The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 41-45

Chapter 41 Yuyang instigation sends drunkenness toward the heavens, excessive supervision with poor planning will bring regret too late.

The next day Wei Xiaobao led his companions, the troops and horses, with Wu Zhirong and Mao Dongzhu in custody, leaving Yangzhou heading for the Capital. Kangxi’s imperial edict to summon him back was very urgent, the party did not dare to tarry too long when they lodged for the night, inevitably they had to skip quite a bit of opportunity to invite wealth by accepting bribes along the way. The news on the street was that after Wu Sangui started deploying his troops, Yunnan’s Tidu [local commander] Zhang Guogui, Guizhou’s Xunfu [inspector-general] Cao Shenji and Tidu Li Benshen had surrendered, while Yunnan’s Xunfu Zhu Guozhi was killed, and Yunnan and Guizhou Zongdu [governor general] Gan Wenkun committed suicide.

One day they arrived in Shandong. The local official grabbed the imperial bulletin and presented it to the Imperial Envoy Minister. It was an edict in which Kangxi denounced Wu Sangui. Wei Xiaobao summoned the secretary to read it for him. The secretary held the imperial edict with both hands and read aloud, “Rebel thief Wu Sangui desperately trying to gain authority. Remembering his surrender, my ancestors Emperor Zhang awarded him the troops and conferred the nobility title ‘Wang’ [king], as he bound himself to our mountains and rivers. With his pledge of allegiance he earned the cap (of officialdom), the esteemed hereditary office, with favor bestowed to him on top of everything: wide open space of Yunnan and the south, and whole-hearted responsibility to rely on. By Zhen’s time, distinguished and grand favors have been repeatedly granted, his rise through nobility has brought him the title Qinwang [prince], the country has heavily relied on him to manage the cities, indeed he was the backbone of the country. Special favor superior gift, resonating throughout the world with no precedence since the ancient times.”

Listening to the secretary’s reading, Wei Xiaobao nodded his head continuously; he said, “Indeed His Majesty treated this rebel thief very well, it was not an exaggeration at all. Take me, Wei Xiaobao, for example, I am completely loyal and devoted to the Emperor, yet I am given no more than the title Bojue [earl]. If I want to reach Qinwang, the road I have to take is still missing a large chunk.”

The secretary continued reading, “How it surprised me that Wu Sangui’s nature is poor and odd, in his bosom there is spying and cheating heart, he is pampering pride and scheming to go against the law. Just in the seventh month of this year, he himself was asking to be removed from his post. Depending on Wu Sangui’s sincerity, and remembering the years his strength is waning, and that master and disciples have been in garrison for a long time, Zhen has granted his request and ordered him to rest. Therefore, the placement minister was assigned to prepare a place for him, and special minister was dispatched to announce the content of Zhen’s heart. It could be said that Zhen had profound sentiment toward Wu Sangui, no more, no less. Reviewing Chuan Hu[1] Zongdu Cai Yurong and the others’ memorial: Wu Sangui is on his path to rebel; after the kindness of the imperial court to bear the burden of looking after his needs, he is showing off his power, sowing violence and rebellion, blotting out and burning the living beings, reasons and laws cannot contain, hated by both man and god.”

For each sentence that he heard, Wei Xiaobao uttered a sentence of praise, “His Majesty is magnanimous; he did not curse Wu Sangui’s granny, it can be considered very polite.”

Zhang Yong, Zhao Liangdong, Wang Jinbao, Sun Sike, as well as Li Lishi and the others were listening on the side. They all thought, “The imperial edict only says that the Emperor’s treatment to him cannot be better, while reprimanding Wu Sangui for forgetting favor and violate justice; it did not mention even half a sentence of Manchu-Han relation, as well as how he murdered Ming Dynasty’s royal family, it’s extremely brilliant, so that the world only feel that Wu Sangui’s rebellion is something that he should not have done.”

The secretary continued reading, “The imperial edict urges and instructs local official and the people not to associate with the rebels. If by mistake they already join the thieves, as long as the conviction to turn back is sincere, they will not have to be investigated, their relatives who live in the provinces where the local officials live will not be charged with guilt by association, they will not be doubted. The edict also states: ‘Whoever is able to capture Wu Sangui and present him to the army will be granted his nobility title promptly; whoever is able to capture or put the rebel leaders under his command to death, as well as take back the troops, horses, and the cities, will enjoy preferential treatment upon evaluation of his merit. Zhen will not go back on my word.’”

Hearing the secretary read, ‘His Majesty promises that whoever is able to capture Wu Sangui and present him to the army, His Majesty will make him Ping Xi Qinwang’, Wei Xiaobao could not help to have an itch in his heart that was difficult to scratch. He turned his head around to Li Lishi and the others and said, “Let’s go catch Wu Sangui, then we can be Ping Xi Qinwang; it will be very interesting.” Everybody voiced their agreement.

Zhang Yong and the other military generals thought, “Wu Sangui’s troops numerous, his generals many; catching him is easier said than done.”

Li Lishi and the others thought, “We want to kill Wu Sangui because he overthrew Han people’s rivers and mountains, do you think that we want to strive for the sake of Tatar Emperor? But if Wei Xiangzhu can be Ping Xi Qinwang and lead troops in Yunnan, he can rise in rebellion again; it won’t be too bad.”

Finished listening to the imperial edict, Wei Xiaobao ordered immediate departure, he wanted to reach Beijing as soon as possible, he wanted to be sent to the battlefield, so that he would be the first to capture Wu Sangui and snatch the nobility title Ping Xi Qinwang.

One day they arrived at Xianghe [county, Langfang, Hebei], which was not far from the Capital. Wei Xiaobao commanded Zhang Yong, leading a large number of troops, to wait here and closely guard offender to the throne Mao Dongzhu, while he and Shuang’er and Tian Di Hui warriors, with Wu Zhirong in custody, turned southwest toward the big house of the Zhuang Family. He wanted to personally deliver Wu Zhirong to the Third Mistress to repay her generous gift of Shuang’er, such a good servant girl.

By that evening they arrived at a small town about twenty li away from the Zhuang Family’s big house. The party stopped at a restaurant to eat dinner. All of them have changed into civilian clothes. They sealed Wu Zhirong’s mute acupoint, as well as several acupoints on his body, but did not bind him to avoid drawing other people’s attention. They all sat around two wooden tables. Nobody wanted to sit at the same table with Wu Zhirong. Shuang’er was afraid that he might run away, she was the only one who was willing to sit at his table, to keep a close watch on him.

The food was delivered. Everybody was eating when a dozen or so soldiers entered the inn, led by a Shoubei [captain]. Outside the inn, the horses were neighing continuously, two ordinary soldiers fetched water and fed the horses. A Bazong [squad leader] shouted loudly, ordering the innkeeper to quickly kill the chicken and prepare a meal, saying that they were in urgent official business and wanted to reach the Capital as soon as possible to report. The innkeeper said ‘yes, yes’ repeatedly, while urging the waiters to wait upon the guanlaoye [master government official]. He personally wiped the captain’s table and chair.

The soldiers had just sat down, from the mouth of the town came the sound of cartwheel and hoof beats. The carriage and horses stopped in front of the inn, several people entered the restaurant. At the front were two big muscular men; the third was a middle-age man with the appearance of a tuberculosis ghost, short and thin, his cheeks were deep and hollow, his cheekbones high, his complexion wax-yellow, without any trace of even half a part of blood, there was a faint darkness surrounding his appearance, every few steps he coughed a bit.

Behind him were an old man and old woman walking side by side, they both appeared to be over eighty years old. The old man was also short and thin, but he looked spirited and full of life, his white beard floated in front of his chest, his face was ruddy. The old woman was slightly taller than the old man, her waist and back was straight, her eyes were bright and full of expression. At the rear were two twenty-something women.

Looking at the way these seven people dressed, the sick looking man’s clothes was luxurious, he appeared to be a landlord from a very wealthy family. The two men and two women were menservants and maidservants. The old man and old woman dressed in dark green robes, the material was very coarse, but very clean. It was unclear what their status was.

The old woman said, “Zhang Ma [nurse Zhang], get a bowl of hot water, help Shaoye [young master] taking his medication.”

One of the maidservants complied; she took out a china bowl from her basket, lifted up the copper kettle in the inn, and poured the hot water into the china bowl. She shook the bowl several times before throwing the water away, and then she poured half a bowl of hot water, and set it down in front of the sickly man.

The old women took out a porcelain bottle from her bosom, pulled the cork out, and tipped out a red pill, which she brought to the sickly man’s mouth. The sickly man opened his mouth and held the pill on his tongue. Picking up the water bowl he drank it to swallow the pill. After taking the pill, the sickly man panted endlessly, while also coughing nonstop.

The old man and the old woman fixed their gaze at the sickly man, their expression showed concern, but they also looked worried. After seeing his breathing slowing down and his coughing stopped they heaved a deep sigh. The sickly man frowned and said, “Dad, Ma, why are you always worried about me? I won’t die.”

“Humph,” the old man snorted, and turned his head away. The old woman laughed and said, “What are you talking about, dead or alive? My child will live to be a hundred years old.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Even if this fellow took the Jade Emperor’s miracle pill, he won’t last a few days. Turns out this old man and the old woman are his parents. This tuberculosis ghost is spoiled by his parents since he was little, his dad and mom only looked at him a bit more, his temper flared.”

The old woman said, “Zhang Ma, Sun Ma, go warm Shaoye’s ginseng soup, and then cook the meal.” The two maidservants complied. Each woman carried a basket as they walked toward the rear of the inn.

The captain inquired about the way to Beijing from the innkeeper. The innkeeper said, “Gentlemen may continue your journey twenty, thirty more li today, and stop-by for the night in the small town ahead. Tomorrow you may leave early in the morning, you should reach the Capital by the afternoon.”

“We have to continue over night,” the captain said, “No time to stay in any inn. Innkeeper, within a year from today, I guarantee your business will flourish. You’d better prepare some good food, good wine, so that when the moment comes you won’t be caught in confusion.”

The innkeeper laughed and said, “Laoye [old master] said it well. Small inns’ business is always ordinary. Business like today seldom comes by, usually only a few days in a month; it is because Laoye and other guests are showing consideration, how can I expect to have a lot of guests honoring us with your presence every day?”

The captain laughed and said, “Innkeeper, let me tell you something: Wu Sangui is rebelling, right now he has reached Hunan. We are hastening to the Capital to deliver military document. Once the big battle breaks out, at least it will take three to five years to defeat him. The troops who send reports of military intelligence every day will pass this place, hereafter you will gain wealth.”

The innkeeper repeatedly expressed his thanks, but in his heart he was grumbling incessantly, “Soldiers like you, what good business is there to make? You’ll eat and drink as much as you like, if you are generous at most you’ll give tips of a few qian. After ferociously beat and curse people, you’ll pat your buttocks and leave. Forget three to five years, in just half a year or a year, I will have to hang myself.”

Hearing that Wu Sangui had reached Hunan, Wei Xiaobao, Li Lishi and the others were shocked. “That servant moves very fast,” they thought.

In a low voice Qian Laoben said, “I ask?” Wei Xiaobao nodded. Qian Laoben walked over to the Captain and with a face full of smile he cupped his fist and said, “Just now I heard Jiangjun [General] Daren said that Wu Sangui has attacked Hunan. Xiaoren’s wife and children are actually in Changsha [prefecture, capital of Hunan]; I am very concerned. I wonder how is the situation over there? Is Changsha still safe?”

Being called a ‘general’, the captain was delighted; he said, “Whether Changsha is safe or not, I do not know. Wu Sangui dispatched his subordinate great general Ma Bao from Guizhou to attack Hunan; Yuanzhou has fallen, Zongbing Cui Shilu was taken prisoner. Wu Sangui’s subordinates Zhang Guozhu, Gong Yinglin, and Xia Guoxiang separately attacked to the east. Another great general Wang Bingfan went out to attack Sichuan; I heard his troops are very powerful. People of Sichuan and Hunan region are fleeing.”

Qian Laoben showed great concern on his face, “This … this is far from good,” he said, “But the Great Qing’s troops are very formidable, Wu Sangui won’t necessarily win, will he?”

The captain replied, “At first, everybody said so; but after Yuanzhou fell, we knew Wu Sangui’s troops and horses are not easy to resist. Ay, the situation is very difficult to say.”

Qian Laoben cupped his fist and returned to his seat. Some Tian Di Hui warriors thought, “We must not let this big traitor Wu Sangui becomes the Emperor.” Some other thought, “It would be best to let Wu Sangui attacked Beijing, let him fight with Manchurian Qing Tatars until both sides suffer.”

The soldiers ate and drank in a hurry. The captain stood up and said, “Innkeeper, I deliver to you good news, you should just invite us as your guests.”

The innkeeper bowed and said with a forced laugh, “Yes, yes. I should, I should. Gentlemen, Daren, please take care.”

The captain laughed and said, “Slow down? Then we should sit down and eat again.” With an awkward expression, the innkeeper could only force a smile. [Translator’s note: in Chinese, ‘man zou’ (lit. walk slowly) could also mean ‘take care’ or ‘wait a minute’.]

The captain walked toward the door. When he was passing the old man, the old woman, and the sickly man’s table, suddenly the sickly man reached out and grabbed his chest. “You are going to Beijing to deliver what document?” he asked, “Take it out, let me look.”

The captain’s body was thick and solid, but grabbed by this sickly man, he immediately buckled, his body shortened by one section. “Damn it,” he angrily shouted, “What are you doing?” He struggled hard until his face was bulging red, but was unable to move a single step.

‘Rip!’ the sickly man’s right hand tore the front piece of the captain’s clothes by his chest and took out a large envelope. The sickly man pushed lightly with his left hand, the captain was thrown out, and crashed onto two tables, turning everything upside down. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang!’ bowls and plates fell to the floor and broke into pieces.

The rest of the troops shouted, “Rebellion, rebellion!” One after another they pulled their spears and sabers and pounced on the sickly man. The sickly man’s two menservants raised their fists and legs, punching and kicking, throwing down the soldiers. In an instant the soldiers were sprawled over the inn’s floor.

The sickly man tore the envelope open, removed the document and read it. The captain was scared out of his wits; in trembling voice he shouted, “That is a memorial to the Emperor; you … you dare to tear up the document, this … this … isn’t this rebellion?”

The sickly man read the document and said, “Hunan Xunfu is asking Tatar Emperor to send reinforcement to fight Ping Xi Wang. Humph, even if he sent a million troops, they will still … (cough, cough) … they will still be wiped out by Ping Xi Wang clean.” While speaking, he crumpled the document in his hand, pressed it into the hollow of his palm, and by the time he finished speaking, he spread out his palm and waved it in the air, countless pieces of paper fluttered like butterflies flying in the wind, scattered in all directions.

Seeing this kind of internal energy, the Tian Di Hui warriors’ countenance changed; they all thought, “From the tone of his voice, he seems to be Wu Sangui’s subordinate.”

The captain struggled to crawl up. Pulling the saber hanging on his waist he said, “You destroyed the document, Laozi cannot live anyway, I will fight you to the death!” Raising his saber he leaped forward and hacked it down with all his might to the top of the sickly man’s head. The sickly man stayed sitting, he merely raised his left hand and pushed slightly on the captain’s lower abdomen, as if he did not want him to cause trouble. Suddenly the captain’s arm that was holding the saber slowly drooped down, his body slowly slumped down until he sat on the floor. He opened his mouth wide to gasp for breath, but found out that he could not breathe.

Some of the overthrown soldiers crawled up, but they all stood far away. They shouted curses, but were powerless to anything. Nobody dared to step forward to help their superior.

Holding a bowl of hot soup with both hands, a maid carefully set it down in front of the sickly man; she said, “Shaoye, please take the ginseng soup.”

The old man and the old woman acted as if they were completely oblivious of the commotion happening around them; they did not pay the slightest bit of attention, their gaze was fixed on their son’s expression.

Xu Tianchuan said in a low voice, “These people are quite demonic, let us leave.” Gao Yanchao paid for the food and drink, and then they all quietly walked out the door. They saw the old woman held the ginseng bowl; she gently blew the steam and brought the bowl to the sickly man’s mouth to feed him the soup.

It was not until Wei Xiaobao and the others reached the outskirt of the small town did they break into discussion as the affiliation of the sickly man. Xu Tianchuan said, “That man ripped the officer’s clothes, his strength is that formidable, it’s really … really rare.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “He only pushed the officer’s lower abdomen lightly, it appeared very sloppy and ordinary, but to evade or block that move is really not easy. Feng Xiongdi, what do you think?”

Feng Jizhong said, “Should not go near him three chi [foot].”

The warriors thought about it, and agreed that it made sense; it doesn’t matter if they wanted to dodge or to block, they could only do it if they were tree feet away from him, if they were too close, they would not be able to evade or to block. Xu Tianchuan suddenly said, “If I grabbed his wrist …” but before finishing it, he shook his head, knowing that the opponent’s internal energy was too strong; even if he managed to grab his wrist, as soon as the man flipped his palm and twisted, it would be highly likely that his finger bones, his wrist bones, would all be broken.

Everybody understood that the sickly man was on Wu Sangui’s side, but after seeing him violently injured people, nobody dared to make a move to stop him. Although the people he injured were Tatar military officers, in the end, it was not their habit as chivalrous heroes not to do anything. In their hearts they were quite ashamed, inevitably their mood was dampened; after talking for a while, no one was interested to discuss it any longer.

After traveling for several li, suddenly they heard hoof beats from behind, two riders galloped fast. The road they were traveling on was a small path leading to the Zhuang Family’s big house, it was not wide enough for two riders to ride side by side. The warriors were not in a good mood, although they heard the urgency of the hoof beats, other than Feng Jizhong and Shuang’er who reined their horses and stepped toward the side of the path, nobody else was willing to give way.

In a flash the two riders had reached their backs. The warriors turned their heads together, and saw that the two riders were unexpectedly the menservants of the sickly man. One of the menservants called out, “Our family’s Shaoye is asking gentlemen to wait a moment, he has something to ask gentlemen.”

Although it was not rude, the feeling of condescending could not be clearer. When the warriors heard it, they were all indignant. Priest Xuanzhen shouted, “We are busy, no time to wait. We are strangers, what do you want to ask?”

The servant replied, “It’s our family’s Shaoye’s order, it would be better if gentlemen wait, so that everybody won’t be inconvenienced.” This time the threat was obvious.

Qian Laoben said, “Is your master Wu Sangui’s subordinate?”

“Pei!” the servant spat, “What do you think my master’s status is? How can he be Ping Xi Wang’s subordinate?”

The warriors thought, “He did not say ‘Wu Sangui’, but addressed him as ‘Ping Xi Wang’; they must have some relation with that traitor Wu.”

Right this moment, they heard the sound of carriage wheels, a large carriage quickly caught up with them. The servant said, “Our master has arrived.” Turning his horse around, he rode back to welcome the carriage.

If this moment the warriors dismounted their horses and walked over, it would appear that they were afraid of the sickly man; thereupon they stayed on horseback, waiting.

The carriage approached fast, one of the maidservants drove the carriage, the other maid raised the carriage curtain, and they saw the sickly man was sitting right in the middle, his father and mother sat in front and behind him. The sickly man stared at the warriors and asked, “Why did you seal this man’s acupoint?” While saying that he pointed to Wu Zhirong, and then he asked again, “Who are you? Where are you going?” His voice sharp, his tone very arrogant.

Priest Xuanzhen said, “And what is Sire’s honored surname and great name? We are total strangers, river water does not interfere with well water, why are you meddling in other people’s business?”

“Humph,” the sickly man snorted, “You are not fit to ask my name and surname. Just now I asked you two questions, didn’t you hear? Why you did not answer?”

Priest Xuanzhen angrily said, “I am not fit to ask your name and surname, you are not fit to ask our business either. Wu Sangui started a rebellion, he is a great traitor, you kept calling him Ping Xi Wang, you must be of the same group as this traitor. I can see that Sire’s disease has already attack your vital organs, you had better go home as soon as possible so that you can die in your own bed; otherwise you’ll catch cold and cough, and will breathe your last.”

Amid the Tian Di Hui warriors’ hearty laughter, suddenly a shadow flashed, ‘Slap!’ Priest Xuanzhen’s left cheek was heavily hit by a palm, followed by another palm strike on the left side of his torso that he was thrown down from his horse. These two palm strikes were fast and nimble beyond belief; it was not until he fell to the ground did the warriors see clearly that the one making the move was the old woman. After knocking down Priest Xuanzhen with two palm strikes, she kicked the ground with both feet, and flew back into the carriage.

The warriors broke into a clamor and pounced toward the large carriage. The sickly man grabbed the maid’s, who was driving the carriage, back, lightly lifted her up, and swiftly swapped places with her; he tossed the maid into the carriage and took her seat as the carriage driver. Right this moment Qian Laoben happened to leap with both palms striking down. The sickly man sent out a left punch to meet his palms, surprisingly it was totally silent. Qian Laoben only felt a gust of powerful force rushing toward him, throwing him somersaulting backward twice in the air. As he landed on the ground, he tried to steady his legs, but suddenly felt his knees were without strength and felt that he was about to kneel down. In his shock he hastily struggled to throw himself backward so that he fell face up, hence he avoid being disgraced by kneeling in front of the enemy.

Qian Laoben had just fallen down, Feng Jizhong pounced; the sickly man sent out another punch. Feng Jizhong did not dare to meet the punch head-on, his right palm changed direction midway, suddenly it chopped down on the sickly man’s neck. “Ah!” the man exclaimed, as if he was surprised by the opponent’s superb martial art. His thumb hooked on his middle finger, and he flicked at the hollow of Feng Jizhong’s palm. Feng Jizhong quickly pulled back his palm, his right foot stepped on the mule’s back.

Gao Yanchao and Fan Gang separately attacked the two menservants. The two menservants leaped away from the horseback, “Let Shaoye deal with you,” they called out.

Gao and Fan, two people were actually thinking that by fighting the opponent’s menservants they were having an unfair advantage; seeing the two menservants withdrew, which was in agreement with their original thought anyway, they turned around at once and leaped together to attack the sickly man’s left flank.

Suddenly the mule let out a long neigh and limply dropped down to the ground, pulling the large carriage along that it leaned to one side. Turned out when Feng Jizhong stepped on the mule’s back, he secretly exerted his internal energy to his sole that as soon as he kicked, the mule’s backbone broke.

The sickly man’s feet did not seem to leap, his body did not seem to move, but amid his coughing sound he was already standing on the ground. The old man and the old woman in the carriage, each carrying a maid, also leaped out of the carriage. These three people’s movement did not seem too fast, yet they were out of the carriage before the large carriage began to topple.

Qian Laoben and Xu Tianchuan attacked the old man and the old woman. The old woman shook her left hand, while with her right hand she pointed toward the sickly man. “Go over there,” she said with a laugh, “Accompany my child playing.” Her meaning was clear; she wanted these two men to suffer her son’s punches to make him happy.

Xu Tianchuan’s right fist shot down on the top of the old man’s head; it’s just that because he saw the old man was really old, although he knew the old man’s martial art skill was not weak, Xu Tianchuan was afraid he might kill him with one punch, thereupon he shouted, “Watch the fist!” He only used 30% of his strength in this punch. Ever since he accidentally killed Bai Hansong and thus created quite a few of trouble with the Mu Palace, he had been very cautious.

The old man stretched out his hand to catch Xu Tianchuan’s fist. This old man was thin and short, unexpectedly his palm was unusually big; as he squeezed Xu Tianchuan’s fist, he said, “Go over there to play!” Although Xu Tianchuan was considerably younger than the old man, he was, after all, a white-haired old man; yet the way the old man talked to him was like he was addressing an urchin.

Xu Tianchuan exerted his strength to pull his right hand back, while with his left fist he sent out another punch. It was the move ‘Azure Dragon White Tiger’, a complementary style, in which the left punch was not really intended to strike the opponent, it was only to force the opponent to relinquish his grip; however, if the opponent did not want to let go, this punch would strike the bridge of his nose.

The old man spread his arms while letting go of his grip. Xu Tianchuan only felt a blast of muddy, thick and extremely strong force pushing him away; coupled with his own strength, his left fist punching forward and his right hand pulling back, his body whirled around like a spinning top, straight toward the sickly man.

The sickly man was fighting Feng Jizhong, Gao Yanchao, Fan Gang and Li Lishi; seeing the incoming Xu Tianchuan, he clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “It’s fun, it’s fun!” The four men’s punches and kicks rained down on him like storm, unexpectedly he still had time to clap and cheer; followed by reaching out to push. Xu Tianchuan changed direction; at first he was turning right, but now he was turning left, spinning at great speed toward the old man.

“Dad,” the sickly man said with a laugh, “It’s very fun, send this spinning top back to me!”

Xuanzhen did everything he can to attack. The sickly man casually push and pull, push and pull, unexpectedly he also turned Xuanzhen, Gao Yanchao, Fan Gang, and Li Lishi, four men into spinning tops. Only Feng Jizhong was not spinning, but he felt the chi and blood in the pit of his stomach were bubbling up in his chest; hastily he leaped three steps back with his palms as a shield in front of his body.

Five Tian Di Hui warriors were spinning incessantly; they wanted to exert their strength to stop spinning, but no matter what they do, they were unable to stop. When one of them was slowing down, the sickly man would leap and push and pull, immediately he would spin faster again. It was like a child playing with copper coins on the table; he spun five coins like tops, whichever was slowing down and was about to fall, the child would use his fingers to flick it so that the coin would continue spinning.

Watching all this, Wei Xiaobao was stunned; he was completely horrified. Shuang’er stood in front of him, trying to protect him while she herself was very scared and on edge. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “We must execute the thirty-sixth stance.” [i.e. run away]

“Quickly go to the Zhuang house,” Shuang’er replied.

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Once we reach the Zhuang house, great luck, great profit. As the banker we can eat the leg vise, and make big killing on the three directions[2].” He turned around and ran. Pulling Wu Zhirong along, Shuang’er ran after him.

The sickly man was having so much fun playing spinning tops, the old couple watched their son with smile on their face. The four menservants and maidservants were clapping and cheering while standing on the side, watching their young master having fun.

Seeing Feng Jizhong was standing firm on horse stance, his left palm high, right palm low, in the style ‘Ancient Pine Standing Up Strong’, the sickly man immediately stepped forward and stretched out his hand to push Feng Jizhong’s right shoulder. Feng Jizhong pulled his right foot one step, hence his shoulder also leaned sideways to evade the push, but he did not dare to strike back with his palm.

The sickly man angrily said, “You are a bad man, you don’t want to spin around?” Stretching out his hand again, he tried to push Feng Jizhong’s right shoulder.

Feng Jizhong withdrew another step; to his surprise a burst of strong force came pushing the back of his left shoulder, immediately he lost his balance and amidst the sickly man’s loud laughter his body started to spin in great speed. He wanted to use ‘thousand-catty drop’ to stop, but the sickly man gave him another strong push at the back of his waist that he continued spinning.

Seeing the sickly man was giving his opponents trouble, Wu Zhirong realized a good opportunity has presented itself; thereupon after walking a few steps he pretended to trip and fall to the ground. Shuang’er pulled him up, but he was unwilling to get up. Wei Xiaobao was greatly anxious; afraid that Wu Zhirong would tell the enemy the truth, he grabbed his lower jaw and pinched as hard as he could so that Wu Zhirong opened his mouth. Wei Xiaobao pulled the dagger from his boot and swiped it in Wu Zhirong’s mouth, cutting most part of his tongue. Wu Zhirong fainted from the pain.

Shuang’er thought Wei Xiaobao had killed the traitor. “Xianggong,” she called out, “Hurry up!” The two of them dashed forward.

They had only run for less than a li when they heard the sound of hoof beats from behind, someone was pursuing them on horseback. Wei Xiaobao pointed to the rocky ridge to the left, the two of them left the path and scrambled over the pile of rocks. Riding on horses, the sickly man and one of his menservants soon caught up with them. Seeing the horses could not enter the rocky ridge, the servant jumped down the horse and called out, “Two children don’t be afraid. Our family’s Shaoye wants you to play with him. Come back quickly!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “To be a spinning top, laozi don’t want to do.” He ran even faster. The servant chased into the rocky ridge, but Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er were able to run very fast, the servant was unable to catch up with them.

The sickly man called out, “Do you want to play hide-and-seek? It’s fun, it’s fun!” He dismounted; while coughing incessantly, he cut them off from the south.

Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er turned and ran toward the northeast, rushing straight toward the servant. The servant pounced to catch Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao used the moved ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ [divine walk hundred changes] taught by Jiu Nan; he leaned sideways, the servant landed on empty space.

Shuang’er sent a backhand palm strike toward the servant’s lower back. Seeing she was only a little girl, the servant did not take her seriously at all, unexpectedly he did not even try to parry but stretched out his arm to twist her right arm instead. Shuang’er swiftly pulled her right palm back, ‘Crack!’ the edge of her palm hit his lower back. “Ah!” the servant cried out in pain. Right this moment, Shuang’er already grabbed his right wrist and twisted it backward. Another ‘Crack!’ ensued, his elbow joint was dislocated.

“Eh?” the sickly man exclaimed in surprise. Jumping from rock to rock, just in a few ups and downs he had landed in front of Shuang’er. With a sweep of his left hand he knocked the hat on Shuang’er’s head that her head-full of fine hair came loose. The sickly man laughed and said, “It’s a girl!” He reached out to grab her hair.

“Ah!” Shuang’er screamed; with the move ‘a pair of dragon return’ both her elbows struck backward. The sickly man laughed and said, “Good!” His left hand swept from left to right and grabbed both her fists, pulled the fists behind her back, and then with his right hand he pulled her long hair and coiled it twice around her wrists and tied it into a knot, while laughing aloud.

Shuang’er was so anxious that she cried. “Xianggong,” she called out, “Quickly run, quickly run!”

The sickly man stretched out his finger to jab lightly on her waist to seal her acupoint. “He won’t run away,” he said with a laugh. Tossing Shuang’er down, he ran after Wei Xiaobao, and in just a short time managed to get near him.

Wei Xiaobao fled to the east and ran to the west among the rocks, several times the sickly man almost caught him, but in the last moment Wei Xiaobao managed to evade using the ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ skill. The sickly man laughed and said, “Your ability in playing hide-and-seek is very good.” [Translator’s note: I know it should be ‘playing tag’, but the original was 捉迷藏, which the dictionary defines as ‘hide-and-seek’.]

Wei Xiaobao’s internal strength was lacking, after running around for a while, he was already gasping for breath. Knowing that in a short while he would be caught, he called out, “You can’t catch me, now it’s my turn to catch you. Quickly run, I am going to catch you.” While saying that, he turned around and pounced on the sickly man.

The sickly man giggled, and surprisingly enough he did turn around and run around the piles of rocks. Wei Xiaobao had already figured out that although his martial art skill was superior, his conduct was silly like an imbecile; his age must be over forty, but his behavior was like that of a child. Yet he was able to move back and forth among the rocks swiftly; Wei Xiaobao had just seen him on the east, in a flash his shadow suddenly appeared on the west; his lightning speed movement was indeed like a ghost.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly astonished, but also full of admiration. “I will definitely catch you,” he called out, “You won’t be able to escape!” Pretending to run after him, he rushed toward Shuang’er, picked her up, and called loudly, “Hey, even by carrying a person I will catch you.”

The sickly man roared in laughter, “Toot, toot, toot, you are blowing your conch, (cough, cough) … tweet, tweet, tweet, you are blowing your cowhide!” [Both mean: tooting your horn.] Carrying Shuang’er in his bosom, Wei Xiaobao pretended to run after the sickly man, but he ran farther and farther away.

The sickly man called out, “Useless little thing, you can’t catch me … (cough, cough) …” and ran a few steps closer to Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao yelled back, “See if this time I won’t catch you. You can’t run away when you are coughing.” While saying that he struck a posture like he was about to pounce.

“Little demon!” the old woman angrily shouted from far away, “You dare to make my child coughing!” ‘Zip!’ a pebble split the air. Although the pebble was small, the sound was astonishingly loud.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out and squatted down to evade. But he was still one step too late, the pebble hit him behind his knee and he tumbled down and rolled around, along with Shuang’er in his bosom, on the ground.

“Catch them!” the old woman called out. The other servant pounced on Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er; he caught their backs, brought them to the old woman and tossed them on the ground. The sickly man giggled and clapped his hands and sang, “Useless lot, can only eat shallot, (cough, cough) … drop a lot, bonk, bonk loud!”

Wei Xiaobao was scared and angered at the same time; he saw Xu Tianchuan, Feng Jizhong, and the others were strung together with a long rope into a human chain, with one of the maidservants holding the end of the rope; even Wu Zhirong was also tied at the end of the chain. Everybody had his head hung low in front of his chest, their eyes were closed, it seemed that all of them had passed out.

The old woman said, “You, baby girl who dress as a man, where did you learn your ‘separating tendon dislocating joint’ skill? And you, boy, where did you learn the ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ skill?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he thought, “This granny’s vision is indeed formidable, she knew the name of my school’s unique skill.” Thinking that since other people were able to recognize it, his ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ skill must have been trained to almost perfection; he could not help feeling very proud of himself as he laughed and said, “What ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’? Did you say that I know ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’?”

“Pei!” the old woman spat, “Your doggy leaps did not look like doggy leap, your crabby crawls did not look like crabby crawl; can it be considered ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’?”

Wei Xiaobao sat up and said, “It was you who said ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’, I did not say it. How do I know if it was ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ or ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’ [divine crawl hundred changes]?”

The sickly man clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “You know ‘Shen Tiao Bai Bian’ [divine jump/hop hundred changes] and also know ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’, ha ha … interesting.” He leaned over and poked a finger on Wei Xiaobao’s back.

Wei Xiaobao only felt a whiff of boiling heat stream from his finger penetrating his body, and the numb and aching feeling on his lower limbs immediately disappeared. He stood up and said, “Your unsealing acupoint skill is very brilliant.”

The sickly man said, “Quickly crawl. I want you to crawl in a hundred different styles; crawl like a tortoise, crawl like a frog, then you can call it ‘Divine Crawl a Hundred Changes’.”

“I don’t know any ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you do, show me how to crawl.”

“I don’t know either,” the sickly man replied, “My Dad says masters of martial art should not simply learn other people’s skill, but must be able to display originality, must show creativity, only then he can be called a ‘master’. Dad, in the martial art study, is there such thing as ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’ skill?” The old man frowned; he shook his head.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You are a martial art master. Since there is no such thing as ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’ skill, you can create one, you can found Shen Pa School …”

Before he could finish, his buttocks were kicked by the old woman; he heard her thundered, “Don’t talk nonsense!” The old woman cast a sidelong glance toward her son, her face showed a concerned expression. Apparently she was afraid her son would listen to this youngster’s advice and really created this new skill ‘Divine Crawl a Hundred Changes’. She did not want her son to think too much; hence she asked Wei Xiaobao again, “What’s your name? Who is your Shifu?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “These two old monsters and one little monster … no, one midsize monster’s martial art skill is too strong, Laozi cannot fight them. A hero must not suffer humiliation in front of their eyes, I had no choice but to deceive them. If Laozi pretends to be Wu Sangui’s friend, perhaps they will not dare to give me trouble.” His glance caught Wu Zhirong, and he had a sudden inspiration; he said, “I am surnamed Wu, my name is Wu Zhirong, alias Xianyang, a native of Gaoyou county in Yangzhou. Hot piece mama, before long my bofu [paternal (older) uncle] Ping Xi Wang will attack Beijing. If you offended me, Ping Xi Wang will not be polite toward you!”

The old couple and the sickly man were greatly astonished; they looked at each other. “Fake!” the sickly man said, “How could Ping Xi Wang have a nephew like you?”

“How can it be fake?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “There is no harm in you asking me anything about Ping Xi Wang’s household. If I give you one wrong answer, you can just kill me.”

“Alright!” the sickly man said, “What is Ping Xi Wang’s favorite thing?”

“Are you talking about object, or people?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Previously, the person he loves the most was Chen Yuanyuan; later on when Chen Yuanyuan grew older, he was then very fond of a beautiful woman called ‘four-face Guanyin’. Nowadays, his most beloved beauty is called ‘eight-face Guanyin’.”

“What’s so good about beautiful women?” the sickly man said, “I am talking about his most beloved object.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Ping Xi Wang has three treasures he loves the most. The first is a sheet of white tiger skin, the second is a ruby the size of a chicken-egg, the third is a marble screen with a painting of a tiger.”

The sickly man laughed and said, “Ha ha … you really know. Look here!” Unbuttoning his clothes, his left hand grabbed the front lapel of his long robe and lifted it up, revealing a fur coat he wore on the inside. The fur coat was white with black stripes; it was made of white tiger skin.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised, “Uh, oh! This is Ping Xi Wang’s most beloved object, the white tiger skin. You … you … how did you steal it?”

With an air of complacency the sickly man said, “What do you mean ‘steal’? Ping Xi Wang gave it to me.”

Shaking his head, Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t believe you. I heard my jiefu [older sister’s husband] Xia Guoxiang said …”

“Xia Guoxiang is your jiefu?” the sickly man asked.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “My tang jiefu [paternal female cousin’s husband]; my paternal cousin Wu Zhi … Wu Zhifang is married to him. My jiefu is an expert in battle, he is one of the ten great Zongbing under Ping Xi Wang’s command.”

The sickly man nodded. “So be it,” he said, “Ping Xi Wang invited my Dad, Ma and myself to drink wine, my Dad and Ma did not go, I went alone. Ping Xi Wang accompanied me personally, the ten Zongbing under his command all came, your jiefu ranks the first.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “And then there are Ma Bao, Ma Dage, Wang Pingfan, Wang Dage, Zhang Guozhu, Zhang Dage; those are tops generals, expert in battle, great power and prestige, great aura of death!”

The sickly man said, “What did your jiefu say about this white tiger skin?”

Wei Xiaobao was determined to win his favor, he spoke without thinking, “My jiefu said, when Chen Yuanyuan was still Ping Xi Wang’s favorite, whenever she was under the weather, got a cold or a cough, people were saying that as long as this white skin tiger was used as a blanket, after three days under the cover, she would get well. She wanted to ask Wu … Ping Xi Wang for this white tiger skin. Ping Xi Wang said, ‘I don’t mind to lend you this blanket for a few days, but there is no way I would give this to you. This is the most auspicious treasure in the world, white tigers only appear once every eight hundred years. Even if it did appear, we can’t necessarily catch it, can’t necessarily skin it. If one has this white tiger skin in the house, when demons, ghosts, evil spirits saw it, they would immediately flee far away. When one is sick, no need to take any medicine, just use this white tiger skin as a blanket; a few days under the blanket, the skin will get rid of the illness. In the game of Pai Jiu [pai gow], the left gate is called Green Dragon, right gate is called White Tiger. Green dragon skin, white tiger skin, both are priceless treasures.”

The old woman listened as Wei Xiaobao was talking with ‘living spirit, living image’; her son was sick, and that was her only concern. When she heard that when used as a blanket the white tiger skin was capable of curing coughing, although she was not completely convinced, deep in her heart she hoped that it was true. “Son,” she said, “Ping Xi Wang gave this treasure to you, your face indeed is not small. You made the skin into a robe that you can wear, it was very clever. If this white tiger skin can really cure illness …”

The sickly man frowned and said, “I am not sick; why do you keep mentioning it?”

The old woman laughed and said, “Yes, yes, you are as lively as a dragon and as animated as a tiger. These people are Jianghu warriors, but you made them into spinning tops or shooting stars, you are having so much fun playing with them.”

The sickly man roared in loud laughter, interspersed with several coughing. The old woman said, “When you go to bed at night, we must remember to wear the skin robe as a blanket.” The sickly man turned his head away, refusing to acknowledge her.

The old man pointed to Feng Jizhong and the others and asked, “Are they all Ping Xi Wang’s subordinates?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I pretend to be the old traitor’s nephew, it’s not a big deal; but to ask Xu San Ge [third (older) brother] and the others to acknowledge that they are Wu Sangui’s subordinates, they would never agree. They are hardheaded, I must not let them say anything that will reveal the horse’s foot.” He said, “They are my subordinates. We heard that Ping Xi Wang arises in rebellion, Prince Consort and the Princess are still in Beijing, they cannot escape. This Wu Yingxiong Gege loves to chat with me the most, we have the best friendship. I am taking these friends to Beijing to rescue the Prince Consort. Although it is a dangerous mission, all of us attach most importance to yi qi; this is called ‘going through the water and tread on fire, under no circumstances we will decline, knowing full well that it is a mountain of sabers or a forest of swords, we still want to charge through it.’” These words were spoken with extreme vehemence.

The old man nodded. He walked over; both hands pulled several times, immediately the long rope binding Feng Jizhong and the others fell off. And then he lightly patted each person’s back, twice, followed by massaging their back a bit, unsealing everybody’s acupoint. One of the maidservants went over to Shuang’er and untied her hair from her wrists. The old man turned to Wei Xiaobao, “I cannot trust you completely just by what you said. This matter is of grave importance, you said you are Ping Xi Wang’s nephew, but how can you prove it?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Laoyezi [old master], this is difficult. I do not have my Dad and my Mom in here. How about this: let us go to Beijing and see Prince Consort. If he is arrested by the Emperor, then we’ll go see Princess Jianning. I am sure Princess will tell you whether I am a genuine goods at fair prices, cheating neither old nor young, the real Wu Zhirong.” He thought that when he got to Beijing, why would he be afraid of them? In case they really twisted his arm and brought him to see Princess Jianning, even if he wanted to pretend to be the Jade Emperor of the Heaven, the Princess would definitely nod her head and confirm that it was true.

The old man and the old woman looked at each other, both were still unconvinced. Wei Xiaobao suddenly remembered something; he laughed and said, “Ah, I know, I have a letter written by Ping Xi Wang. If I show this letter to other people, unavoidably my whole family will be executed unto the third generation. But since you are Ping Xi Wang’s friends, there is no harm for you to take a look.” While saying that he put his hand into his pocket to retrieve the letter forged by Zha Yihuang, and handed it over to the old man.

The old man took the letter, and read it under the dim twilight. Wei Xiaobao was still afraid they might not understand the letter, he tried to explain, “Desiring to behead the white snake and bestow a gale, all those things are talking about Zhu Yuanzhang …” Since he did not understand it himself, as soon as he opened his mouth he had already made a mistake; it was a reference to Liu Bang and not Zhu Yuanzhang. Fortunately the old man and the old woman’s attention was focused on the letter, they did not even hear what he was saying.

After reading the letter, the old woman said, “Indeed it’s true, Ping Xi Wang wants to be Han Gaozu, Ming Taizu, and he wants him to be Zhang Zifang, Liu Bowen. Er Ge [second (older) brother], Ping Xi Wang said that the insurgence is for the sake of restoring the House of Ming; but judging from the tone of this letter, humph, he … his own ambition is definitely not small.” Casting a glance toward Wei Xiaobao she said, “You are still young …” Obviously in her heart she was saying, “You are still a baby, do you think you fit to be Zhang Zifang or Liu Bowen?”

The old man folded the letter and put it back into the envelope. Returning it to Wei Xiaobao, he said, “You are indeed Ping Xi Wang’s virtuous nephew. We have offended you much.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You are too kind, you are too kind! One who does not know is not guilty.”

By this time Xu Tianchuan and the others already regained their consciousness; hearing Wei Xiaobao claimed himself to be Wu Sangui’s nephew, and the opposite side unexpectedly believe without any doubt, they were all greatly surprised, but they were used to their young Xiangzhu‘s wily and mischievous conduct, thereupon they all kept silent.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Laozi pretended to be Wu Sangui’s son in front of that big beard Hantiemo; since I have been his son, what’s the harm of being his nephew this time? Next time I’ll pretend to be Wu Sangui’s papa. As long as I can pull this trick, I won’t suffer any loss.”

The sky had already darkened, they were all standing in a desolate area, waves of cold breeze were blowing, the sickly man did not stop coughing. Wei Xiaobao said, “May I ask Laoyezi, Laotaitai [old madame], what is your respected surname?”

“We are surnamed Gui [lit. return],” the old woman replied.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Why didn’t you pick a good surname but pick the ‘Gui’ from ‘wugui’ [turtle, different character] as your surname? It’s a ridiculous joke.”

The old woman looked at her son and said, “It’s getting dark, we’d better find a place to lodge, other things can be discussed slowly.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just now when I was on that hill, I saw smoke coming out from that side, there must be a lot of houses, let us go to ask for lodging.” While saying that, he pointed to the direction of the Zhuang Family’s big house. Actually, this place was still about ten li away from the Zhuang Family’s big house, separated by a hill; how could he see any smoke?

The menservants pulled two horses for the old man, old woman and the sickly man. The old woman rode with the sickly man, she sat behind her son, wrapping her arms around him. Wei Xiaobao and the others had their own mounts; they all jumped to their horses and left. The four menservants and maidservants walked.

After traveling for a while, Wei Xiaobao talked to Shuang’er loudly, “Go ride faster, see if ahead is a small town or a village. Find a big house or two and ask for lodging, and prepare hot water immediately. Gui Family Shaoye must drink warm ginseng soup. We will wash our feet first with hot water before eating and drinking wine. Give them a bit more money.”

For each sentence, Shuang’er said ‘yes’ one time. From his pocket Wei Xiaobao took out a big ingot of silver, along with a packet of knock-out drug. Shuang’er received both, and galloped away.

The old woman’s face light up; Wei Xiaobao ordered Shuang’er to boil water and warm the ginseng soup, obviously it was the thing that she intended to do.

After traveling several more li, Shuang’er galloped back. “Xianggong,” she said, “Ahead is not a small town, and not a village either; it’s just a large house. The people in the house said that all the men in that house have left, hence they cannot receive guests. I offered them money, they still refused.”

“Stupid girl,” Wei Xiaobao scolded her, “I don’t care if they want to receive us or not, we’ll just go there.”

“Yes,” Shuang’er replied.

The old woman said, “We only need to stay for one night. They don’t have any men, can’t we just force them to receive us in their house?”

The party arrived at the Zhuang House. A servant stepped forward to knock on the door. After a long time an elderly maid came out and opened the door; she was half deaf, and she mumbled indistinctly on and on about there was no man in the house.

The sickly man laughed and said, “There is no man in your house, don’t you see there are a lot of men coming into your house now?” He slipped past her into the house, squeezing the old maid to the side.

Everybody followed him inside and sat in the main hall. The old woman said, “Zhang Ma, Sun Ma, go boil some water and prepare some meal. The host does not like visitors, we will do everything ourselves.” The two maidservants complied and went inside to find the kitchen.

Xu Tianchuan had been to the Zhuang House before; later on he heard Wei Xiaobao talking with graceful words, flowery speech, swindling these three martial art experts whose skill was deep and immeasurable, Xu Tianchuan was secretly delighted. Thereupon he took the Tian Di Hui brethren to sit on the steps, far away from the sickly man and Wei Xiaobao, so that they would not reveal the horse’s foot.

Pointing to Wu Zhirong, the old man asked, “Who is this fellow with bloody mouth?”

“This fellow is an official of the imperial court,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “We met on the road. Afraid that he might inform the authority on our whereabouts, we then … then cut off his tongue.”

The old man was quite some distance away from him, but looking at his eyes, it was obvious that he still harbor suspicions in his heart. This time hearing Wei Xiaobao’s reply, he was still half-believing half-doubting. Walking over to Wu Zhirong, he asked, “You are an imperial court official, aren’t you?” Wu Zhirong was already hovering between life and death from the pain, he nodded immediately.

The old man asked again, “You knew there was going to be rebellion, and you were thinking of reporting it, is that right?” Wu Zhirong thought that he could not deny even if wanted to anyway, plus he was hoping that this old man would save him; thereupon he repeatedly nodded.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He knew that in the south there is a military general with authority over military force who was going to rebel; this military general is surnamed Wu, and when he starts rising in rebellion, it will be desperately serious.”

“Is that right?” the old man asked Wu Zhirong. Wu Zhirong nodded. The old man did not have any suspicion anymore, his trust in Wei Xiaobao increased several parts. Returning to his seat, he asked Wei Xiaobao, “I wonder which Shifu has taught Wu Xiongdi martial arts?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I have quite a number of Shifu; one, two, three, altogether there are three, but I … I am stupid and lazy, I haven’t mastered any skill.”

The old man mused, “You haven’t mastered any skill, do you think I did not know it?” Yet he was still having a nagging suspicion about Wei Xiaobao’s ‘divine walk hundred changes’. Although Wei Xiaobao only used superficial technique of the said skill, his stance and footwork was no doubt the first-class qinggong ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’. So he asked again, “Where did you learn your qinggong from?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “He determined to know who taught me qinggong, he must have some enmity with that Shitai, Shifu of mine; I must not mention her name. He is of the same party with Wu Sangui, most likely he also have good relationship with Tibetan Lama.” Thereupon he said, “There is a Great Lama from Tibet, his name is Sangjie. He saw me at the Ping Xi Wang’s Wuhua Palace in Kunming, he said that my martial art skill is too lacking, I won’t be able to fight anybody, it would be better for me to learn some technique to escape, so he taught me for several days. I practiced very hard, believing that I was doing a great job; who would have thought that as soon as I came across you, Laogonggong [old grandpa], Laopopo [old grandma], and this young and vigorous Gui Shaoye, whose vitality is a hundredfold, it was completely useless.”

Hearing Wei Xiaobao complimenting her son as young and vigorous with a hundredfold vitality, the old woman was happier than if she was hearing any other flattering words; she could not help breaking into a big smile, and cast her glance toward her son, happiness bubbled up from the bottom of her heart. “Er Ge,” she said, “This past few days our child’s vitality seems to be flourishing.”

The old man nodded slightly; however, as he looked at his half-awake, half-asleep son who was slouching on a chair, he was actually very dispirited, he could not help but was very grieved. He turned to Wei Xiaobao and said, “So that’s how it is.”

The old woman asked, “How did Sangjie know Tie Jian Men’s [iron sword school] qinggong?”

The old man said, “There is certain Yuzhen Zi in Tie Jian Men [see also Chapter 27], who lived in Tibet for quite a long time.”

“Ah, yes,” the old woman said, “He was Priest Musang’s Shidi. Most likely he passed on his skill to someone in Tibet.” Turning toward Shuang’er, she asked, “Little Miss, where did you learn your martial art skill?”

The old couple fixed their gaze at her; it appeared that her martial art school background was very important to them. Being stared at like that, Shuang’er was somewhat flustered. “I … I …” she stammered. She was not used of telling lies, hence she did not know how to answer.

“She is my servant girl,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That Sangjie Lama also gave her some directions in martial art.”

The old man and the old woman shook their heads together, “Definitely not,” they said together with very serious expression.

Right this moment suddenly the sickly man let out loud coughing; the more he coughed, the worse it was. The old woman quickly went over and patted his back gently. The old man also turned his head to look at his son. The two maidservants came out of the kitchen carrying ginseng soup and hot tea on wooden trays. They stood in front of the sickly man; they waited for his cough to stop before serving him the ginseng soup, and then they distributed the teacups to everybody, even Xu Tianchuan and the others also received a cup each.

The old man drank his tea and was about to quiz Shuang’er further, but he saw she was already went to the rear hall. The old man stood up suddenly and asked Shun Ma, “Where did you get the water to make the tea?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; his heart was thumping madly. “Bad, bad!” he groaned inwardly, “This old die-hard man knew.”

Sun Ma replied, “Zhang Ma and I boiled it ourselves.”

The old man asked, “What kind of water did you use?”

Sun Ma replied, “We got it from the water jar in the kitchen.”

“We have inspected it carefully,” Zhang Ma added, “It was very clean …” Before she could finish, ‘bonk, bonk!’ the two menservants tumbled down to the floor and fainted.

The old woman sprang up, her body swayed; holding her head in her hand she called out, “There’s poison in the tea!”

Xu Tianchuan and the others had not drunk their tea, they signaled each other with their eyes and fell down together, pretending to pass out. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang’ the teacups fell to the ground.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out and fell to the ground with closed eyes.

He heard Zhang Ma and Sun Ma spoke together, “We cooked the water ourselves, there was no one else in the kitchen.”

The old woman said, “The water in the jar is drugged. Son, how do you feel?”

The sickly man replied, “Not bad, not …” His head slumped, he also passed out.

Sun Ma said, “We did not add any water to the ginseng soup, we boiled and brought the water in the ginseng soup ourselves.”

The old man said, “When you boiled the water and warmed the soup at the same time, the steam might enter into the soup.”

“Right!” the old woman said, “And our child’s body is weak; this … this …” Hastily she reached out to touch the sickly man’s forehead, her palm was trembling continuously.

The old man circulated his strong internal energy to suppress the poison inside his stomach so that it did not disperse to other organs. “Go get two pots of cold water,” he said.

Zhang Ma and Sun Ma did not drink the tea, seeing the strange and out-of-control turn of events, they panicked and ran toward the inside.

The old woman said, “There is something strange about this house.” Since she did not carry any weapon, she stooped down to get a saber from one of the menservants’ waist, but as soon as she lowered her head, she felt as if the sky spun, the earth went around; she was unable to stand and was forced to sit down. She managed to touch the hilt of the saber, but did not have any strength in her grip.

The old man propped himself against the back of a chair with his left hand. His eyes were tightly closed, his body slightly swayed. Wei Xiaobao was lying on the floor; he took a furtive glance, and saw Shuang’er came out, leading a group of women.

The old man suddenly leaped with outstretched palm to hack onto a woman in white clothes, sending her about a zhang backward until she crashed onto a chair. Xu Tianchuan and the others yelled and shouted while leaping up toward the old man, but they saw that the old man had already passed out. Feng Jizhong quickly sealed his acupoints; he also sealed the old woman and the sickly man’s acupoints.

Wei Xiaobao sprang up with loud laughter. “Zhuang San Shaonai [third young mistress], how are you?” he called out, while bowing in respect toward a woman in white.

That woman was indeed the Third Mistress of the Zhuang Family; she hastily returned the propriety and said, “Wei Shaoye, you have captured our archenemy and brought him here, I really don’t know how to repay. Laotianye [God/Heaven] has eyes, He lets us avenge our deep enmity. Wei Shaoye, please meet our Shifu.” And she took him to a woman wearing yellow garment.

The woman in yellow was massaging the back of the woman struck by the old man. ‘Wah!’ the woman vomited a mouthful of blood, and then a moment later she vomited another mouthful of blood. The woman in yellow smiled and said, “No more danger.” Her voice was soft and was very pleasant to hear.

Wei Xiaobao saw that this woman was already old, but her voice sounded like a young girl. On her head she wore a gold headband, her feet were bare, her waist was adorned with an embroidered belt; all in all, her attire was quite unusual. Although her hair was greyed, her face was fair and tender, it’s just that the corner of her eyes were full of wrinkles. How old she actually was, it was hard to say. Looking at her hair, she looked about sixty, looking at her face, she looked about thirty. He thought that since she was the Third Mistress’ Shifu, he immediately stepped forward and kowtowed to her, saying, “Popo Jiejie [granny older sister], Wei Xiaobao pays his respect.”

The woman laughed and asked, “Child, what did you call me?”

Wei Xiaobao stood up and said, “You are San Shaonai’s Shifu, I ought to call you Popo, but looking at your appearance, at most you are no more than my Jiejie; therefore, I call you Popo Jiejie.”

The woman giggled. “At most I am no more than your Jiejie?” she said, “I wonder if I can be your Meizi [younger sister]?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I were next door and I heard your voice, I would have called you Popo Meimei.”

The woman laughed so hard that her body was shaking. “This little ‘slippery head’ is so amusing,” she said, “His mouth is so full of guile and cunning, he really knows how to make others happy, no wonder even such a great hero like my Gui Shibo [older martial uncle] also fell under your ruse.”

As soon as she said those words, everybody was shocked. Wei Xiaobao pointed to the old man and said, “This … this Laogonggong is Popo Jiejie’s Shibo?”

“Why not?” the woman said with a laugh, “The Senior and I have not seen each other for about thirty years; at first I did not recognize him, it was not until the Senior made his move that I knew it was him. His palm strike, ‘Snow-covered Qinling [mountain range, Shaanxi]’ is so bold and powerful, in the Central Plains, there is no second person who can use it like that.”

Wei Xiaobao anxiously said, “Since he is on our side, what should we do?”

The woman shook her head and said with a laugh, “I don’t know what we should do either. If my Shifu found out, he would definitely scold me until I am stinking-dead.” Looking at several maidservants standing on the side with thick ropes in their hands, she laughed and said, “If you ordered them to bind these people, you must issue the order yourself, I don’t want to be involved. Shibo is not bound by me; but if he is not tied, when the Senior wakes up, I won’t be his match. Xiao Didi [little brother], do you think you can beat him?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly amused; he laughed and said, “If you can’t beat him, I can’t beat him even more.” He knew she was simply trying to escape responsibility, yet without any meaning to protect her martial uncle; busily he addressed Xu Tianchuan and the others, “These few people are on Wu Sangui’s side, they are not good people. We, Tian Di Hui, tie them up; it has nothing to do with Popo Jiejie.”

Xu Tianchuan and the others were just subjected to the sickly man’s jesting, it was an extraordinary shame and humiliation that they had never experienced in all their lives; they had been hatefully gnashing their teeth and were itching for revenge. Immediately they took the ropes and bound the old man, the old woman, the sickly man and the two menservants tightly.

The woman in yellow asked, “How can my Gui Shibo be on the same side as Wu Sangui? How are you going to deal with this matter?”

Thereupon Wei Xiaobao explained how they encountered the old man at the restaurant earlier. Naturally he skipped the part where the sickly man used Xu Tianchuan and the others as his toy, he only said that this tuberculosis ghost’s martial art was very formidable, and that everybody was not his match.

The woman said, “The Gui Family’s Xiao Shidi’s [little younger martial art brother] life was saved by my Shifu. Since he was little he has been suffering a serious illness, until today he has not been well. He is Gui Shibo couple’s only child.” After casting a glance toward the old man, she continued, “Gui Shibo is an upright man, how can he become that big traitor Wu Sangui’s ally? If that’s the case, my Shifu can’t possibly scold me. Hee … hee …” From the tome of her voice, apparently she was extremely afraid of her Shifu.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Whoever helps Wu Sangui deserves to be killed. If your Shifu knew, he would greatly praise you.”

The woman laughed and said, “Is that right?” She looked at the old man and the old woman, and then felt the sickly man’s breathing. “San Shaonai,” she said, “When my Shibo awakes, he will be very angry; yet we cannot kill him. Let’s do it this way: leave them here, we all will go away quietly, so that they won’t know forever who tied them up. What do you think?”

The Third Mistress replied, “Shifu commanded, we will do as instructed.” But thinking that they had lived there for many years and now suddenly they had to leave, in her heart she was very reluctant, plus she felt that moving everything away was really not easy; hence she could not help showing signs of unwillingness.

An old maidservant wearing white clothes said, “The enemy has been obtained; let us offer sacrifice in front of all the masters, and then the memorial tablets can be cremated.”

The Third Mistress said, “Popo is right.”

Thereupon everybody thronged to the mourning hall, dragging Wu Zhirong along. They made him kneel on the floor. The Third Mistress took a book from the sacrificial table and held it with both hands in front of Wu Zhirong. “Wu Daren,” she said, “Do you know what book this is?”

Wu Zhirong was very familiar [orig. ripe as a melon that rolls from its vine] with the book since long time ago; as soon as he saw the thickness, the size, and the formatting of the book, he immediately knew it was the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, which he relied on to be promoted and gain wealth. When he looked at the cover, it was indeed the ‘Ming Shu Ji Lue’ [‘Compilation of Ming Documents’, see Chapter 1]; thereupon he nodded.

The Third Mistress continued, “Look carefully, the memorial tablets on this sacrificial table, you know them all.”

Wu Zhirong focused his attention to read the names on the memorial tablets, and he noticed that the memorial tablets bore these names: Zhuang Yuncheng, Zhuang Tinglong, Li Lingxi, Cheng Weifan, Li Huan, Wang Zhaozhen, Mao Yuanxi … more than a hundred names on the memorial tablets, each one was executed because of his report to the imperial court in the case of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’. Wu Zhirong read eight or nine names, and his soul had already flown to the sky. His tongue was cut, it was still bleeding continuously; he was already two-third dead anyway. This moment his body went weak and he slumped down on the ground, while trembling non-stop.

The Third Mistress said, “Due to your lust for fame and fortune you have killed this many people, other masters and mistresses of their families suffered torture in the prison and perished, some suffered the death of a thousand cuts, their bodies were subjected to thousand blades ten thousand cuts. If we did not receive Heaven’s providence and were saved by Shifu, we would have been died because of you. Today if we killed you with one blade, it would be too easy for you. However, the way we handle matters is not as merciless as you did. If you want to die easy, you may make your own decision.” While saying that, she unsealed the acupoints on his body. ‘Dang!’ she also tossed a short blade to the ground.

Wu Zhirong was shaking all over; he picked up the blade, but how could he find the courage to kill himself? Suddenly he turned around and made a dash out of the mourning hall. But he only took one step, he saw his way was blocked by several dozen women in white. His throat made a repeated ‘he, he’ noise as he slipped and fell, twisted several times, and then stopped moving altogether.

The Third Mistress pulled his body over and found that his breathing had stopped, his face was full of blood, his eyes were open wide, his expression was full of terror. “Evil has its retribution,” she said, “At last this traitor is dead.” Kneeling in front of the memorial tablets she said, “All of you Xianggong, your big enmity has been avenged, may your spirits in Heaven rest in peace.” All the women prostrated themselves on the ground as they cried loudly.

Wei Xiaobao and the Tian Di Hui warriors also bowed in front of the spirit tablets. The woman in yellow garment stood still and silently on the side with knitted eyebrows.

After crying for a while, the women turned to kowtow to Wei Xiaobao, thanking him for capturing the enemy and bringing him over. Wei Xiaobao hastily kowtowed in return and said, “A piece of cake, why be polite? If you still have other enemies, please tell me, I will catch them for you.”

The Third Mistress said, “Wicked minister Oboi was killed personally by Wei Shaoye, Wu Zhirong was also caught and brought over by Wei Shaoye. Our great hatred has been avenged in full, there are no more enemies.” Immediately the women disassembled the sacrificial table and cremated the memorial tablets.

The woman in yellow watched as these women performed their convoluted and overelaborate ritual, while making endless noise. Finally she lost her patience and went out to take a look at the people they caught. Wei Xiaobao and Tian Di Hui warriors followed her out. They saw the old man, the old woman and the sickly man were not awake yet.

The woman in yellow smiled and said, “Little baby, if you want to poison these people, you should really learn how to do it well.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Junior put knock-out drug because I really did not know what else to do, their martial art skill is too strong; if I did not use any trick, my neck would have been wrung by them. By using this trick, the heroes and warriors of Jianghu will look down on me. I know I was wrong, next time I will not dare anymore.”

The woman in yellow smiled. “What look down or look up?” she said, “Killing people is killing people; using blade to kill people, using fist to kill people, using poison or drug, won’t it all comes down to one thing: killing people? The heroes and warriors of Jianghu will look down on you? Humph, who needs their opinion anyway? Take that Wu Zhirong for example; he went to report to the imperial court and killed several thousand, several hundred people. He did not use poison, are you saying that we ought to have a high regard for him?”

Every single word had caused happiness and delight to rise from the bottom of Wei Xiaobao’s heart; he could not help but beaming with joy as he said, “Popo Jiejie, what you said is very true. When I was a kid, I helped people fighting by scattering lime on the enemy’s eyes; I helped him win the fight and saved his life, but instead of thanking me, he scolded me of using third-class method and he slapped me heavily on the face. Too bad at that time Popo Jiejie was not around, otherwise you would have taught him a lesson.”

The woman in yellow said, “But you poisoned my Gui Shibo, I should have slapped you heavily on the face several times.”

“At that time I did not know he was your Shibo,” Wei Xiaobao hastily said.

The woman said, “If you knew that he was my Shibo, and that he was going to wring your neck, while you have the poison in your hand, would you or would you not poison him?”

Wei Xiaobao giggled and said, “My life was threatened, I would have no choice but to offend him.”

“You are telling the truth,” the woman said, “Others want to take your life, how could you not want to take their lives first? I said I wanted to slap you, only because you really did not know what’s good for you. Others are people with grand reputation, ‘Divine Fist Without Equal’ Gui Xinshu, Gui Erye [second master], how deep of a power does he have? You just used the dog-fart knock-out drug to make his head dizzy and make his eyes not able to see, the Senior would just regard it as ground pepper.”

“But he … he …” Wei Xiaobao stammered.

The woman said, “You mixed your not-up-to-the-task knock-out drug in the tea, others are eighty-year old Jianghu veteran, would he simply being a muddle head and drink it? That is the cheap trick used by black inn criminals. If you want to use poison, you must use first-class one.”

Wei Xiaobao was surprised and delighted at the same time. “Turns out … turns out Popo Jiejie replaced it with first-class poison,” he said.

“Rubbish!” the woman said, “I did not replace it. Gui Shibo and the others were tired, they had headache and passed out; what do I have to do with it? One is a tuberculosis ghost, the others are eighty years old Lao Gonggong and Lao Popo, they suddenly fainted; what’s so strange about it?” Her mouth was speaking in deadly earnest, but her eyes were gleaming with mischievous looks.

Wei Xiaobao knew that she was afraid her Shifu might find out later and scold her, and thus she did not want to admit it; in his heart he had an unspeakable admiration toward this kindred spirit. Suddenly he dropped to his knees and said, “Popo Jiejie, I bow to you as my master, please take me as your disciple, I will call you Shifu Jiejie.”

The woman giggled; she reached out with her right arm and placed her palm under his chin. Wei Xiaobao felt a hard object on his chin; definitely it was not a human hand. When he looked down, he was utterly shocked; what he saw was bluish-black iron hook, the tip of the hook was very sharp, it gleamed under the light.

The woman laughed and said, “Look carefully.” With her left hand she pulled her right sleeve to expose a snow white upper arm, but it was cut at the wrist, there was no hand at all, the iron hook was fastened onto her wrist. “If you want to be my disciple,” the woman said, “I have no reason not to accept you, you simply need to cut your hand, then I’ll give you an iron hook.”

The woman in yellow was none other than the Cult Leader or Five-Poison Cult He Tishou [lit. iron hand], whose fame shook the world in the past. Afterwards she bowed to Yuan Chengzhi to be his disciple, and changed her name to He Tishou [lit. guarding respectfully]. After the Ming Dynasty fell, she accompanied Yuan Chengzhi traveling overseas. That year she was sent on a mission by her master to the Central Plains, by chance she saved the Zhuang Family’s Third Mistress and the other widows, and taught them martial arts.

This time she came again, by chance she saw Shuang’er took out the knock-out drug and told her the situation. Although she did not know who the enemy was, she knew that since their martial art skill was high, ordinary knock-out drug would be quite useless; thereupon she put another drug into the water jar.

He Tishou’s skill in using poison was unparalleled in her time, only after entering Hua Shan Pai she did not use this skill for a long time. Suddenly seeing someone putting drug into the water jar, she could not stop her hand from itching to try her skill again; as soon as she made her move, who in the world would be able to resist it? Were it not for her, Gui Xinshu’s internal energy was very deep, it was even superior to her own Shifu Yuan Chengzhi’s internal strength, how could the ordinary package of knock-out drug Wei Xiaobao obtained from the Imperial Bodyguards drug him that he fainted?

The sickly man, Gui Zhong, had been ill since he was still in his mother’s womb, he was actually not expected to live, later on he took a precious miracle drug that his life was spared, but his body and brain had been damaged, he would never be strong and healthy like ordinary people. Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, only had this child, they loved him more than life. Due to his lingering illness since childhood, inevitably the couple spoiled him rotten and failed to discipline him. Although Gui Zhong had mastered superior martial art skill, even though he was middle-age by now, his character and mental development was no different than an eight or nine years old child.

When He Tishou put poison, she did not know who the opponent was; after she found out that it was her own Gui Shibo and his family, she could not help feeling anxious. But things had come to this, she knew it was too late to worry. Listening to Wei Xiaobao’s amusing words, her fondness toward him grew. She thought how could there be such a witty and naughty boy outside the island?

When he heard that he had to cut his hand before he could take her as his master, Wei Xiaobao brought his hand in front of his eyes. He was afraid of pain, plus he really did not want to part with his hand; his face carried an awkward expression. He Tishou laughed and said, “You don’t need to bow to me as your Shifu, I don’t have time to impart you any martial art skill either. But I do have a very amusing secret projectile that I’d like to give to you, so that you won’t grieve in your heart that you have kowtowed to me and called me Shifu Jiejie in vain.”

“Shifu Jiejie,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That was not an empty call; even if you did not teach me any martial art skill, you did not give me anything, you are such a pretty young lady, I would be very happy to call you Shifu Jiejie several more times.”

He Tishou giggled and said, “Oily-mouthed and smooth talking little monkey, you talked drivel to your Popo with no respect to your seniors.” She was a Miao [ethnic group of southwest China] woman, and had never cared about Han people’s etiquette and compass and set-square. Wei Xiaobao praised her as pretty; she did not feel it was inappropriate, on the contrary, she was delighted. She laughed and said, “Little monkey, call me again.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Jiejie, good Jiejie!”

He Tishou laughed and said, “Aiyo, it’s getting more and more indecent.” Suddenly her left hand grabbed the back of his neck, lifted him up to the left, and then ‘zip, zip, zip!’, three candles on the table were extinguished immediately, followed by a series of dull thuds on the wooden partition on the opposite site, like the resounding patter of rain on wooden board.

Wei Xiaobao was startled and delighted at the same time, “What secret weapons are those?” he asked.

He Tishou laughed and said, “Go look yourself.” And then she released her grip to let him fall to the floor.

Wei Xiaobao picked up a candlestick from the side table and went over to the wooden partition to take a closer look. He saw dozens of flickering steel needles nailed deeply into the wooden wall. He was very impressed. “Jiejie,” he said, “You did not even move, how did you shoot these many steel needles? This kind of secret projectiles, who in this world would be able to dodge?”

He Tishou laughed and said, “In the past I used these ‘Han Sha She Ying’[3] secret projectiles against my Shifu, but he was able to dodge; not a single needle was able to hit him. Other than my Shifu, I am afraid not too many people would be able to do it.”

“Your Shifu must have told you to try to shoot him,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s why he was prepared. But if you shoot him suddenly, even if the Senior’s martial art skill was higher, how could he evade this kind of shadow-less, trace-less secret projectiles?”

“At that time Shifu and I were opponents,” He Tishou said, “We were in a hard fighting. He did not ask me to try to shoot him, he was completely without advance knowledge.”

“That is so,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But your Shifu was concentrating his attention completely on you, hence he was able to dodge. Supposing that time you pointed to the east and turned your head that way and called out, ‘Eh, who’s coming?’ Your Shifu would definitely turn to look to the east as well; if at that time you suddenly shot him with the secret projectiles, very likely he would be hit.”

He Tishou sighed and said, “Perhaps you are right. These steel needles have acute poison on them, if at that time my Shifu failed to evade, he would be killed immediately. At that time I did not wish to kill him at all.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “In your heart you were in love with your Shifu, weren’t you?”

He Tishou’s face blushed slightly. “Pei!” she spat, “There’s no such thing. Don’t talk rubbish. If my Shiniang [Shifu’s wife] heard it, she would definitely cut half of your tongue.”

The past events when she was young suddenly appeared in her heart; although it was a matter of several decades ago, He Tishou still could not stop her face from blushing. She took out two deerskin finger sheaths, which she put on her left thumb and index finger, and then she pulled the steel needles from the wooden partition one by one. She also reached into her pocket and took out an iron band, with a steel case mounted on the band, the lid of the steel case had a lot of small holes. Wei Xiaobao suddenly realized; he clapped his hands and called out, “Jiejie, this secret projectile is really ingenious. Turns out you wore it inside your clothes, and then you only need to activate the mechanism on the iron band, and the steel needles inside the iron case will shoot out.” He assumed that most likely the secret projectile she promised to give to him was this object; he could not help but was bursting with joy.

He Tishou smiled and said, “Even a secret projectile that is a lot more formidable than this will have to rely on the power and accuracy of the hand to shoot it. But your martial art skill is too lacking, other than this ‘Han Sha She Ying’, you can’t use anything else.”

Immediately she inserted the steel needles one by one into the case and told him to lift up his robe, and fastened it on his body; the steel case was positioned right on the pit of his stomach. She taught him how to activate the mechanism, she also taught him the ingredients and how to make the poison on the steel needle, as well as the antidote. She said, “The steel needles inside the case can be used for a total of five times. After that you will have to replenish the needles. My Shifu repeatedly warned me never to injure the innocent. These steel needles were originally dipped into lethal poison, but now the poison is not to take anybody’s life. When someone is hit, his body will be unbearably itchy and he will lose all his strength. But you still must not use it indiscriminately.”

Wei Xiaobao did not open his mouth to respond, he dropped on his knees again to express his gratitude. He Tishou said, “Go and help those three to sit up properly.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He helped Gui Xinshu into a chair first, but when he was helping Gui Zhong, he bumped onto a round and bulging object hanging on his waist, something like a wine gourd. When he lifted up his robe to look, turned out it was a leather sack. Wei Xiaobao’s curiosity was piqued; he untied the leather string of the sack and looked inside. Suddenly he cried out, “Aiyo, it’s a human head; he … he … he is staring at me.”

He Tishou also felt strange; she said, “I wonder what kind of important character he killed, why would he carry the severed head on his waist? Take it out and look.”

“Dead man, oh dead man!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am going to take you out, you must not bite me.” Slowly he put his hand into the sack, grabbed the severed head by its braid, and took it out and placed it on the table. Under the candlelight he could see clearly, this severed head had its big and round eyes opened wide, its dragon-like beard was long and pointy. Wei Xiaobao screamed and withdrew three steps. “It’s … it’s Wu Dage,” he cried out in fear.

He Tishou was slightly startled. “You know him?” she asked.

“He … he is our Society brother,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wu Liuqi, Wu Dage!” His heart was grieving, he sobbed loudly.

The Tian Di Hui warriors heard Wei Xiaobao was screaming and crying loudly, they rushed into the hall, and saw Wu Liuqi’s severed head. They were all shocked with grief and indignation. Everybody pressed their hands on the hilt of their weapons while keeping their gaze fixed on He Tishou, thinking that Wu Liuqi was killed by her.

Soon Shuang’er also rushed inside. Wei Xiaobao pulled her hand and pointed to the severed head, shouting, “Shuang … Shuang’er, this is your sworn brother Wu Dage, he … he was murdered by this evil thief!” While saying that, he scrambled toward Gui Zhong and kicked him several times. He then turned to Xu Tianchuan and the others and said, “I found Wu Dage’s severed head hanging on this evil thief’s body.”

When everybody examined the severed head carefully, they saw that the blood was already dry, the neck was covered in lime; obviously they used some medicaments and lime to preserve the head so it would not rot.

Shuang’er stroked the severed head while sobbing loudly. Li Lishi said, “Let’s use cold water to wake this evil thief up, we must get the full details from him, and then we’ll kill him to pay for Wu Dage’s life.” All the warriors voiced their agreements.

He Tishou said, “This man is my Shidi, you must not touch a single strand of his hair!” While saying that, she stretched out her right hand iron hook and swept it across a candle on the table several times, before flying into the inner hall.

Priest Xuanzhen angrily shouted, “Even if he was your Shifu, I still want to chop him into mincemeat …”

“Uh!” suddenly Feng Jizhong exclaimed. With two fingers of his left hand he held a piece of candle, about seven or eight fen long [1 fen is approximately 1/3 of a centimeter or 1/8 of an inch], and picked it up. The candle on the candlestick was originally still seven or eight cun long [1 cun approx. 2.5cm or 1 inch], but now it was cut into six or seven pieces, each piece was less than a cun long, and still neatly stacked together; the candle did not collapse at all. This kind of martial art skill was truly shocking. None of the Tian Di Hui warriors’ countenance did not change.

‘Shua!’ Priest Xuanzhen pulled the saber hanging on his waist and said, “I’ll kill this servant to avenge Wu Dage, let that woman kill me.”

“Hold on!” Li Lishi said, “We must ask clearly first, and then we’ll kill the three of them together.”

“Right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “That Popo Jiejie is afraid of her Shibo. If we eliminate her Shibo and Shibo’s wife altogether, it should be all right. Shuang’er, go get a pot of cold water, but don’t get the poisoned water from the kitchen.”

Shuang’er went in and came back with a large basin of cold water. Xu Tianchuan took the basin and slowly poured the cold water onto Gui Zhong’s head. Gui Zhong sneezed several times and slowly opened his eyes. As soon as he tried to move, he realized that his hands and feet were bound, and the acupoint on his waist was sealed. “Who?” he said furiously, “Who is joking with me?”

Xuanzhen lightly tapped the blade of his saber on his face and swore, “Your ancestor is joking with you.” Pointing to Wu Liuqi’s head, he asked, “Did you kill this man?”

“Correct!” Gui Zhong replied, “Mama, Daddy, where are you?” He turned around and saw his father and mother were also bound; he was so scared that he almost cried. In all his life he had always followed his father and mother, everything happened as he wished, he had never experienced any setback; when did he ever experience such a scary situation? With a sullen expression he said, “You … what are you doing? You cannot beat me, why … why did you tie me up? Why did you tie my Daddy, my Mama?”

Xu Tianchuan raised his hand and slapped him on the face with the back of his palm, “How did you kill this man?” he shouted, “Quickly tell us, if there is half a word of lies, I will poke your eyes blind immediately.” While saying that he raised his saber and pointed the tip toward Gui Zhong’s right eye.

Gui Zhong was scared out of his wits; he coughed continuously as he said, “I … I’ll talk … don’t poke my eye blind. If I am blind, I can’t see … can’t see … (cough, cough) … (cough, cough) … Ping Xi Wang said that Tatar Emperor is a big, big ‘bad egg’; he occupies … occupies our … our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains. He asked me to … to kill Tatar Emperor …”

Tian Di Hui warriors looked at each other in dismay; they all thought, “What he said is not wrong.”

But Wei Xiaobao flatly refused to accept. “Hot piece Mama,” he cursed, “Wu Sangui is a damn good thing?”

Gui Zhong said, “Ping Xi Wang is your Bofu; he … he … he is not a good thing, then you are not a good thing either.”

Wei Xiaobao kicked him heavily; he cursed, “Nonsense! Wu Sangui is a big traitor, how can he be Laozi’s uncle? Wu Sangui is your uncle!”

Gui Zhong yelled, “You said it yourself. Aiyo, so you want to renege on your words? I don’t come, I don’t come!” [renege – 赖 ‘lai’, come – 来 ‘lai’]

Seeing him muddling things together, Li Lishi asked, “Wu Sangui asked you to kill Tatar Emperor, why did you kill him then?” While saying that, he pointed to Wu Liuqi’s severed head.

Gui Zhong said, “This man was high-ranking officer of Guangdong, Ping Xi Wang said that he was a big traitor, who determined to protect the Emperor. Ping Xi Wang wanted to move the troops to attack Guangdong, hence he must have him killed first. Ping Xi Wang gave me a lot of tonic to treat my coughing, he also gave me the white tiger skin. My Ma said that big traitor must be killed. (Cough, cough) … this man’s martial art skill was very good, I … my Ma and me fought him together before he could kill him. You must quickly let me go, release my Dad, my Ma. We are going to Beijing to kill Tatar Emperor, it will be an enormous service …”

Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Killing the Emperor is not for you, a tuberculosis ghost, to do. All Gege, let’s kill these three fellows. I will deal with Popo Jiejie later.”

Suddenly they heard outside the manor several dozen people shouted together, “Tuberculosis ghost, get out quickly, we’ll hack you to pieces to avenge Wu Dage!” In front of the manor, behind the manor, they heard people all around; even all over the roof there were people shouting and yelling; apparently the manor was surrounded on all directions.

Hearing the incoming people were going to avenge Wu Liuqi, Tian Di Hui warriors knew those people were on their side; in their hearts they were delighted. Qian Laoben called loudly, “Ming restore Qing fought, mother Earth father Heaven. [ming fu qing fan, mu di fu tian – see also Chapter 33, casino scene.] I wonder which peaceful rudder road the friends outside belong to?”

Tian Di Hui slogan was ‘Heaven is my father, Earth is my mother, Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming’ [tian fu di mu, fan Qing fu Ming], but in front of unidentified people, these eight characters were reversed. If they were their own Society’s brethren, they would know how to respond; if it were outsiders, the opposite party would not know what they were talking about, hence their real identity would not be exposed.

There were seventeen or eighteen people outside, as well as on the roof of the manor, responding in chorus, “The earth shook the high ridge, a row of mountain creeks gracefully flow for all eternity.”

The warriors in the hall called out, “Morning gate facing the ocean, the water of the Three Rivers flows for ten thousand years.”

Someone on the roof asked, “Brothers from which Hall are in here?”

Qian Laoben replied, “Green Wood Hall brothers welcome our older brothers. Gege from which Hall have arrived?”

The door to the hall opened, someone came in and called, “Xiaobao, are you here?” This man was tall and slim, his expression elegant, he was none other than Tian Di Hui Zongduozhu Chen Jinnan.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he rushed forward and kneeled down. “Shifu, Shifu,” he called repeatedly.

“Everybody is well!” Chen Jinnan said, “Unfortunately …” Seeing Wu Liuqi’s severed head on the table he rushed over; he propped himself against the table and was overcome with grief, tears streamed down his face.

One after another people came into the hall; Guangxi’s Latter Family Hall Xiangzhu Ma Chaoxing, Guizhou’s Scarlet Fire Hall Xiangzhu Gu Zhizhong, and the others were there. When they saw Gui Zhong, they all pulled their sabers. There were more than twenty Guangdong’s Great Obedience Hall brethren in there, their hatred had reached the extreme. Seeing all these people had fiendish expression on their face, Gui Zhong coughed twice, and then he passed out.

Chen Jinnan turned around and asked, “Xiaobao, how did you all capture these three evil thieves?”

Thereupon Wei Xiaobao narrated what they had been through; naturally he skipped the shameful matters where Gui Zhong was amusing himself by playing with Xu Tianchuan and the others and where he was pretending to be Wu Zhirong. Finally he said, “These three evil thieves’ martial art is very formidable, we were no match for them, fortunately there was one Popo Jiejie who came to our rescue before we were able to capture them. However, Popo Jiejie also said that this old man is her Shibo, hence she did not allow us to kill him to avenge Wu Dage.”

Chen Jinnan frowned. “What Popo Jiejie?” he asked.

“Although based on her age she is a Popo, her appearance looks like a Jiejie, hence I call her Popo Jiejie,” Wei Xiaobao explained.

“Where is she?” Chen Jinnan asked.

“She is hiding in the back,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “She is unwilling to meet her Shibo. Shifu, Gu Dage, Ma Dage, how did all of you get here?”

Chen Jinnan said, “This evil thief harmed Wu Dage, as soon as we received the news, we all pursued to four sides eight directions.”

The Green Wood Hall warriors and the incoming people greeted each other; turned out there were brothers from all the Halls in Shandong, Henan, Hubei, Hunan and Anhui, most of them were guarding outside all around the manor. Gu Zhizhong and Ma Chaoxing said, “Wei Xiongdi has rendered this great merit once again, Wu Dage’s spirit in Heaven will definitely feel deeply grateful.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Dage treated me very well, avenging him is something that I ought to do.”

Li Lishi said, “Reporting to Zongduozhu: this evil thief has just said that they are going to Beijing to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, he also mentioned some Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming matters, I don’t know the real story behind it.”

“What real story?” Wei Xiaobao said, “He was afraid we might kill him, hence he spoke some nonsense. He is wearing this white tiger skin, which was given by Wu Sangui. How can there be any good thing among Wu Sangui’s pig friends and dog companions? We’d better open these three evil thieves’ chests and scoop out their hearts to avenge Wu Dage, end of story.”

“Wake these three people up,” Chen Jinnan said, “We’ll ask them clearly.”

Shuang’er fetched another bucket of cold water and doused Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, as well as Gui Zhong to wake them up. As soon as Gui Erniang [second lady] awoke, she cursed and swore, saying that putting poison to drug people was Jianghu’s despicable and shameless shady business; but Gui Xinshu did not say a word.

Chen Jinnan said, “Looking at your skill, you are not a nobody. What’s your name? What enmity did you have against our Wu Liuqi, Wu Dage? Why did you commit evil scheme and harm his life?”

Gui Erniang angrily said, “You are stinky stuff, shameless little thieves who drugged people, do you think you fit to ask Laoniang’s [old lady] name and surname?”

Gu Zhizhong raised his saber threateningly, Gui Erniang was hot-headed, her cursing became even more vile.

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They are surnamed Gui, the ‘gui’ of ‘wugui’ [turtle]; two old turtles and one little turtle. Let me kill the little turtle first and then we’ll talk.” Pulling his dagger, he pointed the tip to Gui Zhong’s throat.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao was going to kill her son, Gui Erniang panicked. “Little demon,” she called out, “If you have guts, come and kill Laoniang; just don’t touch a single strand of my child’s hair.”

“But I love to kill little turtle,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He lightly pushed the tip of his dagger into Gui Zhong’s throat. The dagger was extremely sharp, although the push was very light, Gui Zhong’s throat immediately spewed blood.

“Ma,” he cried loudly, “He … he is killing me.”

“Don’t … don’t kill my child!” Gui Erniang shouted.

Wei Xiaobao said, “My Shifu asks you a question, you obediently answer. Within an hour, your tuberculosis ghost son will not die.”

“My child is not sick,” Gui Erniang angrily said, “You are the tuberculosis ghost.” But hearing that Wei Xiaobao promised not to kill her son for the time being, she felt relieved instantly.

Wei Xiaobao pretended to cough; imitating Gui Zhong’s accent he said, “Ma, I … I … (cough, cough) … I almost die … Good Mama, quickly answer them truthfully … (cough, cough) … (cough, cough) … I don’t have tuberculosis, I am suffering from broken-steel-blade sickness … (cough, cough) … also from dagger-penetrating-the-throat illness, whole-body-become-mincemeat illness … (cough, cough) …”

He had an uncanny ability to imitate people’s accent that Gui Erniang was absolutely horrified. “Don’t talk like that! Don’t imitate my child!” she yelled.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Ma, if you don’t answer their questions, I … I … (cough, cough) … I will also contact the belly-cut-open sickness, intestines-flowing-out illness …” While saying that, he pulled open Gui Zhong’s robe and moved his dagger back and forth in front of Gui Zhong’s scrawny chest.

Gui Erniang could not bear any longer. “Alright!” she said, “We belong to Huashan Pai, our family is known as Shen Quan Wu Di [divine fist without equal] Gui Er Xia [second hero]. When our prestige was shaking the Central Plains, you, this bunch of little hairy thieves have not been reincarnated.”

Hearing that these two were unexpectedly the famous Shen Quan Wu Di Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, Chen Jinnan could not help but feeling deep veneration toward them. He also remembered how established Wu Liuqi’s martial art skill was. According to the Great Obedience Hall brethren who witnessed how he was harmed by this people, only the old woman and the tuberculosis ghost went into action, yet they were able to overthrow a dozen or more Great Obedience Hall’s martial art experts. The two of them attacked Wu Liuqi together and killed him, cut his head. These people were not impostors. Divine Fist Without Equal Gui Xinshu had become famous for a long time, but for the last several decades their movement in Jianghu was never heard. It was unclear how they were involved in this terrible tragedy; there must be a strong reason behind it.

Immediately Chen Jinnan stepped forward to bow with cupped fist in front of Gui Xinshu; he said, “Turns out you are Huashan’s Shen Quan Wu Di Gui Er Xia husband and wife. Xiaoren Chen Jinnan, indeed I have been lacking in manners.” Reaching out, he pulled and broke the ropes binding Gui Xinshu, and then he also massaged his back and his waist to unseal his acupoints. Turning around, he also pulled and broke the ropes binding Gui Erniang and Gui Zhong.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly worried. “Shifu,” he said, “These three people are very formidable; we must not release them.”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Gui Erniang scolded us for using knockout drug, which is the conduct of Jianghu’s despicable low-class people. We, Tian Di Hui, have never used knockout drug. Even if we did, Gui Er Xia’s internal energy is very profound, how can despicable low-class people’s knockout drug affect him, the Senior …”

“Right, right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We, Tian Di Hui, did not use the knockout drug.” He thought that since the drug came from Popo Jiejie, and it was she who swapped it, technically they could not be considered drugged by Tian Di Hui. Besides, the drug was really not a knockout drug.

Gui Xinshu’s left hand brushed off his wife and son’s backs to unseal their acupoints. His technique was a lot faster than Chen Jinnan’s. He nodded and said, “It was not an ordinary knockout drug; it was a lot more powerful drug.” He stretched out his hand to feel his son’s pulse.

Gui Erniang fixed her gaze on her husband’s expression, “How is it?” she asked.

Gui Xinshu said, “For the time being he seems to be all right.”

He recalled that just before passing out, he had exchanged a palm strike with someone. Although that person’s martial art skill was very shallow, yet the internal energy cultivation was definitely from Huashan Pai. He also recalled the way Shuang’er run among the rocks on that hill, it was definitely Huashan Pai’s qinggong. In a glance he saw her among the crowd.

Seeing his bright and flickering gaze, Shuang’er could not help feeling afraid; she shrunk herself behind Wei Xiaobao. Gui Xinshu said, “Little girl, come here. You belong to Huashan Pai, don’t you?”

“I am not coming!” Shuang’er said, “You killed my sworn brother Wu Dage, I want to take revenge for him. I … I don’t belong to any Huashan Pai either.”

When He Tishou taught martial arts to the Third Mistress Zhuang, Shuang’er and the others, she did not officially accept them as her disciples, hence she did not mention her own sect or school either. These three words ‘Huashan Pai’, Shuang’er had just heard it for the first time today.

Gui Xinshu did not want to argue with this little girl. Suddenly he gathered his chi on his dantian, and with a loud and clear voice said, “Disciples and grand-disciples of Feng Nandi, come out.” Although his voice was not loud, his chi surged out, the dust on the roof rained down.

He thought that among the three martial brothers, Yuan Chengzhi’s disciples were all overseas, his Da Shixiong [oldest martial brother] Huang Zhen had passed away long time ago, but Huashan Pai still had Huang Zhen’s first disciple Feng Nandi who wielded some power; therefore, the Huashan Pai people in the manor must be Feng Nandi’s disciples. Who would have thought that after waiting for a long time, no noise came from the inner hall?

Chen Jinnan said, “Last year the heroes from all over the world held a general assembly at He Jian Fu, we swore an oath smearing our lips with blood, determined to work as one to kill the big traitor Wu Sangui. Your virtuous Shizhi [martial nephew], Senior Feng Nandi was the host of the Turtle-Slaying Assembly of He Jian Fu. Why would Senior Gui join hands with Wu Sangui instead and kill our humble Society’s patriot Wu Liuqi Xiongdi? Wouldn’t it be ‘enduring pain for the loved-one, acting in haste for the enemy’?” He said those words politely, but his remark was pointed and powerful.

Gui Erniang cast him a glance; she said, “I heard people say, ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain,’ but before Sire was born, we, husband and wife, have already criss-crossing the world. If the saying was true, we should have waited for Sire to be born before we could be called ‘hero’. Hey, hey, ridiculous, ridiculous.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Based on martial art skill, Zaixia only worth a laugh in front of Gui Er Xia, worthy husband and wife. Jianghu friends think highly of Zaixia, they are no more than saying that Zaixia understands right and wrong, that I am not likely to commit outrages and make friends with bandits.”

Gui Erniang was furious. “Are you saying we committed outrages and made friends with bandits?” she said.

“Wu Sangui is a big traitor!” Chen Jinnan retorted.

Gui Erniang said, “This Wu Liuqi acted as accomplice to the tiger, he became the Tatars’ high-ranking officer, bullying our Han’s common people, yet you open your mouth left and right and calling him Dage? Isn’t that committing outrages and making friends with bandits?”

Ma Chaoxing loudly said, “Wu Dage lived in Cao camp but had his heart in Han camp. He was Tian Di Hui’s Great Obedience Hall Red Banner Xiangzhu. He held power over Guangdong military force, as soon as opportunity arrives, he would move the troops to fight the Tatars. Great Obedience Hall brothers, will you or will you not say that it was so?”

“It’s true!” more than twenty subordinates of Great Obedience Hall replied in chorus.

Ma Chaoxing said, “Bare your chests, let these two great heroes have a look.” Twenty some men pulled the front piece of their jacket with both hands and parted it outward, the dozen or so buttons in front of their chests popped out, exposing their chests. They saw that on each man’s chest these eight characters were engraved deep into their flesh: ‘tian fu di mu, fan Qing fu Ming’ [Heaven is my father, Earth is my mother, Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming].

All along Gui Zhong was silent, but now seeing more than twenty men had their chests engraved with eight characters, he clapped his hands and laughed, “Interesting, interesting!” The Tian Di Hui warriors glowered at him.

Chen Jinnan said to Gui Xinshu, “Your esteemed son thinks it is interesting, what do Gui Er Xia, husband and wife think?”

Gui Xinshu was extremely dejected; he shook his head and said to Gui Erniang, “Killed the wrong man.”

Gui Erniang said, “We killed the wrong man! We have fallen into that traitor Wu Sangui’s trick.” Stretching out her left hand, she pulled the single-blade saber from Ma Chaoxing’s waist and swept it across her own neck.

“Don’t …” Chen Jinnan shouted, while swiftly stretching out his right hand to grab her left wrist.

Gui Erniang sent out her right palm, Chen Jinnan raised his left palm to parry, both people swayed. Chen Jinnan stretched out two fingers of his left hand to pinch the back of the blade. Gui Erniang sent out another right palm strike toward the pit of his stomach. If Chen Jinnan withdrew, he would not be able to seize the saber away, and he was afraid that she might try to kill herself again. By exchanging palm strikes with her just now, Chen Jinnan knew that although she was really old, her internal energy was not as strong as his; however, her movement was lightning fast, her fist and palm technique was extremely refined. If he withdrew even for a single step, his bare hand would not be able to snatch the blade from her hand away. Thereupon he braced himself and took the palm on his chest. ‘Bang!’ he was hit by the palm strike.

Gui Erniang was taken aback. Chen Jinnan’s left hand’s two fingers caught her saber and snatched it away. He withdrew two steps back, ‘Wah!’ and spurted a mouthful of fresh blood.

When Gui Erniang was swiping the blade to kill herself, if Gui Xinshu made his move, he could have prevented her; however, since he killed Wu Liuqi by mistake, he was ashamed and full of regrets, he even had thoughts of killing himself to apologize, hence he did not try to stop his wife at all. After seeing Chen Jinnan did not hesitate to put his own life in danger to seize the steel blade in Gui Erniang’s hand, he was even more ashamed. His clumsy words were only, “Chen Jinnan is a hero of the present age, your name is not in vain.”

Chen Jinnan supported himself against the table while regulating his breathing. Only after half a day he managed to say, “One who does not know is not guilty. The criminal ringleader, the main offender in the murder of Wu Dage is Wu … Wu San …” speaking to here, he threw up another mouthful of blood.

Although Gui Erniang was old, most of her power of the former years remained. In order to snatch her blade away, Chen Jinnan was unable to circulate his chi to protect himself; the palm strike he suffered was really not light. Gui Erniang said, “Chen Zongduozhu, if I tried to kill myself again, I would betray your great kindness. We, husband and wife, are determined to kill the Tatar Emperor, and then we will kill that traitor Wu Sangui.” Finished speaking, she kneeled down and kowtowed toward Wu Liuqi’s severed head three times.

Chen Jinnan said, “Wu Liuqi Dage’s conduct was always very secretive, a lot of Jianghu people also revile him. Virtuous husband and wife making your move this time, your intention was to kill the traitor; it just that unfortunately … unfortunately …” Speaking to this point, he could not stop the tears from flowing down his face again.

Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, had the same thought; they made up their minds to kill Kangxi and Wu Sangui, and then they were going to kill themselves to apologize to Wu Liuqi. But this moment they did not want to talk too much, they cupped their fists toward Chen Jinnan and said, “Chen Zongduozhu, we’ll take our leave now.”

“Would you stay for a moment?” Chen Jinnan asked, “Zaixia has something to report.” The Gui couple had already taken their son’s hand and were on their way out; hearing this, they stopped and turned around.

Chen Jinnan said, “Wu Sangui is deploying his troops from Yunnan, very soon the whole country will be in rebellion, this is a golden opportunity to reinstate our Han people’s rivers and mountains. There will be quite a number of heroes who in the coming days will gather in the Capital to discuss countermeasure for dealing with current situation. Everybody will be like-minded, how about the two Seniors consider going to Beijing to join the conference?”

In his heart Gui Xinshu was ashamed, he did not have any desire to see other people; hence he shook his head, and started to walk out again.

Wei Xiaobao heard the two of them said that they were going to assassinate the Emperor. He thought these three fellows surnamed ‘turtle’ had a very high level of martial art skill, the young Emperor had never guarded against them, he must prevent them from killing the emperor. “This is a very important matter concerning the world,” he called out, “Your Gongzi’s [young master] conduct is a bit messed up. If this time you spoil this matter, even if the three of you kill yourselves, inevitably your names will … will be a stench for ten thousand years.” He had heard the saying ‘yi chou wan nian’ [to have one’s name go down in history as a byword for infamy], but he could not remember the exact words, hence he said ‘chou qi wan nian’ [stench for ten thousand years].

Although he did not say it correctly, the Gui couple understood his meaning clearly. Gui Xinshu knew that in term of martial art skill he was quite superior, but in term of ability to see things clearly he was rather weak, otherwise he would not have blindly accepted Wu Sangui’s one-sided story as the fact, and thus committed this kind of blunder. Hearing Wei Xiaobao, he could not help but shivered inwardly. He thought, “Assassinating the Emperor is indeed an important matter concerning the fate of the nation.”

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Right now the Emperor is still young, he is not too sensible yet, as soon as Wu Sangui arose in rebellion, he would collapse silly. If you kill him, another Tatar, older and more formidable, will become the Emperor, then our Han people’s rivers and mountains will be spoiled under your hands.” Gui Xinshu nodded slowly and turned around.

Chen Jinnan said, “Two Seniors, this child is young, he talks with no respect for his elders, please don’t be offended.” While saying that he cupped his fist to apologize. And then he continued, “But it seems that his concern needs to be considered at length. Such an important matter like this, we must discuss and decide what would be the best course of action?”

Gui Xinshu thought that he had committed one mistake and must not commit another mistake; just because right now he was ashamed and indignant, he must not let himself to be a sinner for all ages. Thereupon he said, “Very well! I will sincerely listen to Chen Zongduozhu’s instruction.”

“That word ‘instruction’,” Chen Jinnan said, “I absolutely do not dare to give. Tomorrow morning we will all go to Beijing. In the evening we will meet at this child’s residence to discuss this important matter. What do the Seniors think?” Gui Xinshu nodded.

Chen Jinnan asked Wei Xiaobao, “Have you moved?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Disciple still lives at Tong Maozi [copper hat] Lane in Dongcheng [district, central Beijing].”

“Seniors,” Chen Jinnan said, “Tomorrow night Zaixia will wait respectfully for the two Seniors’ honorable presence in this child’s Zijue Fu [Viscount Mansion] at Tong Maozi Lane in Dongcheng district in Beijing.”

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please don’t be angry, right now it is called Bojue Fu [Earl Mansion].”

“Hey, you have been promoted,” Chen Jinnan said.

Gui Erniang stared at Wei Xiaobao. She asked, “You are Wu Sangui’s nephew, but also ‘live in Cao camp but have the heart in Han camp’; will you place righteousness before family?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am not Wu Sangui’s nephew, Wu Sangui desperately wanted to be my grandson.”

Chen Jinnan scolded him, “Don’t be rude in front of the Seniors. Quickly kowtow and apologize.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He struck a posture ready to kneel, but he did so exasperatingly slowly.

Gui Xinshu waved his hands; he took his wife and child, as well as his servants, out of the door without saying anything. He knew perfectly well that there was no other place they could lodge for the night, but he would rather go hungry and spend the night in the wilderness since he did not want to be face the face with Tian Di Hui warriors.

Gui Zhong never had any playmate since he was little, seeing that Wei Xiaobao was very clever with words, plus was still young, he found him very amusing. He waved to him and said, “Baby, come with me, accompany me playing.”

“You killed my friend,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am not playing with you.”

Suddenly there was a ‘whoosh!’ a shadow flashed, Gui Zhong leaped over, grabbed Wei Xiaobao, and brought him to the door. His movement was very fast, while Chen Jinnan had just suffered quite a heavy injury, plus he was quite some distance away; unexpectedly not a single Tian Di Hui warrior had enough time to react.

Gui Zhong laughed aloud and shouted, “You must play hide-and-seek again with me, we will have a lot of fun!”

Gui Xinshu’s countenance sank; he said sternly, “Child, put him down.”

Gui Zhong did not dare to disobey his father, he was obliged to let Wei Xiaobao down, but his lips were already flat, obviously he was about to cry. Gui Erniang said consolingly, “Child, let us go buy two page boys to accompany you playing.”

“Page boys are no fun,” Gui Zhong said, “This baby is fun, let us go buy him.”

Seeing his son making a fool of himself, Gui Xinshu pulled his hand and went out the door in quick steps.

The crowd of warriors looked at each other in dismay; they all felt that Wu Liuqi was a hero, yet he died for no reason under the hands of an idiot. It was indeed too much of injustice.

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me invite Popo Jiejie here to meet everybody.” Together with Shuang’er he went into the inner hall. Who would have thought that He Tishou had already left?

The Third Mistress said that it was inappropriate for the womenfolk to meet the heroes, she only instructed the maidservants to prepare food and drink and to be hospitable to the guests.

Book note: In the title of this chapter, Yuyang instigation is an allusion to An Lushan’s rebellion [755-763] in reference to Wu Sangui’s rebellion. ‘Excessive supervision with poor planning’ is an allusion to Jing Ke [would-be assassin of King Ying Zheng of Qin (later the first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang)] assassinating King Tai. Our book borrows the allusion in reference to Gui Xinshu and the others mistakenly assassinated Wu Liuqi. It was too late to regret, yet they also wanted to assassinate Kangxi. The implied meaning has no relevance with actual historical fact.

[1] Chuan is abbreviation for Sichuan province. I am not sure about the ‘Hu’ (lake), since Hunan/Hubei are not adjacent to Sichuan.

[2]Zhuang house, ‘zhuang jia’ can also mean ‘banker’ (in gambling); ‘leg vise’ (夹棍), I don’t know what it is, I am assuming it has something to do with gambling; ‘three directions’, usually there are four positions in a gambling table, denoted by east, south, west, and north, respectively.

[3] I don’t know how to translate this without sounding strange: Han Sha She Ying, ‘han’ – to suck, to keep in the mouth, ‘sha’ – sand/grain, ‘she’ – shoot, ‘ying’ – shadow; ‘shooting at shadow with the sand kept inside the mouth’? Interestingly, the dictionary has special definition for ‘han sha she ying’: to attack someone by innuendo/to insinuate.

Chapter 42 Hazy sky outside the imperial watchtower at Jiu Zhong [nine heavy] city walls, blowing wind and cloud spitting discontent.

The next day Wei Xiaobao took his leave from the host, and then he and Chen Jinnan went separately to the Capital. Chen Jinnan said, “Xiaobao, Gui Er Xia, husband and wife are going to assassinate the Emperor. They have agreed to accept the decision after everybody has discussed it over. When you reach Beijing, you must not notify the Emperor so that he will be on guard.”

Wei Xiaobao did indeed have this intention, but since his Shifu hit the nail on the head, he hastily said, “Of course; his Tatars occupy our Han people’s rivers and mountains, I became an official in the imperial court under Shifu, you, Senior’s order, how can I support him for real?”

“Then so be it,” Chen Jinnan said, “If you say something without meaning it, and do something to let everybody down, I will be the first who will not spare you.”

“Shifu, please let your hundred and twenty hearts at ease,” Wei Xiaobao said, while in his heart he said, “Let your hundred and nineteen hearts at ease! I, myself, am not too much at ease.”

Taking Shuang’er, Xu Tianchuan and the others, he went back to where Zhang Yong, Zhao Liangdong, and the others were waiting. With Mao Dongzhu in custody, they returned to Beijing.

As soon as he was back at the Tong Maozi Lane, he immediately wanted to see Kangxi, thinking, “The young Emperor is my good friend, how can I let him die under those three turtles’ hands? I got it; I will go to the Palace and order the Imperial Bodyguards to be on high alert, to form tight security. I promised Shifu I won’t tell the Emperor, a real man speaks and keeps his promise, I can’t tell him then I won’t tell him, but I can prevent those three turtles from succeeding.”

Just when he was going out the door, Chen Jinnan, taking Gu Zhizhong and Ma Chaoxing, arrived. Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly. “How could you arrive so quickly?” he thought in his heart. Without any choice he raised his spirit to prepare the reception banquet.

Not long afterwards one after another Tian Di Hui warriors arrived in small groups, followed by Mu Jiansheng, leading his companions, the Iron Back Blue Dragon Liu Dahong, Shaking-Head Lion Wu Lishen, Divine Physician Hermit Su Gang and the others also arrived. Actually Mu Palace people were already in Beijing; they came together after they received the information about the conference.

Everybody finished eating and drinking, and waited for quite a long time before the three Gui Family arrived. Wei Xiaobao ordered his servants to prepare another banquet. “We already ate,” Gui Erniang said indifferently.

Gui Zhong glanced around; looking at the grand and luxurious mansion he said, “Baby, the appearance of your house is not too far below Ping Xi Wang’s Wuhua Palace. You did not lie, Wu Sangui is indeed your Bofu [father’s elder brother].”

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wu Sangui is your …” when he said the word ‘your’, suddenly he closed his mouth, thinking that if blurted out that sentence casually, Shifu must be angry with him. Thereupon he changed his statement to, “Since the three of you have already eaten, please come to the eastern hall to have some tea.”

They all went to the eastern hall to enjoy some green tea and light refreshments, and then Wei Xiaobao sent all the servants out. Chen Jinnan also sent a dozen or so Society brethren to guard around and on the roof of the hall before he closed the door, bolted it, and started the meeting.

Chen Jinnan introduced Gui family husband and wife with the Mu Palace people, but he did not mention anything about Wu Liuqi. Although Gui family husband and wife had lived in seclusion for a long time, Liu Dahong, Wu Lishen, and the others were still full of admirations, they were very respectful to them.

Gui Erniang got straight to the point, “After declaring war Wu Sangui attacked Hunan and Sichuan. The power of his troops is very sharp, as they swept everything. Although in the past Wu Sangui surrendered to the Tatars and forfeited the Great Ming’s world, his crime was great, his evil extreme, but he is, after all, still one of our Han people. In our Gui Er Ye’s [second master] opinion, we want to enter the Palace and assassinate the Tatar Emperor, so that the Tatars will be like a dragon without a head, and will be thrown into confusion. Gentlemen, what’s your wise opinion?”

Mu Jiansheng said, “Surely the Tatar Emperor ought to be killed, but if we do that, won’t that mean we give Wu Sangui that traitor a big help?”

Gui Erniang said, “In the past Wu Sangui killed Mu Wangye, naturally Mu Gongzi does not want to let him off. But the distinction between Manchurian and Han is of utmost importance, we must kill the Tatars first, it won’t be too late to slowly deal with Wu Sangui later.”

Liu Dahong said, “If in this rebellion Wu Sangui triumphs over the opponent, he himself will become the Emperor; to shake him later will not be easy. In Wanbei’s [Junior] opinion, we’ll let the Tatars and Wu Sangui massacre each other, fighting desperately against each other until you die, I live. And then we’ll reap the benefit of spreading the net over them. Thus Junior believes that it is inadvisable to assassinate the Tatar Emperor right now.” Although he had a chin full of white beard, Gui Family husband and wife had made their name long time ago, thus the reason he called himself ‘Junior’. Mu Palace’s enmity against Wu Sangui was as deep as the ocean; they would be very pleased to see his destruction first.

Gui Erniang said, “Wu Sangui is fighting for the Ming to demand prisoner of war, to rise the banner in assistance of the Third Zhu Crown Prince to ascend the throne. Here we have dispatch order from Wu Sangui, everybody please see.” From her pocket she took a large sheet of paper and spread it out on the table.

Chen Jinnan immediately read it aloud, “Former Shanhai Pass Guard Zongbing, current grand marshal under imperial orders to preside over water and land under the heaven, great general Wu to rise the Ming to demand prisoner of war, writing to make all civil and military officers, government officers, military soldiers and common citizens under the heavens know: our garrison profoundly received the benefit of the Great Ming’s nobility rank, to unite the garrisons of the Shanhai Pass …”

Chen Jinnan knew that most warriors did not understand literature; he read several sentences, then explained these sentences. After explaining clearly the first paragraph, he continued reading. The following section explained how Li Zicheng broke into Beijing, how Chongzhen returned to Heaven, how in order to avenge his lord father’s enmity he acted against his will to turn toward Manchurian Qing’s troops and gave them the opportunity to break in. After that he said, “Fortunately the main offender received favor under successive rulers, inherited command, received duty to guard the border, compensated the Manchu tribal chief. Caught unprepared by the deceit of going against the oath to the Heaven, availing myself to my inner void, grandly I seize Yanjing [old name for Beijing]. Humbly I become the divine tool of the former Dynasty, transforming my China’s crown and lower garment: fully aware that I must repel the entering wolves, and correcting the mistake of carrying firewood to put out a fire.”

Gui Erniang said, “Afterwards he was aware that lending assistance to Manchu troop was wrong, unfortunately it was too late.”

“Humph,” Liu Dahong snorted, “That traitor really know how to talk, it’s all a lie.”

“Chen Zongduozhu,” Gui Erniang said, “Please read on.”

“Yes!” Chen Jinnan said, and continued reading, “Our garrison pierce the heart and vomit blood, my remorse reaches the extreme, desiring to return to the north, wiping out the stench, receiving the late Emperor’s Third Crown Prince. The Crown Prince was only three years old, he did not remember the assassination, he lived as an orphan, he depended on his ancestor’s associates. For the time being drinking blood, waiting patiently, growing up in the dark waiting for an opportunity, selecting generals training soldiers, secretly drawing plans to rise and restore, until today, thirty years later!”

Listening to this part, Liu Dahong could not hold his patience any longer. He slapped the table and said, “Fart! Fart! This thief with a heart of wolf and lungs of dog whom the Heaven and the Earth cannot tolerate, if he really have half a heart of rising and restoring the Great Ming, why did he murder Emperor Yongli in the past? The Crown Prince Yongli! This matter is well known throughout the world, how would you deny that?”

When the crowd of heroes saw the look of Liu Dahong’s halberd-like eyebrows, none did not admire his loyalty. They thought that the fact that twelve years ago in Kunming City Wu Sangui hanged Emperor Yongli, father and son, could not be disputed.

Gui Erniang said, “Liu Dage is not wrong, Wu Sangui is definitely not a loyal subject or a patriot, even a three-year old knows that. The reason we want to assassinate the Tatar Emperor is to fight the Qing and restore the Ming, it is not to help Wu Sangui to become the Emperor.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Let me finish reading this dispatch order, everybody may take your time in reaching the decision.” He continued reading, “And now, to capture the tyrannical tribal chief, crafty and evil person of high status, let the scholars of righteousness and justice, colleagues who know: narrow-minded generation, all occupying prominent post …” Reading to this point, he laughed toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Xiaobao, this sentence is talking about you.”

Listening to his Shifu reading the document, Wei Xiaobao only felt that his intonation, the falling and rising of his voice was very pleasant to hear. Suddenly he heard that Wu Sangui’s document was mentioning him, he could not help but was pleasantly surprised. “Shifu,” he hastily asked, “What did he say about me? That fellow can’t be talking anything good about me.”

Chen Jinnan said, “He said that well-educated, virtuous good men only become sesame-seed and mung-bean petty officials; those fellows without any skill whatsoever can be high-ranking officer. Isn’t he talking about you?”

“What about himself?” Wei Xiaobao said, “His official rank is higher than mine; wouldn’t it mean that he is more useless than I am?”

Everybody roared in laughter; they said, “That’s right! No one in the imperial court has a higher official position than Ping Xi Qin Wang.”

The final paragraph of the document said, “The mountains miserable the water anxious, women cry children sob, to such an extent as the comets fell the sky above shows its wrath, the landslide the soil cracks, the earth below voices its complaint. Our garrison look upward to observe and look down to examine, in sincerity dispatching expedition against cruelty to rescue the people, obeying the Heaven responding to the people’s days. Lovingly forecasting the first day of the first month of the Jiayin year [51st year of the 60-year cycle], respectfully presenting to the Crown Prince, offering sacrifice to inform the heaven and earth, in veneration ascending the great treasure. Establishing the first Zhou consultant.”

Finished reading, Chen Jinnan explained the document. With the exception of Chen Jinnan and Mu Jiansheng two people, these people had never read any literary works, they all thought that this dispatch order seemed to be clear and logical; if there was anything not right in it, they could not tell.

Mu Jiansheng pondered deeply for a moment before saying, “Chen Zongduozhu, if he wanted to present tribute to the Third Crown Prince Zhu and offer him to ascend the Great Treasure, why didn’t he reinstating the Great Ming’s dynasty title, but wanted to change the dynasty title to Zhou? There must be a very big hole in his argument. Let alone we do not know if the Third Crown Prince Zhu or what have you is real or fake; nobody has ever heard anything about him, but all of a sudden he appeared without a head without a brain. Most likely Wu Sangui went out to find a child who does not understand anything, and called him the Third Crown Prince Zhu to appeal to the heart of the people, while in reality he would use him as a puppet.” Everybody nodded their agreement.

Gui Erniang said, “Wu Sangui uses the Third Crown Prince Zhu as his puppet, naturally I do not doubt it. Whether this person is real or fake, there is not much difference. It’s just that the Third Crown Prince Zhu is not a little child, the late Emperor died for his country already thirty years ago, if the Third Crown Prince Zhu is real, at least he would also be in his thirties.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Thirty something baby who does not understand anything is not nonexistent, hee … hee …” While saying that he cast a glance toward Gui Zhong.

Several warriors were not able to stifle their laughter. Gui Erniang’s eyebrows stood up, she was about to lose her temper, but then she had a second thought: Wei Xiaobao was right, her own precious son was already over thirty years of age, but he was still a little baby who did not understand anything. She could not help sighing softly.

They talked for a long time. Some proposed to leave Kangxi alone and get rid of Wu Sangui first, and then draw a plan to restore the country; some thought that although Wu Sangui was crafty and evil, in the end he was still a Han, they ought to help him driving out the Tatars, after the Han people’s rivers and mountains were restored, then they would remove him. They kept debating on and on but could not reach the final conclusion. After a long time, they all turned their eyes toward Chen Jinnan, knowing that he was resourceful, certainly he would have a wise opinion.

Chen Jinnan said, “We attach most importance to our country. If at this moment we kill Kangxi, admittedly Wu Sangui’s momentum will get a lot of boost. But Taiwan’s Zheng Wangye can also cross the ocean and attack to the west; their troops could enter via Fujian and Zhejiang, and attacked straight toward Jiangsu. With this east-west converging attack, the Tatars will definitely collapse. At that time, if Wu Sangui wants to be the Emperor, Zheng Wangye’s force, combined with Mu Palace, Tian Di Hui and heroes from all over the world will be able to control and overpower him.”

Su Gang coldly said, “By saying that, isn’t Chen Zongduozhu leaning somewhat heavily toward the Taiwan’s Zheng Wangye?”

Chen Jinnan replied sternly, “Zheng Wangye’s loyalty is well-known throughout the world, could it be that Su Xiong did not believe him?”

Su Gang said, “Chen Zongduozhu is loyal, brave and chivalrous, everybody respect and submit to you. But by Zheng Wangye’s side, devious and despicable lowly people are abounded.”

Wei Xiaobao could not bear not to speak up, “That is absolutely correct; take that ‘One Sword Without Blood’ Feng Xifan for example, and then there is Zheng Wangye’s younger son Zheng Keshuang. They all are not good people.”

Hearing that Wei Xiaobao did not align himself with him, Chen Jinnan was slightly surprised; but thinking that what he said was not wrong, he could not refrain from heaving a sigh.

Gui Erniang said, “Driving out the Tatars is the most important task; as for who will be the Emperor, we have no right to interfere. Fighting the Qing is something we have to do, whether we restore the Ming or not, there is no harm in discussing it slowly. Emperor Chongzhen of the Great Ming was not a good thing anyway.”

Chen Jinnan and Mu Palace warriors had always been loyal to Zhu Family of Ming; as soon as they heard that, their countenances changed greatly. Mu Jiansheng said, “If we fail to support the offspring of the Zhu Clan to regain the throne, won’t that mean we are supporting that big traitor Wu Sangui?”

Gui Zhong suddenly said, “Wu Sangui is a good man. He gave me this white tiger skin to be made as my robe. Have you seen it?” While saying that, he opened up the lapel of his robe to expose the white tiger skin underneath, seemingly very pleased with himself.

Gui Erniang said, “Child, don’t talk nonsense in here.”

With a cold laugh Su Gang said, “In Gui Shaoye’s opinion, a leather robe is more important than our Han’s rivers and mountains.”

“Child,” Gui Erniang angrily said, “Take that leather robe off!”

Gui Zhong was shocked, “But why?” he asked.

Gui Xinshu stretched out his hand to pull the sword hanging on his son’s waist. White light flashed, ‘swish, swish!’ the sword in Gui Xinshu’s hand continuously flitted across his son’s chest, back, shoulders and arms. Everybody was shocked; they all leaped back from their chairs, they thought Gui Xinshu was killing his son. But then they saw that the leather robe Gui Zhong was wearing had become seventeen or eighteen pieces, falling around his body, revealing the short silk, cotton-padded undergarments. Gui Xinshu’s sword moved very fast; it cut the leather robe into pieces, yet it did not touch the cotton-padded silk undergarments at all. When the crowd of warriors had seen clearly, they all cheered.

Gui Zhong was so scared that he could only stared blankly, while coughing incessantly. He almost cried as he said, “Dad … (cough, cough) … (cough, cough) … Dad … (cough) … I …”

Gui Xinshu waved his hand, the sword went back into its sheath, and then he took off his own cotton robe and draped it over his son’s body. “Put it on!” he said.

Gui Erniang picked up the pieces of white tiger skin from the floor and threw them into the blazing stove; immediately the fire blazed higher, a burst of burning leather smell arose, the white tiger was gradually burned into ashes. “What a pity, what a pity,” Wei Xiaobao repeatedly stated.

“Let’s go,” Gui Xinshu said. He pulled his son’s hand and led him toward the door.

Chen Jinnan said, “Gui Er Xia is going to attempt great things, we would like to offer some plans.”

“I do not dare!” Gui Xinshu said, “No need!” While saying that, he walked toward the door of the hall.

Wei Xiaobao knew Gui Xinshu was going to make his move at once, it would be too late to inform the Emperor, he must use all kinds of delaying tactics. Blocking in front of Gui Xinshu, he said in a loud voice, “The number of rooms in the Palace, if not ten thousands, then there are at least five thousands. Do you know where the Tatar Emperor live?”

Gui Xinshu was startled; he realized these words made a lot of sense. Turning his head around he asked, “Do you?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Nobody does,” he said, “Tatar Emperor is afraid someone might come to assassinate him, each night he moves from place to place to sleep. Sometimes he sleeps at the Chang Chun [eternal spring (season)] Palace, sometimes he sleeps at the Jing Yang [Bright (scenery) Positive] Palace, sometimes he sleeps at the Xian Fu [harmonious good fortune] Palace, Yan Xi [extended joy] Palace, or perhaps at the Li Jing [beautiful scenery] Pavilion, Yu Hua [rain flower] Loft, or Yu Qing [nurturing (a child) celebration] Palace.” In one breath he mentioned seven or eight different Palace or Pavilion names.

Listening to him, Gui Xinshu frowned. Wei Xiaobao added, “Even the court eunuchs and Imperial Bodyguards who serve on the Emperor’s side do not know where the Emperor will sleep tonight.”

“So how are we going to find the Emperor?” Gui Xinshu asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “When the Emperor holds the morning audience, all civil and military officials will see him. As he entered the building, he will come to see you, others will never find him.” Actually the situation was not as dire as he made it to be, Kangxi did not frequently move around to lie down, but Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, were ‘uncultivated land’ and ‘cloth clothes’; how could they know the Imperial Palace’s inner courtyards’ practices? Hearing Wei Xiaobao’s crazy nonsense, they thought that the Emperor taking strict precautions against assassins was rightly so, hence they were greatly hesitating.

Looking at Gui Xinshu’s expression, Wei Xiaobao knew that he realized the difficulty of this situation; in his heart Wei Xiaobao was very pleased. “Gui Laoyezi [old master],” he asked, “Do you know how many concubines the Emperor has?”

“Humph,” Gui Xinshu snorted; he stared at Wei Xiaobao without saying anything.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The storytellers said that the Emperor has three palaces and six courtyards, the chambers of imperial concubines’ beautiful girls … beautiful women are around three thousand. The Tatar Emperor does not have that many wives, I don’t think he has three thousand, but I’ll say he has at least eight or nine hundreds. Every night he becomes the groom; today he sleeps at the 351st imperial concubine’s room, tomorrow he’ll sleep at the 634th imperial concubine’s room. Even the imperial concubines themselves will not know where the Emperor will spend the night. They might have to wait three years, four years, and still do not know if the Emperor is coming or not.”

“Xiaobao,” Chen Jinnan said, “You have lived in the Palace for a long time, you must know a way to find the Emperor.”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “During the day it is easy to find him, but in the night, no matter what I have no idea how to find him.”

Chen Jinnan said, “In that case, during the day tomorrow we disguise ourselves and with you leading us, we’ll sneak into the Palace to execute the mission. Last time didn’t you take Qian Xiongdi and Wu Er Ge in and out of the Palace?” While saying that he pointed to Qian Laoben and Wu Lishen, two men.

“Qian Dage only went as far as the imperial kitchen,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as Wu Er Ge and the others entered the Palace, the bodyguards … the bodyguards discovered them. To see the Emperor’s face, it was still a hundred and eight thousand li away. Qian Dage, Wu Er Ge, don’t you agree?”

Qian and Wu, two men, nodded their heads. The two of them knew that to enter the Palace and look for the Emperor was like fishing a needle from the bottom of the ocean.

“Disciple has a way,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“What way?” Chen Jinnan asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Disciple is going to see the Emperor tomorrow, he will surely want to talk about Wu Sangui’s rebellion, how to send the troops to fight, disciple will advise him to come out and inspect the cannon. As long as he is out of the Palace, it would be a lot easier to make our move. Whether the assassination attempt is successful or not, we can put oil on the soles of our feet, and will be able to escape a lot easier; it will be a lot less dangerous.”

With a cold laugh Gui Erniang said, “So the Emperor will listen to you, a baby? If you do not come out of the Palace for three years, do you think we should wait for three years? You use all sorts of excuses, in the end you are not willing to lead us in, is that it?”

Mu Jiansheng said, “To enter the Palace and assassinate the Emperor, Xiongdi has done it. It was shameful actually, our Mu Palace lost quite a number of Xiongdi. My own little sister, along with Fang Shimei, also this Wu Shishu, as well as two other Shidi, were trapped inside the Palace and met quite an unexpected fate. Fortunately we received Wei Xiangzhu’s help for the sake of loyalty before we could get out of the danger. It’s not that we are coward who are afraid to die, this matter is truly difficult to succeed.”

Gui Erniang looked coldly at Wei Xiaobao; she asked, “You can rescue them out of danger?”

Wu Lishen hastily said, “Although Wei Xiangzhu is young, his benevolence and righteousness surpass others, he is quick-witted and smart; Xiongdi owes my life entirely to him.”

Gui Erniang said, “Mu Palace failed, that does not necessarily mean that surnamed Gui will also fail for sure.”

Liu Dahong stood up abruptly and said, “Gui Family husband and wife are Divine Fist Without Equal; it’s only natural that you surpass us, tiny Mu Palace, by a hundredfold. I would suggest you go at once, we will be waiting in here for good news.”

A brother from Great Benevolence Hall said, “Wei Xiangzhu, you’d better also go to the Palace. Wait until the Gui Family Three Da Xia [big hero] are captured by the Tatar bodyguards, you’d better find a way to rescue them.” He was still bitter over the Gui Family, three people murdered Wu Liuqi, so that even though they were in the presence of their Zongduozhu, he could not refrain from mocking them a bit.

Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “If the three of you turtles enter the Palace and are caught, even if my head is chopped I won’t save you out.” He laughed and said, “How can the Gui Family Three Da Xia be caught by the Tatar bodyguards? There are more than eight thousand Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace, Gui Shaoye only needs to cough several times, these more than eight thousand guards will have their brains shaken and die.” Quite a number of people from Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace broke out in laughter.

Gui Zhong laughed. “Is there really such thing?” he said, “That will be really fun. So they are afraid to hear my (cough … cough, cough) …? (Cough, cough) … (cough, cough) …” The Gui couple was furious; one of them grabbed their son’s arm and the three of them walked out side-by-side.

“Gui Er Xia,” Chen Jinnan said, “Please calm down. Xiongdi has a plan.”

Gui Erniang always knew that Chen Jinnan was full of stratagems; she turned around, waiting for him to continue.

Chen Jinnan said, “Gui Er Xia virtuous husband and wife are exceptionally skillful in martial arts, you are unequaled in the present age, but you are entering a very dangerous ground, all in all there will be multitude of enemies, but only a few friends. We’d better discuss a foolproof plan to …”

Gui Erniang cut him off, “I thought Chen Zongduozhu really had a brilliant idea, humph!” Turning around again, she walked toward the door.

Liu Dahong and Wu Lishen suddenly rushed forward and blocked the door. Liu Dahong said, “If the two of you want to help Wu Sangui, we from Mu Palace absolutely will not allow it to happen.”

“What?” Gui Erniang said, “You want to fight?”

Liu Dahong said, “The two of you might better kill me and my martial brothers clean first before going out this door to lend a hand to Wu Sangui.”

“Who says we are going to lend a hand to Wu Sangui?” Gui Erniang said.

Liu Dahong said, “Although the two of you do not have any intention to help that traitor Wu, but if you succeed, that traitor Wu’s momentum will gain a lot of boost, he cannot be controlled anymore.”

“Get out of the way,” Gui Xinshu said in a low voice, while taking a step forward.

Liu Dahong spread his arms to block the door. Gui Xinshu stretched his left hand forward to grab Liu Dahong’s chest. Liu Dahong raised his hand to parry, ‘smack!’ two palms collided, Liu Dahong’s body swayed two times, his entire face turned deathly pale. “I only used fifty-percent of my power,” Gui Xinshu said.

Wu Lishen shook his head and said, “There is no harm in you using a hundred-percent of your power so that all of us martial brothers will die violently.”

Gui Zhong said, “You want a hundred-percent, I’ll give you a hundred-percent.” He raised both hands, one bent close to his body, the other outstretched. Wu Lishen stretched out his arm to parry. Gui Zhong pulled his hand back, Wu Lishen struck an empty space. Gui Zhong seized the opportunity when Wu Lishen was about to pull his hand back, quick as lightning his hands grabbed the acupoints on Wu Lishen’s chest and waist.

Chen Jinnan rushed forward to stop them. “We are all good friends here,” he persuaded, “Let’s not use force.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “We all argue incessantly, in the end we still don’t have any solution. Let’s do it this way: we throw dice, leave it all to luck. If Gui Laoyezi wins, not only we will not hinder the three of you from entering the Palace, Wanbei [junior] will explain in details the situation in the Palace to the two of you.”

“And if you win?” Gui Erniang asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “In that case we will put this matter on the shelf for the time being, after Wu Sangui is dead, we will make our move against the Emperor.”

Gui Erniang thought, “If we do it on our own, Mu Family will most likely go to inform the Tatars, in the end this matter will be difficult to accomplish. We might as well listen to him.” She turned to ask her husband, “Er Ye [second master], what do you think?”

Gui Xinshu said to Wei Xiaobao, “If you lose you must not go back on your word.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “A real man gave his words, dead horses cannot pull it back. The Tatar young Emperor is not my laozi [old man], why would I want to protect him? It’s just that if we win, we must win it heroically, if we lose, we must lose gracefully. No matter who wins or loses, we must not harm our friendship.”

Chen Jinnan thought that his last sentence made a lot of sense; he said, “This matter involves great responsibility, in the end it will affect the calamity or good fortune of our great undertaking of restoring our country; it is difficult to predict. People of old used divination when they were in doubt, we will roll the dice, the idea is the same. Everybody needs not argue opinionatedly, let’s depend on the Will of Heaven.”

Gui Erniang said, “Child, let him go.”

“I won’t,” Gui Zhong replied.

“This little brother wants to play with you by rolling the dice,” Gui Erniang said.

Gui Zhong was delighted; immediately he relinquished his grip, releasing the acupoint on Wu Lishen’s chest. Wu Lishen felt the pain on the pit of his stomach was unbearable, his breathing could not flow freely, he shook his head continuously.

“Gui Shaoye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please take your dice out. We’ll use yours.”

“Dice?” Gui Zhong asked, “I don’t have any. Do you have some?”

“I don’t have it either,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Who has some dice?” he asked around. Everybody slowly shook their head, they all thought, “We are not rotten gambling ghost, who would carry dice everywhere?”

Gui Erniang said, “No dice, we’ll flip a coin.”

“Throwing dice is more fair,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Genuine goods at fair prices, cheating neither old nor young. I am a boy, Gui Shaoye is an old gentleman, thus it is clear that we must throw dice. I am sure one of the personal guards would have some dice; I’ll go ask.” Finished speaking, he pulled the bolt, open the door, and went out of the hall.

He went out of the eastern hall, entered the main hall, and fetched six dice from his pouch. The dice were the talisman that he carried everywhere, but if he took out dice on the spot, Gui Family husband and wife would definitely suspect him. He sat down in the main hall for a moment before returning to the east hall and said with a laugh, “I found some dice.”

“How do you decide winning or losing?” Gui Erniang asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The trick in throwing dice, I don’t understand the least bit. Gui Shaoye, how do you say we must gamble?”

Gui Zhong picked up two dice and said, “You and I compete in accuracy.” His finger flicked, ‘chi, chi!’ the two dice flew and extinguished two candles, followed by ‘pop, pop!’ the two dice embedded itself into the wooden partition. The crowd of warriors broke into praise, “Good skill!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have seen people throwing the dice; it’s a competition of the number of dots, big or small, not a competition of secret projectile throwing skill.”

“That’s right!” Gui Erniang said, “The two of you throw one time, who has the bigger number of dots wins.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Only throwing one time, maybe his luck is really good, all at once he rolls thirty-six dots.” Thereupon he said, “Let’s do it this way: each one of us will throw three times, two out of three will win.”

Gui Zhong thought that the more they throw the dice the more he would have fun. He said, “Each one of us will throw three hundred times, whoever wins two hundred times will be considered the winners.”

“That will be too much trouble,” Gui Erniang said, “Each one throwing three times is enough.”

Xu Tianchuan pulled the two dice embedded into the wooden partition and put them on the table. “Gui Shaoye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You throw first.”

Gui Zhong picked up the dice, and with a giggle he was ready to throw. “Hold on!” Gui Erniang said. Turning her head, he asked Liu Dahong and Mu Jiansheng, “If we win this game, will Mu Palace be considered lost too?”

Just now Liu Dahong exchanged a palm strike with Gui Xinshu, the blood and chi in his chest was still bubbling up, by this time he had not been able to regulate it yet; he thought that the opponent had said that he was only using fifty-percent of his power, this man was a senior hero, it must be not an empty word. If he really wanted to go to the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, based on Mu Palace’s power alone, how could they stop him? Thereupon he nodded. Mu Jiansheng said, “Let the Heaven reveal its will, the decision will be based entirely on the throw of the two gentlemen.”

“Very well!” Gui Erniang said. Turning to Gui Zhong she said, “Throw it! The bigger the number of dots the better.”

Gui Zhong examined the dice carefully. He said, “The biggest number of dots is six, the smallest is two, and then there is this big indentation here.”

“That big indentation is one dot,” Gui Erniang said.

Gui Zhong said, “It’s so weird, the four dots are red.” Waving his right palm, ‘Slap!’ the six dice went into the tabletop, all top surfaces had six dots on them. Turned out he arranged the dice on his palm, with all dice have one dot facing up, so that when he slammed the dice down, naturally all six dots were facing up.

Everybody was stunned, but they were also amused. This tuberculosis ghost seemed too weak to stand up to the wind, yet his internal energy was surprisingly this deep; but where in the world would there be throwing dice technique like this?

“Child,” Gui Erniang said, “That’s not the way to throw the dice.” Stretching out her palm, she slapped the table once, the six dice immediately jumped up. Everybody cheered. Gui Erniang picked up the dice and rolled it gently. She said, “Whatever dots come up, that will be the number of dots you get. You can’t rely on your own desire.”

“So that’s how you do it,” Gui Zhong said. Imitating his mother’s movement, he picked up the dice and gently tossed them on the table. The dice rolled. When they stopped, the number of dots was twenty. Six dice produced twenty dots, the chance of winning was slightly higher.

Wei Xiaobao picked up the dice, his little finger pushed a little bit, he was secretly employing his trick, and then he shouted, “Eat ‘em all!” while throwing the dice away. Five dice stopped to show seventeen dots, the last dice continued rolling. Based on Wei Xiaobao’s skill in cheating, the last die should stop at six dots, bringing the total to twenty-three dots, then he would win the first throw. Who would have thought that the die suddenly tripped into a little hole on the table, one of the holes created by Gui Zhong when he slammed the dice just a moment ago. The die shook slightly and stopped rolling altogether. The top surface showed one dot. Eighteen dots; he lost.

Wei Xiaobao said, “There are holes on the table, this one did not count.”

He picked up the dice and was about to throw again. Chen Jinnan shook his head and said, “This is the Will of Heaven, you lost the first round.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “There are two more throws, I will definitely win.” He handed the dice to Gui Zhong.

Gui Zhong won the first round, he was extremely pleased with himself. He gently rolled the dice, but only got nine dots. When Mu family people saw that this round his lost was guaranteed, they could not help but standing up and cheering.

Wei Xiaobao walked around the table to another corner, far from the six little holes, and threw the dice over there. Unexpectedly he got four dice at six dots each, and two dice at five dots each, bringing the total to thirty-four. Any combination of two dice already won. The victory was completely without any surprise without any risk.

Both sides had won one round each, the third throw would decide win or loss. Gui Zhong threw the dice. Six dice rolled around for a good while, finally they stopped at thirty-one dots, the chance of winning was very high. Anxiety reappeared on the Mu Family’s people’s faces, thinking that to beat these thirty-one dots they would need enormous good luck. But Wei Xiaobao was not worried at all, he thought, “I will use the same trick, I’ll throw thirty-four dots to beat you.”

With little finger pressed on the hollow of his palm, he set up the position of the dice and then gently rolled them out. He saw the six dice rolled on the table and stopped one by one; six dots, five dots, five dots, six dots … the first four dice all produced big numbers, he already had twenty-two dots. The fifth die also stopped at six dots, bringing the total to twenty-eight dots. The last die was still spinning. If it stopped at three, it would be a draw, then they would have to throw another round. One or two dots would mean he lost; four, five or six would give him victory. His chance of winning was 60%. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Even if it is three dots and we have to throw one more time, you won’t necessarily have the same good luck.”

The last die seemed to roll endlessly; they saw that it was going to land on six. “Good!” he shouted excitedly. Suddenly the die flipped over and rolled again. He was stunned. “There’s a ghost!” he cried out.

When he took a glance, he saw Gui Xinshu was blowing gently toward the dice. Right this moment, the die stopped rolling, the big indentation was facing up to the morning sky. It was one dot. Everybody shouted in chorus.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked and angered at the same time, he had seen people cheating in dice countless times, but to see people blowing on the dice to flip it over, this was his very first time; he had never even heard about it before. This old man’s internal energy was outstanding to the extreme, he was able to blow a thin stream of air; not only he was able to turn the six dots into one, perhaps when Gui Zhong threw thirty-on dots just now, it was not entirely due to his good luck in gambling, but because his laozi [old man] on the side was blowing air to help him. With face bulging red he shouted, “Gui Laoyezi, you … you … (whoosh, whoosh, whoosh)!” While saying that he pursed his lips to blow.

“Twenty-nine dots, you lose!” Gui Xinshu said. Reaching out, he picked the six dice and pinched them between his thumb and middle-finger. ‘Crack!’ the dice shattered, a few drops of mercury flowed out; the drops scattered around the tabletop and immediately turned into hundreds or perhaps thousands of small beads, which rolled everywhere.

Gui Zhong clapped his hands and cheered, “It’s fun, it’s fun! What is that thing? It looks like water, but also looks like silver.”

Seeing Gui Xinshu was exposing the mercury inside the dice to artificially increase their weight, Wei Xiaobao knew he could not argue over him blowing the dice. Pretending to be amazed, he said, “Turns out there is some mercury inside the dice. Laoyezi, you have taught Junior something new. The dice are made of ox bones, today I learned that mercury also come from cows. Previously I thought that it was silver plus water turned into mercury. Cows can cultivate soil, they also can produce mercury. Amazing, amazing!”

Gui Erniang ignored his nonsense; she said, “Anybody has anything else to say? Wei Xiongdi, please explain in details the situation of the Imperial Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao cast a glance toward his Shifu. Chen Jinnan nodded his head, saying, “It’s the Will of Heaven, you must explain honestly to the two Seniors.” He knew this disciple of his was very crafty, hence he added the word ‘honestly’.

Wei Xiaobao’s mind was churning; he had an idea, he said, “Since I have lost, naturally I can’t renege on the result of the bet. A real man steals, robs and cheats is not a big deal, but betting result must be honored. There are too many rooms in the Imperial Palace, even if I explain everything I can’t make you understand. I’ll draw a picture. Xu San Ge, Qian Dage, please accompany the guests, I’ll make the drawing.” Cupping his fist toward everybody, he turned around, walked out of the hall, and entered his study room.

This earl mansion was given to him by Prince Kang, inside the study room, the books filled the wall, writing brush and ink stone was prepared on the table. Wei Xiaobao was afraid his gambling luck would turn bad, books and loss [‘shu’ and ‘shu’] are homophone; normally he would not enter this Study Room [‘shu fang’ – book room, library] even for half a step. Right now he sat in front of the desk and shouted, “Grind the ink!” He had already summoned his personal attendant to serve him.

The Bojue Daren [Earl] has never written any letter, the personal attendant was bewildered, but his face showed admiration. Immediately he pulled himself together and started to work. He put fresh water into the antique purple coiled dragon stone ink slab that used to belong to Wang Xizhi[1], took the pine-black fragrant ink that was a leftover from Chu Suiliang[2] of the Tang Dynasty, pressed it by applying force from his wrist to his finger, and then while holding his breath and with full concentration ground the ink on the ink-stone to make thick liquid ink. From the brush container he fetched a writing brush made of mottled bamboo inlaid with silver, with best quality goat hair, manufactured by Zhao Meng of Huzhou. And then he spread a piece of gold-patterned jade edition note-paper, manufactured under imperial orders of Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, on the desk. Lastly, he lighted a dragon-essence musk-fragrance incense stick on the burner just like when Madame usually wrote letters, before waiting respectfully for Bojue Daren to start writing. When everything was set up, it was like: ‘Zhong Wang Ou Chu Yan Liu Zhao, it was a shame that everybody was inferior to Wei Xiaobao’. [Translator’s note: Not sure what it means, but the first line was a bunch of surnames, some of them appeared in the description of the product he was using (Wang Xizhi, Chu Suiliang, Zhao Meng, etc.)]

Wei Xiaobao bent his palm like a tiger claw, using qinna [grab and capture/grappling] power he grabbed the shaft of the brush, dipped it into the ink until the brush was soaked, suddenly with a light ‘plop!’ a large drop of ink dripped from the tip of the brush onto the paper, immediately staining the gold-patterned jade edition note-paper. The personal attendant thought, “Turns out Bojue Daren is not writing letters, he is going to paint, Liang-calligraphy style, by splashing ink onto the paper.” But then he saw him making a straight vertical line down on the left of the dot, as if he was drawing a curvy tree trunk. And then on the left of the tree trunk he lightly put another dot. It appeared like the northern school’s Li Sixun’s hatchet hacking style, or perhaps the southern school’s Wang Mojie’s draping hemp cloth style. It was definitely a combination of the two schools’, north and south, major styles.

The attendant had always been serving in the study room, he had quite a bit of ink in his belly [i.e. literary knowledge]; while he was sighing in admiration, suddenly he heard the Earl asked, “Is my ‘Xiao’ [little] character written well?” The attendant jumped in fright; he did not know that Bojue Daren was writing the character ‘Xiao’ [小]. Hastily he uttered some words of praise, saying, “Daren’s penmanship, the stroke from right to left, did not create a square, vertical line from the sky is genius.” [Translator’s note: honestly, I have no idea what he was talking about, perhaps about Chinese strokes?]

Wei Xiaobao said, “Go, summon Zhang Tidu here.”

The attendant complied and went out, thinking, “I wonder what Bojue Daren is going to write next?” But even if he guessed ten thousand times, he would never have guessed correctly.

Actually, after the character ‘Xiao’, Wei Xiaobao drew a circle. Underneath the circle, he drew a horizontal line, something that looked like stiff firewood or shoulder pole, and then a squiggly line like an earthworm passing through the shoulder pole. The earthworm passing through the shoulder pole was actually a ‘Zi’ [子] character. This three-character string was actually Kangxi’s name, ‘Xiao Xuanzi’. Since he did not know how to write the character ‘Xuan’, he substituted it with a circle[3].

He recalled that day when he was a monk in the Qingliang Temple, Kangxi drew some pictures in the imperial decree; Wei Xiaobao was happy and very impressed. Following the example of the Holy Sage, he respectfully copied what he did; today the situation was urgent, hence he submitted the memorial to the throne in drawings.

After writing the name ‘Xiao Xuanzi’, he drew a sword, with the tip of the sword penetrating the circle. If it meant to be a saber, it did not look like a saber, if it meant to be a sword, it did not look like a sword. Just by drawing these, his forehead was drenched in sweats.

He had just finished the drawing when Zhang Yong arrived.

Wei Xiaobao folded the gold-patterned jade edition note-paper and put it in an envelope. He sealed it well and handed it over to Zhang Yong, while saying in a low voice, “Zhang Tidu, this is a very important memorial to the throne. Please deliver it at once to the Palace and present it to His Majesty. Just say that this is my secret memorial, the Imperial Bodyguards and eunuchs will immediately announce your arrival.”

Zhang Yong complied. He received the envelope with both hands, and was about to put it into his pocket when they heard the two personal guards outside the study room asked in chorus, “Who’s there?” The door opened with a bang, three people burst in, they were none other than Gui Family husband and wife and Gui Zhong.

In a glance Gui Erniang saw the memorial in Zhang Yong’s hand; both reached from left and right, she snatched the envelope away, and asked Wei Xiaobao in stern voice, “You are going to inform the Tatar Emperor?”

Wei Xiaobao was so stunned that he could only stare blankly. “No … it’s not … it’s not …” he stammered.

Gui Erniang tore open the envelope, took the letter out and looked at the strange drawing on the paper. She was puzzled. “Look at this!” she said, while handing it over to Gui Xinshu. “What is this?” she asked Wei Xiaobao.

“I told him to go to the kitchen,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am ordering some … some … some dumpling soup for the guests to eat, the small dumplings, not the big ones. I want some pattern to be carved on the dumplings. He … he did not know what I mean, I drew some picture for him.”

Gui Xinshu and Gui Erniang nodded; their expressions softened. The drawing on the paper indeed looked like carving a pattern on the dumpling with a knife, so he was not trying to inform the Emperor at all.

Wei Xiaobao waved his hand to Zhang Yong and said, “Quickly go, quickly go!” Zhang Yong turned around and exited the study room. Wei Xiaobao said, “Tell them to prepare well, get more people, do it quickly! Everybody is going to eat soon, this is life-and-death situation, must not delay even for a moment.” From the door Zhang Yong replied again.

Gui Erniang said, “It’s just light refreshment, no need to rush. Wei Xiongdi, have you drawn the Imperial Palace map?”

Wei Xiaobao took another sheet of gold-patterned jade edition notepaper, spread it on the desk, and handed the writing brush to Gui Erniang and said, “I tried drawing some, but it was not good. I’ll say, I’d better ask you to draw it.”

Gui Erniang received the brush, sat down, and said, “Very well. Please start.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that he had nothing to conceal, thereupon he started from Wu Men [Meridian Gate], to the north toward Jin Shui Qiao [Golden Water River Bridge]. Turning to the west, passing Hong Yi Ge [great/extensive righteousness pavilion (usually two-storied)], passing Tai He Dian [Hall of Supreme Harmony], Zhong He Dian [Hall of Central Harmony], Bao He Dian [Hall of Preserving Harmony], three main halls, passing Long Zong Men [grand ancestor gate] toward the imperial kitchen; Wei Xiaobao’s origin. From here to the east, passing Qian Qing Men, to Qian Qing Palace[4].

And then turning toward Tai Dian [grand/safe/peaceful palace hall], Kun Ning Gong[5], Yu Huayuan [imperial (flower) garden], Qin An Dian [veneration safe/secure hall]; from the imperial kitchen going north was southern warehouse, Yang Xin Dian [Hall of Mental Cultivation], Yong Shou Gong [Palace of Eternal Longevity], Yi Kun Gong [respectable female (see note) palace], Ti He Dian [body/form harmony hall], Chu Xiu Gong [Palace of Gathering Elegance], Li Jing Xuan [beautiful bright pavilion], Shu Fang Zhai [rinsing fragrance study-room], Chong Hua Gong [repeated magnificent palace].

From here southward was Xian Fu Gong [Palace of Universal Happiness], Chang Chun Gong [Palace of Eternal Spring (season)], Ti Yuan Dian [body/form origin/primary hall], Tai Ji Dian [supreme ultimate hall]. To the west was Yu Hua Ge [rain flower pavilion], Bao Hua Dian [magnificent guardian hall], Shou An Gong [long life safe/secure palace], Ying Hua Dian [brave magnificent hall].

Turning south again was Xi San Suo [western three buildings], Shou Kang Gong [long life healthy palace], Ci Ning Gong [Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful], Ci Ning Huayuan [flower garden], Wu Ying Dian [Hall of Martial Valor]. Out of Wu Ying Men [Gate of Martial Valor], passing the bridge going east, passing Xi He Men [Gate of Prosperous Harmony], going back to Wu Men, was Zijincheng’s [Forbidden City] western half section.

The Gui Family husband and wife listened as he rambled on for half a day, and only covered the western half section of the Imperial Palace. They could not even remember the names of ‘gong dian ge lou’ [palace, hall, pavilion, two-storied buildings], hence they could not help but breaking in cold sweats. Gui Erniang dutifully wrote down the names of palaces and gates. Wei Xiaobao then talked about the palaces and gates of the eastern half section. Fortunately his memory was very good, plus he loved to play around everywhere in the Imperial Palace, hence he was very familiar with it.

Gui Erniang wrote for quite a long time before she finally finished writing the position of the Imperial Palace’s Nine Inner Halls Forty-Eight Residences. She put down the writing brush, took a deep breath, smiled and said, “Sorry to bother Wei Xiongdi to explain everything this clearly. Thank you very much.” When listening to Wei Xiaobao mentioning all the palaces and gates’ names and locations, she noticed that he was talking as if enumerating his own family’s valuables, without the slightest hesitation, hence she presumed that it was the truth. She thought that even if he wanted to fabricate fiction, he did not have that kind of ability.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “This is the price Gui Shaoye collected from winning the dice, you do not need to thank me.” He also said, “The Emperor’s Imperial Bodyguards are usually waiting around the imperial sedan chair station by the Tong Hua Men [east magnificent gate], but now they are at war with Wu Sangui, the Tatar Emperor surely increases security. It may be assumed that in the Forbidden City’s forty-eight residences, there will be Imperial Bodyguards guarding inside.” He thought, “I’d better warn them first, so that when Xiao Xuanzi receives my secret memorial and sends more guards, these three turtles will not suspect me of informing him.”

“That is only natural,” Gui Erniang said.

“Although there are a lot of Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “They are not martial art masters; only there are a lot of them. Manchu people’s archery skill is very formidable, but naturally the three of you do not care about it.”

“Thank you for the advice,” Gui Erniang said, “We’ll take our leave now.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The three of you must eat some dumplings first, so that you will have the strength to work.” Walking to the door, he said loudly, “Guards, send some refreshments here.” The servant waiting outside the door responded loudly.

“No need,” Gui Erniang said. Taking her son’s hand, she exited the study room side-by-side with Gui Xinshu. Both husband and wife thought, “Most likely there will be some trick in your carved dumplings. Why would you carve something on dumplings? We fell into your trick once, we won’t fall the second time.” In Wei Xiaobao’s mansion, these three people did not even drink half a sip of tea.

Wei Xiaobao walked them out of the door; cupping his fist to bid them farewell, he said, “Junior’s eyes are looking towards the report of victory, my ears are waiting for good news.”

Gui Xinshu stretched out his hand toward the Chinese stone lion by the main gate, his palm struck the head of the lion, immediately fragments of stone swirled in the air. With a ‘hey, hey’ cold laugh, he shook his sleeve and left.

Wei Xiaobao stared blankly for half a day; he mused, “If that palm strikes laozi’s head, the feeling won’t be good at all. He is warning me not to spoil their important matter, otherwise he would strike me with his palm.” Stretching out his hand, he also struck the lion’s head with his palm. “Ah!” he cried out, while jumping back; the hollow of his palm hurt really bad. The top of lion’s head was originally very smooth, but because of Gui Xinshu’s palm strike just now quite a bit of stone flaked out that it became jagged and sharp. Wei Xiaobao raised his hand to look at it under the lantern light, fortunately it was not bleeding of cuts.

Returning to the eastern hall, he saw Chen Jinnan and the others were drinking wine. He reported to his Shifu that he had already explain the Forbidden City’s details to the Gui Family husband and wife, and he had just walked the three of them out. Chen Jinnan nodded and said with a sigh, “Even if the Gui Family husband and wife are able to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, I am afraid they won’t be coming back.” The crowd of heroes drank their wine in silence, everybody was busy with their own thought. Occasionally someone would say something, but nobody responded.

More than an hour later, someone outside the door said, “Reporting to Jueye: Zhang Tidu is seeking an audience.”

Wei Xiaobao was inwardly delighted; yet he said, “In the dead of the night, what urgent matter could it be? Tell him I am already asleep, whatever it is can wait until tomorrow.”

“Yes,” the man responded.

Chen Jinnan said in a low voice, “Perhaps some news from the Palace; go and ask.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He went to the main hall and saw Zhao Liangdong, Wang Jinbao and Sun Sike, three men were standing in the main hall, their expressions showed that they were panic-stricken, but he did not see Zhang Yong. Wei Xiaobao was startled. “Where is Zhang Tidu?” he asked in a low voice.

Wang Jinbao said, “Reporting to Daren: Something bad happened to Zhang Tidu, he collapsed outside the mansion’s gate, we brought him to the side room over there.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “How … how did he collapse?” he asked, while rushing toward the side room. He saw Zhang Yong’s eyes were tightly closed, his countenance was deathly pale, the pit of his stomach was moving up and down incessantly. “Zhang Tidu, what happened to you?” Wei Xiaobao called out.

Zhang Yong slowly opened his eyes, “Lowly … lowly …” he said. His eyes turned over and he fainted again. Wei Xiaobao busily reached out to feel his pocket, and found his own memorial was still there. He took out the envelope and sure enough it was his own ‘mist-like pen stroke’ drawing; he could not help but groaning inwardly.

Sun Sike said, “Just now the night patrol captain came to report that they found a military officer fainted on the curb several hundred steps outside the mansion gate. Someone went out to look, and recognized Zhang Tidu, hence they brought him back here. The blood on the back of Zhang Tidu’s head is already dry, apparently he has fainted for quite some time.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “He has been unconscious for a long time, the memorial has not been delivered, that means he met misfortune as soon as he was out of the mansion’s gate. Could it be that those three turtles sent people to set an ambush outside the mansion gate because they were afraid I might send someone to inform the Emperor, and thus they made their move against Zhang Tidu?” In his heart he was very anxious.

By this time Zhang Yong had slowly regained his consciousness. Wang Jinbao busily raised the wine pot to let him drink several mouthful of Shaojiu [same as white wine]. Sun Sike and Zhao Liangdong used the Shaojiu to rub Zhang Yong’s palms. Zhang Yong’s spirit was somewhat aroused. “Lowly officer deserves to die,” he said, “Just as I left the mansion gate … not even … several hundred steps, suddenly the pit of my stomach … the pit of my stomach hurt like it was cut by a saber. I endured … endured for several more steps, my eyes suddenly went black, I could not … could not accomplish the task Daren entrusted to me. Lowly officer will immediately … immediately go …” While saying that, he propped himself, trying to get up.

“Zhang Dage, please lie down to rest,” Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “Let these three gentlemen do it, it will be the same.” Handing the memorial to Wang Jinbao, he ordered him and Zhao Liangdong and Su Sike, three men to contact the Imperial Bodyguards and rush to the Imperial Palace to submit the memorial. His heart was anxious, “Those three Guis have already left more than an hour ago, I am afraid Xiao Xuanzi’s life has already gone, we might as well give medicine to a dead horse.” Wang Jinbao and the others, three men, received the order and left.

Zhang Yong said, “That old fellow … old fellow in Daren’s study room has a formidable martial art skill. As I walked out of the study room, he pushed lightly on my … on my back … (cough, cough). At that time I did not feel anything; who would have thought that I have already suffered internal injury. As soon as I left the mansion gate, it … it flared out immediately … I failed Daren’s important task …”

It was only then did Wei Xiaobao understand that although Gui Xinshu saw the memorial was not a report to inform against them, he was still suspicious, hence he secretly dealt Zhang Yong a heavy hand, so that he would not be able to accomplish his mission. Seeing the ashamed look on Zhang Yong’s face, Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “Zhang Dage, set your heart at ease and recuperate, I do not blame you the least bit. Damn it, that old turtle plotted against you, we cannot let it rest.” After comforting Zhang Yong for a while, he ordered his personal guards to prepare some ginseng soup and summon the physician to treat his injury.

Returning to the eastern hall, he said, “That was not news from the Palace. Zhang Tidu is heavily injured by Gui Er Ye, I am afraid his life can’t be guaranteed.”

Everybody was shocked. “Why did he injure Zhang Tidu?” they asked hastily.

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “Zhang Tidu was patrolling outside the mansion; seeing the three of them exited the mansion, he came forward to question them, Gui Er Ye then sent him a palm strike.”

Everyone nodded. They thought, “An ordinary military officer, how can he endure Shen Quan Wu Di’s little finger?”

Wei Xiaobao was quite regretful, he mused, “If I had known that Zhang Tidu would fall into evil scheme and the memorial could not be delivered to Xiao Xuanzi, I should have not told them the Imperial Palace’s situation that clearly, I should have muddled east, south, west and north randomly. Laozi should move mountains and drain seas for them, changing the Huang Ji Dian to Shou An Gong, Zhong Hua Gong to Wen Hua Dian; let those three turtles wander around in the Imperial Palace, crawling confused and disoriented.”

They sat waiting; they heard the ‘du di du tang tang tang tang’, signaling the fourth night watch period [1 – 3am] from outside the hall. After a while, from the alley some distance away came the sound of barking dogs; they all sprang up while grabbing the hilt of their weapons. Bending their ear to listen attentively, they heard the barks continued for a while before gradually dying down.

After a long while, a faint crow of a single rooster broke the quietness of the night, followed by roosters all around responded. From the lattice of the window they could see the faint streaks of dawn. “It’s daybreak,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I must go to the Palace to ask around.”

Chen Jinnan said, “If the Gui Family, husband, wife and son, should meet misfortune and are defeated, you must find a way to save them. Wu Liuqi Dage’s affair was due to misunderstanding; we must not blame them indefinitely. We must attach most importance to virtuous cause and set aside personal matters. Their humiliation to us must not be taken too seriously.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu’s instruction, disciple will hold in high regard. It’s just that … it’s just that if they have already killed the young Emperor, even if disciple stakes my little life, I won’t be able to help them out.” Thinking that most probably by this time the young Emperor had been assassinated by the Gui Family’s three people, he could not stop grief from rising in his heart. Immediately his tears flowed, with a sob he said, “Poor Wu Dage …” Seizing the opportunity, he broke into loud crying.

Mu Jiansheng said, “Regardless of whether the Gui Family husband and wife are successful or fail, today Beijing will be in chaos. Xiongdi has quite a bit of friends outside, I must hurry up and go out to warn them to disperse and hide; after this storm is passed, we’ll talk again.”

“Definitely,” Chen Jinnan said, “Quite a number of our humble Society brethren are also scattered throughout this city, everybody must go out separately to notify all Jianghu friends, we all must be a bit more careful, don’t invite any disaster. Tonight, early tenth hour [5-7 pm] we will meet here again to discuss what we are going to do next.” Everybody agreed.

Immediately four Tian Di Hui brothers were sent out first to go out and scout the situation; after they returned and reported that there was nothing unusual in that vicinity, they left the mansion in small groups.

Wei Xiaobao also went out the door, as it happened, Sun Sike returned, reporting that the memorial had been handed over to the Imperial Bodyguards at the Palace gate. When the Captain of the Imperial Bodyguards heard that it was the Fu Zongguan [Deputy Chief] Wei Daren’s secret memorial, he received it at once and dashed in to present it to the Emperor. The three of them waited outside the Palace gate. Until the fifth drum strike, the Captain had not come out. At this moment Wang Jinbao and Zhao Liangdong, two men, were still waiting outside the Palace gate for the news. Afraid that Wei Xiaobao might be concerned over them, Sun Sike went back to report to him.

“All right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You may go to take care of Zhang Tidu.” Deeply worried and sick at heart, he ordered his personal guards to get the fake empress dowager Mao Dongzhu and put her in a small sedan chair and have her brought to the Palace to have an audience with the Emperor.

Arriving at the Palace gate, he saw all around was quiet, about a dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards at the gate rushed forward to pay their respect; they all giggled and said, “Fu Zongguan must be exhausted. That place, Yangzhou, is very fun.”

Wei Xiaobao was relieved. He thought, “If the Palace is in great confusion, they would not be in the mood to chat about Yangzhou with me.” He smiled and nodded his head. “These days,” he asked, “Is everybody all right?”

“Relying on Fu Zongguan’s good fortune, from top to bottom we are all safe and sound,” an Imperial Bodyguard replied, “Only that old fellow Wu Sangui is rebelling, making His Majesty very busy. In the dead of the night he often summons cabinet minister to the Palace to discuss official business.” Wei Xiaobao was even more relieved.

Another Imperial Bodyguard said with a laugh, “With Zongguan Daren back in the Capital, you can help His Majesty handling important matter, His Majesty would have a bit more time for leisure.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You need not pat the horse’s butt. The stuff I brought back from Yangzhou, good Xiongdi all will have some share, nobody will be lacking.” The Imperial Bodyguards were greatly delighted; they all paid their respect and expressed their gratitude.

Pointing to the small sedan chair, Wei Xiaobao said, “That is the prisoner that the Empress Dowager and His Majesty personally wanted me to arrest. I want you to keep an eye on it.”

The attendants opened the sedan chair’s curtain to let the Imperial Bodyguards at the gate to search. The Imperial Bodyguards did their job by checking the sedan chair for any weapons or prohibited objects. They laughed and said, “Fu Zongguan Daren’s meritorious service this time is not small, we will be invited for a drink to congratulate your promotion.”

Wei Xiaobao entered the Palace. He inquired of the night guards of the Qian Qing Men, and was told that the Emperor was in conference with cabinet ministers at the Yang Xin Dian since the previous evening and had not withdrawn until now. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. He thought, “Turns out His Majesty was busy all night long and did not sleep. High-level meeting with cabinet ministers, naturally the security all around will be very tight. There were hundreds or thousands lanterns outside Yang Xin Dian, how could those three Gui Family turtles get near the Emperor? If Xiao Xuanzhi went to bed early, the lantern dark the fire black, I am afraid he might already meet calamity by now. It can clearly be seen that as the Emperor, indeed his flood of good fortune fills the heavens. Fortunately when that old fellow Wu Sangui went to war, he triumphed over the enemy, so that the Emperor is worried and he talked about it all night long.”

Arriving outside the Yang Xin Dian, he quietly stood to wait. Although he was the Emperor’s most favorite person, when the Emperor was talking about military and national affairs with princes and dukes, and cabinet ministers, he would not dare to come in without permission.

After waiting for more than an hour, the night guards opened the door. He saw Prince Kang Giyesu, Ming Zhu, Songgotu, and the others came out one by one. When these high-rankings ministers saw Wei Xiaobao, they all smiled and cupped their fists in greeting, but nobody dared to say anything. The eunuch announced Wei Xiaobao’s arrival, Kangxi immediately summoned him for audience.

Wei Xiaobao kowtowed at the entrance of the Hall before standing up. Seeing Kangxi seated on the imperial throne and was in high spirits, Wei Xiaobao felt of burst of happiness. “Your Majesty,” he said, “Your servant sees you, I … I’m really happy.” He was worried all night long; seeing Kangxi was safe and sound, he could not stop tears from flowing down his face.

Kangxi laughed and said, “No wind no rain, why are you crying?”

“It is tears of joy,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Seeing him revealing his real feeling, Kangxi laughed and said, “Very good, very good! That old fellow Wu Sangui really rises in rebellion. He attacked and snatched several victories; he thought I would be afraid to see him and would not dare to kill his son. Damn it, yesterday laozi chopped Wu Yingxiong’s head.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Ah!” he exclaimed, “Your Majesty has killed Wu Yingxiong?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Kangxi replied, “All ministers advised me against killing Wu Yingxiong, they said something like if the kingdom and troops are at disadvantage, we can still have peace talks with Wu Sangui, allowing him not to remove border defense and station him in Yunnan forever. They also said that as soon as we kill Wu Yingxiong, Wu Sangui will not have any apprehension anymore, and will be even more vicious. Pei! Those cowards.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty is brave and decisive. Your servant has watched the opera ‘Distinguished Gathering’, in which Zhou Yu and Lu Su told Sun Quan that as ministers they could surrender to Cao Cao, but the Lord and Master must not surrender. Today we are in similar situation, they, as princes, dukes and cabinet ministers are reaching out to Wu Sangui to have peace talks, Your Majesty must absolutely not have any peace talks.”

Kangxi was greatly delighted; he slapped the table and got off from his seat. “Xiao Guizi,” he said, “If you had arrived one day earlier, you could have explained that argument to the ministers, and then they would not dare to advise me to have peace talks. Humph, if they surrendered to Wu Sangui, they would still be ministers and generals, what advantage would they have?” He thought that although Wei Xiaobao was without learning or skills, he did not appear to be similar to those ministers who harbored selfish motives and only thought about their own selves.

Pulling Wei Xiaobao’s hand, Kangxi took him to a large table with a large map spread on it. Pointing to the map, Kangxi said, “I have sent people to lead the elite troops, to guard all the way from Jingzhou [prefecture, Hubei] to Changde [prefecture, Hunan], all the way from Wuchang [district, Hubei] to Yuezhou [not sure where]; I’ve appointed Shun Cheng Jun Wang [king/prince, not of royal blood] Lei’erjin as the Great General Ning Nan Jing Kou [pacify the south quieting the bandit/enemy] to lead all the generals in destroying the enemy. Just now I also appointed Ministry of Justice Shangshu [dept. head] Moluo as Jinglue[6] to be stationed and defend Xi’an. Even if Wu Sangui obtained Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan, and attack Hunan, we won’t be afraid of him.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please also send your servant to lead troops to deal with that old fellow Wu Sangui!”

Kangxi laughed; he shook his head and said, “Marching to war is not for entertainment. You’d better stay in the Palace to accompany me. Besides, this time the ones I am sending out are all Manchu generals Manchu troops; I am afraid they won’t have you rule over them.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said. In his heart he thought, “Wu Sangui wanted the Han people all over the world to rise against the Tatars. I am a fake Manchu man, naturally His Majesty does not trust me.”

Kangxi could read his mind, he said, “You are loyal and devoted to me, it’s not that I do not trust you. Xiao Guizi, Wu Sangui’s troops and horses are very formidable, not in three or five years, or even seven or eight years, will we be able to subdue him. A few years ahead of us we will definitely suffer defeat. This is going to be a hard battle, we will taste bitter first and sweet later, defeat first victory later. Do you prefer defeat, or do you prefer victory?”

“Naturally I love victory,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Throwing helmet dumping armor, fleeing in confusion, that won’t taste too good!”

Kangxi laughed and said, “You are loyal to me, I won’t let you suffer defeat. The defeat in the three to five years ahead of us is just to let others fight and fight. When we have tired out that rebel Wu until his spirit weary, his strength exhausted, the general situation has been decided, then I’ll send you out to Yunnan to personally catch this old fellow away. Do you know what will my imperial edict about this rebellion be?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he said, “Your Majesty’s benevolence is indeed as high as the heavens and as thick as the earth.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “I will proclaim it to the world, I will promise that whoever catches Wu Sangui, Wu Sangui’s official rank will be granted to him. Xiao Guizi, this will depend on your good fortune. Damn it, with your revolting behavior, do you think you can act like Ping Xi Wang? Ha ha, ha ha!” He cast a sidelong glance toward Wei Xiaobao for a moment before laughing and saying, “Nowadays you look like a little monkey, so you won’t look like him the least bit. But in six or seven years, you will be over twenty, at that time you will be granted the title ‘Wang’ [king], I am afraid you will be a bit off the chart. Ha ha …”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Ping Xi Qin Wang or whatever high-level title he has, I am afraid your servant will not have such good fortune to deserve it. But if Your Majesty would appoint me a great general, leading troops to Yunnan to catch Wu Sangui, the great general’s awe-inspiring authority resounds to eight direction, your servant will have a zhang-long eight-serpent spear in my hand as I shouted loudly, ‘Wu Sangui, come out to surrender your name!’ It would be extremely awesome. Thank Heaven and thank the Earth, Wu Sangui did not die early on, your servant will personally bring him over to kneel in here and kowtow to Your Majesty.”

Kangxi laughed. “Very good, very good!” he said. Instantly his face grew serious as he said, “Xiao Guizi, the first few years of war ahead of us will be very difficult. Defeat in battle is not a big deal, but even if we are defeated, we must not be in disarray. We need generals of great talent to endure defeat without being thrown in confusion, to be able to stand his ground. You are a good-luck general, not a brave general or famous general, and definitely not a great general. Ay, it’s a pity that the imperial court does not have any great generals.”

“But Your Majesty, you are a great general yourself,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty already knew that in the few years ahead of us we will suffer defeat, yet even though defeated, definitely we will not be in disarray. Just like playing Pai Jiu [pai-gow], Your Majesty is the banker, you pay him seven or eight losses, you do not give it a damn. Our capital is abundant, a stone tablet is erected on Mount Tai to ward off evil spirit, we keep our composure, losing some money is just lending it to him. Later on, we will get the harmony pair [pair of ones and threes], man pair [all four], earth pair [all ones], heaven pair [all sixes], all the way to supreme pair [one, two, two, four]; pair by pair we beat him up, until we eat ‘em all, kill ‘em all, throwing that old fellow Wu Sangui’s men face up and their horses belly up, that he will be completely routed, completely empty-handed, his pocket inside out, his tiles [cards] are all turned up, each pair he has is a departing ten.”

Kangxi roared in laughter; he thought, “There is no great general in the imperial court, but I am a great general; he was right. These eight words ‘enduring defeat without being thrown in confusion, maintaining our composure’ [sui bai bu luan, chen de shu qi], aside from myself, no other commander-in-chief or high-ranking minister in the imperial court is able to achieve.” From the imperial table he picked up the secret memorial Wei Xiaobao presented to him. “You said some people are going to assassinate me, and you wanted me to be careful and be on guard?” he asked.

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “At that time the situation was urgent; your servant was under other people’s eyes, I could not summon the secretary to write it, without any other choice I drew this picture. Your Majesty is very intelligent, just one look and you understood. Those assassins looked on helplessly, and still did not understand its meaning. The Lord of Ten Thousand Years’ flood of good fortune fills the heavens, rebels and traitors trying to scheme against you in vain.”

Kangxi asked, “What kind of renegade are they?”

“They were sent to the Capital by Wu Sangui,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Kangxi nodded. “As soon as rebel Wu deployed troops, I tripled the imperial bodyguards. When I received your memorial last night, I added the night guards.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This time Wu Sangui sends assassins with really high martial art skill. Although the Holy Son of Heaven has a hundred deities to protect and bless, still we must be doubly careful, so that Your Majesty will not be frightened.” Suddenly he remembered something, “Your Majesty,” he said, “Your servant have a treasured vest, when worn on the body, swords and spears cannot penetrate. Your servant will take it off and ask Your Majesty to wear it.” While saying that, he unbuttoned his long robe.

Kangxi smiled, “You took it from Oboi’s house, didn’t you?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; although his face was really thick, but caught completely off guard this time, unexpectedly his face turned bulging red. He dropped on his knees and said, “Your servant deserves to die, nothing can be concealed from Your Majesty.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “This gold-silk vest was obtained from the previous Ming’s Palace, at that time Oboi rendered a lot of meritorious service; he charged and broke through enemy lines, hence the injuries from saber, spears, arrows and rocks he received were quite a few. For this reason the former Regent bestowed this vest to him. When I sent you to search and seize Oboi’s house that time, this vest is not listed among the confiscated items.”

Wei Xiaobao could only giggle nervously, his expression looked very awkward. Kangxi laughed and said, “Today you want to take it off and give it to me to wear, it goes to show that you have an outstandingly loyal heart. But I am in the Palace, with Imperial Bodyguard numbers in hundreds and thousands, even the assassins would not be able to get close to me. I have no need of this vest. You are outside, working for me, oftentimes you encounter dangers. Just consider I give this vest to you today. From this day onward, this stealing is excused.”

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down again to express his gratitude, but his body was drenched in cold sweats; he thought, “I stole the Forty-two Chapter Sutra, it would be best if His Majesty did not know about it.”

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “You are loyal to me, and I know that. But you should handle the matters following the rules and regulations. The vest that you are wearing right now, supposing in the future someone else is sent to search and confiscate your possession, and then that person secretly embezzles it, that won’t be good.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant will not dare anymore.” The sweats on his forehead dripped down as he kowtowed several more times before standing up.

Kangxi said, “The business in Yangzhou, you may return someday.” Finished speaking, he yawned. He did not sleep the whole night, naturally he was very tired.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Relying on Empress Dowager and Your Majesty’s good fortune, your servant has arrested that old wh0re whose crime is great, her evil extreme.”

As soon as Kangxi heard this, he cried out, “Quickly bring her in, quickly bring her in.”

Wei Xiaobao went out and ordered four guards to have Mao Dongzhu brought into the Hall, and have her kneeled in front of Kangxi. Kangxi walked over to her and shouted, “Look up!”

Mao Dongzhu hesitated, then lifted her head, fixing her gaze on Kangxi. Seeing her deathly pale countenance, Kangxi was suddenly overwhelmed with grief, “This woman murdered my birth mother, grieved Fu Huang’s heart [father emperor] that he left home to become a monk, making me an orphan without father and mother. She also imprisoned Empress Dowager for many years and tortured her. Among those with great crime and extreme evil in the world, really nobody has surpassed her. But … but … I lost my mother when I was a baby, all along she was the one who raised me. Over the last few years, she actually treated me with bestowed kindness, just like if she was my own mother. Deep in the Palace, those who genuinely care about me, I am afraid only this woman in front of me, and this crafty troublemaker Xiao Guizi.”

In the deepest part of his heart he had an indistinct feeling, “If not for her assassinating Consort Donggo and Consort Donggo’s son Prince Rong, based on how deeply Fu Huang doted on Consort Donggo, the throne would definitely be passed on to Prince Rong. Not only I would not be the Emperor, perhaps I should be worried over my life. That being said, I can say that this woman has rendered me a meritorious service.”

A few years ago, Kangxi was still very young, he always thought that the thing he hated the most was losing his father and mother. But for the last few years, his personal political power had grown, he was fully aware that if someone else seized the throne from him, everything would be lost. In the deepest part of his heart, the imperial power of being the Emperor was heavier than the love of his father and mother. It’s just that obviously he must not declare this feeling publicly, that even when in his heart he was thinking about it, he would inevitably feel very guilty.

Seeing Kangxi’s expression was changing indeterminably, Mao Dongzhu sighed and slowly said, “Wu Sangui is rebelling, Your Majesty must not be too anxious; you must take a good care of yourself. Do you still take Fu Ling Swallow Nest soup every morning?”

Kangxi was still lost in his thought; hearing her question, he absentmindedly replied, “Yes, I still take it every day.”

Mao Dongzhu said, “The sins I have committed are too big, you … please kill me with your own hands.”

A burst of sadness filled Kangxi’s heart. Shaking his head, he said to Wei Xiaobao, “Take her to Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to have an audience with Empress Dowager, tell her that I am asking the Holy Sage Empress Dowager to decide on how to deal with the offender.”

Wei Xiaobao bent his right knee and complied, “Cha!”

Waving his hand, Kangxi said, “You may go.”

From his pocket Wei Xiaobao took out Galdan and Sangjie’s two memorials. Taking two steps forward, he presented the memorials with both hands and said, “Congratulations Your Majesty, Tibetan and Mongolian troops and horses are turning their backs against Wu Sangui, they are determined to strive for Your Majesty.”

For the last several days Kangxi was moving an army and sending a general, he always had deep worry in his heart that Mongolia and Tibet’s military forces would respond to Wu Sangui’s rebellion. Hearing what Wei Xiaobao had just said, he could not help but was pleasantly surprised. “Is there such thing?” he asked.

Opening the envelope, he read the memorials, and was even more overjoyed at the unexpected good news. Waving his hand he ordered the Imperial Bodyguard to take Mao Dongzhu out of the Hall first, and then he asked Wei Xiaobao, “These two great services, how did you do it? Damn it, you are indeed a great good-luck general.”

By that time, Tibet and Mongolia, two places’ military power was considerably strong. Kangxi was aware than Sangjie and Galdan secretly colluded with Wu Sangui; hence he had already deployed massive military force in preparation to face these two fronts. Now that he saw that the wording in the memorials was deferent and sincere, and offered to be a strong support to suppress Wu Sangui instead, how could he not be overjoyed? It’s just that this turn of events was too abrupt that momentarily he could not believe it as the truth.

Wei Xiaobao knew that whenever the young Emperor used the phrase ‘damn it’ to him, it meant that the dragon heart was very happy; with a giggle he said, “Because of Your Majesty’s flood of good fortune, your servant has sworn brotherhood with them. Great Lama Sangjie is Dage [first brother], Prince Galdan is Erge [second], your servant is Sandi [third (younger) brother].”

Kangxi laughed and said, “You really possess great magical power. For them to agree to help me beat Wu Sangui, what benefit have your promised them?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Your Majesty is an enlightened sage, knowing that this sworn brotherhood is pretentious and not to be considered real. With one heart and mind they want Your Majesty to bestow them something. Sangjie wants to be the Living Buddha. Other than Living Buddha Dalai and Living Buddha Banchan, he wants to ask Your Majesty to give him a favor, to appoint him Living Buddha Sangjie. That Prince Galdan actually wants to be a ‘Zhengge’erhao’ [see chapter 39]; which your servant does not understand.”

Kangxi roared in laughter. “Zhengge’erhao?” he asked, “Ah, right, he must want to be Zhun’ga’er’han [Dzungar Khan]. These two matters are not difficult; it won’t cost the imperial court anything. When the moment comes, I’ll write an imperial order while building imperial treasure, sending you as the Imperial Envoy Minister to announce the decree. Go tell your Dage and Erge that if they really strive for me, just consider that I agree to grant them the desire of their heart. But they must not be two-faced, three-knives [i.e. double-cross/back stabbing]; their mouth says one thing, their conduct says another, seeing the wind and set the helm, seeing which side has the upper hand and helps that side.”

“Your Majesty is right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “These two sworn brothers of mine, their moral standing is not particularly brilliant. Your Majesty cannot trust them completely; we must put our guard up a little. As Your Majesty said, in the years ahead we will suffer some defeat, we must guard against not only they do not help the banker, they are helping the opponent instead, and place their bets on the Heaven Gate.” He thought that it would be better for him to speak in advance, lest the responsibility he bore would be too big.

Kangxi nodded and said, “You are right. But we are not afraid; if they dare to attack, Heaven Gate, left Green Dragon, right White Tiger, we will eat ‘em all!”

Wei Xiaobao burst into loud laughter; he was quite impressed. Turned out the Emperor was adept at playing Pai Jiu.

(Book note: Later on Galdan and Sangjie separately rose in rebellion, and were separately suppressed by Kangxi. Galdan died in Kangxi’s thirty-six year, Sangjie died in Kangxi’s forty-forth year.)

With Mao Dongzhu in custody, Wei Xiaobao went to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to see the Empress Dowager. The eunuch passed on the decree, ordering Wei Xiaobao to bring the offender to the throne inside. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Formerly I was a eunuch, hence I could enter the Empress Dowager’s bedroom [orig. palace hall to lie down]. But now I am a high-ranking officer, why would she want me to enter the bedroom? Perhaps when Empress Dowager heard that the old wh0re has been caught, she is so happy that she forgot that I am not a eunuch anymore.” Thereupon with four eunuchs holding Mao Dongzhu, he went in.

The bedroom was pitch-black, just like when the fake Empress Dowager was still living there. The Empress Dowager sat on the bedside, behind her the bed curtain was drooping down. Wei Xiaobao kneeled down and kowtowed, respectfully wishing the Holy Sage well. The Empress Dowager glanced at Mao Dongzhu, nodded, and said, “You have arrested the offender to the throne. Hmm, you may go!” Wei Xiaobao kowtowed again before withdrawing, leaving Mao Dongzhu in the bedroom.

While walking out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, his heart was discontented, “I caught the Old Wh0re, rendering a great merit, but Empress Dowager did not appear to be happy at all, she did not even say half a sentence of praise. His granny, whoever lives in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful is a female b@stard; doesn’t matter if it was the real Empress Dowager or the fake Empress Dowager, they are all old wh0res.”

With a bellyful cursing and swearing he walked through the stone path of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful flower garden. While passing by the side of a rockery, suddenly a shadow flashed, three people jumped out from behind the rockery, one of them reached out and grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s left hand, and said with a laugh, “How are you?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; it was an old eunuch. He was about to ask sternly when he saw clearly that the old eunuch was actually Gui Erniang. His shock was no small matter; when he looked at the other two people by her side, he was not surprised to see Gui Xinshu and Gui Zhong, both were wearing night guard uniform. Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “Turns out the three of you are hiding in here.”

Since his left hand was grabbed by Gui Erniang, half of his body was hurting and numb. He knew that if he made the slightest noise, Gui Xinshu would lightly strike him with his palm, his head would immediately shatter into pieces, remembering that his head can’t possibly be harder than the stone lion’s head at the gate of his Earl Mansion. With a forced laugh he said, “Are you, Senior, well?” while his mind was thinking of a plan to escape.

Gui Erniang said in a low voice, “Tell them not to move from here, I have something to say.”

Wei Xiaobao did not dare to disobey; turning his head around, he ordered the several Imperial Bodyguards who followed behind him, “You wait for me here.”

Pulling his hand along, Gui Erniang took several dozen steps forward and said in a low voice, “Take us to find the Emperor.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The three of you have arrived last night, why haven’t you found the Emperor?”

Gui Erniang said, “We asked several eunuchs and Imperial Bodyguards, they all said that the Emperor was in a meeting with the cabinet ministers; he did not sleep all night. We had no way of coming in, hence we could not make our move.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Just now I was thinking of seeing the Emperor myself, I wanted to inquire what has happened to the three of you, but the Emperor has gone to bed, I could not see him. The three of you have put on your disguise, nothing can be better than that. Let us go out of the Palace.”

Gui Erniang said, “We have not accomplished our mission, why would you want to get out of the Palace?”

“You can’t do it during the day,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If the three of you wish, there is no harm in coming again tonight to give it another try.”

“We came in with great difficulty,” Gui Erniang said, “Before the important matter is accomplished, we won’t go out. Quickly take us to wherever he is sleeping.”

“I don’t know where he is sleeping either,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I must find a eunuch and ask.”

“I won’t allow you to talk to anybody!” Gui Erniang said, “A moment ago you said you were going to see the Emperor, how could you not know where he is sleeping? Humph, you are thinking of playing trick in front of laoniang? That won’t be easy.” While saying that, her fingers tightened. Wei Xiaobao felt the pain was penetrating his bones, he felt like his five fingers were about to snap; he could not help making a loud grunt.

Gui Xinshu reached out to stroke the top of his head gently. “Very good!” he said.

Wei Xiaobao knew he was incapable of disobeying them; he had an idea, “I’ll take them to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, make a big fuss for a while, the young Emperor will hear it and will increase the guard. If they make their move by killing the Empress Dowager, it’s none of my business.” Thereupon he said, “I have just walked out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful; perhaps the Emperor is seeing the Empress Dowager to pay his respect. Let us go back to look.”

Gui Erniang did see him walking out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, so he was not lying. She said, “Since the three of us are already inside the Palace, we are not thinking of coming out alive. If you make the slightest wrong move, I don’t have any choice but to take your little life. The four of us will go together to see Yan Wang [King of Hell], our journey will not be lonesome. My child would be very happy to have you as company.”

With a forced laugh Wei Xiaobao said, “There’s no harm in accompanying you; let us spread out in the imperial garden! I’ll say we don’t have to take that journey to the underworld.”

Gui Erniang said, “Do you like to go to see Yan Wang, or to see the Tatar Emperor? You will have to see either one of these two fellows today.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Alright, let’s see the Tatar Emperor then. But I want to be clear, as soon as you see the Emperor, the three of you do whatever you want to do, I will not help you.”

“Who needs your help?” Gui Erniang said, “As long as you take us to see the Emperor, I will immediately let you go. What happens afterward won’t have anything to do with you.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said, “So be it.”

Coerced by the three people, Wei Xiaobao went back to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Seeing the peacocks and red-crowned cranes, Gui Zhong was very fascinated. Wei Xiaobao pointed this and that and chatted with him incessantly, he was hoping to stall as long as possible. Although Gui Erniang was impatient, thinking that her child was sick all his life, and that he would not live for too much longer, in the death’s door he was having a little bit of fun, she could not bear to hinder his keen interest.

From a distance they saw a group of people coming out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, carrying two sedan chairs. With one hand pulling Wei Xiaobao and the other hand pulling her child, Gui Erniang ducked behind peony flower terrace. Gui Xinshu hid by her side.

The party gradually came near. Wei Xiaobao saw the one at the front was the eunuch from the Empress Dowager’s room; the two sedan chairs followed behind him, one belonged to the First Imperial Concubine, the other one belonged to the Empress Dowager. Each sedan chair had several eunuchs carried the sedan chair poles, behind the sedan chairs there were eunuchs holding up large yellow gauze umbrellas. At the end of the procession there were several dozen eunuchs and palace maids, plus about a dozen night guards. Usually when the Empress Dowager was traveling within the Palace, she did not have any Imperial Bodyguards to escort her. It may be assumed that ever since the Emperor received his information, he increased the number of Imperial Bodyguards on duty. A bright idea suddenly occurred; he said in a low voice, “Careful! The one inside the sedan chair in the front is the Tatar Emperor, the sedan chair behind it carries the Empress Dowager.”

The Gui Family husband and wife saw the pomp and the prestige of this procession, plus they were coming out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, it was only natural that they were the Emperor and the Empress Dowager. They could not refrain their hearts from beating faster, both looked at their child at the same time with tender expression.

“Child,” Gui Erniang said in a low voice, “The one sitting inside the sedan chair in the front is the Emperor. When they come near, I will say ‘go!’ the three of us will attack together and beat him rotten!”

Gui Zhong laughed and said, “Alright, this will be fun!”

The two sedan chairs were coming nearer and nearer. Wei Xiaobao’s palms were wet with perspiration. His ear heard the eunuch from the Empress Dowager’s room calling out incessantly, “Chi! Chi! Chi!” telling people to get out of the way.

In a low voice Gui Erniang commanded, “Go!” The three of them simultaneously charged forward.

These three people’s power and speed were extraordinary, they arrived like unexpected storm. ‘Bang!’ three people, six palms, struck together on the first sedan chair. Gui Xinshu and Gui Erniang were afraid their strike did not kill the Emperor, immediately they pulled the swords from their waists and stabbed forward. In an instant the swords were thrust into the sedan chair four, five times. Each time the swords were pulled, the blades were dripping with blood, even if the person in the sedan chair had ten lives, all ten lives would be gone.

The escorting Imperial Bodyguards were greatly shocked; they shouted and yelled and pulled out their weapons to charge forward.

Gui Erniang called out, “Success!” With her left hand she pulled her child and dashed to the north. Brandishing the sword in his hand, Gui Xinshu charged ahead to open the path; how could the Imperial Bodyguards stop him? They saw the three of them ran along the path in the flower garden west of Shou Kang Palace.

The palace maids and eunuchs were shouting and screaming; it was a total chaos. From all directions came the sound of gongs, hundreds or thousands doors in the Palace were shut and bolted, the night guards and the Imperial Bodyguards quickly blocked all major access in and out of the Palace. Inside and outside the Palace wall, the officers and men of the three banners’ guard battalions, the Vanguard Battalion and the Valiant Cavalry Battalion formed layer after layer of defense with strung bows and unsheathed sabers.

Wei Xiaobao was very happy to see the three people of the Gui Family had assassinated the First Imperial Concubine, how they were thinking that they had succeeded, and how they had escaped. Immediately he leaped out from behind the flower terrace and shouted loudly, “We must not panic, protecting the Empress Dowager is more important!”

The Imperial Bodyguards were in confusion just like a housefly without a head; seeing Wei Xiaobao suddenly appeared and took command, their confidence returned. Wei Xiaobao barked his order again, “Everybody surround the Empress Dowager’s imperial sedan chair, if other assassin comes to assault, we must stake our lives to block!”

The crowd of Imperial Bodyguards complied in chorus, “We receive the order!”

Wei Xiaobao snatched a saber from a guard, he raised it high and said in a loud voice, “Today we display utter loyalty in dedicating ourselves to the service of our country, we fight to the death for the Empress Dowager, for the First Imperial Concubine; even a thousand or ten thousand assassins, everybody must protect the Empress Dowager’s holy self!”

Again the crowd of Imperial Bodyguards complied in chorus, “We receive the order!” They saw the Deputy Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards, the Bojue Daren’s [Earl] awe-inspiring presence, how he took command with confidence, his loyalty and devotion, viewing death as a return home, none did not admire him from the bottom of their hearts. They all thought, “Although he is young, he is actually a cut above the others!” About a dozen Imperial Bodyguards formed a fence around the Empress Dowager’s imperial sedan chair.

Wei Xiaobao shouted to the crowd of eunuchs and palace maids, “What are you panicking for? Quickly form another circle outside to protect the Empress Dowager. If the assassin attacked, let him chop your people of little value’s heads first.”

The crowd of eunuchs and palace maids thought that although their heads were of little value, but they were not too willing to have it randomly chopped by others. However, seeing Wei Xiaobao brandishing his saber with imposing expression, nobody dared to disobey; trembling with fear, they had no choice but to form another circle outside the circle of Imperial Bodyguards. Several of them were so scared that they peed in their pants.

It was only then did Wei Xiaobao put down his saber and walked over to the Empress Dowager’s imperial sedan chair. He said, “Your servant Wei Xiaobao was too late to save your highness, and has alarmed the Empress Dowager’s holy self. I respectfully wish the Empress Dowager holy peace, the assassin has already killed and retreated.”

From inside the sedan chair the Empress Dowager said, “Very good!”

Wei Xiaobao reached out to lift open the corner of the sedan chair’s curtain, he saw the Empress Dowager’s pale countenance, but she was smiling wide while nodding her head repeatedly. “Wei Xiaobao,” she said, “You are very good, very good! You saved me once again.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager has ten thousand good fortunes and holy peace, your servant is extremely delighted,” and he gently lowered the sedan chair’s curtain.

Turning around, he pointed to two Imperial Bodyguards and said, “Quickly go to report to His Majesty, the Empress Dowager’s holy self is safe and sound, ask His Majesty not to worry. Tell him his servant Wei Xiaobao is wishing His Majesty holy peace. Summoning courage and determination, all the Imperial Bodyguards are protecting the holy selves; the assassins have attacked and retreated.” The two Imperial Bodyguards received the order and left.

Suddenly he heard Empress Dowager called in low voice, “Wei Xiaobao!”

“Cha!” Wei Xiaobao responded, “Your servant is here.”

The Empress Dowager asked in low voice, “Are the two people inside the sedan chair in the front dead?”

“Two people?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The Empress Dowager said, “Go look, be careful.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He was greatly baffled, “How could there be two people there? Why must I be careful?” He walked over to the first sedan chair, lifted up the sedan chair’s curtain, “Ah!” he could not help crying out; dropping down the curtain, he took several steps back. His knees went weak; he nearly fell down on his buttocks.

The sedan chair was bloody and in such a mess; indeed there were two dead people inside! The two bodies had several sword cuts and blood was still flowing out of the wounds. One was the fake Empress Dowager Mao Dongzhu, the other was a short and fat man, his five sense organs were crushed by the palm strikes, but looking at his stature, there was no doubt that he was Thin Toutuo. These two people died in each other’s arms.

He was not surprised to see Mao Dongzhu died in the sedan chair, it was he himself who held her in custody and brought her to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful and handed her over to the Empress Dowager; but where did this Thin Toutuo come from? These two people unexpectedly sat inside the First Imperial Concubine’s sedan chair, accompanied by the Empress Dowager; but where were they going?

After calming himself down, he returned to the Empress Dowager’s sedan chair and said in a low voice, “Reporting to the Empress Dowager: those two people are dead, they are dead in a confused heap, so dead that they could not be even more dead.”

The Empress Dowager laughed and said, “Very good! Let us go back to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Bring the other sedan chair as well, don’t let anybody open it and look inside.”

Wei Xiaobao complied; he passed on the order, and personally escorted the Empress Dowager’s imperial sedan chair back to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. He opened the curtain of the sedan chair and helped the Empress Dowager out. The Empress Dowager smiled to him again and said, “You are very good!”

Wei Xiaobao smiled in return, but in his heart he was wondering, “What’s so good about me? Although the Empress Dowager is not young anymore, her appearance is extraordinarily beautiful.”

The Empress Dowager beckoned to him, telling him to follow her into the bedroom. She ordered the palace maids and the eunuchs to leave, and told Wei Xiaobao to close the door. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping, he could not stop his face from blushing. “Aiyo,” he groaned inwardly, “It’s desperately serious! The Empress Dowager continuously praised me very good, could it be that she wanted me to be Lao Huangye’s [old master Emperor] substitute? The fake Empress Dowager had a Shige who dressed as a palace maid; she also had Thin Toutuo inside her quilt. If this real Empress Dowager also wanted me to dress as a palace maid or squeeze into her quilt, what should I do?”

The Empress Dowager sat on the edge of the bed, she was lost in thought for a half a day before saying, “That was really dangerous; and it all depended on you exerting yourself.”

“Your servant has received Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s great kindness,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Even if my body is torn and my bones crushed I cannot repay it.”

The Empress Dowager nodded her head and said, “You are very loyal. His Majesty employs you, it is also our good fortune.”

“That is by Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s grace,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant only know how to display utter loyalty and strive for the sake of my masters.” While in his heart he said, “Jade Emperor, Guanyin Pusa, please bless and protect me, please don’t let her tell me to dress as a palace maid.”

The Empress Dowager smiled at him again; this smile made all the hair on Wei Xiaobao’s body stood up. He heard her say, “Take those two dead offenders to the throne, along with the sedan chair, and burn them all. Do not leak this matter even for half a sentence. The Imperial Bodyguards, palace maids and eunuchs who were present just now …” Speaking to here, she hesitated and did not continue.

Wei Xiaobao said, “May Empress Dowager has holy peace. Your servant has a way to make them not dare to even let out half a fart.”

Hearing Wei Xiaobao’s vulgarity, the Empress Dowager frowned slightly; she said, “Just finish the task well; it will be for your own benefit.”

Wei Xiaobao paid his respect and said, “Your servant will do it attentively. If anybody dares to leak the least bit of rumor, Empress Dowager can have your servant’s head.”

“Then I will feel relieved,” the Empress Dowager said, “You may go!”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he kowtowed and withdrew.

As he exited the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, he saw Kangxi’s imperial sedan chair was coming this way; several hundred night guards accompanied him in front, behind, left and right of the sedan chair. The security was several times tighter than normal. Wei Xiaobao stepped aside and waited. From inside the sedan chair Kangxi saw him. “Xiao Guizi,” he called out, “Wait for me here.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He knew Kangxi must be going to pay his respect to the Empress Dowager. He thought hard, “How could Thin Toutuo hide inside the First Imperial Concubine’s sedan chair? This is really strange!”

[1] Wang Xizhi (303-361), famous calligrapher of Eastern Jin, known as the sage of calligraphy.

[2] Chu Suiliang (597–658), a chancellor of the Tang Dynasty, during the reigns of Emperor Taizong and Emperor Taizong’s son Emperor Gaozong. He became increasingly trusted by Emperor Taizong toward the end of his reign and was charged with the responsibilities of serving as the imperial historian and providing honest advice.

[3] In Cantonese, ‘Xuan’ of Xiao Xuanzi’s name is a homophone for circle. (Courtesy of Pannonian)

[4] Qian Qing Men: ‘qian’ – one of eight trigrams (bagua), symbolizing heaven, male principle, ‘qing’ – clear/quiet, ‘men’ – gate. Gate of Heavenly Purity. Qian Qing Gong – Palace of Heavenly Purity.

[5] Kun Ning Gong: ‘kun’ – one of eight trigrams, symbolizing earth, female principle, ‘ning’ – peaceful, ‘gong’ – palace. Palace of Earthly Tranquility. (Most of the English names are courtesy of Ace High.)

[6] Jing Lue – military position that was translated as the ‘managing governor’. [Faerie Queene, White Haired Demoness]

Chapter 43 The body becomes like red cloud that always stay close to the sun, the heart follows green jade grass facing the wind.

Kangxi went out from the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Wei Xiaobao followed him back to Yang Xin Dian [Nurturing Heart Palace Hall], and waited outside to hall to be summoned. After waiting for a long time he saw the Vanguard Battalion Commander Ajichi came out of the Hall. Wei Xiaobao thought, “His Majesty must be mobilizing the Vanguard Battalion to intensify the guard against the assassins.” And then a eunuch came out to summon Wei Xiaobao.

Kangxi dismissed the Imperial Bodyguards and the eunuchs, and ordered Wei Xiaobao to close the Hall’s door. With knitted brows Kangxi paced back and forth in the Hall. It looked as if he had a difficult problem but was not sure how to deal with it. Seeing Kangxi like that, Wei Xiaobao was quite anxious and scared. The young Emperor was growing older, his power and influence was flourishing more and more by the day. For each time Wei Xiaobao saw him, he always felt that their closeness decreased by one part, while the fear toward him increased by one part; they were no longer the same boys who wrestled each other absolutely unrestrained.

After a while, Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, there is one thing, but I don’t know what to do.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty is intelligent and wise, even Zhuge Liang would step down gracefully to you. Your idea must be brilliant.”

“This time even Zhuge Liang would be at a loss,” Kangxi said, “You have rendered three great merits, yet I have rewarded you not a single thing. Capturing Mao Dongzhu is the first merit. Talking to Mongolia and Tibet that the two military forces surrender to us is the second merit. Just now you sent people to kill the rebel thief and saved the Empress Dowager is the third merit. You are very young, yet you are already bestowed the title Bojue [Earl]; I can’t grant you the title Wang [King]!” At this point he burst into loud laughter.

Only then did Wei Xiaobao know that the Emperor was joking with him; he said happily, “These several merits are due to the Empress Dowager and Your Majesty’s flood of good fortunes, all merits are Your Majesty’s own meritorious service. Too bad Your Majesty cannot promote your own official rank; otherwise, Your Majesty should promote yourself three grades at once.”

Kangxi roared into laughter again; he said, “Although emperors cannot promote their own official rank, but since ancient times I don’t know how many emperors loved to give themselves honorific title. Whenever they celebrate something, or achieve tiny victory, they would add several titles to their name. Although it was said that the subject respectfully proposed, the fact is still the emperors who paste gold onto their own faces. Genuinely good emperor who praises himself is rather ridiculous, much less there were a lot of tyrants and muddle-headed rulers who bore the title holy sage, adept in pen and sword, brilliant ruler, wise and farsighted, or whatever title they want to string together. The more muddleheaded the emperor, the longer his title was, they really had no sense of shame. Since the ancient times, have there been any virtuous ruler and sovereign who surpassed Yao Shun Yu Tang [see chapter 14]? But Yao is Yao, and Shun is Shun; when later generations want to venerate and look up to, at most they only say ‘Great Shun’ or ‘Great Yu’. Those who become the emperor, if they have only thirty-percent of self-realization, they would not add several-dozen-character long title to their name.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Turns out Niao Sheng Yu Tang [‘raw bird fish soup’; again, see chapter 14] did not add their own title. Your Majesty is ‘raw bird fish soup’, naturally you won’t add any title to your name. It’s just that in your servant’s opinion, after we defeat and pacified Wu Sangui, if Your Majesty did not add several grand titles, you would suffer too much losses.”

Kangxi laughed. “Suffer what loss?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “After defeating and pacifying Wu Sangui, Your Majesty will greatly rewarded the ministers who have given outstanding service, the three armies; everybody will be promoted and gain wealth. Not only Your Majesty yourself will not be promoted, you will have to open wide the coffer instead; glistening yellow gold, shining white silver, will have to be carted out and spent; won’t that mean you will suffer financial loss?”

Kangxi laughed. “You are unlearned, and don’t have any future prospect,” he said, “After sweeping away the rebel Wu, the whole world at peace, common people live in harmony and work happily; that will be your lord’s promotion and gain.”

“I see,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Kangxi continued, “However, after the rebel Wu is wiped out, the ministers will definitely want to propose a title. This kind of ‘boot-licking the big king’ is not something that Zhen wants to waste my time worrying about right now. When the task is successfully accomplished, they will come together to bootlick big time.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty has foresight of everything. When that time comes, we will quietly see which ministers will propose some honorific title for Your Majesty, who will bootlick the big king.”

Kangxi laughed. “Right!” he said, “At that time laozi will kick some damn dogs’ butt.” Both the lord and his minister burst out in loud laughter.

Indeed it happened as Kangxi had expected; as soon as Wu Sangui was subdued, the ministers immediately proposed honorific title, sang Kangxi’s praises, and bootlicked him big time. Kangxi issued an imperial edict: “Although the traitor has been subdued, the wound has not been healed; the ruler and his ministers should rebuild the country, give relief to the troops and support the people, spreading encouragement, in integrity restoring the affairs to its former condition, together delivering peace and security. If the mission is believed to be satisfied with achievements and virtue, honorific title will be granted; excessive request of grace is very shameful.”

The wording of the edict was very stern, but the ministers still did not understand, they thought Kangxi was only pretending to decline, hence they submit the proposal again. Kangxi issued another decree: “Since childhood Zhen has read books, and is aware of the ancient rulers’ conduct, from the beginning to the end very few have been able to escape from this narrow way of life, and I have always tried to guard against it. For fear that several affairs might be neglected, I exercise restrain to the end, eat late and get up early, in vast coldness and flourishing heat, do not dare to neglect. Occasionally feel unwell, also make an effort to go out and head and decide. In the middle of the night several proper memorials are reported, draping my clothes I go out, always planning on behalf of the people under the heavens. Today the efficacy of cleanliness and quietness is even more rare, the people are without abundant health but with rough lives, the ruler and his ministers are completely without merits and achievements that can be recorded. Supposing honorific title for Zhen is repeated, plus all of you officers get promoted in rank, this vanity is shameful, where is the honor and glory in that?”

The crowd of ministers wanted to ‘pat the horse’s buttocks’ [i.e. bootlick], but they patted the horse’s leg instead; after making so much noise their heads and faces were filthy with grime, so now they did not dare to propose anymore. All of these were something that happened later, our book will not show it.

Kangxi laughed and said, “Emperors who grant themselves honorific titles are indeed too many; it can’t be considered rare. The Ming Dynasty has a certain Emperor Zhengde[1], now that was rare.”

“This Emperor,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant has met him several times.”

“You met him several times?” Kangxi asked in surprise, “In your dream?”

“No,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your servant saw him on stage. There is a play called ‘Plum Dragon Town’; Emperor Zhengde was roaming the Jiangnan, in Plum Dragon Town he saw a young woman selling wine, Li Fengjie, who was very beautiful. He fooled around with her.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Emperor Zhengde loved to roam around in plain clothes, it is not known whether this Li Fengjie matter really happened or not. This Emperor did not grant himself any honorific title, but he loved to assign himself an official rank. He bestowed himself the title ‘Zongdu [governor-general] Junwu [military affairs] Wei Wu [formidable/mighty, usually in military force] Dajiangjun [great general] Zongbing [regional commander] Guan [officer]’, coming across something like ‘wind blowing grass moving’. He issued an imperial edict: ‘to the northern bandit rebel boundary, specially assigned Zongdu Junwu Wei Wu Dajiangjun Zongbing Guan Zhu Shou in command of six armies took the journey.’ Zhu Shou was his name. Afterwards he fought a battle, which he actually lost, but he said it was a victory, his meritorious service was great, hence he issued another decree, bestowing himself the title of ‘Zhen Guo Gong’[2], plus an official salary of five thousand dan of rice.” [1 dan is approximately 100 liters or 100 quarts]

Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter; he said, “This man did not want to be the Emperor, but wanted to be ‘Zhen Guo Gong’ instead; he was really muddleheaded.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “At that time his high-ranking ministers opposed the idea, saying that if he took the title ‘Zhen Guo Gong’, he must also confer posthumous title to his ancestors to the third generation. The Emperor became ‘Zhen Guo Gong’ was not a big deal, but the Emperor’s three generation ancestors were all Emperors, they would definitely not agree to be demoted. Emperor Zhengde did not care, he was determined to be ‘Zhen Guo Gong’. Later on he rendered another meritorious service and conferred himself the title of ‘Taishi’ [imperial tutor]. Fortunately he died early, otherwise he would grant himself higher and higher title, until in the end he would have usurped his own throne and just be the Emperor.”

Hearing the word ‘usurping the throne’, two characters [cuan wei], Wei Xiaobao did not dare to talk too much; he only let out some hollow laughs.

Kangxi said, “Emperor Zhengde had done a lot of stupid things, he had caused the common people so much hardship. While it is true that he himself was not good, but half of those were from the eunuchs and ministers who taught him bad things.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Bad emperors loved to employ bad eunuchs and treacherous court officials, good emperors employ good eunuchs and loyal court officials.”

Kangxi shook his head slightly. “That is not necessarily true,” he said, “Bad eunuchs and treacherous court officials also exist around a good emperor, it’s just that if the emperor is not muddleheaded, even if others deceived him, in the end he would be able to uncover the treacherous official’s sinister plot.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, his heart could not help thumping madly.

Kangxi asked, “That s1ut Mao Dongzhu’s lover [orig. male adulterer], what’s his name?”

“He is called Thin Toutuo,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “His real name, your servant does not know.”

Kangxi said, “But he is so fat, he looked like a meatball, why was he called Thin Toutuo?”

“I heard that he was originally very tall and very fat,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Afterwards he took Shen Long Jiao Jiaozhu’s poison, he curled up and became a short and fat person.”

Kangxi asked further, “How did you know he and Mao Dongzhu were hiding inside Shen Taifei’s [first imperial concubine Shen] sedan chair, and were forcing the Empress Dowager to escort them out of the Palace?”

Wei Xiaobao’s mind churned lightning fast, “First the Emperor said that I sent people to kill the rebel thief and save the Empress Dowager, and that my merit was very big. But now he said that those two people were hiding inside the Taifei’s sedan chair and the Empress Dowager was forced to take them out of the Palace. In that case the Emperor still does not know the matter of Gui Family’s three people assassination attempt. However, whether by this time the Gui Family trio have escaped, or are caught alive, or are killed, in the end this matter cannot be concealed. What should I say?”

Seeing him hesitating without answering, Kangxi asked, “What is it? Is there something I shouldn’t know?”

“No, no!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant is wondering in my heart, how could those two rebel thieves hide inside the Taifei’s sedan chair? I really cannot figure it out even after thinking about it until my skull cracks. I was about to ask Your Majesty to enlighten me.”

“Let me ask you first,” Kangxi said, “How did you know that the one sitting in the sedan chair was not Taifei, and thus you ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to assault the imperial sedan chair?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out the Emperor still thinks that it was the Imperial Bodyguards of the Palace who killed Thin Toutuo and Mao Dongzhu. This matter will be exposed sooner or later, I’d better tell him the truth.” Thereupon he said, “Your servant is guilty and deserves ten thousand deaths. Your Majesty, please forgive me.” While saying that he dropped to his knees.

Kangxi frowned. “What is it?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant received Your Majesty’s imperial decree to escort the offender to the throne Mao Dongzhu to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. When I walked through the imperial garden, suddenly from behind the rockery ‘hua la!’ jumped out three people wearing Imperial Bodyguards and court eunuchs uniform. They grabbed your servant, and forced me to take them to see Your Majesty. These three people’s martial art was very high; pinched by them, your servant’s fingers were nearly broken.” Speaking to this point, he lifted his left hand, and indeed his five fingers were black and swollen.

“Why did they want to see me?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Those three must be the assassins sent by Wu Sangui; even if they pinched your servant to death, I would never agree to take them to violate your holy self. It just so happens that … no, not just so happens, it was by good luck. By good luck the Empress Dowager and the First Concubine’s luan-selves [luan is mythical bird related to phoenix] came by. Those three assassins were muddleheaded; they thought inside Taifei’s sedan chair was Your Majesty’s holy self, right away they dashed out to commit the violent crime. It was due to the Empress Dowager and Your Majesty’s flood of good fortune that unexpectedly the rebel thieves killed other rebel thieves. I don’t know if by this time those three assassins have been killed by the Imperial Bodyguards, or have been captured alive. Your servant will go right away to find out and will come back to present a memorial.”

Kangxi said, “Those three assassins are not necessarily muddleheaded; most likely it was you who gave them direction, wasn’t it? You thought that rather that let the assassins violate my holy self, it would be better to harm Taifei. As soon as they made their move, the Palace would be thrown to confusion, they would not be able to harm me, and your little life would also be preserved; isn’t that so?” Having his innermost thought penetrated by Kangxi, Wei Xiaobao knew it was useless to deny, he could only kowtowed repeatedly.

Kangxi said, “You pointed the assassins to endanger Taifei, you really deserve to have your head chopped, but considering you still have three-part [i.e. to some degree] loyalty and love to me …”

Wei Xiaobao busily said, “Not three-part, it’s ten-part [i.e. completely], a hundred-part, a thousand-part, ten-thousand-part loyalty and love.”

Kangxi smiled and asked, “Can it be proven?”

“It can be proven, it can be proven,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Totally can be proven!”

Kangxi stretched out his foot to kick lightly on his forehead. “Damn it,” he said with a laugh, “Get up.”

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his head was damp with sweats; he kowtowed several more times before standing up. Kangxi laughed and said, “You have rendered three great meritorious services; at first I did not know how to reward you, but now I have found a way. You gave directions to the assassins, hence you offended your superior with violent crime; you also do not have a heart to submit yourself to your master, but I am not going to punish you. You atone for your crimes by meritorious acts; we are even.”

“Marvelous, marvelous,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just like Your Majesty playing Pai Jiu, at first your servant wins, later on Your Majesty win, in the end we are even. Your Majesty did not eat my money, yet you also do not pay me anything.” In his heart he said, “No promotion is fine. Do you think you are going to bestow me the title ‘Wei Wu Dajiangjun’ [mighty great general], ‘Zhen Guo Gong’ [duke of Zhen country]? Even if you bestowed me the title ‘Taishi’ [imperial tutor], there’s nothing amazing about it. In those years Tang Bohu [Ming painter and poet] painted the Imperial Tutor Hua’s two sons, Hua Da and Hua Er [first and second son, respectively] as fools. The two sons that I, Wei Taishi, will have, Wei Da and Wei Er, will also be a mess, a really big mess.”

Kangxi said, “That short and fat thief, his motive was really malicious. After his lover was caught by you, he knew it was hard to seize her back, anticipating that you would eventually deliver her to the Palace to be dealt with by the Empress Dowager, he unexpectedly took a risk out of desperation and broke into the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, rebelling against the Emperor and coercing the Empress Dowager. At this moment the number of active Imperial Bodyguards was increased several times, the Palace is heavily-guarded, he could not like the last time taking us by surprise and jumped over the wall to escape. He was hoping that by sitting in Shen Taifei’s sedan chair, with the Empress Dowager personally escorted them to the Palace gate, the two of them could escape together. He had never even dreamed that demons and gods at work, unexpectedly you gave the assassins the direction to attack the First Concubine’s luan sedan chair, and killed the two rebel thieves.”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly saw the light, “So that’s what happened,” he said, “That Empress Dowager and Your Majesty have a flood of good fortune is indeed not the least bit incorrect.” In his heart he mused, “No wonder when I delivered the old wh0re, the Empress Dowager put on a bad luck face, as if I owed her three million taels of silver and did not pay her back. Turns out at that time Thin Toutuo was already hiding in her bedroom, most likely he was hiding in her bed. Thin Toutuo had lived in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful for many days, naturally he was familiar with the layout. Perhaps he had also slept in that big bed for many nights. We were really lucky that he was thinking of this scheme. I wonder how many days had he been hiding in the Empress Dowager’s bedroom? Perhaps it was several days already. Aiyo, not good! Thin Toutuo and Empress Dowager, one man one woman, hiding in the room for several days in a row, I wonder if they had done some other trick or not? The Buddhist hat on the Old Emperor’s head on Mount Wutai, perhaps it will turn somewhat green.” [‘wearing green hat’ – a cuckold]

Naturally Kangxi could not read his dirty mind; he laughed and said, “Empress Dowager and me have great good fortune, your own good fortune is not small either.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant actually does not have any good fortune, it’s because I have been with Your Majesty for such a long time that Your Majesty’s good fortune has rubbed on me.”

Kangxi burst into loud laughter. He asked, “That Gui Xinshu’s nickname, ‘Shen Quan Wu Di’ [divine fist without equal], is his martial art really that formidable?”

In the midst of his laughter Kangxi suddenly asked this question, in Wei Xiaobao’s ears it was like a thunderclap. His body shook, he felt instead of blood, vinegar was flowing through his legs; they turned limp and painful. “This … this …” he stammered.

With a cold laugh Kangxi said, “Heaven is my father, Earth is my mother, Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming! Wei Xiangzhu, what a big guts you have!”

Wei Xiaobao felt the sky spun, the earth turned around, his brain crumpled into a ball; the first thought he had was reaching out to pull the dagger in his boot, but he immediately remembered, “He knows everything! Since he even asked me that, that means his card is better than mine. His martial art skill is higher than mine, I cannot kill him with one stab. Even if I could, I am not sure if I can kill him!” Thereupon without hesitation he kneeled down and called out, “Xiao Guizi surrenders, I ask Xiao Xuanzi to spare my life!”

As soon as these three words ‘Xiao Xuanzi’ entered his ears, the memory of when they were playing and having martial art contest surged up in Kangxi’s mind. He could not help but heaving a deep sigh and said, “You … all along you have concealed everything from me well.”

Wei Xiaobao kowtowed and said, “Although your servant’s body in Tian Di Hui, toward Your Majesty I am loyal and devoted; I have not done anything that offend Your Majesty.”

Kangxi sternly said, “If you have the slightest rebellious thought, how could you live until today?”

Listening to the tone of his voice, Wei Xiaobao could hear the leniency in it; busily he kowtowed again and said, “Your Majesty is ‘raw bird fish soup’, you surpass Zhuge that Liang, your servant will be loyal to the end to my master, just like Guan Yun that Chang.”

Kangxi was unable to restrain a smile; in his heart he swore, “Damn it, what Zhuge that Liang, Guan Yun that Chang?” But it was such a critical junction in their relationship, if he showed a somewhat false expression, this clown would perform some impromptu comedic act [referring to the opera], would crawl up along the stick, and then Kangxi would not be able to subdue him. Thereupon he shouted, “Tell me everything from head to tail! If you speak half a word of empty words, I’ll chop you into dog meat in soy paste instantly!” Yet when speaking the last sentence, he could not refrain a smile from appearing on the corner of his mouth.

Wei Xiaobao was crawling on the ground, he could not see that Kangxi’s expression had softened, but listening to his grim voice, he busily kowtowed and said, “Yes, yes. Your Majesty already know everything, how can your servant dare to conceal anything?” Thereupon he narrated how he went to Prince Kang’s mansion and killed Oboi and was captured by Tian Di Hui, how he bowed to Chen Jinnan and took him as his master, how he was forced to enter the Society and be the Xiangzhu of Green Wood Hall, et cetera. Finally he recounted how he came across the three people of Gui Family, how he lost to Gui Zhong in a game of dice, how he drew the secret memorial, how in the garden of Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful he was captured by Gui Erniang, how he guided the three of them to attack the First Concubine’s luan sedan chair in order to warn the Emperor, et cetera. Naturally he skipped the part where he stole the Forty-two-chapter Sutra and other important facts surrounding it. He spoke at length and talked in great details; unexpectedly there were very few lies and extremely a lot of truth, it could be considered the first time in his life that he had ever done this.

Kangxi constantly inquired him of Tian Di Hui situation, Wei Xiaobao told him truthfully. After listening for a while, Kangxi nodded and said, “Five men share a poem, the Hong Ying in them nobody knows.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “The Emperor knew even the secret code used by my Society’s brothers to identify each other,” he mused. He then recited, “Henceforth it is passed on to the brothers, afterwards knowing each other and have a reunion.”

Kangxi said, “Entering the Hong Gate for the first time, swearing brotherhood with elder brothers, that same day taking an open oath to show sincerity.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Pine and cypress [fig. chaste and undefiled] two branches on the left and right, in the middle the Hong Hua [flood/great flower] Pavilion to swear brotherhood.”

Kangxi said, “The brothers in front of Zhong Yi [lit. loyal and righteous] Hall, generals and millions of troops selected inside the city wall.”

Wei Xiaobao recited, “Taking an oath in front of the Fu De [good fortune and virtue] Ancestral Hall, our Hong Ying desire is to fight the Qing and restore the Ming.”

According to Tian Di Hui rule, once this exchange was finished, the two of them would then announce their names and surnames, and give an account of which Hall they were affiliated with, plus their rank and official duty within the Society. But Kangxi only smiled slightly.

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Turns out Your Majesty is also my Society brother. I wonder which Hall do you belong to? And how many incense stick do you burn …” Speaking to here, he realized that he had been thoroughly muddleheaded; Kangxi was the Great Qing Emperor, how could he ‘fight the Qing restore the Ming’? “Beat you this silly kid, beat you this silly kid!” he repeatedly said, while ‘slap, slap!’ he gently slapped his own mouth.

Kangxi stood up, he paced up and down the hall, and said, “You are an officer of our Manchu, you eat our Great Qing’s good fortune and rice, yet in your heart you harbor the idea of fighting the Qing and restoring the Ming. If I did not remember that you have rendered some tiny merit, even if you have a hundred heads, all would have been chopped down long ago.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Only because Your Majesty is magnanimous that your servant’s head can be preserved until today. Your servant will withdraw from the Society at once, I don’t want to be Tian Di Hui Xiangzhu no matter what. From now on I won’t fight the Qing restore the Ming at all, I will turn around and fight the Ming restore the Qing.”

In his belly Kangxi was secretly amused; but he cursed, “My Great Qing has not perished yet, what are you going to restore? A mouthful of nonsense!”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “Your servant will defend and protect my master’s rivers and mountains for ten thousand years. Whatever Your Majesty wants me to restore, I will restore that. Whatever you want me to fight, your servant will fight it.”

Kangxi lowered his voice, he spoke slowly, word by word, “Very well! I want you to fight Tian Di Hui!”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said; but in his heart he was groaning, automatically his face revealed a distressed look.

Kangxi said, “You have a mouthful of graceful words, flowery speech, saying that no matter what you would be loyal and devoted to me, but I don’t know if that’s the truth or a lie.”

Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “A hundred percent pure gold, a hundred percent pure gold! Nothing can be purer.”

Kangxi said, “I will examine you carefully, whether or not you have not committed any evil conduct in treason or heresy against me. If you obey my order, this time you incite Tian Di Hui, cut the weeds and eliminate the roots, kill all those rebels clean, then you will atone for your crimes by meritorious acts, I will pardon your guilt of deceiving your lord; maybe I will even reward you with something. If you are still craftily cheating me, being two-faced, three knives, humph, humph, do you think I cannot kill Tian Di Hui’s Wei Xiangzhu?”

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his back was drenched in cold sweats. “Yes, yes,” he repeatedly said, “Your Majesty want to kill your servant, it will be like pinching an ant. But … but Your Majesty is ‘raw bird fish soup’, you won’t kill a loyal minister.”

“Humph,” Kangxi snorted, “What loyal minister are you? You are big-white-face treacherous court official.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty please understand: while it’s true that there are something that your servant concealed from Your Majesty, in all honesty I am not a big-white-face treacherous court official. Dong Zhuo, Cao Cao[3], definitely I am not them.”

“Alright!” Kangxi said, “Even if you are not a big-white-face treacherous court official, you are a white-nose clown.”

The Emperor assigned him different roles of the opera, Wei Xiaobao was relieved instantly; he busily said, “Being a clown is fine. Just like … just like Shi Qian, Zhu Guangzu, they can also render meritorious service to Your Majesty.”

Kangxi smiled slightly. “Humph,” he said, “You always insist on presenting yourself as a good person. Very well, you select troops and horses, go get Tian Di Hui, Mu Palace, Gui Xinshu, and those bunch of rebel thieves’ heads and bring them here. If you short one head, I will chop one of your hands, if you leave four, I will chop your pair of hands and two legs. If you leave five, which part of you should I chop?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This … this … your servant has no choice but to become a real eunuch.”

Kangxi could not help bursting into loud laughter. “Damn it,” he cursed, “You really know how to count your chickens before they are hatched.”

With a frown on his face Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty chops my two hands and two legs, most likely your servant won’t live. This head above my neck, whether you chop it or not, it would not make much difference.” He thought, “He even knows about the Mu Palace; he is seriously well-informed.”

Kangxi put his hand into his sleeve and took out a sheet of paper. He read, “Tian Di Hui Zongduozhu Chen Jinnan, Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu Wei Xiaobao, subordinates Li Lishi, Xu Tianchuan, Priest Xuanzhen, Qian Laoben, Gao Yanchao, Feng Jizhong, and the others; Mu Family’s Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong, Wu Lishen and the others, the three assassins who entered the Palace were Gui Xinshu, Gui Erniang, Gui Zhong. One, two, three, four, five … altogether there are forty-three rebel thieves. If you are not included, the total is forty-two names.”

Wei Xiaobao dropped on his knees again and knocked his head twice. “Your Majesty,” he said, “Although this bunch of people say that they want to fight the Qing and restore the Ming, they have not been able to fight successfully, nor restore successfully. Let me talk to them. Above Your Majesty know astronomy, below you know geography, past and future, you know everything. Your Majesty have said that the Great Qing’s rivers and mountains will last ten thousand upon ten thousand years; that is definitely not wrong. Fighting the Qing they cannot fight successfully, it would be better if they disband their groups.”

Kangxi reached out and slapped the table heavily; he said in a stern voice, “You are stubbornly refusing to accept orders, unwilling to arrest the rebel thieves?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Heroes of Jianghu attach most importance to yi qi. If I arrest Shifu and the others, His Majesty will definitely chop their heads. If that happens, Wei Xiaobao is selling his friends, I become Wu Sangui. Ay, at that time why I did not masquerade as other people, but masqueraded as Xiao Guizi instead. Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi, isn’t that Wu Sangui’s son? [same ‘gui’ character] I don’t want to be Bojue Daren anymore, I have to find a way to warn Shifu and the others to run away, to roll out of damn stinking duck egg.”

Seeing he did not answer, Kangxi was even more angry. “So what is it?” he barked, “Don’t you know that you have committed a great crime? I give you a chance to reform and start afresh, a golden opportunity to atone for your crimes by meritorious acts, you are still haggling with me?”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They wanted to come and harm you, I staked everything to stop them; your servant upheld yi qi toward you. Your Majesty wanted to arrest them, your servant stood in the middle, it’s hard for me to conduct myself, I have no choice but to plead with you; this is also for the sake of yi qi.”

Kangxi angrily said, “In your heart you are leaning toward the rebel thieves; that is ‘undivided obedience toward the rebels, eyes not looking at the lord’, yet you are still talking about yi qi?” After a short pause he continued, “You have saved my life, you have saved Fu Huang, saved the Empress Dowager. If I kill you today, in your heart you won’t submit; you will say that I did not have yi qi toward you, will you not?”

At this stage, Wei Xiaobao might as well harden his scalp. “That’s true,” he said, “Your Majesty has promised that if your servant ever makes mistake, Your Majesty will spare my life. The Lord of Ten Thousand Year’s golden mouth, once said you cannot go back on your word.”

“Alright,” Kangxi said, “You have deep plans and distant thoughts; you have prepared this move early on. Humph, your heart must be put to death.”

Wei Xiaobao did not understand the meaning of the four-word phrase ‘your heart must be put to death’[4], but he presumed it was not a good word. Ever since he knew Kangxi, he had never seen him losing his temper like this; he mused, “My head has been chopped more than half. With the young Emperor’s bad temper, pleading for leniency is useless; I’d better reason with him.” He said, “Your Majesty, I did obeisance to you as my master, you have agreed to take me as your disciple. That Chen Jinnan is also my Shifu. If I harbor any intention to harm you, that means I ‘deceive my master exterminate my ancestor’. If I go to harm that other Shifu, that means I also ‘deceive my master exterminate my ancestor’. Besides … besides, an emperor chopping his servant’s head is of course perfectly normal. But Shifu chopping his disciple’s head, it’s a bit out of place.”

Kangxi thought, “Accepting him as a disciple was just a joke; it was clearly stated then. This kid relies on my favor and his pride, he is undisciplined and out of control, unexpectedly he talked about me and the bandit chief in one breath, he is really creating a lot of trouble …” While he was thinking to this point, suddenly there was faint noise of people shouting and yelling from a distant, and ‘bing bing bang bang’ noise of weapons clashing.

Wei Xiaobao sprang up and said, “Seems like there are assassins. Shifu, please sit down and don’t move, let disciple block in front of you.”

“Humph,” Kangxi snorted; he thought, “This kid has committed thousands of inappropriate deeds, but to me he actually has a loyal and loving heart.” He said, “Later on you must not me Shifu anymore. You did not abide by the law of our school, as the Shifu, I am expelling you.” Speaking those words, he could not help feeling amused.

They heard footsteps, several people were rushing outside the Hall’s gate and stopped there. Wei Xiaobao rushed behind the door and immediately lifted up the latch to bolt the door. In a matter of life and death like this, his hands and feet could move very quickly, indeed it was unbelievable. “Who’s there?” he shouted.

Outside someone said in a loud voice, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Three assassins are breaking into the Palace, the night guards have already surrounded them, very soon they will be captured.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “In the end the three people of Gui Family are not able to escape.” He shouted, “His Majesty knew. Quickly get a hundred Imperial Bodyguards around Yang Xin Hall to protect the holy self, also station thirty guards on the roof.” The Imperial Bodyguard Captain outside the Hall acknowledged the order and left.

Kangxi thought, “He is very thorough. That day when I met with danger on Mount Wutai, that nun in white broke the tile from the roof and jumped down, it was indeed very hard to guard against. Luckily this kid dashed on bravely with no thought of his own safety and blocked the sword in front of me.”

After a while the sound of clamor gradually diminished, but a moment later the noise of clashing weapons arose again. Kangxi frowned and said, “Only three assassins and they cannot capture them. What if there are three hundred or three thousand assassins?”

“Your Majesty need not be worried,” Wei Xiaobao said, “People with background like Gui Xinshu are very few in the world, at most there are only four or five.”

Another moment passed, they heard footsteps and the ringing sound of swords and sabers; the deployed night guards arrived outside the Hall. They also heard noise from all around the roof; the night guards had leaped onto the roof of the Hall. The guards knew that the Emperor was inside the Hall, hence they all stood on the eaves and the corners of the roof; nobody dared to walk across the roof, otherwise it would be extremely disrespectful if they stood above the top of the Emperor’s head.

Kangxi knew that around the Yang Xin Hall alone there were at least four or five hundred Imperial Guards protecting him, he had absolutely nothing to worry about, thereupon he no longer care about the assassins. “Look what I have here,” he said. From inside his sleeve he took out a piece of paper and spread it out on the table.

Wei Xiaobao came over to look; it was a drawing. In the middle there was a big building, with a flagpole and stone lions in front of the building; it looked a lot like his own Earl Mansion. There were a dozen or more cannon arranged all around the building, the mouths of the cannon were aimed at the big building. After he looked closer, the building looked more and more like his house. “Do you recognize the building?” Kangxi asked.

“It looks a bit like your servant’s dog house,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“It’s good that you recognize it,” Kangxi said. Pointing to the four characters above the drawing he asked, “Do you also recognize these four characters ‘Zhong Yong Bo Fu’ [Loyal and Brave Earl Mansion]?”

Realizing that the building was indeed his house, Wei Xiaobao could not help but breaking into cold sweats. That many cannon were set up around all four sides of his residence, naturally it was not a good thing. He had personally seen the two foreign devils Tang Ruowang and Nan Huairen fired the cannon; when the cannon went off, with a loud bang a blaze rose to the sky, mud and rocks splashed several dozen zhang into the air. Even if he wore a hundred protective treasured vests, he would still be blown into dog meat paste. Thinking about the power of the cannon blast, he could not help but shuddered.

Kangxi slowly said, “Tonight, your Tian Di Hui, Yunnan’s Mu Family, Huashan Pai’s surnamed Gui, plus Wang Wu Pai disciples Situ He and their people will convene at your house. Right now my twelve cannon are set up in private houses all around your house, the cannon are already loaded with cannonballs and gunpowder. We only need to open the window, exposing the muzzle, lighted the fuse, and I am afraid not a single rebel thief will be able to escape alive. If they are not dead from the bombardment and escape outside, several squads of Vanguard Battalion troops and horses are stationed in the surrounding area, they won’t be able to eat rice no matter what. Did you see Vanguard Battalion Commander Ajichi just now? He has gone to inspect the troops in preparation for the action. The Vanguard Battalion has never had a harmonious relation with the Valiant Cavalry Brigade under your command, they may not necessarily let you go.”

Wei Xiaobao said with a trembling voice, “Your Majesty has considered everything, but you tell it clearly to your servant only now, it is because you want to spare your servant’s life. Whatever little merit your servant previously has, hereby it is used to atone for my crime; it is all used up, not the slightest bit is left.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “It’s good that you understand. Just like the two of us playing Pai Jiu, you won quite a bit of money first, but in one bet you lost everything to me. Your previous wins all at once are lost, from now on you neither win nor lose. If we want to keep playing, we have to start anew.”

Wei Xiaobao let out a gentle sigh, he said, “I really have to thank Your Majesty’s kindness. From now on your servant will concentrate on working for Your Majesty. Forget about Tian Di Hui, even Tian Jiu Hui’s [heaven nine society] Xiangzhu your servant will not want to do it.” In his heart he was secretly worried, “Shifu and the others agreed to meet again at my house tonight, how can I warn them so they won’t come?” He said, “Your Majesty ordered your servant to capture this bunch of rebel thieves, you were simply testing your servant’s heart. The fact is that Your Majesty has already had divine foresight and amazing plan, everything else is a thousand-li distant.”

They heard someone outside the Hall said in a loud and clear voice, “Reporting to Your Majesty: the rebel thieves have been arrested!”

Kangxi’s face showed delight. “Bring them in!” he shouted.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied. He turned around and lifted the bolt and opened the Hall’s gate.

Several dozen Imperial Bodyguards, with the Gui Family three people in the midst of them, came in. They shouted together, “Kowtow to His Majesty, kneel down!”

The several dozen Imperial Bodyguards kneeled down together. Gui Xinshu, Gui Erniang and Gui Zhong, three people, were covered in blood, their bodies were full of wounds, but they stood upright and unafraid. All three of them were bound with thick ropes, each person had two Imperial Bodyguards standing by their side holding the other end of the ropes. The Imperial Bodyguard captain shouted, “Kneel down! Kneel down!” But how could the Gui Family trio pay him any attention?

They heard dripping noise in the Hall, the blood from the three Gui Family people and the wounded Imperial Bodyguards was continuously dripping to the floor. Gui Erniang glowered at Wei Xiaobao and shouted, “Little traitor, you … you are a stinky thief!” Seeing the miserable condition of these three people, Wei Xiaobao could not help feeling grieved; he did not even try to answer the insult.

Kangxi nodded and said, “Turns out Shen Quan Wu Di Gui Xinshu is such an old man! How many of our men are dead or injured?”

The Imperial Bodyguard captain replied, “Reporting to Your Majesty: the rebel thieves are extremely vicious, Imperial Bodyguards who died in the line of duty were more than thirty, those who are injured are more than forty.”

“Hey,” Kangxi said, while waving his hand. Inwardly he praised, “Amazing!”

The Imperial Bodyguard captain ordered his men to bring the three people out. Suddenly Gui Xinshu let out a loud shout and exerted his internal strength, his right shoulder crashed onto the Imperial Bodyguard standing by his side.

“Ah!” the Imperial Bodyguard cried out, while his body flew out, his head crashed onto the wall, sending him to instant death.

Gui Xinshu grabbed the rope binding Gui Zhong. Stretching and pulling, ‘Snap!’ the rope broke. Gui Xinshu grabbed Gui Zhong’s body and shouted, “Child, quickly go, Mama and I will follow really soon.” He threw Gui Zhong outside, Gui Zhong’s body flew out of the Hall’s gate.

Right this moment the Gui Family husband and wife leaped together to pounce on Kangxi. Seeing this adverse turn of events, Wei Xiaobao was greatly shocked; he scrambled up to embrace Kangxi and pull him down underneath the table, his back was facing outward, acting as a shield to protect Kangxi.

They heard ‘slap, slap!’ twice, followed by several Imperial Bodyguards rushed over to protect Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao. When they looked at the Gui Family husband and wife, they saw that they were lying in a pool of blood, with seven or eight sabers and swords sticking out of their backs; looked like they were no longer alive.

After strenuously killing several dozen Imperial Bodyguards, Gui Xinshu suffered serious injury, lastly, he used up his internal energy to break the rope binding his son before pouncing on Kangxi. Gui Erniang understood her husband’s intention. On one hand, at the death’s door they hoped to take the Tatar Emperor’s life with their last strike; on the other hand, they hoped that in the confusion their child would be able to escape. But their hands and feet were firmly tied, they had no strength left to break the ropes; therefore, they both leaped together to attack Kangxi. However, after the fierce battle outside, they were like drying oil lantern. Their bodies were in the air when their mouths spurted blood, they could not endure anymore and fell to the floor; even if the Imperial Bodyguards did not hack and chop, they would have died anyway.

Kangxi calmed down a little bit. He frowned and said, “Pull them out, pull them out!” The Imperial Bodyguards replied in chorus.

They were just about to lift the two bodies when from the Hall’s door a shadow flashed by. Someone was flying in, his movement was extremely fast, he threw himself to the Gui Family husband and wife’s bodies and called out loudly, “Ma, Dad!” It was Gui Zhong.

Several Imperial Bodyguards hacked down with their sabers and swords, unexpectedly Gui Zhong did not evade at all. The blades landed on his body. They only heard him gasping for breath and said, “Ma, you … you are not coming with me, what should I do? I don’t know the way …” He coughed twice, his head drooped down and he died. In all his life he followed his mother closely; his mother took care of everything. This moment as he left his father and mother, he felt completely lost. Although he managed to leave Yang Xin Hall, in the end he came back to be with his father and mother.

The Imperial Bodyguards Zongguan [chief] Dolong rushed into the Hall. He kneeled down and said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: The assassins in the Palace have been completely … completely purged …” Seeing blood all over the floor of the Hall, he was terrified. He kowtowed and said, “The assassins have frightened the Holy Self, your servant … your servant deserves to die!”

Just now Kangxi was grabbed and brought down by Wei Xiaobao. Although it was such a sorry situation and was harmful to his dignity, this person was risking his life to protect the holy self; his loyalty toward the master was undoubtedly real. He said to Dolong, “There are still people outside who want to assassinate Wei Xiaobao. You must protect him well, don’t leave him even a cun or a step. You must not let him leave the Palace even more. Tomorrow early in the morning I will give you further instruction.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong hastily replied, “Your servant will strive to protect Wei Dutong.”

Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “The Emperor is going to bombard Tian Di Hui tonight, he is afraid I might tip them off, hence he instructed Dolong to watch over me.”

Kangxi walked to the Hall’s gate; he thought, “Xiao Guizi is cunning and extremely crafty, this old boor Dolong is not his match.” Turning his head around, he said, “Dolong, get more people, follow Wei Xiaobao closely, don’t let him talk to other people, also don’t let him send anything out of the Palace. In short, the situation is dangerous, you just have to treat him like an offender to the throne.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong replied, “Your Majesty treats your subject with kindness in every possible way.” He thought that the Emperor treasured Wei Xiaobao so much that he did not want to give the assassins any opportunity to harm him.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty’s kindness, your servant cannot repay even if my body torn my bones crushed.” In his heart he knew that by saying that, the Emperor was taking Wei Xiaobao’s face into consideration; in the future he might still find Wei Xiaobao useful.

Kangxi smiled and said, “You won another round. Starting from tomorrow, we will play again. That golden rice bowl of yours, you must hold it firmly with both hands, don’t let it be broken and rotten!” Finished speaking he went out the Hall’s gate.

Naturally only Wei Xiaobao understood what Kangxi was saying. Just now he had protected Kangxi’s holy self, hence Kangxi considered him rendering another merit. Tonight, after his Shifu Chen Jinnan and the others were killed, he would not have anything to do with Tian Di Hui anymore, the Emperor could reinstate him into an important position. The golden rice bowl was engraved with these four characters ‘gong zhong ti guo’ [serving one’s country loyally]. The Emperor wanted him to be loyal and devoted to him, and not be two-hearted.

Wei Xiaobao imagined the devastation of his Shifu and Tian Di Hui brothers, flesh and blood flying everywhere; even if his nobility rank was raised again, how could his heart be at peace? He thought, “If as a human being I do not uphold yi qi, what am I if not a turtle b@stard?” He pondered further, “Why is the Emperor so well-informed all of a sudden? Which son of a b1tch told him? This morning when I first saw the Emperor, he was very good to me, saying that he was going to send me to victorious battle, hoping that I would catch Wu Sangui and he would bestow me the title Ping Xi Wang. I am sure at that time the Emperor still did not know anything about Tian Di Hui Wei Xiangzhu. He must have received the information while I was taking the old wh0re to be presented to the Empress Dowager; but which dog thief giving him the tip off? Humph, most likely it was Wu Palace people, or perhaps Wang Wu Pai Situ He’s subordinate. Otherwise, how could the Emperor not know other matters such as I stole the Forty-two Chapter Sutra, or I became the White Dragon Envoy of the Divine Dragon Cult?”

Seeing Wei Xiaobao frowning and worried, with blank expression on his face, Dolong patted his shoulder and said with a laugh, “Wei Xiongdi, His Majesty dotes on you like this, I wonder for how many previous incarnations you have cultivated good deeds? It doesn’t matter which, Princes, Beilei, Generals, Cabinet Ministers, of the imperial court, His Majesty has never sent any Imperial Bodyguards to protect him. Everybody says that before Wei Dutong reaches twenty, he will be bestowed the title Gong and Wang. You don’t have to worry, as long as you do not step out the Palace gate for one step, even if the rebel thieves have magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, they won’t be able to harm a single strand of your hair.”

Wei Xiaobao could only force a laugh as he said, “His Majesty’s benevolence is as high as the heaven and is deep as the earth, we as the servants can only do our utmost to repay it.” He saw dozens of Imperial Bodyguards stood in front of him, behind him, on his left and right; to send a letter to Tian Di Hui brothers would be extremely difficult. He thought, “Any Gong or Wang title, Laozi does not want. I would rather the young Emperor kick me in the butt and shout at me: ‘Get your Ma’s stinky duck egg out of here! From now on I don’t want you to see my face.’ This kind of protection can’t really protect my old life.”

Dolong said, “Wei Xiongdi, His Majesty instructed you not to move carelessly. Do you want to return to your old residence to rest, or do you want to go to the Imperial Bodyguard office, so that everybody can accompany you several rounds?” He knew throwing dice or playing Pai Jiu would definitely fit Wei Xiaobao’s fancy.

Wei Xiaobao had a sudden inspiration, he said, “Empress Dowager ordered me to do something very important, I have to do it right away. Would Duo Dage [‘Dolong’ in Chinese is ‘Duo Long’] come with me?”

Dolong’s face appeared to be reluctant; he said, “Empress Dowager’s order, naturally you must do it immediately. It’s just that … it’s just that His Majesty’s imperial decree was very strict, he said Wei Xiongdi must never ever leave the Palace …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “This is something that I have to do inside the Palace, Duo Dage needs not be worried.”

Dolong was relieved instantly; he laughed and said, “As long as you don’t go out the Palace gate, all taboos are off.”

Wei Xiaobao ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to bring the First Imperial Concubine Shen’s luan sedan chair to the burning ground west of Shen Wu Gate. He said, “Whoever opens the curtain of the sedan chair, Empress Dowager ordered me to immediately chop his head.”

Dolong and the Imperial Bodyguards were all aware about the assassins attacking the First Imperial Concubine’s sedan chair. Although they did not know the details, they all knew that it was the Empress Dowager’s secret, and all along they felt queasy about it. When they heard that Wei Xiaobao wanted to bring the sedan chair to be cremated at the burning ground, it meant they were getting rid of a fetus of a gargantuan disaster; everybody felt as if a large rock was taken off their heads.

Right away Dolong came with Wei Xiaobao to get the luan sedan chair and bring it to the burning ground. Along the way, blood was still dripping from the sedan chair, as for who died in the sedan chair, naturally nobody dared to ask even half a question.

Arriving at the burning ground, they had the sula [odd jobs/part-time worker] pile up firewood around the luan sedan chair and burn it. Wei Xiaobao picked up a piece of wood and with a charcoal drew a small sparrow on it. He cupped the piece of wood in hands as he faced the burning sedan and prayed, “Thin Toutuo, Old Wh0re, in this world you could not be husband and wife, in the underworld you can be husband and wife for a thousand years, ten thousand years. By this time the three Gui people who killed you are also dead. You two left first, they were right at your heels. If you meet each other at the bridge as you gaze toward the edge of the platform, everybody must be friendly with each other.”

Dolong and the others saw him moving his lips, they assumed he was praying for the departed spirit to be reincarnated soon. They saw him moving several pieces of rock and made a small pile, and then he stuck the piece of wood into the rocks, just like an incense stick. How could they know that it was a secret code between him and Tao Hongying when they wanted to communicate with each other?

When the sedan chair and the corpses inside it were burned to ashes, Wei Xiaobao returned to his former dwelling place. Earlier some eunuchs who wanted to fawn on him had already come over and swept the place clean, and delivered food and drink as well as some light refreshments. Wei Xiaobao gave the eunuchs some tips and then he invited Dolong and the Imperial Bodyguards to have some.

“Duo Dage,” he said, “You and the gentlemen please sit and relax here, Xiongdi has been working all night last night for His Majesty, I am really tired.”

“Xiongdi,” Dolong replied, “There is no need to stand on ceremonies, please go to bed quickly. Your Gege will protect you.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That is really one thousand times, ten thousand times, I do not dare to accept. Duo Dage, what is it that you want His Majesty bestow to you? Tell me, Xiongdi will remember it in my heart. Next time I see His Majesty is happy, I will ask him on your behalf, I have 80% confidence that it will be successful.”

Dolong was greatly delighted. “Wei Xiongdi is willing to ask His Majesty on my behalf, how can it not be successful?” he said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Duo Dage’s business is Xiongdi’s own business; why would I not strive to accomplish it?”

Dolong laughed and said, “Your Gege has been doing errands in the Capital for a while, I am somewhat tired, hence I am thinking of going to outside provinces for a change of pace.”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his thigh and said with a laugh, “Dage is not wrong at all. Within the city of Beijing, I don’t know how many princes, dukes and high-ranking officials whose rank is higher than ours; in all honesty we cannot display our prestige at all. If we are out of the Capital, it will be free and easy. If we want several taels of silver, we only need to cough, other people will immediately deliver it with both hands.” The two of them roared in laughter.

Wei Xiaobao went into the bedroom and lay down in the bed; he mused, “Duo Dage received the Emperor’s decree, he is keeping a very close watch on me. It’s impossible for me to go out of the Palace to warn Shifu. I will have to wait for Tao Gugu and ask her to pass on the message. It’s just that I am afraid she will come here too late in the evening. If she arrived in the depth of the night to see me, over there the cannon will already be fired, over here what can I do?” A moment later he thought, “Right now the only plan I have is to send some Imperial Bodyguards out to beat the grass to scare the snake.”

Once his mind was set, he closed his eyes to nap for about two hours. When he woke up, the sun was slightly slanting to the west; it was already passed Wei hour [between 1-3pm]. He walked out of the bedroom to talk to Dolong.

“Duo Dage,” he said, “Do you know the reason why those bunch of assassins wanted to make their move on me?”

“That, I do not know,” Dolong replied.

Wei Xiaobao said, “One group is Tian Di Hui, the other is Mu Palace.”

Dolong stuck out his tongue. “Those two groups of rebel thieves are very formidable,” he said, “No wonder His Majesty is very anxious.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am thinking of hiding in the Palace for one day, but I don’t want to hide for life. Today although I have Duo Dage to protect me, but if the rebel thieves are not wiped out, they will cause no end of trouble.”

Dolong said, “By the time His Majesty summons us for the morning audience tomorrow, he will definitely have a marvelous plan. Wei Xiongdi does not need to worry.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I won’t conceal it from Dage, in Xiongdi’s home, there are several girls whose appearance is like flower or like jade, whom Xiongdi loves very much. Apparently tonight the rebel thieves will come to my house to assassinate me. When they fail to harm Xiongdi, most probably they will kill these several girls; that … that will be a pity.”

Dolong laughed and nodded his head. He recalled the instant when Wei Xiaobao wanted him to pretend and put on airs to give Zheng Keshuang some trouble, it was precisely for the sake of a beauty. This young brother was loose and lecherous; although he was still young, he must have had a collection of not a few good-looking concubines in his house. Thereupon he said, “That’s easy, I’ll send some men to Xiongdi’s mansion to protect them.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he cupped his fist to express his gratitude. “The young girls in Xiongdi’s house,” he said, “There are three that I most dote on, one is Shuang’er, the second is Zeng Rou, and then there is another one called … called Jianping (he thought that if he mentioned the name Mu Jianping, the word ‘Mu’ might cause suspicion); their appearances are quite not bad. Xiongdi is really worried. I ask Dage to send the men to protect them, tell them that tonight some Tian Di Hui and Mu Family assassins will come over, tell them to hide immediately. It would be best if Dage send a bit more people to guard Xiongdi’s house, so that when the assassins arrive, they can capture that his granny bunch. Whichever brothers are working hard, I will heavily thank them with gifts.”

Dolong struck his chest and said with a laugh, “That’s easy. It’s Wei Bojue Mansion’s matter, who would not want to strive to step forward?” Immediately he ordered the Imperial Bodyguard captain to select several men and send them out.

All Imperial Bodyguards knew that Wei Xiaobao was very generous; usually, even without any problem at all he would often tip them eight hundred or a thousand taels. This time it was to protect his beloved concubines, he would definitely reward them handsomely. Immediately they all happily accept the assignment. Inevitably those who were out of turn and not selected were sighing and moaning inwardly, blaming their own poor luck.

Wei Xiaobao was somewhat relieved; he thought, “When Shuang’er and the others hear the Imperial Bodyguards’ message that the Palace is sending people to protect them, to wait for and arrest Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace’s assassins, they will tell my Shifu and the others to flee. But if my Shifu and the others stay out, Shuang’er, Miss Zeng and Xiao Junzhu, three people might die from the bombardment; that would be terrible! But with a large group of Imperial Bodyguards in my house, the gunmen outside will not open fire carelessly.”

He then had a second thought, “If the gunmen received the Emperor’s strict order, it does not matter if three by seven is twenty-one, they absolutely must open fire, and then what would happen?” Xiao Junzhu and Zeng Rou were not a big deal, but Shuang’er’s love and loyalty to him was very deep, she was the most important person in his heart, he simply must not let her delivering her life. Only it was such a dilemma for him; if he ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to get Shuang’er and the others out first, there would be nobody left to warn Shifu and the brothers. If he saved Shuang’er but did not save Shifu, he would be paying more attention to a lover than friends, then he would be a turtle b@stard. Momentarily he paced back and forth in his room in distress for not able to find an ingenious plan.

More than an hour later the captain of the Imperial Bodyguards that was sent to Zhong Yong Earl Mansion returned and reported: they had not reach the Earl Mansion and were already stopped by Vanguard Battalion’s officers and men. The Canling [regimental commander] of the Vanguard Battalion said that they were on imperial orders to protect the Earl Mansion, there was no need for the Imperial Bodyguards officers to take the trouble. The Imperial Bodyguards wanted to come in to protect the women, but no matter what the Vanguard Battalion would not allow them, saying that everything had been arranged by His Majesty. Afterwards even the Vanguard Battalion’s Commander Ah [from ‘Ajichi’] also personally stepped forward to stop them. The Imperial Bodyguards were unable to change their mind, and were obliged to return.

When Wei Xiaobao heard this, he uttered a series of groaning in his heart. Dolong laughed and said, “Xiongdi, His Majesty is really considerate toward you, unexpectedly he sends the Vanguard Battalion to protect your pretty women. What else are you worried about? Ha ha, ha ha!”

Wei Xiaobao had no choice but to accompany him with some hollow laugh. He thought, “In everything the young Emperor is a thousand li ahead of me. This time my Shifu and the others really face imminent catastrophe. The Vanguard Battalion must have received strict order to guard around my Earl Mansion; seeing common people, they let them come in, so that tonight they will be blasted to death together. If it is civil or military government officers, they won’t let them in.”

His mind went further, “If I suddenly release the ‘Han Sha She Ying’ [see Chapter 41] secret projectiles, taking Duo Dage’s life is not difficult, but there are many Imperial Bodyguards in here, how can I kill them all? Too bad last time my knockout drug has been used up in the Zhuang House.” He saw the sun was getting lower and lower, he was like an ant inside a hot pot, his body was burning hot, and he had to pee several time, but all along he could not come up with the least bit of idea.

More than two hours later, the sky was gradually turning dark. Wei Xiaobao pushed the window to look out, and saw seven or eight Imperial Bodyguards patrolling back and forth outside his room, the security was extremely tight. He looked in all directions, but where was Tao Hongying’s shadow? Heaving a very deep sigh he dejectedly collapsed onto his bed; thinking that perhaps by this time quite a few of his friends had already inside the Earl Mansion. For every moment he was delayed, all his brothers were a step closer in their journey to the underworld.

From the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of the big water jar standing at the corner of his building, it was the one Hai Dafu used to use. That day he was totally dependent on this big jar to kill Rui Dong; he thought, “Why don’t I lure Duo Dage to enter the room, and kill him with the secret projectile, and then set the room on fire? Then I can escape in the midst of confusion. Duo Dage’s treatment to me is not bad at all, without any reason whatsoever I am harming his life, in all honesty I am doing him too much wrong. But there is big yi qi and then there is small yi qi; the dozens of my Shifu and the others’ lives are somewhat more important than his, one person’s life.”

His mind was set, he took a fire-knife and a flint to light a candle; he thought, “The mosquito net will be burned the fastest; after I kill Duo Dage, I’ll set the mosquito net on fire.”

Right this moment he suddenly heard Dolong calling out from outside the room, “Wei Xiongdi, the food and drink is here, come out and drink some wine.”

“Let’s the two of us brothers eat inside!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Alright!” Dolong said. He instructed the eunuch who deliver the food and drink to bring the food case inside.

The eunuch was around sixteen, seventeen years old. When he entered the room, he paid his respect to Wei Xiaobao before opening the food case and taking out the food and drink. A divine light suddenly flashed inside Wei Xiaobao’s brain, he thought of an idea. “Stay here to serve us drinking the wine,” he said to the eunuch.

The little eunuch was extremely delighted; he had long understood that Wei Bojue was formerly the chief of the Imperial Kitchen, and had always treated the people working under him generously. Serving him eating and drinking would definitely be beneficial; thereupon delightedly he set up the bowls and chopsticks.

Dolong followed inside; he said with a laugh, “Xiongdi, you have not been working in the Palace for quite a while, yet His Majesty did not take away your room. Even a prince or a Beilei would not receive such preferential treatment.”

“It’s not preferential treatment by His Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “His Majesty is dealing with a lot of important matters in the world, how can he care about this kind of irrelevant small matter? Honestly speaking, Xiongdi living here is totally against the rule.”

Dolong laughed and said, “To others it may be against the rule, but to Xiongdi it’s not a big deal.” He knew that the chief of the court eunuchs wanted to fawn on Wei Xiaobao, so nobody dared to send other people to live in this building. Besides, there was no lack of rooms in the Imperial Palace, plus there was nothing special with Hai Dafu’s residence, naturally the eunuch in charge of the imperial kitchen had other accommodation.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “If Dage did not mention it, Xiongdi would have forgotten. Tomorrow I should notify Zongguan Taijian [chief manager eunuch] that I need to hand this room back. If we as external ministers lived in the Palace, if the external imperial censor found out and he submitted a report to our superior, it won’t taste very good.”

“His Majesty likes you,” Dolong said, “Who would care about that?”

“Please sit down, please sit down,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This room has nothing special, it’s just that Xiongdi was accustomed to live here, it’s not that Xiongdi does not feel that living in the Earl Mansion is not as comfortable as living in here.”

He slowly walked around Dolong’s back, pulled his dagger, and said, with a laugh, “These eight bowls of dish are all the food that Xiongdi loves to eat; the imperial kitchen still remembers. Dage, how about trying this crab meat lion’s head [i.e. meatballs]?”

Dolong said, “The food that Xiongdi loves to eat must be the best …” before he could finish, suddenly he felt coldness on the left side of his back; he slumped to the table and stopped moving. Turned out Wei Xiaobao already aimed the dagger at the middle of his back, and thrust it in.

The dagger was completely noiseless; the little eunuch did not notice at all, he was still pouring the wine. Wei Xiaobao walked over to his back and noiselessly thrust his dagger into his heart. Immediately he turned around and bolted the door, and quickly took off his clothes and cap, shoes and socks, leaving only his underwear and his protective vest. And then he wore the little eunuch clothes and hat, and put on his clothes and hat on the little eunuch. The two of them were more or less of the same height, hence their clothes and hats also fit on each other’s body. Afterwards he dragged the little eunuch’s body and sat it on the chair; raising his dagger, he made random cuts on the little eunuch’s face, destroying his facial features beyond recognition.

While his hands were busy working, in his heart he said, “Duo Dage, you are a Tatar, our Tian Di Hui makes our living by killing Tatars, so I have to kill you. Today I harmed your life, I really am sorry. Luckily you are bound to die anyway. Tonight I escape, tomorrow His Majesty will definitely have your head chopped, so you died only half a day earlier, it can’t be considered big loss. Moreover, because I killed you, you died in the line of duty. If the Emperor chopped your head, your possessions will be searched and confiscated, your wife and children will be dragged into this; you might as well die half a day earlier, your family will receive pensions and gift for the bereaved. Come to think about it, you are actually in a much more convenient situation.” But thinking that usually Dolong was really not bad toward him, and that he was compelled by circumstances to kill him, in his heart he was genuinely grieved and was unable to stop tears from flowing down his face.

After wiping his tears, he turned around to look at the little eunuch; he said in his heart, “You, Xiao Xiongdi, are wearing the Yellow Magua, you look very impressive. Originally, even you reincarnate ten times, you could not dream of achieving even half a part of the Yellow Magua. On your head you are wearing Bojue Daren’s hat. Just the ruby alone is enough to last you seven or eight lifetimes. Hey, hey, you are being promoted and gain wealth, it could be the Will of Heaven. In those days I, Wei Xiaobao, masqueraded Xiao Guizi; since then I enjoyed meteoric rise, until I become a high-ranking officer. Today you masquerade Wei Xiaobao, whether you could enjoy meteoric rise in the future or not, it will depend on your ability.”

He also thought, “Previously I masqueraded a little eunuch, today I let a little eunuch masquerade me. The debt I previously owed, I pay it back fair and square. Xiao Xuanzi, oh Xiao Xuanzi, I do not do you any wrong.”

Straightening up his clothes and hat and did not see any flaw, he said in a loud voice, “Xiao Wa’er [lit. little baby], you may leave; no need to serve here anymore. Here’s five taels for you to buy some candy.”

And then with an unclear voice he said, “Thank you very much Bojue Daren.”

Raising his voice again he said, “I am drinking wine and have a heart-to-heart chat with Duo Zongguan in here, I don’t want anybody to come in and disturb us!”

In the Palace, the court eunuchs’ assignment was to serve the Emperor, the Empress, the Imperial Concubines, princes and princesses, but it was not uncommon for the senior eunuchs with official duty to have little eunuchs serving them. Although Wei Xiaobao was not a eunuch anymore, previously his prestige in the Palace was impressive, he was a big time eunuch; for him to have a little eunuch serving him and then rewarding him with money was a very common occurrence. When the Imperial Bodyguards outside heard this, nobody notice anything was out of place. They saw the door opened, the little eunuch came out, carrying the food box in his hands, with head hung low he turned around to close the door.

Carrying the food box, Wei Xiaobao walked to the main gate with head hung low. He saw the Imperial Bodyguards were getting rice and pouring wine, nobody paid him any attention. Wei Xiaobao was secretly delighted; he thought, “It will be at least two hours before the Imperial Bodyguards find out that the two people inside the room are dead; they would think that Wei Bojue and Duo Zongguan were murdered by the assassins. It will scare them off that they will piss in their pants in terror.”

Stepping over the main door, he saw a procession of several eunuchs and palace maids, the leader carried a lantern, the rest of them carried a sedan chair. The sedan chair was decorated like a pheasant tail and feather; it was called a ‘long-tail pheasant sedan chair’. The eunuch leading the procession announced in loud voice, “Her Highness the Princess has arrived.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked, “The Princess did not come late, she did not come early, but she came exactly at this moment. As soon as she enters the room, she will immediately see me, Wei Xiaobao, killed; won’t she raise a ruckus in the Palace like the sky and the earth turning upside down? Now it will be extremely difficult to go out.”

Momentarily he was at a loss of what to do. He saw the sedan chair stopped, Princess Jianning stepped out from the sedan chair. “Is Xiao Guizi inside?” she called out.

Wei Xiaobao gritted his teeth; he stepped forward and said in a low voice, “Princess, Wei Jueye [noble master] is drunk, let your servant take Princess inside.”

The lantern was not too bright, the Princess did not recognize him. Seeing the Imperial Bodyguards coming out of the room together to welcome her, she thought, “Why are there so many people?” Frowning, she waved her left hand and said, “Everybody wait outside.” In big stride she walked in.

Wei Xiaobao followed her in. As soon as he was in, he turned around and closed the door. The Princess said, “You also go out.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wei Bojue is in the inner room.”

The Princess entered in quick steps. She pushed the door open, and saw ‘Wei Xiaobao’ and Dolong two men were slumping over the table; obviously they were very drunk. She knitted her beautiful eyebrows and sternly said, “You are still not out?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said in a low voice, “If I go out, I cannot burn the rattan-armored troops.”

The Princess was startled; she quickly turned around, and under the candlelight, she was shocked to see Wei Xiaobao standing behind her. She could not help but was surprised and delighted at the same time. “Ah,” she cried out. “You … what are you doing?” she asked.

“Don’t make noise!” Wei Xiaobao hissed.

The Princess looked at him, and then she looked at the ‘Wei Xiaobao’ crouching on the table. “What trick are you playing?” she asked in a low voice.

Wei Xiaobao pulled her into the room and closed the door. “Things are not good,” he said in a low voice, “His Majesty wants to kill me!”

“Huangdi Gege has already killed the Prince Consort,” the Princess said, “Why does he want to kill you too? He … he … if he killed you, I will stake my life against him.”

Wei Xiaobao reached out and pulled her into her arms, he planted a kiss on her cheek and said, “Let us quickly flee from the Palace. His Majesty knew about you and me, he wants to chop my head.”

Being embraced and kissed by him, the Princess’ body went weak; she said in a tender voice, “Huangdi Gege has killed the Prince Consort, I thought he was going to give me to you in marriage, how … how could there be such thing? How did he find out?”

“It must be you who tip him off, wasn’t it?” Wei Xiaobao said.

The Princess blushed. “It was not,” she said, “I only asked several times, when are you coming back.”

“And you said it wasn’t you?” Wei Xiaobao said, “It does not matter. Anyway, the two of us are already husband and wife; let us quickly get out of the Palace.”

The Princess hesitated. “I will plead with Huangdi Gege tomorrow,” she said, “He can’t possibly kill you. When he killed the Prince Consort, he already told me that he really offended me, and he promised to find another good Prince Consort for me. He is always very fond of you …” Speaking to this point, she felt that the reeking of blood in the room was getting thicker and thicker. Sniffing twice, she asked, “What is …” Suddenly a burst of bad chi bubbled up in the pit of her stomach, ‘Wah!’ she leaned over the back of a chair and threw up; her throat felt nauseated, she vomited another mouthful of bad-taste clear liquid.

Wei Xiaobao lightly patted her back and gently comforted her, “What happened? Did you eat any bad food? Are you feeling better?”

The Princess threw up two more times; suddenly she turned around and shot a heavy slap on his face. “I ate some bad food?” she cursed, “It’s you who are not good, you are not good!” With both fists she punched the pit of his stomach continuously.

The Princess had always been harsh, unreasonable, and rough; this moment she suddenly threw a fit, Wei Xiaobao did not think it strange; however, realizing the urgency of the situation, for every moment he was delayed, the time the cannon would be fired would also be a moment closer. He really could not afford to have unnecessary bickering with her. “Alright, alright” he said, “I am not good.”

The Princess twisted his ear and shouted, “You and I are going to see Huangdi Gege, the two of us are going to immediately bow to the Heaven and the Earth to become husband and wife.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly anxious; he pleaded, “Leave the matter of bowing to the Heaven and the Earth to be husband and wife to me, but as soon as we see His Majesty, your husband will turn into a headless Prince Consort instantly. Let us flee out of the Palace immediately, it is very important.”

The Princess pulled Wei Xiaobao’s ear hard, he was in so much pain that he could not bear not to cry out. The Princes cursed, “You don’t have any head, what’s the big deal? You are a little demon, originally you did not have any head anyway. What shall I do with the baby little demon in my tummy?” Speaking to this point, ‘Wah!’ she broke into crying.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked, “What … what … baby little demon?”

The Princess’s leg flew, she kicked his lower abdomen, while saying with a cry, “In my tummy there is a baby little demon; it’s you who are not good. If we do not become husband and wife immediately, my belly … my belly will grow every day … His Majesty knew Wu Yingxiong was a eunuch, he could not do it, I … how can I conduct myself as a human?”

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance turned deathly pale; right now a thousand pounds was hanging by a thread, he was facing an urgent matter, and then this highly embarrassing matter arose. He busily said, “If we don’t get out of the Palace quickly, the baby little demon won’t have any Dad. After we escape out of the Palace, we will immediately bow to the Heaven and the Earth and get married. You give birth to a baby little demon, won’t that … won’t that be His Majesty’s nephew [orig. waisheng – sister’s son]? His Majesty becomes a maternal uncle, he will become my dajiuzi [wife’s older brother], won’t he feel it’s embarrassing to kill his meifu [younger sister’s husband]?”

“Why would he feel embarrassed?” the Princess said, “Wu Yingxiong was his meifu, didn’t he kill him with one chop of a saber?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty knew that Wu Yingxiong was a fake meifu, I, Wei Xiaobao, on the other hand, is the genuine goods at fair prices. He killed fake meifu, he can’t possibly kill real meifu. Good Princess, after our baby little demon is born, he will wrap his arms around your neck and call you Mama, won’t it be beautiful?” While saying that, he reached out to embrace her neck.

The Princess let out a tender giggles; she happily said, “If I can get the beautiful thing, which is you, this son of a b1tch, I won’t want any baby little demon calling me Mama.” Her mouth said those words, but her hand that was twisting Wei Xiaobao’s ear actually loosened up. She said in tender voice, “I haven’t seen you for such a long time; were you thinking of me?” While saying that, she threw herself into his embrace.

“I was,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I was thinking of you every day, I was thinking of you every night, I think of you all the time.” But in his heart he cursed, “This hopeless romantic is really a damn dead wh0re.” He saw her lingering feeling, her blushing face, but this was really not a good time to be intimate with her, yet he did not dare to offend her. In a low voice he said, “As soon as we are out of the Palace, later on day and night we will be together, we won’t be separated anymore. Let us go now.”

The Princess wriggled herself free from his embrace. “Can’t do!” she said, “We must become husband and wife tonight.”

“Alright, alright!” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you say tonight, then tonight it is. But we must get out of the Palace first and talk about it later.”

“What do you mean get out?” the Princess said, “Huangdi Gege loves me most, he is your Shifu, he also loves you the most. Tomorrow we will plead with him, he won’t be angry. Huangdi Gege hates Wu Sangui the most, you can ask him to issue an imperial decree, assigning you to lead the troops to attack Wu Sangui, I will go with you. I will be the grand marshal of the army, you can become my deputy, we will beat Wu Sangui that he will be utterly defeated. Huangdi Gege may bestow you the title Wangye.” While saying that, she embraced him tightly.

Wei Xiaobao was in an extremely difficult situation. Suddenly someone knocked the window lightly three times, and then after a short pause knocked again twice. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he said in a low voice, “Is it Tao Gugu?” He gently pushed the Princess away, and scrambled toward the window to open it. A shadow flashed, someone leaped in; it was precisely Tao Hongying.

As the two women faced each other, both were shocked. Tao Hongying called in a low voice, “Princess.”

The Princess angrily said, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” Thinking it over, immediately her jealousy arose, thinking that in the dead of the night this palace maid hopped over the window into Xiao Guizi’s room, it couldn’t possibly be a good thing, could it? Doubtlessly she must be his lover. Although she saw that Tao Hongying was old, thinking that Xiao Guizi was fooling around with this old and ugly palace maid, she could not forgive him even more. She was feeling rather amorous, but this woman suddenly broke in and spoiled the mood, her fury blazed like crazy. “Gu …” she loudly called out. Wei Xiaobao had already prepared against this possibility. As soon as he knew that she was going to yell ‘guards’, he reached out and pressed his hand on her mouth.

The Princess struggled hard; she slapped backhandedly to strike Wei Xiaobao’s face. In his panic and fright, Wei Xiaobao’s right hand reached to her neck and tightened his grip. “Dead wh0re,” he cursed, “I’ll strangle you to death!” The Princess could not breathe, her hands and feet flailing randomly. Wei Xiaobao pulled his left hand to hammer it on her head twice.

Seeing he dared to beat up the Princess, Tao Hongying was shocked; she knew immediately that this matter would get noisy really quick. Stretching out her finger, she jabbed the Princess’ waist and the pit of her stomach three times in succession, sealing several acupoints on the upper part of her body. It was only then did Wei Xiaobao let go of his grip.

“Gugu,” he said in a low voice, “Things have turned really bad, the Emperor wants to kill me, I have to escape right away.”

“There are a lot of Imperial Bodyguards outside,” Tao Hongying said, “I have been here quite a while ago, I waited behind the flower terrace more than an hour before I was able to sneak in. Look.” She quietly pushed the window a slit.

Wei Xiaobao peeked out, and indeed he saw seven or eight Imperial Bodyguards patrolling back and forth with lanterns in their hands. He thought for a moment, Thin Toutuo and Mao Dongzhu came into his mind; he mused, “Those two people’s luck was not good, they came across Gui Xinshu, husband and wife. Laozi can imitate their method. Those three people from the Gui Family can’t possibly reincarnated in someone else’s bodies, I can ride in the Princess’ sedan chair.”

Turning to the Princess, he said, “Princess, please don’t drink vinegar [i.e. be jealous], she is my Gugu, my Dad’s Meizi [younger sister], my Mama’s Jiejie [older sister]. You must not throw a fit randomly.”

After her acupoints were sealed by Tao Hongying, the Princess was so angry that she nearly pass out; hearing Wei Xiaobao’s explanation, her heart calmed down. She did not think that ‘Dad’s Meizi and Mama’s Jiejie’ couldn’t possibly be the same person. In any case, this woman was not Xiao Guizi’s lover, so there was no problem. Instantly her face showed a smiling expression as she said, “In that case quickly release me.”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to make her happy; he said, “You are my wife, quickly greet Gugu.”

The Princess was very happy, to everybody’s surprise, she really called, “Gugu!”

Tao Hongying was bewildered; a moment ago these two were beating each other, how could the Princess suddenly call her ‘Aunt’?

Wei Xiaobao said, “Order the sedan chair to be carried inside the room, and then tell everybody to get out, close the door, and then you and I will ride inside the sedan chair. We will sneak out of the Palace, and immediately bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married. During the wedding ceremony, we must have an elder standing on the side as the witness, otherwise the ceremony will not count. Our Gugu can be the witness. What do you think?”

The Princess was overjoyed; her face blushed as she said in a low voice, “Good!”

Wei Xiaobao pushed her back away and urged, “Quickly go, quickly go!”

Being rushed urgently like that, without waiting for the acupoints on her upper body to be unsealed, the Princess went to the door and ordered, “Bring the sedan chair into the room!”

All the eunuchs and palace maids were baffled, but this Princess has always been unpredictable, the orders that she gave usually had very little common sense, but had a lot of wildest things imaginable; therefore, they complied in chorus and brought the sedan chair inside.

The First Imperial Concubine Shen’s luan sedan chair could be brought into the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful and quietly brought Thin Toutuo and Mao Dongzhu out. Wei Xiaobao’s door was only several chi wide, how could the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair be brought through the door? Only the two long sedan chair poles could go in, the body of the sedan chair was stuck on the doorway and could not get in.

“Useless bunch,” the Princess cursed, “Get out!”

The two eunuchs carrying the front part of the sedan chair thought, “The door is too narrow, how can you blame us?” Immediately they slipped out from the side of the sedan chair.

Wei Xiaobao whispered in the Princess’ ear, “Order the Imperial Bodyguards not to come in.”

The Princess raised her voice, “Xiao Guizi, you must accompany me in the room, I forbid you from going out.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied in loud voice, “It’s getting late, Your Highness the Princess please take a rest earlier.”

The Princess cursed, “But I definitely want to go out to have a stroll, what do you care?”

Wei Xiaobao replied loudly, “There’s assassin in the Palace, it would be better if Your Highness the Princess is a bit more careful.”

The Princess said, “His Majesty raised these many Imperial Bodyguards, the only thing they are good at is eating. Have everybody stand outside, nobody can go in.” The crowd of Imperial Bodyguards complied in chorus.

Wei Xiaobao climbed into the sedan chair and sat down; he beckoned Tao Hongying to unseal the Princess’s acupoints. The Princess also climbed into the sedan chair and sat in front of his bosom. Wei Xiaobao wrapped his arms around her and said in a low voice to Tao Hongying, “Gugu, please accompany us out of the Palace.” He thought that her martial art skill was superb; with her escorting them next to the sedan chair, if their trickery was discovered, she could help fighting and killing people.

Tao Hongying readily agreed. She was wearing palace maid uniform, standing next to the Princess’ sedan chair, nobody would suspect anything. The Princess shouted, “Take the sedan chair out.”

The two eunuchs carrying the front part of the sedan chair slipped back into the room from the side of the sedan chair. Together with the two eunuchs carrying the rear part of the sedan chair they lifted the sedan chair poles. They brought the sedan chair in reverse for several steps, and then they turned around and carried the sedan chair away. In their hearts they were all puzzled, “How come the sedan chair suddenly grows heavier?”

The Princess followed Wei Xiaobao’s direction and ordered their carrier to get out of the Palace via the Shen Wu Gate. When the long-tail pheasant sedan chair reached the Shen Wu Gate, as the Imperial Bodyguards guarding the Gate saw that the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair wanted to get out of the Palace very late at night, they stepped forward to inquire. The Princess leaped out from inside the sedan chair and shouted, “I want to get out of the Palace, quickly open the door.”

The captain of the Imperial Bodyguards on duty at the Shen Wu Gate that night happened to be Zhao Qixian. Immediately he bowed to salute and said with a laugh, “Reporting to Your Highness: there are assassins in the Palace tonight, it’s not too safe; would Your Highness please wait for the daybreak before going out of the Palace.”

The Princess angrily said, “I am in a hurry, I am not scared of the assassins.”

Originally Zhao Qixian would not dare to disobey, but he knew that the Prince Consort Wu Yingxiong has been put to death, the Princess wanted to get out of the Palace this late at night, perhaps this matter had something to do with Wu Sangui’s rebellion. If that was true and this matter was investigated, he would not escape grave responsibility. Thereupon he repeatedly bowed in respect, but all along he refused to open the gate. But because the Princess urgently pressing him, he said, “Since that is the case, let your servant ask for Duo Zongguan’s instruction. Would the Princess please wait a little bit, as soon as your servant receive the instruction, I will rush back to open the Gate.”

Inside the sedan chair Wei Xiaobao heard the Princess was getting angry, but no matter what Zhao Qixian refused to open the Gate. If he really went to find Dolong, things would turn from bad to worse. In desperation he said, “Zhao Qixian, do you know who I am?”

Zhao Qixian had been following him in various missions for quite some times, naturally he recognized Wei Xiaobao’s voice. Pleasantly surprised, he asked, “Is it Wei Fu Zongguan [deputy chief]?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Exactly.” Sticking out his head from inside the sedan chair he beckoned Zhao Qixian to come closer. Zhao Qixian hurriedly came over. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “I received His Majesty’s secret order to go on a top secret mission; if I show my face, I might spoil the mission. Therefore, His Majesty ordered me to sit inside the Princess’ sedan chair, and ask the Princess to cover me up as I go out of the Palace.”

Zhao Qixian was well aware that he was the Emperor’s most doted on and most trusted aide, and was very familiar with the secretive way [orig. gods disappear and devils vanish] he handled his missions; hence Zhao Qixian did not have any doubt. “Yes, yes,” he busily said, “Lowly officer will open the gate immediately.”

Wei Xiaobao was suddenly struck by a brainwave, “Do you want to be promoted and gain wealth?” he asked in a low voice.

Zhao Qixian had worked with him, and all these years his rank had been promoted twice; as for wealth, he had gained more than twenty thousand taels. As soon as he heard the four-character phrase ‘be promoted and gain wealth’ [sheng guan fa cai], he knew that since Deputy Chief Wei had already asked the question, it meant that he was supporting him to be promoted to a higher job. Bursting with joy, hastily he bent his knees to pay his respects and said, “Thank you very much Fu Zongguan for supporting me. Whatever errand Fu Zongguan is sending me to do, even with torn body and crushed bones lowly officer will not decline under any circumstances.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You said it yourself. When the cannon bombard, blasting you until your body torn and your bones crushed, you said you won’t decline under any circumstances; you must not blame me.” He said in a low voice, “There is a group of rebel thieves in collusion with Wu Sangui. His Majesty concocted a brilliant plan, this very moment we managed to lure them into my Earl Mansion. His Majesty is sending me to lead the Vanguard Battalion troops to capture them. The Vanguard Battalion are usually not in good term with my Valiant Cavalry Brigade; do you know why His Majesty is sending me to lead the Vanguard Battalion?”

“Lowly officer is very stupid,” Zhao Qixian replied, “I do not know.”

Wei Xiaobao lowered his voice even more, “The Vanguard Battalion’s Commander Ah colluded with Wu Sangui, His Majesty wanted to seize this opportunity to catch everything in one net. The Princess is Wu Sangui’s daughter-in-law, when they see the Princess, they won’t suspect a thing.”

Zhao Qixian suddenly saw the light, “So that’s how it is,” he said, “I can’t imagine Commander Ah has the audacity to commit treason and heresy. Most likely this matter was uncovered by Wei Fu Zongguan’s investigation too, and you have set up another great merit.”

“This merit was set up by the Emperor himself, which he then handed over to me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We are good brothers; promotions we enjoy together, wealth we gain together. Take forty Imperial Bodyguards and come with me to render great merit.”

Zhao Qixian was greatly delighted; he thanked Wei Xiaobao profusely, while hurriedly asked the Princess to get on the sedan chair. He then selected forty Imperial Bodyguards who usually loved to lick his behind, telling them that they would act on instructions from a secret imperial decree. They opened the Shen Wu Gate wide and escorted the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair out of the Palace. He ordered the remaining sixty Imperial Bodyguards to increase their vigilance in guarding the Gate.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Under no circumstances this Palace Gate is to be opened tonight; unless there is a direct order from either Duo Zongguan or myself, nobody is to be allowed to leave the Palace.” Zhao Qixian passed on Wei Xiaobao’s order. The remaining sixty Imperial Bodyguards guarding the Palace Gate complied in chorus.

Wei Xiaobao was secretly amused, “This time Laozi left, I will never come back. I wonder if Duo Zongguan’s ghost can come back to give the order to open the Palace Gate?”

Tong Mao’er [copper hat] Lane was not far from the Imperial Palace, not too long afterwards the party arrived at the Zhong Yong Bo Fu [Loyal and Brave Earl Mansion]. Along the way Wei Xiaobao’s heart was pounding rapidly, he was afraid that they only reached half way, ahead the cannon were already fired for days on end. Fortunately from beginning to end it was extremely quiet with no sound of activity to be heard.

When they reached the mouth of the alley, the Vanguard Battalion Commander Ajichi, who had already been informed of the arrival of the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair, was already waiting to welcome her. In the sedan chair, the Princess was enjoying Wei Xiaobao rubbing his back as he gave her detailed instruction on what to say and how to act. When she heard that Ajichi announced his greeting, she immediately stuck out her head from behind the sedan chair curtain and said, “Commander Ah, His Majesty’s secret imperial order: the task at hand tonight is extremely important; have you prepared everything well?”

Ajichi bowed and responded, “Yes, everything is ready.”

The Princess said in a low voice, “Those cannon have also been prepared?”

“Yes,” Ajichi replied, “It’s under Nan Huairen Daren’s personal direction.”

Inside the sedan chair, Wei Xiaobao was able to hear everything clearly; he mused, “The Emperor really did not lie to me. That foreign devil Nan Huairen is here to personally aim the cannon, how can they miss?”

The Princess said, “His Majesty’s order: I am to enter the Earl Mansion to do something, you come with me.”

Ajichi replied, “Reporting to Your Highness: this is a critical time, we must not come in.”

The Princess angrily said, “What do you mean we can’t come in? This is an imperial edict; you dare to defy?”

“Your servant does not dare,” Ajichi replied, “But … but … it is really very dangerous. Your Highness’ ten-thousand gold body …”

Inside the sedan chair Wei Xiaobao coughed once, Tao Hongying stepped forward, her finger moved like the wind, she sealed the three acupoints on Ajichi’s body, left and right waist and the side of his torso. Ajichi cried out in surprised, the upper part of his body was immediately paralyzed; and then he felt his back turned cold, followed by a sharp pain, as a sharp blade made a long cut on his back. He was scared out of his wits and was totally at a loss.

The Princess said, “His Majesty’s secret order: if you refused, you are to be chopped down immediately, along with the execution of your whole family unto the third generation.”

“Yes, yes,” Ajichi replied in trembling voice.

Wei Xiaobao had an idea, “These Imperial Bodyguards have come with me on various missions, they always obey my orders, why would I want to deliver their lives? I’d better have the Vanguard Battalion as the scapegoats.” He whispered in the Princess’ ear, “Tell him to select fifty Vanguard Battalion officers and men to come with us inside.”

The Princess thundered, “Take fifty of your sergeants, come with us inside to work.”

Ajichi responded with trembling voice, “Yes … yes …” Immediately he passed on an order to have fifty sergeant follow behind the Princess’ sedan chair into the Earl Mansion.

Wei Xiaobao ordered Zhao Qixian to lead his Imperial Bodyguards to guard outside the gate, while the sedan chair proceeded to the second reception hall. The Princess and Wei Xiaobao got off the sedan chair, and ordered the fifty sergeants to wait in formation in the courtyard. With Ajichi in custody, Tao Hongying followed the two of them into the reception pavilion.

When they pushed the door open, they saw Chen Jinnan, Mu Jiansheng, Xu Tianchuan and the others inside the hall. Everybody was greatly puzzled to see Wei Xiaobao entered with a woman dressed in exquisite attire, a palace maid, and a military officer. Wei Xiaobao beckoned, they all crowded around him; he said in a low voice, “The Emperor found out about our meeting in here. The alley outside is surrounded by officers and men; plus there are about a dozen cannon aimed at this place.”

Everybody was shocked; their countenance changed greatly. Liu Dahong said, “Let’s charge out.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Can’t do!” he hissed, “The officers and men outside are a lot, and the cannon are even more formidable. I have brought dozens of officers and men. Let us strip their clothes and sneak out.” The crowd of warriors all praised this brilliant scheme.

Wei Xiaobao turned around to talk to the Princess. The Princess nodded and said to Ajichi, “Tell twenty sergeants to come in.”

Ajichi could readily see that the situation was far from good, but there was a steel blade pressed against his neck, how could he dare to disobey? Without any choice he issued the order. Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace warriors laid an ambush behind the door. As soon as twenty Vanguard Battalion sergeants entered the reception pavilion, punches, kicks, elbow-strikes and finger jabs flew everywhere, the twenty men were immediately knocked down.

The second time they called fifteen people, the third time they also called fifteen people; after all fifty sergeants were overthrown, their uniforms were stripped. The crowd of warriors quickly changed their clothes. Even the Princess also changed her clothes.

Wei Xiaobao saw Mu Jianping and Zeng Rou also changed their clothes, but he did not see Shuang’er; hastily he asked Zeng Rou. Zeng Rou said, “Shuang’er Meizi saw you entered the Palace and did not come back for a very long time, while Gui Er Xia and the others also went into the Palace to assassinate but we also have not heard any news, she was very anxious, hence accompanied by Feng Daye [big master, term of respect for older man] they went out to scout for information.”

Mu Jianping said, “The two of them left right after lunch; why haven’t they come back until now?”

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows; he was quite worried. Although he knew that Feng Jizhong was exceptionally skillful in martial arts and was quite capable of protecting Shuang’er thoroughly, but the two of them did not know about the Emperor’s plan. Supposing they returned after everybody else escaped and the cannon happened to fire, wouldn’t it be terrible?

After short deliberation he said to Qian Laoben, “Qian Dage, Feng Dage and Shuang’er went out to scout for information and have not come back, we must leave a number of warning sign so that when they see it, they will immediately leave.”

Qian Laoben complied. The situation was urgent, he pulled a dagger, cut the thigh of two Qing soldiers, cut a piece of their clothes, dipped it to the blood on the two men’s wounds, and wrote two big bloody characters ‘kuai tao’ [quickly flee] on the doors. In succession he wrote the characters on all eight doors, while everybody finished changing their clothes.

Wei Xiaobao led everybody to the stable to get some horses. Four Tian Di Hui brothers masqueraded themselves as eunuchs to carry the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair. With Ajichi in custody they went out of the Earl Mansion. The fifty sergeants were left inside the Earl Mansion with either their acupoints sealed or their hands and feet bound. Wei Xiaobao was still sitting inside the Princess’ sedan chair. When they were out of the mansion, he sighed, thinking, “Those attendants, stable hands, cooks, personal guards, men and maidservants, in their respective rooms in the Mansion will inevitably die of the cannon blast. But if I told them to leave, the officers and men guarding outside would definitely see something was wrong.” He also recalled, “That day on Mount Wutai by disguising ourselves as Lama, we saved the Old Emperor’s life. Today we are using the same trick. First this ‘turtle shedding its shell’ stratagem saved the Old Emperor’s life, now it saves Xiao Guizi’s life. It is greatly useful.”

The crowd of warriors, with the Princess and Ajichi in the middle, reached the end of the alley. They saw officers and men on patrol, the security was very tight, but momentarily they were not able to see where the cannon were set up.

Having escaped from danger, Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh. Seeing his Shifu and all his friends escaped the disaster of artillery barrage, he was greatly comforted. He said to Zhao Qixian, “This Commander Ah rebels against the Emperor, he committed treason and heresy; I want you to put him in jail. Unless His Majesty personally wants to bring him to trial, wait for my return before you can let him go.” Zhao Qixian complied.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “This man is an offender to the throne, His Majesty hates him to the bones; when hearing his name, he will be very angry. Tell the brothers, everybody must be a bit more careful, don’t let His Majesty hear this rebel thief’s name.”

Zhao Qixian received the order; leading the forty Imperial Bodyguards, they left with Ajichi in custody. With Ajichi in jail, Wei Xiaobao did not give a damn as to when he was going to be released.

The group of warriors continued walking in silence toward a secluded area. After about a li or so, Wei Xiaobao abandoned the sedan chair and mounted a horse instead. Chen Jinnan asked, “After Gui Er Xia and the others entered the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, what happened next?”

“The three of them …” Wei Xiaobao started. Suddenly they heard ‘bang, bang, bang!’ loud explosion, followed by black smoke rising from the direction of the Earl Mansion. From the distance they saw beams, tiles and bricks flew to the air. The group of warriors felt the ground under their feet was shaking. At this time the cannon blast was rumbling continuously, from the Earl Mansion red-blood flame rose high, reaching more than ten zhang into the sky. The group of warriors was already far away from the Copper Hat Lane, but they still felt blasts of hot air hit them on the face. They looked at each other, aghast; nobody had ever imagined that the cannon power was that formidable. If they were late even for a short moment, how could they stay alive?

Liu Dahong cursed, “His granny, what an earth shaking …” his voice was drowned in the subsequent cannon blast that nobody heard the rest of his words.

Looking toward the Earl Mansion, they saw the flame subsided, but immediately afterwards it rose again to the sky, burning half the sky red. Wei Xiaobao thought, “The young Emperor must have heard the explosion, if he sent someone to get me, the trickery would be exposed immediately.” Walking away from the sedan chair, he said to Chen Jinnan, “Shifu, we must leave the city without delay. As soon as the news spread, the questioning on the city gates will be very strict, it won’t be easy to leave town.”

“That’s right,” Chen Jinnan said, “Let’s go.”

The Princess leaped out of the sedan chair immediately. Wei Xiaobao turned toward the Princess and said, “You should return to the Palace, after the situation is calmed down, I will come to get you.”

The Princess was shocked and angered at the same time. “What did you say?” she shouted. Wei Xiaobao repeated his words.

The Princess shouted, “You burn the plank after crossing the bridge? You want to cast me away now?”

“No, not that …” Wei Xiaobao started. But before he could finish, ‘Slap!’ his face was heavily slapped.

The crowd of warriors was flabbergasted. Just now the bombardment was shaking the heaven and the earth, everybody thought that were it not for Wei Xiaobao’s scheme to save them, by this time each one of them had already turned into flying ash, there would not be any opportunity to flee for their lives at all. As a result, even though usually they did not hold this youngster Xiangzhu in such a high regard, this moment they could not refrain from being grateful and were filled with admiration. Suddenly seeing the Princess made her move and beat him, some people immediately stepped forward to push her away, while some others shouted and scolded her.

The Princess cried loudly and threw a tantrum, “You said you wanted to bow to the heaven and the earth with me, so I obeyed you, I took you out from the Imperial Palace, I also told that Vanguard Battalion commander to save your friends. You … you are a stinky thief, you want to deny, it’s not over between you and me. In my belly …”

Wei Xiaobao was afraid she might have a slip of the tongue and announce the scandal in public; he hastily said, “Alright, alright! You can come with me. Let’s get out of the city and then we’ll talk.” The Princess turned tears into laughter; she turned around and mounted a horse.

The party reached the Chao Yang Gate at the east side of the city. Wei Xiaobao called out, “His Majesty’s secret order: we must get out of the city to pursue and capture the rebel thieves. Quickly open the city gate.”

Valiant Cavalry Brigade, Guarding Military Camp [national guards?], Vanguard Battalion, three military units were the Emperor’s Yu Lin Jun [lit. imperial forest army] personal guards. Within the City of Beijing, they were the boss [orig. bashing sideways and colliding straight on]; all civil and military officials were somewhat afraid of them. When the officers and men guarding the gate saw a group of Vanguard Battalion sergeants, how could they dare to disobey? Besides, a moment ago they heard the rumbling of the cannon, there must be something big happening in the city; thereupon they opened the city gate at once.

Everybody exited the city and galloped to the east. Wei Xiaobao and Chen Jinnan rode side by side, he told his Shifu briefly how Gui Xinshu and his family failed in their attempt to assassinate the Emperor, and how the Emperor discovered his secret. Chen Jinnan praised him, “Xiaobao, usually I see you as a flippant and insincere, very dishonest boy, but in this critical moment surprisingly you are able to attach most importance to yi qi, not coveting riches and honor by selling your friends; it is indeed rare.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I don’t care much about other friends, but ‘cardinal offense of exterminating master’ [大义灭师 – da yi mie shi], I absolutely must not do.”

“What do you mean you don’t care much about other friends?” Chen Jinnan said, “As long as he is your friend, you must never betray him. As for ‘cardinal offense of exterminating master’ these four characters, you did not use it correctly.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue. “Disciple is unlearned,” he said, “I said it wrong, Shifu must not blame me.” Thinking about how in the past he was able to talk nonsense with the young Emperor and had a good time, but with what had been happening today he would never be able to see him face to face, he could not help feeling sad.

Chen Jinnan said, “We came out dress as Vanguard Battalion sergeants, in less than a day the Tatars will find out. We’d better change our clothes as soon as possible.”

“Precisely,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as we reach the small town ahead, we can buy some clothes and change.”

They galloped eastwards for more than twenty li before reaching a small town, but the town did not have any used clothing store. Chen Jinnan was a veteran in marching to battle, and was very adept in governmental affairs, but facing this kind of trivial matter, momentarily he felt as if he had his hands bound and was unable to do anything; seeing there was no place to buy change of clothes, he said, “Let’s go to the next town and see; I hope we can find a used clothing store there.”

Passing the small town, they saw at the end of the market there was a large house that must belonged to a rich family; it has high wall and vermillion gate, the building looked grand. Wei Xiaobao had an idea; “Shifu,” he said, “Let us go into that house to borrow some clothes so that we can change.”

Chen Jinnan hesitated. “I am afraid they won’t let us borrow some clothes,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “We are military officers. Military offices do not eat the rich, do not rob from the rich, who else should we eat, who else should we rob?” Leaping down from the horse, ‘dang, dang!’ he banged the copper door knocker randomly.

A manservant came out to open the gate, everybody swarmed in; whenever they saw someone, they would strip his clothes. The head of the household was a retired government official from the Capital who had returned to his hometown. Seeing these Vanguard Battalion sergeants were acting like wolves and tigers, he repeatedly called, “Gentlemen officers, please do not act rough, let Xiongdi order my people to arrange some food and drink that gentlemen can use, I will also prepare some travel expense for you …”

Before he could finish, someone already grabbed him and peel off the robe and socks he was wearing. In his fright he screamed, “Xiongdi is already old, this provocation is out of the question …”

Giggling and laughing, the crowd of warriors stripped several dozen men of their clothes. The retired officer and the womenfolk were frightened as if their souls have left their bodies. Luckily these bunch of Vanguard Battalion officers and men were acting strangely, they only stripped the men’s clothes, but did not insult the women at all. After they stripped the men’s clothes, they did not do any other shady business either. With roar of laughter they simply went out, leaped onto their horses and left. All the men in the house were left stark naked; they could only look at each other in bewilderment.

When the group of warriors reached a secluded place, they stopped to change their clothes. The Princess, Mu Jianping and Zeng Rou, three women also changed into men’s clothing. And then everybody mounted their horse to continue their journey. Wei Xiaobao was very concerned about Shuang’er; he said, “I wonder what happened to Feng Dage and my servant girl in the Capital. I am thinking of asking a brother from out of the province whose appearance is not familiar in the Capital to come back and ask around about them.” Two Tian Di Hui brothers from Guangxi accepted the order and left.

Seeing that there were no government troops chasing them at all, the group of warriors felt rather relieved. After traveling for a little bit more, “Ah!” suddenly Mu Jianping cried out in alarm, but then she immediately broke into giggle. Turned out Zeng Rou’s mount suddenly excreted a large puddle of watery feces, it almost splashed onto Mu Jianping’s foot.

Not too long afterwards, several more horses also excreted some watery feces. And then the horse Priest Xuanzhen was riding suddenly neighed and sank to the ground; no longer willing to stand up. “Daozhang [Taoist priest],” Qian Laoben said, “Let us two brothers ride on one horse!”

“Alright!” Priest Xuanzhen replied. He leaped onto Qian Laoben’s horse to ride behind him.

Wei Xiaobao suddenly realized something; he could not help but was greatly alarmed. “Shifu,” he called out, “Retribution! Retribution! This is bad!”

“What is it?” Chen Jinnan asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu … Wu Yingxiong ghost is looking for me. He hated me … hated me for capturing him back, also stole his … his …” he really could not bring himself to speak the last two characters ‘lao po’ [wife].

He remembered when he received the imperial order to pursue Wu Yingxiong that day, because the horses that Wu Yingxiong’s party were riding were fed with large amount of croton, along the way the horses constantly excreted watery feces, followed by one after another the horses fell dead. Because of this, Wu Yingxiong was not able to escape far and was captured back by Wei Xiaobao. If that time Wu Yingxiong managed to escape to Yunnan, naturally the Emperor could not kill him. So if he thought it over, Wu Yingxiong’s death was caused by him sending people to poison his horses. Now that it was his turn to run away, one by one their horses also suffered diarrhea and fell dead, what is it if not Wu Yingxiong’s ghost was playing trick on him? What’s more, in his escape Wei Xiaobao was taking Wu Yingxiong’s wife along. After Wu Yingxiong had become a ghost, he was still wearing a dark-green-emerald-inlaid one-pin­-rank big green hat; naturally he was unwilling to let his wife go. The more Wei Xiaobao thought about it, the more frightened he was; he could not stop his body from trembling as he heard several horses whinnying, and two more horses fell down.

Chen Jinnan could also see that something was amiss, hastily he asked for the full details. Wei Xiaobao then told him what happened that day when he captured Wu Yingxiong back; with a trembling voice he said, “Wu Yingxiong ghost lingers on, today he came back for revenge. This … this …”

The Princess angrily said, “That fellow Wu Yingxiong, when he was alive he was stupid and cowardly, after he was dead, he is also a useless ghost. Why are you afraid of him?”

Chen Jinnan frowned and said, “Clear sky under the sun, how could there be any ghost? That day you poisoned Wu Yingxiong’s horses, did the Tatar Emperor know about it?”

“He did,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He even praised me as a good-luck general.”

Chen Jinnan nodded. “Right,” he said, “Since the Tatar Emperor knew you are following the good-luck general way, he also knew that you have a good-luck general body. He is afraid you might escape, hence he had already sent people to feed croton to your horses.”

Wei Xiaobao instantly saw the light. “Right, right,” he repeatedly said, “That day when we captured Wu Yingxiong, the young Emperor was very happy, he bestowed a petty official rank to my head stable hand, sending him to work for the officer in charge of the carriage of the Ministry of War. This time he must have sent him to poison my horses.”

“That’s right,” Chen Jinnan said, “He is very familiar with your horses, he knew each horse’s temperament, naturally to poison the horse is ‘a hundred shots a hundred hits’.”

Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “Next time I catch this stable hand, I will stuff all the watery feces in here into his mouth …” Before he could finish, suddenly he felt the mount underneath his crotch lurched forward and dropped on its knees. Wei Xiaobao hopped down, and saw the horse was struggling to get up, but after struggling several times, its hind legs kneeled down again.

Chen Jinnan said, “These animals are no good. We must buy some horses at the next town.”

Liu Dahong said, “It’s not easy to find dozens of horses all at once.”

“Absolutely right,” Chen Jinnan said, “Everybody, let’s disperse for the time being.” While he was still speaking, suddenly they heard faint noise of hoof beats on the road.

Priest Xuanzhen happily said, “Soldiers are coming to pursue us. Let us kill the damn kids and grab their horses.”

Chen Jinnan called out, “Tian Di Hui brothers hide on the left of the road, Mu Palace and Wang Wu Mountain brothers hide on the right. Wait till the soldiers arrive, we will attack by surprise. Aiyo, not right …”

They heard the hoof beats was getting nearer, the ground was faintly shaking, the pursuing soldiers were at least one of two thousand men. The group of warriors did not need to ask him why he cried ‘aiyo, not right’, these four words, their countenance changed greatly. The group of warriors was only several dozen men. Although their martial art skill was not weak, in broad daylight on an open plain fighting a large group of cavalry, the enemy troops would easily surround them several layers thick. Those with high level of martial art skill might escape alive, but most of the rest were bound to deliver their lives.

Chen Jinnan made a prompt decision, “The pursuing troops are not a few,” he called, “We cannot fight a head-on battle, everybody disperse into villages, hills and woods.” He only spoke those few words, the hoof beats were getting even closer. As far as the eye could see, the dust on the road rose high into the sky, like a wide expanse of black cloud rolling near.

“Bad, bad!” Wei Xiaobao cried out, and moved his legs to run.

“Hey!” the Princess called, “Where are you going?” while running close behind him.

“Go back to the Palace,” Wei Xiaobao called out, “Coming with me won’t do you any good.”

“Stinky Xiao Guizi,” the Princess cursed, “You want to run away? Not so easy.”

(Book Note: In the title of this Chapter, ‘red cloud that always stay close to the sun’ is referring to accompanying the Emperor, ‘the heart follows green jade grass’ is referring to the idea of a long journey.)

[1] Zhengde, 11th Ming Emperor Zhu Houzhao (1491-1521, reigned 1505-1521).

[2] Duke who Receives Grace and Guards the Nation (奉恩镇国公; feng en zhen guo gong), simplified as ‘Duke who Guards the Nation’ (镇国公; zhen guo gong) is the first subgrade of National Dukes (国公; guó gōng), a title granted only to members of the imperial clan. The rank of National Duke (国公; guó gōng) was higher than ‘Commoner’ Duke (民公; mín gōng)’ which often simplified as ‘Duke’, but lower than a king (王; wáng). (Courtesy of Ace High)

[3] Dong Zhuo (-192), top general of late Han, usurped power in 189, murdered empress dowager and child emperor, killed in 192 by Lü Bu. Cao Cao (155-220), famous statesman and general at the end of Han, noted poet and calligrapher, later warlord, founder and first king of Cao Wei, father of Emperor Cao Pi, the main villain of novel the Romance of Three Kingdoms.

[4] ‘your heart must be put to death’ (其心可诛) is a chengyu which essentially means that a person is worthy of punishment due to having prepared a premeditated plan/intention, even if that plan wasn’t carried out. Basically, it means that the premeditated intent, in and of itself, is sufficient to condemn someone as guilty. In this specific instance, Kangxi is saying that Wei Xiaobao’s preparation of an escape route for himself, in and of itself, was sufficient to condemn him as being guilty, even if it was never used (which he now was). (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

Chapter 44 People came to faraway and hard-to-reach land as the source of desperate fight, things brought so much grief that everybody was afraid of the truth.

Wei Xiaobao did not stop whining; he mused, “To get away from the Princess is a lot more difficult than getting away from the pursuing troops.” He saw at the northeast corner there was a field of tall sorghum plants, the plants were taller than a man, immediately he ran desperately toward the sorghum field.

When he got near, he saw behind the sorghum field there were two farmer houses, other than that, he did not see anywhere else he could hide. Thinking that the pursuing troops were fast and that they would be here in a flash, he ran into the sorghum plants straightaway. Suddenly he felt his back tightened; someone grabbed him from behind, followed by the Princess’ laughter as she said, “Why are you lagging behind?”

Wei Xiaobao did not have any choice; with a bitter laugh he turned around and said, “You go and hide over there. We’ll talk when the pursuing troops have gone.”

The Princess shook her head and said, “No way! I want to be with you.” Immediately she crawled into the sorghum field and cuddled next to him.

Before the two of them were able to hide properly, they heard footsteps, followed by Zeng Rou calling, “Wei Xiangzhu, Wei Xiangzhu!”

Wei Xiaobao stuck his head out and saw Zeng Rou and Mu Jianping were running side-by-side toward him. “I am here,” he said, “Quickly hide in.” Following his order, the two women crawled in.

The four of them went deep into the sorghum field, hiding among the branches and leaves; thinking that the pursuing troops would have a hard time finding them, they felt somewhat relieved.

A short moment later, they heard group by group the pursuing cavalry galloped by on the main road. Wei Xiaobao thought, “That day I was with Ah Ke, Shitai Shifu, and that stinky fellow Zheng Keshuang, also four people, hiding inside the barley stack. Ay, if only by my side is not this mean Princess but Ah Ke, I will die happy. I wonder where is Ah Ke now? Most likely she has already become Zheng Keshuang’s wife. I don’t know what happened to Shuang’er.”

Suddenly they heard voices from a distance; some people were barking orders, followed by a group of cavalry reining their horses to stop. Clatters of hoof beats were moving near, unexpectedly they were searching toward this direction. The Princess was shocked, “They saw us.”

“Don’t make any noise,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They haven’t seen us.”

“Aren’t they coming this way?” the Princess said.

They heard someone shouted, “The rebel thieves’ horses are falling dead around here, they can’t run away too far. Everybody search carefully.”

“So that’s how it is,” the Princess said in her heart, “Those dead horses really cause a lot of trouble.” Reaching out, she gripped Wei Xiaobao’s hand tightly.

Liaodong, outside the Pass, was vast, but sparsely populated, the soil was fertile; sorghum fields were oftentimes spread thousands of mu hundreds of qing, as far as the eye can see. [1 mu ~ 1/15 of a hectare or 1/6 of an acre, 1 qing = 100 mu]. The sorghum grew tall, it was known as ‘green muslin screen’. It would be very difficult to find anybody hiding inside. But the sorghum fields in Beijing’s suburb were sparse and a lot shorter. The field where Wei Xiaobao and the others, four people were hiding was only twenty or thirty mu; as a large group of officers and men searched carefully, they would be found and captured in no time at all.

When they heard the troops were getting closer and closer, Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “Let’s go to the house over there.” After tugging Mu Jianping’s sleeve, he crept toward the two farm houses; the three women followed behind him.

Reaching the bamboo fence, they pushed the door and saw that the house was uninhabited, on one corner quite a few of farm tools were piled up. Wei Xiaobao grabbed several woven rush raincoat and handed them over to the three women, saying, “Quickly wear these.” While he also put one on his body. Putting on a conical bamboo hat, he sat on a corner.

The Princess laughed and said, “We are peasants now; it’s so much fun.”

Mu Jianping shushed her and said in a low voice, “They’re coming!”

‘Bang!’ the plank door was pushed open, seven or eight officers and men came in. Wei Xiaobao and the others quickly turned their heads around.

A moment later, someone said in a loud voice, “There’s no one here, the peasants are out to the field.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that this man’s voice and accent sounded familiar. He peeked from under the conical bamboo hat, and sure enough, it was Zhao Liangdong. He was delighted.

A sergeant said, “Zongbing Daren, these four people …”

Zhao Liangdong thundered, “Everybody out! Let me search carefully. This room is so small. Damn it, with all of you crowding in here, I can’t even turn around.” The soldiers voiced their agreement, they all trooped out.

Zhao Liangdong asked in a loud voice, “Have you seen any strangers around here?” As he walked toward Wei Xiaobao, his hand went into his bosom to take out two gold yuanbao and three ingots of silver, which he gently put down by Wei Xiaobao’s feet. Raising his voice, he said, “Turns out those people are running to the north! They knew His Majesty has lost his temper; if they are captured surely they will be beheaded, thus they are fleeing far, running away as fast as they can. This time it is really serious!” Stooping down, he gave Wei Xiaobao a hug and gently shook him several times before turning around and out of the door, while shouting, “The rebel thieves have run to the north, everybody pursue them quickly!”

Wei Xiaobao sighed. He thought, “Zhao Liangdong has a very strong yi qi toward me. If this matter is discovered, he won’t be able to protect his own head.” He heard the clatter of hooves outside as the officers and men mounted their horses and galloped away to the north.

The Princess was puzzled, “That Zongbing obviously saw us, why did he say … Ah, and he gave you gold and silver too? He must be your friend.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s get out of here from the back door!” Stuffing the gold and silver into his pocket, he walked to the back.

As they stepped across the rear courtyard, they saw eight or nine people were sitting on the porch. As soon as Wei Xiaobao took a glance, he cried out in fear, turned around and ran. But he only took a couple of steps when the back of his neck was yanked, someone grabbed him and lifted him up. The man coldly said, “You think you can still escape?”

This man was none other than Cult Leader Hong. The rest of the people were Madame Hong, Fat Toutuo, Lu Gaoxuan, Blue Dragon Envoy Xu Xueting, Scarlet Dragon Envoy Priest Wugen, Black Dragon Envoy Zhang Danyue, and Yellow Dragon Envoy Yin Jin. All Divine Dragon Cult most important characters were gathered here. There was also a young woman, Fang Yi.

The Princess angrily said, “Why did you catch him?” Her leg flew toward Cult Leader Hong. Cult Leader Hong slightly bent his left hand, his middle finger flicked on the back of her foot. “Ah!” the Princess cried out and fell down to the ground.

With his body hanging in the air Wei Xiaobao called out, “Jiaozhu and Madame enjoy immortal good fortune forever, your long life the same as the Heaven’s. Disciple Wei Xiaobao pays his respect.”

With a cold laugh Cult Leader Hong said, “It’s good that you still remember those few words.”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Those few words, disciple always remembers in my heart. Early morning when I get up I recite it once, when I wash my face I recite it once, when I eat my breakfast I recited it once, when I eat my lunch I recite it once, when I eat my dinner I recite it once, at night before I go to bed I also recite it once. Never once did I miss to recite it. Every now and then I would remember Jiaozhu and Madame’s benevolence, oftentimes I would be overwhelmed and recite it several more times.”

Ever since his old lair on the Divine Dragon Island was destroyed, his members dead or scattered all over, only several old brothers remained by his side, Cult Leader Hong wandered around in Jianghu; nobody recited the ode ‘enjoy immortal good fortune forever, long life the same as the Heaven’s’ with the same vigor anymore, oftentimes he barely heard it once in a day. This time hearing Wei Xiaobao’s flattering words surged like the tide, he could not help feeling delighted. He set him down, and his ice-cold countenance revealed the slightest hint of smile.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Subordinate can see Jiaozhu today, from head to foot my spirit is greatly aroused. There is only one thing that I do not understand.”

“What is it?” Cult Leader Hong asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “From that day I took my leave from Jiaozhu and Madame, not a few days has passed, how come Jiaozhu looks seven, eight years younger, and Madame even looks like you have turned into my little sister. It’s really strange.”

Madame Hong giggled tenderly, she reached out to pinch his cheek and said with a laugh, “Little monkey, your boot-licking skill can be considered number one under the heavens.”

The Princess was enraged; she shouted, “You, this woman, is so shameless; how come you casually grope [orig. moving hands moving feet] other people’s face?”

Madame Hong laughed and said, “I only moved my hands, I did not move my feet at all. Alright! Now I am moving my feet.” Lifting her left foot, ‘smack!’ she heavily kicked the Princess’ buttocks. The Princess screamed in pain.

Suddenly they heard hoof beats, in an instant all around them were horses, nobody knew how many officers and men had surrounded this farmhouse. The main gate opened, more than a dozen officers and men swarmed in. The two leaders entered the courtyard, they eyed everybody one by one, and then one of them said, “Only some unrelated farmers are here.”

Wei Xiaobao heard the voice and knew that it was Wang Jinbao’s. He was delighted and turned his head around. He saw the one by Wang Jinbao’s side was Sun Sike. The two men winked at him and waved their hands to order the sergeants to go out. Sun Sike said in loud voice, “Just some ordinary citizens. Hey, have you seen any escaping rebel thieves? No? Alright, we’ll go look someplace else.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was stirred, “This time I fall into Shen Long Jiao’s hands, no matter what graceful words, flowery speech I use, in the end my life is still difficult to protect. I’d rather be with Wang San Ge and the others, get out of Shen Long Jiao’s hands first, then ask those two to let me go.” Seeing Wang Jinbao and Sun Sike were just turning around to leave, he called out, “Wang San Ge, Sun Si Ge, I am Wei Xiaobao. Please take me with you.”

Sun Sike said, “You are just countryfolks, quickly go far away.”

Wang Jinbao said, “This peasant Xiao Xiongdi asked you if you have some money. Do you bring some money?”

“You want some money?” Sun Sike asked, “I have some, I have some!” From his bosom he took a fold of banknotes and handed it to Wei Xiaobao, saying, “There are some rebel thieves running away from Beijing, His Majesty is very angry, he sent several thousand troops and horses in hot pursuit, if they are caught, they will be beheaded immediately. Xiao Xiongdi, this place is very dangerous, if you are caught by mistake, you will deliver your life for sure. It’s really not worth it.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Please arrest me, I … I’d rather come with you.”

Wang Jinbao said, “You want to come with us to be a soldier and eat army provision? It won’t be fun. Outside there is firearm brigade that His Majesty personally dispatched, they have blunderbuss. ‘Bang, bang, bang, bang!’ the guns went off, even if your martial art skill were higher, you won’t be able to resist.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “The firearm brigade; that’s even better. Even Hong Jiaozhu will not dare to move randomly.” Hastily he said, “I have something I need to report to His Majesty. Please take me with you.”

Wang Jinbao said, “As soon as His Majesty sees you, he will chop your head. The Emperor also has two eyes and one mouth, why do you want to see him? Oh, we’ll leave you thirteen horses, so that you, thirteen countryfolks, can have a horse each. After ten years or eight, you must return the horses back to Beijing. If even one horse dies, you must pay us back. You absolutely must be very careful.” While saying that, he walked out.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly anxious, he stepped forward to stop him. “Wang San Ge,” he called out, “Quickly take me with you.”

Suddenly, a large hand was pressed on the crown of his head, and he heard Clan Leader Hong said, “Xiao Xiongdi, the General has good intentions, he had just left the Capital, he knew His Majesty’s mind, you must not indulge in flights of fancy.”

Sun Sike loudly said, “That’s right, let us quickly go to pursue the rebel thieves.”

Wei Xiaobao knew that right now his life was hanging in Clan Leader Hong’s hands. He only needed to exert a bit of his internal energy, Wei Xiaobao’s brain would immediately shatter. But even if he did not die right now, not too long afterwards he would definitely die anyway. Thereupon he said in a loud voice, “You must quickly arrest me, I am Wei Xiaobao!”

Everybody was taken by surprise; they halted their steps. Sun Sike burst into loud laughter and said, “Wei Xiaobao is a teenage boy, you, this old granpa, is nearly eighty years old, yet you raise your voice and play a joke; won’t you make people laugh until their mouths askew?” He tugged Wang Jinbao’s sleeve; the two of them walked out in big strides.

A moment later they heard someone passing on the order, “Leave thirteen horses in here for the later pursuing troops to transmit information, burn these two thatched huts so that the rebel thieves cannot hide in it.”

The crowd of sergeants complied, “We receive the order!” and then someone set the cottages on fire. The sound of hoof beats was heard as the large group of troops and horses galloped north.

Wei Xiaobao sighed. He thought, “This time I will die for sure. Wang San Ge and Sun Si Ge are afraid I would stay and not leave, then when other pursuing troops arrive, they might not show the same symphaty.” He saw the sogon grass on the corner of the hut started to burn, the flame slowly came near.

With a cold laugh Clan Leader Hong said, “Your friends have outstanding yi qi, they gave you money, they also give you horses. Let’s go.”

Mu Jianping helped the Princess up, they all exited the hut from the rear door, and went around to the front. Sure enough, underneath the tree in front of the cottage they found thirteen fine horses. Two of the horses had exquisite saddle and bridle, obviously these two horses were Wang Jinbao and Su Sike’s personal mounts.

They got on the horses and galloped eastwards. Wei Xiaobao and his companions, four people, were placed in the middle. Wei Xiaobao was hoping another team of pursuing troops would capture him. The young Emperor had deep friendship toward him, although this time he had offended him greatly, not necessarily he would have his head chopped. Cult Leader Hong was treacherous and murderous, falling into his hands would mean countless hardship for him. But for the whole journey he did not hear any sound of hoof beats of the pursuing soldiers. The horses they were riding were handpicked by Wang Jinbao, they could run like the wind. Even if there were pursuing troops behind them, there was little chance the troops might be able to overtake them. Much less Zhao, Wang, and Sun, three Zongbing [regional commander] had already led the pursuing troops to the north.

Along the way, other than the Princess who was cursing and swearing, everybody else rode in silence. Afterwards Yin Jin sealed the Princess’ mute acupoint so that even though her heart was full of anger, she was unable to utter any curses.

Cult Leader Hong led everybody riding through desolate areas as much as possible as they sped along to the southeast. Even at night they also stopped to rest in the wilderness. Several times Wei Xiaobao attempted escape, but Cult Leader Hong’s resourcefulness was not inferior to his, every time his body ended up suffering a few more punches; how could he get away from their grasp?

Several days later they reached the seaside. Lu Gaoxuan took an ingot of silver from Wei Xiaobao’s bosom to hire a large ocean-going ship. Wei Xiaobao could only groaned inwardly; even hiring the sea-going ship they were using his silver, he was even more discontended.

After boarding the ship, the boat raised its sail and they journeyed to the east. Wei Xiaobao thought, “I am sure this time we are going to Shen Long Island again, the old turtle must want to feed laozi to the snakes.” Thinking about the vipers on the island would coil around his body and bite him, he could not stop his body from shivering. “I have to somehow find a way to bore a big hole on the bottom of the boat so that everybody will die together,” he mulled over. But all the Divine Dragon Cult leaders knew that he was deceitful in many ways, they all guarded him carefully, how could he find the opportunity?

Wei Xiaobao remembered that he had been to the Divine Dragon Island twice before; the first time he and Fang Yi were whispering sweet nothings to each other on the boat, enjoying her gentle and soft touch along the way. The second time he was leading a big navy, his prestige impressed eight directions. This time he suffer a lot of punching and kicking, and was always at the death’s door. The difference between the suffering and delight was as far as the heaven from the earth.

Ever since he met Fang Yi at the farmhouse at the ourskirt of Beijing, along the way they rode together, now at sea they were in the same boat, yet she neither showed any delight nor anger, all along she maintained wooden expression without ever saying anything to him. Although she did not personally torturing him, yet all along she did not look at him either. Sometimes he thought that because she was under the Cult Leader Hong’s tyrannical grip, although she had a deep feeling toward him, she did not dare to reveal her feeling through her speech and facial expression. Sometimes he recalled that many times he had fallen into this little wh0re’s trick; that she was a treacherous and crafty woman, that no woman on earth could ever surpass her; he could not help gnashing his teeth in hatred.

After traveling for many days, indeed the boat reached the Divine Dragon Island. Lu Gaoxuan and Fat Toutuo escorted Wei Xiaobao, the Princess, Mu Jianping and Zeng Rou, four people ashore. Yin Jin forced the sailors to leave the boat. A sailor protested. Yin Jin immediately killed him with a saber. The rest of the sailors were scared that their souls flew to the outer sky; who would still dare to make any noise? Without any choice they obediently followed.

The trees on the island had withered, there were rubbles everywhere, the remains of the bombardments the other day. From the forest a strong stench assaulted their nostrils, skeletal remains of vipers strewn over the roads. When they arrived at the front of the main hall, they saw the walls had collapsed and the bamboo broken, several dozens bamboo structures had been completely obliterated. Cult Leader Hong stared hard without saying anything. Yin Jin and the others had angry look on their face, some glowered hatefully at Wei Xiaobao.

Zhang Danyue shouted loudly, “Hong Jiaozhu has returned to the Island! All Cult disciples quickly come out to pay your respect to Jiaozhu!” His internal energy was abundant, as he raised his chi to shout, his voice could be heard for several li. After waiting for a short time, he shouted again twice, but they only heard the faint echo of his voice from the valley, “Returned to the Island! Pay your respect to Jiaozhu! Returned to the Island! Pay your respect to Jiaozhu!”

After a long time, all around was still quiet, no sound was to be heard, not only they did not see a throng of disciples swarming over, they did not even hear a single disciple responding. Cult Leader Hong turned his head around toward Wei Xiaobao and said coldly, “You bombarded our Island, striking in such a way that a big Shen Long Jiao collapses like melting ice. Are you happy now?”

Seeing the fury and malicious expression in his face, Wei Xiaobao could not stop the hair on his body from standing up; with a trembling voice he said, “The old has not passed away, the new will not … not come. Hong Jiaozhu is all-powerful, your might greatly … greatly spread out all over the map. You can … can found a new Cult, open a business and get rich; this is called the more it is burned, the more it flourishes; the more it is bombarded, the more prosperous it becomes. Jiaozhu and Madame enjoy immortal good fortune forever …”

“Very good!” Hong Jiaozhu said. Suddenly he kicked him; Wei Xiaobao flew up and ‘crash!’ he landed heavily on the ground. He felt all the bones and muscles in his body were about to break, he could not crawl up. Seeing Hong Jiaozhu was this vicious, although she was afraid, Zeng Rou still went over to help Wei Xiaobao up.

Yin Jin stepped forward and bowed. He said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu, this little thief’s crime deserves ten thousand deaths, let subordinate cut him off one blade at a time, one piece at a time.”

“Humph!” Cult Leader Hong said, “There’s no rush!” After a short pause, he continued, “In this kid’s brain a great secret is hiding. The restoration and rise of our Cult rely on this important matter, for the time being we must not kill him.”

“Yes, yes,” Yin Jin said, “Jiaozhu stands tall and sees far, subordinate is simple-minded and ill-informed, it’s hard for me to understand the subtlety of this matter.”

Cult Leader Hong sat down on a piece of big rock and was deep in thought for half a day. He said, “From the beginning, the road to great success has always been plagued with misfortunes. Our Cult is suffering a setback for the time being, but it’s nothing to be worried about. Right now our stars are scattered, we ought to think how to reorganize our flags and drums, there is no harm in everybody pouring out your insight.”

Yin Jin said, “Jiaozhu is brilliant and wise, even if we think for ten days and ten nights, it will be fall short of Jiaozhu’s bright idea that you find in a flash. It would be better if we ask Jiaozhu to point out a good plan, everybody will just follow your order to accomplish it.”

Cult Leader Hong nodded and said, “The most important business in front of our eyes is to gather again our disciples. Last time the Tatar soldiers bombarded our Island, although the casualty among our Cult disciple was not a few, it was no more than one pavilion out of three; the remaining two pavilions must be scattered all over the place. Right now I promote Lu Gaoxuan to be the White Dragon Envoy, to bring the number of Five Dragon Envoys to completion.” Lu Gaoxuan bowed to express his gratitude.

Cult Leader Hong continued, “In the next few days I want all Green, Yellow, Scarlet, White and Black Dragon Envoys to go to various regions to recruit former subordinates, and if you see young men and young women with desirable natural endowments, you may thus receive them under your command. Recruiting the old accepting the new, we can heavily flourish our Divine Cult.”

Yin Jin, Zhang Danyue, and Lu Gaoxuan, three people bowed and said, “We will obey Jiaozhu’s order.” However, the Scarlet Dragon Envoy Priest Wugen and Blue Dragon Envoy Xu Xueting stayed silent.

Cult Leader Hong cast a sidelong glance toward the two people and asked, “Scarlet Dragon Envoy and Blue Dragon Envoy, do you have something to say?”

Xu Xueting said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu, subordinate has two things I’d like to ask, hoping that Jiaozhu will approve.”

“Humph,” Cult Leader Hong snorted. “What is it?” he asked.

Xu Xueting said, “Your subordinates here are always loyal to our Cult and Jiaozhu, but all along Jiaozhu did not trust our brothers, inevitably our hearts are discouraged. The first matter is this: I earnestly request that Jiaozhu will have mercy and bestow us the ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’ antidote, so that the hearts of our brothers are not worried, with heart and soul we will serve Jiaozhu.”

Cult Leader Hong coldly said, “And if I do not give you the antidote, you won’t serve me with your heart and soul?”

“Subordinate does not dare,” Xu Xueting replied. “The second matter is this: those young men and women were unable to accomplish anything but liable to spoil everything. As soon as they encountered big matter, everybody fled everywhere so that no one remained. Presently our Cult is facing trials and tribulations, from start to finish, those who follow Jiaozhu and Madame are us, several old brothers. Those younger disciples, ordinarily their mouths said that they would be loyal and would not be double-hearted, that they would go through water and tread on fire, ten thousand deaths would not prevent them, et cetera, but when things came to a head, which one actually exert themselves for Jiaozhu? In subordinate’s humble opinion, if we want to see our Cult flourish, we ought to gather responsible, courageous spirited real men. Those whose mouth say yes but their hearts say no, young boys and girls who talk in eight directions, just like this renegade, the little traitor Wei Xiaobao, we need not recruit.”

For each sentence that he spoke, Cult Leader Hong’s countenance turned one shade darker. Xu Xueting was trembling with fear, but he braced himself to finish his speech.

Cult Leader Hong shot a piercing gaze toward Priest Wugen. “What do you say?” he coldly asked.

Priest Wugen took two steps back. He said, “Subordinate thinks that there is some logic behind what Blue Dragon Envoy has said. The former cart is overturned, we cannot travel the same road anymore [overturned cart figuratively means disastrous policy]. You can’t gain knowledge without practical experience, since we have committed the fault, with Jiaozhu’s great wisdom and great intelligence, you understood that not only these young boys and girls are useless, they are also unreliable. Just like … just like …” while saying that, he pointed to Mu Jianping and said, “This little girl is my Scarlet Dragon Gate’s subordinate. Jiaozhu’s benevolence to her was not shallow, but as soon as we met disaster, she immediately committed apostasy by surrendering to the enemy. This kind of person must be tracked down and brought back one by one, have them hacked into pieces, to guard against this kind of apostasy.”

Cult Leader Hong’s gaze swept Lu Gaoxuan and the others. “Is this a common agreement among all of you?” he asked. The crowd fell silent.

After a moment, Fat Toutuo said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu, we did not discuss it beforehand. However … however, subordinate believes that Blue Dragon Envoy, Scarlet Dragon Envoy, two gentlemen’s opinion is somewhat reasonable.”

Cult Leader Hong stared at Zhang Danyue, waiting for him to talk. Trembling with fear, Zhang Danyue said, “This time our Cult met with danger, encountered the disaster of destruction; the main offender, without a doubt, was this little thief Wei Xiaobao. Toward this kind of people, subordinate absolutely cannot trust anymore.”

Cult Leader Hong nodded. “Very good,” he said, “You are also of the same opinion as the other. Lu Gaoxuan, what about you?”

Lu Gaoxuan said, “Subordinate has received Jiaozhu’s great benevolence by promoting me to assume heavy responsibility as the White Dragon Envoy, I should strive to display utter loyalty in serving Jiaozhu. Blue Dragon Envoy and the others’ thought is in consideration of our Cult and Jiaozhu, there is no other intention.”

Yin Jin raised his voice, “What all of you said is very wrong. Jiaozhu’s wisdom is a hundred times higher than ours. There is no need for us to speak too much, all we need to do is just listen to Jiaozhu and Madame’s instructions. The Tatar troops bombarded our island, it was to wash away the dirt and disgrace of our Cult; those renegades who are not loyal to Jiaozhu were blasted away. Were it not for that, how could we know who was loyal and who was the traitor? We, the subordinates, were like the frog at the bottom of the well, our insight was narrow and shallow, all we saw was the gains and the losses of the moment, how can we be compared to Jiaozhu who can see through a hole and gaze at a hundred lifetimes?”

Xu Xueting angrily said, “The reason why our Cult failed and was wiped over the floor, was mostly because of people like you, boot-licking ghosts. You flatter randomly, what good will it bring to our Cult? What good will it bring to our Jiaozhu?”

“What do you mean boot-licking ghost?” Yin Jin said, “You … you … aren’t you rebelling?”

Xu Xueting angrily said, “You are a shameless lowly person, you ruined our Cult. You are the rebel!” While saying that, his hand grabbed the hilt of his sword.

Yin Jin took a step back, saying, “That day you started a rebellion and offended your superior, you betrayed Jiaozhu; fortunately Jiaozhu and Madame are magnanimous, so they did not hold it against you. Today … today you want to rebel again?”

Together Xu Xueting, Priest Wugen, Zhang Danyue, Lu Gaoxuan, and Fat Toutuo, five people turned their eyes toward Jiaozhu, suppressing their anger in silence.

Cult Leader Hong turned his head to look at Yin Jin, his eyes blazed with cold light. Yin Jin was shocked; he took another step back. “Jiaozhu,” he said, “These … these five men conspire to go against the law, they must be punished by death.”

In deep and grim voice the Cult Leader Hong said, “What did you just say?”

Seeing his ill expression, Yin Jin was even more terrified; he said in a trembling voice, “Subordinate is loyal … loyal … loyal to Jiaozhu; with these rebel thieves I … I cannot exist together.”

Cult Leader Hong said, “That day we swore a heavy oath, if we ever raise the same old topic again, if we ever settle the account over what had happened in the past, then what will happen?”

Yin Jin was so scared that his soul had flown into the outer sky. “Jiao … Jiaozhu have mercy,” he said, “Subordinate is only being loyal to you; I have no … no other intention.”

Cult Leader Hong said, “That day Madame and I have sworn an oath, if in our hearts we remember the old grievance, we will enter the Longtan [Dragon Pool], to be devoured by ten thousand of snakes. This matter has been written off at one stroke a long time ago, everybody has already forgotten about it completely, only you still keep it in your mind constantly. As soon as you have the opportunity, you sow dissension; what is actually your intention? What is your motive?”

Yin Jin’s face did not have the least bit of blood, his knees bent, he dropped down, kneeling. “Subordinate knows my error, from now on I will never dare to raise it up,” he said.

Cult Leader Hong sternly said, “When people of our Cult swear a heavy oath, can you casually violate it? If this oath cannot be applied to you, it will be applied to me. Tell me, do you think you should enter the Dragon Pool, or should I go?”

Yin Jin screamed and leaped several zhang backward; he turned around and ran away like mad. The Cult Leader Hong waited until he was several zhang away before bending over to pick a piece of rock and threw it away. ‘Whoosh!’ it hit Yin Jin on the back of his head. He let out a long miserable scream, leaped up, and then heavily crashed on the ground. He twisted several times, and died immediately.

Cult Leader Hong saw how Xu Xueting and the others, five people had joined hands. Based on his martial art skill, if he joined forces with Madame and Yin Jin their strength would be enough to subdue these five people. However, after the strength of their Cult took a big hit, only very few people remained, while all Yin Jin could do was fawning and boot-licking, he did not have any real ability. If he killed these five people, it would mean that the troops under his command were completely obliterated. In that split second he weighed the severity of this case, the pros and cons, and took the decision to kill Yin Jin, while pacifying Xu Xueting and the others, five people’s anger.

Zhang Danyue and Lu Gaoxuan bowed and said, “Jiaozhu’s word is like a mountain; you killed this treacherous villain, subordinates are full of admiration.”

Xu Xueting, Priest Wugen and Fat Toutuo, three men also said together, “Thank you very much Jiaozhu.” These five people usually saw Yin Jin blindly resorted to bragging and flattering, his moral standing was low, they despised him very much; now that they saw that the Cult Leader personally put him to death, all of them were overjoyed.

Cult Leader Hong pointed to Wei Xiaobao and said, “It’s not that I want to spare his life, but this kid knows that in Liaodong’s extreme north bitter cold ground an enormous amount of treasure is buried. Without him leading the way, we cannot find that place. After obtaining this treasure, for us to rebuild our divine cult is as easy as flipping our hands.”

After a short pause, he continued, “Just now the five of you said that those young boys and girls are unreliable, and advised me not to ‘follow the track of an overturned cart’ [i.e. repeat a disastrous policy]. After thinking about it carefully, I agree that what you said was not without reason. I am going to follow your advice, hereafter the business of our Cult’s new recruits must be dealt with seriously, in order to avoid crafty villain sneaking in to infiltrate our Cult.”

Xu Xueting and the others’ face showed delight; they all bowed to express their thanks. Cult Leader Hong took two porcelain bottles from his pocket, from each bottle he took five pills; there were five yellow pills, and five white pills, and then he put the bottles back inside his pocket. With the pills in his left palm, he said, “These are ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’ antidote, each of you take two pills.”

Xu Xueting and the others were greatly delighted; they stepped forward to express their gratitude first before receiving the pills. “You may take the pills immediately,” Cult Leader Hong said.

The five of them put the pills into their mouths and swallowed. With a smiling expression on his face, Cult Leader Hong said, “That’s very good …” Suddenly he shouted, “Lu Gaoxuan, what do you have in your left hand?”

Lu Gaoxuan took two steps back. “No … nothing,” he said. But his left hand hung down, his fingers curled into a fist.

“Open your left hand!” Cult Leader Hong sternly said. His voice thundered, everybody’s ears were buzzing.

Lu Gaoxuan’s body slightly shook, he slowly opened his left hand, with a light ‘pat’ a white pill fell to the ground. Xu Xueting and the others, four men’s countenance changed greatly. They were well aware that Lu Gaoxuan’s knowledge and experience was out of the ordinary, he had quite a wisdom and insight. By hiding this white pill and refusing to take it, he must have a strong reason; but the rest of them had already swallowed the pill, what should they do?

With a stern voice Cult Leader Hong said, “Those white pills are Great Supplement Snow Ginseng pills to strengthen the body and invigorate the spirit; why do you suspect your leader and have the cheek to conceal it and not taking it?”

Lu Gaoxuan said, “Subordinate … does not … does not dare. Recently subordinate made a mistake in internal energy cultivation, the chi and blood channels in my body are disrupted, hence … hence Jiaozhu’s benevolence in giving this great supplement pill, I am thinking that after sitting in meditation tonight, I will slowly take it, to avoid my lowly body cannot … cannot withstand it.”

Cult Leader Hong’s countenance softened. “I see,” he said, “Which chi and blood channels are disrupted? That’s very easy, I can help you regulate you inner breathing. Come here.”

Lu Gaoxuan took another step back. “I do not dare to toil Jiaozhu,” he said, “Subordinate will slowly regulate it myself, then I will get better.”

Cult Leader Hong sighed and said, “So, in the end you still don’t trust me?”

“Subordinate absolutely does not dare,” Lu Gaoxuan replied.

Pointing to the white pill on the ground, Cult Leader Hong said, “In that case, I want you to take that pill immediately. If after taking it your chi and blood channels are disrupted, how can I fold my arms and ignore it?”

Lu Gaoxuan turned his gaze toward the pill; he stared blankly for half a day before saying, “Yes!” And then he stooped down to pick it up. But suddenly his middle finger flicked, ‘swish!’ the pill flew to the air, and fell into a distant valley. He said, “Subordinate already took it. Thank you very much Jiaozhu.”

Cult Leader Hong burst into loud laughter. “Good, good, good!” he said, “Your guts is indeed not small.”

Lu Gaoxuan said, “Subordinate has always strive loyally for Jiaozhu, Jiaozhu has given the antidote to neutralize the poison of the ‘leopard embryo tendon altering pill’, but you also bestowed this white hundred-salivary gland pill, which toxicity is more formidable. Subordinate is innocent, I am unwilling to be punished.”

Xu Xueting and the others asked in chorus, “Hundred-salivary gland pill? What poison is that?”

Lu Gaoxuan said, “Jiaozhu gathered the salivary glands of a hundred different types of poisonous snakes and insects, and mixed it into these pills. Whether it contains acute poison, I am not too clear; perhaps it really has tonic effect, but I am not sure either. Either way, my guts is very small; I do not dare to try it.”

Xu Xueting and the others were even more terrified; they all rushed toward Lu Gaoxuan. All five of them stood in a row, with eyes staring at Cult Leader Hong.

Cult Leader Hong coldly said, “How do you know this is a hundred-salivary gland pill? You are speaking nonsense, sowing dissension, disturbing the people’s hearts.”

Pointing to Fang Yi, Lu Gaoxuan said, “That day I saw Miss Fang caught snails from the underbrush, I asked her what she was doing, and she told me that it was Jiaozhu’s order, she had to catch some snails as drug ingredient. I have also accidentally seen Jiaozhu’s hundred-salivary gland pill formula. Although the hundred-salivary gland pill’s toxicity will only flare-out in three years, but first, I doubt that Jiaozhu has ever mixed the hundred-salivary gland pill before; I don’t know whether it will truly flare-out after three years. Second, subordinate still want to live many more years, I do not wish to die in three years.”

The dark aura on Cult Leader Hong’s face grew thicker and thicker. “My formula,” he thundered, “How could you see it?”

Lu Gaoxuan cast a glance toward Madame Hong; he said, “Madame asked subordinate to find some medicine for her in Jiaozhu’s medicine chest. That formula was inside the medicine chest.”

“Rubbish!” Cult Leader Hong sternly said, “Even if Madame is not well, could it be that she won’t ask for some medicine from me? Why would she ask you? My medicine chest has always been sealed really tight, how could you dare to open it yourself?”

“Subordinate did not open it myself,” Lu Gaoxuan replied.

Cult Leader Hong roared, “You did not open it yourself. Are you saying that I ordered you to …” suddenly he had another thought. Turning his head toward Madame Hong he asked, “Did you open it for him?”

Madame Hong’s countenance paled; she nodded slowly. Cult Leader Hong asked, “What medicine were you looking for? Why didn’t you ask me?”

Madame Hong suddenly blush deep red, but immediately her face turned deathly pale. Her body shook several times, suddenly she clutched her lower abdomen, her throat made some ‘ow, ow’ noise, and she vomited quite a bit of clear liquid. Cult Leader Hong knitted his brows; he asked in tender voice, “Are you feeling ill? Sit down and rest a little bit!”

Princess Jianning suddenly shouted, “She has a baby. You old b@astard, you are going to have a child, and you don’t know it?”

Cult Leader Hong was shocked; he leaped forward and grabbed Madame’s wrist. “Is she telling the truth?” he sternly asked.

Bending down, Madame Hong did not stop throwing up, her body shook ever worse. Cult Leader Hong coldly said, “You wanted to find a medicine to abort the baby, didn’t you?”

Other than Lu Gaoxuan, none of the listeners was not puzzled. Cult Leader Hong did not have any children, and he loved his wife dearly. If Madame gave her a child, it did not matter whether it was a boy or a girl, it would be a greatly good news; why would she want to abort the baby? They all thought that this time Cult Leader Hong had guessed wrong. Who would have thought that Madame Hong nodded slowly and said, “That’s right. I want to abort the baby. Quickly kill me.”

Cult Leader Hong raised his left palm; he shouted, “Whose child is this?”

Everybody knew that his martial art skill was extremely high, as soon as this palm of his struck down, Madame Hong would immediately die a violent death; surprisingly she lifted her head high instead, and boldly said, “I told you to quickly kill me, why haven’t you made your move?”

Cult Leader Hong’s eyes looked as if they were about to spout fire; with a deep and grim voice he said, “I won’t kill you. Whose child is this?”

Madame Hong closed her mouth tight, with a very unyielding expression on her face. Obviously she had already disregarded her life.

Cult Leader Hong turned his head around and glowered at Lu Gaoxuan, “Is it yours?” he asked.

“No, no!” Lu Gaoxuan busily said, “Subordinate reveres Madame like an immortal, how could I dare to offend her?”

From Lu Gaoxuan Cult Leader Hong’s gaze swept Zhang Danyue, Xu Xueting, Priest Wugen and Fat Toutuo one by one. Whomever his gaze landed, that person shivered in fear.

Madame Hong loudly said, “It’s none of them. Quickly kill me, why do you ask too much?”

The Princess called out, “She is your wife, naturally this child is yours, why blindly suspect others? Such a complete muddle head.”

“Shut up!” Cult Leader Hong bellowed, “You talk one more sentence, I’ll wring your neck.”

The Princess did not dare to speak anymore, but in her heart she refused to submit. How would she know that for the past few years Cult Leader Hong had been cultivating first-class internal energy so that he had not been near women for a long time? Although his feeling as husband and wife toward Madame was genuine, they did not have real husband-wife relationship. It was exactly because of this reason that he had always felt apologetic and uneasy toward her, so that ordinarily he treated her with double-affection.

This moment, as he suddenly heard that Madame was pregnant, myriads of thoughts flitted through his mind: anger, shame, remorse, grief, pain, hatred, love, even fear. His palm was still hanging in the air, but he could not bring it down. Turning his head around, he saw Xu Xueting and the others had terrified look on their faces. He thought, “Today all of them have found out about this big shameful scandal; how can I still have the face to be their Jiaozhu? I must kill them all and not leave a single mouth alive. If even the least bit of rumor is leaked out, Jianghu heroes would sneer at me, how can I still be a hero or a warrior?” As soon as his murderous intention arose, suddenly his left hand let go of Madame, he leaped forward, grabbed Lu Gaoxuan, and shouted, “It’s all because of you, the renegade to the Cult, who caused mischief!”

Lu Gaoxuan loudly said, “You want to kill people to shut their …” the word ‘mouth’ had not left his mouth, ‘crack! Cult Leader Hong’s palm struck heavily on his forehead; immediately his eyes popped out, he gave up his breath and died instantly.

Seeing this situation, Xu Xueting and the others knew that Cult Leader Hong wanted to kill them all to shut their mouths. All four of them immediately pulled their weapons to shield their bodies. Xu Xueting shouted, “Jiaozhu, this is your personal matters, it has nothing to do with your subordinates.”

Cult Leader Hong screamed at the top of his lungs, “Today everybody will return to heaven together, you can forget about staying alive.” And he charged ferociously toward the four men.

Fat Toutuo brandished his twenty-some catties big saber with nine steel rings on its back, he hacked it down head on, the momentum was extremely powerful. Cult Leader Hong leaned sideways to evade, his right palm shot down onto the top of Zhang Danyue’s head. Xu Xueting’s pair of judge pens successively struck Cult Leader Hong’s back twice, while at the same time Priest Wugen’s wild-goose tail saber also swept toward his waist. Cult Leader Hong let out a loud shout and leaped high into the air, but his palm still shot down toward Zhang Danyue.

Zhang Danyue moved the pair of mandarin-duck daggers in his hands, it a split second he stabbed seven times. It was the move ‘seven stars gathered around the moon’, the ultimate skill he developed his entire life. All seven stabs were swift and powerful. Cult Leader Hong’s right palm swept diagonally to press lightly on Zhang Danyue’s left shoulder; borrowing the momentum, he leaped away. Zhang Danyue roared and rolled on the ground. When he stood up, he felt the pain on the left side of his body was unbearable. “If we don’t kill him today, nobody will survive,” he cried out. The four up them raised their weapons and surged forward to surround Cult Leader Hong.

These four men were the first-class figureheads of the Divine Dragon Cult, especially Fat Toutuo and Xu Xueting, whose martial art skill was the highest. The nine steel rings on Fat Toutuo’s Big Hoop Saber made continuous ringing noise, as he moved the weapon in purely ferociously and ‘hard’ way. Xu Xueting’s skill with his pair of judge pens, on the other hand, was small, delicate, and exquisite; move by move he threatened the vital acupoints on the opponent’s body. Priest Wugen brandished his Wild-goose Tail Saber into a circle of white ray. They all thought that after taking the hundred-salivary gland pill today, their lives would be difficult to protect anyway, hence before their deaths they wanted to kill this treacherous and vicious archenemy. Therefore, out of ten moves, nine were assault moves; their hope was to die together with the enemy.

Zhang Danyue recalled how in the past because his subordinates did not do their best in their mission, they failed to obtain the ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’, if not for Priest Wugen and Xu Xueting’s help, he would have been executed early on by the Cult Leader Hong. That he was able to survive this long, he was actually living on a borrowed life. This moment, although his left arm was very painful, he still did everything he could to move his daggers.

Actually, Cult Leader Hong’s martial art skill was far superior to these four men, if he wanted to take the life of one of them, it was really not difficult; however, the four of them attacked in succession, if he killed one, it would be hard for him to avoid injury. After fighting for more than forty rounds, the unbearable anger and resentment in his heart gradually calmed down, his mind cleared up, his moves were even more smooth and easy; his pair of bare hands weaved in and out among the four weapons’ siege, without any sign of weakness at all. He saw that Zhang Danyue’s left dagger gradually lost its power, hence he knew that this was the opponent’s weakest link, thereupon he focused his attention to break the powerful enemy.

Seeing the four men fought ferociously, Wei Xiaobao quietly pulled Zeng Rou and Mu Jianping’s sleeves, and signaled the Princess to keep quiet. The four of them turned around and quietly walked down the mountain. Cult Leader Hong and the others, five people, were engaged in tight battle that nobody saw them. Even if they did, nobody could afford to get away from the fight to stop them.

After walking for a while, the four of them had left Cult Leader Hong and the others far away, in their hearts they were secretly delighted. Wei Xiaobao turned his head around to look at the five men who were still involved in fierce fighting, saber’s ray flashed, palm’s shadow fluttered, for a moment it would be hard to decide victory or defeat. “Let’s go faster,” he said.

The four of them picked up their pace; suddenly they heard footsteps behind them, two people were rushing toward them, Madame Hong and Fang Yi. The four of them were shocked. Wei Xiaobao lamented the fact that when they were captured, the weapons and secret projectiles in their body were searched and confiscated. Fang Yi was not a big problem, but Madame Hong was really formidable. Thinking that they would not be able to fight the enemy, they had no choice but to run as fast as they could.

After running several dozen steps, the Princess tripped on a rock and tumbled down on the ground; she cried out. Wei Xiaobao thought, “She has my child in her tummy, I cannot not help her.” Thereupon he turned around to help her up.

He saw in several leaps Madame Hong had already arrived in front of them. Standing with arms on her waist, she said, “Wei Xiaobao, are you thinking of running away?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “We are not running away, the scenery is good over here, we came to enjoy it.”

With a cold laugh Madame Hong said, “Very well! You came here to enjoy the scenery, why didn’t you call me along?”

While they were still talking, Fang Yi caught up. Seeing Wei Xiaobao was delayed by Madame Hong, Zeng Rou and Mu Jianping turned around and stood by Wei Xiaobao’s side. Mu Jianping said to Fang Yi, “Shijie, come with us. He … he …” she pointed to Wei Xiaobao, “He always treats you well. Formerly you have sworn an oath as well, have you forgotten about it?”

“I am only loyal to Madame,” Fang Yi replied, “I only take order from Madame.”

Mu Jianping said, “You just took Madame’s drug. Previously I also took some …”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly realized that Fang Yi repeatedly deceived him in the past because she was under Madame Hong’s coercion, not because she had any choice; the hatred and resentment in his heart vanished instantly. “Yi Jiejie,” he said, “Please come with us.”

The last time he used these three characters ‘Yi Jiejie’ to affectionately call her was when they were traveling together to Divine Dragon Island, enjoying the intimacy and touching emotions on the boat. Suddenly hearing it again, Fang Yi could not stop her face from turning red.

Suddenly they heard Cult Leader Hong cried out in loud voice, “Madame, Madame! Ah Quan, Ah Quan! You … where are you going?” His cry was full of fear and anxiety, it was obvious that he was afraid Madame Hong would abandon him and leave. But Madame Hong did not seem to hear. Cult Leader Hong called several more times, all along Madame Hong did not respond.

Wei Xiaobao and the others, five people looked at Madame Hong; they all thought, “Why didn’t you answer? Jiaozhu is calling you, why don’t you go back?”

They saw a faint blush on Madame Hong’s face; she shook her head and said in a low voice, “Let’s go quickly, let’s escape by boat!”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised; he asked, “You … you are coming with us?”

Madame Hong said, “There’s only one boat on the Island, we cannot not coming together. Jiaozhu wants to kill me, don’t you know it?” Her face blushed again, and she walked away first.

They all rushed several zhang down the mountain when they heard Cult Leader Hong calling out in loud voice again, “Madame, Madame! Ah Quan, Ah Quan! Quickly come back!” Suddenly someone let out a long miserable scream, obviously it was a cry just before death; although it was unclear which of Xu Xueting and the others, four people, had died.

Cult Leader Hong called loudly, “Look, look! I have killed this old fellow Zhang Danyue. He had been by my side all his life until he grew old. Unexpectedly he still wanted to go against me, a complete muddle head. Ah Quan, Ah Quan! Why don’t you come back? I won’t blame you, I’ll forgive you in this matter. Ah! Damn it, you chopped me! Ha ha, Fat Toutuo, you think this palm cannot take your dog life? You brains didn’t work right, why did you follow others and rebel against me? Didn’t that mean you want to die? Ha ha!”

Madame Hong halted her steps, her countenance changed. “He already killed two people,” she said.

“Let’s go faster,” Wei Xiaobao urgently said; and ran even faster.

Suddenly they heard Cult Leader Hong’s shout, “I will deal with you, two rebel thieves, later. Madame, Madame, quickly come back!” His voice was getting closer and closer; unexpectedly from up the mountain he ran after them.

Wei Xiaobao looked back, and saw Cult Leader Hong, with disheveled hair, was running fast toward them; he was scared that his soul flew away and scattered. He ran as fast as he could in desperation.

“Stop him, stop him!” Xu Xueting called out, “He is already injured, we must kill him today.”

Priest Wugen called out, “He can’t escape.” With the weapons in their hands, the two people ran after him.

Shortly afterwards Wei Xiaobao and the others reached the beach, but Cult Leader Hong, Xu Xueting and Priest Wugen, three people were coming fast; one running after the other, they rushed down the mountain, all three people’s faces and bodies were covered in blood.

Cult Leader Hong shouted, “Madame, why didn’t you answer me? Where are you going?”

Xu Xueting called out, “Madame does not want you anymore! She already has a young and handsome boyfriend.”

Cult Leader Hong was enraged. “Rubbish!” he shouted. Leaping up, his left palm shot down ferociously to the top of Xu Xueting’s head. Xu Xueting countered with the pen on his left hand. Priest Wugen caught up, he brandished his saber toward Cult Leader Hong’s waist.

By this time Cult Leader Hong only had two opponents left, but his left leg was limping, his agility was also not as good as before. Cult Leader Hong called out, “Ah Quan, look at me; I am going to have these two rebel thieves under control very soon, kill those four little b1tches first, just don’t kill that little thief yet, let him take us to the treasure.” His mouth was busy shouting, his palms still moved fast and powerful. Xu Xueting and Priest Wugen were not able to penetrate his defense.

Madame Hong let out a soft cold laughter; her gaze swept Mu Jianping and the others one by one. Wei Xiaobao called out, “Madame, if you harm only one of these four girls, I will immediately kill myself. Even becoming a ghost I will not spare you. A real man gave his words, some … some horses cannot pull it back.” In a moment of desperation, he could not even remember ‘dead horses cannot pull it back’.

Suddenly ‘whack!’ Xu Xueting’s waist was hit by a palm, his body swayed, and he fell to the ground. Cult Leader Hong roared in laughter, while leaping up to kick him. Xu Xueting also leaped up and threw himself at Cult Leader Hong, so that Cult Leader Hong’s leg hit the pit of his stomach. ‘Crack!’ several of his ribs broke instantly, but he caught and firmly grabbed Cult Leader Hong’s right leg. Cult Leader Hong struggled hard to free himself, but unexpectedly he failed to throw Xu Xueting down.

Fast as lightning Priest Wugen surged forward and swung his saber. Cult Leader Hong leaned his head sideways to evade and flipped his hand to parry. ‘Wham!’ Priest Wugen’s lower abdomen was hit by a palm, but the saber also cut into Cult Leader Hong’s right shoulder. Priest Wugen spurted a mouthful of blood, all of which landed on the back of Cult Leader Hong’s neck. Priest Wugen wanted to lift his saber to hack again, but unexpectedly his Wild-goose Tail Saber had cut into Cult Leader Hong’s shoulder bone, while his own strength had nearly gone, hence was unable to pull the saber out. Cult Leader Hong called out, “Quick … quickly come … pull him away.”

It was not clear whether Madame Hong was scared that she was only staring blankly, or she really did not have the intention to help him. Seeing the three people were entangled in a fierce fight, unexpectedly she was standing still and did not show any sign that she was going to move.

Xu Xueting picked up a judge pen from the ground and thrust it up as hard as he could into Cult Leader Hong’s waist. Cult Leader Hong roared wildly, his left foot kicked Xu Xueting, sending him flying out, followed by a backward strike of his left elbow. Priest Wugen’s body slowly slumped down. Cult Leader Hong laughed aloud and shouted, “These … rebel thieves, which … which one is my match? They … they wanted to rebel, (cough, cough) … (cough, cough), didn’t they … didn’t they all get killed by me?” Turning toward Madame Hong, he said, “You … why didn’t you help me?”

Madame Hong shook her head. “Your martial art skill is number one under the heavens, why would you need someone else’s help?”

Cult Leader Hong was enraged. “You also rebel against me?” he bellowed, “Are you also a renegade of our Cult?”

“That’s right,” Madame Hong coldly replied, “You only care about yourself. If I helped you, in the end you will still kill me.”

“I’ll strangle you to death, I’ll strangle the renegade to our Cult to death,” Cult Leader Hong shouted, while pouncing on Madame Hong.

“Ah!” Madame Hong screamed and hastily dodged.

Even after suffering serious injury Cult Leader Hong’s movement was very fast; with his left hand he grabbed her arm, with his right hand he strangled her neck. “Speak up, speak up,” he shouted, “If you say you are not, I’ll spare you.”

Madame Hong slowly said, “For a long, long time in my heart I am already rebelling against you. Ever since that day when you forced me to be your wife, I already hate you to the bones. You … you’d better just kill me.” The blood from Cult Leader Hong’s body did not stop dripping onto her head, her face, but unexpectedly Madame Hong’s eyes were staring at him without blinking at all.

“Renegade, rebel thief!” Cult Leader Hong roared, “All of you are rebelling against me. I … I will recruit new people, I will reorganize Shen Long Jiao!” His right hand tightened, immediately Madame Hong’s throat was blocked, her tongue stuck out.

Watching from the side, Wei Xiaobao was extremely terrified. Seeing that Madame Hong was about to be strangled to death, he picked a large round stone from the beach and with all his might threw it toward Cult Leader Hong’s back. ‘Bonk!’ it hit the center of his back. Cult Leader Hong’s vision darkened; the hand that strangled Madame Hong immediately loosened. He turned around and shouted, “You … you little thief, I don’t want buried treasure anymore, I’ll kill you first and talk later.” His palm swept toward Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao turned around and ran as fast as he could. Cult Leader Hong moved his legs and ran after him, leaving a long trail of blood on the sandy beach. Wei Xiaobao knew that if this time he was caught, he definitely would not survive; thereupon he desperately ran for his life. Suddenly ‘rip!’ a piece of his clothes was caught and torn by Cult Leader Hong. If Wei Xiaobao was not wearing his treasured protective vest, perhaps a piece of flesh from his back would also be torn away.

In sheer terror he ran even faster, unleashing the qinggong ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ [divine walk hundred changes] he learned from Jiu Nan; he twisted to the east and slipped to the west, making random turns on the beach. Several times Cult Leader Hong nearly caught him, but in ‘a thousand pounds hangs by a thread’ situation, he always managed to evade.

If he ran straight up, with his very limited internal energy, he would have been caught early on. But this ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ was Tie Jian Men’s [iron sword school] supreme skill, plus during his time Priest Mu Sang had added several new ideas into it, so that the changes were extremely exquisite, strange and mysterious. Wei Xiaobao’s ‘divine walk’ was actually not worth mentioning; the ‘hundred changes’ part, however, was very similar to his inborn nature; therefore, he managed to master about thirty or forty percent of the skill. Consequently, although he was not a martial art master [orig. ‘gao shou’ – high/top hand]. He could be reckoned to be first or second best escape master [orig. ‘gao jiao’ – high/top feet] of the Wulin world.

Cult Leader Hong was howling again and again; he launched several palm strikes in succession. Wei Xiaobao dodged two palm strikes, finally he failed to evade the third strike. ‘Bang!’ the palm landed squarely on his back, sending him tumbling on the ground, twice.

Fortunately Cult Leader Hong was seriously hurt, his palm power was greatly reduced, plus Wei Xiaobao was wearing his treasured protective vest; although he was hit that the sky darkened and the earth turned black, he did not suffer serious injury.

He was just about to crawl up when suddenly he felt his shoulder tightened as Cult Leader Hong grabbed him with both hands. Wei Xiaobao felt as if his heart was about to jump out of his chest cavity. In his horror, he could not think about anything [orig. ‘when hungry, you can’t pick what you eat’, and ‘in panic, cannot choose the road to travel’]; ducking down, he crawled underneath Cult Leader Hong’s crotch, and suddenly remembered that this move was the first part on one move from the ‘three moves to save life’ taught by Cult Leader Hong in the past. Whether the move was called ‘imperial consort riding an ox’ or ‘Xi Shi riding a goat’[1], how could he remember about it right now?

With everything he had he leaped up and landed onto Cult Leader Hong’s neck. Actually he had not practiced this move to perfection; but even if he did, he would never be able to execute the move against a first class martial art master like Cult Leader Hong. It’s just that Cult Leader Hong had had a fierce battle against four Divine Dragon Cult’s martial art masters, and then Madame Hong denounced him; his mind was disturbed, plus he received several heavy blows one after another, the last one being the Wild-goose Tail Saber cutting deep into his bone, and a judge pen penetrating deep into his lower abdomen. After running for several hundred steps, he lost a lot of blood, his internal energy was depleted, his grab on Wei Xiaobao’s back was weak, so that as soon as Wei Xiaobao struggled he was able to free himself and finally rode on his neck. Riding on Cult Leader Hong’s shoulder, Wei Xiaobao was afraid he might be thrown down, instinctively he grabbed Cult Leader Hong’s head to get a hold, the middle finger of both hands happened to press on Cult Leader Hong’s eyelids.

Something flashed like a lightning in Cult Leader Hong’s mind; he remembered that it was he himself who taught Wei Xiaobao this move. As soon as he managed to ride on the enemy’s neck, he should immediately dig the enemy’s eyes out. Cult Leader Hong would never had imagined that as a hero of this age, in the end he would lose his life under this little urchin’s hand. Not only that, the move he was using was exactly the one he taught him. It was indeed an appropriate retribution. Remembering the countless number of people he had killed during his lifetime, receiving this karma could not be considered injustice; he could not help but heaving a deep sigh, his hands drooped down by his side.

As soon as Cult Leader Hong relaxed his body, he was unable to bear the load, hence he fell face up. Wei Xiaobao still thought that it was part of some formidable move; hastily he leaped back and ran away. He heard Cult Leader Hong said while gasping for breath, “Ah Quan, Ah Quan, come … come here.”

Madame Hong took several steps closer, but she stopped more than a zhang away in front of him. Cult Leader Hong said, “The child in … in your belly, actually … actually whose child is it?”

Madame Hong shook her head and said, “Why do you insist on knowing?” While saying that, she involuntarily cast a side long glance toward Wei Xiaobao, her face blushed slightly.

Cult Leader Hong was shocked and angered at the same time; he shouted, “Could it be … could it be this little demon?”

Madame Hong bit her lip without saying anything; obviously it was a tacit approval. Cult Leader Hong bellowed, “I’ll kill this little demon!” He sprang up and pounced on Wei Xiaobao.

With face full of blood, Cult Leader Hong opened his mouth wide, exposing badly damaged, broken yellowish teeth; his hands were also dripping with blood, as he pounced toward Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his body and soul separated; he turned around and crawled underneath Madame Hong’s crotch and hid behind her. With arms wide open Madame Hong confronted Cult Leader Hong; she said indifferently, “Your prestige has shaken the world, now it’s enough!”

Cult Leader Hong was leaping in the air, the last ounce of real chi in his body disappeared without a trace, ‘Wham!’ his body landed by Madame Hong’s feet. Yet he still fiercely said, “I am the Cult Leader, you … you should obey … obey my command. Why … why … did everybody rebel against me? You … all of you are wrong, only … only I am right. I will kill all of you, only I, one man can … can enjoy immortal good fortune forever … my long life … the same as hea … hea … hea …” Without able to finish the last word ‘heaven’, his mouth gaped open, he breathed his last, but his eyes were still wide open.

Wei Xiaobao crawled away several more steps and then he jumped to run away for several more zhang before he turned around and saw that Cult Leader Hong was lying on the ground unmoving. After a long time he took two steps closer, while taking the stance that he was ready to flee any time. “Is he dead?” he asked.

Madame Hong sighed and said quietly, “He is dead.”

Wei Xiaobao took two more steps and asked, “He … how come his eyes are not closed?”

Suddenly ‘slap!’ his face was heavily slapped, followed by a twist on his right ear; it was Princess Jianning. She also kicked Wei Xiaobao’s buttocks while cursing, “You, son of a b1tch, he did not close his eyes because you stole his wife. You … why did you fool around with this shameless woman?”

“Humph,” Madame Hong snorted, while reaching out to grab the back of Princess Jianning’s neck, ‘slap!’ she also heavily slapped her face. Waving her arm, she tossed the Princess backward to the ground. When this happened, Wei Xiaobao was the one who suffered the most, because the Princess’ right hand was still twisting his ear. As her body tumbled backward, she took Wei Xiaobao’s ear along that he fell on top of her.

Madame Hong shouted, “You talk without compass and set square. I will kill you at once.”

The Princess was furious; she sprang up and charged toward Madame Hong. Madame Hong moved her left foot to hook, the Princess tripped and fell face down. The Princess charged again for the third time, and again she was thrown down to the ground. Finally she realized that her martial art skill was too far below the opponent’s. She sat on the ground and broke into crying and swearing. But she did not dare to curse Madame Hong; she merely repeated over and over, “Little b@stard! Dead eunuch! Little animal! Stinky Xiao Guizi!”

Wei Xiaobao stroke his hurting ear, and felt blood on his hand. Turned out the Princess had pulled his ear too hard that she tore a long cut on it.

Madame Hong said in a low voice, “He and I were always husband and wife, is it alright if I bury him?” Her voice was gentle, as if she was pleading that Wei Xiaobao would allow her to do so.

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised; he hastily said, “Of course it’s alright, we should bury him.” Picking up the judge pen from the ground, he and Madame Hong started to dig a hole on the beach. Fang Yi and Mu Jianping came along to help. Together they put Cult Leader Hong’s body into the hole and bury him.

Madame Hong kneeled down and kowtowed several times; she quietly said, “Although you forced me to marry you, but … but after we got married, you have always treated me well. I have never had any feeling toward you. Now that you are dead, you might as well know about it, you don’t need to take it to heart.” Finished speaking, she stood up, and could not stop the tears from streaming down her face.

She stood in a daze for a moment, and then she wiped her tears and asked Wei Xiaobao, “Are we going to stay here, or go back to the Central Plains?”

Wei Xiaobao scratched his head, “We definitely cannot stay here,” he said, “Hong Jiaozhu, Mr. Lu and the others’ ghosts will definitely demand our lives; it’s desperately serious. But if we return to the Central Plains, the young Emperor wants my head. It would be best if … if we can find a peace and quiet place where we can hide.” Suddenly he remembered a place. “I got it,” he said happily, “Let us go to the Tong Chi Island. There’s no ghost there, and the young Emperor won’t be able to find me.”

“Tong Chi Island?” Madame Hong asked, “Where is it?”

Wei Xiaobao pointed to the west and said with a laugh, “There’s a small island over there, I call it Tong Chi Island.” [reminder: tong chi means ‘eat ‘em all’ (gambling).]

Madame Hong nodded. “If you like to go there, let us all go,” she said. For some reason, she was very obedient to him [orig. ‘a thousand compliance a hundred obedience’].

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “Go, go!” he shouted, “Let us go together!” Going over to the Princess, he helped her up while saying with a laugh, “Let us go on board!”

The Princess waved her palm, Wei Xiaobao leaned sideways to dodge. The Princess angrily said, “You go to hell! I am not going with you!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There are lots and lots of ghosts on this island: headless ghosts, legless ghosts, and ghosts whose intestines were blasted by the cannon, and then multi-hand ghosts who love to stroke pregnant women’s belly …”

Hearing that, the Princess was extremely scared; she stomped her foot and said, “And then there’s chewing-maggot ghosts who love to speak nonsense.” Her left foot flew out, she kicked Wei Xiaobao’s buttocks heavily. “Ah!” Wei Xiaobao screamed and jumped away.

Madame Hong camly walked over. The Princess backed off several steps. Madame Hong said, “Later on if you hit Wei Gongzi one time, I will hit you ten times. If you kick him one time, I will kick you ten times. I have spoken, and my words always count.”

The Princess was so angry that her countenance turned deathly pale. She said angrily, “Who are you to him? Why do you protect him so? Your … your own husband is dead, you want to snatch someone else’s husband?”

Fang Yi interrupted, “Isn’t your own husband also dead?”

The Princess was furious. “Little s1ut,” she cursed, “Your husband is also dead.”

Madame Hong slowly said, “If you dare to speak one more rude sentence, I’ll leave you alone on this island and won’t let anybody accompany you.”

The Princess thought that this vixen was able to do whatever she was able to say; if she was left alone on the Island, and then a lot of ghosts with spilled intestine, ghosts with many hands came out, what should she do? All her life she lived as the Princess, she only needed to point her finger and people would jump to do her bidding; but this time she had no choice but to put aside her ‘golden branch, jade leave’ status and her harsh and unreasonable, rough temperament, and obediently stopped making noise.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he thought, “This little vicious gal met her match today; from now on someone is able to control her, so that she would not hit me whenever she is not in a good mood.” He raised his hand toward his ear, which was torn by her; it was throbbing with pain.

Madame Hong said to Fang Yi, “Miss Fang, please tell the boatmen to prepare to set sail.”

“Yes,” Fang Yi replied. She then added, “How could Madame be this polite to your subordinate? I really do not deserve it.”

Madame Hong smiled and said, “From this day onward we are sisters; there’s no more Madame and subordinate. You call me Quan Jiejie, I’ll call you Yi Meimei. The poison’s antidote, I’ll give it to you as soon as we get onboard. Henceforth you have nothing to worry about.” Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were exremely delighted.

They all went aboard, the boat sailed westward. Wei Xiaobao glanced to the left and right; he was very proud of himself. True to her word, Madame Hong took out the antidote and gave it to Fang Yi. She also opened the boat’s safe, took out Wei Xiaobao’s dagger, his ‘han sha she ying’ secret projectile, his banknotes, everything, and gave them back to him. Zeng Rou’s and the others’ weapons were also returned.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “How about from now on I also call you Quan Jiejie?”

“Very good!” Madame Hong happily replied, “Let’s tell each other our age, see who is older and who is younger.”

Everybody told their birth date, month and year. Naturally Madame Hong, Su Quan was the oldest. Fang Yi was next, and then the Princess. Zeng Rou, Mu Jianping and Wei Xiaobao were born on the same year. Zeng Rou was three months older than he, while Mu Jianping was a few days younger.

Su Quan, Fang Yi, and the others, four women called each other Jiejie and Meimei [older and younger sisters, respectively] affectionately. Only the Princess stood on the side, sulking. Su Qian said, “She is Her Highness the Princess, naturally she is unwilling to be sisters with us, common people. All of us should keep addressing her as Your Highness the Princess.”

The Princess coldly said, “I do not dare.” She thought about how they unite and form a clique, leaving her alone without any ally; she also thought about the dead eunuch Xiao Guizi, who had no conscience, who was apparently a lot closer to those four women than to her. Thinking about her sad fate, she could not help feeling broken hearted and broke into tears.

Wei Xiaobao leaned to her side, pulling her hand to comfort her, and said in a gentle voice, “Alright, alright; we are all happy here, please don’t cry …”

The Princess raised her palm, and slapped it hard, but suddenly she remembered Su Quan’s warning. This palm strike carried a lot of force, she was unable to hold it back. Without any other choice she changed direction midway, ‘slap!’ it heavily slapped her own chest. “Ah!” she screamed in pain.

Everybody else broke into loud laughter. The Princess was even more furious; she buried her face in Wei Xiaobao’s bosom and cried loudly. “Alright, alright,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “No need to fight. Let’s throw dice, I’ll be the banker.”

But after searching carefully inside the Cult Leader Hong’s safe, they still could not find Wei Xiaobao’s pair of dice. It must be that when Lu Gaoxuan was searching his body, he tossed the dice away carelessly. Wei Xiaobao was quite dejected. Su Quan laughed and said, “We can carve two dice from a piece of wood.”

“Wood is too light,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They are no fun to throw.”

Zeng Rou put her hand into her pocket, when she pulled it out, her hand was clenched into a fist. “Guess,” she said with a laugh, “What is it?”

“Is it copper coin?” Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s also good. Better than not gambling.”

Zeng Rou laughed and said, “Guess, how many?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Three?”

Zeng Rou opened up her palm; lying on her pink palm were unexpectedly two dice.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao cried loudly; he sprang up and asked repeatedly, “Where did you get it? Where did you get it?”

With a soft chuckle Zeng Rou put the dice on the table. Wei Xiaobao scrambled forward, grabbed the dice and started to throw; his excitement knew no bounds. He felt that there was a slight imbalance of weight on these two dice; obviously these dice were loaded with mercury. He thought Zeng Rou was always gentle and shy, how could she possibly play with these kind of loaded dice to cheat some money? Upon further reflection, he remembered, and was very happy. Turning around and gave her a hug, he kissed her face and said with a laugh, “Thank you very much, Rou Jiejie, luckily you always keep these two dice by your side.”

Zeng Rou blushed profusely; she struggled and ran outside to the deck. What happened was that when Wei Xiaobao and the Wang Wu Pai disciples threw dice with their lives at stake that day, after he let everybody go, just before leaving Wei Xiaobao’s command tent, Zeng Rou had asked for these two dice. Wei Xiaobao had already forgotten about this, but Zeng Rou had always kept the dice with her.

Now they had the dice, but not a single one of the women had any interest in gambling. Although they did play to keep him company, not only the stake was low, they did not care much about winning or losing either. After playing for no more than the time needed to eat a meal, everybody no longer had any interest in playing. Compared to the people in Yangzhou’s brothel or casino, or people in the Palace, or the people in military, who bet excessively and gamble ferociously, the difference was like night and day. Wei Xiaobao’s interest quickly waned. “No more playing, no more playing!” he blurted out, “You don’t know how to play.”

Thinking that from now on he was going to take refuge on the Tong Chi Island, although there would be five beauties to keep him company, but there would not be any money to gamble, not a play to listen to; his days would be very boring. Besides, even if there was ten million gold or silver, what’s the use? Gold and silver would just be like sand and stone; winning money would just like winning sand and stone. Moreover, the concern over whether Shuang’er was alive or was dead, and that Ah Ke’s whereabouts was unknown, was constantly in his mind; how could he cast away the thought about these two girls and simply forget about them?

The more he thought about it, the more depressed he was. “Let’s not going to Tong Chi Island,” he said.

“So, where do you want to go?” Su Quan asked.

Wei Xiaobao thought for a moment before replying, “Let’s go to Liaodong, to dig that great amount of buried treasure out.”

Su Quan said, “Won’t it be great if all of us just spend our days in peace and quiet on an uninhabited island? Even if we can dig the great treasure out, it will be quite useless.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Gold, silver, pearls and jewels by the thousands and tens of thousands, how can it be useless?”

Fang Yi said, “The Tatar Emperor must have sent out troops and horses everywhere to look for you, we’d better hide and lie low until the fuss dies down. After a year or two, this matter will settle down; if you still want to go to Liaodong, then all of us will go, it won’t be too late by then.”

Wei Xiaobao asked Zeng Rou and Mu Jianping, “What the two of you think?”

Mu Jianping said, “I think Shijie is right.”

Zeng Rou said, “If you are afraid of boredom, we’ll hide on the island for no more than several months.” Seeing unhappy expression on Wei Xiaobao’s face, she added, “Every day we will accompany you throwing dice and play, whoever lose will be punish by having his or her palm slapped; is it all right?”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Damn it, what’s so fun about slapping someone’s palm?” But looking at her tender and bashful face, her cute mannerism, he could not stop his heart from being swept away. “Alright, alright,” he said, “I will listen to you all.”

Fang Yi stood up and said with a smile, “I have constantly wronged you in the past, let me make some dishes and invite you to drink wine; just consider it my apology to you, is it all right?”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he busily said, “I really don’t dare to accept it.”

Fang Yi went to the stern to cook. Fang Yi’s culinary skill was indeed superb, she paid particular attention to the seasoning; although the boat did not have complete inventory of spices and seasoning, the people who ate it did not stop praising her.

“Let’s play finger-guessing game,” Wei Xiaobao shouted.

Mu Jianping, Zeng Rou and the Princess had never played finger-guessing game before. Wei Xiaobao taught them ‘two good brothers’, ‘the brightest and best of the Five Classics’, ‘four seasons safe and sound’ guesses. At first the Princess was sullen and unhappy, but after guessing several fists, and drank several cups of wine, she started to talk and laugh more.

After spending a night on the boat, the next afternoon they arrived at the Tong Chi Island. They saw the remains of the camp of Qing navy built there, the thatched cottage used as the command tent in those days was still standing, but naturally the impressive air Wei Xiaobao set up as the great general was long gone. Yet Wei Xiaobao did not seem to mind at all; pulling Fang Yi’s hand along he laughed and said, “Yi Jiejie, that day it was right here that you tricked me into getting on the boat, and narrowly lose my little life, and was sent away to Luocha Country.”

Fang Yi giggled tenderly and said, “I have already apologized to you; are you saying that I should kowtow and apologize to you?”

“No need to do that,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But good intention has its own good reward; I suffered untold hardships, in the end I can really be with you today.”

From behind them Mu Jianping called out, “What are you two talking about? Can you share it with us?”

Fang Yi laughed and said, “He said he wants to catch you, and carve a little turtle on your face.”

Su Quan said, “Let’s not fool around and play yet, it’s more important that we deal with serious matters first.” Right away she ordered the boatmen to take all the provision and utensils from the boat and brought it to the island; she also ordered them to dismantle the sail, poles for punting boats, oars, ropes, the wooden rudder at the back of the boat, and brought everything to the island, and keep them inside a cave on an overhanging cliff.

Wei Xiaobao praised her, “Quan Jiejie is really careful, we must look at these things, this boat must be torn apart, so we need not worry that they will escape.”

He had not finished speaking when from a distance they heard a ‘bang!’ from the direction of the sea, it sounded like a cannon. The six of them were surprised; they all look to the ocean, and saw that amidts the white fog that filled the surface of the ocean, there were two ships heading this way. And then they heard ‘bang, bang!’; obviously the ships opened fire two more times.

“Not good!” Wei Xiaobao called out, “The young Emperor sends people to catch me.”

Zeng Rou said, “Quickly get on the boat and run away.”

Su Quan said, “The sail and the rudder are all ashore, there’s no time to assemble them; we’ll have to hide and act according to circumstances.”

Out of these six people, other than the Princess, the remaining five had experienced many hardships and perils, hence they did not panic at all. Su Quan said, “No matter how we hide, in the end the officers and men will find us. Let us hide inside the cave on that cliff over there; the officers and men could only attack up the cliff one by one. One comes, we kill one. This way we will not be swarmed by them.”

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This is called ‘a man is shut off, catching a turtle in a jar’.”

Su Quan smiled. “That’s right!” she said. But the Princess could not help bursting into loud laughter.

Wei Xiaobao glowered at her. “What’s so funny?” he asked.

The Princess pursed her lips. “Nothing,” she said with a laugh, “You used your idiom really well, I am full of admiration.”

To some degree Wei Xiaobao knew his own limitation, he presumed that he must have used the idiom incorrectly, hence he glowered at the Princess.

The six of them entered the cave. Su Quan brandished a saber to cut some branches and piled them up in front of the cave as a cover. They looked out from the gaps between the branches, and saw that the two boats, one in front the other behind it, sailed straight toward the Tong Chi Island. The ship on the back continuously fired its cannon, the shells landed on the water all around the ship on the front, columns of water rose up to the sky.

“The boat on the back opens fire to attack the boat at the front,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Exactly,” Su Quan said, “Turns out the two boats are fighting each other.”

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “In that case perhaps those two boats are not here to look for us.”

“I hope so,” Su Quan said, “It’s just that when they arrive on the Island, they will see the boatmen. As soon as they ask, they will know, and then they will definitely search for us. Even if we rush to kill the boatmen first, there’s not enough time to bury their bodies.”

“How come the ship in the front did not fire back?” Wei Xiaobao wondered, “Totally useless. It would be best if you fire me once, I fire you once, everybody is hit, both ships go down to the bottom of the ocean together.”

The boat at the front was comparatively smaller, the sail absorbed the entire force of the wind, it sailed really fast. Suddenly with a cannon blast the mast broke, the sailcloth caught fire. Wei Xiaobao and the others could not help crying out in alarm. The boat in the front immediately leaned to one side, the hull turned horizontal. The boat lowered a small skiff, about a dozen people got on the skiff and started rowing. By this time they were already near the Island, the boat on the back also gradually got near, but because the water was shallow, the bigger boat could not reach the shore. This boat also lowered some skiffs, five of them.

The front one skiff trying to escape, the rear five skiff were pursuing them. Shortly afterwards, the front skiff reached the beach, the dozen or so people jumped ashore, they looked around carefully. Someone leaped forward and cried out, “The overhanging cliff overthere can be defended, everybody go that way.”

Hearing the voice, Wei Xiaobao thought it sounded like his Shifu Chen Jinnan. The dozen or so people climbed along the hillside and rushed toward the cliff. When they were near, one of them, with a sword in his hand, stood at the edge of the cliff, giving orders; who would it be if not Chen Jinnan? Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, from the cave he leaped out and called, “Shifu, Shifu!”

Chen Jinnan turned around and saw Wei Xiaobao; he was also pleasantly surprised. “Xiaobao,” he called out, “How can you be here?”

Wei Xiaobao rushed toward him like flying. Suddenly he stopped dead on his track, because he saw that among the dozen or so people there was a young woman with bright eyes and snow white skin; unexpectedly it was Ah Ke. “Ah Ke!” he called at the top of his lungs, and scrambled over. But then he saw someone standing behind her; unsurprisingly, it was Zheng Keshuang. Since he saw Ah Ke, it was only natural that he would also see Zheng Keshuang; it was only to be expected. But he was greatly delighted, and then suddenly he saw this loathsome fellow, his heart sank instantly; he only stared blankly while his feet were rooted on the spot.

From the side someone called out, “Xianggong!”

Another person called out, “Wei Xiangzhu!”

Wei Xiaobao acknowledge the call without thinking, he did not even cast any glance from the corner of his eyes toward these two people, he was only staring blankly at Ah Ke. Suddenly a soft small hand reached out to grab his left palm. Wei Xiaobao’s body shook; he turned his head around to look, and saw a pretty face full of smile was looking at him, with tears continuously streaming down her face. It was Shuang’er.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he pulled her into his embrace. “Good Shuang’er,” he called out, “I miss you like crazy.” He was so happy that he felt his heart was about to explode. In that instant, even Ah Ke was pushed to the back of his mind.

“Feng Dage, Feng Xiongdi,” Chen Jinnan called out, “Let us guard this pathway.” The two men complied in chorus, each one pulled his weapon and stood side by side on the narrow path leading to the cliff. Turned out one was Feng Xifan, the other was Feng Jizhong [Note: different ‘feng’ characters].

Suddenly seeing these many people, Wei Xiaobao could only asked, “How did you all get here?”

Shuang’er replied, “Feng Daye [term of respect for older men] took me to look for you, we came across Chen Zongduozhu, and we heard that you went into sea, thereupon … thereupon …” Speaking to this point, she was overwhelmed with joy that her throat choked and she was unable to continue.

By this time the pursuing troops from the five skiffs had also arrived on the beach. Looking down from the cliff, they saw that the troops were Qing soldiers, altogether there were seventy or eighty men. The one in front was holding a long saber, his stature was tall and sturdy, but it was too far, they could not see his facial features too clearly. That man directed the Qing troops to form groups. One group of men stood far away, the general barked his order, the troops took long bows from their backs, and some feathered arrows from their quivers; they strung the arrows on the bow, aiming the arrowhead to the cliff.

Chen Jinnan called out, “Everybody duck down!”

Actually, caught in this kind of situation, Wei Xiaobao did not need his Shifu’s order; as soon as he saw the Qing troops with bows in their hands, he had already stationed himself behind a large rock. He heard the general shouted, “Release the arrows!” Immediately there was an unending sound of swishing arrows.

The cliff was very high, shot from the bottom going up, by the time the arrows arrived, they already lost their momentum. Feng Xifan and Feng Jizhong, one with a sword, the other with a single-blade saber, braved the arrows and broke every single one of them.

“Shi Lang,” Feng Xifan called out, “You are a shameless traitor; if you have guts, come up here, let you and laozi have a man-to-man duel to the death.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out the one leading the troops down there is Shi Lang. Marching to war, this man is indeed an expert.”

He heard Shi Lang called back, “If you have guts, come down. One-to-one duel, Laozi is not afraid of you.”

“Alright!” Feng Xifan replied.

He was about to come down, Chen Jinnan said, “Feng Dage, don’t fall into his trick, this man is contemptible and shameless, he is capable of doing anything.”

Feng Xifan was only taking one step before he stopped. He called out, “You said one-to-one duel, why did you send five skiffs … damn it, six skiffs, even our skiff is also stolen. Stinky traitor, you sent the skiffs to get more people, isn’t that relying on number to gain victory?”

Shi Lang laughed and said, “Chen Junshi [lit. army master, military strategist], Captain Feng, the two of you have superb martial art skill, Ol’ Shi has always been full of admiration. There is a common saying, ‘a wise man submits to circumstances’. It would be better for you to take Zheng Gongzi down and surrender together, His Majesty will definitely bestow the two of you very high ranking official position.”

In the past Shi Lang was a great general under Zheng Chenggong’s [Koxinga] command; together with Zhou Quanbin, Gan Hui, Ma Xin, and Liu Guoxuan, four people, they were known as ‘Five Tiger Generals’[2]. Chen Jinnan was a military strategist; although Feng Xifan was strong in martial art, his commanding and planning skill was not too good, hence he was made the captain of Zheng Chenggong’s bodyguards. Shi Lang had fought alongside Chen and Feng, two people, in bloody battle, they had shared trials and tribulations for a long time. This time he still addressed the two people as their former military rank.

From the cliff down the distance was about seven or eight zhang, Shi Lang was standing far away, but his internal energy was abundant, every word he said could be heard clearly. Zheng Keshuang’s countenance changed; he said with a trembling voice, “Feng Shifu, you … you must not surrender.”

“Gongzi, don’t worry,” Feng Xifan replied, “As long as Ol’ Feng still has one breath left, I will never surrender to the Tatars.”

Although Chen Jinnan knew that Feng Xifan was treacherous and devious, that twice or three times he had attempted to harm him, he wanted to protect Zheng Keshuang in his conspiracy to gain the Yan Ping Jun Wang Heir Apparent position; yet as he heard him speaking with ‘devotion to righteousness that inspires reverence’, Chen Jinnan was quite impressed. “Feng Dage,” he said, “Today side-by-side you and I will fight to death; whatever happens we will protect Er Gongzi [second young master] through and through.”

“I will follow Junshi,” Feng Xifan said.

Zheng Keshuang said, “By protecting me, Junshi will render merit; when we get back to Taiwan, I will definitely present a memorial to let Fu Wang [father king] understand clearly, he will definitely bestow great … great reward.”

Chen Jinnan said, “It is subordinate’s responsibility.” While saying that, he walked toward the shore to evaluate the situation.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Zheng Gongzi, great reward is not needed. As long as you don’t become hostile and heartless by harming my Shifu, we will greatly appreciate it.”

Zheng Keshuang shot him a malicious look. Wei Xiaobao lowered his voice, “Shijie, we’d better capture Zheng Gongzi and present him to the Qing troops.”

Ah Ke spat and said, “As soon as we met, you did not say anything good. Why did you scare him?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Scaring him several times is fun, he won’t die of fright anyway. Even if he is scared to death, it’s not a big deal.”

“Pei!” Ah Ke spat again; suddenly she blushed and lowered her head.

Wei Xiaobao asked Shuang’er, “How did all of you get together?”

Shuang’er said, “Chen Zongduozhu took Feng Daye and me to go out to sea to look for you. I remembered you have been to this Tong Chi Island, so I told Chen Zongduozhu about it and we went this way to take a look. Along the way we happened to see the Qing troops pursuing Zheng Gongzi’s boat, shooting and sinking it. So we rescued him and we fled this way. Thank heaven and thank the earth, at last we found you.” Speaking to this point, her eyes turned red.

Wei Xiaobao reached out to pat her shoulder. “Good Shuang’er,” he said, “These days, there was not a single day passed in which I did not think about you.” It was not an empty talk; every day he thought about Ah Ke and Shuang’er, two women, if not ten times, then at least eight time. As a matter of fact, he was concerned over Shuang’er’s safety more than he thought about Ah Ke.

“Brothers,” Chen Jinnan shouted, “While Tatar’s reinforcement has not arrived, we go down to charge and kill the enemy. Otherwise, if six skiff-loads of Tatar soldiers arrive, it won’t be easy to deal with.” Everybody voiced their agreement.

This time, from among the dozen or so people who came to the Island, other than Chen, Feng, Zheng, Feng, as well as Ah Ke and Shuang’er, there were eight Tian Di Hui brothers, and three of Zheng Keshuang’s personal bodyguards.

Chen Jinnan said, “Zheng Gongzi, Miss Chen, Xiaobao, Shuang’er, the four of you stay here. The rest of you, come with me!” Brandishing his sword, he was the first to rush down the cliff.

Feng Xifan, Feng Jizhong, and the eleven men followed, with loud battle cry they rushed down hill, charging swiftly toward the Qing troops. The Qing troops released the arrows in succession, all were knocked down by Chen, Feng and Feng, three men. Previously they were fighting a naval battle, Shi Lang’s boat was a battleship, its cannon was formidable, Chen Jinnan and the others could only take a beating. Presently they were in a close combat, among the Qing troops, other than Shi Lang, one person, the other men’s martial art skill was mediocre; how could they fight martial art experts like Chen, Feng, and Feng, three men? Tian Di Hui brothers and Zheng Mansion’s bodyguards were also quite skillful; as soon as these fourteen men charged into the formation, the Qing troops were completely routed.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shijie, Shuang’er, let us also charge a bit.” Ah Ke and Shuang’er complied together.

“I am going too!” Zheng Keshuang said.

He saw Wei Xiaobao with a dagger in his hand charged down the cliff, Shuang’er and Ah Ke ran one after another behind him. Zheng Keshuang was only rushing down several steps before he halted his steps; thinking, “I have a thousand-gold body, how can I go to face danger together with these underlings?” He called out, “Ah Ke, you should not go either!” Ah Ke did not respond, she followed close behind Wei Xiaobao.

Although Wei Xiaobao’s martial art skill was so-so, he had four treasures with him; charging into the enemy ranks, it was like crossing a ravine like a flat ground. Which four treasures? The first treasure: his dagger was extremely sharp, the enemy’s weapons broke upon contact; the second treasure: his protective treasured vest, impervious to sword or spear; the third treasure: his exquisite escaping-skill, no enemy could catch up with him; the fourth treasure: Shuang’er always stayed by his side, the Qing troops could not get close to him.

Based on these four treasures, if he had to fight a martial art master, he would not be able to avoid defeat; however, dealing with the Qing troops, the four treasures were more than enough. In a flash he already injured several men; his impressive power was in full display, aura of death emanating from his body. He thought, “In the past Zhao Zilong charged seven times through the ranks of Cao Cao’s army, I am sure it was no more than this. Perhaps even I, Wei Xiaobao …”

They all charged and kill the enemy, the Qing troops fled to all directions. Chen Jinnan fought Shi Lang one on one, for a short white they were locked in a fierce combat. Feng Xifan and Feng Jizhong killed the Qing troops left and right like chopping melon slicing vegetables; in less than a time to eat a meal, out of eighty some Qing troops, fifty or sixty men were either dead or injured. The ruined army, defeated generals scrambled to the sea. These navy sailors were very adept in swimming, they hurriedly swam toward the big boat. On the other side two of Tian Di Hui brothers were dead, one was seriously injured. The rest of them surrounded Shi Lang.

Shi Lang’s steel saber fluttered and flew, it clashed intensely with the sword in Chen Jinnan’s hand. Although trapped and heavily surrounded, he did not show the least bit of fear. Wei Xiaobao called out, “General Shi, if you don’t toss your saber away and surrender, very soon you will become dog meat paste.” Shi Lang’s mind was focused on the fight, he neither saw nor hear the words and actions of the bystanders.

The fierce combat continued. Chen Jinnan let out a long whistle, and thrust his sword forward three times in rapid succession. On the third strike his sword stuck to Shi Lang’s steel saber. Chen Jinnan flicked his wrist, and made two circles. “Ah!” Shi lang cried out, the steel saber flew out of his hand. The tip of Chen Jinnan’s sword flashed and stopped at his throat. “What do you have to say?” he shouted.

“You have won,” Shi Lang angrily retorted, “Just kill me and be done with it. What else do you want me to say?”

Chen Jinnan said, “This moment do you still think yourself as a hero? You turned your back against your master and betrayed your friends, is that the conduct of a hero?”

Shi Lang suddenly threw himself back and rolled on the ground. With this roll he broke away from the tip of the sword on his throat. With both legs he executed chain-kicks, his target was Chen Jinnan’s calf. Chen Jinnan pointed his sword in front of his legs. If Shi Lang continued to kick, he would only send his own legs to be impaled by the sword. In desperation he pressed his left hand to the ground to support himself, while with both legs he forcefully feigned a kick upward, and then quickly somersaulted backward. But as soon as he stood on his feet, the tip of Chen Jinnan’s sword was already waiting in front of his throat again.

Shi Lang’s heart turned cold; he knew in term of martial art he was not Chen Jinnan’s match. “Junshi,” he suddenly asked, “How did Guoxing Ye [Koxinga] treat me?”

This question caught Chen Jinnan totally off-guard. In that instant, the entanglement of gratitude and grudges between Zheng Chenggong and Shi Lang flashed through Chen Jinnan’s mind. He sighed and said, “To be fair with you, Guoxing Ye did indeed wrong you. But we have received Guoxing Ye’s great kindness; although we received unjust treatment, what can we do?”

Shi Lang said, “Are you saying that I should immitate Yue Fei, suffer false accusations and die?”

Chen Jinnan said in stern voice, “Even if you cannot be Yue Fei, you must not be Qin Hui[3]. You ran away for your life, that was all right. But how can a real man surrender to the Tatars and become a traitor that is worse than a dog or a pig?”

Shi Lang said, “My father and mother, my brothers, wife and children, what crime have they committed? Why did Guoxing Ye kill them all that not a single one survive? He murdered my entire family, I want to kill his entire family to revenge!”

Chen Jinnan said, “Revenge is a small matter, becoming a traitor is a big thing. Today I am going to kill you. I want to know if you will have the face to see Guoxing Ye.”

Shi Lang straightened up his head and loudly said, “Go ahead and kill me. I am afraid it will be Guoxing Ye who won’t have the face to see me, not I don’t have the face to see him.”

Chen Jinnan sternly said, “Up to this point you still argue forcefully.” He was going to thrust the sword into his throat, but could not help thinking about how in the olden days Shi Lang and he had marched to battle together, how they had gone through life and death together. Under Guoxing Ye, Shi Lang started as a lowly soldier; he rose through blood soaked and hard-fought battle, his meritorious service was indeed not small. If not for Madame Dong meddling with military affairs and actively insulting the generals, today this man would be the protective wall of Taiwan. Although going over to the enemy was a treason that could not be forgiven no matter what, his whole innocent family was killed, in all honesty this man deserved sympathy.

“I’ll give you a path to life,” Chen Jinnan said, “If you swear an oath to denounce your surrender and return to serve Zheng Wangye, today I will spare your life. From now on you can atone for your crimes by meritorious acts, striving your hardest to resume the great undertaking, and then you can still be considered as a magnificent real man. Shi Xiongdi, I encourage you with good words, hoping you would turn around.” The last few words were spoken with utmost sincerity.

Shi Lang lowered his head, his face bore an ashamed look; he said, “If I return to Taiwan, won’t I be a capricious lowly man?”

Chen Jinnan put his sword back into its sheathe; he stepped forward to grip Shi Lang’s hand and said, “Shi Xiongdi, as decent human beings we must pay particular attention to righteousness and moral integrity. As long as henceforth you serve your country with red-bellied devotion, your muddled past, who would dare to laugh at you? Even Guan Wangye in the past also surrendered to Cao Cao.”

Suddenly a voice behind him said, “This evil thief said that my Yeye [paternal grandfather] killed his entire family. My Taiwan definitely won’t pardon him. You quickly kill him.”

Chen Jinnan turned his head around and saw that the voice belonged to Zheng Keshuang. “Er Gongzi,” he said, “General Shi is well versed in the art of war; in those days he had no equal in Guoxing Ye’s army. If he surrenders back, he will bring very great benefit to our great cause of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. We must attach most importance to our country; none of us should take personal gratitude and grudges of the past to heart.”

“Humph,” with a cold laugh Zheng Keshuang said, “If this man returned to Taiwan and got a grip of military power, do you think our Zheng Family will survive?”

Chen Jinnan said, “As long as General Shi swears a heavy oath, I am willing to guarantee with my own life, as well as my family’s, that he will not have a change of heart.”

With a cold laugh Zheng Keshuang said, “By the time he killed my entire family, do you think you and your family’s lives can compensate for ours? Taiwan belongs to our Zheng Family, not yours, Chen Junshi’s, Chen Family’s.”

Chen Jinnan was so angry that his hands and feet turned ice-cold. He struggled hard to contain his anger. He was about to reply when suddenly Shi Lang moved his feet and dashed away. “Junshi,” he called out, “Your yi qi to me is profound, Xiongdi will never forget it. Xiongdi is unwilling to be Zheng Family’s slave …”

“Shi Xiongdi,” Chen Jinnan called out, “Come back. Let’s talk …” Suddenly he felt sharp pain on his back, a blade entered his back and went all the way until its tip came out of his chest.

It was actually Zheng Keshuang who carried out his evil scheme behind Chen Jinnan’s back. Based on Chen Jinnan’s martial art skill, even ten Zheng Keshuang would not be able to kill him; however, he saw that Shi Lang was contemplating the idea of surrendering, but Zheng Keshuang cursed him that he left, Chen Jinnan knew that this person was a rare talent, he was hoping to pull him back, and had never expected that Zheng Keshuang, who was standing behind him, would unexpectedly carry out his evil scheme.

After Zheng Chenggong captured Taiwan, he sent his son Zheng Jing to defend Jinmen, Xiamen[4]. Zheng Jing was very adept in military matters, but his conduct was not careful, he slept with a wet nurse and gave birth to a son. When Zheng Chenggong found out about it, he was exceptionally furious; he wanted to send someone with his arrow banner of command to go to Xiamen to kill Zheng Jing. The various generals under his command thought that it was a reckless order, hence they were unwilling to receive the order, together they submit a report, saying that the day to pay a debt of gratitude would come, they must wait indefinitely, and so on.

Seeing his generals refused to follow his order, Zheng Chenggong was even more furious; not long afterwards he fell ill and died at the age of 39. Taiwan’s high-ranking military officers threw their full support to Zheng Chenggong’s younger brother Zheng Xi and made him their master. From Jinmen and Xiamen Zheng Jing returned to Taiwan and defeated the Taiwan’s defenders, hence he inherited the title Yan Ping Wang.

Zheng Chenggong’s wife, Madame Dong saw that disaster had struck and that there would be changes in the family, their Wangye had died an untimely death, it was all because of the wet nurse giving birth to a son; for this reason she detested the wet nurse’s son, Zheng Kesang, and did everything in her power to support her grandson from Zheng Jing’s first wife, Zheng Keshuang to be the heir apparent. Zheng Jing, however, refused to obey his mother.

Chen Jinnan had always been loyal and devoted to Zheng Jing. He gave his daughter to Zheng Kesang as his wife. Madame Dong and Feng Xifan conspired in secret; they knew that if they wanted to support Zheng Keshuang, they must kill Chen Jinnan first so that he would not be a stumbling block to their plan. Several times did they try to harm him, but each time he managed to escape. Unexpectedly this time he rescued Zheng Keshuang’s life, but had fallen into this person’s evil scheme instead.

The stab from behind happened so suddenly, nobody had ever expected it. Feng Xifan was about to run after Shi Lang when he saw that Wei Xiaobao was thrusting his dagger toward Zheng Keshuang. Feng Xifan raised his sword to block. ‘Swish!’ the sword in his hand broke into two sections; but the internal energy behind the sword thrust was profound, Wei Xiaobao’s dagger was also jolted and flew from his hand. Feng Xifan’s leg followed, he kicked Wei Xiaobao and sent him tumbling down on the ground. He was about to pursue and attack, Shuang’er rushed in front of Wei Xiaobao to block. Feng Jizhong and two Tian Di Hui brothers also rushed forward to attack Feng Xifan from left and right.

Wei Xiaobao crawled up, picked up his dagger and howled in grief, “This vile creature killed Zongduozhu, everybody must fight him to the death!” while charging toward Zheng Keshuang.

Zheng Keshuang leaned sideways to evade, while thrusting his sword straight toward the back of Wei Xiaobao’s head. His martial art skill was far superior to Wei Xiaobao’s, this sword move was quite ingenious, it was obvious that Wei Xiaobao would have difficult time evading it. Suddenly a saber from the side parried the sword thrust; it was Ah Ke. She called out, “Don’t harm my Shidi!” And then two Tian Di Hui brothers launched a converging attack toward Zheng Keshuang.

Feng Xifan strenuously fought Feng Jizhong, Shuang’er and two Tian Di Hui brothers, four people, he was unable to gain the upper hand. ‘Slap!’ he sent out a palm strike toward a Tian Di Hui brother, who spurted out a mouthful of blood and fell dead. Suddenly he heard Zheng Keshuang’s ‘Wah, wah!’ loud cry; Feng Xifan abandoned his opponents and rushed toward Zheng Keshuang. With another palm strike he killed another Tian Di Hui brother.

He knew that now that Chen Jinnan was dead, these people would follow Wei Xiaobao’s command, hence he must deal with the little demon first. Stretching out his hand, his palm shot down onto the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head.

“Xianggong, run!” Shuang’er called out, while leaping toward Feng Xifan’s back.

“You must be careful too!” Wei Xiaobao called back and ran away.

Feng Xifan thought, “If I run after this little demon, Gongzi will have nobody to protect him.” Reaching out with his left arm, he grabbed Zheng Keshuang and ran after Wei Xiaobao. Although he was carrying a grown man, he was still a bit faster than Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao turned his head around to look and jumped in fright. He reached out to press the ‘Han Sha She Ying’ mechanism, but because of this, his footsteps was somewhat delayed, Feng Xifan came very fast, his right palm already arrived. It was a ‘thousand pounds hang by a threat’ situation, if Wei Xiaobao waited to release the secret projectile, most likely his brain would be busted by Feng Xifan’s palm. Without any choice he leaned sideways to evade, and then using the ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ he ran away. Carried by his own momentum Feng Xifan ran several more steps before hastily halted his steps and turned around to chase him. Wei Xiaobao called out, “My Shifu’s ghost is coming! He is touching your head!” Because he spoke, his feet slowed down, Feng Xifan was one step closer.

Behind, Shuang’er and Feng Jizhong also urgently gave chase; they were hoping they could cut Feng Xifan off. Wei Xiaobao fled to the east and rushed to the west in erratic pattern, while Feng Xifan was carrying Zheng Keshuang, hence his movement was not as nimble, for the time being he was unable to catch him. Shuang’er and Feng Jizhong were still several zhang behind.

After running around for a while, Wei Xiaobao gradually felt he was out of breath. In a moment of desperation, he forced himself to run toward the cliff. Feng Xifan was greatly delighted, thinking that this time you are running to a dead-end yourself. He saw that other than a narrow pathway, all around the cliff was empty space, there was no way out; hence he relaxed his speed instead.

Running along the narrow mountain path, Wei Xiaobao did not use the ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ skill. He had just set his foot on the top of the cliff, Feng Xifan had also arrived. Wei Xiaobao shouted at the top of his voice, “First wife, middle wife, young wife, everybody quickly come out and help me, if you are not coming out, everybody will become widows.”

Actually, while he was running to the cliff, the five women on the cliff had already seen him. Su Quan saw Feng Xifan was carrying someone in his left arm, yet he was still able to run and leap like flying; indeed his martial art skill was very strong, perhaps just a notch inferior to Cult Leader Hong. Early on she already had a blade in her hand as she crouched by the side of the cliff. As soon as Feng Xifan caught up, ‘Shua!’ her saber swiftly sliced across his waist.

When Feng Xifan heard Wei Xiaobao shouting and calling earlier, he still thought that Wei Xiaobao was making a fuss to disturb his attention, he had never expected that someone was really hiding in this place. He saw this saber move was exquisite and unusual, it was indeed a superb move; he was slightly startled and took a step back. With a loud shout his left foot slightly swayed, his right foot suddenly flew out and kicked Su Quan’s wrist.

“Ah!” Su Quan cried out, the willow-leaf saber left her hand and flew to the air. Wei Xiaobao seized this split-second opportunity to turn his body to face Feng Xifan, his right hand activate the ‘Han Sha She Ying’ mechanism, with a series of ‘chi, chi, chi’ noise a cluster of fine, thin steel needles shot out, all landed on Feng Xifan and Zheng Keshuang’s bodies.

Feng Xifan screamed loudly, his grip loosened, Zheng Keshuang fell to the ground. The two of them rolled from the cliff along the narrow path down the mountain. Shuang’er and Feng Jizhong were rushing halfway up the mountain, seeing these two people rolling down fast, they leaped sideways to avoid collision.

Zheng and Feng, two people rolled down to the foot of the cliff. As soon as the poison on the needles flared out, the two of them screamed and squealed like a pig being slaughtered, while still rolling down continuously. Fortunately after He Tishou entered Huashan Pai, she obeyed her master’s instruction; henceforth she discarded any sinister and acute poison she had been using. The poison on these ‘Han Sha She Ying’ steel needles only had anesthetic effect, not life threatening poison at all. Otherwise, based on her status as the Cult Leader of the Five-Poison Cult, the poison on her concealed weapons would immediately seal the throat upon contact with blood, the person hit would immediately die a violent death; before Feng and Zheng, two people reached the foot of the cliff, they would have taken their last breath. Even so, as the steel needles hit their bodies, they still felt unbearably numb and itchy; it was as if several hundred scorpions and centipedes were crawling and biting all over their bodies at once. Although Feng Xifan was strong and healthy, he still could not bear not to scream unceasingly.

Wei Xiaobao, Shuang’er, Feng Jizhong, Su Quan, Fang Yi, Mu Jianping, the Princess, Zeng Rou, Ah Ke rushed over one after another; seeing Feng and Zheng, two people’s condition, they were all aghast. Wei Xiaobao calmed himself down a little, and then still panting for breath, he rushed toward Chen Jinnan. He saw that Zheng Keshuang’s sword bored through Chen Jinnan’s chest; it was still stuck on his body, but he had not breathed his last. Wei Xiaobao could not help bursting into tears as he picked up Chen Jinnan’s body.

Chen Jinnan’s power was very profound, his internal breathing had not yet dispersed. “Xiaobao,” he said in a low voice, “Everybody will eventually die. I … I have lived my entire life for my country, for my people, I have a clear conscience against the heaven and the earth. You … you … you don’t have to be grieved.”

“Shifu, Shifu!” Wei Xiaobao could only cry out. Actually, the days he spent with Chen Jinnan were very few; each time they met he was always afraid Shifu would check the progress of his martial art training, and thus he was always anxious and was always thinking about how to fob his master and offer lame excuses to cover up his unwillingness to make progress; but at least he was very grateful for his Shifu’s kind intention.

This moment as he saw that Shifu was about to die, all the unspoken teachings Shifu usually taught him, the way Shifu treated him with the kindness and love of a father, choked his heart, making him wishing that he could die in place of Shifu. “Shifu,” he said, “I really was not being good to you; you … you taught me martial art, I … I did not learn it at all.”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “As long as you are being a good person, Shifu is very happy. Whether you learn martial art or not, that … that is not important at all.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I will definitely listen to you, I will be a good person, not … not a bad person.”

Chen Jinnan smiled, “Good child,” he said, “You have always been good.”

Gnashing his teeth, Wei Xiaobao said, “That evil thief Zheng Keshuang harmed you, (boo hoo, boo hoo), Shifu, if I can get hold of him, I will definitely chop him into mincemeat to avenge you, (boo hoo, boo hoo …)” He wailed and talked at the same time, with tears raining down his face.

Chen Jinnan’s body shook. “No, no!” he hastily said, “I am Zheng Wangye’s subordinate. Guoxing Ye’s kindness to me was as heavy as the mountain. No matter what we must not murder Guoxing Ye’s flesh and blood … I would rather him being ruthless, but I must not be faithless. Xiaobao, I am going to die, you must not damage my loyal and righteous reputation. You … you must by all means listen to me …” His face was originally smiling, but right now he looked extremely anxious. “Xiaobao,” he continued, “Promise me, you must let him return to Taiwan; otherwise, otherwise, I won’t die with closed eyes.”

Wei Xiaobao had no choice; he was obliged to say, “Since Shifu spares this evil thief, I will … I will obey your instruction.”

Immediately Chen Jinnan was relieved; he heaved a deep sigh and then said slowly, “Xiaobao, Tian Di Hui’s … great undertaking of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming, you must do it well. Our Han people work as one, in the end we will be able to restore our rivers and mountains; too bad … too bad I won’t … won’t live to see it …” his voice was getting lower and lower, finally he was unable to inhale, and thus he died.

Wei Xiaobao embraced his body and wailed, “Shifu, Shifu!” He cried himself hoarse, yet Chen Jinnan did not stir at all.

All along Su Quan and the others had been standing by his side. Seeing Chen Jinnan died and Wei Xiaobao was unable to control his grief, they were all grief-stricken as well. Su Quan gently stroked his shoulder and said tenderly, “Xiaobao, your Shifu has passed away.”

Sobbing, Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu is dead, he is dead!” He had never had any father, in the deepest part of his heart, he had always considered Shifu as his father to make up for his deficiency, only outwardly he did not realize it. Now that  Shifu was dead, the pain in his heart was like flood breaking down the dike; it was hard to suppress. He finally came to the realization that he was after all a wild child without any father.

Su Quan wanted to steer him away from his sorrow, “How are we going to deal with the murderer of your Shifu?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao sprang up and cursed, “Hot piece mama, little b@stard. My Shifu was your Zheng Family’s subordinate, but I, Wei Xiaobao, have never eaten even a mouthful of your Zheng Family’s rice, or spent a wen of your Zheng Family’s money. Your granny stinky thief, you still owe me ten thousand taels that you have not paid back. Shifu wanted me to spare your life, fine, I’ll spare your life. But I want you to pay me back the ten thousand taels right now. You still don’t want to pay it back? Then I’ll simply cut your body, one cut for each tael of silver.” While his mouth was hurling curses continously, he pulled his dagger and walked over toward Zheng Keshuang, whom he then kicked randomly.

The number of poisonous needles that hit Zheng Keshuang was comparatively less than those that hit Feng Xifan; by this time the pain was somewhat lessened. Hearing that Chen Jinnan wanted to spare his life, he was delighted beyond belief. But now that the debtor demanded payent, while he did not carry any money with him, he could only plead, “When I … I will return to Taiwan, I will definitely add ten times; no, I’ll add a hundred times to the principal.”

Wei Xiaobao kicked him on the head and cursed, “You have a heart of wolf and lungs of dog, a stinky thief who forget favors and violate justice; you speak like fart. You cannot avoid these ten thousand cuts.” Lifting up his dagger, he ran it over Zheng Keshuang’s face twice.

Zheng Keshuang was so scared that his soul flew to the outer sky; he cast a glance toward Ah Ke, hoping that she would say something to help him. But suddenly he remembered, “Not right, not right! The one this little thief loves the most is precisely Ah Ke, if right now she speak on my behalf, this little thief will hate me even more. It seems like these ten thousand cuts will be unavoidable.” He said, “One million taels of silver, I will definitely pay you back. Wei Xiangzhu, Wei Xianggong, if you don’t believe …”

Wei Xiaobao kicked him again, “Of course I don’t believe! My Shifu believed you, you killed him!” The grief and indignation in his heart was unbearable, he stretched out his dagger to stab Zheng Keshuang’s face.

Zheng Keshuang cried out, “If you don’t believe me, then I’ll have Ah Ke to vouch for me.”

“Vouching for you is useless,” Wei Xiaobao said, “She will vouch for you, later on you still won’t pay me back.”

Zheng Keshuang said, “I have a guarantee.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Leave you dog head as the guarantee; you pay me back one million taels, I will return your dog head to you.”

Zheng Keshuang said, “I’ll leave Ah Ke as the guarantee for you!”

In that instant Wei Xiaobao felt the sky spun the earth went around, his hand loosened, the dagger fell to the ground, ‘chi!’ it went deep into the mud, only a few cun away from Zheng Keshuang’s head. “Aiyo!” Zheng Keshuang cried out; hastily he pulled his head away and said, “I pawn Ah Ke to you, believe me, I will send one million taels to you, and then you can return Ah Ke to me.”

“It can be discussed,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Cannot, cannot!” Ah Ke cried out, “I am not yours, how can you pawn me?” Speaking to here, she broke into crying.

Zheng Keshuang anxiously said, “Right now I am facing imminent catastrophe, Ah Ke does not care about me at all, this woman is completely lacking any sense of justice, I don’t want her anymore. If Wei Xiangzhu agrees to take her, I will sell her to you for one million taels of silver. The two of us don’t owe the other anything; you don’t need to cut me ten thousand times anymore.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “In her heart she is always thinking about you, even if you sell her off to me it’s still useless.”

Zheng Keshuang said, “In her belly she already has your child, how could she think about me?”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised; his voice quivered, “You … what did you say?”

Zheng Keshuang said, “That day at the Lovely Spring Courtyard in Yangzhou, you and she shared the bed, she has a baby …”

Ah Ke cried out loudly; she suddenly jumped up and rushed to the ocean while covering her face. Shuang’er caught up with her in several steps and pulled her arm to take her back. Ah Ke cried and said, “You … you promised not to tell, why … why did you say that? You speak like releasing … releasing …” Although she was ashamed and angry, she still thought the word ‘fart’ was indecent, hence she could not say it out loud.

Seeing the indeterminate changes on Wei Xiaobao’s countenance, Zheng Keshuang was afraid he might change his mind; he hastily said, “Wei Xiangzhu, this child is definitely yours. Ah Ke and I keep our purity, she said that only after bowing to the Heaven and the Earth with me will we become husband and wife. You … you must not be suspicious.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This seems too good for Laozi, why didn’t you do it?”

Zheng Keshuang said, “Ever since she has your child inside her belly, she often thought about you; when she talked to me, she would mention you all day long. Listening to her I was bored to death, what do you want me to do with her?”

Ah Ke stomped her feet repeatedly, her face alternated between red and white; she said angrily, “You told him … you told him everything.” By saying that, she indirectly admitted that he was telling the truth.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “Alright!” he said, “In that case get your Ma’s stinky duck egg out of here!”

Zheng Keshuang was also greatly delighted. “Thank you very much, thank you very much!” he hastily said, “I wish the two of you a hundred years of harmony; the congratulatory gift, Xiongdi … Xiongdi will deliver later.” While saying that he slowly crawled up.

“Pei!” Wei Xiaobao spat a mouthful of saliva to the ground; he cursed, “In all my life I don’t want to see you, stinky thief, anymore.” He thought, “I promised Shifu I will spare his life today. Someday there’s no harm in me sending other people to kill him to avenge Shifu. As long as the one I send is not from Tian Di Hui, other people cannot blame it on Shifu.”

All along the three Zheng Mansion bodyguards had been standing far away to the side, it was not until they saw that Wei Xiaobao spared their master’s life that they came over to help Zheng Keshuang up, as well as Feng Xifan, who was lying on the ground. Zheng Keshuang looked up to the sea, he hesitated. Shi Lang’s battleship had already sailed far away. There were two more boats moored at the beach; his own boat was shot by the Qing troops’ cannon, the mast was broken and the sail destroyed, they could not sail on it. The other boat could be considered in good condition, but obviously it was the boat Wei Xiaobao and the others were going to use; they definitely would not let him use it.

“Feng Shifu,” he said in a low voice, “We don’t have any boat; what can we do?”

“Let’s get on the skiff first and talk later,” Feng Xifan replied. The group of people slowly walked toward the beach.

Suddenly from behind them someone shouted in stern voice, “Hold on! Wei Xiangzhu spared your lives, but I won’t spare it.”

Zheng Keshuang was shocked; he saw a man with steel saber in his hand rushed over. It was none other than Tian Di Hui’s martial art expert Feng Jizhong. Zheng Keshuang said in a trembling voice, “You … you are Tian Di Hui Xiongdi, Tian Di Hui has always been under Taiwan’s Yan Ping Mansion’s command, you … you …”

“I, I, what?” Feng Jizhong sternly said, “Stop right there!”

Zheng Keshuang was scared; he had no choice but to reply, “Yes.”

Feng Jizhong returned to Wei Xiaobao and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, this man murdered Zongduozhu, he is the archenemy with whom our tens of thousands Tian Di Hui Xiongdi cannot live under the same sky; we simply cannot spare him. Zongduozhu had received Guoxing Ye’s great kindness; hence he was unwilling to kill his offspring. Wei Xiangzhu has agreed to fulfill his last wish, hence you cannot do it. But subordinate has never seen Guoxing Ye; Zongduozhu’s last wish was not addressed to me either. Today subordinate wants to put this evil thief to the sword to avenge Zongduozhu.”

With his right hand’s open palm behind his ear Wei Xiaobao cocked his head sideways as if he was trying to hear, “What did you say?” he asked, “My ears are suddenly blocked, I can’t hear anything. Feng Dage, whatever it is that you want to do, you might as well do it, there’s no need to wait for my order. There’s something wrong with my ears. Ay, must be that fellow Shi Lang’s cannon has deafened me.” It could not be any clearer than that; if Feng Jizhong wanted to kill Zheng Keshuang, he could make his move immediately, Wei Xiaobao simply would not stop him.

Seeing the hesitation on Feng Jizhong’s face, Wei Xiaobao added, “When Shifu was at the death’s door, he only ordered me not to kill Zheng Keshuang; he did not say that I should protect him for the rest of my life. As long as I do not personally make the move, it’s none of my business. There are millions and millions of people under the heavens, each one could kill him, who would be able to control it?”

Feng Jizhong tugged Wei Xiaobao’s sleeve, “Wei Xiangzhu let’s go over there to talk.”

The two of them walked a dozen or so zhang away, Feng Jizhong halted his steps and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, His Majesty has always been very fond of you; is that right?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly taken aback. “That’s right,” he said, “So?”

Feng Jizhong said, “His Majesty wanted you to kill Zongduozhu, you are unwilling, hence you flee to this place; it goes to show that you take yi qi very seriously. The heroes and warriors of Jianghu, everybody is full of admiration.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and ruefully said, “But in the end Shifu is still dead.”

“Zongduozhu was killed by that fellow Zheng Keshuang,” Feng Jizhong said, “But the mission His Majesty assigned to Wei Xiangzhu can be considered accomplished …”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly astonished. “You … why did you say … say such thing?” he asked.

Feng Jizhong said, “In His Majesty’s heart, there are three people he is most afraid of. If these three are not eliminated, His Majesty’s dragon courtyard will never be stable. The first person is Wu Sangui; that goes without saying. The second person is precisely Zongduozhu; Tian Di Hui Xiongdi cover the whole world, the aspiration to fight the Qing and restore the Ming has never slacked off, giving His Majesty a lot of headache. Now that Zongduozhu is dead, one big load on His Majesty’s mind has been removed …”

Listening to this point, suddenly Wei Xiaobao felt as if a bright light had just flashed in his mind. “It’s you, it’s you. Turns out it is you!” he said.

[1] Imperial Consort, ‘gui fei’, I believe it refers to Yang Guifei; she and Xi Shi were two of the four legendary beauties of ancient China.

[2] From the dictionary: ‘Five Tiger Generals’ was an allusion to the Romance of the Three Kingdom’s five great generals under Liu Bei’s command, i.e. Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Ma Chao and Huang Zhong.

[3] Yue Fei (1103-1142), Song dynasty patriot and general. Qin Hui (1090-1155), Song dynasty official who betrayed Yue Fei.

[4] Jinmen – Kinmen or Quemoy Islands off Fujian coast; Xiamen or Amoy, sub provincial city in Fujian.

Chapter 45 Remaining bamboo piece used as a pole, can be used to check out the net of hearts in a deep pool.

 unthinkable that one of them could become a spy and sell out their friends. For this reason, although all along there was a very heavy suspicion in his heart, he did not have the least bit of clue; he only thought that this matter was very strange and was very difficult to solve.

This moment, as Feng Jizhong said those things, Wei Xiaobao suddenly realized, “I really deserve to die,” he thought, “Why have I never thought about this person? That day the young Emperor wanted me to bombard the Bojue [Earl] Mansion; all Tian Di Hui people were there, only he alone was not there. It should have been very clear to me, those who were in the Bojue Mansion could not be the spy; otherwise, when the cannon were fired, who would be able to escape with their live? Only because he had had the information in advance that he went away first. Ay, I am indeed a silly big melon; if he did not say anything, I would still be kept inside a drum.”

Feng Jizhong was a quiet and uncommunicative person, he appeared to be an extremely honest man; although his martial art skill was high, he always carried the mannerism of a ‘stupid head wooden brain’ country bumpkin. Occasionally when Wei Xiaobao was thinking about who the spy might be, he was always thinking about a person with ‘quick mouth and teeth’, perhaps an unscrupulous businessman like Qian Laoben; or perhaps someone who was light on his feet, shrewd and street-smart Xu Tianchuan; or perhaps a thorough, competent and experienced Gao Yanchao; or perhaps a hot-tempered, wine lover Priest Xuanzhen. Even the experienced and knowledgeable, outspoken and straightforward, honest and frank Fan Gang, as well as the aging Li Lishi, whose health had been deteriorating for the past few years, and sharp and cynical Qi Qingbiao, were all suspects in his mind. Only toward this did-not-look-like-a-spy Feng Jizhong he did not have the least bit of suspicion.

Suddenly he thought of something else, “That time Shuang’er was also not in the Bojue Mansion; could it be that she … she is also a spy, she is also going against me?” Thinking about this, he could not help but was heartbroken. But then he immediately understood, “Feng Jizhong must have intentionally taken Shuang’er out. He knew this girl is my lifeblood; if she was blasted to death, and later on this matter is exposed, I would have hated him for the rest of my life. He is no more than the spy sent by His Majesty to report some information in secret; as soon as Tian Di Hui is wiped out, His Majesty would not have any use of him. If in His Majesty’s presence I gave him some trouble, he would not be able to withstand it; hence he really did not dare to offend me.”

This thought was complicated and not easy to express succinctly, but in Wei Xiaobao’s mind it was a brain-wave that happened in a flash and he understood immediately. “Feng Dage,” he said, “Thank you for taking Shuang’er out of Bojue Mansion so that the cannon blast would not kill him.”

“Ah!” Feng Jizhong exclaimed; his countenance changed instantly, and he backed off two steps with his hand on the hilt of his saber. “You … you …” he said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You and I have a tacit mutual understanding; His Majesty has already told me everything since long ago.”

Feng Jizhong knew the Emperor doted on him very much, he must be telling the truth. “Why didn’t you obey the imperial edict then?” he asked. As soon as he asked that question, it was the same as if he openly admitted everything.

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “Feng Dage, why are you asking a question that you already know the answer? This is called ‘loyalty cannot satisfy both sides’. The way His Majesty treated me is without question really overflowing with imperial kindness; but Shifu’s treatment toward me was not bad either. Right now Shifu is already dead, what other apprehensions do I have left? It’s just that I do not know whether His Majesty would pardon my capital offence.”

Feng Jizhong said, “Now is a good chance to atone for your offense by meritorious acts. Just now I said that His Majesty is determined to get rid of three thorns in his side; other than Wu Sangui and Chen Jinnan, the third person is precisely Zheng Jing who occupies Taiwan illegally. We capture Zheng Jing’s son, and take him to Beijing; who knows? Maybe we can force Zheng Jing to surrender. If His Majesty is happy, even if Wei Dutong committed gargantuan offense, His Majesty may pardon everything.” Since he no longer concealed his real identity in front of Wei Xiaobao, the way he was addressing Wei Xiaobao had also changed; now he called him ‘Wei Dutong’. Even toward the Zongduozhu he now referred him by his given name.

In his heart Wei Xiaobao was very angry, “This traitor does not have any yi qi, unexpectedly he calls my Shifu by name.” But thinking about the possibility of reconciliation with Kangxi, he was quite happy. It did not matter to him whether he could be government official or not, but thinking about the time he could spend chatting with the young Emperor was enough to give him unending delight.

Feng Jizhong continued, “Wei Dutong, when we return to Beijing, we must keep everything in secret. If those Tian Di Hui people knew that Chen Jinnan is dead, most likely they would push you to become the Zongduozhu. Your yi qi is profound, you are willing to discard glory, splendor, wealth and rank; you did not want to be Bojue, you did not want to be Dutong, all because you wanted to save Tian Di Hui friends’ lives. This very moment this fact has been spread throughout the world. Right now Jianghu is bubbling and gurgling, everybody is talking about this matter; which one does not admire Wei Dutong’s heroic spirit?”

Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself; he asked, “Did everybody really say that? You are not lying to me?”

“No, no …” Feng Jizhong replied, “Lowly officer definitely does not dare to lie to Dutong Daren.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Now he calls himself ‘lowly officer’; I wonder what is his official rank?” Although curious, he did not dare to ask, because if he did, he would expose the horse’s feet immediately; ‘His Majesty has already told me everything since long ago’ would then be a lie. But then he had a second thought, “There’s no harm in asking which rank he had been promoted to.” Thereupon he smiled and asked, “You have rendered such a great merit, His Majesty must have promoted your rank; right now which official position are you holding?”

Feng Jizhong said, “By His Majesty’s grace, he bestowed lowly officer the position Dusi.” [都司 – Vice Brigade Commander.]

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out ‘sesame seed mung bean’ lowly military official position; with Laozi the difference is damn seventeen twenty-eight levels.”

In the Qing Dynasty’s bureaucratic system, Bojue was beyond ‘pin’ rank high-level officers. As the ‘Dutong’ (commander) of the Valiant Cavalry Brigade, Wei Xiaobao was a ‘one-pin’ rank officer. Han people’s Green Standard Army[1] military official’s highest rank Tidu [local commander, provincial governor] was also ‘one-pin’. Zongbing [regional commander] was ‘regular two-pin’, below this were Fujiang [deputy general], Canjiang [Administrator], Youji [Brigade Commander], and then Dusi [Vice Brigade Commander]. But looking at Feng Jizhong’s appearance, although his face still showed an extremely honest expression, there was a very proud look in his eyes. Thereupon Wei Xiaobao raised his cupped fist and said with a laugh, “Congratulations, congratulations! This is His Majesty’s personal promotion, you are definitely standing out from the masses.”

Feng Jizhong returned the propriety and said, “Later on I will rely on Daren to cultivate me.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “We are on the same side, why did you say such thing? In term of working for His Majesty, your skill greatly surpasses mine.”

“How can lowly officer be compared to even a ten-thousandth of Daren?” Feng Jizhong replied, “Reporting to Daren, His Majesty has instructed lowly officer that if I see Daren, no matter what I must bring Daren back to Beijing, I must not disobey the imperial edict. Listening to His Majesty’s tone, lowly officer knew that His Majesty cares about Daren greatly; I can say that he miss you very much. This great merit of bringing Taiwan rebel’s son back to Beijing will make His Majesty happy; he will definitely raise Daren’s official position.”

“Um,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In that case you should be promoted to Youji.”

Feng Jizhong said, “Lowly officer only wish to do my best for His Majesty. When His Majesty sees Daren, he will be happy, as his servants we will also greatly rejoice. Whether we are promoted or not, it’s entirely by His Majesty’s grace.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I have always thought you were an honest person, turns out you really know how to talk in official jargon.”

Feng Jizhong continued, “If Daren assumed the Zongduozhu position of Tian Di Hui, you can gather the eighteen provinces Halls’ Xiangzhu and every place’s leaders together; we’ll say it’s the memorial ceremony for Chen Jinnan. At that time we’ll catch everything in one net, so that these conspirators against the law, the rebel thieves who commit heresy, will be unable to escape. This great merit will be ten times greater than when we bombarded the Bojue Mansion the other day. Daren, just think, if that day you obeyed the Emperor’s decree and killed Chen Jinnan, Li Lishi and those people, Tian Di Hui has rebel thieves in each province, one Zongduozhu is killed, another Zongduozhu will rise; we can’t wipe them out. Only by Daren yourself become the Zongduozhu will we be able to cut the weeds and eliminate the roots, and then the big worry weighing His Majesty’s heart will disappear forever.”

Hearing this, cold sweats began to form on Wei Xiaobao’s back; he thought, “This evil scheme is really difficult to deal with, I don’t think even you can come up with this plan, I am 90% sure that this is the young Emperor’s stratagem. If I return to Beijing, most likely the young Emperor will pardon my great offense, but he will definitely want me to eradicate Tian Di Hui. This is a clever way with which he is dealing with me, I won’t be able to escape from his clutch anymore.”

The more he thought about it, the more terrified he was; he thought, “The young Emperor wants me to surrender, he wants to beat my buttocks, those are not a big deal; but he wants me to be Tian Di Hui Zongduozhu and kill all the brothers’ heads; this I must not do, not in a million years. If I did it, all the heroes throughout the world will f*ck my eighteen generation ancestors; when I die, I won’t be able to see Shifu. All the big girls, little girls in here will also look down on me from the bottom of their hearts. Even if other people don’t care, even if Wei Xiaobao’s conscience is not much, in the end I still have a little bit.”

He cast a glance toward Feng Jizhong, while his mouth uttered, ‘Oh, oh,’ repeatedly; he thought, “If I don’t answer, he might become hostile to me immediately. If it comes to using force, a number of us might not necessarily lose to him, but this servant’s martial art skill is exceptionally strong, if one or two of my big girls, little girls are killed by him, it will be desperately serious. There’s no harm in me playing ‘Han Sha She Ying’ again.” He said hesitantly, “I will be very happy to go see His Majesty, it’s just that … it’s just that to kill that many Tian Di Hui brothers, it’s inevitably going to violate yi qi too much. We must discuss it carefully before we trespass our friends.”

“Daren is right,” Feng Jizhong said, “But there is a common saying, ‘Those who measure small things are not people of noble character; a great man has to be ruthless’ [orig. no poison, no great man].”

“Right, right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “A great man has to be ruthless … hey, aiyo, how can that fellow Zheng Keshuang escape?”

Feng Jizhong was startled; he turned around to look. Wei Xiaobao aimed his chest to him, he was about to reach down to activate the mechanism to release the poisonous needle when suddenly Shuang’er rushed over and called out, “Xianggong, what is it?”

Turned out all along she was watching these two men talking endlessly, and was very concerned; thereupon she slowly crept near. When she suddenly heard Wei Xiaobao cried out ‘aiyo’, immediately she leaped forward. If Wei Xiaobao released the ‘Han Sha She Ying’, Feng Jizhong would be hit for certain, but Shuang’er would also be affected. Although this moment his hand had already reached the mechanism, he did not dare to press the mechanism.

When Feng Jizhong turned his head around, he saw Zheng Keshuang and Feng Xifan were still standing on the beach, they had not moved at all. Immediately he knew something was not right; he ducked down and reached backward to grab Shuang’er and pulled her in front of his body as a shield. Based on Shuang’er’s martial art skill, Feng Jizhong should not necessarily be able to succeed in one grab; it’s just that he moved so suddenly, and Shuang’er did not guard against him at all, so that the main artery on her wrist was caught, her upper body went numb, she was unable to move a single step. In a deep voice Feng Jizhong said, “Wei Daren, please raise your hand.”

The golden opportunity to launch a sneak attack had gone, Shuang’er fell under the opponent’s control, Wei Xiaobao was put under disadvantageous position; he giggled and said, “Feng Dage, what kind of joke are you playing?”

Feng Jizhong said, “Wei Daren’s no-shadow no-trace secret projectile is indeed too formidable, lowly officer is very afraid of it; please raise your hands, otherwise, lowly officer will have no choice but to offend you.” While saying that, he pushed Shuang’er forward, while he himself hid behind her, so that Wei Xiaobao would not be able to release the secret projectile.

From the other side Su Quan, Fang Yi, Ah Ke, Zeng Rou and the others saw the unforeseen event, one after another they rushed over. Feng Jizhong thought, “This kid loves this girl the most, he won’t dare to make his move; but those other women might not cherish her life as much, the one they cherish is this kid.” With his left hand he pulled the steel saber hanging on his waist; stretching out his hand, he placed the edge of the blade on Wei Xiaobao’s throat. “Nobody come near!” he shouted.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao in danger, Su Quan and the others came to a halt. They were all anxious, but were also baffled; this Feng Jizhong was obviously Wei Xiaobao’s friend, they had just fought the enemy side-by-side, how could in an instant, as soon as they had disagreement, he immediately made his move? They supposed it must be because Wei Xiaobao wanted to release Zheng Keshuang, while Feng Jizhong wanted to kill him to avenge Chen Jinnan.

Wei Xiaobao tipped his head backward slightly, the tip of Feng Jizhong’s saber followed forward. “Wei Daren,” he shouted, “Please don’t move. Steel saber don’t have eyes; don’t blame me if I offend you. Please raise your hands.”

Wei Xiaobao had no choice, he slowly raised both hands while saying with a laugh, “Feng Dage, you want to rise to high-ranking official position, you want to get rich, you should be a bit more polite to me.”

“While it’s true that to be promoted and gain wealth is important, the first step is till protecting my own life,” Feng Jizhong replied. Suddenly his body slightly leaned sideways, he rushed behind Wei Xiaobao, reached out to draw the dagger in Wei Xiaobao’s boot, and pointed it to his back. “Wei Daren,” he said, “Your dagger is very sharp, lowly officer has seen you using it several times.”

Wei Xiaobao could only smile wryly. He felt slight pain on his back, and knew that the tip of the dagger had pierced his outer clothing. Although he was wearing his treasured protective vest, it would not stop the treasured dagger.

Feng Jizhong shouted, “Everybody turn around and throw your weapon down.” Seeing this turn of events, Su Quan and the others did not have any choice but to follow his order; they turned around and tossed their weapons to the ground.

Feng Jizhong saw there were still six Tian Di Hui brothers standing on the side; he shouted to them, “Come here, I have something to say.” The six people did not know what was going on, they came over.

Feng Jizhong raised his right elbow, ‘slam’ the point of his elbow struck the ‘da zhui’ [big spine] acupoint on Wei Xiaobao’s back; the steel saber in his left hand swept, accompanied by a series of ‘cha, cha, ah, ah, aiyo’ sound, all six Tian Di Hui brothers were hit by the saber. In an instant he had hacked these six people to their deaths, each saber chop hit a vital point on a man’s body. His saber was swift, his attacks were fierce; it was indeed rarely seen.

Hearing the miserable scream, Su Quan and the others turned around and saw the bodies of those six people scattered around on the ground; from the wound on either their heads, necks, chests, backs, waists, or flanks, blood was gushing out. None of the women did not cry out in fear, none of their faces did not change.

Turned out that as Feng Jizhong saw that his face was exposed, he immediately made his move; he was alone, hence he had to strike first by killing these six Tian Di Hui brothers; first, to intimidate with his power so that Wei Xiaobao and the women would not dare to rebel; second, so that he had six less enemies. This way, although his opponents were numerous, they were no more than one youngster and seven women.

He swung the saber in his left hand, turned around and pressed it against Wei Xiaobao’s neck. “Wei Daren,” he said, “Let’s go down to the boat.”

He was thinking to take only Wei Xiaobao and Zheng Keshuang, two people, under arrest and presented them to the Emperor, and thus rendering a great service. These seven women would be left on the island, so that they would not add trouble to him on the boat. By being lenient and not kill these seven women, he was actually preparing a room for action for himself, to avoid incurring Wei Xiaobao’s hatred too much. How the Emperor would deal with this youngster later would be beyond anybody’s guess.

When the women saw Wei Xiaobao was under his control, they were all alarmed and frightened; nobody knew what to do. Princess Jianning cursed loudly, “What kind of ‘thing’ are you? Why do you dare to be this rude? Quickly throw your saber down!” [I know the better translation would be ‘who do you think you are?’ but I thought preserving the word ‘thing’ is more fun.]

“Humph,” Feng Jizhong only snorted without paying her any attention. He had come with Wei Xiaobao escorting her to Yunnan to get married, so he knew she was the Princess, hence he did not dare to argue with his superior.

Seeing he did not take notice of her, the Princess was even more angry; in this earth, other than the Empress Dowager and the Emperor, plus Wei Xiaobao and Su Quan, four people, she had no regard of anybody else. Stooping down to pick a saber on the ground, she leaped forward to hack down on Feng Jizhong’s head.

Feng Jizhong leaned sideways to evade. ‘Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!’ the Princess hacked three times in a row, Feng Jizhong dodged left and right. If it were another woman, he would have used his leg to kick her down. But the one holding the saber was the Emperor’s imperial younger sister, the golden branch, jade leaves Princess. The desire in his heart was only to render merit and get promoted, to repay the kindness of the imperial family; how could he dare to offend the Princess? Thereupon right now he could only dodge.

“Stinky b@stard servant,” the Princess cursed, “Stand still, don’t move! I want to chop your head. Why do you keep your stinking head running around in circles so that I cannot chop it down? I will tell Huangdi Gege, to have him make mincemeat of you!”

Feng Jizhong was stunned; he thought that this woman was capable of doing what she was capable to say, she and the Emperor were brother and sister, while he himself was just a sesame seed mung bean little military official, how could he fight the Princess? But if he obeyed her command by keeping his stinking head steady and unmoving to let Her Highness the Princess’ ten thousand gold body’s precious hand’s saber chop it, he seemed to have difficulty in obeying it.

While her mouth was busy hurling curses, the Princess’ saber hacked to the left and chopped to the right continuously. Feng Jizhong slightly sidestepped and leaned his body sideways, he lightly and easily evaded the attack; although the saber always flashed by a few cun away from his body, it was never able to chop him. The Princess became impatient; sweeping the saber horizontally, she hacked across his waist.

“Careful!” Feng Jizhong shouted, and leaped up. It was obvious that the Princess would not be able to stop the momentum of the saber, it would chop Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder. While his body was still midair, Feng Jizhong’s left foot kicked on Wei Xiaobao’s body, throwing him down to the ground, while at the same time he borrowed the momentum to leap several more zhang away.

Shuang’er pounced forward, grabbed Wei Xiaobao, and flew several steps away. Feng Jizhong was greatly alarmed; he rushed over with a saber in his hand. Shuang’er’s martial art was superb, but after all, her strength was still lacking. She was half a head shorter than Wei Xiaobao, carrying him in her arms like that she was only able to run several zhang when Feng Jizhong had already come near.

The acupoint on Wei Xiaobao’s back was sealed, his four limbs did not obey his command; he could only said, “Put me down, let me release the secret projectile.” But Feng Jizhong came really fast; Shuang’er wanted to let Wei Xiaobao down so that he could release the ‘Han Sha She Ying’ secret projectile, but it was already too late. In desperation she threw him away.

Feng Jizhong was greatly delighted; he rushed forward and stretched out his hand to catch Wei Xiaobao. Suddenly he heard a light ‘click’ behind him, like the sound of fire-knife struck against a flint stone, followed by a loud ‘Bang!’ His body was flying midair, suddenly it dropped down to the ground. He twisted several times, and then stopped moving altogether.

Wei Xiaobao’s body landed on the sandy beach, he did not suffer any injury; he struggled for some time to crawl up, but was unable to do so. He saw a wisp of smoke in front of Shuang’er, her hand was holding a short gun; it was precisely the gift she received from Wu Liuqi the day they swore to become brother and sister. It was a refined firearm made in the Luocha Country; it was formidable beyond compare. Although Feng Jizhong possessed an extraordinary martial art skill, his flesh and blood body was simply unable to withstand it.

Shuang’er herself was so scared that she could only stared blankly. When the gun went off, it shook her hand and arm that she felt numb and painful. Her hand trembled, the gun fell to the ground.

For fear that Feng Jizhong had not died yet, Wei Xiaobao scrambled several steps forward, press the mechanism on his waist, and a cluster of steel needles shot out; all of the needles hit Feng Jizhong’s body. But Feng Jizhong did not budge at all; as soon as the gun went off, he was already dead.

The women cheered in chorus and swarmed forward. Seven women plus one Wei Xiaobao, it was literally ‘seven openings eight mouths’ [chaos (idiom)]; a hundred-percent ‘you speak, I talk’, everybody wanted to know what was going on. Wei Xiaobao briefly explained to them.

Shuang’er had been in contact with Feng Jizhong for quite a long time, on the journey he always displayed his honest, generous and simple character, treating her with respect and consideration. He was indeed a model of a man, who always did his duty without offending anybody; who would have thought that he was extremely shrewd? The more she thought about it, the more scared she was.

She turned around to pick up the gun from the ground. Suddenly it dawned on her the profound meaning behind Wu Liuqi’s desire to swear brotherhood with her that day: this extraordinary Wulin talent was hoping that in the future Wei Xiaobao would take her as his wife, but she was only a servant girl, in term of status, they did not match. After becoming the sworn sister of Tian Di Hui’s Red Banner Xiangzhu, she would be fit to marry the Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu. Remembering her sworn brother’s good intention, also that he died in injustice, she could not stop tears from flowing down her face.

Wei Xiaobao turned around and saw Zheng Keshuang and the other four people were walking toward the beach to board the skiff. He thought, “He has killed Shifu; if I let him leave safe and sound, it would be too easy for him.” Therefore, with a dagger in his hand, he ran after them and called out, “Hold on!”

Zheng Keshuang stopped and turned his head around; his countenance turned ash-grey. “Wei … Wei Xiangzhu, you promised to let me … let us go,” he said.

With a cold laugh Wei Xiaobao said, “I promised not to kill you. I have not promised not to chop your leg.”

Feng Xifan was furious; he was about to lash it out, but as soon as he raised his hand, his whole body felt limp and painful, he was unable to exert even half a part of strength.

By this time Zheng Keshuang was already scared out of his wits, his knees went weak, and he dropped on the ground. “Wei … Wei Xiangzhu,” he said, “If you chop my leg, I … I will definitely not able to live.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Whether you live or not, it’s not my concern. You owe me one million taels of silver, you said you want to use Ah Ke as the guarantee. But she and I have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth, she is my lawfully-wedded wife; in her belly she has my child, and she voluntarily wanted to come with me. How can you use my wife as your guarantee? How could there be such logic in the world?”

By this time Su Quan, Fang Yi, Zeng Rou, the Princess, and the others were already standing by Wei Xiaobao’s side. “It’s preposterous!” they said in chorus.

Zheng Keshuang’s mind was already in chaos, but he had a nagging feeling that something was just not right. “What … what should I do then?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll chop your arm and your thigh first as the guarantee. When you pay me the one million taels of silver in the future, I will return your cutoff arm and leg to you.”

Zheng Keshuang said, “Just now you said that I could sell Ah Ke off to you, the ten thousand taels … ten thousand taels of silver I owed you is already written off at one stroke.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head vehemently. “Can’t do,” he said, “Just now my head was muddled, and I fell into your big trick. Ah Ke is my wife, how can you sell my wife back to me? Alright, I will sell your mother back to you, she is worth one million taels of silver. I will also sell your father back to you, worth another million taels of silver. And then your paternal granny, worth one million taels of silver, plus your maternal granny, also at one million taels of silver …”

Zheng Keshuang said, “My maternal grandmother has already passed away.”

“I can still sell dead people,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will sell your maternal grandmother’s corpse to you; dead people only worth 80%, make it eight hundred thousand taels. The coffin is included, there’s no additional charge for it.”

The more he talked the more preposterous he was; Zheng Keshuang thought that he even wanted to sell dead people. If he had to buy his great-grandfather, his great-great-grandfather, his great-grandmother, his great-great-grandmother, even if the dead people were valued at 80%, or even 70, or 60%, he would not be able to tolerate it; but he did not dare to say that he was unwilling to buy. Without any choice he could only plead, “I … I really cannot afford it.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Since you can’t afford it, I’ll spare you. But those you already bought you cannot return. You owe me three million eight hundred thousand taels of silver. How are you going to pay?”

The Princess laughed and said, “That’s right, three million eight hundred thousand taels. Quickly pay up.”

Scowling miserably, Zheng Keshuang said, “I don’t even have one thousand taels with me, where can I get three million eight hundred thousand taels?”

“Never mind!” Wei Xiaobao said, “You don’t have any money, I’ll let you return the merchandise. Quickly give me back your father, mother, (paternal) granny, and dead (maternal) granny. Not a hair less.”

Zheng Keshuang knew that if this unreasonable argument continued, in the end there would still be no solution. He looked at Ah Ke, hoping that she would say something on his behalf, but against expectation she stood some distance away, turning her back on him, determined not to get involved. He was very anxious, looking at Wei Xiaobao, he seemed to be determined to chop his hand his foot; Zheng Keshuang did not have any choice but to repeatedly kowtow and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, I … I killed Chen Junshi, it was really a crime deserving ten thousand deaths. I beseech your magnanimity to spare Xiaoren’s life. Even if I owe you, Senior, three million eight hundred thousand taels of silver, I … I will definitely try to pay you back.”

Seeing that he managed to torment Zheng Keshuang so that he was in such a sorry state, Wei Xiaobao’s hatred was somewhat diminished; he said, “In that case you must write an I.O.U.”

Zheng Keshuang was greatly delighted. “Yes, yes,” he busily said. Turning to his bodyguard he said, “Get some pen and paper.” But in that uninhabited island, where could they find any pen and paper?

The bodyguard was quite quick-witted; he tore a piece of his own long gown at once, and said, “There are many dead bodies over there, we can write using their blood as the ink.” Finished speaking he wanted to drag Feng Jizhong’s body immediately. Wei Xiaobao reached out with his left hand to grab Zheng Keshuang’s right wrist. White light flashed, he sliced his dagger to cut one section of Zheng Keshuang’s right hand index finger.

Zheng Keshuang screamed loudly. Wei Xiaobao said, “Use the blood from your finger to write.”

Zheng Keshuang was in so much pain that his whole body trembled; momentarily he was at a loss of what to do. Wei Xiaobao said, “Just write slowly, if your blood dry out, I’ll just cut your second finger.”

“Yes, yes!” Zheng Keshuang busily said. How could he dare to write slowly? Clenching his teeth he wrote with his cut finger on the piece of cloth, “I owe three million eight hundred thousand taels of silver exactly. Signed, Zheng Keshuang.” After writing these thirteen characters, the pain was unbearable that he nearly passed out.

With a cold laugh Wei Xiaobao said, “Shame on you as a magnificent Prince’s Mansion’s Gongzi, you did not work hard on your penmanship; the I.O.U you wrote, these several characters are trembling scrawls, all are faulty strokes, not a single one shows good penmanship.” Taking the piece of cloth from Zheng Keshuang, he handed it over to Shuang’er, saying, “Take this, see if the amount is correct. This man is treacherous and sly, don’t let him write several taels less.”

Shuang’er said, “Three million eight hundred thousand taels of silver, no less.” While saying that, she put the I.O.U. written in blood into her pocket.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; he kicked Zheng Keshuang’s chin and shouted, “Get your dead (maternal) granny out of here!”

Zheng Keshuang tumbled down and rolled away. His bodyguards rushed over to help him up and wrap his cut finger. Two bodyguards separately helped Zheng Keshuang and Feng Xifan to board the skiff, and rowed it out to the sea.

Wei Xiaobao’s laughter continued; suddenly he remembered his Shifu’s tragic death, and could not help bursting into tears.

After the skiff was rowed several dozen zhang away from the beach, panic started to settle into Zheng Keshuang’s heart; he said, “Let us seize the big boat and get away with it, I don’t think those goddamn male and female dogs will be able to pursue.” But as they sailed toward the big boat, they found out that the boat was without the rudder and without any sailing equipment.

Feng Xifan hatefully said, “Those goddamn male and female dogs have already taken care of it.”

They look at the vast and obscure ocean, at the billowing waves, while the skiff was without provision and water; how could they make a distant sea voyage? Zheng Keshuang said, “Let us beseech that little thief again, ask him to lend us their boat. At most I will have to write another three million eight hundred thousand taels of silver I.O.U.”

Feng Xifan said, “It’s their only boat, how can they lend it to us? I’d rather be buried inside the fish’s belly that begging that little thief.”

Hearing his tone was resolute and decisive, Zheng Keshuang did not dare to disobey; he had no choice but to heave a sigh and instructed his three bodyguards to row the skiff into the ocean.

Wei Xiaobao and the others watched as Zheng Keshuang and the others rowed their skiff toward the big boat, and after finding out that the big boat was not sailable, they finally rowed the skiff away; Wei Xiaobao and the others could not help finding it hilarious.

Su Quan saw Wei Xiaobao was crying and laughing, apparently he still could not get over his grief over his Shifu’s death; she wanted to say something to please him, thereupon she said, “This Zheng Family’s Er Gongzi is devious to the extreme, obviously he wanted to steal our big boat. Xiaobao, in my opinion, he won’t pay you the three million eight hundred thousand taels of silver he owes.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Su Quan laughed and said, “Whatever you do, usually you are very astute, but just now that fellow sold you your own wife for ten thousand taels to pay his debt. You did not think about it and simply agreed. You must love Ah Ke Meizi so much that you turned silly. At that time, if he wanted you to find ten thousand taels to pay him, I think you might readily agree.”

Wei Xiaobao used his sleeve to wipe the tears from his eyes; and then he laughed and said, “I don’t care if he said ‘three sevens are twenty-one’ [i.e. the facts of the matter], I would have agreed first and talked later; I will slowly settle the account with him.”

Fang Yi asked, “And then what happened? Why did you suddenly remember that you have suffered a big loss?”

Wei Xiaobao scratched his head. “After we killed Feng Jizhong, I did not have anything to worry about, suddenly my brain became very clear,” he said.

Actually, he had never had any suspicion against Feng Jizhong; it’s just that in the deepest part of his heart he had a nagging feeling that he had a great root of trouble nearby, but as for what kind of trouble, he himself was unclear, only he felt fear without any reason. When Feng Jizhong was killed, immediately he felt as if a heavy load had just been released, and he felt entirely free from worry. He thought, “Perhaps early on I was already afraid of this thief, only I did not realize it.”

They had just undergone a series of strange dangers, until now, where the powerful enemies were either dead or had run away. Now the island was back to peace and quiet. Everybody felt exhausted, both mentally and physically. Wei Xiaobao felt as if his legs weighed a thousand catties, he was unable to stand and hence he lay down on the sandy beach to rest. Su Quan rubbed his back to unseal the acupoint sealed by Feng Jizhong earlier.

The water reflected the setting sun, swayed by the waves the surface of the sea looked like tens of thousands golden snakes crawling and leaping one over another; the scenery was singularly beautiful beyond compare. One by one the women sat down. Shortly afterwards, Wei Xiaobao was the first to snore, and not to long after that, one by one the women also fell asleep.

More than two hours later, Fang Yi was the first to wake up. She went to the thatched hut that was used by Wei Xiaobao as his command tent in the past to prepare some food, and then she called everybody else to eat. In the main hall they lighted two pine torches so that the room was bright. The eight of them sat in a circle. After dinner, Fang Yi and Shuang’er cleaned up the bowls and the chopsticks.

Wei Xiaobao swept his gaze on Su Quan, Fang Yi, the Princess, Zeng Rou, Mu Jianping, Shuang’er and Ah Ke, seven women’s faces one by one. Some were tender and beautiful, some were gentle and soft, some were lively, some were extremely beautiful, each one had her own strength; he could not help but was greatly delighted. This moment he ‘leaned on red and cuddled on green-jade’, his heart felt so peaceful. Compared to the ‘heaven and earth in confusion’ time at the Lovely Spring Courtyard when he was under the large blanket with seven women, he felt a lot more safe, peaceful, and happy. He laughed and said, “That day I called this small island ‘Tong Chi Island’ [eat ‘em all, gambling], turns out I already have foresight, knowing that seven Jiejie Meimei would be willing to be my wives; it was indeed a mystery of the underworld, the Will of Heaven, that even if we ran, we cannot escape. From this day onward, the eight of us will live on this Tong Chi Island, our long-life the same as the heaven’s, enjoy immortal good fortune forever.”

“Xiaobao,” Su Quan said, “These eight characters [shou yu tian qi, xian fu yong xiang] are ominous, later on you must not say it.”

Wei Xiaobao immediately realized his mistake, he knew she did not want to hear anything related to the Cult Leader Hong. “Right, right!” hastily he said, “I was talking rubbish.”

Su Quan said, “When Shi Lang and Zheng Keshuang are home, most likely they will bring troops back here to take revenge, we must not live on this island for too long.”

Everybody agreed. Fang Yi said, “Quan Jiejie, where do you think we should go?”

Su Quan cast a glance toward Wei Xiaobao and said with a laugh, “Why don’t we hear Zhi Zunbao’s [most honorable/senior treasure] idea?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You call me Zhi Zunbao?”

Su Quan replied with a laugh, “If not Zhi Zunbao, how can you sweep ‘em all [tong chi]?”

Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter. “I do have a ‘bao’ [treasure] in my name,” he said, “Actually it was a tiny pair of treasure. Pair of fives or two wooden bench tiles, now those are the real Zhi Zunbao.”

Seeing the seven women’s eyes were fixed at him, he pondered a while and then said, “The Central Plains is definitely out of question. Shen Long Island is too close to this place, it’s not a good place either. We must go someplace comfortable but no people around.”

The problem was that desolate places with no people around are not comfortable, comfortable places surely have a lot of people in it. Besides, ‘comfort’ in Wei Xiaobao’s eyes means gambling, opera, storytelling, many different kinds of sights, singing, good dishes, light refreshments, and good-looking young women; not a single one of these was not ‘the more the merrier’. Other than good-looking young women, which, by the way, he already had quite a few by his side, those things could be found only if not in Beijing, then in Yangzhou or other first-class flourishing city in the world; exactly the places where it would be difficult for them to live in happiness.

As he was thinking about these romantic and bustling places, his filial piety heart was suddenly moved. “We gather together in here, it can be considered very exciting,” he said, “But I wonder how is my mother doing, all alone and helpless on her own.”

These women had never heard him mentioning his mother, they all thought that he had a filial heart, which was hard to come by. “Where is your mother right now?” they all asked. Some of them even thought, “Your mother is my mother-in-law, we ought to try to be together with her, to care for her, the Senior.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “My mother is at the Lovely Spring Courtyard in Yangzhou.”

When the women heard the Lovely Spring Courtyard in Yangzhou, five characters, other than the Princess, the other six immediately felt as if flying red clouds suddenly hit their faces. Some of them turned their heads away, some lowered their heads down.

“Ah, Lovely Spring Courtyard in Yangzhou,” the Princess said, “You have mentioned it before, that is the most fun place in the world; you promised to take me there to play.”

Fang Yi smiled and said, “He was swindling you, don’t believe him. That is the most indecent place on earth.”

“Why is it indecent?” the Princess asked, “Have you played there? Why all of you have such a strange expression on your faces?”

Fang Yi stifled her laugh and was unable to reply. The Princess wrapped her arm around Mu Jianping’s shoulder. “Good Meizi,” she said, “Tell me, what is it?”

Mu Jianping blushed deep red; she said, “That is … that is a brothel.”

The Princess still did not understand, “What is his Mama doing in a brothel?” she asked, “I heard that is the place where men come to have fun.”

Fang Yi laughed and said, “He always loves to talk rubbish, if you believe just half a sentence of what he said, it will be enough to give you headache.”

That day in the Lovely Spring Courtyard, Wei Xiaobao slept under the same blanket with seven women; other than the Princess and the old wh0re Mao Dongzhu, the remaining six women at this moment were sitting in front of him. In term of viciousness and roughness, the Princess was not inferior to Mao Dongzhu, but she was not as sinister, ruthless and dangerous as her mother, plus she was a lot younger and prettier than her mother. Wei Xiaobao was secretly congratulating himself, this time the switch was perfectly reasonable; if right now the one accompanied him was not the Princess but her mother, he would not have any idea of what to do. Perhaps after getting hold of her, he would become like the Old Emperor, he would want to leave home to become a monk on Mount Wutai. But if he absolutely must become a monk, he surely would want to have these seven wives coming with him.

Looking at the blushing six women, he presumed they were thinking of the situation that night. He mused, “That night in the dark, I was just fooling around randomly, I don’t know which one I slept with. Ah Ke and Quan Jiejie have my child inside their tummies; that’s two. I remember one more, but I don’t know which one. I have to find out slowly.” Smiling happily he said, “Even if we have to live on this Tong Chi Island forever, we won’t be lonely. Quan Jiejie, Princess, Ah Ke, the three of you have my child in your tummy; I wonder if someone else also has my child inside your tummy.”

As soon as they heard that, Fang Yi and the others, four women’s faces turned even redder. Mu Jianping hastily said, “I don’t have it, I don’t have it.”

Seeing Wei Xiaobao was looking at her, Zeng Rou shot him a malicious look, “Not me!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Good Shuang’er, it must be that we are highly successful.”

Shuang’er sprang up and hid in the corner of the room. “No, no!” she said.

Wei Xiaobao turned to Fang Yi, “Yi Jiejie,” he said, “What about you? When you were at the Lovely Spring Courtyard, you stuffed a pillow on your belly, pretending to be pregnant; you must have foresight.”

“Pft!” Fang Yi stifled her laugh, but then could not help laughing. “Pei!” she spat, “Dead eunuch, you and I have not … how can I have …”

“Oh yeah,” Mu Jianping said, “Shijie, Zeng Jiejie, Shuang’er Meizi and me, four people have not bowed to the Heaven and the Earth with you to get married, how can we have a baby? Xiaobao, you deserve to die; you bowed to the Heaven and the Earth with Quan Jiejie, the Princess and Ah Ke Jiejie, yet you did not tell me, you did not invite me to drink the wedding wine.” In her mind, it was the tying of the knot in the ritual of bowing to the Heaven and the Earth that enable people to have children.

Listening to her naiveté, everybody laughed. While still laughing, Fang Yi wrapped her arm around her waist and said, “Xiao Shimei, in that case, tonight you and he should bow to the Heaven and the Earth to be husband and wife.”

“No way,” Mu Jianping replied, “There is no marriage sedan on this barren island. I have seen that the brides are always wearing crimson wedding gown, and phoenix crown with red clouds cape; we don’t have any of those.”

Su Quan laughed and said, “It won’t be a big deal if you are willing to put up with it a bit. We can pick some flowers and braid it into a flower garland, and consider it phoenix crown.”

Hearing the women chatting and joking, Wei Xiaobao was inwardly very anxious. “Who was the other one?” he mused, “Could it be Ah Qi? I remember carrying her in and out, after that I sat her on a chair, I did not bring her into the bed. But that night there were too many girls there, perhaps I muddle-headedly did bring her back into the bed. If she has my child inside her belly, this little fellow will be Mongolian ‘zheng ge er hao’ [see Chapter 39] prince in the future. Aiyo, not good! Could it be the old wh0re? If it was her, my child might be killed by Gui Xinshu and the others as well.”

He heard Mu Jianping said, “If we have to bow to the Heaven and the Earth in here, Fang Shijie must bow first.”

“No,” Fang Yi said, “You are the Junzhu Niangniang [lady princess, see also Chapter 10], it’s only natural that you bow first.”

Mu Jianping said, “We are the people of a perished nation, why do you even mention Junzhu or not Junzhu?”

Fang Yi smiled and said, “In that case, Shuang’er Meizi should bow to the Heaven and the Earth with him first; you have been with him the longest, you have been through life and death together, a friend in times of tribulations, you stand out from the masses.”

Shuang’er blushed. “If you say more, I am going to leave,” she said, while walking toward the door; but Fang Yi laughed and hugged her.

Su Quan turned to Wei Xiaobao and said with a laugh, “Xiaobao, you decide.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Bowing to the Heaven and the Earth can be discussed slowly. Tomorrow we must bury Shifu first.”

When the women heard that, they were immediately filled with respect; nobody expected this man’s reverence toward his master was this heavy that he could utter such righteous phrases. Who would have thought that what he said next exposed his true nature: “The seven of you are all my dear good wives, there is no distinction between early or late, older or younger. Later on, every night all of you will throw dice to decide winning or losing. Whoever wins, that one will accompany me.” While saying that, he took the two dice from his pocket, blew it, and rolled it on the table.

“Pei!” the Princess spat, “Do you think you are that sweet-smelling? Whoever loses is the one who should accompany you.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Right, right! Just like playing finger-guessing game, whoever loses must drink a cup of wine as a forfeit. Alright, who will roll first?”

That night in the thatched hut on the inhabited island thoughts of love and warmth abound; there is no need to describe in details the throwing of dice, who won or who lost. From that day on, the throwing of dice among the women of the Wei family became usual practice. Originally Wei Xiaobao loved to throw dice with people to gamble, using gold, silver, money and valuables as the stake. The excitement of winning or losing always brought him abundant delight, but this time he decided on a method that from now on the women would have him as the stake, he would be compelled to stay out of the game. Although there was tenderness and happiness in his heart, the excitement of gambling was gone. Thus it was clear that ‘the flowers do not always bloom, the moon has its full and crescent phases, the affairs of the world cannot be expected to always follow the people’s expectation’.

The next day the eight of them slept until the sun was on top of the three poles before they got up. Wei Xiaobao led the seven women to bury Chen Jinnan’s remains. Seeing the yellow sandy soil covering his Shifu’s body, Wei Xiaobao could not help bursting in tears again. The women kneeled down together and did obeisance in front of the grave.

The Princess really did not want to do it, she thought I am the Princess of the magnificent Great Qing, how can I kowtow to you, a rebel thief? But it was clear to her that although she was a ‘golden branch, jade leaves’, perhaps in Wei Xiaobao’s eyes her rank was the lowest instead; in term of closeness, she was not as devoted as Shuang’er, in term of beauty she was not as pretty as Ah Ke, in term of martial art she could not beat Su Quan, in term of capability she was not as smart Fang Yi, in term of naivete and purity she was not as innocent as Mu Jianping, in term of gentleness she was not as refined as Zeng Rou. One day her shortcomings would catch up, she was nothing more than a harsh and unreasonable, rough and mean woman. If she did not pay her respect, perhaps henceforth Wei Xiaobao would view her in a new light, and might cheat on the dice; every night when they tossed the dice, he would cause her to achieve great victory. Therefore, feeling aggrieved as she was, she also kneeled down, while saying in her heart, “Rebel thief, oh rebel thief, I, Her Highness the Princess, bow to you, which you have never had the good fortune of receiving, until you go to the underworld, I am afraid you will suffer for your actions.”

When they finished paying their respect, they all stood up and turned around. “Aiyo!” Fang Yi suddenly cried out, “Where’s the boat? Where did it go?”

Hearing her terrified cry, everybody turned their eyes toward the sea, and saw that the boat moored on the beach had vanished without a trace; none was not shocked. They looked to the distant and only saw the boundless bluish green sea all the way to the horizon where it met the blue sky, with several dozen white birds swooping up and down on the surface of the water. Su Quan ran up the overhanging cliff to survey the island all around, north, south, east and west, she did not see even the shadow of the boat. Fang Yi rushed to the cave to look at the rudder, sail, and other sailing gear, as expected, those things had gone missing.

They all got back together and looked at each other in dismay; no one could stop fear from creeping into their hearts. Last night the eight of them were having too much fun and did not sleep until very late at night; they completely forgot to set up night guard duty, unexpectedly the boatmen stole the sailing gears and took the boat away. From now on they were trapped on an isolated island and would not be able to escape anymore. Wei Xiaobao thought about the possibility of Shi Lang and Zheng Keshuang returning with troops to take revenge, how could the eight of them fight the enemy? Even if Su Quan, the Princess and Ah Ke gave birth to three children without delay, their number would be no more than eleven.

Su Quan comforted the rest, “Things have come to this, worrying is useless. Let us slowly think of a plan.”

Back to the thatched hut, everybody hurled curses toward the boatmen with different mouths, same voice; but after swearing and cursing for a couple of hours, they could not come up with any fresh cursing words anymore. Su Quan said to Wei Xiaobao, “Right now we must guard against the Qing troops coming here in large number. Xiaobao, what do you think?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If the Qing troops are coming, their number will not be a few for sure, we won’t be able to fight them. All we can do is hide, hoping that if they can’t find us in a short while, they would think that we have already sailed away.”

Su Quan nodded. “That’s true,” she said, “The Qing Troops will never have guessed that our boat was stolen.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “If I were Shi Lang,” he said, “I won’t come again. He would presume that without a doubt we would immediately anoint oil on the soles of our feet; it would be foolish for us to stay here. Why would we want to wait for him to come back and arrest us?”

The Princess said, “If he reported to Huangdi Gege, Huangdi Gege might send people to look for us. Even if we already left, they would search carefully for clues to see where we went.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Shi Lang will not report to the Emperor,” he said.

With eyes open wide the Princess asked, “Why not?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “If he did, naturally His Majesty would ask why he did not arrest and take us away. And then he would be forced to admit that he had been defeated in battle; wouldn’t he be inviting trouble for himself then?”

Su Quan laughed and said, “Very true, very true. Xiaobao’s skill as government official is superior. Conceal from superior do not conceal from subordinate; that is government official’s most important trick.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “If Quan Jiejie became government official, I guarantee you will be promoted to a high-ranking position and gain great wealth.”

Su Quan smiled. She thought, “The trick that those people in the Shen Long Jiao used in doing their job, isn’t that more or less the same as the one used by the government official?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as Shi Lang speaks up, His Majesty will blame him as useless; that’s still all right, but His Majesty will definitely send him up with the troops to arrest us. Shi Lang thought we have already run away, where would he find us? Won’t that mean he is just inviting trouble for himself? It would be better for him to just shut up and gain wealth.” When the women heard that, they agreed that it made a lot of sense, their anxiety diminished a bit.

“What about that kid Zheng Keshuang?” the Princess asked, “From the tone of his voice, don’t you think he is unwilling to swallow his defeat just like that?” While saying that, she cast a quick glance toward Ah Ke. Everybody understood her meaning; she was saying, “A woman as delicate as a flower, as refined as a precious jade like Ah Ke, how could he give her up and not bring troops to seize her back?”

Ah Ke’s face blushed deep red; she lowered her head and said, “If he comes back, I … I will kill myself; I will definitely not go with him.” Her voice was filled with determination.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he thought that Ah Ke had always been heartless toward him, it was he who resorted to all kinds of scheme, stealing, snatching and swindling just to get her. This time as he heard her, he was happier than if obtained ten big boats at once. Unable to restrain his joy, he wrapped his arms around her, and ‘smack!’ he landed a kiss on her face. “Good Ah Ke,” he said, “He won’t dare to come back. He still owes me three million eight hundred thousand taels. Even if he has gargantuan guts, will he dare to meet his creditor?”

“Aiyo, how corny!” the Princess said, “He will bring the troops to catch you, snatch the I.O.U. from you, and seize Ah Ke away. And then he will sell your dad, mama, granny [nainai – paternal], and granny [waipo – maternal] to you; altogether seven million six hundred taels of silver. He will also cut your finger and tell you to write an I.O.U. saying that you owe him money.”

The more Wei Xiaobao listened to her, the more annoyed he got. If he was able to deal with it, he would not be so angry, but if Zheng Keshuang really did that, dealing with him in the same muddled manner, selling him back his own dad, mama, (paternal) granny, and (maternal) granny, mama was not a problem, but he never knew who his dad was. And if he did not know his dad, naturally he would not know his (paternal) granny. If Zheng Keshuang sold him these two people, who he himself did not even know, hence the starting price was raised by a hundred percent, how could he afford to pay? In rage, he spoke harshly, “Shut up! If that kid Zheng Keshuang comes with the troops, I won’t sell anybody else, except the most valuable person in the world, the Emperor’s imperial sister to him. The child she is carrying in her belly, I will price at ten million taels; so he will have to pay me two million four hundred thousand taels! Then the deal is done.”

“Wah!” the Princess cried, she covered her face and ran away. Mu Jianping quickly ran after her and consoled her, she told her that Wei Xiaobao would never do such thing, that he was just trying to scare her, that no need for her to feel sad.

Even after lashing out his anger like that, Wei Xiaobao still felt that he had his hands bound and he was unable to do anything about it. In the end everybody listened to Su Quan’s direction. They found a large cave in the dense forest on the island, they swept and fixed it up as a place where they could take shelter and live their daily life. From that day onward, they never set foot inside the thatched hut anymore, hoping that if Shi Lang and Zheng Keshuang really came back, they would see that there was no human footprint on the island, and think that they had gone long ago; hence they would not search carefully.

At first everybody was still scared and was on edge; day and night they took turn to watch the sea. After several months, not only they did not see a single Qing navy or Taiwan battleship, they did not even see a single fishing boat; everybody started to relax, thinking that Shi Lang did not dare to be meddlesome, and since Zheng Keshuang was riding a skiff, he must have been sunk by the stormy sea.

On the island the eight of them spent their days fishing, hunting, shooting birds and picking fruits in peace and quiet. Fortunately the island did not lack birds and beasts, the sea was abound with fish and shrimp. Plus all eight of them knew martial art, hence they were able to fish and hunt quite easily; therefore, they never lacked any food.

Autumn passed, winter came, the weather was growing colder as the days went by. Su Quan, the Princess and Ah Ke, three women’s bellies were also getting bigger as the days went by. Fang Yi and Shuang’er were busy skinning animals and sewing the hides to make winter clothes, they had also prepared enough infant clothing for the three babies.

Another half a month passed, suddenly a big snow came, in one day and one night, the entire island was covered in pure white snow. The eight of them were prepared; they had abundant supply of cured fish, cured meat, firewood and dried fruit in the cave. Day in and day out they chatted with each other, each time the topic always drifted back to the three babies about to be born.

One night the snow stopped falling, the north wind blew very strong, and cold wind continuously crept into the cave via the wooden plank door. Shuang’er added dry firewood to the bonfire. Wei Xiaobao took out the dice and let the women roll. After five women rolled the dice, Mu Jianping threw a three-dot, the lowest combination; it looked like tonight her lost was decided. Zeng Rou laughed and said, “Jianping Meizi lost; I don’t need to throw.”

Mu Jianping laughed and said, “Quickly throw, quickly throw! Maybe you’ll throw a two-dot.”

Zeng Rou picked the dice and held them in her hand; imitating Wei Xiaobao, she gently blew the two dice in her palm. She was just about to throw when a burst of north wind blew; in the midst of the wind they faintly heard something that sounded like human voice. Everybody’s countenance changed. Actually, Su Quan was already asleep, but suddenly she sat up. Eight people were ‘you look at me, I look at you’, in that instant everybody’s face was drained of any blood. Mu Jianping cried out softly and buried her head into Fang Yi’s bosom.

A moment later, the wind carried a loud shout; this time they could hear it clearly, the cry was, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi, where are you? Xiao Xuanzi is thinking about you!”

Wei Xiaobao sprang up. “Xiao … Xiao Xuanzi is coming to look for me,” he said in a trembling voice.

“Who is Xiao Xuanzi?” the Princess asked.

“He is … he is …” Wei Xiaobao replied. Only he alone knew that ‘Xiao Xuanzi’, three characters, was Kangxi, he had never told anybody else, naturally Kangxi himself would not let anybody know; yet suddenly people were shouting this name, plus the voice was this loud and clear? His whole body trembled, he felt this matter was very strange. Kangxi must be dead, his ghost was thinking of him, and had come to Tong Chi Island to find him. For a moment he could not stop his eyes from brimming with tears of excitement; from he cave he rushed out and called, “Xiao Xuanzi, Xiao Xuanzi, are you looking for me? Xiao Guizi is here!”

He heard the voice called again, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi, where are you? Xiao Xuanzi is thinking about you!” The voice was very loud, it did not sound like it came from one person’s mouth, but it sounded like several thousand or several hundred people were shouting together. But several thousand or several hundred people shouting together can’t possibly shout this clearly; however, if it was one person shouting, no matter how outstanding his internal energy was, it would not sound like shaking thunder. Hence, it must be Kangxi’s ghost.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was extremely grieved, tears flooding out from his eyes as he thought that Xiao Xuanzi’s yi qi to me was indeed very profound; after he is dead, his ghost is still coming to look for me. Usually he was extremely scared of ghosts, but this moment he simply must meet Xiao Xuanzi’s ghost no matter what. Thereupon he urged his feet to run faster, straight toward the voice, while calling out, “Xiao Xuanzi, don’t go, Xiao Guizi is here!”

The ground was covered with ice and snow, it was extremely slippery, Wei Xiaobao fell tumbling down, twice, but each time he simply crawled back up and ran again. Rounding a hillside, he saw the beach was full of specks of flame clustered together like a vast sky full of stars. Several hundred people with lanterns and torches in their hands were standing in a neat and tidy formation. Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Aiyo!” he cried out, turned around and ran away.

From the crowd a man rushed out and called, “Wei Dutong, finally we found you!”

Wei Xiaobao only took two steps before realizing the situation; his track had been discovered. The opposite side had several hundred people, if they searched this tiny Tong Chi island, he would not be able to hide at all. Besides, he thought the voice sounded familiar. Therefore, he halted, braced himself, and slowly turned around.

The man called, “Wei Dutong, we all miss you very much. Thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, finally we find you.” The voice was brimming with joy and full of emotion. The man lifted up high the torch in his hand and rushed over in quick steps. When he got near, Wei Xiaobao recognized the man was Wang Jinbao.

To come across an old friend, Wei Xiaobao was also very happy. He remembered that day in Beijing outskirts under the imperial order Wang Jinbao was sent to arrest him, but he deliberately pretended not to see him, in complete disregard of his future career, even his own life, he let Wei Xiaobao go, indeed his yi qi was profound. He brought the troops today, although it was dangerous, there was still room for negotation. Thereupon Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “Wang San Ge, your plan is marvelous, you can trick me to come out.”

Wang Jinbao threw his torch to the ground; bowing, he said, “Subordinate did not dare to play a trick, I really did not know Dutong is on the island.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “Then it must be His Majesty’s imperial instruction from his brocade sack of miracle plans, isn’t it?”

Wang Jinbao said, “The day His Majesty found out that Dutong had fled overseas, he sent subordinate with three sea-going ships bearing imperial order to search each and every small island for you. Each time we went ashore, we shouted like that in accordance with His Majesty’s imperial edict.”

By this time Shuang’er, Su Quan and the others arrived; they stood behind Wei Xiaobao. A moment later, Fang Yi, the Princess and Ah Ke, three women also arrived. Wei Xiaobao turned toward the Princess and said, “Your Huangdi Gege’s ability is really good, finally they found us.”

Wang Jinbao recognized the Princess; he kneeled down to pay his respect. The Princess asked, “Did His Majesty send you to arrest and take us back to Beijing?”

“No, he did not,” Wang Jinbao hastily replied, “His Majesty only sent Xiao Jiang [little/lowly general] to sea to look for Wei Dutong, we are completely unaware that Your Highness the Princess is also here.” The Princess lowered her head to look at her bulging belly; her face blushed.

Wang Jinbao turned to Wei Xiaobao, “Subordinate has left to sea for more than four months ago, and has come ashore, shouted and searched more than eighty small islands. Tonight we finally meet Dutong, I am really very happy.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “I am a big criminal, an offender to the throne, long ago I am not your superior anymore, let us get away from calling each other ‘Dutong’ and ‘subordinate’.”

Wang Jinbao said, “His Majesty’s idea, after Dutong hear the imperial edict, naturally you will understand.” Turning around, he beckoned to someone in the crowd. “Wen Gonggong [see Chapter 3],” he called, “Please come here.”

Someone stepped out from among the crowd, it was actually Wei Xiaobao’s old acquaintance, the eunuch of the Upper Study Room, Wen Youfang. He walked over and said in a loud and clear voice, “Hear the imperial edict.”

Wen Youfang was a gambling friend Wei Xiaobao met when he first entered the Palace; he could not cheat in playing dice, a ‘cattle’, who owed Wei Xiaobao countless amount of money. After Wei Xiaobao rose straight up in a clear sky [i.e. rapid promotion], each time they met, eighty times out of a hundred Wei Xiaobao always give him some tips.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard the three-character ‘hear the imperial edict’ [you sheng zhi], he kneeled down. Wen Youfang said, “This is a secret edict, other people must withdraw.”

As soon as Wang Jinbao heard that, he withdrew far away. Su Quan and the others also withdrew. But the Princess asked, “Huangdi Gege’s imperial edict, even I cannot hear it?”

Wen Youfang replied, “His Majesty’s order: this is a secret imperial edict, only Wei Xiaobao, one person may know; if it leaks even for a character or half a sentence, your servant will be executed along with my whole family unto the third generation.”

“Humph,” the Princess snorted, “How fierce! You’d better be executed along with your whole family unto the third generation then.” But thinking that if she stayed nearby, he would not be willing to read the imperial decree anyway, hence without any choice she also withdrew.

From his pocket Wen Youfang took out two yellow envelopes. Wei Xiaobao kneeled down immediately. “Servant Wei Xiaobao receives the imperial decree,” he said.

Wen Youfang said, “His Majesty’s order: this time you are to receive the imperial decree by standing up, you are not allowed to kneel down and kowtow, and you are not allowed to call yourself a servant.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised, “Where’s the logic in that?” he said.

Wen Youfang said, “His Majesty ordered me just like that, and now I am telling you just like that, whether there is a logic or not, you can ask His Majesty yourself when you see him.”

Wei Xiaobao had no choice but to respond in loud and clear voice, “Yes, thank you Your Majesty for your grace.” And then he stood up.

Wen Youfang handed one yellow envelope to him and said, “You may open and look at it.”

Wei Xiaobao received with both hands, tear the envelope, and took out a sheet of yellow paper. Wen Youfang raised the lantern in his left hand to illuminate the yellow paper. Wei Xiaobao saw six pictures on that piece of paper. The first picture depicted two boys rolling and wrestling on the floor, it was the scene of he and Kangxi in the past wrestling and having martial art competition. The second picture depicted a bunch of boys catching Oboi; Oboi pounced on Kangxi, Wei Xiaobao stabbed Oboi with a dagger. The third picture depicted a little monk carrying an old monk on his back, running away like flying, with six or seven lama holding sabers in their hands pursuing from behind; it was the scene of him rescuing the old Emperor at Qingliang Temple. The fourth picture depicted a nun wearing white clothes pouncing down from high in the air, with sword straight down to assassinate Kangxi, Wei Xiaobao blocked in front of his body, taking the sword on his behalf. The fifth picture depicted Wei Xiaobao at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, with a foot on the fake Empress Dowager lying on the ground, while helping the real Empress Dowager get off the bed. The sixth picture depicted Wei Xiaobao with a Luocha woman, a Mongolian Prince, and and old lama, together they grabbed the braid of an old general; looking at the old general’s attire, he must be Ping Xi Qin Wang. It must be about Wei Xiaobao using a ruse to break up Wu Sangui’s three-way coalition forces.

Kangxi was very adept at painting, the six pictures were very elegant and vivid; only because he had never seen Wu Sangui, Prince Galdan, Sangjie Lama, and Princess Sophia, four people, the picture did not look like their actual appearance, but the rest of the characters in his drawing were very much like the originals, particularly Wei Xiaobao’s mischievous and naughty expression, it was remarkably true to life.

The six pictures did not have a single character on them, but naturally Wei Xiaobao understood that those are six of his great merits. Playing and fooling around and having martial art competition actually could not be considered any meritorious service, nevertheless Kangxi always remembered it in his heart. As for bombarding the Divine Dragon Island, capturing the fake Empress Dowager, arresting Wu Yingxiong and the other meritorious services, they were not worth mentioning in comparison to these six.

Wei Xiaobao looked at the pictures in a daze; he stared blankly with tears streaming down his face. He mused, “He spent this much effort in drawing these six pictures, remembering my meritorious services, that means he does not blame me anymore.”

Wen Youfang waited for a moment before asking, “Have you looked at it clearly?”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Wen Youfang opened the second yellow envelope and said, “I’ll read His Majesty’s secret imperial decree.” Taking out a sheet of paper, he read, “Xiao Guizi, damn it, where have you gone? I miss you very much; you, this stinky fellow are heartless and inconsiderate, have you forgotten laozi?”

Wei Xiaobao mumbled in reply, “I have not, I really have not.”

Ever since there were ‘three sovereigns and five emperors’ in China, the Emperor using the word ‘damn it’, three characters [ta ma de], or the Emperor calls himself ‘laozi’, apparently Kangxi’s secret imperial edict was not only unprecedented, it was also never to be repeated in the future.

Wen Youfang paused for a moment, and then continue reading, “You did not obey my order, you were unwilling to kill your Shifu; moreover, you kidnapped Princess Jianning and ran away. Damn it, aren’t you taking advantage of me to become your dajiuzi [wife’s older brother]? But your meritorious services are so great, plus you are very loyal to me, whatever crime you have committed, I forgive them all. I am going to get married, if you don’t come to drink the celebratory wine, laozi will really not be happy. Let me tell you, you surrender obediently, and come to Beijing immediately, I have already prepared another Bojue [Earl] Mansion for you, a lot bigger than the previous one …”

Wei Xiaobao was bursting with joy, “Alright, alright!” he said in a loud voice, “I am coming immediately to drink the celebratory wine.”

Wen Youfang continued reading, “Let us get some things straight first, from this day onward, if you are not being obedient, I will definitely chop your head, don’t ever say that I swindle you to come to Beijing to kill you. Your Shifu surnamed Chen is already dead, Tian Di Hui has nothing to do with you anymore. You gain a bit more power, and destroy Tian Di Hui completely. I will also send you to fight Wu Sangui. I will give you Princess Jianning as your wife. In the future I will bestow you the title Gong [Duke] or Wang [King], you will be promoted and gain wealth, you will have a lot of fun. Xiao Xuanzi is your good friend, also your Shifu, raw bird fish soup [see Chapter 14], the words that I said, dead horses cannot chase it. You must come back for me as soon as possible!”

Finished reading the secret imperial decree, Wen Youfang asked, “Have you understood everything?”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I have understood everything.”

Wen Youfang put the secret imperial decree into the lantern, lighted it with the candleflame; when he pulled it out, it was burning into ashes.

Wei Xiaobao watched as the secret imperial decree caught fire and turned into flame, and then slowly turned into ashes; myriads of thoughts surging in his mind as he squatted and fiddled with the ashes a little bit.

With smiles all over his face Wen Youfang paid his respect and said with a laugh, “Wei Daren, His Majesty doted on you so much, nothing could be better. Henceforth Xiaode [little/lowly one] will completely rely on you for my promotion.”

Wei Xiaobao sadly shook his head; he pondered, “He wanted me to wipe out Tian Di Hui. This matter will let down my friends too much. If I do such things, won’t I be the same as Wu Sangui, Feng Jizhong, that kind of people, become big traitor (to China), a turtle b@stard? Xiao Xuanzi’s bowl of rice is really not easy to eat. This time he spared me and did not kill me, but he said it clearly, next time he won’t spare me anymore. If I don’t go back, I wonder how he is going to deal with me?” He asked, “If I don’t go back to Beijing, what will His Majesty do? Did he tell you to arrest me and bring me back? Or did he tell you to kill me?”

Wen Youfang’s face showed complete astonishment. “Wei Daren will not accept the imperial order?” he asked, “This … how can there be such thing? This … isn’t that … ay, disobedient against the imperial decree? That kind of thing must not be even mentioned.”

“Tell me the truth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If I disobey the imperial decree, then what happens?”

Wen Youfang scratched his head and said, “His Majesty only ordered Xiaode to do two things: the first is to deliver a secret imperial decree to Wei Daren, the other one is that after Wei Daren looked at the first imperial decree, to open the second secret imperial decree and to read it out loud. As for the contents of the secret imperial decree, Xiaode did not understand the least bit. About other things, naturally I do not know even more.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded his head; walking over to Wang Jinbao, he said, “Wang San Ge, in His Majesty’s secret imperial decree, he wants me to return to Beijing and do something for him. But … but you see, the Princess’ belly is getting very big, I really cannot leave now. If I do not follow the imperial edict to return to the Capital, how did His Majesty want you to deal with me?” He thought, “I need to hear the opposite party’s setting price first. If he says to kill without negotiation, I will surrender. Otherwise, there’s no harm in haggling over the price.”

Wang Jinbao replied, “His Majesty only sent subordinate to visit each and every island on the sea to look for Wei Dutong; after we found you, to have Wen Gonggong to read the imperial decree. As for what happens afterward, naturally subordinate will follow Wei Dutong’s instruction.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “So His Majesty did not order you to arrest me, kill me?”

“He did not, he did not,” Wang Jinbao busily said, “How can there be such thing? His Majesty holds Wei Dutong in such a high regard. When Wei Dutong enters the Capital, naturally you will be put in powerful position; if not Shangshu [equivalent to department head], then it must be great general.”

“Wang San Ge,” Wei Xiaobao said, “To be honest with you, His Majesty wants me to return to the Capital so that I can lead people to wipe out Tian Di Hui. I am a Tian Di Hui Xiangzhu, this kind of ‘murdering friends’ matter, I absolutely cannot do.”

Wang Jinbao had always upheld yi qi, he had already understood clearly what happened to Wei Xiaobao; hearing him said so, he could not refrain from nodding his head repeatedly, thinking that selling out friends for the sake of promotion and wealth was worse than a dog or pig.

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty’s kindness to me is as heavy as the mountain, but the thing that he commanded me to do, I just can’t do it. I do not dare to see His Majesty’s face, I have no choice but to work like an ox or like a horse in my next life to repay His Majesty’s great kindness. When you see His Majesty, please explain to him my difficulty. I know that loyalty cannot satisfy both sides, putting on a play ought to commit suicide to repay the master, although cutting the neck will be frighteningly painful, I have no way out, I might have to display utter loyalty by sacrificing myself to the service of my country.”

Wang Jinbao examined his own heart; if he was faced with this difficult problem, there would be only one way out, i.e. committing suicide to repay his lord and emperor for the kindness to recognizing his worth and employing him, but he would not be able to bear crossing over his friends and righteousness. Thereupon he hastily advised him, “Wei Dutong must not take this path, we can slowly think of a way out. Let subordinate report Dutong’s predicament to His Majesty. These past several months Zhang Tidu, Zhao Zongbing, Sun Fujiang several people have rendered some meritorious service, His Majesty are holding them in high regard. Disregarding our future prospects, all of us will kowtow and plead for leniency on behalf of Wei Dutong.”

Seeing he was flustered and exasperated, Wei Xiaobao was secretly amused, “To have Wei Xiaobao kills himself is just like expecting the sun to rise from the west. Forget suicide, laozi can’t even cut my own little finger. Besides, if Xiao Xuanzi wanted to kill me he would kill me immediately, if he wanted to spare me he would simply spare me; nobody knows how much idea he has in his head. Relying on you, several people, kowtowing to him, what good will it bring?” However, seeing Wang Jinbao’s profound yi qi, he was deeply grateful. Holding Wang Jinbao’s hand, he said, “If that’s the case, I will have to toil Wang San Ge to present a memorial to the Emperor, tell him that Wei Xiaobao has difficulty left and right, and was about to swipe a sword across my own throat, luckily you are here to rescue me that I did not die.”

“Yes, yes!” Wang Jinbao said, while in his heart he thought that eunuch Wen was standing on the side, he had witnessed everything; if Wang Jinbao was to deceive their lord like this, perhaps he would expose this trickery. Wang Jinbao’s face could not help showing awkward expression.

Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter and said, “Wang San Ge need not take it seriously, I was only joking. His Majesty is fully aware of Wei Xiaobao’s conduct, committing suicide I am very afraid of the pain. Just report back everything according to the facts.” Wang Jinbao was relieved.

Wei Xiaobao thought that if he rode on Wang Jinbao’s ship and returned to the Central Plains, and then disappeared without a trace, the Emperor would definitely put the blame on him, most likely he would kill him. If Wei Xiaobao earnestly asked him, most probably Wang Jinbao would not refuse; but unavoidably Wei Xiaobao would wrong him too much. He said, “Our business is done. Wang San Ge, Xiongdi has not gambled on this uninhabited island for too long; it’s really so boring, what do you say we throw a couple of dice?”

Wang Jinbao was greatly delighted, he was a serious gambler, his gambling urge was not below that of Wei Xiaobao’s; when he did not have any opponent, oftentimes his left hand would gamble against his right hand. Thereupon he immediately agreed and could not wait to start immediately. He ordered his soldiers to move a large rock with flat top over, six soldiers stood around with lanterns raised high, shouting and cheering while Wang Jinbao and Wei Xiaobao threw the dice. Before long, Wen Youfang, as well as several Canjiang [regimental commander] and Youji [brigade commander] joined in. The number of people standing around the large rock grew larger and larger.

Mu Jianping watched all this dubiously; she quietly asked Fang Yi, “Shijie, why do they throw dice? Could it be that the loser will … will … but they are all men.”

“Pft,” Fang Yi stifled her laughter; she said in a low voice, “Whoever lost the game will have to accompany you.”

Although Mu Jianping did not understand worldly affair, she knew there was no such thing. Stretching out her hand, she tickled Fang Yi’s armpit. The two women broke into giggles.

The gambling continued until daybreak. The money in front of Wei Xiaobao had become three high piles, first, his luck in gambling was really good, second, he was playing a trick; from these crowd of officers and men, nine out of ten had lost to him. Wei Xiaobao was in high spirits; when he turned his head around, he saw the Princess, Ah Ke and Mu Jianping, three women had already fallen asleep crouching on the rocks, while Su Quan, Fang Yi, Shuang’er and Zeng Rou, four women, were struggling hard to keep their sleepy eyes open while they accompanied him on the side. He could not help feeling bad and apologetic toward them. He pushed the three large pile in front of him forward and said, “Wang San Ge, these several thousand taels, please bestow it on my behalf to the Xiongdi. Everybody has come to this barren island, I do not have anything to entertain you; I feel really bad.”

Originally the officers and men who lost had their countenances ash-grey; as soon as they heard him, thunderous happy shouts arose, they all expressed their gratitude in chorus. Wang Jinbao ordered the officers and men to row the skiffs back to the ships, and bring back from the ships rice grains, pork and lamb, good wine, medication, as well as bowls and chopsticks, tables and chairs, pots and pans, kitchen knife, and so on, skiff by skiff. He also ordered the soldiers to build several large thatched huts in the forest. Many people worked together, several hundred officers and men exerted their strength, in just several days everything was in place on the Tong Chi Island; only then did they bade their farewell from Wei Xiaobao.

As he was about to leave, Wen Youfang found out that this island was called Tong Chi Island; he could not help stomping his feet and heaving deep sigh, saying that if he had known earlier, he would have asked Wei Xiaobao to let him be the banker for several rounds. On Tong Chi Island leisurely be a banker, how could he not eat ‘em all?

More than ten days later, Ah Ke gave birth to a baby boy first, the next say Su Quan also gave birth to another boy. It was more than a month later when the Princess gave birth to a baby girl. Seeing the other women gave birth to baby boys, while she gave birth to a baby girl, the Princess was angry; she cried repeatedly for the next several days. Wei Xiaobao constantly comforted her, telling her that he prefer a daughter over a son; only then did he coax her and turn her tears into laughter.

For the three babies there were seven mothers. Although not a single mother had any experience with babies, with a lot of ‘seven hands eight feet’ and hundreds of jesting, the three infants were healthy, strong and lively.

The women respectfully asked Wei Xiaobao to give the babies names. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am blind and do not know any letters, you want me to give my sons, my daughter names, that means you are giving me great difficulty. Let’s do it this way, we throw dice, whatever the result, that will be their names.” Immediately he picked up the dice, with his mouth mumbling some prayers, “God of gambling Bodhisattva please bless, give me three good names. The first one!”

He threw the dice, one produced six dots, the other five dots, a ‘tiger head’ combination. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Ah Da’s [basically it means ‘the first’] name is not bad, he will be called Wei Hutou [tiger head].”

The second throw produced one-dot and six-dot combination, a ‘copper-hammer’. Thereupon Lao’er [ol’ second] was named Wei Tongchui [you guessed it: copper hammer].

The third throw. The first die rolled to two dots; the second die was rolling continuously, finally it stopped at also two dots, a ‘wooden bench’ combination. Wei Xiaobao was taken aback, but then the burst out laughing. “Our Da Guniang’s [big/oldest miss] name is very strange; she will be called Wei Bandeng [wooden bench]!”

The women were all shocked. The Princess angrily said, “So unpleasant to hear! Such a nice girl, how can you call her ‘Bandeng, Bandeng’? Quickly pick another name.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It is the name picked by the God of gambling and Bodhisattva, how can we casually change it at random?” Picking up the baby girl, he landed a kiss on her face, ‘smack!’ and then he said with a laugh, “Dear one Wei Bandeng little treasure, this name sounds so pretty.”

The Princess angrily said, “No way, no way! No matter what I don’t want to call her Bandeng. I was the one giving birth to the child; such an ugly name, I don’t want it.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You gave birth to the child, are you the only one who produced the child?”

The Princess snatched the dice away and said, “I’ll throw. Whatever I throw, that will be her name.”

Wei Xiaobao had no choice; he was helpless against her. “Alright,” he said, “This time you cannot renege! What if you also throw a tiger-head or a copper-hammer?”

“Just like her Gege, we’ll call her Hutou or Tongchui,” the Princess replied. Shaking the dice continuously in her palm, she said, “God of gambling Bodhisattva, if you don’t give my daughter a good name, I am going to smash your two stinking dice.” And then she rolled the dice.

The two dice rolled around several times before they finally stop. Unexpectedly there is indeed such coincidence in the world, both dice produced two dots, it was still the ‘wooden bench’ combination. The Princess’ eyes grew big as she stared blankly before ‘Wah!’ she broke into tears.

Everybody was amazed and amused at the same time. Su Quan laughed and said, “Meizi, don’t worry! Two dots make a pair, a pair of two-dots is Shuangshuang; our daughter will be called Wei Shuangshuang. What do you think?”

The Princess turned the tears into laughter; immediately she perked up. “Good, good!” she said with a laugh, “The name is very interesting, it’s almost the same as Shuang’er Meizi’s name.”

Shuang’er was also very happy; she picked up Wei Shuangshuang and hugged her in her bosom with full affection. Mu Jianping laughed and said, “Shuang’er Meimei, since you love her that much, quickly feed her milk.”

Shuang’er blushed. “Pei!” she spat, “You’d better feed her yourself!” Reaching out, she tried to unbutton Mu Jianping’s clothes. Mu Jianping quickly ran away. The women roared in laughter.

With the addition of these three babies, Tong Chi Island was even more lively. Since Wang Jinbao left a large quantity of foodstuff and appliances, they had more than enough of everything, there was no need to go fishing and hunting every day. Only whenever they felt like eating some fresh fish, shrimp or game did they go out to get some.

At first everybody was still anxious that since Kangxi summoned Wei Xiaobao and he did not answer, there would be cataclysmic mishap, or perhaps bad repercussion to them. But after several months without any news, they gradually pushed this matter out of their minds.

The next summer, Wang Jinbao suddenly reappeared, leading several big ships, with another imperial edict. This time the imperial edict was like ‘four pair of horses pulled side by side and six steed’; the wording was profound. Wei Xiaobao did not understand a single sentence, he relied on Su Quan to explain everything. [Translator’s note: thank God Jin Yong did not quote the entire edict. Phew!] Turned out Kangxi did not mention a single sentence about the past events, he only sent a Canjiang, leading five hundred soldiers, to be stationed on the island to protect the Princess. Other than that, he also sent sixteen menservants and eight female servants, eight servant girls; the three big ships were packed with various appliances and food.

Wei Xiaobao was secretly worried, “Xiao Xuanzi is giving me these many things, I am afraid he wants me to live on this Tong Chi Island for the rest of my life.” His natural disposition was restless; although he passed the time on the Island carefree and without worries, plus he had seven ‘delicate as flower, refined as precious jade’ wives to accompany him, but he had passed the peace and quiet days for quite a long time, he was really bored. Every now and then he would recall past events, thinking about the time when he was still at the Lovely Spring Courtyard, where people grabbed his little braid and beat and cursed him, yet he felt alive and invigorated.

The twelfth month of the same year, Kangxi sent Zhao Liangdong with yet another imperial decree, the Emperor appointed his second son Yun Reng to be the Crown Prince, general amnesty was proclaimed throughout the world, Wei Xiaobao’s nobility title was raised one rank, he was bestowed the title Second Class Earl of Tong Chi. Wei Xiaobao invited Zhao Liangdong for dinner and wine. During the banquest Zhao Liangdong told him about the crusade against Wu Sangui, saying that Wu Sangui’s troops and generals were formidable, various elite troops had suffered defeat.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Zhao Er Ge, when you are back, please report to His Majesty that I feel stifled in here and am very bored, I want to ask His Majesty to send me go fight that old fellow Wu Sangui.”

Zhao Liangdong said, “His Majesty has foreseen that Jueye is loyal to the ruler and love his country, when you find out about rebel Wu running wild, you would definitely volunteer to go into battle. His Majesty said, if Wei Xiaobao wants to fight Wu Sangui, he can, but he must destroy Tian Di Hui first. Otherwise, he’d better stay on Tong Chi Island fishing and catching turtles.” Wei Xiaobao was on the verge of tears, he almost broke out crying.

Zhao Liangdong said, “His Majesty said that once upon a time when the Han Dynasty’s Han Guangwu was young, he had a good friend called Yan Ziling[2]. After Han Guangwu became the Emperor, this Yan Ziling did not want to become a high-ranking officer, but lived in Fuchun River [in Zhejiang] to fish. His Majesty also said that in the past King Wu of Zhao had a high-ranking minister called Jiang Taigong [Jiang Ziya], who also loved to fish on the bank of Wei River. King Wu of Zhou and Han Guangwu were good emperors of the ancient times. Therefore, it is clear that every good emperor always has a high-ranking officer who loves to fish. His Majesty said that he wants to be raw bird fish soup. If Wei Jueye did not catch bird or fish for him, how can His Majesty become raw bird fish soup? Wei Jueye, subordinate is an uncouth man; why His Majesty wants Wei Jueye to catch bird and fish in here, I really do not understand. But His Majesty is very wise, there must be a very good reason behind it.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He could only smile bitterly. He knew Kangxi was joking with him; apparently because he did not agree to wipe out Tian Di Hui, the Emperor condemned him to catch fish in here for a lifetime. These five hundred officers and men were supposedly to protect the Princess, but they were actually prison warden, prison guards to monitor them strictly, so that he could not leave the island even for a single step. The more he thought about it, the more depressed he was. The banquet ended in haste, unexpectedly after drinking he did not even want to gamble. Returning to his room, he stared blankly with tears falling down his face.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao crying, his seven wives were astonished; they came together to console him. He told them what Kangxi had said. The Princess angrily said, “That’s right! Huangdi Gege really wanted to raise your official ranking and nobility, from third-class earl to second-class earl, so be it. But where’s the logic behind ‘Tong Chi Bo’? Our Great Qing only has Zhao Xin Bo [bright trust; ‘bo’ means Earl], Wei Yi Bo [staunch prestige], or else Xiang Qin Bo [help/assist hardworking/industrious], Cheng En Bo [continuing grace/kindness]. You are originally Zhong Yong Bo [loyal and brave], which was very good. These three characters ‘Tong Chi Bo’ are clearly to make fun of you. He … he … does not care about me at all.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Earl of Tong Chi is not a big deal; I was the one who picked the name ‘Tong Chi’ for this island, you cannot blame His Majesty. I am the Island Master of the Tong Chi Island, naturally my title is Earl of Tong Chi, which is a lot better than ‘Earl of Tong Pei’ [‘pei’ means paying for loss (in gambling)]. Quan Jiejie, can you think of a way to return to the Central Plains? I … I really miss my Mama.”

Su Quan shook her head and said, “This is a really difficult matter, we can only wait patiently for an opportunity.”

Wei Xiaobao picked up a teacup, ‘crash!’ he threw it down to the floor and it shattered into pieces. “You just don’t want to think of a way,” he angrily said, “Fine, I will quietly sneak away alone in the future, you must not blame me. I … I … I would rather be at the Lovely Spring Courtyard, become a turtle who pick up the teapots; I don’t want to be a damn Earl of Tong Chi. The boredom really stifles me to death.”

Su Quan did not get angry; she smiled and said, “Xiaobao, don’t worry, there will come a day His Majesty is going to send you on a mission.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he stood up and bowed deeply. “Good Jiejie, I apologize to you. Please tell me quickly, His Majesty may send me on what mission? As long as it’s not to strike Tian Di Hui, I … I will do anything.”

The Princess said, “What if Huangdi Gege sends you to the outhouse to wash the chamber pot?”

“I will do it,” Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “But every day I will send you to do it for me.” Seeing he was in such a bad temper, the Princess did not dare to say anything anymore.

Mu Jianping said, “Quan Jiejie, tell him quickly. Xiaobao is extremely anxious.”

Su Quan hesitantly replied, “Doing what, I do not know. But reckoning the Emperor’s mind, inevitably there will be one day he may call you back to Beijing. He wants to force you to surrender, he wants you to wipe out Tian Di Hui. For each day you did not agree, he is wasting one day of his time with you. Xiaobao, you want to be a hero or a warrior, you must give careful consideration to yi qi toward your friends, this little bit of suffering is the price you have to pay. You want to be a hero, but you also want to hear a ‘powder head’ singing the Eighteen Touches. This hero thing is not easy to do.”

Wei Xiaobao thought what she said made a lot of sense; he stood up and said with a laugh, “I can be a hero, and sing the Eighteen Touches myself, do you think that’s possible?” And then he started to sing, “One touch, two touches, touching the edge of Quan Jiejie’s hair …” while reaching out to stroke Su Quan’s hair. Everybody giggled; the little disturbance vanished without a trace.

Since then, day after day, year after year, Wei Xiaobao and the seven women lived on Tong Chi Island. Each year on the twelfth month, Kangxi always sent people with gifts. He bestowed Wei Xiaobao a set of crystal dice, green-jade emerald Paijiu, and various gold-inlaid jade gambling equipment; so many that their number could not be counted. Fortunately there were five hundred officers and men on Tong Chi Island that Wei Xiaobao never lacked gambling opponent.

One particular year Sun Sike came to deliver the gifts. Wei Xiaobao saw the red ruby on his hat, an insignia of a one-pin rank military officer, so Wei Xiaobao knew that he had been promoted to a Tidu [local commander]; hastily he congratulated him, “Sun Si Ge, congratulations on your promotion!”

With smile all over his face, Sun Sike saluted and paid his respect, “It’s all because of His Majesty’s grace and Wei Jueye’s cultivation.”

He opened the imperial edict and read it out loud. Turned out it was about the imperial court pacifying the three border defenses: one after another Yunnan’s Ping Xi Wang [king who pacifies the west] Wu Sangui, Guangdong’s Ping Nan Wang [king who pacifies the south] Shang Zhixin, and Fujian’s Jing Nan Wang [‘jing’ also means peace/tranquil/pacify] Geng Jingzhong, were subdued. Kangxi evaluated everybody’s merit and bestowed reward accordingly. The Second-class Earl of Tong Chi Wei Xiaobao was nominated to be a great general; based on his distinguished service, which was very commendable, he rose in nobility rank to First-class Earl of Tong Chi. Even his eldest son Wei Hutou was granted the title ‘Yun Qi Wei’ [lit. cloud rider military officer[3]].

Finished expressing his gratitude, Wei Xiaobao received various gifts sent by Kangxi, among which was unexpectedly a large marble screen, which he had seen in the study room at Wu Sangui’s Wuhua Palace, one of Wu Sangui’s three treasures. Zhang Yong, Zhao Liangdong, Wang Jinbao, Sun Sike and the others have also sent generous gifts.

That evening during the banquet, Sun Sike told Wei Xiaobao about the effort of pacifying Wu Sangui. Turned out Zhang Yong inflicted heavy damage on Wu Sangui’s main force in Gansu and Ningxia region, repeatedly rendered great merits. By this time he was conferred the title First-class Marquis and Shaofu [young tutor], the official tutor to the crown prince; his titles and honors were far above Wei Xiaobao’s. Sun Sike said that after Zhang Houye [master marquis] was struck by Gui Xinshu’s palm in the past, he had never recovered fully; he could not ride horse, he could not even stand, during the battle he always commanded his main forces sitting on sedan chair.

Wei Xiaobao clucked his tongue in amazement; he said, “The sedan chair carriers must also be considered warriors; otherwise, when Zhang Laoge [old brother] cried out ‘Charge!’ and the four sedan chair bearers retreated, won’t that be terrible?”

“That’s right!” Sun Sike said, “Just before the battle, Zhang Houye always had an attendant behind the sedan chair carrying his axe-saber. If the sedan chair wanted to turn around, the big axe-saber would immediately chop down.”

Sun Sike also told him how Zhao Liangdong took over Yangping Pass, broke Hanzhong, subdued Chengdu, and attacked down to Kunming. His meritorious service was very great. The Emperor conferred him the title ‘Yonglue Jiangjun’ [brave and cunning general], and appointed him the Zongdu [governor-general] of Yunnan and Guizhou, also appointed him to be the Shangshu [department head] of Ministry of War. Wang Jinbao and Sun Sike himself were also promoted to be Tidu due to their ardor in battle.

Seeing Sun Sike was radiant with delight, while he did not personally participate in the excitement, Wei Xiaobao could not help feeling discontented and was not happy at all; but thinking that all four of his good friends had rendered great merit and were conferred titles as high-ranking officials, he was quite happy for them.

Sun Sike said, “Several of us often talked about how these past few years we fought the battles, we really enjoyed it. There is a saying, ‘when you drink water, think of its source’; it was all because of His Majesty’s grace in recognizing our worth and employing us, and because of Wei Jueye’s kindness in recommending us. If only Wei Jueye was appointed the Grand Marshal to Pacify the West, leading the four of us to fight Wu Sangui, then everything is perfect. Zhao Er Ge and Wang San Ge often quarrel with each other, their quarrel has reached His Majesty’s imperial presence; even Zhang Dage is helpless to keep them under control. Several times His Majesty mentioned Wei Jueye, saying that if they always quarrel like this, it means that there are letting you down. Only after that did they finally not dare to quarrel anymore.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “Those two always quarrel as soon as they see each other; even after they become great generals, why don’t their temperaments change?”

“Isn’t that so?” Sun Sike replied, “The two of them individually submitted memorial to the Emperor, I say you are wrong, you say I am wrong. Luckily His Majesty is magnanimous, he did not investigate; otherwise, I am afraid both of them would face disciplinary action against them.”

“What happened to that old fellow Wu Sangui?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Did you grab his braid and kick that damn fellow several times?”

Sun Sike shook his head, “That old fellow’s luck was really good …”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “He escaped?” he asked.

“It’s not that,” Sun Sike said, “He suffered defeat everywhere, he lost the area he occupied one by one; seeing that he could not hold his ground anymore, just before his death he wanted to satisfy his craving of becoming an emperor. Thereupon he put on yellow gown, and ascended the great treasure, and called his capital Hengzhou. We heard that when he became an emperor, he made a big ruckus. After several big defeats, frightened and angered, he took his own life.”

“I see,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That old fellow had it easy.”

“After the rebel Wu died,” Sun Sike continued, “Various generals under his command threw their support to his grandson, Wu Shifan, to succeed the throne, and retreated to Kunming. Zhao Er Ge attacked Kunming, he captured rebel Wu’s great generals Xia Guoxiang and Ma Bao and beheaded them. Wu Shifan committed suicide. The world is peaceful once again.”

“There was a national treasure in Kunming,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I wonder what happened to her?”

“Which national treasure?” Sun Sike asked, “Subordinate has never heard about it.”

“It’s actually a living national treasure,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The Number One Beauty in the World, Chen Yuanyuan.”

Sun Sike laughed and said, “Turns out it’s Chen Yuanyuan. I did not hear anything about her whereabouts. I don’t know whether she died in the confusion of the battle, or whether she escaped alive.”

“What a pity, what a pity!” Wei Xiaobao repeatedly exclaimed. He thought, “Ah Ke is my wife, that means Chen Yuanyuan is my genuine goods at fair prices Senior, mother-in-law. If Zhao Er Ge captured her, and knew that she was my mother-in-law, he would undoubtedly send her to Tong Chi Island, to let her and Ah Ke, mother and daughter, have a reunion. They, mother and daughter, have a reunion is not a big deal, but we, mother-in-law and son-in-law having a reunion is significantly different. Forget everything else, just listening to her plucking her pipa, and singing ‘Song of Yuanyuan’, ‘Tune of Fangfang’ [yuan means round, fang means square], it’s really no small matter. On Tong Chi [eat ‘em all] I cannot eat my wife’s mother, but I wonder if ‘son-in-law looking at mother-in-law, greedily swallow my saliva into my belly’, is allowed?”

When the feast was over he returned to the inner hall, and told everything to his seven wives. As Ah Ke heared that her mother’s whereabouts was unknown, although since childhood she was stolen by Jiu Nan, hence she was not by her mother’s side, but she still had the mother-daughter affection; inevitably she was grieved. Wei Xiaobao comforted Ah Ke by telling her not to worry, saying that no matter which place her mother went, that ‘Bai Sheng Dao Wang’ [Hundred Victory Saber King] Hu Yizhi [see Chapter 33] would definitely follow and attend upon her by her side, keeping close to her all the time.

“Ah Ke,” he said, “This Hu Dage’s martial art skill is very high, you have personally seen it. To protect your mother, one person, is as easy as a hand’s turn.” Ah Ke thought he was right, her knitted eyebrows spread out somewhat.

Suddenly Wei Xiaobao slapped the table and called out, “Aiyo, not good!”

Ah Ke was startled. “What is it?” she asked, “Do you think my Niang [mother] is in danger?”

“Your Niang is not in danger,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But I am in great danger.”

Ah Ke was puzzled, “What danger are you in?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Hu Dage and I have sworn brotherhood. If in the turmoil and chaos of war he fool around and snuggle close to your Niang, won’t he be my father-in-law? This might be really confusing.”

“Pei!” Ah Ke spat and shot him a malicious look. “This Hu Bobo [uncle, older than one’s father] is the most upright and honest man I know, and you think all men in the world are just like you, as soon as you see a woman you’ll immediately fool around and snuggle close to her?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Come, come, come, let us fool around and snuggle close to each other!” While saying that he spread his arms wide to embrace her.

After Wei Xiaobao was promoted to be the First-class Earl of Tong Chi, the number of cooks, menservants and maidservants on the Island increased by the dozens. Wei Hutou was still in diapers, yet he had already been conferred the title ‘Yun Qi Wei’. Life on the barren island unexpectedly became full of luxury [orig. brocade garments, jade meals], with all the glory, splendor, and wealth according to his rank. It’s just that it was too easy and comfortable that Wei Xiaobao was bored. He tried with thousand ways, a hundred plans to create trouble and play some pranks; he came up with some weird tricks and preposterous plans, in total disregard of his own career. Unfortunately, the seven madams were deadpan in opposing him; day and night they watched over him closely. Even the Princess, who simply loved to act willfully and make a scene, this time refused to accompany him to incite trouble. This First-class Earl of Tong Chi was bound hands and feet; he could only heave a deep sigh dejectedly.

He recalled Sun Sike’s story about the punitive expedition against Wu Sangui, big and small battles, some of them were full of all kinds of thrillers, some were saturated with delight, yet he was not involved at all, he did not have any chance to display his full capabilities; he was extremely disappointed. If he was in involved battle, he would not have let Wu Sangui to die that easily; he would think of a way to catch him alive, put him in a cage, from Hengzhou in Hunan all the way to Beijing, he would charge five qian to whoever wanted to see him, and one tael to whoever wanted to spit on him, children paid half-price, beautiful women free. Common people all over the world hated this big traitor to the bones, why should I, Wei Xiaobao, not take advantage to gain some spending money?

Wu Sangui was defeated, there was no more war to fight; but other than fighting a war, there were so many interesting things in the world, as long as he was able to come to a place with many people, someplace bustling with noise and excitement. In short, he had to leave Tong Chi Island first. But with seven wives, two sons and one daughter, who would follow him closely, it was like ten large stones were hanging on his neck. If they wanted to stealthily leave Tong Chi Island together, it would be more difficult than difficult. It would be better to cast these ten people away, and then he could attempt to escape alone.

Ever since he sent Sun Sike off, not a single day passed where he did not mule over this idea. Sometimes he would sit on a rock, fishing, imagining that he was sitting on the back of a big sea turtle, braving the wind and the billows, leisurely heading toward the Central Plains; wouldn’t that be pleasant?

It was almost Zhongqiu [mid-autumn, the fifteenth of the eighth lunar month], the weather was blisteringly hot, Wei Xiaobao took his fishing pole and bait, and went fishing for a while. He was quite fidgety that day. Leaning on a big rock his mind went blurry as he was about to fall asleep. Suddenly he heard a voice speaking, “Reporting to Wei Jueye, Ocean Dragon King request the pleasure of seeing you!”

Wei Xiaobao was surprised; focusing his eyes, he saw a big sea-turtle on the surface of the ocean, with its head raised high, but its mouth uttered human speech, “The Senior, Dragon King of the Eastern Sea is lonely and bored in the Crystal Palace, he especially sent Xiao Jiang [little/lowly general] to come and respectfully invite Wei Jueye for a feast, with gambling after the feast. Sea Dragon King will use coral and crystal to lay a bet, but everything is interchangeable with banknote used on land.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “Wonderful, wonderful!” he cried out, “This distinguished gentleman is so polite, naturally I have to accompany him.”

The big turtle said, “In the Crystal Palace there will also be theatrical troupe, who are very good at playing ‘Qun Ying Hui’ [meeting of heroes], ‘Ding Jun Shan’[4], ‘Zhong Kui married off his younger sister’, ‘White Water Beach’, and all kinds of good stories. There will also be Mr. Storytellers, good at telling the Great Ming’s Legend of Heroic Deeds, Water Margin, and other great books. There will also be countless courtesans, who can sing all kinds of new folksongs, like ‘Tan Wu Geng’ [sighing before dawn (fifth watch period, 03:00-05:00)], ‘Eighteen Touches’, or ‘Si Ji Xiang Si’ [missing each other throughout four seasons]; not a single one cannot sing. Sea Dragon King’s seven Princesses all have countenance of a flower, face like the moon. They have long admired Wei Jueye’s distinguished and accomplished intelligence, and all are looking forward to seeing you.”

There was an unbearable itch in Wei Xiaobao’s heart. “Good, good, good!” he repeatedly exclaimed, “Let’s go.”

The big turtle said, “Would Jueye please sit on Xiaode’s [little/lowly one] back, I will take you to the Crystal Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao leaped down and sat on the big turtle’s back. The big turtle left the beach and swam steadily toward the Crystal Palace. The Dragon King of the Eastern Sea personally welcomed him outside the Palace, hand-in-hand they entered the Palace. The Dragon King of the Southern Sea had already been waiting inside.

During the feast, more guests arrived in an endless stream; there were Zhu Bajie [The Pig of Journey to the West] and Cow Demon King, two evil spirits, and then there were Zhang Fei, Li Kui[5], Niu Gao[6], and Cheng Yaojin, four great generals, King Zhou and Hegemon Chu, Emperor Yang of Sui, and Ming Dynasty’s Emperor Zhengde, four Emperors. These four Emperors, four generals, the pig, the cow, and two dragons, four divine demons, were the most muddleheaded ‘cattle’ [see Chapter 3] among the celestial, underground, and bottom of the ocean creatures since time immemorial.

After the feast they started gambling; Wei Xiaobao became the banker. He casually grabbed the tiles, practiced fraud over and over, each set of his tiles was either supreme treasure [one, two, two, four], or pair of heavens [all sixes]. He won so big that those twelve people let out ‘Wah, wah!’ cry. Gold, silver, money and valuables they lost piled up in front of Wei Xiaobao. Finally even King Zhou’s Daji[7], Emperor Zhengde’s older sister Lie Feng, as well as Zhu Bajie’s rake and Zhang Fei’s a zhang-long eight-serpent spear were also won over.

When General Li Kui’s pair of broad axes was won over, Li Kui’s gambling character was not good, his black face was bulging dark red, he shouted, “Thief servant bird, as human being when you see something good you ought to restrain yourself. You won someone else’s women, it’s not a big deal, but you even want to have the tool with which laozi eat, you ignore yi qi too much.” Grabbing Wei Xiaobao’s chest, he brought his vinegar-bowl-size fist up and punched down. ‘Bang!’ he hit Wei Xiaobao above his ear, shaking him so much that his ears were buzzing.

Wei Xiaobao screamed and raised both of his hands, the fishing line was flung upward, the hook hit him at the back of his neck, so that when he jerked the fishing pole up, the hook entered his flesh and his whole body was also jerked upward. In an instant Li Kui, Zhang Fei, Sea Dragon King and so on disappeared without a trace. Suddenly he realized it was just a dream of Nanke [i.e. dreams of grandeur, empty dream]. But he heard another loud ‘Bang!’ from the direction of the sea.

[1] Green standard army – standing infantry during Qing Dynasty; originally formed from Ming and other Chinese army units.

[2] Yan Zi Ling (ca. 40 BC to ca. 40 AD) is one of the most famous examples of a scholar who declined public life in favour of honourable reclusion. Around the year 14 AD, Yan studied at the state academy in Changan. He was then about 40, having spent a number of years in retirement, together with other honorable men, in the Shaoxing area, due to the turmoil that took place while the usurper Wang Mang was in power (6-23). At the academy Yan met Liu Xiu, who later ruled as the Han dynasty Guang Wu emperor. Although Liu Xiu was then about 20 years younger than Yan, they became very close friends, and several stories attest to their strong personal relationship. When Liu Xiu became emperor he was able to persuade Yan Zi Ling to visit him in the capital, but he could not persuade him to take office. Instead Yan went into retirement again, this time in a secluded spot up the Fu Chun River about 100 km. southwest of Hangzhou, spending his time enjoying nature. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[3] Commandant of Fleet-as-Clouds Cavalry was the eighth in order of precedence out of nine grades of the peerage awarded for valor, achievement and distinction. It was not divided into subclasses unlike the top seven. It was equivalent to a fifth rank position in the nine ranks system. It was also a rough equivalent of Companion or Commander of a chivalric order. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[4] Mount Ding Jun – referring to Battle of Mount Ding Jun – Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

[5] Li Kui is a fictional character in the Outlaws of the Marsh. He ranks 22nd of the 36 Heavenly Spirits of the 108 Liangshan heroes and is nicknamed Black Whirlwind. Li Kui is one of the most memorable characters in Outlaws of the Marsh, often ridiculed and used for comedic effect. He represents both a light and dark side of the outlaws. His exploits with Taoist Luo and his journeys with Yan Qing represent the most humorous side of the novel. He is perhaps the most controversial character in the story. Often depicted as reckless, violent and cannibalistic, he kills indiscriminately whenever his blood lust is aroused. Men from even his own combat unit were sometimes afraid to go near him during battle. At the behest of Song Jiang and Wu Yong, he once killed a four-year-old child to force Zhu Tong to become an outlaw. Taoist Luo nonetheless describes Li Kui as a Heavenly Spirit sent to Earth to destroy the wicked. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[6] Niu Gao was a very capable general under Yue Fei. He is sent to relieve Ou Yang Pass which is besieged by a powerful Jurchen army. After he routs the besiegers, the garrison commander offers him his sister-in-law as wife. The woman is also an expert in martial skills, so on their wedding night the husband and wife engage in a friendly duel in their bedchamber. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[7] Daji (c. 11th century BC), mythical fox spirit and concubine of the last Shang Dynasty Emperor Zhou Xin.

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