The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 26-30

Chapter 26 Grass and trees join Man and Heaven’s white bones, fortresses and mountains along the Pass fill the eyes with the red of the setting sun.

The next day the three of them continued their journey southwards, while asking people along the way of Ah Qi’s whereabouts. During the trip Wei Xiaobao was very attentive in attending the two women’s needs. Although in his heart he was dying to seduce Ah Ke, yet he did not dare to show the least bit of frivolity. He thought that if the nun in white found out about his real intention, he would be in a really deep trouble. Ah Ke had never had a single nice word to say to him, often times she took advantage of when the nun in white was not looking to punch or kick him to vent her anger. To Wei Xiaobao, as long he could be with her, the joy in his heart would be unspeakable, occasionally he simply endured everything; when the punch came, he received it with his body, when the kick arrived, he received it with his buttocks. When he lay down in his bed at night, he would quietly reflect on her kick and her punch, and the delight in his heart was inexhaustible.

One day they arrived in Cangzhou [prefecture level city, Hebei]. The three of them lodged in a small family inn. Early in the morning the next day, Wei Xiaobao went out to the street to buy fresh vegetables, which he wanted to give to the innkeeper to be cooked for the nun in white’s breakfast. Excitedly he hurried back from the street carrying two catties of Chinese cabbage [bok choi], half a catty of ‘rotten skin’ [tofu skin, courtesy of CFT], two catties of kuomo [Saint George’s mushroom/Tricholoma mongplicum], and saw Ah Ke was standing at the inn’s door gazing idly outside. Immediately he came over to her with a smile, he took out a package of rose pine-nut candy from his pocket and said, “I bought a package of candy for you at the street. I did not expect a small town like this would have such a good candy.”

Ah Ke did not accept it, she shot him a malicious look and said, “The candy you buy is stinky, I don’t want to eat.”

“Just take one and try it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The taste is really not bad.” He had noticed early on that Ah Ke loved to nibble snacks, it’s just that the nun in white did not have extra money to give to her as incidental expenses; occasionally she purchased a small packet of sugared beans, which she ate with delight; therefore, he bought a packet of candy to make her happy.

Ah Ke received it and said, “Shifu is meditating in her room, I feel so stifled. I wonder if there is any good scenery around here, a secluded place where no one is around. I want you to come with me.”

Wei Xiaobao could not believe his own ears; immediately the blood in his entire body was boiling, his face was flushed, “You … you are not going to wrong me?” he asked.

“What do I wrong you for?” Ah Ke replied, “If you don’t want to come with me, I’ll just go alone.” Finished speaking, she walked toward a small lane to the east.

“I am coming, I am coming,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why would I not willing to come? Even if Miss wants me to go through water and tread on fire, I won’t knit my eyebrows.” And hastily he ran after her.

The two of them went out of the small town, Ah Ke pointed to a small hill several li to the east and said, “Playing over yonder won’t be too bad.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said. The two of them followed the mountain path to go to the top of the hill. The hill was densely packed with pine trees, indeed it was secluded and no one else was to be seen, but the scenery was nothing to look at. Yet at this moment, in Wei Xiaobao’s eyes even the ugliest scenery between the heaven and the earth would be extraordinarily amazing; much less that he did not have any taste in differentiating any good or bad scenery anyway. Immediately he raved, “The scenery is incomparably beautiful.”

Ah Ke said, “What’s so good about it? There are only rocks and trees crowded together. It’s so ugly.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The scenery is not so good.”

“Why did you say that scenery here is incomparably beautiful?” Ah Ke asked.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “The scenery is originally not so good, but your beauty shines on it, it becomes incomparably beautiful. This hill does not have any flower, but your appearance in more beautiful than ten thousand fresh flowers. This hill does not have any bird singing, but your voice is a lot more pleasant to the ears than a thousand black-nape orioles singing together.”

“Humph,” Ah Ke snorted, “I want you to come here not to listen to you babbling nonsense, but to tell you to get away from me immediately, the farther the better. From now on, I don’t want you to see my face ever again. If you do, I will definitely dig your eyeballs out.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart immediately sank, with a dejected expression he said, “Miss, I will never dare to offend you anymore, please forgive me.”

“I have already forgiven you,” Ah Ke said, “By not taking your life today, I am forgiving you.” While saying that, ‘shua!’ she pulled the willow-leaf saber from her waist, and continued, “When you are with me, your heart always harbor bad thoughts toward me, do you think I did not know it? You humiliate me like this, I … I’d rather have Shifu punish me by flogging me a thousand times, ten thousand times, but I simply must kill you.”

Seeing the flickering saber and her staunch personality, Wei Xiaobao knew she was not uttering empty words. “Shitai asked me to help her find Miss Ah Qi,” he said, “After she is found, I will not follow you anymore.”

Ah Ke shook her head and said, “No you won’t! We’ll find her without your help. Even if we can’t find her, my Shijie is not a three-year-old girl, do you think she cannot go home by herself?” Raising her saber high, she brandished it in the air, creating ‘whoosh, whoosh’ sound, and sternly said, “If you don’t leave, don’t blame me for being heartless!”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “You have always treated me heartlessly anyway, it’s not a big deal.”

Ah Ke was furious; she shouted, “Up to this moment you still dare to speak nonsense to me?” Jumping forward, she raised the saber to chop on the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly shocked; hastily he leaped to evade. Ah Ke shouted, “Are you leaving or not?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Even if you cut me into ten thousand pieces, and turn me into a ghost, I will still follow you.”

Ah Ke was raging mad; she raised her saber and attacked ‘Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!’ three times. Luckily she had already used these moves at the Bo’re Hall of Shaolin Temple, Monk Cheng Guan had figured out the technique to neutralize them. Wei Xiaobao had received the instruction, and therefore, he was able to evade one by one.

Failing to chop Wei Xiaobao, Ah Ke was growing angrier and angrier, she brandished her willow-leaf saber more and more viciously. Several moves later, Wei Xiaobao found it to be more and more difficult to evade; he had no choice but to draw his dagger. ‘Dang!’ her willow-leaf saber was cut into two pieces. Ah Ke was angry and shocked at the same time; she brandished the lower half of her saber furiously, trying to hack down his head.

Seeing her saber suddenly turned short, Wei Xiaobao did not dare to use his dagger to defend himself; his martial art skill was mediocre, if he did not restrain himself and carelessly waving his dagger around, the sharp blade only had to scrape her body a little bit, her life would be gone just like that. Consequently, after evading several times, he did not have any choice but to run away down the hill.

Ah Ke chased him off, brandishing her broken saber and calling out, “Just go away as far as possible from me, I won’t kill you.” However, seeing that he was running toward the small town, she was greatly anxious, “If this little evil-doer is complaining to Shifu, I will be in trouble,” she thought. Therefore, hastily she urged herself to run after him, trying to intercept him. But the nun in white only taught her some martial art stances and styles; she had never passed on the internal energy cultivation technique. Therefore, her internal energy was not too different [orig. ‘half a catty eight taels’ or ‘half a pound eight ounces’] from Wei Xiaobao’s; from beginning to the end she was unable to catch up with him, and saw that he was rushing into the inn. She was so anxious that she almost broke into crying; thinking, “If Shifu blames me, I will tell her everything he said to me, how he harassed me and took liberties with me.” With a raised broken saber, she slowly entered the inn.

As soon as she set foot into the inn, she felt a burst of amazingly strong force like a gust of gale coming out from the door against her, instantly pulling her off her feet and throwing her three steps back, and she fell sitting down on the ground.

Ah Ke felt that she was landing on a soft object, actually she sat on someone’s body. Hurriedly she wanted to stand up, but when she reached back to prop herself, her right hand landed on the person’s face. In that difficult situation she did not have time to consider her option; she continued pressing down to push herself up. Only after standing up did she turn around to look, and realized that the person was none other than Wei Xiaobao.

She was shocked, and harshly shouted, “What are you d …” Before she could finish, however, her knees went weak, she was unable to stand and fell down toward Wei Xiaobao. This time, however, she fell face down. “No, No …” she cried out in fear, but it was too late; she landed on Wei Xiaobao’s bosom. Her eyes met with his, the distance between them was no more than a few cun.

Ah Ke panicked; she was afraid this little vile creature would take the opportunity to kiss her; she struggled as hard as she could to stand up quickly, but somehow her entire body was devoid of any strength. She had no choice but look away from him and anxiously said, “Quickly help me up.”

“I don’t have any strength either,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “What shall we do?” With this ‘thousand-time cute a hundred-time charming’ beautiful woman leaning against him, his heart was so delighted that he felt he was going to go crazy. He said in his heart, “Forget that I do not have any strength, if right now I have ten-thousand-catty strength within me, I won’t help you up for sure. You were the one who throw yourself on me, how can you blame me?”

Ah Ke anxiously said, “Shifu is being besieged by the enemy, quickly think of something to help her.” Turns out when she entered the door just now, she saw the nun in white was sitting cross-legged on the floor, her right hand was sending out palm strikes, her left sleeve was flicking away in her effort to resist the enemy. As for who the enemy was, she did not see it clearly; she only knew that the enemy was more than one person. She was about to look when the strong gust of wind from the internal energy battle inside the room threw her out.

Wei Xiaobao actually arrived several steps before she did, but he was met with the same fate as she did; he was just about to step across the threshold when the strong wind threw him backward and he fell to the ground. Ah Ke was also rushing in and happened to fall onto his body. Although Wei Xiaobao fell down quite hard that his buttocks were very painful, plus when Ah Ke fell from the air, she was crushing his chest and abdomen and hurt him very much, but in his heart he was exceedingly happy, he was wishing that this beautiful woman would lie down on his bosom forever, and would not stand up again. As for the nun in white was fighting with what kind of enemy, he did not give it the least bit of care; he expected her skill was so divine that even more formidable enemy would not be able to do anything to her.

Ah Ke used her right hand to prop herself against Wei Xiaobao’s chest; slowly she straightened her back, took a deep breath, and finally she was able to stand up. “Why are you lying in here?” she said in an annoyed voice, “You wanted to trip me?” She was fully aware that Wei Xiaobao met the same fate as she did, he had no control over himself, but she was simply too embarrassed just now, hence she could not help but lashing it out on him.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I knew you were going to fall on the ground, so I should have crawled three chi away. No, three chi is not enough; if I only crawled three chi away, then I would lie side by side with you, it won’t look too good.”

Ah Ke spat, but she was more concerned over her Shifu, so she turned her gaze toward the room. She saw the nun in white was still sitting on the floor, striking with her palm and flicking her sleeve to repulse the enemy. In a glance she could see that altogether there were five enemies besieging her, they all wore red lama clothes, each one moved extremely fast, sending palm strikes and punches, but the nun in white’s palm power held them off, forcing them away so that their backs were pressed tightly against the wooden partition and were unable to get close to her.

Ah Ke took a step closer, she wanted to see if there was anybody else other than these five people, but as she took a step forward, she felt strong gust of wind pressing her body that she was unable to breathe easily. She had no choice but to withdraw two steps back, kicked Wei Xiaobao and said, “Hey, aren’t you going to stand up? Look at the enemy; do you know their background?”

Wei Xiaobao reached back to support himself against the wall. He stood up and looked into the room, he said, “Those six lamas are all bad people.” He was standing to Ah Ke’s side, hence he was able to see one more Lama.

“Rubbish!” Ah Ke said, “Naturally they are bad people; do I need you to tell me that?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “They are not necessarily bad people. Take me for example: I am clearly a good person, yet you keep saying that I am a bad person. These six lamas have the audacity to attack Shitai, they are a lot worse than I am.”

Ah Ke glanced sideways at him. “Humph,” she snorted, “I’ll say you are one of them; you brought these six lamas to harm Shifu.”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I have a deep respect toward Shitai, I revere her just like I revere the Bodhisattva; I have deep respect toward Miss, just like I respect the deities, why would I want to harm you?”

Ah Ke looked inside with rapt attention; suddenly she cried out in alarm. Wei Xiaobao looked into the room, he saw all six lamas now had jiedao [Buddhist knife] in their hands, ready to pounce and make a kill, but the power of nun in white’s sleeve and the wind from her palm held them at bay so that they were unable to get closer. However, the top of the nun in white’s head emitted a thin streak of white steam; apparently she was using all her strength.

With only one arm she had to fight a life and death fight against six fully armed lamas; if this battle continued, perhaps it would be difficult for her to withstand the enemy. Wei Xiaobao wanted to go forward and help her, but he realized his own martial art skill was almost non-existent; he could not even step over the door, if he crawled in, inevitably he would distract the nun in white, and then instead of helping her, he would bring her harm. In his angst, he suddenly saw a broom leaning against the corner of the wall; immediately he picked it up and positioned himself by the door. Stretching out the broom, he poked it randomly at a lama’s face, hoping that he would distract his attention, so that his internal energy might not be pure anymore, then the nun in white’s palm power might be able to shake him dead.

The broom was barely stretched out, he heard a shout, the broom handle in his hand suddenly felt lighter because the head of the broom was truncated by the lama, followed by the strong wind as the head of the broom flew out of the room, brushing the side of his face, creating several thin lines of blood that felt hot and painful.

Ah Ke anxiously said, “You are just making trouble, that … that won’t work.”

Wei Xiaobao was leaning against the wooden partition, he felt continuous vibration, as if all around the inn, the wooden partitions were about to be knocked down by the wind of the sabers and the power of the palm. Suddenly he had an idea; after looking clearly the six lamas’ position, he walked toward the back of the lama who cut off his broom, pulled out his dagger, and thrust it through the wooden partition.

The dagger was incomparably sharp, the wooden partition was less than a cun thick, as the dagger went in, it penetrated the wood as if it was a piece of tofu [bean curd], and straight into the lama’s back. The lama cried out loudly, his body went limp, he slid slowly along the wooden partition, until finally he sat on the floor.

Hearing the cry, Wei Xiaobao knew he had succeeded. Walking toward the second lama’s back, he thrust his dagger again. In a flash he had killed four lamas in succession. The blade of the dagger was short, as it was thrust on the lamas’ bodies, it did not go through to the front of the torso. As each lama fell sitting down, nobody in that room knew how they actually died.

The other two lamas were greatly shocked, they scrambled toward the door, trying to escape. The nun in white leaped with her palm extended, striking the back of a lama, sending a jolt through his body that he spurted a mouthful of blood and died instantly. With a brush of her left sleeve the nun in white blocked the other lama, and then as swift as the wind the finger of her right hand sealed five acupoints on the lama’s body. The lama fell and lay paralyzed on the floor, unable to move a single step.

The nun in white kicked the bodies of the four lamas, and saw the blade wound on their backs, she also noticed the holes on the wooden partition, and immediately understood what had happened. She turned toward the immobilized lama and shouted, “You … who are you …?” Suddenly her body swayed and she fell sitting down, spurting blood from her mouth.

Those six lamas were martial art masters; by fighting one against six, she had exhausted her internal energy. By brushing her sleeve to block and striking the last lama down, she had used up the last ounce of her strength that she was unable to stand anymore.

Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao were greatly alarmed; they rushed forward to support her. “Shifu, Shifu!” Ah Ke repeatedly called out.

The nun in white’s breathing was very weak, she closed her eyes and did not say anything. When Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke, two people lifted her up onto the kang [heatable brick bed], she vomited another mouthful of blood. In her panic, Ah Ke’s limbs turned weak; she could only burst into tears.

As soon as they saw the fight, the innkeeper, the waiters, and the others went into hiding far away. Now that the sound of fighting had ceased, they came back and stuck their heads out and looked around. Seeing blood all over the floor and dead bodies scattered around, they all cried out in fear. Wei Xiaobao picked two jiedao with both hands and shouted, “What are you crying for? Quickly shut your beaks, otherwise I’ll give you each one chop and kill you all.”

Seeing the flickering jiedao, they were frightened and repeatedly said ‘yes, yes’. Wei Xiaobao took out three ingots of silver, worth five taels each, and gave them to a shop attendant and shouted, “Quickly hire two large carriages; the other five taels is for you.” The shop attendant was startled but happy; he dashed out and was back almost immediately with two hired carriages.

Wei Xiaobao took out forty more taels and handed it over to the innkeeper; he said in a loud voice, “These six wicked lamas fought with each other; you kill me, I kill you. All of you have seen it with your own eyes, haven’t you?” How could the innkeeper dare to say ‘no’? He could only nodded. Wei Xiaobao said, “This forty taels is for the room and board.”

Together with Ah Ke, they lifted the nun in white onto a large carriage. He also took the quilt from the kang to cover her. Furthermore, he ordered the shop attendants to lift the lama whose acupoints were sealed onto the other carriage. Wei Xiaobao said to Ah Ke, “You go with Shifu, I’ll go with him.”

They boarded the carriages. Wei Xiaobao ordered the driver to follow the main road going south. He thought, “Shitai is seriously injured, if those lamas attack again, it will be terrible. We must find a remote place for Shitai to recover from her injury.” For fear that the lama’s acupoints would be opened, while he was not his match, he fetch a roll of rope and tightly bound his hands and feet.

After traveling for about the li, Ah Ke suddenly shouted, “Stop!” She leaped down from her carriage and rushed toward Wei Xiaobao’s; with an extremely frightened expression she said, “Shifu’s breathing is getting weaker and weaker; I am afraid … I am afraid …”

Wei Xiaobao was startled; hastily he stepped down the carriage to take a look. The nun in white’s breathing was very weak and shallow. Ah Ke cried and said, “If only we had miracle drug. We’d better find a doctor quickly; it’s just that this place …”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly remembered that the Empress Dowager had given him thirty pills called ‘snow ginseng jade toad pill’ or something like that, which was part of the tribute from the King of Korea; she said that the pills would make one’s body strong and healthy, it would neutralize poison and heal injuries, its efficacy was out of the ordinary. Of those thirty pills, he was supposed to give twenty two to Cult Leader and Madame Hong. Immediately he took out the jade bottle from his pocket and said, “Actually, I have miracle drug to heal injuries here with me.”

Taking out two pills, he fed the pills into the nun in white’s mouth. Ah Ke took the water gourd and helped Shifu drink two mouthful. Wei Xiaobao seized that opportunity to sit in the nun in white’s carriage, sitting face to face with Ah Ke; he said, “I don’t know what will happen after Shitai take the drug; I must keep watch over her all the time.” He ordered both carriages to continue their journey.

After the time needed to drink a cup of tea later, the nun in white suddenly took a very deep breath, and slowly opened her eyes. Ah Ke was greatly delighted. “Shifu,” she called out, “Do you feel better?” The nun in white nodded her head.

Wei Xiaobao busily took out two more pills and said, “Shitai, these pills are effective, take two more.”

The nun in white slightly shook her head and said in a low voice, “Today … it’s enough … I must circulate my chi to convert the drug’s power … Stop … stop the carriage.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said; he ordered the carriages to stop. The nun in white instructed Ah Ke to help her get up. Sitting cross-legged, she closed her eyes and circulated her strength. While Ah Ke could not take her eyes off her master, Wei Xiaobao could not take his eyes off her. He saw that at first there was a worried expression on her face, but gradually her graceful eyebrows began to relax, her eyes started to shine.

Another moment passed, a smile began to form on the corners of her mouth. Wei Xiaobao did not need to look at the nun in white to know that her effort to circulate her strength to heal her body had given its desired effect. A few moments later, he saw Ah Ke’s expression was growing happier and happier. Wei Xiaobao thought, “If only there was no Shitai in this carriage, only me and this little beauty, two people, plus her expression always looks this happy, I can really die happy.”

Suddenly Ah Ke looked up and saw him staring blankly at her; immediately her cheeks blushed. She wanted to scold him, but was afraid she might agitate Shifu and disturb her internal energy cultivation; hence the word was already at the tip of her tongue, but she swallowed it back, and only hatefully shot a malicious look at him. Wei Xiaobao smiled at her. Following her gaze, he looked at the nun in white, and notice that her breathing was even.

The nun in white blew out a mouthful of air, and opened her eyes. “We can continue,” she said in a low voice.

“Resting for a bit longer is not a big deal,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“No need,” the nun in white said.

Wei Xiaobao took out five taels and gave the money to the drivers, telling them to continue the journey. At that time, hiring a large carriage only cost a qian and a half a day. Seeing how generous he was with the money, the two carriage drivers were overjoyed; they expressed their thanks repeatedly.

The nun in white slowly said, “Xiaobao, what kind of medicine did you give me?”

“It’s called ‘snow ginseng jade toad pill’,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “It was the tribute of the King of Korea to the young emperor.”

A delighted expression flashed on the nun in white’s face; she said, “Snow ginseng and jade toad are two miracle drugs with great healing power; they can almost raise people from the dead. Who would have thought that unexpectedly I could come across it? My life is not meant to be cut short yet.” After suffering such a heavy injury, unexpectedly by this time her voice was very steady, there was no hint of her internal power was lacking.

Ah Ke happily asked, “Shifu, are you, Senior, completely healed?”

“I won’t die,” the nun in white replied.

“I still have twenty-eight more here,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Shitai may take and use them all.” While saying that, he handed over the jade bottle.

The nun in white did not accept, she said, “At most I only need two or three more pills, that will be enough. I have no use for that many.”

Wei Xiaobao was generous by nature, he thought, “What’s so big of a deal if you take all thirty pills? The old wh0re must have some more over there.” So he said, “Shitai, your body is important, since these pills are beneficial to you, next time I see the young emperor, I will just ask him some more.” And he pushed the jade bottle into her hand. The nun in white nodded, but she still gave the bottle back to him.

After traveling for some time, the nun in white said, “Find a secluded place and tell the drivers to stop; we need to question that lama.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied. He ordered the carriages to enter a valley, and told the drivers to get the lama to the ground. He also told them to have the mule grazing at the back of the mountain. “If you do not hear me call, don’t come over here,” he said. The drivers complied and pulled the mules away.

The nun in white said, “You question him.”

Wei Xiaobao pulled the dagger, ‘swish!’ he cut a strip of tree branch, and easily pared the small twigs that shortly thereafter the tree branch turned into a stick. “Laoxiong [old chap],” he said, would you like to be a human stick?”

The lama could see that the dagger was very sharp, hence he was already frightened. “May I ask Xiaoye [little master], what do you mean by a human stick?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I’ll have your arms cut off; your ears, your nose will also be scraped, anything that is sticking out of your body will be pared flat, that’s a human stick. It’s very fun, do you want to try?” While saying that, he waved his dagger several times in front of the lama’s nose.

“No, no,” the lama said, “Xiaoseng [little monk] does not want to be a human stick.”

“I am not lying to you,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s very fun, there is no harm in you being one this time.”

“I am afraid it’s not fun,” the lama said.

“You have not been one, how do you know it’s not fun?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s try it first, then we’ll talk later.” While saying that, he ran the dagger back and forth on the lama’s shoulder.

“Xiaoye, please spare my life,” the lama begged, “Xiaoseng was too brazen to offend Shitai; I should not have done that.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I ask you a question, you give me an answer; if you give me even half a sentence of lie, I will immediately make you a human stick. I will plant you here, put some manure on you, and water you some; perhaps after ten days or half a month, you will grow some arms, ears and nose.”

“No, no,” the lama said, “Xiaoseng will definitely give you honest answers.”

“What’s your name?” Wei Xiaobao started, “Why did you offend Shitai?”

The lama said, “Xiaoseng’s name is Hubayin, a Tibetan Lama. I received our Da Shixiong [first martial (older) brother] Sangjie’s order to … to capture this Shitai alive.”

Wei Xiaobao remembered that he had heard the name Sangjie on Mount Wutai. He asked, “This Shitai is perfectly all right, she has never offended your stinky Shixiong; why did you take such a brazenly rash action?”

“Da Shixiong says that our Living Buddha has eight copies of treasured sutra, which this Shitai stole … no, not steal, she borrowed,” Hubayin said, “We want to ask her to return it.”

“What treasured sutra?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“It’s Cha Yan Gu Tu Wu Sutra,” Hubayin replied.

“Rubbish,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What Ji Li Gu Lu Wu sutra?”

“Yes, yes,” Hubayin said, “It’s in our Tibetan language. In Chinese tongue, it is called ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “How did you stinky Shixiong know that Shitai has taken the ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’?”

“I really don’t know,” Hubayin replied.

“You don’t know?” Wei Xiaobao said, “What good is your tongue then? Stick it out.” While saying that, he raised his dagger.

How could Hubayin dare to stick his tongue out? He begged, “Xiaoseng really does not know.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your stinky Shixiong is in Tibet, how could he send you out so quickly?”

Hubayin said, “Da Shixiong and some of us were originally in Beijing, so we pursued from Beijing to this place.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, he understood what had happened, “Naturally it was the old wh0re who sent them the news.” He asked, “From your stinky lama companions this time, how many have higher, or almost the same, martial art skill?”

Hubayin said, “This time there are thirteen of us, martial brothers, Shitai has killed five, there are eight people left.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly alarmed. “What do you mean ‘eight’?” he shouted, “Can you still be considered one of them? Sooner or later you’ll be a human stick.”

Hubayin said, “Xiaoye has promised not to make Xiaoseng a human stick.”

“Those remaining seven human sticks,” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Where are they now?”

Hubayin said, “Our Da Shixiong’s skill is very superior, he won’t change into a human stick.”

Wei Xiaobao kicked the small of his back heavily while cursing, “Stinky thief, death is at hand, you still dare to blow your horn really loud. Even if your stinky shixiong’s skill was higher, I will still make him into a human stick and show it to you.”

“Yes, yes,” Hubayin said; but it was obvious from his expression that he thought otherwise.

Wei Xiaobao continued the interrogation for quite a long time, but no longer gained any useful information, thereupon he returned to the large carriage, put the carriage screen down, and in a low voice passed on what Hubayin had said. He added, “Shitai, there are still seven lamas left. If all of them catch up with us at the same time, they won’t be easy to deal with. Normally Shitai won’t have any problem, but right now you are not feeling very well …”

The nun in white shook her head and said, “Even if I were well without any injury, I would have a hard time fighting one against six, much less they have their Da Shixiong, whose martial art skill far surpasses his fellow disciples of the same generation. I heard Sangjie is the number one martial art expert of the Tibetan Tantra; his ‘Big Hand Print Divine Skill’ has been trained to almost perfection.”

“I have an idea,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that … it’s just that Shitai’s prestige would be lowered too much.”

The nun in white sighed and said, “What prestige there is left to be said for those who have left home? What’s your idea?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “We go to a remote place, find a peasant family home to temporarily hide. I am asking Shitai to change into peasant woman’s attire, and sleep on the bed to heal your injury. Miss Ah Ke and I will change into peasant girl and boy’s clothing, we can pose as … as Shitai’s son and daughter.”

The nun in white shook her head. Ah Ke said, “You are bad, your idea is naturally bad. Shifu is a martial art master of the present age, how could she hide? Won’t that mean she is scared of others?”

The nun in white said, “We can follow your idea. The two of you can be my nephew and niece.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, while saying in his heart, “It would be best if we can be your nephew and nephew’s wife.”

Ah Ke shot him a malicious look; she was really unhappy Shifu had accepted his idea.

Wei Xiaobao said, “If we leave this lama’s mouth alive, I am afraid he might reveal our secret; we’d better bury him alive here, so we won’t leave any trace.”

The nun in white said, “When I fought them earlier, I was already acting against my will, it was hard for me to accept it in my heart. This lama is powerless to defend himself, to kill him would inevitably be too vicious. However … however, we can’t let him go either. We’ll have to take him for the time being, and think about another plan later.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He called the drivers, told them to get Hubayin back onto the carriage, and ordered them to continue the journey.

Along the way, they actually did not see any peasant homes; afraid that Sangjie would catch up, they were thinking that as soon as they saw a small path, they would make a detour. However, all the side roads along the way were simply too narrow for a large carriage to pass.

While continuing along the main road, suddenly they heard sound of hooves from behind; several dozens of riders were galloping toward them. Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “Doomed, we are doomed! Turns out there are dozens of stinky lamas.” He ordered the carriages to run faster. The two drivers urged their mules verbally and with their whips, but the pursuing riders were getting closer and closer; not too long afterwards, they were already behind the carriages.

Wei Xiaobao took a peek from a crack on the wooden partition of the carriage’s compartment, immediately he heaved a deep sigh of relief; turned out these several dozen riders were men wearing dark green clothes, they were not lamas at all. In no time at all the riders passed swiftly by the side of the carriages, and soon afterwards they were already ahead of the carriages.

Ah Ke suddenly called out, “Zheng … Zheng Gongzi!” [young master]

One of the riders immediately reined in his horse and waited on the side. When the carriage caught up, he rode alongside the carriage. “Is it Miss Chen?” he called out.

“That’s right,” Ah Ke replied, “It’s me.” She sounded very happy.

The rider raised his voice, “It’s a surprise to see you here. Are you with Miss Wang?”

“No, I am not,” Ah Ke replied, “My Shijie is not here.”

“Are you going to Hejian Prefecture?” the rider asked, “We can travel together.”

“No,” Ah Ke replied, “We are not going to Hejian Prefecture.”

The rider said, “Hejian Prefecture is very exciting, you should go.”

While they were talking, the carriages and the horses were still proceeding forward. Wei Xiaobao saw Ah Ke’s cheeks were blushing, her eyes were shining, she looked so happy, as if she was seeing the closest person to her in the world. In that instant, Wei Xiaobao felt as if his heart was heavily struck by a large hammer, again and again. He thought, “Could it be that her sweetheart has arrived?” He said in a low voice, “Finding shelter is more important, don’t talk to someone who has nothing to do with us.”

But Ah Ke did not seem to hear him; she asked, “What’s so exciting about Hejian Prefecture?”

“Don’t you know?” the man said. The carriage’s screen was lifted up, a face looked in.

The man had a handsome face, he was about twenty-three, twenty-four years of age, he looked delighted when he said, “There will be a ‘Turtle-slaying Assembly’ at Hejian Prefecture, all heroes and warriors under the heavens will participate; it’s going to be very exciting.”

“What is a ‘Turtle-slaying Assembly’?” Ah Ke asked, “Are you going to kill a big turtle? What’s so exciting about that?”

The man laughed and said, “We are going to kill a big turtle alright, but not a real turtle, it’s a big criminal. His name has a ‘turtle’ character [gui] in it.”

Ah Ke laughed, “How can someone use a ‘turtle’ character in his name?” she asked, “You must be joking.”

The man laughed. “It’s not the ‘gui’ character of ‘wu gui’ [turtle/tortoise],” he said, “The characters sound alike, it’s the ‘gui’ character of ‘gui hua’ [cassia/laurel flower]; why don’t you guess who’s that person?”

Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright; he mused, “Someone with the ‘gui’ character of ‘gui hua’ in his name; are they going to kill me, Xiao Guizi?”

But he heard Ah Ke clapped her hands and said with a laugh, “I know it! It’s the big traitor to China, Wu Sangui.”

The man laughed and said, “Exactly. You are so smart, just one guess and you got it.”

“Have you captured Wu Sangui?” Ah Ke asked.

“That, we have not,” the man replied, “But we are going to discuss how we are going to kill that big traitor to China.”

Wei Xiaobao let out a breath; he thought, “So that’s it. Come to think about it, I, Xiao Guizi, am a little child, they can’t possibly want to kill me. Even if they did, they won’t need any ‘Turtle-slaying assembly’. Damn it, even in posing as someone else, laozi can be considered as having a bad luck; why did I impersonate someone with a ‘gui’ character in his name?”

He saw that the man was looking at Ah Ke with a smile on his face, yet the sound of hoof and the carriage did not stop at all. The man was riding a horse, but he leaned over and looked into the carriage; indeed he had an extremely fine horsemanship.

Ah Ke turned toward the nun in white and said in a low voice, “Shifu, are we going or not?”

Although the nun in white’s martial art was very high, she lacked the ability to adapt to changes. She had frequently hoped to participate and had heard about Wulin heroes jointly discussing the plan to kill Wu Sangui. However, Sangjie and the other lamas might catch up with them very soon, the situation was very urgent. After hesitating for a short moment, she asked Wei Xiaobao, “What do you think?”

Seeing Ah Ke’s expression and mannerism toward the young man, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was filled with unspeakable hatred, he simply did not want to let Ah Ke be together with him; thereupon he hastily said, “When those wicked lamas arrived, we won’t be able to deal with them. We’d better get away from them as quickly as possible.”

“What wicked lamas?” the young man asked.

“Zheng Gongzi,” Ah Ke said, “This is my Shifu, we ran into a group of wicked lamas on our journey, they injured my Shifu. She, the Senior, received a serious injury. There are seven other lamas pursuing behind us.”

“Yes!” the young man said. Turning around, he let out several whistles; the group of riders halted, the two large carriages also stopped. The young man leaped down from the horseback, rolled up the carriage’s screen, bowed and said, “Junior Zheng Keshuang pays his respect to Senior.” The nun in white nodded.

Zheng Keshuang said, “Please don’t worry about seven or eight lamas, junior will take care of them, just leave it to us.”

Ah Ke was pleasantly surprised, but was also a bit worried; she said, “Those wicked lamas are very formidable.”

Zheng Keshuang said, “These companions I brought with me are all highly skilled in martial art, we can handle it. Not to mention we can fight them many against a few, even if we have to fight them one-on-one, we have nothing to be afraid of those seven, eight lamas.”

Ah Ke turned her head toward her Shifu with a questioning look; actually, it was more like hoping than asking.

“That won’t work,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Shitai whose martial art skill is this profound still received injury; what good are twenty-something people like you?”

Ah Ke angrily said, “I did not ask you, why do you talk too much?”

“I am concerned about Shitai’s wellbeing,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Ah Ke said, “You are scared of death, yet still say that you are concerned about Shifu. You are a little evil person, all you can do is evil thing, how can you possibly have any good intention?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This man surnamed Zheng, is his skill great? Is he stronger than Shitai?”

Ah Ke said, “He brings more than twenty men, each one is exceptionally skillful in martial arts. Are you saying that these more than twenty men are afraid of seven lamas?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “How do you know each one of these men is exceptionally skillful in martial arts? I’ll say they all have low and weak martial art skill.”

“Of course I do,” Ah Ke said, “I have seen them in action; each one of them is equal to a hundred of you.”

The nun in white was deep in thought without saying anything; Wei Xiaobao wanted her to dress as a peasant woman to hide from the lamas. This matter had already been decided, but it was actually against her deepest wish. To have these two children know about it was not a big deal, but in front of these twenty, thirty Jianghu warriors, she would rather die than letting them know that she was going to assume a disguise to avoid disaster. She slowly said, “Those lama took me, one person, by surprise. Zheng Gongzi, thank you for your good intention. Please lead the way.”

“Why would Shitai say such thing?” Zheng Keshuang said, “When the road is rough, we must pull our blades to help each other. Much less … much less Shitai is Miss Chen’s Shifu, for junior to spend a tiny effort is not a burden at all.”

Ah Ke blushed and bowed her head, but she seemed to be very pleased.

The nun in white nodded and said, “Very well, in that case we will go to Hejian Prefecture together to take a look. But you don’t need to mention me to other people. My natural disposition is indolent, I don’t like meeting other people.”

“Yes, yes,” Zheng Keshuang happily said, “Junior will respectfully obey Senior’s instruction.”

The nun in white said, “Which school Zheng Gongzi belong to? Who is your revered master?” Asking about the school he learned his martial art from, was the same as examining his martial art skill.

Zheng Keshuang said, “Junior has received martial art instruction from three Shifu. The teacher who has awakened me from ignorance was surnamed Shi, a martial art expert from Wu Yi Pai[1]. The second Shifu was surnamed Liu, a martial art master, lay person disciple from Shaolin Temple, Putian Prefecture, Fujian.”

“Um, what is that Liu Shifu’s great name?” the nun in white asked.

Zheng Keshuang replied, “His name is Liu Guoxuan.”

Hearing him blurting his Shifu’s name without any respect, the nun in white felt a bit strange. Immediately she remembered someone, she said, “Isn’t that the same name of the Great General Liu of Taiwan?”

Zheng Keshuang said, “He is precisely the provincial governor Liu Guoxuan, Great General Liu under the Yanping Junwang[2] of Taiwan’s banner.”

“So Zheng Gongzi belongs to Yanping Junwang’s family?” the nun in white asked.

“Junior is Yanping Junwang’s second son,” Zheng Keshuang replied.

The nun in white nodded. “So you are the descendant of loyal subjects.”

Zheng Chenggong [Koxinga] seized Taiwan from the Dutch. King Gui bestowed the title ‘Yanping Jun Wang’, and allowed him to recruit great generals. Zheng Chenggong passed away in the fifth month of Yongli’s sixteenth year (i.e. Kangxi’s first year). In the meantime, his heir apparent Zheng Jing was guarding Jinmen and Xiamen, while Zheng Chenggong’s younger brother Zheng Xi was in command over Taiwan. Zheng Jing led Zhou Guanbin, Chen Jinnan, and other generals with their troops back to Taiwan to support Zheng Xi’s army and established the position Yanping Junwang.

Counting from Zheng Chenggong’s father Zheng Zhilong, Zheng Jing’s oldest son Kezang [? – can’t even find it in the dictionary], and second son Keshuang were the fourth generation of the Zheng family. For generations Yanping Junwang has unyieldingly been using their military power to resist the Manchurian Qing, alone across the sea, just like when they first received the order from the Great Ming; no man with vision under the heavens did not highly esteem them. When Zheng Keshuang revealed his status, he presumed that this nun would definitely feel deep veneration toward him; who would have thought that this nun in white was only nodding her head and said one sentence, ‘So you are the descendant of loyal subjects’, and said nothing else? He did not know that the nun in white was the Emperor Chongzhen’s Princess. His Shifu Liu Guoxuan was his father’s subordinate, hence he did not hold him in such a high regards. Yet in the nun in white’s eyes, Zheng Jing was no more than a ‘loyal subject’.

In his heart Wei Xiaobao did not stop cursing, “Damn it, what’s so special about it? What’s so amazing about Yanping Junwang anyway?” Actually, he knew very well that Yanping Junwang was a great man; his Shifu Chen Jinnan was Yanping Junwang’s subordinate. The more he thought about it, the more he knew that the turn of events was far from good. He saw Zheng Keshuang’s expression, which showed clear interest in Ah Ke; he was someone in command of powerful army, the magnificent son of a Junwang who really reigned over a region, even the Mu Palace people who wandered destitute in Jianghu could not be compared to them. Moreover, this man’s appearance was ten times more elegant than Wei Xiaobao, his style of conversation was a hundred times more sophisticated, his age was also a lot older. Granted that his martial art skill was still unknown, it seems that if it was not ten times superior than his own, it must be at least seven, eight times.

Ah Ke admired him whole-heartedly, even a blind person could see that. If her Shifu found out that Wei Xiaobao was vying over Ah Ke with this young master Zheng, even without the young master Zheng’s bidding, perhaps she would send a palm strike to kill him herself. Shitai had also praised him as a ‘descendant of loyal subjects’, whose descendant was Wei Xiaobao anyway? He was nothing more than a descendant of a prostitute.

The nun in white cast a glance toward Zheng Keshuang and slowly asked, “Then your first Shifu was Shi Lang, who surrendered to the Manchurian Qing?”

“Yes,” Zheng Keshuang replied, “This man is without any sense of shame and has forgotten righteousness, junior has long ago not regarded him as my Shifu. If we ever see each other in the battlefield, I will definitely kill him with my own hand.” His voice was vehement and full of righteous indignation.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Turns out your Shifu has surrendered to the Tatars. I must pay attention when I see this Shi Lang next time.”

Zheng Keshuang continued, “For the last ten years or so, junior has been training under Feng Shifu. He is Kunlun Pai’s number one martial art master; he is known as the ‘One Sword Without Blood’. I presume Shitai has heard about him.”

The nun in white said, “Um, that must be Feng Xifan, Feng Shifu. Only I did not know the origin of his nickname.”

Zheng Keshuang said, “While it’s true that Feng Shifu’s swordsmanship is extremely high, his qigong[3] is especially superb. With the tip of his sword he sealed people’s death acupoint, the victim’s skin was not harmed, he died without shedding any blood.”

“Oh,” the nun in white said, “In the present age, the number of people who have trained their qigong to this state, able to use sharp object instead of blunt, is not too many. How old is Feng Shifu, approximately?”

Zheng Keshuang was very proud when he said, “Come winter this year, junior will arrange a fiftieth birthday banquet.”

The nun in white nodded. “He is not even fifty yet, his internal energy has already reached this ‘pure’ state, it is indeed very rare,” she said.

After a short pause, she asked, “Those attendants of yours, are their martial art skills acceptable?”

“Shitai, don’t worry,” Zheng Keshuang said, “They are martial art masters, handpicked among the guards in junior’s palace.”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly said, “Shitai, actually, how many martial art masters are there in the world? This Zheng Gongzi’s first Shifu was a foreign school’s martial art master, his second Shifu was Fujian Shaolin Pai’s martial art master, his third Shifu is Kunlun Pai’s martial art master, the attendants he brought along are all martial art masters, presumably he is also a martial art master.”

Hearing his sarcastic remark, Zheng Keshuang was angry; however, he did not know this kid’s background. He only saw that the kid was traveling in the same carriage with the nun in white and Ah Ke, presumably he was related to them somehow; thereupon he strived to repress his anger.

Ah Ke said, “As the saying goes, ‘Great Teacher will produce Brilliant Student’; since Zheng Gongzi has had three great teachers training him, naturally his martial art skill is superb.”

“What Miss has said is very true,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have not seen Zheng Gongzi’s martial art; therefore, I have inquired thoughtlessly. If Miss is compared to Zheng Gongzi, I wonder whose martial art is a bit stronger?”

Ah Ke cast a quick glance toward Zheng Keshuang and said, “Naturally he is a lot stronger than me.”

Zheng Keshuang laughed and said, “Miss is too modest.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You said that ‘Great Teacher will produce Brilliant Student’, so your martial art skill is not high because your Shifu is a ‘low hand’[4], an obscure master, a far inferior master compared to Zheng Gongzi’s three great martial art master teachers.” In term of debate, how could Ah Ke be his match? With just one sentence he was able to turn the table around.

Ah Ke’s entire little face turned beet red as she hastily said, “I … when did I say that Shifu was a ‘low hand’, an obscure master? You are the one who speak nonsense here.”

The nun in white smiled and said, “Ah Ke, you will never win a squabble against Xiaobao. Let us go.” The large carriage lowered its curtain, the vehicles and horses continued their journey westward. Zheng Keshuang rode his horse alongside the large carriage.

The nun in white asked Ah Ke in a low voice, “This Zheng Gongzi, how did you know him?”

Ah Ke blushed as she replied, “Shijie and I met him at Henan’s Kaifeng Prefecture. That time … that time we were dressed as men, he thought we were men, hence at the restaurant he invited us to come over and drink some wine.”

“You have quite a nerve, huh?” the nun in white said, “Two big girls going to the restaurant to drink wine.”

Ah Ke lowered her head. “We did not drink the wine for real,” she said, “We only pretending to; it was fun.”

“Miss Ah Ke,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You have such a beautiful appearance, even when you are wearing men’s clothes, anybody could see that you are a beautiful girl. I think that Zheng Gongzi was harboring a malicious intention.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “You are the one who harbors malicious intention! We dressed as men, he did not suspect us the least bit. Afterwards Shijie told him, and he apologized repeatedly. Other people are refined and courteous gentlemen, unlike you …”

Shortly before noon the party reached Feng’er Zhuang [‘zhuang’ means village], a large town in western Hebei. They all stopped for lunch in a restaurant. Wei Xiaobao stepped down the carriage, and noticed that Zheng Keshuang was a tall and handsome, straight and impressive looking man, at least half a head taller than Wei Xiaobao; he could not help but feeling inferior even more. He also noticed his luxurious clothes and ornaments, the sheathe of the sword hanging on his waist was inlaid with pearls, jades and precious stones, which sparkled brilliantly under the sun. From among the twenty-some men accompanying him, some were tall and sturdy, some looked energetic, heroic, tall and straight. They all carried sabers and swords, each one of them looked completely spirited.

As they entered the restaurant, Ah Ke wiped the table where the nun in white was going to sit before she took a seat next to her. Hence she and Zheng Keshuang were sitting on adjacent tables to keep each other company. Wei Xiaobao was about to sit down on a table opposite the nun in white, Ah Ke shot him a malicious look and said, “There are plenty of seats over there, can you not sit over here? When I see you, I can’t eat my meal.”

Wei Xiaobao was furious, instantly his entire face turned deep red; he thought, “With this Zheng Gongzi accompanying you, you will be able to eat several more bowls. Damn it, I hope you, this ‘little mother skin’ [小娘皮 – xiao niang pi] will die of bloating.”

“Ah Ke,” the nun in white said, “Why are you always that rude to Xiaobao?”

Ah Ke replied, “He is a bad person who won’t shrink from any crime. Shifu said I must not kill him, otherwise …” Speaking to this point, she shot another malicious look toward him.

In his heart Wei Xiaobao was bitterly angry, he walked away toward a table at the corner of the hall; he thought, “You are bent on marrying this damned stinky Zheng Gongzi and be his wife; how can I, Wei Xiaobao, be willing to give up easily? You want to kill me? It won’t be easy. Laozi will come up with a scheme: I will kill the husband in your mind first, so you won’t have anybody to marry, you will be a widow first, in the end you will have no choice but to marry laozi. Laozi will not consider you a widow to be remarried, you are but a ‘little mother skin’!”

The waiters delivered the meals, the attendants of the Zheng Family immediately wolfed down their food. Wei Xiaobao took seven, eight steamed buns to feed Hubayin, who was still tied on the carriage. He felt that this Hubayin was more amiable than those men from the Zheng family. Returning to his own table, he looked across several tables and saw Ah Ke’s face was glowing, as she was chatting and laughing with Zheng Keshuang, seemingly very intimate with him. Wei Xiaobao was so angry that he nearly choked, “Killing this Zheng Gongzi is not going to be easy,” he pondered, “I must not leave the least bit of trace; otherwise if Ah Ke knew it was me who killed him, she would definitely kill her own husband to avenge this ‘male adulterer’.”

Suddenly they heard hooves beat, several people on horses were rushing into the town. They dismounted and walked into the inn, they were precisely seven lamas. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was pounding, but there was a little bit of delight in his heart, thinking that other people would soon meet misfortune. He thought, “That Zheng Gongzi was tooting his horn really hard just now, saying that he had trained under three martial art masters. Let them have a big fight, laozi will watch with folded arms; it’s going to be wonderful!”

As soon as those seven lamas saw the nun in white, their countenance changed greatly, and they broke into some mumbling and grunting among themselves. One of them, a tall and thin lama spoke several sentences, he seemed to be issuing some order. The seven of them sat around a table nearby the door, and then they called for food. Each one was staring at the nun in white with angry expression. The nun in white acted as if she did not see anything, she kept on eating her meal slowly.

A moment later, a lama stood up and walked toward the nun in white. “Bald nun,” he said in a loud voice, “Did you kill several companions of ours?”

Zheng Keshuang stood up and in a clear voice said, “What do you think you are doing? Making a big fuss in here and acting very rude?”

The lama angrily said, “What kind of ‘thing’ are you? We are talking to this nun, it has nothing to do with you. Get lost!”

There were several ‘whoosh, whoosh’ noise as four of Zheng Keshuang’s subordinates leaped over, trying to arrest the lama. The lama raised his right hand to block two men; his leg flew out and kicked an attendant, sending him rolling out of the inn’s door, and then he sent a punch straight ahead toward the bridge of another attendant’s nose, hitting him so hard that the attendant fainted immediately.

The rest of the attendants shouted, “Let’s go together!” Taking out their weapons, they charged toward the lama.

The other five lamas also pulled their jiedao and rushed forward to meet the attack, only the thin and tall lama sat motionless on his chair. In an instant the dining hall was full of ‘bing, bing, bang, bang’ noise; the sound of fighting was very loud. At the start of the fight, the restaurant workers and the other diners ran out of the restaurant. Zheng Keshuang and Ah Ke pulled their swords and stood in front of the nun in white. In the dining hall the bowls and cups were flying everywhere, the tables and chairs were thrashed. Each lama fought four or five of Zheng Mansion’s guards.

Suddenly there was a ‘whoosh’ sound, a single-blade saber flew upward and landed on the beam. Wei Xiaobao looked up, white light flashed, two more sabers flew up and stuck to the beam. And then three, four more swords also flew up. The Zheng Mansion’s guards cried out in alarm one after another as they leaped sideways and back to evade, without any weapon in their hands. A series of whooshing noise was heard, one by one their weapons flew up; they all stuck onto the beam and the rafters, and did not fall back down. Only some steel whips, iron cudgels, and other heavy weapons flew through the roof and landed on the roof tiles outside.

In less than the time needed to burn half of an incense stick, more than twenty Zheng Mansion’s guards had lost their weapons. Wei Xiaobao was startled, but delighted as well; in fact, his delight was several degrees higher than his astonishment.

The lamas shouted, “Quickly kneel down and surrender; if you are one step late, all your melon heads will be chopped down.”

Although their weapons were gone, the Zheng Mansion’s guards did not lose their courage; either barehanded or lifted up benches as their weapons, they charged toward the six lamas again. The six lamas yelled, waved their sabers and tossed them away. ‘Pop!’ all six jiedao landed on the table in front of the tall and thin lama, neatly forming a circle. And then all six of them charged into the crowd. Cries of ‘Aiyo, aiyo’ were heard, mixed with unending ‘crack, crack!’ as just in a short time more than twenty men had their thighbones broken; they all fell down on the ground, scattered around the dining hall.

By this time the fear in Wei Xiaobao’s heart had surpassed his delight; he groaned in his heart, “Very soon they are going to give Shitai and us, pretty people, some trouble; what should we do?”

The six lamas put their palms together while mumbling and grunting; apparently they were chanting some sutra. They returned to their table, pulled their jiedao, and hang them on their waists. The tall and thin lama called out, “Wine! Bring the wine out!”

After he called several times, the restaurant workers looked from the distant, how could the dare to come over? A lama cursed, “Damn it, if you don’t bring food and wine, we’ll burn down your ‘black inn’.”

As soon as the innkeeper heard that they were going to burn the inn, he replied, “Yes, yes! Food and wine will be served immediately. Quickly get the food and wine for these Buddha masters.”

Wei Xiaobao looked at the nun in white, he wanted to know how she was going to deal with this situation. But he only saw her with a cup of tea in her right hand, slowly sipping the tea; her sleeve did not move at all, her face looked indifferent. Ah Ke, on the other hand, was deathly pale, with terror in her eyes. Zheng Keshuang’s face alternated between deep green and white, his hand on the hilt of his sword, his arm trembled continuously, not knowing what to do, whether he should go forward and attack or not.

The tall and thin lama let out a cold laugh, stood up and walked toward Zheng Keshuang. Zheng Keshuang jumped sideways to evade, while pointing his sword to the lama and shouted, “You … you … what do you want?” Not only his voice was hoarse, it was trembling too.

The lama said, “We have some business with this nun, it has nothing to do with other people. Are you her disciple?”

“I am not,” Zheng Keshuang replied.

“Very well!” the lama said, “Be sensible, get out quickly.”

“Sire … who are you, Sire?” Zheng Keshuang asked, “Please leave behind your ‘ten-thousand’ name, someday … someday I will …”

The lama tossed his head back and let out a long laugh. Wei Xiaobao’s ears were buzzing, immediately he felt dizzy and light-headed. Ah Ke was unable to stand, she sat down on the stool and bent her head over the table.

The lama laughed and said, “My name in religion is Sangjie, the Great Dharma Protector of the Tibetan Dalai Lama Living Buddha. Someday you will what? You want to find me for revenge, don’t you?”

The hair on Zheng Keshuang’s head stood up; he said with a trembling voice, “Ex … exactly!”

Sangjie laughed aloud. His left sleeve brushed toward Zheng Keshuang’s face. Zheng Keshuang raised his sword to block. Sangjie flicked the middle finger of his right hand, ‘Clang!’ the sword flew up and stuck on the beam. Sangjie’s left hand grabbed the back of Zheng Keshuang’s neck, lifted him up, and threw him heavily onto the wooden bench. He laughed and said, “Sit down!”

As the back of Zheng Keshuang’s neck was grabbed by Sangjie, his ‘da zhui’ [big spine] acupoint was sealed; it was the meeting point of the three yang passages of the hands and feet, consequently, his entire body was paralyzed. Sangjie let out a ‘hey, hey’ cold laugh before returning to his table and sat down.

“What are they waiting for?” Wei Xiaobao mused, “Why don’t they fight Shitai? Are they waiting for other helpers?” Looking around the dining hall, he noticed that all four walls were made of bricks, he could not use the same trick again, i.e. using his dagger to stab the enemies from behind wooden partition. Suddenly he remembered Hubayin, who was still on the large carriage outside. “Bad!” he thought, “As soon as they rescue Hubayin, they would immediately know that Shitai and I are of the same group; perhaps they will also find out that those four lamas were killed by me. If that happens, perhaps it would be difficult for Wei Xiaobao to go directly to the underworld to be together with the four lamas, I am most afraid they would trim me into a human stick first; after all, it was my idea.”

Thinking that they would seize his dagger and trim him into a human stick, he could not restrain the hair on his body from standing on its end. Turning his head to look at Sangjie, he noticed that there was a hint of anxiety, restless feeling on Sangjie’s serious expression. Suddenly it dawned on him, “Ah, right! He did not know Shitai is seriously injured; he is scared of Shitai’s superb martial art. Right now he is still not sure how to make his move.”

In the meantime the waiter was delivering the food and wine. He poured half a bowl in front of each lama, and his pot was already empty. A lama slapped the table and cursed, “This little bit of wine is not enough for one Buddha master alone to drink.” The waiter was already shaking all over, right now he was even more terrified; he turned around to fetch some wine.

Wei Xiaobao had a sudden inspiration; he followed into the kitchen. He was a small kid, nobody paid him any attention. He saw the waiter took a ladle to fill the wine pot from a big earthen jar. His hand was shaking so bad that he splash wine on the ground, on the table and around the earthen jar. In fact, the area around the wine pot was wet with wine. Wei Xiaobao took out a small ingot of silver and handed it to him, saying, “Don’t be afraid. This is to pay for my food, you may keep the change. Let me help you pouring the wine.” While saying that, he took the ladle away from his hand.

The waiter was overjoyed at this unexpected good fortune; he had never expected that there was such a good person in the world. Wei Xiaobao said, “Those lamas are very vicious; go take a look: what are they doing now?” The waiter complied; he walked toward the kitchen door and peeked into the dining hall.

Wei Xiaobao took a package of knock-out drug from his bosom, opened the paper wrapper, and shook everything into the wine pot; and then he raised the pot several times while giving it a vigorous shaking. The waiter turned around and said, “They are drinking, they are not … not doing anything!”

Wei Xiaobao handed over the wine pot to him, saying, “Get it quick, they are hot-tempered, don’t let them burn this inn for real.”

The waiter did not stop thanking him; with both hands he received the pot and brought it out, while his mouth was still muttering, “Thank you very much, thank you very much, ay, such a good person, may Bodhisattva bless him.”

The lamas snatched the wine out and poured half a bowl each. “Not enough,” they shouted, “Get more wine!”

Wei Xiaobao saw the seven lamas did not suspect anything, they drank the drugged wine clean; he was greatly delighted and mused, “These stinky lamas are so proud of their superior martial art that they do not even guard against this little bit of shallow Jianghu trick; it is really laughable.”

He did not realize that Sangjie and the other had seen the violent death of their five companions with their own eyes, one of them died with all his ribs, front and back, broken from a palm strike. They knew that an enemy with such a very high level of martial art skill was really rare. Sangjie speculated that if he had to fight this person, most probably he would be defeated. In the inn he saw that the nun in white remained calm and composed throughout, which was indeed the manner of an expert. All seven of them had their attention focused at her every move; they were fully on-guard against a martial art expert, whose skill had reached the great heights of achievement, how could they still divide their attention to guard against such a lowly trick involving some knock-out drug? Although their mouths were drinking the wine, actually they were completely oblivious of its taste. Recalling the circumstances around the tragic death of their five martial brothers, their hearts were already trembling with fear. If there was no nun in white calmly sitting in front of them in the inn, with such a large quantity of knock-out drug in the wine, as soon as it entered their mouths, they would not necessarily not taste the difference.

One of the lamas, a plump one, was a lecher. As soon as he saw Ah Ke’s beauty, he had already indulged the idea of stepping forward and run his hands and feet all over her body. It’s just that he was scared of the nun in white that he did not dare to be rude. But as the first half a bowl of wine entered his belly, he lost all self-control; and then a moment later, the drugged wine also flared-up, his mind turned murky, he did not have any care anymore. Standing up, he giggled and said, “Little Miss, are you married?” Stretching out his big hand, he caressed Ah Ke’s cheek.

Ah Ke was so frightened that her body shook. “You … you …” she said, while brandishing her saber in a chopping movement.

The lama reached out and grabbed her wrist; with a simple twist the saber in Ah Ke’s hand fell to the ground. The lama laughed aloud and pulled her into his embrace. Ah Ke screamed and struggled with everything she had; but the lama’s bulky arms were like a pair of iron hoops, tightly encircled her body, how could she struggle to free herself?

The nun in white originally looked calm and composed, but this time her countenance also underwent a great change; she thought, “It’s not a big deal if this wicked lama killed me, but if he is being rude in public like this, even if I died, I won’t die with closed eyes.”

With both hand Zheng Keshuang propped himself against the table; he stood up and called out, “You … you …” The big fat lama sent a straight left punch. ‘Bang!’ he sent Zheng Keshuang rolling on the floor, twice.

Seeing his beloved was being humiliated, Wei Xiaobao was very anxious, “Why haven’t the drug showed its effect? Could it be that these stinky lamas have some kind of strange skill that they are impervious of knock-out drugs?”

Seeing the lama puckered his lips and randomly kissed and sniffed Ah Ke’s face, he could no longer care about the danger; concealing the dagger in his sleeve, he stepped forward with a giggle. “Big monk,” he said with a laugh, “What are you doing?” His right hand slapped the left side of the lama’s back, he flipped his wrist and thrust the dagger from within his sleeve into the lama’s heart. “Big monk,” he said with a laugh, “What kind of trick are you playing?” Hastily he stepped sideway to the left to guard against a counterattack.

The dagger was incomparably sharp, it entered the flesh without any noise; it cut through the lama’s body straight into his heart, which immediately stopped beating, and thus he stopped moving altogether, but his hands are still holding on to Ah Ke. Ah Ke did not know that he had already died; she was still screaming in fear.

Wei Xiaobao stepped forward and pried open the lama’s arms, he pushed the lama’s chest while saying in a low voice, “Ah Ke, quickly follow me.” With one hand pulling her hand, with the other hand he helped the nun in white, together they walked out of the restaurant.

As soon as the big fat lama left Ah Ke’s body, he slowly slid down. The rest of the lamas were shocked; they rushed forward together. Wei Xiaobao called out, “Halt! My Shifu’s divine skill is fantastic. This lama was impolite, she punished him with death. Whoever takes a step forward will be put to death immediately.”

The lamas were stunned. Suddenly ‘bang, bang!’ two lamas fell down to the floor. A moment later, two other lamas fell down. Sangjie’s internal energy was deep, temporarily the knock-out drug was not able to knock him out; but he also felt his head was dizzy, his body swayed, his feet felt light. He thought the nun in white possessed some kind of strange magic; his mind was confused, his conscience blurry, how could he guess that he had been hit by a knock-out drug?

Ah Ke called out, “Zheng Gongzi, quickly follow us!”

“Yes,” Zheng Keshuang said. He crawled up and scrambled out.

Wei Xiaobao helped the nun in white out. Sangjie rushed after them, but he only took two steps, his body swayed, he tumbled over a table. ‘Crash!’ the table collapsed. Wei Xiaobao saw the drivers were gone; without waiting for them, he helped the nun in white onto the carriage. He saw Hubayin was surprisingly still in the carriage. Afraid that Sangjie would catch up with them, as soon as Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang boarded the carriage, he jumped onto the driver’s seat and cracked his whip to get the mule going.

In one breath they rushed for about ten li, and only after the mule was weary did he ease up and let the mule walk. Right this moment they heard faint sound of hooves, several horses were pursuing them.

Zheng Keshuang said, “Ay, too bad we are not riding horses; otherwise, our steeds can run fast, the wicked lamas won’t be able to catch up.”

“How could Shitai ride a horse?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I did not ask you to board the carriage.” Finished speaking, he yelled and cracked his whip to urge the mule to run.

Zheng Keshuang knew he had made an indiscreet remark, but he was a young master of a prince’s mansion, hence he was used to people fawning on him. With only one or two scolding from other people, immediately his face showed an angry look.

But he heard the hoof beats were getting closer and closer. Wei Xiaobao said, “Shitai, we must get down the carriage and hide.” Looking around, he did not see any house or building, there were only several barley haystacks on the field. “Alright,” he said, “We’ll hide in the barley haystacks.” While saying that, he pulled the reins to stop the mule.

Zheng Keshuang angrily said, “Hiding in the haystacks, if people find out, my Yanping Palace’s prestige will go down the drain.”

“Right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “The three of us will hide in the haystack, Gongzi may continue driving the carriage to lead the pursuing troop away.” Immediately he helped the nun in white to get down the carriage.

Ah Ke temporarily could not make up her mind. “Ah Ke,” the nun in white called, “You come with us!”

Ah Ke beckoned Zheng Keshuang and said, “You come and hide with us too.” Seeing the three of them crawled into a haystack, Zheng Keshuang hesitated for a moment, and then crawled into the haystack.

Wei Xiaobao suddenly remembered something; hastily he crawled out of the haystack, climbed onto the carriage, pulled his dagger and stabbed Hubayin to death. Suddenly he had a brainwave; he cut Hubayin’s right hand from the wrist, and jabbed the mule’s buttock with his dagger. The mule cried out in pain, and ran away wildly, pulling the large carriage with it. Hearing the pursuing riders getting closer, hurriedly he crawled back into the haystack.

He inserted the dagger into his boot, while holding the dead man’s hand with his right hand, thinking that he would scare Ah Ke with it. With his left hand he groped around, and happened to touch a braid, so he knew where Zheng Keshuang was. He continued groping around, this time he touched a slender soft waist, so he knew it was Ah Ke. He was greatly delighted. He pinched several times as hard as he could and called out, “Zheng Gongzi, why did you rub my buttocks?”

“I did not,” Zheng Keshuang said.

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You thought I was Miss Ah Ke, didn’t you? Groping around like that, it’s very rude.”

“Nonsense!” Zheng Keshuang cursed.

Wei Xiaobao pinched Ah Ke’s chest hard with his left hand and immediately pulled his hand back, while calling out, “Hey, Zheng Gongzi, you are still groping around!” And then he placed Hubayin’s hand on Ah Ke’s face to caress her a little bit, before moving the hand to stroke her chest.

Previously, when he groped Ah Ke’s waist and chest while making a big fuss over it, Ah Ke thought it was really Zheng Keshuang who took the opportunity to be impolite to her; she could not help but feeling ashamed and anxious. This time she felt an ice-cold and big hand caressing her face, she knew Wei Xiaobao’s hand was not this big, she had no doubt that it was Zheng Keshuang’s hand. She was about to scream, but then felt that it would be kind of indecent if her Shifu and Wei Xiaobao hear about it; thereupon she turned her head around to evade. The big hand then went down to her chest; she thought, “This Zheng Gongzi is such a scoundrel.” She could not help but feeling enraged; she turned her body to the right to evade.

Wei Xiaobao used his left hand to slap Zheng Keshuang’s face heavily while shouting, “Miss Ah Ke, that was a good strike. This Zheng Gongzi is a lecher. Aiyo, Zheng Gongzi, you caressed me again; you got the wrong person.”

Zheng Keshuang thought it was Ah Ke who slapped him; he angrily said, “You are the one who caressed her, but you blame me … blame me …”

Ah Ke thought, “That hand was clearly a big one; it can’t be the little evil man.”

Holding Hubayin’s hand, Wei Xiaobao stroked the back of Ah Ke’s neck.

Right this moment, the sound of hooves beat was getting closer. What happened was that when Sangjie saw the nun in white and the others went out of the inn, he wanted to run after them, but his entire body was devoid of any strength. His internal energy was very profound, after drinking the drugged wine, he did not lose his conscience. After taking two deep breaths, he felt that his chi was not harmed, only he was dizzy and his vision blurred. Immediately he understood what was going on. “Fetch cold water,” he called, “Quickly fetch cold water!”

The waiter fetched a bowl of cold water. Sangjie called out, “Pour it on my head.” But how could the waiter dare to do that? He hesitated and stayed motionless.

Sangjie was still thinking that the knockout drug was administered by this restaurant. Since he was unable to lift his hands, he took a very deep breath and smashed his head against the bowl of cold water. As soon as the cold water splashed onto his head, his brain cleared up somewhat. “Cold water,” he cried, “The more the better. Quick, quick!”

The waiter fetched two more bowls of cold water. Sangjie dumped the water onto his own head, and ordered the waiter to bring a barrel of cold water over, to awaken the rest of the lamas. No matter what they did, however, the big fat lama did not wake up. Then they saw blood on his back from the blade wound, and realized that he had died. The six lamas did not have time to burn the inn down; they rushed onto their horses and with loud yelling and shouting they gave chase.

Ah Ke felt the big hand stroking her neck; she could not take it anymore. “Please don’t!” she called out. Wei Xiaobao turned his hand around.

Inside the haystack, Zheng Keshuang could not see anything, he was unable to dodge, and had to suffer another slap on his face. “It wasn’t me!” he shouted.

With these two shouts, their trace was discovered. Sangjie called out, “They are here!”

One lama jumped down the horse and rushed toward the haystack. He saw Zheng Keshuang’s one leg was sticking out of the stack. Grabbing his heel, he pulled Zheng Keshuang out of the stack. Afraid of Zheng Keshuang’s counterstrike, he flung him out, throwing him several zhang away.

The lama then reached into the stack, trying to catch the other. Wei Xiaobao curled his body as small as he could. By this time the lama had already pulled the stack open; suddenly he saw a large hand coming toward his face. In a moment of desperation, he grabbed Hubayin’s hand with both hands. Feeling that he had someone’s hand in his own, he pulled the hand out as hard as he could, thinking that he was pulling someone out of the stack and was going to fling that person away as well. Who would have thought that he was pulling an empty air?

He had exerted all his strength, but only pulled a severed hand; his own strength had thrown him back that he fell sitting down on the ground. By the time he saw clearly that what he had pulled was a dead man’s palm, he felt the chi and blood inside his chest welling up, making him feel an unspeakable discomfort.

The force he exerted was intended to pull a man and fling him out of the haystack. Zheng Keshuang weighed approximately a hundred and twenty or a hundred and thirty catties; the lama estimated that the second person would weigh approximately the same. Hence this pulling force was at least two hundred catties, not to mention that this time he was not pulling an ankle, but a hand. He was afraid that if his pulling force was insufficient, he would be pulled into the haystack instead; therefore, he put a lot more effort in this one pull. Who would have thought that the enormous effort he exerted was only pulling a severed hand weighed only several taels? The entire force came back to him; it was no different than if he received a heavy blow with a force of more than 200 catties.

Seeing the lama fell down, Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he threw a bunch of straw onto the lama’s face. The lama stretched out his hand to brush the straw off. Suddenly he felt a stabbing pain on the pit of his stomach; his body twitched several times, then he stayed still. Actually, Wei Xiaobao took the opportunity while the lama’s vision was obstructed by the straw to jump forward and thrust his dagger into the pit of the lama’s stomach.

He had just pulled the dagger out when he heard all around him people were shouting loudly in Tibetan; he could not help but groaning inwardly. Expecting the worst, he had no choice but to conceal the dagger inside his sleeve, while slowly stood up. He looked up and saw Sangjie and the other four lamas were already standing in the barley field, about three zhang away from the haystack.

The lama’s body was covered in pile of straw, Sangjie and the other did not know how he died, they assumed it was the nun in white who had displayed her divine skill by striking him dead. They stood far away and did not dare to come near the haystack. “Little Nun,” Sangjie called out, “You have successively killed my eight Shidi, the enmity between you and me is as deep as the ocean. You are hiding in a haystack and do not dare to come out; what kind of hero are you?”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Why did he say she has killed eight of his Shidi?” But after a quick calculation, he realized that indeed they had killed eight lamas, although only one died in the nun in white’s hand. After hearing Sangjie said those words, he took two steps backward; obviously he was scared. He could not bear not to shout, “My Shifu’s martial art skill has reached perfection, there is no one in the world can be compared with her. But she, the Senior, has a merciful heart, and she is very virtuous. It was by accident that she has killed people. She, the Senior, has said that she is going to spare you, five lamas. Just leave us quickly.”

“How can it be that easy?” Sangjie said, “Little Nun, just hand over the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ nicely, your Buddha master will let you go. Otherwise, even until the ends of the earth, your Buddha master will not give up.”

“So you want the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’?” Wei Xiaobao said, “This sutra is available in all temples and monasteries everywhere; what’s so strange about it?”

Sangjie said, “We want the one in the Little Nun’s possession.”

Wei Xiaobao pointed to Zheng Keshuang and said, “That copy of sutra has been given by my Shifu to him long ago. Why don’t you ask him?”

Zheng Keshuang was just crawling up from the ground, he had not stood firm yet. A lama pounced on him and grabbed his arms. Another lama pulled his clothes apart, ‘rip, rip!’ his outer garment, his undergarment, were torn to pieces; the gold, silver and jewels in his pocket were thrown to the ground, but how could there be any sutra?

“Zheng Gongzi,” Wei Xiaobao called out, “Where did you hide the sutra? Why don’t you tell them? It’s not such a precious object anyway.”

Zheng Keshuang was furious, “I don’t have it!” he loudly shout.

A lama slapped him hard that he almost passed out. “Will you speak or not?” the lama shouted, while giving him another slap.

Seeing Zheng Keshuang’s cheeks were immediately swollen, Wei Xiaobao’s joy was unspeakable. “Zheng Gongzi,” he called out again, “Why don’t you get that sutra for this Buddha masters? I saw you digging a hole in that inn; did you hide the sutra in there?”

Sangjie happily said, “Right, the little kid must be telling the truth; take him back to the inn.”

“Yes!” the lama complied. He slapped Zheng Keshuang’s face again.

Ah Ke could not bear it anymore, she scrambled out of the haystack and called out, “This little kid is an expert liar, don’t believe him. This Zheng Gongzi has never seen any sutra.”

Wei Xiaobao turned his head around and said in a low voice, “I am trying to save Shitai and you, let Zheng Gongzi lead them away.”

“I don’t want you to save me,” Ah Ke said, “You have wronged Zheng Gongzi, you will make him losing his life.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shitai’s and your lives are ten thousand times more important than Zheng Gongzi’s.”

Sangjie said to the lama grabbing Zheng Keshuang, “Don’t kill him.” Turning his head around, he said, “Little Nun, come out. And these two babies, take them with us to find the sutra.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “You are the one who is afraid of death, yet you said you want to save Shifu. If you have guts, go fight these lamas.”

The hot blood in Wei Xiaobao’s heart welled up, he thought, “You despise me like this, so what if I’ll let myself be killed by these lamas?” He said, “You want me to fight? Fine. My death is not a big deal, it’s just that I won’t be able to save Shitai and you. But what if I win?”

“Humph,” Ah Ke snorted, “Even if you reincarnated you won’t win. If you defeat one lama, I will obey you forever.”

“What do you mean defeat one lama? Didn’t I kill seven lamas?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You used trick to kill,” Ah Ke said, “It does not count.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I defeat one lama, you will marry me and be my wife.”

“Nonsense!” Ah Ke angrily said, “You are a little monk, you are also a little eunuch, how can … how can …”

“Little monk can return to normal life, little eunuch can quit being an eunuch,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In short, I must marry you and take you as my wife.”

“Shifu,” Ah Ke anxiously said, “Did you hear that? In situation like this he is still foul-mouthed and talks nonsense.”

The nun in white sighed; she thought that the situation was seriously critical. She might be forced to cut her own channel[5] and die, to avoid being humiliated by the lamas. “Xiaobao,” she called in a low voice, “Stretch your hand into the haystack.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He stretched his left hand backhandedly into the haystack. He felt a small paper packet in his hand; he heard the nun in white said in a low voice, “This is the map hidden inside the sutra. You don’t need to care about me, you must escape alone. If you could obtain the other seven sutras in the future, perhaps our great Han people’s rivers and mountains will have a hope of recovering. It is much more important than my, one person’s life.”

Wei Xiaobao saw how high she regarded him; she did not entrust this matter to her own disciple, but gave it to him instead, immediately his spirit rose. Suddenly he had an idea. Right now he did not have time to think about it in details, but he loudly said, “My Shifu is a martial art expert of this age, she is unwilling to fight with you. Just appoint one person to have a match with me. Only if you can beat me will my Shijie go into action. Humph, humph! I’ll say you won’t dare. Just know your own limitation, you’d better run away quickly with your tails between your legs.” While saying that, he put the paper packet into his bosom.

The five lamas laughed aloud. Although they were quite afraid of the nun in white, why would they take this little kid seriously? One lama laughed and said, “I only need to send you one palm strike, I guarantee you will roll around seventeen, eighteen times, and have a match in farting!”

Wei Xiaobao took a step forward and said in a clear voice, “Alright, let you and I have a match then.” Turning his head toward Ah Ke, he said, “After I win, you will be my wife, you can’t deny.”

Ah Ke said, “You won’t win. No matter what you won’t win.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A man stake out everything he has, ten thousand men can’t stop him. In order to win you to be my wife, I have no choice but to stake everything I have.”

The lama took several steps forward and said with a laugh, “You really want to have a match with me?”

“Why would I lie to you?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The two of us will have a one-on-one match. Don’t worry, my Shifu will not personally go into action. Those four martial brothers of yours, are they going to help you?”

Sangjie burst into loud laughter. “Naturally we won’t help him,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Supposing that I kill him with a single blow, will you go together, relying on numbers to gain victory? Let us agree up front: if all of you swarm together, I won’t be your match, my Shifu will have to personally go into action.”

Sangjie was actually afraid that the nun in white would personally go into action. He thought about his several martial brothers who died without clear reason, he did not know what kind of martial art this nun possessed, he thought it would be greatly advantageous to him if he let his martial brother have one-on-one match with this little kid, so that he could see the nun in white’s martial art school and her background. Thereupon he said, “The two of you will have a one-on-one match, neither side is allowed to help you two.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Whoever helps is a turtle son of b1tch.”

“That’s right,” Sangjie said, “Whoever helps is a turtle daughter of b1tch.”

Not only Sangjie had a high martial art skill, he was also very smart. He saw that the nun in white and Ah Ke were women, thereupon he changed the ‘turtle son of b1tch’ into ‘turtle daughter of b1tch’, because since in any case the opponent would not be ‘turtle son of b1tch’, they might go forward and help anyway.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Very good. You, big lama, is exceptionally astute, Zaixia is full of admiration.”

“Move forward several steps more,” Sangjie said. He saw Wei Xiaobao was standing very close to the haystack, and was afraid the nun in white might put her hand onto his back and secretly transfer her internal energy to him, then his martial brother would not be able to withstand.

Wei Xiaobao said, “We, Han people, are frank and upright, if we win, we will win honorably, if we lose, we will lose gracefully; how can we practice fraud?”

The nun in white said in a low voice, “Xiaobao, you won’t win, just pretend you are having a martial art match, then grab a horse and escape.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He took three steps forward, so that the distance between him and the haystack was a bit more than a zhang.

Seeing that the nun in white would no longer able to help in secret, Sangjie nodded. The lama also took several steps forward until he stood face to face with Wei Xiaobao, and then he said with a laugh, “How do you want to compete?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “We could have either soft match, or hard match[6].”

The lama laughed and said, “How do we have a soft match? And how do we have a hard match?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “In soft match, I punch you once, you also punch me once. I will punch you again, and you also punch me again. We punch each other seventy, eighty times, until one of us fall down. When you punch me, I must neither dodge, nor lift my hand to block; I can only stand still, transporting my internal energy to receive your punch head on. When I hit you, you will do the same. In hard match, we can either fight with weapons or barehanded. Naturally we can dodge, block, run or leap.”

Sangjie thought, “This little urchin is nimble; supposing he jumps around, I am afraid Shidi won’t be able to hit him. He is so full of confidence, he must have some other trick up his sleeve. Most probably he will jump toward the haystack, enticing Shidi to chase him, and then that nun will suddenly launch a sneak attack from inside of the haystack. If they fight a soft match, his fist is so small, seventy, eighty of his punches landed on Shidi’s body would be no more than scratching an itch.” Thereupon he shouted in Tibetan, “Have a soft match with him, but don’t injure him. The longer you let him fight the better, so that we can see his martial art school and background.”

“Your Shixiong is scared,” Wei Xiaobao said, “He is afraid that you can’t beat me, and thus telling you to surrender, isn’t he?”

The lama laughed and said, “Little demon speaks nonsense. Shige feels sorry for you, he told me not to kill you in just one strike. Since you are so young, your weapon, as well as punching and kicking skills must be limited. I don’t want to take advantage over you either, so let’s have a soft match.”

“Good!” Wei Xiaobao said. Sticking out his chest, he put his hands behind his back and said, “You may hit me first. If I evade or block, just consider me not a hero or a warrior.”

The lama laughed. “You are a little kid,” he said, “Naturally you must go first.” While saying that, he copied Wei Xiaobao’s manner: he stuck out his chest and put his hands behind his back. Compared to Wei Xiaobao, he was a good one head taller. He was giggling incessantly, obviously he did not take this little urchin seriously.

Wei Xiaobao stretched out his left fist, it barely reached the lama’s lower abdomen. Seeing his small fist, the five lamas burst into laughter. “Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am sending my first strike.”

The lama did not dare to be too careless; afraid that Wei Xiaobao might have some unusual skill, he gathered his internal energy and sent it all toward his lower abdomen. Wei Xiaobao suddenly flicked his right sleeve, with his fist inside it; noiselessly the punch landed on the left side of the pit of the lama’s stomach. Seeing such a powerless punch, Sangjie and the others burst out laughing again.

The sound of laughter had not ceased, they saw the lama’s body swayed. Wei Xiaobao said, “Now it’s your turn to hit me.” The lama suddenly dropped down, crouching on the ground, and then stopped moving altogether. Sangjie and the others were greatly shocked; they rushed forward at once.

Wei Xiaobao withdrew to the haystack and called out, “Halt! Whoever helps is a turtle lama son of a b1tch.”

The four lamas halted; they saw the lama was still unmoving, not because his breathing was constricted due to serious injury, but because he had died. The four lamas’ jaws dropped in endless surprise; they were all speechless. Wei Xiaobao raised his clenched fists high above his head and said, “My Shifu has taught me unique martial art called the ‘Splitting Mountain Striking the Ox Divine Fist’ that I am able to strike a big ox dead with one punch, much less just a little lama. Whoever refuses to accept may come forward to try it!” With a low voice he continued, “Ah Ke, my wife, will you renege on your promise?”

Ah Ke saw that the fist technique that she looked down was actually a superior martial art; a tall and sturdy lama being hit, unexpectedly he could not withstand it and had to lie prostate on the ground without able to stand up again, his life and death was unknown; she was also very surprised. Hearing Wei Xiaobao, unexpectedly she forgot to reprimand him.

“Ha, ha,” Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You complied. My good wife.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “I am not.”

“You blatantly reneged on your own promise, you are not a hero or a warrior,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“So what if I am not?” Ah Ke said.

The nun in white actually saw that after Wei Xiaobao hit the lama’s heart, blood was seeping out of the lama’s chest before he swayed and fell face down on the ground. After thinking about it for a moment, she knew that Wei Xiaobao had hidden his dagger in his sleeve; actually, he did not send out a punch at all, rather, he thrust his dagger into the opponent’s heart. The dagger was sharp beyond compare, even steel would be penetrated by it, let alone human flesh. Wei Xiaobao used his left hand first to let everybody know that he was using a fist; after using the dagger, he hid it immediately, and then lifted his fists high above his head, hence other people did not suspect him even more.

Sangjie called the lama several times, but did not hear any response; he was bewildered and did not know what to do. A thin lama pulled his jiedao out and shouted, “Little demon, so what if your boxing skill is superior? Your Buddha master wants to try your blade technique.” He thought that this little kid had received teaching from brilliant master, his internal energy cultivation and fist strength were indeed not a small matter, but if he fought him using weapons, his fist strength would be useless.

“You want to have a match with blades? Yes, you can. Come!” Wei Xiaobao said.

The lama did not dare to come near, he shouted, “If you have guts, you come!”

Wei Xiaobao echoed, “If you have guts, you come!”

The lama said, “One, two, three, we both take three steps forward.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said, “One, two, three!” And he took three steps forward.

The lama also took three steps forward, while brandishing his jiedao into a circle of white ray to protect himself, afraid that Wei Xiaobao might suddenly launched his ‘splitting mountain striking ox divine fist’.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Don’t be afraid, I won’t use the divine fist against you.”

How could the lama believe him? He still brandished the jiedao, creating ‘whoosh, whoosh’ noise. “Quickly pull your blade!” he shouted.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I have trained and mastered the divine skill to protect my head from ‘Jin Ding School’ [‘golden crown of the head’ – see Chapter 10]. You can try chopping my head with your saber, I guarantee that that big saber will bounce back and chop your own bald head. I am telling you this in advance, so that you won’t be fooled.”

The lama was half believing and half doubting; but after seeing him killing his martial brother with one punch without extra trouble, his martial art skill must be deep and immeasurable. Momentarily he did not dare to go forward rashly; he did not dare to lift his saber to chop Wei Xiaobao’s head even more.

“Your martial art is too low,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I won’t hit you back. But you can only chop my head, you must not chop my chest. I am still young, the divine skill to protect my body has not been trained to perfection. If you chop at my chest, I will definitely die.”

The lama looked at him with squinted eyes; he asked, “Your head really does not afraid of saber chop?”

Wei Xiaobao took off his cap and said, “Just look, my braid is already gone, the more I train, the shorter will my hair be; the divine skill of the top of my head and of my neck has been trained to perfection. By the time I train until not a single hair on my head remains, my chest won’t be afraid of your saber chop as well.”

Because he became a monk in Shaolin Temple and Qingliang Temple, the hair on his head was shaved clean. By this time his hair was only less than a cun long. At that time, other than Buddhist monks and people who were bald by nature, all males had to have their hair in braids. Someone with a cun long hair like him was indeed unheard of. As for the story that the more he trained the shorter his hair and so on, Wei Xiaobao recalled it from what he saw and heard in Prince Kang’s mansion, when he met Wu Yingxiong’s escorts from Jin Ding School.

The lama saw his head, and believed several points. He had also heard that there was indeed a school called Jin Ding in Wulin, whose hard head martial art skill was very formidable. “I don’t believe your head can withstand my saber chop,” he said.

“I suggest you’d better not try it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “When the saber bounces back, the eating apparatus of your body cannot be guaranteed.”

“I don’t believe you!” the lama said, “Stand still, I am going to chop your head.” While saying that, he raised his jiedao high.

Seeing the flickering blade, Wei Xiaobao’s fear was unspeakable; he thought that if the lama realy chop his head, not only his skull would be split in two, his body would also be split like split bamboo. It’s just that: one, he could not fight the lama for real anyway, other than resorting to trickery, he did not have any other way of escaping; two, gambling had become his second nature, he was betting that when the lama heard his threat, he would not dare to chop his head or neck. In a way, he was gambling with his own life as the stake.

By now his life and death lay in this lama’s mind, but winning or losing, it was no different than throwing dice; much less in this case he had no other alternative to gambling anyway. If he did not gamble, this lama would raise his saber and chop randomly, then in the end he, as well as the nun in white and Ah Ke would be hacked to death. Moreover, right now the eyes of the beautiful girl Ah Ke were steadily fixed on him. Thinking to this point, he could not help but cast a glance toward Zheng Keshuang, who was still lying on the ground; he said in his heart, “You are a young master of a prince’s mansion, compared to me, the son of a wh0re, who is more heroic? Damn it, do you dare to stand here and let others chop your head with a saber?”

Sangjie called out in Tibetan, “This little demon knows witchcraft, don’t chop his head or neck.”

“What did he say?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “He told you not to chop my head, didn’t he? You are all treacherous and crafty, you don’t keep your own words; that won’t be good.”

“No, no,” the lama said, “Da Shixiong told me not to believe your bragging; he told me to chop your head into two halves.” As the word ‘halves’ came out of his mouth, the saber chopped down from the air.

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his soul flew to the outer sky, in a twinkling his heroic spirit disappeared without a trace. Hastily he pulled back his head while groaning in his heart, “My life stops here!”

Unexpectedly when the saber was still three chi away from his head, it suddenly changed direction; the jiedao made a half circle turn in a different move ‘embracing moon in the bosom’, the saber swung from outside to the inside, ‘stab’, it hacked on Wei Xiaobao’s back.

The saber carried a tremendous force, Wei Xiaobao felt severe pain on his back, he was unable to stand and tumbled down into the lama’s bosom. Immediately the dagger in his right hand stabbed the pit of the lama’s stomach three times, and then he ducked down and crawled underneath the lama’s crotch, while calling out, “Aiyo, aiyo, you did not keep your words!”

The lama made some ‘he, he, he’, gurgling noise, his jiedao turned back and hacked his own face. His body curled up, twisted several times, and then he lay down motionless.

Wei Xiaobao was hoping that the lama would hack his chest; since he was wearing the treasured vest to protect his body, he would not lose his life, hence the four lamas would be scared and run away. Who would have thought that the lama did not hack his chest but his back instead? By doing so, Wei Xiaobao was pushed toward the lama. Seizing this opportunity, Wei Xiaobao stabbed his chest several times. It’s just that by crawling under the opponent’s crotch he looked to be in a very desperate situation. His near escape this time did not differentiate him as a hero or a coward.

“Shifu,” he made such a big fuss, “The divine skill on my back has also been trained to perfection. Did you see that? Cough, cough … the saber bounced back and killed him. Wonderful, wonderful!”

Actually, the lama only suffered minor injury from the bouncing saber, it was the three stabs of the dagger that killed him; yet Sangjie and the other, three people, could not see that. They assumed it was indeed the bouncing saber that killed the lama. They were so scared that they withdrew several zhang away, while loudly calling the dead lama’s name.

The nun in white was already aware that Wei Xiaobao was wearing the treasured vest to protect his body. She knew that Ah Ke had chopped him twice without injuring him, hence this time she was not surprised. However, seeing that he dared to bet with his own head against the saber, she could not help but admiring his guts. Actually, Wei Xiaobao was so frightened a moment ago that he peed in his pants; his crotch was dripping wet, only no one else knew about it.

The lama’s saber carried such a tremendous force that as it hit Wei Xiaobao’s back, his ribs were almost broken. Leaning against the haystack, he could not bear not to groan. The nun in white said, “Quickly give him the ‘snow ginseng jade toad pill’.”

“Where is the pill?” Ah Ke asked Wei Xiaobao.

“In my pocket,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I might not be able to live.”

Ah Ke took the jade bottle from his pocket, pulled the cork, and tipped one pill out of the bottle. Then she put the cork back, and returned the jade bottle into Wei Xiaobao’s pocket. “Quickly take it!” she said.

Wei Xiaobao reached out to take it, but he pretended that he could not lift his hand. Grudgingly Ah Ke brought the pill to his mouth. Seeing her snow white, tender and delicate little hand, as soon as the pill entered his mouth, Wei Xiaobao puckered his lips to kiss it. Ah Ke hastily pulled her hand, but his lips brushed the back of her hand. “Ah!” she cried out.

Wei Xiaobao said in loud voice, “Shifu, these lamas speak like releasing dog fart. They said they were going to chop my head, but they chopped my back instead. And now only three left, let disciple strike them dead with the ‘splitting mountain striking ox divine fist’!”

When Sangjie and the others heard this, they withdrew several steps back. The three of them talked among themselves for a moment, and then they took out some flints to light up several stalks of hay, and tossed the burning stalks onto the haystack. The first three stalks fell on empty space. Sangjie lighted another stalk and ran several zhang forward, and then threw the stalk as hard as he could, while clapping his palms in front of his body as a shield. Afraid that Wei Xiaobao would attack him with the ‘splitting mountain striking ox divine fist’, he immediately leaped back.

As soon as the haystack met the fire, it was burned instantly. Wei Xiaobao pulled the nun in white out of the haystack. Looking all around, he saw a cave on the rocky hill to the west. Having not enough time to check, he said, “Ah Ke, quickly help Shifu to that cave over there to hide, I am going to block these lamas.”

Taking two steps toward Sangjie, he called out, “You are too brazen; unexpectedly you are not afraid of Xiaoye’s [young master] ‘splitting mountain striking ox divine fist’ and ‘protecting head golden crown divine skill’. Sangjie, you are the leader, quickly come here and take two punches from Xiaoye.”

Sangjie was cautious; momentarily he really did not dare to pursue, but then he thought about the importance of the sutra, plus the ten of his martial brothers who had lost their lives. If he gave up just like that, what would remain of his illustrious name? He saw the nun in white was walking slowly with the help of that young lady; if she was not injured, then she must be sick. It was indeed a golden opportunity for him, could it be that he could not even beat the little kid in front of him? It’s just that his martial art was so strange that those who got hit died instantly. Hence he hesitated and momentarily did not know what to do.

When Wei Xiaobao turned his head, he saw the nun in white and Ah Ke had almost reached the cave. He turned back and shouted, “You don’t dare to have a martial art match with me, laozi is going to come forward to kill you; why haven’t you run away?”

These words actually revealed the ‘horse’s leg’. Sangjie thought, “If you really have the ability to kill me, why didn’t you simply charge forward? You told me to run away, that means you are scared of me in your heart.” Laughing maliciously, he stretched out both hands, the bones in his body were cracking as he took two steps forward.

Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “Bad; what trick can I use this time to kill him?”

By this time the haystack behind him was roaring with fire, the tongues of the fire almost licked his body; he mused, “Laozi better hide in the cave first, and then think of some other way slowly.” Thinking about hiding in a cave, his heart was immediately happy. If the cave was so dark that they could not see anything, he might be able to grope around Ah Ke’s body. He stooped down to pick Hubayin’s hand from the dead lama’s grip and put it into his pocket.

Seeing Sangjie took several more steps forward, he called loudly, “It’s too hot in here, laozi’s divine skill cannot be used. If you have guts, go over there and have match with me.” Finished speaking he turned around and ran toward the cave. When he entered the cave, he saw the nun in white and Ah Ke had already sat on the ground. This cave was actually only a cavity on the mountain wall, there was not enough place to hide at all; the cave was not dark either, plus Ah Ke sat leaning on the nun in white, hence it was impossible for him to grope around. He could not help but feeling a bit disappointed.

Sangjie and the two lamas slowly walked toward the front of the cave, and stopped when they were about three zhang from the cave. Sangjie called out, “You have stepped onto a dead end, there is no way out. Get the torches!” The two lamas picked the stalks and handed them over to him.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Very good, quickly throw the torches over, and see if you can burn us to death. I am afraid the Forty-two-chapter sutra will also be burned very quickly.”

Sangjie held the burning stalk high, he was just about to hurl it toward the cave, but when he heard that, he felt that Wei Xiaobao was right; if he wanted to burn the three of them to death, he would also destroy the sutra. Thereupon he tossed the torch aside and called out, “Quickly hand over the sutra, your Buddha master is merciful, I will let you walk the path of life.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You kowtow eighteen times in front of my Shifu, my Shifu is merciful, she will let you walk the path of life.”

Sangjie was furious; he picked up the torch and threw it to the front of the cave. A burst of thick smoke was blown into the cave, Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke were assaulted by the smoke that their eyes watered and they coughed incessantly. The nun in white was breathing very slowly, she was unaffected by the smoke. The other two lamas threw more torches.

“Shitai,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That sutra has no use anymore, just give it to them, we will … we will slowly think of other ideas.”

“’Postpone the troops’ stratagem,” Ah Ke said.

“They are not troops,” Wei Xiaobao said. Ah Ke was coughing repeatedly, she was unable to argue with him.

“Fine,” the nun in white said, and handed over the sutra to him.

Wei Xiaobao raised his voice, “I have a copy of the sutra in here, I’ll throw it out. If it falls into the fire, it’s not my problem.”

Hearing that he agreed to hand over the sutra, Sangjie was delighted. Afraid that the sutra might fall into the fire and burn, he quickly picked several large rocks and threw them at the burning stalks. His strength was enormous, his aim was accurate, the burning stalks were crushed by the rocks and immediately extinguished.

Seeing his strength in throwing the big rocks, Wei Xiaobao could not help but was shocked; he mused, “If he threw the rocks to the cave, the three of us would be crushed to death, while the sutra won’t be harmed the least bit. I must not let him think about this idea.”

“Quickly throw the sutra out,” Sangjie called out.

“Alright, alright!” Wei Xiaobao replied, “My Shifu says that you want to study the sutra, you are good disciples of Buddha, she instructed me not to harm you …” While he talked, he pulled his dagger and made several cuts on Hubayin’s hand. He placed it on the sutra, and took the bottle of ‘transforming corpse powder’ from his pocket, and sprinkle some fine powder on the fresh cuts of the severed hand. His body was obstructing the nun in white and Ah Ke’s visions, he would not let them see what he was doing. And then with a loud voice he said, “My Shifu said that this copy of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ was taken from the Imperial Palace in Beijing, it is very valuable. I heard there is a big secret hidden in it, after it is revealed, the teachings of Buddha will be flourishing, it will make everyone throughout the world believe in Bodhisattva. Men will become monks, women will become nuns, little children will become little monks, little nuns, the old men …” While he was talking, the severed hand gradually changed into yellow liquid permeating the sutra.

Hearing that the sutra was indeed from the Imperial Palace, and that it concealed a big secret, Sangjie was ecstatic. He knew that ‘flourishing the teachings of Buddha’ and so on was obviously not the truth. Afraid that Wei Xiaobao might not be willing to hand over the sutra, he quickly gave some careless, perfunctory promise; he said, “Flourishing the Dharma, spreading our teachings, those are all very good.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “My Shifu read it, but could not find the secret. Now she gives it to you, asking you to study it well. If you can reveal the secret, you must spread it to the monks’ monasteries and the nuns’ convents throughout the world; you must not be selfish by keeping the secret only for your lamaseries. Will you promise to do that?”

Sangjie laughed and said, “Naturally I promise. Tell your Shifu to set her heart at ease.”

“If you cannot figure out the secret,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “You must hand it over to Shaolin Temple. If Shaolin Temple’s monks cannot figure out the secret, ask them to bring it to Qingliang Temple on Mount Wutai. If Qingliang Temple’s monks cannot figure it out, they must bring it to Chanzhi [dhyana wisdom] Temple in Yangzhou. One hands over to another, until the secret within the sutra is revealed.”

“Alright, alright,” Sangjie said, “I will surely accomplish that.” While in his heart he said, “The nun only knew that the secret in the sutra is concerning the Dharma. Lucky for me she did not know the truth, otherwise, how could she easily hand it over to me? Humph, after obtaining the sutra, I will slowly think of a way to put them to death.”

Wei Xiaobao continued, “My Shifu says, after you finish studying this ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, if your heart admires the teachings of Buddha, and you want to read some more, you may come to look for her, the Senior; we still have the Jin Gang [vajra] Sutra, Fa Hua [lotus] Sutra, Xin [Heart] Sutra, Da Bo’re [great/major prajna/wisdom] Sutra, Xiao Bo’re [minor prajna] Sutra, Long Ah Han Sutra, Short Ah Han Sutra, Not-too-long-not-too-short Ah Han Sutra, Old Ah Han Sutra, Young Ah Han Sutra …” He mentioned more than a dozen Buddhist scriptures in succession, all of which he had heard when he was being a monk in Shaolin Temple and Qingliang Temple; naturally he misspoke quite a few of the scriptures’ names.

Sangjie was impatient, yet he did not dare to rashly seize the sutra, since he was still afraid of the nun in white’s divine fist; he was also afraid that they might destroy the sutra. Without any other choice he thoughtlessly gave his promise, “That’s right, after I finish studying this sutra, I will borrow some more from your Shifu.”

Seeing the severed hand had completely melt, and the yellow liquid had soaked the sutra, inside and outside, Wei Xiaobao removed his shoe to cover his hand, and picked and tossed the sutra out. “Here comes the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’!” he called out.

Sangjie was greatly delighted; he leaped forward with outstretched hand to catch the sutra, but suddenly thought, “This sutra is very valuable, how can I obtain it this easily? Could there be any trick in it? Perhaps he would take the opportunity while I am holding the sutra to shoot some secret projectiles to me.” While he was hesitating, the two lamas picked up the sutra and said, “Shixiong, is this the Sutra?”

Sangjie said, “Examine it carefully over there, don’t fall into their trick and get the fake sutra.”

“Yes,” the two lamas replied, “Shixiong has thought everything thoroughly; we must not let them deceive us.” The three of them withdrew several zhang; hastily they opened the book’s envelope and thumbed through it.

Sangjie said, “The sutra is wet, turn the pages slowly, don’t damage the paper. Examine the look, see if it is fake, if it really looks like the description that man gave to us.”

One lama called out, “This is it. Da Shixiong, this is the book.”

Wei Xiaobao heard them speaking loudly; although he did not understand Tibetan, listening to the tone, he could deduce that they were exceptionally delighted. He called out, “Hey, hey, how come you have centipedes on your faces?”

The two lamas were startled; they reached up to feel their faces and did not find any centipede or any other insect. “Little urchin loves to talk nonsense,” they cursed.

Sangjie’s cultivation in meditation power was really deep, hearing Wei Xiaobao’s shout, unconsciously he felt something like a bug crawling on his face, but he ignored it; he focused all his attention to thumbing through the sutra.

Wei Xiaobao shouted again, “Aiyo, aiyo! A dozen scorpions are creeping into their necks.”

This time the two lamas were not fooled. One of them said, “Seeing us obtaining the Sutra, this urchin is not happy, he is making preposterous remark to cheat us. This little thief has killed two of our Shidi, we can’t simply spare his life.”

The other lama, however, really felt his neck was rather itchy. He reached back to scratch it, but after scratching a few times, he felt his ten fingers were unbearably itchy; thereupon he wiped the fingers to his arms. By this time Sangjie and the other lama also started to feel their fingers were itchy, but they ignored it. After half a day, unexpectedly the itch was becoming unbearable. When they looked at their fingers, they saw all their fingertips were covered in yellow liquid. “Strange,” they three of them said to each other, “What is that?”

The two lamas also felt their faces were itchy; instantly they reached up and vigorously scratched their faces. The more they scratched, the worse they felt. After a while, their faces started to ooze yellow liquid. Sangjie suddenly realized what was going on. “Aiyo!” he cried out, “Not good, the Sutra is poisonous!” And he threw the Sutra as far as he could. He saw his own fingers were producing yellow liquid, like beads of perspiration coming out of his skin. In his great shock, he hastily rubbed his fingers to the dirt on the ground, but he saw his two martial brothers were clawing their faces vigorously; each scratch produced a strip of bloodstain.

This bottle of ‘corpse transforming powder’, which Wei Xiaobao obtained from Hai Dafu’s room, was very fierce; if it came into contact with intact skin, it was absolutely harmless, but if it came into contact with a drop of blood, the blood would turn into yellow liquid with great corrosive power, the rotten flesh would then turn into yellowish poisonous liquid. The poison would then melt more and more flesh, just like a single spark from the flint would burn a large stack of hay into flying ash.

This ‘transforming corpse powder’ became poison when it came in contact with blood, it could be considered the number one poison under the heavens. Initially it came from the west. It was reported that the poison entered the Wulin world of the Song Dynasty by the devil champion Western Poison Ouyang Feng, who created it from the venoms of more than a dozen different vipers and poisonous insects. After the ‘mother poison’ was created, re-processing was not needed, simply let the yellow poisonous liquid dry in the sun, and it will become the poisonous powder.

When the two lamas scratched their faces and the poison came into contact with blood, in an instant their faces were turning into yellow liquid. They screamed and howled while their faces were even more painful and itchy; they fell to the ground and rolling around continuously. Luckily Sangjie had not scratched his face, but the itch on his ten fingers had penetrated onto his bones. Immediately he took off his outer garment to wrap the sutra, and then holding it under his arm he flew away, urgently trying to find water to wash the poison from his fingers.

The itch the two lamas experienced was so terrible that they lost their minds; they raised their heads and crashed them randomly against the rocks. After several strikes, they both fainted.

Witnessing this kind of scene, the nun in white and Ah Ke were amazed endlessly. Wei Xiaobao only knew that the ‘transforming corpse powder’ could melt dead body, but he was not sure if it would be effective on living persons. In desperate situation, he had no choice but to try it. Unexpectedly it was a success at the first attempt, plus he was lucky to have Hubayin’s severed hand to initiate the poisoning. Supposing he sprinkled the ‘transforming corpse powder’ directly on the sutra, it would be quite useless. Originally he only wanted to use the severed hand to fondle Ah Ke, unexpectedly it had become a very effective weapon.

Seeing Sangjie had run far away and the two lamas had fainted, he rushed out of the cave and pulled his dagger, thinking that he would stabbed once or twice on these lamas’ bodies. But as he came near them, he saw the two lamas’ faces had already rotten until only their bones were visible. He did not need to do anything; shortly afterwards, the corpses would turn into two pools of yellow liquid.

He walked toward Zheng Keshuang and said with a laugh, “Zheng Gongzi, my demonic method is very effective. Would you like to try it?”

Zheng Keshuang saw the terrifying condition of the two lamas; hearing Wei Xiaobao’s words, he was shocked. Hastily he jumped backward with clenched fists in front of his body. “You … don’t come near me!” he shouted.

Ah Ke came out of the cave; she angrily shouted at Wei Xiaobao, “You … what are you doing?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am just scaring him a little bit, what does it have to do with you?”

“I don’t want you to scare anybody,” Ah Ke angrily said.

“You are afraid I might scare him to death?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Why would you want to scare anybody without any rhyme or reason?” Ah Ke said.

Wei Xiaobao beckoned to her, “Come and look,” he said.

“I don’t want to look,” Ah Ke said. Although her mouth said so, her curiosity was piqued; slowly she walked over and looked down. She could not help but jumping in fright, while screaming in high-pitched voice. She saw that the flesh on the two lamas’ faces, their noses, their lips, everything was gone; what remained was their skulls, with four holes on it. All hairs, ears and the muscle behind their necks were not yet rotten. Perhaps there has never been any person alive on this earth with such a frightening face like these two lamas.

Ah Ke was dizzy and fell backward. Wei Xiaobao hastily reached out to hold her. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid!” he called out.

Ah Ke screamed again and ran back to the cave. “Shifu, Shifu,” she panted, “He … he turned those two lamas into … into monsters.”

The nun in white slowly stood up. Ah Ke held her hand and took her to the two lamas, but she turned her head away, she did not dare to look again. Seeing those two skulls, the nun in white could not refrain from gasping. She looked up at the distant place and saw the bodies of three more lamas; she could not hell but heaving a deep sigh while casting her gaze to the distant mountain.

By now the sun was sinking on the west, painting half of the sky with blood red color. She was thinking about how this setting sun was also illuminating thousands of mountain passes and tens of thousands hills, as well as the barbarians of the distant land. If she wanted to restore the country, she wondered how many more lives would be killed, how many more bones would be piled up. When all is said and done, should she, or should she not?

[1] Wu – martial art, ‘yi’ refers to non-Han people, especially to the east of China. It could be simply ‘a foreign sect’.

[2] Jun – county/region, wang – king.

[3] Qigong (chi kung) – a system of deep breathing exercises.

[4] The term I translated as ‘(martial art) master’ literally means ‘high hand’ (gao shou).

[5] Orig. Jing Mai – channel of traditional Chinese medicine, the passage through which vital energy (qi or chi) circulates.

[6] Orig. ‘wen’ and ‘wu’, literary and martial art.

Chapter 27 Someone heard a ghost crying on Yunnan’s sea, thorny gate provided another source of amusement.

The nun in white was lost in thought for half a day. Seeing Wei Xiaobao approaching with a big grin on his face, she knew that he was the one who put poison on the Sutra. She sighed and said, “If not for your intelligence and quick-thinking, it would be difficult for me to escape losing my life in the enemy’s hand today. It would not be a big deal, I was more afraid I would be humiliated. Only, killing people is not something to be proud of, no need to be this happy.”

Wei Xiaobao quickly erased the smiling expression from his face. “Yes,” he replied.

The nun in white added, “This kind of sinister and ruthless method is not the way of prestigious house or upright sect’s disciples. In critical situation, you have no choice but to use it to deal with the villains, but from now on you must not use it recklessly.”

Wei Xiaobao complied again. He said, “Today was the first time I ever used that method. Frankly, my martial art skill is too lacking, I can’t fight a just and honorable fight with them; otherwise, a man must fight like a real man, victory must be achieved handsomely. How could I use such a fooling around method?”

The nun in white stared at him for half a day before asking, “You have been at Shaolin Temple, Qingliang Temple, for many days, could it be that the martial art master Shifu at the Temple did not teach you any martial art?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Martial art, I have learned some. It’s a pity that junior did not learn the proper way; I only learn some superficial styles, but did not cultivate internal strength.”

The nun in white cast a glance toward Ah Ke before she asked, “And why is that?”

“There was not enough time to train,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“What do you mean not enough time?” the nun in white asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Because disciple has offended Miss Ah Ke, she wanted to kill me. The situation was urgent, I had no choice but to carelessly learn some moves to protect my life.”

The nun in white nodded. She said, “Just now when you talked to those lamas, you repeatedly said that I am your Shifu; why is that?”

Wei Xiaobao blushed. Ah Ke interjected, “Shifu, he is harboring a bad thought, he wanted to do obeisance to you and take you as his master.”

The nun in white smiled and said, “Wanted to do obeisance to me and take me as his master cannot be considered a bad thought.”

“It’s not,” Ah Ke anxiously said. She knew that Wei Xiaobao’s real intention in wanting to do obeisance and take the nun in white as his master was so that he could entangle her all day every day, but of course she could not say it.

The nun in white said to Wei Xiaobao, “You have called me Shifu, naturally I cannot let you call in vain.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; immediately he kneeled down and respectfully kowtowed eight times while calling out loudly, “Shifu.”

The nun in white smiled and said, “Now that you have entered my school, you must abide by the rule: you must not fool around.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Toward bad people disciple will fool around, but toward good people I will always follow the rule strictly.”

Ah Ke made faces to him and stuck out her tongue at him, while in her heart she was unspeakably angry. “This little vile creature has done obeisance to Shifu and be her disciple; from now on I can’t kill him anymore, and will always be entangled by him. I can’t push her away, I can’t kick him, it’s a serious headache.”

The nun in white had been besieged by the six lamas, were it not for Wei Xiaobao’s help, she would not have the good fortune. Afterwards Sangjie and the other, seven lamas pursued her, she could only helplessly let herself be captured; her situation was indeed very dangerous. Although her age had surpassed four decades, her appearance was very beautiful. If she fell into these evil lamas’ hands, she was bound to suffer enormous humiliation. By the will of heavens this little kid was completely crafty and cunning, and was able to eliminate the enemies one by one, and thus he had helped her preserving her purity; the gratitude in her heart was unspeakable. Seeing that Wei Xiaobao was cherishing the idea of having her as his master, she decided to agree; thinking that the little kid was naughty, loved to act willfully and make a scene, but that it should not make her worry. If he received her nurture and training, someday he might make a name for himself in Jianghu.

According to Wulin rule, since Wei Xiaobao had entered Chen Jinnan’s school, without Shifu’s permission he could not do obeisance and take somebody else as his master. However, he did not know all these rules; even if he did, right that moment he did not care. The nun in white had agreed to accept him into her school, now he could constantly see Ah Ke. Even if Kangxi abdicated his throne and gave it to him, he would not want it. He was very lazy in training martial art, he thought that most likely he would have to train hard under the nun in white, the headache would be inevitable. But as long as he could be with Ah Ke, more bitter matter would feel as sweet as syrup; therefore, he did the eight kowtows while bursting with joy, indeed he felt as if a treasured object has fallen from heaven just for him.

Seeing his delight, the nun in white thought he was happy to have found a brilliant master and henceforth would train hard to master the excellent martial art. If she knew his real intention, perhaps she would kick him until he rolled around eight times, and although she had just accepted him into her school, would expel him immediately.

Ah Ke’s little mouth flattened, she said, “Shifu, look at him this happy, he will really spoil our family.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A martial art master whose skill is number one in the present age has accepted me as her disciple, naturally I am exceedingly happy.”

The nun in white smiled and said, “You must not talk nonsense about me as the number one martial art master of this age. Now that you have entered my school, you need to know your master’s Buddhist name. My Buddhist name is Jiu Nan [lit. nine difficulties/disaster]. Our school is called the Tie Jian Men [iron sword school]. Your Shizu [master ancestor] was a Taoist Priest, whose title was Mu [wood] at the top and Sang [mulberry] at the bottom; he has passed away. Although I am a Buddhist nun, my martial art skill actually belongs to Taoist branch.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Disciple will remember.”

The nun in white Jiu Nan added, “Ah Ke, you and him, who is a bit older?”

“Naturally I am,” Ah Ke replied.

“I am older,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Alright,” Jiu Nan said, “The two of you need not argue, whoever entered the school first is older. From now on there is no more ‘Miss Ah Ke’ or ‘little vile creature’; one is ‘Chen Shijie’, the other is ‘Wei Shidi’.”

With a loud voice Wei Xiaobao called, “Chen Shijie.”

“Humph,” Ah Ke snorted; in front of her Shifu, she did not dare to curse, but she cast him a malicious look.

“Ah Ke,” Jiu Nan said, “The minor matter of the past should not be taken to heart forever. This time Xiaobao has rendered some meritorious deed by saving you and me, two people. Even though he has offended you, he has done more than enough to redeem it.” Speaking to this point, she gently sighed, thinking, “This child is intelligent and sharp, it’s a pity he has met misfortune since he was young by being a eunuch.”

She continued, “Previously Xiaobao was bullied and humiliated by others, he was forced to be a eunuch. As his martial older sister, you must pity his wretched fate and look after him a little bit. This is actually better, there won’t be male-female division between the two of you, when you are together later on you must not have any misgivings. It’s much more convenient. However, you must not tell anybody about this.”

Ah Ke complied. Thinking that this little vile creature was a eunuch, his rudeness to her in the past was not too big of a deal; her anger somewhat subsided. Turning to Zheng Keshuang, she called out, “Zheng Gongzi, are you injured?”

Limping, Zheng Keshuang walked over; he said, “Not too bad, only my leg is twisted.” Thinking that previously he boasted by saying that he had more than enough force to cope with the lamas, while when things came to a head he failed miserably, and they had to rely on this little kid to repel the enemy, his face blushed with shame.

“Shifu,” Ah Ke said, “What should we do? Shall we still go to Hejian Prefecture?”

Jiu Nan hesitatingly said, “Going to Hejian Prefecture to take a look is fine, but we must guard against that Lama Sangjie returning. Right now I am unable to move freely.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu, you can stay here and take a rest, I’ll go find a large carriage.”

Wei Xiaobao could not find any carriage, but he bought an ox cart from a peasant family, and invited Jiu Nan and the others, three people, to ride on it, while he drove the cart slowly to continue their journey. Luckily Sangjie did not reappear.

When they reached another small town ahead, they abandoned the cart and hired two large carriages. Along the way Wei Xiaobao asked his Shifu to take several more ‘snow ginseng jade toad pills’. Jiu Nan’s internal energy was profound, with the efficacious medicine giving her a boost, her internal injury was healing really quickly.

After traveling for two days, they arrived at Hejian Prefecture at noon. After putting up at an inn, Zheng Keshuang went out to scout the area and hear the news. More than two hours later he came back dejectedly, saying that he inquired everywhere in the city, but unexpectedly no one knew anything about ‘Turtle-slaying Assembly’.

Jiu Nan asked, “Zheng Gongzi, from where did you hear about this ‘Turtle-slaying Assembly’?”

Zheng Keshuang replied, “The two River Heroes Feng Brothers, Feng Bupo and Feng Bucui asked Tian Di Hui to deliver a letter to Taiwan, inviting my Fu Wang [father king] to send an envoy to preside over the ‘Turtle-slaying General Assembly’. The letter says that the general assembly will be held on the fifteenth of this month at Hejian Prefecture. Today is the eleventh, so it is only four days away.”

Jiu Nan nodded. She slowly said, “The two brothers from the Feng Clan, aren’t they from Huashan Pai?” Lifting her head up, she looked outside the window, remembering the matter of many years ago.

Zheng Keshuang said, “Fu Wang sent me to preside over the general assembly; I presumed the Feng Clan brothers would definitely send people to wait for me respectfully in here, who would have thought … humph …” His expression showed that he was really angry.

Jiu Nan said, “Perhaps the Tatars have obtained the information and made some moves, hence the Feng Clan brothers changed the date and place.”

Zheng Keshuang resentfully said, “Even if that’s the case, they ought to notify me.”

While they were still talking, a waiter knocked the door and said, “Zheng Keguan [lit. ‘guest’ Zheng], there are people outside seeking an audience with you.” Zheng Keshuang was greatly delighted; hastily he went out.

A moment later, he hurriedly came back, saying, “The Feng Clan brothers have personally come here; they really apologized to me, saying that they knew that I brought more than twenty attendants, hence for the last several days they were waiting outside the city to welcome me, who would have thought that we have sneakily [orig. the gods unaware, the ghosts unconscious] entered the city? Right now they have prepared a big feast for us to wash the dust and welcome us. Would everybody please come with me?”

Jiu Nan shook her head and said, “Zheng Gongzi should go alone, and please do not mention anything about me being here.”

Zheng Keshuang was rather disappointed; he said, “Since Shitai is not willing to be disturbed, how about Miss Chen and Wei Xiongdi come with me?”

“They also do not need to go,” Jiu Nan replied, “On the day of the general assembly, we will all go together.” That night Zheng Keshuang returned to the inn completely drunk.

Around midnight, his more than twenty attendants also arrived at the inn, only everybody’s hands and feet were bandaged and tied with splints, making them did not look elegant at all.

Early morning the next day, Zheng Keshuang recounted what happened in the big banquet the previous night to Jiu Nan, Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao. He said that the Feng Clan brothers were very respectful to him, they invited him to sit at the seat of honor, and did not stop praising the Zheng Clan for erecting the banner of righteousness, resisting the Manchurian Qing in Taiwan alone. Jiu Nan asked him who else had come to the feast.

Zheng Keshuang said, “There are already many people arrived here. In the past few days people are coming one after another. It was decided that we will have the general assembly at midnight of the fifteenth, at the Locust Tree Plain, eighteen li west of the city. The midnight assembly is to guard against the Qing Court’s ears and eyes. Actually the Feng Clan brothers are too cautious. With these many heroes and warriors assembled here, even if there is a large number of a Qing troop coming here, we will kill and have them completely routed.”

Jiu Nan asked in details the names of the heroes and warriors attending the meeting, but Zheng Keshuang was unable to come up with anything. He only said, “There were several hundred people eating and drinking together. Every one of the several dozen leaders came to propose a toast to me for Fu Wang’s sake. They all announced their school, sect, name and surname, but I am not able to recall that many names at once.”

Jiu Nan did not say anything; she mused, “This Zheng Gongzi has an attractive outward appearance in vain, he actually does not have any talent.”

After recuperating in the inn for several days, Jiu Nan’s injury was completely healed. She restrained Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao from coming out and wandering aimlessly, to avoid meeting Wulin characters and creating some trouble. Zheng Keshuang, however, left the inn every day early in the morning, and did not return until very late at night. Every day there was Jianghu hero or warrior who invited him to a banquet.

When the night fell on the fifteenth, Jiu Nan put on the clothing that Wei Xiaobao bought for her. She dressed as a middle-aged woman, her head was covered in black head wrap; she put yellow powder on her face, and drew her eyebrows slanted downward. No one would recognize her true identity. Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke dressed as ordinary young man, young woman. Zheng Keshuang, however, was wearing brocade gown. He removed his fake braid and put on the attire of Ming Dynasty nobility; he looked beaming and buoyant.

Jiu Nan had not seen her former country’s attire for a long time; seeing his clothing and adornment, she was both delighted and rueful. Seeing his godly charm, jade-like appearance, Ah Ke felt like her soul was even more intoxicated. Only Wei Xiaobao, who felt ashamed of his inferiority, cursed in his heart ‘embroidered pillow son of a b1tch’ seventeen, eighteen times.

About the first watch of the night [between 7-9 pm], the Yanpin Mansion’s attendants drove a large carriage to take the four of them to the Locust Tree Plain for the assembly. The Locust Tree Plain was a large piece of flat land surrounded by hills all around it. It was the place where the locals held market days, or religious festivals, or having theatrical performances. In the darkness one could see that the plain was packed with people.

As soon as Zheng Keshuang arrived, a joyous sound thundered all around them. Several dozen people surged forward to greet him and flock around him. Jiu Nan took Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao to sit far away underneath a large locust tree. By this time there was a continuous flow of people from east, west, south and north. More and more people assembled on the grassy field.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “That treacherous bandit Wu Sangui tied enmity with really a lot of people. Our Tian Di Hui and the Mu Palace have made a bet to see who can kill him first. This b@stard’s personal enemies number in millions, if somebody made their move first, unavoidably Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace lose.”

The round bright moon slowly rose to the top of their heads. On the grassy field, an old man, tall and well-built, with long white beard fluttered in the wind, stood up, cupped his fist, and said, “Gentlemen, heroes and warriors, zaixia Feng Nandi salutes you.”

The crowd of heroes stood up to return his salute and said together, “Old Hero Feng, how are you?”

In a low voice Jiu Nan said, “He is the father of the Feng Clan brothers.” She remembered how she had had a casual acquaintance with him on the summit of Mount Hua. At that time, when she, under the name ‘Ah Jiu’ [lit. ‘nine’], met with Jianghu heroes and warriors, she was only a young teenage girl, Feng Nandi was at the prime of his life; yet today he was already on the brink of old age. Presumably his Shizu [ancestor master] Mu Renqing, and his Shifu, the ‘Copper Pen and Abacus’ Huang Zhen, had both passed away; but what about his Shishu [martial uncle] Yuan Chengzhi? Her feelings toward this man were carved into her bones. But for more than twenty years she had not heard any news about him. For the last several years her heart was like an old well without any ripple [i.e. widow who does not remarry]. Suddenly seeing an old friend tonight, she could not restrain myriads of thoughts from invading her heart; all of a sudden her feelings welled-up in her breast.

Wei Xiaobao saw the glistening tears on her eyes. “Why does Shifu suddenly want to cry as soon as she saw this old man Feng?” he mused, “Could this old man be her old sweetheart? There is no harm in me playing a matchmaker, let she and her old sweetheart mend whatever broken heart she might have. It’s just that Shifu is still very young, she can’t possibly fall in love with this old man.”

He heard Feng Nandi with loud, clear and ringing voice said, “Friends, we gather together in here today, everybody is already aware what important matter we are facing. Our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains is occupied by the Tatars. The main culprit is that unpardonably wicked, the one deserving ten thousand deaths …”

From all around the crowd of heroes shouted together, “Wu Sangui!” With everybody shouted together, it really sounded like a thunder reverberating throughout the range of hills. Someone then shouted, “Big traitor!” Another one shouted, “Son of a turtle.” Yet another one shouted, “Son of a b1tch.” And, “F*ck his eighteen generation ancestors.” Everyone cursed and swore for a while before the voices gradually calmed down.

Suddenly there was a high-pitched childish voice shouted, “F*ck his nineteen generation ancestors’ granny.” The crowd of heroes was actually full of hatred, but suddenly heard this cussing, they could not help but bursting out in loud laughter.

The voice indeed belonged to Wei Xiaobao. Ah Ke angrily said, “Why did you say such an unpleasant words?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Everybody was cursing, why can’t I?”

“But nobody said such an unpleasant words,” Ah Ke replied.

Wei Xiaobao smiled without saying anything. “People were saying words ten times more unpleasant,” he mused.

Feng Nandi said, “The big traitor’s crime is great, his evil extreme, everyone gnashed his teeth in hatred. Although that little brother is young, he knew that we all wish to feed on his raw flesh and spread his dead skin in our bedroom. Tonight everybody gathers here, it is precisely to discuss a brilliant plan on how to put this traitor to death.”

Immediately the crowd of warriors offered their suggestions one after another. Someone said that they all should go to Yunnan, force their way into Ping Xi Wang Mansion, and massacre Wu Sangui’s entire family, without leaving anything; not even their chicken or their dogs. Someone else responded that the Thief Wu had numerous troops and horses under his command, open attack would be difficult to succeed, hence it was not a good way to assassinate him. Someone said that killing him with one stab was too easy for him; it would be better to have his eyes gouged, his hands broken, and made him suffer unbearable pain. Someone said that they had better used violent poison, so that his whole body would rot slowly.

A middle-aged woman dressed in black said that it would be best to have Wu Sangui’s entire family, old and young, massacred; leaving him, one man, alone, so that he would feel the suffering of being lonely and desolate. Another middle-aged man said that Wu Sangui surrendered to the Qing because of his love toward Concubine Chen Yuanyuan, whom Li Chuang[1] forcibly took away; it would be better to capture Chen Yuanyuan, so that Wu Sangui would die of broken-heart. Someone else responded that although Wu Sangui was a lecher, the love of his life was after all power and position, riches and honor; hence it would be best to let him achieve fame, riches and honor, but let his wife, sons and daughters to be impoverished, to reduce them to be beggars on the earth, but don’t let them die.

Several hundred heroes cheered loudly; they all said, “With a punishment like that, it can be considered a punishment for his entire family.”

A man said, “Manchurian Qing Tatars favor him considerably, they set the evil thief as the Ping Xi Wang[2], his power and influence reach the heavens. Killing his wife and children is already not easy, taking away his power, riches and honor would be as difficult as ascending to the heavens.”

A Yunnan native stood up and recounted how Wu Sangui bully common people in Yunnan, how he kill people like mowing grass, and how he create all kinds of disaster. The listening warriors were filled with righteous indignation, their blood was boiling. Several people said if they let Wu Sangui wield power for one more day, several more innocent common people would die under his hands. But on how to get rid of this dangerous traitor, nobody had a really good idea.

By this time Feng Nandi, father and sons’ subordinates arrived with the delivery of beef, flat bread, wine and water. The crowd of heroes cheered and ate and drank to their hearts’ content. As soon as wine entered these warriors’ belly, their speech became even more unrestrained and their ideas became even wilder.

Someone said that after they capture Chen Yuanyuan, they must open a brothel, and let Wu Sangui become the big turtle.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard this idea, he agreed with all his heart. “This brothel must be opened in Yangzhou,” he called out.

A warrior laughed and said, “Xiao Xiongdi’s [little brother] idea is fine. When that time comes, will you or will you not go to have a visit?”

Wei Xiaobao was about to reply, “Naturally I will go,” but in a glance he saw Ah Ke’s angry look; thereupon he did not dare to say it out loud.

“Xiaobao,” Jiu Nan said, “Do not talk like these obscene people of the marketplace.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied, but in his heart he mused, “In the business of opening a brothel, perhaps among several thousand people in here, no one has expertise like laozi’s.”

After the people ate and drank for some time, Feng Nandi stood up and said, “We all are rough martial people who, risking death, are used to use saber and spear to kill our enemies, who are bound by righteousness, but we are shallow and crude in facing important matters of the world. Right now I am asking Mr. Gu Tinglin to give us advice. Mr. Gu is a profound scholar of the present age. After our country was broken, he, the Senior, rushed around all parts of our country, contacting virtuous warriors, concentrating his thoughts and efforts to plan and prepare the restoration of our country. Everybody admires him very much.”

There were not a few among the crowd who had heard Gu Tinglin’s name, perhaps from ten people, eight or nine had heard about his reputation; immediately thunderous applause erupted from all directions.

A thin, old man stood up from among the crowd, he was none other than Gu Tinglin. Cupping his hand across his chest, he said, “Feng Daxia [great hero] praised me like this, Xiongdi is really ashamed and dare not accept the honor. Just now I have heard everybody’s opinion, each one harbors loyal and patriotic heart, each one is determined to put this big traitor to death, Xiongdi is indeed full of admiration. The men of old said, ‘Unity of will is an impregnable stronghold’; someone else has said, ‘sincerity splits open metal and stone’. If everybody is working as one, determined to deal with this criminal ringleader, even of he has a gargantuan ability, we can still succeed.”

The crowd of heroes erupted in cheers, “Right, right! We can certainly succeed.”

Gu Tinglin said, “The schemes all of you have raised, every one of them is a brilliant idea, it’s just that to deal with this treacherous bandit, we must change according to the situation. It’s hard to decide in advance which plan would work best. In Xiongdi’s humble opinion, we all must advance separately at the same time, we will act as circumstances dictate: first, naturally we must never leak the secret, otherwise this traitor will step up his guard. Second, we must not be reckless, everything must be planned well before we go into action, so that we will not deliver our lives in vain. Third, we all are good Xiongdi; we must not fight with each other and harm the yi qi in striving to set the meritorious deed first.”

The crowd of heroes replied, “Yes, yes, Mr. Gu is absolutely right.”

Gu Tinglin continued, “Heroes and warriors of every school, sect, clan and society gather here today. If from now on we return to our separate ways, our strength will be scattered too much. If we form one large clan, the number of people is indeed too large; it will be too easy for the Tatars and that Thief Wu to detect our presence. I wonder if you have a good idea.”

The crowd of heroes fell silent. After quite a while, someone said, “I wonder if Mr. Gu has a wise opinion.”

Gu Tinglin said, “From what Xiongdi saw, all heroes from eighteen provinces are represented here. We form one union per one province, altogether we will have eighteen ‘turtle-slaying alliances’. Oh, by the way, ‘turtle-slaying alliance’ does not sound too elegant, it would be better to call it ‘weeding-out traitor alliance’; what do you think?”

One after another the crowd of warriors clapped and cheered. They said, “The words of a scholar is definitely different from crude people like us.”

Before his participation in the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ at Hejian Prefecture, Gu Tinglin had had careful deliberations; he felt that if the crowd of heroes had one mind to kill Wu Sangui, everybody made one vigorous effort and advance bravely, killing him might not be too difficult. But the real important matter was not to kill this traitor to China, rather, it was to drive the Manchurians away and recover Han people’s rivers and mountains. If in order to put to death one person the number of casualties is significant, and their vitality harmed, it would be damaging to their great undertaking of recovering the country instead.

Martial art practitioners put great emphasis on school and sect, to put these several thousand warriors under one person’s command would be very difficult to accomplish. In order to vie over the ‘meng zhu’ [alliance master, I am aware that other translators have used ‘chancellor’] position, they would inevitably struggle in the light and fight in the dark, there would be a lot of hostility. If the defeated party was narrow-minded, they might switch side and inform the Qing court or even Wu Sangui. But if they were split into eighteen provinces’ alliance, with each alliance elect their own alliance leader, not only they all would not be lumped together in confusion, they would not be under one command either. Moreover, it would be a lot easier than electing one ‘meng zhu’. In the future, this eighteen provinces’ ‘weeding-out traitor alliance’ may be gradually expanded to be the backbone of the uprising against the Qing. Hearing that his proposal was met with approval of this crowd of heroes, he was very pleased.

Feng Nandi said, “Mr. Gu’s idea is extremely brilliant. Since nobody has any objection, we are going to form ‘weeding-out traitor alliance’ for eighteen provinces. Each province will elect their own alliance leader. The way we determine which province we will belong to is not according to our native place, but according to which province our school or sect is located. For example, Shaolin Temple’s lay disciples may be from Liao Dong or Yunnan, but they will all belong to Henan province. Huashan Pai disciples will all belong to Shanxi province. What do you think?”

The crowd of heroes responded, “It should be so. Otherwise, people from the same school, the same sect, the same clan or the same society from different provinces will belong to various alliances; it would be a complete mess.”

Someone stood up and said, “What about our Tian Di Hui? We have quite a number of halls in different provinces, while our zongduo [lit. head/chief helm – headquarters] location is not fixed either. May I ask how should we decide which province we will belong to?”

Wei Xiaobao noticed that the speaker was actually Qian Laoben. “Turns out he is also here,” he thought, “I wonder how many of my Green Wood Hall’s brothers are here.”

In a loud and clear voice Feng Nandi replied, “Mr. Gu said that the numerous heroes of the halls of Tian Di Hui in Guangdong should belong to Guangdong province, the different halls of Zhili [see Note 3 Chapter 9] should belong to Zhili. We are forming alliances just for the common goal to accomplish the important matter, not to break up school, sect, clan and society. The duty of the ‘meng zhu’ of ‘weeding-out traitor alliance’ is simply to communicate with the heroes of his province, to pool together the heroes’ brains and brawns. As for the internal matter of each school, each sect, each clan and each society, naturally the ‘meng zhu’ has no right to intervene. The ‘meng zhu’ of each province is not higher than the ‘zhang men’ [sect leader/head/chief] of each school or sect, or higher than the ‘bang zhu’ [clan leader] of each clan or society.”

At first some people among the crowd were apprehensive, they were afraid that the elected ‘meng zhu’ of each province would inevitable lower their own position. Listening to Feng Nandi’s explanation, they understood and all doubts in their heart gone. Immediately they split up into their respective province to elect their leader.

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Which province should we join?”

“I won’t join anything,” Jiu Nan said, “I am coming and going alone, I don’t need to join any alliance.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Based on your, Senior’s status and martial art, you should be the ‘meng zhu’ of the entire world’s alliance.”

“Hey,” Jiu Nan said, “You must not say those words again, so that nobody would hear it and we won’t provoke any ridicule.”

In her heart, among the heroes attending the assembly, there was no one whose status was more respected than hers. This Great Ming’s rivers and lakes originally belonged to her Zhu family anyway. As for the martial art cultivation, other than learning the Iron Sword School martial art under Taoist Priest Mu Sang’s tutelage, more than ten years ago she had a fortuitous meeting that her ‘hundred-chi bamboo pole’ was advancing one step forward, so that compared to Priest Mu Sang of the past, she had far surpassed him like the ‘green is born of blue, but the green beats the blue’. Looking at the present age, perhaps other than Yuan Chengzhi, whose whereabouts was unknown, no one could be considered her match.

The crowd of heroes on the grassy field was divided into eighteen groups, with about seventy, eighty people standing up, scattered around the field. These were people with outstanding talent, who, like Jiu Nan, were not willing to be the ‘meng zhu’, but were not willing to accept orders from other people either. Understanding clearly that these were martial art masters of Wulin world with eccentric characters, Gu Tinglin and Feng Nandi did not force them, thinking that since they had attended the assembly, when there is any problem in the future, they might lend a hand in secret.

Before long, several provinces had already had their ‘meng zhu’ elected. Henan province elected the Abbot of Shaolin Temple, Hui Cong Chanshi [Dhyana Master]. Hubei province elected the Zhangmenren [sect leader] of Wudang Pai, Priest Yun Yan. Shanxi province was Zhangmenren of Huashan Pai, ‘Awe-inspiring on Eight Sides’ Feng Nandi. Yunnan province was Mu Jiansheng, Mu Gongzi of the Mu Palace. Fujian province was Yan Ping Jun Wang’s second son, Zheng Keshuang. All these people were in favor with the public, in a short while nobody raised any objection.

As for other provinces, there were minor disagreements, some people refused to concede, hence they could not make decision. In the end they asked Gu Tinglin to impartially mediate; eventually all provinces had elected their leaders, including three Tian Di Hui’s ‘xiang zhu’ [fragrant hall masters] elected to be the ‘meng zhu’ in three provinces. It could be considered that Tian Di Hui had gained considerable face that day.

Presently the elected alliance leaders of all provinces met together, but it turned out that only thirteen were present, Dhyana Master Hui Cong, Priest Yun Yan, and the others did not attend the assembly, only their disciples participated on behalf of their masters.

In a loud and clear voice Feng Nandi said, “Now that the eighteen provinces’ ‘meng zhu’ have been elected, Xiongdi is not going to announce their revered surname and great names in public to avoid the secret from leaking out.”

The alliance leaders met for a while. Feng Nandi also said, “We are respectfully asking Mr. Gu Tinglin and Chen Zongduozhu of Tian Di Hui to be chief military strategist [orig. ‘zong jun shi’ – chief army master] of the eighteen provinces’ ‘weeding-out the traitor alliances’.” The crowd of heroes broke off in thunderous applause. Hearing his Shifu was highly revered by this crowd of heroes by being appointed as the chief military strategist of this ‘weeding-out the traitor alliances’, Wei Xiaobao was very proud.

Immediately the crowd of heroes split into several groups to discuss how they were going to kill Wu Sangui. A pile on the east, a bunch on the west, the discussions were very enthusiastic.

Jiu Nan took Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke back to the inn. Early in the morning the next day they hired a carriage and continued their journey eastward. Jiu Nan knew that as the crowd returned to their native places, they might came across some acquaintances along the way, hence she did not remove her disguise.

Seeing Zheng Keshuang was no longer following them, Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he did not stop talking about the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ the previous night. After listening to him for a while, Ah Ke shot him malicious look and said, “I know why you are this happy.”

“You are very smart,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You have guessed it right. With these many people want to kill Wu Sangui, how could we be unsuccessful? Naturally I am very happy.”

“Humph,” Ah Ke said, “Definitely you are happy not because of that. How can there be any goodness in your heart?”

“That’s strange,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why am I happy then?”

Ah Ke said, “It’s because Zheng Gongzi … Zheng Gongzi …”

Seeing her upset expression, Wei Xiaobao deliberately provoked her, he said, “Ah, I forgot. Zheng Gongzi is really a good man. When I went out to hire the carriage just now, I saw him with four good-looking women, he was talking and laughing with them. When he saw me, he told me to send his regards to Shifu and you.”

Ah Ke’s heart skipped a beat. “Why … why didn’t you say so earlier?” she said, “What else did he say?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “He said that those heroines wanted to visit Taiwan to have fun, he is taking them along, saying that he must fulfill his land … land something.”

“Friendship of the land-owner,” Ah Ke said with clenched teeth.

“That’s right, that’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Turns out Shijie was behind me just now, you have heard everything.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “I did not hear it until now.” Speaking to this point, her voice broke.

After traveling for more than ten li, they heard sound of hooves behind them, several dozen riders were coming fast at them. A delighted expression appeared on Ah Ke’s face. But those dozens of riders swept past the large carriage, galloping to the east without stopping at all. Ah Ke’s countenance sank.

“What a pity, what a pity,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It is not.”

“What a pity what?” Ah Ke said.

“What a pity it was not Zheng Gongzi catching up with us,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“He … Why would he want to catch up with us?” Ah Ke asked.

“Perhaps he wanted to invite you to Taiwan to have fun with them,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Wah!” Ah Ke broke up crying.

Jiu Nan understood the content of her female disciple’s heart. “Xiaobao,” she scolded him, “Stop playing dirty trick to provoke your Shijie.”

Wei Xiaobao was very delighted in his heart, but his mouth said, “Yes, yes.” Yet he continued, “The prince’s descendants and young masters of nobility all over the world have three wives four concubines, they are people with the least conscience. When those four good-looking heroines reach Taiwan, I’ll say it will be difficult for them to come back. When this Zheng Gongzi reaches Zhejiang, Fujian, perhaps he will take several more beautiful women.”

“Xiaobao,” Jiu Nan spoke harshly.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The three of them travelled until noon, and stopped by a small family noodle shop by the road. Suddenly they heard hoof beats, several dozen more riders coming from the west. When the riders arrived outside the noodle shop, they dismounted and entered the restaurant. Someone called out, “Kill the chicken, cut the beef, make some noodles, quick, quick!” And then they all sat down.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao saw them, he recognized these people as Xu Tianchuan, Qian Laoben, Guan Anji, Li Lishi, Feng Jizhong, Gao Yanchao, Priest Xuanzhen, Fan Gang, and the other martial art experts from the Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui. He thought, “Although at the assembly last night I said several words, cursed several people, but there were so many people around, the atmosphere was chaotic, they were far away from where I was. It must be that they did not recognize me in the dark, otherwise, why didn’t they come to greet me? If I make myself known to them right now, we will talk about all kinds of matters endlessly. Plus if they saw me having another Shifu, they might not like it. I might as well pretend that I did not see them.” Thereupon he turned his body sideways and did not look directly at them.

A moment later, the food and wine Xu Tianchuan and the others ordered were being delivered one after another. They picked the chopsticks and were about to eat when suddenly there were more hoof beats, another group of people arrived at the restaurant. Someone called out, “Kill the chicken, cut the beef, make some noodles, quick, quick!”

Ah Ke was very delighted that she called out, “Zheng … Zheng Gongzi has arrived.” Turned out this group of people was Zheng Keshuang and his attendants.

Hearing Ah Ke’s call, he turned his head and saw her. Greatly delighted, he walked over and said, “Miss Chen, Shitai, you are here. I looked for you everywhere but could not find you.”

The noodle shop was actually very small and narrow, the Tian Di Hui warriors occupied six tables, plus Ah Ke and the others occupied another table, there was no other table. A Zheng Mansion’s attendant said to Xu Tianchuan, “Hey, old man, why don’t you crowd together some more? Let us have several tables.”

During the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ the previous night, Zheng Keshuang was wearing Ming Dynasty’s nobility attire, catching everybody’s attention. Xu Tianchuan and the others were aware that Tian Di Hui was, in fact, an organization under Yan Ping Jun Wang. They originally wanted to offer up their seats; however, this attendant was really rude that as soon as they heard it, they were all angry. “Damn it,” Priest Xuanzhen cursed, “Who do they think they are?”

Li Lishi signaled him with his eyes, he said in a low voice, “We are on the same side, don’t lower ourselves to their level. There is no harm in giving them some seats.” Immediately Xu Tianchuan, Guan Anji, Gao Yanchao, and Fan Gang, four people stood up and moved to Feng Jizhong’s table, and thus freed up one table.

By this time Zheng Keshuang had already sat down by Jiu Nan. Ah Ke glowered at Wei Xiaobao and said, “You lied on my face; you said Zheng Gongzi is taking four whatever heroines with him …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as Zheng Gongzi arrived, you don’t want to sit next to me anymore, if you see me, you won’t be able to eat your noodle; it has nothing to do with what I said.” He walked over to Xu Tianchuan’s table and sat down; he said in a low voice, “Just pretend you don’t know me.”

As soon as Xu Tianchuan and the others saw him, they were pleasantly surprised. But every one of these people was Jianghu veteran and was very astute. When they heard him, they understood immediately, they all remained calm and collected.

“We’ll pretend that we have never met each other,” Wei Xiaobao continued in a low voice, “Xu San Ge, please pass it on to everybody.”

Xu Tianchuan stood up and walked over to Li Lishi’s table; he said in a low voice, “Our Hall’s Wei Xiangzhu is here; he wants everybody to pretend we don’t know each other.” Li Lishi and the others did not even turn their heads, they continued eating and drinking, but their hearts were delighted. In a short moment the information had been passed to other tables.

On the other table, Zheng Keshuang was in high spirit; he said in a loud voice, “Shitai, during the meeting last night, the numerous heroes elected me as the Fujian province’s ‘meng zhu’. We were discussing important matters until daybreak. When I returned to the inn, I looked for you, but you have already left. We pursued along the way, luckily we can meet you here.”

Jiu Nan said, “Congratulations Zheng Gongzi. However, this is a secret important matter, we must not mention it in public with numerous people around.”

“Yes,” Zheng Keshuang said, “Fortunately there are no other people in here. These crude peasants won’t understand even if they heard it.”

Actually, the Tian Di Hui warriors were dressed as peasants, they were all bare-footed, some even carried a hoe or toothed rake. There were too many people in the meeting last night that Zheng Keshuang did not recognize them.

Wei Xiaobao lowered his head and ate the noodle, he said in a low voice, “This fellow is very arrogant; in Hejian Prefecture these past few days he boasted everywhere, saying that our Tian Di Hui is his Taiwan Yan Ping Mansion’s subordinate, he said that when Zongduozhu sees him, he is very respectful that he does not even dare to breath out loud. He also said that our certain hall’s Xiangzhu Cai Laoge [old brother] was formerly his yeye’s [paternal grandfather] stable hand, that certain hall’s Xiangzhu Li Laoge also fetched chamber pot for his yeye …”

Guan Anji angrily said, “How can there be such thing? Although Cai Xiangzhu, Li Xiangzhu were Koxinga’s [orig. Guo Xing Ye – master of Guoxing] subordinates, they were military officers who went to fight battles …”

Xu Tianchuan said in a low voice, “Guan Fuzi, lower your voice.” Guan Anji nodded.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “He also made many negative remarks and malicious words about our Green Wood Hall’s Yin Xiangzhu. Others commented that Yin Xiangzhu has died early on. This fellow responded, ‘That’s right. This fellow surnamed Yin’s martial art skill was low, his leadership skill was also second rate, I knew early on that he would be a short-lived ghost’ …”

Guan Anji was extremely angry; he raised his palm to strike the table heavily. Xu Tianchuan deftly reached up and caught his wrist.

Wei Xiaobao knew that this group of warriors would not want to offend Yan Ping Mansion’s people, much less this fellow was their Wangye’s [master king] son. If he did not instigate wantonly, it would be hard for him to provoke them into action. Seeing these people getting angry, he was secretly delighted, but he maintained grim expression on his face. He said, “This fellow talked nonsense; which is not a big deal, actually. But along the way he kept bragging, he mentioned many secret and important matters of our Society. Even to people he has just met he said something like ‘high mountain ridge arose from the earth, a group of mountain creeks is elegant for all eternity’. He claimed to have sat on the Red Flower Pavilion on the mountain peak, Zongduozhu burned six incense sticks, he himself burned seven incense sticks. Other people did not understand what he was saying, he then explained in details …”

The crowd of warriors shook their heads. He revealed a secret of their society just like that, if this information ever reached the imperial court’s eagle claws’ ears, the lives of Tian Di Hui’s brothers would be in danger. But with their own eyes they had seen Zheng Keshuang’s frivolous expression, even the attendants he brought were bossy and domineering; why would they think Wei Xiaobao was telling lies? Moreover, just now they heard him bragging to a woman about the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ the previous night, immensely proud of himself he proclaimed to be the Fujian province’s alliance leader.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll say we must kill his loftiness, otherwise he might harm our important matter.” The crowd of heroes slowly nodded their heads. Wei Xiaobao continued, “I am asking Feng Dage to beat him up, but don’t hit him too hard, just teach him a lesson. And then I will come out to avenge his grievance. I am asking Feng Dage to pretend that you lost to me.” Feng Jizhong nodded slightly. Wei Xiaobao added, “Qian Laoben, you spoke in the meeting last night, I am afraid this fellow would recognize you.”

“Yes,” Qian Laoben said in a low voice, “I am going to make myself scarce first.”

There were still quite a number of Zheng Mansion attendants who did not have any seat. Seeing a few empty seats among the Tian Di Hui warriors’ tables, one of them nudged Xu Tianchuan’s back lightly and said, “Hey, there are still empty seats over there, why don’t you move and let us have this table?”

Xu Tianchuan sprang up and cursed, “We let you have one table and that’s still not enough? Laozi hates to see young masters of rich family relying on force to bully others the most.” Coughing out, ‘whoosh!’ thick phlegm shot out toward Zheng Keshuang.

Zheng Keshuang was talking to Ah Ke, he was caught totally off-guard; by the time he heard the wind, the phlegm was already too close to his cheek. Hastily he dodged, but the phlegm still landed on his neck. It was slimy and sticky; really disgusting. Hurriedly he pulled his handkerchief and busily wiped it, while cursing loudly and angrily, “Disregarding the law and natural morality these several mud-footed peasants are attacking me!”

An attendant immediately sent a punch toward Xu Tianchuan. “Aiyo!” Xu Tianchuan cried out. Without waiting for the punch to reach his face, Xu Tianchuan threw his body backward; he was pretending to be in a very difficult situation, while bellowing, “Help! Murder! Murder!” Zheng Keshuang and Ah Ke laughed aloud.

Feng Jizhong stood up, pointed at Zheng Keshuang and shouted, “What’s so funny?”

Zheng Keshuang angrily replied, “I want to laugh, what does it have to do with you?”

Feng Jizhong stretched out his hand. ‘Slap!’ A heavy slap landed on Zheng Keshuang’s face. Zheng Keshuang was both startled and angered; he threw his body forward and repeatedly punched with both fists. Feng Jizhong dodged to the left and evaded to the right, and then he turned around and ran out of the door. Zheng Keshuang ran after him, while sending a punch straight to Feng Jizhong’s face. Feng Jizhong leaned sideways to evade.

Feng Jizhong understood Wei Xiaobao’s intention; he must let this young master Zheng to suffer as much humiliation as possible to pull down his arrogance. Hence he only sent a punch to the east and a kick to the west, going around and around fighting with him.

Xu Tianchuan called out, “As heroes of Henan’s Mount Funiu, we must not let our prestige to fall under this fellow’s hands.”

The rest of the warriors also cheered and yelled; they all knew that although there was no harm in fooling around with this young man, they must not let him know their real background. Therefore, although they were cursing and shouting, they did not utter even half an inappropriate word, or anything that would disgrace his family or school.

Li Lishi shouted, “This time we go out from Funiu Mountain to do business, before even reaching the marketplace we are lucky to come across this richly bedecked fellow. We might as well capture him, have his old man to pay us one million taels as the ransom.”

Seeing their young master was unable to defeat this crude peasant in a short time, plus hearing from their shouts that these people were actually bandits and robbers from Mount Funiu, the Zheng Mansion attendants pulled out their weapons and charged forward. Xu Tianchuan, Fan Gang, Priest Xuanzhen, Gao Yanchao, Guan Anji, Li Lishi, and the others immediately made their moves. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang!’ The fight was very noisy.

Although those Zheng Mansion attendants were hand-picked warriors, how could they match the Tian Di Hui warriors? Much less just a few days ago they were injured by the lamas, every one of them suffered either broken arm or broken leg. In just a short period of time, they were all subdued by Tian Di Hui heroes. Only Tian Di Hui heroes were being lenient to them; they only snatched away their weapons and surrounded them, but when snatching their sabers or swords, they did not harm them at all.

On the other side, Zheng Keshuang had fought more than a dozen rounds; he saw Feng Jizhong’s hands and feet were clumsy, he kept staggering along as if his stances were extremely unsteady. Zheng Keshuang gathered his spirits, unleashing everything he had learned his entire life. He wanted to show off in front of Ah Ke, to win favor of this extremely beautiful woman. His fists created strong winds, his kicks made noise; move by move he pressed on. Feng Jizhong appeared to have barely enough strength to parry; often times he managed to evade at the nick of time [orig. jian jun yi fa – a thousand jun (unit of measure equivalent to thirty catties) one hair, ‘a thousand pounds hang by a thread’].

Ah Ke watched with anxious heart; she did not stop calling softly, “Aiyo, what a pity, he missed only a little.”

Wei Xiaobao came near and said, “Shifu, you, Senior has not completely recovered, these bandits are very vicious, when Zheng Gongzi is defeated, you, Senior, must not fight with them.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “Don’t you see he has complete upper hand? How can he lose? Really talk nonsense.”

Jiu Nan smiled and said, “These people do not seem to have evil intention toward Zheng Gongzi at all; they are just playing with him. The opponent’s martial art skill is a lot higher compared to Zheng Gongzi’s.”

Ah Ke was incredulous. “Shifu,” she asked, “Are you saying that this robber’s martial art is stronger than Zheng Gongzi?”

Jiu Nan smiled and said, “Do I need to tell you that? This man’s martial art skill is indeed excellent, I am afraid they are not necessarily some Funiu Mountain robbers. If they were really robbers, they would not carelessly blurt it out, saying that they were going to kidnap him and ask for a ransom.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “In the end, Shifu’s insight is very clear.” He said, “In that case, why don’t disciple urge them not to fight?”

Ah Ke shot him a malicious look; she said, “What face do you have? What skill do you have that you can urge them not to fight?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Although this robber’s martial art is strong, there must be holes in his punching and kicking. Zheng Gongzi cannot beat him, I guarantee that within ten moves I will beat him and make him flee to the wilderness.”

Jiu Nan knew his martial art skill was meager, but perhaps he had some strange or weird tactics, enough to score victory. “These people do not seem to be evil people, you must not harm their lives.” After a short pause, she continued, “Those lowly tricks such us knock-out drug, poison and so on, must not be used, unless you are facing a life and death situation. You have entered my Iron Sword School, you must not damage our school’s reputation.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I hear and obey Shifu’s instruction, I simply will not harm them.”

Jiu Nan sighed gently, as her mind suddenly revisited the Huashan’s summit, when the Iron Sword School’s Sect Leader Yuzhen Zi came to pick a fight with Priest Mu Sang. Yuzhen Zi had committed any imaginable misdeed: raping, looting, and so on. Speaking about Iron Sword School’s reputation, first of all, the number of disciples was very few, their reputation was not resounding; secondly, due to Yuzhen Zi’s conduct, in reality their reputation was not too great anyway. This young disciple was frivolous and jumpy, if he did not step into the proper way, it was very likely that in the future he would become Yuzhen Zi’s direct descendant, and that would be greatly inappropriate.

Seeing the sudden appearance of worried look on her face, naturally Wei Xiaobao did not understand the reason, he still thought that it was because she saw the Tian Di Hui warriors’ martial art was not weak, while her own martial art had not recovered, hence she felt it would be very difficult to deal with this situation. Thereupon he said, “Shifu, please set your heart at ease, I have a way to save Zheng Gongzi’s life.”

Ah Ke spat and said, “You speak nonsense again. Zheng Gongzi is going to win in a flash, what life do you want to save?”

Just as she finished speaking, there was ripping noise, Zheng Keshuang’s long gown was pulled and ripped. Zheng Keshuang was furious, he fought faster, but there was a series of continuous ripping noise; like the talon of an eagle Feng Jizhong’s ten fingers ripped his long gown, his undergarment and trousers, piece by piece. But he used just enough strength so that Zheng Keshuang’s flesh was not harmed.

Zheng Keshuang realized that with several more rips, he would be stark naked. In his fright he turned around trying to flee. Feng Jizhong bent his arms, both of his elbows were already stationed in front of Zheng Keshuang’s chest. Zheng Keshuang hastily pulled back, while sending out a double-punch. Suddenly he felt his wrist tightened, Feng Jizhong’s left hand grabbed his right hand, his right hand gripped Zheng Keshuang’s left hand. In one fluid motion he twisted around, sending Zheng Keshuang’s away. “Catch this!” he shouted. Unexpectedly this throw had sent Zheng Keshuang’s body seven, eight zhang away.

Priest Xuanzhen launched his qinggong to catch up, he raised his head and called out, “Gao Xiongdi, your turn!”

Gao Yanchao leaped immediately. Fan Gang, Xu Tianchuan, Guan Anji, and the others thought it was fun; they all shouted and rushed to join the game. Priest Xuanzhen caught Zheng Keshuang and tossed him over, he fell just as Gao Yanchao rushed over. Gao Yanchao caught him and threw him several zhang away toward Xu Tianchuan.

These people’s strength varied, some were stronger than the others, their qinggong also varied, some high, some low; when they threw Zheng Keshuang, some managed to throw him farther than the other, when they rushed to catch him, some could move faster than the other, yet Zheng Keshuang stayed in the air for several dozen zhang, and had never fallen to the ground. The Tian Di Hui warriors displayed what they were really good at; it was only now that they revealed their true skill.

Guan Anji’s physical strength was amazing; he tossed Zheng Keshuang about four, five zhang high in the air, and when he fell, he gave Zheng Keshuang’s back a push with both palms, two lines of force working together to send Zheng Keshuang high to the air, as if he was soaring to the clouds or riding in the fog.

Wei Xiaobao was watching with extreme delight; he clapped and laughed heartily. ‘Bang!’ Suddenly Ah Ke knocked the back of his head heavily with her knuckles. He was startled and quickly turned his head around. Ah Ke was frightened and angry at the same time; she anxiously said, “They are going to kidnap him, you … quickly save him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “They have no enmity with Zheng Gongzi, Shifu said that they are just playing with him; why would you be worry?”

“No, they are not,” Ah Ke said, “They are going to kidnap him, to demand ransom for one million taels.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There are lots of money in Zheng Gongzi’s home. They can easily afford to pay three millions, four millions taels. One million taels is not a big deal.”

Ah Ke stomped her right foot heavily on the floor. “Ay, don’t you have eyes?” she said, “These bandits will … will make him suffer extreme distress.”

Wei Xiaobao whispered in her ear, “You want me to save him? It’s not difficult, as long as you agree to be my wife.”

“Nonsense,” Ah Ke angrily said.

Looking up, she saw that after the last man caught Zheng Keshuang, he did not throw him up anymore; she heard someone calling out, “Hey, quickly go get the money and come back to Mount Funiu to redeem him. We won’t harm this fellow’s life, we will only give him three hundred floggings. The money is here one day early, he will suffer three hundred less floggings. If you are ten days late, he will suffer three thousand more floggings.”

Ah Ke grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s hand and anxiously said, “Did you hear that? Did you hear that? They are going to give him three hundred floggings every day. From here to Taiwan is very far, they won’t necessarily make it back in one month.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Three hundred floggings every day. Supposing they took two months, two months is 60 days, three times six is eighteen, it’s only 1800 floggings …”

“Ay, you are wrong,” Ah Ke said, “It’s 18,000 floggings. You are really …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am not good in counting. With 18,000 floggings, his ‘pigu gong’ [buttocks skill] can be trained to perfection.”

Ah Ke was extremely angry; she flung his hand and said, “I won’t pay you any attention.” In her anger and anxiety, she broke up crying.

“Alright, alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Don’t cry, I’ll think of something. But my proposal just now, you must not go back on your words.”

“You quickly save him, we’ll talk about it later,” Ah Ke said.

Wei Xiaobao knew that she was only blurting perfunctorily, she would never agree under any circumstances to really marry him; he said, “I will go through water and tread on fire for you, I won’t decline your request under any circumstances, but in the future you must not bully me again.”

“Yes, yes,” Ah Ke said, “Quickly go, quickly go!” While saying that, her eyes had never met his, she kept her gaze on the distant Zheng Keshuang. She saw those bandits tied his hands behind his back, and put him onto the horseback; very soon they were going to take him away. In a moment of desperation, she put her hand on Wei Xiaobao’s back and gave him a push.

Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “His granny, laozi met a beautiful girl, she always asks me to save her sweetheart. Laozi may be extremely skillful in becoming a fool [orig. ‘yuan da tou’ – someone with more money than sense]; perhaps my ‘yuan da tou gong’ is also trained to perfection.” Quickly he rushed forward and called out, “Hey, hey Funiu Montain’s big kings[3], zaixia has something to say.”

The crowd of heroes was already waiting for him to bravely step forward; they turned around immediately. “Xiao Xiongdi,” Gao Yanchao said, “What is it that you want to say?”

“Why did you catch him?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Gao Yanchao replied, “The brethren in mountain fort is many, yet we lack provision. Today we temporarily detain him, because we want to borrow one million taels from his father.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “One million taels, that’s a small matter. Why don’t I lend it to you?”

Gao Yanchao laughed aloud and said, “Xiao Xiongdi, what is your honored surname and great given name? What makes you talk big like that?”

“My name is Wei Xiaobao,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Aiyo,” Gao Yanchao exclaimed; he cupped his fist and bowed, saying, “Turns out it’s the Little White Dragon Hero Wei [the word here is ‘ying xiong’, not ‘da xia’]. You killed the Number One Warrior of Manchuria Oboi, your name became famous throughout the world, we admire you very much. Today we can pay our respect to our revered model, it is indeed the blessing of three lifetimes.”

Fan Gang and the others respectfully bowed and saluted. Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the salute while saying, “I do not dare to accept the honor.”

Gao Yanchao said, “In view of Hero Wei’s great face, we’ll let this fellow go. That one million taels we do not dare to ask anymore.”

Xu Tianchuan fetched two big silver yuanbao from his pocket and presented the money respectfully with both hands, saying, “Hero Wei, if you do not have enough traveling expense along the way, here is a hundred taels, please accept it and use it first.”

“Thank you very much,” Wei Xiaobao said, while accepting the yuanbao. And then he turned around to give it to Ah Ke.

Not in a million years would Ah Ke expect this little vile creature’s reputation was this resounding. When these devils and monsters big robbers heard him announcing his name, they acted as if they had met their superior. How could she know that this ‘little vile creature’ was indeed those ‘big robbers’ immediate superior? In order to please their superior, these ‘big robbers’ had deliberately redoubled their effort to flatter him, and thus had performed a good play. She was pleasantly surprised, thinking that finally Zheng Gongzi would escape from danger.

But she saw Feng Jizhong took a step forward and said, “Wait a moment. Hero Wei, you killed Oboi, we extremely admire you. It’s just that we do not know each other. How do we know that you are indeed Hero Wei and not someone pretending to be him, assuming the Senior’s great name to come out and swindle us?”

“What you said makes sense,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “What can I do so that Sire is convinced?”

Feng Jizhong said, “Zaixia brazenly asks Hero Wei to give me direction with three moves. The Number One Warrior of Manchuria died in your hands, naturally Honored Sir’s martial art skill is no small matter. Whether you are real or fake, once we test it we will find out.”

“Very well,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We will only try the style, one touch and we stop.”

“Absolutely,” Feng Jizhong said, “I am asking Hero Wei to be lenient, so that zaixia will not seriously hurt.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly amused; he thought, “Feng Dage usually does not like to talk; who would have thought that when playacting, he could emulate the actors very well.” Thereupon he said, “Laoxiong needs not be polite, perhaps I am not your match.”

With left hand finger pointed out, light as a feather his right palm struck out; only after moving for half a chi, the palm suddenly circled around and struck down diagonally. It was precisely the move from Bo’re Palm that Cheng Guan demonstrated, called the ‘without color without shape’.

Feng Jizhong’s had a vast knowledge and experience. “Wonderful!” he called out, “This is a masterstroke from Bo’re Palm, called ‘without color …’ something.” Stretching out his hand to block, he threw his upper body backward to evade too far that he nearly fell down.

Actually, there was not even half a part of internal energy; Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Sire is right. This move is called ‘without color without shape’.” And then he raised his left hand and struck down diagonally from upper right corner to lower left. Suddenly his five fingers turned into a claw and moved down several times.

Feng Jizhong loudly shouted, “Amazing! There is the ‘Bo’re Palm’ divine skill, and then there is ‘spirited vulture listening to the scripture’.” Assuming the horse stance, he pushed both palms slowly forward, the center of his palm lightly touched Wei Xiaobao’s fingertips. Immediately he cried out, “Ah!” and tumbled anxiously backward three times. While somersaulting, he secretly circulated his internal energy so that by the time he stood up, his entire face was red as if he had just drunk seventeen, eighteen bowls of strong wine. Hid body swayed several times, and then he fell sitting down. Shaking his head, he said, “Can’t … can’t do it … no more fight. My utmost admiration! Hero Wei, thank you very much for sparing my life.”

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist and said, “Laoxiong deliberately yielded to me.” While saying that, he winked several times.

Feng Jizhong’s appearance looked very real; he had a dejected expression, mixed with gratitude, on his face, but there was also a hint of heartfelt admiration.

Xu Tianchuan took a step forward and said, “Hero Wei’s martial art is astonishing, indeed your name is not in vain. Let ziaxia experience several moves.”

“Very well!” Wei Xiaobao said. Moving swiftly forward, his hands crossed each other, one hand swung to Xu Tianchuan’s left chest, one hand seized his right flank. It was a move from Shaolin Pai’s upper class martial art, ‘picking flower qinna [grab and capture]’.

Xu Tianchuan saw the brilliance of this qinna technique, he could not help but admiring him in his heart, “Wei Xiangzhu is extremely smart, as soon as he started learning martial art, his progress is amazingly quick.” He did not know that although Wei Xiaobao executed the style correctly, he did not have the slightest bit of internal strength, so that even if he was seized by him, he would not suffer any damage. Xu Tianchuan’s stature was short and small, the type of martial art he was most adept was, coincidentally, the qinna. Immediately he unleashed his special skill and sparred with Wei Xiaobao.

After several moves, the hands of both men interlocked with each other. “Ah!” Xu Tianchuan cried out, his right hand hung limply on his side, he was pretending that it was twisted out of joint. “My utmost admiration,” he said, and took two steps backward. His left hand cradling his own right hand, lifted it up and pulled it out, as if he was fixing the joint. This fixing joint skill was also an upper class technique of qinna martial art. He performed the procedure with ‘not one thread loose’, his movement was clean and deft.

One after another Fan Gang, Priest Xuanzhen and Li Lishi stepped forward asking for a match. Wei Xiaobao kept using the upper-class styles that Cheng Guan taught him. In just three or four moves, or perhaps seven, eight moves, Fan Gang and the others were defeated.

In a loud and clear voice Gao Yanchao said, “We have witnessed Hero Wei’s brilliant moves today, indeed our horizons have been expanded. Xiaoren all are full of admiration. When Hero Wei pass by Funiu Mountain someday, please do not forget to go up the mountain and stay for several days.”

“Naturally I will receive the benefit of disturbing you,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

The group of heroes bowed with cupped fists, and led their horses away. They walked to the edge of the town before mounting their horses and galloped away. Unexpectedly they did not dare to mount their horses in front of Wei Xiaobao; it was a display of utmost respect.

Ah Ke finally submitted to him, “Turns out this ‘little vile creature’ has superior martial art; every time he pretended he was beaten, he was simply yielding to me.”

Things had come to this, Zheng Keshuang had no choice but to come to Wei Xiaobao to express his thanks. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Zheng Gongzi does not need to be polite, I was simply lucky that I accidentally defeated them. Speaking about real martial art, I am far too inferior compared to Sire.”

He was speaking the truth, but to Zheng Keshuang’s ears it was highly sarcastic; he could not stop his face from turning deep red.

That evening they arrived at Xian County to the south. After settling down in an inn, Jiu Nan dismissed Ah Ke and asked Wei Xiaobao, “Those people who were playacting with you during the day, they are your friends, aren’t they?”

Jiu Nan’s insight was very keen; Feng Jizhong, Xu Tianchuan and the others putting on an act, they were able to deceive Zheng Keshuang and Ah Ke, but how could they deceive this martial art expert? Wei Xiaobao knew that his trickery was exposed; he laughed and said, “They are not really my friends.”

Jiu Nan said, “The martial art skill of every one of those people is quite established; how could they agree to accompany you playing that trick?”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Most likely they cannot bear to see Zheng Gongzi’s arrogance, so they borrowed disciple to knock him down several notches.”

Jiu Nan thought that his answer was very reasonable. She asked, “The way you executed those several moves of yours: Bo’re Palm, Picking Flower Qinna, was not bad at all.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I was just putting on airs, the roar of a toothless tiger; totally useless.”

While they were talking, they heard the clamor of hooves beat, a large group of people had arrived at the inn. Someone with a loud voice said, “One upper-level room, must be the best you have. The rest of us can accept whatever you have.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard this, he was delighted, since he recognized the voice to be the Shaking-head Lion Wu Lishen of the Mu Palace. “Shifu,” he asked, “Are we going to kill Wu Sangui?”

Jiu Nan said, “This time the injury I suffered was really not light. Although the injury is healed, my internal energy is not recovered yet. I must find a quiet and secluded place to recuperate several days before we can decide what we are going to do. Otherwise, if I meet some strong enemies again, I won’t be able to fight, and will have to depend on your muddled and crazy techniques; our Iron Sword School’s reputation won’t look too good.” While saying that, she could not help but smiling.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu’s body is important.”

From this traveling sack he fetched some best quality Qiqiang Longjing tea leaves and soaked it inside a covered teacup. He said, “In the future disciple will learn Shifu’s martial art. When I meet the enemy, I can fight him justly and honorably. Shifu, I want to go to the market to see if there are any fresh vegetables.”

Going out of the room, he saw Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang were walking side-by-side out of the inn; they looked very intimate with each other. Immediately a whiff of jealousy bubbling up in his chest, hence he followed behind them.

Ah Ke turned her head and said, “Why are you following me?”

“I am not following you,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am going to buy vegetable for Shifu.”

“Alright,” Ah Ke said, “Zheng Gongzi, let’s go over there.” She pointed to a small hill west of the city walls.

Wei Xiaobao’s jealousy flame was blazing; he said, “Be careful, don’t bump into some mountain’s big kings, I can’t come to rescue you.”

Ah Ke shot him a malicious look and said, “Who needs your rescue?”

Zheng Keshuang knew Wei Xiaobao was mentioning the scandal involving him earlier, he was furious. “Humph,” he snorted, and quickly left.

Wei Xiaobao followed these two people with his eyes. Suddenly he heard Ah Ke was giggling. In his fury, he reached out to pull his dagger, he wanted to pursue them and kill Zheng Keshuang. But after only two steps, he thought, “If we fight for real, I am not those two people’s match.” Therefore, he suppressed his anger and continued to the market to buy some kuomo mushroom, winter-picked mushroom, wooden-ear mushroom, and bean vermicelli, which he brought back to the inn.

Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang had not returned. Imagining that those two people were discussing passion and talking about love in some secluded place, he could not suppress his anger and cursed silently. Suddenly someone lightly patted his shoulder and embraced him, while saying with a laugh, “Wei Xiongdi, you are here!”

Wei Xiaobao turned his head around and saw that it was the Imperial Bodyguards Chief Dolong. He could not help but was ecstatic. “What are you doing here?” he said with a laugh.

He saw behind Dolong there were about a dozen men, they were all Imperial Bodyguards, but were dressed in common soldiers’ uniform. Seeing Wei Xiaobao, all of them were beaming with joy, but they did not go forward to greet him. Dolong said in a low voice, “There are other people here, let’s go to my room and talk.” Turned out these men were also staying at the same inn.

When they got to Dolong’s room, one by one the Imperial Bodyguards came forward to pay their respect. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Enough, enough.” Taking out one-thousand-tael banknote, he laughed and said, “Brothers, take this to buy some drink.”

The Imperial Bodyguards knew that this Deputy Chief was very liberal with money, each time they saw him, they would always enjoy some advantage. Immediately they happily expressed their thanks.

Dolong said in a low voice, “Wei Xiongdi, ever since you met with danger on Mount Wutai, every day His Majesty was thinking about you, hence he sent us out to seek for you.”

Wei Xiaobao was very grateful; he stood up and said, “Thank you for His Majesty’s benevolence. But how can I dare to toil brothers’ honorable selves?”

Dolong laughed and said, “Actually, His Majesty did not send me out, he only sent fifteen Imperial Bodyguard brothers. But I volunteered myself. First, as your big brother I am anxious to find you; second, this is a good opportunity for me to get out of the Capital and have fun. This has been your brother’s great fortune.” Everybody laughed.

Dolong continued, “This time, it can be considered that we have set up a great merit. When we return to the Capital and His Majesty finds out and Wei Xiongdi has escaped from danger, he must be extremely delighted. We have made inquiries along the way, but did not hear any news about Wei Xiongdi. We heard about a group of traitors palling a rebellion instead, we heard that they are going to hold a large assemble at Hejian Prefecture to discuss business. So we came to investigate.”

“I am here also for this matter,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard the assembly this time is called ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ or something like that.”

Dolong raised his thumb. “Formidable, formidable,” he said, “Nothing escape Wei Xiongdi’s eyes.”

“What information have you gathered?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Dolong said, “Two brothers here sneaked into the assembly. They found out that they want to deal with Wu Sangui. Every province elected their own ‘meng zhu’. We have several names of these ‘meng zhu’.”

Wei Xiaobao ‘s heart was moved; he asked, “Which ones?”

Dolong replied, “Yunnan has Mu Jiansheng, Fujian has Taiwan rebel Zheng Jing’s second son called Zheng Keshuang.” And then he mentioned several other alliance leaders’ names.

Wei Xiaobao asked, “Those Mu Jiansheng, Zheng Keshuang, and so on, do you know what they look like?”

Dolong replied, “It was a dark at night, these two brothers could not see them clearly, they also did not dare to come too close.”

“Duo Dage [reminder: in Chinese ‘Dolong’ is Duo Long],” Wei Xiaobao said, “When you return to the Capital, please report to His Majesty, tell him that his servant Wei Xiaobao is also investigating this matter. As soon as I have their appearance, I will go back to the Capital to present a memorial to the Emperor.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong said, “Wei Xiongdi is so loyal in working for the Emperor. This time you set up a great merit, His Majesty will surely reward you handsomely.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If there is any merit, won’t that be for the benefit of our Imperial Bodyguards’ face? Right now I have something that I’d like to ask brothers to toil for me.”

All the Imperial Bodyguards replied, “Wei Fu Zongguan [deputy chief] sends us for an errand, we will definitely do.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This is a matter that annoys me the most. I have a good lady friend that is fooling around with a frivolous young fellow right now …”

He had just spoken to this point, fury had already filled the Imperial Bodyguards’ breasts; they all opened their mouth, cussing and swearing, “His granny, which fellow is so brazen, dare to make a move on Wei Fu Zongguan’s girl? Let’s go and kill this fellow.”

“You don’t need to kill him,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I only want you to beat him a little, to vent my anger. But this fellow is my friend, so I don’t want you to beat him too severely either. Especially you must not touch that young lady.”

The Imperial Bodyguards laughed and said, “Naturally we will pay particular attention to this. Wei Fu Zongguan’s good lady friend, who dare to offend?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Those two people were heading west. As soon as you make your move, I will pretend to come out and save them by driving you away. I want you to yield to me so much that Xiongdi can show off in front of my beloved.”

The Imperial Bodyguards burst out in laughter; they all said, “Wei Fu Zongguan’s assignment this time is most amusing.”

Dolong said with a laugh, “In doing this job, hey, every one of us has to be extra careful. If we reveal the horse’ leg, Wei Fu Zongguan will not consider all of you as brothers anymore.”

The Imperial Bodyguards all laughed and said, “For Wei Fu Zongguan’s important matter, we will all go through water and tread on fire, how could we dare to shrink away?”

An imperial bodyguard said, “Damn it, this fellow harasses Wei Fu Zongguan’s good lady friend, it’s just like he is harassing my own mother. Laozi will fight him to the death.” Everybody laughed.

“Quiet down,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Don’t let other people hear.”

Stroking their fists and rubbing their palms, the Imperial Bodyguards went out the room, laughing and giggling. Wei Xiaobao brought the vegetable to the kitchen, he gave five qian to the cook and instructed him to prepare exquisite vegetarian dish. And then he slowly walked to the western end of the town.

He only walked for a little more than a li when he heard shouting and cursing, and saw in the distance several dozen of people were fighting with weapons in their hands; it was a very noisy fight. He thought, “This fellow is not bad, fighting alone against many enemies, unexpectedly he is able to stand.”

Unhurriedly he walked toward the fight, and could not help but was startled. He saw the Imperial Bodyguards were surrounding seven, eight people, engaging them in a fierce combat. The opponents had their backs against the city wall, they were trapped in a corner but were fighting fiercely. They were none other than Mu Jiansheng, Wu Lishen and several other people.

There was a young woman by Mu Jiansheng’s side; his hands wielded a pair of sabers, he fought ferociously that his hair was in a mess. On top of the city wall there were a couple of people standing hand-in-hand, watching the fight below; they were precisely Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang.

Wei Xiaobao was angry, but he was also amused; he thought, “Damn it, they have the wrong people. They must have seen Mu Gongzi first, and saw that he has a young lady by his side; without distinguishing red-blue or black-white, they simply rushed to attack.”

He saw Dolong, holding a demon-head saber in his hand, was standing behind those people, supervising the fight. Immediately he walked over to him and said in a low voice, “You have the wrong couple, it’s those two on top of the city wall.” Finished speaking, he immediately walked away.

Dolong shouted, “It’s not right, hey, they are friends. The person who owes money is not you. Alright, everybody step back, let them go.” As soon as the Imperial Bodyguards heard it, they pulled back one after another.

Mu Jiansheng, Wu Lishen and the others were not many, they were not these people’s match. Previously they thought that they had been recognized and that these Qing soldiers wanted to arrest them. Luckily they withdrew, which was exactly what they had been hoping for.

Wu Lishen caught a glimpse of Wei Xiaobao. “Ashamed,” he groaned inwardly, “This time we also receive Wei En Gong’s [benefactor] help. Otherwise, it’s not a big deal if I get killed, but if Xiao Gongye [young master/Duke] fell into the Tatars’ hands, I can’t redeem it with ten thousand deaths.” Since at that time it was inconvenient to acknowledge Wei Xiaobao, he hurried along with Mu Jiansheng and the others out of the city gate, and rushed northward.

Wei Xiaobao went up the city wall and asked Ah Ke, “Shijie, why did they fight? Who are those people?”

Ah Ke pouted her little mouth and said, “Who knows? Those soldiers were demanding some payment.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Let us quickly return to the inn, don’t let Shifu be anxious over us.”

Ah Ke said, “You go back first, I’ll come soon afterward.”

She had just finished speaking, the numerous Imperial Bodyguards already rushed up the city wall. An Imperial Bodyguard pointed to Zheng Keshuang and shouted, “It’s him, this fellow is the one who owes me money.”

Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “Zheng Gongzi, Shijie, let’s go quickly. Tatar soldiers commit all kind of outrages, it will be very troublesome to provoke them.”

Ah Ke was also somewhat afraid, she said, “Right, let’s go.”

An Imperial Bodyguard rushed over; pointing to Zheng Keshuang he said, “The night before last you were having fun spending money with young women in a brothel in Hejian Prefecture, you owed me ten thousand taels, quickly pay me back.”

“Rubbish,” Zheng Keshuang angrily said, “Who went to the brothel? How can I owe you money?”

“You still deny it?” the Imperial Bodyguard said, “The day before yesterday in the evening, you had two ‘powdered heads’ on your knees, what were their names again?”

Another Imperial Bodyguard said, “The older one was called Ah Cui, the younger one was Hong Bao. You turned to the left and kissed and drank a mouthful of wine, then you turned to the right and caressed her cheek and drank another mouthful of wine, so loose and happy. Do you still deny it?”

Another Imperial Bodyguard said, “With two ‘powdered heads’ in your arms you threw the dice with us, and lost two thousand taels. Eager to win your capital back, you borrowed from me three thousand taels, and borrowed from this laoxiong two thousand taels. Afterward you borrowed from him one thousand five hundred, and from him two thousand taels.”

Another man said, “And from me you borrowed one thousand five hundred taels; altogether you owe us ten thousand taels of shiny white silver.”

Five men held out their hands together and said, “Killing people you pay with your life, owing money you have to pay back. Quickly pay!”

Ah Ke recalled the scene at the brothel where she saw Wei Xiaobao was fooling around with the prostitutes, she also recalled a few days ago inside the haystack was groping and pinching her body; it seemed to her that these men were not faking it. Moreover, she remembered that the night before last was exactly the eve of the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’. She recalled that Zheng Gongzi did not return to the inn until very late at night, and in the morning she saw him having a hangover; he said that certain hero and warrior invited him for a drink. He did drink all right, but it was not any hero or warrior, rather, it was the s1uts at the brothel. Thinking to this point, she could not stop tears from flowing down her face.

The Imperial Bodyguards had blocked Zheng Keshuang’s escape route; they had him completely surrounded. Someone behind him reached out and grabbed the back of his neck. Zheng Keshuang was furious; his elbow struck backward, heavily he hit the pit of the man’s stomach. The Imperial Bodyguard cried out and doubled up in pain. The rest of the Imperial Bodyguards closed in, giving him punches and kicks. Fighting one on one, these people were not Zheng Keshuang’s match, but with seven, eight people attacking him at once, very soon he was sprawling on the ground.

Ah Ke anxiously called out, “If you have something to say, let’s talk. Don’t hit people carelessly.” And she scrambled forward to help him.

“Hey, Big Miss[4],” Dolong said, “It has nothing to do with you; don’t get involved with this muddle head.”

“Go away,” Ah Ke anxiously said; she reached out to push Dolong’s shoulder away.

Dolong was a martial art master of the Imperial Palace, naturally his martial art skill was superb. With light brush of his left hand, he sent her tumbling several steps backward.

On the other side, the Imperial Bodyguards were punching and kicking, hacking and chopping Zheng Keshuang; they did not stop slapping Zheng Keshuang’s face. Ah Ke anxiously attacked several moves, but with a chuckle Dolong easily parried her and pushed her farther and farther away from Zheng Keshuang. Dolong said with a laugh, “Big Miss, this playboy is dining, wining, whoring and gambling; nothing that he did not do. Early morning today he still wanted to borrow five thousand taels from me, saying that he wanted to marry two ‘powdered heads’ and take them home to be his concubines. Why do you want to protect him?”

Ah Ke took several steps back and shouted anxiously, “If you have something else to say … we can talk it over slowly.”

An Imperial Bodyguard laughed and said, “If you tell him to pay back our money, naturally we won’t beat him.” While saying that, ‘whack!’ he sent another punch on Zheng Keshuang’s face; immediately blood flowing out of his nose.

Another Imperial Bodyguard pulled his saber and shouted, “Let’s cut his two ears first, and then we talk.” While saying that, he waved his saber in chopping motion, twice.

Ah Ke pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand, in her anxiety, she almost cried. “What shall we do? What shall we do?” she said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, I do have ten thousand taels; but I really don’t want to give it to him so that he can gamble and visit prostitutes.”

“They are going to cut his ears,” Ah Ke said, “Please lend the money to me then.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If Shijie wants to borrow money, I would lend you even a hundred thousand taels, let alone only ten thousand taels. But you will be my wife in the future, so it does not count as a debt. Just tell Zheng Gongzi to borrow from me.”

Ah Ke stomped her feet. “Ay,” she said, “You are really …” She called out, “Hey, don’t hit, we’ll pay you back.”

The Imperial Bodyguards had hit enough, so they stopped, but they still held on to Zheng Keshuang and did not let him go.

Ah called out, “Zheng Gongzi, my Shidi has the money, just borrow from him to pay them back.”

Zheng Keshuang was really angry that he almost passed out; but seeing the steel saber swaying back and fro in front of his face, he was afraid that they would really cut his ears. He became terrified and looked at Wei Xiaobao, imploring him with his eyes.

Ah Ke tugged at Wei Xiaobao’s sleeve. “Lend him,” she said in a low voice.

An Imperial Bodyguard said with a cold laugh, “Ten thousand taels is not a small amount of money. Without any guarantee, how can he easily loan it to others? This fellow loves to borrow money the most, didn’t we all fall into his trick?”

“If only this Miss is willing to be the guarantee,” another Imperial Bodyguard said, “If this fellow did not pay back, then it will fall onto this Miss’ responsibility to pay it back.”

The Imperial Bodyguard who had his saber raised said in a loud voice, “Another family’s Big Miss is neither a friend nor a relative to this stinky fellow, why would she be willing to be the guarantor? If the ten thousand taels is not paid back, what else can she do unless using her body to repay the debt by marrying this young rich kid?”

The Imperial Bodyguards roared with laughter. “That’s right,” they said, “That is a brilliant idea.”

“Shijie,” Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “It won’t work. You heard them, won’t it be too unfair to you?”

‘Slap!’ an Imperial Bodyguard heavily slapped Zheng Keshuang on his face again. His hands and feet were being held by these people, he was helpless to resist. An Imperial Bodyguard shouted, “Just beat him severely, beat him to death, just consider the ten thousand taels is going down the drain. This is called ‘the eyes do not see, the heart does not feel vexed’.” ‘Slap! Slap!’ he then slapped Zheng Keshuang several times.

Zheng Keshuang called out, “Don’t hit! Don’t hit! Wei Xiongdi, if you have the money, please lend ten thousand taels to me. I … I guarantee that I will pay you back.”

Wei Xiaobao cast a sideway glance toward Ah Ke. “Shijie,” he asked, “Do you think I should lend it to him?”

With tears brimming on her eyes, Ah Ke sobbed, “Lend … lend it to him.”

An Imperial Bodyguard on the side caught on to please Wei Xiaobao, he said with a loud voice, “Big Miss is willing to be the guarantor. In the future Big Miss will marry the young rich gentleman, this stinky fellow is actually the matchmaker.”

Wei Xiaobao fished a pack of banknotes from his pocket, counted ten thousand taels, and was about to give it to Zheng Keshuang, but then he changed his mind and handed it over to Ah Ke instead. Ah Ke received it and said, “Here’s the money, please let him go.”

The Imperial Bodyguards all thought that Deputy Chief Wei said that he was going to fight to rescue others, but now he was using money to save others; they were not sure if it was what Wei Xiaobao had in mind, thereupon they were still holding on to Zheng Keshuang and did not let him go.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Here is ten thousand taels, take it and divide it among yourselves. Damn it, just consider it a reward of your effort. You are all such muddleheaded son of a b1tch, quickly release him.”

As soon as the Imperial Bodyguards heard it, they were delighted. They understood that Wei Xiaobao intended to give them the ten thousand taels as their reward; hence they let Zheng Keshuang go immediately.

Ah Ke reached out to help him up and to give the money to him. Zheng Keshuang was extremely angry, he snatched the money away and without looking he handed it to an Imperial Bodyguard by his side.

Wei Xiaobao cursed, “You are a bunch of sons of a b1tch, Tatars soldiers, you beat my friend like this, laozi will not let this matter rest.”

Ah Ke was afraid of prolonged dispute, she hastily said, “Don’t curse, let’s go back.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am furious just thinking about this, the debt has to be paid, and we have already paid it. But Zheng Gongzi has suffered the beatings, didn’t he suffer it in vain?”

Dolong laughed aloud and said, “This fellow has just shed away his ‘poor star’, but his lewdness is on the rise. Damn it, why do you always want to be near other family’s Big Miss?” Reaching out, he grabbed the back of Zheng Keshuang’s neck and lifted his body up. Turning him around in the air, he shouted, “Let me throw you down the city wall, I want to see whether you will die or you will live.” Zheng Keshuang and Ah Ke screamed together.

Dolong dropped Zheng Keshuang heavily on the ground; he shouted, “Later on I want you to leave this Miss far away. Other family’s good Miss, if she is seen together with you, a boy who crazily visit prostitute and gamble excessively, who ‘imitate the dog and steal chicken’ [i.e. to dally with women], her reputation will be ruined. Let me tell you this: if in the future I ever see you by this Miss’ side, laozi will definitely wring your dog head off your neck.” While saying that, his left hand grabbed the root of Zheng Keshuang’s braid, he coiled Zheng Keshuang’s braid twice around the palm of his right hand; and then he took a very deep breath, his chest swelled, the muscles on his arms and the back of his hands bulged out, with a loud roar his hands pulled apart, ‘snap!’ the braid broke into two.

Seeing a display of such a divine strength, the Imperial Bodyguards broke into thunderous applause. Dolong’s natural strength was enormous, plus he trained the external, hard type of martial art. His arms had a thousand-catty power. Fortunately his left hand was holding the root of the braid, otherwise, since Zheng Keshuang’s braid was fake, with one light pull it would be revealed that he was not obeying the imperial court’s order, which was a major criminal offense for a subject of Qing Dynasty.

Dolong tossed the half braid away, his five fingers, which knuckles were as big as pestles, forked Zheng Keshuang’s neck, followed by his left hand also grabbed the back of his neck. His hands slowly tightened, Zheng Keshuang’s face slowly swollen red, until finally his tongue stuck out; very soon he would be choked to death. The dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards drew their weapons and positioned themselves around the two people, to prevent Ah Ke from stepping forward and rescue him.

Wei Xiaobao shouted, “The money has been returned, you still want to kill him?” He charged forward, ‘Bang!’ and he sent a punch toward an Imperial Bodyguard’s lower abdomen. “Aiyo!” the Imperial Bodyguard cried out, and tumbled down, howling and screaming, flailing his hands and feet randomly, and was not able to crawl up no matter what.

With both fists Wei Xiaobao attacked Dolong using the move ‘a pair of dragons fought over a pearl’. Dolong’s two hands were holding Zheng Keshuang’s neck, he could not parry, and thus was hit by the fists. The move ‘a pair of dragons fought over a pearl’ was originally intended to strike the enemy’s temples [‘sun’ acupoints], but Dolong was big and tall, while Wei Xiaobao was short and small; his two fists were hitting Dolong’s lower back.

Pretending to be angry, Dolong cursed, “Dead little demon, laozi will choke you to death.” Letting Zheng Keshuang go, he fought with Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao unleashed the martial art he learned from Hai Dafu and Cheng Guan. His movements were agile, each move each style was ingenious and very pleasing to the eye. Dolong’s fists created strong gust of wind. He struck just a few cun from within Wei Xiaobao’s side, suddenly he advanced swiftly and sent a ferocious kick. ‘Crack!’ the jujube tree by Wei Xiaobao’s side was broken. The Imperial Bodyguards broke into loud cheers.

Witnessing Dolong’s divine power, Ah Ke was afraid Wei Xiaobao would be beaten to death. “Shidi,” she called out, “Don’t fight, let’s go back.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “She cares about me. In the end this little mother skin [xiao niang pi] is not without any conscience.”

Dolong sent another kick, sending a large rock on the ground flying away and falling down from the city wall. Wei Xiaobao moved faster and faster, ‘whack!’ his palm struck the opponent’s abdomen. “Ah!” Dolong cried out; he bent his knees and fell sitting down on the ground. “Laozi won’t give in, let’s fight again,” he called out.

Springing up, his arms moved up and down rapidly. Wei Xiaobao leaned sideways to evade, Dolong’s punch hit the city wall; instantly three pieces of large greenish black brick fell off. Amidst the flying dust, Wei Xiaobao sent a flying kick with his right leg; but before his toes even touched him, Dolong already roared as he slipped down from the city wall and fell onto the ground at the foot of the wall, and lay unmoving.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; afraid that Dolong might really fell to his death, he bent over to look. Dolong raised his head and smiled, he winked and waved his hand, indicating that he was all right, and then immediately lay facing down on the ground. Wei Xiaobao finally felt relieved. The Imperial Bodyguards were shocked and frightened; they rushed down the city wall to look.

Wei Xiaobao pulled Ah Ke and said in a low voice, “Quickly go, quickly go.” Like a wisp of smoke the three of them ran back to the inn.

Back at the inn, Jiu Nan notice unusual expression on Ah Ke’s face, plus she was panting incessantly. “What happened?” she asked.

Ah Ke replied, “There were more than a dozen Tatar soldiers giving Zheng Gongzi some trouble, fortunately … fortunately Shidi overthrew the leader of those soldiers.”

Jiu Nan said, “Do this for me: stay quietly in the inn, do not wander anywhere and create trouble.” Ah Ke lowered her head in compliance.

After a while, concerned over Zheng Keshuang’s injury, she went to his room to pay a visit. She saw that his attendants had applied medicine on his wounds; he was asleep with the attendants accompanying him in the room.

Seeing her coming out of Zheng Keshuang’s room, Wei Xiaobao was angry and upset at the same time. “Why didn’t I tell them to really cut this fellow’s ears?” he mused, “This little girl is always worrying wholeheartedly about this stinky fellow. Even if I cut this fellow’s ears and poke his eyes blind, it seems that she will still consider him as her beloved treasure.” Despite of his sharp-witted and extensive knowledge, encountering this kind of matter of the heart between men and women, he was actually at his wits’ end.

The phrase ‘thorny gate provided another source of amusement’ in the Chapter’s title originated from Han Wendi’s [fourth Han emperor, personal name Liu Heng, reigned 180-157 BC] commendation of Zhou Yafu’s speech, referring to his strict military order; other generals fell short of his achievement. The original poem sang about Wu Sangui’s brutal and tyrannical way of dealing with the people as well as operating his armed forces. ‘Thorny gate’ was the ‘halberd gate’, which may also refer to the Imperial City Gates. This book borrows the phrase as an allegory of the Imperial Bodyguards went out of the Palace and deliberately created trouble.

[1] Reference to Li Zicheng, the Chuang Wang – roaming king, a Chinese rebel leader who overthrew the Ming Dynasty and ruled over China briefly as emperor of the short-lived Shun Dynasty.

[2] Reminder: Ping Xi Wang means ‘King who pacifies the west’.

[3] Common people usually address bandits or robbers as ‘kings’.

[4] Da Guniang; ‘big’ here is not derogatory, but showing respect, as in ‘first/oldest’ or ‘great’; i.e. Dolong was being respectful.

Chapter 28 Over the top passion takes a lot of twists and turns, but exquisite to those who painstakingly open their hearts.

That night Wei Xiaobao slept until midnight, when suddenly he heard a light knock on his window. Still in daze, he sat up, and heard someone outside the window said in a low voice, “Wei En Gong [benefactor], it’s me.”

He focused his attention and recognized the voice as Wu Lishen’s. Quickly he walked toward the window and said in a low voice, “Is it Wu Er Shu [second uncle]?”

“I do not dare to accept the honor, it’s me,” Wu Lishen said.

Wei Xiaobao quietly opened the window. Wu Lishen leaped inside and embraced him. He seemed to be very happy. “En Gong,” he said is a low voice, “I think about you every day; I did not expect to see you in here.” Turning around, he closed the window, and then pulled Wei Xiaobao to sit side by side on the kang. He said, “During the great assembly at Hejian Prefecture, I inquired about you from your precious Society’s friends, but they were not willing to tell me.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It’s not that they considered you as an outsider, and intentionally did not want to tell you. Actually, I attended the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ in disguise; the Society brothers did not know.”

Wu Lishen felt relieved. “So that’s how it is,” he said, “Today we bumped into the Tatar soldiers, we also received En Gong’s help in getting out of difficult situation. Otherwise, I am afraid our Xiao Gongye would suffer mishap. Xiao Gongye wanted me to pay his utmost respect to En Gong, he is deeply grateful.”

“We all are good friends, there is no need to be polite,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Er Shu, you keep calling me En Gong this and En Gong that, it sounds really awkward. If you consider me a friend, henceforth the use of this word to address me must be avoided.”

“Very well,” Wu Lishen replied, “I won’t call you En Gong, but you must not call me Er Shu either. From now on we call each other ‘Xiongdi’ [brother]. I am several years older, so I will call you Xiongdi.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wonderful. That martial nephew of yours, Liu Yizhou, shouldn’t he call me Shishu then?”

Wu Lishen felt slightly embarrassed; he said, “That fellow has no future prospect; let us not mind him. Xiongdi, what are you up to?”

“This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Er Ge [second brother], your Xiongdi has decided on marriage.”

“Congratulations, congratulations,” Wu Lishen said, “I wonder which family’s young lady?” Immediately he recalled, “Could it be Fang Yi? Has he found Miss Fang and Xiao Junzhu?” His whole face was beaming with delight.

“My wife is surnamed Chen,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But there is one problem, for which I am quite ashamed.”

“Why?” Wu Lishen asked.

“My wife has another good friend surnamed Zheng,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “This fellow’s moral quality is not upright and honest. He is fooling around with my wife, that is a small matter; he actually informed the Tatar soldiers about you. Those soldiers who were giving Xiao Gongye a hard time today, it was actually his idea.”

Wu Lishen was furious. “This fellow really is bored to be alive,” he said, “But I wonder why did he do that?”

“Do you know who this fellow is?” Wei Xiaobao said, “He is none other than Taiwan’s Yan Ping Jun Wang’s second son. He said that Yan Ping Jun Wang is in command over a large army, while your Mu Palace is in decline; without power and without potential, what else can you do?”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “Our Mu Palace is also an outstanding founding minister of the Great Ming who subdued Yunnan; how can it be compared to their Zheng Family who rise to power just recently?”

“Isn’t that so?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Yet this fellow said: whoever kills Wu Sangui will gain an enormous face in front of the world’s heroes; in Yunnan, you are the local bullies, compared to their Zheng Family in Taiwan, it will be a hundred times more convenient for you to kill Wu Sangui. He confides with me, saying that he wanted to eliminate Mu Family people first. I told him that our Tian Di Hui has already made a bet with Mu Palace to see who will get rid of Wu Sangui first. We are heroes and warriors; if we win, we must win brilliantly, if we lose, we must lose gracefully; how could we secretly plot against the competitor? This fellow refused to accept, hence he resorted to different ruse. Fortunately Tatar soldiers did not recognize Xiao Gongye, hence I was able to trick them into thinking that they had the wrong person and thus you were able to get away.”

“So that’s how it is! So that’s how it is!” Wu Lishen repeatedly said, “Damn it, this fellow is not human.”

“Er Ge,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We must teach this fellow a lesson. But looking at Yan Ping Jun Wang’s face, we must not kill him. It would be best if you could beat him a bit, and then Xiongdi will boldly come out to help him, and fight with you a little bit. You deliberately yield to me several stances, then you pretend to retreat in defeat. I wonder if you’d willing to do that.”

“Xiongdi is venting our anger, why would I be unwilling?” Wu Lishen said, “It would be best since we won’t damage the relationship with Taiwan’s Zheng Family and won’t provoke any dispute.”

“He is the one with wounds on his head and face, the fellow who is with Xiongdi,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Yes,” Wu Lishen said, “Who does he think his Zheng Family is? Although nowadays our Mu Palace has fallen into dire straits, we are not one to be bullied.”

“Isn’t that so?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Following which he asked about ‘seeing the ghost’ at the Zhuang Family’s big house. Although he had seen Xu Tianchuan during the day, at that time it was inconvenient to ask, hence his mind had been preoccupied with this matter.

Wu Lishen revealed an ashamed look on his face; continuously shaking his head, he said, “Xiongdi, today you are calling me ‘Er Ge’; honestly, your big brother is quite ashamed. That day we were subdued by those fellows who ‘dress up as god, play the devil’ using some demonic method; who would have thought that those fellows were lured out of the room and were taken captive? Several women had just come out to set us free when a bunch of crafty fellows rushed into the room and rescued Zhang Laosan and his men.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded; he said in his heart, “They must be Shen Long Jiao people, the Third Young Mistress of the Zhuang Family and the others were not able to resist them.”

Wu Lishen shook his head and said, “At that time Xu Laoye [old master] and I had just had our acupoints unsealed, our hands and feet could not move freely yet. In the darkness we fought randomly; we were separated from each other. It was not until the next morning did we finally get together, except you, Xiongdi, Xiao Junzhu and Miss Fang, three people; we could not find you no matter what. We went back to that haunted house to look for you, but there was only an old woman there. I don’t know whether she was really deaf or pretending to be deaf, after interrogating her for half a day, we could not find the least bit of useful information. Xu Laoyezi and I were unwilling to give up, we searched openly and investigated in secret, and done so for over half a month straight, ay, yet we did not find the least bit of clue. Good Xiongdi, seeing you today, I am very happy. Where did Xiao Junzhu and Miss Fang go? Do you have any news? Our Xiao Wangye is worried about his sister, he is always anxious.”

Wei Xiaobao gave him a vague answer, “I am also concerned over those two ladies. Miss Fang is smart and quick-witted, but Xiao Junzhu is a bit naïve. The sooner she can meet her brother the better.” While in his heart he mused, “Turns out you did not get captured by Shen Long Jiao, and did not get forced to take the poison and compelled to be spies; that’s very good.” He knew Wu Lishen was upright and frank, he could not lie; if this story was told by Liu Yizhou, it would not necessarily be credible.

Wu Lishen said, “Xiongdi, take a good care of yourself, your Gege is leaving.” While saying that, he stood up, seemingly very reluctant to leave. Pulling Wei Xiaobao’s hand, he said, “Xiongdi, there is no lack of good ladies in the world, if that lady of yours does not treat you well, you should not take it to heart too much.”

Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh; gloomily he remained silent. This time his sigh was a genuine sigh. Wu Lishen pushed open the window and leaped out.

The next day Wei Xiaobao followed Jiu Nan and Ah Ke going out of the city gate and continued their journey north. Zheng Keshuang, accompanied by his entourage, was traveling with them. “Zheng Gongzi,” Jiu Nan asked him, “Where are you heading?”

“I want to go back to Taiwan,” Zheng Keshuang replied, “But I want to walk Shitai off for a while before taking my leave.”

After traveling for twenty some li, suddenly they heard the sound of galloping horses, a group of people were hurrying along toward them. As these people were drawing near, they could see that it was a group of peasants, with hoes, iron rakes and so on in their hands. The one in the front called out, “It’s that fellow; it’s him!” As soon as Wei Xiaobao saw the man, he recognized him as Wu Lishen.

The people surrounded the large carriage, blocking their way. Wu Lishen pointed to Zheng Keshuang and cursed, “Thief boy, what a fine thing indeed you did last night at the Zhang Family Village! The cat has stolen the food, now you want to quietly slip away?”

“What Zhang Family Village, Li Family Village?” Zheng Keshuang angrily said, “You don’t have eyes and talk rubbish.”

“Good!” Wu Lishen roared, “Turns out the Li Family girl was also deceived by you; you admit it. Damn it, thief boy! In one night you swindled two maidens; you are really brazen and shameless.”

The attendants shouted together, “This is our Gongzi Ye, you have the wrong person, such a crazy and unfounded ravings!”

Wu Lishen pulled a peasant girl out; pointing to Zheng Keshuang he asked, “Is it him? Look carefully.”

Wei Xiaobao saw the peasant girl had thick eyebrows and big eyes, high cheekbones and buckteeth, she wore green fancy-patterned clothing and had a piece of printed cloth wrapped around her head; presumably this girl was hired by Wu Lishen, he was secretly amused.

With a deep and gruff voice the peasant girl said, “It’s him, it’s him, I am a hundred percent sure. Last night he went to my room and embraced me, boo hoo … this … this dead stinky person, aiyo, boo hoo … ahh … mother …” While saying that, she was bawling.

Another peasant shouted, “You bullied my meizi [younger sister], laozi should be your brother-in-law. Damn it, laozi should fight you to the death.” He was Wu Lishen’s disciple, Ao Biao.

Wei Xiaobao examined carefully the Mu Palace people, he had seen about five or six people, but Liu Yizhou was not among them. Presumably Wu Lishen had carefully selected these people in advance to make sure that there was no one harboring any hostility with him, so that their scheme would not be exposed.

Seeing the peasant girl was so ugly, Ah Ke did not believe that Zheng Keshuang would have illicit relationship with her, it’s just that the girl had personally confirmed that it was him. These peasants had neither enmity nor hatred toward Zheng Keshuang, hence it was unlikely that they would deliberately accused him falsely. She could not help being skeptical.

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows as he said, “Zheng Gongzi is a bit too loose; going to a brothel and playing with prostitutes is one thing, but why did he go … go … go … ay, this peasant girl is so ugly. Shijie, I think they must have the wrong person.”

“Right,” Ah Ke said, “It must be a case of mistaken identity.”

Wu Lishen told the peasant girl, “Say it quickly, say it quickly, are you afraid of being disgraced? He … what did this thief boy give you?”

The peasant girl took out a big yuanbao worth a hundred taels from her pocket; she said, “He gave me this; he told me to obey him. He said that he came from Taiwan, his father is some Wangye, he has gold mountain, silver mountain in his house, and … and …”

“Ah!” Ah Ke shrieked. She thought that this peasant girl was ignorant and unlearned, it was impossible for her to fabricate that fact, naturally it must be Zheng Keshuang himself who told her that. She could not help but feeling angry and hurt.

The Zheng Mansion’s attendants also thought that it was the truth, since they believed that a peasant girl like her would not have such a big yuanbao; they shouted, “Get out of the way, get out of the way! You already have the yuanbao, what are you fussing about? Don’t stand in your masters’ way.”

“Can’t do!” Ao Biao shouted, “You have raped my meizi, how can she marry someone else in the future? You have to take her as your wife. Quickly go back with me, bow to the Heaven and the Earth with her, and then take her back with you to Taiwan to pay her respect to your father and mother. My meizi is a good family’s daughter, not some servile s1ut; do you think she would take your money to prostitute herself to you? What did he say this hundred-tael for?” The last question was directed to the peasant girl.

The peasant girl said, “He said … he said that it is some betrothal gift, he also said that he would send a matchmaker to take me as his wife, and bring me back to his palace to be some first-rate madam.”

“That’s it,” Ao Biao said, “Meifu [younger sister’s husband], let me tell you: you won’t marry my sister but thinking you can escape by walking away? It won’t be easy. Quickly go back with your Dajiuzi [wife’s older brother].” [Translator’s note: just want to show the different words to describe ‘brother-in-law’.]

Zheng Keshuang was extremely angry; he thought that he came to the Central Plains this time he had always met with unfavorable situations, even this uncouth peasants also trying to give him trouble without any rhyme or reason. Raising his horsewhip, ‘crack!’ he lashed it down on Ao Biao’s head.

“Aiyo!” Ao Biao screamed. He raised both hands to protect his head, and then fell down his horse and curled up on the ground, twitched several times, and then lay down motionless.

“Murder, murder!” the crowd of peasants cried out.

The peasant girl jumped down from her horse to embrace Ao Biao, while screaming and wailing. Her voice was really rough and husky, she sounded like a pig being slaughtered.

Zheng Keshuang was shocked; thinking that right now they were on foreign land, plus he was someone wanted by the Qing government. If he was involved in legal case involving homicide, he would be in a very big trouble. Instantly he shouted, “Everybody, run!” Raising the horse’s reins, he was thinking of making a dash out of the encirclement.

Suddenly a peasant leaped up high to the air and pounced down on him. Zheng Keshuang sent a left backhand punch toward the man’s chest. The man caught his wrist and twisted it. ‘Crack!’ his elbow was dislocated. The man landed on the saddle behind him, his right hand reached down from his flank and up to his neck. It was precisely a move from qinna technique called the ‘slanting stage backward scale (of fish)’. The man’s movement was clean and agile; his mouth was yelling and calling loudly, “Ah San, Ah Gou, [lit. ‘the third’ and ‘the dog’] quickly come and help me, I … I … I am hurt from his strike. Aiyo hey, this fellow is killing me! He is killing me!”

Zheng Keshuang’s body was numb and aching; he was already immobilized completely. The Zheng Mansion attendants pulled out their weapons and charged forward. This time, although Mu Palace people were not too many, each one’s skill was not weak. They lifted up their hoes and iron rakes, and engaged the opponents in a tangled battle, preventing the already injured attendants from coming to Zheng Keshuang’s rescue.

The peasant grabbed Zheng Keshuang and rolled underneath the horse, while raising a clamor, “Ah Hua, quickly catch your husband, don’t let him run away.”

“He won’t run away,” the peasant girl shouted back, while leaping up and firmly holding Zheng Keshuang in her arms.

It was only then did Wei Xiaobao realize that this peasant girl was actually a man disguised as a woman; no wonder she was that unbearably ugly. Obviously he was a Mu Palace person. The way ‘she’ captured Zheng Keshuang was also a qinna technique.

Ah Ke anxiously called out, “Shifu, Shifu, they captured Zheng Gongzi, what should we do?”

Jiu Nan shook her head and said, “This Zheng Gongzi’s behaviors is dishonorable, receiving a bit of lesson will not be useless to him. These peasants won’t possibly harm his life.” She was reclining on the large carriage to recuperate, hence she only heard the commotion outside without actually seeing the way the Mu Palace people were making their moves; otherwise, with her keen vision, as soon as she saw these people’s agility, she would have seen through their scheme.

Ah Ke said, “These peasant seem to know martial art.”

“Martial art they don’t have,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But their brute force is definitely not small.”

Ao Biao crawled up from the ground; he called out, “Damn it, you nearly killed your laozi.” [Reminder: ‘laozi’ literally means ‘old man’, as in ‘father’; also to refer to self (arrogantly or jocularly).]

A peasant laughed and said, “You are his Dajiuzi, how could you be laozi?”

“Alright,” Ao Biao said, “Grab this fellow. Since Dajiuzi is not dead, he does not need to pay with his own life. My Ah Hua meizi will have someone to depend on all her life. Take him to bow to the Heaven and the Earth.”

The peasants cheered and yelled, “We are going to drink wine of happiness, we are going to drink wine of happiness!”

They led the attendants’ horses away, and with Zheng Keshuang in the middle, they rode back to the direction they came from. Shouting and yelling, the Zheng Mansion attendants tried to run after them, but those people disappeared behind a cloud of dust, how could they pursue on foot?

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Zheng Gongzi will live with the bride’s family in here, that’s wonderful. Turns out this place is called Gao Lao Zhuang.”

Ah Ke was shocked and angered at the same time; she was already at a loss of what to do. Hearing him saying that, she thoughtlessly asked, “This place is called Gao Lao Zhuang?”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “In the Journey to the West, isn’t there a chapter called ‘Zhu Bajie [the pig] lives with the bride’s family at Gao Lao Zhuang’?”

Ah Ke angrily said, “You are the Zhu Bajie!” Leaning on a tree by the road, she cried.

“Shijie,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Zheng Gongzi is getting married, that is a happy occasion; why are you crying instead?”

Ah Ke was going to scold him, but then she changed her mind, thinking that this little demon head had an extensive remarkable ability. Only by asking for his help would she be able to rescue Zheng Gongzi back. She said with a cry, “Shidi, please think of a way to rescue him from danger.”

Wei Xiaobao opened his eyes wide; pretending to be utterly astonished, he said, “Did you say ‘rescue him from danger’? He did not commit any murder, they won’t make him pay with his own life.”

“Didn’t you hear?” Ah Ke said, “Those people are going to force him to bow to the Heaven and Earth with that peasant girl.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Bowing to the Heaven and Earth is very good.” Lowering his voice, he said quietly, “I want to bow to the Heaven and the Earth with you, it’s too bad that you are not willing.”

Ah Ke shot him a malicious look and said, “Others are dying of anxiety, you are still talking that kind of senseless talk. Just see if I am going to ignore you in the future or not?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu says that Zheng Gongzi’s moral conduct is not good, let him suffer a bit of hardship, it will be greatly beneficial to him. Much less bowing to the Heaven and the Earth and get married is not a hardship at all. Most probably Zheng Gongzi is very happy. Otherwise, why would he look for that miss last night, and dilly-dally with her, and do some dubious thing?”

Ah Ke stomped her right foot and angrily said, “You are the one who dilly-dally with women and do dubious thing.”

Along the way that day Ah Ke was deliberately trying to delay their journey. When they stopped for a meal, she slashed her saber on the mule’s hind leg, thereupon the mule was limping and afterwards it walked really slow so that they only travelled for a bit more than ten li when they had to stop in a small town to lodge for the night. Wei Xiaobao knew that that night she would definitely want to rush over to save Zheng Keshuang. After dinner, and after everybody in the inn went to bed, he went to the stable and slept on the pile of straw.

Sure enough, before the first watch of the night[1] he heard intermittent footsteps, a dark shadow entered the stable and pulled a horse out. Wei Xiaobao called in a low voice, “Someone’s stealing horse!”

The shadow was precisely Ah Ke; she was startled and turned around to run, but then she recognized Wei Xiaobao’s voice. “Xiaobao,” she called, “Is that you?”

“Naturally it’s me,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“What are you doing here?” Ah Ke asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Mountain people have divine foresight and marvelous calculation; foreseeing that some people would turn into a horse thief tonight, I am guarding here to catch the thief.”

Ah Ke spat. And then with an imploring tone she said, “Xiaobao, come with me to … to save him back.”

Hearing her beseeching him with a gentle voice, Wei Xiaobao could not stop the bones in his body from turning soft. He said with a laugh, “If I can save him, what will be my reward?”

“Whatever you want …” Ah Ke was going to say ‘whatever you want, it’s up to you’, but immediately recalled, “This little demon head always wanted me to marry him, I can’t leave it up to him.” Therefore, before she finished, she changed her statement, “You … you are always thinking of a way to bully me; you have never been willing to help me sincerely.” Speaking to here, she started to sob and cry. It was not a fake cry, however, she was actually thinking about Zheng Keshuang’s frivolous character, but also the fact that he was falling into a dangerous situation; she was wondering if he had bowed to the Heaven and the Earth to get married or not.

As soon as she cried, Wei Xiaobao’s heart softened. He sighed and said, “Alright, alright! I am going to go with you.”

Ah Ke was delighted. Sobbing and sniffling, she said, “Thank … thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that we don’t know where Gao Lao Zhuang is.”

Ah Ke was startled, but then she understood that by saying ‘Gao Lao Zhuang’, he was scolding Zheng Keshuang in a roundabout way. “We will have to inquire along the way,” she said in a low voice.

The two of them opened the inn’s back door, led the horse out, and rode together along the road they travelled during the day. Wei Xiaobao asked, “Actually, what’s so good about Zheng Gongzi that you like him like this?”

“Who says I like him?” Ah Ke said, “It’s just that … it’s just that we know each other; he meets calamity, naturally I must go to rescue him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If some people caught me and forced me to bow to the Heaven and the Earth and get married, will you come to rescue me or not?”

“Pfft!” Ah Ke stifled her laughter and said, “Are you good looking? Who would want to catch you and force you to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You think I am not that pleasing to the eye, but there might be a young lady out there who thinks that I am outstandingly handsome, outstandingly smart?”

Ah Ke laughed and said, “In that case, I should thank the Heaven and the Earth for sparing me from your ghost always entangling me.”

“Fine,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Since you don’t have any conscience like this, if some people caught you and force you to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, I am not going to rescue you.”

Ah Ke was slightly startled; she thought that if she really encountered such matter, she would definitely want him to rescue her. “You will definitely come to rescue me,” she grimly said.

“Why?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Ah Ke said, “Others bully me, you won’t watch with folded arms. Who told you to be my Shidi?” As soon as these words entered his ears, Wei Xiaobao felt sweet comfort in his heart.

While talking, they had reached the place where they met Mu Palace heroes during the day. They saw more than a dozen people were sitting on the ground by the road, with lanterns in their hands; they were none other than Zheng Mansion attendants. Ah Ke reined the horse and asked, “Where is Zheng Gongzi?”

The attendants stood up. With a sullen look on his face, someone said, “In the ancestral hall over there.” While saying that, he pointed to the northwest.

“Ancestral hall?” Ah Ke asked, “What is he doing?”

The attendant replied, “Those peasants invited Gongzi, and insisted that he bow to the Heaven and the Earth. Gongzi is unwilling, and thus they punched and kicked, very vicious!”

Ah Ke was angry. “You all are … humph … you all are martial art masters,” she said, “How come even several peasants like that you are not able to defeat?”

The attendants were very ashamed; they hung their heads low. A man said, “Those peasants know martial art.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “Other people know martial art, and you simply ignore your master? We are going to rescue him, lead us the way.”

An elderly attendant said, “Those peasants said that if we dare to raise a ruckus, they would slaughter every one of us.”

“They want to slaughter let them slaughter,” Ah Ke said, “What are you afraid of? Jun Wang ordered you to protect Gongzi, yet you are greedy for life, afraid of death like this?”

“Yes, yes,” the attendant said, “It would be best if Miss does not ride the horse, so that we won’t alert them.”

“Humph,” Ah Ke snorted. Together with Wei Xiaobao they jumped down the horse and tied the horse on a roadside tree. The attendants set down their lanterns, and led the two people toward the northwest.

They walked for about a li, passing through a wood, a stretch of graveyard, and arrived at a seven, eight-room big house. Sounds of gongs and drums can be heard inside the building. Ah Ke’s heart was anxious, “Has he really bowed to the Heaven and the Earth?” she mused.

Pulling Wei Xiaobao’s sleeve, she quickened her steps, circled around the side of the building, and saw a door half opened. Peeking inside, she saw complete darkness with nobody inside. The two of them sneaked in, following the sound of gongs and drums toward the main hall. They squatted down underneath a window and peeked inside from a crack on the window; and were able to see everything in the main hall. Ah Ke was immediately greatly worried, while Wei Xiaobao was extremely delighted.

They saw Zheng Keshuang’s head was adorned with several stems of red flower, standing opposite a woman whose head was draped in red silk. The hall was bright with a lot of candles. Several peasants were beating gongs and drums while continuously cheering and jeering.

Wu Lishen called out, “Bow again, bow again!”

“I have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth,” Zheng Keshuang said, “What else should I bow to?” Hearing this, Ah Ke was so mad that she nearly fainted.

Shaking his head, Wu Lishen said, “We have a custom here, the groom has to bow to the bride one hundred times. You have only bowed for thirty times, there are still seventy times left.”

Ao Biao raised his leg and kicked Zheng Keshuang’s buttocks. Zheng Keshuang was unable to stand, he fell kneeling down. Ao Biao pressed his head down and shouted, “You are the groom today, what’s the big deal of bowing several more times?”

Wei Xiaobao knew that they were stalling, waiting for his arrival. In all his life he could not necessarily see this kind of good and rare drama several times, thereupon he thought that there was no harm in watching it a bit longer; hence he took his time in coming out to save him. Ah Ke, on the other hand, could not bear it any longer. ‘Bang!’ she kicked the window, and leaped inside with a saber in her hand. “Release him quickly,” she shouted, “Otherwise your Miss will kill each and every one of you!”

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “Miss, are you here to drink the wine of happiness? Why are you using saber and spear?”

Ah Ke took a step forward, brandishing her saber to chop at Ao Biao. In her anxiety and anger, her saber was moving very swiftly and fiercely. Ao Biao hastily leaped away. He picked a long wooden bench behind him to block the saber. Although Ah Ke did not have internal strength, her moves were quite refined and amazing. Ao Biao’s wooden bench was an awkward weapon, unexpectedly he was forced to draw back again and again.

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “Hey, not bad at all.” And he stretched out his hand to meet the saber. His martial art skill was considerably higher than Ao Biao’s, just with two bare palms he was able to weave in and out between the saber blade.

Zheng Keshuang leaped up with the intention to help, but his back was punched twice, ‘bang, bang!’ and he fell to the ground.

Ah Ke successively launched seven, eight moved. Seeing that she could not resist the enemy, she called out, “Shidi, Shidi, come here, quick!”

But she heard Wei Xiaobao was shouting outside the window, “How fierce! Laozi will fight you to the death.” She heard the sound of punching and kicking on the window, apparently Wei Xiaobao was fighting fiercely with someone else.

Hearing Wei Xiaobao’s arrival, Wu Lishen busily signaled with his eyes, and then shouted, “Who’s there?” Two of his disciples immediately stepped forward with unsheathed weapons to meet Ah Ke’s willow-leaf saber.

Wu Lishen rushed outside the hall, but saw that Wei Xiaobao was alone, kicking the window, making a lot of noise; obviously he was not fighting with anybody else. Wu Lishen nearly burst out laughing; he called out, “Everybody stops! You, little kid, what are you doing here?”

Wei Xiaobao loudly replied, “My Shijie asked me to save people; quickly let him go! Aiyo! Not good, these peasants have superb martial art skill.” While making a big fuss, he ran outside the door. Wu Lishen laughed and ran after him.

When they were outside, Wei Xiaobao stopped and said with a laugh, “Er Ge, thank you very much! The way you manage this matter is very interesting.”

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “Is that Miss Xiongdi’s beloved? Her martial art is really good, her appearance also … also … hey, hey, not bad.” He was straightforward and frank; Ah Ke’s physical appearance was extremely beautiful, he did not think much of it, but her moves were refined and amazing, he was quite admiring her.

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “It’s a pity that she wholeheartedly wanted to marry that stinky fellow, and is unwilling to marry me. You can force that stinky fellow to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to marry that peasant girl; if only you could force her to marry me …” Suddenly he had an idea. “Er Ge,” he said, “I am asking you to help me to the end. Pretend that you capture me, and seize that Miss also, and then force us to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married. What do you think?”

Wu Lishen burst out laughing; he could not help but shaking his head, and hastily said, “Very good, very good. Xiongdi, I hope you don’t mind, shaking my head has become a second nature to me; it’s just that … it’s just that …” Speaking to this point, he slightly hesitated.

“It’s just that what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Wu Lishen said, “We are men of chivalrous and righteous way, it is all right to play a joke, Xiongdi, please don’t be oversensitive, your Gege is speaking frankly: you should absolutely have to guard against any voracious desire to satiate lascivious heart.”

“Naturally,” Wei Xiaobao said, “She is my Shijie; after we bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, she will be my official wife. Er Ge, you are the matchmaker; after bowing to the Heaven and the Earth, we will be officially married, won’t we? It’s not ‘picking flowers’ [i.e. enter houses at night to rape women] or visiting prostitute, so you cannot say ‘lascivious heart’, can you?”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Lishen said, “Xiongdi, please promise me, you must do not any … any bad things that are not according to chivalrous and righteous way.”

“Please set your hundred and twenty hearts at ease,” Wei Xiaobao said, “A real man make a promise, some horses cannot chase it.”

Wu Lishen was greatly delighted; he laughed and said, “I already knew that you are a well-known hero and warrior. This Miss can marry you, it is indeed her good fortune.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “You are the matchmaker, we must offer you the first cup of the wine of happiness.”

“Wonderful!” Wu Lishen said with a laugh, “Xiongdi, let’s do it.”

Wei Xiaobao put his hands behind his back and said with a laugh, “No need to be polite.”

Wu Lishen grabbed his wrists with his left hand; raising his voice, he said, “I want to see where are you going to run to?” And then he pushed Wei Xiaobao into the main hall.

They saw Ah Ke’s saber had been knocked down, while three weapons were pointing to her front and back. Although Ao Biao and the others wanted to completely subdue her, they knew that she was Wei Xiaobao’s beloved, hence they did not dare to be rude to her at all.

Wu Lishen took off his belt to tie Wei Xiaobao’s hands, and then he pushed him to sit on a chair. Next, he also bound Ah Ke’s hands. Wei Xiaobao did not stop cursing.

“Little demon,” Wu Lishen shouted, “You curse one more time, I am going to dig your eyeballs out.”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I’ll curse whenever I want to curse, stinky thief!”

“Shidi,” Ah Ke said in a low voice, “Stop cursing so you won’t suffer the present trouble.” Only then did Wei Xiaobao hold his tongue.

Wu Lishen said, “This Miss actually has more sense, her appearance is also not bad. Very good, very good. I have another brother who is not married yet, I’d better take her as my ‘difu’ [younger brother’s wife] today.”

Ah Ke was greatly shocked. “That won’t do, that won’t do!” she hastily said.

“Why not?” Wu Lishen said, “Big Miss of a good family will always be married, my Xiongdi is a hero and a warrior, he will not bring disgrace to you, why are you unwilling? You really fail to appreciate other people’s kindness! Play the music!”

Ao Biao and and the others picked up the gongs and drums and started beating them. ‘Dong! Dong! Dang! Dang!’ It was very lively.

Of all the frightening experiences Ah Ke went through in her entire life, nothing was scarier than this. She thought that these peasants were rough, uncouth and dirty, his younger brother must be of the same quality; if she lost her chastity to this kind of coarse peasant, even if she killed herself right now, it was already too late. She clenched her jaw and bit her lips, she was so scared that she was unable to utter anything.

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “Very good, you agree.” He waved his right hand, and everybody stopped beating the gongs and the drums.

“Not yet, I haven’t agreed yet,” Ah Ke called out, “Just kill me quickly!”

“Alright,” Wu Lishen said, “I will kill you. I will kill even your Shidi.” While saying that, he took the steel saber from Ao Biao’s hand and raised it high in the air.

Ah Ke cried and said, “Quickly kill me, if you don’t, you are not a real man. You … you kill my Shidi quickly, kill … kill him first.”

Wu Lishen cast a sidelong glance toward Wei Xiaobao; he thought, “This Miss is so without feeling and without sense of justice toward you, why would you want to marry her?”

In his heart, Wei Xiaobao was also cursing, “Stinky little girl, why would you want to kill me first?”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “I simply won’t kill your Shidi. Ah Gou, take this stinky fellow and chop his head outside!” While saying that, he pointed to Zheng Keshuang.

Ao Biao replied, “Yes.” And dragged Zheng Keshuang away.

“No,” Ah Ke cried out in alarm, “Don’t harm him … he can’t be killed. His father … his father …”

“Never mind!” Wu Lishen said, “Are you going to be my Dixi [yet another word for ‘younger brother’s wife’] or not?”

Ah Ke cried and said, “No, no, you … just kill me.”

Wu Lishen tossed away his steel saber and picked up a horsewhip. “I won’t kill you,” he shouted, “I’ll lash you a hundred whip first.” In that moment the anger in his heart was unbearable. ‘Crack!’ he cracked the whip in the air, ready to lash it down onto her body.

“Hold on!” Wei Xiaobao shouted.

Wu Lishen halted the whip in the air and did not lash it down. “What?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “We are heroes and warriors; we pay particular attention to yi qi. Shijie and I are like hands and feet born on the same parents, this a hundred-lash whip, just strike it on me.”

Seeing Wu Lishen’s ferocious and tyrannical look as he raised his whip, Ah Ke was already scared and panicked. As soon as she heard Wei Xiaobao, her heart was delighted. “Shidi,” she said, “You are a really good person.”

Wei Xiaobao said to Wu Lishen, “Hey, Laoxiong, whatever it is, let me take it. This is called ‘being a real man, I am not afraid of calamity, I’ll step forward bravely’. You must not force her to marry your Xiongdi, if you have any Jiejie or Meimei [older and younger sister, respectively] who is not married yet, just let me bow to the Heaven and the Earth with her to marry her. This Zheng Gongzi has already married one, I will marry another one, successively we marry two of you; it’s not bad, is it? If you have another one, just let her marry me. Laozi is a junk copper, rusty iron; my brain is already rotten …”

He spoke to that point, Wu Lishen and the others burst out in laughter. Ah Ke also could not help feeling funny, but she only chuckled a moment, and immediately remembered the wrong she was suffering; her tears flowed down again.

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “You, this little kid, is very interesting; you are a real man. I was actually thinking of letting you go, and was saying all those things to scare you, but laozi is too worthless. This matter of bowing to the Heaven and the Earth must be done; you tell me, who is going to bow to the Heaven and the Earth? Will it be you, or she?”

Ah Ke was anxious to get away. “It’s he, it’s he!” she hastily said.

Wu Lishen fixed his gaze at her; raising his voice, he said, “You say he is to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married?”

Ah Ke felt slightly ashamed; she hung her head and said, “Yes.”

“Alright!” Wu Lishen said. Pointing to Wei Xiaobao he said in a loud voice, “Today I insist that you bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married.”

Wei Xiaobao turned his gaze toward Ah Ke and said, “I … I …”

Ah Ke said in a low voice, “Shidi, you help me out of great catastrophe today, I will never forget it. Please agree!”

Wei Xiaobao looked distressed. “You want me to bow to the Heaven and the Earth and get married? Ay, you know, this is a very difficult matter.”

“I know,” Ah Ke said in a low voice, “If you did not help me out of this great difficulty today, I would have no choice but to crash my head and die. I … I have no choice but to ask for your help. They … they are extremely vicious.”

“Shijie,” Wei Xiaobao said in a loud voice, “Today you opened your mouth to ask me for help. I, Wei Xiaobao, have no choice but to face the difficulty, to agree on your behalf. It is you who wanted me to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married; it was not me who wanted to do it, am I right?”

“Yes,” Ah Ke replied, “It was me who asked you. You are the hero, a real man who steps forward bravely, who relieve other people’s distress, also … also someone who listen to my words the most.”

Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh and said, “Shijie, my feelings to you, you have always understood. No matter what it is that you want me to do, I will readily agree, I won’t frown. Since you ask me to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, naturally I will comply.”

“I know you treat me very well,” Ah Ke said, “Later on … later on I will also treat you well.”

“So be it,” Wu Lishen said, “Xiao Xiongdi, I do not have any meizi for you to marry. My daughter is only three; she can’t marry you. Hey, if any of you have Jiejie or Meimei, quickly call her out to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married with this young hero.”

Ao Biao said with a laugh, “I don’t have any.”

Another man said, “This young hero’s righteousness reaches the clouds and the sky; if I can be his in-law, it will be my greatest good luck. Too bad I only have brothers and no sisters.”

Another man said, “My Jiejie has already married and gave birth to eight kids. Young hero, if you are willing to wait, wait for my jiefu [older sister’s husband] to die, then I will tell Jiejie to marry you.”

“He can’t wait,” Wu Lishen said, “Who has someone who is readily available?”

Everybody shook his head and said, “I don’t.” Everybody appeared to have missed a good opportunity and had deep regret.

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Gentlemen friends, it is not me who is unwilling, but you do not have any sisters, so please let us go.”

Wu Lishen shook his head and said, “No we won’t. A real man said a word, a team of horses cannot chase it. Today you must bow to the Heaven and the Earth. Otherwise, we will offend Sha Shen [don’t know what it is, literally means demon deity] Taisui [God of the year], and then everybody here will die a violent death; won’t this joke be started again? Alright, you bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married with her.” While saying that, he pointed to Ah Ke.

Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao shouted together, “No, not good!”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “What do you mean not good? Little Miss, do you want to bow to the Heaven and the Earth with my Xiongdi, or do you want to bow to the Heaven and the Earth with this young hero? You decide.”

Ah Ke’s entire pretty face bloated with deep red; she shook her head and said, “I don’t want both!”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “Until now you still use all sorts of excuses. The time has arrived, if we miss this good hour, the demons will descend, no one here will stay alive. Hey, Ah San, Ah Gou, these two little fellows are not willing to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, cut their noses!”

Ao Biao and one of his younger martial brothers complied together; with raised steel saber, they rubbed the flat of the blade on Ah Ke’s nose several times. Ah Ke was not afraid of death, but thinking that if her nose was cut, she would be extremely ugly; she was scared to death that her face turned completely without any color.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Don’t cut my Shijie’s nose, cut mine instead.”

Wu Lishen said, “We need to cut two noses as a sacrifice to the Sha Shen, you only have one. Hey, the one surnamed Zheng, how about we cut your nose as a substitute for this Miss’ nose?”

Ah Ke looked at Zheng Keshuang with begging-for-pity look. Zheng Keshuang looked the other way, he did not dare to meet her eyes, yet he shook his head.

Wu Lishen said, “This fellow is unwilling, yet your Shidi is. Hey, your Shidi treats you a lot better than he does. If you don’t marry this kind of person, whom are you going to marry? Bow to the Heaven and the Earth, play music!”

Amidst the sound of gongs and drums, Ao Biao took the head covering from the fake bride and put it on Ah Ke’s head; he also untied her. As soon as she was free, Ah Ke sent out a punch. ‘Wham!’ it hit the pit of Ao Biao’s stomach. Luckily she did not have any internal energy, so that although he was hit, it was not too painful. Ao Biao raised his steel saber and put it across the back of her neck.

Wu Lishen started the ritual, “The bride and groom bow to the Heaven!”

Ah Ke felt the coldness of the blade on the skin of her neck, as well as a slight pain; she had no choice but to stand alongside Wei Xiaobao and kowtow toward the outside.

Wu Lishen continued, “The bride and groom bow to the Earth.” Ao Biao pushed her body around to kowtow toward the inside.

At the ‘bride and groom bow to each other’, the two of them kneeled toward each other and kowtowed several times.

Wu Lishen laughed aloud and said, “The new husband and wife thank the matchmaker.”

Ah Ke was extremely angry; suddenly her leg flew up and kicked Wu Lishen’s lower abdomen. This kick was indeed not light. ‘Ah!’ Wu Lishen cried out and retreated several steps back, while repeatedly coughing. He then laughed and said, “The bride is so vicious, even the matchmaker is being kicked!”

Right this moment, there were repeated whistles outside the ancestral hall, followed by sounds of footsteps from east, south, west and north; at least there were forty, fifty people. Wu Lishen’s smiling expression immediately vanished. “Blow out the candles,” he hissed. Immediately the ancestral hall was pitch-black.

Wei Xiaobao rushed toward Ah Ke and pulled her hand, “There are enemies outside,” he said in a low voice.

Ah Ke was really angry and upset; she sobbed and said, “I … I have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth with you.”

“To me, it was something that I always seek but fail to get,” Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “It’s just that the bowing to the Heaven and the Earth was rather too sloppy.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “It does not count. You think it was for real?”

“Why would it be a fake?” Wei Xiaobao said, “This is called ‘the (grain of) rice has become (steamed) rice’, ‘the wood has become a dog’ [mu yi cheng gou].”

With a whimper Ah Ke said, “What ‘the wood has become a dog’? It’s ‘the wood has become a boat’ [mu yi cheng zhou].”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Niangzi [wife] is well-educated, later on you need to teach me a lot to be a Xianggong [lord/master/young gentleman, but can also mean ‘husband’ (wife’s term of address)].”

Hearing him unexpectedly thickening his face by using the term ‘niangzi’ and ‘xianggong’ to call each other, Ah Ke was growing more anxious and broke into crying.

They heard the shout outside was deafening, dozens of people were shouting together. It sounded like the roar of a beast, or the bellow of an ox; it was so jumbled and indistinct that they did not know what they were shouting. Ah Ke was terrified, against her will she leaned close to Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao reached out and wrapped his arm around her; he said in a low voice, “Don’t be afraid, looks like a bunch of lamas are attacking.”

“What should we do?” Ah Ke asked.

Wei Xiaobao pulled her arm, he took her quietly sitting behind the image of the deity. Suddenly there was a flash of light, several dozen people rushed into the ancestral hall, each one of them had a torch and a weapon in his hands. As soon as Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke saw these people, they were shocked. These people’s faces were painted with green fancy patterns, they wore bird’s feather on their heads, and their upper bodies were naked. Their waists were wrapped in a piece of animal skin, their torso and their arms were also painted in elaborate patterns. Turned out these people were of ethnic groups from outside China.

Ah Ke thought that these barbarians did not look like human, but they did not look like ghosts either; each one of them had a sinister expression on his face. She was even more terrified, and shrank herself inside Wei Xiaobao’s embrace while trembling incessantly.

The barbarians uttered wild ‘wah, wah!’ noise; one of them, who was among the first to enter, shouted, “Han people, no good, kill them all! Barbarians, good, must kill people! Guhuatulu, ahbasili!” The barbarians shouted loudly, they were talking in barbarian language.

Wu Lishen was a Yunnan native, he understood barbarian language, but he did not understand even half a word of these barbarians’ talk. He said in barbarian language, “We are good Han people, we must not kill.”

The barbarian leader still said, “Han people, no good, must kill all. Guhuatulu, ahbasili!”

All the barbarians shouted together, “Guhuatulu, ahbasili!” They raised their big sabers and steel forks, and charged forward. Wu Lishen and his company did not have any choice but to raise their weapons and meet the enemy.

As soon as these people met, Wu Lishen and the others were greatly amazed. Turned out these barbarians’ martial art skill was quite refined and established; their weapon technique was conforming to the martial art study, their attack and defense was carefully measured, they did not randomly chop or wildly attack at all.

Several moves later, even Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke were able to see this fact. While engaging in a fierce fight, Wu Lishen shouted, “Everybody, be careful, these barbarians have learned our Han people’s martial art, we must not consider them lightly.”

The barbarian leader called out, “Han people’s killing technique, barbarians know them all, not afraid of Han people. Guhuatulu, ahbasili!”

The barbarians were many, their martial art skill was also very good. Each one of Mu Palace people had to face three, sometimes four, enemies. In a very short period of time they were already in a very dangerous position. Wu Lishen brandished his saber in a fierce combat against the leader, yet unexpectedly it did not look like he was having the slightest bit of advantage. The longer they fought, the more he was alarmed. Suddenly he heard ‘Ah, Ah’, twice; two of disciples were injured and fell down. Shortly afterwards, Ao Biao’s leg was stabbed by a hunting fork and he also fell down. Three barbarians pounced on him and captured him.

A moment later, about a dozen or so Mu Palace people had been knocked down. Zheng Keshuang’s had already been injured early on; he only offered a little bit of resistance and was quickly subdued. All the barbarians carried ox tendon, with which they bound their captives.

The barbarian leader hopped up and down while loudly blabbering in barbarian tongue. Wu Lishen groaned inwardly; he was thinking of escaping, but was concerned about Wei Xiaobao and his disciples’ safety. Thereupon he did everything he could to fight fiercely, hoping to subdue the leader and thus forcing them to let his people go. Suddenly the leader hacked his saber directly toward Wu Lishen’s head, Wu Lishen raised his saber to block. ‘Dang!’ his arm went slightly numb. Suddenly he felt a stick sweeping toward his back, hastily he leaped up to evade. The leader’s saber flipped over, and then landed on his neck. The leader shouted, “Han people, lose. Barbarian, not lose.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “This barbarian is so stupid, he does not know the word ‘win’, only knew the word ‘not lose’.”

Wu Lishen shook his head and heaved a deep sigh; he tossed his saber and immediately had his hands bound.

With torches raised high, the barbarians looked everywhere. Wei Xiaobao knew that they could not hide anymore. Pulling Ah Ke’s hand, he rushed outside while calling out, “Barbarians, good people. The two of us are barbarians. Guhuatulu, ahbasili!”

The leader reached out to grab Ah Ke’s neck. Three barbarians pounced forward and grabbed Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao only shouted half of “Guhua …” before his mouth was covered.

When the leader saw him, his expression changed. Stretching out his arm, he grabbed Wei Xiaobao in his arms while shouting, “Xihuahbu, qiliwendeng.” And then he carried Wei Xiaobao out of the ancestral hall.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly shocked; turning his head toward Ah Ke, he called out, “Niangzi, this barbarian is going to kill me. You must live as a widow for me, you can’t remarry that …” Before he finished, they were already outside the main gate.

The barbarian leader ran more than ten zhang, before he released Wei Xiaobao and set him on the ground. He said, “Gui Gonggong, how come you are here?” He sounded genuinely surprised, but was also delighted.

Wei Xiaobao was startled and happy at the same time. “You … you are a barbarian, and you knew me?”

The man laughed and said, “Xiaoren is Yang Yizhi, the Yang Yizhi from Ping Xi Wang Mansion. Gui Gonggong did not recognize me. Ha ha …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. He was about to speak, Yang Yizhi pulled his hand and said, “Let’s go farther away to talk, don’t let the others hear us.”

The two of them went more than twenty zhang away before stopping. Yang Yizhi said, “Unexpectedly I can see Gui Gonggong in here, truly I am delighted.”

“How did Yang Dage come here?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “And you dress up as Guhuatulu, ahbasili?”

Yang Yizhi laughed and said, “There were a bunch of people having an assembly at Hejian Prefecture, planning to bring harm to our Wangye; Wangye obtained some information about it and sent Xiaoren here to investigate.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly alarmed; his brain turning very fast, trying to find an idea. He said, “Last time those Mu Palace fellows entered the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, framing Ping Xi Wang …”

Yang Yizhi hastily said, “And we owe it to Gonggong’s esteemed, as high as the cloud and the sky’s friendship, by presenting a memorial to the Emperor and clear this matter up, washing away the injustice our Ping Xi Wang received. Our Wangye is endlessly grateful, he often mentioned that he wanted to personally express his gratitude to Gonggong.”

“I do not dare to accept the gratitude,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wangye regards me highly like this, while I am by the Emperor’s side, if I can do such a trivial matter for Wangye, naturally I will. This time His Majesty knew that there are some rebellious thieves who were having an assembly at the Hejian Prefecture, with the intention of bringing harm to Ping Xi Wang. I volunteered to come over here to investigate.”

Yang Yizhi was greatly delighted. “Turns out His Majesty already knew about it,” he said, “There is no way the rebellious thieves’ evil schemes will succeed. That’s wonderful. Xiaoren received Wangye’s order to infiltrate those damn dog-heads’ congress. I heard them electing various provinces’ meng zhu, intending to harm our Wangye. I won’t conceal it from Gui Gonggong: in our hearts we are deeply concerned. It is easy to dodge the spear in the open, it is hard to avoid a stab in the dark. If the rebellious thieves dare to come to Yunnan to fight, it’s not that Xiaoren is boasting, but if a thousand of them came, we’ll capture a thousand, if ten thousand of them came, we’ll kill all ten thousand. What we are afraid of is that like last time the Mu Palace’s dog thieves committing outrages, yet they shifted the blame to our Wangye, and thus later on have brought us infinite trouble.”

Striking his own chest, Wei Xiaobao boldly said, “Yang Dage, please report to Wangye, there is nothing to be worried about. When I return to the Capital, about that dog-heads’ congress, I will report everything by fives and tens, by fifteens and twenties [i.e. systematically and in full detail], nothing will be left out in my memorial to the Emperor. Opposing Ping Xi Wang is the same as opposing His Majesty. The more they hate Ping Xi Wang, the more it shows that Wangye is loyal and devoted to His Majesty. If His Majesty is happy, not only Ping Xi Wangye, even Yang Dage will be heavily rewarded, you will be promoted and gain wealth; it’s a cinch.”

Yang Yizhi happily said, “We are heavily reliant of Gui Gonggong’s vigorous intercession. Xiaoren does not expect promotion and wealth. Wangye has shown great kindness to my late father, he has saved Xiaoren’s entire family’s lives. Just before his death, my late father left me his last words, instructing Xiaoren to pledge my life to protect Wangye completely. Gonggong, you came here, are you investigating Mu Family dog thieves’ plot?”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his thigh. “Yang Dage,” he said, “Not only your martial art skill is superb, your foresight is also divine. My admiration, my admiration. My Shijie and I are in disguise, we want to find out what trick they are playing, but we were discovered. I talked some nonsense, surprisingly they believe it, and forced my Shijie and I to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married. Ha ha … this is called ‘profiting from a disaster’.”

Yang Yizhi thought, “You are a eunuch, how can you marry? Ah right, you and that young Miss pretended to be a pair of lovers and they believed it.” He said, “That Shaking-Head Lion’s martial art is not bad, nevertheless, he is bold but not very astute.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You dress as barbarians, is it for the purpose of capturing them?”

Yang Yizhi said, “Mu Family and our Prince’s Mansion have enmity as deep as the sea. Last time we suffered heavy damage from them, all along we have not been able to collect our capital back. This time at the dog-heads’ congress we saw them, Xiaoren then made a plan. If we made disturbance in Zhili [see Note 3 Chapter 9] and His Majesty finds out, I am afraid he will blame our Wangye, saying that Ping Xi Wang’s Mansion people are breaking the law in the vicinity of the Capital, committing murder and creating trouble.”

Wei Xiaobao gave him a thumb up; he praised, “Yang Dage’s stratagem is indeed very brilliant. You are dressing up as barbarians, guhuatulu, ahbasili; even if you massacre the whole lot of Mu Palace people, other people only know that it was the barbarian revolting, nobody would suspect Ping Xi Wang at all.”

Yang Yizhi laughed. “Exactly,” he said, “It’s just that by dressing like this, crazy and bizarre, we only make Gonggong laugh.”

“What do you mean ‘laugh’?” Wei Xiaobao said, “In my heart I envy you very much. I really want to shed these clothes, paint my face with green fancy patterns, and shouting and jumping around with you.”

Yang Yizhi laughed and said, “If Gonggong wishes, we can dress up together.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “This time I can’t; if my wife saw me dressing outlandishly like that, she will throw a fit.”

“Gonggong really getting married and have a wife now?” Yang Yizhi asked, “I thought you were forced by those dog thieves to pretend?”

This matter was not easy to explain clearly in just a few words, thereupon Wei Xiaobao changed the subject by saying, “Yang Dage, you and I hit it off very well with one another. If you consider me worthy, let the two of us tie the knot to become sworn brothers. There’s no need to use ‘Gonggong’ or ‘Xiaoren’ anymore, it sounds so awkward.”

Yang Yizhi was greatly delighted. First, Ping Xi Wang was in need of his help; hereafter, there would be many important matters in need of his aid in front of the Emperor. Second, this little Gonggong was generous, outspoken and straightforward, a really good friend. That day at the Prince Kang’s mansion, he was very polite to him. Thereupon he said, “That is exactly what I have been wishing for; but I am afraid I am not able to climb that high.”

“What do you mean climbing high or climbing low?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Speaking of high and low, are you the taller one, or I am the taller one?”

Yang Yizhi burst out laughing. Thereupon the two of them kneeled down on the spot, using dirt as the incense, they kowtowed eight times and made a statement to be brothers.

“Xiongdi,” Yang Yizhi said, “From now on the two of us are as close as flesh and bones, a lot more than ordinary brothers. However, in front of other people, your Gege will still call you ‘Gonggong’, to avoid raising other people’s suspicion.”

“Naturally,” Wei Xiaobao replied. “Dage, what are you going to do with those Mu Family people?”

Yang Yizhi said, “I am going to take them to Yunnan and slowly torture them. After obtaining their confession that they framed our Wangye, we are going to take them to the Capital to let the Emperor know that Ping Xi Wang has whole-hearted loyalty, and make it clear that by protecting Ping Xi Wang, Xiongdi did not make the slightest mistake.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Very good, very good!” he said. “Dage, do you think that Shaking-head Tiger would confess?”

“It’s Shaking-head Lion Wu Lishen,” Yang Yizhi corrected, “This man has quite a reputation in Jianghu; I heard his manner is very unyielding, he won’t confess. I respect him as a real man, I won’t make things too difficult for him. But the rest of those people, inevitably there will be some who can’t endure the torture; they might confess.”

“Not bad,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This plan is not bad.”

Yang Yizhi could detect from his tone that he was speaking thoughtlessly and did not really mean it; thereupon he said, “Xiongdi, you and I are not outsiders. If you think something is inappropriate, please speak bluntly.”

“There is nothing inappropriate about it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard there is another rebellious thief within the Mu Family called Mu Jiansheng, there is also a certain Stiff-backed Black Dragon called Liu somebody.”

“Iron Back Blue Dragon Liu Dahong,” Yang Yizhi said, “He is Mu Jiansheng’s Shifu.”

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Dage, your memory is very good. His Majesty instructed me to find these two people’s trail. Have you caught them?”

Yang Yizhi said, “Mu Jiansheng also went to Hejian Prefecture. Along the way we scooped up information about him, but as soon as we entered Xian County, he slipped away, we do not know where he hides.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It is somewhat embarrassing; just now I talked nonsense, and was able to deceive that Shaking-head Lion and turned him into Nodding-Head Lion, who agreed to take me to see their Xiao Gongye. I actually wanted to verify their plot in framing Ping Xi Wang, and then return to the Capital and present a report to the Emperor. Since Dage has already had assurance, you might be able to torture their conspiracy out. In the end it’s the same thing, Xiongdi actually does not need to take a risk.”

Yang Yizhi deliberately considered, “I torture several insignificant people, they may not necessarily know the real inside information. Even if they did, Mu Family dog thieves’ bones are very hard, they may not necessarily be willing to speak. Besides, Wangye personally offers an explanation is absolutely inferior to the report from someone whom the Emperor personally sent to investigate, which will emerge powerful. If we simply pretend we did not know anything and let Gui Xiongdi go submit the report to the Emperor, it will be much better.” Thereupon he pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand and said, “Xiongdi, your plan is a lot more brilliant, I’ll listen to you in everything. But how are we going to release those Mu Family dog thieves without raising their suspicions?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “For that, I will need you to think of something.”

Yang Yizhi thought for a moment, and then said, “Let’s do it this way: You run away back to the ancestral hall, pretending that you are summoning up courage and determination to save your Shijie, I will pursue you, and then the two of us will speak gibberish, pretending to speak in the barbarian tongue. After talking for a while, you convince me, and I will respectfully leave. This way we won’t reveal the least bit of trace.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Wonderful!” he said, “I, Gui Gonggong is fluent in barbarian tongue. There is an opera about that, Emperor Ming of Tang[2] had a subordinate scholar named Li somebody, when he was drunk, he produced an essay, scaring a bunch of barbarians that they pissed in their pants in terror.”

Yang Yizhi laughed and said, “That was Li Taibai’s drunken manuscript scared barbarian book.”

Wei Xiaobao clapped his hands and said, “Right, right! Gui Gonggong awakes and speaks scary barbarian language is just as amazing as that. Dage, we must play a convincing act; you may punch and kick me, and I won’t be injured. Ah, right, I am wearing a treasured vest that saber and spear won’t penetrate. There is no harm in you chopping me several times; as long as you don’t use any internal energy, so you won’t shake and injure my five viscera and six bowels, I will be perfectly all right.”

Yang Yizhi said, “Xiongdi has that kind of treasured clothes, that’s very good.”

Wei Xiaobao bragged, “His Majesty sent me on a mission to investigate the rebellious thieves’ treacherous plan, he was afraid they might find out and have me killed; thereupon he took off from his own body this treasured vest, which was a tribute from the western red-haired country, and bestowed it to me. Dage, you do not need to worry that you might injure me, why don’t you chop me several times to test it?”

Yang Yizhi pulled his saber out and lightly slashed Wei Xiaobao’s left shoulder. Sure enough, the saber cut open the outer garment, but as the blade came in contact with the inner garment, it could not go deeper. He increased the strength of his hand slightly, lightly chopping Wei Xiaobao’s left shoulder again, still he was not able to create any damage. “Good treasured clothes, good treasured clothes!” he praised.

“Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “There is a fellow surnamed Zheng inside; he is that young gentleman who wears gorgeous embroidered pillowcase. This fellow is always messing around my Shijie. Looking at him, Xiongdi is very angry. It would be best if you could take him away.”

“I’ll just send a palm strike and kill him then,” Yang Yizhi said.

“You must not kill him, you must not kill him,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This man is wanted by the Emperor, in the future a very important matter will rest on his shoulder. Please just capture him and take him away. Guard him well, don’t make things difficult for him, but don’t interrogate him about anything either. After twenty, thirty years, I will let you know when I want him, then you send people to take him to Beijing.”

“Yes,” Yang Yizhi said, “I will take care of this thing for you properly.” Suddenly he raised his voice to shout, “Huluxidu, ailibala! Xulaoxulao!” Lowering his voice, he laughed and said, “The two of us have been talking for a while, I am afraid they will get suspicious.”

With a sharp voice Wei Xiaobao shouted several words of ‘barbarian tongue’. Yang Yizhi laughed and said, “Xiongdi’s ‘barbarian tongue’ is a lot more fluent than your Gege.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Naturally; in the past Xiongdi wandered destitute in a foreign land, the lord of the foreign land wanted to take me as fuma [emperor’s son-in-law, consort], hence I am accustomed to speak the ‘barbarian tongue’.” Yang Yizhi burst out in laughter.

“Dage,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “I have a difficulty, I want you to help me finding a way out.”

Yang Yizhi struck his chest and generously offered, “Whatever trouble Xiongdi has, your Gege will give my life if you want me to. As long as you tell me, there is nothing that I won’t obey.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Thank you very much. To say that this matter is difficult, it is actually not difficult; but to say that it is easy, it is definitely not easy.”

Yang Yizhi said, “Xiongdi may just tell me, I will help you ponder over it. Supposing your Gege cannot do it, I am going to ask our Wangye. Several tens of thousands troops and horses, several million taels, can be easily mobilized.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled; he said, “Thousand armies ten thousand horses, mountain of gold and silver, I am afraid will be quite useless. It’s about my Shijie, she was forced to bow to the Heaven and the Earth and marry me, but in her heart she is very unwilling. It would be best if you have a marvelous idea, help me to change rice (grain) into (cooked) rice, tricking her to decide that the timber has been turned into a boat.”

Yang Yizhi could not help but feeling amused; he thought, “Turns out it is for that matter, I thought it was for some important matter, instead, it has something to do with dealing with that young girl. But you are a eunuch, how can you take a wife? Right, I heard during the Ming Dynasty it was common for some court eunuchs to take several wives. Xiongdi must be thinking of having some toys to satisfy his ‘dry craving’.”

Thinking that since his childhood Wei Xiaobao had had his body purified, Yang Yizhi could not help but feeling sad. Taking Wei Xiaobao’s hand in his, he said, “Xiongdi, in this life, we cannot always hope that everything is going as we wish. Since the ancient times, there are extremely numerous great heroes, great warriors who have physical defect; you don’t have to care about it. Let’s go in.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said. He shouted some words in ‘barbarian tongue’ and rushed into the ancestral hall.

Brandishing his saber, Yang Yizhi ran after him, also shouting some ‘barbarian’ words, and rushed into the main hall to grab Wei Xiaobao. The two of them exchanged some words. You said some ‘xilihulu’, I replied with ‘ahyibala’, they were prattling incessantly, while sometimes pointed to Wu Lishen, sometimes pointed to Ah Ke.

Wu Lishen, Ah Ke and the others were pleasantly surprised, they thought that there was hope. “Luckily he understands barbarian language,” they mused, “It would be best if he could make these barbarians retreat.”

Yang Yizhi raised his saber high, aiming it at the crown of Ah Ke’s head. “Woman, not good,” he said, “Kill her.”

Wei Xiaobao busily said, “Wife, mine, no kill!”

“Wife, yours, no kill?” Yang Yizhi asked.

Wei Xiaobao repeatedly nodded his head; he said, “Wife, mine, no kill!”

Yang Yizhi was angry; he shouted, “Wife, yours, no kill. Kill you!”

“Very good,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wife, mine, no kill. Kill me!”

‘Whoosh!’ Yang Yizhi swung his saber toward Wei Xiaobao’s chest. When the saber went down, the blade created a loud whooshing noise, obviously it carried a tremendous strength, yet as soon as the blade came into contact with Wei Xiaobao’s body, immediately he pulled his strength back; his wrist trembled, the blade of the saber bounced back. He feigned a shock and jumped backward. He then chopped three times in succession and made three long cuts on Wei Xiaobao’s outer garment.

“You, Bodhisattva, cannot be killed?” he shouted.

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “I, Bodhisattva, cannot be killed,” he said.

Yang Yizhi raised his thumb and said, “You, Bodhisattva, not. Big hero, yes.” Pointing to Wu Lishen and the others, he asked, “Han people, kill?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his hand and said, “Friends, mine, no kill!”

Yang Yizhi nodded; he asked Ah Ke, “You, wife, Big Hero’s?”

Ah Ke wanted to deny, but looking at the flickering saber in his hand, she did not dare to say anything. Yang Yizhi’s saber chopped down on the sacrificial table, breaking it into two pieces; he shouted, “Husband, yours?” while pointing at Wei Xiaobao.

Ah Ke had no choice, with a low voice she said, “Husband, mine.”

Yang Yizhi laughed aloud. He lifted Ah Ke up and dropped her in front of Wei Xiaobao, saying, “Wife, yours, embrace.”

Wei Xiaobao spread his arms and embraced Ah Ke tightly. “Wife, mine, embrace,” he said.

Yang Yizhi pointed to Zheng Keshuang and asked, “Son, yours?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “Son, mine? No!”

Yang Yizhi shouted several ‘barbarian’ words; he grabbed Zheng Keshuang and rushed outside, while his mouth repeatedly whistled. His men abandoned their captives and ran outside. And then the sound of hoof beats was heard; unexpectedly they left just like that.

Ah Ke’s fear and panic was somewhat subsided; she felt Wei Xiaobao still had his arms around her waist and did not let go. “Take off your hand,” she said.

“Wife, mine, embrace,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Ah Ke was ashamed and angry at the same time; using her hands she pried open Wei Xiaobao’s arms and struggled to free herself. Wei Xiaobao picked up a steel saber from the floor and cut off the ropes binding Wu Lishen and the others.

“Those barbarians’ martial art is superb,” Wu Lishen said, “Fortunately the groom knows how to speak barbarian tongue, plus you have trained the ‘golden bell shield iron cloth garment’ martial art, sabers and spears cannot penetrate, hence we were all saved by you.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Although those barbarians’ martial art is quite high, they are very stupid. I talked nonsense a little bit, and they believed me.”

Ah Ke said, “Zheng Gongzi is captured by them, how can we save him?”

The fake bride suddenly yelled, “My husband is caught by the barbarians, they are going to boil and eat him.” And then she cried loudly.

Wu Lishen cupped his fist and said, “May I ask hero’s respected surname and great name?”

“I do not dare,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Zaixia surnamed Wei.”

Wu Lishen said, “Wei Xianggong and Wei Family Niangzi got married today, won’t a tiny bit of congratulatory present be considered as showing respect?” While saying that, he put his hand inside his pocket and fished out two tiny golden yuanbao.

“Thank you very much,” Wei Xiaobao said, while reaching out to accept it.

Ah Ke’s entire face turned red; stomping her feet, she said, “It was not real, it did not count.”

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “The two of you have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth, and just now you said to that barbarian, ‘Husband, mine’. How can you deny? The bride and groom should enjoy the bridal room and ornamented candle, we are not going to disturb.” Waving his hand, together with Ao Biao and the others he strode out of the ancestral hall.

Instantly such a big ancestral hall became extremely quiet, nobody made any noise. Ah Ke was scared, but also ashamed and resentful. She stole a glance toward Wei Xiaobao, thinking about how she herself had said, ‘Husband, mine’. Suddenly she threw herself on the table and cried. Stomping her feet she said, “It’s all because you are not good, it’s all because you are not good!”

In a gentle voice Wei Xiaobao said, “Yes, yes, it’s all because I am not good. Wait till I think of something to save Zheng Gongzi, and then you will say that I am good.”

Ah Ke raised her head and said, “You … you can save him?” Under the red flickering candle light, her incomparably tender and beautiful face made the several beads of teardrops looked like bright full moon, so that even pearls inlaid with white jade seemed inadequate by comparison, so that the first budding rose could not surpass her luminescence and elegance. Wei Xiaobao could not help but staring at her with blank expression, and forgot to answer.

Ah Ke tugged his clothes and said, “I am asking you, how are we going to save Zheng Gongzi?”

Wei Xiaobao woke up from his dream; he sighed and said, “That barbarian leader said that since they have come out, they cannot go back empty-handed, they must catch someone back to their cave, to be cooked so that everybody can eat …”

Ah Ke cried out in fear. “They want to cook him so that everybody can eat?” she asked. Thinking that the ‘bride’ had also cried out in fear, she was even more terrified.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They originally said that you have a soft skin and white flesh; you must have the best taste, so they wanted to catch you and eat …” Ah Ke could not endure it; her body shivered all over as she looked outside the door, afraid that those barbarians would come back.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “… I told them that you are my wife, only then did they let you off.”

Ah Ke anxiously said, “They caught Zheng Gongzi, are they going to cook … cook …”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Unless I volunteer myself to be eaten, in exchange for Zheng Gongzi.”

“Then you should go in exchange for him!” Ah Ke said. But as soon as she blurted it out, she realized that she had misspoken; her pretty face blushed and she lowered her head.

Wei Xiaobao was furious; he mused, “Stinky little mother, in your eyes your husband is not worth half a wen; you’d rather have the barbarians cook me and eat me to have your lover [orig. male adulterer] rescued.” With a cold voice he said, “Even if I go in exchange for him, it would be useless.”

Ah Ke anxiously asked, “Why … why useless?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Zheng Gongzi has bowed to the Heaven and the Earth with that peasant girl to get married; you have seen it with your own eyes. Since he already has a wife he officially married, the wood has been turned into a boat, you can’t marry him anymore.”

Ah Ke stomped her feet, “That was a fake.”

Seething with rage, Wei Xiaobao said, “Alright, you want me to go in exchange for him, I will go. I just don’t know where the barbarian cave is. Humph, let’s go.”

Ah Ke silently followed him out of the ancestral hall, she was afraid she might say anything wrong, and then he would not be willing to trade his life for Zheng Gongzi’s.

When they reached the main road, they saw the Zheng Mansion’s attendants standing in a circle with their raised lanterns, speaking loudly among themselves. When the two of them came near, a Zheng Mansion attendant said, “Miss Chen is here. Where is our Gongzi? Where is our Gongzi?” while rushing over to meet them.

From among the crowd suddenly a slim figure flashed by, his movement was fast, Wei Xiaobao only saw a blurred shadow and suddenly the man was already standing in front of him, and then he heard a sharp voice asking, “Where is our Gongzi?”

The man was standing with his back against the lantern, hence Wei Xiaobao was not able to see his face. His heart was frightened, he took two steps back. Who would have thought that as he withdrew two steps, the man also went forward two steps, so that they were still standing face-to-face, less than a chi apart. He asked again, “Where is our Gongzi?”

Ah Ke replied, “He … he was captured by the barbarians, they … they are going to cook and eat him.”

The man said, “How can there be any barbarians in the Central Plains?”

“They are really barbarians,” Ah Ke said, “Quick … quickly think of a way to save him.”

“How long have they been gone?” the man asked.

“Not too long,” Ah Ke replied.

The man’s body suddenly stiffened up, he leaped backward and landed on a horse’s back. His legs squeezed, the horse immediately galloped away, and in an instant disappeared in the darkness. Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke looked at each other in shock; one was dismayed, the other was delighted. They saw this person’s martial art skill was high, his movement was fast; they had rarely seen this kind of man in their lives, in their hearts they were full of admiration.

“I wonder who that martial art master is.” Ah Ke said.

The elderly attendant replied, “He is Gongzi’s Shifu, Feng Xifan; his title is ‘One Sword without Blood’. Feng Shifu is unmatched in the world, if he is going to rescue Gongzi, it is guaranteed that he will achieve success.”

“Turns out it is he,” Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke said together. Ah Ke added, “Since Feng Shifu has arrived, why didn’t you ask him to immediately go to that ancestral hall over there to save Gongzi?”

An attendant said, “Feng Shifu has just arrived. He received our letter, sent by flying pigeon. From Hejian Prefecture he rushed over in the same night.”

“Feng Shifu was at Hejian Prefecture?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Why we did not see him?”

The attendants looked at each other, nobody answered. Knowing that he had blurted out a secret, the attendant who spoke earlier lowered his head.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out there was a martial art master hidden among the Zheng Family people who attended the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’, all along he did not show himself. Only after this stinky fellow was captured did he finally rush over for the rescue.” Pinching his own cheek, he said, “Flesh, oh flesh, someone else is going to save Zheng Gongzi, you don’t need to be exchanged with some darling treasure and be eaten by those barbarians.”

Ah Ke blushed; she wanted to explain, but had a second thought, “I don’t know whether Feng Shifu singlehandedly [orig. single spear one horse] will be able to defeat that many barbarians.”

Wei Xiaobao saw she was going to speak but refrained herself, he could guess what was in her mind; he said, “Don’t worry, if Feng Shifu is not able to rescue him, there is still this rotten flesh of mine to be exchanged with your darling. A real man gave his words, some horses cannot pursue.”

“It’s good if Feng Shifu is able to save him,” Ah Ke said.

Wei Xiaobao was angry, he started to walk away, but with the corner of his eyes he saw her pretty face, his heart turned soft; he turned around and sat by the roadside.

Seeing he was about to leave, Ah Ke could not help but was worried, thinking that if Feng Shifu was not able to save Zheng Gongzi, and Wei Xiaobao left, who would get Zheng Gongzi back? Only after seeing he came back and sat down did she feel relieved. She did not dare to offend him this time, hence she came over and sat next to him.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “This moment you need my help; if I don’t take any advantage now, what am I waiting for?” Reaching out with his left hand, he wrapped it around her waist, while with his right hand he held Ah Ke’s right hand. Ah Ke struggled slightly, and then stay motionless. Wei Xiaobao was very happy, he thought, “It would be best if that man surnamed Feng is killed by Yang Dage and the others, and won’t come back forever, so that I can sit waiting like this for the rest my life.”

He was fully aware that Ah Ke did not have even half a part of feeling toward him, early on he already had no high hopes in his heart; he only hoped he could sit embracing her for a lifetime, then he would be perfectly contented, he would be even happier if she did not ask him for a help.

Unfortunately, things turned out contrary to the way he wished; he only embraced her for a short time when they heard the faint sound of hoof beats on the main road. Ah Ke sprang up and called out, “Zheng Gongzi is back.”

The sound of hoof beats was getting nearer and nearer, it sounded like two horses were rushing over. “All right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I just got my life back, no need to have the barbarians eat me.” The tone of his voice was brimming with bitterness. But by this time, even if he was ten times more angry, why would Ah Ke care? She was anxiously running toward the main road.

The two horses arrived one after another. The attendants lifted high their lanterns, while cheering loudly. The one riding on the front was indeed Zheng Keshuang. Seeing Ah Ke rushing over to meet him, he leaped down from his horse. The two of them embraced each other with unbounded happiness. Ah Ke buried her head in his bosom, crying. She said, “I was afraid … afraid those barbarians would … would …”

Wei Xiaobao was actually starting to stand up, but seeing this sight, it was as if the pit of his stomach was punched, hard. He fell back sitting down, his head dizzy his eyes blurred. He made an oath in his heart, “His granny, if in this life I cannot make you, this stinky little mother, as my wife, I am your Zheng Keshuang’s seventeenth, eighteenth generation grandson. I, Wei Xiaobao, am a ‘wang jiu dan’, a ‘wang ba dan’ plus one egg[3].”

If other people undergo this situation, if they did not completely disheartened, broken hearted and shed some tears, then they would be determined to cut off all feeling and started to look for a better match. Wei Xiaobao, however, by nature was a hoodlum, with thick skin and very strong, tenacious personality; a thick-faced and strong-willed person.

“In short,” he continued his musing, “Laozi will hang around you for the rest of my life. If my life is spent, my soul will not go away, I will cling to you. Even if you marry eighteen times, the nineteenth time will be with laozi.”

He grew up in a brothel, he was accustomed to see the prostitutes welcoming new guests and sending off the old ones. He did not think that a woman’s heart was capable to be attached to any extraordinary important matter; all those ‘faithful unto death’, ‘chaste’ or ‘not double-hearted’, he had never heard of.

He was upset for only a short time, and then was able to giggle while walking over and said, “Zheng Gongzi, you are back; you haven’t been bitten by the barbarians?”

Zheng Keshuang was startled. “What do you mean bitten?” he asked. Ah Ke was also startled; she looked at him up and down; only after seeing that his five sense organs and fingers were whole did she feel relieved.

Feng Xifan was still sitting on the horseback. “Who is this little kid?” he asked.

“He is Miss Chen’s Shidi,” Zheng Keshuang replied. Feng Xifan nodded.

Wei Xiaobao looked up at him, he saw a slim face, yellowish, with black hair, two slanting swallowtail beard, his eyes turned into two slits; he really looked like a tuberculosis ghost. Concerned over Yang Yizhi’s safety, he asked, “Feng Shifu, you really have capability, in just a short time you are able to rescue Zheng Gongzi back. Did you kill that barbarian leader?”

“What barbarian?” Feng Xifan asked, “They dressed up.”

Wei Xiaobao was inwardly shocked; he said, “They dressed up? But they can speak barbarian tongue.”

“Fake!” Feng Xifan said. Feeling it was beneath his dignity to talk too much to this little kid, he turned to Zheng Keshuang and said, “Gongzi, you must be tired, why don’t we go to rest at that ancestral hall over there?”

Ah Ke was concerned about her shifu. “I am afraid Shifu will worry when she wakes up and did not see me.”

“Let’s go back immediately,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Ah Ke looked at Zheng Keshuang, she was hoping he would come with her. Zheng Keshuang said, “Shifu, let’s everybody go to the inn to have something to eat, and some good sleep.”

On the way Wei Xiaobao questioned Zheng Keshuang on how he escaped. Zheng Keshuang boasted about his shifu’s skill, how in just a few moves he killed the barbarians that they scattered away. Wei Xiaobao made sure he heard that ‘the barbarian leader did not lose his life’ before he felt relieved.

By the time they all arrived at the inn, the sky had already brightened, Jiu Nan was already awake for quite some time. She had already expected that Ah Ke would pull Wei Xiaobao to save Zheng Keshuang; therefore, she was not surprised to see the two of them went missing.

When Zheng Keshuang and the others arrived, he introduced Feng Xifan to her. Jiu Nan noticed his listless appearance, but occasionally his eyes would open wide, and she could see the unusual brightness of his gaze; she thought, “This man has a reputation as ‘One Sword without Blood’, apparently his name is not in vain, his martial art is indeed superb.”

After breakfast, Jiu Nan said, “Zheng Gongzi, we, master and disciples, have some business we need to take care of; we’ll have to separate here.”

Zheng Keshuang was startled; he was quite disappointed. “It’s a rare fate that brought me to see Shitai,” he said, “I was just thinking of asking a lot of guidance. I wonder where Shitai is heading; in any case junior does not have any important matter to manage, don’t you think it will be good if we travel together?”

Jiu Nan shook her head and said, “Those who have left home have many inconvenience.” Taking Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao, she climbed into the carriage.

Zheng Keshuang was at a loss, he could not say anything. Ah Ke’s eyes turned red at once, she was barely able to refrain from crying. Wei Xiaobao struggled hard to maintain a straight face; he prayed silently, “May Shifu lives to be a hundred years, may she enjoys lots of good fortune and long life. Amituofo, may Buddha bless and protect her.”

“Shifu,” he asked, “Where are we going?”

“Beijing,” Jiu Nan replied.

After half a day, she said coldly, “If that surnamed Zheng is following us, nobody is to pay him any attention. Whichever of you does not obey, I will immediately kill that surnamed Zheng!”

Ah Ke was startled. “Shifu, why?” she asked.

“No reason,” Jiu Nan replied, “I love peace and quiet, I don’t like other people bothering me.”

Ah Ke did not dare to ask further. After a while, suddenly she remembered something. “What if Shidi talked to him?” she asked.

“Same thing,” Jiu Nan replied, “I will kill Zheng Gongzi.”

Wei Xiaobao could not bear it anymore; he coughed, and then snickered.

“Shifu, it’s not fair,” Ah Ke said, “Shidi might deliberately talk to him.”

Jiu Nan glowered at her. “If that surnamed Zheng did not follow us, how can Xiaobao talk to him? If he ignored my request and kept hanging around me, death cannot wipe out his crimes.”

Wei Xiaobao was bursting with joy, he felt that among good people on the earth, nobody surpasses his Shifu. Suddenly he pulled Jiu Nan’s hand and kissed the palm of her hand.

Jiu Nan shook his hand away. “Fooling around!” she spoke sternly. But for more than twenty years there had never been anyone who was this affectionate toward her; although this disciple was unbridled, he was showing a genuine affection. Her mouth was scolding, but a smile appeared at the corners of her mouth.

Ah Ke saw how partial her Shifu was, plus she was wondering when she would see Zheng Gongzi again. The more she thought about it, the sadder she was; tears streamed down her face.

A few days later the three of them arrived at Beijing, and found a small, secluded inn in Dongcheng [lit. eastern town, a district of central Beijing] area. Jiu Nan went to Wei Xiaobao’s room, bolted the door, and said in a low voice, “Xiaobao, can you guess why we are in Beijing?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am guessing that if not for Tao Gugu, then it must be for those remaining several copies of the sutra.”

Jiu Nan nodded, “Correct,” she said, “It is for those several copies of the sutra.”

After a short pause, she continued slowly, “This time I suffered a very serious injury, I got to think about a lot of things. One person, no matter how perfect he trained his martial art, inevitably his power is lacking. Ultimately, the important matters of the world need the pooling of brains and brawn of the men of great aspiration to succeed. The crowd of heroes initiated the ‘Turtle-Slaying Assembly’ at Hejian Prefecture; I have given it a careful thought: even if we managed to kill Wu Sangui, that traitor, one person, our rivers and mountains are still in the Tatars’ hands. It would be no more than we are venting our resentment for a short while; what else would it do? But if we can obtain the sutras, we can break the Tatars’ dragon vein, by appealing people aspiring to benevolence throughout the world to hold the banner of righteousness together. Only then will we have the hope to recover our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu is right.”

Jiu Nan said, “I need another half a month to recuperate before my internal energy can fully recover. After that I can go into the Palace to investigate. Finding the whereabouts of the other seven sutras is the first and foremost.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Let the disciple sneak into the Palace first, I will open my eyes and ears wide. Who knows? The Heaven might bless me so that I can find a clue.”

Jiu Nan nodded. “You are very smart,” she said, “Perhaps you will be able to accomplish this important matter. This big merit …” Speaking to this point, she heaved a deep sigh, her eyes were brimming with encouragement.

Wei Xiaobao had a strong impulse to reveal the truth: “The other five sutras are in disciple’s hand.” But immediately he had a second thought, “Xiao Xuanzi treated me like a true friend; if I helped Shifu, I am destroying his rivers and mountains, then he won’t be the Emperor anymore. Won’t that mean I am violating yi qi too much?”

Seeing his hesitation, Jiu Nan thought he was concerned over if he would succeed or not; thereupon she said, “This matter is indeed very difficult. We simply have to do our best, and that’s all I can ask. This is called ‘man proposes Heaven disposes’ [orig. ‘planning is with man, success is with heaven’]. Ay, I wonder if the Zhu family has reached the end of its destiny, or will there still hope? Over the past dozens of years, all my hopes have turned to dust, my worldly thoughts broken. I did not expect that after seeing Hongying and you, originally I did not want to pay attention to the affairs of the nation, but the affairs of the nation managed to get back into my head.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu, you are a princess of the Great Ming, these rivers and mountains originally belonged to your family; it was usurped by other people, naturally we must snatch it back.”

Jiu Nan sighed and said, “This matter does not belong to my family alone. All the other members of my family are dead.” Stretching out her arm, she gently stroked Wei Xiaobao’s head, while saying, “Xiaobao, you must never leak even half a word about this matter in front of your Shijie.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded in respond; he thought, “Shijie is such a beautiful and lovely woman, yet Shifu does not like her too much; I wonder what’s the reason? I think it must be because she cannot lick Shifu’s behind.”

Early morning the next day, he went into the Palace to have an audience with the Emperor. Kangxi was greatly delighted; pulling his hand, he laughed and said, “Damn it, why do you come back only today? Every day I am waiting for you. I was quite worried, afraid that you were seized by that evil nun, your little life could not be guaranteed. The day before yesterday Dolong returned and submitted his report, saying that he saw you; only then did I feel relieved. How did you escape?”

“Thank you for Your Majesty’s concern, and sent the Imperial Bodyguards to go looking for your servant,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “That evil nun was originally very angry, she was determined to punch and kick me, later on I told her that Your Majesty is ‘raw bird fish soup’ [niao sheng yu tang, see Chapter 14], is a very good Emperor, that she must not kill you. She spoke many more treason and heresy words. I praised you one sentence, she gave me one slap on the face. Later on I was unwilling to suffer another imminent pain, I had no choice but to shut my mouth and expect for the best.”

Kangxi nodded. “If you were killed by her, that would be for nothing anyway,” he said, “What is actually the evil nun’s background? She came to assassinate me, who sent her?”

“Who sent her, your servant did not know,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “After she kidnapped me that time, she tied my wrists with rope, and then took me away like pulling a circus monkey. Your Majesty, with my mouth I did not dare to curse, but in my heart I cursed her seventeen, eighteen-generation ancestors.”

Kangxi laughed. “I am not surprised,” he said, “Why wouldn’t you?”

“She dragged me along for several days,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “Several times she wanted to kill me, fortunately along the way we came across someone. This man has a friendship relation with your servant; he helped me by saying a lot of good words on my behalf, and then the evil nun stopped beating me.”

“Who was that man?” Kangxi asked in astonishment.

“This man surnamed Yang,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He is the leader of the Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent warriors.”

Kangxi was very interested. “So he is that servant Wu Sangui’s subordinate?” he asked, “Why did he help you by saying good things on your behalf?”

“Actually, it originated from Your Majesty’s benevolence,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “When the people of Mu Family of Yunnan entered the Palace and created disturbance the other day, they were framing Wu Sangui. Everybody else believed it, but Your Majesty is wise beyond compare, you were able to see through their plot. Your Majesty sent me to pass on the imperial edict to Wu Sangui’s son. It was at that time that the man surnamed Yang met with your servant.”

Kangxi nodded. “So that’s how it is,” he said.

Before entering the Palace, Wei Xiaobao had already prepared a good story; he added, “That man surnamed Yang is called Yang Yizhi. He mentioned the Mu Family incident to the nun, saying that although the Emperor is young, his knowledge and experience may surpass the ‘raw bird fish soup’, very intelligent and wise; practically he is the Daoist Immortal or Bodhisattva descending into the mortal world. The nun was half believing and half doubting, but she did not treat me that strict anymore afterwards. One evening, Yang Yizhi and the nun talked in the room, I pretended to be asleep, but I opened my ears. Turned out the nun came to assassinate the Emperor under someone else’s order.”

“It’s Wu Sangui, that servant,” Kangxi said.

Wei Xiaobao’s face showed a shocked expression. “So Your Majesty already know,” he said, “Did Dolong report it to you?”

“No, he did not,” Kangxi said, “The leader of Wu Sangui’s warriors knew this nun, and he discussed this matter with the nun in secret; what good can come out of that?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled but delighted; he kneeled down and kowtowed, saying, “Your Majesty, I am overjoyed to work for you; whatever it is, you can always guess it right the first time, no need for me to tell you. In all our lives, everything will be fine, we will never lose to anybody else.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Get up, get up! Last time it was dangerous enough at the Qingliang Temple on Mount Wutai. If you did not risk your life by blocking in front of me …” Speaking to this point, his expression turned serious; he continued, “This traitor’s evil plot would have prevailed.” Thinking how that day the nun in white strike like thunder or lightning, he could not help but shiver.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, when the nun’s sword was thrust your way, your movement was very quick, naturally you could have used the move ‘single cloud coming out of the mountain peak’ to evade, and then you turned around and used the ‘red-crowned crane combing its tail feathers’ to strike the evil nun’s shoulder. She must have cried out ‘Surrender!’; it’s just that I was afraid you might be injured, my mind was confused, I was only thinking of blocking in front of you, to take the sword on your behalf. Your Majesty has not had any opportunity to unleash your martial art skill and create a stir in front of the Shaolin monks; it was indeed a pity.”

Kangxi burst out in laughter; he knew perfectly well that if that day Wei Xiaobao did not block in front of him, he would have died from the nun in white’s stab. This little fellow was so loyal and unexpectedly did not claim any credit for himself; a person like him was indeed hard to come by. He laughed and said, “You are very young, yet your official duty is already quite big. Wait till you are a few years older, I will promote you to be a high-ranking official.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “I don’t want to be a high-ranking official; I only hope to go on missions for Your Majesty. As long as I do not provoke you into anger, I am perfectly contented.”

Kangxi patted his shoulder. “Very good, very good,” he said, “Just do what I told you to do, I will be very happy, how can I be angry at you? What else did that man surnamed Yang say to the nun?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Yang Yizhi repeatedly persuaded the nun, saying that there are a lot of good things about Your Majesty. He said that Wu Sangui has shown kindness to his father, hence before his father died, he beseeched him to protect Wu Sangui. But Wu Sangui single-mindedly wants to be the Emperor, which is really a treason and heresy, something that he should have never wanted. When this matter is exposed in the future, everybody will be executed along with his family unto the third generation. The nun also said that her entire family was wiped our by the Ta … Ta … by us, Manchu people. Wu Sangui treated her with full respect. She came to assassinate you, first of all it was to give Wu Sangui a lot of face, secondly, she wanted to avenge her father and mother. The rest of her family has already died, hence she was not afraid of execution unto the third generation.”

Kangxi nodded. Wei Xiaobao continued, “Yang Yizhi said that Your Majesty treats the common people well, if … if she harmed you, and Wu Sangui became the Emperor, although he would become a high-ranking officer or a great general, but the common people under the heavens might suffer great hardship. The nun is actually softhearted, she pays particular attention to mercy. After thinking for a long time, she said that he was right, therefore, she decided not to continue her mission. The two of them then agreed that if Wu Sangui sent another assassin, the two of them would kill this assassin in secret.”

Kangxi happily said, “Those two people actually understood virtuous cause very well.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “But Yang Yizhi said that there was one more thing that is not easy to accomplish.”

“What other strange thing is that?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The two of them talked in low voice for quite a while, it was not too clear to me, I only heard something like ‘Yan Pin Jun Wang’ and ‘Zheng Family of Taiwan’ was mentioned, it seems to me that Wu Sangui wanted to divide the world equally with somebody surnamed Zheng.”

Kangxi stood up; he said in a loud voice, “Turns out that servant is colluding with those Taiwan’s rebellious thieves in secret.”

Wei Xiaobao asked, “What kind of damned b@stard is Zheng Family of Taiwan?”

“That rebellious thief surnamed Zheng occupies Taiwan illegally,” Kangxi explained, “They refuse to accept beneficial influence of the sovereign; only because they are far away overseas that temporarily it is not easy to pacify that region.”

Wei Xiaobao’s expression showed that he had just suddenly seen the light. “So that’s what happened,” he said, “By this time the more I heard, the more your servant was angry, thinking that these rivers and mountains are Your Majesty’s, what kind of ‘thing’ are those men surnamed Wu and surname Zheng anyway? How dare they want to divide Your Majesty’s land under the heavens equally? Yang Yizhi said that the one surnamed Zheng of Taiwan sent his second son, his name was Zheng Ke … Zheng Ke …”

“Zheng Keshuang,” Kangxi said.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Your Majesty knows everything.”

Kangxi smiled without saying anything. The fact was: for the last several years he had been planning and preparing to take Taiwan back under his territory, he had long ago acquired clear information on the names of the Zheng family father and sons, as well as Taiwan’s military strength and their naval situation.

“That Zheng Keshuang visited Yunnan recently,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “He had a meeting with Wu Sangui for over half a month.”

Kangxi’s face suddenly showed displeasure. “Is there such thing?” he wondered aloud.

Taiwan and Yunnan were actually two regions that he was concerned about the most. He had never thought that Zheng and Wu, two people, would join hands in conspiracy. It was only this time that he heard about Zheng Keshuang’s visit to Yunnan.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Taiwan has a fellow whose martial art skill is very high, he protected Zheng Keshuang all the way. This fellow is surnamed Feng, he is called One Sword Bleeding [yi jian chu xue] or something like that.”

“One Sword without Blood [yi jian wu xue] Feng Xifan,” Kangxi said, “Along with Liu Guoxuan and Chen Yonghua, they are known as the Three Tigers of Taiwan.”

Hearing the Emperor mentioning his shifu’s real name, Wei Xiaobao’s heart turned cold. “Yes, yes,” he said, “Exactly, it was One Sword without Blood Feng Xifan. Yang Yizhi said that among the three tigers of Taiwan, Chen Yonghua is the good one, Feng Xifan and the other one are the bad ones. Chen Yonghua is unwilling to join the rebellion against Your Majesty, it’s just that he is only one tiger, he cannot stand up against the other two tigers.”

In front of Kangxi he was speaking good things about Jiu Nan, Yang Yizhi and Chen Jinnan, three people, for a one in ten thousand chance that they were captured by the Qing court, then he already had something with which he could try to save them.

Kangxi shook his head. “That’s not necessarily true,” he said, “Chen Yonghua is a lot more formidable than the other two tigers.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Yang Yizhi also told that nun that there are too many Wu Sangui’s adversaries in Jianghu, they assembled at Hejian Prefecture in a congress called the ‘Slaying-Turtle Assembly’, in which they discussed ways to kill Wu Sangui. That Zheng Keshuang and Feng Xifan mingled in the congress to gather information which they will then pass on to Wu Sangui. The longer they talked, their voices were getting lower and lower, I was trying to listen hard for half a day, and after knowing that they were not planning on harming Your Majesty, I did not pay too much attention anymore. Afterwards I fell asleep for real. Your Majesty, in this case your servant was a little bit lazy, but I was extremely exhausted. Around midnight Yang Yizhi quietly awakened me, unsealed my acupoints, and told me that the nun was meditating to cultivate her internal energy, he told me that it was the best time for me to sneak out.”

Kangxi nodded. “That man surnamed Yang actually still has conscience,” he said.

“Isn’t that so?” Wei Xiaobao said, “When in the future Your Majesty put Wu Sangui to death, I am asking Your Majesty to show mercy by sparing this Yang Yizhi’s life.”

Kangxi said, “If he can render meritorious service, not only I will spare his life, I will also bestow him rewards. What else did you hear at the ‘Slaying-Turtle Assembly’?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Each province elected an alliance leader, that Zheng Keshuang was elected Mengzhu of Fujian province, I think Fujian, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shanxi or something are put under their Zheng Family’s jurisdiction.”

Kangxi smiled; he thought, “Xiao Guizi is wrong, it must be Jiangxi, not Shanxi.”

With hands behind his back, he paced back and forth in the Study Room. Successively he went back and forth for dozens of times before he suddenly said, “Xiao Guizi, do you dare to go to Yunnan?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled; it was really beyond his expectation. “Your Majesty wants me to go secretly gather information at Wu Sangui’s place over there?” he asked.

Kangxi nodded; “This mission is indeed dangerous,” he said, “But you are young, Wu Sangui will not guard against you. Plus that Yang Yizhi is your friend, he will definitely look after you.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty, it’s not that I am afraid of going to Yunnan, but I have just returned to the Palace, I haven’t seen you quite a few days yet, and now I have to leave you, I really hate to part with you.”

Kangxi nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I have the same feeling. Too bad that I am the Emperor, I can’t move around as I wish; otherwise the two of us can go to Yunnan together, I’ll grab Wu Sangui’s beard, you grab his hands, and together we’ll ask, ‘Damn it Wu Sangui, are you going to surrender or not?’ Won’t that be amusing?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “That’s a wonderful idea,” he said, “Your Majesty, you cannot go to Yunnan, I’ll swindle Wu Sangui to come to the Palace, and then we can grab his beard, what do you think?”

Kangxi burst out in loud laughter. “Good! Fabulous!” he said, “I am just afraid this servant is a wily old fox, he won’t be duped easily. Ah, Xiao Guizi, I have an idea that won’t raise his suspicion.”

“Your Majesty’s divine strategy is definitely very brilliant,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“We will marry Princess Jianning to his son,” Kangxi said, “Now that we become in-laws, he could not possibly guard against us.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “You want to marry her to that fellow Wu Yingxiong?” he asked, “This … isn’t this too convenient for him?”

Kangxi said, “She is that old s1ut’s daughter. We marry her to Yunnan, let her suffer a little bit of hardship first. In the future, when Wu Sangui is executed, along with his entire family unto the third generation, she will be executed together with them.” His voice was brimming with hatred.

Originally he liked this little sister very much, but ever since he found out that the Empress Dowager murdered his own mother and angered his father that he left home to become a monk, he also hated this little sister. He added, “At that time I can say that the old s1ut did not raise her daughter properly, then I can force her to commit suicide.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant has just heard a huge good news. Your Majesty must be very happy to hear it.”

“What good news?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao put his mouth near Kangxi’s ear and said in a low voice, “That old s1ut is a fake Empress Dowager, the real Empress Dowager is still alive and well in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.” In front of Kangxi, he still did not dare to utter the word ‘old wh0re’.

Kangxi was shocked. “What?” he said in a trembling voice, “What do you mean fake Empress Dowager?”

Thereupon Wei Xiaobao told Kangxi in details how the fake Empress Dowager imprisoned the real Empress Dowager, and then she assumed the Empress Dowager’s identity to commit all kinds of evil.

Kangxi was dumbstruck; he was speechless for half a day. After a long time passed he finally said, “Is there really such thing? Is there really such thing …? How did you know?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Knowing the old s1ut’s malicious character, your servant was afraid she might harm Your Majesty; therefore, I bribed a palace maid in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to secretly spy on her. As soon as I know something is not right, I will notify Your Majesty immediately, so that we can strike first and gain the upper hand. As soon as your servant entered the Palace today, the palace maid told me this very important matter.”

Beads of perspiration streamed down from Kangxi’s forehead; he said in a trembling voice, “Where is that palace maid?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I thought that this secret is too big; if she leaked it out, the consequences might be very serious. Therefore, your servant brazenly pushed her into a well, making sure that nobody will find her. Ay, I really wronged her.”

Kangxi nodded, a relief expression briefly appeared on his face. “You handled it well,” he said, “Tomorrow you pull her body up and give her a decent burial, find out where her family is, and generously give them gift to comfort the bereaved.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will do as Your Majesty’s instructed.”

“This matter should not be delayed,” Kangxi said, “Let us go to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful at once.” Finished speaking, he stood up, fetched a couple of swords from the wall and gave one sword to Wei Xiaobao. He said in a low voice, “We are going to take care of this matter ourselves, we must not let the palace maids and the court eunuchs know.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Your Majesty,” he said, “The old s1ut’s martial art is formidable, as soon as I enter the room to grasp her, Your Majesty should cut off her arms first, and then we can ask her the details.”

Kangxi nodded. “Very well!” he said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty should take a lot of Imperial Bodyguards, have them wait outside the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. If the situation turns really bad, we will have to call for help. Otherwise, if your servant is unable to hold the fake Empress Dowager firmly, this old s1ut might dash out and assault Your Majesty’s ten-thousand-gold body; that … that might be very inappropriate.”

Kangxi nodded; he made a decision right then and there: “If we absolutely have to have the Imperial Bodyguards’ help, after everything is done, these Imperial Bodyguards will have to be executed to close their mouths.”

Kangxi went out the Study Room and summoned eight Imperial Bodyguards to escort him. When they arrived outside the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, he ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to wait far away in the flower garden, while together with Wei Xiaobao they walked straight toward the Empress Dowager’s personal quarter. One after another the palace maids and court eunuchs of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful kneeled down to greet him. Kangxi said, “All of you go to the garden, nobody can come here.” Everybody obeyed and went away.

Wei Xiaobao knew that the fake Empress Dowager had sent his shifu Jiu Nan seven ‘transforming bones soft palm’ palm strikes, but all of this sinister and ruthless palm power was returned to her. Although his shifu had taught her how to dissolve the poison, but henceforth, as soon as she used internal energy, the bones in her body would immediately break into one-cun pieces. By counting the day, he calculated that by this time the poisonous power had not been completely dissolved; but even if it had, he calculated that she would not dare to fight. Plus, he still had the Five-Dragon Command in his hand. With this knowledge that he had a secure backing, his heart was calm.

Kangxi, on the other hand, knew that this fake Empress Dowager’s martial art skill was very formidable; his entire martial art skill was actually taught by him. Even if he had Wei Xiaobao as his backup, the skill difference between them was indeed very far. Their only advantage was that the two of them had a pair of swords, while she was barehanded, and that she was going to be caught unprepared, just like when they were dealing with Oboi in the past. And thus when he entered the bedroom, his palms were wet with perspiration.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Today is my chance to set up a great merit, I am going to pounce on the old wh0re, His Majesty only know that I am dashing on bravely without any thought of my personal safety, while in fact I am beating up a dead dog who cannot move a single step. Beating up a dead dog is what laozi can do best.” In a low voice he said, “This s1ut’s martial art is superb, Your Majesty must not take any risk. Let your servant move first!” Kangxi nodded, his right hand tightly grabbed the hilt of his sword.

When they entered the bedroom, they did not see anybody there, the bed curtain was hanging down. The Empress Dowager’s voice came out from inside the bed curtain, “Emperor, you have not visited the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful for many days; are you well?”

Previously, Kangxi would visit the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful every day to pay his respect to the Empress Dowager. Ever since he learned the inside story, his heart was filled with unspeakable hatred, hence his visit became very scarce.

Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao had not expected that she would sleep in the bed during the day, whatever method they had previously planned was quite useless now. Kangxi said, “I heard the Empress Dowager is not feeling very well, your son is paying the Empress Dowager a visit.” He made an eye signal to Wei Xiaobao, ordering him, “Raise the bed curtain!”

“Cha!” Wei Xiaobao complied[4], and walked toward the bed.

“I am afraid of the wind,” the Empress Dowager said, “Don’t raise the bed curtain.”

Kangxi thought, “If I did not heed her words and raise the bed curtain by force, she might guard against me.” He said, “Yes. I wonder what ailment does the Empress Dowager suffer; have you taken any medicine?”

“I have,” the Empress Dowager replied, “The imperial doctor says it’s a very light common cold, nothing serious.”

Kangxi said, “Your son wants to see how does the Empress Dowager look? Do you have any fever?”

The Empress Dowager sighed and said, “I look all right, you do not need to see. Emperor, please go back.”

Suspicion arose in Kangxi’s heart, “What trick is she playing?”

Wei Xiaobao noticed the bed was pitch-black, he turned his body around and made a signal to Kangxi, hinting that he was going to grab her feet, and the Emperor should hack with his sword. In that instant, Kangxi was having a second thought, “Supposing everything Xiao Guizi said is wrong, then what happen? Although the man dressed as palace maid was real, but perhaps the Empress Dowager was just having a dirty confusion of mind against the Palace’s prohibition, and could not control her desire. Once my sword is chopping down, in case she is the real Empress Dowager, and not an impostor, won’t I not only be a muddle head, but an unfilial son as well? I would rather have the fake Empress Dowager guards against me and have the Imperial Bodyguards come to help me capturing her, but I must not be reckless in dealing with this matter and thus chopping and harming the real Empress Dowager.” Thereupon he shook his head and waved his hand, ordering Wei Xiaobao to back off.

“Empress Dowager,” he said, “Your son is worried.” In a quick step he walked to the bed and stretched out his hand to open the bed curtain.

As the brocaded curtain parted, he saw the Empress Dowager quickly turned around, facing the inside of the bed. Yet in that instant Kangxi was able to catch a glimpse of Empress Dowager’s thin cheeks, her appearance was substantially different. “Empress Dowager,” he said, “You, Senior suddenly became very thin lately.” His voice trembled.

The Empress Dowager sighed and said, “Ever since returning from Mount Wutai, my appetite has been bad, every day I can only eat less than half a bowl of rice. When looking at the mirror, I almost cannot recognize myself.”

Kangxi thought, “Xiao Guizi’s words are obviously not a lie, this old s1ut did not expect I would suddenly come back, she is sleeping on the bed, thinking that nobody would see her, today she did not put on her disguise, hence no matter what she did not allow me to see her face. Now that I have seen it with my own eyes, could I be mistaken?”

Burning with anger, he shouted loudly, “Aiyo, Empress Dowager, there’s a big rat behind the hanging bed curtain. Help! Quickly roll up the bed curtain to catch the rat!” While saying that, he retreated two steps backward, afraid that when the Empress Dowager saw her plot had been exposed, she might suddenly turn violent and attack.

But he only heard the Empress Dowager’s trembling voice, “What rat behind the bed curtain?”

Wei Xiaobao stepped forward to draw the woolen cord to roll up the curtain, exposing a wardrobe door behind it. “Uh!” Kangxi exclaimed, “Turns out there is a big wardrobe in here, the rat must be hiding inside the wardrobe!” While thinking, “Now that most of this matter has been exposed, she is prepared, we cannot launch a sneak attack anymore.” Retreating toward the door, he beckoned toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Summon the Imperial Bodyguards to come in. There’s a strange noise in the wardrobe, we must not let any assassin hiding in there and frighten the Empress Dowager.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said. He turned outside and called out loudly from the door, “Summon the Imperial Bodyguards!” Eight Imperial Bodyguards appeared in front of the bedroom door and bowed, awaiting the imperial decree.

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “Emperor, what trick are you playing?”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Ah, right. Princess Jianning is hiding inside the wardrobe, playing hide-and-seek. Empress Dowager, I’ve been looking for her everywhere, she must be inside the wardrobe.” He waved his right hand.

Wei Xiaobao immediately opened the wardrobe, but the wardrobe door was locked, he could not open it. Kangxi laughed and said, “Empress Dowager, where is the wardrobe key?”

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “I am not feeling well, you two children are actually coming to my room to play. Quickly get out for me.” The Imperial Bodyguards knew that the Emperor often played with Princess Jianning. Hearing the Empress Dowager, they all broke into smile.

Kangxi said, “Pry the wardrobe door open. The Empress Dowager is ill, we must not disturb her, the Senior.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied. From his boot he pulled his dagger and inserted it into the wardrobe door. With a light cut the lock catch broke. He then pulled the handle and the wardrobe door opened smoothly. He saw a pile of brocade quilt inside, exactly what he saw that night inside the wardrobe, but there was nobody inside.

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “That night I clearly saw the real Empress Dowager was hidden inside the wardrobe,” he mused, “How can she disappear all of a sudden? Could it be that the old wh0re is afraid my shifu might reveal her secret and thus has killed the real Empress Dowager?”

Opening up the brocade quilt inside the wardrobe, he could vaguely see a book at the bottom of the quilt, the book looked like the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. Hastily he put down the brocade quilt to cover the book. Turning his head around, he saw Kangxi’s bewildered expression; when he turned his attention toward the bed again, he noticed the quilt on the bed was bulging, apparently there was someone else hiding underneath the bedding. “The Princess is hiding inside the Empress Dowager’s bedding,” he happily said.

“Quickly pull her out,” Kangxi urgently said. He was afraid that realizing her secret was exposed, the fake Empress Dowager would immediately kill the real Empress Dowager.

Wei Xiaobao rushed toward the bed and put his hand underneath the bedding at the Empress Dowager’s foot side, with the intention of pulling the real Empress Dowager’s foot out. As soon as he reached in, he felt that he was touching a hairy leg, and could not help but was very shocked. Right this moment, a big foot suddenly shot out and kicked his chest. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao screamed, and fell backward.

The quilt rose up, a stark-naked meatball leaped out; carrying the quilt, with the Empress Dowager inside, the meatball dashed out of the door.

The eight Imperial Bodyguards was greatly shocked; hastily they tried to block, but the meatball struck them. Three Imperial Bodyguards flew out of the door and fell on the ground outside the bedroom. Carrying the Empress Dowager, the meatball dashed out.

Kangxi bolted to the door, but saw that the meatball was leaping out as if it was flying. In just a few leaps it already reached the garden wall. With one leap it reached the top of the wall, and immediately disappeared on the other side. “Quickly pursue!” Kangxi shouted.

Three Imperial Bodyguards were struck by the meatball and were unable to crawl up from the ground. The remaining five Imperial Bodyguards rushed toward the wall, but they could no longer see the meatball’s shadow.

Wei Xiaobao’s mind was fuzzy, there was a severe pain on his chest. He scrambled up toward the wardrobe, reached into the quilt, grabbed the sutra, and hid it inside his pocket. He heard Kangxi’s shouts in the garden, “Come back, come back!” Wei Xiaobao turned around and fell to the floor. He heard footsteps as the Imperial Bodyguards rushed back. Outside the bedroom, Kangxi ordered the Imperial Bodyguards, “Everybody stay here, don’t make any noise.”

Kangxi returned to the bedroom, closed the door, and said in a low voice, “What happened?”

Propping himself against a table, Wei Xiaobao stood up and said, “Mon … monster!” In his shock his face was devoid of any color.

Kangxi shook his head and said, “That’s not a monster! He is the old s1ut’s male adulterer.”

Wei Xiaobao’s mind had not cleared up yet. “What male adulterer?” he asked.

“That was a man, didn’t you see?” Kangxi said, “A short and fat man.”

Wei Xiaobao was astonished, but amused at the same time; he said, “The old s1ut was hiding a … short and fat man who was not wearing anything!”

Kangxi’s expression looked grave. “What about the real Empress Dowager?” he asked.

“It would be best if … if she has not been killed by the old s1ut …” Wei Xiaobao said. Suddenly he remembered something. Lifting up the mattress on the Empress Dowager’s bed, he said, “There is a secret compartment underneath the bed.” But he only saw an unsheathed platinum Emei Sting in the secret compartment; nothing else. Hesitatingly he said, “Let’s lift open the bed board and take a look.”

Kangxi rushed forward and helped Wei Xiaobao lifting up the bed board. They saw a woman lying on a mat underground, her body was covered with a thin quilt. When the bed board was in place, it seemed that the board was approximately less than half a chi from this woman’s face.

The bed room was dark, they could not see clearly. “Quickly light a candle,” Kangxi said.

Wei Xiaobao lighted a candle and brought the candlestick close to the hole. They saw the woman’s countenance was pale, her face was goose egg’s shape; apparently, she was the real Empress Dowager hidden inside the wardrobe the other night. The last time Kangxi saw the real Empress Dowager, he was very young. After so many years, he was not sure if she was the real Empress Dowager or not. Yet seeing this woman’s appearance looked a lot like the Empress Dowager he had seen daily, busily he helped her up and asked, “Is it … is it the Empress Dowager?”

With the candlelight right in front of her face, the woman temporarily was unable to open her eyes. “You … you …” she said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “This is the current Emperor, he has personally come here to rescue your sacred good self.”

The woman opened her eyes a slit, she gazed at Kangxi for a moment, and then with a trembling voice said, “Are you … are you really the Emperor?” Suddenly, “Wah!” she cried and reached out to embrace Kangxi and hugged him tightly.

Wei Xiaobao took the candlestick several steps backward; he looked around everywhere to make sure there was no more male adulterer, assassin or fake palace maid. He thought, “The Emperor has met the real Empress Dowager, naturally there will be a lot to talk about. If I hear one more word, my head might not stay on my neck.” Putting the candlestick on the table, he quietly withdrew and closed the door behind him.

He saw outside the door, eight Imperial Bodyguards, palace maids and court eunuchs were standing in the middle of the courtyard, with terrified look on their faces. He waved his hand, ordering them to go into the garden. He said, “Just now the Emperor was playing hide-and-seek with Princess Jianning, Princess was wearing a weird outfit, disguising herself as a large meatball, and then she jumped out. Did all of you see that?”

An Imperial Bodyguard was very perceptive; he busily replied, “Yes, yes. Princess Jianning can move very fast, her disguise is also very amusing.”

Wei Xiaobao showed a faint smile; he said, “His Majesty does not wish other people to know about this child play, whoever has an itchy mouth, the melon head above your neck might not be stable. Now, who wants to gossip and meddle, and talk rubbish?”

The Imperial Bodyguards, palace maids and eunuchs replied in unison, “We do not dare.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded; turning toward the three injured Imperial Bodyguards, he said, “What happened to you? How come without any rhyme or reason you are injured?”

An Imperial Bodyguard replied, “Reporting to Fu Zongguan [deputy chief]: Xiaoren, three of us, were having martial art practice this morning, we were practicing a bit too heavy, and injured each other.”

“Your granny,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “You are all brothers, why did you move heavily during practice? You were not fighting to the death!”

“Yes, yes,” the three Imperial Bodyguards replied, “Next time we will be more careful.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Those of you who are injured may take twenty taels medical expense.” The three Imperial Bodyguards busily bowed down to express their gratitude. Wei Xiaobao continued, “Your granny, your dad and mom raised you until you are this big, this life is not too cheap. If everybody wants to keep your melon head and still loves to eat rice, then your dog mouths must be a bit more careful. In case you are afraid you might talk in your sleep, you might as well cut your own tongue right now. All of you, report your names to Laozi.”

The Imperial Bodyguards, palace maids and eunuchs reported their names at once. Wei Xiaobao said, “Very well, about the matter of hide-and-seek today, if laozi heard the least bit or rumor, I don’t care who talks too much, all thirty-five of you will be beheaded together. Anybody refuse to accept?”

In their hearts, everybody understood that after witnessing the strange event a moment ago, inevitably their lives would be very difficult to protect, most likely the Emperor would kill them all to close their mouths. By saying those words, Gui Gonggong was actually saving their lives. In their gratefulness, they all kneeled down and kowtowed, saying, “Thank you Gonggong for your great benevolence in saving our lives.”

Wei Xiaobao waved his hand and said, “Thank me for what? It’s His Majesty’s kindness.”

Returning to the bedroom door, he sat on the stone steps and waited quietly. It was more than an hour later that he finally heard Kangxi calling out, “Xiao Guizi, come in.”

He entered the bedroom and saw the Empress Dowager and Kangxi were sitting side-by-side on the bed, they were holding each other’s hand, and there were tears on their faces. He kneeled down and kowtowed, saying, “Congratulations Empress Dowager, congratulations Your Majesty. There are a total of thirty-five servants outside who witnessed Your Majesty playing hide-and-seek with Princess Jianning. If there is any one of them dares to leak half a word, your servant will put all these thirty-five people to death, nobody will be spared. They are all scared to death, I expect no one will dare to talk rubbish.”

Kangxi nodded. Wei Xiaobao continued, “If you want them killed right now to avoid future trouble, your servant will see to it right away.”

Kangxi hesitated slightly. The Empress Dowager said, “Today you and I, mother and son, meet each other. This is an enormously happy occasion, we must not harm anybody’s life too much.”

“Yes,” Kangxi said, “We must do as Buddha has commanded, we thank the Heaven and Bodhisattva for blessing and protecting us.”

The Empress Dowager turned her gaze toward Wei Xiaobao; she said, “Your age is young, yet you have set up these many meritorious service, it is indeed very rare.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It is because of the Empress Dowager and the Emperor’s great fortune. I only hate the fact that your servant did not display utter loyalty in handling this matter, unable to uncover the evil scheme at the earliest possible time that the Empress Dowager must receive these many years of suffering.”

The Empress Dowager’s heart ached, tears streamed down her face. She said to Kangxi, “You must reward this child well.”

“Yes, yes,” Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, your official position is already not low, today I bestow a nobility rank to you. Our Great Qing has five orders of nobility, namely Gong [duke], Hou [marquis], Bo [count], Zi [viscount] and Nan [baron]. By the Empress Dowager’s grace, you are now a first class Zijue [viscount].”

Wei Xiaobao kowtowed for the kindness shown by the Emperor; he said, “Thank you for Empress Dowager’s grace, thank you for Your Majesty’s grace.” While in his heart he mused, “What should I do with this Zijue title? How much money does it worth?” Seeing Kangxi waving his hand, he withdrew.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his residence. He took the book from his pocket. As expected, it was another copy of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, with which he was very familiar. This book had a blue silk cover with red border. “This must be the Bordered Blue Banner’s copy of the sutra,” he pondered, “Um, that’s right, Tao Gugu said that her Tai Shifu [grand master] tried to steal the sutra from the Bordered Blue Banner’s Banner Commander’s mansion. She failed to obtain the sutra, and was struck by a martial art master of Shen Long Jiao that she suffered a serious injury and died. This copy of sutra most likely fell into that Shen Long Jiao’s martial art master’s hand. Why is it that after so many years this book has not been submitted to Hong Jiaozhu? Perhaps it was not obtained then, but was obtained just recently.”

Expecting a lot of twists and turns in this matter, he knew it was hard for him to speculate. Feeling the pit of his stomach was still hurting very bad, he thought, “That short and fat meatball has a superb martial art skill. Aiyo, is it possible that he was the Shen Long Jiao’s martial art master who stole the sutra? He entered the Palace to meet with the old wh0re, the old wh0re treated him very well, she moved the real Empress Dowager under the bed to let him sleep inside the wardrobe. A moment ago the young emperor and I went to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful just at the right moment, by lucky coincidence we caught the fornication in bed. This meatball may come back for a revenge, but also want to return to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to retrieve the sutra.”

He must inform Dolong, telling him that he heard information that there was a possibility that some villain would enter the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, telling him to dispatch Imperial Bodyguards to strictly guard the Emperor and the Empress Dowager.

He thought, “It won’t be good if the old wh0re is going back to the Divine Dragon Island and report everything to Hong Jiaozhu. Laozi better strike first to gain the upper hand, I must take the map inside the sutra first, and then send one or two empty copies to the Divine Dragon Island. Hong Jiaozhu will want me to find the other copies, hence he will definitely give me the antidote. If he cannot find the map inside the sutra, that’s his problem, it has nothing to do with laozi. It’s his own fault that his share of luck is too small. In any case, his long life is the same as the heaven’s, no need to be impatient, he can look for it slowly. Even if he has to spend 108,000 years, he will eventually find it!”

[1] According to the dictionary, it is between 7 and 9 pm; however, during the Eagle Shooting Hero project, the source I used described it as between 11 pm and 1 am.

[2] Also known as Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, (685-762, reigned 712-756).

[3] ‘wang’ – king, ‘ba’ – eight, ‘dan’ – egg; strung together, it means ‘b@stard’ or son of a b1tch. ‘Wangba’ can also mean ‘tortoise’ or ‘cuckold’. He was simply increasing the level of ‘b@stardness’ by one degree.

[4] I don’t know if there is any English word for this, basically ‘Cha’ is ‘yes’, used by a subject to the Emperor. (Not that I am an expert, but I’ve watched enough movies to know this … J)

Chapter 29 Fragrant breeze suddenly arrives through the rolling curtain, new moon looks down on the bed drenched with early rain.

Wei Xiaobao went out of the Palace to see Li Lishi, Guan Anji, Priest Xuanzhen, Qian Laoben, and the others. The Tian Di Hui warriors were in high spirit. Li Lishi said, “Subordinate has just received information that Zongduozhu has arrived in Tianjin, he will reach the Capital in a day. Wei Xiangzhu has just returned to the Capital as well; this is very good!”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s very good!” Thinking that he was going to see his shifu again, his heart was inevitably frightened.

The warriors immediately bought some wine and killed some chicken to prepare a welcoming dinner for him.

When the night fell, Wei Xiaobao pulled Gao Yanchao aside and said, “Gao Dage, could you bring me an axe, an iron hammer and a chisel, please?”

Gao Yanchao complied and brought everything he asked for. Wei Xiaobao asked him to take him to the clay-walled shed in the garden where the coffin was placed. “I have to open the coffin,” he said, “To put some things inside.”

“Yes!” Gao Yanchao complied. He felt strange, but since Xiangzhu did not tell him, he felt it was inappropriate for him to ask.

“The night before last,” Wei Xiaobao explained, “This dead friend came to me in a dream, telling me that he wanted several things. Since he was my friend, I can’t possibly refuse.”

Gao Yanchao felt even stranger, but he only responded with ‘yes, yes’.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Please guard outside the door for me, don’t let anybody come in.” And he pushed the door and came in, closed the door, and bolted it.

He saw the thick dust on the coffin; apparently nobody had touched it. Using the chisel and axe he pried out the nails, and shoved the coffin lid away. He took the oil cloth bundle containing the five copies of sutra, and was about to push the coffin lid back when suddenly he heard Gao Yanchao’s voice outside, “Who’s there?”

And then he heard another voice sternly asked, “Where is Chen Jinnan?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Who’s asking for my Shifu?” he mused. The voice sounded somewhat familiar.

Gao Yanchao replied, “Who are you?”

And then someone coldly said, “No matter where he hides, we will drag him out.”

Wei Xiaobao did recognize this voice, it was Zheng Keshuang. He was even more surprised, “How could this stinky fellow be here?” Immediately he realized that the first person must be the ‘One Sword without Blood’ Feng Xifan.

He heard the clang of metals, the clash of weapons, followed by Gao Yanchao’s muffled grunt, and then ‘bang!’ he fell to the ground. Wei Xiaobao’s shock was even greater, without having much time to think he leaped into the coffin.

He heard Zheng Keshuang said, “That revolting thief must be hiding inside.” In his fright, Wei Xiaobao lifted the lid and closed the coffin, just in time before ‘crack, crash!’ the wooden door of the clay-walled shed was kicked broken. Zheng Keshuang and Feng Xifan walked in.

From inside the coffin Wei Xiaobao looked out, and saw a thread of light; he knew that in his rush he did not close the lid tightly. “Bad, bad!” he groaned inwardly, “They are looking for my Shifu, but find out his disciple instead.”

Suddenly outside the door someone said, “Is Gongzi looking for me? What can I do for you?” It was precisely Chen Jinnan’s voice.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, “Shifu is here!”

Suddenly Chen Jinnan cried, “Ah!” Apparently he was injured. Followed by ‘clang, clang’ twice, the sound of weapons clashing. Chen Jinnan angrily shouted, “Feng Xifan, you are plotting against me? Why?”

Feng Xifan coldly said, “I am following orders to arrest you!”

Zheng Keshuang’s voice was heard, “Chen Yonghua, do you still consider me in your eyes?” His voice was brimming with anger.

“Why did Er Gongzi [second young master] say such thing?” Chen Jinnan said, “It was only the day before yesterday that subordinate found out that Er Gongzi would grace us with your presence in Beijing; that very night I rushed over from Tianjin, unexpectedly Er Gongzi has arrived first. Subordinate was not here to welcome you, please forgive my offense.”

Hearing his shifu was speaking very respectfully and sincerely, Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “Dog fart Er Gongzi, what are you angry for?”

He heard Zheng Keshuang said, “Fu Wang [father king] sent me to the Central Plains on official business, did you know that?”

“Yes,” Chen Jinnan replied.

Zheng Keshuang said, “If you did, why didn’t you come earlier to escort, serve and protect me?”

Chen Jinnan said, “Subordinate has several urgent matters to be dealt with, I was unable to spare the time for a separate task, please Er Gongzi excuse me. Subordinate also knew that Feng Dage is coming along to serve by your side, Feng Dage’s divine skill is unequalled, the crowd of lowly people are afraid and succumb to him, he would be able to protect Er Gongzi safe and sound through and through.”

“Humph,” Zheng Keshuang snorted; he angrily said, “When I came to Tian Di Hui, why are the shrimp soldiers and crab generals[1], and a skulk of foxes, a pack of dogs under your commands very rude to me?”

Chen Jinnan said, “Presumably they did not know Er Gongzi. In this area around the Capital, what we are doing is a rebellion against the Tatars, everybody is particularly cautious and prudent, to such an extent as to neglect etiquette. Subordinate hereby apologizes.”

The more Wei Xiaobao listened, the angrier he was. “Why is Shifu this polite to this stinky fellow?” he mused.

Zheng Keshuang said, “By giving me all kinds of excuses, you are actually saying that I was wrong?”

“I do not dare!” Chen Jinnan said.

And then Wei Xiaobao heard the rustling of paper. Zheng Keshuang said, “This is Fu Wang’s written order, read it.”

“Yes,” Chen Jinnan said, “Wangye’s order says: ‘The order of Yan Ping Jun Wang of the Great Ming: I am sending Zheng Keshuang to the Central Plain on official business, for anything beneficial to the country, he may act at his own discretion’.”

“What does ‘act at his own discretion’ means?” Zheng Keshuang asked.

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “It simply means don’t ever suffer any loss; what’s so difficult about it? Your old man is telling you to stand up and need not be polite.”

Who would have thought that Chen Jinnan actually replied, “Wangye is instructing Er Gongzi that in all matters that benefit our country, you may forego reporting back to Wangye, and act at your own discretion.”

Zheng Keshuang asked, “Will you submit to Fu Wang’s written order or not?”

“Wangye’s written order, naturally I will comply,” Chen Jinnan replied.

“Very well,” Zheng Keshuang said, “Cut your own right arm.”

Chen Jinnan was startled. “But why?” he asked.

Zheng Keshuang coldly said, “In your eyes there is no master, you do not revere me, which means you do not revere Fu Wang. I’ll say from your conduct and deeds, you do not have the heart of a loyal subject. Humph, in the Central Plains you strive to cultivate your own power, to expand Tian Di Hui, where’s your concern for the Zheng Family of Taiwan? You are thinking of making yourself king, aren’t you?”

Chen Jinnan’s voice trembled, “Subordinate has never had that thought,” he said.

“Humph! Never had that thought?” Zheng Keshuang said, “At the Hejian Prefecture congress this time, they elected me as the Mengzhu of Fujian province; did you know that?”

“Yes,” Chen Jinnan replied, “It was because the heroes throughout the world respect Wangye for his loyalty in working for the country.”

“How many provinces’ Mengzhu does your Tian Di Hui have?” Zheng Keshuang asked. Chen Jinnan was silent.

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Turns out the reason this fellow is throwing a fit is because he had drunk Tian Di Hui’s vinegar [i.e. jealous].” He also mused, “My wife’s lover [orig. male adulterer] is my Shifu’s superior; previously, it was a bit troublesome. Now those two people are in conflict; this is wonderful. It’s just that Shifu has already fallen under their plot and is injured, I must prevent him from being killed by them.”

He heard Zheng Keshuang said in loud voice, “Your Tian Di Hui has three provinces’ Mengzhu, while I only have Fujian, one province. Compared to your Tian Di Hui, how much does my Zheng Family worth? I am only a tiny Fujian Province’s Mengzhu, but you are the Central Military Strategist of the ‘Weeding-out the Traitors Alliance’. Don’t you realize you are crawling over my head? How can there be Fu Wang in your heart?”

“Er Gongzi, please reflect carefully,” Chen Jinnan said, “Subordinate founded the Tian Di Hui under the order of the late Guoxing Ye [Koxinga] with the purpose of driving off the Tatars. Tian Di Hui is an integral part of Wangye, there is no distinction between what’s ours and what’s Wangye’s. In all Tian Di Hui’s affairs, subordinate always report everything to Wangye.”

With a cold laugh Zheng Keshuang said, “Your Tian Di Hui only knows Chen Jinnan, how could they know there is still Zheng Family of Taiwan? Supposing Tian Di Hui succeeded in expelling the Tatars, the ruler of this world would be you, Chen Jinnan, not any of our Zheng family.”

Chen Jinnan said, “What Er Gongzi just said is not right. After we drive off the Tatars, together we will present the Great Ming royal family’s descendant surnamed Zhu to be the ruler.”

“Your speech is beautiful,” Zheng Keshuang said, “This moment you do not have surnamed Zheng in your eyes at all, how can you have surnamed Zhu in your eyes in the future? I want you to break your own arm, you simply don’t want to obey my command. This time I came from Hejian Prefecture, along the way I met with not a few calamities, yet I did not see a single soldier a single troop from Tian Di Hui coming to protect me. If not for Feng Shifu striving to save me, I don’t know if by this time I was still alive. You are eager to see my demise; if that’s your desire, then already death cannot wipe out your crimes. Humph, you can only lick my Gege’s behind, you don’t usually have me in your eyes.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Da Gongzi [big/first young master], Er Gongzi are brothers, subordinate serve both the same; how could I dare to be partial?”

Zheng Keshuang said, “Someday my Gege will be the Wangye. How can we, brothers, be the same in your eyes?”

Listening to this point, Wei Xiaobao understood for the most part. He mused, “This fellow is struggling over the Wangye position with his Gege, he is blaming Shifu for supporting his Gege. With Feng Xifan’s instigation, he is trying to get rid of my Shifu.”

He heard Zheng Keshuang continued, “Your power in the Central Plains is so big anyway, it would be better for you to just kill me.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Er Gongzi confronts me like this, it’s hard for subordinate to explain. Why don’t we go back to Taiwan? We’ll see Wangye, and heard what Wangye has to say. If Wangye wants to kill me, how can I dare to disobey?”

“Humph,” Zheng Keshuang snorted, seemingly at a loss on how to answer him. He was afraid to have direct confrontation with Chen Jinnan in front of his father.

Feng Xifan coldly said, “I am afraid as soon as Mr. Chen leave this place, if you don’t surrender to the Tatars and betray Er Gongzi, then you’d fly your banner on a solitary tree, declaring yourself as the king, and will no longer return to Taiwan.”

Chen Jinnan angrily said, “Just now you attacked sneakily and injured me, was it under Wangye’s command? Where is Wangye’s written order?”

Fengxifan said, “Wangye’s written order says that in the Central Plains Er Gongzi is to act at his discretion. You don’t accept Er Gongzi’s order, that means you are rebelling against Wangye, everybody has the right to punish you.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Er Gongzi is perfectly all right, it is you who sow dissension. Guoxing Ye began the undertaking with great hardship and has succeeded in establishing good foundation. I am afraid it will be ruined in the hands of lowly, treacherous people like you. Although you, surnamed Feng, have unparalleled martial art skill under the heavens, do you think I am afraid of you?”

Feng Xifan sternly said, “So, you are blatantly rebelling against the Yan Ping Wang Mansion?”

In a loud and clear voice Chen Jinnan said, “I, Chen Yonghua, have a red-bellied devotion to Wangye. The word ‘rebel’ should never be slandered against me.”

Zheng Keshuang shouted, “Chen Yonghua is rebelling, arrest him!”

“Yes,” Feng Xifan complied.

And then a series of ‘clang, clang’ was heard as the weapons collided with each other; the three of them began to fight. Chen Jinnan called out, “Er Gongzi, please move aside, subordinate cannot fight with you.”

“You cannot fight with me? You cannot fight with me?” Zheng Keshuang asked the question twice, his weapon also rang twice. Apparently with each question he hacked his blade toward Chen Jinnan once.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly anxious; quietly he raised the coffin lid about a cun so that he could look out. He saw Zheng Keshuang and Feng Xifan attacked Chen Jinnan from left and right. Chen Jinnan held the sword with his left hand, while his right arm drooped down with blood constantly trickling to the ground from the wound inflicted by Feng Xifan’s sneak attack earlier.

Feng Xifan’s sword moved extremely fast, Chen Jinnan resisted with everything he had. Zheng Keshuang swept his blade across repeatedly, chopping and hacking, but Chen Jinnan did not dare to parry, he was only dodging here and there. Very soon he fell into the situation where he could only take a beating without being able to strike back. Moreover, he moved the sword with his left hand awkwardly, while the wound on his right arm was clearly not light.

Wei Xiaobao was anxious, “Where are Feng Jizhong, Guan Fuzi, Qian Laoben, and the others? How come not even one come to help? If this fight continues, Shifu will definitely be killed by them.” But the outside was very quiet, the clay-walled shed was noisy with ‘bing, bing, bang, bang’ of the fierce battle, but unexpectedly the outside seemed to be turning a deaf ear.

He saw Feng Xifan thrust his sword swiftly forward, a powerful strike, Chen Jinnan raised his sword to block, two swords immediately stuck together. Zheng Keshuang waved his saber in diagonal chop, Chen Jinnan leaned sideways to evade. Zheng Keshuang’s saber swept across, ‘rip’ he made a long cut on Chen Jinnan’s left leg.

“Ah!” Chen Jinnan cried out; the sword in his hand jerked upward. Feng Xifan seized this opportunity to thrust his sword forward and hit Chen Jinnan’s left shoulder.

Chen Jinnan was drenched in blood as he fought desperately; it was hard for him to stay standing, step by step he moved toward the door, with the intention of rushing out to make his escape. Feng Xifan understood his intention, he rushed toward the door first. “Rebellious thief,” he said with a cold laugh, “You are still thinking of escaping today?”

Wei Xiaobao was hoping Feng Xifan would walk toward the coffin, so that he could thrust his dagger through the coffin and kill him just like the way he killed the lama at the inn. This move, called ‘stabbing people from behind partition board’ [ge ban ci ren], was his entire life’s special skill, it far surpassed the martial art master’s special skill ‘striking ox from behind the mountain’ [ge shan da niu]. But Feng Xifan was fighting farther and farther away, how could he stab him?

“Rebellious thief,” Zheng Keshuang shouted, “Still not throwing down your sword and letting your hands be bound?”

Seeing how critical the situation was, Wei Xiaobao decided that even if he had to lose his life today, he had to save his shifu. Tightening up his throat, he made three loud ‘zhi, zhi, zhi’ noise.

(Book note: Zheng Chenggong [real name of Koxinga] fathered Zheng Jing and the others, ten people. Zheng Jing became the Ming Dynasty’s Yan Ping Jun Wang during the first year of Kangxi’s reign. He fathered Zheng Keshang, Zheng Keshuang, and the others, eight people. Keshang was the oldest, born of a concubine, and was Chen Yonghua’s son-in-law. Later on he became the Jian Guo [country supervisor] heir apparent. The second son Keshuang became Feng Xifan’s son-in-law. When Zheng Keshang succeeded the throne, he was barely twelve years old. Our book has these matters only as background, their age are increased considerably, hence there are discrepancies with historical fact.)

When Feng Xifan and the others, three people heard it, they were startled. “What is it?” Zheng Keshuang asked. Feng Xifan shook his head, but his hand did not slow down the least bit. Wei Xiaobao cried ‘zhi, zhi, zhi’ again three times. Zheng Keshuang was afraid of ghost, he was trembling with fear. Suddenly he saw the coffin lid opened, a burst of white dust flew out. Immediately the three of them felt their eyes were burning, while an unbearably pungent smells assaulting their noses.

What happened was that usually before the body was entered into the coffin, the coffin would be lined with a large quantity of lime. When Gao Yanchao purchased the coffin, it was already loaded. This moment Wei Xiaobao grabbed a handful of lime and scattered it out. Feng Xifan knew it was not demon or ghost, he quickly jumped over with closed eyes, and leaned forward to thrust his sword into the coffin. ‘Pop!’ the tip of the sword stabbed the coffin’s lid; while he was about to pull the sword to stab again, suddenly he felt pain on the right side of his chest. He knew he had fallen into the enemy’s trick; hastily he leaped back to evade, but his back heavily crashed onto the wall. His martial art skill was superb, with his left hand pressed against the wound on his chest, he brandished the sword in his right hand so that ‘wind and rain could not penetrate’, as a shield in front of his body.

It was actually Wei Xiaobao from inside the coffin launching his move ‘stabbing people from behind partition board’. As soon as his attack succeeded, he leaped out of the coffin, clenching the dagger tightly in his hand. He saw Feng Xifan, Zheng Keshuang and Chen Jinnan, three people, were brandishing their saber and swords randomly with their eyes closed tight. He noticed that although Feng Xifan was hit by his dagger, it was not a fatal wound. He wanted to seize the opportunity and gave him another stab, but Feng and Zheng, two people moved their sword and saber in a very tight formation. He really did not dare to recklessly charge forward. The timing was critical, if he waited too long, those two would have wiped the lime from their eyes, and if they could see, it would be really bad for him. Without any definite plan, he simply grabbed another handful of lime, and as soon as he saw either Feng Xifan or Zheng Keshuang moved to wipe their eyes, he would simply scatter the lime onto them. Scattering the lime was another special skill in which he was an expert.

After only throwing several times, Feng Xifan had already figured out the direction of the lime; with the move ‘thirsty horse rushing to the spring’ he thrust this sword straight forward. Wei Xiaobao was greatly shocked; hastily he ducked down. ‘Pop!’ the sword pierced the coffin. Wei Xiaobao crawled and rolled away toward the door.

Feng Xifan raised his sword and hacked down on the coffin several times, he still thought the enemy was inside. Actually, based on his martial art cultivation, he would have detected Wei Xiaobao’s extremely clumsy exit immediately, but because his eyes were suddenly blinded and his chest wounded, for a moment his mind was in disorder. Moreover, he knew Chen Jinnan’s martial art was extraordinary, not inferior to his own at all; with a powerful enemy on the side, his situation was incomparably treacherous. In his fright, he did not realize that Chen Jinnan’s eyes were also blinded. He only wished to kill the enemy who attacked him sneakily, and made a quick escape.

After stabbing the coffin several times, he felt that he was piercing an empty coffin. With a move ‘thousand rocks vying to be the most beautiful’, the tip of his sword stabbed in a flower pattern to shield around his body. He heard to his left there was no sound of weapons splitting the air, immediately he leaped to the left. As soon as his shoulder bumped onto the wall, he stood leaning against the wall. Because of this excessive use of strength, the wound on his chest was bleeding profusely.

He tried to open his eyes a slit, the lime immediately entered his eyes, the pain was difficult to bear. Afraid that he might be blind permanently, he did not dare to open his eyes anymore. With his back against the wall he moved step-by-step, thinking that as long as he followed the wall, he would eventually find the door; as soon as he was out, the terrain would be spacious, then he would have a better chance of escaping.

Wei Xiaobao was standing at the door. Seeing Feng Xifan started to move, he knew his intention; Wei Xiaobao wanted to wait until he reached the door and then give him a stab, but remembering this man’s martial art skill was too high, even if he succeeded in stabbing him, at the point of death he might strike with his sword, and then Wei Xiaobao’s little life would inevitably be in danger. Thereupon he quietly inserted his dagger about two cun into the doorframe. Seeing Feng Xifan was no more than two chi from the door, he suddenly called out in shrill voice, “I am he …”

Before the word ‘here’ left his lips, Feng Xifan had already moved very fast. His sword slashed down, ‘dang!’ the sword met the dagger, and broke into two. The other half flew up and slash Feng Xifan’s forehead before falling down to the ground. Wei Xiaobao had already hidden by the clay-walled shed with his heart thumping wildly.

He heard Feng Xifan’s roar and saw him dashing out. Wei Xiaobao returned to the door and saw Chen Jinnan and Zheng Keshuang were still brandishing their sword and saber randomly. With the powerful enemy gone, he did not care much about the Second Young Master of the Zheng Family. “Shifu,” he called out, “I have chopped that ‘One Sword without Blood’ so that now his entire body is full of blood; he has already escaped without a trace. Please come out.”

Chen Jinnan was startled. “Who is it?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “It’s your disciple Xiaobao.”

Chen Jinnan was greatly delighted; he held the sword across his chest, no longer brandished it.

Wei Xiaobao called out, “Zhang Dage, Li Erge, Wang Sange, you have arrived! Very good, very good! This stinky fellow surnamed Zheng has not put down his weapon and surrendered, let’s come together and chop him down into pieces!”

Zheng Keshuang was shocked; he did not know that Wei Xiaobao was bluffing. “Shifu, Shifu!” he called out. But did not hear Feng Xifan’s replying. After slight hesitation, he tossed his saber aside.

“Kneel down!” Wei Xiaobao shouted. Zheng Keshuang bent his knees and kneeled on the ground. Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. He picked up the saber and lightly pressed it against Zheng Keshuang’s throat. “Stand up!” he shouted, “Turned right, walked three steps, crawl up, get in!”

For each sentence Wei Xiaobao shouted, Zheng Keshuang followed his order, trembling with fear, until finally he crawled into the coffin. Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud, stepped forward, and pushed the coffin lid. He picked up the bundle of the sutra and slung it over his shoulder. “Shifu,” he said, “Let’s quickly wash your eyes.” Pulling Chen Jinnan’s hand, he led him out of the clay-walled shed.

They only walked for seven, eight steps when he saw Gao Yanchao lying by the flower terrace. Wei Xiaobao was startled, and rushed forward to help him up.

Gao Yanchao said, “Helping Zongduozhu is more important, subordinate only have my acupoints sealed, otherwise I am fine.” Chen Jinnan stooped down and massaged his back and his waist for a moment, the acupoints were immediately opened.

“What happened to Zongduozhu’s eyes?” Gao Yanchao asked.

“Lime,” Chen Jinnan replied.

“We must wash it with vegetable oil,” Gao Yanchao said, “Don’t use water.” Pulling Chen Jinnan’s hand, he quickly walked back to the house.

“I’ll be right there,” Wei Xiaobao said. He returned to the clay-walled shed, picked up the axe, and pounded seven, eight nails into the coffin’s lid. “Zheng Gongzi,” he said, “Just lay down and rest for several days. Consider yourself lucky, the ten thousand taels you owe me, I write off at one stroke, you don’t have to pay it back.” With another laugh he walked back into the main hall.

He saw Gao Yanchao had finished washing the lime off Chen Jinnan’s eyes with vegetable oil; he had also tended the injury on Chen Jinnan’s body. Feng Jizhong, Qian Laoben, Priest Xuanzhen, and the others were lying across the floor of the main hall, Chen Jinnan was in the process of unsealing everybody’s acupoints.

Turned out Feng Xifan launched a surprise attack. Not only his martial art skill was high, he also caught everybody off-guard. Before Feng Jizhong and the others were able to pull themselves together, he had already sealed their acupoints one by one. They were extremely enraged, but in front of the Zongduozhu they did not dare to curse.

Gao Yanchao told them how by using a trick Wei Xiaobao managed to inflict heavy damage to Feng Xifan; immediately everybody was in high spirit. They said that since that servant was so crafty and evil, they hoped that the lime would blind his eyes permanently.

Chen Jinnan’s eyes were still red and swollen, tears still streaming down his face. With a serious expression he said, “Qian Xiongdi, Gao Xiongdi, go wash the lime from Zheng Er Gongzi’s eyes, and invite him here.” Qian and Gao, two people complied.

“Ah!” suddenly Wei Xiaobao cried out and pretended to faint, his eyes were tightly shut.

Chen Jinnan reached out with his left hand to held Wei Xiaobao’s arm. “What happened?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I was … scared … scared really bad just now, I was afraid they were going to kill Shifu … now … now my limbs feel weak …”

Chen Jinnan lifted him up and sat him on a chair. “Just rest for a moment,” he said.

What happened was: Wei Xiaobao knew that scattering lime on people’s eyes was a really low act; for this very reason Mao Shiba had given him a good beating in the past. Although the other warriors praised him for his resourcefulness, he thought that as his subordinates, naturally they wanted to flatter him. Shifu was a great hero, great warrior, ten times more so than Mao Shiba, he would surely give him a serious criticism. Thus Wei Xiaobao might as well pretend to faint in front of him, so that he would not punish him, or even if he did, he would be somewhat lenient.

Qian and Gao, two people rushed into the hall in a hurry; they said, “Zongduozhu, we did not find Zheng Er Gongzi; he must have left.”

Chen Jinnan frowned. “He left?” he asked, “And not in the coffin?”

Qian and Gao, two people looked at each other in dismay. There was indeed a coffin in the clay-walled shed, but how could the Second Young Master of the Zheng Family be in it?

“Let’s go take a look,” Chen Jinnan said. He led everybody toward the clay-walled shed.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly anxious, he had no choice but to follow them. His hands rubbed his own buttocks while saying in his heart, “My buttocks, oh my buttocks, if Shifu heard that I forced that stinky fellow into the coffin, you, my old friend, will unavoidably receive several flogging; I am truly sorry.”

When they got to the clay-walled shed, they saw the floor was covered with lime and blood, but indeed neither Zheng Keshuang’s body nor his shadow was around. Chen Jinnan clearly heard Wei Xiaobao forcing Zheng Keshuang to enter the coffin, but at this moment the coffin lid was firmly nailed down. His suspicion arose. “Xiaobao,” he asked, “Did you nail Zheng Er Gongzi inside the coffin?”

Seeing Shifu’s ill expression, Wei Xiaobao hummed and hawed. “I did not,” he said, “Perhaps he was afraid Shifu would kill him, he nailed himself inside the coffin.”

“Rubbish!” Chen Jinnan shouted, “Quickly open the coffin, don’t let him die of suffocation. Hurry, hurry!”

Qian Laoben and Gao Yanchao picked up the axe and chisel, and busily pried the coffin nails out. When they opened the lid, sure enough there was someone lying inside.

“Er Gongzi!” Chen Jinnan called out, and reached into the coffin to help the person up.

“Ah!” when everybody saw the person, they all cried out in alarm. Chen Jinnan quickly let go and retreated two steps back. The person fell back into the coffin.

“It’s Guan Fuzi!” everybody shouted in one voice. In that split second, everybody was able to see clearly that the person in the coffin was indeed Guan Anji.

Chen Jinnan rushed forward to hold him up again, they saw Guan Anji’s eyes were wide open, but he had already met a violent death. His body was still warm though, apparently he had not died long. The people were shocked and grieved. Feng Jizhong, Priest Xuanzhen, and the others jumped outside, but did not see any trace of the enemy.

Chen Jinnan untied Guan Anji’s robe, and saw a blood red hand print on his chest. “Feng Xifan!” he said in choked voice.

Priest Xuanzhen angrily said, “It is definitely Feng Xifan! This red sand palm is his Kunlun Pai’s unique martial art skill. After suffering serious injury, that evil thief must have circled around a moment later. It’s really … damn it, it’s alright if he wanted to save Zheng Er Gongzi, but why did he have to kill Guan Erge?”

Everybody cursed in rage. Guan Anji’s brother-in-law, Jia Laoliu’s [Ol’ Six Jia] cry shook the heavens and the earth. In his grief Chen Jinnan was silent.

They returned to the hall. Qian Laoben said, “Zongduozhu, we all know about Er Gongzi and Da Gongzi’s struggle over the Wangye position. Our Tian Di Hui has always been impartial in this matter; Da Gongzi is older, naturally we support Da Gongzi. Er Gongzi has always considered you as a nail in his eyes, this time he received Feng Xifan’s instigation, and was thinking of seizing this opportunity to get rid of you. Today we have offended Er Gongzi. I am afraid Wangye might believe their slanderous report. Hereafter Zongduozhu cannot return to Taiwan anymore.”

Chen Jinnan sighed and said, “Guoxing Ye’s benevolence to me was very heavy, even with torn body and crushed bones it would be difficult for me to repay his kindness. Wangye has always been wise, plus he is very respectful toward me; he can’t possibly harm a loyal and good person.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “As the saying goes: distant relation cannot separate flesh and blood relation. Er Gongzi has already determined that our Tian Di Hui refuses to follow Taiwan’s order. If even in the Central Plains he was already like this, would he give you any leeway in Taiwan? Their Zheng Family has altogether eight Gongzi, everybody is fighting everybody else to seize the power, our Tian Di Hui does not need to be involved. Zongduozhu, while it’s true that we are not Qin Hui, but we are definitely not Yue Fei either[2].”

Qian Laoben said, “Zongduozhu is loyal and devoted, and has always served the Zheng Family all your life, yet you were nearly killed by Er Gongzi; no matter what we cannot simply swallow this matter.”

Chen Jinnan sighed again and said, “A real man’s conduct has a clear conscience against the heaven and the earth, whatever other people say, long or short, has nothing to do with him. It’s just that I have never imagined such misfortune would befall us. Just now if it were not for Xiaobao’s resourcefulness, we all would die a violent death … ay, it’s a pity Guan Erge …”

Wei Xiaobao was relieved to hear that his shifu would not investigate the scattering of lime and the nailing of the coffin. Afraid that it was merely a momentary lapse of memory, he decided to change the subject immediately. “We have made quite some noise,” he said, “I am afraid all next door neighbors have heard it; if they report to the authorities, I am afraid … I am afraid … We must move immediately.”

“Absolutely,” Chen Jinnan said, “My mind is in turmoil, unexpectedly I haven’t thought about it.”

Right away they all went back to the garden to dig a hole and bury Guan Anji’s body. After shedding more tears and kowtowing, they carried their belongings out and left immediately. The Tian Di Hui warriors were constantly on the move around the Capital, moving their residence was a common occurrence. Wei Xiaobao was afraid his Shifu would ask him about his martial art training, he took the opportunity to take his leave and return to the Imperial Palace.

Back at his residence, he bolted the door, and opened the six copies of sutra one by one. Indeed he saw a lot of sheepskin pieces in between the cover of the sutras. He took out the pieces and stitched the cover back to its original state. But after stitching the cover of less than one book he already fed up with it; he thought, “It would be best if Shuang’er is here. Right this moment she is most likely still outside Shaolin Temple waiting for me. I was captured by Shifu Jiu Nan, this good servant girl must be extremely worried. I must send someone to tell her to come here.” Sewing several stitches later, his eyes grew very heavy; he hid the sutra well and fell asleep.

Early in the morning the next day he went to the Upper Study Room to wait upon the Emperor. Kangxi said, “I am going to issue an imperial decree tomorrow, sending you to escort Princess Jianning to Yunnan, to be married to that little b@stard surnamed Wu.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “It’s just a pity that I have not served Your Majesty for several days and I will have to be far away from you.”

Kangxi lowered his voice and said, “The Empress Dowager has told me a very important matter. This time you go to Yunnan, you may try to take this opportunity to work on it.” Wei Xiaobao complied.

Kangxi continued, “The Empress Dowager said, that evil maid servant impersonating the Empress Dowager, actually it was part of a great conspiracy: her mission was to find the location of our Manchu’s dragon vein, and try to find a way to break it.”

Wei Xiaobao blurted out without thinking, “That old wh0re’s crime is great, her evil extreme!” But then he hastily covered his mouth, realizing that he had cursed with vulgar language in front of the Emperor, unavoidably it was too disrespectful.

Who would have thought that Kangxi did not give it the slightest thought? “Correct!” he responded, “That old wh0re is indeed not a ‘thing’. The Empress Dowager had to endure disgrace and endure suffering, she would rather die than reveal the secret; only by doing that did the old wh0re’s evil scheme fail. With the Heaven’s blessing therefore the Empress Dowager is safe and sound until today, and has been able to hold on without revealing this big secret.”

Wei Xiaobao already knew the secret early on, but he said, “Your Majesty, it would be best if you do not tell me this huge secret. One more person knows about it, the danger that the secret will leak also increases by one part.”

Kangxi praised him, “You are making good progress; you understand that in everything we must be cautious. However, since the first time you work for me, you have never leaked anything. If I can’t even trust you, I can trust nobody else.”

Wei Xiaobao felt that the several hundred bones in his body, each bone was several taels several qians lighter. He kneeled down and kowtowed, while saying, “Your Majesty trust me this much, even if your servant’s tongue is cut, I will not dare to divulge half a word of what Your Majesty is going to tell me.”

Kangxi nodded; he said, “The secret of our Great Qing’s dragon vein is actually hidden in the eight copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.”

Wei Xiaobao pretended to be astonished; he repeatedly said, “Ah, strange, is there such thing? It’s absolutely unthinkable!”

Kangxi continued, “After the Shezheng Wangye [master king regent] entered the pass, he bestowed eight copies of sutra to the Eight Banners’ Banner Commander. Within the Eight Banners, the troops and horses of Plain Yellow, Plain White and Bordered Yellow, three banners are under the command of the Son of Heaven. But the farmland and material belongings of these three banners are still the Banner Commanders’ responsibility. The Plain Yellow Banner’s copy has always been in Fu Huang’s [father emperor] possession, which he took with him to Mount Wutai. Later on he sent you to bring it back and bestowed it to me. Because the Bordered White Banner’s Banner Commander committed a crime, the Bordered White Banner’s sutra ended up in the Palace, and Fu Huang bestowed it to Empress Duan Jing.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “The Old Emperor doted on Empress Duan Jing; naturally he wanted to give the best thing to her. If it were me, if all eight copies ended up in the Palace, I would bestow all to her.”

Kangxi continued, “The old wh0re murdered Empress Duan Jing, naturally she took hold of her sutra. Oboi was the Bordered Yellow Banner’s Banner Commander. When I sent you to search and seize Oboi’s home that day, the old wh0re wanted you to find two sutras, one was precisely the Bordered Yellow Banner’s, the other was Plain White Banner’s.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If I had known the old wh0re was bad, your servant would have reported to the old wh0re that I could not find it, and quietly presented the sutras to Your Majesty.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “At that time we did not know that the old wh0re was a fake Empress Dowager; we also did not know that there is such great responsibility inside the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. If you were fooling around like that, I would have … I would have flogged your buttocks.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said. In his heart he said, “Flogging my buttocks and that’s it? You don’t need to be polite!” He asked, “The Plain White Banner’s copy, I wonder where did Oboi get it from?”

Kangxi said, “He has killed the Plain White Banner’s Banner Commander Suksaha, and seized his family property, his belongings, including his copy of sutra. Humph, even death cannot wipe out that rebel’s crimes.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In that case, the old wh0re had three copies in her hands.”

“Only three?” Kangxi said, “She also sent the Deputy Chief of Imperial Bodyguards Rui Dong to make things difficult for the Bordered Red Banner’s Banner Commander Hechabo. At that time I did not know the reason, that fellow Hechabo had always been in collusion with Oboi, so I did not pay him any attention. Now that I think about it, naturally it was to seize his copy of the sutra. And then Rui Dong mysteriously disappeared; the old wh0re must have killed him to close his mouth.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty can see things like a deity [i.e. prophecy with supernatural accuracy; you will see shortly why I kept the literal translation].” While in his heart he said, “You are convinced that Rui Dong was killed by the old wh0re, hence I praised you that you can see things like a deity; that is striking a nail on one foot. If in the future you find out that Rui Dong was killed by me, you cannot go back on your word by questioning me. Otherwise, you are acknowledging that you cannot see things like a deity. In your capacity as the Emperor, how can you see things not like a deity, but like a demon?”

Kangxi said, “But if my guess is incorrect …”

Wei Xiaobao busily said, “Definitely correct.”

Kangxi said, “… the old wh0re had four copies of sutra in her hands. But there is one very strange thing: Fu Huang bestowed to me that copy of the Plain Yellow Banner’s sutra, all along I put it on the table in the Upper Study Room, but suddenly it disappeared. You think who has such a nerve to brazenly come to the Upper Study Room and steal something?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Can come and go the Upper Study Room, and have guts to take a book without permission, only … only …”

“Princess Jianning!” Kangxi said.

Wei Xiaobao did not dare to interrupt; he mused, “This time indeed you can see things like a deity.”

Kangxi said, “The old wh0re sent her daughter to steal my copy of the sutra. In that case, she had five copies in her hands.”

“Let us quickly go to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to search,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The old wh0re was running away out of the Palace empty-handed, she did not bring anything.” While his heart was pounding madly, “If this moment the Emperor search my room, even if Xiao Guizi has a hundred heads, all will be chopped down.”

Kangxi shook his head, “I have already searched carefully,” he said, “I could not find anything. I only found a monk robe. The old wh0re’s good friend was actually a monk. Ha ha, ha ha …!”

Wei Xiaobao started to laugh, but after only two ‘ha’s, he felt it was extremely rude, so he hastily stopped laughing. Kangxi was still laughing heartily, however, as he said, “It’s just that when that short winter melon ran away, carrying the old wh0re with him, I saw that he had long hair, hence I was surprised. Most likely he was like that palace maid impersonator, his hair was fake. That fellow was short and fat; the old wh0re’s man was not a good steal, why did she look for such a short winter melon?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “That short winter melon’s martial art skill was very high. If he was handsome, he might not necessarily have the ability to sneak into the Palace. Last time that fake palace maid was also very ugly.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “You got that right.” After a short pause, he said, “The other three copies of the sutra are in the hands of Plain Red Banner, Plain Blue Banner, and Bordered Blue Banner, three Banners’ possession. The current Plain Red Banner’s Banner Commander is Prince Kang, I have already ordered him to present the sutra to me.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “That night someone stole Prince Kang’s sutra, and right now it is in my possession; how can Prince Kang present it to the Emperor? This time that Ol’ Kang will be a deep trouble.”

Kangxi continued, “The Plain Blue Banner’s Banner Commander Fu Deng is still young. Just now I asked him, he said that his predecessor, the Banner Commander Jia Kun died during the assault of Yunnan; the funeral arrangement was taken over by Wu Sangui. What Wu Sangui handed over to him was an official seal, several army banners, and several tens of thousands taels of silver. Other than that, there was nothing else.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The sutra must be embezzled by Wu Sangui.”

“That’s right,” Kangxi said, “For that reason, when you get to Wu Sangui’s mansion, carefully investigate this matter, think of a way to get the sutra. That servant Wu Sangui is very crafty, you must never let him know the inside story.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant will act according to the situation, will attempt to swindle him to come out.”

Kangxi knitted his brows, he paced back and forth in the Upper Study Room. “The Banner Commander of the Bordered Blue Banner, Eshuokeha is a big muddled egg, I told him to present the sutra to me, unexpectedly he said that it disappeared a few years ago. I dispatched Imperial Bodyguards to his home to search, no trace. I have already sent him to Tian Lao [lit. heaven prison], and have the people interrogate and torture him well. I want to know whether it was really stolen or did he hide it and unwilling to turn it in.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Perhaps the old wh0re sent someone to embezzle it; I wonder if it was seized by force or was stolen in secret.” He thought, “I am not slandering the old wh0re; the person who seized it by force or stole it in secret was most likely the short winter melon.” He added, “Supposing these six copies were obtained by the old wh0re, when all is said and done, where are they?” As soon as he said that, he felt a slight remorse, “I said it wrong,” he mused, “I suffer too much losses. I said it was the old wh0re who obtained the six copies of the sutra, while the one who has six copies of the sutra is actually Wei Xiaobao. Won’t that mean I am the old wh0re?”

Kangxi said, “Actually, what is the old wh0re’s background? At this moment we do not have any clue. She managed this important matter, there must be someone she conspired with. After she obtained the sutra, she must have smuggled it out of the Palace one by one. I am afraid it will be extremely difficult to recover all those six copies of sutra. Fortunately the Empress Dowager said that to find the Great Qing’s Dragon Vein location, one must have all eight copies in one’s possession. Even if someone obtained seven copies, as long as one copy is lacking, all seven will be useless. We only have to have the two copies in Prince Kang and Wu Sangui’s hands and destroy them, and then there will be peace and security without any trouble. We do not want to find the Dragon Vein; as long as nobody else finds it, that will be enough. It’s just that I lost the sutra Fu Huang bestowed to me; if henceforth I cannot find it back, I am really unfilial. Humph, Princess Jianning, that little … little …”

Kangxi could not finish his cursing, in his heart Wei Xiaobao was finishing it for him, “Little wh0re!”

Right this moment, however, in his heart Kangxi was recalling the admonition given by Shunzhi in the meditation room at the Jing’e Temple of Mount Wutai: “My son, you are astute and competent, you cherish common people; you are a much stronger emperor than I was. There is a map hidden in those eight copies of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, it’s a map to an enormous hidden treasure. When our Eight Banners’ troops entered the pass, they plundered gold, silver, money and valuables everywhere they went in the Central Plains, and hid everything in this treasure trove. The Eight Banners have equal share on this treasure trove; therefore, the map was divided into eight parts, and were distributed to the Eight Banners, so that no single banner can keep everything for themselves. The Han people inside the pass is a hundred times more numerous than us, Manchu people; if they rose up in rebellion simultaneously, we are absolutely unable to suppress it. At that time, we have no choice but to return outside the pass, open up the treasure-trove, divide the treasure equally among the Eight Banners, and henceforth we won’t have to worry not to have enough food and warm clothes for the next several years.”

Kangxi recalled that at that time his father emperor asked Wei Xiaobao to bring back these words: ‘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.’ He also heard Shunzhi saying, ‘That our Manchurian Qing is able to conquer the land under heaven, it is solely by the Will of Heaven; in this matter, we are really lucky. We cannot harbor the thought that we will stay in the Central Plains for a long time; we must not let Manchu people destroy everything inside the Pass, because then a single horse will not be able to go beyond the Pass.”

With his mouth Kangxi repeatedly say ‘yes’, but in his heart he was thinking otherwise, “The great undertaking of our Great Qing in the Central Plains is getting more and more stable. From now on we ought to open up new territory and expand our lands, establishing a foundation that won’t pull out in ten thousand ages; why would we need to prepare a fallback plan? As soon as we have a fallback, it would only bring disaster. Father has left home, his heart is contented, he is standing aloof from worldly affair, no wonder he has that kind of thought.”

As expected, his father continued, “However, the Regent instructed all Banner Commanders: the fact that there is an enormous treasure buried outside the Pass must never be revealed. Otherwise, if the Manchurian kings, dukes and soldiers knew that there is a fallback plan, when the Han people revolt, they won’t be willing to risk their lives in fighting, and then our great undertaking will fail. For this reason, when the Banner Commanders pass on the sutras to the next generation, they can only say that the sutras hide a great secret concerning the Manchurian Qing’s Dragon Vein, that if the Dragon Vein is dug and broken, all the Manchurian people will die without a burial site. Hence, first, the later generation of the Eight Banners won’t get greedy and sneakily dig the treasure; second, if there is anybody trying to dig the treasure, the Eight Banners would rise together to attack, to do their utmost to stop it. Only the lord of the country one person is allowed to know the real secret.”

Thinking back about the past conversation, he had to admit, “The Regent indeed had great skill and strategy, his foresight is very true.” Casting a glance toward Wei Xiaobao, he thought, “Although Xiao Guizi is loyal, I can only tell him about the Dragon Vein, I cannot say anything about the treasure. Someday this boy will grow, there is no guarantee that he won’t be greedy. The Empress Dowager told me yesterday, when Fu Huang made up his mind to leave home, he entrusted this great secret to the Empress Dowager, telling her to wait for me to grow up, and then pass on this secret to me. The Empress Dowager was willing to bear humiliation to preserve her life was precisely for this reason. She did not know that I have already gone to Mount Wutai to see Fu Huang. But it was fortunate this way, the Empress Dowager was not killed by the old wh0re.”

Seeing Kangxi pacing back and forth, deep in thought, Wei Xiaobao suddenly had an idea, “Your Majesty,” he said, “If the old wh0re was sent by Wu Sangui to infiltrate the Palace, that means he … he has seven copies of sutra in his hand.”

Kangxi was startled; thinking that it was a great possibility. “Send in the Imperial Clothing Supervisor!” he called out.

After a while, an old eunuch entered the Study Room and kowtowed; he was the eunuch manager [orig. Zongguan] of the Imperial Clothing Supervisors. Kangxi asked, “Have you found out?”

The eunuch replied, “Reporting to Your Majesty: your servant has examined it carefully, the material of that monk robe was weaved in Beijing.”

“Hmm,” Kangxi mumbled. Wei Xiaobao understood, “The Emperor wants to know the short winter melon’s origin. The material of his clothing was manufactured in Beijing, so what? He did not find anything.”

The eunuch continued, “However, the man’s undergarment was made of Liaodong Peninsula’s cocoon silk, it was the product of Jinzhou [prefecture, Liaoning province] region.”

Kangxi’s countenance lit up; he nodded and said, “Dismissed.” The eunuch kowtowed and withdrew.

Kangxi said, “Perhaps you are right, this short winter melon may have some connection with Wu Sangui.”

“Your servant does not understand,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Kangxi explained, “Formerly Wu Sangui was guarding Shanhai Pass, Jinzhou was his territory. Perhaps this short winter melon was his former subordinate.”

“Exactly!” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Your Majesty is brilliant, your premonition is definitely correct.”

Kangxi muttered to himself, “If the old wh0re returned to Yunnan, the danger of your trip may increase by one part. You must bring more Imperial Bodyguards, plus three thousand Valiant Cavalry sergeants.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty, please set your heart at ease. It would be best if your servant can catch the old wh0re and the short winter melon, we can make mincemeat of them and thus venting the Empress Dowager’s anger.”

Kangxi patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder; he smiled and said, “If you can render this great service, and help the Empress Dowager venting her anger, hey, hey, your age is young, your official position is big, you are going to make things difficult for me. However, we are the young emperor, the young high-ranking minister, a couple of young people managed to accomplish big matters; we let those bunch of old officials be intimidated and stupefied. It’s very amusing.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Although Your Majesty is young, your wisdom and foresight has already made that bunch of old ‘things’ full of admiration in their hearts. After you deal with Wu Sangui, it will be ‘before there is no such thing, after there is no one of ancient times’ [qian wu lai zhe, hou wu gu ren].”

Kangxi burst out laughing; “Damn it,” he said, “It’s ‘no one precedes, no one follows’ [qian wu gu ren, hou wu lai zhe]. You, this fellow, is clever and quick-witted, but without learning or skills, and not willing to study.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Yes, yes,” he said, “When your servant has some spare time, I will study well for a few days.”

Actually, Wei Xiaobao’s uncouth and illiteracy was what made Kangxi like him more. If Kangxi wanted literate and highly educated chamberlains by his side, he could have as many as he wanted. Day in and day out he heard a lot of good poems, classical quotations and Confucius teachings. Only when talking street talk and day-to-day speech with Wei Xiaobao did he really feel carefree.

Wei Xiaobao withdrew from Kangxi presence. He had just went out of the Upper Study Room when an Imperial Bodyguard came up to him, paid him respect, and said in a low voice, “Wei Fu Zongguan [deputy chief], Prince Kang wishes to see you; he was wondering if Wei Fu Zongguan have spare time.”

“Where is Wangye?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The Imperial Bodyguard replied, “Wangye is waiting for your reply at the Imperial Bodyguard room.”

“Has he come personally?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Yes, yes,” the Imperial Bodyguard replied, “He said he wanted to invite Wei Fu Zongguan to drink wine and watch the opera. He was afraid that His Majesty might have some important matter for Wei Fu Zongguan to do that you, Senior, cannot spare a moment for him.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Damn it,” he said, “What ‘Senior’ am I?”

Arriving at the Imperial Bodyguard room, he saw Prince Kang with a teacup in one hand, sitting on a chair with a blank expression on his face, wrinkled eyebrows, and deep worried look. As soon as he saw Wei Xiaobao, he hastily put down the teacup, scrambled up to pull Wei Xiaobao’s hand, and said, “Xiongdi, long time no see, I miss you like crazy.”

Wei Xiaobao was fully aware that Prince Kang was looking for him because of the lost copy of sutra, but seeing he was this warm, he was quite happy. “If Wangye needs anything, you can simply send someone to let me know,” he said, “You want to bestow me with food and wine, won’t lowly officer rush over to your place? You are giving me a lot of face like this, you actually come personally to see me.”

“I have prepared an opera troupe at home,” Prince Kang said, “I was only afraid Xiongdi does not have time. Can we go now?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Alright, since Wangye is going to bestow a dinner to me, as long as His Majesty did not send me to do anything urgent, even if my own old man died, lowly officer will have to disturb Wangye and eat your food first before doing anything else.”

The two of them left the Palace hand-in-hand, they mounted their horses and rode to the Prince’s mansion. Prince Kang entertained his guest lavishly, he treated Wei Xiaobao with utmost respect. This time there was no other guest in his mansion.

After dinner, Prince Kang invited Wei Xiaobao into his study room. He made small talks, praising Wei Xiaobao about being the Emperor’s proxy at the Shaolin Temple and amassing countless achievements and virtue, with good result; he also praised him as a young man, but had achieved the Deputy Chief position of the Imperial Bodyguards and Commander position of the Valiant Cavalry Brigade; his future prospect was really unlimited. Wei Xiaobao responded by some humble talk, saying that in the future he would rely heavily on the Prince’s support and guidance.

Prince Kang sighed. “Xiongdi,” he said, “You and I are family, I don’t need to conceal anything from you: your Laoge [old older brother] is facing an imminent catastrophe; I am afraid my life, as well as my family’s, will be difficult to protect.”

Wei Xiaobao pretended to be greatly astonished. “Wangye is of royal family, a Great Beilei [see note 15 chapter 13] of the Virtuous Dynasty, the Tie Maozi Wang[3], the person His Majesty put in an important position as someone he could trust; what kind of imminent catastrophe might you be facing?”

“Xiongdi,” Prince Kang said, “You did not know. When we, Manchurian Qing entered the Pass, the Banner Commander of each Banner was bestowed a Buddhist sutra by the Late Emperor. I am the Banner Commander of the Plain Red Banner, hence I was also entrusted with this gift. Today His Majesty summoned me, asking me to present the sutra the Late Emperor bestowed to me. But … but my copy of sutra, somehow, unexpectedly … unexpectedly it is stolen …”

Wei Xiaobao’s entire face looked astonished. “That’s really strange!” he said, “Stealing gold and silver, I can understand. But stealing sutra? What good does it have? Is the sutra made of gold? Or perhaps fully inlaid with jade, pearls and precious stones, so that it is extremely valuable?”

“It’s not that,” Prince Kang said, “It is only a common sutra. But I was not able to safeguard the item that was bestowed to me by the Late Emperor, it is really disrespectful. His Majesty suddenly wanted me to present it to him, I am afraid he already knew that I lost this sutra and wanted to investigate this matter. Xiongdi, please help me.” While saying that, he stood up and bowed with cupped fist to Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao hastily returned the propriety; he said, “Wangye is too polite, don’t you think Xiaoren deserve it?”

With a distressed look Prince Kang said, “Xiongdi, if you can’t find a way to help me, I will have no choice but to kill myself.”

“Wangye is considering this matter too heavily,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Tomorrow I will present a memorial to let His Majesty know about this matter, at most he will punish Wangye by several months of official salary, or perhaps rebuke you openly in front of the other officials; how can there be any life and death situation?”

Prince Kang shook his head and said, “If only I can keep my life, I am willing to forego my royal status as a prince; even if I have to be a commoner, I will thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, and will be perfectly contented. Because of losing the sutra bestowed to him, the Banner Commander of the Bordered Blue Banner Eshuokeha was put into Tian Lao yesterday. I heard he received a lot of beating. His Majesty sent people to interrogate him severely, to find out where did that copy of sutra go?” While saying that, his facial muscle twitched, apparently he was imagining the miserable and ruthless torture he would experience if he was sent to Tian Lao.

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows, “The sutra is that important?” he asked, “Ah, right, that day when I searched and seized Oboi’s home, the Empress Dowager ordered me to find two books in his house, some thirty-two-chapter sutra, forty-three-chapter sutra, or something like that. Is that the thing that Wangye lost?”

The worried look on Prince Kang’s face grew deeper. “Exactly,” he said, “It’s the ‘Forty-two-Chapter Sutra’. When you searched and seized Oboi’s house, the Empress Dowager did not want anything else, but she only wanted that sutra, thus it is clear that that thing is extremely important. Did Xiongdi find it?”

“I did,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “That servant Oboi had the sutra in his bedroom, in a hole on the floor; it took quite some efforts for me to find it. What’s so strange about this sutra anyway? I can go to any monk’s temple and ask for eight or ten copies for you, then you can present it to His Majesty.”

Prince Kang said, “The Late Emperor personally bestowed the sutra, it is totally different than ordinary Buddhist scripture from the monk’s temple; I can’t pass it for the real thing.”

With a solemn expression Wei Xiaobao said, “If that’s the case, then it’s a bit troublesome. I wonder what it is that Wangye wanted me to do?”

Prince Kang shook his head and said, “I really cannot say it; how … how can I ask Xiongdi to so something that will disadvantage our lord?”

Wei Xiaobao struck his chest, “Wangye might as well say it,” he said, “You consider Wei Xiaobao as your friend, I will deliver this little life for you; it is yi qi. Very well, you present a memorial to His Majesty, just tell him that I, Wei Xiaobao borrowed the sutra to have a look, but I was not careful and I lost it. These last few days His Majesty liked me very much, at most he will have me flogged, he might not necessarily want to chop my head.”

“Thank you very much for Xiongdi’s good intention,” Prince Kang said, “But I’m afraid it won’t work. His Majesty can’t possibly believe that Xiongdi would want to borrow the sutra to have a look.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Although I have been a monk once, but I don’t know any character even if it is as big as a watermelon. I am afraid His Majesty won’t believe that I borrowed the sutra to read it. We must find another way.”

Prince Kang said, “I was thinking of asking Xiongdi … of asking Xiongdi … asking Xiongdi …” He said ‘asking Xiongdi’ three times but did not finish; he only looked at Wei Xiaobao, watching for his reaction.

“Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please don’t feel awkward. Your Xiongdi’s little life …” His left hand grabbed his own pigtail, his right hand moved across his own neck, and then with both hands he made a gesture as if he lifted his own head and presented it to the Prince. He continued, “… has already been given to you. As long as it’s not something that will endanger His Majesty, I will obey whatever you wish to tell me.”

Prince Kang was greatly delighted. “Xiongdi upholds yi qi in such a high regard like this, ay, your Gege don’t have anything much to say. I only wish to ask Xiongdi to go to either the Empress Dowager or His Majesty, and steal one sutra. I will prepare several dozen of master artisans to wait in here. We will start working that very night to make a copy of the sutra, so that I can pass through this crisis.”

“Can you make an exact replica?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Prince Kang busily said, “We can, we can. We simply have to make an exact replica, I guarantee it won’t have any flaw. After we finish making the copy, Xiongdi may immediately return the original, we won’t dare to make the slightest damage to it.”

Actually, he was fully aware that hastily making a copy of the sutra without any flaw was extremely difficult; he was thinking of wrapping both the real and fake sutras, and have Wei Xiaobao return the fake one to the original place, while he presented the real one to the Emperor. He presumed Wei Xiaobao did not know anything, and would have a hard time distinguishing the real from the fake. If Wei Xiaobao did not find out about it later, that would be an extraordinary good luck; however, even if he did, Prince Kang would not be implicated. It’s just that at this moment he could not openly explain his intention to Wei Xiaobao.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The matter should not be delayed, I am going to find a way to steal it. Wangye should just wait quietly in your mansion for my news.”

Prince Kang thanked him profusely [orig. thousand kindness ten thousand thanks], and personally walked him out of the gate. He also warned Wei Xiaobao repeatedly to be careful.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his room. He pieced together the several dozen of sheepskin fragments under the lantern; thinking that since he had obtained seven out of the eight copies of sutra, even if there would be some empty spaces, he would be able to assemble most of it. Who would have thought that after spending more than an hour he could not even locate the corners of the map? By nature he did not have the patience, and was easily bored. Thereupon he put the several hundred small pieces in a piece of wax paper and wrapped it in a layer of oilcloth.

After putting the bundle inside his inner pocket, he thought, “Old Kang is the Banner Commander of the Plain Red Banner, naturally his copy of sutra has red envelope. Tomorrow I’ll simply give him a copy with different color.”

Early morning the next day, he sewed back the outer sheepskin cover of the Bordered White Banner’s sutra, pasted the envelope, and put it in his pocket. He then went straight to Prince Kang’s mansion.

As soon as Prince Kang heard about his arrival, he hurriedly came out to greet him. Holding Wei Xiaobao’s hands, he repeatedly asked, “How was it? How was it?”

Wei Xiaobao frowned with concerned look on his face; he shook his head. Prince Kang’s heart immediately sank. “It is indeed a very difficult matter, today we cannot succeed …”

“I have it,” Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “I am only afraid that you won’t be able to make a replica within ten days or half a month.”

Prince Kang was ecstatic; he jumped up suddenly, gave Wei Xiaobao a big hug, and carried him into his study room. Seeing their Wangye was acting like that, the numerous attendants and family warriors could not help but were secretly amused.

Wei Xiaobao took the sutra out of his pocket and presented it with both hands, asking, “Is it this thing?”

Prince Kang grabbed the sutra tightly, his body was shaking all over; opening the envelope, he looked inside and said, “Precisely, precisely. This is the sutra bestowed to the Bordered White Banner, hence it has white envelope with red border around it. We must start working on the carved printing block immediately. Xiongdi, can you think of some excuse so that I can stall for a few more days. Um, how about I pretend to fall down from the horse, with head broken and blood flowing, and remain unconscious? When the replica is finished, I will kowtow in salute to His Majesty. Do you think it’s good?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “His Majesty is extremely brilliant; you fell and knocked down dramatically like that, he would be suspicious instead. You present a ‘western shellfish goods’ [not sure what it means, 西贝货儿] to the Emperor, His Majesty examines it carefully, your trickery will be exposed at once. The copy of sutra that you lost, other than the color of the cover, what else is different?”

Prince Kang said, “Other than the cover, everything else is identical.”

“That’s easy,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just replace the cover of this book, today you can present it to the Emperor.”

Prince Kang was startled and delighted at the same time. With a trembling voice he said, “This … this … book is missing from the Palace, if it is being investigated, I am afraid Xiongdi will be implicated.”

“I quietly stole it from the Upper Study Room last night,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Nobody saw it. Even if someone did, humph, humph, that puppy will not dare to say anything. I will take this responsibility from you.”

Prince Kang was very grateful; he could not stop his eyes from turning wet. Holding Wei Xiaobao’s hands tight, he could no longer say anything.

Wei Xiaobao returned to the Palace. He wanted to take two more sutra and go to see Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan. He thought that the Plain Yellow Banner’s sutra was soaked in poisoned water and was snatched away by Sangjie Lama; the Bordered White Banner’s sutra he gave away to Prince Kang, he still had five sutras left. He seized the Bordered Yellow and Plain White, two copies, from Oboi’s house. The Bordered Blue he acquired from the old wh0re. The old wh0re had seen all three copies. By now the old wh0re must be with Cult Leader Hong, hence if he presented these three copies, it would not be too good. He snatched away the Plain Red Banner’s copy from Prince Kang’s mansion. The Bordered Red Banner’s copy was from Rui Dong’s body. Although the old wh0re knew the origin of this copy, there was no harm in it. Therefore, he decided to give Fat and Lu, two people, the Plain Red and the Bordered Red copies.

Fat and Lu, two people had already been waiting eagerly for him. Seeing him suddenly appeared with two copies of the sutra their Cult Leader wanted, they were overjoyed. Wei Xiaobao said, “Mr. Lu, take these sutras and present them to Jiaozhu and Madame. Tell them that I heard that Wu Sangui knows the whereabouts of the other six. I, the White Dragon Envoy will handle this matter for Jiaozhu and Madame. I will be loyal and devoted, a hundred thousand deaths, a million deaths will not prevent me; thereupon I will go to Yunnan, I will go through water and tread on fire to find those sutras. Fat Zunzhe, I want you to come with me to set up more great merit for Jiaozhu.”

Fat and Lu, two people happily agreed. Fat Toutuo said, “Lu Xiong, the White Dragon Envoy rendered this great service, the two of us can also enjoy the benefit. If Jiaozhu bestows us the leopard embryo tendon-altering pill’s antidote, you must immediately send someone you trusted to deliver it to Yunnan.”

“Yes, yes,” Lu Gaoxuan repeatedly complied; he thought, “The White Dragon Envoy is so young, yet he is already established like this. Someday the great position of Cult Leader will definitely be his. If I don’t seize the opportunity to curry favor with him right now, what am I waiting for?” Therefore, he said, “This antidote is indeed not a small matter, subordinate will not feel at ease to hand it over to other people, I will definitely deliver it personally. White Dragon Envoy, subordinate is loyal and devoted to you. I will make sure that you take the antidote first before subordinate and Pang Xiong [Fat brother] take it. Otherwise, even is the leopard embryo tendon-altering pill flares up, and subordinate has the antidote in my hand, I would rather die than take it first.”
Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Very good, very good, you are so loyal and devoted to me, I won’t forget it.”

Lu Gaoxuan was delighted; he bowed and said, “Subordinate respectfully wish White Dragon Envoy a life of ease and comfort forever, and life as long as Mount Nan.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “My position is only a level below Jiaozhu, a life of ease and comfort forever, and life as long as Mount Nan does not sound too bad.”

He returned to the Palace. Before long, a eunuch announced the Imperial Decree: conferring Wei Xiaobao the status as first class viscount, assigning him as the marriage envoy to escort Princess Jianning to visit Yunnan, to be bestowed in marriage to Ping Xi Wang Heir Apparent Wu Yingxiong. Wu Yingxiong was conferred the title Third Class Jing Qi Ni Ha Pan[4] plus the concurrent titles of Shao Bao [young protector/guardian] and Taizitaibao [tutor to the crown prince].

Wei Xiaobao took some money and gave it to the eunuch. He mused, “That fellow Wu Yingxiong has it too easy, he is going to marry a good-looking princess and promoted as high-ranking official. The mister storyteller said that Jing Zhong Yue Chuan, Yue Fei, Yue Yeye [Grandpa Yue] was also conferred the title Shao Bao. How can you, stinky fellow Wu Yingxiong, be compared to Yue Yeye?” But then he thought, “His Majesty bestowed him a high-ranking official position, so that Wu Sangui won’t suspect anything. Sooner or later his head will be chopped. Wasn’t Oboi also a high-ranking official with the title Shao Bao? Right, right, Yue Fei, Yue Shao Bao was also killed by the emperor. Hence it is obvious that those with the title Shao Bao is going to be beheaded. Next time His Majesty wants to confer the title Shao Bao to me, I must desperately decline it.”

Immediately he went to have an audience with the Emperor to express his gratitude. “Your Majesty,” he said, “This time your servant is going to Yunnan on a mission for you, if you have some ‘brocade pouch of miracle plans’, why don’t you tell me right now?”

Kangxi burst out in laughter. “Xiao Guizi does not know how to read,” he said, “A brocade pouch of miracle plans will be sealed in a brocade pouch; mysteries of heaven must not be revealed, how can I tell you right now?”

“So be it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Too bad I am illiterate, even if Your Majesty has a brocade pouch of miracle plans, it must be drawn into pictures. Your Majesty, last time you ordered me to Qing Liang Temple to be the head administrator, the drawings in the Imperial Decree were very beautiful.”

Kangxi laughed; he said, “Since ancient times, I am afraid only the two of us, a ruler and his minister, who use pictures in place of letters in an imperial decree.”

“This is called ‘no one precedes, no one follows’,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Kangxi laughed and said, “Very good, you remember it well. I taught you idioms[5], and you remember.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The ones Your Majesty taught me, I always remember. The ones other people taught me, some I can remember, some others I can’t always remember; I don’t know why. Just like the saying ‘once a promise is made, some horses cannot chase’. What kind of horses, I never remember.”

Right this moment, a eunuch reported the arrival of Princess Jianning who came to say goodbye. Kangxi looked at Wei Xiaobao, telling him to bring the Princess in.

As soon as Princess Jianning entered the Study Room, she threw herself in Kangxi’s bosom, while crying loudly. “Huangdi Gege,” she said, “I … I … I don’t want to be married in Yunnan, please retract your Imperial Edict.”

Originally, ever since they were little, Kangxi had always liked this younger sister; however, after he found out about the fake Empress Dowager’s evil conducts, he started to loathe and detest this younger sister. By marrying her to Wu Yingxiong, his real intention was to frame her; however, seeing her pitiful cry this moment, he could not bear not to feel pity for her. It’s just that things had come this far, he could not retract his Imperial Decree. Patting her shoulder gently, he said in tender voice, “When a girl grow up, she must be married. The husband I pick for you is really not bad. Xiao Guizi, tell Princess, that Wu Yingxiong is really handsome, isn’t he?”

“Absolutely,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Princess, the prince consort is a well-known handsome man in Yunnan province. Last time he came to Beijing, there were dozens of young women fighting outside the gate. The fight claimed three lives.”

Princess Jianning was startled. “What happened?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Ping Xi Wang Heir Apparent is very handsome, he is famous throughout the world. When he entered the Capital that day, thousands and tens of thousands young women and married women throughout Beijing’s city wall were crowding the gate to have a look at him. Several dozens of young women, you squeezed me, I crowded you, they ended up fighting with each other.”

Princess Jianning laughed through her tears. “Pei,” she spat, “You lied! How can there be such matter?”

“Princess,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Do you know why His Majesty is sending me to escort you to Yunnan? And told me to bring a lot of Imperial Bodyguards, to give you adequate protection?”

The Princess replied, “It is because Huangdi Gege loves me.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This is His Majesty’s wisdom and foresight, his deep plans and distant thoughts. Just think: the prince consort is that handsome, I don’t know how many young women want to marry him and be his wife. And now all of a sudden he will be yours, I don’t know how many vinegar vats, vinegar jugs, vinegar pots, vinegar bottles are overturned in the world. Some young women are bound to know martial arts, they might give you some trouble. Although Princess herself has an excellent martial art skill, the few are no match for the many after all; isn’t that right? For this reason, your servant is escorting Princess to the south this time, the load on my shoulder is indeed not light. Dealing with an army of sweet and sour women, just think, how difficult is that?”

Princess Jianning laughed. “What sweet and sour army of women?” she asked, “You are really good at talking nonsense.” Right now her smiling face looked like flower, while several drops of sparkling tears were still hanging on her cheeks. She turned to Kangxi and said, “Huangdi Gege, after Xiao Guizi escorting me to Yunnan, let him accompany me talking to relieve my boredom, otherwise I don’t want to go.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Alright, alright, let him accompany you for some time, until you get used to the situation there, and then we’ll talk about it.”

Princess Jianning said, “I want him to accompany me forever, I don’t want him to go back.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue. “That won’t do,” he said, “If your Fuma Ye [master emperor’s son-in-law] loathes seeing me, he might get angry and chop me with a saber. A headless Xiao Guizi won’t be able to accompany Princess talking to relieve your boredom.”

Princess Jianning’s little mouth flattened. “Humph,” she said, “He dares?”

Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, before you go to Yunnan, I have something else I want you investigate. In this Upper Study Room I have lost a Buddhist sutra; I just felt a bit strange, even in here unexpectedly someone dares to steal things!” When he said the last sentence, his tone turned rather stern.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied.

“Huangdi Gege,” Princess Jianning interrupted, “It was me who took your Buddhist sutra. Tee hee …”

“Why did you take it?” Kangxi asked, “Why didn’t you ask me first?”

The Princess laughed and said, “Empress Dowager ordered me to take it. Empress Dowager said, every day the Emperor must deal with thousands and hundreds military and country’s affairs, if I have to ask you for a small matter like a Buddhist sutra, it be too troublesome for you.”

“Humph,” Kangxi snorted, but did not say anything.

Princess Jianning stuck out her tongue. “Huangdi Gege,” she pleaded, “Please don’t be mad at me for this matter. Later when I go to Yunnan, if I want to come here to take your book again, I won’t be able to do it.”

Hearing her pitiful pleading, Kangxi’s heart softened immediately. He said tenderly, “When you go to Yunnan, if you need anything, just let me know.” After a short pause, he continued, “What can possibly be missing in Ping Xi Wang mansion?”

Wei Xiaobao went out of the Upper Study Room, a crowd of Imperial Bodyguards and eunuchs came to congratulate him. Each Imperial Bodyguard was hoping to be brought along to Yunnan; Wu Sangui’s riches could be compared to a country, it was a cushy job, there was a nine out of ten chance that they would make some money there.

In the middle of the evening, Prince Kang went into the Palace to see Wei Xiaobao again. Jubilantly he said, “Xiongdi, the sutra has been presented to the Emperor. His Majesty is happy, he even praised me several times.”

“That’s very good,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Prince Kang said, “You won’t leave for Yunnan in several days, today Gege will play host; first, to congratulate you of being conferred the title viscount, second, to give you a farewell dinner.” Taking along Wei Xiaobao’s hand, they left the Palace. But this time they did not go to Prince Kang’s mansion, instead, they went to an exquisite high-ranking official residence in Dongcheng district [lit. eastern city]. Although this house was not as grand as Prince Kang’s mansion, the engraved building, the painted beam, the flower, trees and mountain rocks, all the arrangement was very luxurious.

“Xiongdi,” Prince Kang said, “What do you think of this house?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Very good, very beautiful!” he said, “Wangye really knows how to live a happy and prosperous life. Is this the Xiao Fujin’s [fujin is Manchurian word for wife] residence?”

Prince Kang laughed but did not answer his question; he invited Wei Xiaobao to enter the main hall. Many nobilities and high-ranking officials had already waited in the hall. Songgotu, Dolong, and the others came out to greet him. The word ‘Congratulations’ did not stop flowing into his ears. Prince Kang said with a laugh, “Today we are congratulating Wei Daren for getting a promotion; according to reason, he should sit in the place of honor. However, since he is the host, he will have to sit in the host’s seat.”

Wei Xiaobao was surprised. “What host?” he asked.

Prince Kang laughed and said, “This house is Wei Daren’s Viscount Mansion. Your Gege has prepared it for you. The carriage driver, cook, servants, maids, we have them all. Only it was such in a hurry that I am afraid it won’t be completely satisfactory. If Xiongdi wants anything, please feel free to send someone to my home to get it.”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised; he did help Prince Kang out of a big trouble, but it did not cost him a single wen, did not pose him the slightest risk. Although he was aware that the Prince would definitely thank him with a gift, he had never imagined that he would receive such a heavy present. Momentarily he was speechless; he could only stammered, “This … this … how can I receive it?”

Prince Kang squeezed his hand and said, “The two of us have friendship that surpasses life, why should you still distinguish between what’s yours and what’s mine? Come, come, come, everybody must drink. Whoever is not drunk cannot go home today.”

The banquet continued with wine, everyone enjoyed themselves to the full before the party broke up. Wei Xiaobao was now a viscount, everybody also knew that he disguised himself as a eunuch under imperial orders; hence he could not comeback to live at the Palace anymore.

That night he slept in a splendid, magnificent and luxurious bedroom. Looking around, he noticed that if not golden utensils or silverwares, then it must be silk or satin. He suddenly thought, “His granny, if I open a brothel in this Viscount Mansion, ten Lovely Spring Courtyards cannot compare.”

Early in the morning the next day, he went to see Jiu Nan, to report that the Emperor was sending him to Yunnan to escort the bride.

“Very good,” Jiu Nan said, “I will accompany you.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he turned his head to look at Ah Ke. Jiu Nan said, “Ah Ke is coming with us.”

Wei Xiaobao was even more overjoyed at the news. Even if the Emperor conferred him a hundred viscount titles, it still could not compare to this one good news.

After taking his leave from Jiu Nan, he went to Tian Di Hui’s new temporary lodging. Chen Jinnan hesitatingly said, “The Tatar Emperor favors Wu Sangui like that, we can’t pull him down for the time being. But this is such a golden opportunity. Xiaobao, if the traitor Wu Sangui does not revolt, we have to provoke him to rebel. If the provocation does not work, we have to frame him as a rebel. I should have gone with you, but when Er Gongzi and Feng Xifan are back in Taiwan, they will surely slander me in front of Wangye. I expect Wangye will send someone to inquire of Tian Di Hui’s affair. I must stay here to report everything according to the facts. You may take all brothers here to Yunnan.”

“I am afraid that fellow Feng Xifan will return to harm Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Better have the brothers here to help Shifu, otherwise disciple won’t feel relieved.”

Chen Jinnan patted his shoulder; he said warmly, “It’s rare to have someone as filial as you are. Although Feng Xifan’s martial art is strong, your Shifu may not necessarily be weaker than he is. Last time he simply attacked us when we expected it the least, he hid behind the door and launched a sneak attack; hence, he managed to injure my right arm first. Next time we meet, he won’t necessarily be able to occupy the advantageous position. Presently, killing Wu Sangui is the most important matter, we must try to accomplish it at all costs. I only hope that the matter in here will be resolved as quickly as possible, so that I can catch up with you to Yunnan. We can’t let the Mu Family have a head start.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “If we let the Mu Family make their move first, later on Tian Di Hui will have to obey their command; that won’t be too good.”

Chen Jinnan reached out to check Wei Xiaobao’s pulse, he also ordered him to pull out his tongue. He frowned and said, “How can the poison you contacted change its nature? Fortunately it won’t flare-up for the time being. You must not train the internal energy cultivation I taught you, so that the poison will not enter your channels.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he said in his heart, “You told me not to train martial art, you said so yourself; you cannot blame me in the future.” He also thought, “This leopard embryo tendon-altering pill is really fierce, even Shifu does not know what it is. I only hope Mr. Lu will deliver the antidote soon.”

Several days later, everything was prepared. Wei Xiaobao would lead the Imperial Bodyguards, the Valiant Cavalry Brigade, Tian Di Hui warriors, and Divine Dragon Cult’s Fat Toutuo. He took his leave from Kangxi and the Empress Dowager, to escort Princess Jianning to Yunnan. Jiu Nan and Ah Ke dressed up as palace maids, they mingled with the other palace maids. Tian Di Hui warriors and Fat Toutuo were also disguised as Wei Xiaobao’s personal attendants, they all wore Valian Cavalry Sergeants uniform.

Wei Xiaobao sat astride the Jade Buckskin horse Prince Kang gave him, with retinue in front and behind him, immensely proud of himself as he set off to the south. He had already sent a messenger to Henan, to tell Shuang’er to head south. He was hoping that they could meet en route. This moment everything was fine except for one small imperfection, namely he missed this gentle, soft, considerate and smart servant girl by his side.

Along the way, all government officials spared no effort in providing extravagant welcome; they were all trying their best to curry this high-ranking official, the marriage envoy’s favor, in short, they licked his behind completely. Wei Xiaobao was bursting with joy, ever since he went on mission out of the Palace, he had never experienced anything as comfortable as this time.

“The old wh0re is very disappointing,” he mused, “Why did she give birth to only one daughter? If she had seventeen, eighteen daughters, laozi will specialize in being marriage envoy, and would escort them all one by one; that way I would eat, drink, and be marry for the rest of my life. Having gold, silver and jewels to splurge sure beats everything else.”

One day they arrived at Zhengzhou [prefecture level city and capital of Henan province in central China]. The prefectural magistrate welcomed the delegation and had them take a rest and lodge for the night at the garden of a local wealthy elite resident. After the grand welcoming feast, Princess Jianning sent for Wei Xiaobao, summoning him to come and chat with her.

Ever since they left Beijing, it had always been like this. Wei Xiaobao was afraid the Princess would beat him up, each time he always had Qian Laoben and Gao Yanchao to accompany him by his side. No matter how earnest the Princess asked him, or threatened him in anger, he simply would not send these two people away to let him alone with her face-to-face.

As usual, after dinner that day, the Princess summoned Wei Xiaobao. The three of them came to the small hall in front of the Princess’ bedroom. The Princess wanted Wei Xiaobao to sit, while Qian and Gao, two people stood behind him. It was in the middle of a very hot summer weather, the Princess was wearing a thin gauze short jacket with open slits in place of sleeves. With circular fans in their hands, the two palace maids behind her were fanning her. The Princess’ face was flushed. There were tiny beads of sweats above her lips, making her look very tender and beautiful.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Although the Princess is not as good-looking as my wife, she could still be considered first class attractive woman. That fellow Wu Yingxiong can marry her, his luck in love is indeed not shallow.”

The Princess cocked her head and smiled. “Xiao Guizi,” she said, “Are you hot?”

“Not bad,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“If you are not hot,” the Princess said, “Why is your forehead sweating a lot?” Wei Xiaobao laughed while using his sleeve to wipe the sweat.

A palace maid entered with a large multicolored porcelain jar in her hands, she said, “Reporting to the Princess: Prefectural Magistrate Meng respectfully presents this iced sour plum drink for the Princess to relieve the summer heat.”

The Princess happily said, “Good, get a bowl for me to taste.”

Another palace maid fetched a blue and white china bowl, poured the sour plum drink, and presented it to the Princess with both hands. The Princess took a soupspoon and drank several mouthfuls. She let out a contented sigh and said, “I could not imagine a tiny Zhengzhou prefecture like this can store ice.”

The sweet-scented osmanthus fragrance from the sour plum drink inundated the room, the ice cubes tinkled against the soupspoon, Wei Xiaobao and Qian and Gao, two people, could not stop their mouths from watering. The Princess said, “Everybody is hot, pour a bowl for each one of them.”

Wei Xiaobao and Qian and Gao, two people, expressed their gratitude. As the ice-cold sour plum drink entered their mouths, a burst of cool air seemed to penetrate their inner beings; it was an unspeakably comfortable feeling. In just a short time, the three of them drank their bowls dry.

The Princess said, “Hastening through this kind of hot weather is quite an ordeal. From tomorrow on, we will travel only forty li a day. We’ll leave early in the morning, and stop to rest as soon as the sun is up.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Princess is so considerate of your subordinates, everybody is very grateful. But I am afraid we will be delayed for quite a long time.”

The Princess laughed and said, “What are you afraid of? I am not in a hurry, why are you anxious? Let that fellow Wu Yingxiong wait, it’ll be good for him.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled. He was just about to reply when suddenly he felt his head was spinning, his body swayed. “What is it?” the Princess asked, “You got heat-stroke?”

“I am afraid … I am afraid I drank too much wine just now,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your highness, Princess, your servant wants to take my leave.”

“You drank too much wine?” the Princess said, “In that case you all have to drink another bowl of sour plum drink to wash the wine away.”

“Many … many thanks,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The palace maid poured three more bowls of sour plum drink. Qian and Gao, two people also felt their heads dizzy. They drank the plum drink in one go. Suddenly the two of them swayed and fell down to the floor. Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he saw stars dancing in front of his eyes, he only drank a mouthful of the sour plum, the rest of it splashed on his body, in a flash he lost his consciousness.

He did not know how long he had been unconscious, but while he was still in daze, he felt like heavy rain was falling on his head. He wanted to open his eyes, but another heavy rain drenched his head. A moment later, his brain started to clear up, he felt his body was ice-cold, suddenly he heard a laughter. When he opened his eyes, he saw the Princess was looking at him, giggling happily.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed; realizing that he was lying on the floor, he hastily wanted to prop himself up. Who would have thought that his hands and feet were bound? He was shocked, and struggled for a moment, but unexpectedly he was unable to move a single step.

He saw that he had been moved into the Princess’ bedroom. His body was soaking wet. Suddenly he also realized that his entire clothes had been stripped clean, he was stark naked without wearing a single thread on him. He was even more scared. “What … what happened?” he called out.

Under the candlelight he only saw the Princess, one person, in the room; the palace maids, Qian and Gao, two people, were gone. He was even more shocked. “I … I …” he stammered.

“You … you … you what?” the Princess said, “You dare to be rude to me?”

“Where are they?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The Princess’ pretty face sank immediately. “I loathe to see your two attendants,” she said, “I have their heads chopped early on.”

Wei Xiaobao was not sure if she was telling the truth or was lying, but thinking that this Princess’ action was unpredictable and did not follow conventional reasoning and morals, he would not be surprised if Qian and Gao, two people, were indeed killed by her. He thought better of it and guessed that there was some trick in the sour plum drink. “Was there any knockout drug in the sour plum drink?” he asked.

The Princess giggled. “You are very smart,” she said, “Too bad it was too late.”

“The knockout drug … did you get it from the Imperial Bodyguards?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

When he released Wu Lishen and the others, he also asked the Imperial Bodyguards for some knockout drugs. Later on he used the knockout drug up to disable Sangjie and the other lamas. This time he was back in Beijing, he immediately asked for another big package from Zhang Kangnian, which he had it inside his traveling sack. ‘Dagger, treasured vest, knockout drug’ were three magic weapons the Little White Dragon Wei Xiaobao used to attack and defend himself. Usually Princess Jianning asked for martial art advice from the Imperial Bodyguards, she often chatted with them about the marvels and legends of the Jianghu; hence he would not be surprised at all if she asked for some knockout drugs from them to play with.

The Princess laughed and said, “You know everything. Yet you did not know there was some knockout drug in the sour plum drink.”

“Princess is a hundred times smarter than your servant,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Princess wants to do anything to me, you want to bind my hands and feet, your servant cannot resist at all.” While his mouth was busy talking, his mind was churning to find a way to escape.

With a cold laugh the Princess said, “Your shifty eyes keep turning around and around, what crafty idea are you thinking about?” Raising Wei Xiaobao’s own dagger, she said, “As soon as you shout one time, I am going to poke eighteen holes on your tummy. Tell me, at that time, will you be a dead eunuch, or a live one?”

Seeing the flickering cold ray of the dagger, Wei Xiaobao mused, “Dead girl, a pest, doing things in total disregard of the law and natural morality; if you casually scratch this dagger anywhere on my body, laozi will definitely die. I must scare her first so that she won’t dare to kill me, and then I’ll think of a way to escape.” Thereupon he said, “At that time, I will be neither dead eunuch nor live eunuch, but I will turn into a blood-sucking ghost, an evil zombie.”

The Princess raised her leg and kicked him heavily on his stomach. “Dead little demon,” she cursed, “You still think of scaring me?”

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao screamed in pain. The Princess said, “I have not tread on your tummy and squeeze your intestine out; did it hurt? Hey, guess how many times I will have to tread on your tummy to squeeze your intestine out? If you guess correctly, I will let you go.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Since people tied up your servant, my brain is getting dumb, I won’t be able to guess anything.”

The Princess said, “Since you won’t be able to guess, I will have to try it. One kick, two kicks, three kicks!” With each count, she raised her foot and kicked his belly.

“That won’t do, that won’t do!” Wei Xiaobao called out, “If you kick me one more time, you will squeeze out the smelly excrement out of my tummy.”

The Princess jumped in fright, and did not dare to kick anymore; she thought that it was not a big deal if she squeezed his intestine out, but if she squeezed his excrement, it would stink to high heavens, then it would not be fun anymore.

“Good Princess,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please release me quickly, Xiao Guizi will obey your command, I will accompany you for a martial art match or a fight.”

The Princess shook her head, “I don’t like fighting,” she said, “I like to beat people!” ‘Shua!’ she drew a whip from underneath the mattress; ‘whack, whack, whack, whack’, successively she lashed the whip on Wei Xiaobao’s fully exposed skin more than a dozen times. Immediately strips of blood appeared. As soon as the Princess saw the blood, she could not help but beaming with joy; she stooped down and gently ran her fingers on his scars.

Wei Xiaobao was hurting so much that it was as if he was roasted over the open fire. “Good Princess,” he pleaded, “I have enough beating from you today, I have not offended you.”

Suddenly the Princess got angry; she kicked his nose heavily, immediately blood flowed out of his nose. “You have not offended me?” she said, “Huangdi Gege is giving me in marriage to that fellow Wu Yingxiong, it was entirely your crafty idea.”

“No, no,” Wei Xiaobao busily said, “It was His Majesty’s holy decision, it has nothing to do with me.”

“You still deny it?” the Princess angrily said, “Empress Dowager has always loved me the most, why is it that I am being given away in marriage far away in Yunnan, the Empress Dowager did not say anything? So much so that when I said goodbye, the Empress Dowager ignored me completely. She … she is my own mother, you know!” While saying that, she covered her face and cried bitterly.

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “The Empress Dowager has been swapped long ago; since the old wh0re swapped the real Empress Dowager, she hates you to the bones, naturally she ignored you completely. She did not curse you or scold you, she can be considered very polite to you. But I can’t tell you this secret.”

The Princess cried for a while, and then hatefully said, “It’s all because you are not good, it’s all because you are not good!” While saying that, she kicked randomly on Wei Xiaobao’s body.

Wei Xiaobao suddenly had a bright idea, “Princess,” he said, “You do not want to marry Wu Yingxiong, why didn’t you say so earlier? I have an idea.”

The Princess opened her eyes and said, “Liar! What idea do you have? This is Huangdi Gege’s decree, nobody can defy.”

“Nobody can defy His Majesty’s imperial decree,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But there is a fellow that even His Majesty cannot do anything to him.”

“Who’s that?” the Princess asked in surprise.

“Yanluo Wang [King of Hell]!” Wei Xiaobao said.

The Princess still did not understand. “What can Yanluo Wang do?” she asked.

“If Yanluo Wang came to help,” Wei Xiaobao started, “He could grab Wu Yingxiong away, then you can’t get married with him.”

The Princess was startled. “How can that happen so conveniently?” she asked, “How can Wu Yingxiong die just like that?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “If he does not want to see Yanluo Wang, we can send him go.”

“Are you saying we should kill him?” the Princess asked.

Wei Xiaobao shook his head. “Not killing him,” he said, “But some people die without any reason, nobody knows the cause of his death.”

The Princess stared at him for half a day, suddenly she shouted, “You tell me to murder my own husband? That won’t do! You told me that this fellow Wu Yingxiong is amazingly handsome, and that all the young women in the world want to marry him. If you kill him, I will deal with you and won’t let this matter rest.” While saying that, she raised the whip again and lashed it out on his body.

Wei Xiaobao could only scream in pain. The Princess laughed and said, “Did it hurt? The more it hurt the more fun it is! It’s just that you are screaming too loud, people outside might hear it. You don’t have a heroic spirit.”

“I am not a hero, I am a coward,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“F*ck your mother!” the Princess cursed, “Turns out you are a coward.”

This ‘golden branch, jade leaves’ belonging to the royal family would suddenly utter such a vulgar language. Wei Xiaobao could not help but was shocked. The Princess casually picked up a sock, which was actually taken from Wei Xiaobao’s own foot, and stuffed it into his mouth. Raising the whip again, she ruthlessly lashed it out on him.

After several lashes, Wei Xiaobao pretended to pass out; he rolled his eyes until only the whites were visible, and stayed still. The Princess cursed, “Little thief, you pretend to be dead? I am going to make three cuts on your belly; if you are really dead, you won’t move at all.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that he could not take the chance and test it out, hastily he turned and twisted to struggle free. The Princess laughed aloud; she raised the whip and lashed it out on his naked body again. ‘Whack, whack, slap, slap!’ the whip cracked sharp and clear.

After lashing the whip more than a dozen times, she tossed the whip down, and said with a giggle, “Zhuge Liang wants to burn the rattan-shield troops.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly anxious, “To meet with this insane woman today, laozi’s nineteen generation ancestors must have committed a lot of sin.”

He heard the Princess was muttering to herself, “The rattan-shield troop do not have rattan-shield on him, it won’t be too easy to burn, I must pour some oil on him.” Finished speaking, she turned around and walked out of the room to find some oil.

Wei Xiaobao struggled desperately, but the rope binding his hands and feet was simply too tight, how could he escape? In his anxiety, he suddenly remembered his shifu. “Laozi has bowed to take quite a few of shifu. The old turtle Hai Dafu was the first, and then Chen Zongduozhu Shifu, Hong Jiaozhu whose long-life-is-the-same-as the-heavens Shifu, Madame Hong the coquettish-fox Shifu, the Young-Emperor Shifu, Cheng Guan the old-monk-martial-nephew Shifu, Jiu Nan the good-looking-nun Shifu, but among these string of shifu, no one has taught me any really useful martial art. If laozi knew superior internal energy, I only need to lightly push the muscle of my hands and my feet, the rope will immediately break; why should I be afraid of that crafty girl burning rattan-shield troops?”

While he was fretful, frightened and anxious, and was busy blaming the gods and accusing other people, suddenly he heard someone outside the window was speaking in a low voice, “Quickly go in and save him out.” It was Jiu Nan, the good-looking-nun Shifu’s voice.

As soon as the voice entered his ears, Wei Xiaobao was so happy that he wanted to jump; it was a pity his hands and feet were tied that he could not jump. He also heard Ah Ke’s voice, “He … he is not wearing any clothes, I can’t save him!”

Wei Xiaobao was furious; he cursed in his heart, “Dead girl, I don’t wear any clothes, why can’t you help me? Could it be that I have to wear clothes before you can save me? If you don’t save your husband, it’s the same as murdering your own husband. You will become young widow, will you be happy then?”

He heard Jiu Nan said, “Just close your eyes, cut the ropes binding his hands and feet, won’t that work?”

“That won’t do,” Ah Ke said, “If I close my eyes, I can’t see. What if … what if I touch his body? Shifu, you save him.”

“I have left home,” Jiu Nan angrily said, “How can I do this kind of things?” Although Wei Xiaobao was young, he was a teenage boy, and he was stark naked, it was quite a disgraceful situation, how could she look?

Wei Xiaobao wanted to scream, “Just get some clothes and throw it in to cover me; won’t that mean you will not see me?” Too bad there was a stinky sock stuffed in his mouth that he could not speak; plus Jiu Nan and Ah Ke, master and disciple, were extremely lacking in their experience to meet a contingency.

The two of them were dressing up as palace maids, they applied yellow powder on their beautiful faces; usually they were afraid the Princess would question them, hence they only mingled with palace maids who did heavy work, and had never seen the Princess’ face.

That evening they heard indistinct cracking of whips and the screaming noise coming from the Princess’ bedroom, thereupon they same to the bedroom window to take a look. They saw Wei Xiaobao, completely stripped off his clothes and bound, was being ruthlessly whipped by the Princess.

While outside the window Jiu Nan, master and disciple, had not reached an agreement, Princess Jianning already returned to the bedroom; she giggled and said, “Momentarily I cannot find any pig oil, cow oil, or vegetable oil, we will have no choice but to extract some black bear oil by heat. [The original word for ‘coward’ is ‘black bear’] You said it yourself, you are not a hero [yingxiong] but a coward [gouxiong/black bear]; I have never seen what black bear oil look like. Have you seen it?” While saying that, she picked up a candlestick from the table and used the flame to burn the flesh of Wei Xiaobao’s chest.

Under severe pain, Wei Xiaobao jerked his body backward. The Princess grabbed his hair with her left hand to prevent him from moving, while with her right hand she continued burning his skin. Shortly afterwards, burning smell arose. Jiu Nan was shocked. Instantly he pushed the window open, lifted up Ah Ke and threw her into the room. “Quickly save him!” she shouted, while she herself turned around with eyes closed tight to avoid seeing Wei Xiaobao’s nakedness.

Being thrown into the room by her shifu, Ah Ke saw saw the smooth naked body of Wei Xiaobao in front of her eyes; she did not want to look, but it was too late. Without any choice she stretched out her palm to hack down the back of Princess Jianning’s neck.

“Who’s there?” the Princess called out in alarm. She used her left hand to block, but due to the sudden movement of her right hand, the candle flame went out. However, there were still four or five red candles burning on the table, hence the room was still bright enough to see.

Ah Ke successively made her move; how could the Princess be her match? ‘Crack, crack’ twice, her right arm and her left leg were twisted out of joint, and she fell by the bedside. She had quite an unyielding temperament, her mouth was still cursing in rage.

Ah Ke angrily said, “It’s you who are not good, and you are still cursing others?” Suddenly ‘Ah!’ she broke crying, in her heart she felt she was deeply wronged.

The Princess was stunned; she stopped cursing. She thought, you were the one who beat me up, why are you crying instead? Ah Ke grabbed the dagger from the floor and cut the rope binding Wei Xiaobao’s hands and feet; her face blushed deep red from shame. Tossing the dagger away, she flew out the window and disappeared. Jiu Nan followed behind her.

The commotion inside the room was like the sky and the earth turning upside down, naturally the palace maids and eunuchs outside had heard it early on. However, they had been warned by the Princess, no matter how strange the noise inside, without being summoned, nobody was allowed to come in. Whoever stuck his or her head into the room, that head would be chopped down. Everybody looked at each other in dismay; they all have a strange look on their faces.

This Princess loved to fool around since she was little; hundreds and thousands of weird tricks emerged one after another, for many years these people were used to her antics, nobody suspected anything. The Princess’ own mother was a fake goods born of the uncultivated land of the Jianghu, how could she control and guide her daughter? Shunzhi left home to become a monk, Kangxi was still young, even if Princess Jianning was more undisciplined and out of control than this, nobody cared.

A moment ago the Princess summoned the palace maids and eunuchs into the room to drag the fainted Qian Laoben and Gao Yanchao out and bind them up. Everybody knew there would be some strange occurrences tonight. Yet it never occurred in anybody’s mind that the Princess could, unexpectedly, be beaten and rendered immovable by other people.

Hearing his good-looking-nun Shifu and Ah Ke already left far away, Wei Xiaobao pulled the sock from his mouth, turned around to close the window, and cursed, “Stinky girl, have you ever seen fox-spirit oil? I haven’t. How about we extract some by heat so we can look at it?”

He kicked her twice, grabbed and twisted her hands behind her back. He ripped a piece of her skirt, and tied her hands with it. The Princess’ hand and leg’s joints were dislocated, she was in so much pain that her brow was beaded with sweat, how could she resist? Wei Xiaobao grabbed the front of her clothes and pulled it hard. ‘Rip’ her clothes was immediately ripped apart. The gauze vest she was wearing was thin to begin with, as soon as it was torn, the snow white flesh of her chest was exposed.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was filled with hatred. He picked up the candlestick from the floor, lighted it, and put the flame on her chest. “Stinky girl,” he cursed, “The payback is coming soon. I don’t need too much fox-spirit oil, I only need to extract some by heat to fill the sour plum bowl; it will be enough.”

“Ah!” the Princess screamed in pain. Wei Xiaobao said, “Ah right, you must also taste my stinky sock.”

He stooped down to pick up the sock and was about to stuff it into her mouth. The Princess suddenly said in a soft voice, “Gui Beilei, don’t stuff the sock in my mouth, I won’t scream.”

As soon as the three characters ‘Gui Beilei’ entered his ears, Wei Xiaobao was stunned. That day, in the Princess’ bedroom in the Palace, she took the role of a servant and attended to him, she also addressed him as ‘Gui Beilei’. Right now hearing her calling him intimately with the same appellation, he could not stop his heart from being moved. He heard her speaking in a soft voice, “Gui Beilei, please spare your servant. If you are not happy, just whip your servant to vent your anger.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I don’t whip you ruthlessly, it will be difficult to purge the hatred from my heart.” Putting down the candle, he picked up the whip and lashed it out on her.

The Princess cried softly, “Aiyo, aiyo!” She closed her charming eyes into a slit, yet there was a hint of smile on her cherry lips, as if she was experiencing an unspeakable comfort.

“S1ut,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Are you happy?”

The Princess replied softly, “I … your servant is a s1ut; would Gui Beilei hit me a bit harder, please? Aiyo!”

Wei Xiaobao tossed the whip away. “I won’t hit you!” he said. Turning around, he tried to find his clothes, but did not know where she had hidden them. “Where is my clothes?” he asked.

“Please,” the Princess said, “Help me fix my dislocated joints, let … let your servant attend Gui Beilei to dress.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Although this s1ut is weird, the Emperor has sent me to escort her to Yunnan. I can’t kill her.” He cursed, “F*ck your granny, you are a stinky little girl.” He continued in his heart, “Your Ma is the old wh0re, laozi does not have any appetite for her. Your granny does not have anything good in her, but laozi has never seen her.”

“Isn’t it fun?” the Princess asked.

“Your granny is fun,” Wei Xiaobao angrily replied. Lifting up her arm, he located the joint, and tried hard to fix it. But he did not know the technique to set broken bones; it was only after several tries was he finally able to fix the dislocated joint. The Princess did not stop crying ‘aiyo, aiyo!’ from the pain.

By the time her dislocated leg joint was fixed, the Princess was leaning over his back. The two people’s bare skin and flesh touched, Wei Xiaobao felt his lips dry his tongue parched, while his heart was burning. “Could you just sit down?” he said, “If you are like this, laozi might treat you as my wife.”

“But I want you to treat me as your wife,” the Princess said intimately. Her arms embraced him tight. Wei Xiaobao struggled lightly, he wanted to push her away, but the Princess pulled him and planted a kiss on his lips.

Immediately Wei Xiaobao felt his head spinning and his vision blurred, followed by his heart fluttering, as if he was inside the cloud and mist. He suddenly found out that the s1ut, fox-spirit in front of his eyes was unspeakably pretty and adorable. The red candles in the room went out one by one. Wei Xiaobao was in between asleep and awake states, his mind was fuzzy, he had no conscience where he was.

In his blurry, dazed state, suddenly he head Ah Ke’s voice outside the window, “Xiaobao, are you in there?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, instantly he woke up from a beautiful dream. “I am here,” he replied.

“What are you doing? Why are you still here?” Ah Ke angrily asked.

Wei Xiaobao panicked. “Yes!” he said, “I am not … not doing anything.” He wanted to shove the Princess away and get out of the bed, but the Princess firmly embraced him.

“Don’t go,” she said quietly, “Tell her to get the hell out of here. Who is she anyway?”

“She … she is my wife,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The Princess said, “I … I am you wife, she is not.”

Ah Ke was ashamed and angry at the same time. She stomped her feet, turned around and left.

“Shijie, Shijie!” Wei Xiaobao called out. He did not hear any reply. Suddenly a pair of warm and soft lips closed his own, so that he could not call anymore.

The next morning Wei Xiaobao wore his clothes, and tiptoed out of the Princess’ bedroom. He asked the eunuch in-waiting outside the room, and found out that Qian Laoben and Gao Yanchao were all right, they were still bound inside a room on the eastern wing. He was relieved, but was quite ashamed as well; he did not dare to meet those two. Thereupon he ordered the eunuch to quickly release them.

Back to his own room, he was joyous, but a little afraid. He did not dare to think too much, hence he crawled underneath his quilt and fell asleep.

Later on that afternoon he came to see Jiu Nan, with head hung low, and his face blushed deep red; thinking that this time Shifu surely would punish him severely, perhaps she would beat him to death with one palm strike. Who would have thought that Jiu Nan did not know what happened at all, instead, she warmly comforted him, “That girl is so mean,” she said, “Like a mother like a daughter. Are you hurt really bad?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly relieved. “Not bad,” he said, “Only … only … fortunately she did not injure my muscle and bones.” Seeing Ah Ke was glowering at him, he said, “I owe it to Shifu and Shijie for rescuing me; otherwise she … she would definitely burn me to death last night.”

Ah Ke said, “You … you … last night …” Suddenly she blushed and did not continue.

Wei Xiaobao said, “She … the Princess … put some knockout drug. Shijie jumped into the room to rescue me, but she … at that time the effect of the drug has not worn out, I was unable to move.”

Jiu Nan took a pity on him, she said, “Although I have accepted you as my disciple, all along I have not passed on any martial art to you; unexpectedly you were bullied by that little girl.”

If Wei Xiaobao had a mind to train excellent martial art, he should have asked her in earnest, and Jiu Nan would have gladly taught him. He only needed to train a little, and would have reaped lifelong benefit. But for anything that needs hard work, he was afraid he might fall short. When he was bound, whipped and burned by the Princess the previous night, he blamed all his shifus for not teaching him martial arts, yet right this moment when his shifu really wanted to teach him, he hummed and hawed instead. “Shifu,” he said, “I have a terrible headache, as if my head is about to split open. I also feel like the skin and muscle on my entire body is about to fall piece by piece.”

Jiu Nan nodded and said, “Just go and rest; later on just see this little girl less, if you really have to see her, take a dozen or so people with you, she won’t possibly give you any trouble publicly. When she gives you any food or drink, no matter what you must not eat or drink it.”

Wei Xiaobao repeatedly said, “Yes.” He was about to withdraw when Jiu Nan suddenly asked, “Why did she beat you up last night? Didn’t she know that the Emperor is very fond of you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “She … she did not want to go to Yunnan to get married, she said that it was my idea. It seems to me that he little s1ut knew that we, master and disciple, dealt with her mother.” By telling minor lie like that, he was pushing most of the blame of the Princess beating him last night to Jiu Nan.

Jiu Nan nodded, “Most likely her mother has told her. From now on you must be extra careful.” She thought, “When I dealt with the fake Empress Dowager at the Palace that day, I was quite ruthless; but Xiaobao did not show his face at all that time. Could it be that the fake Empress Dowager had an inkling and ordered her daughter to retaliate?”

The party slowly continued southwest. Every evening, the Princess always quietly summoned Wei Xiaobao to accompany her. At first Wei Xiaobao was still afraid his shifu and his Tian Di Hui companions might find out, but as these two young people had just found the matter between man and woman, once the extremely sweet and charming Princess wrapping her body around his, how could he be willing to give this experience up? Even a gentleman might not necessarily be able to resist, much less he had never received any proper training in human relationships or etiquette.

For the first several days he would sneak out quietly at night. Later on he would stay in the Princess’ bedroom the whole night. During the day he was the marriage envoy, in the nights he was the prince consort. All the palace maids and court eunuchs dreaded the Princess, plus Wei Xiaobao unceasingly rewarded them with large quantities of money; who would dare to utter even half a sentence about this affair?

When Ah Ke twisted the Princess’ joints that night, naturally the Princess wanted to know who was this ‘Shijie’, yet with graceful words, flowery speech Wei Xiaobao was able to skirt around this question. The Princess’ character was rather coarse, plus she was at the heat of the passion, hence she did not inquire further.

These two, a young man and a young woman, had just tasted the passion for the first time; it was like oil mixed in honey. In her cunning and reckless temperament, the Princess always playfully assumed the role of a slave, as soon as he entered the room, she would kneel down and greeted him, “Gui Beilei, Gui Fuma [consort, emperor’s son-in-law]” unceasingly.

When Fang Yi tricked Wei Xiaobao to go to the Divine Dragon Island, during the voyage, she only treated him with intimate manners and tender words, driving him crazy [orig. bewilder him until his six vital organs fail]. This time he was truly overwhelmed with joy, the Princess drove him even more crazy. The two of them only hoped that the journey would never last. Even though Ah Ke mingled among the palace maids, Wei Xiaobao knew perfectly well that she would never treat him like the Princess did; unexpectedly Wei Xiaobao did not try to curry favor from Ah Ke like he usually did.

One day they arrived at Changsha [prefecture, capital of Hunan province, south central China]. From the Divine Dragon Island Lu Gaoxuan caught up with them on fast horse, carrying with him the Cult Leader Hong’s verbal order, telling him that the Cult Leader was extremely delighted to receive the two copies of sutra, commending the White Dragon Envoy for handling this matter with dedication, that he was astute and competent, that he was indeed our Cult’s great minister who had given outstanding service. The Cult Leader especially bestowed him with the leopard embryo tendon-altering pill’s antidote.

With all the majesty of a royalty these past few days, Wei Xiaobao had already forgotten that there was an acute poison in his body. Hearing the message, he was nonetheless very happy. Immediately he, along with Lu Gaoxuan and Fat Toutuo, took the antidote. Lu and Fat, two people, bowed to express their gratitude, saying that it was entirely due to the White Dragon Envoy establishing this great merit that the two of them could enjoy the Cult Leader’s favor in the form of this legendary magic potion of the immortals, that the calamity in their bosoms was eliminated.

Lu Gaoxuan said, “Jiaozhu and Madame passed on an order to the White Dragon Envoy: the remaining six copies of the sutra must still be sought. If the White Dragon Envoy can render this distinguished merit, Jiaozhu would not be stingy in bestowing his reward.”

“Naturally I will strive to do that,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Jiaozhu and Madame’s favor is as heavy as the mountain, even if our bodies are torn our bones are crushed, it is difficult to repay.”

Fat and Lu, two people said together, “Jiaozhu will enjoy the immortal good fortune forever, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s. White Dragon Envoy will enjoy a life of ease and comfort forever, and live as long as Mount Nan.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled without saying anything. He mused, “What’s so good about enjoying life in ease and comfort? If I can enjoy romantic good fortune every day like this forever, having a life as long as Mount Nan will make a bit more sense.”

[1] In mythology or popular fiction, the army of the Dragon King or the Eastern Sea. It simply means ‘useless troops’.

[2] Yue Fei (1102-1142), Song Dynasty’s patriot and fames general. Qin Hui (1090-1155), Song Dynasty official who betrayed General Yue Fei and had him executed.

[3] “Iron-Capped Prince”, refers to a royal title, which is hereditary, and, in theory, passed down into perpetuity. For most titles given during the Qing dynasty, the son of the person who was awarded a royal rank would inherit a “diluted” title which is one rank lower than their father’s title (and their son would inherit a title one rank lower than their own, and so on and so forth). But those princes who were awarded an “Iron-Capped” title would be able to pass their title down to their children undiluted, and so on and so forth.

[4] Manchurian for Viscount of the Third Class.Wei Xiaobao’s peerage title of Zǐ (子), was actualy only used in the 18th century onwards. Therefore,Wei Xiaobao should be a First Class Jing Qi Ni Ha Pan [一等精奇尼哈番], rather than a First Class Zi [一等子]. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[5] Set of expression, often made up of four characters, or two couplets of four characters each, often alluding to a story or historical quotation.

Chapter 30 Small town of the southern dynasty leans to be domineering, troops of western provinces are the most light and nimble.

Wei Xiaobao and the Princess wished that the journey to Yunnan would not reach the end forever, but although the road was long, and the journey was slow, there would be a day when they arrived at the destination. Guizhou province was Wu Sangui’s territory; a massive military force was stationed at Luodian [county], Guizhou. Princess Jianning’s party had just entered the border of Guizhou province, Wu Sangui had already dispatched his troops and horses to meet them. By the time they entered Yunnan, Wu Yingxiong himself came out to welcome them. Seeing Wei Xiaobao, he did not stop expressing his gratitude.

According to the royal court protocol, he and the Princess could not see each other before the wedding ceremony. By this time however, the Princess and Wei Xiaobao had been stuck together as by glue; hearing about Wu Yingxiong’s arrival, immediately her willow-like eyebrows went straight up, and she threw a fit.

That night the Princess told Wei Xiaobao to think of a way to send Wu Yingxiong to see Yan Wang, so that the two of them could live forever as husband and wife. Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright; he thought that there was no harm in sneakily being a fake consort in the night, but he must never be a real consort.

Seeing him frowning and muttering to himself irresolutely, the Princess angrily said, “Why aren’t you saying anything? Sending that fellow Wu Yingxiong to see Yan Wang was your own idea, it wasn’t mine.”

“We must send him all right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But we must wait for a good opportunity before making our move. We must not raise anybody’s suspicion.”

“Alright,” the Princess said, “I’ll listen to you for the time being. In short, I only want to be with you, I will definitely not share my bed with this fellow. If you don’t send him out to see Yan Wang, if what we are doing is revealed to the world, I will tell Wu Sangui that you have raped me. Even if Huangdi Gege favored you more than this, I am afraid Wu Sangui will still chop you into seventeen or twenty-eight pieces. You are going to see the old man Yan Wang first; just consider it you are preceding Wu Yingxiong as his advance party officer!”

Wei Xiaobao was enraged; he waved his hand in a slapping motion, and shouted, “Nonsense! When did I ever rape you?”

The Princess giggled and chuckled, she stretched out her arm to embrace him, while saying in soft voice, “You are such a heartless, short-lived little lover; you slapped me that heavily, aren’t you afraid you might hurt me?”

One day they arrived at Kunming [prefecture, capital of Yunnan]; they heard bugle horns and a military officer announced, “Ping Xi Wang welcomes Princess’ phoenix[1]-self.”

Wei Xiaobao urged his horse to move forward, he saw a team of soldiers in bright shining armor, riding on tall horses, galloping to meet them. They dismounted together, and arranged themselves on either side of the road. Amidst the sound of bamboo flute and string instruments, several hundreds young boys wearing red gown with banners in their hands preceding a general stepping out in front of the troops. A herald loudly announced, “Your servant Ping Xi Qin Wang Wu Sangui pays his respect to Your Highness Princess Jianning.”

Wei Xiaobao looked up and down carefully, sizing up Wu Sangui. He was a man of grand stature, with deep red, almost purple face, he had more white than black in his hair and beard; although he was old, his gait was still strong and healthy as he walked over in big strides. Wei Xiaobao mused, “People all over the world are talking about this old turtle’s reputation, turns out he has this kind of appearance.”

Seeing he walked to the Princess’ carriage, kneeled down and kowtowed, Wei Xiaobao stood by his side, and said in his heart first, “The old turtle Wu Sangui pays his respect.” But he waited until Wu Sangui finished kowtowing before announcing, “Ping Xi Qin Wang pays his respect.”

Wu Sangui stood up, walked over toward Wei Xiaobao, and said with a laugh, “And this must be the brave warrior who captured Oboi, the world famous Wei Jueye [master viscount]?”

Wei Xiaobao paid his respect and said, “I do not dare to accept the honor. Humble officer pays his respect to Wangye.”

Wu Sangui laughed aloud, grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s hand, and said, “Wei Jueye is kind and virtuous, Xiao Wang [little king, referring to self] has been looking forward to meeting your illustrious self for a long time; please disperse with this perfunctory propriety. Henceforth Xiao Wang, father and son, will rely on Wei Jueye to preserve our existence. If you think we are worthy to receive the favor, please consider us your own famiy.”

Wei Xiaobao noticed the Yangzhou accent in his speech, and was thirty-percent happy. “Hot piece Mama,” he mused, “Looks like you and I are fellow townsmen.” He said, “I really do not dare to accept the honor; how can humble officer dare to claim connections with people of higher social class?” He also added several percent of Yangzhou accent into his speech.

Wu Sangui laughed and asked, “So Wei Jueye also from Yangzhou?”

“Precisely,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“That’s even better,” Wu Sangui said, “Xiao Wang’s official residence is Liaodong, but my ancestral home is actually Gaoyou, Yangzhou. We are actually real kinsmen.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Hot piece Mama, turns out you are Gaoyou’s salted duck egg. Yangzhou could produce a big traitor like you, laozi is actually quite ashamed.”

Wu Sangui and Wei Xiaobao rode side-by-side; they rode in the front, leading the Princess entering the city. The people of Kunming heard that the Princess was about to marry Ping Xi Wang Heir Apparent, the street was already lined with a sea of people, the city was bustling with noise and excitement. There were lanterns everywhere, archways were decorated, houses and building were adorned with celebratory hanging scrolls; the sound of gongs and drums, mixed with firecrackers, shook the heavens.

Wei Xiaobao and Wu Sangui entered the city side-by-side. Seeing people were bowing to welcome them, he was very proud of himself. But then he had a second thought, “A princess as pretty as the flower and jade, coquettish and coy, for no reason is given to that fellow Wu Yingxiong to be his wife, and laozi has to escort his bride for thousands of li, this stinky fellow’s luck in love is indeed too good.” Therefore, he also felt indignant.

Wu Sangui welcomed the Princess at the Anfu[2] Garden west of the City of Kunming, which was Ming Dynasty’s Qian Guo Gong[3] Mu Family’s former residence. It was a lofty multi-story building, overlooking a garden pavilion with splendid view. As soon as Wu Sangui learned about the Princess was given into marriage to his son, he carried out a large-scale construction effort to renovate the building that it looked completely new. After Wu Sangui, father and son, paid their respect to the Princess from behind a hanging curtain, they accompanied Wei Xiaobao to the Ping Xi Wang Mansion.

Ping Xi Wang Mansion was located on Mount Wu Hua[4], which was the former palace of Ming Dynasty’s Emperor Yong Li. The palace encompassed a vast area of several li square. After Wu Sangui occupied the palace, over the last few years he constantly added multi-story expansions and pavilions. By this time, the lofty towers and engraved walls, the red pavilions and jade-green ponds, hardly differed from the inner courtyards of the Imperial Palace.

A grand banquet was already prepared in the main hall. All civil and military officials under Wu Sangui’s banner came to accompany the guests. Naturally the Imperial Envoy, high-ranking official Wei Xiaobao sat at the seat of honor.

After three rounds of drink, Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wangye, back in Beijing, I often heard people say that you wanted to rebel …” Wu Sangui’s countenance turned ashen instantly, the countenance of a hundred or so officials also changed, only to hear Wei Xiaobao continued, “… as I came to the Mansion today, I knew that those people were talking rubbish.”

Wu Sangui calmed down somewhat. “Please Wei Jueye understand,” he said, “Despicable and lowly people are jealous of me and always trying to plant false evidence against me; you must never believe them.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I think that the reason you wanted to rebel is no more than to be the Emperor. But His Majesty’s Palace is not as magnificent as yours, his clothes are not as beautiful as yours. His Majesty’s food was under my management, but I am very ashamed to say that it is not as delicious as your mansion’s. Being the Ping Xi Wang, you live a much more comfortable life than His Majesty; why would you want to be the Emperor? When I get back to Beijing, I will report to His Majesty that Ping Xi Wang is definitely not going to rebel. Even if you are asked to be the Emperor, you, Senior, would never be willing.”

In that instant, the main hall was quiet, all the officials halted their cups in the air and did not drink, they all stared at him, not understanding his ‘neither fish nor fowl’ speech; their hearts were pounding. Wu Sangui’s face alternated between red and white; he was at a loss of how to respond. He thought, “From what he said, obviously the Emperor has already suspected that I intend to rebel.” With no other choice, he let out a hollow laugh and said, “His Majesty is wise and filial, he always makes determined efforts to govern. Indeed, of all the virtuous Emperors of the past, no one is as good as him.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “‘Raw bird fish soup’ [niao sheng yu tang, see Chapter 14], stepping down gracefully.”

Wu Sangui was startled; after a while, he understood that Wei Xiaobao meant to say ‘Yao Shun Yu Tang’ [also Chapter 14]. He said, “Humble minister admires His Majesty’s frugal virtue, actually I do not dare to live a sumptuous life every day; it’s just that the holy graciousness has swept vast, the Princess is here to marry, we do not dare to be negligent in hospitality, and have to put our heart and soul in serving the Princess and Wei Jueye. After the wedding is over, we will have to save greatly.” He thought that when this fellow returned to Beijing, he would report to the Emperor that I indulge in a life of luxury in here, of course the Emperor will get mad; it would be best if I can close his mouth.

Who would have thought that Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “Still, having money to spend, live an indulgent life is better. You are the Wangye, if you do not live off your wealth, why bother being a Wangye? If you dislike having too much gold and silver, afraid that you won’t be able to spend it, I can help you spending it, why can’t I? Ha ha!”

As soon as he said those words, Wu Sangui was greatly delighted, as if a large chunk of rock in his heart had just fallen to the ground; thinking that if you are willing to accept money, won’t that be easy?

Hearing him openly asking for money during the banquet, the civil and military officials were beaming from ear to ear, they all thought that he was just a kid after all, dealing with him should be easy. Everybody was drinking merrily, while in their hearts they were thinking of how to present the bribe. The former awkward and terrified atmosphere was swept clean, everyone sang the praises of his achievements and virtue, tooted their horns and licked his behind, and then dispersed after a happy time.

Wu Yingxiong personally escorted Wei Xiaobao back to Anfu Garden. They entered the main hall and were seated. Wu Yingxiong presented a brocade box with both hands, saying, “Here are some change; would Wei Jueye please accept to cover your incidental expenses? When your honorable-self is returning to the north, Fu Wang [father king] will have another way to compensate for Wei Jueye’s trouble.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “There is no need to stand on ceremonies. When I left the Capital, His Majesty said to me, ‘Xiao Guizi, everybody says that Wu Sangui is a treacherous court official. Go and personally investigate for me whether he is a loyal minister or a treacherous official. You must a bit more cautious, don’t make any mistake.’ So I said, ‘Your Majesty, please set your heart at ease, your servant will open my eyes wide, from start to finish I will investigate clearly.’ Ha ha, Xiao Wangye, don’t you agree that loyal or treacherous will be decided in just a mouth?”

Wu Yingxiong could not help but was secretly enraged, “Your Great Qing’s rivers and mountains were handed over by my father so that you could lay your foundation. After the great undertaking, you forget favors and violate justice by coming to investigate whether we, father and son, are loyal or treacherous. In that case, it seems that the Princess is given to marriage is not necessarily out of good intention.” He said, “We, father and son, are loyal and devoted in working for His Majesty. Even if we became dogs or horses, we could not ever repay His Majesty’s benevolence.”

Wei Xiaobao crossed his leg and said, “That’s right, I always knew you are most loyal. If His Majesty did not trust you, he would never have you as his Meifu [younger sister’s husband]. Xiao Wangye, as soon as you become the Emperor’s Meifu, you will rise eight levels, your promotion will come very quickly.”

“That is due to His Majesty’s vast and mighty heavenly grace,” Wu Yingxiong said, “I can’t thank Wei Jueye enough for helping me maintaining my social circle.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “I am helping you to be the little turtle, I wonder if you will be deeply grateful.”

After sending off Wu Yingxiong, he opened the brocade box to see the contents. Inside there were ten packs of banknotes, each pack consisted of forty sheets, each sheet worth five hundred taels; altogether there were two hundred thousand taels of silver. Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised; he mused, “He is very extravagant with gifts, two hundred thousand taels for incidental expenses. If laozi needs large spending money, how much will I get? One million, two millions?”

The next day Wu Yingxiong invited the Imperial Minister Marriage Envoy to visit the military drill ground to inspect the troops. Wei Xiaobao and Wu Sangui stood side-by-side on the reviewing platform. Two Dutong [Commander/Lieutenant General] under Ping Xi Wang’s command led several dozen Zuoling [Company Commander] in full battle gear, with helmet on their heads and full armor, dismounted in front of the platform and saluted. Following which, team-by-team troops and horses performed demonstration under the platform.

After the border guards came the newly organized Wu Ying Zhong Yong [five-battalion loyal and brave] troops and Wu Ying Yi Yong [five-battalion righteous and courageous] troops; each battalion was led by a Zong Bing Tong [regional commander]. From the formation and the demonstration, it was obvious that these troops were ‘strong soldiers and sturdy horses’, a well-trained and powerful army.

Although Wei Xiaobao was completely without any knowledge of military affairs, seeing the majestic display of the troops, with unending flow of one team after another, he said to Wu Sangui, “Wangye, today I really submit to you. I am the Commander of the Valiant Cavalry Brigade, our Valiant Cavalry Brigade is His Majesty’s personal troops, but I am ashamed to mention it. If we were to fight your Zhong Yong Brigade and Yi Yong Brigade, our Valiant Cavalry Brigade would be routed, would definitely flee to the wilderness.”

Wu Sangui was very proud of himself; he said with a laugh, “Wei Jueye’s compliment, I am ashamed and dare not accept. Xiao Wang was born of military family; training troops is my original occupation.”

They heard the booming artillery sound, the troops shouted together, their voice shook the four corners of the field. Wei Xiaobao was greatly shocked, his knees turned to jelly, his buttocks dropped into his chair, and his face turned ashen immediately.

Wu Sangui snickered inwardly, “You are merely a puppet minister by the Emperor’s side, relying on graceful words and flowering speech to coax the young Emperor’s favor; other than that, what fart do you have? A yellow-mouthed little kid whose smell of mother’s milk not yet dried, unexpectedly can become a Viscount, the Valiant Cavalry Brigade Commander, and Imperial Envoy Minister. Clearly the young Emperor is confused; how can he assign you as his trusted aide?” He did not have any regard toward Kangxi to begin with, and now that he had seen Wei Xiaobao’s worthless appearance, he was even more delighted, thinking that the imperial court did not have any capable person, there was nothing to worry about.

After the troop inspection was finished, Wei Xiaobao took out the Emperor’s Imperial Edict and handed it over to Wu Sangui, saying, “This is His Majesty’s Imperial Edict, why don’t Wangye read it for everybody to hear?”

Wu Sangui kneeled down to receive it; he said, “It is His Majesty’s Imperial Edict, it would be better if the Imperial Envoy read it out loud.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It recognizes me, but I do not recognize it. I am totally illiterate; how can I read?”

Wu Sangui laughed; he held the Imperial Edict with both hands, turned toward the troops and read it out loud. His voice was clear and sonorous, backed with abundant chi, sentence-by-sentence reached far away. The tens of thousands troops on the field bent their knees to kneel; they listened in absolute silence [orig. the crow and peacock made no sound].

The Imperial Edict commended Ping Xi Qin Wang’s excellent service and heavy merit, his diligence in handling the royal matter, in guarding the border, in pacifying the non-Han ethnics. Without exception all the generals and soldiers under his command had rendered merit, all were to be promoted one level and to be granted some rewards. After the reading of the Imperial Edict was done, Wu Sangui kowtowed to the north and called out, “Respectfully thank Your Majesty’s grace, long live Your Majesty!”

All the troops echoed, “Respectfully thank Your Majesty’s grace, long live Your Majesty!”

This time Wei Xiaobao was prepared, he was not startled; but as tens of thousands troops shouted their earth-shattering shout, his heart was shaken, he could not stand steadily.

Returning to the Ping Xi Wang Mansion, Wu Sangui consulted with him the Princess’ wedding day. Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows and looked very unhappy.

Wu Sangui said, “The fourth of next month is the ecliptic propitious day, having a wedding would have great luck, great profit. What does Wei Jueye think about that date?”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Once the Princess is given in marriage to Wu Yingxiong, I can’t be the fake consort anymore.” He said, “Don’t you think it is too soon? The Princess getting married is not a small matter. Wangye should give everything thorough consideration. Let me be honest with you: Empress Dowager and His Majesty the Emperor dote on this Princess very much. If there is anything less than perfect, it won’t be too convenient for us as the servants.”

Wu Sangui was apprehensive; he thought, “You deliberately make things difficult, are you not trying to extort bribe?” He laughed and said, “Yes, yes. I leave it all to Wei Jueye’s discretion. Whatever it is that you think is inappropriate, please give us direction, we will strive to do it for you. If the fourth is too rushing, the sixteenth of next month is also an extremely good day, it does not clash with the Princess and my son’s birth date, all taboos are off.”

“Very well!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will ask for instructions from the Princess; let’s see what she has to say.”

Returning to Anfu Garden, he found a lot of Yunnan officials were already waiting to have an audience with him. Wei Xiaobao received their gifts, spoke some perfunctory words, and sent them away. Remembering that ever since his arrival in Yunnan he had not seen his sworn brother Yang Yizhi, he sent a messenger to Wu Yingxiong, asking him to sent Yang Yizhi over to see him.

Yang Yizhi did not appear, it was Wu Yingxiong who personally came to see him, saying, “Wei Jueye, Fu Wang has sent Yang Yizhi on a mission and he has not returned yet; he cannot come to serve Jueye.”

Wei Xiaobao was quite disappointed. “I wonder where he is going?” he asked, “And when is he coming back?”

Wu Yingxiong’s countenance changed slightly; he said, “He … he went to Tibet, it’s far away from here; this time … I am afraid Wei Jueye won’t be able to see him.”

Noticing his vague answer, Wei Xiaobao thought, “His words is incomplete and not honest; what trick is he playing?” He asked, “I wonder what mission Yang Xiong is doing in Tibet? How long has he been gone?”

“Nothing important,” Wu Yingxiong replied, “The Tibetan Lama sent someone to deliver a gift, Fu Wang then sent Yang Yizhi to send a gift in return. He left a few days ago.”

“It’s very unfortunate,” Wei Xiaobao said.

After sending Wu Yingxiong off, the more he thought, the more he felt something was amiss. They knew very well that he was a good friend of Yang Yizhi; why was it that as he arrived in Yunnan, Yang Yizhi happened to be sent away on a mission, and not a moment later or a moment sooner? Wei Xiaobao had just arrived in Yunnan, Wu Sangui sent Yang Yizhi away, it seemed like Wu Sangui intentionally did not want Yang Yizhi to meet Wei Xiaobao. Immediately he summoned Zhao Qixian and Zhang Kangnian, two people, and ordered them to have a drink and gamble with Wu Sangui, father and son’s bodyguards, to try to make discreet inquiry about Yang Yizhi.

When he met the Princess that evening, he mentioned to her that the wedding date had been set to be the sixteenth of the next month. The Princess said, “I want you to send this fellow Wu Yingxiong to see Yan Wang before the wedding day; otherwise, during the ritual [of kneeling to heaven and earth] I will scream and yell. I don’t want to marry him no matter what.”

Wei Xiaobao’s mood was already bad, hearing her like that, his temper flared. He stomped his feet and stormed out of the room. The Princess grabbed and pulled his hand, but he flung her away heavily, and rushed out of the room. The Princess screamed and yelled, but he pretended not to hear.

After sitting alone for half a day, he was bored; thereupon he called for a dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards to throw dice and gamble with him; only then did he feel better.

Gambling to the middle of the night, Zhao Qixian and Zhang Kangnian entered the room. Wei Xiaobao had the dice in his hand, but had not tossed it down yet; seeing the two of them, he laughed and said, “Right now the banker is lousy, if you want to lay your bet, better do it early.”

Zhao Qixian said, “The matter which Fu Zongguan [deputy chief] ordered us to do, subordinates have found some information.”

“Good!” Wei Xiaobao said, and tossed the dice. He got heaven’s gate. After paying the upper and lower gates, he pulled the two men’s hands and took them to the side room. “What is it?” he asked.

Zhao Qixian said, “Reporting to Fu Zongguan: that Yang Yizhi really did not go to Tibet. Turns out he violated something and Ping Xi Wang locked him up.”

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows. “What did he do?” he wondered aloud.

Zhao Qixian said, “Subordinates had some drink with some mansion’s guards, we mentioned that we knew this man surnamed Yang, and wanted to invite him to drink and gamble with us. A guard said, ‘So you are looking for Yang Yizhi? He has gone to Hei Kanzi [lit. black/dark raised ground, or simply black hole in the ground].’ I asked him where Hei Kanzi is. Another guard scolded the first guard as talking rubbish, saying that he loves to joke, telling me not to believe him.”

“Hei Kanzi?” Wei Xiaobao muttered to himself.

“We knew something’s fishy here,” Zhao Qixian continued, “After drinking with them for a while, we excused ourselves. On the way back here, we asked around and found out that Hei Kanzi is a big prison. It was then that we know Yang Yizhi has been locked up by Ping Xi Wang. As for what crime he did, I was afraid I might arouse suspicion, hence I did not dare to ask too much.”

“Where is Hei Kanzi?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“About five li southwest of Wu Hua Palace,” Zhao Qixian replied.

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Right,” he said, “Both Dage have worked hard. Go back outside to play, be the bankers on my behalf.”

Zhao and Zhang, two people, were greatly delighted; they went out to gamble. They knew that to be bankers on Wei Xiaobao’s behalf means if they lost, it would be considered his loss, if they won, they would enjoy their share. Either way, it was an assignment with great benefit.

Wei Xiaobao was depressed. “Yang Dage must have committed a grave offense, otherwise Wu Yingxiong would not have lied to me by saying that he was sent to Tibet. If not grave offense, those two, father and son, would probably look at my face and let him out. Since Wu Yingxiong has already lied to me, if I plead on his behalf, they might adamantly deny, perhaps they would immediately kill him and destroy his body to eliminate the trace; henceforth the dead cannot testify. If I want to rescue him, I must use brute force. Even if Wu Sangui is angry, laozi is not afraid of him, I think he won’t dare to be hostile to me.”

Immediately he sent for Li Lishi, Feng Jizhong, Gao Yanchao, Qian Laoben, Priest Xuanzhen, Xu Tianchuan, and the other Tian Di Hui warriors. He explained the situation and asked them how to save Yang Yizhi.

“Wei Xiangzhu,” Li Lishi said, “We have to do it! If we can rescue this Yang Dage, that’s the best. If we cannot, Wu Sangui would think that you want to deal with him, naturally he would think that you are under the Emperor’s order. If we do not scare him half dead, we might force him to rebel sooner.”

“Precisely,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am only afraid that he might rebel right away, and then he might grab our heads so that all of us will spend our time gambling inside the big jail Hei Kanzi; that might be far from good.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “As soon as we see something is amiss, all of us must jump onto fast horses and make a dash.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I want you to think of a way to rescue people, I will invite this fellow Wu Yingxiong and detain him here. We can use him as a hostage so that Wu Sangui will not dare to act rashly.”

Qian Laoben said, “Wei Xiangzhu’s move is brilliant. Tomorrow we will scout around Hei Kanzi’s surrounding, and then dressed as Wu Sangui’s attendants, we will break into the prison and take the prisoner out.”

In the afternoon of the next day, Wei Xiaobao sent a messenger to invite Wu Yingxiong for a feast and discussion about the wedding. The main hall of the Anfu Garden was filled with the sound of string and woodwind instruments, with wine and meat in abundance. The Tian Di Hui warriors had already changed into Ping Xi Wang Mansion Guards’ uniform and went to the Hei Kanzi jail.

Wei Xiaobao secretly ordered Valiant Cavalry Brigade sergeants and the Imperial Bodyguards to secure the perimeter and keep an eye on Wu Yingxiong’s guards; while he and Wu Yingxiong were drinking wine and watching the opera. The troupe presented a Kunqu opera [see note 11, Chapter 1], ‘Zhong Kui[5] married the younger sister’. Five little demons tumbled around, crawling in and out the tables, displaying various martial art skills. It was very lively. Wei Xiaobao cheered and applauded again and again, and gave the troupe a generous tip.

While the show was in progress, someone sneaked behind him, and lightly tugged his sleeve. Wei Xiaobao turned his head around and saw that it was Gao Yanchao. Gao Yanchao nodded slowly. Wei Xiaobao knew the mission went well. He was greatly delighted. “Xiao Wangye,” he said to Wu Yingxiong, “Please continue watching, I want to go pee.”

Wu Yingxiong mused, “This little rascal is so vulgar.” He laughed and said, “Jueye, please do as you wish.”

Wei Xiaobao went to the rear hall, and saw not one of Tian Di Hui warriors was missing; he said happily, “Very good, very good, all Xiongdi did not suffer any harm; did you manage to get him out?” Seeing everybody’s grim expression, he knew there must be something else.

Full of hatred Gao Yanchao said, “That traitor Wu Sangui is really ruthless!”

“What is it?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Gao Yanchao and Xu Tianchuan turned around and left the room. They returned carrying someone wrapped in felt blanket. Seeing the felt blanket was full of blood, Wei Xiaobao was startled and scared; he rushed forward, and saw that the man wrapped inside the felt blanket was indeed Yang Yizhi. But his eyes were tightly closed, with no trace of blood on his face at all.

“Yang Dage,” Wei Xiaobao called out, “It’s your Xiongdi rescuing you out.” Yang Yizhi slightly nodded, but it was not clear if he heard him or not. “Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Are you injured?”

Xu Tianchuan gently opened the felt blanket. Wei Xiaobao cried out in alarm, and withdrew two steps back. His body swayed, he nearly fell down. Qian Laoben reached out to hold him. Turned out Yang Yizhi’s hands were severed from the wrist, his legs were also severed from the knee down. Xu Tianchuan said in a low voice, “His tongue was cut, and his eyes were gouged out.”

Wei Xiaobao had never seen anything more devastating than the pitiful condition in front of his eyes. He was deeply shaken and broke into wailing. Although originally he did not have too close of a friendship with Yang Yizhi, he did enjoy congenial conversation with him, plus they had already sworn brotherhood with each other, vowing to enjoy the blessing together, and to endure the hardship together.

Seeing his limbs were severed, Wei Xiaobao’s grief and indignation was difficult to bear. He pulled his dagger and shouted, “I am going to cut Wu Yingxiong’s four limbs.”

Feng Jizhong pulled his arm and said, “Need to make further consideration.”

This man did not talk a lot, but every time he spoke he hit the nail on the head. Wei Xiaobao was thirty percent afraid of him. Immediately he calmed down, nodded his head and said, “Feng Dage is right.”

Xu Tianchuan closed the felt blanket; he said, “This matter really is our concern. Wu Sangui blamed Yang Dage for making friends with Wei Xiangzhu and swearing brotherhood with him; he accused him of betraying the former master, of coveting riches and honor, of relying on the Imperial Court, and thus punished him like this, hovering between life and death, so that none of the high-ranking military officers under his command would dare to have any intention to revolt.”
With tears in his eyes Wei Xiaobao said, “All eighteen-generation ancestors of Wu Sangui are dead turtles! Yang Dage became sworn brothers with me does not mean that he was betraying him. That big traitor himself is harboring ill-intention, yet he blindly suspicious of others doing so. To have Yang Dage look like this is the clear proof of his intention to rebel. Even if Yang Dage indeed wanted to rely on the Imperial Court, what’s wrong with that?”

“Exactly,” Qian Laoben said, “Wei Xiangzhu should take Yang Dage back to Beijing, let him submit an accusation to the young Emperor.”

Wei Xiaobao turned to Xu Tianchuan, “Wu Sangui committed this evil deed because he accused Yang Dage of making friends with me; how did Xu Dage know about it?”

Xu Tianchuan turned around and went out the room. When he returned, he carried a man, whom he threw heavily to the floor. This person was wearing a seventh-pin rank uniform; he had fair skin, and rather plump. He crawled on the floor, and then stayed motionless.

“Wei Xiangzhu,” Xu Tianchuan said, “You have heard this fellow’s name for a long time, but has never met him. He is none other than Lu Yifeng.”

“Aha!” Wei Xiaobao said with a cold laugh, “Turns out it is Lu laoxiong [old chap], you were brazenly being unbridled in Beijing, and then Wu Yingxiong had your dog legs broken; how come you are here now?”

Lu Yifeng was so scared that he could only say, “Yes, yes, Xiaoren does not dare!”

Xu Tianchuan said, “It was indeed ‘the enemies on a narrow road’ [i.e. inevitable clash between opposing factions], turns out this fellow is the big jail Hei Kanzi’s warden. Even if he turned into ash, laozi will always recognize him. Dressed as Wu Sangui’s personal bodyguards, we carried Yang Dage out; this fellow was putting some air, he said he wanted official document, he also said that we had to have Ping Xi Wang’s personal decree. Damn it, his own dog life is the Ping Xi Wang’s personal decree.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “It was such a lucky coincidence,” he said, “Meeting this fellow would make rescuing Yang Dage easier.” He presumed that the Tian Di Hui warriors put a saber on his neck, hence it was an effortless victory [orig. ‘no blood on the men’s swords’], they managed to bring Yang Yizhi out without much trouble. In any case, the Eight-armed Ape had many arms; and while he was at it, he simply brought Lu Yifeng along.

Xu Tianchuan said, “It was this old fellow who informed me the confidential matter of Yang Dage offending Wu Sangui.”

As soon as Lu Yifeng heard the word ‘inform’, he busily said, “It was you … the Senior, who … who compelled me to tell you that; I … I would never dare to divulge Ping Xi Qin Wang’s confidential matter.”

Wei Xiaobao kicked him and three of his front teeth fell off. “I am going back to Wu Yingxiong,” he said, “I don’t want him to get suspicious. Gentlemen, please interrogate this fellow carefully. If he does not want to talk, just cut both his hands and both his legs.”

With mouth full of blood Lu Yifeng hastily said, “I talk, I talk.” He knew these people did not have any regard for the law or natural morality; thinking about Yang Yizhi’s tragic condition, he nearly fainted.

Wei Xiaobao went toward Yang Yizhi and called, “Yang Dage!”

Yang Yizhi heard the call, he wanted to sit up, but as soon as he raised his upper body, he fell back down. Seeing his miserable condition, the crowd of warriors was filled with hatred. This man was the lackey of a traitor, he actually did not deserve their pity, but unexpectedly Wu Sangui, father and son, were capable of cruelly treating a loyal subordinate like this; it was obvious how vicious their heart was.

Wei Xiaobao wiped his tears dry, calmed himself down, and returned to the hall. He burst into loud laughter and said, “Very interesting.” He saw the actors of the opera stood frozen in front of the banquet table. As soon as they saw Wei Xiaobao came back, the gongs and drums resounded, the opera ‘Zhong Kui married the younger sister’ resumed.

Turned out when he went inside, Wu Yingxiong ordered the opera to stop, to wait for his return before continuing, so that he would not miss anything. Wei Xiaobao apologize to Wu Yingxiong, saying that when the Princess heard that the prince consort was here to drink wine, she summoned him and meticulously asked him about the prince consort’s day-to-day habit, what kind of clothes he liked to wear, what kind of food he loved to eat, that sort of things, and did not let him go for a long time, so that he had to tire Wu Yingxiong, who was waiting in the hall. Wu Yingxiong was greatly delighted, he repeatedly said that it was not a problem.

As soon as Wu Yingxiong left, Wei Xiaobao went back to the side room, but he did not see any Tian Di Hui warrior. Upon asking around, he was told that they went out. He felt strange, wondering what they were up to.

It was quite late into the night before the warriors returned; this time they also brought somebody along. What happened was that Xu Tianchuan interrogated Lu Yifeng, and found out that the reasons Wu Sangui punished Yang Yizhi like that were: one, he was undoubtedly suspicious that after becoming sworn brothers with Wei Xiaobao, Yang Yizhi might betray him; two, it actually had something to do with the Mongolian Prince Galdan.

For the last several years, this Galdan and Wu Sangui had developed quite a close relationship; they unceasingly sent gifts to each other, until recently Galdan sent an emissary to Kunming to deliver gift. This emissary was called Hantiemo. He had a lengthy conversation with Wu Sangui every day for several days. Somehow, Yang Yizhi found out the inside story; apparently he confronted Wu Sangui and thus incited his wrath. Lu Yifeng’s official position was very low, he did not know the details; he only heard bits and pieces from Wu Sangui’s bodyguards’ mouths. Under Tian Di Hui warriors’ torture, he did not dare to conceal anything and thus had spilled out everything he knew.

After quick discussion, the warriors decided to carry it through to the end [orig. one don’t do, two don’t rest]; while they were still dressed as Wu Sangui’s personal bodyguards, they might as well go to kidnap the Mongolian emissary Hantiemo.

Wei Xiaobao had met Galdan at Shaolin Temple, that man was arrogant, harsh and unreasonable; he made his warriors to shoot him with golden secret projectiles, if not for the treasured vest protecting his body, he would have lost his life long ago. He thought Galdan’s emissary must not be a good person. He saw Hantiemo was about fifty something years old, with a light yellow beard under his chin, his eyes flickered indefinitely, obviously he was a crafty man.

“Let him see Yang Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Gao Yanchao complied, and pushed Hantiemo to the room next door. They heard Hantiemo screamed, his voice was brimming with terror; seeing Yang Yizhi’s tragic condition, he was scared out of his wits. Gao Yanchao dragged him back. They saw his face was completely drained of color, his body was trembling unceasingly.

“Have you seen the man next door?” Wei Xiaobao asked. Hantiemo nodded. Wei Xiaobao said, “I asked that man, but his answers were vague and not honest, he lied to me several times. I always have a rule, anybody who told me a lie, I would cut one of his legs, told me two lies, cut his both legs. How many lies did that man tell me?”

Gao Yanchao said, “He told seven lies.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head. “Ay,” he sighed, “That man told too many lies, I had no choice but to also cut both of his hands, both of his eyes, and his tongue. Only his head is spared.”

Pulling his dagger, he leaned over and waved the dagger lightly, cutting one leg of a wooden stool in front of him, and then he played with the dagger in his hand. “My dagger can cut human’s hand and leg cleanly and neatly,” he said with a laugh, “Do you want to try?”

Hantiemo was actually a Mongolian brave warrior, but after seeing Yang Yizhi’s devastation, he was so scared that his soul flew away and scattered. He stammered, “Whatever Daren … Daren ask, Xiaode [little/lowly one] … Xiaode will not dare to conceal … conceal even half a word.”

“Very good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Ping Xi Qin Wang wanted me to ask you: everything that you told Wangye, are they actually the truth, or a lie? Was there any empty word?”

“Daren please understand,” Hantiemo said, “How can Xiaode … Xiaode dare to deceive Wangye? Indeed there is not a single empty word.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “Wangye did not believe it; he said that you, Mongolians are very crafty, the words you said oftentimes cannot be trusted, you love to cover up things the most.”

Pride mixed with anger appeared on Hantiemo’s face; he said, “We are Genghis Khan’s descendants, we always say one as one, two as two …”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “Right,” he said, “You say three as three, four as four.”

Hantiemo was startled; he was very fluent in Han language, but his knowledge of idioms and Chinese expressions [see also note 5 of Chapter 29] was very limited; he did not know that what Wei Xiaobao said was tongue-in-cheek, he was simply teasing him. He thought there was a different meaning, which he did not know about; thereupon momentarily he did not know how to respond.

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance sank as he said, “Do you know who I am?”

Hantiemo said, “Xiaode does not know.”

“Go ahead and guess,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Hantiemo saw that the construction Anfu Garden was magnificent and beautiful, he was brought in by Ping Xi Wang Mansion’s attentands, Wei Xiaobao was very young, but he was wearing a first-pin rank uniform, and yellow magua, with a piece of ruby and a pair of peacock plumes on his hat; it was the attire of high-ranking official, nobility of the Imperial Court. Plus the yellow magua was the sign of outstanding honor and glory. Hantiemo’s mind was very quick, he pondered, “You are very young, yet have achieved this high-ranking of officialdom, you must be relying on the shade of your father’s good fortune. Within the Kunming city wall, other than Ping Xi Qin Wang, who else has this kind of fame and power? Plus Ping Xi Wang’s personal bodyguards are so respectful to you. Right, that must be it.” Thereupon he respectfully said, “Xiaode has eyes but failed to see; turns out Daren is Ping Xi Wang’s Xiao Gongzi [little young master].” He had met Wu Yingxiong. Now that he saw Wei Xiaobao, he noticed the similarity of his clothes to Wu Yingxiong’s; hence he came to that conclusion.

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “Damn it,” he cursed, “What did you say?” In his heart he said, “You think I am the big traitor, the old turtle’s son; won’t that mean laozi is a little traitor, a little turtle?” Immediately he laughed aloud and said, “You are indeed smart, no wonder Prince Galdan sent you to handle this kind of important mission. Your Prince’s friendship with me is not bad.” He then described Galdan’s appearance and the clothing he wore; he added, “That day your Prince and I discussed martial art, he demonstrated these several moves to me. His martial art skill is really superb.” While saying that, he demonstrated the several moves Galdan used at Shaolin Temple.

Hantiemo was greatly delighted, immediately he paid his respect and said, “Xiao Wangye is a good friend of our Prince. Turns out we are of the same family.”

“Is your Prince well?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Wasn’t he with Sang Qi Lama recently?”

Hantiemo said, “Sang Qi Lama is precisely staying at our Prince’s mansion as an honored guest right this moment.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “I thought so,” he said. And then he asked, “There was also a young Han lady who loves to wear blue skirt; I think she is called Ah Qi. I wonder if she is also staying at your Prince’s mansion?”

Hantiemo’s eyes grew big, his face revealed a pleasantly surprised expression; he said, “Turns out … turns out even this … this matter Xiao Wangye also know; indeed … indeed … amazing.”

Wei Xiaobao was only blurting whatever was on is mind, he was simply guessing randomly, yet surprisingly his guess was correct. Feeling very pleased with himself he laughed aloud and said, “Your Prince did not conceal anything from me, Miss Ah Qi is your Prince’s good friend; his Shimei, Miss Ah Ke is my good friend[6]. Won’t that make us really belong to the same family? Ha ha, ha ha …!”

The two of them laughed together, the barrier between them vanished. Wei Xiaobao said, “Fu Wang sent me to ask you really well, the things you told my Fu Wang, are they really with all sincerity, and there is no other conspiracy?”

“Xiao Wangye,” Hantiemo said, “You have such friendship with our Prince, how can you still have such suspicion?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Fu Wang said that when someone is telling lies, what he says the first time might not be the same as when he says it the second time. This matter is really of too great an importance, once we are not careful, everybody will fall with head and face filthy with grime, will be in an extremely difficult situation; therefore, Fu Wang wanted you to repeat to me everything from head to tail, to see if there is any ‘mortise and tenon that won’t fit with each other’. Hantiemo Laoxiong, it’s not that I don’t believe your Prince, but with you, it is our first meeting; I don’t really know you. I must, therefore, question you carefully; please don’t blame me.”

“That, you should,” Hantiemo said, “If this matter ever leaks out, there will be fatal consequences. Ping Xi Wang is handling this matter very carefully, this is an absolute must. Xiao Wangye, please report back to Wangye, after our four families form an alliance, we will send troops together, and divide the land under the heavens [referring to China] into four parts. The rivers and mountains of the Central Plains will entirely belong to Wangye. The other three families will not be envious or have any change of mind.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he thought, “Four-part domination! I wonder which four families? But if I ask him, I would appear not knowing what he is talking about, and then my cover will be blown away.” He then chuckled and said, “This matter has actually been discussed several times by your Prince and I. But as far as how this matter will be accomplished, how to divide the land under the heavens into four parts, after much negotiation we have never reached any agreement. What did your Prince say this time?”

“Our Prince says that it’s not that he has a mind to demand too much favor,” Hantiemo said, “But the matter of contacting the Luocha[7] Country to send their troops is the result of His Highness …”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard the word ‘Luocha Country to send their troops’, his heart shivered in fear. In the meantime, Hantiemo continued, “… is the result of His Highness’ effort after he suffered untold hardship before he succeeded. Luocha Country’s firearms are incomparably fierce, when the firearms shoot, the Qing troops will have countless difficulties to resist. As long as the Luocha Country is willing to send the troops, this important matter will succeed. Ping Xi Wang will become the Great Emperor of China, Xiao Wangye will become the Crown Prince.”

Luocha Country is Russia, the country where the people have yellow hair and jade green eyes, and exceptional stature. The Chinese regarded these people as the demon ‘luocha’, the evil spirit in Buddhism; consequently, at that time the country was called Luocha Country.

During Shunzhi’s reign, the Cossack Cavalry of Luocha Country had had several confrontations with the Qing troops; although each time the Qing troops were beaten, they also managed to inflict serious damage to the Cossacks. Wei Xiaobao did not understand the affairs between nations, but when he was in the Palace, he had heard that the Luocha Country’s troops were brutal and violent; their firearms were swift and fierce, and were difficult to withstand. He thought, “My, my, this is serious; selling his own country has become Wu Sangui’s second nature, this time he collude with Luocha Country. I must report this to the young Emperor immediately, we must think of a way to resist Luocha Country’s firearms and canons.”

Seeing Wei Xiaobao was hesitating without saying anything, with his face showing a displeased expression, Hantiemo asked, “I wonder if Xiao Wangye has any advice?”

“Um,” Wei Xiaobao’s mind flashed like a lightning, trying to think how to conceal what he was really thinking. Suddenly he recalled Zheng Keshuang’s strive with his older brother over their father’s position that he sent Feng Xifan to assassinate his Shifu Chen Jinnan. Immediately he bitterly said, “Damn it, what other advice I may have? Fu Wang becomes the Emperor, in the future it will be my Gege who succeed him to the throne, I will only be a prince; what good will it be?”

Hantiemo suddenly saw the light; he walked over and said in a low voice, “Since our Prince is already a good friend of Xiao Wangye, when Xiaoren return, I will explain to the Prince Xiao Wangye’s desire. When this great undertaking is accomplished, our Mongolia and Luocha Country, plus the Living Buddha of Tibet, three families, will seek to protect Xiao Wangye. In that way … in that way Xiao Wangye will have nothing to worry.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out the four families who will deploy troops are Mongolia, Tibet, Luocha Country, plus Wu Sangui.” Immediately his face showed a delighted expression as he said, “If the three of you will really strive for me, when I have the power in my hands, naturally I will reward you heavily; definitely I won’t forget you, laoxiong, for your help.” Casually he took out four banknotes, worth five hundred taels each, from his pocket and handed it over to Hantiemo, saying, “Please take this first for your incidental expenses.”

Seeing how generous he was with reward, Hantiemo was overjoyed at the unexpected fortune; immediately he bowed to express his gratitude. The little bit of suspicion he originally had in his heart, at this moment it vanished completely. He was certain that this Xiao Wangye wanted to vie for the Emperor position with his older brother Wu Yingxiong; his master Prince Galdan and Hantiemo himself just happened to be in the middle of the raising and lowering of their hands, hence they occupied a very advantageous position.

Wei Xiaobao said, “According to your Prince, after our success, how are we going to divide the land under the heavens?”

Hantiemo replied, “The beautiful rivers and mountains of the Central Plains naturally will belong to your Wu family. Sichuan will return to the Living Buddha of Tibet, the roads north and south of Tianshan[8], the Inner Mongolia’s four eastern and two western leagues[9], Chahar, Jehol, and the city of Suiyuan will return to our Mongolia.”

“That’s quite a vast expanse of land,” Wei Xiaobao said. Actually, he did not know the size of any places mentioned, but listening to Hantiemo mentioning a lot of places, he guessed the area must be quite substantial.

Hantiemo smiled and said, “The effort our Mongolia will spend on Wangye’s behalf will also be very substantial.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “How about the Luocha Country?” he asked.

Hantiemo replied, “The Great Emperor of Luocha Country said that Luocha Country and Wangye’s territory will have the Shanhai Pass [the Eastern Pass of the Great Wall] as the border. They will not tread a single step into the inside of the Pass. Outside Shanhai Pass originally belongs to Manchurian Tatars; the Luocha Country will occupy the Manchu people’s land, they will not occupy even a cun of Chinese people’s land.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “In that case, I think it is fair,” he said, “Have your Prince made a schedule on when we are going to raise our arms?”

Hantiemo said, “In this great undertaking, Wangye is the leader, the other three families will merely respond by launching converging attack; naturally we will wait for Wangye’s thought.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Fu Wang really wants to know, after we deploy our troops, how are the three families going to respond?”

Hantiemo said, “In this matter, we ask that Wangye not to worry. As soon as Wangye’s large force is out of Yunnan and Guizhou, our Mongolian elite troops will be deployed from the west to the east, the Cossack elite cavalry of Luocha Country will move from the north to the south, and attack Beijing from two directions. The Living Buddha’s Tibetan army will immediately sweep Sichuan border, plus Shen Long Jiao’s surprise-attack force …”

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, and slapped his thigh. “You … you know about Shen Long Jiao?” he said, “Hong Jiaozhu … what did he say?” Hearing that the Divine Dragon Cult was unexpectedly also involved in this conspiracy, his heart was shaken; he could not prevent his voice from quivering.

Seeing the change in his countenance, Hantiemo asked, “Has Wangye told Xiao Wangye about Shen Long Jiao?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; he said, “Why hasn’t he? Twice I have had long talk with Hong Jiaozhu and Madame Hong; I have even met with the Five Dragon Envoys of the Cult. I thought your Prince did not know about this matter.”

Hantiemo smiled and said, “Hong Jiaozhu of Shen Long Jiao has already received an imperial appointment from the Great Emperor of the Luocha Country. As soon as the Luocha Country deploys its troops, naturally Shen Long Jiao will have no choice but to respond. In the future, China’s coastal islands, including Taiwan and Hainan Islands, will become Shen Long Jiao’s territory. Not only that, Fujian’s Geng Jingzhong, Guandong’s Shang Kexi, Guangxi’s Kong Sizhen, everybody may respond. Once Wangye gives a shout, from the east, south, west and north everybody will move together, won’t this Manchurian Qing’s dominion fall into Wangye’s hands?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. “Wonderful, wonderful!” he said, while in his heart he groaned, “Bad, bad!” He was, after all, still very young; telling lies here and there, he was capable of not revealing any flaw. But encountering national affair like this, he could not help but secretly feeling worry for the young emperor. Those words, ‘wonderful, wonderful’ did not sound very joyous at all.

Hantiemo was very astute; he could tell the deep concern behind what Wei Xiaobao did not really mean what he said. “Xiao Wangye’s friendship with our Prince is out of ordinary, you are also treating Xiaoren generously; even if my body is crushed to dust Xiaoren cannot repay it. Whatever difficulty Xiao Wangye might have, there is no harm in giving me clear direction. If Xiaoren can do anything to serve you, I will not balk at ten thousand deaths.”

“I was just thinking,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If everybody takes one piece on the east, one piece on the west, when I become the Emperor in the future, my territory will be broken and in disorder; that will be very disappointing.”

Hantiemo mused, “Turns out you are concerned over this matter. It makes sense.” He said in a low voice, “Xiao Wangye please understand, after this great undertaking is accomplished, those cronies Geng Jingzhong, Shang Kexi and Kong Sizhen will be eliminated. At that time, if you want us, Mongolian to send troops to help, naturally we won’t decline.”

Wei Xiaobao delightedly said, “Thank you very much, thank you very much. You may bring these words of mine back to your Prince. You are Prince Galdan’s trusted aide; your promise is just the same as if the Prince personally gives me his words.”

Hantiemo felt a bit awkward, but then he thought that it would be a future problem, there is no harm to carelessly make a promise right now. Patting his own chest, he said, “Xiaoren will definitely do my utmost for Xiao Wangye; I definitely will not turn my back on you.”

Wei Xiaobao questioned him some more for quite a long time, but did not get any new useful information; hence he said, “Just take a rest in here, I will go back to report to Fu Wang.” And then he continued in low voice, “Whatever we talked about today, if you ever leak even half a word, my Gege will definitely strike a vicious blow to kill me; I am afraid even Fu Wang will be helpless to save me.”

Hantiemo had seen quite a lot of brothers struggling for position and killing each other within the Mongolian tribal clans; he knew this was indeed not a small matter. Thereupon he bent his knees immediately and raised his hands toward the heaven to make a vow.

Wei Xiaobao went out of the room; he instructed Feng Jizhong and Xu Tianchuan to strictly guard Hantiemo, and then he went to visit Yang Yizhi. As soon as he pushed the door open, he could not help but was greatly shocked, for half of Yang Yizhi’s body was rolled on the floor. He rushed forward to help him up, but saw that Yang Yizhi’s eyes were wide open, yet he was motionless since he had already died. There were several large characters written in blood on the white sheet of the bed. Wei Xiaobao only knew a ‘three’ [San] character and a ‘cassia’ [Gui] character. He turned his head around and asked, “What characters are those?”

“Yes,” Gao Yanchao responded, “Wu Sangui zao fan [rebel/revolt] mai guo [sell country], seven characters.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “At the point of his death Yang Dage used his severed hand to write.”

“Precisely,” Gao Yanchao grimly said.

Wei Xiaobao called the Tian Di Hui warriors together and conveyed to them what Hantiemo had told him. None of the warriors was not enraged; they all cursed Wu Sangui for betraying his country the first time, and now wanted to do it the second time. Priest Xuanzhen gnashed his teeth. Suddenly he untied the front piece of his garment and said, “Gentlemen, please look!”

They saw a scar on his chest, as big as a rice bowl, where the skin wrinkled and the bone protruded; it looked really gruesome. He also had a long saber scar on his left shoulder, approximately a chi long. These people had known each other for quite a long time, yet nobody knew that he had suffered such a serious injury in the past. When they saw it, nobody was not overwhelmed with shock.

Priest Xuanzhen said, “This is precisely the wound from the devils of the Luocha Country’s firearms.”

Wei Xiaobao asked, “So Daozhang [(Taoist) priest] has fought with the Luocha people?”

With a grieved expression Priest Xuanzhen said, “My father, (older and younger) uncles, nine brothers in all, have died under the Luocha people’s hands. Pindao[10] left home precisely because of this.” Thereupon he briefly narrated his story.

Originally from generation to generation his family engaged in furs business. They ran a furs business in Zhangjiakou [prefecture, in Hebei province]; they owned a hundred-year old shop there. One particular year his father’s elder brother and his father took their brothers, sons and nephew to go beyond the Great Wall to purchase silver fox, sable and other precious furs. Along the way they came across a band of Luocha people, who coveted their gold, silver and goods, and wanted to rob them. There were actually three escort masters under their employment who went along to protect them. But the Luocha people’s firearms were very fierce; as soon as they opened fire, the three escort masters died instantly. His father and uncles also died under their firearms, sabers and horses. Xuanzhen’s shoulder was cut by a saber, the pit of his stomach was fried by the gunpowder; he fainted in a pool of blood. The Luocha people thought he was dead. They plundered their gold, silver and goods, and left.

After Xuanzhen regained his consciousness, he struggled for many months in the forest of the mountain before his wounds were healed. Because of this calamity, his family property was completely gone, their furs business went bankrupt. In his discouragement he left his home to become a Taoist priest. When the country changed its master, he joined Tian Di Hui. But when he recalled how swift and fierce Luocha people’s firearm was, although it had been more than twenty years ago, he still often got nightmares in the middle of the night, he would shout loudly and woke up with a start.

Li Lishi said, “The fiercest weapon those Luocha people have is the firearm. As long as we can think of a way to break it, we don’t have to be afraid of them.”

Priest Xuanzhen shook his head and said, “When it went off, it is indeed like thunder and lightning. Even if your martial art is higher, you won’t be able to dodge it, you won’t be able to block it.”

Xu Tianchuan said, “Luocha people want to join hands with Wu Sangui to snatch away the Tatars’ realm, we can simply watch with folded arms, let them fight each other until the sky and the earth turn upside down. We can benefit as the third party and seize the opportunity to restore the Great Ming’s rivers and mountains.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “I am afraid we will only beat the tiger from the front door only to have a wolf come from the back door. Luocha people are ten times more vicious than the Manchurian Tatars; after defeating the Manchurian Qing, they won’t stop at Shanhai Pass, they would definitely enter the Pass to occupy our land under the heavens.”

“Shall we help the Manchu Tatars instead?” Xu Tianchuan asked. The warriors made comments one after another.

Naturally Wei Xiaobao was determined to help Kangxi, but he did not dare to speak it out. “There is no hurry to make the decision right now,” he said, “We have snatched Yang Dage away, we have captured Hantiemo and Lu Yifeng; very soon Wu Sangui will find out about it, and then what are we going to do?”
Everybody pondered silently, and then some said that they had better fight with him immediately, some said they had better escape that very same night. Wei Xiaobao said, “This old turtle has many troops and horses under his command; if we have to fight, we cannot beat him. Yunnan and Guizhou are so big, we won’t necessarily be able to escape his clutch in ten days or half a month. Um, let’s do it this way: I am asking gentlemen to take that dog official Lu Yifeng, along with Yang Dage’s body, back to the big prison Hei Kanzi.”

The warriors were startled. “Send them back?” they asked.

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “We only need to scare that dog thief Lu Yifeng, I’ll say most likely he will not dare to announce it publicly. If he reports it to his superior, he himself will not escape the responsibility. Yang Dage is dead anyway, there is no point in keeping his corpse.”

Although the warriors had rich experience in the Jianghu, their knowledge of government officials’ character was far inferior to Wei Xiaobao’s. They all thought that his risky move[11] this time was too dangerous; breaking into jail, freeing a prisoner and kidnaping an official was quite a major event, how could Lu Yifeng not report it to his superior? Li Lishi hesitantly said, “I think this dog official Lu Yifeng is too much of a coward; I am afraid … I am afraid in this important matter he won’t dare not to report it.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am not afraid that he is a coward, but I am afraid he is too stupid and useless, cannot do his job as a government official. In the officialdom, there is a principle ‘conceal from superior, do not conceal from subordinate’; an enormous matter will disappear when you cover it up. Nobody wants to deliberately put a black pot over his own head. Just bring that dog official over, let me remind him some.”

Gao Yanchao turned around and left, returning with Lu Yifeng in his arms, and tossed him to the floor. He had been beaten and was scared, his face had already turned ghastly pale.

“Lu Laoge [old older brother],” Wei Xiaobao began, “You must be exhausted.”

“I … I don’t dare,” Lu Yifeng replied.

“Lu Laoge is a real friend,” Wei Xiaobao said, “All Ping Xi Wang’s classified information, you have narrated it to us in full detail without concealing anything. Very well, a friend is a friend, we are going to let you go. Laoge has leaked Ping Xi Wang’s classified information, we will not tell anybody about it. Real men of the Jianghu will say one as one, two as two. If you, Laoge, like to publicize it yourself, to openly set yourself against Ping Xi Wang, it’s your own business. Ha ha, ha ha …”

Lu Yifeng shook all over; he said, “Even if Xiao … Xiaoren has gar … gargantuan nerve, I won’t … won’t dare.”

“Very good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Brothers, please escort Lu Daren back to yamen. You might as well bring that prisoner’s body back with you, so that when there is any inquiry, Lu Daren will not have a hard time explaining.” The warriors complied together. Lu Yifeng was pleasantly surprised, but was also confused; with the warriors holding his arms, he was ushered out.

For the next several days, the Tian Di Hui warriors were waiting in trepidation; they were afraid Lu Yifeng would report to Wu Sangui, and then a large group of troops and horses under Ping Xi Wang’s command would storm into Anfu Garden to massacre them all; yet unexpectedly nothing was astirred. It was unclear whether that old traitor Wu Sangui was very crafty, that he waited until the time is ripe before making any movement, or contrary to what they expected, Wei Xiangzhu’s premonition was correct, that Lu Yifeng indeed did not dare to report.

The warriors were restless; day after day they talked about it over and over. Finally Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s do it this way, I am going to pay Wu Sangui a visit, to see what he has to say.”

Xu Tianchuan said, “I am afraid he will detain Wei Xiangzhu and won’t let you go back; that would be terrible.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “All of us are in his grasp anyway, if the old turtle wanted to catch me, even if I don’t go to see him, I won’t be able to escape.”

He selected several officers and soldiers from the Valiant Cavalry Brigade and several Imperial Bodyguards and went to the Ping Xi Wang Mansion. Wu Sangui personally came out to welcome him. With smiles all over his face he took Wei Xiaobao’s hand; together they entered the Mansion. “To what do I owe Wei Jueye’s visit this time?” he asked, “You only need to pass it on to my son, and then won’t everything be done for you? Why would you have to toil your honorable self?”

“Aiyo,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wangye is too polite. Xiao Jiangguan’s [lit. little/lowly military officer, referring to self] official duty is low, compared to the Prince Consort’s it is too far below. What Wangye said, Xiao Jiang is too undeserving.”

Wu Sangui laughed and said, “Wei Jueye is the beloved general serving by His Majesty’s side that he most doted on, your future is full of promise, indeed your prospect is immeasurable. It won’t be the least bit surprising if in the future you will come to this Mansion and be the Wangye.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart skipped a beat; he could not stop his countenance from changing. Halting his steps, he said, “What Wangye said is not right.”

Wu Sangui laughed. “What do you mean not right?” he asked, “Wei Jueye is only fifteen or sixteen years old, already you are the Commander of the Valiant Cavalry Brigade, Deputy Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards, Imperial Envoy, and was granted the title of Viscount. From Zijue [viscount] to Bojue [earl/count], Houjue [marquis], Gongjue [duke], Wangjue [king/prince] and then Qin Wang [prince[12]], it won’t take more than a dozen, perhaps twenty, years. Ha ha, ha ha …”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Wangye,” he said, “Xiao Jiang left the Capital this time, His Majesty instructed, ‘Tell Wu Sangui to serve well. In the future this Ping Xi Qin Wang title will belong to my meifu [husband of younger sister] Wu Yingxiong; after Wu Yingxiong died, the Qin Wang title will belong to my waisheng [sister’s son or wife’s sibling’s son], when my waisheng dies, it will belong to my waisheng’s son. In short, let Ping Xi Qin Wang title belongs to the Wu family forever.’ Wangye, when he said that, His Majesty was extremely sincere.”

Wu Sangui was very happy in his heart. “Did His Majesty really say that?” he asked.

“Why would I lie to you?” Wei Xiaobao said, “But His Majesty also said that there is no hurry for me to tell you this, he wanted me to investigate carefully; if Wangye is indeed a very loyal minister, then I should tell you that. Otherwise, hey, hey, won’t that mean you are saying that the Lord of Ten-thousand Years’ words does not count? That once he gave his words, dead horses cannot chase?”

“Humph,” Wu Sangui said, “Since today Wei Jueye have just told me that, you have decided that I am a loyal minister?”

“Are you not?” Wei Xiaobao said, “If Wangye is not a loyal minister, nobody in this world is. If someday Wei Xiaobao can really have a golden mouth like Wangye, to be granted the title Zheng Dong Wang, Sao Bei Wang, Ding Nan Wang[13], or whatever, but can stay here in Ping Xi Wang Mansion in Yunnan, ha ha … I will be the guest for the rest of my life; I don’t want to act as the host forever.”

The two of them were talking and walking inside. Wu Sangui was very happy to listen to Wei Xiaobao; pulling Wei Xiaobao’s hand, he said, “Come, come, let us sit in my private study room.” Walking through two garden courtyards, they arrived at Wu Sangui’s private study.

Although this room was called a study room, the walls were full of sabers, spears, swords and halberds, there was not a single bookshelf or a book. There was a large round-backed wooden armchair in the middle of the room, draped in tiger skin. Ordinary tiger will have black stripes on yellow background, but this tiger skin had black stripes on white background; it was really unusual.

“Aiyo, Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This white tiger skin must be very rare. Xiao Jiang has never seen anything like this in the Palace. Today my horizon has been broadened.”

Wu Sangui was very proud of himself; he said, “When I was guarding the Shanhai Pass in the past, I went hunting in the vicinity of Ningyuan, and caught it. This kind of white tiger is called ‘Zouyu’ [mythical animal]; it is indeed very rare, to get this tiger means great luck, great profit.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Every day Wangye is sitting on this white tiger skin, you will gain promotion and wealth forever without an end. Tsk, tsk, tsk, it’s really amazing.”

He saw next to the tiger skin chair there were a couple of marble screen, about five or six chi tall. The picture of mountain, water [together means ‘landscape], wood and rock on the screen seemed to be alive. On one of the screen, there was a picture of mountain peak, on the mountain peak there seemed to be a black-naped oriole. By the water there was a tiger, the posture looked beautiful and alive. Wei Xiaobao praised, “These two screens must be very valuable too. I have never seen something like this in the Palace. They say that Laotianye [God/Heaven] was gifted this kind of painting, to whomever’s hands it falls, it will be an omen.”

Wu Sangui smiled, “What about these two screens? I wonder what omen they might have?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “In Xiao Jiang’s opinion, this aloof and remote little black-naped oriole can only chirp ‘jijizhazha’, quite useless. Underneath is actually a big tiger, majestic, very formidable. This big tiger is naturally Wangye.”

Wu Sangui was very happy; immediately he thought, “He said that the little black-naped oriole is standing aloft, can only chirp ‘jijizhazha’, and is quite useless; isn’t he referring to the young Emperor? By saying those things, is he testing me?” Thereupon he asked, “This little black-naped oriole, I wonder what it is referring to.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “What does Wangye think?”

Wu Sangui shook his head, “I don’t know,” he said, “Would Wei Jueye give me your advice?”

Wei Xiaobao smiled. He pointed to the other screen and said, “Here we have mountains and we have water, of course it is referring to ‘ten thousand li of rivers and mountains’. Ha ha, good omen, good omen!”

Wu Sangui’s heart jumped; he was about to ask, but in the end he did not dare. In that moment he felt his lips were dry, his tongue parched.

With the corner of his eyes Wei Xiaobao suddenly caught a glimpse of a sutra laying on the desk, it was precisely the ‘Forty-two-chapter sutra’ with which he was very familiar. It’s just that the sutra had blue silk cover. Immediately his heart jumped. “The eighth copy,” he said in his heart, “Indeed it is in the old turtle’s place. Wonderful, wonderful!”

Immediately he turned his eyes away from the sutra, and looked at the sabers and spears on the wall. He laughed and said, “Wangye, you are indeed a great hero, a great warrior, even your study is full of weapons. Frankly speaking, Xiao Jiang cannot tell the good from the bad, when I heard the word ‘study room’, my head was getting big; who would have thought that your study room is this magnificent? Indeed, my utmost admiration.”

Wu Sangui laughed heartily; he said, “Each one of these weapons has its origin. Xiao Wang hang them here just for old time’s sake.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In those years Wangye swept the east and shook the west, struggled in the south and fought in the north, establishing enormous heroic deeds [orig. to ride a laboring horse to great deeds]. These weapons must be the ones Wangye had used?”

Wu Sangui smiled. “Exactly,” he said, “In defending the border, throughout my life I have fought several hundred battles, big and small; from the cradle to the grave, this Wang [king] title came from struggling with everything I have.” The implication was that I was not like you, the little baby who was lucky to obtain the Emperor’s favor and was promoted to Viscount.

Wei Xiaobao nodded in agreement; he said, “When Wangye defended Shanhai Pass, I wonder which weapon did you use? Which great merit did you render?”

Wu Sangui’s countenance changed quickly. When he defended Shanhai Pass, the battle was against the Manchurians, which means the more he killed Manchurians, the bigger his merit was. By asking this question, Wei Xiaobao was obviously mocking him as a traitor (to Han people). In that moment his hands trembled slightly, he nearly was not able to suppress his anger.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “I heard that the Emperor Yongli of the Ming Dynasty was pursued by Wangye from Yunnan all the way to Burma, until finally he was caught and hung by Wangye with a bowstring …” While saying that, he pointed to a long bow on the wall, and asked, “I wonder if that was the bow?”

When Wu Sangui killed Emperor Yongli of Ming, he had made up his mind to show his loyalty and devotion to the Qing Dynasty, that he would not be double-minded; however, deep down in his heart he was actually quite ashamed. Nobody in his mansion had ever dared to mention this matter; unexpectedly Wei Xiaobao brought it up on his face, and thus unmasking his scar. In that instant the fury in his breast was difficult to endure; he said sternly, “Today Wei Jueye has repeatedly mocked me, I don’t know what is your intention?”

Wei Xiaobao said in consternation, “I did not! How can Xiao Jiang dare to mock Wangye? Back in Beijing, Xiao Jiang heard everybody in the Palace said that Wangye even hang the Ming Emperor, showing your utmost loyalty toward our Great Qing. I heard that when Wangye hang Emperor Yongli, you acted personally, the bowstring tightened around his neck, ‘zhi, zhi, zhi’, Emperor Yongli groaned ‘ai, ai, ai’, and Wangye laughed heartily. Very good, very good, that was very loyal!”

Wu Sangui sprang up, clenched his fists, but then he had a second thought, “How can a little kid like this have this kind of guts, have the impertinence to provoke me like this? Must be that little muddle-headed lord incited him, ordering him to test me; or perhaps my other opponents in the Imperial Court intentionally prompted him to speak provoking words, trying to control me.” Being a wily old fox, immediately he suppressed his angry look and chuckled. “Those ‘defending our border and rendering great merits’ and so on are not worth mentioning,” he said, “Actually, only being loyal and devoted to His Majesty can be considered a little bit of my strong point. Xiao Xiongdi, you want to be Zheng Dong Wang, Sao Bei Wang, you must learn how to be loyal and devoted to His Majesty like your Lao Gege here.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Absolutely, I cannot afford not to learn it! It’s a pity Xiao Jiang was born several decades too late, the Ming Dynasty Emperors have all been killed by Wangye, so that Xiao Jiang has nowhere to put my hands into.”

Wu Sangui cursed in his heart, “There will come a day when you will fall into my hand, and then I will make a mincemeat of you!” He laughed and said, “If Wei Jueye wants to set up a merit, why worry you won’t get any opportunity?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “It would be good if someone revolts,” he said.

Wu Sangui’s heart turned cold. “Why?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “If someone revolts, His Majesty will send me to battle, Xiao Jiang will do what Wangye has done, I will fight with everything I have and kill the enemy, catch the rebels, and may break open the border region.”

“Wei Xiongdi,” Wu Sangui grimly said, “This kind of talk is irresponsible and must not be mentioned. With the current Holy Son of Heaven on the throne, the whole world’s heart is converted, every person gives his allegiance, who might want to revolt?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “So according to Wangye, nobody will revolt?”

Wu Sangui was taken aback; he said, “If we say nobody will revolt, naturally it may not be necessarily true. The former Ming Dynasty rebels, or followers of renegades everywhere, those who wish to create disorder, I am afraid there are some.”

“If someone revolts,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “Will it mean that the Holy Son of Heaven is not on the throne anymore?”

Wu Sangui struggled hard to suppress his anger. “Hey, hey, hey,” he let out some dry laughed, and then said, “Xiao Xiongdi’s talk is very interesting.”

Actually, after seeing the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ on the desk, Wei Xiaobao was constantly trying to infuriate Wu Sangui, hoping that in his anger, he might brush off his sleeve and storm out of the room, so that Wei Xiaobao might have a chance to steal the sutra. Unexpectedly Wu Sangui was extremely shrewd, although his anger flared several times, he was able to control his temper and thus he did not fall into Wei Xiaobao’s trick.

Seeing Wu Sangui could not be provoked, Wei Xiaobao knew he would not have the opportunity to reach out and snatch the sutra away; immediately he changed his tactic, he said several things that Wu Sangui would love to hear. But while his mouth was busy licking Wu Sangui’s behind, his mind was racing, trying to find a way to get hold of the sutra. He thought, “Supposing I faked an Imperial Edict, saying that His Majesty wanted to have this sutra, I have no doubt that the old turtle would not dare not to offer it. Much less His Majesty did indeed want to have the sutra, and did tell me to take the opportunity while I am in Yunnan to look for it. If I said that I want the old turtle to hand me the sutra, I am not faking an Imperial Decree. However, I am afraid that while the old turtle would readily agree, he would rig up a scam in secret, perhaps he would be like Prince Kang, who forged a ‘western shellfish goods’ [there’s this phrase again: 西贝货儿 see chapter 29] to the Emperor, then I could not get the pieces of skin inside.”

As soon as he thought about forging the sutra, he had an idea. Suddenly he lowered his voice as he said, “Wangye, His Majesty has a secret edict for you.”

Wu Sangui was startled; he stood up instantly and said, “Minister Wu Sangui respectfully hear and obey the Imperial Decree.”

Wei Xiaobao pulled his hand and said, “No rush, no rush, let me tell you the background information first.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Sangui said, but he did not sit down.

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty understands very well that you are a loyal minister of the Great Qing, yet he repeatedly instructed me to ascertain whether you are loyal or a traitor, does Wangye know why?”

Wu Sangui scratched his head and said, “I don’t know.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, His Majesty has an important matter he wants you to do, but somehow he does not feel reassured yet whether you would or would not strive to do your best. He is sending Princess Jianning down to marry your Heir Apparent, actually his intention was to … to … that …”

“He wants to encourage me?” Wu Sangui asked.

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty said his intention was to encourage you. My literary knowledge is too lacking, I could not remember that word.”

Wu Sangui said, “Whatever mission His Majesty has for me, laochen [the old minister, referring to self] will do my utmost, I will toil as his dog or his horse. I am just wondering what mission might His Majesty has for laochen to do.”

“This mission concerns a matter of utmost importance,” Wei Xiaobao said, “By this time tomorrow, I am asking Wangye to wait for me in the Mansion, Xiao Jiang will come back to pass on His Majesty’s secret order.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Sangui said, “His Majesty has a decree, laochen will go to Anfu Garden to receive it.”

With a low voice Wei Xiaobao said, “Too many eyes and ears in Anfu Garden, this place is more dependable.”

Finished speaking he took his leave. Wu Sangui wondered what trick he was playing, he respectfully walked Wei Xiaobao out.

The next day Wei Xiaobao returned about the same time, the two of them went into the study room.

“Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao began, “What I am about to tell you is a matter of utmost importance, you must never divulge it in any way, even when you present a memorial to the Emperor, you must not mention it a character or half a word.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Sangui complied, “Naturally I will not dare to divulge the secret.”

Wei Xiaobao lowered his voice, “His Majesty obtained a secret report, Shang Kexi and Geng Jingzhong is about to rebel!”

As soon as Wu Sangui heard it, his countenance changed greatly. Ping Nan Wang [king who pacified the south] Shang Kexi was guarding Guangdong, Jing Nan Wang [peaceful south king] Geng Jingzhong was guarding Fujian; together with Wu Sangui, they were known as the three border defenses. These three defenses shared glory and disgrace, their rise and demise were interrelated. Wu Sangui’s rebellion plot actually involved a joint large-scale military movement with Shang and Geng, two defenses. When he heard that the Emperor was aware that Shang and Geng, two people were about to revolt, naturally Wu Sangui was thrown into extreme panic. “Is … is that true?” he asked in a trembling voice.

The previous day he concocted a story that he had a secret order from the Emperor to scare Wu Sangui so that he would lose his head out of fear, and thus Wei Xiaobao would have an opportunity to steal the sutra. However, he was, after all, only a young kid whose knowledge of military or country affair was limited. He thought that if he babbled nonsense, first, Wu Sangui might not necessarily believe him, second, when the lie was exposed, perhaps the repercussion would be so significant that Kangxi might blame him; therefore, he decided to return to Anfu Garden and discuss it over with Tian Di Hui warriors first before returning on the next day to pass on the imperial edict. Qi Biaoqing suggested that they framed Shang and Geng, two defenses, saying that they plotted a rebellion, to frightened Wu Sangui in a big way, since in effect they were exposing his own rebellion plot. Sure enough, as Wei Xiaobao brought it up, Wu Sangui was so scared that he was at a loss of what to do.

“Actually,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “His Majesty kept hearing that the three defenses were planning a rebellion, but it sounded like a fabricated fact, just like the later generation of Mu Family trying to frame you; His Majesty never believed such thing.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Sangui said, “His Majesty is an enlightened sage, His Majesty is an enlightened sage.”

“But this time, about the Shang and Geng, two defenses’ conspiracy, His Majesty has finally acquired reliable evidence,” Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty said: right now the two defenses’ rebellion plot is not out in the open yet, we must not beat the grass to scare the snake; however, he wants the Wu defense to deploy massive military force to be stationed at the Guangdong, Guangxi borders. As soon as those two defenses rise up, the Wu defense is to immediately dispatch the troops to Guangdong and Fujian, to arrest those two traitors and send them off to Beijing. That will be an enormous meritorious service.”

Wu Sangui bowed and said, “I solemnly receive the Imperial Edict. If Shang and Geng, two defenses are acting against the law, laochen will immediately deploy troops to capture those two people and present them to Beijing.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty said: Shang Kexi is a muddle-head, Geng Jingzhong is a useless fellow, they are definitely not Wu defense’s match. As long as Wu defense agrees to deploy troops, the Imperial Court will not need to send a single soldier, this matter will be solved just by stretching a hand and grab it.”

Wu Sangui smiled and said, “Please tell the Lord of Ten-thousand Years to set his heart at peace. Laochen drills the troops in here, I do not dare to be negligence the least bit, especially to serve the Emperor on a special mission. All the soldiers and generals under laochen’s banner, each one is comparable to three bannermen soldiers, and they all pledge their lives in loyalty and devotion to His Majesty.”

“I am going to report what Wangye is saying today back to the Emperor,” Wei Xiaobao said, “When His Majesty hears it, he will be very happy.”

Wu Sangui was secretly delighted, “This way I can move an army and send a general, even if the little muddleheaded lord knew about it, he won’t be suspicious.”

Wei Xiaobao pointed to a rifle hanging on the wall. “Wangye,” he said, “Is that a westerners’ firearm?”

“Exactly,” Wu Sangui said, “That is Luocha Country’s firearm. It was obtained during the battle our Great Qing and the Luocha Country had outside the Pass, it is indeed a very sharp weapon.”

“I have never had any firearms before,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Can you let me borrow it for a moment?”

Wu Sangui smiled and said, “Naturally you can! This kind of firearm is used during the battle; although it can reach far, it is rather inconvenient to use. Luocha people have some other short gun.” Walking toward a wooden cabinet, he pulled open the drawer, and took a red wood case out.

Wei Xiaobao was standing right by the desk. As soon as he saw Wu Sangui turning around, he also turned around, lifted the front piece of the yellow magua he was wearing, took out a copy of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ from the pocket of the magua, put it on the table, took the copy of sutra that was originally on the table, and put it into the pocket of his magua. This swapping was done in an extremely fast and nimble manner; even if Wu Sangui was watching helplessly, his vision would be blocked by Wei Xiaobao’s back and it would be hard for him to know what’s going on, much less Wu Sangui was also turning his back to fetch the gun. All eight copies of the sutra had exactly the same appearance, only the book jackets had different colors. The previous night Wei Xiaobao took the Bordered Blue Banner’s copy, tore off the red border, and swapped it off with the Plain Blue Banner’s copy.

He saw Wu Sangui opened the wooden case and took out two short guns, about a chi long each. From the muzzle he stuffed some gunpowder, and packed it using an iron rod. He also put three iron bullets inside the muzzle. And then he took a fire knife and ignited a piece of paper, and handed the gun and the paper to Wei Xiaobao and said, “Light the fuse, the iron bullet will shoot out.”

Wei Xiaobao received the gun, and aimed the muzzle at the rockery outside the window. He blew the lighted paper to ignite the fuse. There was a loud explosion, a burst of hot air hit his face, his arm was violently jolted, the gun fell to the floor, smoke arose before his eyes; he could not help but to retreat two steps backward.

Wu Sangui laughed aloud and said, “This gun’s power is very formidable, isn’t it?”

Wei Xiaobao’s arm was numb from the shock. “Damn it,” he cursed, “Western people’s toy is indeed demonical.”

Wu Sangui laughed and said, “Look at the rockery!”

Wu Sangui focused his eyes and saw the a small corner of the rockery had been exploded, there were fragments of rocks scattered on the ground; he could not help but sticking out his tongue, and did not pull it back for half a day. “If this gun explode on someone,” he said, “Even if you have copper muscle and iron bone, you won’t be able to withstand it.” Stooping down, he picked up the short gun and put it back into the wooden case.

When the mansion’s guards heard the explosion, they all came to the window and looked inside. After seeing their Wangye was safe and sound, and was talking to Wei Xiaobao, they felt relieved.

Wu Sangui held the wooden case with both hands and said with a laugh, “Wei Xiongdi, please take it so you can play with it.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “This is an effective weapon to protect yourself, Wangye’s generous gift, I do not dare to accept.”

Wu Sangui pushed the box into his hand, and said with a laugh, “We are brothers, why differentiate between you and I? What’s mine is yours.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This is Luocha people’s treasure, you might not necessarily get another one in the future. Xiao Jiang absolutely cannot accept it.” But in his heart he was thinking, “You are colluding with Luocha people, you can have any number of guns you want, naturally it is not a rare object at all.”

Wu Sangui laughed and said, “Exactly because it is rare that I dare to give it to Xiongdi. If it is a common object, Wei Xiongdi would not even look at it. Ha ha …”

Thereupon Wei Xiaobao thanked him and accepted; he said with a laugh, “Hereafter if I come across people who want to harm me, I will take out the gun, ‘bang!’ I will shoot him, and explode him till his body torn and his bones crushed. Xiao Jiang’s life is actually bestowed by Wangye.”

Wu Sangui patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said with a laugh, “You don’t need to be that polite. Guns are indeed very formidable, but putting the gunpowder, loading the bullets, lighting the flint, igniting the fuse, the procedure is really bothersome, unlike our bow and arrow, which we can shoot in rapid succession, continuously.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If the westerners’ guns are like bow and arrow, can be shot in succession, will we, Chinese, still have our lives? The Great Qing’s beautiful rivers and mountains will be difficult to protect.” Speaking to this point, he giggled and said, “Actually, there is a benefit to me to have these two guns; now I do not need to train martial art. All those martial art experts or martial art masters are not my match anymore.”

After some idle talks, took his leave and returned to Anfu Garden, where he closed the door, and opened up the sutra’s outer skin. As expected, he found a lot of sheepskin pieces inside. He mused, “I have obtained all the pieces of map hidden in the eight copies of sutra. Laozi only needs to focus my attention and slowly assemble the map together, the Tatars’ buried treasure and dragon’s vein will fall into my hand.” However, the thought of focusing his attention to put together these several thousand pieces of sheepskin into a complete picture already gave him a headache; he thought, “No need to rush, we have plenty of time.”

Immediately he stitched back the cover and put the sheepskin pieces into the pouch with the rest of the pieces, which he hid in his innermost pocket, next to his skin. Thinking about the great success of his mission, he could not help but feeling happy and contented. “The young Emperor, the old wh0re, the old turtle, Hong Jiaozhu, the big traitor, and also my Shifu, the not-old, not-young, middle-aged nun, everybody wanted to obtain these eight copies of sutra, in the end it is still I, Wei Xiaobao, who gets it. Ha ha … if they knew, one will pull my hand, the other will pull my leg, and pull me in four directions, I will be torn away from limb to limb.” He was very excited, too bad that he could not tell anybody about it. Unable to flaunt his achievement, unavoidably he felt everything was fine except for one small defect.

Crossing his legs, he hummed the little tune he learned in Yangzhou brothel, “A cup of wine, slowly being poured, I ask Qing Gege [beloved older brother], where did he come from? In that place, Yangzhou, there are twenty-four bridges, at the end of each bridge, there is a beautiful woman, Qing Gege …” While he was singing happily, suddenly he heard someone knocking his door lightly. Three knocks, stopped, two knocks, stopped, three knocks. It was precisely Tian Di Hui’s secret signal.

Wei Xiaobao stood up and opened the door, Xu Tianchuan and Gao Yanchao entered. Seeing the two people’s serious expression, he asked, “What is it?”

Xu Tianchuan said, “I heard from the Imperial Bodyguards that the Mansion’s bodyguards are searching to the east and inquiring to the west, to find a Mongolian; I am sure they are looking for Hantiemo. From what I heard, they seem to be highly suspicious of us, but they do not dare to ask us openly. Wei Xiangzhu, what do you think?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Go fetch that fellow, bind him and hide him underneath my bed; I don’t think Wu Sangui’s subordinates will dare to search my room.”

Xu Tianchuan said, “I am afraid that when Wei Xiangzhu is out, the big traitor’s guards will use whatever excuse they can find to force their way in to search.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “No matter what we won’t allow them to come in; if we really reach a stalemate in discussion, we will fight them. Could they be brazen enough to resort to violence and kill us?” Xu Tianchuan and Gao Yanchao nodded in agreement.

Suddenly Qian Laoben rushed in and said, “The big traitor is going to set this place on fire.”

The three of them were shocked. “What?” they asked in chorus.

Qian Laoben said, “These past few days I patrolled the Anfu Garden all around, to guard against the big traitor playing tricks on us. Just now I saw some people sneaked into the woods to our west. I secretly followed them, and saw more than a dozen people hiding in the woods, carrying quite a lot of kerosene, saltpeter, sulfur, and other materials to light a fire.”

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “The big traitor has the guts to burn the Princess to death?”

“I don’t think so,” Qian Laoben said, “They suspect we kidnapped Hantiemo, but do not dare to enter the Garden to search. When the fire breaks, they will swarm in to fight the fire, while seizing that opportunity to search.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Right,” he said, “That must be it. Dage, what is your wise opinion?”

Xu Tianchuan gestured by running his hand across his neck; he said, “Kill him to close his mouth, destroy his body to leave no trace!”

When Wei Xiaobao heard ‘destroy his body to leave no trace’, he thought, “That is one trick I am an expert at, nothing can be easier, I guarantee that in just a short time that big beard Mongolian will turn into a pool of yellow liquid. But this fellow has the inside information on the collusion between the big traitor and the Luocha Country, I must send him to the young Emperor so that he can personally interrogate him.” He said, “This big beard Mongolian is the biggest proof of the big traitor’s rebellion conspiracy. We must send him to Beijing; even if the big traitor does not rebel, he will be forced to rebel. This Hantie somebody is the magic weapon to guarantee that the Mu Family will obey our Tian Di Hui’s orders.”

How to force Wu Sangui to revolt, and how to force the Mu Family to obey Tian Di Hui’s orders, were precisely the two important matters that were always in the Tian Di Hui warriors’ mind. As soon as the three men heard this, their countenance changed greatly; they chorused their agreement. Xu Tianchuan said, “If not for Wei Xiangzhu’s reminding us, we nearly harm this important matter.” In their hearts their admiration toward this glib-tongued teenager grew.

Qian Laoben said, “The problems at hand are: how to deal with the big traitor’s subordinates in setting this place on fire to do their searching, and how to get this Hantiemo out of the big traitor’s territory. The borders of Yunnan and Guizhou, two provinces are tightly guarded; leaving Kunming is even more difficult.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Boss Qian [Qian Laoban, see Chapter 13], you can smuggle a Huadiao Fuling pork into the Palace, can’t you smuggle another big fat pig out of Kunming?”

Qian Laoben laughed and said, “To get a big, fat pig out of town, I am afraid we can’t go pass the gate; we must think of some other method. Hiding a corpse inside the coffin is also an old trick, I am afraid it will be difficult to conceal the truth.”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “If faking a dead person is not good, let him pretend to be a live person. Boss Qian, you shave his big beard, put some kind of flour, plaster or whatever on his face, to change his appearance, let him wear the Valiant Cavalry Brigade hat and coat. I am going to select a squad of Valiant Cavalry Brigade sergeants and send them back to Beijing, saying that the Princess is sending her respect to His Majesty, reporting the wedding date to the Empress Dowager and the Emperor. Let this big beard without the beard mingled among the Valiant Cavalry Brigade troop, seal his mute acupoint so he can’t shout. Would the guards, Wu Sangui’s subordinates ask the Emperor’s personal guards to announce their names one by one before letting them pass?” The three people cheered and praised his ingenuity, they all agreed that it was a brilliant plan.

“Is there any brothel in Kunming?” Wei Xiaobao suddenly asked.

Qian Laoben and the others, three people, looked at each other; they thought, “Wei Xiangzhu wants to visit a prostitute?” Qian Laoben laughed and said, “Naturally there are some.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “If we invite Priest Xuanzhen to take a stroll in a brothel, will he be willing to go?” he asked.

Qian Laoben shook his head and said, “Daozhang has left home, I am sure he won’t want to go. If Wei Xiangzhu has an interest, subordinate may keep you company.”

“You will definitely go,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But Xuanzhen Daozhang is big and tall; among our brothers, he is the only one with similar built as that big beard.”

As soon as the three people heard it, they understood that Priest Xuanzhen was to impersonate Hantiemo. Gao Yanchao laughed and said, “For the sake of our Society’s important matter, I am sure Xuanzhen Daozhang will follow orders to visit a brothel.” The four of them burst into laughter.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Please ask Daozhang to wear the big beard’s clothes and take the big beard’s belongings, paste the ‘genuine goods at fair prices’ yellow beard shaved from the big beard’s face on his chin. The rest of the brothers, keep the Ping Xi Wang Mansion guards’ uniform you are wearing now; pick a big brothel, go and drink and make trouble there. Everybody grabs a prostitute [orig. good-looking powder head], in the fight that ensues, Qian Laoben stabs Daozhang to death …”

Qian Laoben was startled, but he understood immediately; naturally he would not kill people for real. He laughed and said, “Wei Xiangzhu’s idea is great. Xuanzhen Daozhang and I will fight over a beauty, we will mumble something, speaking in Mongolian tongue … But we must have another corpse ready.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “Right,” he said, “Go look around, find a criminal in Kunming whose stature is more or less the same as the big beard, catch him and kill him, hide his body by the brothel. After Boss Qian kills Daozhang, shoo the prostitutes out. Daozhang will turn back to life, and put the big beard’s clothes on the dead body.”

Gao Yanchao laughed and said, “The dead man’s face must be chopped into pulp, and throw the clump of yellow beard under the bed, let Wu Sangui’s subordinate find it, and then they will think that the murderer intends to conceal the fact that Hantiemo is dead.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Gao Dage’s thought is more thorough than mine. Everybody, take some money, go visit the brothel! This is so much fun, too bad I cannot go with you.”

[1] Orig. ‘luan’ – a mythical bird related to Phoenix.

[2] An – calm/safe/peace, Fu – abundant/mound.

[3] Qian – abbreviation for Guizhou province, Guo Gong – State Duke.

[4] Wu – five, Hua – abbreviation for China/splendor/grand.

[5] Zhong Kui, mythological character, supposed to drive away evil spirit.

[6] The original, ‘Xiang Hao’ ( 相好 ) carries a deeper connotation that simply a ‘friend’, but not as deep as ‘beloved’ ( 亲爱 ), or (心上人).

[7] Demon in Buddhism, the same ‘Luocha’ as in Yu Luocha (White-haired Demoness), and the Yu Luocha of Luocha Cult (Lu Xiaofeng Book 4, Silver Hook Casino).

[8] Tianshan: Mountain range between Xinjiang and Mongolia and modern day Kyrgyzstan.

[9] League: a subdivision corresponding to prefecture in Inner Mongolia.

[10] Lit. Impoverished (Taoist) priest, referring to self.

[11] The original refers to a move in (a game of) chess.

[12] The character ‘qin’亲 means ‘relatives’. I think it is a prince related by blood to the royal family. Prince Kang was a Qin Wang. I don’t know why Wu Sangui was also a Qin Wang.

[13] King who attacked the East, King who swept the North, and King who stabilized the South, respectively. Reminder: Wu Sangui’s title Ping Xi Wang means King who pacified the West.

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