gained the upper hand, Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Alright, alright. Wu Laoyezi, Liu Dage was only fooling around with me, please don’t take it seriously. I want to ask a favor from you: about the past matter, please don’t tell Liu Laoyezi.”

Wu Lishen said, “Since Wei Xiangzhu has instructed such, I will do as told.” Turning his head toward Liu Yizhou, he said, “Did you see that? Wei Xiangzhu is putting important matter first, showing his great magnanimity.”

Wei Xiaobao turned toward Fang Yi and Mu Jianping, he laughed and said, “How did you come here?”

“Come here,” Fang Yi said, “I have something I want to tell you.”

With a giggle Wei Xiaobao came over. Seeing Fang Yi showing that kind of affection toward Wei Xiaobao in front of everybody else, Liu Yizhou’s hand grabbed the handle of his saber; he almost could not restrain himself from pulling the saber, charging forward and fighting Wei Xiaobao to the death. Suddenly he heard a slap, Wei Xiaobao was slapped on the face, a hard and burning slap.

Wei Xiaobao was startled, he jumped back several steps, his hand rubbed his cheek. “You … why did you hit me?” he angrily asked.

Fang Yi raised her willow-shaped eyebrows, her face flushed of anger. “What do you take me for?” she angrily said, “What did you tell Liu Shige? You insulted me as frivolous and lowly behind my back?”

“I did not say any … any bad words,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You still deny it?” Fang Yi said, “I heard everything. You … both of you are not good men.” In her anger and anxiety, she burst into tears.

Xu Tianchuan thought that this was young people’s problem, not an important matter at all, but the friendship between Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace must not be harmed; thereupon he laughed aloud and said, “Wei Xiangzhu and Liu Shixiong were just having misunderstanding, which has been straightened up. Old man Xu is starving, let us quickly find a restaurant, let’s eat, drink, and be merry.”

Suddenly a northeasterly wind blew, carrying with it raindrops as big as soybeans. Xu Tianchuan looked up to the sky and said, “For no rhyme or reason the tenth month weather has sent us this rain; it’s really unseemly.” Seeing the black clouds rolled in from the northeast, he said, “I am afraid this rain will not be light, we’d better look for a place to take shelter.”

The seven of them continued their journey along the main road heading west. Fang Yi and Mu Jianping had not fully recovered yet, they had to walk slowly. The rain was getting heavier and heavier, while along the way there was not even a farmhouse or a pavilion. Not too long afterwards, all seven of them were completely soaked. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Let us walk slowly. Walking fast, we will look like chicken falling in the soup, walking slow, we will look like duck falling in the soup; there is no difference anyway.”

After walking for quite a while, the seven of them heard the sound of water, they had reached the river bank. They saw about half a li upstream there was a small hut. The seven people were delighted, they hastened toward the hut. When they were near, they saw that the hut was actually a broken-down temple with its wall askew to the east and fell to the west. But although it was broken-down, to take shelter from the rain, this temple was actually better than nothing. The temple gate had already been rotten a long time ago. As soon as they entered, a moldy smell assaulted their nostrils.

After walking for a while, the wound on Fang Yi’s chest was really hurting; she could not help but knitting her brows and clench her teeth. Xu Tianchuan tore apart several broken-down table and chairs and built fire, so that everybody could dry their clothes. They saw the black clouds in the sky gathered thicker and thicker, the rain was getting heavier and heavier. From his bundle Xu Tianchuan produced several dry flatbreads and handed them around. Liu Yizhou stuffed the stub of what’s left of his pigtail into his hat, it was barely enough to make a braid. With a chuckle Wei Xiaobao looked to the left and to the right.

With a laugh Mu Jianping asked Wei Xiaobao, “Just now, what trick did you play onto Liu Shige‘s flat cakes?”

Wei Xiaobao stared at her, “I did not!” he said, “What trick can I play?”

“Humph, still don’t want to admit it?” Mu Jianping said, “How could Liu Shige be hit by knockout drug and lose his consciousness?”

“He was hit by knockout drug?” Wei Xiaobao said, “When? How come I did not know? It can’t be, isn’t he sitting nicely by the fire to warm himself?”

“Pei!” Mu Jianping spat; feigning anger, she said, “You play dumb, I won’t talk to you.”

Sitting on the side, Fang Yi was also filled with doubts. When Liu Yizhou grabbed Wei Xiaobao and so on earlier, they were still quite far away, nobody saw it clearly. Afterwards they saw Liu and Wei, two men, were sitting side by side, talking under the tree, hence they quietly walked on tiptoe to hide in the forest. They saw all the flat cakes were taken out by Liu Yizhou from his own bundle, plus Liu Yizhou’s eyes had never left Wei Xiaobao at all, tu guard against him running away. How could it be that in the blink of an eye Liu Yizhou suddenly lose his consciousness and fell down?

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Perhaps Liu Shixiong suffers from epilepsy, suddenly it flared-up and he fainted.”

Liu Yizhou was furious, he suddenly sprang up; pointing his finger to Wei Xiaobao he shouted, “You … you little …”

Fang Yi cast Wei Xiaobao a glance. “Come here,” she said.

“You are going to hit me, I don’t want to come,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You must not say anything bad about Liu Shige,” Fang Yi said, “Even young children must cultivate propriety of speech.” Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and no longer say anything.

Seeing twice had Fang Yi stood up for him, Liu Yizhou was very relieved inwardly; he mused, “This little demon is crafty and spoiled, Fang Shimei is actually still very good to me.”

The sky gradually darkened. The seven of them sat around the fire. The broken-down temple was leaking everywhere, very few spots were dry. Suddenly the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head was drenched, water was dripping onto his shoulder; he scooted to the left, but the left side was also wet. “Come here,” Fang Yi said, “It’s not leaking over here.” After a short pause, she added, “Don’t be afraid, I am not going to hit you.” Wei Xiaobao laughed, he moved to her side.

Fang Yi puckered her lips and whispered on Mu Jianping’s ear, she spoke few sentences in low voice. Immediately Mu Jianping laughed; she nodded, and then also puckered her lips and whispered on Wei Xiaobao’s ear, “Fang Shijie says, she and you are on the same side; just now she hit you, rebuked you, telling you not to offend Liu Shige, she asked if you understand her meaning?”

Wei Xiaobao also whispered on her ear, “What do you mean ‘on the same side’? I don’t understand.”

Mu Jianping passed on his words to Fang Yi. Fang Yi cast a glance to him, then she said to Mu Jianping, “I have made an oath, calling a curse on myself, I am bound by the oath forever. Tell him not to worry.”

Mu Jianping passed on her words to him. Wei Xiaobao then whispered on Mu Jianping’s ear, “Miss Fang and I are on the same side, but what about you?”

Mu Jianping blushed. “Pei!” she spat, and raised her hand to hit him. Wei Xiaobao laughed while leaning sideways to evade. He repeatedly nodded to Fang Yi. Fang Yi appeared to be smiling, yet she was not smiling; she appeared to be angry, but she was not angry. Illuminated by the fire, she looked unspeakably sweet and pretty. Smelling the faint fragrance coming from these two ladies’ bodies, Wei Xiaobao was very happy.

Liu Yizhou was sitting quite some distance away from these three people, he craned his neck trying to listen; he vaguely heard ‘Liu Shige’ and ‘on the same side’, other than those words, he could not hear anything else. Seeing the three of them were laughing and giggling intimately – obviously they were treating him as an outsider, he could not stop jealousy and hatred from appearing together in his heart.

Again Fang Yi said in low voice to Mu Jianping’s ear, “Ask him, how did he actually make Liu Shige lost his consciousness?”

Seeing Fang Yi’s face showed that she was really curious, Wei Xiaobao quietly told Mu Jianping, “When I went peeing, I turned my back against him, my left hand grabbed a handful of knockout drug. When I turned back to check the flat cakes, I applied the drug powder onto the cakes. The cake that I ate, I picked it with my right hand, my left hand did not touch it at all. Do you understand?”

“So that’s how you did it,” Mu Jianping said.

After she passed on the message to Fang Yi, Fang Yi asked, “Where did you get the knockout drug from?”

“The Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace gave it to me,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “To rescue your Liu Shige, that was the drug that I used.” By this time the rain was really heavy, the sound of water crashing down on the roof was so loud that Wei Xiaobao’s lips had to touch Mu Jianping’s ear before his voice could be heard.

Liu Yizhou was very restless, suddenly he stood up, his back happened to bump heavily on the pillar. ‘Crack! Crash!’ suddenly several tiles from the roof above him fell down. This broken-down temple was already decayed; soaked by the heavy rain, blown by the north wind, it was unable to withstand. One after another the beams, tiles, bricks and mortars fell down.

“Not good,” Xu Tianchuan called out, “This temple is about to collapse; everybody out!” All seven of them rushed out of the temple. Before taking several steps, they heard loud rumbling noise as most of the temple’s roof collapsed, followed by almost half of the wall also came down.

Right this moment, they heard the sound of hooves beat, a dozen or so horses galloped from the southeast and in just a short moment arrived at the temple. In the dark of the night they could see the indistinct shadows of the riders. An old-sounding voice said, “Aiyo, originally there was a small temple in here where we can take shelter from the rain, but unfortunately it has collapsed.”

Another man asked with a loud voice, “Hey, fellows, what are you doing in here?”

“We were taking shelter from the rain in the temple,” Xu Tianchuan replied, “Then this temple collapsed, it almost crushes us to our death.”

“Damn it,” another man on horseback cursed, “It’s such a heavy rain, Laotianye [God/Heavens] must be crazy.”

Yet another man said, “Zhao Laosan [ol’ Zhao the third], other than this small temple, is there any other building nearby? Or some caves, maybe?”

The old-sounding voice replied, “There is … there is some, but it’s almost as bad as there is not.”

A big man cursed, “Your granny, there is or there is not?”

“Northwest of this place,” the old man replied, “There is a valley with a haunted house in it, there are evil spirits there, nobody dares to enter; isn’t it about the same as there is not?”

The men on the horseback loudly laughed and swore, “Laozi is not afraid of haunted house. Evil spirits are the best, we can catch some for dessert.”

Another man shouted, “Quickly lead the way! We are not taking a bath, you think it’s nice to soak in this heavy rain?”

“Gentlemen,” Zhao Laosan said, “The old man does not dislike long life, I do not dare to go. I advise you not to go either. Northwest of here, about thirty li away, there is a small town.”

The men on the horseback all said, “This is such a heavy rain, how can we endure it for thirty more li? Just stop talking nonsense, we have strength in numbers, why do we have to be afraid of some ghosts?”

“Very well,” Zhao Laosan said, “Just go northwest, after rounding a bend, follow the mountain road entering a valley, and walk along that path; you can’t possibly miss …” Without waiting for him to finish, the people urged their horses to gallop toward the northwest. Zhao Laosan was riding a donkey. He hesitated for a moment, and then he pulled the animal’s head and turned it back to the southeast.

“Wu Er Ge [second older brother], Wei Xiangzhu,” Xu Tianchuan asked, “What do we do?”

“I think …” Wu Lishen started, but suddenly remembered that it was Wei Xiaobao who should make the decision; thereupon he said, “I am asking for Wei Xiangzhu’s instruction, what should we do?”

Wei Xiaobao was afraid of ghosts, it’s just that he was unable to say it. He said, “Why don’t Wu Dashu [big uncle] decide? I don’t have any idea.”

“Evil spirit is nothing,” Wu Lishen said, “It’s all country folks talking nonsense. Even if there is indeed a ghost, we can stake everything to fight him.”

“Some ghosts are invisible,” Wei Xiaobao said, “By the time we can see them, it’s already too late.” The implication was clear: he was afraid of ghosts.

Liu Yizhou loudly said, “Why should we fear demons and ghosts? If we are drenched in this rain for one more hour, everybody will be sick.”

Wei Xiaobao saw Mu Jianping was shivering continuously, obviously it was hard for her to endure. He also did not want to show any weakness in front of Fang Yi, and thus lost to Liu Yizhou, thereupon he said, “Alright, let us go together! If we see evil spirit, we must be careful!”

Following Zhao Laosan’s direction, the seven of them went northwest and entered the valley. It was dark and they could not see the road, but through the white curtain of falling rain, they saw cascading water in the forest. Wei Xiaobao said, “We can’t see the road, this is called ‘Ghost Wall’, the evil spirit is bewitching us.”

Xu Tianchuan said, “That cascading water is the road, water from the mountain is flowing down along the mountain path.”

“Exactly!” Wu Lishen said, while stepping on the waterfall going upward. The rest of them followed behind him going up the hill.

To the left of them they heard the neigh of the horses, so they knew those dozen or so riders must be on that side. Xu Tianchuan mused, “I wonder what those men’s background is.” But he thought that with he and Wu Lishen joined hands, even a dozen or so ordinary martial art masters should not give them any trouble, thereupon he stepped on the water, climbing up and going down into the forest.

It was even darker inside the forest, they heard the ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ of a door being knocked straight ahead, so they knew there was indeed a building out there. Wei Xiaobao was scared but delighted, suddenly he felt someone stretching out a hand to pull his hand, the palm of the hand was soft, and then someone whispered gently on his ear, “Don’t be afraid!” It was none other than Fang Yi.

They heard the knocking continued, but nobody opened the door. The seven of them came near, and saw a wide expanse of a building in the pitch-black night. The riders shouted at the top of their lungs, “Open the door, open the door! We are seeking shelter from the rain!” But even after shouting for a long while, there was not the least bit of response from inside the house. A man said, “Nobody lives here!” Another man said, “Zhao Laosan said it is a haunted house; who dare to live here? Just jump over the wall!” White light flickered, two men unsheathed their weapons and jumped over the wall, and then they opened the gate from the inside. Everybody rushed in.

Xu Tianchuan thought, “Obviously these men are Wulin people, but apparently their martial art skill is not too high.” The seven of them followed in.

Inside the gate, there was a very big courtyard, further in, there was the main hall. Someone took oilcloth bundle from his pocket, he untied it and took out a fire knife and a flint to light a fire. Seeing a candle on the table in the hall, he lighted it. Suddenly seeing a bright light appeared before their eyes, everybody felt a peal of delight and comfort. They also noticed that the tables, chairs and small side tables in the hall were made of red sandalwood, unexpectedly it was the style of a rich family’s home. Xu Tianchuan mused, “There’s no dust on the furniture, the ground is swept this clean, but how can there be no one in the house?”

He heard one of the men said, “This hall is very clean, someone must have lived here.” Another man raised his voice to call out, “Hello! Hello! Is anybody home? Is anybody home?” The hall was large and the ceiling high, as he shouted, there was a faint echo. When the echo stopped, other than the sound of the rain, all around them there was no other noise. Everybody looked at each other in dismay, they all felt rather strange.

A white-haired elderly man asked Xu Tianchuan, “Are you all Jianghu friends?”

“Zaixia surnamed Xu,” Xu Tianchuan replied, “These several people are my family and relatives. We are going to Shanxi to visit a family; unexpectedly we came across this heavy rain. Daguanye [high-ranking official master], what is your honorable surname?”

The elderly man nodded; seeing there was an old man, a boy and a couple of women among these seven people, he did not feel suspicious at all, but he did not answer the question either. He said, “This house is a little bit strange.”

One of the men shouted, “Is there anybody here? Are you all dead?” He waited for a moment, but still nobody replied.

The elderly man sat on a chair and pointed to six men and said, “The six of you go to the rear and take a look!” The six men pulled out their weapons and went toward the back of the house. Bending down their waists slightly, they walked very slowly inside, their expressions were rather fearful. The people in the hall heard doors being kicked and unceasing shouts of questions, but nothing unusual happened. The noise went farther and farther, obviously the house was enormous, so that for a moment they had not reached the end of it.

The elderly man pointed to four more men and said, “Go find some firewood and make torches, then follow them inside.” The four men complied and left.

Wei Xiaobao and the others, seven people, were sitting on the ledge of a long window in the hall, nobody said anything. Xu Tianchuan noticed that as ten of the men went inside, there were eight people left in the hall, they all wore cloth gowns, their appearance looked like gang members of some underground gang, or some escorts from an escort agency, except they were not carrying anything to be escorted. For the time being he was unclear of these men’s background.

Wei Xiaobao could not bear not to ask, “Jiejie, do you think there’s ghost in this house?”

Before Fang Yi could answer, Liu Yizhou preceded her by saying, “Of course there is a ghost! What place never has anybody die there? When there are dead people, there will be ghosts.” Wei Xiaobao shivered, he shrank his body smaller. Liu Yizhou continued, “All malicious ghosts in the world bully the virtuous and fear the wicked, especially confused child. Adults’ yang chi [yang (positive, male) life-force or energy flow] is abundant; hangman ghosts, big-head ghosts, all do not dare to provoke adults.”

Fang Yi stretched out her hand from her sleeve to grab Wei Xiaobao’s left hand; she said, “People are afraid of ghosts, but ghosts are even more afraid of people. As soon as there is light, the ghost will run away.”

They heard footsteps, the six people who went inside first had returned to the hall with very strange expression on their faces; all of them talked at once, “Not a single soul in here, but everywhere is swept clean.” “There were beddings on the beds, and shoes under the beds, all women’s.” “All the clothes in the wardrobes are also women’s, there is not a single men’s clothing!”

In a loud voice Liu Yizhou shouted, “Female ghosts! All ghosts in this house are female ghosts!” They all turned their heads to look at him; for a moment, nobody made any noise.

Suddenly they heard strange shouts of the four men who went in later, the elderly man sprang up from his chair. He was just about to rush inside to their rescue when those four men rushed back into the main hall, the torches in their hands were extinguished; they shouted, “Dead men, a lot of dead men!” Their faces had frightened look.

Staying calm and collected, the elderly man said, “Much fuss about nothing. I thought you met with the enemy. Dead men; what’s there to be afraid of?”

“We are not afraid,” one man replied, “It’s just … it’s just bizarre.”

“What’s so bizarre?” the elderly man asked.

Another man replied, “In the east wing, all the rooms are … are mourning hall for dead people; I don’t know how many are there.”

The elderly man hesitated and then asked, “Are there any dead bodies and coffins?”

Two of the men looked at each other, they answered together, “We did not … did not see clearly, perhaps not.”

The elderly man said, “Light more torches, we will go take a look together. Perhaps this is an ancestral hall, which is very common.” Although he tried to play it down, the tone of his voice sounded very apprehensive, apparently he was fully aware that ordinary ancestral hall would not be like this. The men, his subordinates, tore down tables and chairs in the main hall and lighted them as torches, and then they all rushed toward the rear courtyard.

Xu Tianchuan said, “I’ll go to take a look, everybody, please wait here.” And he followed behind the men.

“Shifu,” Ao Biao asked, “Which group [lit. ‘way’] do these people belong to?”

Wu Lishen shook his head, “I can’t see it,” he said, “From their accents, it appears that they are people from Lu Dong, east of Shanhai Pass region, they don’t look like eagle claws of the six-leafed gate. Could they be smugglers? But I did not see them carrying any goods.”

Liu Yizhou said, “Nothing serious about that group of men. On the contrary, the large number of female ghosts in this house maybe very difficult to deal with!” Finished speaking, he stuck his tongue out in the direction of Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao shivered, he tightly grip Fang Yi’s hand, his palm was wet with cold sweat. With a trembling voice Mu Jianping said, “Liu … Liu Shige, can you stop scaring other people?”

“Xiao Junzhu,” Liu Yizhou said, “You do not need to be afraid, you are a golden branch, jade leaf [nobility], any evil spirit sees you, it will go far away, it won’t dare to disturb you. The ones evil spirits detest the most are neither men nor women, court eunuchs.” Fang Yi raised her willow-shaped eyebrows, her face carried an angry expression, she was about to speak, but in the end she restrained herself.

After a long time, they heard footsteps as everybody returned to the main hall. Wei Xiaobao let out a relieved breath. Xu Tianchuan said in a low voice, “Seven or eight rooms, a total of more than thirty mourning halls. Each mourning hall has five or six sacrificial offerings, seven or eight memorial tablets. It looks like each mourning hall is dedicated to dead people of one family.”

“Hey, hey,” Liu Yizhou said, “Won’t that mean this house has several hundred evil spirits?”

Xu Tianchuan shook his head; he was an experienced and knowledgeable man, but he had never heard of such a strange thing. A moment later, he slowly said, “The strangest thing is that in front of each mourning hall there was a lighted candle.” Wei Xiaobao, Fang Yi and Mu Jianping, three people cried out in fear together.

One of the men said, “When we went in before, the candles were clearly not lighted.”

“Are you sure?” the elderly man asked. The four men looked at each other, they all shook their heads.

The elderly man said, “It’s not ghost. We are encountering a person of high skill. In an instant he was able to light more than thirty candles on the mourning halls; his movement must be very fast. Xu Laoyezi, don’t you think so?” The last sentence was addressed to Xu Tianchuan.

Xu Tianchuan feigned ignorance; he said, “Perhaps we have offended the master of this house. There is no harm … no harm in us going to the mourning hall and … and kowtow several times.”

Amidst the noise of the rain, from the east wing suddenly came the sound of several women wailing, the voice was very mournful; although the sound of the heavy rain was very loud, these wailings could be heard very clearly. Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his mouth was wide open and he was speechless, his countenance changed greatly. Everybody else looked at each other in shock, they were all absolutely horrified. A moment later, from the west wing came the sound of a woman weeping in grief. Liu Yizhou, Ao Biao, as well as two of the men cried out together, “Weeping Ghost!”

“Humph!” the elderly man snorted; suddenly he said in a loud voice, “We are passing by your residence and stop by to take shelter from the rain, and thus trespass your precious residence. I hereby apologize. Would worthy host be willing to grant this request?” His voice was backed by abundant chi, it could travel very far.

After a long time, there was not the slightest response from the back. The elderly man shook his head, and then in a loud voice said, “Since the host is not willing to receive uncouth guests, we have no choice but to disturb without permission. We are taking shelter from the rain in this hall. As soon as it is dawn and the rain stops, everybody will hasten on our journey.” Finished speaking, he made a hand signal telling everybody not to make any noise, while he inclined his head sideways to listen.

A long time passed, they no longer heard the sound of wailing or weeping. A man said in low voice, “Zhang Sanye [third master], I don’t care if he is a human or a ghost, come daybreak, we’ll set fire and burn this damn house to the ground.”

The elderly man shook his hand and said, “We have not accomplished our important mission, we must not add another problem. Sit down and rest!”

Everybody’s clothes was wet, thereupon they built fire in the main hall. Someone took out a wine gourd, pulled the plug and handed it over to the elderly man to drink.

The elderly man drank several mouthful of wine, then he cast a sidelong glance to Xu Tianchuan for half a day before saying, “Xu Laoyezi, you are all from one family, how come your accents are not the same? You are from the Capital, but these several people are from Yunnan?”

Xu Tianchuan laughed and said, “Laoyezi has very good hearing, obviously you are a Jianghu veteran. My oldest Meizi [younger sister] got married in Yunnan. This is my Meifu [younger sister’s husband].” He pointed to Wu Lishen, and then continued, “My Meifu and their children are Yunnan people. My second Meizi got married in Shanxi. Southern sky, northern earth [meaning: far apart], for several decades we rarely see each other even for once. This time we are going to Shanxi to visit my second Meizi.” When he called Wu Lishen his Meifu, he was actually honoring him. At that time, according to custom of the people of northern China, calling people ‘older maternal uncle’ or ‘younger maternal uncle’ was considered cursing him.

The elderly man nodded. He drank another mouthful of wine. Squinting his eyes, he said, “Are you all from Beijing?”

“Exactly,” Xu Tianchuan replied.

The elderly man said, “Along the way, did you see a thirteen, fourteen years old little eunuch?”

As soon as he said that, Xu Tianchuan and the others’ heart skipped a beat; fortunately the elderly man had his gaze only toward Xu Tianchuan. But Xu Tianchuan’s face did not reveal anything. Ao Biao and Mu Jianping’s countenances changed, but nobody paid them any attention. Xu Tianchuan said, “Did you say eunuch? In Beijing, old eunuchs, little eunuchs, there are so many of them. As soon as I left home, I would come across several eunuchs.”

The elderly man said, “I asked you if you saw one along the way, not in Beijing.”

Xu Tianchuan laughed and said, “Laoyezi, that is out of question. According to the Great Qing’s rule, when an eunuch leaves the Capital, he is committing a major crime. Court eunuchs are not like during the Ming Dynasty, with full power and prestige; nowadays, which eunuch dares to leave the Capital for even one step?”

“Oh,” the elderly man said, “Perhaps he is in disguise?”

Xu Tianchuan repeatedly shook his head, “I don’t think he has that kind of guts!” he said. After a short pause, he asked, “Laoyezi, which little eunuch are you looking for? When I return to Beijing after visiting my relatives in Shanxi, I can help you make the inquiry.”

“Humph, humph,” the elderly man said, “Thank you very much, but I am not sure if I will live that long.” Finished speaking, he closed his eyes and no longer speak.

Xu Tianchuan thought, “He is inquiring about a thirteen, fourteen year’s old little eunuch; isn’t that Wei Xiangzhu? These men are not from Tian Di Hui or Mu Palace, eight or nine out of ten, they do not have any good intention, I must investigate clearly. He does not ask further, we must ask him further.” Thereupon he said, “Laoyezi, among the little eunuchs in Beijing, only one is very famous. His great name has spread all over the world, I believe you have also heard about him, he is the one who killed that treacherous minister Oboi, the one who set up great merit.”

The elderly man opened his eyes and said, “Mm, are you talking about Xiao Guizi, Gui Gong-gong?”

“Who else but him?” Xu Tianchuan said, “This man has guts and is very brave, exceptionally skillful in martial arts, he is really amazing!”

“What does he look like?” the elderly man asked, “Have you seen him?”

“Ha,” Xu Tianchuan said, “This Gui Gong-gong strolls around Beijing streets every day. Among Beijing people, I am afraid only a few have never seen him. This Gui Gong-gong is dark and fat, he is quite a plump fellow, he is at least seventeen, eighteen years old; nobody would take him for a fourteen-year-old.”

Fang Yi’s hand, which was holding Wei Xiaobao’s hand tightened; Mu Jianping gently nudged his back with her elbow, they were laughing in their hearts. At first Wei Xiaobao was afraid of the ghosts, but as he heard the elderly man inquiring about himself, he was so busy scheming in his heart that he forgot his fear of the ghosts.

“Is that right?” the elderly man said, “What I heard is quite different. I heard this Gui Gong-gong is only thirteen, fourteen-year-old little boy, very crafty and smart; perhaps he looks 30% like your nephew [orig. wai sheng – sister’s son or wife’s sibling’s son]. Ha ha, ha ha!” While saying that, he looked at Wei Xiaobao.

Liu Yizhou suddenly said, “I heard that Xiao Guizi is despicable and shameless; all he can do is using the knockout drugs. He was able to kill Oboi, because he had used the drug first, otherwise, this little thief is a coward and afraid of ghosts, how could he succeed in killing Oboi?” Turning to Wei Xiaobao, he chuckled and said, “Cousin [orig. biaodi – younger maternal cousin], don’t you agree?”

Wu Lishen was angry; he sent a backhand palm toward Liu Yizhou’s face. Liu Yizhou lowered his head to evade, his left foot sprang, his body rose up. Wu Lishen’s backhand palm strike was the move ‘jade fowl spreading its wings’, Liu Yizhou’s dodging and springing up was the move ‘golden horse neighing into the wind’; both styles belonged to the Mu Family Fist Technique. One struck rapidly, the other dodged quickly, unwittingly they both used their school’s unique skills.

The elderly man surnamed Zhang suddenly sprang up and said with a laugh, “Good! You all disguise yourselves really well!” As soon as he stood up, the dozen or so of his men also sprang up. The elderly man barked his order, “Take them all! Don’t let even a single one escape!”

Wu Lishen pulled out a short saber from his bosom, his big head shook to the left, he hacked down a man, he shook to the right, the saber cut another man’s throat, sending him down to the ground.

The elderly man drew a pair of judge-pens from his waist; brandishing them together, the pens made swishing noise. The left-hand pen pointing toward Wu Lishen’s throat, the right-hand pen moved toward the pit of Xu Tianchuan’s stomach. With one move attacking two people, his movement was very fast.

Xu Tianchuan dashed to the right, his left hand clawed a man’s eyes. As the man tossed his head back to evade, the saber in his hand was snatched away, suddenly he felt sharp pain on his waist as his own saber had penetrated his own belly. On the other side, Ao Biao was fighting with a man. After hesitating slightly, Liu Yizhou untied his flexible whip and charged forward to join the battle.

Although the other side had more people, the elderly man was the only one who could face Wu Lishen in an evenly matched battle, the rest of them only had mediocre martial art skill. Wei Xiaobao could see this small advantage clearly; he thought, “As long as I don’t come across that old tortoise, I might be able to handle the rest of them.” Holding the dagger in his hand, he wanted to charge forward.

Fang Yi pulled his back and said, “Our victory is decided, you don’t have to help.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I know our victory is decided, which was why I went forward. If we would definitely be lost, why would I wait here and not run away quickly?”

Suddenly they heard several swishing noise in succession, the elderly man had jumped to the side, the pair of judge-pens in his hands were rubbing against each other, the men under his command quickly squeezed behind him, very soon they had formed a square. With only several steps these men were able to move into position; more than a dozen men moved together without pushing each other, or colliding with each other, an indication that they had been trained very well and had spent a lot of time in this formation.

Xu Tianchuan and Wu Lishen were startled, they withdrew several steps back. Ao Biao charged forward courageously. Suddenly from the square formation four sabers went out together, two hacked toward his shoulder, two hacked toward his leg; the coordination was really ingenious. Simultaneously, two spears coming out of the formation to meet Ao Biao’s saber. “Ah!” Ao Biao cried out, his shoulder was hit by a saber.

“Biao’er, step back!” Wu Lishen called out anxiously. Ao Biao leaped backward to evade. In the blink of an eye, victory or defeat was suddenly reversed.

Xu Tianchuan stood in front of Wei Xiaobao and the two ladies to protect them; he was watching carefully how their opponents were using this formation. He saw the elderly man raised the judge-pen in his right hand and loudly called out, “Hong Jiaozhu won’t be old for ten thousand years, he will forever enjoy the immortal good-fortune! His long-life is the same as the Heaven’s, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!”

The dozen or so of his men raised their weapons together and cried out, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s long-life is the same as the Heaven’s, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!” Their voices shook the roof-tiles; they appeared as if they were possessed.

Xu Tianchuan was aghast; he was wondering what kind of trick they were playing. As Wei Xiaobao heard the three words ‘Hong Jiaozhu‘, he suddenly remembered Tao Hongying’s terrified expression when she was mentioning those words. He blurted out, “Shen Long Jiao! They are from Shen Long Jiao!”

The elderly man’s countenance changed. “You also know Shen Long Jiao’s reputation!” he said. Lifting high his right hand, he shouted, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive. Our Cult triumphs in every battle, wins every fight, no stronghold we cannot overcome, no opponent we cannot broken down. The enemy flees at mere distant sight, they will escape without a trace.”

As Xu Tianchuan and the others heard each sentence, their heart trembled. They thought that these people’s action was totally weird, they had never seen anything like this before; facing the enemy, unexpectedly they recited some sentences in loud voice.

Wei Xiaobao called out, “These men chanting incantations, don’t fall into their trick! Everybody charge forward to kill!”

They heard the elderly man and his men were chanting quicker and quicker; it was no longer the elderly man chanted one verse and his men followed one verse, but those more than a dozen men were chanting together, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power protects and blesses, his disciples’ courage increases a hundredfold, one can fight a hundred, a hundred can fight ten thousand. Hong Jiaozhu‘s divine eyes are like lightning, illuminating four directions. Our disciple who kills the enemy and protects the Cult, Hong Jiaozhu considers him to be his kin, promotes him into the priesthood. Our disciple who dies in protecting the Cult will rise into the paradise!” Suddenly, with a loud shout they charged forward.

Wu Lishen, Xu Tianchuan and the others raised their weapons to meet the attack, but unexpectedly this time these men’s martial art had advanced greatly; each hack of the saber, each thrust of the spear, was several times stronger than before. Like fools or mad people, they brandished their weapons randomly. Not too long afterward, Ao Biao and Liu Yizhou were cut down. One by one Wei Xiaobao, Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were also thrown down. Fang Yi suffered a leg injury, while Mu Jianping was wounded on her arm. Wei Xiaobao’s back was also stabbed by a spear, luckily he was protected by his treasured vest, so that the spear did not enter his body; however, the incoming force was too heavy that he was unable to withstand and tumbled down to the ground. Before long, one after another Wu Lishen and Xu Tianchuan were also wounded. The elderly man stretched out his finger and successively sealed the vital acupoints on their bodies.

The men shouted together, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!” Finished shouting, they suddenly sat down together. Sweats gushed out of each man’s forehead like spring, their breathing was heavy, as if they were utterly exhausted. In this battle, victory or defeat was decided in less than the time needed to drink a cup of tea, but it was as if these men had fought a hard battle for several hours.

Wei Xiaobao groaned silently; he thought, “Turns out these people know witchcraft, no wonder when mentioning Shen Long Jiao, Tao Gugu was so frightened like that. Indeed their magical power is extensive.”

The elderly man sat on a chair and closed his eyes to regain his composure. It was quite a while later that he finally stood up. After wiping the perspiration on his forehead, he then paced back and forth in the main hall. Quite a while later, his men started to stand up one by one.

The elderly man turned toward Xu Tianchuan and the others and said, “All of you recite after me together! Listen up, I recite a sentence, you follow a sentence. Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!”

Xu Tianchuan cursed, “Demonical crooked people, dress up as God, play the devil; you want laozi to follow you playing tricks? In your mother’s clear autumn night’s dream!” The elderly man raised his judge-pen to strike Xu Tianchuan’s forehead. ‘Bang!’ blood gushing out from the wound. Xu Tianchuan cursed, “Dog thief, sorcerer!”

The elderly man asked Wu Lishen, “Are you going to recite or not?” Wu Lishen shook his head before answering. The elderly man raised his judge-pen again to strike his forehead.

When he asked Ao Biao, Ao Biao cursed, “Your granny’s long-life is the same as the dog’s!”

The elderly man was furious, his judge-pen struck down powerfully, Ao Biao immediately fainted. Wu Lishen shouted, “Biao’er is a real man! You who only know how to use witchcraft, damn it, if you have guts, just kill us all.”

The elderly man raised his judge-pen and asked Liu Yizhou, “Are you going to recite or not?”

“I … I … I …” Liu Yizhou stammered.

“Say it,” the elderly man said, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!”

Liu Yizhou said, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s … Hong Jiaozhu‘s …”

The elderly man lightly poked Liu Yizhou’s forehead with the tip of his judge-pen; he shouted, “Quickly recite it!”

“Yes, yes,” Liu Yizhou said, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s … Hong Jiaozhu‘s long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!”

The elderly man laughed aloud and said, “Finally, someone who knows how to take advantage of this matter. You, this kid, may receive less pain.” Walking toward Wei Xiaobao, he shouted, “Little demon, recite after me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t need you to recite.”

“What?” the elderly man angrily said. He raised his judge-pen.

In loud voice Wei Xiaobao recited, “Wei Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s, he will forever enjoy the immortal good-fortune. Wei Jiaozhu triumphs in every battle, wins every fight, no stronghold Wei Jiaozhu cannot overcome, no opponent Wei Jiaozhu cannot broken down. Wei Jiaozhu elevates everybody, everybody will ascend to paradise …”

When saying ‘Wei Jiaozhu‘, the word ‘Wei’ was spoken vaguely, it was no more than a grunt from his nostril actually; but the elderly man did not realize he was playing a trick, he thought Wei Xiaobao was saying ‘Hong Jiaozhu‘. Hearing Wei Xiaobao recited several lines in succession, he laughed aloud and praised him, “This child is exceptionally smart.” He walked over to Fang Yi and put his hand on her chin, saying, “Hmm, this little girl’s appearance is not bad. Now repeat after me nicely.”

Fang Yi turned her head around. “I won’t recite!” she said.

The elderly man raised his judge-pen to strike, but when he saw her beautiful face under the candle light, he could not bear to do it, so he aimed the tip of the pen to her cheek and loudly said, “Are you going to recite or not? If you say ‘I won’t recite’ one more time, I am going to draw three lines on your cheek.”

Fang Yi stubbornly refused to recite, but she did not dare to say those words ‘I won’t recite’ out loud. “Are you going to recite or not?” the elderly man asked again.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me recite it for her. I guarantee it will be more pleasant to hear than if she is reciting it herself.”

“Who ask you to recite for her?” the elderly man said. Raising his judge-pen, he struck Fang Yi’s forehead.

“Ah!” Fang Yi cried out in pain.

Suddenly someone laughed and said, “Zhang Sanye, if this little girl does not want to recite, we can strip her clothes.” The rest of the men cried out together, “Wonderful, wonderful! That’s a great idea.”

Liu Yizhou suddenly said, “Why would you want to bully this girl? You want to find the little eunuch, I know where he is.”

“Do you?” the elderly man hastily asked, “Where is he? Tell me quickly, tell me quickly!”

Liu Yizhou said, “You must promise not to bother this miss, I will tell you. Otherwise, even if you kill me, I won’t say anything.”

“Shige,” Fang Yi sharply said, “I don’t need you to care about me.”

The elderly man laughed. “Alright,” he said, “I promise you I won’t bother this miss.”

“You have to keep your words,” Liu Yizhou said.

The elderly man said, “What I say, naturally the man surnamed Zhang will keep it. That little eunuch is the one who killed Oboi, the one most favored and trusted by the Emperor, Xiao Guizi. Do you really know where he is?”

Liu Yizhou said, “Far in the horizon, but close in front of your eyes!”

The elderly man jumped up; pointing to Wei Xiaobao he said, “Is … is … is it him?” His face showed a mixture of surprise and delight.

Fang Yi said, “He is such a child, how can he kill Oboi? Don’t listen to his nonsense.”

Liu Yizhou said, “That’s right, if he did not use knockout drug, how could he kill the number one warrior of Manchuria, Oboi?”

The elderly man was half believing, half doubting; he asked Wei Xiaobao, “Did you or did you not kill Oboi?”

“What if I did?” Wei Xiaobao said, “And what if I did not?”

“Your granny,” the elderly man cursed, “When I looked at you, I knew this little demon is rather demonical. Search him first, we’ll talk later.”

Two of his men immediately stepped forward and untied the bundle Wei Xiaobao carried on his back; they set each article on the table. The elderly man saw pearls, gold and jade, and all kinds of valuables. “This is definitely the goods from the Imperial Palace,” he said, “Uh … what is this?” He picked a thick wad of banknotes, and saw that each note worth either five hundred taels or one thousand taels; altogether there were no less than several hundred thousand taels. He could not help but was stupefied; he said, “Definitely not wrong, you … you are Xiao Guizi. Take him to the room that side of the building to be interrogated.”

Fang Yi anxiously said, “Don’t … don’t make things difficult for him.” ‘Wah!’ Mu Jianping broke out and cried.

A man grabbed the back of Wei Xiaobao neck, two men picked the valuables from the table, another man took the candlestick and led them all toward the eastern wing of the rear courtyard. The elderly man waved his hand and said, “All of you get out!” The four men left the room and closed the door behind them.

Beaming with joy, the elderly man did not stop rubbing his hands together while he paced back and forth along the room. He said with a laugh, “Seeking around until the iron shoes are worn out but fail to find, without spending any effort the result is obtained. Xiao Guizi Gong-gong, to be able to meet you here today, it is indeed the good fortune of three lifetimes.”

Wei Xiaobao also said with a laugh, “Zaixia can meet Laoyezi here today, it is indeed the good fortune of six lifetimes, nine lifetimes.” He thought that since they had already searched through his belongings, denying would be useless; he had to act according to the situation and see if he could get by using deceit.

The elderly man was startled; he asked, “What good fortune of six lifetimes, nine lifetimes? Gui Gong-gong, is your honorable self on your way to the Qing Liang Temple on Mount Wutai?”

Wei Xiaobao could not help but was shocked. “This old turtle knew everything,” he thought, “He won’t be easy to cope with.” Thereupon he chuckled and said, “Not only Sire’s martial art skill excels, your skill in casting spells also surpasses Maoshan Daoshi[4]. Your Shen Long Jiao’s reputation is spread all over the world, indeed there is a reason behind it. Zaixia has already heard about it a long time ago, today I can see it with my own eyes, it is worthy of my utmost admiration.” He spoke whatever came into his mind to change the subject, ignoring the original question altogether.

The elderly man asked, “Where did you hear about Shen Long Jiao’s reputation?”

Wei Xiaobao said thoughtlessly, “I heard it from Ping Xi Wang Wu Sangui’s son, Wu Yingxiong. On his father’s order he came to Beijing to pay tribute. Among his subordinates there was a warrior by the name of Yang Yizhi, and then there were several martial art experts from Jin Ding School of Liao Dong. They were talking about wiping out the Shen Long Jiao, saying that in the Shen Long Jiao there is some Hong Jiaozhu, whose magical power is extensive, the number experts under his command is extremely numerous. He had a Cult member sent to the Bordered Blue Banner’s Banner Commander’s house on a mission to obtain a copy of the ‘Forty-two-chapter sutra’. He was indeed very formidable.” Wei Xiaobao was proficient in using deceits; he knew he could not tell lies all the time. If he said nine sentences of truth and one sentence of lie, it would be much easier to deceive people.

The more the elderly man heard, the more he was amazed; he had heard the names of Wu Yingxiong and Yang Yizhi. But about an important personage of his Cult being an officer under the Bordered Blue Banner’s Banner Commander, it was a top secret mission of their Cult. It was only more than a month ago that he advertently found out about it. He had also vaguely heard about a scripture called the ‘Forty-two-chapter sutra’, but as for the details, he was completely in the dark. He busily asked, “Ping Xi Wang and our Shen Long Jiao have neither resentment nor enmity, why would they want to create trouble without any reason? Speaking about ‘wiping out’, two characters, it is indeed a reckless act.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally Wu Yingxiong and the others did not have either resentment or enmity with Shen Long Jiao. Speaking about Hong Jiaozhu’s ability, they have nothing but admiration. But since Shen Long Jiao has obtained the most valuable treasure, the amazing book ‘Forty-two-chapter sutra’, they simply have to get it from you. Isn’t there a plump lady in your honorable Cult by the name of Liu Yan, Liu Dajie [big sister], working in the Palace?”

“Uh, how did you know?” the elderly man asked in amazement.

Wei Xiaobao was spouting nonsense, as long as he thought it had some connection with Shen Long Jiao, he would mention it. But his mind was racing fast, he said, “This Liu Dajie’s friendship with me is really not bad. Once she offended the Empress Dowager, the Empress Dowager wanted to kill her, luckily I put an effort to save her, I hid her under my bed. The Empress Dowager was looking for her everywhere in the Palace, but could not find her. This fat Dajie was very grateful for my kindness in saving her that she persuaded me to join Shen Long Jiao. She said that Hong Jiaozhu is very fond of children like me, he would surely give me great benefits in the future.”

“Um,” the elderly man was more convinced, he asked, “Why would the Empress Dowager want to kill Liu Yan? Aren’t they … aren’t in a very good term with each other?”

“Yes, they are,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They are actually Shijie, Shimei. Why would the Empress Dowager want to kill Liu Dajie then? Liu Dajie said that it was a very top secret; she did tell me, but I have promised her I will never reveal the secret, therefore, I cannot tell you about it. Anyway, just recently, to the Empress Dowager’s Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful came a man disguised as a woman, a fake palace maid. This man’s head is bald …”

“Deng Bingchun?” the elderly man blurted, “You also know when Deng Dage entered the Palace?”

Actually, Wei Xiaobao had no idea that the fake palace maid was called Deng Bingchun, but his face showed an all-knowing expression; with a smile he said, “Zhang Sanye, this is top secret, you must never reveal it in front of anybody else. Otherwise, all hell will break loose. It’s alright for you and me to talk about it, but if there were a third person in here, even if he was your most trusted aide, you absolutely cannot breathe a single word. If this matter is exposed and Hong Jiaozhu is angry, I am afraid even you yourself will have to face an enormous trouble.”

He had lived in the Palace long enough to know that in the imperial court and in the Palace, divulging a secret was a major crime; the heaviest punishment would be beheading and confiscation of the family’s property, the lightest punishment would be forever losing the opportunity to advance in his career. For this reason, everybody was very secretive, sneaky, appeared to be shrouded in profound mystery, on the surface they pretended to know everything, it’s just that it was inconvenient to tell you. When he used this trick on that old man surnamed Zhang, as expected, it was like ‘setting up a pole and see the shadow’ [instant effect], he got the desired effect on the spot. Within the clan, society, cult and sect of the Jianghu, the way the superiors control the subordinates was actually no different than the imperial court, the different was just in the degree of finesse with which that control was executed.

As soon as the elderly man heard those words, he was secretly alarmed and afraid, thinking, “How can I be this careless, that I tell this kind of matter to a kid? I must not spare this kid, when this important matter is done, I must kill him to shut his mouth.” He could not help but looked embarrassed. Forcing a laughed, he asked, “What did you talk about with our Deng Shixiong?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “What I talked about with Deng Shixiong is exactly what he wanted me to report to Hong Jiaozhu. When I see Jiaozhu in the future, naturally I will make a detail report to him.”

“Yes, yes,” the elderly man said. He was frightened by Wei Xiaobao putting on airs like that, yet he was not sure about this child’s origin, thereupon he put on an amiable manner and said, “Xiao Xiongdi, you are going to Mount Wutai, naturally to meet Deputy Chief Rui Dong, is that right?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “He knew I am going to Mount Wutai, he also knew the Rui Dong affair; he definitely got this information from the old wh0re. The old wh0re called that bald fake palace maid as Shixiong, that bald man was an important personage of Shen Long Jiao, turns out the old wh0re is ganging up with the Shen Long Jiao. Laozi has fallen into their hands, indeed I’ve gone through nine deaths and still alive, went through eighteen death and half alive [narrow escape].” He faked an amazed expression, “Uh,” he said, “Zhang Sanye, your news is actually very quick, you even know about Deputy Chief Rui.”

The elderly man smiled and said, “I also know about someone whose background is ten thousand times more important than Deputy Chief Rui.”

Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “Bad, it’s bad! The old wh0re told him everything. Other than Emperor Shunzhi, whose background is ten thousand times more important than Rui Dong?”

The elderly man said, “Xiao Xiongdi, you don’t need to conceal anything from me. You are going up Mount Wutai, are you acting under someone else’s order, or are you going on your own initiative?”

“I am an eunuch in the Palace,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If I am not acting under someone else’s order, how can I dare to leave the Capital? Do you think I dislike having a long life?”

“If that’s the case,” the elderly man said, “Was it His Majesty who sent you?”

Wei Xiaobao pretended he was surprised greatly. “His Majesty?” he said, “Did you say His Majesty? Haha, this time your source of information is inaccurate. How would His Majesty know about Mount Wutai?”

“If not His Majesty, then who sent you?” the elderly man asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Go ahead, guess.”

The elderly man said, “Could it be the Empress Dowager?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Sure enough Zhang Sanye is good, one guess and you got it. In the Palace, those who know about Mount Wutai are only two people and a ghost.”

“Two people and a ghost?” the elderly man repeated.

“Precisely,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Two people: one is the Empress Dowager, the other is Zaixia. The ghost is Hai Dafu, Hai Laogong. He was killed by the Empress Dowager using the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’.”

The muscles on the elderly man’s face twitched; he said, “Transforming Bones Soft Palm, Transforming Bones Soft Palm. Turns out it was the Empress Dowager who sent you. But what does the Empress Dowager want you to do?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “The Empress Dowager and you are on the same side, there is no harm in you asking her, the Senior.”

If these words were said as soon as they entered the room, the elderly man would most likely slap Wei Xiaobao on the ear; but after hearing Wei Xiaobao’s explanation earlier, his mind was confused and undecided. He muttered to himself, “Hm, the Empress Dowager sent you to Mount Wutai.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Empress Dowager said that she has already sent someone to report to Hong Jiaozhu about this matter, and Hong Jiaozhu has given his complete endorsement. The Empress Dowager instructed me to do this mission well, and then she will reward me handsomely, Hong Jiaozhu might also reward me with great benefit.” He repeatedly mentioned ‘Hong Jiaozhu’, three characters, since he knew the old man in front of him was extremely afraid of Hong Jiaozhu; he only needed to allude that Hong Jiaozhu held a very high regard of himself, then the old man would not dare to harm him.

With such a bluff, although the elderly man was skeptical, he would still rather believe than disbelieve; he asked, “Those six people outside, are they your subordinates, your attendants?”

“All of them are from the Palace,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The two ladies are palace maids, the Empress Dowager’s personal attendants. The four men are Imperial Bodyguards, the Empress Dowager sent them out to help me on this mission. They don’t know anything about Shen Long Jiao. This kind of secret information, naturally the Empress Dowager would not tell them …” Speaking to this point, he noticed that the elderly man’s face showed a sneer; he knew something was not right. “What is it?” he asked, “You don’t believe me?”

With a cold laugh the elderly man said, “Yunnan’s Mu Family people are loyal to the previous Ming Dynasty, how can they enter the Palace and be Imperial Bodyguards? When you tell a lie, you should have consistency.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. The elderly man asked in consternation, “What are you laughing about?” He had never imagined that when his lie was exposed, when it was hard for him to justify himself, oftentimes Wei Xiaobao would laugh, so that the other side would feel that surely it was they who were completely mistaken, that they were being naïve and ridiculous. Now that their hearts had been emptied, when Wei Xiaobao continued to cover up a lie, the other party would not dare to press excessively.

Wei Xiaobao laughed several times and then said, “The one people of Mu Palace hate the most is neither Empress Dowager nor His Majesty. But I am afraid you don’t know anything about it.”

“How can I not know?” the elderly man said, “The one people of Mu Palace hate the most is naturally Wu Sangui.”

Wei Xiaobao feigned astonishment. “Amazing,” he said, “Zhang Sanye, I won’t conceal anything from you: the Mu Palace people are willing to work for the Empress Dowager for the purpose of having Wu Sangui executed along with his entire family unto the third generation, that even chicken and dogs of the Ping Xi Wang Mansion will not be spared. Let’s not mention there are Mu Palace people in the Imperial Palace, do you think they do not have people planted in the Ping Xi Wang Mansion? It’s just that this matter is a top secret; you and I are on the same side, so it’s alright for me to tell you, but you must never leak this secret out.”

The elderly man nodded. “So that’s how it is,” he said. But in his heart he only believed 30% after all; he pondered, “I’d better ask the people outside, see if their confession matches with his. Asking that little girl is the best, it’s easier to get the truth from little kids.” Immediately he turned around, pushed the door and walked out.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly alarmed. “Hey, hey,” he called out, “Where are you going? This is a haunted house, how … how can you leave me alone in here?”

“I will be back shortly,” the elderly man replied. Closing the door behind him, he went to the main hall in quick steps.

Wei Xiaobao’s palms were clammy. The candlelight flickered, making the shadows on the white wall trembled continuously, as if each shadow was a specter. All around him not a sound was heard.

Suddenly, from the outside came a man was shouting loudly, “Where are you all going?” It was precisely the elderly man’s voice. Wei Xiaobao was originally very frightened, after hearing the elderly man’s voice was filled with terror, he was so scared that he almost pass out. “Have they … have they all disappeared?” he called out.

He heard the elderly man loudly calling out again, “Where are you? Where have you gone?” As soon as these two sentenced were finished, silence fell.

After a while, Wei Xiaobao heard someone rushing toward him; he heard the noise of doors being kicked open one by one, and then that elderly man crashed into the room. Wei Xiaobao screamed. He saw the elderly man’s man face was devoid of any color, his eyes were bulging out, as he breathlessly said, “They … they are … are gone.”

“They … they must be captured by the malicious ghosts,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let us … let us run away quickly!”

“This is not happening,” the elderly man said; his left hand held on to the table for support, the table was creaking, obviously in his heart he was quite frightened. He turned around and walked back to the door, opened the door wide and shouted, “Where are you? Where are you?” And then he stopped and cocked his head to listen, but in the quiet night all they could hear was the sound of several women weeping. He was at a loss of what to do, he stood at the threshold for a moment, and then took several steps backward, closed the door, picked up the door bolt and bolted the door from the inside. He saw Wei Xiaobao’s round little eyes revealed dread, as he could not take his gaze off the elderly man. He saw he was clenching his teeth, his face alternated between blue and white.

The heavy rain had stopped for a moment. Suddenly, there was an intermittent downpour sprinkled the roof, making a ‘shua, shua’ noise. “Ah,” the elderly man exclaimed, and sprang up. It was a moment later that he finally said, “It’s … raining … raining again.”

Suddenly from the main hall came a soft woman’s voice, “Zhang Laosan [ol’ Zhang the third], come out!” Although the voice did not sound old, it was not tender and lovely either; definitely it did not belong to either Fang Yi or Mu Jianping. The voice still carried three parts of sadness and shrill.

“Female ghost!” Wei Xiaobao whispered.

The elderly man loudly said, “Who’s calling me?”

No answer from the outside. Other than the pitter patter of the rain, there was no other noise. The elderly man and Wei Xiaobao looked at each other in dismay. The hair on both men’s bodies stood up.

After quite a while later, the same woman’s voice called out again, “Zhang Laosan, come out!”

The elderly man mustered his courage. He kicked with his left foot, ‘bang!’ the door flew outward, the door bolt was still hanging on the door frame. He hacked down with his right palm, ‘crack!’ the bolt broke in the middle; and then he walked out. “Don’t go out!” Wei Xiaobao anxiously said, but the elderly man had already rushed toward the main hall.

As soon as the elderly man left, silence fell once again; there was no sound of cursing or fighting, not even the sound of footsteps was heard. A burst of cold breeze blew from outside, carrying quite a bit of rain with it, most of it fell on Wei Xiaobao’s body. He shuddered from cold. He wanted to open his mouth and shout, but did not have enough courage to do so. ‘Bang!’ suddenly the door was blown by the wind, it hit the door frame and immediately swung back out.

Wei Xiaobao was the only one left in this haunted house, naturally there were also quite a number of malicious ghosts, who could come into the room to strangle him death anytime. Fortunately, after waiting for a long, long time, no evil spirit had ever entered the room. Wei Xiaobao comforted himself, “Oh, that’s right! Evil spirits only harm grownups, they won’t harm children. Perhaps they have eaten many people and are full already. If it’s daylight, it would be better!”

Suddenly another burst of cold wind blew in, the candle flickered and died. Wei Xiaobao screamed. He could feel that there was a ghost in the room. He knew the ghost was standing right in front of him; although it was pitch-black and he could not see a thing, he was very sure that the ghost was standing right there.

“Hey, hey, you don’t have to harm me,” Wei Xiaobao stammered, “I … I am also a ghost, we are on the same side! No, no … we all are ghosts, we are fellow ghosts. It’s … it’s useless for you to harm me.” [Translator’s note: the phrase ‘on the same side’ actually came from ‘自己人’ zi ji ren (lit. our own man), he changed it into ‘自己鬼’ zi ji gui (our own ghost).]

The ghost coldly said, “You don’t need to be afraid, I won’t harm you.” It was a female ghost’s voice.

Hearing these ten words, Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was aroused; he said, “You said you won’t harm me, you can’t possibly harm me. A real man’s word is like a mountain, if you harm me, then you are in the wrong.”

The ghost coldly said, “I am not a ghost, neither am I a real man. I am asking you: that arrogant official of the imperial court, Oboi, was it really you who killed him?”

“You are really not a ghost?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Are you Oboi’s enemy, or his friend?”

After he asked that question, the other side did not say anything. Temporarily Wei Xiaobao could not decide how he was going to answer her question. If the other side was Oboi’s enemy, the ‘enemy ghost’, being straightforward and admit it would be best; but if she was Oboi’s close relative, the ‘family ghost’, would it be really bad if he admit it? In that instant, his gambler instinct flared up; he thought, “Whether it will be ‘big’ or ‘small’, I will have to bet a treasure. If I bet correctly, she will regard me as Da Laoye [big master]. If I bet wrong, I will lose everything, including my life!” Thereupon with a loud voice he said, “Damn it, Oboi was indeed killed by laozi; what do you want? Laozi stabbed him with a dagger on his back, he immediately went to see Yan Wang. If you want revenge, just make your move. If laozi ever knit my brows, I am not a hero or a warrior.”

The woman coldly asked, “Why did you kill Oboi?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If you are Oboi’s friend, it would still be useless if I shift the blame to the Emperor, you won’t spare me anyway. Since I have already placed my bet, if I lose, laozi will lose everything, but if I win, I will gain everything.” With a loud voice he said, “Oboi killed innumerable good people under the heavens, although laozi is young, my heart is filled with anger. It so happened that he offended the Emperor; I seized the opportunity to kill him. A real man is fully responsible of his action. Let me tell you this: even if that dog thief Oboi did not offend the Emperor, I would still look for an opportunity to surreptitiously make my move to take revenge and wipe out a grudge on the behalf of common people under the heavens who suffer hardship and calamity under his hands.”

He learned these words from Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall people. Actually, the reason he killed Oboi was simply following Kangxi’s order; ‘taking revenge and wiping out a grudge on the behalf of common people under the heavens who suffer hardship and calamity under his hands’ and so on did not even register in his mind.

After he spoke those words, the woman in front of him fell silent without saying anything. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping madly; he was wondering if he was betting correctly or not. After waiting for a long time, he thought he heard a light breeze. The woman, whom he was still unsure whether she was a ghost or not, had already floated out of the room.

Wei Xiaobao tried to rock his body several times, but his acupoint was sealed, he was unable to move at all. “Damn it,” he mused, “The dice have been rolled, but the lid has not been lifted. Won’t it make me hung in suspense?”

Just now he was following his impulse and thought that in this high-stake gambling, he would not care about winning or losing; but now that he had calmed down, the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that the woman talking to him a moment ago was a ghost and not a human. She was a female ghost, Oboi was a male ghost; most likely those two ghosts had something dubious between them. Those two were most probably ‘fellow ghosts’ [zi ji gui, see my note above], who were ‘opponent ghosts’ to Wei Xiaobao; something was really wrong here.

The double-door was blown by the wind and banging against each other, the clothes on his body had not yet dried, the cold wind blew intermittently, he could not help but shivered.

[1] Lit. ‘eat inside, cling outside’; it is a term meant to refer to someone who benefits/is raised by one person, but instead helps outsiders (usually, the enemy). (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

[2] My dictionary has this explanation to this phrase: Confucian ban on widow remarrying.

[3] Dictionary says Taisu is God of the year/archaic name for planet Jupiter/someone who is the most powerful in an area.

[4] Lit. Taoist priest of Mount Mao (mount reeds), Maoshan is a school of Taoism that is well known for its “supernatural” rituals, e.g. exorcism etc. (Courtesy of CFT)

Chapter 17 Violently knocking on Buddhism’s gate is not easy, reopening the net of doubt with an example.

Suddenly a beam of light appeared some distance away, coming slowly toward the room. Wei Xiaobao was greatly alarmed, “Ghost light, ghost light!” he said in his heart. The light was coming closer and closer, turned out it was a lantern, carried by a female ghost wearing white clothing. Wei Xiaobao hastily closed his eyes. He heard the intermittent sound of footsteps, which stopped right in front of him.

He was so scared that he did not dare to breathe, his whole body trembled, but he heard a young girl’s voice laughing. “Why are you closing your eyes?” she asked. Her voice was gentle, soft and pleasant to the ears.

“Don’t scare me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I don’t dare to look at you.”

The female ghost laughed and said, “You are afraid blood coming out of my seven orifices and my tongue stretched out, aren’t you? Why don’t you take a quick look?”

With a trembling voice Wei Xiaobao said, “I won’t fall into your trick. You have your hair disheveled and blood coming out of my seven orifices. What … what’s so good to look at?”

The female ghost giggled; she blew a puff of air onto his face. As the air arrived on his face, Wei Xiaobao felt it was warm, and carried a faint smell of delicate fragrance. Wei Xiaobao opened his left eye a slit, he vaguely saw a snow white face, with curved eyebrows and small mouth, her dimpled face looked like flower. Immediately he opened both eyes wide, and now he could see an extremely delicate and pretty young girl’s face, approximately thirteen, fourteen years of age; her hair was tied into a pair of buns on top of her head, she was grinning as she looked at him. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was greatly comforted, “You really are not a ghost?” he asked.

The young girl smiled and said, “Of course I am a ghost, I am a hangman ghost.” [ghost from someone who died of hanging; is there any English term for it?]

Wei Xiaobao’s heart jumped; he was startled and at a loss. The young girl said with a laugh, “How could you boldly kill evil man, but is so timid in front of a hangman ghost?”

Wei Xiaobao let out a breath and said, “I am not afraid of people, I am afraid of ghosts.”

The young girl giggled again and asked, “Which of your acupoint is sealed?”

“I wish I knew,” Wei Xiaobao replied. The young girl massaged the back of his shoulder, she also slapped his back lightly three times. Immediately Wei Xiaobao was able to move his hands. He raised his arms and waved them twice; he laughed and said, “You know how to unseal the acupoint; that’s wonderful!”

The young girl said, “I learned it not too long ago, today is the first time I’ve tried it on you.”

She then proceeded by massaging his underarm and waist for a moment. Wei Xiaobao sprang up and said with a laugh, “Stop it, stop it! I am ticklish.” In this way, the acupoints on his legs were unsealed. He stretched out his hands and said with a laugh, “You tickled me, now I must tickle you back.” While saying that, he took a step forward.

The young girl stuck out her tongue and made a face. But she her supposedly ugly face looked extremely cute and did not look frightening at all. Wei Xiaobao reached out trying to pinch her tongue. The young girl turned her head to evade; she giggled tenderly and said, “Now you are not afraid of hangman ghost?”

“You have a shadow,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your body is warm, you are a human, not a ghost.”

The young girl opened her eyes wide; she grimly said, “I am a zombie, not a ghost!”

Wei Xiaobao was startled. Under the lantern light he could see her pinkish complexion; he laughed and said, “Zombies cannot bend their legs, they can’t talk either.”

The young girl laughed again and said, “In that case, I am a fox-spirit.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “I am not afraid of fox-spirit,” he said. But inwardly he was somewhat suspicious, “Could she be really a fox-spirit?” Walking around her, he looked at her back.

The young girl laughed and said, “I am a thousand-year fox-spirit, my magical skill is very deep, I don’t have a tail.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “To such a good-looking fox-spirit like you, I don’t mind if you bewitch me that I die.”

The young girl blushed slightly; she put a finger on her face to shame him, saying, “You are shameless. Just a moment ago you were so afraid of ghosts, and now you are taking advantage of me.”

Wei Xiaobao was afraid of, number one: zombie, number two: ghost. As for the fox-spirit, he was not particularly afraid. He saw that this young girl was affable, compared to Fang Yi and Mu Jianping, she was considerably friendlier. Much less she spoke with Jiangnan accent, which was a lot more pleasant to the ear than Fang and Mu, two girls’ Yunnan accent. “Miss,” he said with a laugh, “What is your name?”

“I am Shuang’er,” the young girl replied, “Shuang from ‘yi shuang’ [a pair].”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “That’s very good,” he said, “I wonder if you are a pair of fragrant shoes, or a pair of smelly socks.”

Shuang’er laughed and said, “A pair of smelly socks is good, a pair of fragrant shoes is also good; you decide. Gui Gong-gong, you are dripping wet, surely it is very uncomfortable, please come over there and change into dry clothes. It’s just that there is a problem, you must not blame me.”

“What problem?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“We do not have any men’s clothes in here,” Shuang’er replied.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart jumped, immediately his countenance changed, “This house is full of female ghosts,” he mused.

Shuang’er raised the lantern and said, “Please come this way.” Wei Xiaobao hesitated, he did not know what to do. Shuang’er was already at the door; she turned her head around to wait for him. With a smile she said, “Putting on women’s clothes, you are afraid it will be inauspicious, aren’t you? Let’s do it this way then: you stay on the bed, I’ll get hot iron to dry your clothes.”

Seeing her gentle and soft expression, and how she was being very considerate, Wei Xiaobao found it hard to refuse; he had no choice but to follow her out the door. “What happened to my companions?” he asked, “Where are they going?”

Shuang’er halted while he walked two more steps, and then walking side by side with him, she said in low voice, “Third Mistress’ [orig. ‘san shao nai’ – third young madame] order: I must not tell you anything. Wait until you have had some refreshments, then Third Mistress herself will tell you everything.” Wei Xiaobao had been very hungry for a long time, hearing that he was going to get some refreshment, his spirit was aroused considerably.

Shuang’er took Wei Xiaobao along a pitch-black corridor into a dark room. She lighted the candle on the table. The room only had a bed and a table, the furnishing was simple, but it was very clean. The bed was covered in cotton quilt. Shuang’er lifted a corner of the quilt and let down the mosquito net, saying, “Gui Xianggong [lord/master/young gentleman, etc.], take off your clothes on the bed and tossed it to me.”

Following her instruction, Wei Xiaobao jumped onto the bed, removed all his clothes and crawled underneath the quilt before tossing the clothes outside the net. Shuang’er caught the clothes, walked toward the door, and said, “I’ll get the refreshment. Do you prefer sweet zongzi[1], or salty zongzi?”

“My stomach is growling of hunger,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Even if you give me mud zongzi, I’ll eat three.” Shuang’er laughed and walked out.

As soon as she left, Wei Xiaobao felt the room was extremely quiet. Looking at the flickering candle, sometimes it brightened, sometimes it dimmed, his fear returned. “Aiyo, not good,” he mused, “When female ghosts invite people to eat noodles, eat wonton, they actually serve earthworm and caterpillar. I must not be fooled.”

After a while, Wei Xiaobao smelled the sweet fragrance of meat and sugar. Shuang’er was back with a wooden tray on her hands, she used her elbow to push the mosquito net aside. Wei Xiaobao saw four already unwrapped zongzi on a plate, and was delighted. In all honesty, he was very hungry so that even if the zongzi was stuffed with earthworm and caterpillar, he would eat it first and talk about it later. Therefore, he picked the chopsticks and started to eat. When the zongzi entered his mouth, it tasted sweet and incomparably tasty. After two bites, he said, “Shuang’er, this tastes like Huzhou’s zongzi, it’s really good.”

Zongzi produced by Huzhou prefecture of Zhejiang province has soft rice and tasty meat-stuffing; it was unparalleled in the world. Yangzhou had a Huzhou zongzi shop. The patrons of Lovely Spring Courtyard often sent Wei Xiaobao to buy some. The zongzi was wrapped using bamboo leaves, so it was difficult for Wei Xiaobao to steal, but he always managed to squeeze some rice out of the corner of the zongzi and had a taste. Ever since he arrived at the north, he could not find Huzhou’s zongzi any longer.

Shuang’er was amazed; she said, “You are very knowledgeable, you can tell by eating it that it is Huzhou’s zongzi.”

Wei Xiaobao was busy chewing as he mumbled, “So this is really Huzhou’s zongzi? How can you buy Huzhou’s zongzi in this place?”

Shuang’er laughed and said, “We did not buy it, it’s from fox-spirit … (tee hee) fox-spirit magic.”

“Fox-spirit magical power is extensive,” Wei Xiaobao praised. Suddenly Zhang Laosan and his men came to his mind, thereupon he added, “It’s long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!”

Shuang’er laughed. “Enjoy your meal; I’ll iron your clothes.” After only taking a step, she asked, “Are you still afraid?”

Wei Xiaobao’s fear had diminished for the most part, but when all is said and done, he was still somewhat scared; he said, “Come back quickly.”

“Yes!” Shuang’er promised.

Not too long afterwards, Wei Xiaobao heard ‘chi chi’ noise. Shuang’er was back carrying an iron with glowing red coal in it. She spread his clothes on the table, so that while ironing, she could keep him company.

Of the four zongzi, two were savory, two were sweet. Wei Xiaobao ate three, and he could not eat anymore. He said, “These zongzi are very good. Did you wrap them yourself?”

“Third Mistress seasoned and mixed the ingredients, I helped her wrapping them,” Shuang’er replied.

Hearing she spoke with a Jiangnan accent, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved. “Are you from Huzhou?” he asked.

Shuang’er hesitated and did not answer. “When the clothes are ironed,” she said, “And Gui Xianggong see the Third Mistress later, you can ask her yourself, all right?” She was speaking soft and gentle words, her manner was very respectful.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What’s there not all right?” He lifted the mosquito net to look at her ironing his clothes.

Shuang’er looked up and smiled at him, she said, “You are not wearing any clothes, you may catch cold.”

Suddenly Wei Xiaobao’s mischievousness arose; he raised his body and called out, “I am going to jump out without any clothes on, I can’t possibly catch cold.” Shuang’er was shocked, but then she saw he slid down and hid underneath the quilt that even his head was not visible; she could not help but giggle.

About the time needed to eat a bowl of rice later, Shuang’er handed the ironed clothes over to the bed. Wei Xiaobao put it on and climbed down of the bed. Shuang’er helped him buttoned the jacket. She took out a small wooden comb to comb his hair and plait a braid. Wei Xiaobao smelled the light delicate fragrance coming from her body; he was very happy. “Turns out fox-spirits are such nice people.”

Shuang’er pouted and said with a laugh, “What fox-spirit? It’s so unpleasant to hear. I am not a fox-spirit.”

“Ah, I know,” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, “You are a great immortal; I must not call you fox-spirit.”

Shuang’er laughed and said, “I am not a great immortal either, I am just a little servant girl.”

“I am a little eunuch, and you are a little servant,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Both of us are serving other people, we are a couple.”

“You are serving the Emperor,” Shuang’er said, “How can do I compare to you? One in the sky, the other on the earth.” While chatting, the braid was finished.

Shuang’er said, “I can’t plait men’s braids, I don’t know if this is alright?”

Wei Xiaobao pulled the braid to the front and had a look. “Very good,” he said, “I hate plaiting braids the most. It would be good if you could help me plaid my braid every day.”

“I may not have that good fortune,” Shuang’er said, “You are a big hero. Today I can plait your braid, it can already be considered that in the previous incarnation I have cultivated enough virtue.”

“Aiyo,” Wei Xiaobao said, “No formalities, please. You are such a smart and beautiful woman, and you plaited my braid. It was me who in my previous incarnation has knocked seventeen, eighteen big wooden fish[2].”

Shuang’er’s face blushed; she said in low voice, “I am speaking sincerely, yet you are making fun of me.”

“I am not, I am not,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am also speaking sincerely.”

Shuang’er smiled and said, “The Third Mistress says that whenever Gui Xianggong wishes, you may go and sit in the rear hall.”

“Very well,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Third (Young) Master is not home?”

“Um,” Shuang’er hesitated, “He passed away,” she said quietly. Remembering the many mourning halls in the house, Wei Xiaobao’s heart trembled; he did not dare to ask anymore question.

Following behind her, they arrived at a tiny fancy-looking reception room at the rear hall. He sat down, Shuang’er immediately served a cup of hot tea. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was beating fast, he did not dare to chat with her again.

A moment later, he heard light and slow footsteps, from behind the wooden partition a young madame appeared, her entire body was covered in white-silk mourning dress. “Gui Xianggong must have had an exhausting journey,” she said. While saying that she bowed deeply, her manner was very respectful.

Wei Xiaobao hastily returned the propriety and said, “I do not dare.”

“Gui Xianggong, please sit down,” the young madame said.

Wei Xiaobao noticed that the young madame was about twenty six, twenty seven years of age, she was not wearing any cosmetics, her complexion pale, her eyes were red, obviously she had just been crying. Under the lantern light unexpectedly he saw that she had a shadow; although she looked gloomy and grim, most probably she was not a ghost.  In his heart, however, he was still apprehensive. “Yes, yes!” he replied. He sat down, leaning his body forward and said, “Third Mistress, thank you very much for your Huzhou’s zongzi, they are really delicious.”

The young madame said, “My deceased husband was surnamed Zhuang, I do not dare to be addressed as the Third Mistress. How long has Gui Xianggong been in the Palace?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “In the dark a moment ago, there was a woman asking me if I killed Oboi. After I admitted that I killed him, they sent a servant girl to deliver zongzi for me to eat. Apparently I was betting my treasure correctly.” He replied, “Not a lot more than a year.”

Madame Zhuang said, “Could Gui Xianggong tell Xiao Nuzi[3] how you kill that traitor Oboi with your own hand?”

Hearing she was calling Oboi a ‘traitor’, Wei Xiaobao was even more relieved, it was as if he had obtained a pair of very valuable cards in his hands, no matter of what value were the other two cards, when the cards were played, he would only make a kill and not pay for a loss, at most he would be even with the opponent. Thereupon he started by how Kangxi had issued an order for Oboi’s capture, how Oboi resisted arrest, how the little eunuchs swarmed on him, but several of them were killed by Oboi, how he had used the ashes of the incense burner to blind him so that finally Oboi was captured. Only about Kangxi stabbing Oboi on the back, he changed it into catching Oboi by surprise, he himself ferociously stabbed him on the back.

Madame Zhuang did not utter a single word, she was listening attentively in silence. When Wei Xiaobao narrated how he blinded Oboi by scattering ashes from the incense burner, how he stabbed him on his back using a dagger, how he smashed his head using the copper incense burner and thus capturing him, she could not help but letting out a breath gently.

Wei Xiaobao was accustomed to listen to the storyteller performing their art; he knew where to pause and where to raise his voice, his technique in grasping the audience’s heart was just perfect. Moreover, it was his own personal experience, he knew all kinds of the minute details so that his narration was exhaustive. Plus he added some grease, salt, paste and vinegar, so that perhaps listening to his story was several degrees more soul-stirring than when he was actually capturing Oboi.

“So that’s what happened,” Madame Zhuang said, “The rumor outside is highly exaggerated, they say that Gui Gonggong has such an excellent martial art, that he fiercely fought Oboi for three hundred rounds, and that he used his unique skill to subdue him. Thinking that Oboi had the reputation as the Manchurian’s Number One Warrior, Gui Xianggong must have had very high martial art skill, while his age is still very young.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “If we fought for real, even a hundred Xiao Guizi are not this traitor’s match.”

“Afterwards, how did Oboi die?” Madame Zhuang asked.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Eight or nine out of ten, this Third Mistress is not a female ghost; therefore, she must be a Wulin character. If I don’t need to lie, I should not tell a lie, so that after painstakingly win some money, I won’t lose it all in one turn of the cards.” Thereupon he truthfully told her in details how Kangxi sent him to inspect Oboi’s condition, how he came across Tian Di Hui people who came to attack the Prince Kang’s mansion, how the incoming people mistakenly identified him as Oboi’s man, how he struggled to crawl into the prison cell and thus killed Oboi. At the very last he said, “It turned out that these people were Oboi’s adversary; they were the heroes and warriors of the Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui. Seeing I killed Oboi, unexpectedly they were very polite to me, telling me that I have avenged their great enmity.”

Madame Zhuang nodded; she said, “And thus Gui Xianggong received the favor of Chen Zongduozhu who took you as his disciple and made you the Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu. Turns out everything is because of this.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You already knew everything, why did you ask me, then?” He said, “I am a muddle head, I don’t know anything. Being the Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu, indeed I only have a name but no reality.” He did not know whether Madame Zhuang was a friend or a foe of Tian Di Hui, therefore, he decided to hold two contradictory views at the same time first and talk about it later.

Madame Zhuang pondered deeply for half a day before saying, “When Gui Xianggong killed Oboi in that prison cell, which move did you use? Is it possible for you to show it to me?”

Seeing her eyes were shining bright, Wei Xiaobao thought, “This woman must belong to some demonic school; if I talk nonsense and toot my horn, most probably she would expose my trickery. I think being honest is the best.” Thereupon he stood up and said, “What fart move do I have?” Flailing his hands around he said, “At that time I was so scared out of my wits, I was in a hideous mess; this is exactly what I did.”

Madame Zhuang nodded. “Gui Xianggong, please sit down,” she said. And then she stood up and turned to Shuang’er, “Shuang’er, why don’t you take our osmanthus flower flavored candy and have Gui Xianggong taste it?” Finished speaking, she bowed in respect again and walked out toward the inner hall.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “She invites me to eat some candy, obviously she does not harbor any evil intention.” But in the end he still did not feel at ease; he thought, “Although this Third Mistress does not look like a female ghost, it is perhaps because her magical skill is so high that the demonic air did not show.”

Shuang’er returned from the inner hall, holding a blue and white china plate with tall legs with both hands, the plate was full of osmanthus flower flavored candy and pine-nut candy. She smiled and said, “Gui Xianggong, please eat some candy.” After setting the china plate on the table, she went back into the inner hall.

Sitting in that reception room, Wei Xiaobao ate quite a lot of osmanthus flower flavored candies and pine-nut candies, hoping that it would be dawn quickly.

After quite a while, suddenly he heard the rustling noise of clothes. Behind the door, by the window, behind the partition screen, there were a lot of eyes secretly stealing a glance at him; it appeared that all those eyes belong to women. In the dark night, it was difficult to tell whether they were humans or ghosts, it’s just that by looking at those eyes, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was really afraid. Suddenly he heard an old woman’s voice from outside the long window said, “Gui Xianggong, you have killed the traitor Oboi, and have avenged the blood enmity as-deep-as-the-ocean of our families. We do not know how to repay this great virtue and great kindness.” The long window opened, revealing several dozens of women wearing white clothing lining up on the floor to pay homage to him.

Wei Xiaobao was startled; he quickly returned the courtesy. Hearing the women were knocking their heads on the floor, ‘dong, dong, dong’, he also kneeled down and kowtowed. The long window suddenly closed. The old woman said, “Benefactor does not need to be overly courteous, we, widows, do not dare to accept the honor.” Suddenly the women outside the long window raised their voices in sobbing and weeping.

Wei Xiaobao was absolutely terrified. After a while, the sound of weeping gradually went away, those women had dispersed. It was as if he was in a dream, or it happened only in his imagination. “Actually, are they humans, or are they ghosts? It looks like … it looks like …”

A moment later, Madame Zhuang returned from the inner hall. “Gui Xianggong,” she said, “Please do not be disturbed. Those who live here are all surviving family of the deceased loyal ministers and patriots who were harmed by Oboi. When we found out that Gui Xianggong has killed Oboi with your own hand, and thus avenging our great enmity, we all feel grateful.”

“So Third Master was … was also harmed by Oboi?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Lowering her head, Madame Zhuang said, “Precisely. Everybody in here is grieving and crying blood, day and night we are waiting for an opportunity to revenge. Who would have thought this traitor, who was strung through and filled with evil, faced the retribution that quickly, unexpectedly he died under Gui Xianggong’s hands.”

“What merit do I have?” Wei Xiaobao said, “It was only a coincident; nothing more than that.”

Shuang’er appeared with his own bundle and placed it on the table. Madame Zhuang said, “Gui Xianggong, your great virtue and great kindness is difficult to repay, by right we should receive you cordially, it’s only proper. Only, living as widows, we feel it is rather inappropriate. After careful discussion, we wanted to present you a meager gift to show our appreciation. But Gui Xianggong’s traveling bag is plentiful, you carry a huge sum of money. We live in the countryside, what do we have that Gui Xianggong may appreciate? As for martial art skill and so on, Gui Xianggong is Tian Di Hui’s Chen Zongduozhu’s disciple; your school’s martial art is far above our little superficial skill. It truly poses difficulties for us.”

Hearing her speaking so courteously, Wei Xiaobao said, “There is no need to stand on ceremonies. I just want to ask, those several companions of mine, where did they go?”

Madame Zhuang contemplated for half a day, and said, “Since you ask, I should have not dared not to answer. But after Benefactor learns about it, I am afraid it would only bring harm and not benefit. These several people are Benefactor’s friends, we will strive to do our best not to let them come into any harm. Someday they may see Benefactor again.”

Wei Xiaobao expected that asking further would be useless. He looked up toward the window and thought, “Why isn’t it daylight already?”

Madame Zhuang seemingly understood his thought; she asked, “Where is Benefactor going tomorrow?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I believe she has heard my conversation with that Zhang Laosan, it will be useless to conceal it from her.” He said, “I am going to Mount Wutai in Shanxi.”

Madame Zhuang said, “In this journey to Mount Wutai, you will have to travel far away; I am afraid you will meet some disturbances along the way. We are thinking of presenting you with a gift, we would ask that you give us the good fortune of not declining it.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Other people have the good intention of giving me anything, I have never refused to accept it,” he said.

“That’s wonderful,” Madame Zhuang said. Pointing toward Shuang’er she said, “This little girl Shuang’er has followed me for many years, the way she is doing her job is fairly appropriate. We are presenting her to Benefactor, please take her with you. Hereafter she will attend to Benefactor.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, but delighted; he did not expect that the gift she was going to present to him was a person. Just now Shuang’er had taken care of him, ironing his clothes and plaited his braid, she had saved him not a few efforts. If he could have this kind of good-looking and smart servant girl[4] accompanying him by his side, certainly it would be merrier; but the journey to Mount Wutai this time would not be necessarily peaceful or without any trouble, he must act according to the situation, taking a servant girl along would be very inconvenient. He said, “Madame Zhuang is giving me this valuable present, I am really grateful. It’s just that … it’s just that …” He wanted to decline, but first, others were giving him present, how could he not accept? Second, such a nice servant, he really did not want not to accept her. He saw Shuang’er, with her head hung low, was stealing a glance to him; as soon as their eyes met, she hastily turned her head around, her face blushed.

“I wonder what Benefactor’s difficulty is?” Madame Zhuang asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am going to Mount Wutai on a mission, most likely it will … it will not be easy; if I take this Miss along, I am afraid it will be inconvenient.”

“You don’t have to worry actually,” Madame Zhuang said, “Although Shuang’er is young, she is rather agile, she won’t be Benefactor’s burden. Please set your heart at ease.”

Wei Xiaobao took another glance toward Shuang’er, he saw her glazed eyes had an earnest look; he laughed and asked, “Shuang’er, are you willing to come with me?”

Shuang’er lowered her head, in a quiet voice she said, “Third Mistress ordered me to take care of Xianggong, naturally … naturally I must obey Third Mistress’ instruction.”

“Are you yourself willing or not?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “I am afraid we will meet dangers.”

“I am not afraid of dangers,” Shuang’er replied.

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “You answered my second question, but did not answer my first. You are not afraid of dangers, it’s just that Madame is presenting you to me, but in your heart you are not willing.”

Shuang’er said, “Madame’s benevolence to me is very heavy, Xianggong has shown great kindness to our Zhuang family, Madame instructs me to attend Xianggong, I will definitely do it with all my heart. If Xianggong treats me well, my fate is good, if you do not treat me well, it’s my … my destiny to suffer hardship.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “Your fate is very good, how can you be destined to suffer hardship?” The corner of Shuang’er’s mouth revealed a light smile.

“Shuang’er,” Madame Zhuang said, “You pay respect to Gui Xianggong; later on, you will become Gui Xianggong’s.”

Shuang’er looked up; suddenly her eyes turned red. First she kneeled in front of Madame Zhuang and kowtowed, saying, “Third Mistress, I … I …” After saying the word ‘I’ twice, she broke into a light sob.

Madame Zhuang gently stroked her hair, in a warm voice she said, “Gui Xianggong is a young hero. He is still young, yet his name has spread all over the world. You must serve Xianggong well. He has promised to treat you well.”

“Yes,” Shuang’er replied. She turned around, and then gracefully paid her respect to Wei Xiaobao.

“No formalities, please!” Wei Xiaobao said. He helped her up, opened his bundle, took out a strand of pearls and said with a laugh, “Just consider this as my gift on the first meeting!” while thinking, “This strand of pearls at least worth three, four thousand taels of silver. If used to buy servant girls, it can buy several dozens of them. But several dozens of servant girls added together won’t be more lovely than this Shuang’er.”

Shuang’er received the gift with both hands, saying, “Many thanks Xianggong,” and hanged it on her neck. The pearls flickered under the light, it shined on her smart face, making her look even more beautiful.

Madame Zhuang said, “Benefactor is going to Mount Wutai, I wonder if you are going to investigate openly, or make secret inquiries?”

“Naturally I will make secret inquiries,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Madame Zhuang said, “The various Buddhist monasteries and temples on Mount Wutai are separated into green and yellow, they are full of crouching tigers and hidden dragons. Benefactor must be very careful.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Thank you very much for your advice. But your calling me ‘Benefactor’, I do not dare to accept. Just call me Xiaobao.”

“I do not dare,” Madame Zhuang said. Standing up, she said, “Please take good care of yourself along the way, forgive this widow for not sending you far off.” To Shuang’er she said, “Shuang’er, as soon as you leave this door, you don’t belong to Zhuang family anymore. Hereafter whatever you say, whatever you do, will not be your former master’s concern. If you fool around outside, our Zhuang family will not shelter you anymore.” While saying these words, her expression was very serious. Shuang’er complied. Madame Zhuang saluted Wei Xiaobao again, and then walked in.

They saw the window paper turned translucent, the sky gradually brightened. Shuang’er went in to get her bundle, and then along with Wei Xiaobao’s bundle, she slung both bundles over her shoulder. “Let’s go!” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Yes!” Shuang’er replied. Her head hung low, her expression mournful, she kept looking back toward the hall. Apparently she was rather reluctant to part with Madame Zhuang. Her eyes were red, obviously she had just been crying.

Wei Xiaobao went out the front gate, Shuang’er followed behind him. By this time the heavy rain had stopped, but in the mountain streams, water was flowing rapidly, they could hear the sound of water everywhere. After walking for several dozen steps, Wei Xiaobao looked back toward the big house, but the mist had shrouded the front corner of the wall. After walking for several more dozen steps, he looked back again only to see white expanse of mist, nothing else was visible.

He sighed and said, “The matter of last night was really like a dream. Shuang’er, what did the Madame mean when she said those last sentences to you?”

Shuang’er said, “The Third Mistress said that later on I am serving Xianggong; no matter what I say or do, it won’t be the responsibility of her Zhuang family.”

“In that case,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You can tell me where did my companions go?”

Shuang’er was startled. “Yes,” she said, “Xianggong’s companions were originally saved by us, Zhang Laosan and his men were also originally captured by us. But afterward some formidable characters from Shen Long Jiao arrived and those prisoners were snatched away. Third Mistress said that we are womenfolk, it was inappropriate for us to fight with those uncouth men. Besides, we may not necessarily be able to overcome those men. For the time being, we submit to them while looking for another way to rescue your several companions. Seeing we retreated, Shen Long Jiao people also withdrew. Before leaving, they spoke several polite words.” Wei Xiaobao nodded; he was rather concerned over Fang Yi and Mu Jianping’s safety.

Shuang’er said, “Third Mistress has persuaded the Shen Long Jiao leader that they must not harm your several companions’ lives. The man has agreed to it with his own mouth.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “I am afraid those Shen Long Jiao fellows speak just like they fart. Ay, I guess it can’t be helped.” He then asked, “Does the Third Mistress know martial art?”

“She does,” Shuang’er said, “Not only she knows martial art, she is very good at it.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “She is such a horn-tooter, what ‘very good at martial art’? If she is really good at martial art, how could she let Oboi killed the Third Master?”

Shuang’er said, “When the Old Master and the Third Master were executed, none of their several dozen family members knew martial art. All the men in the family were arrested by Oboi and taken to Beijing to be executed, the women were to be banished to Guta district of Liaoning, to be slaves to the armored troops. Fortunately along the way they met the saving star, who killed the prisoner escorts and saved our several dozen women, helped us settled in here, and taught the Third Mistress and the others some skill.” Wei Xiaobao gradually understood.

In the meantime, the sky had brightened considerably, the sun had appeared on the eastern horizon. The heavy rain last night had washed the trees of the forest that everything looked fresh and green, with droplets of water hanging from their leaves. It was only now that Wei Xiaobao no longer doubted that the ones he saw last night were not female ghosts. He asked, “You have so many mourning halls in your house; are those all for your Masters and Young Masters who were killed by Oboi?”

“Exactly,” Shuang’er said, “We live in seclusion deep in the mountains, we have never had any dealings with outsiders before. The neighboring country people are curious and come over to stick their heads out and look around, so we always masquerade ourselves as ghosts to scare them off. Therefore, everybody says this is a haunted house. Over the last year, nobody has ever dared to come over. Unexpectedly Xianggong came last night. Third Mistress said that now that our great enmity has been avenged, it would be best if everything is kept in secret. The names of Master, Young Master and the others are written on memorial tablets in the mourning hall, if outsiders saw it, it would be greatly inconvenient. When Xianggong asked me last night, I did not dare to explain. But Third Mistress has said that henceforth I am to serve Xianggong, and no longer the Zhuang family’s responsibility. Naturally I must not conceal anything from you anymore.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao delightedly said, “Let me tell you: my real name is Wei Xiaobao. That Gui Gong-gong or what have you, is a fake name. You belong to the Wei family, not the Gui family.”

Shuang’er was overjoyed; she said, “Xianggong even tell me your real name, I can’t possibly reveal it to anybody else.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “My real name is not such a big secret,” he said, “Many of Tian Di Hui brethrens already know about it.”

Shuang’er said, “When those Shen Long Jiao people fought with your companions, Third Mistress and the others were outside, enjoying watching the fun. They saw those people were able to chant spells, reciting mumbo-jumbo incantation …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Hong Jiaozhu’s magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s. This kind of incantation, I am also able to recite.”

Shuang’er said, “Third Mistress said that while their mouths were chanting the incantations, there must be some other magic going on in the dark; otherwise, it’s impossible that as soon as they recite the spell, their power increased several folds. Afterwards, when that Zhang Laosan was talking to you, Third Mistress was listening outside, while the rest of us extinguished the light in the main hall and caught everybody using fishing net.”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his thigh and exclaimed, “Wonderful! Catching people using fishing net? That’s great!”

Shuang’er said, “Third Mistress said that there is nothing special about that Zhang Laosan’s martial art skill, only his sorcery is formidable, thereupon she did not fight him face to face. As soon as she managed to lure him out, she extinguished the light and with the fishing net …”

“Caught the old turtle,” Wei Xiaobao finished.

Shuang’er giggled. She said, “There is a lake behind the mountain, we often went fishing at night. When we were in Huzhou, the big house of the Zhuang family was located near Taihu[5]. The lake is very big, at that time our Zhuang family owned a lot of fishing boat, which we rented to the fishermen to catch fish. Third Mistress and the others learned how to use net to catch fish from watching the fishermen.”

“You really are Huzhou people, no wonder your Huzhou’s zongzi is really delicious,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How did the Third Master get killed by Oboi?”

“According to the Third Mistress,” Shuang’er said, “It was called ‘literary inquisition’.”

“Mosquito meat[6]?” Wei Xiaobao was puzzled, “Mosquito has meat?”

“Not ‘mosquito’, it’s ‘literary’,” Shuang’er said, “Learn to write! Our First Young Master was a scholar, his knowledge was very profound. After he’d gone blind, he wrote a book, in his book there was a sentence scolding the Manchu people …”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Wei Xiaobao clucked his tongue, “Amazing, he was blind yet was able to write a literary work. My eyes are not blind, yet when looking at other people’s writing, I still do not know anything. This might be called ‘bright-eyed blind person’!”

Shuang’er said, “Old Mistress often said that we live in a wrong era, being illiterate is actually better. The women who live together in our house are from several different families, each family’s Laoye [Old Master], Shaoye [Young Master] were all gifted scholars and intellects, none of their literary works was not renowned in the world, yet each one ran into misfortune. It was precisely because of their literary works that disaster came. But Third Mistress said the more the Manchurian Tatars did not want us, Han people to study and create literary works, the more reason for us to study, the more reason for us to create literary works; only then will we prevent the Tatars from achieving their hearts’ desire.”

“Can you create literary works?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Shuang’er giggled and said, “Xianggong really loves to joke. How can a little servant girl create literary works? The Third Mistress taught me to read, yet I have read only seven or eight books.”

“Wow!” Wei Xiaobao said, “You have read seven or eight books? That’s a lot more than I can read. I only know seven or eight characters.”

Shuang’er laughed and said, “Xianggong does not like to study, I am sure the Old Mistress would have loved you. She said that as soon as the Qing Dynasty arrived, only prodigal sons study.”

“That’s true!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I think that that thief Oboi was not too literate. It must be those bootlickers who read to him.”

“Right!” Shuang’er said, “The book our First Young Master wrote was called something like ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’. There were some words in the book scolding the Manchurian Qing. There was an evil man called Wu Zhirong who took the book to Oboi and lodged an accusation. This matter was blown out of proportion; several hundred people were executed; even the business proprietors who sold the book, the customers who bought the book, were all arrested and executed. Xianggong, you live in Beijing, have you met this man Wu Zhirong?”

“I have not,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I will slowly look for him, I am sure I will find him. Shuang’er, I am thinking of replacing you with someone else.”

Shuang’er was shocked. “You … you want to give me to someone else?” she said with trembling voice.

“Not giving you to someone else,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I want to replace you with someone else.”

Shuang’er’s eyes had already turned red; she was about to cry. “What … what do you mean replacing me with someone else?” she asked.

“Your Third Mistress gave you to me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Such a big gift is not easy to repay. I am thinking of catching that thief Wu Zhirong and give him to your Third Mistress. Then my gift will have more or less the same value as her gift.”

Shuang’er laughed through her tears; she gently patted her own chest and said, “You scared me big time; I thought Xianggong did not want me anymore.”

Wei Xiaobao was very happy; he said, “You were afraid I did not want you and became anxious like that. Don’t worry, even if people pile a mountain of gold, a mountain of silver, a mountain of pearls, a mountain of gems, I will never trade you off.”

While chatting, the two of them had reached the foot of the mountain. They saw the clear blue sky as if it had just been washed; there was not a single speck of dust within ten thousand li. Wei Xiaobao thought that the circumstances right now was entirely different from last night, where they were forced by the heavy rain to take shelter in the ‘haunted house’. It’s just that Xu Tianchuan, Fang Yi, Mu Jianping and the others lost the battle and were captured by the enemy; he did not know whether they would be able to escape from danger. Based on his own ability, he would not be able to save them anyway, so thinking about them would be useless, it would be better for him not to think.

After walking for several li, they arrived at a small town. The two of them found a noodle shop, so they went in to eat. After Wei Xiaobao had been seated, Shuang’er stood behind him, ready to serve.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You can’t be too polite, sit down, let’s eat together.”

“It won’t do,” Shuang’er replied, “How can I sit and eat together with Xianggong? There is no such custom.”

“Why should I care about damn custom or no custom?” Wei Xiaobao said, “When I say you can, then you can. If you wait until I finish eating before you start, we would be delayed too much.”

“We’ll leave as soon as Xianggong finish eating,” Shuang’er said, “I’ll buy some mantou [steamed bun], and eat it while we are walking. That way there won’t be any delay.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed. “I have a strange temperament,” he said, “If I eat something alone, my stomach will definitely give me some trouble. If nobody accompanies me eating, a moment later I will have tummy ache, and then I’ll have to accept my fate.”

Shuang’er smiled sweetly; she had no choice but to pull the bench and sat down at an oblique angle from Wei Xiaobao at the corner of the table.

[Translator’s note: my original online source was the 2nd Edition, while I also have the hard copy of the 3rd Edition. The following part about the three lamas does not exist in the 3rd Edition, but since I have translated this part anyway, I am including it here.]

Wei Xiaobao had only eaten several chopsticks from his bowl of noodles when he saw three Tibetan Lama entering the shop and sat facing the street. They repeatedly called out, “Bring out the noodles, bring out the noodles!”

One of the lamas’ glance caught the string of pearls on Shuang’er’s neck, he nudged his companion with his left elbow and pouted to hint toward the pearls. As soon as the other two saw it, a happy expression appeared on their faces; they could not take their eyes off the necklace, sizing it up.

“Not good,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “These three fellows are going to rob us on the way.” Taking out a piece of silver, he ordered the noodle shop waiter to hire a large carriage. After finishing his noodles in haste, he boarded the carriage, and ordered the driver to hurry to the west.

After galloping for several li, they heard the sound of hoof beat behind the carriage. Wei Xiaobao looked back, and sure enough, he saw those three lamas on horseback, coming to pursue them. He said to Shuang’er, “Those three bandits are going to snatch your pearls away. Just give it to them, I’ll buy another string for you later.”

“Yes!” Shuang’er said, “You don’t need to buy another one for me.”

They heard the three lamas called out, “Stop! Stop!” The driver pulled the reins of his mule. The three lamas leaped forward to block the carriage. One of them said, “You, two babies, get out!”

Shuang’er took the pearls necklace from her neck and held it outside the carriage; she said, “You fancy this string of pearls, Xianggong says you can have it, just get it.”

A big and fat lama stretched out his big hand, but he did not take the pearls, he reached farther up and grabbed Shuang’er’s wrist and pulled her outside. Wei Xiaobao anxiously said, “You want more money, I have some. Don’t play rough!” But he saw a yellow shadow flashed, the lama leaped up to the air and flew backward. “Good skill!” Wei Xiaobao shouted in his heart. He saw the lama’s body rapidly fall to the ground, but his head was down and his feet up. ‘Splosh!’ his big and fat head went straight into a swamp, all the way to his chest, his legs were kicking wildly.

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised; he wondered what kind of prominent martial art move this lama was executing. ‘Wah! Wah!’ the other two lamas were shouting randomly, while rushing forward to grab his body and pull him out of the mud. The fat lama’s face was wet with mud; he was in such a sorry condition. Fortunately the heavy rain the previous night had soaked the dirt of the roadside swamp so that the lama was not injured.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and told the carriage driver, “Quickly go!”

Shuang’er raised the pearls in her hand and asked, “Xianggong, shall I give these pearls to them?”

Before Wei Xiaobao could reply, he saw the three lamas drew their sabers from their waists and ferociously charged toward them. Shuang’er snatched the whip from the driver’s hand and flicked it outward, it coiled around the saber in a lama’s hand. She pulled the whip back and caught the saber with her left hand. She flicked the whip in her right hand again, and the saber in the second lama’s hand was snatched away.

“Aiyo!” the third lama cried out, and stopped dead in his track. Shuang’er flicked her whip again, but this time it coiled around the lama’s neck. She pulled him toward the carriage, and then without any trouble snatched the saber in the lama’s hand.

The lama’s throat was strangled by the whip, his eyes turned white, his tongue was stretched out, his face was instantly devoid of any blood. The other two lamas rushed toward Shuang’er in converging attack from left and right, trying to save their companion. Shuang’er leaped up, her left foot stood on the axle of the carriage, her right foot repeatedly kicked, the acupoints on the two lamas’ heads were sealed, they passed out and fell to the ground. She waved her hand to loosen up the whip. The lama had been suffocated for a good while, he also lost his consciousness and fell down.

Wei Xiaobao was extremely delighted; he sprang up and called out, “Shuang’er, good Shuang’er, turns out your martial art skill is superb.”

Shuang’er showed a faint smile and said, “It was nothing, these three bandits are useless.”

“If I had known earlier, I would not have to worry for half a day,” Wei Xiaobao said. Jumping down from the carriage, he kicked the body of a lama. “What do you want?” he asked. But the lama was still fainted and had not regained his consciousness.

Shuang’er kicked his waist. The lama groaned and regained his consciousness. Shuang’er said, “Xianggong asks what do you want?”

“Miss …” the lama said, “Miss can do … do magic?”

Shuang’er smiled. “Answer quickly!” she said, “What are you up to?”

The lama said, “We … we are lamas from Mount Wutai’s Bodhisattva Peak … Great Manjushri Temple.”

Shuang’er frowned. “What lama or not lama?” she said, “Rubbish! You are speaking vulgar language.”

“Lamas are Buddhist monks of Tibet,” Wei Xiaobao explained.

“Turns out you are Buddhist monks,” Shuang’er said. She gently kicked the lama again and said, “If you are Buddhist monks, how come you do not shave your whole head clean?”

“We are lamas,” the lama said, “Not Buddhist monks.”

“What?” Shuang’er said, “Still won’t admit it? Xianggong says you are Buddhist monks, then you are Buddhist monks!” She kicked the ‘tian huo’ [heavenly opening] acupoint on his waist, the lama felt the pain went straight into his bones and marrow; he could not bear it and shouting and screaming in loud voice. The pain grew worse, and his shout grew louder.

The other two lamas slowly regained their consciousness, hearing their companion was screaming like a pig being slaughtered, they were aghast and immediately asked in Tibetan what had happened. The other lama replied, and then called out in Chinese, “I am a Buddhist monk, I am a Buddhist monk. I am whatever Miss … Miss said what I am. Please … please quickly … unseal my acupoint.”

Shuang’er laughed. “Whatever Miss says does not count, it’s whatever Xianggong says that count,” she said, “Xianggong, what do you say he is?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “I say he is a Buddhist nun!” he said.

The lama really could not bear the pain, he hastily said, “I am a Buddhist nun, I am a Buddhist nun!” Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er roared in laughter.

Shuang’er lightly kicked the ‘qi hu’ [chi door] acupoint on his neck with her left foot, the severe pain stopped immediately. But the lama was still screaming, “I am a Buddhist nun, I am a Buddhist nun!”

Wei Xiaobao stopped laughing. He said, “You are people who have left home, why did you want to rob our belongings?”

“Xiaoren deserves to die,” the lama replied, “Next time we won’t dare to do it again.”

“You are still thinking of next time?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The lama said, “I said we won’t dare, we really won’t dare. Even after a hundred years have passed, we still won’t dare.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You do not chant Buddhist scripture in the temple, but coming down the mountain instead. What are you up to?”

The lama replied, “It’s … it’s Shifu who sends us down the mountain.”

“Your Shifu sends you down the mountain to rob gold, silver and jewels?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“No … not that,” the lama replied, “We are going to Beijing …” he had just spoken to this point, the other big and fat lama coughed.

Wei Xiaobao cast a glance toward him, he saw that fat lama repeatedly winked his eyes, obviously he was signaling his companion not to tell the truth. At first Wei Xiaobao was thinking that these lamas were provoking evil designs upon seeing riches, robbing and plundering, but doing nothing serious. Manchurians believed in lamas; whenever there was a religious ritual to be performed in the Palace, they would always invite lamas to chant the sutras. If the imperial household was like that, the princes and dukes and other royalties need not be mentioned. Therefore, quite a number of lamas, who did not need to observe the Qing law, went on the rampage in Beijing. Wei Xiaobao was thinking of torturing these lamas for a while, and after he had enough fun, he would simply let them go. However, seeing the big fat lama’s expression, he knew there was something else going on. He said, “These three fellows are playing tricks. Shuang’er, give each one a kick, let these three people whine on for days, and then we are off!”

“Yes!” Shuang’er complied. She could also see that the big fat lama was playing tricks, hence she kicked him first on his ‘tian huo’ acupoint. The lama immediately screamed.

Shuang’er walked over to the first lama and lifted her foot as if she was going to kick. The lama was shocked; he hastily said, “Don’t kick, I’ll tell you everything. Shifu sends us to Beijing to deliver a letter.”

“What letter?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The lama said, “This … we can’t let you see this letter. If we show it to other people, Shi … Shifu will definitely kill us.”

“Take it out!” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you don’t, I’ll kick you.” While saying that, he took a step forward.

The lama did not know that Wei Xiaobao’s martial art skill was limited, if he was kicked, the pain would be the same as if he was tickled. Seeing Wei Xiaobao lifting up his foot, he busily said, “I don’t … I don’t have it with me.”

“Take it out!” Wei Xiaobao said.

The lama had no choice, he went over to the fat lama and mumbled some Tibetan words. The fat lama also used Tibetan to reply; while squealing like a slaughtered pig, he appeared to be shouting some disjointed Tibetan words so that his voice was even more unpleasant to the ears. From the tone of his voice and his expression, Wei Xiaobao deduced that the fat lama did not allow the other lama to take the letter out. Thereupon he walked over to the fat lama and fiercely kicked the fat lama’s forehead. The big and fat lama fainted instantly. The other lama then took a small oilcloth package from the fat lama’s bosom, and trembling with fear, he presented the package with both hands.

Wei Xiaobao received the package. Shuang’er also took out a small package from her bosom and produced a tiny pair of scissors. She cut the package open, as expected, there was a letter inside. There were two lined of Tibetan script written on the envelope. “To whom is this letter addressed to?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“To our Shibo [older martial uncle],” the lama replied.

Wei Xiaobao reached out and ‘rip!’ he tore the envelope open. The two lamas groaned repeatedly. Wei Xiaobao saw several lines of curvy Tibetan script written on a sheet of yellow paper, on the bottom, drawn in cinnabar ink, there was a weird-looking seal, it was totally unintelligible. Even if this letter was written in Chinese script, Wei Xiaobao would not understand. Thereupon he handed it over to Shuang’er and asked, “What does it say?”

Shuang’er did not know either; she turned to the lama, “Xianggong asks you: what does it say? Tell us quickly! If you speak half a word of lie, I will kick your acupoint immediately and never unseal it again. Humph, I will wait for at least three days and three nights before unsealing it.”

The lama received the letter, looked at it over and over, and stammered, “This … this is …”

“What this or that?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Tell me quickly!”

“Yes, yes!” the lama replied, “The letter says, the person Shixiong was asking about …” He had just spoken that sentence, the other lama suddenly mumbled some unintelligible words. Shuang’er leaped toward him and kicked him on the ‘tian huo’ acupoint. The lama’s words turned into screaming and wailing.

The first lama’s countenance changed greatly; with a trembling voice he said, “The letter says … says that the person we are looking for, we can’t find it even after searching high and low. He is definitely … definitely not on Mount Wutai.”

Wei Xiaobao saw the lama’s eyes were evasive while repeatedly swallowing his own saliva as he was talking, he thought, “Although I don’t understand your bird’s cry or dog’s bark, looking at your expression, I can tell that you are lying. It’s just that this fellow is too stupid, even when telling a lie, he is not convincing.” He said to Shuang’er, “This lama is lying to us.”

Shuang’er said, “Since he is that bad, we can’t spare him.” She raised her foot and kicked his ‘tian huo’ acupoint.

The lama cried out, “You … just kill me. My Shixiong said that … that if we tell you what the letter says, we … the three of us will not live. You … you kill me quickly.”

“Ignore him, let’s go!” Wei Xiaobao said. Together with Shuang’er, they leaped onto the carriage.

The carriage driver saw that although these two were young, unexpectedly they were able to deal with the three lamas and made them hovering between life and death. He was full of admiration and did not stop praising them. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “When we get to the small town ahead, you may need to change. This string of pearls must be kept someplace else.”

[The 3rd Edition continues with the following:]

After the two of them finished eating the noodles, Wei Xiaobao said, “You are wearing women’s clothes, a lot of people along the way will look at you because you are too pretty. When we get to the small town ahead, you may need to change. This string of pearls must be kept someplace else.”

“Yes,” Shuang’er said, “What attire must I change into?”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “You change into a man’s clothing.”

After travelling for about thirty li, the carriage reached a big town. Wei Xiaobao sent the carriage driver off, while they entered an inn to lodge for the night. He took out some money and instructed Shuang’er to go buy some clothing. Shuang’er purchased several sets and returned to the inn; she put on the clothes and was transformed into a handsome young attendant.

With this transformation, they no longer attracted any attention along the way. Shuang’er was well-versed in martial art, but was completely oblivious of the ways of the world; all along the way, she left the decision making into Wei Xiaobao’s hands, although his ideas were not always brilliant. Thirty percent of the time he was serious, the other seventy percent he was simply fooling around.

One day they arrived at the border between Hebei and Shanxi, two provinces. From Fuping County of Zhili provinces[7] to the west, over the Great Wall mountain range, they would reach the Long Quan [lit. dragon spring] Pass. This Long Quan Pass was actually the eastern gateway to Mount Wutai. The stony path was rugged, the ridges and peaks were high and steep. Upon entering Mount Wutai, the first temple they encountered was the Yong Quan Temple [lit. bubbling spring].

Wei Xiaobao inquired the whereabouts of the Qing Liang Temple, but Mount Wutai was actually very big, Qing Liang Temple was located between the Nan Tai Peak and Zhong Tai Peak [Translator’s note: I am not familiar with Mount Wutai’s geography, Nan Tai and Zhong Tai mean ‘southern platform’ and ‘middle platform’, respectively]. The distance from Yong Quan Temple was really not near.

That evening Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er seek lodging at the Lu Family Village neighboring the Yong Quan Temple. They ate a bowl of mutton and bread soup and some candy. He recalled the cold demeanor of the Yong Quan Temple’s monk when he was asking about the Qing Liang Temple’s location earlier that day. When the monk saw how young he was, the monk did not pay him any attention; instead of explaining the location of the Qing Liang Temple, the monk asked him back, “The road is long and difficult to walk, what are you going to Qing Liang Temple for?” This nasty attitude was seventy-percent similar to the selfish, concerned-only-with-gaining-advantages-for-themselves, bald-headed thieves of the Chan Zhi Temple [lit. Dhyana Wisdom] in Yangzhou. It would not be easy to look for Emperor Shunzhi when he reached Qing Liang Temple later; he must find another way.

While his mouth was chewing the candy, his mind was churning, “They say money will make the devil turn millstones, perhaps I can make the monks to turn the millstones as well. I once heard the storyteller told the story of Lu Zhishen of the ‘Water Margin’ went to Mount Wutai to become a monk. A certain outsider gave considerable alms to the Temple. Lu Zhishen created havoc in the Temple, drinking wine and eating dog meat, yet the old monk was not angry. That’s right, I am going to pretend that I need to perform a Buddhist ceremony, scatter a large sum of money in the Temple, and then making an excuse to stay in the Temple and won’t leave, and thus I can slowly looking for the old Emperor. The old monks can’t possibly drive me away.”

However, upon entering the mountain, other than the temples, they did not see any town where he could exchange a five-hundred-tael banknote. Without any choice they had to leave Long Quan Pass and returned to Fuping. He exchanged the banknote into silver currency, and then both he and Shuang’er changed into brand new clothes; he thought, “I want to perform a Buddhist ceremony, but I don’t understand anything. I am afraid I’ll give myself away in short moment. I should have some practice first.”

Thereupon he went to a temple within the Fuping county city wall called the Jixiang Temple [lit. auspicious/lucky] and kowtowed several times in front of the Buddha image. The welcoming monk came out with a register book, writing brush and ink stone. Wei Xiaobao brushed him off and said, “Giving alms is giving alms, why do you need to write anything?” He took out a fifty-tael worth of yuanbao and handed it over to the monk. The monk was greatly surprised, thinking that this young benefactor was very generous, which was a rarity in the world. Immediately he thanked him repeatedly, invited him to the dining room and offered him vegetarian dishes and plain noodles.

When Wei Xiaobao was eating the noodles, the Abbot sat next to him to keep him company, greatly praising his kind-heartedness and reverence, which would definitely receive the Bodhisattva’s blessing; in the future Wei Xiaobao would definitely win top marks in the imperial examinations, to be a Zhuangyuan [see Chapter 1], his house would be full of children and grandchildren, he would enjoy boundless good fortune. Wei Xiaobao was secretly amused, musing that you have flattered me very well, I am totally illiterate, yet you say I would win top marks in the imperial examinations and be a Zhuangyuan; won’t that mean you are cursing me on my face? He said, “Old Monk, I want to go to Mount Wutai to perform a big Buddhist ceremony, it’s just that I do not know anything. I want you to give me advice.”

Hearing the three characters ‘big Buddhist ceremony’, the Abbot stood up immediately and said, “Shizhu [benefactor], all temples under the heavens are dedicated to worship Buddha, the same Bodhisattva. If you want to perform a Buddhist ceremony, it would be better to do it in a small temple, which will cover everything you need thoroughly and properly; actually you don’t need to painstakingly go up Mount Wutai.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head. “That won’t do,” he said, “This Buddhist ceremony is my cherished desire, I simply must perform it on Mount Wutai.” While saying that, he took out another fifty-tael worth of yuanbao and said, “How about this: find someone for me to accompany me to Mount Wutai and be my helper. This fifty-tael is for him.”

The old monk was greatly delighted. “That’s easy, that’s easy!” he said. He had a younger cousin[8] who was the caretaker of the temple property: collecting the rent and purchasing stuffs for the temple, everything was handled by him, but he was not a monk. Immediately the old monk summoned him and introduced him to Wei Xiaobao.

This man was surnamed Yu, given name single character Ba, a loud-mouthed man, but his nickname was ‘One Less Stroke’. Actually, if a stroke (一) is added to the character Yu (于), it will become the character Wang (王), therefore, Yu Ba (于八) will change into Wang Ba (王八)[9]. In just a few words, Wei Xiaobao had already felt that he was a very congenial companion. Since he was little, Wei Xiaobao was used to hang around this kind of boorish man in the marketplace. This time suddenly he met one such man in Fuping County, he had the feeling like he had met an old friend far from home.

Wei Xiaobao consulted the Abbot again on various customs involved in performing Buddhist ceremony. The Abbot told him everything he knew, and he talked endlessly. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Buddhist monks’ rules are indeed a lot!” He donated twenty more taels.

Taking Yu Ba along, Wei Xiaobao returned to the inn, took out some money, and sent him off to buy everything they need. With money in his hand, Yu Ba worked really fast; before long, he had returned with all his purchases. For himself, he bought a set of fresh and bright colored clothes. “Wei Xianggong,” he said, “You are a rich man, now that I am your attendant, I should put on something with more style, don’t you think? This set of clothes, shoes and hat is no more than three taels and five qian.”

Wei Xiaobao thought he had a good point, thereupon he sent him off again to buy several sets of luxurious clothing for him and Shuang’er. With a lot of fanfare the three of them went out the Long Quan Pass, followed by eight porters, each carrying a shoulder pole laden with vegetarian food and gifts for Buddhist monks, travelled along the main road heading south.

Upon entering Mount Wutai, after walking for only several li, they had already seen a temple. After the Yong Quan Temple, there was Jing Tai Lu [lit. scripture platform foothill] Temple, and then Shi Fo [lit. Buddha Rock] Temple, Pu Ji [lit. universal crossing] Temple, Gu Fo [lit. ancient Buddha] Temple, Jin Gang [lit. diamond, steel or Vajra – Buddha’s warrior attendant] Warehouse, Bai Yun [lit. white cloud] Temple, Jin Deng [lit. golden lantern] Temple, and finally Ling Jing [lit. virtual environment] Temple.

That evening they spent the night at the Ling Jing Temple. At dawn the next day, they continued northbound until they reached Jin Ge [lit. golden pavilion] Temple, and then turned west for several li, and arrived at the Qing Liang Temple. This Qing Liang Temple was located at the peak of Qing Liang mountain. It was not more imposing compared to the other temples they saw along the way, the main gate to the monastery was shabby; obviously it was worn down by years of non-repair. Wei Xiaobao was rather disappointed, “When the Emperor left home to become a Buddhist monk, he must have chosen the biggest temple. I am afraid the old turtle Hai was just spouting nonsense, perhaps the old emperor became a monk not in this place.”

Yu Ba entered the gate to inform the welcoming monk that a certain high official from Beijing by the surname of Wei had come to perform a Buddhist ceremony, to fast and to offer sacrificial offering to Buddha. Looking at the luxurious clothing this party of people wore, plus the eight shoulder poles of offering, the welcoming monk immediately invited them in and offered them some tea, while he went in to report to the Abbot.

The Abbot, old monk Cheng Guang [lit. clear light] came into the side room to meet Wei Xiaobao. He asked, “I wonder what kind of Buddhist ceremony Benefactor is going to perform?”

Seeing this Abbot Cheng Guang was very tall, but as thin as a stick, his eyes were half-closed, his overall appearance looked washed out, Wei Xiaobao was even more disappointed, he said, “Disciple wants to perform a seven days and seven nights Buddhist ceremony on behalf of disciple’s deceased father, as well as several deceased friends, so that they may be released from suffering.”

Cheng Guang said, “There are many big temples within Beijing’s city limit, temples on Mount Wutai are also numerous; I wonder why did Benefactor specifically travel so far away to Mount Wutai and go to a small temple to perform Buddhist ceremony?”

Wei Xiaobao had anticipated this question, hence he had already discussed it over with Yu Ba. He said, “My mother had a dream on the fifteenth of last month. In her dream she saw my deceased father, who told her that during his life he had committed grave sins, he said we must go to Qing Liang Temple on Mount Wutai, to ask Fangzhang Dashi [Great Master Abbot] to perform a seven days and seven nights repentance ritual to clear away the blood disaster so that my father in the underworld does not receive endless agony.”

He did not know his own father, neither did he know if his father was still alive or had already died. When he said those words, he could not help feeling funny; he mused, “Damn it, you gave birth to laozi, and then washed your hand and did not care at all, you deserve to go to hell. Now laozi is giving you a seven days and seven nights Buddhist ceremony, it is your enormous good fortune.”

“So that’s how it is,” Cheng Guang said, “Young Benefactor, the proverb said it well: the day has its thought, the night has its dream. The matter of the dream must never be taken seriously.”

“Da Heshang [great monk],” Wei Xiaobao said, “The proverbs said it well: it is better to believe than disbelieve. Even if what my father said in the dream was not real, by performing a Buddhist ceremony on his behalf to release his soul from suffering, we are performing a virtue. But if my father really did say those words, yet we do not do as he wished, in the underworld he is being bullied and tormented by the Ox-Head, Horse-Face and little demon Wuchang, that … that … won’t I always feel a little bit bad? Besides, I am under my mother’s order. Mother said that the old abbot of Qing Liang Temple of Mount Wutai has a destiny with her; this Buddhist ceremony must be performed in your precious temple.” He mused, “You have a destiny with my Mama, this is preposterous! Have you ever been to the Lovely Spring Courtyard in Yangzhou to be my mother’s customer?”

“Hey,” Cheng Guang exclaimed, “Benefactor did not know this: my humble temple is of Zen Buddhism. This kind of repentance ritual is a Pure Land[10] Sects’ matter, which we do not do. On this Mount Wutai, Jin Ge Temple, Pu Ji Temple, Da Fo Temple, Yan Qing Temple, and many more are of the Pure Land Sect. Benefactor is advised to go to one of those temples to perform the Buddhist ceremony.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that in Fuping County, the Abbot was trying to seize the opportunity to perform the Buddhist ceremony, but here, this old monk had used all sorts of excuses trying to push away the money delivered into his gate with both hands; something strange was going on here. He asked over and over, but Cheng Guang did not budge. He stood up and said to the welcoming monk, “Show the Benefactor the way to Jin Ge Temple, Lao Na[11] keeps him company only for a moment.”

Wei Xiaobao was anxious, he hastily said, “Since the Abbot insists on not giving me permission, I want to ask the great monks of your precious temple to receive the alms: the Buddhist robes, the monk hats, as well as the money I bring to your precious temple.”

Cheng Guang put his palms together, “Many thanks,” he said. Seeing eight shoulder poles of gifts Wei Xiaobao brought, unexpectedly he did not show the least bit of enthusiasm.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Mother instructed me to personally hand over each gift to the great monks of your precious monastery, even the monks helping with the fire and growing vegetable in the garden are to have a share. I bring altogether three hundred sets of gift, if it is not enough, we will go buy some more.”

Cheng Guang said, “Enough, it’s too much. Our temple has only fifty something people. Would Benefactor please leave only fifty or sixty sets? That would be enough.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Is it possible to ask the Abbot to summon the monks in the temple, so that I could personally hand over the gift? This is my mother’s wish; no matter what I must accomplish it.”

Cheng Guang raised his head, suddenly his eyes flashed like lightning, as he swept his gaze over Wei Xiaobao’s face. “Very well!” he said, “Our Buddha is merciful, let it be as the Benefactor wishes.” Turning around, he walked inside.

Looking at his bamboo-pole like back walking inside, Wei Xiaobao felt an unspeakably uncomfortable feeling in his heart. Awkwardly he lifted the tea cup into his mouth. Standing behind him, Yu Ba muttered in low voice, “In all his life, the one surnamed Yu has rarely seen this kind of unlucky old monk. No wonder in such a big temple like Qing Liang Temple, even the golden image of Bodhisattva is tattered.”

They heard the bell in the temple was struck, the welcoming monk said, “Please step into the western hall to give your alms.”

Wei Xiaobao went to the western hall; he saw the monks were streaming in. He handed over the gift one by one, while attentively looking at each monk’s face. He thought, “I have never seen the Emperor Shunzhi, but he is the young emperor’s papa, their appearances must be somewhat similar. As long as I can find a monk that look like an older version of the young emperor, he must be it.”

But after he finished handing over more than fifty sets of gifts, not only he did not see any ‘older version of the young emperor’, he could not find even a single monk with one or two part resemblance to the young emperor. Wei Xiaobao was very disappointed; but suddenly he remembered, “He was the Emperor; with his status, how could he come to accept alms like clothing and hats? This plan of mine is really stupid!” He asked the welcoming monk, “Have all monks in your precious temple come?”

The welcoming monk replied, “Everybody has received your alms, thank you very much for Benefactor’s generosity.”

“Everyone has received the gift?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “I am afraid it’s not necessarily true, perhaps there are some people who are unwilling to come and get the gift.”

“Benefactor is joking,” the welcoming monk said, “How can there be such thing?”

“Those who have left home do not tell lies,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you deceive me, when you die, your tongue will be pulled out in hell.” As soon as the welcoming monk heard that, his countenance changed. Wei Xiaobao said, “Since there are still some monks who have not received the gift, would great monk please invite him to receive it?”

The welcoming monk shook his head. “Only Fangzhang Dashi has not received the gift,” he said, “I think we do not need to ask the Senior to come out again.”

Right this moment, a monk hurriedly rushed in. “Shixiong,” he said, “There are more than a dozen lamas outside wishing to see the Abbot.” And then with a low voice he added, “They all carry weapons, and are rubbing their fists and palms; their purpose in coming is definitely not good.”

The welcoming monk frowned and said, “Like river water and well water, the green and yellow temples of Mount Wutai have never interfered with each other. What do they want, coming over here? Go and report to the Abbot, I am coming out to look.” Finished speaking, he turned to Wei Xiaobao and said, “Excuse me,” and then with quick steps he went out.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am afraid those stinky lamas are here for us.” He thought Shuang’er’s martial art skill was superior, a dozen or so lamas should not give them any problem. Suddenly he heard commotion from outside the gate, a group of people were crashing into the Hall of Great Strength[12]. Wei Xiaobao said, “Let us see the excitement.” Pulling Shuang’er’s hand, he went out together with her.

As they arrived at the main hall, they saw the welcoming monk was surrounded by a dozen or so yellow-robed lamas, who were shouting randomly and talking to him at once, “We must search; someone personally saw him coming to Qing Liang Temple.” “You are in the wrong here, why do you hide people?” “Just hand him over to us nicely, we’ll let this matter drop; otherwise, humph, humph!”

[The following paragraph does not exist in the 3rd Edition, which makes sense, since Wei Xiaobao has never met any lamas before:

Wei Xiaobao went into the main hall and stood with hands on his waist, thinking, “Laozi is here, go get your horse and get me.” Who would have thought that those lamas ignored him completely; no one even cast a glance to him.]

Amidst the commotion, Abbot Cheng Guang walked in; he asked slowly, “What’s the matter?”

The welcoming monk said, “It’s good for the Abbot to know, they …”

As soon as the word ‘Abbot’ came out of his mouth, the lamas swarmed around Cheng Guang, shouting, “You are the Abbot? That’s great!” “Quickly hand the man over! If not, your temple will be burned to the ground.” “This is preposterous, really preposterous!” “Are you telling me that after you become a Buddhist monk, you throw reasons out the window?”

Cheng Guang asked, “May I ask, from which temple are numerous Shixiong coming from? You have honored our humble temple with your presence, I wonder what is the purpose of your visit?”

A lama wearing red kasaya over his yellow robe replied, “We came from Tibet, we come to the Central Plain on business under the order of the Living Buddha. Who knew that one of our young lama attendants was kidnapped by a wicked monk, and is hidden inside the Qing Liang Temple? Monk Abbot, quickly hand over our young lama; otherwise, we won’t let this matter rest.”

“That’s very strange,” Cheng Guang replied, “Our temple here is Zen Buddhism green temple, we usually do not have any association with Tibetan Tantra Buddhists. Why don’t you inquire to the yellow temples everywhere about your missing young lama?”

The lama angrily said, “Someone saw it with his own eyes; that lama is in Qing Liang Temple. That was the reason we came here to inquire. Otherwise, do you think we have just eaten our rice until we are full and have nothing else to do, and thus we came here to make a scene? Decide it for yourself, if you hand over the young lama quickly, we will look at the monk’s face or Buddha’s face, we won’t investigate this matter further.”

Cheng Guang shook his head and said, “Even if there was a young lama coming to Qing Liang Temple, and gentlemen did not come to inquire, Lao Na can’t possibly hide him here.”

Several lamas shouted together, “Let us search you temple then!”

Cheng Guang still shook his head, “This is Buddhist’s peaceful place, how can I let people search around as they wish?”

The leader of the lamas said, “If you do not feel as guilty as a thief, why don’t you let us search? Obviously the young lama is here, he is definitely in the Qing Liang Temple.”

Cheng Guang shook his head. Two lamas reached out and grabbed him by the collar, shouting, “Will you or will you not let us search the temple?” Another lama said, “Could it be that there are women of good families hidden in the great monk’s temple, hence you are afraid others might find out? Otherwise, what’s the big deal of letting us search your temple?” By this time, about a dozen monks from Qing Liang Temple had come out, but they were blocked by the lamas so that they were unable to come near their Abbot.

[2nd Edition: In low voice Shuang’er asked, “Xianggong, shall I get rid of them?”

“Wait a moment!” Wei Xiaobao said.]

He [Wei Xiaobao] thought, “Clearly these lamas are here to make trouble without reason; how can this temple hide some young lama? Is it possible that their intention is the same as mine, they are also looking for Emperor Shunzhi?”

He saw a flash of white light, two lamas already had daggers in their hands, each pointing at Cheng Guang’s chest and back. With stern voice they said, “If you don’t allow us to search, we’ll kill you first.”

Cheng Guang’s face did not show the smallest hint of fear. “Amitabha Buddha,” he said, “We all are Buddha’s disciples, why should you use force?”

The two lamas slightly pushed their daggers forward. “Great Monk,” they shouted, “Please forgive our offense.” Cheng Guang’s body slipped sideways, carried by their own momentum, the two lamas’ daggers were thrust into each other’s chest. The two of them hastily stretched out their left palms to push into each other and hence they both withdrew several steps backward.

The rest of the people shouted, “Qing Liang Temple’s Abbot assaults people! He commits murder!” In the middle of their shouts, from the main door rushed thirty, forty people; there were monks, lamas, and several lay people wearing long gowns. An old lama with white beard and wearing yellow robe shouted, “Did Qing Liang Temple’s Abbot kill someone?”

Cheng Guang put his palms together, “Those who left home to be Buddhist monks use mercy as the guiding principle; how can they rashly violate the commandment against taking life? Shixiong, Benefactors, where did you come from?” To a fifty-something old monk he said, “Turns out Fo Guang Temple’s Abbot Xinxi himself has honored us with his presence, and yet I did not come out far enough to welcome you. Please forgive my offense.”

Fo Guang Temple was the oldest among big temples on Mount Wutai. It was constructed during the first Wei Emperor Xiao Wen, and was quite established for a long time. Local people had a saying, “First it was Fo Guang Temple, then there is Mount Wutai.” Actually, Mount Wutai’s original name was Mount Qing Liang [same Qing Liang as the temple’s name], afterwards, with the discovery of the five major peaks, it was renamed Mount Wutai, but at that time, Fo Guang Temple had already been established. The name Mount Wutai was only changed during the great undertaking of establishing the Sui Dynasty. Within the Buddhist community, Fo Guang Temple position was far above Qing Liang Temple, and thus Abbot Xinxi was the de facto leader of various green temples on Mount Wutai.

This monk was fat with big head and plump ears, his face was greasy and shiny; with a giggle he said, “Cheng Guang Shixiong, let me introduce you to two friends.” Pointing to the old lama, he said, “This is Great Lama Bayan Fashi[13], who has just arrived from Lhasa, Tibet, the one most doted on and trusted by the Seat of the Living Buddha, the Great Lama with most authority.”

Cheng Guang put his palms together and said, “Brought together by fate, I pay my respect to the Great Lama.” Bayan nodded, his manner was very arrogant.

Xinxi pointed to a man wearing dark green plain garment, a scholar of about thirty something, and said, “This is the famous scholar of Western Sichuan, Huangfu Ge, Mr. Huangfu.”

Huangfu Ge cupped his fist across his chest and said, “It’s an honor to meet Great Monk Cheng Guang, whose divine martial ability is well-known. Today I can see you, it is truly the good fortune of three lifetimes.”

Cheng Guang put his palms together and said, “The old monk is indeed very old, when I was little, I learned some tiny skill, but I have already forgotten about it completely. Huangfu Jushi[14] is quite established in both pen and sword, deserving my congratulations.”

Hearing these people were speaking politely to each other, Wei Xiaobao thought that the fight most probably would not happen; there would not be any excitement to watch, therefore, there would be less opportunity for him to fish in troubled water, an opportunity for him to look for the old emperor. Inwardly, he was quite disappointed.

“Great Monk,” Bayan said, “From Tibet I brought along a young disciple, but he is detained in your temple. Please look at the Living Buddha’s golden face and release him; everybody will appreciate your kindness.”

Cheng Guang showed a faint smile as he said, “These several Shixiong came to create trouble in my humble temple, Lao Na was not willing to lower myself to their level. Dashi is a fair and reasonable man, how could you also listen to rumor? Since Qing Liang Temple was established, perhaps today is the very first time we are honored with the lama masters’ visit. Where did you hear that we have detained your precious temple’s disciple?”

Bayan rolled his eyes, with a loud voice he barked, “Are you saying we accused you wrongly? You don’t want to drink as a forfeit but take … take a toast.” His Chinese was not too good, it was actually ‘to refuse a toast only to be forced to drink a forfeit’, but he said it backwards.

Xinxi laughed and said, “The two gentlemen must not harm the friendly relation. In Lao Na’s opinion, whether that young lama is in the Qing Liang Temple or not, speaking is cheap, the proof is in seeing. Let Huangfu Jushi and this impoverished monk be the witness, everybody can search around the Qing Liang Temple just this once. Seeing Buddha worship Buddha, meeting a monk nodding to the monk; each place, each monk will see it himself, if the young lama is still cannot be found, won’t that mean we don’t have any problem anymore?” Speaking back and forth, in the end he still wanted to do a search of the Qing Liang Temple.

A displeased expression flashed on Cheng Guang’s face. He said, “These lama masters came from Tibet, no wonder they do not understand our Han people’s custom. Xinxi Dashi is a person of virtue and prestige, how could you say such thing? If this young lama was indeed lost on Mount Wutai, then every monastery has to be searched, perhaps we must start from Fo Guang Temple.”

Xinxi giggled and said, “If after we search for him in Qing Liang Temple and still cannot find him, if these lamas wish to take a look at Fo Guang Temple, they are very, very welcome to do so.”

Bayan said, “Someone saw it with his own eyes that the young fellow is definitely in the Qing Liang Temple, hence we came here to inquire. Otherwise, we would not dare … would not dare to be this … this brave in the dark [昧冒- mei mao].” He wanted to say ‘presumptuous’ [冒昧 – mao mei], but had it backward again.

Cheng Guang said, “I wonder who had seen him?”

Bayan pointed to Huangfu Ge and said, “This Mr. Huangfu has seen him; he is a greatly well-known man, he can’t possibly tell a lie.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “You are obviously in cahoots with each other, how can you be the witness?” He could not help but asking, “How old is that young lama?”

All along Bayan, Xinxi, Huangfu Ge and the others did not take any notice of the two children standing on the side. Suddenly hearing him asking question, they all turned their attention to him. They saw his magnificent and expensive clothing and personal adornments, the gem embedded on his hat, and the pearls pinned on his lapel. In short, he was a young boy from a rich family. The young boy attendant standing by his side was also wearing silk and satin. Xinxi laughed and said, “That young lama is more or less of the same age as young master.”

Wei Xiaobao turned his head around and said, “That’s what I thought. Didn’t we just clearly see this young lama? He was entering a big temple. There were several characters written in front of the temple. That’s right, I think it was ‘Fo Guang Temple’, three large characters. This young lama has entered the Fo Guang Temple.” As soon as he said that, Bayan and the others’ countenances changed. But Cheng Guang was secretly happy.

Bayan shouted, “Hushuo Badao, Hushuo Jiudao[15]!” He thought by adding one degree of ‘way’ he would increase the degree of absurdity.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Hushuo Shidao, Hushuo Shiyidao, Hushuo Shi’erdao, Hushuo Shisandao!” [ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen, respectively]

Bayan was unable to restrain his rage; reaching out, he was going to grab Wei Xiaobao’s chest. Cheng Guang raised his right hand slightly, the sleeve of his robe sent out a strong gust of wind toward the base of Bayan’s elbow. Bayan stretched his left hand forward, like a bird’s claw his five fingers grabbed the sleeve. Cheng Guang pulled his arm back, his sleeve coiled around the claw so that the grabbing movement was halted. Bayan called out, “You are concealing our Seat of Living Buddha’s young lama, now you want to fight and kill people? Rebellion, rebellion!”

In a loud and clear voice Huangfu Ge said, “Everybody calm down, if you have something to say, let’s discuss it over, don’t play rough.” As soon as the word ‘rough’ left his mouth, suddenly from outside the temple a large group of people called out together, “Mr. Huangfu’s order: Everybody calm down, if you have something to say, let’s discuss it over, don’t play rough.”

Listening to the sound, it seemed like several hundred people had surrounded Qing Liang Temple. These people heard Huangfu Ge’s loud and clear voice, and immediately echoed him together, obviously they wanted to intimidate the opponent. Even Cheng Guang, whose internal energy cultivation was very deep, as he suddenly heard this sudden rise of voice, could not help but was greatly shaken.

With a chuckle Huangfu Ge said, “Abbot Cheng Guang, you are a martial art expert of older generation in the Wulin world, yet you are covering your light and nurturing in the dark in here, everybody admires you very much. This Great Lama Bayan wants to search your precious monastery, why don’t you allow him to do so? Great Monk walks in straight path, treads on upright way, the wind clears up the sky revealing the moon, Qing Liang Temple does not have anything that other people cannot see, why would we all harm the friendliness of the Wulin world?”

Cheng Guang was secretly worried; although he himself had a high martial art skill, in Qing Liang Temple he only sat in meditation and expounded Buddhist teachings, and did not impart martial art skill to his disciples at all. So among the fifty something monks in Qing Liang Temple, very few knew martial art. When he exchanged a move with Bayan just a moment ago, he sensed that Bayan’s left hand claw, the ‘bird’s claw skill’, was indeed very formidable. And then he heard Huangfu Ge’s loud and clear voice in demonstrating his profound internal energy, it was indeed no small matter. Even without the several hundred people outside the temple, just these two martial art masters were already very difficult to resist.

Seeing he hesitating without saying anything, Huangfu Ge laughed and said, “Even if in Qing Liang Temple there are really several good-looking women, letting everybody admire them is indeed a treat for the eyes.” His words were extremely frivolous, he did not show the least bit of consideration toward Cheng Guang’s feeling.

Xinxi laughed and said, “Abbot Shixiong, if that’s the case, why don’t you let this Great Lama searching your temple?” While saying that, he had a smirk on his face.

Preceding the others, Bayan walked toward the rear hall in big strides. Cheng Guang thought that the opposite party had come fully prepared, even if he could block Bayan and Huangfu Ge, he could not possibly stop the people they brought along. If a tangled battle ensued, Qing Liang Temple would suffer a great misfortune. In that instant his mind was in a whirl, he heaved a deep sigh, and could only watch helplessly as Bayan and about a dozen of his men entered the inner hall; with no other choice, he followed them in.

Bayan, Xinxi and Huangfu Ge talked among themselves in low voices, while their men were entering and searching the temple buildings and the monks’ residence one by one. Without their Abbot’s order, the monks of Qing Liang Temple could only glower at these men, without trying to block them at all.

Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er were following behind Abbot Cheng Guang. They noticed that the sleeve of his monk robe was continuously trembling, obviously in his heart he was extremely angry.

Suddenly from the monks’ residence in the western wing they heard someone loudly called out, “Is it him?”

Huangfu Ge rushed toward the voice, two men grabbing a middle-aged monk came out. This monk was approximately forty-some years old, and had a thin face, he said, “Why are you grabbing me?”

Huangfu Ge shook his head. The two men laughed and said, “Please forgive our offense!” and released the monk.

Wei Xiaobao’s mind was as bright as snow: these men were looking for Emperor Shunzhi, there was no doubt about it.

With a cold laugh Cheng Guang said, “So you think this monk of our temple is the young lama of the Seat of Living Buddha?”

Huangfu Ge did not respond; he saw his men were dragging another middle-aged monk out. He looked at the monk’s face and shook his head.

“So you know Emperor Shunzhi,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “If this searching continues, sooner or later they will find Emperor Shunzhi. He is the young emperor’s father, I will have to think of a way to protect him.” But the opponent had many men and great force; how he was going to protect him, he did not have the slightest idea.

Several dozen people had already searched to a small vihara at the northeastern side of the monastery. Seeing the door to the courtyard was tightly closed, they called out, “Open the door, open the door!”

Cheng Guang said, “This is where a senior monk of our temple lives in seclusion; he has been here for seven years, you must not disturb his peace.”

Xinxi said with a laugh, “This time people from the outside are getting in, it’s not that the monk who shut himself down cannot endure it and thus trying to get out on his own account. What’s the big deal about it?”

A big and tall lama called out, “Why doesn’t anybody open the door? Most probably he is in here!” Lifting up his foot, he kicked the door.

Cheng Guang’s shadow flashed, he had already blocked in front of the lama. The lama was unable to hold back the momentum, his right foot flew and hit Cheng Guang’s lower abdomen. ‘Crack!’ the lama’s leg bones were broken and he tumbled backwards.

Bayan let out a strange ‘wah, wah’ shout; his left hand flew forward, his right hand made a half circle backward, both were in the shape of a claw, clawing toward Cheng Guang. Cheng Guang stood in front of the gate. ‘Whoosh, whoosh!’ he sent out two palm strikes to counter Bayan’s claws.

“Good! Wisdom Palm!” Huangfu Ge called out. A finger of his left hand went out, a gust of strong wind assaulted Cheng Guang’s face. Cheng Guang sidestepped to the left, ‘Slap!’ the strong wind struck the wooden gate.

Using the Wisdom Palm, Cheng Guang focused his attention on the battle. Bayan and Huangfu Ge launched a converging attack from left and right. Cheng Guang moved very slow, one by one he launched a series of palm attacks, seemingly without any power, but the palm created faint gusts of wind, evidently his own power was quite profound. Bayan and Huangfu Ge’s several dozen men cheered and shouted to boost these two men’s spirit. Bayan launched several fierce attacks, but all were neutralized by Cheng Guang’s palm strength.

Bayan grew impatient; increasing the speed of his attacks, he suddenly grunted, his left hand rose up, his several dozen white beards floated down, he managed to catch Cheng Guang’s beards, but his right shoulder was hit by Cheng Guang’s palm. At first he did not feel anything strange, but gradually his right arm grew heavier and heavier, it became difficult for him to raise his right hand. Suddenly he let out a roar and dodged sideways. With raised steel sabers, four lamas charged toward Cheng Guang. Cheng Guang’s leg flew up and kicked two men, his left palm struck out and landed on the third lama’s chest. “Ah!” the lama cried out loudly, and leaped back. Right this moment, the fourth lama’s saber hacked down. Cheng Guang used his sleeve to brush it away, and then the sleeve continued to coil around the lama’s wrist. He saw Bayan’s was charging forward with one hand up, the other hand down. Cheng Guang moved to the right to evade, but suddenly he felt a strong wind attacked his body. “Not good!” he groaned inwardly; swiftly he sent out a palm strike, but suddenly he felt a sharp pain on his right cheek, he was stabbed by Huangfu Ge’s finger. Although his own palm had hit Huangfu Ge’s arm, it failed to break Huangfu Ge’s arm bone.

Seeing Cheng Guang’s right cheek was bleeding, Shuang’er said in a low voice, “Must I help him?”

“Wait a moment,” Wei Xiaobao replied. His main purpose was to find Emperor Shunzhi, supposing Shuang’er joined the fray to drive everybody out, they would still be unable to find the old emperor. Much less the opponent had many men with great force, with sabers and spears, while Shuang’er was a little girl, how could she fight these many big men?

In the meantime, the Qing Liang Temple’s monks had seen their Abbot being trapped, they picked clubs and sticks of firewood and charged forward to help him fighting. But these monks did not know martial arts, as soon as they came up, their heads were broken and their blood flowing.

“Everybody stop fighting!” Cheng Guang called out.

Bayan bellowed, “Everybody kill at will!” The lamas were encouraged not to show mercy at all, in an instant four Qing Liang Temple’s monk were chopped down that their heads separated from their bodies.

Seeing the viciousness of the enemy in killing people, the rest of the monks did not dare to join the fight, they only stood far away, shouting and yelling. Cheng Guang slightly lost his concentration, and was hit by Huangfu Ge’s finger again. The finger was hitting the right side of his chest.

Huangfu Ge laughed and said, “Shaolin Pai’s Wisdom Palm is only so-so. Isn’t the Great Monk going to surrender?”

“Amitabha Buddha,” Cheng Guang said, “Benefactor’s sin is not small at all.”

Suddenly two lamas dropped down and rolled on the ground while brandishing their sabers, trying to chop his legs. Cheng Guang lifted up his leg and kicked, but there was a severe pain on his chest, his vision darkened, his leg only went halfway and he was unable to continue the kick. In his daze he swiped his left palm down. As soon as the palm touched the two lamas’ head, both of them fainted immediately.

“Dead bald donkey!” Bayan cursed. Both hands swiftly reached forward, his ten fingers grabbed Cheng Guang’s left leg. Cheng Guang was unable to stand, he collapsed to the ground. Huangfu Ge repeatedly moved his finger to seal Cheng Guang’s acupoints one by one.

Bayan laughed aloud; with his right foot he kicked the wooden gate. ‘Crack!’ the gate flew in. Bayan said with a laugh, “Come out quickly, let everybody see your appearance.”

The vihara was pitch-black and was completely quiet. “Get him out for me,” Bayan said. Two lamas responded together, they rushed into the building.

Author’s note: The word ‘easy’ (or convenient) in this chapter’s title is a Buddhist term meaning ‘expedient/practical method’. When expounding the Buddhist teaching, Sakyamuni (Siddharta Gautama) sensed that his teaching was not easily understood, therefore, he used a lot of ‘example’ to enlighten his disciples.

[1] rice dumplings wrapped in leaves

[2] Referring to wooden fish used by Buddhist in prayers.

[3] Lit. little woman/female. This is the counterpart of Xiaoren (humble/little one), i.e. she was placing herself in a lower position compared to the person she was talking to.

[4] The word ‘xiao yatou’ means a girl or a servant girl (used deprecatingly, but sometimes also as a term of endearment).

[5] Lake Tai, near Wuxi City, bordering Jiangsu and Zhejiang, one of China’s largest fresh water lake.

[6] Shuang’er said ‘wenzi yu’, Wei Xiaobao thought she said ‘wenzi rou’ (different characters, sound alike).

[7] Fuping county, Baoding, Hebei. Zhili – see Chapter 9.

[8] Orig. biaodi, younger male cousin from mother’s side.

[9] Put together, ‘wang ba’ means tortoise / cuckold / (insult with the flavor of bastard, son of a bitch).

[10] From the dictionary: Usually refers to Amitabha Buddha’s Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss (Sukhavati in Sanskrit).

[11] Lit. ‘old cassock’, the term used by Buddhist monks to refer to themselves.

[12] The main hall of a Buddhist temple where the main image of veneration is located.

[13] Fashi means ‘one who has mastered the sutras’.

[14] Here we have ‘jushi’ again (see also Chapter 9, and the discussion surrounding it), lit. “resident scholar’.

[15] Hushuo Badao means rubbish/nonsense, with the character ‘ba’ means ‘eight’. Literal translation is: random talk eight ways. Jiudao means ‘nine ways’.

Chapter 18 Vajra’s treasured pestle protecting the Emperor, engraved seal script on stone tablet knocking down the Toutuo[1].

Suddenly a golden ray flashed at the doorway, a large golden pestle came out from the vihara. ‘Bonk, bonk’ it struck the two lamas’ heads. Immediately the golden pestle withdrew. Without making any sound the two lamas fell down, dead, at the doorway, their brains burst.

This unforeseen event was greatly outside everybody’s anticipation. Bayan cursed in loud voice. Three more lamas charged toward the door. This time they were prepared, they all brandished their sabers to protect their heads. The first lama had just stepped into the door, the golden pestle struck down, even the saber was knocked down, together the golden pestle and the saber struck the lama’s head. With all his might the second lama raised his saber to block, but it was as if the golden pestle went down with a force of thousand catties, unexpectedly the saber failed completely in blocking the golden pestle. ‘Bonk!’ the lama’s skull was crushed. The third lama was so scared that his countenance looked like clay. His saber fell down, he turned around and fled.

Bayan opened his mouth, cursing and swearing, but he did not dare to personally attack the door. Huangfu Ge called out, “Get on the roof, take off the roof tiles and throw them inside.”  Immediately four men jumped onto the roof, took off the tiles, and threw the tiles inside through the hole on the roof. Huangfu Ge called out again, “Throw sand and stoned into the building.” Following his order, the men under his command picked up sand and stones from the ground and threw it into the vihara through the wooden gate.

Most of the sand and stones going through the door was hit by the man inside the building using the golden pestle so that it flew back outside, but one by one all the tiles from the roof fell down. This way, no matter how high the person inside the building’s martial art skill was, he would not be able to protect himself. Suddenly, a bellow like a mad ox was heard, a big and tall monk strode out of the building, carrying another monk in his left hand, and turning the golden pestle in his right hand like a wheel. This huge monk was at least half a head taller than ordinary man. His stature was impressive, just like a deity. Swinging the golden pestle in his hand so that it created flashing yellow light, he roared, “Are you all bored of being alive?” His face was purplish red, with short beard that looked like a clump of wild grass. His monk robe was tattered, the holes on his robe exposed his sinewy muscles, his arms were bulging and his waist thick, his hands and feet were big. Seeing this kind of awe-inspiring man, Huangfu Ge, Bayan, and the others could not help but retreated a few steps backwards.

Bayan called out, “This bald thief is only one man, what are you afraid of? Let’s attack together!”

Huangfu Ge called out, “Everybody be careful, don’t harm the monk by his side.”

Everybody turned their attention to the monk. He was approximately thirty something, tall and slim, his face looked handsome and elegant. He was looking down, as if he did not consider the situation around him was worthy to be looked at with one eye.Wei Xiaobao’s heart jumped, he thought it over, “This man must be the young emperor’s papa, it’s just that their appearances are not the same. He is lot more handsome than the young emperor. Turns out he is still this young.”

Right this moment, about a dozen lamas attacked the giant monk together. The giant lama brandished his golden pestle. Endless ‘bonk, bonk, bonk!’ was heard, each ‘bonk’ resulted in one lama fell down to the ground, struck dead by the pestle.

Huangfu Ge ran his hand over his waist and pulled out a flexible whip. From the hand of a lama subordinate of his, Bayan snatched a weapon, which was a pair of short iron hammers. The two of them attacked together from left and right. Huangfu Ge’s flexible whip trembled, the tip of his whip coiled horizontally, ‘shua!’ it left a mark on the giant monk’s neck.

“Wah, wah!” the monk let out an unintelligible cry, while swinging his pestle to strike Bayan. Bayan raised his pair of hammers to block. There was a loud ‘Clang!’ Bayan’s arms went numb, the pair of hammers fell off his hands. But the monk’s shoulder was hit by the flexible whip again. Now everybody could see clearly that the monk only possessed extraordinary strength, but his martial art skill was only mediocre.

One lama sneaked in and grabbed the middle-aged monk’s left arm. The monk grunted, but he did not try to struggle at all. In a low voice Wei Xiaobao said “Protect that monk.”

“Yes,” Shuang’er replied. Her shadow flashed, she stretched out her hand to jab the lama’s waist, the lama blocked with his finger. She turned around and stretched out her finger in a feign attack toward Huangfu Ge’s face. Huangfu Ge turned to the right to evade, she quickly turned around and pierced the pit of Bayan’s stomach with her finger.

“Mother …” Bayan cursed and fell face up.

Shuang’er turned to the east and circled to the west, her tender hands fluttered, more than a dozen men that Bayan and Huangfu Ge’s brought along fell down one after another. Xinxi called out, “Hey, hey, young … young benefactor …”

Shuang’er laughed and said, “Hey, hey, old monk!” Stretching out her finger, she pierced his waist.

Huangfu Ge flicked his flexible whip to protect his front, back, left and right. ‘Whoosh, whoosh!’ the whip created whistling wind in a circle about a zhang in diameter; it was so tight that not even water would be able to penetrate. Shuang’er circled around outside the whip’s circumference. Huangfu Ge’s whip moved faster and faster, several times the whip almost struck Shuang’er’s body, but she was always able to evade with her fast and nimble movement.

“Good kid!” Huangfu Ge called out. Sending his power to the whip, the flexible whip turned into a long spear, it went straight toward the pit of Shuang’er’s stomach. Shuang’er’s feet slipped and she fell forward, her finger extended toward Huangfu Ge’s lower abdomen. Huangfu Ge raised his left palm to block her piercing finger, followed by a flick of his flexible whip that the tip of his whip coiled back to strike Shuang’er’ back. Shuang’er dropped drown and rolled away; her position was rather awkward.

Seeing Shuang’er was in a disadvantageous situation, Wei Xiaobao was very anxious. He bent down to grab some dirt to be thrown onto Huangfu Ge’s eyes, but the ground was swept very clean, he could not even grab a handful of dirt. Shuang’er had not stood up, Huangfu Ge’s flexible whip had already shot down toward her. “Stop fighting!” Wei Xiaobao called out. Brandishing his golden pestle the giant monk rushed forward to help. Suddenly Shuang’er’s right hand grabbed the tip of the flexible whip. Huangfu Ge exerted his strength to jerk the whip up, bringing Shuang’er’s body along with it, and throwing her into the air.

Wei Xiaobao reached into his bosom, without caring what kind of stuff he got, he simply grabbed it and threw it onto Huangfu Ge’s face. Pieces of white paper fluttered in the air, several dozen sheets of paper obstructed Huangfu Ge’s vision. Huangfu Ge busily stretched out his hand to brush the paper away, the power in his right hand diminished instantly. Right this moment, the giant monk’s golden pestle was also coming down on the top of his head. Huangfu Ge was greatly shocked, hastily he ducked down. Shuang’er’s body was still in the air, without waiting her feet to touch the ground, her left foot kicked toward his head and hit the taiyang [sun] acupoint on Huangfu Ge’s head.

“Aiyo!” he cried out and fell backward. ‘Bang!’ sparks flew everywhere as the golden pestle struck the ground, less than half a chi from his head. As soon as Shuang’er’s right foot landed on the ground, she snatched the flexible whip from his hand.

“Good skill!” Wei Xiaobao cheered. Pulling his dagger, he rushed forward and held it in front of Huangfu Ge’s left eye. “Tell your men to get out,” he shouted, “No one is allowed to come in!”

Huangfu Ge was unable to move; feeling the thick cold air of the dagger on his face he was greatly amazed. “All of you get out,” he called out, “Tell everybody no one is allowed to come in.” His several dozen men hesitated for half a day. Wei Xiaobao made a move as if he was going to thrust his dagger to kill, the men immediately rushed out of the temple.

The giant monk opened his round eyes wide, he gazed at Shuang’er for half a day. “Hey,” he said, “Good child!” Picking up the golden pestle with his left hand and supporting the middle-aged monk, he walked back into the vihara.

Wei Xiaobao rushed two steps forward, he wanted to talk to the middle-aged monk, but he was too late. Shuang’er went toward Cheng Guang and unsealed his acupoints, saying, “These bad eggs are violent, vicious and overbearing, they offended the Great Monk.”

Cheng Guang stood up, put his palms together and said, “Young benefactor’s body and mind possess supreme feat, you have saved my temple from great catastrophe. Lao Na has the blurred vision of an old person, I did not recognize an expert, and thus has failed miserably to show respect.”

“No, you have not,” Shuang’er replied, “All along you were very polite toward our young master.”

Only after calming himself down did Wei Xiaobao realize that the paper he tossed onto Huangfu Ge’s face and blurred his vision was actually a big wad of banknotes. He laughed aloud and said, “Those who see banknotes and not surrender, perhaps only a few in this world. I attacked using several tens of thousands taels, you simply can’t not cry out ‘surrender’.” Giggling, Shuang’er picked up the scattered banknotes and returned them to Wei Xiaobao.

“Wei Gongzi [young master],” Cheng Guang asked, “How should we deal with the situation here?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “These three friends, tell your men to disperse!”

Immediately Huangfu Ge raised his voice, “All of you, go down the mountain and wait for me there.” They heard several hundred men outside complied together, followed by the rustling noise of footsteps, in an instant they have all left.

Cheng Guang was relieved. He reached down to unseal Xinxi’s acupoint. “Abbot, hold on,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I want to talk to you first.”

“Yes!” Cheng Guang replied, “But these several Shixiong have had their acupoints sealed for quite a long time, their hands and feet are numb, I must unseal their acupoints first.”

“It won’t do any harm to leave them for a while,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s go to that hall over there and sit down.”

Cheng Guang nodded. “Yes,” he said. Turning to Xinxi, he said, “Shixiong, please don’t be impatient, I will be back shortly to unseal your acupoints.” Taking Wei Xiaobao along, he went to the Buddhist hall on the west.

“Abbot,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Are these people really here to look for the young lama?” Cheng Guang was at a loss for words, he was unable to answer. Wei Xiaobao leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “I know that they are here for that Emperor Monk.”

Cheng Guang’s body trembled. He nodded slowly. “Turns out the young benefactor has already known,” he said.

In a low voice Wei Xiaobao continued, “I came to your precious monastery, performing repentance ritual and Buddhist ceremony was a fake reason, actually I receive … receive an order to protect the Emperor Monk.”

Cheng Guang nodded. “I see,” he said, “Lao Na has already suspected as much. Young benefactor was rushing to Qing Liang Temple, your manner did not look like someone desiring to perform a Buddhist ceremony.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Although we have captured Huangfu Ge, Bayan, and the other, it’s like capturing a tiger is easy, letting the tiger go is difficult. Even if we take the trouble of letting them go, in just a few days they would return to nag at us endlessly; it will be very troublesome!”

“But we must not kill them,” Cheng Guang said, “There have been quite a number of people losing their lives in this temple today. Ay, Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha Buddha.”

“Killing them would be useless,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How about this: tell your men to tie them up. We will investigate carefully: why did they come to look for the Emperor Monk?”

Cheng Guang was reluctant. “This is a peaceful Buddhist establishment,” he said, “We, who have left home, secretly tie up people and interrogate them, it does not seem reasonable.”

“What do you mean unreasonable?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “They came here and killed the monks in your temple, are you saying they are being reasonable? If we do not investigate clearly and think of a way to deal with them, and then they come back to kill, to set your Qing Liang Temple on fire, what should we do?”

Cheng Guang thought for a while, then he nodded and said, “That sounds reasonable. Let it be as Benefactor instructed.” He clapped his hands to summon a monk, and ordered him, “Please invite that Mr. Huangfu here, we have something we’d like to consult with him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This Huangfu Ge is very crafty, I am afraid we can’t find anything from him. Let us ask that Great Lama first.”

“Right, right,” Cheng Guang said, “Why didn’t I think about it earlier?”

Two monks dragged Bayan into the hall, they were angry at him for killing the monks of their temple, hence they threw him heavily on the floor. “Ay,” Cheng Guang said, “How come you do not have any manners toward the Great Lama?”

“Yes!” the two monks replied, and withdrew out of the hall.

Wei Xiaobao lifted a chair with his left hand, and then with the dagger in his right hand, he scraped layer after layer off the chair’s leg. The dagger was incomparably sharp, slice by slice the chair’s leg was cut away, until it was only about a tenth or a twentieth of its original thickness, just like peeling a fruit. Cheng Guang watched with eyes opened wide, he did not understand Wei Xiaobao’s intention.

Wei Xiaobao put down the chair, and walked toward Bayan. He ran his left hand over Bayan’s head, and raised the dagger in his right hand, making a scraping motion just like scraping away the chair’s leg just a moment ago.

“Don’t!” Bayan cried out.

Cheng Guang also shouted, “You can’t do that!”

“What do you mean I can’t do that?” Wei Xiaobao said angrily, “I know all Tibetan Great Lamas are trained in some kind of iron head skill, saber and spear won’t penetrate their heads. When I was in Beijing, I have personally used this dagger to scrape a Great Lama’s head, I spent half a day and I could not cut him down. Great Lama, are you a genuine goods at fair prices, or are you a fake article? If I do not test you, how am I going to find out?”

Bayan hastily said, “I have never trained that iron head skill, if you scrape my head, I’ll die.”

“Not necessarily,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If I cut you two or three cun, you might not necessarily die. Let me scrape only a layer of your skull, just until I can see your brains. If you are telling the truth, your brain will be motionless, but if you lie, your brain will boil endlessly, just like vegetable boiled in water. I have something to ask you, if I don’t scrape open your brain, how do I know if you are telling the truth or a lie?”

“Don’t scrape, don’t scrape,” Bayan said, “I will tell you the truth.”

Wei Xiaobao ran his hand over Bayan’s scalp and said, “The truth or a lie, how do I know?”

“If I don’t tell you the truth,” Bayan said, “It won’t be too late for you to scrape my scalp then.”

Wei Xiaobao thought for a moment and said, “Very well, let me ask you this: who told you to come to Qing Liang Temple?”

“It was the Great Lama Sheng Luo Tuo of Pusa Ding Zhen Rong Yuan [lit. courtyard of the genuine appearance of the crown of Bodhisattva’s head] who sent me here,” Bayan replied.

“Amitabha Buddha,” Cheng Guang said, “The green and yellow temples of Mount Wutai have never had any hatred or desire for revenge, how can the Great Lama of Pusa Ding send you here to create trouble?”

“I did not come to create trouble,” Bayan said, “Sheng Luo Tuo Shixiong asked me to look for a monk in his thirties; he told me this monk had stolen the treasured scripture of our Living Buddha in Lhasa, and went into hiding in Qing Liang Temple, thus we must find and arrest him.”

“Amitabha Buddha,” Cheng Guang said, “How can there be such thing?”

Wei Xiaobao raised his dagger and shouted, “You are lying, I am going to scrape open your scalp and look at your brain.”

“I am not, I am not lying,” Bayan cried out, “If you don’t believe me, go ask Sheng Luo Tuo Shixiong. He told us to pretend that we are looking for a young lama, but actually we are looking for that middle-aged monk. He also said that that Mr. Huangfu knew this monk, so he asked him to accompany us looking for this monk. Sheng Luo Tuo Shixiong said that this monk has stolen our secret Tibetan Tantra Scripture, ‘Da Pi Lu Zhe Na Fo Shen Bian Jia Chi Jing’ [I won’t bother translating this, I think it is a transliteration of some Sanskrit words; if anybody can help me, that would be great]; it’s not a small matter at all. If I managed to get hold of this monk, I will perform a great service, when I return to Lhasa, the Living Buddha will certainly reward me heavily.”

Wei Xiaobao saw his expression looked sincere, it did not appear to be fake at all, so he assumed Bayan was also being deceived by others, who did not want him to know the truth about Shunzhi. Thereupon he took out the Tibetan letter he snatched away from the three Tibetan lamas Shuang’er had caught. He opened it up and said, “Read it for me, tell me what it says.” While saying that, he placed the blade of his dagger flat on the top of Bayan’s head.

[Translator’s note: since in the 3rd edition Wei Xiaobao had never met the three lamas, all reference to the letter is gone. All information still exist, it’s just that Bayan told him that the information was ‘according to his Sheng Luo Tuo Shixiong’.]

“Yes, yes!” Bayan said, and then he uttered some gibberish as he read the letter.

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Not bad,” he said, “You read very well, you did not miss a single word. But this Fangzhang Dashi does not understand Tibetan, please translate the letter into Chinese for him.”

Bayan said, “The letter says, this big … big personality is indeed in the Qing Liang Temple of Mount Wutai. We recently received information that Shen … Shen Long Jiao is going to invite him, we must … must strike first and gain the upper hand.”

Hearing him mentioning ‘Shen Long Jiao’ three characters, Wei Xiaobao believed he was not lying. “What else does the letter say?” he asked.

Bayan said, “The letter says, going to Qing Liang Temple to invite this big personality is not difficult, but perhaps Shen Long Jiao has also received the information and is going to act; therefore, Sheng Luo Tuo Shixiong is asking Da He’er Shixiong of Beijing to hasten in sending a martial art master to come and render his assistance. If … if the Great Lama Sang Jie has arrived in Beijing, the Senior is unequalled in the present age, if he personally take charge of this matter, it will be … will be a ‘not one in ten thousand failures’ [wan shi wu yi] …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and cursed, “Damn it! It’s ‘not one failure in ten thousand (matters)’ [wan wu yi shi – surefire, absolutely safe]. What do you mean ‘not one in ten thousand failures’?” That he was able to correct someone else’s mistake in Chinese expression, it was a ‘hard to meet in a thousand years’ opportunity, not one chance in ten thousand matters, thereupon he was very pleased with himself.

“Yes, yes,” Bayan said, “It’s one in ten thousand without failure [wan yi wu shi] …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Your Lama Granny,” he said, “You’re still saying it wrong. What else?”

“Nothing else,” Bayan said, “There’s nothing else below that.”

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “What do you mean there’s nothing else below that? Is it I don’t have anything else down below, or is it you don’t have anything else down below?”

“We all … we all don’t have anything else down below,” Bayan replied.

“What do you mean we all don’t have anything else down below?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“There are no more letters below that,” Bayan replied.

Wei Xiaobao burst into loud laughter. He asked, “What kind of man is that Huangfu Ge?”

“He is the helper that Sheng Luo Tuo Shixiong invited,” Bayan replied, “He arrived only last night.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. He turned to Cheng Guang and said, “Abbot, I want to examine that fat monk from the Fo Guang Temple. If you don’t feel comfortable, there is no harm in you listening from outside the window.”

“That would be best, that would best,” Cheng Guang said. He ordered Bayan to be taken out and Xinxi to be brought in, while he himself returned to the meditation room, he was not willing to listen from outside the window.

As he entered the room, Xinxi’s face was all smiles as he said, “Two benefactors are young, yet your martial art skill is superb. Lao Na has neither seen nor heard about it. Young heroes, really amazing, amazing!”

“F*ck your granny,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Who needs your boot-licking?” And he kicked Xinxi’s buttocks.

Although Xinxi was in pain, his smile did not diminish; he said, “Yes, yes, all real heroes and warriors definitely do not like to hear boot-licking. But the old monk is being sincere, it can’t be considered as boot-licking.”

“Let me ask you,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You came to create havoc in Qing Liang Temple, who sent you here?”

“Since benefactor asks, the old monk does not dare to conceal anything from you,” Xinxi replied, “The Great Lama Sheng Luo Tuo of Pusa Ding Zhen Rong Yuan sent two hundred taels for me, asking me to accompany his Shidi [younger martial brother] Bayan to come to Qing Liang Temple to look for … look for someone. The old monk cannot receive a reward without deserving it, therefore, I was obliged to accompany him.”

Wei Xiaobao kicked him again. “Rubbish!” he cursed, “You still think you can lie to me? Quickly tell me the truth.”

“Yes, yes,” Xinxi said, “I can’t hide it from the benefactor, the Great Lama sent me three hundred taels.”

“Obviously it was a thousand taels,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“To tell you the truth, it was five hundred taels,” Xinxi said, “If I received one more tael, the old monk is not a human.”

“What kind of ‘thing’ is that Huangfu ge?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Xinxi replied, “That son of a b1tch is not a good thing, it was that crafty lama Bayan who brought him along. As soon as benefactor let me go, the old monk will immediately take him to Wutai County; I will ask the County Head Magistrate to punish him properly. Qing Liang Temple is a peaceful and quiet Buddhist establishment, how can we allow him to commit outrages here? Young benefactor, those several lives, along with several perished lamas, we can push the blame on his head.”

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance sank, he said, “Clearly you killed them all, how can you push the blame on someone else’s head?”

Xinxi beseeched him, “Good Young Master, please spare me.”

Wei Xiaobao had him removed from the room, and had Huangfu Ge in to be interrogated. But this man was very tough, he refused to answer anything. He ignored Wei Xiaobao’s intimidation with the dagger. When Shuang’er sealed his ‘tian huo’ acupoint, the pain was unbearable that he could not help but groaning, but he still refused to answer Wei Xiaobao’s question. He simply said, “If you have guts, just stab your master dead with your dagger; torturing people is not a hero’s conduct.”

Wei Xiaobao respected him as a real man. “Alright,” he said, “We won’t torture you.” He ordered Shuang’er to unseal his ‘tian huo’ acupoint.

After he had Huangfu Ge taken out of the room, he invited Cheng Guang back and said, “We must consult that big personality on how to conclude this matter.”

Cheng Guang shook his head, “He is resolved not to see any outsider.”

Enraged, Wei Xiaobao said, “What do you mean he does not want to see outsiders? Hasn’t he seen outsiders just now? If we washed our hands and did not care, wouldn’t he be taken away by outsiders? In just a few days, the Great Lama of Beijing will send someone else here, there will be some unequalled martial art masters, and then there will be some Shen Long [divine dragon] Jiao, Wugui [turtle] Jiao people. Even if we wanted to help, we would still be no match for that many people.”

“You are right,” Cheng Guang said.

“Go talk to him,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The situation is urgent, we simply must come up with a way to deal with this problem.”

Cheng Guang shook his head and said, “Lao Na has agreed that everyone in this temple, Lao Na included, will never talk to him.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am not a monk of your temple, I’ll go and talk to him.”

“You can’t, you can’t,” Cheng Guang said, “As soon as young benefactor enters the vihara, his Shidi, that giant monk Xing Dian, may kill you with his pestle.”

“He won’t strike me dead,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Cheng Guang cast a glance toward Shuang’er before saying, “Even if you send your honorable servant to deal with Monk Xing Dian, Xing Chi will still refuse to talk to you.”

“Xing Chi?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Is his Buddhist name Xing Chi?”

“Yes,” Cheng Guang replied, “Turns out benefactor did not know it.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Since that’s the case, there is nothing I can do. Since you don’t have any ‘not one in ten thousand failures’ [wan shi wu yi] good plan, it’s a pity that a nice ancient temple like Qing Liang Temple will be destroyed in your hands as the Abbot.”

Cheng Guang frowned and showed deep concern on his face, he rubbed his hands repeatedly. Suddenly he said, “I’ll go and ask Yulin Shixiong, perhaps he has a solution.”

“And who is this Yulin Dashi?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“He is Xing Chi’s religious Shifu[2],” Cheng Guang replied.

“That’s great,” Wei Xiaobao delightedly said, “Take me to see this old monk.”

Immediately Cheng Guang led Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er out from the back door of Qing Liang Temple and walked about a li to a tiny old temple. There was no inscribed board above the temple’s door. Cheng Guang walked straight in, and continued toward the meditation room at the back. They saw an old monk, with white hair and white eyebrows, sitting on a putuan [meditation mat]. His eyes were closed in meditation; he seemed to be completely oblivious of the three people who had just walked in.

Cheng Guang signaled them with his hand, and then he quietly sat down on another putuan at the side, lowered his head and closed his eyes, and put his palms together. Wei Xiaobao snickered inwardly; following his example, he also sat down. Shuang’er stood behind him. All around them was very quiet, it seemed that this old monk was the only one in this tiny temple.

After a long time, the old monk still had not moved a single jot, it was as if he was already dead. Unexpectedly, Cheng Guang also did not move at all. Wei Xiaobao’s hands were numb and his legs ached, he was greatly impatient, he stood up and sat back down again, he sat down and stood back up again, while in his heart he cursed the old monk’s eighteen ancestors several dozen times.

Then, after a long time, the old monk finally let out a deep breath and slowly opened his eyes. He was not surprised at all to see people in front of him, he simply nodded his head slightly.

Cheng Guang said, “Shixiong, Xing Chi’s earthly karma has not been broken, some people came to the temple to look for him, I am asking Shixiong to resolve it according to the Dharma.”

The old monk Yulin said, “All circumstances are born in the heart, the resolution is already inside.”

Cheng Guang said, “The outside devils are heavy, Qing Liang Temple is in trouble.” Thereupon he narrated how Xinxi, Bayan, Huangfu Ge, and the others had come to kidnap Xing Chi, fortunately Wei Xiaobao, master and servant, had lent their hands to save him. He also told him how several people from both sides had died, and how the enemy did not seem to be willing to let the matter drop. Yulin listened silently without making any sound, and then he closed his eyes again and went into meditation.

Wei Xiaobao was furious; suddenly he sprang up and shouted, “F*ck …” But he only managed to utter one word, Cheng Guang repeatedly signaled him, asking him not to be angry, and asking him to sit down and wait. This time Yulin’s meditation lasted less than an hour. Wei Xiaobao mused, “From among the big robbers and strong bandits, vixens and scoundrels of the world, no one is as annoying as this old monk.”

After all the trouble, Yulin finally opened his eyes once again. He asked, “Benefactor Wei came from Beijing?”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Benefactor Wei is working at His Majesty’s side?” Yulin asked again.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he sprang up and said, “You … you … how did you know?”

“Lao Na is only guessing,” Yulin replied.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “This old monk is of some demonic school, perhaps he really has some magical power.” Thereupon he did not dare to curse him in his heart anymore; he sat back down obediently.

Yulin said, “His Majesty sent Benefactor Wei to see Xing Chi, what message do you have?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “This old monk knows everything, it will be useless to hide the truth from him.” Thereupon he said, “His Majesty learned that the Old Emperor is still in the world of the living, he is both delighted and sad, he sent me to kowtow and pay his respect to the Old Emperor. If … if the Old Emperor is willing to return to the Palace and be his old self, nothing can be better than that.” Actually, Kangxi said that after the truth was ascertained, he himself would go up Mount Wutai to have an audience with his Fu Huang [father emperor], but Wei Xiaobao kept this words and did not say it.

Yulin said, “His Majesty ordered benefactor to take what kind of token of confidence?”

From his innermost pocket Wei Xiaobao took out the edict Kangxi had written with his own hand, and presented it with both hands, saying, “Dashi, please look at this.” The imperial edict said, “The Imperial Bodyguard Deputy Chief Wei Xiaobao, hereby being granted by the Emperor himself to wear Yellow Magua, 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.”

Yulin took the letter, read it, and returned it to Wei Xiaobao, saying, “Turns out it is the Imperial Bodyguard Deputy Chief Wei Daren, forgive me for failing to show respect.”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself, thinking, “Do you dare to despise me now?” But looking at Yulin’s face, he did not see any respectful expression, his conceited heart immediately dissipated.

“Benefactor Wei,” Yulin said, “In your opinion, how should we handle this matter?”

“I want to kowtow to the Old Emperor,” Wei Xiaobao said, “And wait for the Old Emperor’s instruction.”

Yulin said, “Formerly, his riches reached the four seas, but after leaving home and become a monk, the earthly karma has already been severed. These three words ‘lao huang ye’ [Old Emperor] can no longer be mentioned, so as not to shock him and disturb his peaceful cultivation.” Wei Xiaobao was silent without replying anything.

Yulin continued, “Please go back and report to His Majesty, Xing Chi is not willing to see you, he is also unwilling to see any outsider.”

“His Majesty is his son,” Wei Xiaobao said, “He is not an outsider.”

“Why is it called ‘leave home’?” Yulin said, “It’s because home is no longer home, wife and children are outsiders.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Apparently it is you, the old monk, who is playing trick, always stand on the way. Even if the Old Emperor is unwilling to return to the Palace, he might not necessarily be unwilling to see his own son.” He said, “Since that’s the case, I will dispatch men and horses to go up Mount Wutai to guard and protect, we must not let idle people to enter the temple and create disturbance.”

Yulin showed a faint smile as he said, “This way, Qing Liang Temple will turn into an inner courtyard of the Palace, or a government office; the Imperial Bodyguard Deputy Chief Wei Daren becomes a messenger at the Qing Liang Temple. To be blunt with you, if that’s the case, Xing Chi might as well return to the Palace in Beijing.”

“So Dashi has another great idea to protect the Old … the Senior,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Zaixia will … will listen with respectful attention.”

Yulin smiled and said, “Benefactor Wei is so young, yet has such an awesome background, no wonder that at your teenage year you have already occupied such a high-ranking post.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, “Great idea, that I do not have, those who have left home stand aloof from worldly affair, we resign ourselves to adversity. Thank you very much for Benefactor Wei’s kind intention, if Qing Liang Temple is really facing a misfortune, we’ll leave it to fate to escape from calamity.” Finished speaking, he put his palms together to salute, closed his eyes, and went back to meditation.

Cheng Guang stood up, signaled with his hand, and withdrew toward the door, where he bowed with palms together toward Yulin. Wei Xiaobao made faces toward Yulin, stuck out his tongue, put the thumb of his right hand on his own nose, with the other four fingers waving toward Yulin. With this gesture he was saying, “What a stink, what a stink!” Yulin had his eyes closed, he did not see anything.

When the three of them were outside, Cheng Guang said, “Yulin Dashi is an eminent senior monk, he has reached the enlightenment level. Lao Na is going to release Abbot Xinxi and the others and let them go. Benefactor Wei, our meeting today is brought together by fate, let us part here.” Finished speaking, he brought his palms together, bowed to salute, and left. Unexpectedly he did not let Wei Xiaobao to re-enter Qing Liang Temple.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was on fire; he said, “Very well, since you already have a brilliant scheme that is ‘not one in ten thousand failures’ (wan shi wu yi), it’s actually me who was being meddlesome.”

He told Shuang’er to fetch Yu Ba and his retinue, and then without telling anybody else they went down the mountain, back to Ling Jing Temple to spend the night there.

The previous night he had donated seventy taels of silver to the Ling Jing Temple. When the administrator of the monastery saw the big benefactor once again graced their temple with his visit, he eagerly and attentively welcomed them.

In the guestroom, with one hand supporting his cheek, Wei Xiaobao contemplated, “I have seen the Old Emperor. Turns out he is not that old, but he is in a very dangerous situation; the Tibetan Lamas want to capture him, the Shen Long Jiao also want to get him. That old bald thief Yulin is putting on an act, but does not have the least bit of farting skill; what good is Abbot Cheng Guang one man alone? I am afraid in just a few days the Old Emperor will be captured by those people, and then how am I going to explain to Xiao Xuanzi?”

As he turned his head around, he saw Shuang’er’s beautiful eyebrows were furrowed, she looked really upset. “Shuang’er,” he asked, “Why are you unhappy?”

“Nothing,” Shuang’er replied.

“I know you have a load on your mind,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Quickly tell me.”

“It’s really nothing,” Shuang’er replied.

Suddenly Wei Xiaobao remembered something. “Ah, I get it,” he said, “You are blaming me for being an official in the Imperial Court, but all along have never told you.”

Shuang’er’s eyes turned red as she said, “The Tatar Emperor is a big evil man, Xianggong you … how can you be their official? Not only that, you are a high-ranking official.” While saying that, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Wei Xiaobao was taken aback. “Silly child,” he said, “Why do you have to cry over that?”

Sobbing and sniffling, Shuang’er said, “The Third Mistress has given me to Xianggong, she told me to serve you, to obey your commands. But … but you are a … a high-ranking official in the Imperial Court, my papa, mama, and two gege [older brother], were all killed by evil government officials. You … you …” And she burst out crying.

Momentarily Wei Xiaobao was at a loss of what to do. “Alright, alright!” he hastily said, “I will tell you everything. Let me tell you the truth, my position as a government official is only a cover, I am the Xiangzhu of Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui, the Heaven is my father, the Earth is my mother, we fight the Qing to restore the Ming. Do you understand? My Shifu is Tian Di Hui’s Zongduozhu, I have already told your Third Mistress everything. Our Tian Di Hui stand to oppose the Imperial Court. My Shifu sent me to infiltrate the Imperial Palace to become an officer, for the purpose of spying on the Tatars’ movement. This is top secret information, if this info leaks out, my life cannot be protected anymore.”

Shuang’er reached out and pressed his hand against Wei Xiaobao’s lips. “Don’t say anything anymore,” she said in a low voice, “It’s all my fault, I forced you to tell me.” While saying that, her tears were turned into laughter. She continued, “Xianggong is a good man, naturally you can’t possibly do bad things. I … I really am a silly servant girl.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You are a well-behaved girl.” Pulling her hand, he let her sit on the kang, by his side. In a low voice he told her everything about Shunzhi and Kangxi. He said, “The young emperor is only a teenager, his father has left home to become a Buddhist monk and no longer wants to be with him. Don’t you think we should pity him? Those fellows who came to get him today were all very, very bad people, how fortunate it was that you saved him.”

Shuang’er let out a breath and said, “Finally I did a good thing.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “No more than sending the Buddha onto the Western Paradise. Those people were released by the Abbot. Definitely they are not going to let go, they will come back to get that old emperor, cut the flesh of his body piece by piece, cook it, and eat it; won’t that be terrible?” He knew Shuang’er had a good heart, in order to arouse her courage so that she would be willing to save people, he intentionally pictured Shunzhi’s plight to be utterly dire.

Shuang’er shivered; “Why would they want to eat his flesh?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Monk Tangseng[3] went to the Western Paradise to fetch the scriptures; have you heard this tale?”

“I have,” Shuang’er replied, “And there were Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie[4] too.”

“Along the way, they met many demons,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They all wanted to eat Tangseng’s flesh; they said he was a holy monk, if they ate his flesh, they would become Buddhist immortal.”

“Ah, I know,” Shuang’er said, “These bad people thought that the Old Emperor is also a holy monk.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are really smart. The Old Emperor Monk can be compared to Tangseng, and those bad people are the demons. I am the monkey Sun, Sun Xingzhe [another name for Sun Wukong], and you are … you are …” Speaking to this point, he raised his palms to cover his own ears, because right that moment, a slap was coming to his face.

Shuang’er laughed and said, “You are saying I am the Zhu Bajie?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your appearance looks like Guanyin Pusa [Goddess of Mercy], but your action looks like Zhu Bajie.”

Shuang’er quickly waved her hand, “Don’t say anything to offend the Bodhisattva,” she said, “Xianggong, you may be the Shancai Boy Hong Hai’er[5] by the Guanyin Pusa’s side, and I …” Speaking to this point, her face blushed, she did not continue whatever she was going to say next.

“That’s right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I can be the Shancai Boy, and you are the Long Nu [dragon girl]. The two of us will always be together, and whatever happens we will never part.”

Shuang’er’s cheeks blushed even deeper, she said in a low voice, “Naturally I will serve you forever, unless … unless you don’t want me anymore, and drive me away.”

Wei Xiaobao raised his palm to make a cutting gesture across his own neck and said, “Even if you cut my head, I will never drive you away. Unless you don’t want me anymore, and sneak out on your own.”

Shuang’er also raised her palm to make a cutting gesture across her own neck and said, “Even if you cut my head, I will never leave.” The two of them burst out in loud laughter.

Ever since Shuang’er followed Wei Xiaobao, she had always observed master-servant relationship strictly, very little did she ever chat and laugh with him. This moment, after listening to Wei Xiaobao telling her the truth about him, her heart felt happy and at ease. By laughing together like this, the friendship between them grew several degrees more intimate.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Now that the problem between us is sorted out, we have to think of a way, how are we going to save Tangseng?”

Shuang’er laughed and said, “To save Monk Tangseng, the Great Sage the Equal of Heaven[6] had always come up with an idea, Zhu Bajie was only a bum beetle.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “If Zhu Bajie was as good-looking as you are, Tangseng would never leave home to become a Buddhist monk.”

“Why is that?” Shuang’er asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Naturally Tangseng would take Zhu Bajie as his wife.”

‘Pfft,’ Shuang’er broke into laughter. “Zhu Bajie was a pig demon, who would want to take him as a wife?”

Hearing Shuang’er mentioning taking a pig demon as a wife, Wei Xiaobao suddenly remembered the ‘huadiao fuling’ pig, in which Mu Jianping came to him; he wondered where she and Fang Yi were right this moment, and whether she was safe and sound. Seeing Wei Xiaobao was staring blankly, lost in thought, Shuang’er did not dare to interrupt his train of thought.

A moment later, Wei Xiaobao said, “I have found a way not to let those bad people catch the Old Emperor. Shuang’er, if, for example, there is a similar treasure, and a lot of thieves and bandits want to steal it, what should we do, so that those thieves and bandits cannot steal it?”

Shuang’er replied, “When we see thieves and bandits come to steal it, we capture them.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “The thieves and bandits are too many, we cannot catch them all. We must become thieves and bandits ourselves.”

“We become thieves and bandits?” Shuang’er asked.

“Right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “We strike first and gain the upper hand. If we steal the treasure first and have it in our hands, then other thieves and bandits cannot steal it.”

Shuang’er clapped her hands and said with a laugh, “I get it, we catch the Old Emperor Monk first.”

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Without further ado, let’s leave now.”

The two of them reached the perimeter of the Qing Liang Temple. Wei Xiaobao said, “The sky is not dark yet, stealing stuff or stealing a monk, we must wait until the sky is dark.” The two of them hid in the wood, with great difficulty waiting for the whole mountain to be shrouded in darkness, and all noises ceased.

In a low voice Wei Xiaobao said, “In the temple, only Abbot one person knows martial art, luckily in the fight just now, he suffered an injury, he must be lying down to rest by now. You go seal that big fat monk Xing Dian’s acupoint, and then we can steal the Old Emperor monk out. It’s just that Xing Dian’s strength is enormous, that golden pestle of his is very formidable, you must be very careful.” Shuang’er nodded, indicating that she understood.

After listening attentively and convinced that there was nobody around, the two of them quietly leaped over the enclosure and walked toward the vihara where Shunzhi was meditating. They saw the board gate was already closed, but the damage done on the door by the kick earlier that day had not been repaired, it was put there only as a shield against the wind. Creeping closed to the wall, Shuang’er went in. She pulled the board facing left, and saw a flash or yellow light. ‘Whoosh!’ the golden pestle struck down from the gap between the door leaves.

Shuang’er waited until the golden pestle swung back up before she swiftly leaped in, while stretching out her finger to seal the two acupoints on Xing Dian’s chest one after another. “Really sorry!” she said in a low voice. Raising both hands, she grabbed the golden pestle in his hands. Xing Dian’s acupoints were sealed, his body turned weak and he slowly dropped down. The golden pestle was more than a hundred catties. If Shuang’er did not catch it, it would fell down and crush his toes. Wei Xiaobao followed; he dodged inside and pulled the door leaf.

The vihara was very small; in the darkness, he vaguely saw someone was sitting on a putuan. Wei Xiaobao knew it must be the Emperor Shunzhi whose Buddhist name was Xing Chi. Immediately he kowtowed and said, “Your servant Wei Xiaobao, who saved your honorable self during the day. Old Emperor, please do not panic.” Xing Chi was silent without making any noise.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “The Old Emperor is meditating quietly in here, actually, it is very good; however, there are a lot of bad people outside who want to capture the Old Emperor, who want to do you harm. In order to protect the Old Emperor, your servant would like to invite you to another peaceful place, so that the bad people won’t be able to get you.”

Xing Chi still did not reply. Wei Xiaobao said, “Well then, would the Old Emperor please leave together with your servant?”

A long time passed, Wei Xiaobao saw him still sit cross-legged, motionless. By this time Wei Xiaobao had been in the dark for quite a while, he started to be able to see more clearly. He noticed that Xing Chi’s posture in meditating was exactly the same as Yulin whom he saw during the day. Wei Xiaobao was not sure if he was really meditating, or he was simply ignoring him. He said, “The Old Emperor’s real identity is already known, there is no one in Qing Liang Temple who can protect you. A group of the enemy has left, another group will come, in the end, the Old Emperor will be captured by them. We’d better find another quiet place where you can meditate in peace.”

Xing Chi still did not reply. Xing Dian suddenly said, “You, two children are good people, luckily you saved me during the day. When my Shixiong is meditating, he does not talk to anyone. Where do you want him to go?” His voice was originally very loud, but he struggled hard to lower his voice, so that it became very hoarse.

Wei Xiaobao stood up and said, “Anywhere is alright. Wherever your Shixiong wishes to go, we will accompany him there. So long as those bad people cannot find him, the two of you can meditate and chant the names of Buddha in peace and quiet.”

“We do not chant the names of Buddha,” Xing Dian said.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Do not chant the names of Buddha is also fine. Shuang’er, quickly unseal this Dashi’s acupoints.”

Shuang’er stretched out her hand to massage Xing Dian’s back and the side of his torso to unseal his acupoints. “I am really sorry,” she said.

Xing Dian respectfully said to Xing Chi, “Shixiong, these two children are inviting us to temporarily go out and hide.”

Xing Chi said, “Shifu has not told us to leave Qing Liang Temple.” His voice was very clear and bright. It was the very first time that Wei Xiaobao heard his voice.

Xing Dian said, “If the enemies carry out a large scale operation to attack, these two children won’t be able to resist.”

“All circumstances are born in the heart,” Xing Chi said, “When it come to danger, everywhere in the world is dangerous. When the heart is peaceful, everywhere in the world is peaceful. The other day you killed and injured many people, and thus greatly accumulated evil business. Hereafter, no matter what, you must not rush indiscriminately into action without clear understanding.”

Xing Dian stared blankly for half a day before saying, “Shixiong’s direction is true.” Turning his head toward Wei Xiaobao he said, “Shixiong does not want to leave, you have heard him.”

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows and said, “If the enemy came to get your Shixiong, slicing the flesh of his body piece by piece with a knife, what would you do?”

Xing Dian said, “None among the common people does not die; to live several years longer, or several years shorter, there is not much difference.”

“What do you mean there is not much difference?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Then there is no difference between a dead person and a living person, there is no difference between man and woman, there is also no difference between monk and turtle or pig?”

“All living creatures are equal,” Xing Dian said, “It has always been like that since the beginning.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “No wonder one is called Xing Chi, the other is called Xing Dian; they are indeed foolish and inverted[7]. Urging them to leave is unsuccessful. If we seal the Old Emperor’s acupoint and carry him out, it is indeed too disrespectful, plus it will be difficult to escape from other people’s attention.” In that moment he had his hands bound and was unable to do anything, his heart was angered and he was unable to hold back. “If there is not much difference between anything, then there is not much difference between the Empress and Empress Duan Jing, why do you have to leave home?” he blurted.

Xing Chi suddenly sprang up. “You … what did you say?” he asked in trembling voice.

As soon as he blurted out, Wei Xiaobao had already regretted it. Immediately he kowtowed and said, “Your servant is uttering nonsense, Old Emperor please do not get angry.”

Xing Chi said, “The matter of the past, I have already forgotten it. Why do you still use that kind of appellation? Please rise quickly, I have something I’d like to ask you.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He stood up, thinking, “I have succeeded in arousing your interest to talk, finally there is a little bit of progress.”

“Where did you hear about the two Empresses from?” Xing Chi asked

“I heard it from Hai Dafu when he was talking to the Empress Dowager,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“You know Hai Dafu?” Xing Chi asked, “What happened to him?”

“He was killed by the Empress Dowager,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Xing Chi cried out in alarm. “He is dead?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Empress Dowager killed him using the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ skill.”

With a trembling voice Xing Chi said, “How can the Empress Dowager know … know martial art? How did you know?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Hai Dafu and the Empress Dowager fought in the garden at the Palace of Compassionate and Peace, I saw it with my own eyes.”

“Who are you?” Xing Chi asked.

“Your servant is the Imperial Bodyguard Deputy Chief Wei Xiaobao,” Wei Xiaobao replied, and then he immediately added, “Currently I am on mission, sent by His Majesty himself. Here is the imperial edict.” While saying that, he presented the imperial note Kangxi wrote.

Xing Chi was staring blankly for a moment, he did not reach out to take the letter. Xing Dian said, “There has never been any lantern in here.”

Xing Chi sighed. “Is the young emperor well?” he asked, “Is he … is he happy being the emperor?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as the young emperor found out that the Old Emperor is still alive, he wished to grow wings and fly to Mount Wutai. In the Palace he wept and he cried, he was grieving but was also delighted, he wanted to go up the mountain, no matter what. But then … but then he was afraid he might neglect the important matters of the imperial court, so he sent your servant to come first and pay his respect to the Old Emperor. As soon as your servant return and present the memorial to him, the young emperor will personally come here.”

With a trembling voice Xing Chi said, “He … he does not need to come. He is a good emperor, thinking about the important matters of the imperial court first, not like me …” Speaking to this point, his voice turned into sobs.

In the darkness they could hear the sound of his tears dripping on the lapel of his outer garment. Hearing him expressing the father-son affection, Shuang’er felt the pit of her stomach ached, tears also streaming down her face.

Wei Xiaobao thought that he should not miss this golden opportunity, right now the Old Emperor’s emotion was agitated, he would easily hear what Wei Xiaobao had to say. Thereupon Wei Xiaobao said, “Hai Dafu has investigated everything clearly. The Empress Dowager murdered Prince Rong first, then she murdered Empress Duan Jing, and Empress Duan Jing’s meizi Consort Zhen. Afterwards she also murdered the young emperor’s mama. Hai Dafu has investigated everything clearly. When the Empress Dowager knew that the secret has been divulged, she personally killed Hai Dafu. She also dispatched a large number of people to go up Mount Wutai to plot against the Old Emperor’s life.”

The fact that Prince Rong, Empress Duan Jing and Consort Zhen, three people were killed by a martial art expert, had been investigated clearly by Hai Dafu, and had been reported to Xing Chi; afterwards he returned to the palace to investigate the murderer. But no matter what, Xing Chi could not believe that it was the Empress Dowager herself who went into action; he sighed and said, “The Empress Dowager does not know martial art.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Old Emperor would understand everything after listening to Empress Dowager and Hai Dafu’s exchange that night.” Thereupon he narrated in details the conversation between the two people that night at the garden. He was eloquent [orig. clever tooth sharp tooth]; although he was talking very fast, each word was very clear.

Xing Chi was originally a sentimental person, only because he was devotedly attached to imperial concubine Dong’e that after her death he did not even want to be the Emperor anymore, he willingly abandoned his position of ten-thousand four-horse chariots and shut himself up in a small secluded room. Although he had practiced Zen meditation for several years, the shadow of imperial concubine Dong’e was etched very deep in his heart that as soon as he heard Wei Xiaobao mentioning her name, in an instant all meditation and Buddhism dharma were tossed away to the back of his mind. The exchange between Hai Dafu and the Empress Dowager flowed in his heart, grief and indignation met together, the flow of chi in the pit of his stomach was blocked, he felt as if he was about to explode.

Finished narrating, Wei Xiaobao added, “Since that old … the Empress Dowager has started it, she will carry it through whatever happens; after she harms you, the Old Emperor, she will murder the young emperor. She also wants to dig Empress Duan Jing’s grave and issue an imperial order throughout the land, to burn down the book ‘Empress Duan Jing’s Quotation’; she said that all those ‘quotations’ are a fart. Any family who possess a copy at home will be searched, their belongings confiscated, and they will be beheaded!” This last part was entirely his fabrication, but it just happened to touch the wound in Xing Chi’s heart.

Xing Chi flew into rage, he slapped his own thigh forcefully and shouted, “That s1ut, I … I should have deposed her early on. With her carry on like this, it just brings disaster!”

In the past, Shunzhi wholeheartedly wanted to depose the Empress and established imperial concubine Dong’e to be the Empress; it was only because the Empress Dowager blocked him that he relented. If the imperial concubine Dong’e did not die, sooner or later the Empress position would be hers.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Old Emperor, you can see through the world’s affair, there is no difference between life and death, the young emperor must not be allowed to die, Empress Duan Jing’s grave must not be excavated, the ‘Empress Duan Jing’s Quotations’ must not be destroyed.”

“Correct,” Xing Chi said, “You are absolutely correct.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Therefore, we must go into hiding to avoid falling into the Empress Dowager’s evil scheme. The first step in Empress Dowager’s strategy is murdering you, the second step is murdering the young emperor, the third step is digging the grave and burn the ‘Quotations’. As long as the first step is unsuccessful, she would not dare to execute the second step, the third step.”

Shunzhi ascended the throne when he was seven, and left home to become Buddhist monk when he was twenty-four. By this time he was only in his thirties. His natural disposition was hot-tempered, his character fiery; in term of sensibility, although very young, Kangxi was ten times better than his father, consequently, when the Mu Palace people trying to frame Wu Sangui, Kangxi was able to see through their crafty scheme. Wei Xiaobao was telling him half truth and half lies, with a lot of fabrication in his speech, but Xing Chi accepted everything as the truth. However, although Wei Xiaobao fabricated the story about the Empress Dowager’s three steps, he was a disciple of the marketplace, his way of thinking was about the same as that of an insidious woman.

In a loud voice Xing Chi said, “Luckily you lay everything bare in a few words, otherwise the important matter will be spoiled. Shidi, we must leave immediately.”

“Yes,” Xing Dian replied. With his right hand he picked up the golden pestle, with his left hand he pushed the door leaf open.

As the door opened, they saw a shadow standing on the doorway. Xing Dian was unable to see his appearance in the dark. “Who is it?” he shouted, while lifting up his golden pestle.

That man said, “Where are you two going?”

Xing Dian was shocked; he threw away the golden pestle, put his palms together and called out, “Shifu!”

Xing Chi also called out, “Shifu!”

Turned out it was none other than Yulin. He slowly said, “I have heard everything you said.”

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao cried out in his heart, “Things have turned to the worse!”

Yulin said in deep voice, “The worldly enmity leading to sin must be resolved, by blindly avoiding it, in the end you won’t achieve anything. The cause will produce the result, which you must bear for as long as you live.”

Xing Chi prostrated himself to the ground, saying, “Shifu’s instruction is very true, disciple understands.”

“I am afraid your understanding is not deep enough,” Yulin said, “Your former wife wants to find you, let her come to find you. Our Buddha shows mercy to all living beings; she blamed you, she hated you, she wanted to kill you, you must resign yourself to her, you must introspect yourself instead, inevitably there must be something that made her blame you, hate you, a strong reason why she is determined to kill you. You try to avoid her, the karma remains. If you send someone to kill her, your evil karma will be even more grave.”

“Yes,” Xing Chi replied with a trembling voice.

Wei Xiaobao cursed in his belly, “F*ck your old bald thief’s granny! I want to curse you, beat you, kill you, I want to see if you’ll let me beat and curse you, I want to see if you’ll let me cut your bald head?”

He heard Yulin continued, “As for Tibetan lamas wanted to capture you, it was they who commit evil karma, they want to use you as a hostage to force the current emperor into submission, to go on the rampage by ignoring the law, oppressing and doing harm to common people. We must not let them have their outrageous way. For the time being, you cannot live here, you must come with me to the little temple at the back.” He turned around and left. Xing Chi and Xing Dian immediately followed him.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Although the young emperor bestowed me the Yellow Magua, I have never worn it for even one day. If I cannot complete this mission, when I return to Beijing, I won’t be able to answer the young emperor. In his anger, he might go back on his promise and thus won’t bestow the Yellow Magua to me. I’d better follow them and take a look.” Thereupon he and Shuang’er followed to Yulin’s little meditation temple.

Yulin acted as if he did not even see these two people; ignoring them completely, he went straight to the putuan and sat cross-legged. Xing Chi also sat down on the putuan next to him. Xing Dian glanced around, and then sat down on the putuan slightly lower than Xing Chi’s. Yulin and Xing Chi put their palms together and closed their eyes, sitting motionless. Xing Dian, however, opened his round eyes wide, staring at the empty space. Finally he also closed his eyes, his hands resting on his knees. After a while, he reached out to touch the golden pestle by the putuan, afraid that he might lose it.

Wei Xiaobao made a face toward Shuang’er, and then with exaggerated movement he also sat down on the putuan, Shuang’er also sat down close to him. Although Wei Xiaobao was not Sun Wukong, he had always been an active and restless boy, just like real monkey. If he was asked to sit still on the putuan for three quarters of an hour to an hour, it would be the same as asking for his life. But since the Old Emperor was sitting by his side, he was unwilling to leave the temple, no matter what. He twisted to the east, skewed to the west, pulling Shuang’er’s hand, tickling the palm of her hand. With great difficulty Shuang’er resisted the urge to laugh, with her left hand she pointed to Yulin and Xing Chi.

After enduring this for about an hour, Wei Xiaobao suddenly had a thought, “Even if he is learning to be a monk, the Old Emperor can’t possibly resist the need to pee and poo. When he is going out to pee or poo, I will use graceful words, flowery speech to trick him into escaping.” Having had this idea, his body calmed down somewhat.

In the quiet night, suddenly they heard footsteps of a lot of people in the distance. At first the sound was faint, but later on the footsteps were getting nearer and nearer, a large crowd of people were rushing toward Qing Liang Temple. The muscles on Xing Dian’s face twitched several times, he reached out to grab the golden pestle. Opening up his eyes, he saw Yulin and Xing Chi were still sitting motionless. He hesitated for a moment, and then he put down the golden pestle, and closed his eyes again.

They heard the crowd burst into Qing Liang Temple and the continuous sound of people yelling and shouting. Wei Xiaobao thought, “When they fail to find the Old Emperor in the temple, can’t they come here to look for him? I want to see how you, the old bald thief, are going to stop them.”

Sure enough, approximately one hour later, a large group of people swarmed toward the back of the mountain, and arrived outside the little temple. Someone called out, “Go in and search!”

Xing Dian suddenly sprang up, grabbed his golden pestle, and stood on the vihara’s doorway. Wei Xiaobao went to the window and peeked outside. Under the moonlight he saw a dense mass of heads. Turning his head around, he saw Yulin and Xing Chi were still sitting motionless. Shuang’er quietly said, “What should we do?”

Wei Xiaobao replied in low voice, “When those people rush in, we’ll save the Old Emperor, and go out from the back door.” After a short pause, he continued, “If along the way we get separated, we’ll meet again at Ling Jing Temple.”

Shuang’er nodded and said, “I am only afraid I can’t carry the Old … the Old Emperor.”

“We might have to drag him away,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Suddenly the people outside shouted one after another, “Who’s there randomly breaking through here?” “Grab them!” “Don’t let them in!” “Damn it, get them!”

Shadows of people flashed, two men entered the door, swept past Xing Dian’s body. They put their palms together toward Yulin, and then sat cross-legged on the floor. Turned out they were monks wearing gray robes. The door to this vihara was actually narrow, plus Xing Dian’s bulky body was blocking it, there was really no gap between Xing Dian and the door, yet these two monks lightly and easily slipped through and came in, it seemed that they did not even touch Xing Dian’s clothes. Indeed, nobody knew how these two entered the room.

Outside, the people were shouting again, “Someone is coming!” “Stop him!” “Get him!” But they heard a series of ‘bang! bang! bang!’ noise, some people flew out and fell to the ground. Two more monks entered the room. Without saying anything, they sat down a little bit lower than the two monks who came in first. In this way, pair by pair, several monks successively entered the room.

Wei Xiaobao was amused, he wondered how many more monks would come in; if several more pairs came, very soon there would not be enough room to sit in that meditation room. But after the ninth pair, no more monks came in. To his surprise, one of the ninth pair of monks was the Qing Liang Temple’s Abbot Cheng Guang. Wei Xiaobao was baffled, but was grateful at the same time. “If these seventeen monks’ martial art skill is more or less the same as Cheng Guang’s, we don’t have to fear even if more enemies were coming,” he mused.

Outside, the people were still making a lot of noise, but nobody dared to rush in. After a while, an old-sounding voice said, loud and clear, “Since Shaolin Temple is determined to stand up for Qing Liang Temple, are you going to take the responsibility over this matter on your own heads too?” In the meditation room, nobody answered.

After another moment, the old man outside said again, “Very well, since they have showed off the faces of Shaolin Temple’s Eighteen Luohan, we’d better leave!” Shouts and yells outside repeated continuously, everybody withdrew down the mountain.

Wei Xiaobao sized up the eighteen monks; the old ones were approximately sixty, seventy years old, the young ones were approximately in their thirties, some were tall, some were short, some were handsome, some were ugly. Their Buddhist robes were bulging, apparently they all carried weapons. “They are the Shaolin Temple’s Eighteen Luohan,” he thought, “In that case, Abbot Cheng Guang is also one of the Eighteen Luohan. The old bald thief Yulin is secure in the knowledge that he has a strong backing, turns out he had early on arranged these formidable helpers to escort the Emperor. These monks are meditating in here, I don’t know until when they are going to do this. Laozi cannot waste my time with them, sitting here for nothing. Wei Xiaobao must not sit here until he turns into Wei Laobao[8]!”

Standing up, he went to Xing Chi and knelt down in his presence, saying, “Great Monk, with the Shaolin Temple’s Eighteen Luohan escorting your holy self, you, the Great Monk, is as safe and unmovable as Mount Tai. I am prepared to go back, I wonder if you, Senior, have any instruction?”

Xing Chi opened his eyes; he smiled and said, “Thank you for your trouble. Go back and tell your master: he does not need to go up Mount Wutai and disturb my peaceful meditation. Even if he is here, definitely I won’t meet him. Tell him this: if he wants the whole world at peace, ‘never raise taxes’, these four words [yong bu jia fu] should be firmly planted in his mind. If he can accomplish these four words, it is good enough for me, my heart will be happy.”

“Yes!’ Wei Xiaobao replied.

Xing Chi reached into his bosom and took out a very small bundle, he said, “Give this copy of scripture to your master. Tell him: in the matters of the world, he must let nature take its course, nothing can be forced. It would be best if he could benefit the common people of the Central Plains. But if the common people wanted us to leave, then from the place we came, there we should come back to.” While saying that, he lightly patted the little bundle.

Wei Xiaobao recalled what Tao Hongying had told him; he mused, “Could it be that this is another copy of the Forty-two Chapter Sutra?” Seeing Xing Chi was handing him the bundle over, he reached out and received it with both hands.

After being silent for half a day, Xing Chi said, “You may go!”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said. He crawled down and kowtowed.

“I do not dare,” Xing Chi said, “Benefactor, please rise.”

Wei Xiaobao stood up and walked toward the door. Suddenly his mischief arose, he turned his head toward Yulin and said, “Old monk, you have sat for a long time, don’t you need to pee?” Yulin acted as if he did not hear anything. Wei Xiaobao giggled, and took a step over the threshold.

Xing Chi said, “Tell your master, even if his mother is at fault, she will always be his mother, he must not fail to observe etiquette, he also must not harbor grudge toward her.”

Wei Xiaobao turned around to respond, but in his heart he said, “I am not going to pass on this words of yours.”

Xing Chi said, as if he was muttering to himself, “Tell your master to be careful in everything.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Back at the Ling Jing Temple, Wei Xiaobao closed the door and opened the bundle. As expected, it was the Forty-two Chapter Sutra, only the envelope was made of yellow silk. He pondered over what Xing Chi had said, and thought that it corresponds with what Tao Hongying had told him. Xing Chi said, ‘If the common people wanted us to leave, then from the place we came, there we should come back to.’ From outside the mountain pass Manchu people came to the Central Plains; if they want to return, naturally they should go back outside the pass. Xing Chi patted the little package once, obviously he was saying that when the Manchus go back, they could rely on this little package to live their lives. Wei Xiaobao also thought, “The Old Emperor told me to give this sutra to Xiao Xuanzi, should I give it to him or not? I have already had five copies in my hands, with this one, altogether I have six. Of the eight copies, I only short two. If I give this to Xiao Xuanzi, I am afraid the five copies I have will be quite useless. Luckily he did say that even if Xiao Xuanzi goes up Mount Wutai, he won’t meet him; dead men tell no tales. This is a good thing dropped in front of my door, if I don’t embezzle it, I am letting my Wei family’s ancestors down.” But then he thought about how the young emperor had complete confidence in him, embezzling his stuff means he was unworthy to be his friend, that he was being tactless and impulsive toward a friend, not the character of a hero or a warrior. Besides, even if he embezzled the book, he could not read it anyway, so giving it to a good friend seemed to be the right thing to do.

By daybreak the next morning, Wei Xiaobao led Shuang’er, Yu Ba, and their retinue going down the mountain. In going to Mount Wutai this time, he managed to see the Old Emperor, and thus achieved the mission Kangxi entrusted to him. Along the way, he acquired Shuang’er, such a good-looking, tender girl [or servant girl] with superior martial art skill; his heart was very happy.

After walking for about a little over ten li, they saw a toutuo [see footnote 1 (on the title of this chapter)] coming from the opposite direction on the mountain road ahead. This toutuo was very tall, compared to that giant monk Xing Dian, it would be difficult to tell who was taller, but he was strangely very thin. Abbot Cheng Guang was already very thin, but this toutuo was at least half as thin as he. His face looked like skin wrapping a skull, his eyes were very deep, he really looked like a zombie. Perhaps it would take four of this toutuo combined to equal one Xing Dian. His long hair was draped across his shoulder, with a steel hoop on the top of his head to control his hair. He wore an oversized cloth robe, which was fluttering in the wind, as if it was hanging on a clothes-hanger.

Seeing this kind of appearance, Wei Xiaobao was rather scared, he did not dare to look too much, thus he turned his head away and evaded to the other side of the road, letting the toutuo walk pass. As the toutuo walked to him, he halted his steps and asked, “Did you come from Qing Liang Temple?”

“No,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “We came from Ling Jing Temple.”

The toutuo reached out with his left hand toward Wei Xiaobao’s left shoulder and turned his body around, so that Wei Xiaobao was face-to-face with him. “Are you the little eunuch Xiao Guizi from the Palace?” he asked.

His big hand pressed on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, immediately Wei Xiaobao felt his body went weak, he was unable to move a single step. “Rubbish!” he hastily said, “You think I look like an eunuch? I am Wei Gongzi [young master, son of nobility] of Yangzhou.”

“Let go of him quickly!” Shuang’er shouted, “How can you be so rude to our family’s Xianggong?”

The toutuo stretched out his right hand to press on Shuang’er’s shoulder. “Listening to your voice, you must be a little eunuch too,” he said.

Shuang’er dropped her right shoulder to dodge, her finger swiftly pointed toward his tian huo acupoint, ‘plop’ it hit right on target, but she felt as if her finger was touching am iron panel, her fingertip was in a lot of pain, even her finger was almost broken. “Ah!” she could not help but crying out. And then she felt her shoulder was in pain too, because the toutuo’s hand, which was as big as a palm-leaf fan, had grabbed her.

“Hey, hey, hey!” the toutuo laughed three times, before saying, “You, this little eunuch, has a very good martial art skill. Formidable, really formidable.”

Shuang’er’s left leg flew up, ‘Bang!’ it landed on his crotch; this time, she felt as if she was kicking a large rock. “Aiyo!” she cried out, tears flowed out of her eyes.

“Little eunuch has amazing martial art, really formidable,” the toutuo said.

“I am not a little eunuch!” Shuang’er shouted, “You are the little eunuch! Aiyo!”

The toutuo laughed, “Do you think I look like a eunuch?” he asked.

“Let me go!” Shuang’er shouted, “If you don’t, I am going to curse you.”

The toutuo said, “You sealed my acupoint, you kicked my thigh, I am not afraid of you; do you think I will afraid your cussing? Your martial art skill is superior, you must be sent out from the Palace, I must search you.”

“Your martial art skill is even higher,” Wei Xiaobao said, “So you must be sent out from the Palace even more.”

The toutuo said, “You, little eunuch, muddle things together.” With left hand carrying Wei Xiaobao and right hand carrying Shuang’er, he rushed up the mountain as if he was flying. The two young people shouted and screaming, the toutuo did not pay any attention, he carried the two people as if they were nothing, his footsteps were very fast. Yu Ba and the others were dumbstruck, nobody dared to make any noise.

The toutuo rushed several zhang along the mountain path, suddenly he turned towards the hill; there was no real path there, but he tread on it as if treading on a plain ground. Wei Xiaobao felt the wind whistling past his ears; he thought, “This toutuo is very formidable, could it be he is a mountain god or some demon?”

After rushing for a while, the toutuo dropped the two people on the ground. He pointed up and said, “If you don’t tell me the truth, I am going to carry you to that mountain peak and toss you down.” What he was pointing at was a very high peak, the top of the peak is hidden in the clouds and mist.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll tell you the truth.”

“If you are sensible,” the toutuo said, “Tell me truthfully, who are you? And who is this kid?”

“Dashi Fu [Great Master father],” Wei Xiaobao said, “She is not a kid, she … she is my … my …”

“Your what?” the toutuo asked.

“She is my … wife!” Wei Xiaobao said.

As soon as these two characters ‘wife’ [lao po] came out of his mouth, both the toutuo and Shuang’er were shocked. Shuang’er’s face blushed deep red. “What?” the toutuo asked in surprise, “What wife?”

“I am not concealing anything from Dashi Fu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am a young master of a rich family in Beijing, I fancied this young lady of the family next door, thereupon … we privately agreed to marry each other in the back garden. His father did not agree, so I took her out and we ran away. Look at her, she is a girl, how can she be a little eunuch? You are really doing her injustice. If you don’t believe me, take off her hat and look for yourself.”

The toutuo took off Shuang’er’s hat, exposing her long beautiful hair. At that time, in the whole of China, other than monks, Taoists, toutuo, nuns and people who had left home, everybody must shave the half front part of their heads. Shuang’er’s long hair rolled down, it hung down straight pass her shoulder, no doubt she was a woman.

“Dashi Fu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am begging you, if you hand us over to the government authority, I will lose my life. I’ll give you a thousand taels, just let us go!”

“In that case,” the toutuo said, “You really are not an eunuch; which eunuch would take other family’s girl to elope together? Humph, humph, you are very young, but your courage is indeed not small.” While saying that, he let him go. He also asked, “What are you doing going up Mount Wutai?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “We are going up Mount Wutai to worship Buddha, to ask Bodhisattva to bless and protect us, to let me escape difficulties and become the zhuangyuan, in the future she … my wife, will become a real Madame.” All these ‘privately agreed to marry each other in the back garden’ and ‘escape difficulties and become the zhuangyuan’ and so on he heard from the storytellers when he was still in Yangzhou.

The toutuo thought for a moment, he nodded his head and said, “So I mistook you for someone else. You may go!”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, “Thank you Dashi,” he said, “When we worship Bodhisattva later, we will ask Bodhisattva to bless and protect you, bless and protect Dashi that in the future … you will also be a great Bodhisattva, that you will rise and sit on the same level with Wenshu Pusa [Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of keen awareness] and Guanyin Pusa [Bodhisattva of Compassion].” Taking Shuang’er’s hand along, they walked down the mountain.

They only walked for several when the toutuo said, “Something’s not right, come back here! Little miss, your martial art skill is amazing, you sealed my acupoint, you kicked me.” While saying that, he rubbed the tian huo acupoint on his waist, and then he asked, “Who taught you martial art? Which school do you belong to?”

Shuang’er could not lie, she blushed and shook her head. Wei Xiaobao said, “Her martial art skill is handed down in a family, it was her mama who taught her.”

“Little miss, what’s your surname?” the toutuo asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “This, hee hee … it’s rather inconvenient to say.”

“What do you mean inconvenient?” the toutuo said, “Tell me quick!”

“Our surname is Zhuang,” Shuang’er said.

The toutuo shook his head. “Surname Zhuang?” he said, “That’s not right, you lie to me. There is no such martial art expert among those with surname Zhuang in the world, who can teach a girl with such martial art skill.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There are extremely many people with good martial art skill in the world, how can you know?”

“I was asking this little miss,” the toutuo angrily said, “Don’t interrupt.” While saying that, he pushed lightly on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder.

This push was very light, for fear that this youngster could not stand it. When his palm touched Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, he felt Wei Xiaobao easily evaded it. Although his movement was without any strength, the style he used was the move ‘grass stooping down by the wind’; where the shoulder turned around, left palm protecting the face and the right palm ready to strike down, actually it was somewhat similar to the toutuo‘s own school.

The toutuo was surprised, he tried to grab Wei Xiaobao’s chest. Wei Xiaobao sent out a right palm stab with the move ‘spirit snake went out of its hole’; the execution was not the least bit inaccurate. ‘Plop!’ it hit the toutuo‘s neck. But Wei Xiaobao felt like his fingers were stabbing an iron panel. “Aiyo!” he cried out in pain.

Shuang’er’s pair of palms fluttered in the air to attack the toutuo. The toutuo concentrated his strength at the center of his palm and sealed the acupoint on Wei Xiaobao’s chest before turning around to face her. Shuang’er leaped high and crouched low, her movements were light and graceful, but after seven, eight moves, the toutuo‘s two hands managed to catch her arms. With his left elbow he struck her acupoint to immobilize her, and then he turned around and asked Wei Xiaobao, “You said you are a young master of a rich family; how do you know the qin na [grappling technique] of Shen Long Dao [divine dragon island] of Liao Dong peninsula?”

“I am a young master of a rich family,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Why can’t I know the martial art of Shen Long Island of Liao Dong peninsula? Are you saying that this skill is supposed to be known by only kids from poor family?” While his mouth was uttering whatever he could come up with to buy some time, his mind was racing, “What kind of martial art is the Shen Long Island of Liao Dong peninsula’s martial art? Ah, right, the old turtle Hai said that the old whore impersonated Wudang Pai’s martial art, but actually it was the Snake Island of Liao Dong peninsula’s martial art. That Shen Long Island is most likely the same as the Snake Island. That’s right, the old whore is in cahoots with Shen Long Jiao people, they must dislike the name ‘snake’ and thus changed it to ‘divine dragon’. Xiao Xuanzi’s martial art skill was taught by the old whore, and I often had martial art match with him, unconsciously I learned these several qin na techniques.”

“Rubbish!” the toutuo said, “Who is your Shifu?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I say I was taught by the old whore, it’s the same as admitting that I am a little eunuch from the Palace.” Thereupon he said, “It was my Shushu‘s [younger uncle] good acquaintance, a fat lady, Liu Yan Gugu who taught me.”

The toutuo was greatly surprised. “Liu Yan?” he asked, “Miss Liu is your Shushu‘s good acquaintance? Who is your Shushu?”

“My Shushu is Wei Dabao [da – big],” Wei Xiaobao [xiao – little] replied, “He is Beijing’s well-known distinguished and accomplished young master, each time he spends money, it would be a thousand taels, his appearance looks like an actor on the stage. That fat lady was enchanted by him as soon as she saw him. The fat lady oftentimes came to my house in the depth of the night, jumping over the wall of our flower garden. I nagged her to teach me martial art, and so she taught me these several moves.”

Half believing and half doubting, the toutuo asked, “Does your Shushu know martial art?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “Does he know farting martial art? He often gets his neck grabbed by Miss Liu Yan, who lifted him up back and forth, without him being able to move the least bit. My Shushu became anxious and cursed her, ‘The child is lifting the father’. Liu Yan Gugu laughed and said, ‘It’s only the child lifting the father, even if the child is lifting the grandfather, it is still not a big deal’.”

He was cursing the toutuo in a roundabout way, but the toutuo did not realize it the least bit; he asked in detail about Liu Yan’s appearance, which, surprisingly, Wei Xiaobao was able to explain without the slightest mistake. Wei Xiaobao said, “This fat Gugu loves to wear red embroidered shoes. Dashi Fu, I am guessing that you are in love with her, are you not? When you see her, take her to sleep with you, it would be best if you could sleep with her and would not wake up forever.” How would the toutuo know that Liu Yan had already died? On the surface it sounded like Wei Xiaobao was babbling nonsense, while actually he was cursing him with the most poisonous curse.

The toutuo angrily said, “Little child should not talk nonsense!” But he actually believed him. He reached out toward Wei Xiaobao’s lower abdomen and patted it lightly, to unseal his acupoint. Unexpectedly his hand touched the Forty-two-chapter Sutra in Wei Xiaobao’s bosom, when he patted, the acupoint was not opened. “What is that?” the toutuo asked.

“It’s a big stack of banknotes I stole from home,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Braggart!” the toutuo said, “How can there be that many banknotes?” Reaching into Wei Xiaobao’s pocket, he groped around and took the package out. When he untied the package, to his utter amazement, he found a sutra. He was dumbstruck for a moment, and then his face showed utter delight. “Forty-two-chapter Sutra! Forty-two-chapter Sutra!” he called out. Hastily he wrapped it back and put it inside his own pocket. Grabbing Wei Xiaobao by the chest, he raised him high and in a stern voice asked, “Where did you get it from?”

This question was not easy to answer, Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Tee hee … hee … are you asking me? It’s complicated and not easy to explain succinctly; I won’t be able to tell you everything just in this short moment.” He was stalling, while trying to think about some ‘covering the sky and seamless clouds’ story to swindle this toutuo. Naturally to make up some wild story about where the sutra came from was extremely easy, but now that the book had fallen into the toutuo‘s hand, to deceive him into handing it back would be extremely difficult.

The toutuo said in a loud voice, “Who gave it to you?”

Wei Xiaobao’s body was hanging in the air, he suddenly saw seven, eight monks in grey robes on the hillside coming toward them. From their appearance, he knew they were the Eighteen Luohan of Shaolin whom he had seen at the small vihara behind the Qing Liang Temple. Turning his head around, he saw several more monks, together with several monks coming up from the western hillside, there were a total of seventeen, eighteen monks. He was delighted and said in his heart, “Thief toutuo, even if your martial art skill is stronger, you are no match for the Eighteen Luohan of Shaolin.”

“Tell me quick, tell me quick!” the toutuo said. Noticing that Wei Xiaobao was glancing to the east and looking to the west, he followed his gaze and saw on the hillside to the east, north and west, three directions more than a dozen monks were slowly coming up, but he was unconcerned at all. “What do those monks come here for?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “They heard Dashi Fu’s martial art skill is superior, they are full of admiration, hence they come here to take you as their master.”

The toutuo shook his head and said, “I have never received any disciple.” Raising his voice, he called out, “Hey, get the hell out of here quickly, don’t come here to make trouble!” His shout echoed from the mountains on all sides, showing off his astonishing might.

The eighteen monks did not seem to hear, they continued going up the mountain. An old monk with long eyebrows put his palms together and said, “Dashi, are you the Fat Revered Monk[9] of Liaodong?”

Wei Xiaobao was still hanging midair, hearing the question, he could not help but burst out laughing. This toutuo was so thin that he was a rarity in the world, yet the old monk asked if he was the Fat Revered Monk; Wei Xiaobao thought that he was ridiculing him.

To his surprise, the toutuo replied in loud voice, “I am indeed Fat Toutuo! Are you all here to take me as your master? I don’t accept any disciple! Whom have you studied martial art with?”

The old monk replied, “Lao Na is Cheng Xin of Shaolin Temple, the humble head of Damo Hall. These are my seventeen Shidi, all are my companions in the Damo Hall.”

“Ah!” Fat Toutuo exclaimed, he slowly let Wei Xiaobao down. “Turns out all eighteen luohan of Shaolin Temple’s Damo Hall are here. So you are not here to take me as your master. I am alone cannot beat all of you.”

Cheng Xin put his palms together and said, “We have neither grievance nor enmity with you, we are all followers of Buddha, how could you talk about this character ‘to beat’? Luohan [Arhat] are the sages of Buddhism, we are merely ordinary folks, how can we dare to receive this appellation? Wulin friends carelessly address us with this honorary title, we really do not deserve it. The Fat and Thin Revered Monks of Liaodong’s remarkable feats are without rival, we have always admired you. Today we are brought together by fate, indeed it is our great good fortune.” Speaking to this point, the other seventeen monks put their palms together to salute.

Fat Toutuo bowed to return the salute; without straightening up his body, he asked, “You are all coming to Mount Wutai, what’s the purpose of your trip?”

Pointing to Wei Xiaobao, Cheng Xin said, “This young benefactor has some relationship with our Shaolin Temple, I am asking Dashi to raise your hand and let him go down the mountain.”
Fat Toutuo hesitated; he saw the opponent had many men and greater force, he knew that each one of the eighteen luohan of Shaolin had astonishing martial art skill, he did not give the slightest care of fighting one on one, but he would not be able to deal with all eighteen of them. Thereupon he said, “Very well, looking at Dashi‘s face, I’ll let him go.” Finished speaking, he leaned over and massaged Wei Xiaobao’s lower abdomen several times to unseal his acupoint.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao was able to stand, he held out his right palm and said, “The sutra was given to me by a friend of these eighteen luohan, who asked me to deliver it to … to Shaolin Temple and hand it over to the head monk Abbot. Would you return it to me?”

“What?” Fat Toutuo angrily said, “What does this sutra have to do with Shaolin Temple?”

With a loud voice Wei Xiaobao said, “You seized the sutra away from me, it was the old monk who ask me to deliver it to someone else, it is extremely important, quickly give it back to me!”

“Rubbish!” Fat Toutuo said. Turning around, he leaped down from the northern slope of the mountain. Three Shaolin monks immediately flew and reached out to grab his arm, Fat Toutuo did not dare to fight the monks, he sidestepped to evade the three monks’ grabbing palm. His stature was very tall, yet his movement was incomparably agile.

In this grabbing movement, the three monks of Shaolin had used top-notch technique of Shaolin martial arts, unexpectedly they failed to even touch his clothes. But in the instant Fat Toutuo’s movement was slowed down, four more Shaolin monks had blocked behind his back, eight palms crisscrossed, closing his escape route.

Fat Toutuo let out a loud bellow, his palms pushed out using the move ‘five nails cut into the mountain’. Borrowing the momentum of this overwhelming force, he turned around and swiftly fled southward. The four Shaolin monks pushed put their palms together from left and right. Fat Toutuo’s palm force collided with the four monks. He felt the palm strike from the left side was hard and stiff, while the palm strike of other two monks from the right was soft and continuously flowing; he could not help but was greatly shocked. Sending out all his power to his palms, he was barely able to resist the opposing force. Right this time, from behind him three claws were coming toward his back.

Fat Toutuo took a quick glance and saw the two monks on his left sending out their punches, instantly his feet kicked the ground and he flew upward; but the extended palms of the three monks behind him were not the same, they were using ‘dragon claw’, ‘tiger claw’ and ‘eagle claw’ styles, respectively, he was intimidated inwardly. Coiling his large sleeve, he created a gust of strong wind, as soon as his left foot landed on the ground, his right hand grabbed Wei Xiaobao. “Do you want him to die, or do you want him to live?” he called out.

Some of the eighteen Shaolin monks advancing, some retreating, they formed two circles, surrounding Fat Toutuo in the middle. Cheng Xin said, “The sutra of this young benefactor is very important, I am asking Dashi to please return it, and thus binding good karma. We will be deeply grateful.”

With right hand lifting Wei Xiaobao high in the air and left palm pressing the crown of his head, Fat Toutuo walked southwards in big strides. The situation was clear: if the Shaolin monks put forth their hands to block him, he would slightly exert some strength on his left palm, Wei Xiaobao’s skull would be crushed immediately.

The several Shaolin monks blocking on the south hesitated. They could only chant ‘Amitabha Buddha’ and stepped aside to let him through. Carrying Wei Xiaobao, Fat Toutuo dashed to the south, he went faster and faster. The eighteen luohan of Shaolin Temple unleashed their qing gong to follow him closely.

By this time, Shuang’er’s sealed acupoint had been unsealed by the Shaolin monks. Seeing Wei Xiaobao was captured, she was alarmed and frightened, and immediately raised her chi to pursue. Since her punching and kicking skill was taught by an expert, her martial art was quite amazing, but she was still very young, her internal energy cultivation differed too far from those Shaolin monks, plus her stature was small, her steps short, in just one or two li, she had already fallen behind. In her distress, she broke up crying, but she did not stop running after them. Although Fat Toutuo was carrying a person, his speed did not diminished at all, unexpectedly the Shaolin monks were not able to catch on.

After running for a while, still carrying Wei Xiaobao, Fat Toutuo dashed toward a mountain peak directly south of them. The eighteen Shaolin monks ran after him in single file. Shuang’er followed to the foot of the peak and she was already out of breath. Looking up, she saw the peak was very high; she thought that the evil toutuo took her xianggong to the top of the mountain peak, there was a one in ten thousand chance that he would take a wrong step and fall down. The evil toutuo may not necessarily die, but how could xianggong be alive?

While she was having this frightening thought, suddenly she heard loud rumbling noise as pieces of big rocks rolled down the mountain path. The eighteen Shaolin monks leaped to the left and jumped to the right, continuously dodging the rocks. What happened was that as Fat Toutuo reached the peak, he continuously kicked the rocks along the path so that the rocks rolled down to block the enemy. How could the eighteen Shaolin monks let the rocks smash them? However, the distance between them widened considerably.

When battling Huangfu Ge, Abbot Cheng Guang had received injury on the pit of his stomach, his internal energy was adversely affected, he fell behind the seventeenth monk. Shuang’er struggled hard to pursue to the peak, she called out, “Fangzhang Dashi, Fangzhang Dashi!”

Cheng Guang turned his head around and stopped to wait for her. Seeing her rushing while gasping for breath, and with frightened expression on her face, he consoled her by saying, “Don’t be afraid! He won’t harm your master [orig. gongzi].” Afraid that she might hurt herself by rushing like that, he took her hand and together they slowly walked up the mountain.

Shuang’er’s heart was somewhat comforted; she asked, “Abbot, he … can he possibly harm Xianggong?”

“He can’t,” Cheng Guang replied. Although his mouth said so, seeing Fat Toutuo was so vicious, how could he ascertain that?

This mountain peak was Mount Wutai’s southern platform [reminder: wutai means five platforms], luckily it was a winding mountain path, with a lot of twists and turns, after several turns, the rocks Fat Toutuo kicked were no longer a threat to them. By the time Cheng Guang and Shuang’er reached the Southern Platform Peak, they saw seventeen Shaolin monks were surrounding a temple; naturally Fat Toutuo and Wei Xiaobao were inside the temple.

Altogether Mount Wutai has five mountain peaks, on each peak there was a temple. Mount Wutai was a Buddhist mountain dedicated to the teaching of Manjushri, each temple on the peak was dedicated to the different title of Manjushri, according to Manjushri’s vast divine power, and according to the different era that he appeared in the flesh. The Eastern Platform was called Wang Hai Peak, the temple built on the peak was the Wang Hai Temple [lit. facing the ocean], dedicated to the intelligence of Manjushri. On the Northern Platform’s Ye Dou[10] Peak, there was Ling Ying Temple [spiritual response], dedicated to ‘without disgrace’ of Manjushri. On the Central Platform’s Cui Yan [azure cliff] Peak, there was Yan Jiao Temple [practicing religion], dedicated to scholarly boy Manjushri. On the Western Platform’s Gua Yue [hanging moon] Peak, the Fa Lei Temple [thundering Buddhist teaching] built there was dedicated to the lion-like character of Manjushri. On the Southern Platform’s Jin Xiu [beautiful] Peak, the Pu Ji Temple [universal relief] constructed there was dedicated to the wisdom of Manjushri. [Translator’s note: my apology for being unfamiliar with Buddhist teaching, and thus the translation might be inaccurate. I simply translated the words literally, if any of you have better idea, feel free to suggest correction.]

These people happened to be on the Jin Xiu Peak, and that temple was the Pu Ji Temple. Shuang’er called out several times, “Xianggong, Xianggong!” But there was no reply. Lifting up her feet, she rushed into the temple.

Shuang’er dashed straight toward the main hall and saw Fat Toutuo was standing by the mouth of the water drainage from the eaves of the Hall of Great Strength, his right hand was still clutching Wei Xiaobao. Shuang’er rushed over can called out, “Xianggong, did the evil monk hurt you?”

“Don’t worry,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He will not dare to harm me.”

Fat Toutuo angrily said, “Why won’t I dare to harm you?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “If you harm a single strand of my hair, the eighteen luohan of Shaolin will catch you, and will change you back to your original state; you will turn back into a short and fat man, then you will be really bad.”

Fat Toutuo’s countenance changed greatly; with a trembling voice he said, “What do you mean change me back to my original state? You … you … how did you know?”

Actually, Wei Xiaobao did not have the slightest idea, he was only thinking that his stature was tall and thin, but he was called the ‘Fat Toutuo’, so he was just speaking thoughtlessly, without any reason whatsoever. Unexpectedly, he seemed to hit the toutuo’s sore spot.

Wei Xiaobao was able to see the change in the toutuo’s countenance, and hear the fright in his voice; immediately he laughed coldly, “Hey, hey, naturally I know,” he said.

“They don’t have that ability,” Fat Toutuo said. Suddenly his right foot flew up, ‘Bang!’ he kicked the stone drum in front of the steps that it crashed onto the screen wall across the gate. Fragments of rocks swirl in the air. He turned to Shuang’er and asked, “What are you doing here? Are you bored of being alive?”

Shuang’er said, “Xianggong and I will live together and die together; if you harm just half a part of him, I will fight you to the death.”

“Damn it,” Fat Toutuo angrily said, “What’s so good about this little demon? Are you, the little baby girl, in love with him?”

Shuang’er blushed, she could not answer the question. “Xianggong is a good man,” she said, “You are a wicked man.”

They heard the eighteen Shaolin monks outside chanted the name of Buddha together, “Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha Buddha! Fat Reverend Monk, please release the young benefactor and return the sutra to him! You are an outstanding and famous hero and warrior of the Wulin world, yet you are making things difficult for a little child, won’t you be the laughingstock of the people of the world?”

Fat Toutuo roared, “If you keep babbling nonsense, Laozi will not be polite anymore. We will all break up with one strike, laozi will kill this little child and destroy the sutra, I want to see what are you going to do about it?”

Cheng Xin said, “Fat Reverend Monk, what do you want so that you will be willing to release him and return the sutra?”

“Release him is still possible,” Fat Toutuo said, “But no matter what, I won’t return the sutra.” The monks outside fell silent.

Fat Toutuo looked around the main hall, looking for a way to escape. Suddenly grey shadows flashed, the eighteen Shaolin monks flew into the hall. Keeping close to the left wall, five Shaolin monks circled around to his back. Keeping close to the left wall, five Shaolin monks circled around to his back. In an instant he was surrounded again by the eighteen Shaolin monks.

Fat Toutuo angrily said, “If you have guts, let’s fight one on one. You can try Laozi’s hands one by one, taking turn in fighting me, laozi won’t care.”

Cheng Xin put his palms together and said, “Please forgive our rudeness, we must fight you together.”

Fat Toutuo raised his left foot and lightly stepped on Wei Xiaobao’s head, while laughing coldly. Smelling the mud odor from the sole of his shoe, Wei Xiaobao was both frightened and angered; with the stinky shoe on his head, unexpectedly his brain also became muddled, in that instant he could not think of anything else. His eyes swept the hall randomly, trying to find something in that main hall with which he could provoke the toutuo. He only needed to talk some nonsense to divert Fat Toutuo’s attention, so that his concentration was somewhat broken, then the Shaolin monks would have the opportunity to help him. However, with his head underneath the toutuo’s foot, he could only look to one side of the courtyard outside. He saw a large stone turtle with a large vertical stone tablet on its back.

“Fat Reverend Monk,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your dad is always crawling in the courtyard, with a tens-of-thousands-catty large stone pressing on his back, isn’t he suffering too much? You are not even trying to help him, you are really lacking of filial piety.”

“What do you mean my dad is crawling in the courtyard?” Fat Toutuo angrily said, “Your mouth is full of rubbish.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That Forty-two-chapter Sutra, altogether there are eight copies, you only have one. Without obtaining the other seven copies, what good is the one you have?”

Fat Toutuo hastily asked, “Where are the other seven copies? Do you know?”

“Naturally I do,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Where are they?” Fat Toutuo asked, “Tell me quickly, if you don’t, I am going to crush your skull with my foot.”

“At first I did not know, but I found out about it just now,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You have just found out about it?” Fat Toutuo asked in amazement, “What do you mean?”

Stretching out his neck, Wei Xiaobao looked at the stone tablet. The entire stone tablet was engraved with curvy seal-script characters, naturally Wei Xiaobao did not know it, he was just pretending to read aloud the inscription on the tablet. “The Forty-two-chapter Sutra,” he slowly read, “Altogether there are eight copies. The first copy is hidden in some temple on some mountain in Henan province. I do not recognize those several characters.”

“What characters?” Fat Toutuo asked. Seeing Wei Xiaobao was staring at the stone tablet in the courtyard, he asked in amazement, “You understand the inscription on that stone tablet?”

Wei Xiaobao did not pay him any attention, he read the inscription on the stone tablet with rapt attention, “The second copy is hidden in some Buddhist nun monastery on some mountain in Shanxi province. Pang Laoxiong [old fellow fat], I don’t recognize these several characters, the engraving is fuzzy, you are well-versed in both literature and martial art, why don’t you go and look at it yourself?”

Fat Toutuo believed him; he bent over to lift Wei Xiaobao up and brought him out of the hall’s door to look at the stone tablet. The writings on the stone tablet were actually in seal-script; if he said it was some writing, he himself did not recognize even a single character, but if he said it was not some writing, then what was engraved on the stone tablet?

He heard Wei Xiaobao continue reading, “The third copy is on some mountain in Sichuan? I don’t recognize that character either.”

Fat Toutuo had heard long ago that there were altogether eight copies of the Forty-two-chapter Sutra, and that one must have all eight copies to unleash their greatest usefulness. As for the location of the sutras, he did not have the slightest clue. Listening to Wei Xiaobao, he no longer had the slightest doubt; immediately he lifted up his foot and pulled him up and asked, “And where is the fourth copy?”

Wei Xiaobao squinted to gaze at the stone tablet, he leaned his head to the left, and then leaned it to the right, finally he shook his head and said, “I can’t figure it out.”

Fat Toutuo lifted him up and brought him three steps closer to the stone tablet. When they were near, his face showed an inquiring expression. Wei Xiaobao said, “My head is so itchy.”

“What?” Fat Toutuo asked.

“There’s flea in this temple,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “It went into my hair and bit me. Pang Laoxiong, please catch the flea for me. My scalp is unbearably itchy, I cannot see clearly.”

Fat Toutuo took off his hat and stretched out his huge palm, and with his five as-big-as-wooden-club fingers he scratched Wei Xiaobao’s hair. “Is it better?” he asked.

“No,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The flea bit me on the left part of my scalp, you were scratching the right part; the more you scratched, the itchier it becomes.” Therefore, Fat Toutuo scratched the left part of his scalp. Wei Xiaobao said, “Aiyo, the flea jumped onto my neck, did you see it?”

Fat Toutuo was fully aware that he was being mischievous, but he still relaxed his hand holding Wei Xiaobao’s wrist; only he placed his left hand lightly on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder to prevent him from running away. “Just scratch it yourself!” he said.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao said, “This granny’s flea is so difficult to deal with, it must have not eaten human’s blood in three years. Originally it was short and fat, and now it is so starved that it turns thin and shriveled, hence it came here staking everything it has to make things difficult for laozi.” While saying that, he reached into his collar with his left hand and scratched vigorously.

Fat Toutuo knew Wei Xiaobao was cursing him as a flea in a roundabout way, but he pretended not to notice. “Where is the fourth copy hidden at?” he asked.

“Um, the fourth copy,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It is hidden in some mountain, Shao … Shaolin Temple’s Da … Da something courtyard?”

Fat Toutuo was shocked. “It is hidden in Shaolin Temple’s Damo Courtyard?” he asked.

Seeing he was very afraid of the eighteen Shaolin monks, and knowing that these Shaolin monks were from Damo Courtyard, Wei Xiaobao deliberately came out with this difficult problem; he wanted to play trick on him, thinking that even if he had an enormous courage, he would not dare to go to Shaolin Temple’s Damo Courtyard to steal the sutra. “Is that the character ‘mo’?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “I did not know it. Pang Laoxiong, you even know this difficult character, why should you tell me to read? Ah, I know, you are simply testing me. I am ashamed, on each line, there are several characters that I do not recognize.”

Fat Toutuo cast a sidelong glance toward the Shaolin monks, his expression showed trepidation and uncertainty; he asked, “And where is the fifth copy hidden at?”

Shaolin Temple was a major sect of the Wulin world. Wei Xiaobao had heard Hai Dafu mentioning it, who had also mentioned that the Empress Dowager pretended to be from Wudang Pai. In turn, the Empress Dowager had thought that Hai Dafu was from Kongtong Pai. Therefore, Wudang and Kongtong were also two major sects. Thereupon he said that the fifth and sixth copies were hidden separately on Wudang and Kongtong, two mountains. Fat Toutuo’s countenance turned uglier and uglier. Wei Xiaobao said that the seventh copy was obtained by the Mu Palace people of Yunnan, and the eighth was in some Xi Wang’s [west king] mansion. Bai Hanfeng had given him some trouble, so he was trying to even up by mentioning the Mu Palace. In Wu Sangui, Ping Xi Wang’s palace, there were martial art experts as many as the clouds, even his own Shifu was afraid of it, if Fat Toutuo was brazen enough to cause trouble, he would definitely suffer an enormous suffering.

To his surprise, however, Fat Toutuo’s countenance changed greatly as he asked, “Did you say the eighth copy is in Ping Xi Wang’s mansion?”

“I do not know this character,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am not sure if it is Ping Xi Wang.”

Fat Toutuo was angry; suddenly he exploded, “Rubbish! If not a thousand years old, this stone tablet is at least five hundred years; how old is Wu Sangui? How can an inscription of several hundred years ago mention Ping Xi Wang Wu Sangui?”

The stone tablet was jet-black, the stone tortoise and the stone tablet were covered with moss, the engraved inscriptions were worn out and badly damaged; one look at it, one would immediately know that this article was a several hundred year old antique. Wei Xiaobao did not understand this logic and hence he made idle talk trying to implicate Wu Sangui.

“Bad, bad!” he groaned inwardly. Trying to recover from his blunder he said, “I said I do not know that character, it was you who said ‘Ping Xi Wang’, perhaps in ancient times there was a Gou Xi Wang, Mao Xi Wang or even Wugui[11] Xi Wang in Yunnan. Pang Laoxiong, let me tell you this: these characters are squiggly, they are very difficult to recognize. If you know it, then you know it, if you don’t know it, then admit it. You pretend to know, yet you read something about Ping Xi Wang Wu Sangui. Here we have several great monks, each and every one of them is a man of learning and profound knowledge; you randomly read wrong characters, won’t you make them laugh at you till their mouths crooked?”

This speech actually made sense, making Fat Toutuo’s thin face immediately blushed deep red from ear to ear. He was not angry at all, but nodded his head and said, “I do not recognize even one word of these tadpole characters, so it is not Ping Xi Wang. What else is written below it?”

“What a close call!” Wei Xiaobao mused, “After rebuking him a little, I need to cover it up. I have to say a few nice things to make him happy. He changed the ‘Snake Island’ to ‘Divine Dragon Island’; he also knew the fat pig Liu Yan, most probably he is a member of Shen Long Jiao.” After cocking his head and looking at the stone tablet for half a day, he said, “The following seems to say ‘long life as heaven … heaven … heaven …’ heaven what?”

Fat Toutuo immediately looked tense, “Look carefully,” he said, “Long life as heaven what?”

“It looks like the character … the character … um, character ‘qi’ [even/level with]. Right, it must be ‘long-life is the same as the Heaven’s’!”

Fat Toutuo was greatly delighted, he repeatedly rubbed his hands and said, “This sentence does exist. And then what?”

Wei Xiaobao pointed to the stone tablet and said, “These characters are really squiggly, they are hard to recognize. Ah right, this must me ‘Hong’ character, ‘Hong Jiaozhu’, three characters, and then there’s ‘Shen Long’ two characters! Look here, these are ‘shen tong guang da’, four characters [magical power is extensive].”

“Wow!” Fat Toutuo exclaimed loudly, he jumped up and down and said, “Hong Jiaozhu really has such good fortune, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s? It is written on this thousand years old stone tablet?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “On top of that, it is written that this is … this is a monument established by Tang Taizong Li Shimin[12], who sent Qin Shubao, Cheng Yaojin to erect it. It is clearly written on this stone tablet that during the Tang Dynasty, there was a military master called Xu Maogong, who knew events that happened a thousand years before and a thousand years after, who foretold that after a thousand years, during the Great Qing Dynasty, there will be Hong Jiaozhu of Shen Long Jiao, whose magical power is extensive and whose long-life is the same as the Heaven’s.”

The storytellers in Yangzhou’s teahouses often narrated the stories of Sui and Tang dynasties, which he had heard many times. The names Cheng Yaojin and Xu Maogong were deeply etched in his mind. Actually Xu Maogong was the great general of the founding of the Tang Dynasty, Xu Ji, who shared the same fame as Li Jing[13], the (National) Duke of Ying Li Ji[14]; he was absolutely not an ox-nosed military master who pinched fingers and making calculation to know the past and the future; but how would Wei Xiaobao know about it? [Translator’s note: ox-nosed is a derogatory term to refer to Taoist priests.] He was simply trying to paint a living-spirit, living-image picture to swindle Fat Toutuo, to make him confused and disoriented, so that the eighteen Shaolin monks could seize the opportunity to save him. As for ‘Hong Jiaozhu’s magical power is extensive and his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s’ and so on, he heard it in the big house of the Zhuang family, when Zhang Laosan and the other Shen Long Jiao people mentioning it. Sure enough, as soon as Fat Toutuo heard this, he grabbed his own head and scratched his own ears in infinite joy, his mouth was opened wide and he could not close it again.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I wonder if there is something else written on the back of this big stone.”

“Yes!” Fat Toutuo said. He walked around to look at the back of the stone tablet.

Wei Xiaobao took a sudden big stride forward and jumped backward. Fat Toutuo was startled, and hastily reached out to grab. Four Shaolin monks from both sides simultaneously waved their palms to strike. Fat Toutuo did not have any choice but to send a fist to ward off. By this time Wei Xiaobao had already hidden behind the Shaolin monks. In an instant four more Shaolin monks stepped forward.

Eight Shaolin monks constantly circle around Fat Toutuo in fast motion, while their hands continuously sent out attack after attack. It did not matter if the attack hit the target or not, as soon as one strike failed, the next strike arrived. Sixteen hands struck from eight directions; obviously it was a well-trained formation. Fat Toutuo’s defense was very tight, but with one against eight, right away he sensed that he would not be able to endure.

‘Slap! Slap!’ a Shaolin monk exchanged palm strikes with Fat Toutuo. The Shaolin monk jumped out of the arena, another monk stepped in. After fighting for a while, Fat Toutuo’s leg was kicked. He stretched out his arms, made a turn, and forced the eight Shaolin monks to withdraw two steps back. “Hold on!” he called out.

Each one of the eight Shaolin monks took two more steps back. Fat Toutuo said, “Today the few are no match for the many, I’ll give the sutra back to you!” Reaching into his bosom, he took out the sutra.

Cheng Xin waved his left hand, the eight Shaolin monks took two steps forward, now they were less than three chi away from Fat Toutuo, each one poised for another strike. Fat Toutuo ignored them completely. He held out his hand with the sutra in it. Cheng Xin circulated the internal energy from his dantian several times, now his entire body was shielded with his inner strength. He put his three left fingers together in secret to guard against the follow-up attack. Only then did he stretch out his right hand to slowly receive the sutra.

Unexpectedly, Fat Toutuo did not make any move; he returned the sutra and then with a smile he said, “Cheng Xin Dashi, your eighteen luohan of Shaolin is world famous, eighteen of you beat me, one man; don’t you think it is rather lack of splendor?”

Cheng Xin put the sutra into his bosom, put his palms together, bowed and said, “Forgive our offense. In one-on-one combat, Shaolin monks are not the Fat Revered Monk’s match.” With a wave of his left hand, all the monks withdrew simultaneously. For fear that he would try to grab Wei Xiaobao again, five or six monks stood on guard in front of him.

“Benefactor Wei,” Fat Toutuo said, “I have an earnest request that I will ask you to please grant it to me.”

“What is it?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I want to invite you to the Divine Dragon Island,” Fat Toutuo replied, “To be our guest for several days.”

Wei Xiaobao was taken aback, “What?” he said, “You want me to go to the Divine Dragon Island? That kind of place …”

Fat Toutuo said, “The young benefactor’s sutra is in Cheng Xin Dashi’s hand, he will submit it to Shaolin Fangzhang. The young benefactor is coming to the Divine Dragon Island, our Cult people, from top to bottom, will definitely treat you with utmost respect. After you meet with Hong Jiaozhu, I will definitely send young benefactor out of the island safe and sound.”

He saw Wei Xiaobao was closing his mouth tight, obviously he did not believe him; thereupon he said, “Cheng Xin Dashi, I am asking you to be my witness. Have you ever known Fat Toutuo said something but not doing it?”

Cheng Xin knew that although this toutuo‘s conduct was rather heretical and presumptuous, he was not significantly evil. The fact that fat and thin, two toutuo had always fulfilled their promise, he had indeed heard about it long ago. He said, “The fact that Fat Revered Monk is trustworthy is widely known. It’s just that Benefactor Wei has a very important matter to attend, I am afraid he won’t have time to go to the Divine Dragon Island.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am extremely busy. When I have time in the future, I will go to the Divine Dragon Island to visit Fat Revered Monk and Hong Jiaozhu.”

Fat Toutuo hastily said, “You should have said Hong Jiaozhu and his, the Senior’s, subordinate Fat Toutuo. First, there is no one in the world may rank above him, the Senior. By saying other people’s name first before mentioning Hong Jiaozhu is highly disrespectful.”

“What about the Emperor?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Fat Toutuo replied, “Naturally Hong Jiaozhu first, the Emperor behind him. Second, in the presence of Jiaozhu, the Senior, you must not mention ‘Revered Monk’ or ‘Taoist Master’[15]. In this entire world, only Hong Jiaozhu deserves to be revered.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and said, “Hong Jiaozhu is so formidable, I do not dare to meet him even more.”

Fat Toutuo said, “Hong Jiaozhu is benevolent and loving, his kindness covers the whole world. Toward a brilliant and clever young hero like young benefactor, the Senior is sure to be absolutely thrilled. If the young benefactor goes to the Divine Dragon Island, you will definitely return from a rewarding journey. The Senior, Jiaozhu, is very generous, it goes without saying. Perhaps when the Senior is happy, he would teach you a move or half a style; henceforth the young benefactor will be able to reap endless benefit when you are roaming the world.”

He was speaking very sincerely, fervently and passionately. At first he did not even consider Wei Xiaobao worthy in his eyes, he even stepped on his head, but now his speech was full of ‘young benefactor’ and ‘a brilliant and clever young hero’. Afraid that Wei Xiaobao could not hear him clearly, he bent his bamboo-pole-like body and spoke next to his ear.

Wei Xiaobao recalled Tao Hongying’s story, and remembered seeing the action of Zhang Laosan and the other at the Zhuang home; he also remembered the Empress Dowager and Liu Yan, and the appearance of the fake palace maid, the man who dressed as a woman. In short, he had an unspeakable disgust toward Shen Long Jiao. Comparatively speaking, among the Shen Long Jiao people, Fat Toutuo still had several part of lofty quality as a hero. But after using force to rob the sutra and carrying Wei Xiaobao here and there, now suddenly his manner changed completely, he wanted to invite him as a guest to the Divine Dragon Island, Wei Xiaobao was certain that Fat Toutuo was harboring some malicious intentions. Right now he was speaking politely, but it must be because he was no match for the Shaolin monks. As soon as the Shaolin monks left, he would definitely resort to violence again, and then who would be able to put him under control? Thereupon Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “I am not going!”

Fat Toutuo’s thin face looked extremely dejected. Slowly he straightened up his body, and cast a glance toward the eighteen Shaolin monks surrounding him. “Young benefactor,” he said slowly, “In your opinion, how is my martial art compared to these eighteen great monks?”

“Each has its strong points,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“What do you mean each has its strong points?” Fat Toutuo angrily said, “If we fight one on one, do you think they can beat me?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “One on one, perhaps you will win. One against eighteen, you will definitely lose. This is what I mean by each has its strong points. If one on one and you still lose, you don’t have any farting points! Your only strong point is that you are taller than they are.”

Fat Toutuo smiled and said, “Have you seen anybody else with martial art skill as superior as mine?”

“Of course I have!” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your martial art skill is just so-so, I have seen not a few people whose martial art skill is ten times better than yours.”

Fat Toutuo was angry; he jumped one step forward with stretched arm to grab him. Four Shaolin monks simultaneously stretched out their palms to block. Fat Toutuo said, “Name those people whose martial art is superior to mine.”

Momentarily Wei Xiaobao was at a loss for words; he could not remember seeing anybody whose martial art skill was higher than his. His own Shifu’s martial art skill was extremely high, but he could not necessarily beat him.

Fat Toutuo was very smug, he said, “You see, you can’t name even one, can you?”

“What do you mean I can’t name one?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I just don’t want to tell you, for fear you might be really frightened. There are so many people whose martial art skill is higher than yours. The first one is Tian Di Hui’s Zongduozhu Chen Jinnan. I have seen him fighting in Beijing, with his pair of hands he caught four toutuo, each toutuo weighs more than two hundred catties. With just a kick of his legs, he was able to jump over the city wall. If you fight with him, the difference is way too far.”

“Humph,” Fat Toutuo snorted. He had also heard the name of Chen Jinnan, but did not believe that he was able to jump over the city wall carrying four people. “Braggart!” he said.

“The second person whose martial art is superior,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “Is a sweet, tender-footed young mistress.” Speaking to this point, he cast a glance toward Shuang’er. Shuang’er repeatedly shook her hand, telling him not to continue. But Wei Xiaobao continued, “One time this young mistress fought thirty-six Wudang’s Taoist priests. Thirty-six priests surrounded her, using … using some sort of formation.”

Fat Toutuo asked, “About that Wudang Pai’s formation, were they barehanded or using swords?”

“Using swords,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“That must be Zhenwu[16] Sword Formation,” Fat Toutuo said.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Pang Dashi [great master fat] is experienced and knowledgeable, you know about Zhenwu Sword Formation. At that time those thirty-six swords surrounded the young mistress, the swords flickered that even water could not splash through. The young mistress had a child in her left hand, her right hand was unarmed …”

Fat Toutuo was greatly amazed. “She fought Wudang Pai with a child in her left hand?” he asked.

“What’s so strange about it?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, she was carrying two little babies, both were boys, they were very fat …” He deliberately exaggerated the martial art skill of the young mistress of the Zhuang family, so he doubled the number of child in her arm. He said, ” … with her mouth she was soothing the babies: ‘Two sweet babies, don’t cry, watch your mama doing some tricks’, while seizing the swords in those thirty-six priests hands and sealed those priests’ acupoints, so that all of them were frozen in place, just like clay Bodhisattva, without able to move at all. Carrying the babies, the young mistress let them grab the old priests’ beard. The old priests stared in anger, but the two babies were laughing very happily.”

Wudang Pai and Shaolin Pai were equally famous, their martial art went back for a thousand years; Wei Xiaobao knew this. He saw how Fat Toutuo was not able to defeat the eighteen Shaolin monks, so he said that that young mistress was able to overpower thirty-six Taoist priests. Whose martial art strong, whose martial art weak, he did not have to talk too much.

Listening to him, Fat Toutuo stared blankly like he suddenly lost his mind. He sighed and said, “Unexpectedly there is such magical martial art in the world!”

Seeing surprisingly he believed his lie, Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself. He said, “I am not concealing anything from you, this young mistress is my own godmother.”

When he started talking about Jiangnan’s young mistress, Shuang’er thought that he was talking about the Third Mistress; but then later he mentioned that the young mistress had a pair of twin boys, plus she was Wei Xiaobao’s godmother, hence she realized he was talking about someone else. But Fat Toutuo was shocked. “Your godmother?” he asked, “What’s her surname? There is such a formidable figure in Wulin, yet how come I have never heard about it?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “There are plentiful formidable figures in Wulin. Take my wife here for example,” he pointed to Shuang’er, “As you can see, she is petite, cute and exquisite looking; how do you know she knew martial art?”

Shuang’er blushed; she said, “Xianggong, don’t talk nonsense.”

Fat Toutuo had had some exchange with Shuang’er, this kind of petite lady, surprisingly her skill was quite amazing; were it not for him personally witnessing it, it would be hard for him to believe. He nodded and said, “You are right. Since the young benefactor is unwilling to visit the Divine Dragon Island, there’s nothing I can do. Gentlemen, please!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Dashi, you first!” He appeared to be polite, but actually he wanted Fat Toutuo to leave first; if he went to the east, then Wei Xiaobao would go to the west, if he went to the north, then Wei Xiaobao would go to the south.

Fat Toutuo shook his head and said, “Young benefactor, please go first. I want to make a rubbing of the inscription engraved on this stone tablet.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed inwardly, thinking that his wild talk was unexpectedly believed as the truth.

Book note:

The content of the title of this chapter was from careful research of ancient poetry, its level and oblique tones (technical term for classical Chinese rhythmic poetry) is different from contemporary form of strict poetic form with eight lines of 5, 6 or 7 syllables and even lines rhyming.
Four empresses of Shunzhi. Empress Duan Jing, whose maiden name was Donggo, and Empress Xiao Kang, Kangxi’s birth mother, were buried together as husband and wives to show filial piety. Empress Fei[17] and Empress Xiao Hui (the ‘Empress Dowager’ in our book) were separately buried in the Xiao Dong Ling [Eastern Qing Tombs]. ‘Xiao Kang’ and ‘Xiao Hui’ were posthumous titles granted during the reigns of Emperors Yongzheng and Qianlong. The titles were not known during Kangxi’s reign. But popular fiction does not need to follow such a strict compliance to historical facts.
The matter of Shunzhi leaving home to become a monk on Mount Wutai was a widely spread folklore during the Qing Dynasty. It was known as one of the ‘Four Qing Mysteries’ [or ‘doubtful cases’]. The other three mysteries were: Shunzhi’s Empress Dowager married a regent later on, Yongzheng’s got his first wife by force, Qianlong actually came from Chen family in Haining [county level city in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province]. According to official record, Shunzhi died of smallpox; however, there are too many doubtful points in the official record, to such an extent that people of later generation could only guess what had really happened. A great poet of early Qing Dynasty, Wu Meichun wrote four-stanza poem ‘Mount Qing Liang’s Poem of Praise to Buddha’. It is definitely related to Consort Donggo. Quite a number of people believe that because of his grief over his beloved concubine’s death, Shunzhi has left home to become a Buddhist monk on Mount Wutai. The poem says, ‘There’s a high mountain in the northwest, people say it’s the Wenshu [Manjushri] Platform. On the platform there’s a bright moon pond, where thousand-leaf golden lotus blooms, the blossoms reflecting each other’s shadow, the leaves grow together with the root. The queen mother carries Shuang Cheng [double success?], the green canopy reaches to the cloud (note: Shuang Cheng points to female fairy Dong Shuang Cheng). The Han Lord sits on the Palace of Buddhist teaching, he hesitates as soon as exposed to the light. Binding the hearts together, giving away nine ornamental hairpins … hand in hand neglecting the greatest news, extreme happiness gives birth to minuscule sorrow. Loneliness of a thousand autumns ended, who will wholeheartedly accompany me today? … ‘ (It was said that while Consort Donggo received special favor from Shunzhi; Shunzhi’s own life was inconsistently tragic. The entire poem was very long, it will not be copied here in its entirety). ‘Wounded heart is frightened by the cold wind, deep in the Palace the crickets chirp. Severe frost covers the jasper tree, hibiscus withered from the core. It’s a pity a thousand li grass, withered away losing its color.’ (note: ‘thousand-li grass’ [千里草] are characters form the ‘Dong’ [董] character, referring to the death of Consort Donggo.) … ‘The south-facing storehouse stretches to the grave (referring to Cao Cao’s [famous statesman and general at the end of Han, the main villain of the novel ‘Romance of Three Kingdoms’] son who died prematurely in infancy, King Deng Ai, Cao Cangshu [Cangshu means ‘stretched storehouse’], a comparison to Prince Rong), covering the face, adding to the broken heart. Abstain from words, feed my horse with grain, roaming the eight extremities.’ (It was told that when his beloved concubine passed away, Shunzhi’s innermost being was so sorrowful that he was thinking of leaving the mortal world). ‘The eight extremities is boundless, it is pointing to the Qing Liang Mountain. This mountain stores up deities, noble spirits to examine the wrong … Famous mountain initially looks at the good fortune, accepting instruction to release the way of the well-being, preparing to sprinkle seven Buddhist earthen jars from the highest peak … From the seat of a celestial being, breathing out air like silken sandalwood. Sending words to the Han Emperor, is it worth the trouble to remain in the mortal world? … Only a broad mind, like a rock, will never be published. Hereby protecting the golden wheel, the law of the ocean has no billows (talking about Shunzhi’s aspiration to go to Mount Wutai). Tasting and hearing the solemn Son of Heaven, six hired hands cover ten thousand li … magnificent concubine’s ailment cannot be saved, waving the whip, tears flow like water. Han Emperor like an immortal, his wife considers getting rid of her slippers … favoring instead to seize the government power of the long gate, graciousness leans to the Qing city. Magnificent jade decorating the night, heartache and grief like the mourning cicada. None of the sufferings does not have a death side to it, to have the power of commanding the morning sun to rise … maintaining the propriety toward the ruler, virtuous sage to set the course. Taking part in the way does not need the brilliance of the ruler, declining meritorious deed promising disgrace, empty appearance cannot be repeated, like packing up a reservoir of the wind.’ (Toward the ruler points to Sakyamuni Buddha. Attributed to his conversion to the Dharma, seeking relief by Zen Buddhism).
When he was on the throne, Shunzhi has already taken Yulin as his master in the study of Buddhism. From Yulin’s chronicle as the teacher of the state: in the Shunzhi’s sixteenth year, the ‘forefather of the world’ asked the master to bestow a name, the master offered more than ten characters, the ‘forefather of the world’ picked the character ‘chi’ [imbecile/sentimental/stupid/foolish], in conjunction with the character ‘Xing’, which was handed down by forefather of Zen Buddhism’s sect of Long Chi [dragon pond], and thus his Buddhist name was ‘Xing Chi’. Yulin himself was of the ‘Tong’ [go through/pass] generation, his name was ‘Tong Xiu’ [‘xiu’ means jade], Yulin [yulin means jade forest]; therefore, his disciples used the ‘Xing’ [to walk/to go/to travel] as their generation name.
[1] Vajra/vajrapani, Buddha’s warrior attendant. Toutuo, Buddhist monk who do not shave his head.

[2] Orig. ‘chuanfa shifu’ – master who pass on Buddhism doctrines to his disciples.

[3] Xuanzang (602-664) Tang dynasty Buddhist monk and translator who travelled to India (629-645).

[4] The Monkey King and the pig-like character with a muck-rake as a weapon, both are characters in the novel Journey to the West.

[5] Another character in the novel Journey to the West. Shancai Hong Hai’er literally means ‘good/virtuous/benevolent Red Boy.

[6] Qi Tian Da Sheng – the self proclaimed title of the Monkey King.

[7] Xing means ‘to walk/go/travel, to perform/capable of/competent’, Chi means ‘imbecile, sentimental, stupid, foolish’, Dian means ‘fall forwards, inverted, jolt’.

[8] ‘Xiaobao’ – little/young treasure, ‘Laobao’ – old treasure.

[9] Orig. Pang Zunzhe – fat ‘honored sir’, can be referring to a person of higher status or seniority, or a Buddhist monk

[10] Ye – business/estate/property, Dou – fight or bucket, but could also refer to bei dou – big dipper constellation.

[11] Gou, mao and wugui mean dog, cat, and turtle, respectively. Reminder: Ping Xi Wang means ‘king who pacifies the west’.

[12] Emperor Taizong, second emperor of Tang Dynasty, reigned 626-649.

[13] From the dictionary: Li Jing (570-649 AD), Tang Dynasty general and purported author of ‘Duke Li of Wei answering Emperor Taizong of Tang’, one of the Seven Military Classics of ancient China.

[14] He was awarded the imperial surname of Li by Gao Zu of Tang. Li Ji’s fiefdom was called Yīng (英). 国公 (national duke) was a title awarded to the ruling clan as opposed to 民公 (‘commoner’ (non imperial) duke). [Courtesy of Ace High]

[15] Orig. ‘Zhen Ren’ – lit. ‘real man’, a term of respect to address a Taoist priest.

[16] Lord of profound heaven, major Taoist deity.

[17] From Wikipedia: Demoted Empress Suoerna, from the Borjigit clan, niece of Xiao Zhuang Grand Imperial Dowager Empress, demoted in 1653.

Chapter 19 Nine divisions[1] amass metal to be cast in a row, hundred-gold set up timber to provoke a flock of devils.

The eighteen Shaolin monks, along with Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er, went down the Jin Xiu Peak. Cheng Xin returned the sutra to Wei Xiaobao; he asked, “Will Benefactor return to Beijing immediately?”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Cheng Xin said, “I received Yulin Dashi’s request to escort Benefactor until you arrive safely to the Capital.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, “That’s wonderful,” he said, “I was worrying that that bamboo-pole toutuo is not willing to give up and thus will come again to give me trouble. But if you all come with me, will someone protect Xing Chi Dashi?”

“Benefactor may set your heart at ease,” Cheng Xin said, “Yulin Dashi has other arrangement.”

Now Wei Xiaobao was in complete admiration toward the old monk Yulin. He was always sitting in meditation with his eyes closed, so much so that he would not even care if the sky collapsed, but without a word or movement, he had made appropriate arrangement for everything in secret. With the Shaolin’s Eighteen Lohan escorting him, there was no danger whatsoever along the way. Not only the tall and thin Fat Toutuo did not appear, they did not even meet a single Wulin character along the way.

One day they arrived outside Beijing. The eighteen Shaolin monks bade their farewell to Wei Xiaobao. Cheng Xin said, “Benefactor has arrived at the Capital, the old monk and my brothers say our goodbye to return to our temple.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “All the great monks have bore suffering to escort me to this place, I … I really can’t thank you enough, please accept my deepest respect.” While saying that, he kneeled down to kowtow.

Cheng Xin busily helped him up, saying, “Along the way, Benefactor has treated us very well. From Shanxi to Beijing we were roaming the mountain playing on the water [i.e. going on a scenic tour], where is the suffering?”

What happened was that as soon as they left Mount Wutai, Wei Xiaobao immediately hired nineteen large carriages. He and Shuang’er rode on one, each one of the eighteen Shaolin monks rode on one carriage. He ordered Yu Ba, on a fast horse, to go ahead of them, a day in advance, to arrange the lodging along the way, preparing tea, delicacies, vegetarian dishes, etc. Everything was top-notch. On each place they stopped, Wei Xiaobao always splurged on tips, so that the shopkeeper and the attendants treated the eighteen Shaolin monks as if they were deities Bodhisattva. Shaolin monks exercise self-control and lead ascetics life, they do not seek after these food and drink, but seeing Wei Xiaobao treated them with respect and looked very sincere, inevitably they were quite happy. Although Wei Xiaobao was glib-tongued, his natural disposition was friendly, easy to make friends, and contrary to what one might expect, he was sincere towards his friends. Along the way he chatted with the monks and got along very well with them. Now that suddenly they have to say good-bye, his heart ached and he could not stop the tears from flowing down.

“Shanzai, shanzai! [good, peace]” Cheng Xin said, “Why is young benefactor grieving? If there’s karma, another day you can visit us at Shaolin Temple and we can chat.”

With a sob Wei Xiaobao said, “Indeed I must come.”

By the time Cheng Xin and the other monks had left and they entered the city, it was already late in the evening, hence it was inappropriate to enter the Palace. Wei Xiaobao went to a large inn at the Xizhimen[2] district, the ‘Ru Gui[3] Inn’. He asked for the best room, planning to spend the night there, and see Kangxi the next day, to report everything. He thought, “That thin and annoying Fat Toutuo is desperate to get his hand on my sutra, maybe he is still following me in secret. The eighteen Shaolin monks have already left, if he came back to get it by force, Shuang’er and I would not be able to stop him. I had better work a little bit to hide the sutra first. Tomorrow when I get to the Palace, I can take a large group of Imperial Bodyguards here to get it, then present it to the young emperor. This is called ‘not one in ten thousand failures’ [wan shi wu yi]!”

Thereupon he ordered Yu Ba to make preparation and sent Shuang’er out of the room, bolted the door and closed the window, before making sure that Fat Toutuo was not peeking outside. And then he wrapped the sutra in oilcloth, pulled the table, took out his dagger, and cut a hole on the brick floor underneath the table. The dagger was able to cut iron like mud, naturally it could cut mud effortlessly. After putting the sutra inside the hole, he put the brick back and mixing ash and water, he spread the paste over the brick slit. When the paste was dry, no one would ever find it unless one was deliberately looking for it.

Early in the morning the next day, he ordered Yu Ba to hire a carriage, he wanted to take Shuang’er for a sumptuous light breakfast first. He wanted to spend a lot of money to let this little servant girl broaden her outlook. Afterwards, he needed to buy a set of eunuch clothes and hat before entering the Palace. But buying eunuch clothes and hat in the marketplace was not really easy. If he could not buy one, he thought he would wear Imperial Bodyguard uniform and a yellow Magua on top of it, then he would look very impressive as he swaggered into the Palace. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the Imperial Bodyguards and the eunuchs’ dumbstruck expression when they see him? After all, his Deputy Chief of Imperial Bodyguards was bestowed personally by His Majesty, was it not? He said in his heart, “With this idea, why would I toil myself to become an eunuch? That’s it, Laozi will enter the Palace wearing the yellow Magua.”

With Shuang’er he climbed into the carriage, bent his tongue, and spoke in Beijing accent, “We’ll go to the ol’ Kuixing [the great bear constellation] Shop in Xidan[4] first. Their deep-fried sheep tail and mutton dumpling are not bad at all.”

“Yes!” the carriage driver respectfully said.

With a straight back Yu Ba sat by the carriage driver. “Hey,” he said, “In the Capital, even the mule is standing out from the masses, not even one of such a pitch-black mule with large eyes can be found within our Shanxi province.”

As he returned to the Capital, Wei Xiaobao’s heart had a different feeling of self-satisfaction.

After traveling for a while, the carriage suddenly went out of Xizhimen. Wei Xiaobao said, “Hey, we are going to Xidan, why are we going out of town?”

“Yes,” the cart driver said, “I am sorry Daye [big master]! Xiaoren’s mule is stubborn, when we reach the city gate, he always wants to slip out of town.”

Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er laughed. Yu Ba said, “Hey, in the Capital, even the mules are putting on official airs.”

As the large carriage left the city gate, it travelled straight to the north. After about a li, it still had not turned back. Wei Xiaobao knew something was amiss; he said sternly, “Driver, what trick are you playing? Quickly go back!”

The driver repeatedly said yes, he shouted, “Go back, mule, hu, hu, mule, go back!” The cart driver lashed his whip randomly, but the mule forcefully ran to the north, it bolted faster and faster. The cart driver cursed, “Damn it stinky mule, I told you to go back! Mule, stop, stop! Your granny’s bastard mule!” His shout became more and more urgent, but how could the mule be willing to stop?

Right this moment, there was sound of horse’s hoof, two riders from the side rushed over and rode close to the mule carriage. The riders were two tall and sturdy men. In a low voice Wei Xiaobao said, “Make your move!”

Shuang’er leaned forward and stretched out her finger to poke the middle of the cart driver’s back. His body swayed, he fell down from the carriage with a loud cry, and was trampled by the rider head on. The rider flew up and landed on the carriage driver’s seat. Shuang’er stretched out her finger again. The man turned his hand around to catch her wrist. Shuang’er flipped her palm and slapped his face. The man parried with his left palm, while trying to grab her shoulder with his right hand.

The two of them exchanged eight, nine moves, while the mule was still running fast. The rider on the left called out, “What happened? Why are you still playing?”

‘Bang!’ the man on the carriage got hit by Shuang’er right palm on the pit of his stomach, he fell down. The other man raised his whip to strike. Shuang’er reached out and caught the whip and in one fluid motion wound it around the carriage. The mule carriage was rushing forward, the whip was pulled, the man was immediately thrown down from the horse that he hastily let go of the whip and let out a loud ‘wah wah’ cry.

Shuang’er picked up the reins. She did not know how to drive a cart, so she handed it over to Yu Ba and said, “You drive the cart.”

“I … this I can’t,” Yu Ba said.

Wei Xiaobao jumped onto the driver seat, and took over the taut rope; he did not know how to drive cart either, but he imitated the cart driver’s ‘mule, mule’ calls, left hand loosened the reins, right hand tightened it, just like riding a horse. As expected, the mule turned around; where had the stubbornness gone?

They heard another sound of horse’s hoof, a dozen or more riders rushed over. Wei Xiaobao was greatly alarmed, he pulled the mule that the cart swerved in an oblique angle. The riders also turned their horse to pursue from behind. The horses were fast, the carriage was slow, not too long afterwards, those dozen or so riders had surrounded the mule cart.

Seeing each one of the horse riders was holding a weapon, Wei Xiaobao called out, “Under the bright sunny sky, near the throne of the Son of Heaven, you want to cut our way and rob us?”

A man said with a laugh, “We are envoys to invite you to dinner, not to rob you. Wei Gongzi, our master is inviting you to drink several cups of wine!”

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “Who is your master?” he asked.

The man replied, “As soon as Gongzi see him, you will naturally recognize him. If our master is not Gongzi’s friend, why would he invite you to drink wine?”

Seeing these men acted strange, Wei Xiaobao knew that most likely they were harboring ill intentions. “How can there be such invitation?” he called out, “Excuse me, let me pass!”

Another man laughed and said, “Let you pass? We’ll let you pass, then!” Raising the saber in his hand, he chopped the mule’s head; the mule’s body swayed sideways and fell to the ground, pulling the carriage along with it. Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er hurriedly leaped down. Shuang’er moved like the wind, it’s just that the enemies were on horsebacks, while she was short, so she could not reach the enemies. One by one she jabbed with her finger, if not the horse’ eyes, then the acupoints on those men’s legs. Instantly there was a clamor of horses neighing in confusion. Several men jumped down from their horses, they charged forward with brandished sabers. Shuang’er was extremely agile and nimble, poking to the east striking to the west, she knocked down seven, eight men. The remaining four or five men looked at each other in dismay, at a loss of what to do.

On the main road a small carriage galloped over, a woman’s voice from the carriage called out, “We are on the same side, don’t fight!”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard the voice, his heart blossomed and his anger subsided. “Aha!” he called out, “My wife is here!”

Shuang’er and the men immediately stopped fighting. Shuang’er was greatly puzzled, she did not expect this xianggong had already had young mistress. But at that time, marrying too early was prevalent, it was not uncommon for a fourteen, fifteen years old man to get married, it’s just that Wei Xiaobao had never told her that he had a wife.

The small carriage arrived, from inside jumped a person, it was none other than Fang Yi. Wei Xiaobao was grinning from ear to ear, he stepped forward and pulled her hand, saying, “Good Jiejie, I miss you very much, where have you been?”

Fang Yi smiled and said, “We’ll talk about it later. Why did you fight each other?” She saw a lot of men were lying on the ground, the mule’s blood splattered everywhere; she was quite stunned.

A man bowed and said, “Miss Fang, we are here to invite Wei Gongzi for a drink, I suppose our manner was not satisfactory and we have offended Gongzi. If Miss Fang could invite him personally, it would be best.”

Fang Yi was amazed, “Did you knock these people down?” she asked, “Your martial art skill must have been increased a hundred-fold.”

“Even if I made progress, it wouldn’t be this quick,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “It was Miss Shuang’er who protected me. She is young, but her skill is prominent.”

Fang Yi turned toward Shuang’er. Noticing Shuang’er was about thirteen, fourteen years of age, with gentle and shy appearance, she did not believe her martial art skill to be this superior. “Meimei, what’s your surname?” she asked. When she was at the Zhuang’s house, she did not see Shuang’er at all, therefore, the two of them did not know each other.

Shuang’er stepped forward, kneeled down and kowtowed, saying, “Your maid servant Shuang’er is paying her respect to the Young Mistress.” Wei Xiaobao burst out in laughter.

Fang Yi was so embarrassed that her entire face turned red; hastily she dodged and said, “You … what did you call me? I … I’m … not.”

Shuang’er stood up and said, “Xianggong said that you are his wife, your maid servant is serving Xianggong, naturally I am calling you Young Mistress.”

Fang Yi cast a vicious glance toward Wei Xiaobao; she said, “This man’s mouth always talks nonsense, don’t believe him. How long have you been serving him? Don’t tell me you do not know his character by now. I am Miss Fang.”

Shuang’er showed a faint smile and said, “In that case I won’t call you that for now, but someday I will.”

“Someday you will call me wh …” Fang Yi started, but then she blushed again, and swallowed the last word ‘what’.

Shuang’er looked at Wei Xiaobao, he was having an immensely proud of himself expression on his face, suddenly Shuang’er also blushed. She remembered how at Mount Wutai he had also told Fat Toutuo that she was his wife. Turned out he had this habit of calling young ladies his wives. So that when she heard him laughing and then asking, “How’s my young wife?” Shuang’er did not think differently.

Fang Yi cast him another malicious look; she said, “We have not seen each other for such a long time, as soon as we meet, you did not speak decent words, but act garrulously instead.” Immediately she ordered the men to tidy up to continue on their journey. These men’s acupoints were sealed by Shuang’er, they were unable to move a single step, hence Shuang’er had to release them one by one.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “If I had known that you are inviting me for a drink, I would have wished I could grow wings and fly to you.”

Fang Yi cast him another malicious look; she said, “You have already forgotten me, naturally you would not have thought that I am inviting you.”

Wei Xiaobao felt sweetness in his heart; he said, “How can I forget you? If I had known you are looking for me, forget about drinking wine, even if you want me to drink horse’s pee or poison, I would willingly come, without the slightest delay.”

Fang Yi’s pair of beautiful eyes gazed at him; she said, “Don’t just say things that are good to hear, what if I really want you to go to the ends of the earth and drink poison?”

Wei Xiaobao saw that when she said those words, her expression was like smiling, yet she was not smiling, under the morning sun she looked unspeakably gorgeous; he felt his whole body was comfortably warm. He said, “Let’s not mention the ends of the earth, even go up the mountain of blades or go down a deep fryer, I would still go.”

“Alright,” Fang Yi said, “A real man gave his words, some horses cannot chase it.”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his own chest and loudly exclaimed, “A real man gave his words, some horses cannot chase it.” The two of them burst out in laughter.

Fang Yi ordered a man to get a horse for Wei Xiaobao to ride, she let Shuang’er sit on her own little carriage, while she rode another horse and travelled side-by-side with Wei Xiaobao. Facing the morning sun, they let their horses gallop leisurely. The men followed behind them.

Fang Yi said, “Your talent is really good, you managed to pick such a powerful flower, obtaining a servant girl with such superior martial art skill.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “What do you mean picking such a powerful flower? It was her who is most willing to follow me.” Wei Xiaobao then asked about Mu Jianping, Xu Tianchuan and the others’ whereabouts. “In that haunted house,” he said, “You were captured by those Shen Long Jiao fellows. Afterwards, how did you escape? Was it the Third Mistress of the Zhuang Family who sent people to help you?”

“Who’s the Third Mistress of the Zhuang Family?” Fang Yi asked.

“She is the master of the Zhuang house,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Fang Yi shook her head, “Master of the Zhuang house?” she asked, “All along we did not meet anybody. Shen Long Jiao only want you, but they did not have any ill-intention toward you. When that Zhang Laosan failed to find you, he let us go. Xiao Junzhu and the others are ahead of us, very soon you will be able to see them.” Turning her head toward him, there was a sullen look on her face as she said, “In your heart you only have Xiao Junzhu; we have only met for a short time, yet you have already asked about her seven, eight times.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “When did I ask you seven or eight times?” he said, “I have really suffered injustice. If I saw her but did not see you, by this time I would have asked her seventy, eighty times.”

Fang Yi smiled and said, “Even if you grew ten mouths, you would not be able to ask seventy, eighty times in such a short time. But knowing you, one mouth is more formidable than ten mouths.”

The two of them chatting and joking, in a short while they already travelled more than ten li, winding around Beijing’s city wall, and went straight to the east. “Are we almost there?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Fang Yi looked hurt, “It’s still far away,” she said, “Even if you are anxious to see Xiao Junzhu, you don’t have to be this impatient. If I had known it, it would have been much better to let her to come and pick you up, so that you wouldn’t be deeply worried.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and said, “Henceforth I won’t ask another word.”

Fang Yi said, “Your mouth won’t ask, but your heart is anxious; you will make me angry even more.”

It appeared that her vinegar [jealousy] was getting thicker; the more Wei Xiaobao listened, the happier he was. He laughed and said, “If I have just half a part of anxiety in my heart, I am not your husband, but your son.”

“Pfft!” Fang Yi stifled her laughter; she said, “Good …” her face turned red, she could not push the following word ‘son’ out of her mouth.

They travelled until noon, when they arrived at a small town to take a rest before continuing their journey to the east. Wei Xiaobao did not dare to ask where they were going anymore, he realized they had left Beijing far behind, and that he would not have time to hurry back to the Palace to see Kangxi that day, but he thought, “Xiao Xuanzi did not tell me when I should be back anyway, I could be delayed on Mount Wutai, or was captured and detained by that Fat Toutuo. What’s the harm in returning to the Palace several days late?”

Along the way Fang Yi kept him company by having idle talks with him. When they were together in the Imperial Palace, although the two of them were in the same room, a third person, Mu Jianping, was also present, so that Fang Yi was quite reserved. This time they were riding slowly side-by-side, she was talking and laughing eagerly and attentively. The rest of their party were being tactful, they lagged quite far behind.

Wei Xiaobao was at the stage of ‘first awakening of love’. When he called her ‘his wife’ at the Palace, he was 60% joking, 30% being frivolous and taking advantage of her precarious situation, only 10% was being driven by faint attraction between opposite sexes. Today they met again after separation, seeing sometimes Fang Yi was annoyed and angry, sometimes she was talking and laughing tenderly, Wei Xiaobao could not help but was aroused by passion. He saw after riding for most of the day, her cheeks were flushed, tiny beads of sweat appeared on her face, she looked unspeakably dainty and cute. He could not help but staring at her with a blank expression on his face.

Fang Yi laughed and said, “Why are you staring with blank expression like that?”

“Good Jiejie,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You … you look really pretty. I think … I think …”

“What are you thinking?” Fang Yi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I tell you, you must not get angry.”

“If you are speaking properly, I won’t get angry,” Fang Yi said, “But if you are being indecent, naturally I will get angry. What are you thinking?”

“I think, if you really become my wife, I don’t know how much happier I will be,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Fang Yi cast him a sidelong glance with a wooden face, and then turned her head away. Wei Xiaobao anxiously said, “Good Jiejie, are you angry?”

“Naturally I am angry,” Fang Yi said, “I am a hundred and twenty percent angry.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “But nothing could be more proper than this, I … I spoke very sincerely.”

Fang Yi said, “In the Palace, I have already made an oath; I will follow you for the rest of my life, I will serve you. Do you think that was real, or fake? By saying that, aren’t you thinking to cease being faithful?”

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic; if not for the fact that both of them were on horsebacks, he would embrace her immediately and kiss her tender and beautiful, desirable face. Immediately he stretched out his right hand to pull her left hand, saying, “How can I cease being faithful? A thousand years, ten thousand years, I will never cease to be faithful.”

“You are clearly lying,” Fang Yi said, “How can a man live for a thousand years, ten thousand years? Unless you are a turtle …” When speaking the word ‘turtle’, she broke into laughter, and turned her head away, but she still let him holding her hand.

Holding her soft, warm and tender palm, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was bursting with joy. He laughed and said, “With you treating me this well, I will never be a turtle.” When one’s wife is having an affair with another man, then the husband becomes a ‘turtle’; Fang Yi also understood this sense of pride.

With a sweet face she said, “Not three sentences of good words, a dog’s mouth will never grow ivory.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “If you marry a chicken follow the chicken, if you marry a dog follow the dog,” he said, “If you wish to see your husband grow ivory in this lifetime, it will be very hard to come by.” Fang Yi bent over the saddle in laughter, her left hand tightly gripped his palm.

The two of them chatting and laughing all the way until evening, when they lodged for the night in a large inn in a rather large town. The next morning Wei Xiaobao ordered Yu Ba to hire a large carriage, so that he could ride with Fang Yi inside. The conversation between them was thick with passion. Wei Xiaobao embraced her waist and kissed her face. Fang Yi did not resist, but she categorically forbade him to overstep the boundary. In the matter between male and female, actually Wei Xiaobao seemed to understand, but not really understood, so far he was quite happy. His only wish was that the large carriage would never stop moving, so that he could sit embracing a beautiful woman [orig. jade person], traveling to the ends of the earth, and then turn around, and travel to the other ends of the earth, that the road under the heavens would continue forever; or even if it ends, what’s the harm of going anywhere on foot?

Every day they would travel until night fall, where they lodged for the night, and then the next morning they would continue their journey. His only fear was that Fang Yi would finally say that they had arrived. In the middle of this cozy surrounding, the Emperor’s imperial order, the Forty-two-chapter Sutra, the Old Emperor on Mount Wutai, everything was pushed away to the back of his mind. In his daze, he did not know how many days had passed.

Toward the evening one day, the carriage and the horses finally arrived on the ocean’s shore. Taking his hand along, Fang Yi walked to the seaside and softly whispered in his ear, “Good Didi [younger brother], what do you say you and I board a ship, roaming the four seas, passing the days just like deities?” While saying that, she held his hand and rested her head on his shoulder.

Her body was so soft that it felt like she did not have any strength. Wei Xiaobao stretched out his left arm around her waist, to guard against her falling down. He felt her silky hair brushing against his cheek, her waist was so soft and tender, shivering slightly. Although the thought of boarding a ship and sailing to the sea was a bit too overwhelming, plus he had a faint feeling that something was not right, but at this time and this place, how could he bear to say this one word ‘no’?

A large ship was anchored by the seaside. Seeing Fang Yi’s subordinates waving dark green cloth, the sailors on the ship lowered a small boat to meet them at the shore. First they took Wei Xiaobao and Fang Yi on board, and then successively brought the rest of the people on board. Seeing they were about to embark on a voyage, Yu Ba said that he was seasick and would not want to go to the sea no matter what. Wei Xiaobao did not force him, he gave him a hundred taels of silver. With a thousand gratitude and ten thousand thanks, Yu Ba returned to Shanxi.

As Wei Xiaobao entered the cabin, he noticed that it was luxuriously furnished; the floor was covered in thick carpet, there were tea, fruits and delicacies on the table, just like the parlor in the homes of princes, dukes, or high ranking officials. He mused, “Good Jiejie is treating me like this, inevitably there will be an intention to harm me.”

Two servants on the ship offered steamed towel for the two of them to wipe their faces with, followed by the serving of two bowls of noodles. The noodles were covered with shredded chicken; it was very delicious, the taste was different from ordinary noodles. And then he felt the hull swayed, obviously they set sail and went out to sea.

As the boat left the shore, another world was before their eyes. Fang Yi accompanied him drinking wine and playing finger-guessing game, they never stopped talking and laughing until very late at night. She took care of him first and tucked him into bed before retreating to separate room to rest for the night. The next day, she came back to help him dress and combed his hair. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Until now she does not know that I am not a eunuch; she only knew that our being husband and wife is a fake. When should I tell her the truth?”

The boat sailed for several days. One particular day the two of them were leaning on the window, enjoying the sunset on the sea. They saw the reflection of the sun like tens of thousands golden snake slithering on the surface of the sea, it was indescribably weird and wonderful. Fang Yi sighed and said, “When I go to assassinate the Tatar Emperor that day, I was so sure that I would lose my life in the Palace. Who would have known that Laotianye still protected me, unexpectedly I met you and today we enjoy this good fortune together. Good Didi, I am not clear of your lot in life. When did you enter the Palace? How did you learn martial art?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I was just going to tell you, but I was afraid you might jump in fright, or perhaps you are so happy that you pass out.”

Fang Yi leaned closer to him; with a low voice she said, “If I like what I hear, that will be best. But even if I don’t like what I hear, I only want you to tell me the truth, then … then I won’t care.”

“Good Jiejie,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will be honest with you, I was born in Yangzhou, Mama is from a brothel.”

Fang Yi was shocked; with a trembling voice she asked, “What is your mama doing in the brothel? Is she doing laundry, cook rice, or … or sweep the floor and pour tea?”

Wei Xiaobao saw her countenance underwent great change, her eyes showed a frightened look, instantly his heart turned ice-cold, knowing that she extremely despised the ‘brothel’. If he said honestly that his own mother was a prostitute, perhaps for the rest of his life she would never have even half a part of respect and affection. Immediately he laughed aloud and said, “When my Mama entered the brothel, she was only six or seven years old, how could she did laundry or cook rice for the people?”

Fang Yi’s countenance softened somewhat; “She was only six or seven years old?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao said whatever came into his mind, “After the Tatars entered the Pass, they killed not a few people in Yangzhou; do you know this?” While saying that, his mind was trying to find a way to raise his mother’s dignity somewhat.

“That’s right,” Fang Yi said.

“My (maternal) grandfather was a high ranking official of the Ming Dynasty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “He took office in Yangzhou. When the Tatars broke through Yangzhou, my grandfather died in the resistance against the enemy. That time my Mama was only a little girl, wandering destitute on the street. There was a heroic, rich brothel’s patron who took pity on her, so he took her to become his servant girl. Upon further inquiry, he had a deep respect toward grandfather, so he took my Mama as his foster daughter [orig. yi nu – righteous female/daughter] and brought her home. My Mama became a ‘thousand gold’ young lady, later she married my Papa, who was a gongzi [young master/son of nobility] of Yangzhou’s famous and rich family.”

Fang Yi was half-believing, half-doubting. “So that’s how it is,” she said, “You did indeed scare me that I jumped in fright, thinking that your Mama was destitute in the brothel, being female maid of the people, serving those people who knew no shame, an extremely … bad woman.”

Growing up in the brothel, Wei Xiaobao had never thought that his own Mama was a ‘bad woman who knew no shame’, hearing Fang Yi said such things, he could not help but was secretly angry. He said in his heart, “Do you think your Mu Palace women are so great? Damn it, in my opinion they are also people who knew no shame, extremely whatever.”

Originally he was thinking of telling her his real life story in a calm, undisturbed manner, and would not hide anything from her; but now he simply boasted unguardedly, telling her how extravagant was his family in Yangzhou, giving her an exaggerated account of everything. But when he told about the halls and the rooms of his residence, the setup of the furniture, inevitably he was talking about the layout of the Lovely Spring Courtyard.

But Fang Yi did not pay any attention to his story; she said, “Is this the thing you meant when you said that you wanted to tell me something that will make me happy that I might pass out?”

Wei Xiaobao felt as if she was splashing a bucket of cold water on his head. Also, noticing how indifferent she was toward his bragging, he could not restrain his excitement from dying out; he was disinclined to tell her that he was not an eunuch. “That was it,” he said casually, “Turns out you are not happy at all.”

Fang Yi said unenthusiastically, “I am happy.” It was clear that she did not mean it.

The two of them were silent for a moment. Suddenly a stretch of land appeared on the northeastern direction. This ship was heading exactly on that direction. Fang Yi said in amazement, “Uh, what kind of place is that?”

Less than two hours later, they were getting closer to the land, and saw the verdant trees on the shore, which stretched out in both direction as far as eyes could see, the beach was covered in snow white fine sands. Fang Yi said, “We have been sailing for a few days, our heads are muddled, what do you say we go up and look around?”

“Very good,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “It looks like a big island, I wonder if there is some fun things on the island.”

Fang Yi summoned the helmsman to the cabin and asked him the name of the island, as well as its specialty. The helmsman replied, “In answer to Miss’ question, this island is a well-known immortal island of the Eastern Sea. I heard there are immortal fruits on the island, those who ate it will have long life and won’t grow old, it’s just that only blessed people will be able to obtain it. There is no harm in Miss and Wei Xianggong to go up and try your luck.”

Fang Yi nodded. When the helmsman had left the cabin, she softly said, “I don’t care about long life and won’t grow old. These last few days I am happier than being an immortal.”

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic; he said, “You and I can live on the island for the rest of our lives. Immortal fruits and what not, it’s not a big deal, as long as you are willing for accompany me forever, I feel like an immortal.”

Fang Yi leaned closer to him and said in gentle voice, “Me too.”

The two of them rode a small boat to go ashore, and treaded on the fine sand of the beach. Their noses caught the whiff of fragrance of flowers floating from the forest. They felt they had indeed arrived at a fairyland. “I wonder if there are people living on this island?” Fang Yi said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I don’t think there are people, but there is a fairy whose beauty is matchless, taking her little servant along, who has just arrived on the island.”

With a very sweet smile Fang Yi said, “Good Didi, you are my little servant, and I am your little maid.”

When Wei Xiaobao heard the word ‘maid’, Wei Xiaobao suddenly remembered Shuang’er. Turning his head around, he did not see her following to the island. These past few days he had given Shuang’er a cold treatment, in his heart he was quite remorseful, but thinking that if she tagged along, he would not be too comfortable to be affectionate toward Fang Yi; hence it was better that she did not come along.

Hand in hand the two of them entered the forest, the air was very thick with the fragrance of the flowers. Wei Xiaobao said, “This fragrance of the flowers is exceptionally thick, could the flowers be immortal flowers?” Taking a few steps forward, suddenly he heard rustling noise of the grass, followed by a yellow shadow flashed before his eyes, seven or eight yellow with black stripes vipers fled out. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out. Pulling Fang Yi’s hand, he turned around and ran. But after taking only one step, seven or eight snakes blocked their way, their bodies were blood red, their tongues flicking in and out, hissing noisily. The snakes’ heads were all triangular, an obvious sign that they all had acute poison.

Fang Yi stepped in front of Wei Xiaobao’s body, pulling her saber and brandishing it she called out, “Run away quickly, I’ll block the vipers!”

But how could Wei Xiaobao be willing to forgo yi qi like this, running for his life alone? Busily he drew his dagger and said, “We’ll go from this side!” Pulling Fang Yi along, he bolted off to the side. But after only two steps, he felt something cold on his neck, a snake dangled down from a tree and coiled itself around his neck, scaring him that his soul flew out to the sky, he cried out loudly.

Fang Yi reached out to pull the snake’s body. “No, you can’t do that!” Wei Xiaobao cried out. The snake turned its head around and bit the back of Fang Yi’s hand firmly and did not let her go. Wei Xiaobao brandished the dagger and chopped the snake’s head clean. By this time, a viper had wrapped itself on each one of their legs. Wei Xiaobao brandished his dagger to chop their heads, but he felt his left leg went numb, a viper had bitten him.

Fang Yi tossed away her single-blade saber and embraced him, crying, “We, husband and wife, will die in here today.” Relying on the sharpness of his dagger, Wei Xiaobao chopped one snake with every wave of the dagger, but more and more snakes came out of the forest. The two of them desperately trying to get out of the forest, their bodies had been bitten seven eight times each. Wei Xiaobao felt a dizzy spell, he was gradually losing his consciousness. Looking toward the ocean, he saw the little boat was sailing back to the big ship, it was already quite some distance away from the shore. Fang Yi called several times, but how could the sailors on the boat hear her?

Fang Yi rolled up Wei Xiaobao’s trouser, she bent down and sucked up the snake venom from his leg. Wei Xiaobao was startled, “No … don’t!” he said.

Suddenly they heard footsteps behind them, someone was saying, “What are you doing here? Aren’t you afraid to die?”

Wei Xiaobao turned his head around, and saw three middle-aged men. “Dashu [big uncle] help,” he hastily called out, “We are bitten by the snakes.”

One man took out a pill from his pocket, put it in his own mouth and chewed it for a moment, and then spread it on the snake bites on Wei Xiaobao’s body. Wei Xiaobao said, “Please … please help her first.” By now his own legs had already turned black, his entire body had lost its senses. Fang Yi received the medicine from the man and applied it on her own wounds. “Good Jiejie …” Wei Xiaobao said, his eyes blackened, ‘crash!’ with a loud cry he fell backward.

When he woke up, he felt his lips were parched and his tongue dry, there was a sharp pain on the pit of his stomach; he could not help but groaning loudly. He heard someone spoke, “Good, you’re awake!” Wei Xiaobao slowly opened his eyes, and saw someone with a bowl of medicine, which he held in front of Wei Xiaobao’s mouth. This medicine was exceptionally smelly, but without hesitation he drank it down. As it entered his mouth, it tasted strangely bitter. After he finished the medicine, he said, “Thank you Dashu, for saving my life. I … how is my Jiejie?”

“Fortunately we saved you in time,” the man replied, “If we arrived just a bit late, the two of you would have lost your lives. You are too daring, why did you come to this immortal island?”

Hearing Fang Yi was saved, Wei Xiaobao was greatly relieved, he did not stop expressing his gratitude. Only then did he realize that he was lying underneath a quilt, his entire clothes were gone, his legs were still numb. The man’s appearance was unsightly, his face was full of scars, but in Wei Xiaobao’s eyes, he looked like a Bodhisattva who saved his life. He let out a breath and said, “The sailors on the ship said that there are immortal fruits on this island, those who ate it will have long life and won’t grow old.”

“Hey,” the man laughed, “If there were indeed such immortal fruits, why didn’t they come to pick the fruits themselves?”

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, “Those sailors harbor malicious intentions. I still have a companion on the ship, I am afraid … I am afraid she might fall into those bad people’s hands. Dashu, please think of a way to rescue her.”

The ugly man said, “That ship has already left three days ago, how could I find it?”

Wei Xiaobao was puzzled; “Three days ago?” he asked in bewilderment.

The ugly man said, “You have been in coma for three whole days and nights, most likely you did not know it?”

Although Shuang’er’s martial art skill was high, she was all alone on the boundless ocean, how could she escape the wicked men’s evil scheme? Remembering her, Wei Xiaobao could not help but was very anxious. The ugly man comforted him, “Feeling anxious this moment is useless. You’d better take a good rest, the snakes on this island are not a small matter, you will need at least seven days of treatment before the venom can be eradicated.” He asked Wei Xiaobao’s name, and introduced himself as having a surname of Pan.

By the third day, Wei Xiaobao was able to get up and walk slowly by holding on to the wall. The ugly man surnamed Pan took him to see Fang Yi. Turned out she was being taken care of by another woman, but her jade countenance was wan and sallow, her spirit was weary. When the two of them met, they were both happy and grieved at the same time, and thus they embraced each other and cried together. Henceforth the two of them share the same room during the day. When talking about the fierceness of the vipers’ venom, the hair on their bodies stood up.

By the sixth day, the man surnamed Pan said, “The physician of our island, Mr. Lu, has returned from his journey out to the sea, I have already invited him to examine Wei Xiongdi.” Wei Xiaobao thanked him.

Not too long afterwards, a man in his forties walked in, he dressed as a scholar, his expression is friendly; he asked Wei Xiaobao how the snakes bit him. He said, “The residents of this island always have realgar snake medicine handy, when this medicine is applied on the vipers, the snakes will immediately run away, and will not dare to bite people.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “No wonder Pan Dage and the others are not afraid.”

Mr. Lu examined his wound, and took out six pills, he said, “You take three pills, and give the other three to your companion. Take one pill every day.”

Wei Xiaobao thanked him profusely. He took out two hundred taels worth of banknotes. “A little bit of treatment fee,” he said, “I ask Mister not to laugh.”

Mr. Lu was startled; he said, “Why so much? Gongzi gives me two taels, and I am already grateful.” Wei Xiaobao insisted on giving him the whole thing, Mr. Lu thanked him and accepted. He said with a laugh, “Gongzi is so generous, to refuse would be impolite. Perhaps Gongzi feels stifled staying here, what do you say tonight Gongzi and your female companion come to my humble home to have a cup of wine?” Wei Xiaobao was delighted and readily accepted the invitation.

That evening, Mr. Lu sent two sedan chairs to pick up Wei Xiaobao and Fang Yi. These bamboo sedan chairs were actually bamboo chairs with two bamboo poles attached on each side, carried by two men, one in the front and the other on the back. The residents of the island were simple and crude, they did not have real sedan chairs.

The two sedan chairs travelled along a mountain stream. The water of the creek gurgled, the vegetation was fresh and clean, they both felt completely relax. Only when they saw tall grass did Wei and Fang, two people, shuddered in apprehension, for fear that some vipers would come out of the grass. After traveling for seven, eight li, the sedan chairs arrived in front of a cluster of three bamboo buildings. The building’s walls and roofs were made of coarse bamboo poles about the size of a bowl in diameter weaved together, it looked very firm and solid. Wei Xiaobao had never seen a bamboo construction like this in Jiangnan and Hebei [Translator’s note: I am not sure about this. Jiangnan can also mean ‘south of Yangtze’, Hebei can also mean ‘north of yellow river’.]

Mr. Lu went out to welcome them, and invited the two of them to enter. At the hall, a woman in her thirties came out to welcome the guests, she was Mr. Lu’s wife. The woman pulled Fang Yi’s hand; she appeared very friendly. Mr. Lu invited Wei Xiaobao to sit in his study room.

The bamboo bookshelf in the study room was full of books, the four walls were also full of hanging calligraphy and painting, apparently Mr. Lu was an elegant scholar. Mr. Lu said, “Zaixia is an uncouth resident of a barren island, extremely ill-informed and narrow-minded. Wei Gongzi came from a well-known scenic spot on the Central Plains, a younger generation of a noble family, your view must be broad, your appreciation must be exquisite. Please look at these several painting and calligraphy; in your opinion, will they be passable to enter your house?”

These several sentences were scholarly talk, Wei Xiaobao did not understand even half a sentence, but seeing he was pointing to the painting and calligraphy on the wall, he looked up and saw a scenery painting [orig. mountain and water], and another one with painting of red-crowned crane and a turtle. He laughed and said, “That old turtle looks very amusing.”

Mr. Lu was slightly startled; he pointed to a scroll on the table and asked, “Wei Gongzi, what do you think of my Shigu script[5]?”

Wei Xiaobao saw the characters were curvy, just like the writing on a talisman. He nodded and said, “Good, very good!”

Mr. Lu pointed to another scroll of large brush-written characters; he said, “This painting is Qin Dynasty’s stone engrave of Lang Ya [clean and white ivory] Platform, what does Wei Gongzi think about it?”

Wei Xiaobao thought that if he blindly agreed to everything, it would not be interesting, so he shook his head and said, “This calligraphy is not too good.”

Mr. Lu felt a deep veneration as he said, “Would Wei Gongzi please give directions? Where is the faulty stroke and weak points of this calligraphy?”

“There are too many faulty strokes, there are too little superb strokes!” Wei Xiaobao said. He thought that since there are ‘faulty stroke’, then naturally there are ‘superb stroke’ as well.

It was the very first time that Mr. Lu heard the term ‘superb stroke’, he was taken aback and was at a loss momentarily.

“Brilliant, brilliant!” he said. Pointing to a grass script calligraphy on the western wall, he said, “This is wild grass script, what does Wei Gongzi think about it?”

Cocking his head, Wei Xiaobao looked at the painting for a moment, and then he shook his head and said, “These several characters are out of ink, you should rub some more ink stick. Um, this thread here is being dragged here and there, but you did not wipe it clean.”

As soon as Mr. Lu heard this, his countenance changed greatly. Grass script pays particular attention to the application of dry and wet ink. When the brush is moist, the character is wet, when the brush is dried up, the character looks parched; dry and wet alternates, creating delicate shades of strokes. There is conspicuous wetness in the dry character, and contrasting dry stroke in the wet character, yin and yang complements each other, just like the red cloud obstructing the sky, the square makes a wonderful letter. As for the thread of strokes joined together, calligraphers call it ‘transparent’ lines; sometimes it joins several brush strokes together, sometimes it joins several letters together. Particular attention must be paid to both sides, the angles change irregularly, sometimes the brush floats, or turns abruptly to create all kinds of different look. By saying those words, Wei Xiaobao had revealed his background.

Mr. Lu pointed to another scroll of calligraphy and said, “This one is entirely oracle bone inscriptions, Xiongdi‘s knowledge is shallow, I don’t even know a single character, would Wei Gongzi please give directions?”

Wei Xiaobao saw that all characters on the paper look like tadpoles, just like the characters engraved on the stone tablet in the Pu Ji Temple on Jinxiu Peak of Mount Wutai; his heart was moved, he said, “I know these several characters, it says ‘Hong Jiaozhu of Shen Long Jiao will not be old for ten thousand years, he will enjoy the good fortune of the immortals forever, his magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s’.”

A delighted expression spread across Mr. Lu’s face; he said, “Thank Heaven and thank the Earth, you indeed know these characters!”

Seeing his extreme delight, so much so that his voice was trembling, Wei Xiaobao’s suspicion arose: “I only know several characters, why is he this happy? Could it be that he also belongs to Shen Long Jiao? Aiyo, not good! Snake … snake … spirit snake … could it be that this is the Divine Dragon Island?” He blurted out, “Where is Fat Toutuo?”

Mr. Lu was shocked; he withdrew several steps and with a trembling voice said, “You … you know it?”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. Actually, he did not know anything. Mr. Lu’s expression became serious as he said, “Since you know it, then it’s very good.” Walking toward the desk, he ground some ink and said, “Please translate these tadpole scripts one by one. Which one is ‘Hong’ character, which one is ‘Jiao’ character?” Lifting the brush, he beckoned him to come over.

Asking Wei Xiaobao to take up a pen to write was more cruel than asking him to surrender his life. Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, but seeing Mr. Lu’s unsightly expression, he did not dare to disobey. Bracing himself, he walked over to the desk and sat down. He took the pen and held it inside his fist. The way he hold the pen was thirty percent similar to holding chopsticks when he eat, but the way he clench his fist was also similar to the way people holding a knife to butcher a pig, or holding a hammer to pound the nail; how could there be such a way to hold the pen in the world?

Mr. Lu’s angry look was growing, he struggled hard to control it. Slowly he said, “Write down your name first!”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly stood up and tossed the pen onto the floor, the ink splattered everywhere, he said in a loud voice, “Laozi does not know dog’s fart, I can’t write ‘fart’ character. All those ‘Hong Jiaozhu’s long-life is the same as the Heaven’s’, laozi was simply boasting unguardedly to swindle that bad toutuo. If you want laozi to write, wait for my next reincarnation. You want to kill me or chop me, if laozi even frown, just consider me not a real man.”

Mr. Lu coldly said, “You don’t know any character?”

“I don’t,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I don’t know the ‘gui” character from your turtle [wu gui] or the ‘dan’ character from your bast@rd [wang ba dan].” Since his trickery had been unmasked, his shame turned into anger. Besides, he was on Snake Island, there was only death for him without any chance to live. Begging for mercy was useless, he might as well took some advantage first.

Mr. Lu was silent for half a day. He picked up the brush and wrote several tadpole characters on the paper. “What characters are these?” he asked.

“F*ck your mother!” Wei Xiaobao said in loud voice, “I said I don’t know, that means I don’t know. Do you think I am lying?”

Mr. Lu nodded. “Very well,” he said, “Turns out Fat Toutuo has fallen into your big trick. But this matter has been reported to Jiaozhu. Little thief!” Suddenly he pounced and wrapped his fingers around Wei Xiaobao’s neck, his hands squeezed tighter and tighter. With a clenched teeth he said, “You have made us cheating Jiaozhu, everybody will die without a burial site because of you. It would be better if we will all die together to avoid those endless, ruthless punishment.”

Strangled by him, Wei Xiaobao could not breathe, his face swollen purple, his tongue stuck out. If Mr. Lu added a little bit more force into his hands, this child would take his last breath and die. Thinking that he had an enormous responsibility in this matter, he was startled and immediately released his fingers. Pushing with both hands, he sent Wei Xiaobao tumbling to the floor, and then filled with hatred, he left the room.

After quite a long time, Wei Xiaobao was finally able to get up. “Dead turtle, f*ck his thief mother,” perhaps he uttered these curses several hundred times, while thinking that since he was on this poisonous Snake Island, there was no other place he could escape to. If he ran toward the underbrush in the woods, he would die even faster. Walking toward the door, he pushed the door only to find that the bamboo door was barred from the outside. Looking out of the window, he saw a deep valley. Indeed there was no way out. Turning his head around, he saw the calligraphy and painting hanging on the wall. “What’s so good about these fart characters and fart drawings?” he mused. Picking up the brush, he dipped it into the ink, and drew countless ‘big turtles’ and ‘little turtles’ on each scroll of calligraphy and paintings.

After drawing several dozen turtles, Wei Xiaobao’s hand was tired, he tossed the pen to the floor and curled up in a chair, very soon he fell asleep. When he woke up, the sky had turned dark, but unexpectedly nobody came to check him up. His tummy was growling from hunger. “This green-haired turtle wants to starve laozi to death,” he mused.

After a long time, he suddenly heard footsteps outside the door, and saw light penetrating the cracks on the door, followed by the bamboo door was pushed open and Mr. Lu entered the room with a candle in his hand. He cast him a sidelong glance. Wei Xiaobao saw there was no trace of anger on his face, so the fear in his heart subsided considerably.

Mr. Lu put the candle on the table, took a quick glance around the room, and saw that Wei Xiaobao had smeared the calligraphy and paintings hanging on the walls so that they were no longer presentable. He could not restrain his anger from flaring up. “You … you …” he shouted, while raising his hand high, ready to strike down, but his palm stopped midair. Finally he was able to control his anger and said, “You … you …” the word choked in his throat and he could not speak.

“What do you think?” Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Is my drawing good?”

Mr. Lu heaved a deep sigh, he sat down dejectedly and said, “Good, your drawing is good.”

Surprisingly, not only he did not hit him, but he said his drawing was good. It was completely beyond Wei Xiaobao’s anticipation. Seeing his distressed expression, Wei Xiaobao knew Mr. Lu was extremely troubled, he could not help but somehow feel sorry. “Mr. Lu,” he said, “I … I’m sorry, I destroyed your paintings.”

Mr. Lu shook his head. “No … it’s nothing,” he said. He crouched on the table with his head between his hands. After quite a while, he said, “You must be hungry, let’s eat first and we’ll talk later.”

In the reception room, four dishes and a bowl of soup were arranged on the table; there were chicken and fish, the dishes were sumptuous. Soon afterwards Fang Yi and Mrs. Lu came out to accompany them. Four people ate dinner together.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised, “Could it be that my dozens of turtle drawings are so good and Mr. Lu is so happy that he invited me to eat?” But he had a vague understanding in his heart that the situation did not always look like it really was. Several times he opened his mouth wanting to ask, but seeing Mr. Lu’s mixed [orig. ‘cloudy and clear’] expression, he was afraid to provoke his anger; he had not ate his fill, Mr. Lu might snatch his bowl away, then it would not be worth it. Thereupon he held his peace and ate in silence until he was full.

After dinner, Mr. Lu took him back to the study room. Mr. Lu picked up the brush from the floor and wrote ‘Wei Xiaobao’ three characters on the paper. “This is your own name,” he said, “Can you write it yourself or not?”

“It recognizes me, but I don’t recognize it,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “How can I write it?”

“Hm,” Mr. Lu looked out the window and was deep in thought for half a day. With his left hand he picked up the candle and walked toward the tadpole script calligraphy. Carefully he looked at it, pointed to the characters one by one, while with his mouth he read the characters. Returning to the table, he fetched a blank piece of paper, lifted up his brush and started to scribble rapidly. He counted the number of tadpole characters with his index finger, and then counted the number of characters he wrote on the paper. And then he rapidly scribbled again on the paper, turned his head around to look at the tadpole characters, all the while he was mumbling to himself, “Those three characters are identical, these two look the same. It must be flawless, or it won’t be believable!” He pondered for half a day, then scribbled again on the paper, and said delightedly, “Got it!”

Wei Xiaobao did not know what trick he was playing, but he did not care since his tummy was full. He saw Mr. Lu picked up another sheet of blank paper and then carefully wrote several characters. This time he wrote very slowly. Finished writing, he softly read what he wrote, swaying his head rhythmically. Wei Xiaobao only heard words like ‘Divine Dragon Island’, ‘Hong Jiaozhu’, ‘long life the same as the heaven’s’, and so on. Finally he heard something like ‘the first copy is in such and such place on such and such mountain’, ‘the second copy is in such and such place on such and such mountain’. Suddenly it dawned on him that those words were the exact words he boasted wildly to Fat Toutuo at the Pu Ji Temple. Unexpectedly Fat Toutuo believed it wholeheartedly and spread it out as soon as he returned here. He also thought, “That day Fat Toutuo invited me to the Divine Dragon Island to see Hong Jiaozhu. I told him that I did not want to come, no matter what. Unexpectedly, with the demons and deities at work, the ship was sailing to this place. Now that my trickery is exposed, Hong Jiaozhu will know about it. He will definitely throw a fit; perhaps he would throw Good Jiejie and me to the snake pit, so that tens of thousands of vipers could feast on us that even our bones cannot be saved.” Thinking about endless stream of poisonous snakes crawling over his body, he was shivering all over although it was not cold.

Mr. Lu turned around with a very pleased-of-himself expression on his face. He smiled and said, “Wei Gongzi, you know the tadpole script written on the stone tablet, it is certainly a cause of delight and a reason to congratulate you. It is also our Cult’s Hong Jiaozhu’s flood of good fortunes fills up the heavens that such a child prodigy like you dropped in from the sky, that you are able to read the tadpole script.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, “You don’t need to make fun of me,” he said, “How could I tell tadpole script from frog script? Laozi did not even know scabies toad script. I was simply talking nonsense to swindle that thin, bamboo-pole like toutuo.”

Mr. Lu smiled and said, “Wei Gongzi, why be too modest? This is simply the writings on the stone tablet that I wrote down from memory. I am asking for Gongzi’s direction whether I made any mistake or not.” Finished speaking, he started reciting: “In the tenth month of the Zhen Guan’s second year Jiazi[6] of the Great Tang, Distinguished (National) Duke Wei, Li Jing, along with Chief of Right Army Great General (National) Duke Su, Cheng Zhijie, Glorious Grand Master Ministry of War Duke Shang Shoucao, Li Ji, Commander-in-chief of Xuzhou (National) Duke Hu, Qin Shubao, had visited the Jinxiu Peak of Mount Wutai, to see the glorious red eastern sky, which appeared like big golden lettering on the border of the clouds, the writing says: ‘In a thousand years, there will be the Great Qing. In the East, there will be an island, Divine Dragon is its name. A certain Hong Jiaozhu will obtain favor, his supernatural spirit reaches out to relieve, his grand, awe-inspiring might is all powerful. Subduing monsters conquering demons like a rising sun. The feathered wings support his rule, breathing out stale air and breathing in fresh air. Ten thousands luck a hundred good fortune, there will never be a year without plentiful harvest. He will enjoy immortal happiness forever, universal evil spirit will venerate him. His long life will be the same as the Heaven’s, a kind sage of both pen and sword.’ In a moment, dark green characters appeared in the sky, the writing says: ‘The Heaven bestows this certain Hong by eight copies of the Forty-two-chapter Sutra. The first is stored in Dang Mo Temple [lit. sweeping away demons] on Mount Funiu in Henan, the second is kept in Tianxin Nunnery [lit. center of the sky, the will of heaven] on Mount Bijia in Shanxi, the third is in Ling Xiao Taoist Monastery [lit. rising high firmament] on Mount Qingcheng in Sichuan. The fourth is kept in Shaolin Temple on Mount Songshan in Henan, the fifth in Zhenwu Taoist Monastery on Wudang Mountain in Hubei, the sixth is stored in Jiaye Buddhist Temple in Kongtong, Sichuan border. The seventh is in Mu Palace, Kunming of Yunnan, the eighth is in Ping Xi Wang Mansion of Kunming, Yunnan.’ This tranquil revelation by the Heaven is engraved on the stone tablet, waiting for the future.”

Mr. Lu read in a pattern of falling, remaining even, and rising in pitch and rhythm. When he finished, he asked, “Is there any mistake?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That was a stone tablet from the Tang Dynasty, how did they know that in later generation there will be Ping Xi Wang Wu Sangui?”

Mr. Lu replied, “God is intelligent and wise, He is omniscient, nothing escape his knowledge. Since He knew that in later generation there will be Hong Jiaozhu, naturally He also had foreknowledge of Wu Sangui.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly amused; he nodded his head and said, “That’s true.” While in his heart he thought, “I wonder what trick are you playing?”

Mr. Lu said, “The inscription on this stone tablet must be accurate to the last character. Although Wei Gongzi is gifted and smart, but in my opinion, it was also the holy spirits at work, so that you understand these tadpole script. Someday in the future, perhaps some mistakes will be found. It would be best if Wei Gongzi know this writing inside-out, so that when Hong Jiaozhu summons you, you can recite it from memory fluently. If Hong Jiaozhu is happy, naturally he will heap you with rewards.”

Wei Xiaobao rolled his eyes; immediately he understood. Repeatedly nodding his head, he said, “So that’s how it is, so that’s how it is!” He guessed that Fat Toutuo and Mr. Lu had reported to Hong Jiaozhu, telling him that a child knew the writing on a stone tablet, hence Hong Jiaozhu was determined to summon him to verify. Who would have thought that it was entirely bogus? Mr. Lu was afraid the Cult Leader would place the blame on him, he had no choice but to forge the inscription on the stone tablet to deceive the Cult Leader.

Mr. Lu said, “And now I will read one sentence, Wei Gongzi reads one sentence, always remember to read it correctly from start to finish. ‘In the tenth month of the Zhen Guan’s second year Jiazi of the Great Tang …’”

Wei Xiaobao did not want to read, he did not have the ability, much less wanted to be in cahoots with Mr. Lu in deceiving Hong Jiaozhu; but he thought it was amusing, so he repeat after Mr. Lu anyway.

His natural disposition was quick-witted and clever, for him, listening to a segment of several hundred characters and then repeating it, would not require the least bit of effort, but asking him to study was akin to asking for his life. Although this segment of writing was only several hundred characters long, it had sentences that were very difficult to pronounce, with the meanings that were even harder to comprehend, for instance ‘his grand, awe-inspiring might is all powerful’, ‘breathing out stale air and breathing in fresh air’; he was completely clueless as to their meaning. Therefore, he did not have any choice but to follow Mr. Lu one sentence at a time. Fortunately, Mr. Lu did not mind the repetition and he was very patient in instructing him. Nevertheless, it took more than thirty times going through the entire writings before he could recite it without any mistake.

That evening he slept in Mr. Lu’s home, the next morning he recited again. Seeing he was able to memorize everything, Mr. Lu was very pleased, thereupon he picked up a pen and a sheet of paper and started to write the tadpole characters one by one, asking him to identify which one was the ‘wei’ character, which one was the ‘zhen’ character. This time Wei Xiaobao could not help but whining incessantly. These tadpole characters twisted to the left and to the right, they all looked almost the same. Asking Wei Xiaobao to tell one character from the other and rewrite it one by one was as hard as asking him to climb the heaven, as painful as having his head chopped off. He was not able to sit quietly even for a moment, how could he have the patience to learn the tadpole script?

While Wei Xiaobao was frowning and worried, Mr. Lu was even more anxious. By this time Mr. Lu was already aware that the inscription on the stone tablet had a totally different meaning. He had counted the number of characters from the rubbing Fat Toutuo obtained from the stone tablet, and had composed another set of writings as best as he could, with only the exact number of characters as the rubbing, with the sole purpose to win Hong Jiaozhu’s favor, he could not care about what the original inscription really mean. Composing the writing this way, naturally there were hundreds of holes in his work. For example, in the sentence ‘In the tenth month of the Zhen Guan’s second year Jiazi of the Great Tang’, the word ‘second’ (二) was the sixth character, but on the stone tablet, the sixth character had altogether eighteen strokes, no matter how you say it, it could not be a ‘second’ character. The fifth character only had three strokes, so it would be extremely hard to say that it was the ‘Guan’ (观) character. However, taking everything into consideration, even if Mr. Lu had more talent, he could not possibly fabricate a flawless article in such a short time. Hong Jiaozhu was extremely intelligent, most probably this fake article would not escape his eyes, but with the imminent great catastrophe, it was the best he could do to avoid it for the time being. About the disaster of the future, he had no choice but to wait and see.

Teaching Wei Xiaobao to write that day, the progress was painstakingly slow. By afternoon, he could only write four characters. Luckily that the tadpole characters looked very strange to begin with, so that with Wei Xiaobao’s extremely ugly penmanship, the characters did not look too unsightly. If it were regular script, and it was written by a child who had never learned to write, people would be able to see if it was true or bogus as soon as they saw it.

That afternoon he learned three more characters. That evening he learned two more. That day he learned nine characters altogether. Wei Xiaobao did not stop making loud ruckus and shouting, several times he threw the brush and refused to learn. Mr. Lu threatened him, coaxed him, finally he asked Fang Yi to come and sit by his side to keep him company, only then did Wei Xiaobao reluctantly able to endure and continue to study.

While teaching him, Mr. Lu was anxious, he was afraid Hong Jiaozhu would summon him at any time. If Wei Xiaobao had not finished learning the entire writings and the Cult Leader already summoned him, no doubt Wei Xiaobao’s head could not be guaranteed, but it would also be difficult for his own entire family to avoid losing their lives. However, this learning process could not be hurried at all; the more he was expected to learn faster, the slower Wei Xiaobao’s progress was. His brain was stuffed full with these tadpole characters, it was like the tadpoles were actually swimming and moving, so that it was really hard for him to differentiate one character from another.

After studying for several days, the viper bite injury on Wei Xiaobao’s body was completely healed, but after so much difficulty, he only managed to learn about twenty, thirty characters; not only that, he was so confused that out of ten characters, often times he would make seven or eight mistakes.

While in distress, Mr. Lu suddenly heard Fat Toutuo’s voice calling out, “Mr. Lu, Jiaozhu is summoning Wei Gongzi!” Mr. Lu’s countenance turned ash-grey, his hand trembled, the writing brush, which he had just dipped into ink, fell onto his lapel. An extremely tall and extremely thin man entered the study room, Fat Toutuo had indeed arrived.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Fat Reverend Monk, how come you have not seen me until today? I have been waiting for you for a long time.”

Seeing Mr. Lu’s expression, Fat Toutuo knew their important project was far from good; he did not answer Wei Xiaobao, but muttered to himself, “I should have known this little demon was talking nonsense. I was so confused and lost my capacity of clear thinking, in my eagerness to set up a great merit to protect my own life, unexpectedly I will die sooner instead.”

With a cold laugh Mr. Lu said, “You are just a single person, the one surnamed Lu has eight people in my household, all of us will accompany you in delivering our lives.”

Fat Toutuo heaved a deep sigh and said, “Everybody’s fate should be like this, this is called ‘destiny is inexorable, there is no fleeing it’. Even if this matter did not happen, Jiaozhu will not necessarily allow us to live a few days longer.”

Mr. Lu cast a quick glance toward Wei Xiaobao; he said, “It’s those people who are in power, we are already old, it’s time for us to die, what can we do?” The tone of his voice was full of resentment.

Fat Toutuo sighed and said, “I’ll say he is young, but happened to obtain a good position, and then he just report everything, disregarding seniority, to our superior. Ay!”

Mr. Lu stared at him for a moment, and then said, “Young people should know their place.”

“Lu Xiong,” Fat Toutuo said, “Things have gotten to this point, you and I have lived and will die together, if real men have to die, we will simply die, what are we afraid of?”

Wei Xiaobao clapped his hands and said, “The Fat Reverend Monk is right, for hero and warrior, what is there to be afraid of? If I am not scared, you must not be scared even more.”

“Ignorant child,” Mr. Lu said with a sneer, “You don’t know the immensity of heaven and earth. By the time you know the meaning of fear, it will be too late.” After being lost in thought for half a day, he said, “Fat Reverend Monk, please wait a moment, I have some instructions I’d like to leave to my humble wife.”

A moment later, Mr. Lu returned to the study room, there were traces of tears on his face. Fat Toutuo said, “Lu Xiong, please give me one of your Sheng Tian [lit. to ascend to heaven/to die] pills.”

Mr. Lu nodded; he took a porcelain bottle from his bosom, pulled the cork, and tipped a red pill out. He gave it to Fat Toutuo and said, “This pill will stop your breathing as soon as it enters your mouth, you must wait for the very last moment, do not act blindly without thinking.”

Fat Toutuo received the pill; with a bitter laugh he said, “Many thanks! Fat Toutuo does not consider his own life lightly; I am not in a hurry to ascend to the heavens.”

On Mount Wutai, Wei Xiaobao had witnessed Fat Toutuo’s awe-inspiring power as he took on the Shaolin Temple’s Eighteen Luohan; but now he was asking for a poison. Obviously he would rather kill himself than being blamed by Hong Jiaozhu. Only now did Wei Xiaobao understand the urgency of the situation; he could not help feeling afraid.

The three of them walked out the door. Wei Xiaobao heard a faint weeping sound coming from the inner hall. “Where is Miss Fang?” he asked, “She is not going?”

“Humph,” Fat Toutuo snorted, “Your age is so young, but actually are a very affectionate person. On Mount Wutai you had Shuang’er, here you have Miss Fang.” With his left hand he grabbed Wei Xiaobao and lifted him up, “Let’s go!” he shouted. In large strides he rushed to the east. In just a little while, he had already run faster than a speeding horse. Mr. Lu was also running by his side, he still had a distressed look on his face.

Wei Xiaobao noticed that he appeared effortless; actually he was able to run side-by-side with Fat Toutuo and did not fall behind even for half a step. Only now did Wei Xiaobao realize that this frail-looking scholar actually possessed an excellent martial art skill. “Fat Reverend Monk, Mr. Lu,” he said, “The two of you has such a high level of martial art, why would you be afraid of Hong Jiaozhu? You …”

Fat Toutuo stretched out his right palm to cover his mouth. “This is the Divine Dragon Island; you dare to say such treason and heresy, are you bored of being alive?” he said angrily.

As soon as his mouth was covered, Wei Xiaobao could not breathe. “Damn it,” he cursed in his heart, “You fear Hong Jiaozhu like this, but still call yourself a hero [ying xiong]; a coward [gou xiong] is more appropriate.”

The three of them were heading toward a mountain peak on the north. Before long, he saw vipers everywhere; on the trees, in the grass, on the road, one on the east, another on the west. The strange thing was that those vipers did not give the three of them any trouble. After winding around two hillsides, when he looked up, Wei Xiaobao was able to see several big bamboo buildings on the distant peak. Fat Toutuo was carrying Wei Xiaobao toward that peak.

At this moment, the mountain path narrowed, so that Mr. Lu was unable to walk side by side with Fat Toutuo, he fell about a zhang behind. Fat Toutuo put his mouth next to Wei Xiaobao’s ear and said in a low voice, “Where is your copy of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’?”

“I don’t have it with me,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Do you have to tell me that?” Fat Toutuo said, “I have already searched you everywhere. Where is it?”

“The Eighteen Luohan of Shaolin Temple have the sutra, naturally they gave it to their Abbot,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He thought that since this thin bamboo pole toutuo was not a match for the Shaolin’s Eighteen Luohan, if he heard that the sutra was in the hands of the Abbot of Shaolin Temple, naturally he would not dare to demand the sutra from the Abbot; even if he dared to demand it, he would definitely be expelled by those Shaolin monks.

That day Fat Toutuo had personally handed the sutra over into Monk Cheng Xin’s hand, he did not have the slightest suspicion to Wei Xiaobao’s words. He said in a low voice, “When we see Jiaozhu in a moment, you must never mention this matter. Otherwise Jiaozhu might force you to hand over the sutra, and when you cannot give it to him, Jiaozhu will definitely throw you into the vipers’ nest.”

Wei Xiaobao could hear the fear in his voice, not only that, evidently Fat Toutuo was afraid Mr. Lu would hear him; thereupon he said, “Clearly it was you who seized the sutra from me, and then you gave it to the Shaolin monks, if Jiaozhu finds out, he would definitely throw you into the vipers’ nest. Humph, humph, even if he won’t punish you for the time being, he would definitely send you to Shaolin Temple to get the sutra back; that would be enough punishment for you.”

Fat Toutuo shivered without saying anything. Wei Xiaobao said, “The two of us will deal with this matter together. Whatever happens, you take care of me, I will also take care of you. Otherwise, we split up, and we’ll perish together.”

From behind Mr. Lu suddenly interrupted, “What split up and perish together?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The three of us will enjoy blessing and endure misfortune together.” Thinking that right now they were in a messy situation, he must not lose his wits; if he could implicate these two martial art masters, he would have a slightly better chance of survival.

Fat Toutuo and Mr. Lu did not say anything. A moment later, they both heaved a deep sigh together.

After walking for the time needed to eat rice, they arrived at the peak. They saw four youngsters in black, hand in hand, came near, each person carried a long sword on his back. The one furthest to the left asked, “Fat Toutuo, what is this little child doing in here?”

Fat Toutuo let Wei Xiaobao down; he said, “Jiaozhu’s order: he is being summoned.”

From the west came three young girls in red, laughing and giggling; they also carried long swords on their backs. Seeing the three people, they came over to meet them. A girl said with a laugh, “Fat Toutuo, is he your illegitimate child?” While saying that, she pinched Wei Xiaobao’s cheek.

“Miss must be joking,” Fat Toutuo said, “This child is being summoned by Jiaozhu, the Senior, there is an important matter he’d like to ask him.”

Another girl with round face pinched Wei Xiaobao’s right cheek and said with a laugh, “Looking at this baby’s appearance, he must be Fat Toutuo’s illegitimate child. You can’t deny it.”

Wei Xiaobao was angry. “I am your illegitimate child,” he shouted, “You and Fat Toutuo are having an illicit intercourse and you gave birth to me.”

The girls were startled, and then they burst out in laughter. The round-faced girl’s turned deep red. She spat and said, “Little demon, you are asking for death!” She raised her hand to strike. Wei Xiaobao leaned his head sideways to dodge. Right this moment more than a dozen young people, boys and girls, had heard the noise and rushed in to tease the round-faced girl. The girl was ashamed and angry, her left foot flew up, she gave Wei Xiaobao’s buttocks a hard kick.

“Ma,” Wei Xiaobao called out loudly, “Why did you beat your son?” The youngsters laughed even louder.

‘Dang, dang, dang!’ suddenly the bell tolled; everybody fell silent immediately. These young boys and girls, about twenty in total, rushed toward the bamboo building. Fat Toutuo said, “Jiaozhu is calling an assembly.” To Wei Xiaobao he said, “When you see Jiaozhu, you must not speak any nonsense.”

Wei Xiaobao saw his melancholy expression. Those youngsters were rather rude toward him; thinking that his martial art skill was extremely high, why would he be afraid of these teenage babies? He could not help but having a pity on him somewhat; thereupon he nodded his head.

He saw from all directions people were streaming into the bamboo building. Fat Toutuo and Mr. Lu also took Wei Xiaobao into the building. Crossing a corridor, suddenly a large hall appeared before his eyes. This hall was incomparably huge, it was big enough to hold a thousand-people assembly. Wei Xiaobao had lived in the Imperial Palace in Beijing for quite a long time, even an assembly hall bigger than this one would not impress him. But this hall was really gigantic, as soon as he saw it, he could not help but had a feeling of respect.

He saw groups of teenagers, boys and girls, wearing five different colors standing on five different locations. The groups wearing blue, white, black, yellow, four colors were all boys, the group wearing red was all girls. Each one carried a long sword on his or her back, each group had approximately a hundred people. On the other end of the big hall there were two bamboo chairs standing side by side, draped in brocade cushion. On both sides of the chair stood several dozen people, men and women; the younger ones were approximately thirty years old, the old ones were about sixty, seventy years old, not one of them carried any weapon. There were about five, six hundred people gathered in the hall, but unexpectedly not the least bit of sound was heard, not even a single cough. Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “Damn it, what an air! You think you are having an audience with the Emperor or what?”

After quite a while, the bells tolled again nine times, there were footsteps from the inner hall. “The ghost Jiaozhu is out,” Wei Xiaobao mused. Who would have thought that ten men came out, all were in their thirties, they wore five different colors clothes, and then they stood on either side of the chairs, five colors on each side.

After another long while, the bells and the drums were struck together loudly, followed by the tinkling of several hundred small silver bells. Everybody in the hall kneeled down together and chorused, “Jiaozhu will enjoy immortal good fortune forever, his long life the same as the heaven’s.”

Fat Toutuo pulled Wei Xiaobao’s lapel, telling him to kneel down. Wei Xiaobao did not have any choice but kneeling down. He stole a glance and saw a man and a woman came out from the inner hall and sat on the chairs. Another bell stroke, everybody slowly stood up.

The man looked very old, the white hair from his temples drooped down to his chest, his face was full of scars and wrinkles, he looked very ugly; Wei Xiaobao presumed this must be the Cult Leader. The woman, on the other hand, was a good-looking young woman. Looking at her appearance, she was no older than twenty two or twenty three, she was smiling slightly, overflowing with charming attitude, and was incomparably gorgeous. Wei Xiaobao praised in his heart, “She is exceedingly smart-looking! This woman is more beautiful than that Good Jiejie of mine. Even in the Imperial Palace or Lovely Spring Courtyard, there is no woman as pretty as she is.”

A man wearing black clothes on the left took two steps forward; holding a piece of dark green paper with both hands he read loudly, “Respectfully reading Hong Jiaozhu’s treasured teaching, whose compassion and kindness illuminate everything, whose power encompasses four directions: ‘Numerous aspirations work as one will be able to build the city, incomprehensible might shakes the world!’”

The crowd in the hall repeated in chorus, “Numerous aspirations work as one will be able to build the city, incomprehensible might shakes the world!”

Wei Xiaobao was mesmerized with the beautiful woman, the voices of the crowd chanting together had startled him that he jumped in fright.

The man in black clothes continued reading, “Jiaozhu’s immortal good fortune is as high as the sky, illuminating the heads of the devoted cult members. Jiaozhu sails the boat steadily for ten thousand years, riding the wind breaking the waves to show off his heroic bravery! Flying to the sky, the divine dragon looks up at him with hope, Jiaozhu’s prestige covers the eight directions. Everybody lives because Jiaozhu lives, everybody dies because Jiaozhu dies, Jiaozhu’s order is to be followed, Jiaozhu is like the light of the sun and the moon!”

As the man read one sentence, the crowd followed by reciting one sentence. Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “What Hong Jiaozhu’s teaching? A loud blow of his own horn. Our Tian Di Hui’s secret verse is much more pleasant to hear that this.”

When they finished reciting, everybody shouted in one voice, “With Jiaozhu’s treasured teaching always in our hearts, we can set up meritorious deed and subdue the enemy, nothing is unachievable!” Those young boys and girls were particularly enthusiastic in shouting their creeds. Hong Jiaozhu’s ugly face carried an indifferent expression, while the beautiful woman by his side recited with a smile on her face.

Finished reciting, the hall fell into complete silence.

Book note:

When the powerful troops of Luo Shaowei of the late Tang Dynasty took the towns of Wei prefecture, he commanded his five thousand elite troops to kill everything. Afterwards he felt a deep remorse, realizing that he had committed an enormous mistake; he said, “In the forty-three counties of six prefectures, we cannot make the same mistake.” During the time of Wang Mang [usurped power and reign 9-23 AD, between the former and later Han periods], he cast cooper and iron money into a saber, he then carved characters plated with gold on it, and called the saber ‘Cuo Dao’ . Luo Shaowei used the ‘Cuo’ character of the ‘Cuo Dao’ as an analogy of his ‘mistake’, saying that it was such a big mistake that even he amassed all the iron in the forty-three counties of six prefectures, it would be difficult to cast the metal. ‘Nine divisions amass metal to be cast in a row’, the word ‘a row’ is comparable to a big ‘mistake’; the chapter’s title borrows this expression to describe Wei Xiaobao being deceived into coming to the Divine Dragon Island, but without any regret.

During the Warring States period, the Qin State carried out the Shang Yang political reform. Afraid that the people would not obey the reform, they set up a three zhang long wood at the southern gate, claiming that if anybody could move it out of the northern gate, he would be rewarded fifty taels of gold; no one believed it. There was a man who tried to move the wood, and sure enough, Shang Yang rewarded him with the money, thereupon everybody believed. Shang Yang’s legislation was rigorous, the people did not dare to disobey.

[1] Referring to administrative division of China during earliest dynasties, or ancient China.

[2] Xizhimen neighborhood of Beijing, the main northwest gate of Beijing.

[3] Ru gui means ‘as if returning’.

[4] Xidan neighborhood of central Beijing.

[5] Lit. stone drum, early form of Chinese characters inscribed in stone, from spring and autumn period.

[6] The first of 10 heavenly stems and the first of 12 earthly branches of the Chinese calendar, a cycle of 60 years. The last Jiazi year was 1984, by a quick calculation, since the Tang Dynasty was 618-907, the Jiazi during that period was the year 664.

Chapter 20 Remains of stone tablet still being read every day and every month, distinguished senior must still ascend.

The beautiful woman’s eyes swept from west to east, the smile did not vanish from her face. She slowly said, “The Black Dragon Gate Zhangmenshi[1], today the deadline has arrived, please hand over the sutra.” Her voice was sharp, clear, and flirtatious; it was extremely pleasant to the ears. She held out her left hand with palm facing up.

Looking from far away, Wei Xiaobao saw that the palm looked like it was carved from a piece of white jade. Suddenly a thought welled up from the bottom of his heart, “It won’t be too bad if this woman become my wife. If she is doing business at the Lovely Spring Courtyard, all Yangzhou’s patrons will rush forth to squeeze through the Lovely Spring Courtyard’s main gate.”

An old man on the left side took two steps forward, he bowed and said, “Reporting to the Madame: News from Beijing says that we have located four sutras, and we are intensifying the effort to obtain them. Following Jiaozhu’s treasured teaching, even if we have to lose our lives, we will get the books, to be presented to Jiaozhu and Madame.” His voice trembled slightly, obviously he was completely terrified.

“What a pity, what a pity,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “Turns out this beautiful woman is the Jiaozhu’s wife, a fresh flower inserted on a cow’s dung, a bright moonlight illuminating a latrine!”

The woman smiled slightly and said, “Jiaozhu has extended the deadline three times, Black Dragon Envoy, you have always pushed the deadline with all sorts of excuses three, four times. If you are unwilling to strive, aren’t you being disloyal to Jiaozhu?”

The Black Dragon Envoy bowed even lower; he said, “Subordinate has received Jiaozhu and Madame’s great kindness, even with torn body and crushed bones it will be difficult for me to repay. The fact is, this matter is extremely thorny, subordinate has dispatched six people into the Palace, and had Deng Bingchun and Liu Yan, two people lost their lives for the Cult. I wish for Jiaozhu and Madame to graciously extend the deadline.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Turns out that fat sow and the fake palace maid are your subordinates. I am afraid the old wh0re’s rank is also lower than yours.”

The woman raised her left hand to beckon Wei Xiaobao. She laughed and said, “Xiao Didi [little brother – term of endearment], come here.”

Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright. “Me?” he said in a low voice.

“That’s right,” the woman replied, “I am calling you.”

Wei Xiaobao took a quick glance toward Mr. Lu and Fat Toutuo on his side. Mr. Lu said, “Madame is calling you, go forward and salute her respectfully.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “What will happen if I do not salute her respectfully?” But he stepped forward anyway, and then respectfully bowed to salute her, saying, “Jiaozhu and Madame will enjoy immortal good fortune forever, your long life will be the same as the heaven’s.”

Madame Hong laughed and said, “This child is clever. Who taught you to add the ‘and Madame’ three characters [he fu ren] after the word Jiaozhu?”

Wei Xiaobao did not know that the cult members of the Divine Dragon Cult had always said ‘Jiaozhu will enjoy immortal good fortune forever, his long life will be the same as the heaven’s’. After they entered the Cult, they would always automatically recite these words; nobody dared to add a character or subtract half a sentence. Seeing not only this Madame was very beautiful, she was extremely powerful as well, Wei Xiaobao thought that since to flatter he did not need any capital, he thoughtlessly added the ‘and Madame’ three characters. Listening to her question, he simply said, “Jiaozhu and Madame are partners, only then will living a life as long as the heaven’s be interesting. Otherwise, after a hundred or two hundred years, Madame returns to heaven, how could Jiaozhu not be extremely lonely?”

As soon as Madame Hong heard him, she laughed just like a flowering branch trembled randomly. Hong Jiaozhu could not restrain his smile either, with his hand twisting his long beard, he nodded his head and smiled.

When the cult members of the Divine Dragon Cult, from top to bottom, saw their Cult Leader, no one did not trembling in fear, who would dare to unguardedly speak nonsense like that? When they heard Wei Xiaobao earlier, they all broke in cold sweats on his behalf, but seeing Jiaozhu and Madame’s warm expressions, they all felt relieved.

Madame Hong laughed and said, “Was it your own idea to add those three characters?”

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “It was not a fake. The curvy characters on the stone tablet also mention Madame.”

As soon as he said those words, Mr. Lu felt as if he had just fallen into an icehouse; he had spent countless suffering just to have Wei Xiaobao memorized the writings on the stone tablet, and now he suddenly had an unconventional idea to add Madame’s name into it, how could he account for the unmatched number of characters? This urchin talked irresponsibly, inevitably he was messing up the inscribed text on the tablet. He realized that his work had already contained a lot of flaws, with this new development, wouldn’t his plot fall through and stand exposed on the spot?

Hearing this, Madame Hong was also startled; she asked, “Did you say my name is also engraved on the stone tablet?”

“That’s right!” Wei Xiaobao said. As soon as he blurted out these two words ‘that’s right’, he immediately groaned inwardly, “It’s bad! If she wants me to recite the inscription, it won’t have any reference to the Madame.”

Luckily Madame Hong did not ask at all. “You are surnamed Wei, and you came from Beijing, is that right?” she asked.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said the same words again.

“I heard from Fat Toutuo,” Madame Hong said, “That in Beijing you met a fat lady by the name of Liu Yan, and she even taught you some martial art?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Everything I told Fat Toutuo, other than the sutra, he has reported to Jiaozhu and Madame, now I’d better stick to it to the end. In any event, that fat Liu Yan is dead, it is called ‘the dead cannot testify’.” Thereupon he said, “Exactly, this Auntie Liu is a good friend of my Shushu [younger paternal uncle]. Day or night, she often comes to my house.”

With a soft chuckle Madame Hong asked, “What is she doing in your house?”

“To talk and joke with my Shushu, of course,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Sometimes they embrace and kiss each other, they thought I did not see them, but I secretly watched them.” He knew that the more he was able to tell the story with living spirit and living image, mentioning various minute and complicated details, the more people would believe him.

Madame Hong laughed, “You, this child, is so sly. People kissing, you are peeping,” she said. Turning to the Black Dragon Envoy she said, “Did you hear? Do you think this child is lying?”

Wei Xiaobao followed her gaze and saw the Black Dragon Envoy’s countenance changed greatly, showing his fear had reached its extreme point, his body trembled, his knees bent, he kneeled on the floor and repeatedly knocked his head, while saying, “Subordinate … subordinate oversees my people improperly, I deserve to die ten thousand deaths, I beg Jiaozhu and Madame to open … open the net on one side [i.e. be lenient], to let subordinate set up some meritorious deed to atone for my crime.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised; he thought, “I was just saying that that fat pig and my Shushu kissed, what does it have to do with this old fellow? Why does he have to be frightened like this?”

Madame Hong smiled and said, “Set up some meritorious deed to atone for your crime? What meritorious deed do you have? I always thought that the people you sent were loyal and devoted as they handled matters on behalf of Jiaozhu. Who would have thought that in Beijing they are actually doing these loose and shady businesses?”

The Black Dragon Envoy kowtowed again and again, until his forehead was bleeding profusely. Wei Xiaobao could not bear to see him, he wanted to say something good on his behalf, but in that moment he could not find anything to say.

The Black Dragon Envoy crawled on his knees forward, he called out, “Jiaozhu, I have followed you, the Senior, from the cradle to the grave; although I do not have any meritorious service, I have worked hard for you.”

With a cold laugh Madame Hong said, “What’s the use of bringing up former matters? You are already old, how many more years can you give in service to Jiaozhu? Wouldn’t it be merrier if you just quit your Black Dragon Envoy position earlier?”

The Black Dragon Envoy raised his head to look at Hong Jiaozhu, with a sorrowful voice he said, “Jiaozhu, you really don’t have the least bit of old affection toward your old troop, your old Xiongdi?”

Hong Jiaozhu’s face stayed wooden as he indifferently said, “There are too many old rotten and muddled people in our Cult, we ought to tidy up well.” His voice was deep and low, and somewhat slurred. Ever since he saw him, this was the first time Wei Xiaobao had ever heard him speaking.

Suddenly several hundred teenage boys and girls shouted loudly, “With Jiaozhu’s treasured teaching always in our hearts, we can set up meritorious deed and subdue the enemy, nothing is unachievable!”

The Black Dragon Envoy sighed. Still trembling, he stood up and said, “Breathing out stale air and breathing in fresh, we, the old men, deserve to die anyway.” Turning around, he said, “Bring it here!” From the hall’s door, four teenagers in black clothes went forward in quick steps, each one carried a wooden tray, on each tray there was a round brass lid. When they arrived in front of the Black Dragon Envoy, they set the wooden trays on the floor, and then quickly turned around and withdrew. As if by prior agreement, everybody in the hall drew back several steps.

The Black Dragon Envoy muttered, “With Jiaozhu’s treasured teaching always in our hearts, we can set up meritorious deed and subdue the enemy, nothing is unachievable … hey hey, there is one thing that is unachievable, that is the subordinate is not loyal and devoted at all.” Reaching out, he grabbed the knob on the top of the brass lid and lifted it up. The object on the tray suddenly flew up, followed by a flash of white light, a flying dagger flew in at an angle, cutting the object into two sections, which then fell back onto the tray, wiggling and squirming. It was a gorgeous-looking multi-colored small snake.

Wei Xiaobao cried out in alarm. The people in the hall also cried out, “Who was it?” “Who’s rebelling against our leader?” “Catch him!” “Who’s the traitor who has the audacity to disobey Jiaozhu?”

Madame Hong suddenly stood up, made a circle with both hands, followed by waving down three times. A series of ‘Shua, shua, shua!’ was heard, the swords had left their scabbards, several hundred teenage boys and girls rushed forward to surround about fifty, sixty older members of the Cult. These several hundred teenagers, the ones wearing black were grouped together, the ones wearing white were grouped together, they did not mingled at all, everyone occupied his/her respective position, some were in group of six or seven, some were in group of eight or nine, each group surrounded one person in the middle. Their long swords were aimed at vital points, the several dozen older people were immediately put under their control. Fat Toutuo and Mr. Lu were also facing seven, eight swords each.

A fifty-something old Taoist priest with black beard laughed aloud and said, “Madame, you trained this formation, how many months have you spent? If you want to deal with old Xiongdi, actually you don’t need to spend such energy.”

Those who surrounded him were eight teenage girls wearing red clothes. Two girls raised their swords toward the pit of his stomach. “Don’t be rude toward Jiaozhu and Madame,” they shouted.

The Taoist priest laughed and said, “Madame, it was me, Priest Wugen [lit. without root], who killed that five-colored divine dragon. You want to punish, feel free to make your move, why implicate other people?”

Madame Hong sat back down on her chair; she smiled and said, “You admit it yourself, nothing could be better than that. Daozhang [(Taoist) Priest], haven’t Jiaozhu treated you well? He entrusted you the Scarlet Dragon Gate Zhangmenshi position, which is only one rank lower than the Jiaozhu himself, above ten thousand people in seniority; why do you want to rebel?”

Priest Wugen said, “Subordinate is not rebelling. Black Dragon Envoy Zhang Danyue has rendered great service to our Cult, just because there are some people among his subordinates who did not handle their affairs favorably, Madame wanted to take his life. Subordinate boldly asks Jiaozhu and Madame to show mercy.”

Madame Hong laughed and said, “And if I do not comply?”

Priest Wugen said, “Although Shen Long Jiao was founded by Jiaozhu, several tens of thousands xiongdi have gone through water and tread on fire together with him, everybody has his contribution. In those days, there were a total of one thousand twenty three old xiongdi, today some have lost their lives in the hands of the enemy, some were put to death by Jiaozhu, and those that remain are less than a hundred people. Subordinate asks Jiaozhu to show mercy by sparing the lives of ours, several dozen old xiongdi, simply kick us all out of the Cult. If Jiaozhu and Madame find us, these old people, repulsive, and want to promote new people, then just send us, the old people, out of here.”

With a cold laugh Madame Hong said, “Since Shen Long Jiao was founded, I have never heard anybody leaving the Cult alive. By saying that, Priest Wugen is imagining the wildest thing.”

“In that case,” Priest Wugen said, “Madame does not agree?”

“Excuse me,” Madame Hong said, “But our Cult does not have such rule.”

Priest Wugen laughed aloud and said, “Turns out Jiaozhu and Madame have determined to put us all to death.”

Madame Hong smiled, “That’s not necessarily so,” she said, “Old people who are loyal to Jiaozhu, naturally Jiaozhu still considers them good xiongdi, absolutely no discrimination here. We do not distinguish juniors from seniors, all we ask is whether they are loyal and devoted to Jiaozhu or not. Whoever is loyal to Jiaozhu, raise your hand.”

Several hundred teenage boys and girls all raised their left hands, the senior members of the Cult who were being surrounded also raised their hands, even Priest Wugen also raised his left hand. Everybody chorused, “To be loyal to Jiaozhu, absolutely no double-mind!”

Seeing everybody was raising his hand, Wei Xiaobao also raised his hand. Madame Hong nodded and said, “That’s very good, turns out everybody is loyal to Jiaozhu, including this newly arrived Xiao Didi, although he is not a member of our Cult, unexpectedly he is also loyal to Jiaozhu.”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao said, “I am loyal to the turtle son of a b1tch.”

Madame Hong said, “Everybody is loyal, then we do not have a single rebellious traitor in here. I’m afraid there is something fishy here, I’ll have to investigate carefully. I must offend all old xiongdi for the time being. Tie them up.”

“Yes!” several hundred teenage boys and girls replied together.

“Hold on!” a tall and sturdy man called out.

Madame Hong said, “White Dragon Envoy, what respected opinion do you have?”

“Respected opinion, that I do not have,” the man replied, “Subordinate only feel it’s not fair.”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Madame Hong clicked her tongue, “You are criticizing me as handling this matter unfairly.”

“Subordinate does not dare,” the man said, “Subordinate has been following Jiaozhu for twenty years, and has marched forward courageously in everything. When I was risking my life for our Cult, these little babies have not even born yet. Why is it that they are loyal to Jiaozhu, but we, the old xiongdi, are not loyal?”

Madame Hong chuckled and said, “By saying that, White Dragon Envoy is showing off your own merit. Aren’t you saying that if there was no White Dragon Envoy Zhong Zhiling, Shen Long Jiao will not exist today?”

The tall and sturdy man, Zhong Zhiling said, “The founding of Shen Long Jiao is Jiaozhu, one man’s merit, everybody else was simply following him, the Senior, striking the world, there is no merit worthy to be mentioned, but …”

“But what?” Madame Hong asked.

Zhong Zhiling said, “But we do not have any merit, these teenage babies do not have merit even more.”

“I am only twenty something years old,” Madame Hong said, “So I do not have any merit either?”

Zhong Zhiling hesitated for half a day. “That’s right,” he finally said, “Madame does not have any merit either. The great undertaking of founding our Cult is Jiaozhu, the Senior, one man’s merit.”

Madame Hong slowly said, “Since nobody has any merit, killing you will not be considered an injustice, will it?” While saying this, her eyes flickered with a murderous spirit, but her expression was still extremely charming.

Zhong Zhiling roared angrily, “Naturally killing the one surnamed Zhong alone is not a big deal. I am just afraid that by murdering a loyal and good person, by putting to death a minister who has given outstanding service, the foundation of Shen Long Jiao will be destroyed in the hands of Madame, one person.”

“Very good, very good,” Madame Hong said, “Ay, I am very tired.” These last few words were spoken languidly, who would have thought that it was unexpectedly a secret signal to kill? As soon as the seven teenagers wearing white clothes surrounding Zhong Zhiling heard it, they thrust their swords forward, simultaneously entered Zhong Zhiling’s body.

When the seven swords were drawn, from Zhong Zhiling body spurted seven streams of blood, splashing the seven teenagers’ white clothes that their clothes were soaked with blood. Zhong Zhiling called out, “Jiaozhu, you … have the heart to do this! You … ” He fell down and died. The seven teenagers withdrew toward the corridor, their movement was very orderly.

All the older members of the Cult knew that the White Dragon Envoy Zhong Zhiling’s martial art skill was very high, but the seven swords moved together, unexpectedly he did not have the slightest bit of power to resist, showing that in order for these seven teenagers to be able to thrust their swords together in the hall today, they must have been under the Cult Leader’s direction beforehand, also they must have practiced countless time, so that they were very familiar with the move and were able to execute it without a flaw. Nobody did not have a trembling heart.

After yawning, Madame Hong lightly pressed her left hand on her cherry-red lips; she appears so delicate and extremely calm. Hong Jiaozhu still maintained his wooden expression, as if he did not see the killing of Zhong Zhiling just now. Madame Hong softly said, “Blue Dragon Envoy, Yellow Dragon Envoy, you two gentlemen, do you feel that the White Dragon Envoy was scheming a rebellion, was guilty and deserve to be punished?”

An old man with slit eyes and sharp face bowed and said, “Zhong Zhiling rebelled against Jiaozhu and Madame, he had thought this through deliberately and methodically for quite a long time, subordinate utterly detest him, and have lodged an accusation several times to Madame, but Madame always said that looking at the old xiongdi‘s face, let him had the opportunity to repent. Jiaozhu and Madame are magnanimous, hoping for him to reform and start afresh, who would have thought that this man was incomparably malicious. His guilt was definitely unpardonable. By letting him to have a quick death like this, it was actually too easy for him. All the brethrens of the Cult, nobody is not grateful for Jiaozhu and Madame’s benevolence.”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao said, “He is flattering the big king.”

Madame Hong smiled slightly and said, “Yellow Dragon Envoy understood the cardinal principle. Blue Dragon Envoy, what do you think?”

A tall and thin man in his fifties glowered at the eight teenagers wearing blue clothes around him. “Get lost!” he growled, “If Jiaozhu wants to kill me, do you think I cannot do it myself?”

Eight teenagers pushed their swords slightly forward, until the tip of the swords touched his clothes. The man let out several ‘hey, hey’ cold laugh, he slowly raised his hands to grab the chest of his own clothes; he said, “Jiaozhu, Madame, in the past, when subordinate, along with Scarlet, White, Black and Yellow, four Gates’ Zhangmenshi sworn brotherhood, we determined to work ourselves to death for Shen Long Jiao, we did not expect there would be a day like today. Madame wanted to put anybody to death, it’s not strange at all. What’s strange to me is that because the Yellow Dragon Envoy Yin Dage is greedy for life, afraid of death, unexpectedly he uttered such a sordid and contemptible talk, slandering his own good xiongdi …”

Suddenly there was a ‘rip’ noise as the man threw both hands outward, pulling his own long gown into two halves. With a shake of his arms, the two pieces of gowns coiled horizontally out, sweeping away the eight teenagers’ swords. Blue light flashed, a pair of daggers about a chi and a half long appeared in his hands. With a series of ‘Swish, swish!’ sound, the pit of the eight teenagers’ stomachs were hit by the dagger; they all fell to the ground, spurting blood from their wounds. Eight dead bodies fell around him, unexpectedly they form a very neat circle. His movement was very fast, just like a thunderbolt before it even reaches the ears. Madame Hong was startled; she clapped her hands repeatedly. More than twenty teenagers in blue clothes rushed toward the Blue Dragon Envoy, and once again he was surrounded.

The Blue Dragon Envoy laughed aloud, and then in a loud and clear voice he said, “Madame, these babies that you trained are completely useless. If Jiaozhu wants to rely on these kids to establish great merits by subduing the enemy, won’t it be too inconvenient?”

When the seven teenagers assassinate Zhong Zhiling, Hong Jiaozhu appeared to turn a blind eye, now that the Blue Dragon Envoy killed eight teenagers, he appeared as unconcerned; sitting quietly in his chair, all along he did not pay any attention. Madame Hong cast a quick glance toward her husband, as if she was somewhat ashamed. Smiling sweetly, she sat down and said with a laugh, “Blue Dragon Envoy, your swordsmanship is very good, today …”

Suddenly there was a series of ‘crash, bang!’ noise all around the hall as the swords in the several hundred teenage boys and girls all fell to the floor. As they were still in shock, they saw one by one the teenagers fell on their knees to the ground. Instantly everybody also felt dizzy and their eyes dimmed, and were unable to stand. Those with weaker inner power fell down first, and then the rest of them swayed and fell down one after another. In a short moment the hall was strewn with lying bodies.

Madame Hong cried out in alarm, “What … what happened?” Her body felt weak, she slipped down from the bamboo chair.

The Blue Dragon Envoy was actually standing upright and unafraid, with a malicious laugh he said, “Jiaozhu, when you massacred our xiongdi, have you ever thought that a day like today will arrive?” He struck his pair of daggers against each other, creating a metallic clang. Stepping over the bodies lying on the ground, he walked toward Hong Jiaozhu.

“Humph!” Hong Jiaozhu snorted, “Maybe not!” Reaching out to grab the armrest of the bamboo chair, ‘Crack!’ he broke the armrest.

The Blue Dragon Envoy’s countenance changed immediately. Withdrawing two steps, he said, “Jiaozhu, such a big cult like Shen Long Jiao is torn to pieces. Who planted the embryo of this calamity, you, Senior, ought to understand by now?”

“Mmm,” Hong Jiaozhu mumbled; suddenly he slipped down from the chair and sat on the floor. The Blue Dragon Envoy was greatly delighted, he rushed forward. Suddenly he cried out, an object, carrying a strong gust of wind, was flying toward his chest. The Blue Dragon Envoy forcefully raised the dagger in his right hand to chop, the object broke into two pieces. Turned out it was the armrest from Hong Jiaozhu’s bamboo chair. The force behind this throw was not a small matter at all, as the bamboo piece was cut, the front section did not fall. ‘Stab!’ it penetrated the Blue Dragon Envoy’s chest, breaking five or six of his ribs, and pierced his lung.

The Blue Dragon Envoy screamed, but suddenly he stopped; the chi in his lung could not flow up, instantly he was muted. He swayed twice, the pair of daggers in his hands fell down, separately landed on the bodies of two teenage boys. These two teenagers’ bodies were numb, they could not move, but actually their minds were still clear, and they could still talk. As the daggers pierced their bodies, they cried out in pain.

Seeing their Jiaozhu displaying his divine prowess by knocking down the Blue Dragon Envoy, several hundred teenage boys and girls cheered together. They saw their Jiaozhu propped himself up with his right hand, struggling to stand up, but before he could straighten up his right leg, his knees turned soft that he fell down again and rolled away several times. Indeed he had fallen into an extremely difficult situation. This way, everybody knew that Jiaozhu was in the same boat as them, he was also being poisoned that his muscle went soft and his flesh paralyzed.

Normally, the Cult Leader was an extremely dignified person, even in front of the Cult members very seldom did he ever speak more than a sentence, or laugh more than once. This time unexpectedly he had fallen and suffered disgrace, losing the strength of his entire body.

Several hundred people in the hall were lying on the floor, but there was one person who was still standing. This person was actually very short, but standing among several hundred people lying on the floor, inevitably he looked like a crane in a flock of chicken. This person was none other than Wei Xiaobao. His nose smelled a burst of faint fragrance, but he felt very calm and relaxed, his entire body felt comfortably warm, a strange good feeling that he could not explain.

Seeing everybody had fallen to the ground without knowing the reason, he was completely baffled. After staring blankly for quite a while, he reached down to pull Fat Toutuo up and asked, “Fat Revered Monk, what happened to everybody?”

Fat Toutuo was surprised, “You … you are not poisoned?” he asked.

“Poisoned?” Wei Xiaobao was equally surprised, “I … I don’t know.” He struggled hard to help Fat Toutuo up, but Fat Toutuo did not have any strength left on his legs, he fell back sitting down on the floor.

Mr. Lu suddenly asked, “Xu Dage, you … what kind of poison did you use?”

The Blue Dragon Envoy’s body swayed as if he was drunk; supporting himself on a pillar, he coughed incessantly and said, “What a pity, what … what a pity I failed within sight of success. I … I am unfit for anything.”

“Is it ‘seven-insect tendon softening powder’?” Mr. Lu asked, “Is it ‘thousand-li ecstasy fragrance’? Or is it ‘Trans … transforming blood … decaying bone dust’?” Successively he mentioned the names of three most debilitating poison. When mentioning the name ‘transforming blood decaying bone dust’, his voice trembled, as if he was extremely terrified.

The Blue Dragon Envoy’s right lung was heavily injured; his coughing was very severe, he was unable to answer. Mr. Lu asked, “How come Wei Gongzi is not poisoned? Ah! I know!” He suddenly remembered something. These two words ‘I know’ were shouted really loud. He said, “You have applied the ‘hundred flowers snake belly’s ointment’ on your daggers. Brilliant scheme, brilliant scheme. Wei Gongzi, could you please sniff the Blue Dragon Envoy’s pair of daggers? See if you smell flower’s fragrance on the blades.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “The blades are poisonous, I am not going to smell them.” He said, “I can smell strong fragrance from here.”

Mr. Lu looked delighted; “That’s right!” he said, “When this ‘hundred flowers snake belly’s ointment’ came in contact with blood, it will produce a strong fragrance. Actually, it was a certain sect’s secret method to refine spices, when ordinary people smell it, they will feel their spirits invigorated, but … but we live on this Spirit Snake Island, everybody is used to take the ‘realgar medicated wine’ to dispel the poisonous snakes. As soon as this fragrance came in contact with the ‘realgar medicated wine’, it will make our muscles and bones weak for twelve shichen [24 hours]. Xu Dage, what a brilliant scheme. This ‘hundred flowers snake belly’s ointment’ is actually forbidden on the island, turns out you have prepared this in secret for a long time. You must have stopped drinking the ‘realgar medicated wine’ three, four months ago.”

The Blue Dragon Envoy sat down, he happened to sat on two teenagers’ bodies. Shaking his head, he said, “Man proposes but God disposes, in the end I still fell under Hong Antong’s evil scheme.”

Several teenage boys shouted, “Audacious mad disciple, you dare to randomly call Jiaozhu’s holy name.”

The Blue Dragon Envoy stood up slowly. Picking up a long sword, he walked over toward Hong Jiaozhu step by step. “Why can’t I say the name Hong Antong?” he said, “Cough, cough … after I kill this evil thief … cough, cough … does it matter if I call his name or not?”

Several hundred teenage boys and girls called out in alarm. After a while, the Yellow Dragon Envoy’s old voice was heard, “Xu Xiongdi, after you kill Hong Antong, everybody will support you as the new Shen Long Jiao’s Jiaozhu. Everybody recite quickly: We will obey Xu Jiaozhu’s command, absolutely no double-mind!”

The hall was silent for a moment, and then several dozen people recited, “We will obey Xu Jiaozhu’s command, absolutely no double-mind.” Some were confident, some appeared rather hesitant, it sounded rather irregular.

The Blue Dragon Envoy took two steps forward, coughed once, and swayed several times. His injury was very heavy, but struggled with everything he had, because no matter what, he must kill Hong Jiaozhu first.

Suddenly Madame Hong giggled and said, “Blue Dragon Envoy, you don’t have any strength left, your thighs does not have the least bit of strength, the blood bubbled up in the pit of your stomach, very soon you will lose everything. You are finished. Why don’t you sit down? You are very tired. That’s right, sit down and rest for a while. Put down your sword. In a moment you may sit by my side, let me cure your injury. That’s right, sit down, put down your sword.” The more she spoke, her voice grew gentler and more flirtatious.

The Blue Dragon Envoy took several more steps, in the end he sat down slowly. ‘Clang!’ the sword in his hand fell down to the floor.

Seeing the Blue Dragon Envoy did not have any strength to stand up again, the Yellow Dragon Envoy shouted, “Xu Xueting, you, this traitor, are indulging yourself in wishful thinking, damn it, you want to be the Jiaozhu, just scatter your own urine to yourself, this revolting behavior cannot be tolerated.”

The Scarlet Dragon Envoy Priest Wugen shouted, “Yin Jin, you are such a despicable, shameless lowly person, you see the wind and set the helm, rocking to the east and sway to the west. As soon as the ol’ Taoist can move my hands and feet, the first thing I’ll do will be to slaughter you.”

The Yellow Dragon Envoy Yin Jin said, “Why are you vicious? I … I …” he wanted to talk back, but saw that swaying and rocking, the Blue Dragon Envoy struggled hard to stand up. Once again the battle’s outcome was undecided[2], thereupon he shut his mouth.

In the meantime, the eyes of several hundred people in the hall were all fixed on Xu Xueting. In a soft voice Madame Hong said, “Xu Dage, you are very tired, why don’t you sit down? Just look at me, I’ll sing a little song for you. Just take a good rest, later on I will sing a little song for you every day. Tell me if I look beautiful.”

“Oh, oh,” Xu Xueting repeatedly mumbled, he said, “You … you are very beautiful, but I … I do not dare to look at you too much …” While saying that, he sat down again, and this time he could not stand back up; however, his mind was still as bright as snow, he realized that as long as he could not stand up, he would not be able to kill Jiaozhu. Among these several hundred people, the Cult Leader’s skill was the most profound, surely he would be the first to have the poison in his system driven out, and then every one of the older brethrens would not be fortunate to escape his evil scheme. Thereupon he said, “Mister … Mister Lu, I can’t move, you must think … think … cough, cough … think of a way.”

“Wei Gongzi,” Mr. Lu said, “This Jiaozhu is extremely vicious, when the poison in his body is neutralized, he will kill everybody, even you will not escape. Quickly kill Jiaozhu and Madame.”

Even if he did not say those words, Wei Xiaobao had already understood. Picking up a sword, he slowly walked toward the Cult Leader.

Mr. Lu added, “This Madame Hong is a fox-spirit, she will completely deceive people, you must not look at her face, don’t look at her eyes.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. With raised sword he took several steps forward.

In a soft voice Madame Hong said, “Xiao Xiongdi, tell me, do you think I am beautiful?” Her voice was brimming with overwhelming emotion that can erode the bones. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved; he turned his head to look at her.

Fat Toutuo shouted loudly, “Wicked demon; don’t look at her!” Wei Xiaobao shivered and closed his eyes tight.

With a tender laugh Madame Hong said, “Xiao Xiongdi, look at me, turn your eyes on me, open your eyes, look, you can see your reflection in my eyes!”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao opened his eyes, he saw Madame Hong’s graceful eyes and smiling expression; he could not stop his heart from being shaken. Immediately he raised the sword in front of his chest and walked toward Hong Jiaozhu, thinking, “You are such a beautiful woman, I really cannot kill you, but I simply must kill your husband.”

Suddenly from his left came a sharp and clear voice calling out, “Wei Dage! Don’t kill him!”

The voice sounded very familiar. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was shaken. He turned toward the voice and saw a young girl wearing red clothes lying on the ground, her eyebrows were elegant her eyes were gorgeous, she was none other than Xiao Junzhu Mu Jianping. Wei Xiaobao was flabbergasted; not in a million years would he expect to see her in this place. As for why she was wearing the Scarlet Dragon Gate’s red uniform, he did not feel surprised at all. Busily he helped her up and asked, “How can you be here?”

Mu Jianping did not answer his question, she only said, “By all means, you must not kill Jiaozhu.”

“Have you joined Shen Long Jiao?” Wei Xiaobao asked in surprise, “How … how come?”

Mu Jianping’s entire body was so soft as if she did not have any bones; leaning against his shoulder, she put her small mouth close to his ear and said in a low voice, “If you kill Jiaozhu and Madame, I will not live. Those old men hate us to the death, they will definitely kill us all the young people.”

“I am going to ask them not to harm you,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I think they will consent.”

“No, no!” Mu Jianping anxiously said, “Jiaozhu has given us poison, other people cannot neutralize it.”

Meeting with her again after a long separation, Wei Xiaobao was actually very happy, much less she was leaning in his bosom, he could smell her soft fragrance, and hear her tender voice in his ear. He found it very difficult to resist her request, plus he thought that the Cult Leader had forced her to take the poison and nobody else could save her; therefore, if he killed the Cult Leader, he would be killing this beautiful young woman in his bosom, which he must never do. It was a very difficult decision to take. He said in a low voice, “If I don’t kill Jiaozhu, after the poison in Jiaozhu’s body is neutralized, he will definitely kill me.” He was holding Mu Jianping in tight embrace, he said those words in her ear.

Mu Jianping said, “If you saved Jiaozhu and Madame, how could they kill you?”

Wei Xiaobao thought that she was right, Madame Hong was such a thousand-beauty a hundred-charming woman, no matter what she must not be killed. Before his eyes was an opportunity to set up a great merit, it’s just that inevitably Fat Toutuo, Mr. Lu, Priest Wugen and the others would be killed by the Cult Leader. Priest Wugen was an extremely heroic man, it would be a pity to have him killed. It would be best if he did not kill Jiaozhu and Madame, while saving Fat Toutuo and the others’ lives at the same time. Thereupon he said, “Exactly! Good wife, even if Jiaozhu wanted to kill me, I will definitely save your life.” While saying that, he landed a kiss on her left cheek.

Mu Jianping was extremely bashful, her face blushed, but her eyes revealed a happy expression as she said in a low voice, “If you set up a great merit, plus you are a young child, how can Jiaozhu kill you?”

Wei Xiaobao lay Mu Jianping back on the floor; he turned his head and said, “Mr. Lu, Jiaozhu must not be killed, and so is Madame. The inscription on the stone tablet says that Jiaozhu and Madame will enjoy immortal good fortune forever, their long lives will be the same as the heaven’s; how can I dare to harm their lives? The two Seniors’ magical power is extensive, even if I want to harm them, I cannot harm them to their death.”

Mr. Lu was greatly anxious; “The inscription is a fake,” he called out, “How can you even take it into consideration? Don’t indulge in flights of fancy, quickly kill those two people, otherwise, everybody will die without a burial site.”

Wei Xiaobao repeatedly shook his head. “Mr. Lu,” he said, “You must not say such a treason talk. Do you have the antidote? We must neutralize the poison in Jiaozhu and Madame’s bodies.”

In a soft voice Madame Hong said, “That’s right, Xiao Xiongdi, you indeed have excellent knowledge and experience. The Heaven sent such a young hero like you to descend to the world, actually to assist Jiaozhu. For Shen Long Jiao to have such a young hero like you, it is indeed everyone’s good fortune.”

She appeared to say those words from the bottom of her heart, it was brimming with amazement and high praise. When Wei Xiaobao heard it, he felt an unspeakable joy and comfort in his heart. He laughed and said, “Madame, I don’t belong to Shen Long Jiao.”

Madame Hong laughed. “Nothing could be easier than that,” she said, “You can join the Cult right now, I can be your sponsor [orig. person who receive and instruct]. Jiaozhu, this Xiao Xiongdi has set up such a great merit for our Cult, which official position should we assign to him?”

The Cult Leader said, “The White Dragon Gate’s Zhangmenshi Zhong Zhiling has been executed for apostasy, we can promote this young man as the White Dragon Envoy.”

“That’s great!” Madame Hong said with a laugh, “Xiao Xiongdi, our Cult is headed by Jiaozhu, under him are Blue, Yellow, Scarlet, White and Black, five dragon envoys. To have someone like you, who as soon as you join the Cult immediately becomes one of the five dragon envoys, it is indeed unprecedented, indicating that that Jiaozhu has a very high opinion of you. Xiao Xiongdi, you are surnamed Wei, that much we know. But what is your great name?”

“My name is Wei Xiaobao,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “In Jianghu, people call me the Little White Dragon.” He recalled Mao Shiba had fabricated a nickname for him with the thought that if he did not have any nickname, it would not be impressive enough. Who could have thought that the nickname agreed with what had happened today as if by prior consultation?

“You see, you see!” Madame Hong happily said, “This is the Heaven’s plan, otherwise, how can there be such coincidence? Jiaozhu’s golden mouth has spoken, definitely he won’t renege.”

Mr. Lu was greatly anxious, “Wei Gongzi,” he said, “Don’t fall into their trick. Even if you become the White Dragon Envoy, if they don’t like you and want to kill you, won’t it be as easy as turning their hand over? The White Dragon Envoy Zhong Zhiling was the example right in front of our eyes. Quickly kill Jiaozhu and Madame, everybody will support you as the new Jiaozhu of Shen Long Jiao.”

As soon as he said that, everybody was startled. Fat Toutuo, Xu Xueting, Priest Wugen and the others all felt that this idea was extremely unthinkable. But then they had a second thought: if they did not support him to be the new Cult Leader, currently there was no position in the Cult higher than the White Dragon Envoy position. The situation before their eyes was very urgent, the lives of everybody present were hanging on his hand. Only by doing this they would be able to tempt him to kill Jiaozhu and Madame. As soon as the crisis was over, even if they really promote him to become the Cult Leader, he would not escape from everybody’s grasp. Thereupon everybody chorused, “Right, right, we will support Wei Gongzi as the Shen Long Jiao’s Jiaozhu; everybody will be loyal and devoted to you.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved, he cast a sidelong glance toward Madame Hong. She was half sitting half lying on the bamboo chair, as if her entire body was devoid of any bones. Her chest was heaving up and down slightly, her cheeks blushed, her eyes glistened. He mused, “There’s nothing fun being the Jiaozhu, but this Madame Jiaozhu is extremely pretty. If I become the Jiaozhu, will you or won’t you still become the Madame Jiaozhu?”

But this thought only flashed through in his mind, immediately he cleared his head, “Each of these people has superior martial art skill, as soon as the poison in their bodies is neutralized, how can I deal with them? It will be ‘pulling the plank after crossing the bridge’.” As for the matter of ‘pulling the plank after crossing the bridge’, he had had personal experience with the Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall. But Tian Di Hui brethrens were heroes and warrior, after crossing the bridge, they did not pull the plank in a hurry. These Shen Long Jiao fellows, on the other hand, how could they not pull the plank in a hurry? Worse yet, how could they not do it in great delight? Although Madame Jiaozhu was pretty, when all is said and done, his own life was prettier.

Thereupon he stuck out his tongue and said with a laugh, “I don’t want to be the Jiaozhu, by saying that, you are not bringing good fortune to me. Besides, it is treason and heresy. How about this: Jiaozhu, Madame, and everybody here better be reconciled. I want both sides to disregard what had happened today. Mr. Lu, Blue Dragon Envoy and the others have offended Jiaozhu, I am asking Jiaozhu to be magnanimous and disregard their crime. Mr. Lu, take the antidote out, after everybody is cured, won’t it be good that we are all friendly toward each other?”

Without waiting for Mr. Lu to open his mouth, Hong Jiaozhu immediately said, “Very well, let’s do it. The White Dragon Envoy is urging us to work together, to let bygones be bygones; I accept the auspicious loyal advice. The matter of everybody rebelled against the authority today, I am willing to forgive and will no longer look into it.”

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Blue Dragon Envoy, Jiaozhu has agreed, don’t you agree that this is wonderful?”

Realizing that Wei Xiaobao was unwilling to kill the Cult Leader no matter what, Mr. Lu heaved a deep sigh and said, “If that’s the case, Jiaozhu, Madame, would you two please make an oath.”

Madame Hong said, “I, Su Quan, will not look into today’s matter. If I go against this oath, let me fall into the Dragon Pool, and be devoured by ten thousand snakes.”

In a low and deep voice Hong Jiaozhu said, “If in the future I, Shen Long Jiao Jiaozhu Hong Antong, ever settle the account with old xiongdi over what had happened today, let the Ol’ Hong fall into the Dragon Pool and be devoured by ten thousand snakes, so that even my bones will not survive.”

‘Fall into the Dragon Pool and be devoured by ten thousand snakes’ was Shen Long Jiao’s heaviest punishment. Jiaozhu and Madame swore this heavy oath, although they were under pressure, they simply could not retract what they had said.

“Blue Dragon Envoy, what do you think?” Mr. Lu asked.

Xu Xueting was at his last gasp, he said, “I … I won’t live anyway.”

“Priest Wugen, what do you think?” Mr. Lu asked again.

In a loud voice Priest Wugen said, “Let it be so. Hong Jiaozhu was originally our old xiongdi, his literary and martial art skills are ten times better than everybody else. We all originally supported him without half-heartedness. Ever since he took this Madame as his wife, his character underwent huge changes; he only loved to promote young boys and girls and had us, the old xiongdi massacred one by one. The Blue Dragon Envoy was the first to rise in revolt, but he was only striving to survive, without any other motive. Since Jiaozhu and Madame have sworn an oath publicly not to look into today’s matter, no longer recklessly murder old xiongdi, why would we want to rebel against him? Besides, Shen Long Jiao cannot exist without this Jiaozhu.”

A group of teenage boys and girls shouted loudly, “Jiaozhu will enjoy immortal good fortune forever, his long life will be the same as the heaven’s.”

“Wei Gongzi,” Mr. Lu said, “You have not taken ‘realgar medicated wine’, therefore, you were not poisoned by … and thus have set up the great merit of today. It was the mystery of the underworld, the Will of Heaven. To neutralize the poison, it is very easy. Go outside and scoop up some cold water, bring it here and have everybody here drink some.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Turns out this poison is very easy to neutralize.” He went out the hall, but could not find any cold water. Circling around the hall, he saw a row of twenty stone jars, seven of them were brimming with clear water. Actually, the water was to guard against the bamboo hall catching fire. Immediately he filled a bucket full with water and returned to the main hall. He scooped some water and had the Cult Leader drink it first. Next he gave Madame Hong some water. The third scoop was for Priest Wugen; he said, “Daozhang [priest], you are a hero and a warrior.” The fourth, the fifth were for Fat Toutuo and Mr. Lu. The sixth was for Mu Jianping.

After drinking the water, they all threw up, and then slowly regained the strength of their hands and feet. After Wei Xiaobao fed several more people, Mr. Lu was already able to stand up and walk, immediately he attended the Blue Dragon Envoy Xu Xueting’s injury, trying to stop his bleeding. Fat Toutuo and the others also took cold water to help the brethrens closest to them. Very soon Mu Jianping was able to help several teenage girls wearing red clothes.

The hall reeked with vomit, the stench was unbearable.

Madame Hong said, “Everybody, go back and rest, we will assemble again tomorrow.”

Hong Jiaozhu said, “I have decided to let bygones be bygones, all xiongdi are partners, you cannot, because of what happened today, strife against each other to carry out a vendetta against our brother. Those who disobey will be severely punished. The youngster of Five Dragon Gates must not be disrespectful against the Zhangmenshi. In the same way, the Zhangmenshi must not find any excuse to punish the young members of our Gates.”

Everyone received the order with one voice, but they were still suspicious and jealous, after all, it was very difficult to drive anxiety away.

“White Dragon Envoy,” Madame Hong said in a soft voice, “Come with me.”

Wei Xiaobao still did not know that she was calling him, only after seeing her beckoning to him did he realize that he had become the Divine Dragon Cult’s White Dragon Envoy; thereupon he followed her.

The Cult Leader and Madame walked side-by-side out of the main hall. Everybody who could move bowed to salute, while shouting with a loud voice, “Jiaozhu will enjoy immortal good fortune forever, his long life will be the same as the heaven’s!”

Following a path laid with dark green flagstones the Cult Leader and Madame left the building and walk to the left. After passing through a sizeable bamboo groove, they arrived at an elevated level ground, where several large bamboo structures were built. A dozen or so teenage boys and girls wearing five different color clothes were on guard duty around the buildings with unsheathed swords in their hands. Seeing the Cult Leader, they all bowed to salute. Madame Hong led Wei Xiaobao into a bamboo building and said to a youngster wearing white clothes, “This is Wei Gongzi, the newly-appointed Zhangmenshi of your White Dragon Gate. Take him to the eastern wing to rest, all of you must serve him well.” Finished speaking, she flashed a smile toward Wei Xiaobao and entered the inner hall.

Several teenagers in white clothes presented themselves to Wei Xiaobao and said, “Young subordinates pay their respect to the Envoy.”

In the Palace, Wei Xiaobao was accustomed to be a chief of the court eunuchs; in Tian Di Hui, he was accustomed to be a Xiangzhu, he did not care in the least bit that people were treating him deferentially; he simply nodded. Several teenagers in white clothes took him to the eastern wing and offered to serve him tea. Although it was only a wing, the room was very spacious; the furnishings were elegant and pure, with gold and jade antiques spread all over the table. Several rolls of calligraphy and paintings were hung on the wall, the bedding on the bed was magnificent, unexpectedly it had a little bit of the Imperial Palace’s style.

Those several teenagers in white clothes noticed that it was evident from Madame Hong’s speech and expression that she held this Wei Xiaobao in such a high regard, moreover, there had never been any outsider who spent the night in the Cult Leader’s ‘Immortal Good Fortune Residence’. By enjoying special privilege like this, clearly the White Dragon Envoy’s status was above the other four envoys. These youngsters had been on guard duty in here for a while, they did not know about the incident that had just happened in the main hall, but seeing Wei Xiaobao was in such an honored position and was in the Cult Leader’s good grace, they all did everything they could to please him.

That same afternoon Wei Xiaobao asked those several teenagers in white clothes about all kinds of customs of the Five Dragon Gates. Turned out the Divine Dragon Cult was divided into five gates, each gate envoy commanded several dozen of old xiongdi, a hundred teenagers, and several hundred ordinary Cult members. Each Zhangmenshi was originally a veteran martial art expert who had established great service to the Cult. But recently the Cult Leader had thrown his full support to promote some rising stars, often people in their twenties, to hold important positions second only to the Zhangmenshi. Although Wei Xiaobao was very young, nobody showed the least bit of surprise.

The next morning, Hong Jiaozhu and Madame Hong called for another assembly in the main hall. There was anxiety and uneasy expression on everybody’s face. Although the Cult Leader had sworn an oath not to pursue this matter, he was known as extremely shrewd, nobody could guess what kind of formidable method he would use to deal with them.

The Cult Leader and Madame sat on their thrones. Wei Xiaobao was fourth among the Five Dragon Envoys, he ranked above Fat Toutuo and Mr. Lu. “How is the Blue Dragon Envoy’s injury?” the Cult Leader asked.

Mr. Lu bowed and said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: the Blue Dragon Envoy’s injury is not light, whether his life can be saved or not, at the present it is still very difficult to say.”

The Cult Leader took a deep red small porcelain bottle from his bosom and said, “Here are three ‘King of Heaven’s Life-saving Pills’, give them to him.” While saying that, without anybody seeing him raising his hand, the porcelain bottle flew slowly toward Mr. Lu.

Hastily Mr. Lu reached out to receive it. Lying prostrate on the floor, he said, “Thank you Jiaozhu for your great graciousness.” He knew these ‘King of Heaven’s Life-saving Pills’ to be very rare. The Cult Leader had to dispatch his subordinates to gather countless rare drug ingredients and had to refine it before making the pills. Among the ingredients were three-hundred-year old Laoshan [lit. old mountain] ginseng, white bear’s gall, snow lotus herb and other especially hard-to-come-by substances. The Cult Leader had spent considerable effort to manufacture the pills, but he managed to produce only around ten pills. With these three miracle cure pills, Xu Xueting’s life would definitely be out of danger.

The rest of the old xiongdi also bowed to express their gratitude; they all thought, “The Blue Dragon Envoy has offended Jiaozhu really bad yesterday by determining to take his life, yet today Jiaozhu bestowed the treasured medicine instead. He has let bygones be bygones indeed.” No one did not feel gratified. At first everybody in the hall was in high alert, but now their faces showed smiling expression. Quite a few of them let out a deep breath.

Madame Hong said with a laugh, “White Dragon Envoy, I heard that on Mount Wutai you saw a stone tablet, on which some writings in tadpole script were engraved?”

Wei Xiaobao bowed and said, “Yes!”

Fat Toutuo said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu and Madame: subordinate has made a rubbing of the writings and I have it in here.” From his bosom he took out a roll of oil paper and opened it, showing a large sheet of rubbings from the tablet, which he then hung on the eastern wall. The sheet had a black background with white characters, the writings looked extremely strange, nobody recognize the characters.

Madame Hong said, “White Dragon Envoy, if you know these characters, please read it for everybody here.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. With eyes fixed on the rubbing, he loudly recited the writings made by Mr. Lu: “In the tenth month of the Zhen Guan’s second year Jiazi of the Great Tang …” Slowly he continued reciting from memory. Occasionally he would forget, so he said, “Um, what character is that? It’s difficult to recognize. Ah right, must be a ‘mo’ [devil] character.”

When reciting the part that said ‘He will enjoy immortal happiness forever, universal evil spirit will venerate him. His long life will be the same as the Heaven’s, a kind sage of both pen and sword’, he changed it to ‘He, together with Madame, will enjoy immortal happiness forever, universal evil spirit will venerate them. Their long life will be the same as the Heaven’s, kind sages of both pen and sword.’

In all honesty, this four-character phrase ‘together with Madame’ [lian tong fu ren] was rather vulgar; if it was composed by Mr. Lu, he would definitely pick a more elegant wording. But Wei Xiaobao did not have any literary skill, how could he produce any elegant phrase? It was already remarkable that he did not change a four-character sentence into a five-character one.

When Madame Hong heard this phrase, ‘her brows raised in delight, her eyes laughing’ as she said, “Jiaozhu, there is indeed a reference on me in the writings of the stone tablet, the White Dragon Envoy did not carelessly make it up.”

Hong Jiaozhu was also very happy; he nodded and said with a laugh, “Good, good! We are fulfilling the Heaven’s destiny; the founding of this Shen Long Jiao was actually foretold by the Heaven during the Zhen Guan year of the Great Tang.”

The cult members in the hall shouted together, “Jiaozhu will enjoy immortal good fortune forever, his long life will be the same as the heaven’s.”

Priest Wugen and the other old xiongdi were also amazed, they thought, “Jiaozhu and Madame are fulfilling the Heaven’s destiny, we must not offend them.”

Finally Wei Xiaobao recited the locations of the eight copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. Madame Hong gasped and said, “When virtuous ruler arose, it is to the benefit of the common people. No doubt the Heaven has arranged it early on, even a man like Wu Sangui is already mentioned in the Heaven’s will. Jiaozhu, these eight copies of treasured sutra belong to our Cult, sooner or later they will be acquired for our Shen Long Jiao.”

The Cult Leader twisted his beard and said with a smile, “Madame is right.”

The people yelled again, “Jiaozhu’s long life will be the same as the heaven’s, Jiaozhu’s long life will be the same as the heaven’s!”

When the shouting subsided, Hong Jiaozhu said, “Now, let us open the Incense Hall to inaugurate Wei Xiaobao as our Cult’s White Dragon Gate’s Zhangmenshi.”

The opening of the incense hall of Shen Long Jiao was completely different from Tian Di Hui. Wei Xiaobao saw five golden trays on the incense table, each tray had a small snake on it, altogether there were blue, yellow, scarlet, white and black snakes. These five little snakes raised their heads, flicking their tongues in and out, but their bodies were motionless.

After doing obeisance toward these five ‘divine dragons’, Wei Xiaobao kowtowed in front of the Cult Leader and Madame, and accepted Priest Wugen and the others’ congratulations. Madame Hong poured three cups of realgar wine and had him drink it. She said with a laugh, “After drinking this wine, the divine dragons on this island will know that you are one of our own, hereafter they will not come to bite you.” The Cult Leader bestowed him a strand of realgar bead, telling him to hang it next to his skin, so that a hundred poisons would not harm him. Next, the elders and young men of the White Dragon Gate came to pay their respect to their new Zhangmenshi.

The Cult Leader ordered, “Because the Blue Dragon Gate Zhangmenshi is recuperating from his illness, and Fat Toutuo has set up a merit by making the rubbing of the stone tablet, Fat Toutuo will temporarily handle the Blue Dragon Gate’s business. When the Blue Dragon Envoy recovers, he will take over again.” Fat Toutuo bowed to accept the order. The Cult Leader continued, “Five Dragon Envoys and Lu Gaoxuan, six people, come to the rear hall to discuss official business.”

Immediately the Cult Leader and Madame rose from their seats and walked toward the rear hall, while everybody shouted loudly to see them off. Priest Wugen, Wei Xiaobao, Fat Toutuo, Mr. Lu and the others followed behind them. It was only then that Wei Xiaobao knew that Mr. Lu’s name was Lu Gaoxuan.

The rear hall was located right behind the main hall. It was not big, with two large bamboo chairs inside, where he Cult Leader and Madame sit. Below the chairs there were five low stools. The three Zhangmenshi sat down. Fat Toutuo also sat down. He said, “White Dragon Envoy, please sit down.”

Seeing Mr. Lu did not have a seat, Wei Xiaobao hesitated a little bit. Mr. Lu smiled and said, “White Dragon Envoy, please sit down. There is no seat for a Cult member without any obligations like me in the ‘Hidden Dragon Hall’.”

Wei Xiaobao expected it was indeed the custom; if Fat Toutuo was not acting on behalf of the Blue Dragon Envoy, he would not have any seat either, thereupon he sat down. Mr. Lu stood up next to the Black Dragon Envoy, a position below him.

Suddenly Yin Jin and the others, four people, stood up. Wei Xiaobao did not understand what was going on, he also stood up. He heard Yin Jin, Mr. Lu and the others, five people, were reciting, “With Jiaozhu’s treasured teaching …” Wei Xiaobao immediately followed, “… always in our hearts, we can set up meritorious deed and subdue the enemy, nothing is unachievable!” He still had a child’s high-pitched voice, so compared to the five people’s voices, his sounded somewhat louder. Only after Hong Jiaozhu nodded did the five people sit down.

Hong Jiaozhu said, “The writings on the stone tablet reveal that there are eight copies of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ scattered around the four directions, yet the Black Dragon Envoy reported that four copies are actually in the Imperial Palace; what’s the story?”

The Black Dragon Envoy said, “It may be assumed that these four books were originally from Shaolin Temple, Mu Palace and so on, which, afterwards, were seized away by the Tatars and brought into the Palace.” The Cult Leader hesitated for a moment and did not say anything; the fear on the Black Dragon Envoy’s face grew more intense.

Hong Jiaozhu turned toward Fat Toutuo and asked, “Has your Shixiong sent any news back?”

Fat Toutuo respectfully said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: Thin Toutuo once said that at the Banner Commander of Bordered Blue Banner’s mansion he had found a little bit of clue, but afterwards he lost track of it.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved, “The Banner Commander of Bordered Blue Banner’s mansion?” he mused, “Isn’t that the place where Tao Gugu‘s Shifu went? Turns out Fat Toutuo have a shixiong, who is called Thin Toutuo.”

He heard Hong Jiaozhu said, “Tell him that I order him to finish up his investigation as soon as possible, he must not be negligent.” Fat Toutuo repeatedly complied.

After a while, Madame Hong smiled and said, “The Black Dragon Envoy has sent people into the Palace to fetch the sutra. According to his own explanation, he had spared no effort, but so far he had not succeeded in obtaining even one copy. Perhaps we ought to send someone else whose luck is a lot better to handle this matter.”

The Yellow Dragon Envoy Yin Jin hastily said, “Madame has a wise opinion. Learning from experience, fetching the sutra is a matter of luck, with enormous responsibility. It’s not that the Black Dragon Envoy did not try hard and did not want to perform a meritorious deed for Jiaozhu, it’s just that from the beginning there are obstacles one after another. Most likely it is because his luck is inadequate, thereupon the treasured sutra cannot be obtained.”

Madame Hong smiled and said, “In your opinion, whose luck is adequate?”

Yin Jin said, “The one with most luck in our Cult is naturally Jiaozhu, the Senior, himself; next in line would be Madame. However, we must not toil your two honorable selves to go into action personally. The next person with great fortune would be the White Dragon Envoy. He knows the inscriptions on the stone tablet, he has also established a great service. There is a faint red glow at the center of his forehead, a sign that his luck is very big, there is no one among Jiaozhu’s subordinate can surpass him.”

The Cult Leader twisted his beard and said with a smile, “But he is a small child, can he handle this great matter?”

Although the White Dragon Envoy was a senior position within the Divine Dragon Cult, in Wei Xiaobao’s heart it did not mean anything. Since he was stuck on the Island, he was forced to take whatever comes his way. He had extreme satisfaction in looking at Madame Hong’s ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ beauty, but if he looked at her too much, Jiaozhu would detect his lecherous look, then it would be difficult for him to escape death. In short, it would be best if he could return to Beijing as soon as possible. Hearing Jiaozhu’s words, he found the perfect opportunity to free himself; thereupon he said, “Jiaozhu, Madame, I am indebted of your promotion; subordinate is very grateful. I do not have any ability, but relying on the good fortune of the two of you, I have the hope that I can succeed in sneaking into the Palace and steal the four copies of the treasured sutra.”

Hong Jiaozhu nodded. Madame Hong happily said, “You are willing to volunteer, showing that you are loyal to Jiaozhu. I know you are smart and witty, plus have great good fortune. Perhaps you are precisely the person sent by the Heaven to complete this important matter for Jiaozhu.”

Hong Jiaozhu slowly said, “According to the Black Dragon Envoy’s report, the people he sent to the Palace have sent information that the young Emperor has a little eunuch under his command by the name of Xiao Guizi …”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “My trickery is exposed! I am in big trouble,” he mused. He heard the Cult Leader continued, “… the young Emperor sent him to Mount Wutai, the intention is not favorable to our Cult. We sent several people in succession to question him. Zhang Laosan could not find him, Fat Toutuo also failed, unexpectedly Xiao Guizi cannot be found, but we found you instead.”

As the Cult Leader took a short pause, Yin Jin said, “Indeed that is Jiaozhu’s flood of good fortune fills the heavens!”

Hong Jiaozhu slightly nodded his head toward him and continued, “White Dragon Envoy, as soon as you get to the Palace, you must immediately investigate this Xiao Guizi’s matter: what scheme did the Emperor have of sending him to Mount Wutai?”

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his entire body was drenched in cold sweat. “Yes, yes,” he busily said. But he was relieved that from the Cult Leader’s tone, he would definitely be sent to the Imperial Palace. Cast a glance toward Fat Toutuo, he mused, “You did not reveal my secret, I consider you a good person.”

Madame Hong said, “It is said that those eight copies of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ hide a big secret to build up strength and maintain, as well as, prolong life. Seeing that since our Jiaozhu has received the Heaven’s blessing to enjoy immortal good fortune forever and life as long as the heaven’s, sooner or later these eight sutras will fall into Jiaozhu’s hands. White Dragon Envoy, go and set up a great merit for Jiaozhu, bring those eight sutras back, Jiaozhu will definitely bestow you with rewards.”

Wei Xiaobao stood up, he bowed and said, “Even if subordinate’s body is torn and my bones crushed, it is still difficult to repay Jiaozhu and Madame’s great kindness. I will be utterly loyal serving the country and die in battle.” He learned these eight characters ‘utterly loyal serving the country and die in battle’ [jin zhong bao guo, ma ge guo shi] from the storyteller; whenever a general was going into battle, the sovereign king would encourage him, and then the great general would fervently utter these eight characters. He blindly imitated the words, although being used here it was a bit too much and a little nondescript.

Madame Hong laughed and said, “You vow loyalty and devotion to Jiaozhu, that’s very good. You go to Beijing, you may choose several people to help you as you wish.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Since I am running away, if the Cult people follow, they will only tie my hands and tie my feet.” Thereupon he said, “I am afraid with too many people our secret will be revealed. Ah, right, subordinate wants to select one or two young girls under the Scarlet Dragon Envoy, they can be disguised as palace maid; handling affairs in the Palace will be more convenient.” He was thinking about Mu Jianping, he must take her away.

Priest Wugen said, “I am afraid those little misses are useless, but as long as Jiaozhu and Madame approve, you may choose as you wish.”

“Thank you Daozhang,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Lu Gaoxuan said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu, Madame: subordinate has committed grave offense yesterday, I am very grateful of Jiaozhu’s graciousness in not killing me …”

Hong Jiaozhu waved his hand and said with knitted brows, “The matter of yesterday, everybody must not remember in his heart, from now on nobody is allowed to raise it again.”

“Yes,” Lu Gaoxuan said, “Thank you very much Jiaozhu. Subordinate is thinking of accompanying the White Dragon Envoy. With Jiaozhu and Madame’s great fortune, perhaps I will be able to set up some merit for Jiaozhu, to show a little of subordinate’s sincere appreciation.”

Hong Jiaozhu nodded his head and said, “Lu Gaoxuan is extremely resourceful, his martial art skill is superior, his penmanship is even more proficient, the literary works he made was well organized. Very good, very good, you may go with the White Dragon Envoy.”

Lu Gaoxuan considered carefully, “He said the literary works I made was well organized, could it be that about my fabrication of the writings on the stone tablet, in his heart he has already known it well?”

Fat Toutuo said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu, Madame: subordinate also wishes to accompany the White Dragon Envoy to Beijing to handle this matter for Jiaozhu.”

The Cult Leader nodded; seeing that the Yellow Dragon Envoy was about to volunteer too, he said, “Too many people already, I am afraid the mission will be compromised. Only the two of you will accompany. In everything, you must follow the White Dragon Envoy’s order, you must not disobey.”

Lu Gaoxuan and Fat Toutuo bowed and said, “Subordinate will do as you bid.”

From her bosom Madame Hong took out a small multi-colored dragon, it was molded from ‘blue copper’ [i.e. bronze], yellow gold, scarlet copper, white silver, and black iron. “White Dragon Envoy,” she said, “This is Jiaozhu’s Five-Dragon Command, I am handing it over to you for the time being. When the several tens of thousands Cult members see this Command, it is the same as they see Jiaozhu in person. In handling this important matter, the life-and-death power is being handed over to you. After rendering the meritorious service, you must return the Command.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, with both hands he respectfully received it, while in his heart he mused, “I just want to return to Beijing, and forget about his Divine Dragon Cult or Vicious Tiger Cult. By taking this so-called Five-Dragon Command, from now on I will have more trouble.”

Madame Hong said, “White Dragon Envoy, Lu Gaoxuan and Fat Toutuo, three people stay, the rest of you are dismissed.”

Priest Wugen and the Black Dragon Envoy, Yellow Dragon Envoy, three people saluted and withdrew.

Hong Jiaozhu took out a black porcelain bottle from his pocket and poured three vermillion red pills out. He said, “I commend you that using extreme force of will, the three of you will go to Beijing on a mission, hence I bestow each one of you with a ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’.”

Immediately on Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan’s faces appeared a delight mixed with dread. Bending their right knees, they expressed their gratitude, received the pills, and swallowed it. Wei Xiaobao blindly imitated them, he received the ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’ and immediately swallowed it. Shortly afterward, he felt a burst of warm chi rising up in his stomach, following the blood flow, dispersing slowly into his four limbs and hundred bones of his body; it was unspeakably comfortable.

Madame Hong said, “White Dragon Envoy may stay, the rest of you are dismissed.” Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan, two people withdrew.

Madame Hong smiled and said, “White Dragon Envoy, what kind of weapon do you use?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Subordinate’s martial art skill is shallow and minuscule, and have not studied any weapon. I only have a dagger to protect myself.”

“Let me look at it,” Madame Hong said.

Wei Xiaobao pulled the dagger from his boot, turned the hilt around and presented it with both hands. Madame Hong took it. After examining it, she praised, “Good dagger!” Pulling a strand of her hair, she let it go. The hair slowly dropped on the edge of the blade, and was cut into two. “Good!” the Cult Leader also praised.

In term of personal character, Wei Xiaobao did not have any strong points, but he had always regarded wealth and worldly possessions extremely lightly; seeing Madame Hong was very delighted with the dagger, he thought that if he wanted to flatter her, he would have to go all out. He said, “Subordinate presents this dagger to Madame. The common saying says it well: rouge and treasured sword must … must be presented to beautiful woman. Among the beautiful women in the world, no one is more beautiful than Madame.” He had heard the storyteller said it many times, ‘the treasured sword must be presented to the martyr, the red powder must be presented to beautiful woman.’ But these two phrases were simply too difficult, he could not remember everything clearly.

Madame Hong giggled tenderly and said, “Good child, you are loyal to us; you are not simply making empty promises. I don’t have anything good to give you, how can I take a child’s belonging? Let me accept your good intention with gratitude. Come, I am going to teach you three self-defense and life-saving styles, it is called the ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’. I want you to learn it by heart.”

She stepped down from her seat, took out a handkerchief, and tied the dagger to the outside of her right calf. “Jiaozhu,” she said with a laugh, “I will have to toil your honorable self to help me demonstrate this martial art style.”

With a chuckle Hong Jiaozhu strolled over. Suddenly he reached out with his left hand and grabbed the back of Madame’s neck, and lifted her up in the air. “Ah!” it happened so fast, Wei Xiaobao was so shocked that he cried out.

Madame Hong bent her body slightly, she twisted her slender waist, and kicked backward with her left leg toward the Cult Leader’s lower abdomen. The Cult Leader pulled back to evade. Madame Hong seized the opportunity to turn around and wrapped her left arm around Jiaozhu’s neck. Unexpectedly her right hand grabbed the dagger and stabbed it against the middle of Jiaozhu’s back. “This is the first move,” she said with a laugh, “It’s called ‘the imperial concubine’s retrospect’. Remember this.”

The move was very neat and agile, Wei Xiaobao watched with ‘heart untroubled, spirit pleased’. “Wonderful!” he cheered loudly, while thinking, “When Fat Toutuo grabbed me and lifted me up the other day, I did not have the least bit of technique. If I had learned this move early on, I would have stabbed him to death.”

The Cult Leader gently laid Madame Hong on the ground. Madame Hong tied the dagger back on the outside of her calf and lay facing down on the floor. Jiaozhu stretched out his right foot to step on her lower back. Pretending he was holding a knife in his hand, he placed his hand behind her neck and said with a laugh, “Do you surrender?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “In this situation, what can I do? Naturally I would call out loudly ‘Surrender’.”

Suddenly he saw Madame pulled her head toward her own chest, naturally the enemy’s knife threatening her neck fell into empty air. Seizing this opportunity, she rolled on the ground and drilled through under Jiaozhu’s crotch. Grabbing the dagger with her right hand, once again she punched the middle of Jiaozhu’s back, only the sharp point of the dagger was facing up. If it were real enemy, this dagger would naturally pierce the enemy’s back.

Wei Xiaobao loudly cheered again, “Good!”

Jiaozhu waited for her to tie the dagger again before pulling both of her hands behind her back. With his left hand he held both of her wrists; pretending to hold a weapon in his right hand, he placed the weapon on her soft, white neck, while saying with a laugh, “This time you can’t run away.”

Madame also laughed and said, “Watch carefully!” Her right foot kicked forward lightly, a white light flashed, the dagger had already cut off the handkerchief tying it to her calf and flew away. She hooked with her right foot and nudged the hilt of the dagger. The dagger shot swiftly back toward her throat.

“Careful!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in fear. He saw she shrank her body down, the dagger shot swiftly toward the Cult Leader’s chest. The Cult Leader let her hands go and threw his body back with face up in the ‘iron panel bridge’ stance. ‘Pop!’ the dagger flitted across his chest and penetrated the bamboo wall behind him, straight up to the hilt.

When Madame Hong hooked with her foot and kicked the dagger, Wei Xiaobao had already jumped in fright. When he saw the dagger was flying toward her throat, she appeared not be able to evade, but then the dagger flew toward the pit of Jiaozhu’s stomach; this time he was sure the dagger would hit him, but unexpectedly Jiaozhu was able to dodge. These turns of events were extremely dangerous that just by watching from the side, Wei Xiaobao was stunned with ‘heart alarmed, trembling in fear’, and the word ‘Good’ that was already in his throat could not get out.

Madame Hong laughed. “What do you think?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao reached out to grab the back of a chair as if he was about to fall. “It scared me to death,” he said.

Hong Jiaozhu, Hong Antong, and Madame saw his paled countenance, indicating he was terribly frightened. Hearing his words, they were more delighted than listening to one thousand, ten thousand words of praise. These two people had superior martial art skill, just another word of praise from a little child was not enough to make them happier, but seeing he was so concerned, they knew he was truly loyal to them. Madame Hong asked a rhetorical question, “The dagger was not shot toward you, what are you scared of?”

“I was afraid … I was afraid it would hurt Madame and … and Jiaozhu,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Madame Hong laughed. “Silly kid,” she said, “How could it easily hurt Jiaozhu? This move is called ‘the flying swallow circle around overhead’. It is not very easy to practice. Jiaozhu’s divine skill is unrivalled, even if he did not know it beforehand, this move won’t hurt him. But in the world, other than him, I am afraid the number of people who are able to dodge this surprise strike is not too many.”

Immediately she explained in details the technique to practice the ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’. Although the style only had three moves, all four limbs of the body were heavily involved; she taught him how to pull the dagger, how to pull down the head, the speed, the position, the force, as well as the accuracy of the movements, must be just perfect.

The second move, where she lay on the ground, was called the ‘Xiao Lian [lit. little pity] lies in disarray’. Madame Hong explained, “This ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’ uses the names of the beauties of the ancient times. If it was practiced by a man, unavoidably it would be rather indecent; luckily you are only a child, so it’s not a big deal.”

Wei Xiaobao learned every move and every style, while Madame Hong patiently and carefully correcting his mistakes. After teaching him for more than two hours she finally considered it enough. But she insisted that Wei Xiaobao must be able to use it perfectly, he must train hard for a long time, especially the third move ‘the flying swallow circle around overhead’; a slight mistake, he would have killed himself. Madame Hong instructed him to make a blunt dagger made of lead, the size and the weight must be the same as his dagger, to be used during practice.

In front of the Cult members, usually Hong Antong was very serious in maintaining his dignity, he would not casually speak or laugh; but this time, as he accompanied his wife teaching Wei Xiaobao, he kept chuckling while watching from the side, he was surprisingly patient. When Madame finished teaching, he said, “Madame’s ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’ is indeed formidable, but it is meant to kill. Let me teach you the ‘Heroes’ Three Moves’, with the purpose of subduing the enemy, dead or alive.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he kneeled down and said, “Thank you Jiaozhu.”

Madame Hong laughed and said, “I have never heard about your ‘Heroes’ Three Moves’. You are teaching it to your disciple, but you did not teach it to me.”

Hong Antong said with a laugh, “Just now I watched your ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’ and came up with it, I don’t know whether it will work. I want you to give me directions.”

Madame Hong cast him a sidelong glance. “Aiyo,” she said with an enchanting smile, “Our Great Jiaozhu is teasing me.”

Hong Antong said, “From the beginning heroes can never pass the barrier of beauties. It’s only natural that ‘Heroes’ Three Moves’ cannot surpass ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’.”

Madame Hong burst into another enchanting laughter. “In front of a child, you still say this kind of talk?” she said in a tender voice.

Hong Antong realized he had somewhat forgotten his manners. He coughed and with a solemn expression said, “The White Dragon Envoy is young, when he fight, it will be easy for the enemy to grab the back of his neck and lift him up. Madame, let’s pretend I am the White Dragon Envoy.”

Madame Hong laughed and said, “You must promise not to hurt me.”

“Naturally,” Hong Antong replied.

Madame Hong stretched out her left hand to grab him and lift him up. Hong Antong was tall and powerfully built, perhaps he weighed around a hundred and seventy or eighty catties. Madame Hong looked frail and timid, unexpectedly she was able to lift him up seemingly without any effort.

“Watch carefully!” Hong Antong said. His left hand slowly reached back and scratched below Madame Hong’s left armpit. Madame Hong giggled, her body turned soft. Hong Antong’s left hand grasped her armpit, his right hand slowly turned back to grab her collar, and then slowly he lifted her up over the top of his own head, and gently flung her away. When Madame Hong’s body touched the ground, it slipped away as if she was floating on the water surface. Madame Hong did not stop laughing, when her body stopped moving, she was still lying down on the floor, unable to stand up.

Just now Hong Antong scratched below her armpit, reached back and grabbed her, and flung her away, each movement was very slow, Wei Xiaobao was able to see everything clearly. He saw his movements were elegant, and unspeakably attractive; although he moved slowly, it was very efficient. The scratch, the grab, and the throw were amazing; compared to Madame Hong’s fast and nimble movements, obviously it was several times more difficult.

Madame Hong laughed and said, “You tickled me. What kind of hero was that?” While saying that, she slowly stood up.

Hong Antong smiled and said, “It was a genuine hero’s movement. Naturally I did not mean to tickle you, but if the White Dragon Envoy was grabbed and lifted up by the enemy, his ‘da zhui’ [big spine] acupoint must also be caught by the enemy. It is where the three ‘yang du’ [positive control] arteries of the hands and feet meet, his entire body will devoid of any strength, all he can do is using his finger to lightly scratching the enemy’s ‘ji quan’ [extreme spring] acupoint below his armpit. This acupoint belongs to the hand’s ‘shao yang’ [lesser yang] channel, the enemy will have no choice but to let go. If the White Dragon Envoy has the strength, he could fling the enemy over his head, while at the same time seal the ‘xiao hai’ [little ocean] acupoint behind the enemy’s elbow and ‘ji quan’ acupoint underneath his armpit, so that when he was thrown to the ground, he won’t be able to move a single step.”

Wei Xiaobao clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “This move is really amazing.”

Hong Antong said, “After you practice it well, execute the move the faster the better.” And then he lay on the floor. Madame Hong stretched out her foot to heavily step on his lower back. With her right hand she reached the door bolt leaning against the wall next to the door, and she placed it on his neck. With a sweet and tender voice she laughed and said, “Do you surrender?”

Hong Antong laughed and said, “I already surrendered long ago! Let me kowtow to you.” He pulled his legs as if he was about to kowtow, but his right arm slowly reached horizontally forward to touch the door bolt. ‘Crack!’ the door bolt unexpectedly broke.

Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright. If Hong Antong’s arm moved rapidly, based on his martial art skill, it would not be strange if he could strike the door bolt broken. But he was moving slowly and he only touched the door bolt, yet unexpectedly the door bolt broke; it was indeed beyond his expectation.

Hong Antong said, “Pull your legs pretending to kowtow, take the opportunity to pull your dagger. Although your hands do not have internal energy like mine, but your dagger is exceptionally sharp, whatever weapon the enemy has, you can cut and break it.” While his mouth was busy explaining, his body suddenly tumbled between Madame Hong’s legs.

Wei Xiaobao was startled; he thought Hong Antong was a respected Cult Leader, how could he crawl in between a woman’s legs? Although she was his own wife, it would still be improper. To his surprise, however, Hong Antong was not really crawling, he was just striking an attitude, with his left hand he grasped Madame’s right ankle, with his right hand he pretended to strike her lower abdomen, while saying, “With your dagger that can cut iron like mud, even if the enemy has gargantuan guts, he won’t dare to struggle.” Finished speaking, he slowly stood up, bringing Madame Hong along with head down, feet up. Madame Hong laughed and said, “Quickly let me go, what are you doing?”

Hong Antong laughed aloud, he wrapped his right arm around her waist and let her go. He said, “White Dragon Envoy, you are short, you won’t be able to lift the enemy, but you can grab his ankle and pull him. Even if you cannot lift him up, with your dagger on his lower abdomen, the enemy won’t have any choice but surrender. And then you can kick the ‘shen zang’ [divine reservoir], ‘shen feng’ [divine seal], ‘bu lang’ [walkway/corridor] acupoints on the pit of his stomach several times, to guard against him retaliating.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “Yes, yes!” he said, “I must kick him.”

Hong Antong put his hands behind his back, letting the Madame seize him. Madame Hong picked the half broken door bolt and placed it on his neck. Hong Antong laughed and said, “The enemy is seizing my hands, naturally the main arteries on my wrists are being held, rendering my hands incapable. It’s hard to strike back. In this situation, it should have been best to use your leg …”

Before he even finished speaking, “Ah!” Madame Hong screamed. She laughed and let her hands go, and then leaped back. With a blushing face she said, “You must not teach a child to use such an obscene move.”

Hong Antong laughed and said, “What’s so obscene about the ‘Pulling-up Yin Kick’?” His face turned serious as he continued, “The genital is a vital point on a human body, it can be fatal when hit. All the prestigious schools and big sects often have this ‘Pulling-up Yin Kick’ move within their punching and kicking techniques. Shaolin Pai has it, Wudang Pai also has it; nothing unusual. It’s just that the enemy is behind you, both of your hands are under the enemy’s control, and there is a blade on your neck; your only choice is to use the ‘Pulling-up Yin Back Kick’.”

Speaking to this point, he paused for a moment before continuing, “But the enemy must have guarded against you using this move. As soon as he sees your leg moves, most likely he would chop your little head down first. Consequently, this ‘Pulling-up Yin Back Kick’ may be quite useless.”

He put his hands behind his back again and let Madame Hong held his wrists. Suddenly he bent all ten of his fingers, forming a half sphere, and then he threw his entire body backward, while all ten of his fingers grabbed Madame Hong’s breasts.

Madame Hong quickly stepped back, hence she was forced to release her grip. She spat and said, “What kind of hero’s move is this?”

Showing a faint smile, Hong Antong said, “The ‘ru zhong’ [breast center] and ‘ru gen’ [breast root] acupoints on human’s chest, doesn’t matter on men or women, are two fatal major acupoints. White Dragon Envoy, since the enemy can capture your hands behind your back, obviously his martial art skill is not weak; besides, most likely he has seized the acupoint on your wrists. But even if he did, it is not a big deal; as soon as he sees you making this move, he would involuntary step back. By the time he remembers that your hands do not have any strength, he is already one step too late. Madame, seize my hands again.”

Madame Hong took two steps forward and gently tapped the back of his hand, and then she reached out with her left hand to grab his wrists, while leaning her upper body backward to avoid his fingers from bumping against her chest.

“Watch carefully!” Hong Antong said. Again he threw his body backward, while his ten fingers made a fake move toward her chest. Madame Hong knew this grab was a fake move, but she still pulled back to evade. Hong Antong suddenly made a somersault, his body leaped backward, his legs parted, and he landed on her shoulder, while the thumbs of both hands pressing on her ‘tai yang’ [sun] acupoint [temples], index fingers pressing on her eyebrows, and middle fingers on her eyes. He said, “If I add a bit more strength to my middle fingers, I will poke the enemy’s eyes blind; if I add a bit more strength to my thumbs, the enemy will pass out. But I must guard against the enemy’s counterattack.”

He made another somersault in the air, and jumped more than a zhang backward. His right hand reached toward his calf, pretending to pull out the dagger. With the dagger pointing outward, left palm slanting up, he said, “If you poke the enemy’s eyes and blind him, the force with which he would use to throw you off must be incomparably formidable. You must guard against him trying to grab you firmly and won’t let you go.”

Wei Xiaobao saw that this move was really complicated, just like a team of clowns in the circus trying to provoke laughter, but it was very effective to dodge the enemy’s blade and hold the enemy’s vital points under control. He sighed and said, “This move is really good, but it is very difficult to learn.”

Hong Antong said, “Although I only teach you three moves, these moves contain qin na, acupoint sealing, and lightness, three types of martial art skill. If even one is not trained properly, these three moves cannot be used. Speaking about qin na, acupoint sealing, and lightness skills, each one needs ten years, eight years of training. But you only want to learn parts that are relevant to these three moves, it is a lot easier.”

Immediately he explained the position of the acupoints, the qin na technique, and how to exert strength to the legs in lightness skill. He told Wei Xiaobao to try it several times and corrected the mistakes one by one. Only Wei Xiaobao did not dare to ride on his neck, Hong Antong also did not tell him to try that move.

“Jiaozhu,” Madame Hong said, “My ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’ were taught to me by Shifu, in the past I had to undergo ‘a thousand hammer a hundred refinery’ before I got it right. Your ‘Heroes’ Three Moves’, on the other hand, seemingly appear out of nowhere, it was created at will, yet it is a lot more formidable than my ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’. I am not trying to flatter you on your face, but great scholar respected for learning and integrity, a martial art master with profound knowledge, is indeed worthy of other people’s admiration.”

Hong Antong cupped his fist and said with a laugh, “Madame’s erroneous praise, I really do not dare to accept.”

In the hall the previous day, seeing Hong Antong neither talked nor laughed, as if he was only a wooden puppet, in his heart Wei Xiaobao was holding him in utter contempt; he was already thinking, “An old man who look like a stupid blockhead, why is everybody so afraid of him?” But now that he had seen his true martial art skill, his mind was fixed and he had no doubt whatsoever that this man indeed deserved to be admired; he said, “Training a certain skill passed on by Shifu until it is completely mastered cannot be considered strange; Jiaozhu was just thinking about certain move and he is able to execute it casually just like that, now that can be considered unmatched in the world.”

“Why do you consider it unmatched in the world?” Madame Hong asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Even if the enemy’s skill was higher, Jiaozhu would simply use several new moves, the enemy would not recognize it, he would have no choice but to cry out loud ‘Surrender!'”

Hong Antong and Madame laughed aloud. One nodded slightly, the other one said, “That’s true.”

“Jiaozhu,” Madame Hong said, “My ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’ have three beauties’ names, your ‘Heroes’ Three Moves’ are very formidable, they should also have three big heroes’ names.”

Hong Antong smiled and said, “Alright, let me think. The first move is lifting up the enemy; that was Lintong lifting up Wu Zixu’s cauldron. Let’s call it ‘Zixu lifting up the cauldron’.”

Madame Hong said, “Good, Wu Zixu was a great hero.”

Hong Antong said, “The second move throws the enemy down and pull him up; that was Lu Zhishen felling and pulling the weeping willow, let’s call it ‘Lu reaching and pulling the willow’.”

“Very good,” Madame Hong said, “Lu Zhishen was a great hero. Although your third move was ingenious, it carries a little bit of scoundrel or loafer’s flavor, it does not seem to be too heroic …” Speaking to this point, she broke into a tender giggle.

Hong Antong laughed and said, “What do you mean not too heroic? What kind of move would you call ‘good’ then? Hmm, my two index fingers were resting on your eyebrows; that was ‘Zhang Chang drawing eyebrows’.”

Madame Hong laughed and said, “Zhang Chang was not a hero; it was his wife who drew his eyebrows. Would you call that a heroic move?”

Hong Antong laughed and said, “He was having fun in the lady’s chamber, and thus had his eyebrows drawn. Are you saying that by having his wife draw his eyebrows he was not a hero?” Madame Hong’s cheeks blushed deep red; she shook her head.

Wei Xiaobao did not know which historical character this Zhang Chang was, he thought that by having his eyebrows drawn by his wife, not only he was not a hero, he was simply a coward man who was afraid of his wife. He did not understand that Hong Antong was using expression from literature to tease his wife. “Jiaozhu,” he said, “In this third move you were riding on the enemy’s neck. There were so many great heroes who ride a horse. Guan Yunchang rode a scarlet rabbit horse, Qin Shubao rode a chestnut horse.”

Hong Antong laughed and said, “That’s right, but Guan Yunchang’s scarlet rabbit horse originally belonged to Lu Bu. Qin Qiong also sold his chestnut horse. Both are not too appropriate. I got it, in this move Di Qing was taming the steed [orig. ‘dragon colt’], a precious horse; let’s call it ‘Di Qing subduing the dragon’. The precious horse he was subduing was originally a dragon incarnated.”

Madame Hong clapped her hands, “Wonderful!” she said, “When Di Qing went into battle, he always wore bronze devil mask to frighten the barbarian troops that they screamed in terror and fled into the wilderness; naturally he was a great hero. It’s just that we are called Divine Dragon Cult …”

Hong Jiaozhu smiled and said, “It doesn’t matter. There will be time that even a dragon will be subdued by someone until he is docile.”

“Pei!” Madame Hong spat, her entire face blushed, her beautiful and glistening eyes were filled charm.

Immediately Wei Xiaobao practiced the ‘Beauties’ Three Moves’ and ‘Heroes’ Three Moves’ one by one. Whenever his technique or stance was incorrect, Hong Antong and Madame would give him more directions. These six moves were really ingenious; it was difficult for Wei Xiaobao to master it all at once. Hong Jiaozhu told him not to worry, he only needed to know the training technique, when the time came, he would master it by himself.

By the time the instruction was finished, it was already noon. Madame Hong was determined not to accept the dagger; she gave it back to Wei Xiaobao while saying, “You have not mastered the martial art skill, this time you are on mission for Jiaozhu, you must have this kind of sharp weapon to protect yourself.” And then she added, “White Dragon Envoy, in our Cult, other than myself, you are the only one who has received Jiaozhu’s personal instruction.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That is truly subordinate’s good fortune, which I cultivated over I don’t know how many incarnations.”

Madame Hong said, “By being loyal to Jiaozhu in handling this matter, you are repaying Jiaozhu’s benevolence.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“You may leave now,” Madame Hong said, “Early in the morning tomorrow, you go onboard the ship and leave with Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan; you don’t need to come here to say goodbye again.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He respectfully saluted the two people before turning around. When he reached the door, he turned his head and said, “Madame, if I live to be 80 years old, how about Jiaozhu and Madame teach me three more moves?”

Madame Hong was slightly startled, but she understood immediately that it was his way of well-wishing and praise. Right now he was only thirteen, fourteen years old, it would be sixty more years before he reached eighty, but Jiaozhu and she had long lives, which were the same as the heavens’, so it was only proper that they should live sixty more years. She giggled and said, “I promise you. On your eightieth birthday, Jiaozhu and I will teach you three more moves. When you reach the long life of a hundred years, we will teach you three more moves; it will be called ‘Old Shouxing’s three moves’[3], ‘Old Grandma’s three moves’.”

“No,” Wei Xiaobao said, “At that time, Madame will be as young and beautiful as today, most likely Madame and Jiaozhu will look a bit younger. The moves you teach me will be … will be … ‘Golden Boy’s three moves’, ‘Jade Maiden’s three moves’.” Hong Antong and Madame burst out in laughter.

Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan, two people, were sitting on a mountain rock outside the hall, they had been waiting for a long time, but all along did not see Wei Xiaobao coming out of the hall. They were puzzled and anxious, not knowing what kind of unforeseen event had happened. When they saw his smiling expression as he went out, they were relieved. They wanted to ask, but did not dare to ask. Wei Xiaobao explained, “Jiaozhu and Madame have taught me not a few of amazing martial art skills.”

Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan said together, “Congratulations White Dragon Envoy. In our Cult, other than Madame, Jiaozhu has never taught anybody one move or half a style.”

Feeling extremely smug, Wei Xiaobao said, “Jiaozhu and Madame also said the same thing.”

Lu Gaoxuan said, “White Dragon Envoy is fortunate to enjoy Jiaozhu’s favor, indeed it has never happened since our Cult was founded.” After casting a glance toward Fat Toutuo, he asked Wei Xiaobao, “Have Jiaozhu and Madame ever mentioned when they are going to bestow us the antidote of the ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’?”

Wei Xiaobao was surprised, “There is an antidote for this ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’?” he asked, “Are you saying … are you saying … this is a poison?”

“I can’t say that it is a poison,” Lu Gaoxuan replied, “Let us go home and talk in details.” He cast several glances toward the bamboo hall, his face revealed a cautious mixed with dread expression.

The three of them returned to the Lu family’s home. Seeing the Fat and Lu, two people’s gloomy expression, Wei Xiaobao grew suspicious; he asked, “Just what is actually this ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’? Is it poison, or is it miracle pill?”

Fat Toutuo sighed and said, “Whether it is a poison or a miracle pill, we’ll just have to wait and see! The lives of ours, three people, are entirely in the White Dragon Envoy’s hands.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Why?” he asked.

Fat Toutuo looked at Lu Gaoxuan, Lu Gaoxuan nodded his head, Fat Toutuo said, “White Dragon Envoy, when people are being polite to me, they call me Fat Zunzhe [Revered Monk]. When they are not being polite, they would call me Fat Toutuo. But I am this thin, the name completely does not reflect the reality. Don’t you think it is a bit strange?”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have been wondering for a while, I thought other people were just joking with you, so they call you that name. But Jiaozhu also calls you Fat Toutuo, the Senior can’t be joking with you.”

Fat Toutuo heaved a deep sigh; he said, “This is the second time I took the ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’; I am really hovering between life and death, until now I still often have nightmares about it. Originally I was very short and very fat. The name ‘Fat Toutuo’, three characters is a well deserved reputation.”

“Ah,” Wei Xiaobao said, “After taking the ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’ you turned tall and thin? That’s very good! Right now your appearance is grand, while previously you were short and fat, certainly it was not as good as now?”

With a bitter laugh Fat Toutuo said, “You got it right. But think about it: a short and fat guy, within three months my body was suddenly being stretched three chi, the skin on my entire body was dripping blood; do you think it feels good? If not my luck was good, finally I reached Divine Dragon Island, and Jiaozhu was showing me great mercy by giving me the antidote, I am afraid I would have grown two more chi.”

Wei Xiaobao was unable to restrain his amazement; he said, “The three of us have also taken this pill. For me to grow two more chi is not a big deal, but if you grow two more chi, you … you will be too tall.”

Fat Toutuo said, “The effect of this ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’ is really amazing, within one year after taking it, it can make the body strong and healthy; but if at the end of a year the antidote is not given, the violent side effect will flare up suddenly. Actually, it does not necessarily stretch human body. My Shige, Thin Toutuo was originally very tall, yet he suddenly became short. Originally he was thin, yet he swelled unbearably and turned into a completely fat person.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You, Fat Zunzhe has turned into Thin Zunzhe, the Thin Zunzhe has become Fat Zunzhe. If the two of you swap names, won’t all your problems disappear?”

An angry look appeared on Fat Toutuo’s face; he shook his head and said, “That won’t do.”

Wei Xiaobao promptly apologized, “I am sorry Fat Zunzhe, I was wrong; please do not get offended.”

Fat Toutuo said, “You are wielding the Five-Dragon Command, I am your subordinate, even if you beat me or curse me, I cannot revolt; much less you did not intentionally want to hurt me. My Shixiong and I have substantially different temperament, character, appearance and voice, just by swapping the name ‘Thin’ and ‘Fat’ will not change Fat Zunzhe into Thin Zunzhe, and change Thin Zunzhe into Fat Zunzhe.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded his head and said, “So that’s what happened.”

Fat Toutuo continued, “Five years ago, Jiaozhu sent Shige and I on a mission. That mission was very ‘thorny’; by the time we finished it, we were already three days overdue. Immediately we embarked the boat and returned to the Island. On the boat the medicine suddenly flared up, the suffering was very difficult to bear. Shige‘s temperament was very violent, his anger flared and in his madness, he kicked and broke the mast of the boat. The ship then drifted on the sea. Day by day passed, I grew taller and taller, and thinner and thinner; he grew shorter and shorter, and fatter and fatter. This ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’ can stretch a short and fat person tall and slim, and press a tall and thin person short and fat; Hong Jiaozhu indeed has an extremely vast magical power. We were drifting like that for more than two months, at that time it was hard to say if the two of us would survive. We have finished eating the provision on the boat, we have killed the helmsman and the sailors one by one and ate them. By a struck of sheer luck we came across another boat, and were saved. We forced that boat to take us to the Divine Dragon Island immediately. Jiaozhu knew we finished the mission properly and did not tarry deliberately; thereupon he bestowed us with the antidote. It could be said that our two lives have just been snatched back.”

The more Wei Xiaobao heard, the more he was alarmed; turning his head toward Lu Gaoxuan, he saw his expression was serious, so he knew Fat Toutuo was not lying. He said, “In that case, we have to obtain those eight copies of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ and return to the Divine Dragon Island within one year?”

Lu Gaoxuan said, “If we can obtain all eight copies of the Sutra, nothing can’t be better; but isn’t it easier said than done? As long as we manage to get one or two copies and hurry back, naturally Jiaozhu will bestow the antidote.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I have six copies in my hand, when I really have to alternative, what’s so difficult to part with one or two copies to give to Jiaozhu?” Immediately he felt relieved and said with a laugh, “If Jiaozhu does not give us the antidote this time, maybe we, the young will become old, the old will become young. I will turn into a seventy, eighty years old man, the two of you will turn into little babies; won’t that be very interesting?”

Lu Gaoxuan’s body trembled; he said, “That … that’s absolutely must not happen.” His voice was filled with terror. He continued, “I have single-mindedly pondered over this, most probably the ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’ was made of leopard fetus, deer fetus, the placenta, seal kidney, and other important supplement and rare drug ingredients to induce growth, mixed and refined together. The drug property is obviously to reverse the original body’s characteristic. I am guessing that when Jiaozhu manufactured this drug, his intention was to recover human’s youthful vigor, but when he tested it on someone else, the effect did not exactly follow his heart’s desires; therefore … therefore …”

Wei Xiaobao picked up, “Therefore, Jiaozhu did not personally take the drug, but use it on his subordinates.”

Lu Gaoxuan hastily said, “This is only my wild guess, it must not be considered as the truth. I am asking White Dragon Envoy never to raise this topic again.”

“The two of you may set your hearts at ease,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I guarantee that Jiaozhu will definitely give us the antidote. Please sit down, I have something to say to Miss Fang.” He saw Mu Jianping the other day, hence he was eager to tell Fang Yi.

Lu Gaoxuan said, “Madame Hong has already summoned Miss Fang, she says White Dragon Envoy not to worry, as long as you wholeheartedly handle this matter for Jiaozhu, Miss Fang will only have good things on the island.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Miss … Miss Fang is not coming with us?” he asked.

“Madame Hong has already sent someone to fetch her,” Lu Gaoxuan said, “She left a message to my wife and that’s what she told her. Besides, that Mu Jianping, Miss Mu of the Scarlet Dragon Gate is in the same situation.”

Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, just a moment ago he told Priest Wugen that he wanted to select several people from the Scarlet Dragon Gate to go with him, naturally he had Mu Jianping in his mind; who would have thought that Madame Hong had already anticipated this? With a trembling voice he asked, “Madame … Madame does not trust me?”

“This is our Cult’s rule,” Lu Gaoxuan replied, “Those who receive orders from Jiaozhu to go out on mission cannot take his family.”

With a forced laugh Wei Xiaobao said, “Those two Misses are not my family.”

“More or less, they are,” Lu Gaoxuan said.

Actually, Wei Xiaobao was thinking that the next day he would leave the Island with Fang and Mu, two women, and was so happy; but this instant he could not help but feeling dispirited. He mused, “Jiaozhu and Madame are indeed formidable, tying the ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’ on my head[4] is not enough, they still hold my first and young wives hostage.”

Early morning the following day, Wei Xiaobao had just woke up when he heard the sound of bugle horn, a lot of people were calling out from outside the door, “The White Dragon Gate disciples respectfully send off Zhangmenshi on his journey, to handle matters for Jiaozhu wholeheartedly.” This shout was followed by the sound of drums, string instruments and bamboo flutes.

Wei Xiaobao rushed out the door and saw about three, four hundred people were lining up outside the door. They all wore white clothes, young and old alike. Everybody shouted in chorus, “Zhangmenshi will win victory on raising the flag, will have instant success!”

After that, several dozen Cult members wearing blue clothes also came to send off their acting Zhangmenshi, Fat Toutuo.

Wei Xiaobao’s spirit rose, immediately he felt invigorated. Together with Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan, they board the ship. While he was exchanging salute with Priest Wugen, Zhang Danyue, Yin Jin, and the others who had earlier to bid them farewell, suddenly he heard the sound of hoof beats, two riders galloped toward the boat. The two riders were wearing white clothes, surprisingly, they were Fang Yi and Mu Jianping, two women. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, his heart was thumping madly as he mused, “Could it be that Madame has changed her mind and let them go with me?”

Fang and Mu, two women dismounted their horses and took several steps forward. In a loud and clear voice Fang Yi said, “We received Jiaozhu and Madame’s order to send White Dragon Zhangmenshi off on his journey.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart sank, “They are only sending me off,” he thought.

Fang Yi bowed and said, “Subordinates Fang Yi and Mu Jianping received order from Madame to transfer from the Scarlet Dragon Gate to White Dragon Gate, we are ready to receive White Dragon Envoy’s order.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, but then he suddenly saw the light, “Turns out you … you have been Shen Long Jiao’s member under the Scarlet Dragon Gate. Along the way you were only pretending on Jiaozhu’s order to deceive me into coming to the Divine Dragon Island. Fat Revered Monk failed to invite me, you came to invite me using a gentle method.” Thinking about it, he was very upset; originally he wanted to say some intimate words with those two women, but now he lost interest completely. Suddenly he remembered something and said to Lu Gaoxuan, “Mr. Lu, that servant girl who attend to me, Shuang’er, send someone to get her, I want take her along in this journey.”

“This …” Lu Gaoxuan said.

Wei Xiaobao was angry, he shouted, “What ‘this’ or ‘that’? Get her, now!”

He shouted in a stern voice, Lu Gaoxuan did not dare to disobey. “Yes, yes!” he replied, and turned and said something to the attendant onboard the boat. The attendant leaped on shore and dashed away. Not too long afterwards, he saw two riders rushed rapidly over. The one on the front had a petite and slender figure, she was none other than Shuang’er.

Without pulling the reins, she called out, “Gongzi!” and leaped away from the saddle, lightly and deftly landed on the bow of the boat. In the eyes of Priest Wugen and the other martial art experts, there was nothing extraordinary with this kind of qing gong [lightness skill], but noticing that she was very young, yet her posture was very pleasing to the eye, they all cheered.

At first, when Wei Xiaobao knew the boat was about to sail, he was afraid that Shuang’er had already fallen into some evil people’s hands, and thus he was very anxious; although her martial art skill was strong, she was a young child after all. Not only that, she was gentle and refined by nature, and did not understand the way of the world. On the sea-going ship, she had nowhere to go, and would definitely get the worst of it. Moreover, realizing that Fang Yi was actually a Divine Dragon Cult’s disciple, he suddenly also realized that the boat with which they came to the island naturally belonged to the Cult. Now that he saw Shuang’er, he was very happy. He pulled her hands, but saw that her countenance looked wan and sallow, her eyes red and swollen, obviously she had been crying a lot. “Did they bully you?” he hastily asked.

“No, they … they didn’t,” Shuang’er replied, “I was only worrying about Xianggong. They … they locked me up.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said, “We are going home.”

Shuang’er said, “In here … there are a lot of poisonous snakes,” while saying that, “Wah!” Shuang’er burst into tears again.

Wei Xiaobao cast a glance toward Fang Yi; he remembered she led him walk into the forest and let him be bitten by the vipers. A good deal of artificial gestures, all kinds of sweet speech and honeyed words on the boat, everything was a hypocrisy; he could not help but was furious. Casting a hateful glance toward Fang Yi, he said, “Set sail!”

Aboard, the sailors weighed the anchor; ashore, the firecrackers went off, the people sending off their masters chorused, “Respectfully wishing White Dragon Envoy to win victory on raising the flag, to have instant success and will set up great merit for Jiaozhu!”

Taking advantage of the fair wind, the boat hoisted its sail and slowly left the Island. Everybody on the shore shouted, “With Jiaozhu’s treasured teaching always in our hearts …”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I did not know Miss Fang had already entered the Cult, I would have missed her all the time. This way, I have nothing to worry about her.” Yet when he recalled Fang Yi’s touching tender sentiments, he could not stop his heart from feeling melancholy.

He thought further, “How could those two enter Shen Long Jiao? It’s very strange. Ah, right, they were captured by Zhang Laosan and his men, Young Mistress Zhuang said she sent people to rescue them, apparently they failed, consequently they were forced to join Shen Long Jiao. Xiao Junzhu has taken Jiaozhu’s poison, it’s only natural that Miss Fang has also taken the poison. Um, if Miss Fang did not obey, she did not want to deceive me into coming to Divine Dragon Island, the poison in her will flare up and she die. Indeed she had no choice, so I can’t blame her. It’s just that this little mother’s skin [小娘皮 – see Chapter 10] was putting on an act and deceived her husband without spending any effort at all; she is not a good person! Damn it, in the end, what is Shen Long Jiao up to? Although laozi has become the White Dragon Envoy, I am completely in the dark!”

Thinking that it was all because of Zhang Laosan, he mused, “I wonder which gate does this old fellow belong to? When in the future Laozi is back on the Divine Dragon Island, I will have him transferred to the White Dragon Gate, then I will have this old fellow’s buttocks flogged three hundred times every day.” He also thought, “I wonder if Zhang Laosan is on the Island? Most likely he does not dare to report to Jiaozhu that I am Xiao Guizi; otherwise, when Jiaozhu heard that he had already caught such an important person but then let him go, Jiaozhu would have chopped his head. He is an old fellow, not a pretty boy [lit. ‘little white face’], which Jiaozhu and Madame are going to kill anyway. If they found out that he had violated such matter, wouldn’t he be killed like, seventeen, eighteen times already? That’s right, Fat Toutuo did not dare to expose my trickery, Zhang Laosan also did not dare to expose my fraud[5]. There is one thing I do not understand, Madame loves ‘little white face’, that’s not so strange, but why does Jiaozhu also love them?” [Translator’s note: the part about ‘little white face’ does not exist in the 3rd edition]

[1] I have difficulty translating this. A ‘men’ (lit. gate) can be translated as ‘school (of thought), (religious) sect, family, or house’, ‘zhangmen’ is the head of a sect. I believe it was translated as ‘headmaster, chief or sect leader’ before; however, the ‘shi’ at the end means ‘envoy’ or ‘messenger’, as in ‘left or right emissary’ in the Ming Cult. Therefore, ‘zhangmenshi’ literally means ’emissary of the sect leader’. However, since Divine Dragon Cult is technically a ‘sect’, and Black Dragon in this case is a ‘sect’ within a Cult, I find the term ’emissary of the sect leader’ is not technically accurate.

[2] Orig. ‘not knowing to whom the deer falls’. See also Chapter 1.

[3] Shouxing is the god of longevity.

[4] The original word means ‘ring’. What came into my mind was Sun Wukong’s headband from Journey to the West. (From Wikipedia: Guanyin understood that the monkey would be hard to control, and therefore gave Xuanzang a gift from the Buddha: a magical headband which, once Sun Wukong was tricked into putting it on, could never be removed. With a special chant, the band would tighten and cause unbearable pain to the monkey’s head. To be fair, she also gave Sun Wukong three special hairs, which could be used in dire emergencies. Under Xuanzang’s supervision, Sun Wukong was allowed to journey to the West.) Please bear in mind that this is only my impression, not in Jin Yong’s original text.

[5] There is a play of words here, the original says, ‘Fat Toutuo … trickery [西洋镜 – xi yang jing, literally means ‘western world mirror’], Zhang Laosan … fraud [东洋镜 – dong yang jing, lit. ‘eastern world mirror’]’.

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