The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 6-10

Chapter 6 Understanding the idea of compassion and talent today, one will know when to plant the trees.

Hai Laogong asked what had happened that day, Wei Xiaobao told him how he went to Oboi’s home to search the house and confiscate his possessions. However, he did not mention anything about how he embezzled some treasure, gold and silver, dagger, et cetera. He concluded his narrative by saying, “The Empress Dowager sent me to Oboi’s home to get hold of two copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ …”

Hai Laogong suddenly sprang up and asked, “Oboi has two copies of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’?”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “It was the Empress Dowager and His Majesty who sent me to fetch the books; otherwise I would have fetched it for you, other people do not need to know.”

Hai Laogong’s countenance darkened. “Humph,” he grunted, and then coldly said, “So it fell into the Empress Dowager’s hands. Very good, very good!”

A moment later the kitchen delivered their dinner. Hai Laogong only ate half of a small bowl and then he stopped eating altogether, he rolled his eyes until only the white part was visible, looked up to the ceiling and was lost in thought.

After dinner, Wei Xiaobao was thinking of a short nap before leaving on the third watch to see that little palace maid to chat and have fun. Seeing Hai Laogong was sitting unmoving while staring blankly into the space, he went to bed, fully clothed, and fell asleep.

After sleeping fitfully for a while, he quietly got up and tucked the small box containing the cake and pastry into his pocket. Afraid to wake Hai Laogong up, step by step he quietly tiptoed out. He reached the door, quietly opened the latch, and quietly pushed one door leaf; suddenly he heard Hai Laogong ask, “Xiao Guizi, where are you going?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “I … I want to pee,” he said.

“Why don’t you pee in your room?” Hai Laogong asked.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I want to take a walk in the garden.” Afraid Hai Laogong might stop him, without saying anything he stepped out. But his left foot had just moved one step when he felt the collar behind his neck tightened as he was grabbed by Hai Laogong and lifted up.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao screamed, then he had a thought, “Bad, bad, the old turtle knew I was going to see that little palace maid and stop me from going.” Before he finished his thought, Hai Laogong had already thrown him onto the bed.

“Gong-gong,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Are you testing my martial art? You haven’t taught me anything these past several days. What do you call that grab?”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “It is called ‘Catching a Bie [freshwater soft-shelled turtle] in the Jar’, it’s very easy. A bie is an armored fish, so I can catch you, a little armored fish.”

“Old armored fish caught little armored fish!” Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, but of course he did not dare to say it out loud. He rolled his eyes, trying to find a way to escape.

Hai Laogong sat on the side of the bed and gently said, “You are bold yet cautious, smart and witty; although you are unwilling to steadfastly train martial art, yet if I polish and refine you well, you may be considered as a good material. It’s too bad, really too bad.”

“Gong-gong, why is it too bad?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Hai Laogong did not answer, he only heaved a sigh. After half a day, he said, “Your Beijing accent is not bad, you learned well. If several months ago you were able to speak like this, without any Yangzhou accent at all, it would not be easy to detect.”

Wei Xiaobao was really shocked. In a split second all the hair in his body stood up; he was unable to stop his body from trembling, and his teeth from chattering lightly. With a forced laugh he said, “Gong-gong, tonight you … you speak really … hee hee … really strange.”

Hai Laogong heaved a sigh again and asked, “Child, how old are you this year?”

Hearing his gentle tone, Wei Xiaobao’s fright and panic somewhat diminished; he said, “I … I am thirteen, I think.”

“Thirteen is thirteen, fourteen is fourteen,” Hai Laogong said, “Why is it ‘thirteen, I think’?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “My mother did not remember it too clearly, of course I won’t have any way of knowing.” It was a true statement, his mother was actually muddle-headed, she could not ascertain Wei Xiaobao’s real age.

Hai Laogong nodded and coughed several times before saying, “During martial art training several years ago, I accidentally suffer a fire deviation, and thus triggered up this coughing illness. The longer I cough, the worse it is, so for the last few years I know I won’t get better.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I … think recently … recently your cough is getting better.”

Hai Laogong shook his head, “What do you mean better?” he said, “Not better at all. My chest hurts very bad, how would you know that?”

“How do you feel now?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Do you want me to get the medicine for you to take?”

Hai Laogong sighed, “My eyes can no longer see,” he said, “Medicine cannot be taken randomly.”

Wei Xiaobao did not dare to breathe loudly; he was wondering the real reason behind those words.

Hai Laogong continued, “Your luck is very good, you managed to curry the Emperor’s favor, actually, you might achieve great things. Your body has not been cleansed, but it’s not a big deal, I can purify you myself. It’s just that, ay …, it’s too late, too late.”

Wei Xiaobao did not understand the meaning of ‘purification’, he only felt that somehow the way Hai Laogong speaking tonight was very strange. He said in a gentle voice, “Gong-gong, it’s late, you should sleep.”

“Sleep? Sleep!” Hai Laogong said, “Ay, after I wake up from sleep, then what? Sleep in the morning, sleep at night, I want to sleep without waking forever. Child, an eternal sleep, no need to wake up, no pain in the pit of your stomach, no bad cough, won’t that be extraordinarily beautiful?” Wei Xiaobao was so frightened that he did not dare to make any noise.

“Child,” Hai Laogong continued, “Who else is there in your home?”

It was such a boring, ordinary question, but Wei Xiaobao had such a hard time to answer it. He did not know who else were in the dead Xiao Guizi’s home; if he gave a random answer, he would most likely give himself away, but he could not not answering it. He was hoping that Hai Laogong did not know the situation in Xiao Guizi’s home, and thus the reason he asked. Thereupon he said, “There is only my Laoniang[1] at home; as for the rest of my family, over these last few years, ay, I don’t want to talk about it.” He spoke in such a way that he mentioned the top part, but did not continue to the bottom. Supposing Xiao Guizi still had a father, older brother, older sister or younger brother, there was no harm in him using ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ as an excuse.

Hai Laogong said, “Only your Laoniang. In your Fujian dialect, is that how you call your mother?”

Wei Xiaobao was again very shocked. “What Fujian dialect?” he mused, “Could it be that Xiao Guizi is from Fujian? He said earlier that I have Yangzhou accent, perhaps … perhaps … the fact that his eyes were blinded by me, he still does not know?” In a flash, innumerable thoughts flitted through his mind; he said vaguely, “This … this … why did you ask?”

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “You are still young, yet so bad. Hey, in the end, do you look like your father, or like your mother?”

Wei Xiaobao giggled and said, “I don’t look like anybody. Good, I am not very good, bad, I can’t be considered outstandingly bad.”

Hai Laogong coughed several times before saying, “I was already a grown-up when I was purified and became a eunuch …”

Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “Turns out to become a eunuch one must be purified; that is cutting off your peeing thing. He knew I haven’t been purified, if he purifies me, that will be sending the dragon nicely to the east …”

He heard Hai Laogong continued, “Actually, I had a son, what a pity he died when he was eight. If he were alive today, my grandson would be about your age. That man surnamed Mao, Mao Shiba, is not your father, is he?”

With a trembling voice Wei Xiaobao said, “No … he is not! Hot piece mama, of … of course he is not.” In his fright, he blurted out Yangzhou slang.

Hai Laogong said, “I don’t think he is. If you were my son, and I lost you trapped in the imperial palace, even if there were great dangers, I would still try to help you out.”

Wei Xiaobao forced a laugh and said, “Too bad I don’t have a father as good as you.”

Hai Laogong said, “I taught you two sets of martial art, the first one was the ‘big grappling technique’, the second one was the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’. I have not learned both sets of technique entirely, naturally you haven’t mastered the sets, perhaps you only learned a tenth, half a tenth. Hey hey, hey hey.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You, Senior, better teach me so that I may master these two sets or technique entirely. You have this kind of number-one-under-the-heavens martial art skill, if you have someone to pass your skill on, he may make you famous, it’s the sensible thing to do.”

Hai Laogong shook his head. “These words ‘number one under the heavens’, how do I dare to accept? I don’t know how many people have superior martial art skill in the world. These two sets of martial art skill, even in all my life I won’t have enough time to learn it entirely.” He paused for a moment, then said, “Take a breath, put your hand on the left side of your lower abdomen, about three cun away from your belly button, and press hard, how do you feel?”

Wei Xiaobao put his hand according to his instruction and pressed hard. Instantly a pain penetrated his heart and liver; “Ah!” he could not help but scream. In a flash his brow was beaded with sweat and he could not stop panting. For nearly more than half a month he had occasionally felt a dull ache on the left side of his lower abdomen, but he always thought it was because he ate something bad, moreover, the pain only appeared momentarily and immediately subsided, thus he had never given it any further thought. Who could have imagined that with a hard press like that the pain could be this severe?

With a gloomy voice Hai Laogong said, “Isn’t it amusing?”

Wei Xiaobao cursed fiercely in his belly, “Dead old turtle, stinky old turtle!” But what he said was, “Just a little pain, what’s so amusing about it?”

Hai Laogong said, “Every morning when you go gambling and training martial art with His Majesty, the food is always delivered before you come back. I thought that the soup is not tasty enough, so every day I took a bottle of medicine from the medicine chest and added a little bit of stuff into your soup. Only a little tiny bit; if I added too much, the toxicity would be too heavy, it would not be appropriate for your body. You are a very careful person, but I have never taken the soup, don’t you have the least bit of suspicion?”

Wei Xiaobao was absolutely terrified, he said, “I … I thought you didn’t like the soup. You … you said that when you drink the soup, you … you … will cou … cough …”

“Actually, I really like to drink soup,” Hai Laogong said, “But if the soup is poisoned, although the dose is very light, and you take it daily, over a long period of time, it will be a little bit dangerous, won’t it?”

Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “Absolutely, absolutely! Gong-gong, you are really formidable.”

Hai Laogong sighed. “That’s not necessarily true,” he said, “Actually, I wanted you to take the poison for three more months before I’d let you out of the Palace, so that you will feel the stomach pain gradually worsen. At first you will feel about an hour of pain every day, and the pain won’t be so severe. Later, the pain will be more and more severe, the duration will also be longer and longer. Roughly in about a year, you will feel great pain all day long; a pain so terrible that you will want to dash your own head against the wall, a pain so severe that you will want to bite your own hands, your own legs, piece by piece.” Speaking to this point, he sighed before continuing, “It’s a pity than my body is deteriorating fast, I am afraid I cannot wait much longer. The poison in your body, nobody else has the antidote, I am the only one who has it. Little baby, who sent you? Who has thought about this plan to blind me? If you answer me truthfully, I’ll give you the antidote right away.”

Wei Xiaobao might be young, but he knew that even if he mentioned the name of the person who sent him, in no way Hai Laogong would spare his life; much less there was indeed nobody sending him; thereupon he said, “Of course somebody has sent me, but I am afraid as soon as I say it, you would jump in fright. Turns out you knew it early on that I am not Xiao Guizi, and have thought this method to torture me. Ha ha, ha ha! You are the one who has fallen into my trick! Ha ha, ha ha!” While laughing heartily, his body made a random movement; bending his right leg, his right hand grabbed the hilt of the dagger. Very slowly he pulled the dagger from its scabbard, without making any noise at all. Even if there were some noise, he was confident his laughter would cover it.

“What trick of yours did I fall into?” Hai Laogong asked.

Wei Xiaobao was talking nonsense; he only wanted to distract him. So he simply continued talking nonsense, “From the first day I have already tasted the poison in the soup. I discussed it over with Xiao Xuanzi, and he said that you are poisoning me …”

Hai Laogong was startled, “His Majesty knew about it?” he asked.

“How could he not know?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “It’s just that at the time I did not know he was the Emperor. Xiao Xuanzi told me not to make a word or movement, just to be careful, so when I took the soup, I only put it in my mouth and spit it out again to the bowl; you could not see anyway.” While speaking, he raised the dagger half a cun by half a cun up, with the tip of the dagger aimed at the pit of Hai Laogong’s stomach. He thought that if he failed to kill him in one stab, even if the dagger stabbed Hai Laogong, with just a palm strike Wei Xiaobao’s own life would be gone.

Hai Laogong was half believing half doubting; with a cold laugh he said, “If you did not drink the soup, how come with one press on your left abdomen, the pain was unbearable?”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “I supposed even though I spat the soup out, I did not rinse my mouth afterwards, the poison is still going down my stomach.” While saying that, the dagger was moved several cun closer.

“That’s very good, then,” he heard Hai Laogong said, “In any case, the poison cannot be neutralized. Your poisoning is somewhat lighter, it will flare-up somewhat slower, your suffering can only be worse.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; in the midst of the long laughter, he brought his entire strength into his right arm as he lunge the dagger violently toward the pit of Hai Laogong’s stomach. He had already planned that as soon as the dagger hit, he would promptly roll toward the corner of the bed, and then from the corner of the bed he would scuttle out.

Hai Laogong felt a burst of cold air hitting his face; he was slightly surprised, but knew that the opponent had already made a move. He did not have time to think about the nature of the attack; his left hand swept forward to block the incoming blade, his right palm struck out, ‘Bang!’ it hit Wei Xiaobao, sending him flying out, crashing through the window frame, and falling straight onto the flower garden outside the window. Right away he felt severe pain on his left hand; four of his fingers were severed by the dagger.

If not for Wei Xiaobao’s dagger emitted a strong cold air, while he did not have the slightest sign of the incoming attack beforehand, by this time the pit of his stomach would have been stabbed. However, if the dagger was an ordinary one, with the discrepancy between the two persons’ strength being too far, even if the dagger stabbed his chest, it would only be a superficial injury. His internal strength was everywhere; his palm was like iron, as it struck a saber or sword, or shook a flying dagger, he could not possibly injure his own palm. But in all honesty this dagger was simply too sharp. Hai Laogong’s painstaking dozen of year’s cultivation of internal strength unexpectedly could not shake this incoming dagger away, instead, it cut off his four fingers noiselessly. However, his right palm hit Wei Xiaobao squarely on the pit of his stomach; this palm strike was able to break an upright stone tablet and could split a rock, it was not a small matter at all. He guessed that Wei Xiaobao’s internal organs were completely smashed and that he had already died before even flying outside the window.

Hai Laogong laughed coldly and muttered to himself, “He died too easily, this little demon had it too lightly.” After calming himself down, he took out some metal cut medicine from his medicine chest and applied it to his wound. Tearing off the bed sheet, he wrapped his left palm, while muttering, “What kind of weapon did that little demon use? How come it’s this fierce?” Suppressing the severe pain in his hand, he leaped out the window and groped the place where Wei Xiaobao was supposed to fall; he wanted to find the blade that he had never even heard about, the sharp blade that he had never seen before. To his surprise, however, after groping about for a long time, he did not find anything.

Before he was blinded, he was very familiar with the garden outside his window; where the flowers were, where the rocks were, everything was etched in his heart. Obviously he heard Wei Xiaobao had fallen next to the cluster of Chinese peony; there was the possibility that the treasured blade was shaken out of his hand and flew far away, but his body could not possibly disappear, could it?

When Wei Xiaobao was hit by the palm, his breathing was blocked instantly, there was an acute pain in the pit of his stomach, and he felt as if the hundreds of bones on his four limbs were disintegrated to a cun-size pieces. He was thrown onto the ground and nearly passed out. He knew he was at the verge of death; since he was unable to kill Hai Laogong with a single stab, the old turtle would definitely come out to pursue and attack; therefore, with the remaining strength in his body he crawled up. But after taking only two steps, his feet gave up; he slipped and fell again, and rolled down from a sloped ground all the way to the bottom.

If Hai Laogong did not have his fingers cut, the noise of Wei Xiaobao rolling down the slope would naturally not escape his ears; however, he was severely wounded, he was distraught with anxiety, in addition, even in his dream he would not think that after being hit by his palm, this little demon did not die. Although he did hear some noise, he did not give it further thought as the cause of the noise.

The sloping ground was quite long, Wei Xiaobao rolled for more than ten zhang before stopping. He struggled hard to stand up and slowly walked away; the muscle and bones in his entire body were unbearably painful, luckily the dagger was still tightly grasped in his hand. He rejoiced inwardly, “The old turtle hit me and sent me out the window just now, unexpectedly I did not stab myself with the dagger, I was extremely lucky.” Inserting the dagger into his boot, he thought, “My masquerade has been unmasked, the old turtle already know I am a fake goods, I cannot live in the Palace anymore. Too bad the four hundred fifty thousand tael of money has turned into an empty joy. His granny, where has there ever been one man who has this kind of stroke of luck? An ill-gotten gain worth four hundred fifty thousand taels. In other word, laozi has gained a four hundred fifty thousand tael wealth, but laozi is too extravagant, in just one night I spent it all until nothing’s left. Don’t you think it’s so awesome?” Bragging in his heart, he could not help but feeling very proud of himself.

He also thought, “That little palace maid is still waiting for me; in any event, I cannot leave the Palace on the third watch in the middle of the night, I might as well go and see her. Aiyo …” He put his hand into his pocket to feel the small carton box, and found that the box had been squeezed flat; he thought, “I’ll still show it to her, so she won’t be too anxious waiting for me. I’ll tell her I fell down and squeeze the preserved fruits and candy mushy, turning it into a pile of cow dung. But this pile of cow dung is sweet and fragrant, and taste outstandingly good. Ha ha, hot piece mama, have you even eaten cow dung so sweet and fragrant? Laozi has.”

The more he thought, the more he felt amused; he picked up his speed toward the Empress Dowager’s Palace of Compassion and Peace. But as he walked faster for only several steps, there was an acute pain on the pit of his stomach, forcing him to slow down. Arriving at the Palace of Compassion and Peace, he saw the palace gate was closed. “It’s bad,” he thought, “I did not think this gate would be closed; how am I going to get in?”

While he was wondering what to do, suddenly the palace gate was pushed open noiselessly, followed by a little palace maid’s head appeared. Under the moonlight he was able to see clearly that it was indeed Rui Chu. He saw her smiling and beckoning to him. Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he slipped in quietly.

Rui Chu closed the gate and then in a low voice whispered in his ear, “I was afraid you are not coming; I have been waiting here for a long time.”

“I am late,” Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “On my way here I stumbled upon a stinky and hard-to-deal-with old turtle; I tripped and fell down.”

“Is there any sea turtle in the garden?” Rui Chu said, “I have never seen one. You … are your hurt from the fall?”

In his determination to come here, Wei Xiaobao was able to endure the pain, but as soon as Rui Chu asked, he felt in his entire body there was not a place where it did not hurt; he could not help but groaning. Rui Chu pulled his hand and asked in low voice, “Which part hurts?”

Wei Xiaobao was just about to reply when suddenly he saw a shadow flitted across on the ground; when he raised his head, he saw an enormous eagle flying over the wall and gently landed on the ground. He was really shocked and nearly let out a shout. Under the moonlight he saw the giant eagle stood up like a human. Turned out it was not a giant eagle at all, but a human. This person had a slim built with a hunched back; who else but Hai Laogong himself?

Originally, Rui Chu was facing Wei Xiaobao, so she did not see Hai Laogong had come, but seeing Wei Xiaobao turn his head and stare with terror-stricken expression on his face, she also turned her head around. Wei Xiaobao reached out with his left hand to cover her mouth and pressed rather hard to prevent her from making the least bit of noise. His right hand shook anxiously, signaling her not to make any noise. Rui Chu nodded. Wei Xiaobao slowly took his hand off her mouth while his gaze was fixed on Hai Laogong.

He saw Hai Laogong was standing perfectly still, as if he was listening attentively to the sound of movement around him. It was a moment later that he finally walked forward slowly. Seeing Hai Laogong did not walk toward them, Wei Xiaobao let out a breath quietly. “The old turtle is really formidable,” he said in his heart, “Although he is blind, unexpectedly he is able to pursue me to this place.” He also thought, “As long as this little palace maid and I do not make any sound, the old turtle cannot possibly find me.”

Hai Laogong had walked several steps forward, but suddenly he jumped up and landed in front of Wei Xiaobao. Reaching out with his left hand, he grabbed Rui Chu’s neck. “Ah!” Rui Chu cried, but her throat was quickly pinched that the cry was muffled.

Something flashed in Wei Xiaobao’s mind, “The old turtle is looking for me, he is not looking for this little palace maid, he could not possibly kill her.” This moment he was only two chi away from Hai Laogong; he was so scared that he almost pee in his pants, but he did not move at all, because he knew that as soon as he move just one finger, Hai Laogong would hear him.

In a low voice Hai Laogong said, “Don’t make noise! You don’t obey, I’ll kill you. Answer my question softly. Who are you?”

“I … I …” Rui Chu said in low voice.

Hai Laogong stretched out his right hand and ran it over the top of her head, and ran it across her face. “You are a little palace maid, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, yes!” Rui Chu replied.

“It’s the third watch in the middle of the night,” Hai Laogong said, “What are you doing here?”

Rui Chu said, “I … I am here to have fun.”

Hai Laogong’s face revealed a faint smile; under the dim moonlight, he looked even more gloomy and grim. “Who else is here with you?” he asked, while leaning his head slightly to listen attentively.

Just now Rui Chu did not hold her breath nor did she know how to concentrate her breathing; in panic, she breathed loudly and thus Hai Laogong knew where she was standing. Although Wei Xiaobao was also standing close-by, he was breathing very lightly, so that for now his presence was not detected.

Wei Xiaobao wanted to signal her not to say anything, but he did not dare to move his arm. Luckily Rui Chu was perceptive, realizing he was blind, she said, “No … nobody.”

“Where does the Empress Dowager live?” Hai Laogong said, “Take me to see her.”

Rui Chu was frightened. “Gong-gong, please … please don’t tell Empress Dowager,” she pleaded, “Next time … next time I will not dare anymore.” She only knew that this eunuch was arresting her to be reported to the Empress Dowager.

“It’s useless for you to plead with me,” Hai Laogong said, “If you don’t take me, I’ll crush your neck immediately.” His hand squeezed lightly, Rui Chu’s breathing was immediately stopped, her small face bulged very red.

Wei Xiaobao was so frightened that finally he peed in his pants, the urine was dripping from his crotch. Luckily Hai Laogong did not pay any attention; even if he heard it, he would think that it was Rui Chu who peed from the fright.

Hai Laogong loosened his left hand slowly and said in a low voice, “Quickly take me there.”

Rui Chu did not have any choice but to say, “Alright!” She cast a glance toward Wei Xiaobao, signaling him with her eyes to quickly run away, telling him that she would not give him away. “The Empress Dowager’s personal palace is on that side!” she said in a low voice, while slowly moving forward. With his hand still holding her throat, Hai Laogong walked beside her.

Wei Xiaobao thought it over, “The old turtle must be going to the Empress Dowager to tell her that I am a fake little eunuch, that Xiao Guizi was murdered by me, that his eyes were blinded by me; he wants the Empress Dowager to issue an order to have me arrested immediately. Why didn’t he report me to His Majesty? Ah right, he knew His majesty is good to me, most likely his complain will not be considered. Then … then what should I do? I must escape from the Palace immediately. Aiyo, not good! By this time the Palace gate has been shut for a long time, how can I get out? Very soon the Empress Dowager will give her order, and then I won’t be able to escape even if I grew wings.”

While he was still at a loss, he heard a woman’s voice coming from the room ahead suddenly asked, “Who’s that outside?” This gloomy and eerie voice, Wei Xiaobao recognized as the Empress Dowager’s voice. He was frightened and wanted to lift his heels and run away, but he heard Hai Laogong say, “Your servant Hai Tianfu is paying his respect to you, Senior.” This voice was also gloomy and eerie, without any sign of respect at all.

Wei Xiaobao felt very strange, “Who does the old turtle think he is? He has the audacity to be this rude to the Empress Dowager.” He had another thought, “The way the old turtle speak is so unpleasant, most likely the Empress Dowager has always loathed him, why don’t I seize this opportunity to argue with him? I am not able to escape anyway.” He knew it was risky, but he recalled that he had recently rendered a great merit, the Emperor and Empress Dowager were very happy, killing one or two Xiao Guizi and blinding the eyes of old turtle Hai certainly could not be considered a great crime. If he was in a serious trouble, he could still ask his sworn brother Songgotu to intercede for him. If he lifted his feet and left, the old turtle could say anything he liked, since Wei Xiaobao had already escaped, naturally he was having a guilty conscience; and thus from being innocent Wei Xiaobao had turned into the guilty party.

He thought further, “If the Empress Dowager ask why did I kill Xiao Guizi? I’ll say … I’ll say, um, I’ll say I heard Xiao Guizi and the old turtle Hai saying malicious remarks against the Emperor and Empress Dowager, I’ll say that they have many, many opinions, which are very unpleasant to hear; I was really angry and was at the end of my patience, hence I picked up a knife and killed Xiao Guizi. I also seized the chance to blind the old turtle’s eyes. As for the malicious words, I can always make it up later. Competing with hands and feet, I cannot prevail against the old turtle. Competing in telling lies and bragging, how can the old turtle be laozi‘s match?” Thinking about it, he was very proud of himself, immediately his courage grew and he did not wish to escape anymore. What he was most afraid of was that if Hai Laogong could not win the argument, he would leap and strike him dead with a palm, and then Wei Xiaobao would die an unjust death. Consequently, when he plead innocence in front of the Empress Dowager, he must stand on a safe place, somewhere the old turtle was not able to reach, someplace he could not strike.

He heard the Empress Dowager said, “If you want to pay your respect, why didn’t you do it during day time? You came here in the middle of the night, what kind of propriety is that?”

“Your servant has a secret important matter to report to the Empress Dowager,” Hai Laogong said, “During the day time, there will be too many ears. If someone hears about it, it will be greatly inconvenient.”

“Hear, hear! The old turtle is about to lodge a complaint,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “I’ll listen to what he has to say first. When he has said most of it, it won’t be too late for me to butt in. But where should I hide?” Looking at the surrounding terrain, he chose a good spot. Step by step he crept to the back of rock garden by the goldfish pond. He thought, “If the old turtle pounce on me, ‘Splash!’ he would’ve fallen into the goldfish pond first, then I would dash into the Empress Dowager’s room. Even if the old turtle has an enormous guts, he wouldn’t dare to barge into the Empress Dowager’s room to beat people.”

He heard the Empress Dowager snorted and said, “What kind of secret important matter? You may say it right away.”

“Does the Empress Dowager have anybody else by her side?” Hai Laogong asked, “What the old servant is about to say is a top secret.”

“How about you come in here and do the search?” the Empress Dowager said, “Your martial art skill is superb; don’t tell me that you cannot hear whether I have someone else by my side.”

“Your servant does not dare to enter the Empress Dowager’s room,” Hai Laogong said, “May I inconvenience the Empress Dowager’s holy self to step out of the room? Your servant has something to report.”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager said, “You are getting more and more audacious. Whose authority do you rely on that you dare to be this unbridled?”

Listening to this, Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, he cursed silently, “Old turtle, you are more and more brazen, now whose authority will you rely on? You really dare to be this unbridled!”

“Your servant does not dare!” Hai Laogong said.

The Empress Dowager snorted again and said, “You … you already do not have any regards of me, tonight you suddenly appear here, what kind of trick are you playing?”

Wei Xiaobao was even happier, he struggled hard to keep himself from shouting several curses to help the Empress Dowager scolding Hai Laogong. He said in his heart, “Old turtle, oh old turtle, you have not lodged any complaint, you have already bumped into a big nail, you are attracting trouble for yourself. Apparently laozi does not need to personally go into action, just the Empress Dowager alone is enough to lash her tongue on you and drive you away.”

He heard Hai Laogong said, “It’s all right if the Empress Dowager does not wish to know any news about that person, your servant is leaving!”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he said in his heart, “Go well, go delightfully, go with the blowing wind[2]. Quickly roll away, you, mother of a b@stard! Why would the Empress Dowager wants to know any news about me?”

But he heard the Empress Dowager said, “What news do you have for me?”

“The news from Mount Wutai[3]!” Hai Laogong said.

“Mount Wutai? You … what are you talking about?” the Empress Dowager said. Her voice trembled slightly.

Under the moonlight Wei Xiaobao saw Hai Laogong stretch out a hand and poked, Rui Chu collapsed immediately. He was startled and was grieved in his heart; he thought, “The old turtle has killed this little miss. When I tell her later, the Empress Dowager will be angrier. It will be extremely difficult for the old turtle to bring up a charge against me.”

He heard the Empress Dowager asked, “You … whom did you harm?”

“It’s a little palace maid serving the Empress Dowager,” Hai Laogong replied, “Your servant does not dare to harm her, I only sealed her acupoint so that she won’t hear our conversation.”

Wei Xiaobao was relieved, “Turns out the old turtle did not kill her!” Yet in the deepest part of his heart there was a faint feeling of disappointment; Hai Laogong did not kill the little palace maid, his own plight could not be considered favorable.

“Mount Wutai?” the Empress Dowager asked again, “Why did you mention Mount Wutai?”

Hai Laogong said, “If Empress Dowager wants to know the details, I will have no choice but to ask your holy self to come out. It’s the middle of the night, your servant cannot enter the Empress Dowager room; if I speak loudly here, this secret matter will be heard by the palace maids and the court eunuchs, then it won’t be fun.” The Empress Dowager hesitated for a moment and then said, “Fine!” The sound of door opening was heard, with a graceful steps she walked out of the room.

Wei Xiaobao pulled back behind the rockery, he mused, “Old turtle Hai cannot see me, but the Empress Dowager is not blind.” He did not dare to stick out his neck and look around. When the Empress Dowager came out, he caught of a glimpse of her and noticed that she was not tall and somewhat short and stout. He had seen the Empress Dowager twice, but both times she was sitting down.

He heard the Empress Dowager said, “You said a moment ago that he went to Mount Wutai, is that … is that true?”

Hai Laogong said, “Your servant did not say anything about anybody going to Mount Wutai. Your servant only said ‘Mount Wutai’. Perhaps there is someone whom the Empress Dowager cares very much?”

The Empress Dowager paused for a moment and then said, “Very well, let’s just say that you did say it that way. He … he … that person … what is he doing on Mount Wutai? Is he in the temple?” Originally, her voice was very calm, but since Hai Laogong mentioned someone on Mount Wutai, she became flustered and exasperated, as if her mind was very troubled.

Hai Laogong said, “That person is indeed in the Qing Liang[4] Temple on Mount Wutai.”

The Empress Dowager let out a deep breath and said, “Thank Heaven and thank the Earth, finally I … I know his … his whereabouts. He … he … he …” She said the word ‘he’ three times, and could not continue, because her voice was trembling violently.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly astonished, “Who are they talking about? Why does the Empress Dowager care about him so much?” He could not help but feeling anxious, “Could he be the Empress Dowager’s father? Or her brother? Or perhaps her old lover? That’s it, he must be her old lover. If it was her father or brother, it won’t be a secret important matter, why should they worry others would hear it? The old turtle has had a hold on her anger, if he wanted her to kill me, the Empress Dowager is afraid of the old turtle, perhaps she would obey him. This is not too good. Luckily laozi is here and hear everything, if the old whore dares to kill me, laozi will spill out everything in full detail, I will tell His Majesty and their conspiracy will break apart. I am afraid you cannot be considered a hero or a warrior.”

Since Pan Gu[5] split the heaven and earth apart, just a very few people ever dared to call the Empress Dowager the ‘old whore’. Even those who cursed her secretly in their belly, the number cannot be too many. Wei Xiaobao did not have such fear, even his own mother, whenever she beat him too hard, he would randomly curse her as ‘rotten whore’ or ‘stinky whore’. Luckily his mother was indeed a prostitute, plus everybody in the brothel had always hurled obscenities to each other anyway, so nobody thought too much about it. When his mother heard the curse, she did not get angry, she only hit his little butts 30% harder, while also throwing curse back at him ‘little b@stard’ or ‘little son of a b*tch’. Nothing more than that.

He heard the Empress Dowager was panting anxiously; after half a day she asked, “He … he … he … what is he doing in the Qing Liang Temple?”

“Does Empress Dowager really want to know?” Hai Laogong asked.

“Do you have to ask?” the Empress Dowager retorted, “Of course I want to know.”

Hai Laogong said, “My master has left home to become a Buddhist monk.”

“Ah!” the Empress Dowager gasped, her breathing became more rapid. “He … he really has become a monk?” she asked, “You … you are not deceiving me, are you?”

“Your servant does not dare to deceive the Empress Dowager,” Hai Laogong replied, “I don’t need to deceive the Empress Dowager.”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager snorted, “He is so cruel, he wholeheartedly only … only thinks about that … that foxy charmer, so that our country, our empire, our ancestors’ hundreds of battles, as well as the established foundation … are all being thrown to the back of his head. We, mother and son, no … no longer have any place in his heart.”

The more Wei Xiaobao listened, the more astonished he was; he thought, “What country, empire and ancestors’ established foundation? The old turtle also calls that person ‘my master’, so this man … this man is not the Empress Dowager’s old lover?”

Hai Laogong coldly said, “My master has seen through worldly affairs, he has attained great understanding. Ten thousand li of rivers and mountains, affection toward sons and daughters, my master said everything is like floating clouds, everything is no longer in his mind.”

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “Why didn’t he leave home earlier? Why not leave home later? Why did he have to wait for that … that foxy charmer’s death before he left home? In his heart, country, dynasty, forefathers, wife and child, everything added together, still fall short of that foxy charmer; and that’s the reason of his abrupt departure. Humph, since he has left, why did he send you to tell me?” The more she talked, the angrier she was; her voice was sharp and gradually growing louder.

Wei Xiaobao was unspeakably terrified, he had a vague feeling that the person those two were talking about, as well as the circumstances surrounding it, were not a small matter.

Hai Laogong said, “My master implored over and over again that whatever your servant say, I must not divulge anything, I must not let the Empress Dowager and His Majesty know about it. My master said: His Majesty has ascended the throne, there is peace throughout the world, there is not a problem on the four oceans, he feels relieved.”

In a harsh voice the Empress Dowager said, “Then why did you tell this to me? Originally I did not know, and I did not want to know. Since in his heart he is unable to stop thinking about that foxy charmer, whether his son ascended the throne or not, whether the world is at peace or not, what does it have to do with whether he feels relieved or not?”

Listening to this point, Wei Xiaobao was greatly astonished, “Are they talking about the Emperor’s Papa? The young emperor’s Papa, Emperor Shunzhi, has given up his ghost long before the young emperor become the Emperor. Could it be that the Emperor has another Papa?” His knowledge on the imperial household and the Palace matter was very limited, other than knowing that the young emperor’s father was Emperor Shunzhi, he was completely ignorant about other things. Even if the Empress Dowager and Hai Laogong spoke ten times clearer, he still could not guess the real situation correctly.

Hai Laogong said, “Since my master has already left home, your servant ought to also become a monk in the Qing Liang Temple to attend to my master. However, my master told me that he still have something that is burdening him, and instructed your servant to return to the Capital and investigate something.”

“What matter is that?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Hai Laogong said, “My master said, although Consort Donggo …”

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “In front of me, you must not mention that foxy charmer’s name!”

“Turns out that fox-spirit is called Consort Donggo,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “She must be one of the Palace’s Imperial Concubines. The Empress Dowager ‘s old lover loved this flirty fox and did not love the Empress Dowager, as a result, the Empress Dowager drank a lot of vinegar [i.e. jealous[6]].”

“Yes,” Hai Laogong replied, “Empress Dowager forbids me from mentioning her name, your servant won’t mention it.”

“What did he say about that foxy charmer?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Hai Laogong said, “Your servant does not understand who the Empress Dowager was referring to. My master has never mentioned these words ‘foxy charmer’.”

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “Naturally he has never mentioned these words, in his heart, it was always ‘Empress Duan Jing’. After that foxy charmer died, he … he conferred a posthumous title of ‘Empress’ to her. The flattering servants respectfully proposed to grant her a posthumous name, something like ‘Empress Xiao Xian Zhuang He Zhi De Xuan Ren Wen Hui [7]’. But since this title did not contain the words ‘heavenly sage’, he threw a fit. Also, two servant scholars called Hu Guanglong and Wang Xi compiled the book ‘Quotation from Empress Duan Jing’ and spread it all over the world, aren’t they afraid of disgrace?”

Hai Laogong said, “Empress Dowager is right, after Consort Donggo returned to heaven, your servant should have called her Empress Donggo. About that book ‘Quotation from Empress Duan Jing’, your servant frequently has a copy by my side, would Empress Dowager like to take a look?”

“You … you … you …” the Empress Dowager shouted angrily; she took a step forward with labored breathing, but suddenly she seemed to be remembering something. “Hey hey,” she laughed, “At that time everybody in the world wanted to curry the Emperor’s favor, everybody read the ‘Quotation from Empress Duan Jing’, the nonsense which those two servants Hu and Wang fabricated. It was considered as ‘the heaven’s law and earth’s principle’, something even more important than ‘Analects of Confucius’ or ‘Mencius’. But what about now? Other than a copy in your possession, and perhaps several copies by your master’s side, where else can you find this ‘Quotations’ nonsense?”

Hai Laogong said, “After the Empress Dowager’s secret order to ban and destroy this ‘Quotation from Empress Duan Jing’, who would dare to have the book in his collection? As for my master, although he does not have a single copy by his side, but every single word or sentence that Empress Donggo had ever muttered in her life is firmly recorded in his heart; it definitely surpasses having a copy of ‘Quotations’ by his side!”

The Empress Dowager said, “He … he sent you to Beijing to investigate what?”

Hai Laogong replied, “Originally my master instructed me to investigate two matters, but as your servant verified afterwards, those two matters are actually only one.”

“What two matters, one matter?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Hai Laogong said, “The first matter was: how did Rong Wang [King Rong] die?”

“You … you mean that foxy charmer’s son?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Hai Laogong said, “Your servant was talking about the prince Empress Duan Jing gave birth to, Prince He Yanrong.”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager snorted, “That child only lived not even for four months, he could not be brought up; what’s so strange about that?”

Hai Laogong said, “But my master said that Prince Rong contracted acute disease so suddenly. When the summoned court physician examined him, he said that Prince Rong’s Foot Yangming Channel of the Stomach, Foot Shaoyin Channel of the Kidney, Foot Taiyin Channel of the Spleen[8], had all been severed, his internal organs had been ruptured; his death was really strange.”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager said, “Which court physician has this kind of ability? Most likely it was your fabrication.”

Hai Laogong did not deny, he simply continued, “When Empress Duan Jing passed away, everybody thought she was broken hearted over King Rong’s death, but after careful investigation, it was not so. She died because someone had used ‘cutting off technique’ to sever her Yinwei and Yinjiao, two channels.”

The Empress Dowager coldly said, “I am surprised that he believed your fantasy.”

“At first, my master also did not believe it,” Hai Laogong said, “Afterwards, your servant conducted an experiment and show it to him. It was not too long after Empress Duan Jing passed away. Within a month, your servant successively cut the Yinwei and Yinjiao, two main channels, of five palace maids. These five palace maids died with the same symptoms and appearance as when Empress Duan Jing was about to die. If it was only one palace maid, we can say it was a coincidence, but all five palace maids displayed the same condition, my master was convinced and did not have any doubt.”

“Hey, it’s amazing!” the Empress Dowager said, “Unexpectedly in our Palace there is a great expert like you.”

“Many thanks for Empress Dowager’s compliment,” Hai Laogong said, “Your servant’s technique is different from that of the assailant. However, the principle is the same.”

The two of them faced each other in silence, nobody said anything for long time. Hai Laogong coughed softly several times. After a while, he said, “My master sent your servant back to the Capital to investigate who murdered Prince Rong and Empress Duan Jing?”

With a cold laugh the Empress Dowager said, “Do you still need to investigate? In our Palace, other than you, who else has the ability to do such thing?”

“There is someone else,” Hai Laogong said, “Empress Duan Jing had always treated your servant with kindness; your servant only wish for many good fortune and long life for her; if I had known beforehand that someone was plotting against her, your servant would risk my old life to thoroughly protect her.”

“You are very loyal,” the Empress Dowager said, “She was very lucky to retain the service of such a good servant.”

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “It’s a pity your servant is so useless that I failed to protect Empress Duan Jing.”

The Empress Dowager icily said, “He worships Buddha in the morning, recites the scripture in the evening, your Empress Duan Jing will be blessed that she will reincarnate sooner from the eighteenth level of hell, and will rise to the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss sooner too; and that’s the end of the story.” Her voice was full of ‘taking joy in calamity and delight in disaster’ tone.

“Worshipping Buddha and reciting scripture are not necessarily useful,” Hai Laogong said, “However, the saying ‘virtue has its reward, evil has its retribution’ is always true.” After a short pause, he continued very slowly, “If the evil is not avenged yet, the time has yet to come.” The Empress Dowager only snorted.

Hai Laogong said, “Reporting to Empress Dowager: my master instructed your servant to investigate two matters, your servant found out that these two matters are actually one. Who would have imagined that inadvertently I found two more matters?”

“The matters you are investigating are just too many,” the Empress Dowager said, “What else did you find?”

Hai Laogong said, “The first one is concerning Consort Zhen.”

The Empress Dowager laughed coldly and said, “The younger sister of foxy charmer is simply a little foxy charmer. Why do you mention her?”

“When my master left the Palace, he left behind a letter saying that he would never return,” Hai Laogong said, “Your Majesties, the Emperor’s Grandmother and the Empress Dowager, were of the opinion that a country must not be without a ruler even for a day. Thereupon you proclaimed to the world that my master had died. In the present age, the number of persons who know this big secret is only six, namely Your Majesties, my master, Reverend Yulin, who followed my master shaving his head, and two servants who wait upon my masters. One of these two servants is the Imperial Bodyguard Chief Hebacha, who at this moment has also left home and became a monk on Mount Wutai, and the other one is your servant Hai Tianfu.”

Listening to this point, Wei Xiaobao had started to understand; turned out the one the Empress Dowager referred to as ‘he’ and the one Hai Laogong referred to as ‘my master’ was precisely Emperor Shunzhi. The world only knew that he had passed away, but actually because his beloved imperial concubine had died, in his extreme grief he had become a Buddhist monk at the Qing Liang Temple on Mount Wutai. As for the reason behind the imperial concubine’s death, from what Hai Laogong has said, it seemed to be because of a martial art expert sent by the Empress Dowager to kill her. He could not help but feeling very proud of himself, thinking: “The old turtle says there are only six people in this world who are privy to this big secret, he would not know that there is another one, Wei Xiaobao. Now there are seven.” But his self-satisfaction was short lived, soon afterwards it turned into dread. At first he was feeling somewhat secure in the knowledge that he had a backing; he thought that if he had to argue with Hai Laogong in the presence of the Empress Dowager, he would not necessarily lose to the old turtle. Yet this moment he knew that things had turned to the worst for him. If those two find out that he was eavesdropping, even if Hai Laogong did not kill him, the Empress Dowager definitely would not let him off. He heard two light ‘clack, clack’ noise; unexpectedly it was his own teeth chattering, hastily he bit hard to stop the chatter. Luckily right this moment Hai Laogong was coughing, only the sound of his labored breathing and occasional cough was heard in the quiet night.

A moment later, Hai Laogong said, “At that time Consort Zhen committed suicide to follow her master, everybody in the imperial court commended her to no end. But there were many people who quietly said Consort Zhen was forced by the Empress Dowager to die the sacrificial death; suicide was not her original intention.”

The Empress Dowager said, “Sooner or later those leaderless, uncontrollable rebellious ministers will have to be dealt with.”

“But what they said is not entirely incorrect,” Hai Laogong said, “Consort Zhen did not willingly and gladly committed suicide.”

“Are you saying that I forced Consort Zhen to die?” the Empress Dowager said.

“This word ‘force’ can be omitted altogether,” Hai Laogong said.

“What are you talking about?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Hai Laogong said, “Consort Zhen was murdered, not forced to commit suicide. Your servant had interrogated in details the undertaker, to find out about Consort Zhen’s condition when she was prepared for burial. The bones in her entire body were broken into one cun pieces, even her skull had become fragments. I seem to remember the type of skill to kill people this way is called ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’. Would Empress Dowager tell me if this is so?”

“How do I know?” the Empress Dowager said.

“Your servant heard that there is such skill ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ in the world,” Hai Laogong said, “When someone is hit, there won’t be anything unusual on his entire body, but after a year or half a year, the bones in his body would slowly disintegrate. However, the assassin who killed Consort Zhen evidently has not mastered this skill to proficiency yet. At first, when the undertaker was tidying up Consort Zhen’s appearance, he did not see anything unusual, but when he put the body into the coffin that night, suddenly the body felt like it did not have any bones at all, the entire body turned soft. He was scared because he had never seen anything like it, he only knew that the corpse had undergone a change, but at that time he did not dare to say anything. Your servant threatened and bribed, I had used I don’t know how many types of tortures before he finally revealed the actual facts. After the practitioner of this skill ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ hit people, two, three days later the victim’s bones disintegrate, I am afraid his proficiency cannot be considered completely profound. Empress Dowager, based on your sacred judgment, won’t you agree with me?”

The Empress Dowager gloomily said, “Although it can’t be considered profound, somehow it accomplished its purpose.”

“Naturally it is very useful, (cough … cough … ) very useful!” Hai Laogong said, “After killing Consort Zhen, he also killed Empress Xiao Kang.”

“His granny,” Wei Xiaobao thought, “This old emperor’s empresses are so many; there is another Empress Xiao Kang. Perhaps the number of his empresses is more than our young misses at the Lovely Spring Courtyard.”

The Empress Dowager’s voice trembled as she said, “You … why did you mention Empress Xiao Kang’s name?”

Wei Xiaobao did not know that Empress Xiao Kang was Kangxi’s birth mother; hearing the huge change in the Empress Dowager’s voice, he only felt strange, but could not figure out the reason. He heard Hai Laogong said, “The undertaker who prepared Empress Xiao Kang for burial was the same one who also prepared Consorts Donggo and Zhen.”

“That undertaker deserves to die,” the Empress Dowager said, “What other rubbish did he say? He falsely accused people in the Palace’s matters; for his crime he ought to be executed along with all his relatives.”

Hai Laogong said, “If the Empress Dowager wanted to kill him, now it is too late.”

“Have you killed him first?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“It’s not that,” Hai Laogong said, “More than two years ago, your servant sent him to the Qing Liang Temple on Mount Wutai to report everything he knew to my master, and then I told him to go far away into the uncivilized territory and live incognito there, to avoid the disaster of him being murdered.”

With a trembling voice the Empress Dowager said, “You … you … what a sinister scheme!”

“The one with sinister scheme is someone else,” Hai Laogong said, “Your servant is ashamed of being inferior to that person.”

The Empress Dowager was silent for half a day before asking, “You came to see me tonight, what is your intention?”

“Your servant wanted to inquire of the Empress Dowager of one matter, so I can report it back to my master,” Hai Laogong said, “Empress Duan Jing, Empress Xiao Kang, Consort Zhen, Prince Rong, four people all died an unnatural death; consequently, my master also abandoned his position and left home to become a monk. The person responsible for this evil scheme is a martial art expert within the Palace. Braving death, your servant comes here to inquire of the Empress Dowager: who is this martial art expert? Your servant is getting old, my eyes are blind, plus I am suffering from an incurable disease; I am like a candle in the wind, yet if I cannot investigate and find out the truth, I will not die with eyes closed.”

The Empress Dowager coldly said, “Since you have been blind early on, it does not matter whether you die with eyes closed or not.”

Hai Laogong said, “Although your servant is blind, my heart is bright as snow.”

The Empress Dowager said, “If your heart is bright as snow, why do you need to come here and ask me?”

“It’s better if I can understand it clearly,” Hai Laogong replied, “So that I won’t mistreat the innocents. These past several months, your servant has diligently doing some investigation, I want to find out who is this martial art master who is hiding in the Palace? At first it was an extremely difficult investigation, but by lucky coincidence, I found out that His Majesty knows martial art.”

The Empress Dowager laughed coldly and said, “His Majesty knows martial art, so what? Are you saying that he killed his own mother?”

“Sin, sin!” Hai Laogong said, “This kind of disobedience to parents must not be even mentioned. If your servant has ever said such thing, when I die I will enter the hell where my tongue will be pulled out; if I have ever had that thought, when I die I will not escape the suffering of my brain being scoured in the underworld.” He coughed several times before continuing, “Your servant has a little eunuch by my side, his name is Xiao Guizi …”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart turned cold, “The old turtle is starting to talk about me.” He heard Hai Laogong continued, ” … he is about a year or two younger than His Majesty. His Majesty is very fond of him, every day they were having martial art and wrestling match, and practicing martial art together. Xiao Guizi learned martial art from your servant. Although it’s not much, but for a child his age, it can be considered not easy.” Hearing Hai Laogong complimenting him, Wei Xiaobao could not help by feeling very proud of himself.

The Empress Dowager said, “A famous teacher trains a fine student, there are no poor soldiers under a good general.”

“Thank you very much for Empress Dowager’s compliment [orig. ‘golden mouth’],” Hai Laogong said, “However, when this Xiao Guizi fought His Majesty, nine times out of ten he would lose. No matter what kind of martial art your servant taught him, His Majesty ‘s martial art skill was always a notch higher than his. It seems that the Shifu who taught His Majesty martial art is a lot better than your servant. Your servant had thought it over, the only martial art master in the Palace is this expert. As long as I can find this expert, then the assassin who killed two empresses, one imperial consort and one prince won’t be difficult to trace.”

“I see,” the Empress Dowager said, “You talk round and round in circle is just so that you can tell me this.”

Hai Laogong said, “The Empress Dowager said, ‘A famous teacher trains a fine student’; the other side of the coin is also true, ‘A fine student must come from a famous teacher’. His Majesty is able to use eight by eight, sixty-four styles ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’, the person who taught him this palm technique will most likely also know the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’.”

“Have you found out the martial art master’s identity?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“I have,” Hai Laogong replied.

The Empress Dowager laughed coldly, “You are such a crafty schemer,” she said, “You taught Xiao Guizi to practice martial art with His Majesty for the last half a year or so, is to find out His Majesty’s Shifu.”

Hai Laogong sighed, “I don’t have any choice,” he said, “Xiao Guizi is a sinister and ruthless little scoundrel. It was he who used poison and blinded your servant’s eyes. If I was not considering that I have to investigate this important matter to find the absolute truth, I would have not let this scoundrel to live until today.”

The Empress Dowager laughed aloud and said, “What a clever child that Xiao Guizi; he poisoned your eyes blind. Very good, just wonderful. Tomorrow I am going to reward him well.”

“Many thanks, Empress Dowager,” Hai Laogong said, “If Empress Dowager would conduct an elaborate funeral for him, in the underworld Xiao Guizi will be very grateful for Empress Dowager’s great kindness.”

“You have already killed him?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Hai Laogong said, “Your servant has exercised patience toward him for a long, long time; after this, I won’t have any other use for him.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked and angered at the same time, he thought, “The old turtle has known all along that I am not Xiao Guizi, he also knew early on that I poisoned his eyes blind. Turns out he is only exploiting laozi; this is called striking vicious blow slowly. He taught me martial art was only so that he could see His Majesty’s martial art. His granny, if I had known it, I should have not tell him His Majesty’s martial art in detail. Your granny, the old turtle thinks I am dead, but laozi is clearly still alive. Later I am going to play ghost and scare you until you piss in your pants.”

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “My master has always been short-tempered, whatever he wants must be done. It’s a pity that although he was the Son of Heaven, his beloved was murdered by others, and he was helpless to save her life. Even after becoming a monk, my master can never forget Consort Donggo. When your servant left the Qing Liang Temple to return to the Palace, my master has written with his own hand an imperial edict and handed it over to your servant. He wanted your servant to investigate and find out who murdered Consort Donggo, no, Empress Duan Jing. He ordered your servant to execute the assailant on the spot.”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager said, “He has become a monk, can he write any imperial edict? Those who have left home must not think about killing and harming people, don’t you think it’s not fit of his calling?”

Hai Laogong said, “Buddhists also pay particular attention to karma and retribution. Those who harm others will not have a good end. However, your servant has damaged the passage through which my vital energy circulates when training martial art, resulting in incessant coughing and shortage of breath; my entire body is ill, and now I am blind, it’s even more hopeless for me.”

“That’s right,” the Empress Dowager said, “You are sick and blind; even if you have this secret imperial edict, how are you going to execute it?”

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “I can’t, I can’t! Your servant ask to be excused, I am leaving now.” Finished speaking, he turned around and slowly walked toward the exit.

Wei Xiaobao felt as if a large stone was being lifted up of his heart; he mused, “When the old turtle has left, I will be alright. He only knows that I have died, he won’t come looking for me anymore. Laozi will slip out the Palace gate early tomorrow morning; in case the old turtle is looking for me, laozi will assume your identity, will take your surname, from now on I am Hai Xiaobao.”

“Wait a moment!” the Empress Dowager said, “Hai Tianfu, where are you going?”

“Your servant has reported everything clearly to the Empress Dowager,” Hai Laogong said, “I am going back to wait for death.”

“The matter he entrusted to you,” the Empress Dowager said, “Aren’t you going to do it?”

“Your servant has the desire yet lacking the strength to do so,” Hai Laogong said, “Moreover, I do not have the guts to start a rebellion today.”

“Hey, hey,” the Empress Dowager laughed, “You are very understanding, your waiting upon us these many years is not in vain.”

“Yes, yes!” Hai Laogong said, “Many thanks for Empress Dowager’s grace. This grievance is as deep as the ocean floor; it has to wait until His Majesty is older before it can be vindicated.” He coughed twice, and then said, “The way he dealt with the arrest of Oboi is very brilliant. His Majesty’s own mother was murdered, before too long, His Majesty will definitely deal with this matter. It’s a pity … it’s a pity your servant will not live until that time, I cannot wait that long.”

The Empress Dowager took several steps forward and harsly said, “Hai Tianfu, come back here.”

“Yes,” Hai Laogong said, “What instruction does the Empress Dowager have for me?”

The Empress Dowager sternly said, “Just now you speak nonsense to me, this … this utterly absurd talk, have you … have you told His Majesty?” Her voice trembled, she seemed to be extremely agitated.

Hai Laogong said, “Tomorrow early in the morning I am going to report to His Majesty; it’s just that … that I was itching to get on with it tonight that I came to report to the Empress Dowager first.”

“Very good, very good,” the Empress Dowager said.

Suddenly the sound of a strong gust of wind arose, followed by loud ‘Bang! Bang!’ noise. Wei Xiaobao was startled; he could not restrain himself from craning his neck to look. He saw the Empress Dowager was circling around Hai Laogong with amazingly swift footwork, palm strike by palm strike she attacked Hai Laogong. Surprisingly, Hai Laogong held his ground and counterattacked with his palms. Wei Xiaobao’s shock was not mild; “How can the Empress Dowager fight the old turtle? Turns out the Empress Dowager also know martial art.”

Each one of the Empress Dowager’s palm strike generated a strong gust of wind, a sign that her palm carried an extremely violent power. Hai Laogong’s two feet were nailed on the ground, he met each palm strike with his own palm, but his palm did not generate any noise. Yet after fighting for a long time, Empress Dowager did not seem to gain any advantage over him. Suddenly she leaped up and delivered a downward strike with both palms from the air. Hai Laogong flipped his left palm over to meet the incoming attack, while delivering a blow with his right palm toward the Empress Dowager’s abdomen. ‘Clap!’ the palms collided with each other. The Empress Dowager flew backward. Hai Laogong staggered, his body swayed and he had to get hold of a stump to steady himself.

In a stern voice the Empress Dowager shouted, “Good servant, you … you … deceived me; it was Shaolin … Shaolin martial art you taught Xiao Guizi, but you are from Kongtong Pai.”

Gasping for breath, Hai Laogong replied, “I don’t dare, we are even! The Empress Dowager taught Wudang Pai’s martial art to His Majesty, with the purpose of fooling your servant. But … but that ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ is Snake Island’s martial art; your servant has known about it for several years.”

Wei Xiaobao had to think hard before he could understand. “His granny,” he mused, “The old turtle is very crafty, he taught me some ‘Big Grappling Technique’ and some ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’, which are Shaolin Pai’s martial art, so that the Empress Dowager would think that he is from Shaolin, but actually he is from that hot piece mama Kongtong Pai. Too bad Empress Dowager’s fake Wudang Pai’s ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’ could not deceive the old turtle.” He also thought, “Turns out His Majesty’s martial art was taught by the Empress Dowager.”

Suddenly cold sweat appeared on his back, “Aiyo, not good!” he mused, “The Empress Dowager knows the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’, could it be … could it be that those four people were killed by the Empress Dowager? Aiyo! It’s alright if it were someone else, but the Emperor’s own mother was killed by her. If Hai Laogong told the Emperor, won’t it be a terrible disaster? If His Majesty did not kill the Empress Dowager, the Empress Dowager will definitely kill His Majesty. What … what should I do?” His only thought was to break into a run immediately, to escape this battleground as soon as he can, and then notify the Emperor, telling him to be extremely careful. But he was so scared that his body felt limp and painful; he desperately wanted to run away, but his feet seemed to be nailed fast to the ground that he was unable to move even for half a fen.

He heard the Empress Dowager said, “Since it has come to this, do you still think you can escape with your life tonight?”

Hai Laogong replied, “Empress Dowager is free to summon the imperial bodyguards. The more people come the better, then your servant can speak all kinds of things in their ears; at least one of them can convey the truth to His Majesty’s ears.”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager coldly laughed, “You have calculated everything.” She spoke very slowly, while constantly regulating her breathing.

“Empress Dowager must take care of your sacred body,” Hai Laogong said, “Do not damage your vital passages.”

“You must take care yourself!” the Empress Dowager said.

Originally, Hai Laogong’s martial art skill was higher than the Empress Dowager’s, but since he was blind, he was not her match. However, a few years previously he had ascertained from the undertaker that the killer of Consort Donggo and Consort Zhen had used the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’, a sinister and ruthless technique, which was secretly taught only by the master of the Snake Island off the coast of Liaodong peninsula. It’s just that at that time he did not know who the killer was. Thereupon he took the dangerous risk of secretly learned a special technique to counter the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’. Although his body suffered major injury, he had actually mastered the technique.

Afterwards, Wei Xiaobao and Emperor Kangxi practiced martial art together. Hai Laogong speculated that the person teaching the Emperor martial art was the assailant who murdered Consort Donggo, Empress Xiao Kang, and the others; therefore, sooner or later he would have to face the great battle. He was fully aware that Wei Xiaobao killed Xiao Guizi and poisoned his eyes blind. Yet he let Wei Xiaobao to accompany him as Xiao Guizi, thinking that this child was very young, plus they were total strangers to each other, so there must be someone else behind him. He tried to lure Wei Xiaobao in every way to reveal who had sent him here, since he believed that that person most likely was the murderer. However, Wei Xiaobao was not sent by anybody to begin with, so he really did not have anything to reveal; otherwise, even if he was ten times smarter, he was indeed very young and his experience very shallow, how could he able to evade Hai Laogong’s tactful inquiries?

Although Hai Laogong’s inquiry did not bear any fruit, he figured the two of them could play the game, thereupon he taught Wei Xiaobao martial art. But his teachings were ridden with errors and omissions, he deliberately let the opponent to think that he was from Shaolin Pai, and that his martial art skill was average. As he made his move this time, the Empress Dowager indeed had fallen into his scheme.

About six months ago, the Empress Dowager had guessed that Hai Laogong was from Shaolin Pai, yet Hai Laogong already knew that her Wudang Pai martial art was fake. Two people, one had seeing eyes, the other blind, they came from opposite school of thought in term of martial art study. Hai Laogong knew his opponent’s situation very well, yet the Empress Dowager had an incorrect assessment of her opponent. It was not because the Empress Dowager had a poor knowledge and experience, it was simply because Hai Laogong had found the facts from the undertaker’s mouth, while all along the Empress Dowager was in the dark. Furthermore, in Hai Tianfu’s heart, he had already considered the person who taught the Emperor martial art as his mortal enemy, while it was only now that the Empress Dowager realized Hai Tianfu intended to bring her to her doom. Otherwise, she could have issued an imperial edict to the imperial bodyguards to put Hai Tianfu to death; she did not need to personally deal with him.

Hai Laogong thought that since his eyes were blind, he must provoke the opponent to strike first and only then would he be able to wait leisurely for the enemy to exhaust herself, and thus with several moves he could seize the victory. It so happened that after talking for half a day, the Empress Dowager did not reveal anything; in the end, he was unable to ascertain who had killed Consort Donggo, Empress Xiao Kang and the others.

The ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ was a ruthless, heretical and vicious technique from an unorthodox martial art school; by conventional reasoning, it may be assumed that unless it is trained for approximately twenty years, the practitioner won’t reach the proficiency level. Empress Dowager was the daughter of Chief Horqin of Borjigit Clan, her parents were of a royal background, for several generations her family had held high-ranking office in royal court. When she was still a maiden, it was extremely difficult for her to step out of her mansion even for a single step. From her childhood, she was waited upon by countless wet nurses and maidservants; how could she ventured far away to the dangerous Snake Island and learn this kind of heretical martial art? Even if she wanted to learn martial art, she would have learned some ‘eight-section brocade’, or ‘five-animal exercise’ and the like, some superficial techniques to strengthen her body; it was inconceivable that she would learn the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’. It was more likely that among her trusted aides, the court eunuchs and palace maids, there was a martial art master who received the Empress Dowager’s order to make the move on her behalf. Who would have thought that as soon as Hai Laogong mentioned that he was going to report to the Emperor, the Empress Dowager became anxious and without careful consideration she went into action by personally confronting the enemy? This way, not only the Empress Dowager admitted that she was the murderer of those four people, but as the three palms collided, she had received serious internal injury. Hai Laogong painstakingly planned and prepared this mission for several years, once he saw the mission accomplished, he could not help but feeling greatly relieved.

The Empress Dowager’s injury was indeed not light; several times she tried to regulate her breathing, but always failed. She slowly said, “Hai Tianfu, you love to groundlessly fabricate rumors and talk nonsense. Although His Majesty is young, he is very clear-headed. Let’s see if he would believe you, or he would believe me.”

“Naturally at first His Majesty will not believe your servant,” Hai Laogong replied, “Most likely he will issue an imperial edict to have your servant killed immediately. However, after a few years, he may think carefully, the more he thinks, the more likely that he gain a clearer understanding. Empress Dowager, your clan has always enjoy honor and glory for generations, the empresses of the Founding Emperor, as well as my master’s, all came from your mansion. It’s a pity that this glory, splendor, wealth and rank will be finished under Kangxi’s imperial court.”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager snorted; she coldly said, “Very good, very good!”

Hai Laogong continued, “My master ordered your servant, as soon as the murderer is found, no matter who it was, I am to immediately execute him. It’s a pity your servant’s is lacking, I am not the Empress Dowager’s match, without any better option, I must leave this place and submit a report to His Majesty.” Finished speaking, he slowly walked toward the exit.

The Empress Dowager secretly cursed her luck; just when she was about leap and attack, suddenly a gust of wind came by; Hai Laogong abruptly turned around and charged toward her with a fierce palm strike. Hai Laogong had received Emperor Shunzhi’s order to execute Consort Donggo’s murderer, and he was determined to accomplish this task. He was talking about submitting a report to the Emperor and other things, his main objective was to harass the Empress Dowager’s mind, to incite her anxiety and anger, so that she could not regulate her breathing, and thus he could launch the ‘ten thousand catties thunderbolt’ strike.

Although this strike was noiseless, it carried the entire power he cultivated all his life. Just now, by listening attentively to the Empress Dowager’s voice, he was able to locate her position with accuracy within a few cun; once he launched a palm strike, it went straight toward the acupoint on the pit of her stomach. The Empress Dowager did not anticipate he was able to move this swiftly; she moved sideways wanting to evade, as long as she was able to move quickly several times, this wicked traitor was a blind man, he would not be able to pinpoint her exact location, and then the battle would be under her control, for other than parrying the attack with his palm, he would not have the capability to counterattack. Who would have thought that as soon as she moved, Hai Laogong’s palm had already arrived? The pressure was so strong that she could not even breathe, and had no choice but sending her strength to her right palm to meet the attack. She had planned to step back immediately after delivering the strike, but Hai Laogong’s palm carried an enormous sucking force, which rendered her helpless to pull back. She had no choice but transmitting all her strength to her right palm and thus engaging him in an internal energy battle.

Feeling the opponent’s internal strength surging in a steady stream, Hai Laogong was rejoicing secretly; his eyes were blind, if he had to fight a moving battle, he would be in a very disadvantageous situation, however, in internal energy battle, it did not matter whether he could see or was blind. Since the Empress Dowager had been injured, her chi circulation was obstructed, she could not recover even in three quarters of an hour. In this kind of internal energy battle, he must try to drain her strength, so that she would be paralyzed and die. Therefore, he sent out Yin force with left palm and Yang force with his right. After battling for a while, Yin and Yang were gradually reversed; now the left palm was sending Yang force, while the right sending Yin.

To Wei Xiaobao who was watching, it only looked like Empress Dowager ‘s one palm was balancing Hai Laogong’s two palms, there was not the slightest bit of danger. He did not know that Hai Laogong’s palm strength was like a stone mill; it slowly turned just like stone mill grinding grain into powder, grinding the Empress Dowager’s internal energy bit by bit. Wei Xiaobao was hiding behind the fake rocks, he was afraid Empress Dowager might detect his presence. Occasionally he would stick out his head to see, and would immediately hide again, suddenly he saw a flashing white light, hastily he looked out and saw the three palms of the two people were still locked to each other, however, a short blade had appeared in the Empress Dowager’s left hand, the dagger was moving slowly toward Hai Laogong’s abdomen. He was ecstatic; “Wonderful, wonderful!” he cheered in his heart, “Very soon the old turtle will return to the damn heaven.”

What happened was: realizing the strangeness of the opponent’s palm strength, the Empress Dowager’s left hand quietly fished a white moth-antennae steel spike and slowly pulled it out, the spike’s point gradually moved toward Hai Laogong’s lower abdomen. However, when the spike was about a chi away from the opponent’s lower abdomen, she was unable to push it farther. In the meantime, the ‘Yin Yang Grindstone’ force from Hai Laogong’s palms was getting stronger and faster, the Empress Dowager’s single palm had already unable to resist the enemy, she felt her right palm was gradually losing its strength and became limp and painful, so very soon she would have to use her left palm to help her right.

Originally she wanted to thrust the moth-antennae spike slowly so that it would not generate any wind and thus the enemy would not be able to detect it; however, this moment her right palm was almost devoid of any strength. No longer caring whether Hai Laogong would hear it or not, she sent all her strength to her left hand and thrust hard, with the hope that the moth-antennae spike would pierce its target. Who would have thought that she was unable to move her left hand even for half a cun. In the quiet night, there was a soft ‘drip, drip’ noise; it was the blood from the severed four fingers on Hai Laogong’s left hand, which flowed out continuously and dripped down to the ground. The more Hai Laogong sent the internal energy to his hand, the faster the blood gushed out from his wound.

Under the moonlight, Wei Xiaobao saw the moth-antennae spike was flickering continually, sometimes it flashed on his face, an indication that the Empress Dowager’s left hand was trembling incessantly. The white light flickered faster and faster, yet all along the moth-antennae spike was unable to reach Hai Laogong’s lower abdomen.

A moment later, Wei Xiaobao noticed that the moth-antennae spike was being slowly pulled back. Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Aiyo, not good!” he mused, “The Empress Dowager is going to lose to the old turtle. If I don’t leave now, what am I waiting for?” He slowly turned around and step by step walked toward the exit. With each step he took, he knew that he was one step farther from the danger, so he felt relieved, and thus his steps was getting faster. Finally he reached the gate and was about to reach out the door knocker when suddenly he heard ‘Aah!’ from behind him, the Empress Dowager let out a long scream. “It’s bad!” Wei Xiaobao mused, “The Empress Dowager has been killed by the old turtle.”

“Empress Dowager,” he heard Hai Laogong coldly say, “The oil of your lamp is about to dry out. In the time needed to burn an incense stick, your strength will be depleted and you are going to die. Unless right now someone suddenly appear and attack my back so that I cannot resist, only then would he be able to kill me.”

Wei Xiaobao was about to open the door and dash out, suddenly hearing Hai Laogong’s voice, he thought, “Turns out the Empress Dowager is not dead yet! The old turtle is right, both of his hands are locked with the Empress Dowager’s hand, if I stab his back, how can the old turtle take his hand and block? He was the one who said it, don’t blame other people.”

Before his eyes was precisely a golden opportunity like beating a dog drowning in the water; if he did not seize this readily available convenience, he would become a human being in vain. Wei Xiaobao was very fond of gambling; even if the chance was fifty-fifty, he would still gamble. If a gambling opportunity arose, where he could cheat by playing tricks so that his chance of winning was 90% or a 100%, even if his life was at stake, definitely he would not let this opportunity pass. If someone wanted him to take chances to save the Empress Dowager, he would not dare to do that no matter what. But as he heard Hai Laogong announcing his own weak point, which was the same as holding out his own hands to be tied, or stretching his own neck to be chopped, it was as if a fat meat was placed in front of his mouth; how could he not swallow?

He reached down and pulled the dagger from his boot; with quick steps he rushed toward Hai Laogong’s back, while shouting, “Old Turtle, stop harming the Empress Dowager!” Raising his dagger, he fiercely stabbed it down on his back.

Hai Laogong let out a long laugh and called out, “Little demon, you have fallen into my trick!” His left foot kicked backward, ‘Bang!’ The pit of Wei Xiaobao’s stomach was hit and he was sent flying several zhang back.

Turned out when he was having an internal energy battle with the Empress Dowager, Hai Laogong was confident that victory was at hand. Suddenly he heard someone was walking away from behind the rockery, the footsteps sounded very familiar; immediately he recognized it to be Wei Xiaobao. Unexpectedly this little demon did not die after being hit by his palm. Hai Laogong was rather astonished; he was afraid that if Wei Xiaobao summoned the imperial bodyguards to help the Empress Dowager, it would really ‘spoil the ship for half a penny worth of tar’. Hit upon an inspiration, he cried out, luring Wei Xiaobao to come and attack his back.

Wei Xiaobao’s experience in facing the enemy and adapt himself to changes was really too little, as expected, he fell into his trick. Hai Laogong’s kick had hit the pit of Wei Xiaobao’s stomach. He flew through the air as if soaring through the clouds or mounting the fog, vomited a mouthful of blood.

When Hai Laogong kicked with his left foot, he had already anticipated that as his strength was reduced, the Empress Dowager would exploit the instant the pressing force went void by sending her left palm to strike his lower abdomen. Therefore, after kicking Wei Xiaobao, without thinking he sent out his right palm forward to protect his lower abdomen. Suddenly there was a cold sensation on the center of his palm, followed by a burst of severe pain on his lower abdomen. The Empress Dowager’s platinum-plated moth-antennae steel spike pierced through his palm and entered his lower abdomen. After all, he was greatly disadvantaged by not able to see anything; although he had foreseen that the Empress Dowager would exploit the loophole by launching a counterattack, he could not see that the attack came not in the form of palm strike, but an extremely sharp weapon instead. As his lower abdomen was punctured by the moth-antennae spike, he gathered his strength on his left palm and shook the Empress Dowager several steps back.

The Empress Dowager landed on her left foot, but immediately leaped several more zhang backward. She felt her chi and blood were bubbling up inside her chest that she almost fainted. Afraid that Hai Laogong would seize this chance to attack, she slowly withdrew several more steps and stood against the wall.

Hai Laogong roared in laughter and called out, “Your luck is good! Your luck is good!” ‘Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!’ he sent three palm strikes while throwing himself forward at the same time. The Empress Dowager wanted to leap to the right to evade, but her legs were limp and painful, she tumbled down to the ground. She heard a ‘splotch!’, half of the row of flower rack were pushed down by Hai Laogong’s palm strength. The Empress Dowager’s muscles were weary and her strength depleted, she was unable to move a single step. In her fright, she saw Hai Laogong’s body was sprawled face down on the flower rack, unmoving.

Propping herself up, the Empress Dowager wanted to stand up, but her limbs felt like cotton, her entire body was weak. While she was thinking of calling one of the palace maids, she heard faint noise of people coming near. She thought, “My dialogue and fight with this wicked thief were not loud, but before his death he was shouting and yelling, and overthrowing the flower rack; it must have alerted the imperial bodyguards on duty. Those guards will be here in no time, seeing me lying in here with two dead eunuchs, one old and one young, what a scandal will it be?” Mustering all her strength, she wanted to circulate her chi thru her body, but all along she failed to do so.

She heard the noise of the guards was getting near; while feeling very anxious, suddenly someone came over and said, “Empress Dowager, are you, Senior, well? Let me help you up.” It was precisely that little eunuch Xiao Guizi.

The Empress Dowager was pleasantly surprised, she said, “You … you … are not killed … by that evil man’s kick?”

“His kick did not kill me,” Wei Xiaobao replied. When he was kicked by Hai Laogong just now, he landed on a flowering shrub and spurted quite a bit of blood. After calming himself, he made an effort to stand up. Seeing Hai Laogong was lying face down motionless on the flower rack, he hastily hid himself behind a tree. He picked up a rock and threw it toward Hai Laogong, ‘smack!’ it hit the back of Hai Laogong’s head, but Hai Laogong did not stir at all. Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic, “The old turtle is dead!” he thought. But he was still scared, and thus did not dare to come near. For a moment he was unsure of what to do: shall he run away and escape, or come back and help the Empress Dowager? Suddenly he heard the hubbub as a lot of people rushing near. If he ran out, he would definitely bump into them, therefore, he went toward the Empress Dowager and stretched out his hand to help her up.

“Good child,” the Empress Dowager happily said, “Quickly help me in to rest.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. Half dragging and half carrying, he stumbled to help her enter her room and helped her laying on the bed. His own legs felt limp and painful, so he dropped himself on the thick carpet, while gasping for breath.

“You may lie down here,” the Empress Dowager said, “When someone is coming, you must not make any sound.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said.

A moment later, he heard clatters of footsteps, a lot of people were rushing in from the outside. The flame from lanterns and torches illuminated the room from the window lattice. Someone said, “Aiyo, there is a dead eunuch in here!” Another man said, “It’s Hai Laogong from the Catering Department.” One of them raised his voice and said, “Reporting to the Empress Dowager: other than the situation in the garden, wishing the Empress Dowager ten thousand good fortune and peace like gold.” By saying that, he was actually inquiring the safety of the Empress Dowager.”

“Other than what situation?” the Empress Dowager asked.

As soon as she said that, the imperial bodyguards and court eunuchs outside let out a deep breath. As long as the Empress Dowager was safe, although the Palace of Compassion and Peace was in a mess, it would not be too great of an offense for them. The leader of the imperial bodyguards said, “It seems like there was a fight between the court eunuchs, not a big deal. Empress Dowager please retire for the night, tomorrow your servants will investigate and submit a detailed report.”

“Very well,” the Empress Dowager replied.

They heard the imperial bodyguard chief lowered his voice and quietly ordered his men to take Hai Laogong’s body out. Another man also said in a low voice, “There is a little palace maid’s body in here. Ah! This little palace maid is not dead, she is only fainted.”

The imperial bodyguard chief said, “Take both of them away, we will question her when she regains her consciousness.”

The Empress Dowager said, “Is there any little palace maid? Take her into my room.” She was afraid when she regained her consciousness, Rui Chu would reveal what had happened that night.

Someone outside complied, a court eunuch carried the little palace maid Rui Chu into the room and gently lay her down on the floor. He kowtowed to the Empress Dowager and then withdrew.

By this time, all palace maids serving the Empress Dowager were already awakened, they all stood waiting outside the room, without the Empress Dowager’s summon, nobody dared to enter on their own initiative. The Empress Dowager heard the imperial bodyguards and the court eunuchs gradually left; she said, “You all may go back to sleep, I don’t need your service tonight.” The palace maids complied and immediately left.

The fact that the Empress Dowager knew martial art was a secret, even the palace maid attending her personally did not know. When she trained every morning and evening, without her orders, no court eunuch or palace maid was allowed to enter her room even for one step. Even touching the door curtain was strictly prohibited.

The Empress Dowager regulated her chi for a while. In the meantime, Wei Xiaobao’s strength had gradually returned that he was able to sit up. A moment later, he was able to stand up. The Empress Dowager knew that Hai Laogong’s kick on the pit of his stomach was very heavy, but this little eunuch unexpectedly was able to move freely, he was even able to help her back to her room. She wondered what kind of martial art he practiced? Thereupon she asked, “Other than with Hai Tianfu, who else did you learn martial art from?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your servant only learned martial art from that evil old man for several months. Most of the martial art he taught was probably bogus. This man was very wicked, he often bragged of killing me.”

“Hmm,” the Empress Dowager said, “His eyes, did you poison him blind?”

“That old fellow day in and day out always cursed the Empress Dowager behind your back,” Wei Xiaobao said, “He also cursed His Majesty. Your servant was unbearably angry, but has no ability to kill him, so I had to … I had to …”

“How did he curse me and His Majesty?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“His words were very undisciplined and out of control,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your servant did not dare to remember it in my heart, as soon as I hear it, I forget. I have already forgotten everything early on, and did not think about it anymore.”

The Empress Dowager nodded, “You are a very smart child,” she said, “Tonight, what brought you here?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant was sleeping on my bed, I heard the evil old fellow opened the door and went out. I was afraid he was going to do something to harm me, so I quietly followed behind him, all the way to this place.”

The Empress Dowager slowly said, “All the nonsense he told me, you have heard everything.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Everything that the evil old fellow said, your servant always regard as a fart. Em … Empress Dowager, please don’t blame me, your servant was using a bad language, I hate him very much. Every day he cursed me ‘little turtle’, he cursed my ancestors; I know he had never said anything true.”

The Empress Dowager coldly said, “I asked you: the things that Hai Tianfu said to me, did you hear it? Don’t babble, give me a straight answer.”

“Your servant was hiding far away outside the gate,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I did not dare to come near. That evil old fellow’s ears were often very acute, if I came too near, he would hear me. I only saw he talked to the Empress Dowager; I wanted to eavesdrop, but the distance was too far, I couldn’t hear anything. Later, I saw he dared to offend Empress Dowager, he dared to commit treason and heresy, so by risking my life your servant came to help. In the end, whatever he said to Empress Dowager, your servant did not know. He … he must be complaining about your servant, telling the Empress Dowager that I poisoned his eyes blind; although it was the truth, whatever else he said, the Empress Dowager must never believe. I suppose it was because the Empress Dowager did not believe him that that servant dared to offend the Empress Dowager.”

“Humph!” the Empress Dowager said, “You are very smart, very perceptive. It’s good if you really did not hear whatever Hai Tianfu was saying. It’s also good if you pretend you did not hear it. If in the future even half a word of baseless rumor ever reaches my ear, you know what will happen to you.”

“Empress Dowager’s kindness to your servant is as heavy as the mountain,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “If any brazen scoundrel ever dares to say any unpleasant talk behind the Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s back, your servant will stake my life to fight him.”

“I like it if you can be like this,” the Empress Dowager said, “Previously I haven’t treated you that good.”

“Previously His Majesty and your servant wrestled and practiced martial art together,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant did not know it was the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, my talk and actions were random and wild, but Empress Dowager and His Majesty did not hold it against me the least bit, it was truly a kindness as heavy as the mountain. Otherwise, even if your servant had a hundred heads, all of them deserved to be chopped. Every day that evil old fellow wanted to kill your servant, fortunately Empress Dowager has saved my life. Your servant is truly extremely grateful.”

The Empress Dowager slowly said, “You know gratitude, that’s very good. Light that candle on the table.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He struck the flint and lighted the candle. The candle in the Empress Dowager’s room was very thick and unusually bright.

“Come here,” the Empress Dowager said, “Let me look at you.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. Slowly he walked toward the Empress Dowager’s bed. He saw her countenance was snowy white, without the least bit trace of blood. Her eyebrows slightly slanted upward, her eyes were gleaming, Wei Xiaobao’s heartbeat quickened; he thought, “She … is she going to kill me to close my mouth? If I move my legs and dash out, I am sure she won’t be able to catch up, but if she managed to catch me, that would be the end of me!”

His heart was telling him to immediately rush outside, but his mind was momentarily undecided. In this slight hesitation, the Empress Dowager had already stretched out her left had to grab Wei Xiaobao’s right hand. Wei Xiaobao was shocked, his body shook. “Ah!” he gasped.

“What are you afraid of?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“I … I am not afraid, it’s just that … it’s just that …” Wei Xiaobao stammered.

“It’s just that what?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager’s kindness to your servant is as heavy as the mountain, your servant have received something and afraid of something?” He had heard people mentioned the expression ‘overwhelmed by favor (usually from superior)’, but somehow he could only remember two out of four characters[9].

The Empress Dowager did not understand what he was saying, she asked, “Why are you trembling all over?”

“I … I am not … am not …” Wei Xiaobao replied.

If the Empress Dowager strike him dead with her palm right now, she would not have to worry he would reveal her secret in the future, but however hard she tried, her chi simply refused to rise; in reality, her muscles were weary and her strength depleted, although she succeeded in grabbing Wei Xiaobao’s hand, she did not have the least bit of strength in her fingers. If Wei Xiaobao were to struggle a little bit, he would have been able to free himself. Thereupon she smiled and said, “You have rendered a great service tonight, I will reward you handsomely.”

“It was that evil old fellow who wanted to kill your servant,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Luckily Empress Dowager came to rescue me, your servant did not have the least bit of merit.”

“You know good from bad,” the Empress Dowager said, “In the future I won’t treat you unfairly. You may go!” She gently let his hand go.

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic; immediately he dropped on his knees and kowtowed several times before retreating. The Empress Dowager saw the front piece of his jacket was drenched with blood, obviously he had vomited a lot of blood, but when he kowtowed, his movement was still quite agile; she could not help but feeling bewildered.

When he was leaving the room, Wei Xiaobao took a glance toward Rui Chu who was lying on the floor. He noticed that her chest was fluctuating slowly, her breathing was even, as if she was in a very deep sleep. Her countenance was rosy, it did not show anything unusual. He said in his heart, “In a few days I will bring some cake, pastry and fruit for you to eat.”

In quick steps he returned to his own room, bolted the door, and let out a long breath, as if a heavy load had just been released. Recently, staying with Hai Laogong in the same room, he had been very scared and was on the edge all the time. “Now the old turtle is dead,” he thought, “I don’t have to worry somebody would come to harm me.” Suddenly he recalled the Empress Dowager’s countenance under the candle light; his body shivered violently. “Living in this Imperial Palace, there is no peace and security, but laozi still … still .. ha ha, still have to get that four hundred fifty thousand taels of silver and then return to Yangzhou to see Mama. It will be wonderful.” Thinking that he was still alive and had four hundred fifty thousand taels of silver lost and won back, he could not help but dancing and gesticulating for joy.

He was having a cheerful mood for a while, gradually he felt weary; he lay down on the bed and fell into a very deep slumber.

[1] Old mother, old lady.

[2] It’s hard to capture the nuances of this: 去得好,去得妙,去得刮刮叫 ‘qu de hao, qu de miao, qu de gua gua jiao’.

[3] Lit. ‘five platforms’, in Shanxi province, one of Buddhists’ Four Sacred Mountains.

[4] Lit. ‘cool/refreshing’.

[5] Creator of the universe in Chinese mythology.

[6] Story behind ‘drinking vinegar’: During the Zheng Period of the Tang Dynasty (627-649), Wei Zheng was conferred by Emperor Tai Zong the titles of the Left Grand Councilor and Duke of the State of Zheng for his dedication and valuable service in founding the Tang Dynasty. Indeed Wei Zheng was a man of great integrity and did not seek corrupt pleasure as many officials did. Wei refused to take any concubines or forsake his first wife. He also rejected the life of privilege, wealth and luxury, which many lesser men had greedily embraced after their rise in the social hierarchy.

Emperor Tai Zong decided to test Wei Zheng’s fidelity. One day, after attending court, he invited Wei Zheng to stay behind and offered him some beautiful maidens to be his concubines. Wei immediately declined the offer. The emperor pressed his offer but Wei stuck to his position. During their conversation a third voice was heard, “Please Your Majesty, will you give me the concubines, since elder brother Wei does not want them?” pleaded Cheng Yao Jin, a boisterous general in the founding period. The Emperor was enraged by this insolence,and he curtly instructed Cheng to leave the court and to mind his own business.

Cheng was infuriated and rushed to the mansion of the Duke of Zheng to tell Madam Wei put on her court dress and went to see the Emperor with Cheng Yao Jin. She asked the Emperor to give her a reason as to why he should want to break up her happy and loving marriage. Madam Wei declared that if the emperor forced Duke of Zheng to adopt concubines, she would die. The Emperor responded, “Very well then, you shall have your way.” He then asked his eunuch to bring in a bottle of poisonous wine which he had mixed himself for Madam Wei to drink. Cheng Yao Jin feared that the Emperor would really poison her. He tried to divert Madam Wei’s fate and purposefully bumped into the eunuch carrying the bottle of poisoned wine which broke into pieces. Chen then replaced the broken bottle with a bottle of vinegar. The eunuch handed it to Madam Wei and she drank it in one gulp. She then waited to die but nothing happened, except for the strong acidic taste in her mouth. Cheng Yao Jin then remarked that it was remarkable Madam Wei could drink so much vinegar. The Emperor was as confused as Madam Wei and asked the eunuch to explain what was going on. The Emperor smiled at the antics but remarked that it was a shame to have wasted the “poisonous’ hundred flower juice he had personally prepared. Actually the Emperor did not really intend to poison Madam Wei, he was merely amused to see how far her love would go.

Cheng Yao Jin’s credulousness and replacement of the hundred flower juice with vinegar has become a story with meaning for many jealous lovers. Madam Wei’s faithful love was so strong that she would even drink poison to defend it. But over the generations it has become a vulgar adage which means being jealous of a rival in love. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[7] Loose translation: ‘Empress of solemn dedication of filial piety and majestic moral character, proclaimer of tender favor to the humankind’.

[8] Reference: Mini Facts and Figures of HSDS Chapter 12, by Huang Yushi (, also the ‘Yinwei’ and ‘Yinjiao’ channels on the next paragraph.

[9]Orig. 受宠若惊 (shou chong ruo jing), literal translation: receiving favor as if frightened; he only remembered the words ‘receive’ and ‘frightened’.

Chapter 7 Since ancient times, success or failure always involves several cause, most of the heroes under the heavens know.

When Wei Xiaobao awoke the next day, he felt a dull ache on the pit of his stomach, he also felt his entire body was devoid of any strength. He knew it was because of Hai Laogong’s palm strike and kick the previous night. He struggled hard to stand up, and saw the widespread bloodstain on his chest. Thereupon he took off his long gown and soaked it in the water tub. When he rubbed the gown, suddenly he realized that the fabric of the gown was falling apart. Wei Xiaobao was startled. He lifted up the gown from the tub and saw two large holes on the chest of the gown, one was in the shape of a palm, the other was shaped like the sole of a foot. He was greatly amazed, “This … what ghost made these holes?”

Thinking about ‘ghost’, instantly all the hair on his body stood up. His first thought was, “The old turtle’s ghost came back and made these two holes on my gown.” And then he thought, “I wonder if the old turtle’s ghost is blind, or he can see clearly?” When a blind person dies, will he turn into a blind ghost? This thought flashed through his mind several times, then he decided he did not want to think about it. Raising the gown in front of his face, he was staring blankly for a while before suddenly a realization hit: “It’s not a ghost! Last night the old turtle struck me with his palm and kick me with his foot. These two holes are from those strikes. Ha ha … laozi’s martial art ability is not bad, I only spit out a couple mouthfuls of blood, it’s nothing. Ay, I wonder if I suffer an internal injury? Perhaps there is an internal injury medicine in the old turtle’s medicine box, I’d better take some.”

Since Hai Laogong had died, naturally Wei Xiaobao did not need to be polite to take over his possessions. Haughtily he imitated Hai Laogong’s coughing before opening the medicine chest. The medicine chest was full of bottles and pouches of all shapes and sizes. The bottles and pouches were labeled with many characters, but he did not recognize a single one; how could he tell which bottle contain poison and which bottle contain medicine? He found a bottle with yellow medicinal powder inside, and got quite a shock, recognizing it as the powder he used to dissolve Xiao Guizi’s body the other day, the ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’. He only needed to flick a tiny amount of powder onto the wound, and soon afterwards, the body, as well as the clothes, shoes and socks, had turned into a puddle of yellow liquid. Naturally he did not dare to touch this bottle of medicinal powder.

He also recalled how by adding a tiny bit of a medicinal powder he had blinded Hai Laogong’s eyes. So in any case he would not dare to take medicine casually. Luckily the pain on his chest was not too bad. He muttered to himself, “Damn it, laozi is proficient in martial art; won’t it be better if I don’t take any medicine?” Immediately he closed the medicine chest and went through the other objects inside the trunk. Most were old clothes, old-looking books and so on. He also found more than two hundred taels of silver, but he was not interested in that money at all, not only because Songgotu had already promised him four hundred fifty thousand taels, but also because by throwing the dice with Wen Youdao and the others, it would not be too difficult for him to win several hundred taels.

He rummaged through Xiao Guizi’s trunk, took out a set of long gown and put it on. Seeing the light and soft black vest he was wearing, he was unconsciously startled. “The old turtle made two big holes on my gown, how come this piece of clothing did not show the least bit of damage? This is taken from Oboi’s treasure trove, if it were not a treasure, why did Oboi hide it inside the secret treasure trove?” And then he had a second thought, “The old turtle hit me and I am not dead, he kicked me and I did not turn mushy, perhaps it was not because of Wei Xiaobao’s proficiency in martial art, but because Oboi’s treasured clothes has saved my life. The other day Suo Dage urged me to wear it, he truly has a great foresight. But after putting it on, I never take it off again, my foresight is also not small.”

While he was feeling very proud of himself, suddenly from outside came the voice of someone calling out, “Gui Gong-gong, congratulations, congratulations! Open the door, quick!”

Wei Xiaobao opened the door while still buttoning his gown. “What’s the happy occasion?” he asked.

There were four eunuchs standing outside the door, they all bowed and paid their respects to Wei Xiaobao. “Congratulations Gui Gong-gong,” they said together.

Wei Xiaobao only said, “It’s too early in the morning, why are you so polite?”

One of the eunuchs, around forty years old, laughed and said, “Just now the Empress Dowager issued an imperial decree to the Minister of Internal Affair, because Hai Tianfu, Hai Gong-gong died of his illness, Gui Gong-gong is promoted to be the Vice Manager in charge of the Catering Department.”

Another eunuch laughed and said, “We did not wait for the Minister of Internal Affair to announce the gracious imperial decree; we rushed at once to come here and congratulate you. From now on Gui Gong-gong is in charge of the entire Catering Department. It’s indeed very good!”

Being promoted to a eunuch position, Wei Xiaobao did not think it was anything terrific; he only thought, “The Empress Dowager promotes my rank so that I won’t reveal anything about last night’s matter. Actually, even though she did not promote me, laozi would not dare to speak too much. If my head is moving home, my mouth will follow, how can I talk too much then? But since the Empress Dowager is promoting me, it’s unlikely that she is going to kill me; that’s a great relief.” Thinking about this, he was beaming with joy. He took out some banknotes and gave each man fifty taels for their trouble in bringing the good news.

One of the eunuchs said, “In our Palace, there has never been a Vice Manager as young as Gui Gong-gong. We have fourteen eunuch managers in our Palace, and eight eunuch Vice Managers, top people, smart people, twenty two in total. Originally, not one of those people was under thirty. Gui Gong-gong is promoted today, tomorrow you will sit as equal with Zhang Zongguan [lit. Chief Manager], Wang Zongguan and the others; it’s really terrific!”

Another eunuch said, “Everybody only knows that Gui Gong-gong has won His Majesty’s favor, who could have thought that the Empress Dowager also regards you highly. I am afraid in less than half a year you will be promoted as a manager. And then you may help the brothers to be promoted to a higher job!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “We all are family, good brothers, why say anything about being promoted or not being promoted? It’s because of the Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s grace, what merit do lao … lao … I, Gui Xiaobao, have?” He nearly blurted out the word laozi, but managed to swallow it back with difficulty. “Come, come, come,” he said, “Let’s sit inside and have some tea!”

The middle-aged eunuch said, “Perhaps it will be later this afternoon that the Minister of Internal Affair will announce the Empress Dowager’s gracious decree. Everybody wants to invite Gui Gong-gong for a drink to congratulate Gong-gong’s meteoric rise, being promoted two grades in succession. Gui Gong-gong, now you are a fifth-grade officer; that is really not a small matter.” The other three eunuchs noisily cheering and applauding; they were adamant at pulling Wei Xiaobao along to drink wine. Although recently Wei Xiaobao had grown accustomed to people fawning on him, yet when the flattery came, he enjoyed listening to it after all. Immediately he locked the door and laughing happily he followed the four eunuchs to have a drink.

Among the four eunuchs, two were the Empress Dowager’s personal attendants who had received the order from the Empress Dowager to convey the imperial decree to the Minister of Internal Affair, and thus they were the first to know. The other two were supervisors in the Catering Department; one was in charge of the purchasing of grains, the other was in charge of the purchasing vegetables and meat dishes, two most lucrative positions in the Palace. Very early that day both of them had heard about Hai Tianfu’s death; immediately they stood guard outside the Minister of Internal Affair’s gate, keeping their eyes and ears open, to find out who would fill Hai Tianfu’s vacant position, so that they could quickly make arrangement to preserve their own positions.

The four eunuchs took Wei Xiaobao to a room in the imperial kitchen; they respectfully invited him to sit on the head of the table. The imperial kitchen knew that tomorrow this boy would be their immediate supervisor; therefore, with all their hearts and mind they prepared the best vegetable and meat dishes. Perhaps it was even better than the Empress Dowager and the Emperor’s daily meal.

Wei Xiaobao was not used to drinking wine, and thus he talked rubbish freely with them. A court eunuch said with a sigh, “Hai Gong-gong was a good man, too bad his body was always not well, plus he was blind. Although he was in charge of the Catering Department for all these years, he was rarely in the imperial kitchen more than one or two days in a month.”

Another eunuch said, “Luckily everybody handles everything with devotion, so that there has never been any significant set-back.”

Yet another eunuch said, “Hai Laogong was an old minister favored by the late emperor. If it were not because of the old master’s grace, the Catering Department supervisor position would have been commissioned to someone else early on. Gui Gong-gong is a favorite of His Majesty and the Empress Dowager, so it is entirely a different matter. We may take shelter under the big tree’s shade, from now on the way we handle matters will be a lot more convenient.”

The previous eunuch said, “I heard Hai Gong-gong died of his coughing yesterday.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao piped in, “When Hai Gong-gong was coughing, often times he could not breathe easily.”

The eunuch who waited on the Empress Dowager said, “At daybreak this morning, the imperial physician, Great Doctor Li, presented a report to the Empress Dowager, saying that the tuberculosis Hai Gong-gong suffered had entered his bones, that the rheumatism had entered his heart; the chronic illness for many years had finally break out, so that it was incurable. Afraid that his tuberculosis might spread out to other people, his body was cremated as soon as it was morning. The Empress Dowager sighed for quite some time; she said repeatedly, ‘It’s a pity, it’s a pity, this man Hai Tianfu was extraordinarily honest!’”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised; he knew that the imperial bodyguards, the imperial physician and the court eunuchs, were all afraid of taking responsibility, thereupon the fact that Hai Gong-gong being killed was concealed and was not reported publicly, which exactly suited the Empress Dowager’s wishes. Wei Xiaobao mused, “What tuberculosis entered his bones, rheumatism entered his heart? The old turtle had a dagger entered his belly and sharp sword entered his heart is more accurate.”

After drinking for a while, the two eunuch supervisors of the Catering Department started to mention that life as court eunuchs was hard, that all they could rely on was to dredge up some fat or occasional income, that they wished Wei Xiaobao would not be as strict as Hai Laogong, in all matters he should be a little bit more accommodating. Wei Xiaobao understood some, but missed most of what they were saying; he simply said yes and no. After the meal, the two eunuchs stuffed a little envelope inside Wei Xiaobao’s pocket, which, upon returning to his room, he opened and looked. Turned out it was two banknotes, each one worth one thousand taels. These three characters ‘one thousand taels’ he was able to recognize. He thought, “I haven’t taken the office, and have received two thousand up front. The fat and additional income is really not bad!”

By the ninth hour [3 – 5 pm], Kangxi sent someone to summon him to the Upper Study Room. Beaming with smile, Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, the Empress Dowager said that last night you rendered another great service, so she wanted me to promote you.”

“I already know it!” Wei Xiaobao said in his heart. Immediately he feigned a surprised and delighted exclamation, before kneeling down and kowtowed, saying, “Your servant did not have any meritorious service, it’s all due to the Empress Dowager and Your Majesty’s graciousness.”

Kangxi said, “The Empress Dowager said that last night there were several court eunuchs fighting in the garden, the disturbance startled the Empress Dowager. You happened to pass by and have handled this matter very appropriately. You may be young, but have a mature understanding.”

Wei Xiaobao stood up and said, “Mature understanding is not necessarily true. I only know that some things should be remembered well, while other things should be entirely forgotten, and never to be mentioned forever. During the fight, the eunuchs uttered some really unpleasant words to hear, naturally anybody should not mention it too much.”

Kangxi nodded; with a faint smile on his face he said, “Xiao Guizi, although you and I are not too old, we can achieve several great accomplishments, don’t let the ministers belittle us by saying we don’t understand anything.”

“Absolutely,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “As long as Your Majesty has a plan in mind, you can leave the execution of it to your servant.”

“Very good!” Kangxi said, “That servant Oboi has started a rebellion and defied his superior. Although I spare him from death, this man’s cronies are numerous; I am afraid that the ashes will burn once more, another rebellion will arise; that will be too far from good.”

“Absolutely!” Wei Xiaobao said.

“I knew it all along that Oboi is unyielding,” Kangxi said, “That’s why I did not send him to Punishment Ministry’s Heavenly Prison to avoid him babbling nonsense, but I have him imprisoned in Prince Kang’s mansion. Just now Prince Kang came and reported that day in day out that servant raises a clamor, shouting impertinent talks.” Speaking to this point, he lowered his voice and said, “That servant says that I used a small dagger and stabbed him on the back.”

“Where did such thing come from?” Wei Xiaobao said, “To deal with this servant, why should Your Majesty personally make his move? It was your servant who stabbed him with a dagger. Let your servant go to Prince Kang to explain.”

If the rumor that Kangxi personally plotting against Oboi had ever spread, Kangxi would lose his dignity as a ruler, which was the reason he was anxious. Hearing Wei Xiaobao’s recommendation, he was delighted. Nodding his head, he said, “You understand this matter very well.” After a slight hesitation he said, “Go to Prince Kang’s residence, see when that servant will die.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said.

Kangxi said, “I thought he would die as soon as the dagger stabbed him, that’s why I spared his life. I did not anticipate that this servant will be this robust, unexpectedly he is able to survive until now and make irresponsible remarks over there, misleading the minds of the people. If I have known it …” There was a hint of remorse in his voice.

Wei Xiaobao grabbed Kangxi’s intention, he wanted to send him to kill Oboi quietly, thereupon he said, “I think most likely he won’t live pass today.”

Kangxi summoned four imperial guards and ordered them to escort Wei Xiaobao to Prince Kang’s mansion on official business.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his residence first to fetch things that he would need, and then riding a tall and big horse, under the protection of the four imperial bodyguards surrounding him all around, he went to Prince Kang’s mansion. He glanced to the left and right along the way, feeling immensely proud of himself. Suddenly he heard a man on the street said, “I heard that the one who captured that big treacherous minister Oboi was a teenage little gong-gong?”

“That’s right,” another man replied, “His Majesty is a teenager, the gong-gong waiting on him whom he favors are all teenagers.”

The first man said, “Could it be this little gong-gong is the one?”

“I don’t know about that,” the other man replied.

An imperial guard, wanted to curry Wei Xiaobao’s favor, loudly said, “Capturing that treacherous minister Oboi is this Gui Gong-gong’s great merit.”

Oboi loved to kill Han people, he was brutal and greedy for bribery; all common people hated him to the bone. When he was arrested and his house searched, his possession confiscated, there was thunderous rejoicing inside and outside Beijing city wall. The young emperor issued an imperial decree on the capture of Oboi, and that he boldly resisted arrest, until a bunch of little eunuchs knocked him down. This matter had also spread out that everybody within the city knew about it. The common people added fuel and spices, drawing mental pictures and sounds; in the teahouses around town, the guests talked about it with splattered saliva, how Oboi attacked the Emperor with a flying kick, how each one of the little eunuchs was proficient in martial art, how using the style ‘Dry Vine Coiling the Root’ they threw down Oboi, how Oboi leaped back up using ‘Flipping Carp’ style, how the little eunuch used ‘Black Tiger Snatching the Heart’; each move and each style was described so vividly as if everybody had witnessed it with their own eyes.

In the last few days, whenever a eunuch went to the market, instantly people would crowd around him, asking about the story of Oboi’s arrest. And now they heard the imperial guard announcing that this little eunuch was the minister who had given the outstanding service in Oboi’s capture, the market street was abuzz with sensation, countless common people applauded and cheered. In all his life Wei Xiaobao had never received such honor, he could not restrain his heart from blooming with pride, he really felt like a real hero. It was only the two imperial bodyguards wielding their sabers at the front to open the way, and thus creating fear to some extent, that stopped the crowd of curious onlookers from surrounding Wei Xiaobao to get a closer look and asked endless questions.

The five of them arrived at Prince Kang’s mansion. Hearing the Emperor sending a personal envoy, Prince Kang busily opened the center gate and went out to welcome them. He arranged a table with burning incense in preparation to receive the imperial edict.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wangye, His Majesty sends Xiaoren to check on Oboi, there is no other important matter.”

“Yes, yes!” Prince Kang replied. He had seen Wei Xiaobao standing by Kangxi’s side in the Upper Study Room, he also knew that Wei Xiaobao had rendered a great service in the capture of Oboi. With a happy laugh he held Wei Xiaobao’s hand and said, “Gui Gong-gong, you seldom honor us with your presence, let us drink a couple up cups first before going to see that servant Oboi.” Immediately he ordered a banquet to be prepared. The four imperial bodyguards were to have another banquet, accompanied by the military officers of the Prince’s mansion. Prince Kang took Wei Xiaobao to the flower garden where they sat face to face and drank wine. He asked Wei Xiaobao what his indulgence was.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I say I like gambling, the Prince might accompany me throwing the dice, and he would definitely lose to me on purpose. Winning his money is called victory without real skill.” Thereupon he said, “I don’t like anything in particular.”

Prince Kang pondered, “Old people like money, middle-aged and young people like women, but it’s improbable that eunuchs will like women. I wonder what will this little eunuch like? It’s hard to guess. This child knows martial art, perhaps he would like a treasured saber or a treasured sword, but then he might stir up a disaster in the Palace, then I will have to take the responsibility. Ah, I know!” He laughed and said, “Gui Gong-gong, when I first met you, I feel like we are old friends. In my stable we raise several good horses. I am inviting you to select several horses. Just consider it as a little give from Xiao Wang[1], what do you think?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, he said, “How can I dare to accept Wangye’s gift?”

Prince Kang said, “We are brothers, what do you mean by ‘gift’? Come, come, come, let us look at the horses first and then come back to drink wine.” Pulling Wei Xiaobao’s hand, he led him to the stable.

Prince Kang ordered the groom to lead out several of his best ponies. Wei Xiaobao was disappointed inwardly, “Why ask me to choose a pony?” he thought, “Do you think I am a little child who only rides on a pony?” Seeing the groom had led five, six different ponies, he laughed and said, “Wangye, my stature is not tall, I’d love to ride a big horse, so I won’t look too short and small.”

Prince Kang immediately understood; slapping his thigh he laughed and said, “I am muddle-headed, I am muddle-headed.” He ordered the groom, “Take Jade Flower, my buckskin horse, out, let Gui Gong-gong take a look at it.”

The groom went into the stable, and returned with a tall and big horse, its entire body was white, dappled with red spots. It raised its head high and tossed its mane, it was truly an extraordinary divine steed. It has gold bridle and gold stirrup, the edge of the saddle was inlaid with silver and precious stones. Just the accessories on the horse alone worth nobody knows how much money; if not princes and dukes or royalty, or perhaps high-ranking official or rich merchant, nobody would dare to use this kind of luxurious saddle and accessories. Wei Xiaobao did not understand anything about quality of horses; seeing this horse’s handsome appearance, he could not help but cheering, “What a beautiful horse!”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “This horse was delivered from the Western Region, a famous Ferghana horse. Don’t look at its big and tall body, this horse is still very young, only a few months over two years. A beautiful horse deserves to be ridden by beautiful rider. Gui Xiongdi, how about you pick this Jade Flower buckskin horse?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This … this is the horse Wangye rides, how can Xiaoren dare to desire it? I will be happy to accept any other of Wangye‘s horse.”

“Gui Xiongdi,” Prince Kang said, “You consider me as an outsider like this, aren’t looking down too much on Xiongdi? Could it be that you are unwilling to have me as a friend?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Ay, in the Palace Xiaoren is only a … a lowly person, how can I dare to make friends with Wangye?”

Prince Kang said, “We, Manchu people, are frank and straightforward. If you consider me as your friend, then you’ll take this horse; afterwards, there won’t be any distinction between what’s mine and what’s yours. Otherwise, in my heart, Xiongdi will be greatly offended!” Saying that, his beard rose on its end, he put on an appearance as if he was panting with rage.

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic; he said, “Wangye, you … you treat the lowly one so good, I really don’t know how to repay?”

“What are you talking about? Repay or not repay,” Prince Kang said, “You are willing to take this horse, it can be considered you are giving me a face.” Walking toward the horse’s rear, he gently slapped the horse’s butt several times and said, “Jade Flower, Jade Flower, from now on you’ll follow this Gong-gong, be a good horse.” Toward Wei Xiaobao he said, “Xiongdi, why don’t you try?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Yes!” he replied. Slapping his hand on the saddle, he leaped up and sat on the horseback. For the last several months he had been practicing martial art, in term of punching and kicking he might not learn too much, but jumping and leaping, his movement was vigorous and nimble.

“Good skill!” Prince Kang cheered.

The groom let the reins go, the Jade Flower buckskin horse trotted around the sandy ground outside the stable. Riding on the horseback, Wei Xiaobao felt the speed, as well as the steadiness of the horse. He did not have the slightest knowledge of any technique to control the horse, afraid that he might make a fool of himself, after trotting several rounds he leaped down from the horseback. The horse stopped and stood still on its own accord.

“Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Thank you very much for your generous gift! Xiaoren is going to see Oboi now, I’ll come back later to accompany you.”

“Certainly,” Prince Kang replied, “This is the important mission on which you are being sent. Xiao Xiongdi, please report to His Majesty that we guard him very strictly, even if this servant grew wings, he would not be able to escape.”

“That’s for sure,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Prince Kang asked.

“I do not dare to brother Wangye‘s honorable self,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Every time Prince Kang see Oboi, he was always shouted at, cursed and berated by Oboi, so he did not really want to see him. Thereupon he sent eight guards to escort Wei Xiaobao to inspect the offender.

The eight guards led Wei Xiaobao toward the rear garden, to the front of an isolated stone building. Outside the building there were sixteen guards with steel sabers in their hands; on top of that, there were two chief guards continuously going on a patrol around the building. The guarding of the prisoner was indeed very strict. As soon as the chiefs found out that the Emperor had sent a personal envoy to inspect, they led the guards to bow and salute. They opened the big lock on the iron gate, pushed open the iron gate, and invited Wei Xiaobao to enter.

The stone building was really dark inside, on the corridor there was a kitchen stove leaning against the wall, an old servant was cooking rice. The chief of the guards said, “Normally this iron door will not be opened easily, the prisoner’s food and drink is prepared in here by this man, and then delivered into the prison cell.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Very good!” he said, “Your Wangye had given it a thorough thought. The iron door is not opened, it will be very difficult for the prisoner to escape.”

The chief of the guards said, “Wangye‘s order: if the prisoner is trying to escape, he is to be killed without question.” The chief of the guards led Wei Xiaobao to enter through a small hall, and immediately they could hear Oboi’s voice coming from inside, cursing the Emperor: “Your granny, from the cradle to the grave laozi has established countless heroic contribution, so that your grandfather, your father can occupy this beautiful rivers and mountains. You, little demon with no prospect, are but a child, yet you don’t know kindness when you see one, you stab me in the back with a dagger, you plotted against laozi. Even if laozi becomes a malicious spirit, I will not spare you.”

The chief of the guards frowned and said, “This servant’s mouth is undisciplined and out of control, he really deserved to be beheaded.”

Following Oboi’s voice, Wei Xiaobao came to an iron window of a small room. He craned his neck to look inside, and saw Oboi, with disheveled hair, with shackles and fetters on his hands and feet, was walking back and forth in the room. He dragged the shackles on the floor, creating a clanking noise. Oboi saw Wei Xiaobao and shouted, “You … you … you deserve to die ten thousand times, pen1sless[2] little demon, come in, come in, let laozi pinch your throat!” His eyes bulging, his gaze fiery, suddenly he ran toward Wei Xiaobao. ‘Bang!’ his body heavily struck the wall. Although he knew that the wall was very thick, still, Wei Xiaobao was shocked and withdrew two steps back. Seeing Oboi’s mean and ferocious appearance he could not help but was extremely scared.

“Gong-gong,” the chief of the guards comforted him, “Don’t be afraid, this servant won’t come out.”

Wei Xiaobao calmed down. He saw that the iron bars on that iron window were very thick, the stone wall was also very thick, plus the shackles and fetters on Oboi’s hands and feet were very heavy. His spirit involuntarily rose up. “Why should I fear of him?” he said, “All of you may wait for me outside. His Majesty ordered me to ask him several questions.” The guards complied and withdrew. Oboi was still cursing angrily.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Ao Shaobao, His Majesty sent me here to see if you, Senior, are well. You are cursing people, that means your spirit is 100% alive and well, your body is very healthy; when His Majesty learns about it, he will be very happy.”

Oboi raised his hands and struck his chains against the iron window, ‘dang, dang!’, while roaring angrily, “Your granny, you little b@stard raised by a b1tch. Tell your Emperor, I don’t need his hypocrisy, if he wanted to kill me just kill, do you think Oboi will be scared?”

The thick iron frame of the window was shaking from his strike, Wei Xiaobao was afraid Oboi might break the window and come out, he took another step back. He said with a laugh, “It won’t be that easy for His Majesty to kill you. He wanted you to stay here peacefully for twenty, thirty years. When you feel real remorse in your heart, you may crawl out and kowtow several hundred times to His Majesty, remembering your past merit, His Majesty may forgive you and let you out. But you won’t be back to your high-ranking post.”

Oboi roared, “Tell him not to have a big dream in a clear autumn day; if he wants to kill Oboi, that is very easy, but he wants Oboi to kowtow to him, that is a thousand times, ten thousand times more difficult.”

“We’ll wait and see,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “After three or five years, when His Majesty suddenly remembers you, he may send me back to see you. Ao Shaobao Daren, please take a good care of yourself, you must never catch cold or cough, headache or stomachache.”

Oboi cursed, “Ache your mother’s b@stard lamb. The young emperor was fine, it was you, raised by b1tch Han people who taught him bad things. If the old Emperor would listen to me early on, not a single one of Han official would be needed in the imperial court, not a single one of Han dog would be allowed to enter the Palace, otherwise, do you think it will be a mess such as today?”

Wei Xiaobao ignored him completely, he withdrew toward the servant who was cooking by the kitchen stove. Seeing steam was rising from the pot, he lifted the lid to look in, and saw it was a pork and white cabbage soup. “Smells good,” he said.

“It’s for the prisoner,” the old servant said, “Nothing good in it.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty ordered me to personally inspect the prisoner’s food and drink, we must not let him starve.”

The old servant said, “Gong-gong please don’t worry, he won’t starve. “Wangye has ordered that every day we must give him a catty of meat.”

“Scoop a bowl and let me have a taste,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you mistreat the prisoner, I will ask Wangye to beat you with a board.”

The old servant was terrified; “Yes, yes!” he said, “Xiaoren does not dare to mistreat the prisoner.” Busily he fetch a bowl and scooped a ladleful or pork and cabbage, which he respectfully handed over to Wei Xiaobao with both hands; he also presented a pair of chopsticks.

Wei Xiaobao received the bowl and drank a mouthful of soup; he showed neither approval nor disapproval. Looking at the chopsticks he said, “These chopsticks are too dirty, clean it well for me.”

“Yes, yes!” the old servant busily replied. Taking the chopsticks, he went out to the courtyard, where a water jar was standing, and wipe and wash the chopsticks well.

Wei Xiaobao turned his body around and took a package of medicinal powder from his pocket, which he poured into that large bowl of pork and cabbage, and then he put the paper wrapper back into his pocket. He shook the bowl several times to dissolve the medicinal powder into the soup. He knew that Kangxi wanted to kill Oboi, but it must be done without leaving any trace. Walking out of the Upper Study Room, he got an idea, thereupon he returned to his residence and took out about a dozen kinds of medicinal powder from Hai Laogong’s medicinal chest. Without any care whether it was poison or not, he mixed them all randomly, and then wrapped it all in a sheet of paper. His thought was that among those dozen different powders, there must be two or three poison, so if he let Oboi have it, his chance of survival would be very slim.

Finished cleaning up the chopsticks, the old servant respectfully handed it over to Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao took the chopsticks and used it to stir Oboi’s bowl of pork; he said, “Um, there are a lot of pork in here. Do you usually give him this much meat? I’ll say most likely you steal some for yourself!”

“Each meal has this much meat,” the old servant said, “Xiaoren does not dare to steal food.” While in his heart he was astonished, “How did this little Gong-gong know that I steal the prisoner’s food? That’s a bit strange!”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You may deliver the food to the prisoner.”

“Yes, yes!” the old servant replied. He fixed three large bowls of white rice, and then along with the large bowl of pork and cabbage, he placed the bowls on a tray and deliver it to Oboi.

Wei Xiaobao lifted his chopsticks to gently tapping the edge of the pot; in his heart, he was very proud of himself, thinking, “If that servant Oboi eats the bowl of pork and cabbage that I fixed, if blood does not flow out of his seven orifices, then … then blood will flow from his eight orifices and he’ll die.” He only knew there was a phrase ‘blood flowing from seven orifices’, but in all honesty his knowledge was very limited; not knowing any better, he added one more to the phrase ‘seven orifices’.

Putting down the bowl and the chopsticks, he strolled outside to chat with the guards on duty. After a while he thought that by this time Oboi most like would have had eaten the bowl of pork clean; thereupon he said to the chief of the guards, “Let’s go back in to take a look!”

“Yes!” the chief of the guards replied.

The two of them had just entered the door when suddenly they heard two of the guards outside were shouting almost simultaneously, “Who’s there? Stop!” Followed by ‘swish, swish!’ the sound of arrows being shot. The chief of the guards was startled and busily said, “Gong-gong, I am going out to look.” And he ran outside.

Wei Xiaobao followed behind him; he heard clashing noise as about a dozen men in black, with naked blades in their hands, were fighting with the guards. Wei Xiaobao was greatly shocked, “Aiyo!” he exclaimed, “Oboi’s men are here to rescue him.”

The chief of the guards drew his sword and led the fight. He only shouted a few words when a man and a woman attacked him from left and right. The four imperial guards escorting Wei Xiaobao were not too far at the front of the building. Hearing the noise, they rushed in to join the fight.

The man in black’s martial art was quite strong, in an instant two mansion guards were already lying on the ground, dead. Wei Xiaobao withdrew back inside the stone building and hastily closed the door. He was about to bolt the door when a group of men dashed in, throwing him several zhang back. Four men in black had broken into the stone building. “Where is Oboi? Where is Oboi?” they shouted. An old man with long beard grabbed Wei Xiaobao and asked, “Where is Oboi?”

Wei Xiaobao pointed outside and said, “He is imprisoned in the dungeon outside.” Two of the men in black immediately rushed out. Another group of four men in black rushed in and swiftly ran toward the rear courtyard. Suddenly someone shouted, “In here!” The old man with long beard was angry; he raised his saber to chop Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao desperately trying to flee. Another man in black from the side kicked him on his butt, sending him flying several zhang away and he landed on the rear courtyard.

Six men in black rammed the prison’s iron door together, but the iron door was very sturdy, how could they strike it open in such a short period of time? They heard a rapid ‘dong, dong, dong’ sound of the gong outside, the Prince’s mansion had raised the alarm. One of the man in black shouted, “We must hurry!” The long-bearded old man replied, “No kidding! Who does not know we must hurry?”

Seeing their battering failed to open the iron door, a man in black raised the steel whip he had in his hand and used it as a pry bar. After several push, the two iron bars began to open. By now three more men in black rushed in. The hallway in front of the prison was narrow, nine people crowded together, they could not use their hands and feet freely.

Wei Xiaobao quietly crawled out on the floor, but before he went too far, the men spotted him. Someone stabbed a sword to his back. Wei Xiaobao dodged to the left. The man swept his sword sideways. ‘Swish!’ it made a big rip on the back of his long gown. Luckily Wei Xiaobao was protected by his treasured vest so that the sword did not harm his skin and flesh. In his fright and panic he leaped up and rushed toward the crowd.

Another man in black cursed, “Little demon!” He raised his saber and hacked it down. Wei Xiaobao jumped up suddenly and caught the iron bars on the prison’s window, his body was hanging in the air. The man in black wielding the steel whip was in the process of prying the iron bars open, seeing Wei Xiaobao was obstructing him at the door, he struck his whip down. Wei Xiaobao was caught in a dead end, plus his legs were caught in between the two iron bars. The iron bars was already bent, his body was slim and small, unexpectedly he was able to slip through the gap. Releasing his grip, he fell down into the prison cell. ‘Dang!’ the steel whip struck the iron bars.

The men in black outside shouted one after another, “I’m going in, I’m going in.” The man with the steel whip probed his head into the opening trying to worm his way in. A thirteen, fourteen years old Wei Xiaobao could slip in, but this man’s stature was stout and strong, how could he slip through?

Wei Xiaobao drew the dagger from his boot while shouting inwardly, “I wish the help will come soon, I wish the help will come soon!” He heard the sound of copper gong outside, he heard the shouts and the clashing of weapons. Suddenly ‘whoosh!’ a gust of wind pressed down on his head. Wei Xiaobao rolled several chi away; he heard a loud clanking noise, followed by a searing pain on his face as some sand splashed onto him. Without looking back he hastily jumped away. He saw Oboi was waving his iron chain, “Heh, heh,” he shouted, while jumping and leaping madly. At this moment, the man in black wielding the steel whip had just put his head through the window frame. Oboi ferociously swung his shackles onto his head. His brain dashed out, the man in black died instantly.

Wei Xiaobao was surprised to no end, “Why did he kill the people who want to rescue him?” But then he realized immediately, “Aiyo! After eating the medicinal powder I fed him, although he is poisoned, he did not immediately go to see Emperor Yan Luo[3], but went mad instead!”

Outside the door, the men were shouting and yelling. Oboi raised his shackled hands and fiercely attacked the prison door. Wei Xiaobao thought, “If he turns around and hit me, laozi will definitely return to heaven!” In this desperate situation, almost without thinking he pounced forward and with all his might he thrust his dagger into Oboi’s back.

After taking the medicine, Oboi’s sanity failed; in his confused mind, he did not know someone was attacking him from behind. As Wei Xiaobao’s dagger was coming at him, he did not even try to evade, ‘stab!’ it went deep into his back. Oboi howled wildly, while randomly waving the iron chain on his hands. Wei Xiaobao seized this opportunity to drag the dagger downward. The dagger could cut iron like mud, it sliced from top to bottom, Oboi’s back was cut in two, and he fell down immediately.

Outside the window, the men in black were startled and staring blankly for a moment, as if they were witnessing the most bizarre thing on earth. About three, four men cried out almost simultaneously, “This kid killed Oboi! This kid killed Oboi!”

The long-bearded old man said, “Pry open the iron window, get in and make sure it is really Oboi!” Two men immediately picked the steel whip to forcefully pry the iron bars open. Two of the guards from the Prince’s mansion broke into the room, the long-bearded old man brandished his scimitar and chopped them dead one by one. A man in black used a short spear to poke repeatedly toward Wei Xiaobao across the window, to prevent him from coming near and injure somebody. Not too long afterwards, the gap between the iron bars had grown big enough; a thin man in black said, “Let me come in!” And he jumped into the prison cell trough the window.

Wei Xiaobao raised his dagger and stabbed it to him. The thin man used his saber to block. ‘Tchak!’ the saber broke into two. The thin man was startled, he threw the broken saber in his hand toward Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao lower his head to dodge, but both of his hands were grabbed by that thin man, and were twisted behind his back. Another man in black placed a saber on his neck and shouted, “Don’t move!”

Two more of the iron bars on the window were taken down, the long-bearded old man and a bald man in black entered the prison cell. They grabbed Oboi’s head by his pigtail and lifted it up to take a look. “It is Oboi!” they said together.

The long-bearded old man wanted to shove Oboi’s body through the window, but the shackles and fetters were firmly fastened onto the stone walls, and he was unable to break the chain. The thin man picked up Wei Xiaobao’s dagger and ‘tchak, tchak’ four times, he cut the iron chain on Oboi’s body. “Good blade!” the long-bearded old man praised. He shoved Oboi’s body through the window, and the men in black outside pulled the body out. The thin man also shoved Wei Xiaobao outside the window, and then the three of them slipped out of the prison cell.

The long-bearded old man gave his order, “Take this boy away! Everybody, let’s go!” They all shouted their response and rushed outside. A big man in black carried Wei Xiaobao under his arm as they rushed out of the stone building.

Suddenly ‘swish, swish, swish!’ like flying locusts arrows were shot at them. Twenty-something guards from the Prince’s mansion continuously release the arrows. Wielding a saber, Prince Kang himself led the attack.

Stopped by the arrows, the men in black were unable to dash out. The one carrying Oboi’s body was a Taoist priest. “Follow me!” he called out, as he lifted Oboi’s body as a shield in front of him.

Prince Kang saw Oboi, but he did not know that Oboi had already died. He also saw Wei Xiaobao being carried by one of the assassins. “Stop the arrows!” he yelled, “Don’t harm Gui Gong-gong!” Wei Xiaobao mused, “Prince Kang has a good conscience, laozi will always remember your kindness!”

The Prince’s mansion’s archers immediately halted their arrows. Those men in black cried out loudly and dashed out of the stone building. The long-bearded old man waved his hand, four men rushed toward Prince Kang. The guards were shocked; abandoning the enemy, they rushed to save their master. Who would have thought that it was actually that long-bearded old man’s ‘making sound in the east and striking to the west’ tactic? The remaining men in black seized this opportunity to jump over the surrounding wall to escape from the Prince’s mansion.

The four men attacking Prince Kang possessed very good qinggong, avoiding contact with the guards, they flew to the east and leaped to the west, as if they were waiting for an opportunity to take Prince Kang’s life. However, as soon as their companions were out of the Prince’s mansion, the four of them let out several whistle and jumped over the wall, while repeatedly waved their hands. A dozen or so secret projectiles were shot toward Prince Kang. The guards repeatedly cried out in alarm as they waved their weapons to knock down the secret projectiles. Still, one steel dart hit Prince Kang’s left arm. Amidst the confusion, the four men in black disappeared from the Prince’s mansion.

Wei Xiaobao was carried by a big man under his arm, as they were speeding down the street. He heard thunderous noise of hoof beats and somebody shouted, “Assassins in Prince Kang’s mansion!” It was a large group of reinforcement troops.

The men in black dashed into a commoner’s house by the Prince’s mansion. They bolted the door and dashed out via the back door. Evidently these people had already prepared their escape route well, they seemed to be familiar with the terrain of that place. Rushing through a small alley, they entered another house, and dashed out via the back door again. After several twist and turn, they entered a large house. All of them quickly shed their black attire and quickly wore other set of clothes. In an instant they all changed into peasants: one carried firewood on shoulder pole, another carried baskets of vegetables, et cetera. The man carrying Wei Xiaobao bound him firmly with hemp rope. Two men pushed a wooden cart, on which were two large wooden barrels. They shoved Oboi’s body and Wei Xiaobao into those barrels.

“Damn it!” Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart. Countless jujubes were poured on top of his head, until he was completely covered with jujubes, then they put the lid down. If someone were to open the lid, all he could see would be jujubes. Then Wei Xiaobao felt his body was swaying, presumably the cart was being pushed out of the door. Although there were gaps in between the jujubes that he was not suffocated, yet he could not breathe freely. From a state of panic, Wei Xiaobao slowly calmed down; he thought, “These people are Oboi’s subordinates, most probably they kidnapped laozi away because they want to dig out laozi‘s heart and liver to be sacrificed to Oboi. It would be best if along the way we came across a troop of soldiers, laozi will roll as hard as I can to overturn this wooden barrel, then their secret would be revealed.” However, his hands and feet were tightly bound, he could not even move a single strand of his hair.

He could hear the faint rattling of the wheel outside the wooden barrel, while his body was jolted continuously. After traveling for a long time, they did not come across any group of soldiers. Wei Xiaobao cursed for a while, then he was afraid for a while. All of a sudden he opened his mouth and bite a jujube, it was a plump and sweet jujube, so he ate several more. Scared and extremely tired, not too long afterward he unexpectedly fell into a deep sleep.

When he awoke, the cart was still moving. He felt his entire body was sore, he wanted to turn around, but could not move even for half a fen. He thought, “This time laozi is not going to escape the disaster. As soon as I can, I am going to rain curses on them, to vent the resentment in my heart. In twenty years, I will be considered a hero.” His mind went further, “Luckily I have killed Oboi, otherwise, if that servant was rescued by this bunch of dog thieves while laozi is in their hands, it would be difficult for me to stay alive, while I can’t ask for death either. Oboi was a high-ranking official of the imperial court, Wei Xiaobao is only a little demon from the Lovely Spring Courtyard. A life for a life, Oboi’s life is really cheap, ha ha … really cheap!” Since he was unable to escape, he tried to amuse himself to relieve his anxiety, yet in spite of laughing inwardly, there was not the least bit of cheerful mood in his heart.

A moment later, he fell asleep again. This time he was asleep for a long time. When he woke up, he felt that the cart was rolling smoothly on flat road. A little while later, the cart stopped, but nobody got him out, he was left alone inside the jujube barrel. After more than half a day, Wei Xiaobao felt very stuffy; he was about to fall asleep again when suddenly he heard creaking noise, the lid was opened, somebody was scooping the jujubes above his head. Wei Xiaobao took a deep breath and was feeling very relieved. Opening his eyes, all he could see was darkness, with a glimmer of light overhead. Someone scooped him out with both hands and carried him horizontally across his arms. Another man was standing by his side, holding a lantern. Turned out it was already night.

The man carrying Wei Xiaobao was an old man with a serene expression. Wei Xiaobao noticed that they were in an enormous courtyard. The old man carried Wei Xiaobao to the rear hall, the man carrying the lantern pushed open a long shutter. Wei Xiaobao cried out inwardly, “I am doomed!” Not knowing which way was up and which way was down, all he could see was an enormous hall, with people standing wall to wall; by his estimation, there were at least two hundred of them. Those people wore black clothing with white bands around their heads and white cloth belt around their waists, all wore mourning attire while their faces showed grief and indignation.

A mourning shrine was set up in the middle of the hall, on the table eight extremely thick blue candles were lighted. Next to the shrine hang several plain white cloths with lamentation couplets written on them, and a vertical ‘beckoning the soul’ banner. Back in Yangzhou, whenever there was a rich family having a funeral, Wei Xiaobao always joined the fun. He would ask for money, or when everybody was busy and nobody was watching, he would ‘lead away a passing goat’ by stealing some household item and hiding it in his bosom, he would then sell it in the market and use the money to gamble. Therefore, he was accustomed to see funeral hall arrangement; as soon as he saw it, he knew what it was.

While he was still inside the jujube barrel, he had anticipated that they would cut open his heart and split his chest to be sacrificed to Oboi, but now that the time had already come, he was so scared that his entire body went limp and his teeth chattered, making a clacking noise. The old man set him down, with his left hand grabbing Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, his right hand severing the hemp rope binding Wei Xiaobao’s hands and feet. Wei Xiaobao’s limbs were numb, he was unable to stand up. The old man put his hand underneath Wei Xiaobao’s right armpit to support him.

It was obvious to Wei Xiaobao that everybody in that hall knew martial art, perhaps he was not a match for any of them, so escaping would be extremely difficult indeed. But if left and right was death, and luckily the rope binding him was severed, he might as well try. The worst that could happen to him was he failed, he got caught back, and they still would have cut open his heart and split his chest. Could they cut more than once, or split him again? The most important things: first, he needed to get the old man’s hand off his armpit, so that when he made his move he would not get grabbed, second, he had to try to extinguish the lantern; he would have had greater chance of success in the dark.

Stealing a glance to the people in the hall, he saw there was either a saber hanging on their waist, or a sword sticking out on their back. A middle-aged man walked over to the spirit tablet and said, “Today the big enmity is avenged, Da … Dage may close your … your eyes.” Before even finished, he voice broke into silent sobs. He turned around and threw himself in front of the spirit tablet and cried loudly. Everybody in the hall followed by wailing loudly.

“Hot piece mama,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “Laozi will curse now.” But immediately changed his mind, “As soon as I open my mouth to curse, these turtle bastards will start attacking laozi, then I won’t be able to escape.” Casting a sideways glance, he saw the old man holding him was using his sleeve to wipe his tears, so he was thinking of turning around and run right then, but the space behind them was full of people, as soon as he took a single step, they would immediately capture him. He thought that the timing had not come, he must not be reckless.

From among the crowd an old sounding voice shouted, “Offer the sacrifice!” An imposing looking man, bare-chested, with a white cloth band around his head, walked to the front in big strides; he had a wooden tray in his hand, which he lifted high above his head. The tray was covered in thin cloth, on the cloth lay a badly mangled human head. Wei Xiaobao almost fainted; “Hot piece mama,” he thought, “These b@stards are going to cut laozi’s head.” He further thought, “Whose head is it? Is it Prince Kang? Or Songgotu? It couldn’t be the Young Emperor, could it?” The wooden tray was lifted very high that Wei Xiaobao was not able to see clearly the severed head’s appearance.

The man set the wooden tray on the sacrifice table and then prostrated himself on the floor. The weeping sound rose again in the hall. “Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I don’t run now, what am I waiting for?” He turned around, wishing to run, but the old man pulled his sleeve, his legs gave up and he fell down, kneeling on the ground. Seeing everybody else was kowtowing, without any choice he also kowtowed, but in his heart he cursed, “Thief Oboi, Turtle Oboi. Laozi stabbed you dead with a knife, to the nether world, laozi will stab you several more times!”

Finished kowtowing some people stood up, while others lay prostrate and cried loudly. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Real men crying like that, aren’t they ashamed? What good was that bastard Oboi anyway? What’s the regret in him being dead? Why do you shed so much horse urine like this?”

After crying for a while, a tall and slim old man walked over to the spirit tablet, with a loud and clear voice he said, “Brothers, our Yin Xiangzhu’s[4] enmity has been avenged, that servant Oboi has finally be beheaded. It is truly our Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall’s greatly happy occasion …”

Hearing the words ‘that servant Oboi has finally be beheaded’, Wei Xiaobao’s ears were buzzing; he was startled but happy, like a lightning a thought flashed in his mind, “They are not Oboi’s subordinates, but Oboi’s personal enemy?” The next several sentences that that tall and slim old man was saying went into Wei Xiaobao’s left ear and out of his right. After quite a while, he calmed down and was slowly able to listen; however, he missed a large chunk of the old man’s speech. He heard, “… today we created disturbance at Prince Kang’s mansion, killed Oboi, and managed to return safely. The Tatars will undoubtedly be panic-stricken; this is an enormous victory to our Society’s anti-Qing, restoring-Ming great undertaking. When the brethrens in the other Halls of our Society find out, they will definitely admire our Green Wood Hall’s wisdom, bravery, and resolution in doing this daring deed.”

“Exactly, exactly,” one after another the men shouted their opinions, “This time our Green Wood Hall has gain a lot of face.” “Lotus Flower Hall, Scarlet Fire Hall, they all have always blown their own horns, but this time Green Wood Hall outraced them in accomplishing our leader’s order!” “When this matter is spread widely all over the world, perhaps in teahouses everywhere our deeds will be told and sung. When in the future the Tatars are driven back outside the Great Wall, the name Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall will be engraved in immortality!” “What do you mean driving the Tatars back outside the Great Wall? We are going to chop all Tatars’ head and exterminate them completely; they all will die without any burial site.” Everybody had something to say, their spirit rose, the mournful air filling the hall just a moment ago was instantly swept away.

Hearing this, Wei Xiaobao did not have the slightest doubt, he knew these people were the warriors who fought against the imperial court. Before he met Mao Shiba, in the Yangzhou’s neighborhood and marketplace, he often heard people mentioning all kinds of chivalrous deeds the Tian Di Hui was doing to fight the Qing. In those years, when the Qing troops entered Yangzhou, they massacred the people without restraint, raping and pillaging, committing any imaginable misdeed. The so-called ‘Ten days in Yangzhou, Three massacres in Jiading [district, northwest Shanghai]’ was really tragic beyond words.” In the city of Yangzhou, there was no family whose member did not run into misfortune during this holocaust. As a result, in regard to the sentiment of resisting the Qing, the admiration of people of Yangzhou was virtually several notches higher than that of people of different places.

By this time, the ‘Ten days in Yangzhou’ disaster happened no more than twenty years ago; since his childhood, Wei Xiaobao had heard people unceasingly mentioned the evil deeds of the Qing army, he also heard about how Shi Gebu sacrificed himself in resisting the enemy, how certain people were able to take the enemy down with their deaths. When Mao Shiba was fighting the salt smugglers at the Lovely Spring Courtyard, it was exactly for the sake of a Tian Di Hui member. Along the way, he heard not a few of Mao Shiba’s story about Tian Di Hui’s heroic deeds, also about the saying ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain’, and so on. In his heart, Wei Xiaobao had already admired and looked up to these people. At this moment, with his own eyes he had witnessed how this heroic group had killed the Tatars, he could not help but was very excited; in that instant he had forgotten his own status as ‘little eunuch’ of the Tatars’ imperial court.

The tall and slim old man waited until the people were calming down before continuing, “In Green Wood Hall, for the last two years, we have always remembered Yin Xiangzhu, Yin Dage’s enmity. In front of the spirit tablet of Wan Yunlong Dage, everybody made a blood oath that we were going to kill Oboi to avenge Yin Dage. At that time Yin Xiangzhu has died as a martyr, everybody in Jianghu admires and respects him. When his soul in heaven sees Oboi, this dog’s head, he certainly will have a good laugh.”

“Exactly, exactly,” the people responded.

A majestic voice from the crowd said, “Two years ago, we all took an oath, if we fail to kill Oboi, then everybody in out Green Wood Hall is the distant grandson of a black bear [i.e. a coward], who won’t have any face to walk in the Jianghu. At long last today we wipe away this extraordinary shame and humiliation. For the last two years, I, the one surnamed Fan, cannot eat to the full, cannot have a good sleep; day and night I kept thinking of how can I avenge Yin Xiangzhu, how to expunge the disgrace of Green Wood Hall. Finally, everybody’s cherished desire is fulfilled. Ha ha, ha ha …!” Many people were laughing wildly with him.

“Alright,” the tall and slim old man said, “Our Green Wood Hall has again roused our powerful wind, everybody feels proud and elated, once again we can raise our heads high and behave with integrity. These past two years, the brethrens of Green Wood Hall were like master-less lonely souls, in the Tian Di Hui’s meeting, the brethrens of the other halls only had to look at us once, and then they would laugh grimly. I was so ashamed that I was unable to show my face in public, did not dare to interrupt or speak a few words in any meeting discussing either important or trivial businesses. Although our Zongduozhu has several times conveyed messages to enlighten us, saying that the revenge for Yin Xiangzhu is the business of the entire Tian Di Hui, not the responsibility of one hall, the Green Wood Hall, only, the cold words and sarcastic comments of the brothers from other halls cannot be simply dismissed. From now on, it’s going to be substantially different.”

“Right, right,” another man replied, “Li Dage is right, we must take this opportunity to take on the task and complete it with one sustained effort, do a large-scale effort to accomplish several more great undertaking. This evil thief Oboi had a reputation as the ‘number one warrior of Manchuria’; today he died under our hands, thus those number two warrior, number three warrior, number four warrior and so on will be scared to death!” As they heard this, the people roared in laughter again.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “One minute you cried, the next minute you laughed, just like an upside-down child.”

Suddenly there was a cold voice from among the crowd, “Was it us, the Green Wood Hall, who killed Oboi?”

As soon as the people heard this, silence fell. More than two hundred people assembled in that hall, but in an instant ‘the crow and peacock made no sound’. After a long while, someone said, “Although the one who killed Oboi was someone else, it was because we, the Green Wood Hall who raided Prince Kang’s mansion. Only by taking advantage of the confusion was that person able to kill Oboi.”

The person who previously spoke said again in cold voice, “So that’s how it is.”

The man with the coarse and loud voice said, “Qi Laosan[5], what is the meaning of your words?”

Still with a cold voice the one called Qi Laosan replied, “What meaning do I have? I don’t have any meaning, not the least bit! It’s just that when the brethrens from the other halls say: This achievement of Green Wood Hall is really impressive! But I wonder which brother of your precious hall actually killed Oboi?’ If this question is asked, I am afraid it will be somewhat difficult for us to answer. There is no harm in all of us thinking: is it possible that other people will ask this question? I am afraid in one thousand people, there will be nine-hundred and ninety nine people who will ask the question! Now we are blowing our own horns, pasting gold on our own faces, won’t it be rather … rather … hey, hey, we all understand it in our hearts!” The crowd fell silent completely. They all felt that his words were sharp and extremely not pleasant to hear, but it was the truth, and it was hard to refute.

After a long while, the tall and slim old man said, “This is the little eunuch from the Qing Palace who killed Oboi; the result of an accident arising from many causes. It was Yin Xiangzhu‘s own spirit from heaven who gave his blessing secretly, using the hand of a child to get rid of this big traitor. All of us are upright and honest men, we won’t tell any lie contrary to our conscience.” The crowd looked at each other, some people could not help but shaking their heads; at first they were in high spirit, but thinking that the person killing Oboi was not a brother from the Green Wood Hall, immediately their spirit was dampened.

The tall and slim old man said, “For the last two years, our Hall is without a leader. Everybody pushed Xiongdi to temporarily perform the duty of a Xiangzhu. Now that Yin Xiangzhu‘s enmity has been avenged, Xiongdi is laying down the authority tablet in front of Yin Xiangzhu‘s spirit. I am asking all the brothers to elect another capable man.” Finished speaking, he kneeled down in front of the spirit tablet, while lifting high a wooden tablet with both hands. He kowtowed several times before standing up and put down the authority tablet in front of the spirit tablet.

“Li Dage,” a man said, “In the past two years, you have handled our Society’s affairs clearly and orderly. In my opinion, other than you, who else fit to hold the Xiangzhu position? You don’t have to be modest, just pick up the authority tablet again!” Everybody was silent for half a day.

Another man said, “The Xiangzhu position is not for us to decide, we can’t simply pick someone and appoint him to be the Xiangzhu. It is for the Zongduozhu to appoint somebody.”

The first man replied, “Although it is indeed the custom, the usual practice is that after each Hall reach a decision, we will report it to our leader. Our leader has never turned down anybody. The so-called ‘appointment’ is nothing more than a routine business.”

The other man replied, “As far as Xiongdi knows, the new Xiangzhu of each Hall has always been recommended by the former Xiangzhu. Either when the old Xiangzhu is old, or sick, or on his deathbed and is leaving his last wish. It has never been our customs for the brothers to elect the Xiangzhu replacement.”

The first man said, “Yin Xiangzhu was unfortunate to be harmed by Oboi, how could he leave his last words behind? Jia Laoliu [Ol’ Jia the six (see also Chapter 2)], it is not that you did not know this matter, why are you bringing it up now? I understand your intention, you oppose Li Dage to be our Hall’s Xiangzhu, you harbor an ill-will, it’s a conspiracy.”

Hearing the name Jia Laoliu, Wei Xiaobao shivered involuntarily, he remembered the person the salt smugglers in Yangzhou was looking for was precisely this man. Turning his head to look at him, he saw that Jia Laoliu was a bald man, the little pigtail on his head barely had any hair left, there was a scar from a knife cut on his face.

Jia Laoliu angrily said, “What ill-will? What conspiracy? Cui Xiazi [lit. ‘Blind Cui’], speak more clearly, but don’t make slanderous accusation against others.”

The man surnamed Cui had lost his left eye. “Humph!” he said loudly, “Open the skylight and speak frank and straightforward remarks. In the Green Wood Hall, who did not know that you want to support your Jiefu [husband of older sister, brother-in-law]  Guan Fuzi [lit. ‘Master’ Guan, as in ‘teacher’ or ‘scholar’] to be the Xiangzhu. If Guan Fuzi becomes the Xiangzhu, you will become the Lord State Uncle, won’t that mean you hold the power in your hands? You want the wind you get the wind, you want the rain you get the rain.”

In loud voice Jia Laoliu said, “Whether Guan Fuzi is my brother-in-law or not, it is an entirely different matter. This time we are breaking into Prince Kang’s mansion, it was under the leadership of Guan Fuzi, and it was a great success, as well as we returned home victorious. Based on my brother-in-law’s talent, can’t he be the Xiangzhu? Li Dage qualifies as a senior, his interpersonal relationship is good, I have nothing against him. However, in term of ability, Guan Fuzi is much better.”

Cui Xiazi suddenly roared in laughter; a laughter filled with contempt. Jia Laoliu angrily said, “What are you laughing at? Did I say something wrong?”

“It’s not wrong,” Cui Xiazi said with a laugh, “How can our Jia Laoliu said anything wrong? I just feel that Guan Fuzi’s ability is a bit too formidable. He can go over five mountain passes[6], but he cannot behead six generals. At the last moment, he let an outsider, a child, killed our personal archenemy Oboi with a knife.”

Suddenly a man walked out from among the crowd, with an angry expression he stood in front of the spirit tablet. Wei Xiaobao recognized this man as the long-bearded old man who led the attack to Prince Kang’s mansion. He saw his long beard was floating in front of his chest; he looked very imposing. Actually, this man’s surname was Guan, given name Anji. Because of his spirited-looking beard and his surname was Guan, everybody called him Guan Fuzi.

Guan Fuzi’s eyes glowered at Cui Xiazi, with a gruff voice he said, “Cui Xiongdi, if you have a disagreement with Jia Laoliu, you may say anything you like; I, the one surnamed Guan, will not blame you. We are all good brothers, in front of Wan Yunlong Dage’s spirit tablet we have sworn made a pledge that whatever happens we are going to live and die together. You slandered me like that, what is your intention?”

Cui Xiazi was somewhat afraid, he took a step back and said, “I … I do not dare to slander you.” He paused for a moment before continuing, “Guan Erge [second (older) brother], you … if you endorse the election of Li Dage to be our Hall’s Xiangzhu, then … then Xiongdi is going to kowtow to you to apologize, just consider me saying wrong words.”

With an ashen face Guan Anji said, “Kowtow and apology, how can I dare to accept? Whoever will become our Hall’s Xiangzhu, it’s not for the one surnamed Guan to decide. Cui Xiongdi, you are not Tian Di Hui‘s Zongduozhu either; who will become the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, it is not for you to say.”

Cui Xiazi took another step backward; in a loud voice he said, “Guan Erge, by what you said, isn’t it obvious that you are slandering me? What kind of man am I, Cui Xiazi? Even in eighteen reincarnations I would still fall short to be Tian Di Hui‘s Zongduozhu. I was only saying that Li Lishi, Li Dage is a person of good moral standing and reputation; in our Hall, there is none like Li Dage, whom people admire from the bottom of their hearts. If we do not ask Li Dage to be our Hall’s Xiangzhu, I am afraid eight or nine out of ten brothers may refuse to accept it.”

From the crowd someone said, “Cui Xiazi, you are not eight or nine out of ten brothers in our Hall, how do you know eight or nine out of ten brothers may not accept it? In my opinion, Li Dage is indeed a very good man, everybody enjoys having a drink with him, Senior, or having a chat with him under the warm sun; indeed nothing can’t be better. However, speaking about being our Hall’s Xiangzhu, I am afraid eight or nine out of ten brothers may think otherwise.”

Another man said, “Indeed, what Zhang Xiongdi said is very true. What if he is a person of good moral standing and reputation? Our Tian Di Hui objective is fighting the Qing and restoring the Ming, not studying Confucius or speaking about compassion, duty, propriety and integrity. Will a person of good moral standing and reputation scare the Tatars that they would run away? If you want to find a person of good moral standing and reputation, you will find a lot of old xiucai at schools, speaking about poetry and Confucius’ sayings all day long.” The crowd roared in laughter as they hear this.

A Taoist priest said, “In your opinion, who should be our Hall’s Xiangzhu?”

The man replied, “First, he must work toward the goal of our Tian Di Hui: fighting the Qing and restoring the Ming. Second, he must strive for our Green Wood Hall so that it will stand out among Tian Di Hui‘s Halls, managing it ‘with sound and color’. Whoever is most capable and most talented among our brethrens, will have our support to be the Xiangzhu.”

The Taoist priest said, “Most capable and most talented, in this poor Taoist opinion, Li Dage is still the best.”

From the crowd, dozens of people shouted, “We nominate Guan Fuzi! How can Li Dage’s skill be compared to Guan Fuzi?”

The Taoist priest said, “Guan Fuzi can handle matters powerfully, everybody admires that quality …”

“That’s right,” the crowd called out, “What else do you have to say?”

“Wait a moment, wait a moment, let me finish!” the Taoist priest shook both of his hands, “Guan Fuzi is hot tempered, he often flares up and curses people in anger. Right now he is no more than an ordinary brother, yet when we look at him, we are 30% afraid of him. If he becomes the Xiangzhu, I am afraid we won’t have a day of peace and quite anymore.”

A man said, “Recently Guan Fuzi’s temper has mellowed quite a bit. If he becomes the Xiangzhu, he will be even better.”

The Taoist priest shook his head, “The rivers and mountains are easy to change, a man’s character is much harder to change. Guan Fuzi’s temperament is cultivated over several decades. Granted that he was able to repress it for a while, but can he repress it for a year or half a year? Being the Xiangzhu of Green Wood Hall is an important matter of a lifetime. We can’t allow just because a man’s temperament is not good, the brothers are thrown into disharmony; everybody’s heart will be discouraged, unavoidably the important matter will fail.”

Jia Laoliu said, “Priest Xuanzhen, I think your own temper is not that great either.”

Hearing his words, the Taoist priest, Hao Xuanzhen, laughed aloud and said, “It’s exactly because everybody knows himself best – the poor Taoist’s temper is not good, I have offended too many people – that as much as possible, I do not want to open my mouth. It’s just that electing our Hall’s Xiangzhu is an important matter, the poor Taoist cannot help but must say several sentences. The poor Taoist’s temper is not good, I do not have any problem of not becoming the Xiangzhu. I have no problem if there is any brother who thinks I am not pleasing to the eye, and does not want to talk to me. I am fine if any of you want to distance yourself from me. But if the poor Taoist became the Xiangzhu, how can I ignore you or distance myself from you?”

“Nobody nominates you as the Xiangzhu,” Jia Laoliu said, “Why do you come out and ‘pull to the east and push to the west’ [i.e. ramble incoherently]?”

Xuanzhen flew into rage. “Jia Laoliu,” he said in stern voice, “When friends in Jianghu see the poor Taoist, most of them would address me as Daozhang [Taoist Priest]. Even Zongdouzhu shows respect to me. It’s only you who dare to be this rude to me. You … you are a dog threatens relying on your master’s power. You want to bully me, Xuanzhen? It’s not that easy! Let me tell you clearly: if Guan Fuzi wants to be our Hall’s Xiangzhu, I, Xuanzhen, will be the first to disapprove! If he wants to be the Xiangzhu, he must accomplish something first. If this matter is accomplished, it’s possible that the poor Taoist will not oppose him!”

At first, when Jia Laoliu heard him saying ‘a dog threatens relying on your master’s power’, he was very angry, but first: he realized that Priest Xuanzhen’s martial art skill was superior; even though he was really angry, he did not dare to contradict him openly. Second: this Taoist priest indeed had a resounding reputation in Jianghu; that their Zongdouzhu showed respect was not a false statement. He wanted to support his brother-in-law to become the Xiangzhu, but if this person strongly opposing the nomination, he would indeed be a major obstacle. Hearing that the Taoist priest was willing not to oppose providing his brother-in-law accomplish something, Jia Laoliu was delighted. He asked, “What matter is that? Let’s hear it.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “The first matter that Guan Fuzi has to accomplish is that he must divorce the ‘100% real gold’, Golden Saber Jia!”

As soon as these words were spoken, the people in the hall roared in laughter. The ‘100% real gold’, Golden Saber Jia Priest Xuanzhen mentioned was Guan Fuzi‘s wife, Jia Laoliu‘s own older sister. Her weapon was a pair of golden sabers, so when people bantered with her, they often asked her, “Guan Saozi [older sister-in-law/older brother’s wife], your two golden sabers, are they real gold or fake[7] gold?” And then with a straight face she would reply, “They are 100% gold, 100% gold! How can they be fake?” Thereupon she received the nickname ‘100% real gold’.

By asking Guan Fuzi to divorce his wife, wouldn’t that mean Priest Xuanzhen was clearly trying to make Jia Laoliu look bad? Actually, although the ‘100% real gold’, Golden Saber Jia was a frank and outspoken, she was a good woman. Her brother, Jia Laoliu was not a bad man either, it was just that he was trying to raise his brother-in-law too high. Guan Fuzi was short-tempered, he had offended a lot of people; unavoidably, a lot of people were complaining behind his back.

Guan Anji stretched out his hand and ‘bang!’ he heavily slap the table, while shouting angrily, “Priest Xuanzhen, what are you talking about? Whether I become the Xiangzhuor not, it doesn’t have anything to do with my wife, why did you bring her into this?”

Before Priest Xuanzhen replied, someone in the crowd coldly said, “Guan Fuzi, Yin Xiangzhu did not offend you, why did you hit his spirit table?”

The table Guan Fuzi struck was indeed the table where the memorial tablet was placed. Guan Anji was startled. Although he was irritable, he was actually very quick-witted. In a loud voice he said, “Xiongdi has made a mistake!” He kneeled down in front of the memorial tablet and kowtowed several times, saying, “Yin Dage, in his anger, Xiongdi has slapped your memorial tablet. It is entirely my fault. I am asking your spirit, Senior, in heaven to forgive me.” While saying that, ‘bang, bang, bang!’ he banged his head against the floor several times. Seeing him doing so, most of the people there no longer hold it against him.

Cui Xiazi said, “Everybody, look! Guan Fuzi is straightforward and upright, he is a real man, but he is short-tempered and unable to remain calm. When he made a mistake, he would immediately admit it, which is certainly very good. However, if he were the Xiangzhu, making one mistake often carry an enormous responsibility. Even if he readily admit it, what good would it bring?”

Initially, Guan Anji was enjoying a good momentum by asking Priest Xuanzhen why he mentioned his wife, the ‘100% real gold’, Golden Saber Jia; but in his anger, he struck Yin Xiangzhu‘s memorial tablet, which was offensive to the people. Although he immediately kowtowed in front of Yin Xiangzhu‘s memorial tablet so that the brothers no longer blame him, his momentum was gone; he felt it was inconvenient to continue arguing with Priest Xuanzhen.

Xuanzhen himself also seized the opportunity to retreat; he said with a laugh, “Guan Fuzi, you and I are brothers, from the cradle to the grave we go through countless fire and water together. It’s not worthwhile that we lose this brotherhood over a battle of the tongues. Just now the poor Taoist was only joking, please forgive me. When you go home, don’t tell Golden Saber Jia Saozi about this; otherwise, she would seize the poor Taoist’s beard, that won’t be fun!” The people broke into laughter again. Guan Anji was 30% afraid of this Taoist priest; without any choice he also laughed.

Afterwards, you said one thing, I said another, some say Li Dage was good, others say Guan Fuzi was better, all along it was difficult to reach the final decision. Suddenly someone was wailing; crying and speaking at the same time, “Yin Xiangzhu, oh Yin Xiangzhu, when you were alive, our Green Wood Hall was in perfect harmony, the brothers are like true blood brothers, everybody worked together for a common purpose, the important matter of fighting the Qing and restoring the Ming. Unfortunately you were harmed by that traitor Oboi. In our Green Wood Hall, there is no one else with your kind of ability: having both good interpersonal relationship and talent. Yin Xiangzhu, unless you rise again from the dead, I am afraid our Green Wood Hall will have endless argument with each other, we will become like a sheet of loose sand, we won’t be as prosperous as when you were still alive.” Hearing this, many people were unable to refrain from shedding some tears.

Someone said, “Li Dage has Li Dage‘s advantage, Guan Fuzi has Guan Fuzi‘s advantage, both are our own good brothers, we can’t have all the brothers to be at odds with each other over this Xiangzhu election. In my opinion, it will be best if we ask Yin Xiangzhu‘s soul in heaven to help us decide. We will write both Li Dage and Guan Fuzi‘s name, everybody will kowtow in front of Yin Xiangzhu‘s memorial tablet and then draw the lot. It is the most fair method.” Many people voiced their agreement.

Jia Laoliu loudly said, “This method is not good.”

“Why is it not good?” someone asked.

“Who will draw the lot?” Jia Laoliu asked.

“We all can select one brother to do it,” the man replied.

Jia Laoliu said, “I am afraid that man will have selfish desire and may not play fair.”

Cui Xiazi angrily said, “In front of Yin Xiangzhu‘s memorial tablet, who has such nerve, dare to deceive Yin Xiangzhu‘s soul in heaven?”

Jia Laoliu said, “It’s hard to fathom a person’s mind, we must guard against it.”

“F*ck your granny,” Cui Xiazi cursed, “Most likely it’s going to be you who cheat.”

Jia Laoliu angrily said, “Who are you cursing at, kid?”

Cui Xiazi was also angry, “I am cursing you, kid! So what?”

“I have shown restraint long enough,” Jia Laoliu said, “You cursed my granny, I can’t tolerate it no matter what.” ‘Shua!’ he drew his steel saber; with his left hand pointed at Cui Xiazi he shouted, “Cui Xiazi, let us have a duel outside at the courtyard.”

Cui Xiazi slowly pulled his saber out and said, “You are the one who wanted a fight, I am forced to take up the challenge. Guan Fuzi, you heard it with your own ears.”

Guan Anji said, “We are all brothers, we must not fight just because of this matter. Cui Xiongdi, you cursed my brother-in-law; you are in the wrong here.”

Cui Xiazi said, “I knew you would place the blame on me. You have not become the Xiangzhu, you are already like this. If you were the Xiangzhu, what would happen then?”

Guan Anji angrily said, “Are you saying that you can curse other people’s ancestor at will? You f*ucked my wife’s younger brother’s granny, then what am I to you?” The crowd could not help but laughing heartily. For a moment the hall was in chaos.

Seeing his brother-in-law was standing up for him, Jia Laoliu was even more angry. He was about to dash into the courtyard when someone reached out and blocked him, trying to persuade him, “Jia Laoliu, if you want your brother-in-law to become the Xiangzhu, you must not offend other people too much. If someone is offending you, you must yield one step to him.”

Cui Xiazi slowly put his saber back into its scabbard, he said, “I am not afraid of you, it’s just that we all take yiqi very seriously. Brothers must not fight using blades, staking our lives. In short, Guan Fuzi wants to become the Xiangzhu, I, the one surnamed Cui, will not approve, no matter what. Guan Fuzi‘s temper I can tolerate, but Jia Laoliu‘s temper is unbearable. Yan Wang[8] is easy to see, little demon is difficult to bear.”

Wei Xiaobao was standing on the side. With the cool eye of a bystander, he found it rather amusing to hear and watch people arguing back and forth endlessly, some used obscenity to curse people, some wanted to fight with weapons. At first he thought these people were Oboi’s subordinates who wanted to kill him as a sacrifice to Oboi, but now he knew that they hated Oboi to their bones, it was as if a huge rock had fallen from his heart. But after hearing these people keep saying something like ‘fighting the Qing, restoring the Ming’, he started to grow anxious. “They must be thinking that I am a little eunuch of the Qing Palace,” he mused, “No matter how I plead innocence, they won’t believe me. As soon as the Xiangzhu position is decided, their first order of business must be to have me killed. I wonder if they would consider it ‘fighting the Qing, restoring the Ming’? In front of them right now, other than laozi, who else is a Qing man? Besides, with me in here, I have heard their secrets; even if they would not kill me to close my mouth, they would definitely lock me up and I won’t reincarnate forever. It would be better for laozi to slip away now.” Slowly, step by step, he retreated toward the door. He was hoping the hall would become chaotic again so that he could run away.

He heard someone was saying, “Drawing a lot is too unreliable, it’s a little too much like a child’s play. I’ll say, let Li Dage and Guan Fuzi have a martial art contest to determine victory or defeat, with fists and kicks is alright, using weapons is also alright, as long as they do not injure each other. Everybody else will stand on the side with eyes open wide, who wins and who loses will be seen clearly, nobody will have dissenting words.”

Jia Laoliu was the first to approve, with a loud voice he said, “Good! Martial art contest to decide victory or defeat it is. If Li Dage wins, I, Jia Laoliu will support Li Dage as the Xiangzhu.”

As soon as he said that, Wei Xiaobao thought, “You approve the martial art contest because your brother-in-law’s martial art is superior to Li Dage’s, what is there to be contested?”

If even Wei Xiaobao could have this thought, naturally others could also think the same. One after another those who supported Li voiced their objection; someone said, “Being the Xiangzhu, one must make the brothers of the entire Hall work together, it does not have too much to do with martial art.” “If the Xiangzhu position is decided based on martial art skill, then if someone within out Hall can defeat Guan Fuzi, will we let him to be the Xiangzhu?” “This is not Xiangzhu election, but a martial art competition stage. Guan Fuzi might as well erect the stage, let the heroes from all over the world come and compete.” “If that treacherous bandit Oboi did not die, he was the ‘number one warrior of Manchuria’; Guan Fuzi may not necessarily win over him. If Oboi had won on the martial art competition stage, could it be that we will invite him to become our Xiangzhu?” As the crowd heard this, they could not bear not to laugh.

In this confusion, suddenly someone said coldly, “Yin Xiangzhu, oh Yin Xiangzhu, after your death, nobody look up on you anymore. The oath we made in front of your memorial tablet has turned into damn bullsh1t.” Wei Xiaobao recognized the voice, it belonged to Qi Laosan who loved to say cold words and make sarcastic comments.

The crowd immediately quiet down. And then almost together several people asked, “Qi Laosan, what do you mean by that?”

With a cold laugh Qi Laosan said, “Many years ago, I, the one surnamed Qi, kowtowed in front of Wan Yunlong Dage and Yin Lizhu’s memorial tablets, I pricked my finger and shed some blood and made a heavy oath, vowing to avenge Yin Xiangzhu. With my own mouth I said, ‘Whichever brother kill Oboi and avenged Yin Xiangzhu deep enmity, I, Qi Biaoqing, will revere him as our Hall’s Xiangzhu, will all my heart I will faithfully obey his commands, and promise never to go against him!’ Qi Laosan indeed said those words. The one surnamed Qi intends to keep his words; it is definitely not a dog fart!” In that instant, the hall grew very quiet, not the least bit of noise was heard. Actually, everybody in that hall had made the same vow.

After a while, it was again Jia Laoliu who lost his patient first. He said, “Qi San’ge [third (older) brother], what you said is not wrong, in fact, everybody had said the same thing, including me, Jia Laoliu. Naturally it was not an empty oath. But … but … you know it, I know it, everybody know that the one who killed Oboi was this … this …” He turned around looking for Wei Xiaobao, suddenly he saw Wei Xiaobao was at the door with one foot already outside the hall, ready to flee. “Grab him,” Jia Laoliu shouted, “Don’t let him run away!”

Wei Xiaobao pulled his foot wishing to dash out. In an instant six, seven men pounced on him. About a dozen hands grabbed his body at the same time and forcefully dragged him back into the hall. “Hey, hey,” Wei Xiaobao screamed, “Turtle bastards, why are you pulling laozi back?” He presumed that this time he would not live, so he might as well enjoy hurling curses at them.

A man wearing xiucai[9] attire, including the hat, walked out from among the crowd. “Xiao Xiongdi,” he said, “Don’t curse people.”

Wei Xiaobao recognized his voice, he said, “You are Qi Laosan?”

That man was indeed Qi Laosan, Qi Biaoqing. “You know me?” he asked in surprise.

“I know your Ma!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Qi Biaoqing had 30% bookworm disposition, he did not realize Wei Xiaobao was cursing at him. He was even more surprised, “How did you know my Ma?” he asked.

“Your Ma and I are old friends,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “We are old lovers.”

The crowd roared in laugher. “This little eunuch is a smooth-talker!” they commented.

Qi Biaoqing’s entire face turned red. “Stop laughing!” he said. Immediately his face turned stern as he asked, “Xiao Xiongdi, why did you kill Oboi?”

Wei Xiaobao got a sudden inspiration. He said in loud voice, “That traitor Oboi had done not a few of evil deeds, he had killed countless our Han people’s heroes and warriors. I, Wei Xiaobao, cannot coexist with him. I … I was fine until he captured me and put me in the Imperial Palace and made me a eunuch. I wish I could chop his head and made him into minced meat, and throw him into the pond to feed the tortoise.” He knew that the more vehement he was and the more he aroused indignation, the greater his chance of survival would be.

The people in the hall looked at each other in astonishment. Qi Biaoqing asked, “How long have you become a eunuch?”

“How long? Not even half a year yet,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am originally from Yangzhou, he caught me and brought me to Beijing. Hot piece mama, stinky Oboi is dead I still want him to go up the mountain of blades, to go down the deep fryer, to roll over nail board and have that thief Oboi’s bones penetrated.” A succession of Yangzhou-style cussing blurted out of his mouth.

A middle-aged man nodded his head and said, “He is really from Yangzhou.” His own voice carried a Yangzhou accent.

“Uncle,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We, Yangzhou people, were tragically killed by the Tatars; they killed us for ten days in a row, from morning to night without stopping. My grandpa, my grandma, my first grandma, my second grandma, my third grandma, my fourth grandma, not a single one escaped from the Tatars. The Manchu ghosts went on killing spree from the Eastern Gate all the way to the Western Gate, from the Southerm Gate all the way to the Northern Gate, all under this Oboi’s order. I … I simply cannot live under the same sky as him, that’s how deep my enmity is.” He tried to remember what people say about the ‘Ten Days of Yangzhou’ massacre, the more he said, the more believable he was. Hearing him, the people were emotionally moved, they nodded their heads again and again.

“No wonder, no wonder!” Guan Anji said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Not only my grandpa, grandma, even my father was also killed by Oboi.”

“Poor child, poor child,” Qi Biaoqing said.

Cui Xiazi asked, “How old are you this year?”

“Thirteen or fourteen years old,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Cui Xiazi said, “The massacre at Yangzhou was more than twenty years ago, how can your father be killed by Oboi?”

Wei Xiaobao thought something was amiss, his lies had been discovered, thereupon he blurted out whatever was in his mind, “How should I know? I wasn’t even born yet, it was what my ma told me.”

Cui Xiazi said, “Even if you were born after his death, it’s still impossible.”

“Cui Xiongdi,” Qi Biaoqing said, “You are wrong. This Xiao Xiongdi said his father was killed by Oboi, he did not say that he was killed during the ‘Ten days of Yangzhou’. Oboi was an arrogant officer, until today, in which year he did not kill anybody? Our Yin Xiangzhu was killed by Oboi; it happened only a little bit more than two years ago.”

“Yes, yes!” Cui Xiazi said.

Jia Laoliu suddenly asked, “Xiao … Friend, you said that Oboi has killed countless heroes and warriors, what does it have to do with you?”

“Who says it has nothing to do with me?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I have a good friend who was arrested by Oboi at the Qing Palace and was killed. He and I were caught together.”

“Who is it, who is it?” the crowd asked together.

“This man has quite a reputation in Jianghu,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “His name is Mao Shiba!”

“Oh!” more than a dozen men exclaimed. “Mao Shiba is your friend?” Jia Laoliu asked, “But he did not die.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, “He didn’t die?” he said, “That’s wonderful! Jia Laoliu, when you cursed the salt smugglers in Yangzhou, Mao Shiba fought them on your behalf. I was also helping him to fight.”

Jia Laoliu scratched his head, “Is there really such thing?” he wondered.

“Very good!” Guan Anji said, “Whether this little friend is indeed a friend or a foe, it is a matter of great importance. Laoliu, take several brothers with you, go get Mao Shiba, invite him to identify him.”

“Yes!” Jia Laoliu complied; he turned around and went out the hall.

Qi Biaoqing pulled a chair. “Xiao Xiongdi,” he said, “Please sit down!”

Wei Xiaobao was not bashful at all, he sat down. Someone gave him a bowl of noodles and a cup of tea. Wei Xiaobao was indeed very hungry, he ate the noodles clean. Guan Anji, Qi Biaoqing, and the one they called Li Dage, Li Lishi, sat with him and chatted. Their tone was quite polite, but actually they were interrogating him about his life and what he had been through lately. Wei Xiaobao did not conceal anything, occasionally he would toot his horn, hurl some cuss words to Oboi, and tell them in detail how he helped Kangxi capture Oboi. Only the fact that he learned martial art from Hai Laogong and Kangxi personally stab Oboi on the back, he did not mention at all. Guan Anji and the others had already heard about how Oboi was arrested by the young emperor and a group of little eunuchs. Listening to Wei Xiaobao’s vivid narrative, they knew most likely it was not a fabrication.

Guan Anji sighed and said, “Oboi had a reputation as the Number One Warrior of Manchuria; not only he was killed by you, but he was captured also by you. It must have been the heaven’s will.”

They were chatting for about an hour. Guan Anji, Li Lishi, Qi Biaoqing and the others were Jianghu veterans with rich experience; although they felt that Wei Xiaobao’s story was somewhat flippant and insincere, the crux of the story was unambiguous. Suddenly they heard footsteps, the door to the hall was pushed open, two men carrying a stretcher walked in. Jia Laoliu followed behind them; he said, “Brother-in-law, Mao Shiba has been invited here!”

Wei Xiaobao sprang up. He saw Mao Shiba was lying on the stretcher, his cheeks were hollow, his eye sockets sank deep, his countenance was extremely wan and sallow. Wei Xiaobao asked, “You … you are sick?”

When Jia Laoliu came to get him, Mao Shiba only knew that the Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui had an important matter they would like to discuss with him, but he did not know the nature of the matter. Now that he suddenly saw Wei Xiaobao, he was wild with joy. “Xiaobao,” he called out, “You … you also ran away; that’s wonderful! I … all this time I have been thinking about you. I was hoping that as soon as I recover, I will go back to the Imperial Palace to get you out. This … this is really good!”

At these words, the 30% remaining doubt that was still in everybody’s hearts was swept away in an instant. This little eunuch was indeed Mao Shiba’s friend, who was captured together with him and was brought into the Qing Palace. Although Mao Shiba was not a member of Tian Di Hui, he was a man with quite a reputation in Jianghu, he always said one as one and two as two. Over the last few years, his arrest by the Qing court was a matter of public knowledge. Since Wei Xiaobao was his friend, naturally he could not be a real eunuch of the Qing Palace. Moreover, when Mao Shiba talked, they saw how he revealed his true feelings, obviously his friendship with the child was extremely good.

“Mao Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Are … are you injured?”

Mao Shiba sighed and said, “Ay, when I ran away from the Imperial Palace that night, I managed to reach the Palace gate, finally I met some imperial bodyguards. It was one against five. I killed two of them, but I also received two saber chops. I desperately ran out of the Palace gate. More imperial bodyguards from the Palace ran after me. It was actually a dead end for me. Fortunately Tian Di Hui friends lent me their hands, and thus my life was spared. Were you also being rescued by the good friends of Tian Di Hui?”

Immediately the look on Guan Anji and the others’ faces turned awkward. They felt that the way they handled this matter was not exactly too pretty. Who would have thought that Wei Xiaobao said, “Exactly. That old eunuch forced me to become a little eunuch. It was not until today that I finally able to escape. Fortunately I came across these … these gentlemen from Tian Di Hui.”

The Tian Di Hui warriors secretly let out a relieved breath, they knew that by saying that, Wei Xiaobao was giving careful consideration to their face; they were secretly grateful, thinking that although this boy was young, he was a good friend, indeed.

Right away Jia Laoliu invited Mao Shiba and Wei Xiaobao to take a rest in a side room, while the Green Wood Hall warriors continued their conference in the main hall. Mao Shiba’s injury was very heavy, although he had been recuperating for several months, his body was still very weak. Just now when he was being brought up on the stretcher, his body was jolted and shaken, his wound was aching. Mentally he was very tired; he wanted to talk some more, but he simply did not have any strength. Wei Xiaobao thought, “No matter what, they are not going to kill me.” His mood improved tremendously. Curling on a large round-backed wooden armchair, he fell asleep immediately. In his sleep, he felt someone lifted him up, put him on a bed, and covered him with a quilt.

When he woke up the next morning, someone came and brought water with which to wash his face, a cup of green tea, and a large bowl of meat noodles. “They treat laozi better and better,” he thought, “Unexpectedly they regard me like a big boss.” But then he saw two men standing outside the side room, and two more men standing outside the window. Although they pretended to be idle and were chatting with each other, it was obvious that they had received order to watch over him, perhaps they were afraid he might escape.

Wei Xiaobao was a bit anxious; he thought, “If they really treat me as an honored guest, why did they send these four men to guard me?” Suddenly his childish heart rose up. “Humph, I am afraid guarding Wei Xiaobao is not that easy. I am going to slip out and have a stroll, I want to see how these four idiots will deal with me!” After looking clearly at his surroundings, he hatched a plan. Straight away he reached out and pushed hard the window facing east. At the noise, four men looked to the window. When Wei Xiaobao was sure that these four men’s eyes were still looking at the window, he slammed the side room’s door to the inside, and quickly rolled underneath the bed.

Hearing the door, the four men turned their heads around and saw the double door was already open; the leaves were swinging continuously. They were shocked. These four men were indeed sent to watch over Wei Xiaobao. When they saw the door open, their first thought was that Wei Xiaobao had already escaped. “Aiyo!” they all called out together, and rushed into the room. They saw Mao Shiba was still sleeping soundly on the bed, but Wei Xiaobao was nowhere to be seen.

“This child couldn’t be too far,” one man said, “Let’s spread out and pursue him, and report this to our superior.”

“Yes!” the other tree complied, and together they rushed out of the room. Two of them leaped up to the roof.

Wei Xiaobao coughed, and then got out from under the bed and haughtily walked toward the main hall. He pushed the door and saw Guan Anji and Li Lishi were sitting side by side, while the men sent to guard him breathlessly reported, “That … that child suddenly ran … ran away; we don’t know … where he is.” Before he finished, he saw Wei Xiaobao suddenly appear. “Ah!” the man exclaimed, his eyes grew big as he stared at Wei Xiaobao, speechless.

Wei Xiaobao stretched his body and said, “Li Dage, Guan Fuzi, how are you?”

Guan Anji and Li Lishi looked at each other, and then said to the men, “Dismissed! You are useless!” Immediately they laughed toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Please sit down, did you sleep well last night?”

With a chuckle Wei Xiaobao sat down and said, “Very well, very well!”

The main hall door suddenly burst open as the other two men rushed in. “Guan Fuzi,” one of them shouted, that … that child has gone …” Suddenly he saw Wei Xiaobao sitting there. “Oh!” he cried out in amazement, “He … he …”

Wei Xiaobao could not help but laughing aloud as he said, “You four men are really useless, you can’t even watch over a child. If I really wanted to run away, I am already gone by now.”

A foolish-looking man asked, “How did you get out? There must be something in my eyes, I did not see even a shadow, yet you were already gone.”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “I know the art of invisibility; I can teach it to you if you like.”

Guan Anji frowned; he waved his hands to the two men and said, “Dismissed!”

The foolish-looking man was still asking, “There is really the art of invisibility? No wonder, no wonder.”

Li Lishi said, “Xiao Xiongdi is young, but smart and sharp, making people quite admire you.”

Suddenly they heard faint hoof beats in the distant, a large number of riders were coming their way. Guan Anji and Li Lishi stood up immediately. “Tatars’ troops?” Li Lishi said in a low voice. Guan Anji nodded. Pointing his finger to the door he let out three shrill whistles. Five men rushed into the hall.

“Tell everybody to get ready!” Guan Anji said, “Tell Jia Laoliu to lead several brothers to protect Master Mao Shiba. A large number of Tatars’ troops have arrived, we can’t face them in battle, we must retreat separately per pre-arranged routes.”

The five men complied and went out to transmit the order. Everywhere the Tian Di Hui people were roused. Guan Anji said, “Xiao Xiongdi, you’d better stay with me.”

Suddenly a man rushed into the hall and said loudly, “Zongduozhu has arrived!”

“What?” Guan Anji and Li Lishi asked together.

The man said, “Zongduozhu, accompanied by five Halls’ Xiangzhu, are riding toward this place.”

Guan and Li, two people were delighted; they both asked, “How do you know?”

The man replied, “Subordinate met Zongduozhu on the way, he personally ordered subordinate to inform his arrival in advance.”

Seeing the man had run and was out of breath, Guan Anji nodded and said, “Very well, you go and take a rest.” He let out a whistle to summon the guard, and issued his order, “It’s not Tatars’ troops, it’s Zongduozhu’s arrival! Tell everybody to go out and welcome him.”

As soon as the news spread, the building was buzzing with excitement. Holding Wei Xiaobao’s hand, Guan Anji said, “Xiao Xiongdi, our Society’s Zongduozhu has arrived. Let us greet him together!”

[1] Wangye – Master King, Xiao Ren – Little/lowly Person, Xiao Wang – little/lowly king.

[2] Orig. ‘luanzi’, can be used for both male and female: ‘testicles/penis’ or ‘ovum’.

[3] Yama, King of the underworld.

[4] Xiangzhu means ‘fragrant master’. I think this is a high-ranking position in an organization, similar to Tangzhu – ‘hall master’.

[5] Ol’ Qi the third.

[6] The name ‘Guan’ means ‘mountain pass’.

[7] Play on words: the surname ‘Jia’ sounds like ‘false/fake/artificial’.

[8] Yama, King of the underworld.

[9] Xiucai was a scholar who had passed the county level of imperial exam.

Chapter 8 Coming across distinguished guest by accident as if having a previous appointment, famous reputation constantly in fear of being seen without any reason.

Wei Xiaobao followed Guan Anji, Li Lishi, and the other warriors outside the door, he saw two, three hundred men standing in two rows shaped like a funnel, their faces showed excitement. A moment later, two men carrying a stretcher with Mao Shiba on it came out.

Li Lishi said, “Mao Shiba, you are our guest, no need to be so polite.”

Mao Shiba said, “I’ve long heard of Chen Zongduozhu’s illustrious name, it’s really like thunder piercing my ears. Today I have the opportunity to pay a formal visit, even if … even if I have to die today, my death …. my death won’t be in vain.” His voice was still without any strength, but his face flushed, showing he was in high spirit.

They heard the sound of hoof beats was coming near, about a dozen horses were galloping near. Before they even arrived, the first three riders jumped down from their mounts. Li Lishi and the others rushed forward to greet them, they held hands with those three riders and talked; they seemed to know each other very intimately.

Wei Xiaobao heard one of them say, “Zongduozhu is waiting ahead of us; Li Dage, Guan Fuzi, and other brothers, please come and see him …” These several people conferred with each other while still standing. Li Lishi, Guan Anji, Qi Biaoqing, Priest Xuanzhen, and the others, six people in all, mounted their horses and sped away with these incoming men.

Mao Shiba was disappointed, “Chen Zongduozhu is not coming?” he asked. But nobody around him knew the answer to that question. They were all dejected because they could not see their Zongduozhu.

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Did someone owe you all ten thousand taels and did not pay? Or perhaps you lost your wife and your pants in gambling? Your granny, why are your expressions so ugly?”

After a long time, someone on horseback galloped by. He was conveying an order, mentioning thirteen names, telling them to meet with Zongduozhu. Those thirteen men were delighted; they rushed toward their mounts and galloped away.

Wei Xiaobao asked Mao Shiba, “Mao Dage, is Chen Zongduozhu a very old man?”

Mao Shiba replied, “I … I have never … never seen him. Everybody in Jianghu admires Chen Zongduozhu, but to see his … the Senior’s face may be really difficult.”

“Hey, hey,” Wei Xiaobao laughed, in his heart he said, “Humph, damn it, what an arrogant guy, what’s so special about him anyway? Laozi does not want to see him.”

Seeing this situation, the crowd of warriors knew that most likely their Zongduozhu would not come. But they still cherished a one in ten thousand chance that he might, thereupon they all stood waiting at the main gate. After standing for a long time, some of them sat down. Someone advised Mao Shiba, “Master Mao, you’d better go back to your room and rest. If our Zongduozhu arrives, we’ll invite Master Mao to meet him as soon as possible.”

Mao Shiba shook his head and said, “No! I am going to wait here. It’s an honor to meet Chen Zongduozhu, if zaixia[1] is not waiting outside, that … that will be too respectful. Ay, I wonder if during my lifetime, I, Mao Shiba, will have the good fortune to see the Senior’s face.”

Wei Xiaobao had followed Mao Shiba from Yangzhou to Beijing. Listening to what he said along the way, Mao Shiba did not have any favorable impression of various Wulin personalities, but toward this Chen Zongduozhu, he showed a complete reverence. Unconsciously Wei Xiaobao was also infected by his sentiment, and did not dare to curse in his heart anymore.

Suddenly they heard hoof beats again, some people were galloping near. Those who sat on the ground leaped on their feet. Everybody craned his neck; everybody hoped that the person the Zongduozhu want to meet this time would be him. Sure enough, four envoys came by. Their leaders dismounted the horse and cupped his fist, saying, “Zongduozhu wishes to invite Mao Shiba, Master Mao, and Wei Xiaobao, Master Wei, to grant him the favor of meeting the two gentlemen.”

Mao Shiba cheered, he leaped up from the stretcher, but “Aiyo!” he cried, and fell back onto the stretcher. “Go quickly, go quickly!” he called out.

Wei Xiaobao was also very happy, he thought, “Everybody has been calling me ‘Gong-gong’ too much, but nobody has ever called me ‘master’. Ha ha … laozi is now Wei Xiaobao, Master Wei.”

Two envoys took over the stretcher and hang it between two horses. Then they slowly walked. The other envoy gave his ride to Wei Xiaobao, while he took another horse to ride on, and followed behind the procession. The six of them travelled less than three li on the main road, before they turned right onto a small lane. Along the way they met two or three men, either sitting or walking, either patrolling or guarding. The leader of the envoys stretched out his middle finger, ring finger and little finger and turned the fingers downward. The two guards nodded their heads; they also stretched out their fingers in secret signal. Wei Xiaobao noticed that the signals these people were showing were all different; he did not know the purpose of those signals.

After travelling for twelve, thirteen li, they arrived at a courtyard in front of a big building. The man guarding in front of the gate loudly announced, “The guests have arrived!” And then he opened the gate. Li Lishi, Guan Anji, and two men that Wei Xiaobao had never met before came out. They cupped their fists and said, “Master Mao, Master Wei, welcome! Our humble Society’s Zongduozhu requests the pleasure of seeing you.”

Wei Xiaobao was utterly delighted; the thought, “Looks like my ‘Master Wei’ will stay after all!”

Mao Shiba struggled to stand up, he said, “How can I see Chen Zongduozhu like this? It’s really … really … Aiyo!” In the end he failed to get up and had to lie on the stretcher.

Li Lishi said, “Master Mao is injured, no need to be overly courteous.” He let the two guests to enter the main hall.

A man told Wei Xiaobao, “Master Wei, please sit here and have some tea. Zongduozhu wishes to have a chat with Master Mao first.” Straight away he took Mao Shiba in.

Wei Xiaobao drank a cup of tea, a servant served him four dishes of light refreshments. Wei Xiaobao took a piece and thought, “Compared to the ones in the Imperial palace, this light refreshments is far too inferior, it can’t even reach the level of Lovely Spring Courtyard’s.” Unavoidably the high regard he had of Zongduozhu‘s status was reduced a little bit. However, his stomach was really hungry, so he ate not a few of these despised light refreshments.

About the time needed to eat a meal later, Li Lishi and the others, four people, came out again. One of them was an elderly man with grizzled beard, who said, “Zongduozhu requests the pleasure of seeing Master Wei.”

Wei Xiaobao busily chewed the pastry in his mouth and swallowed it hard into his belly. After wiping his hands onto the front of his clothes, he followed the four people inside. They stopped in front of a side room’s door. The elderly man raised the curtain on the door and said, “Little White Dragon, Wei Xiaobao, Master Wei has arrived!”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised; he thought, “Unexpectedly he knew my made-up nickname, Mao Dage must have told them.”

A middle-aged man dressed in scholar attire inside the room stood up; with a smile across his face he said, “Please come in!”

Wei Xiaobao walked in. His eyes were rolling in confusion. Guan Anji said, “This is our humble Society’s Chen Zongduozhu.”

Wei Xiaobao raised his head slightly to take a look; he saw the man had a kind expression, but his eyes were like lightning as he gazed directly toward Wei Xiaobao. He could not help but was startled; he bent his knees and kowtowed to that man. The scholar stooped down to help him up and said with a laugh, “No need to be overly courteous.” As his arms were being pulled by the scholar, Wei Xiaobao’s entire body was hot; he trembled involuntarily and was not able to continue his kowtow.

The scholar said with a laugh, “This Xiao Xiongdi captured and killed the number one warrior of Machuria, Oboi; he has taken revenge and swiped out the grudge of our countless Han people compatriots who have died under Oboi’s hands. In just a few days his name has shaken the land under the heavens. To be able to make a name this early in life is truly hard to come by, from the ancient time up to this day.”

Actually, the skin on Wei Xiaobao’s face was quite thick; if someone else had praised him like this, he would immediately blow his own trumpet. However, in front of this Zongduozhu who did not flaunt his own prestige, unexpectedly he could only hum and haw without able to say anything. The Zongduozhu pointed to a chair and said with a smile, “Please sit down!” While he sat down himself first.

Wei Xiaobao also sat down. But Li Lishi and the others, four people, remained standing. Zongduozhu smiled and said, “Master Mao Shiba told us that at the foot of Victory Hill in Yangzhou, by using a ruse Xiao Xiongdi has killed an officer of the Qing army, the Black Dragon Whip Shi Song, and thus making a debut and render your first merit. This is already out of the ordinary. I wonder how did Xiao Xiongdi capture Oboi?”

Wei Xiaobao looked up, their eyes met, he could not stop his heart from thumping, in that instant the big talk and nonsense filling his heart suddenly vanished completely. When he opened his mouth, only the truth came out: how he obtained Kangxi’s favor, how Oboi was being rude, how he cooperated with the young emperor in arresting Oboi, and so on. It’s just that out of his respect toward Kangxi’s loyalty, he did not mention anything about the young emperor stabbed Oboi on the back with a dagger. As the matter stands, he did mention how he threw the ash from the incense burner to Oboi’s eyes and how he smashed his head with the copper incense burner, fully aware that if it was not a third-rate way of dealing with the enemy, then it was definitely a second-rate; yet he was unable to conceal it any longer.

The Zongduozhu listened attentively without asking any question, when Wei Xiaobao finished, he nodded and said, “So that’s what happened. Xiao Xiongdi‘s martial art skill is not of the same school as Master Mao’s, I wonder which honorable master is your teacher?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I only learn a little bit of martial art, it can’t be considered coming from any honorable master. The Old Turtle did not really teach me martial art, all he taught me was fake martial art.”

Although Zongduozhu was a man of vast experience and broad knowledge, he had not heard of any ‘Old Turtle’; “The Old Turtle?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “Old turtle is Hai Laogong. His real name is Hai Tianfu. Mao Dage and I were captured by him and were brought to the Palace …” Speaking to this point, he suddenly realized he had made a mistake. To the Tian Di Hui people he said that Mao Shiba and he were captured by Oboi, and now he said it was Hai Laogong who brought them to the Palace; how could the previous story not match the latter one? Luckily his ability in telling lies and covering up was top-notch; thereupon he said, “This old fellow was acting under Oboi’s order to capture us, two people. I supposed Oboi was a very high ranking official, naturally he would not easily do the job personally.”

“Hai Tianfu? Hai Tianfu?” Zongduozhu muttered to himself, “There is such character in the Tatars’ Palace? Xiao Xiongdi, show me the martial art he taught you.”

Even if the skin on Wei Xiaobao’s face were thicker, he knew that in all honesty his martial art skill was not too brilliant; he said, “The old turtle only taught me fake martial art; he hated me for poisoning his eyes blind, so he did everything possible to harm me. This martial art is truly shameful.”

The Zongduozhu nodded, he waved his left hand, Guan Anji and the others, four people withdrew outside the room and closed the door behind them. Zongduozhu asked, “How did you poison his eyes blind?”

In front of this heroic-spirited and imposing Zongduozhu, Wei Xiaobao felt that telling lies was extremely difficult; it was a lot more comfortable to tell the truth, a feeling that he had never experienced before. Thereupon he told him how he poisoned Hai Laogong blind, how he killed Xiao Guizi, how he masquerade as him and live as a little eunuch in the Palace. Zongduozhu was amazed and amused at the same time. He reached out with his left hand toward Wei Xiaobao’s crotch and found that his pen1s and testicles were intact, Wei Xiaobao had not been ‘purified’ at all, indeed he was not a court eunuch. Zongduozhu could not help but letting out a sigh of relief as he smiled and said, “Wonderful, wonderful! I have a difficult problem in my mind and have not found the solution for a while. Turns out Xiao Xiongdi has not been purified, you are not a court eunuch!” Slapping lightly on the table with his left hand, he said, “It’s settled then! Yin Xiongdi has a successor, the Green Wood Hall has a leader.”

Wei Xiaobao had no idea what he was talking about, he only saw Zongduozhu‘s delighted expression, apparently he had found solution to the difficult problem weighing down his mind; Wei Xiaobao could not help but feeling happy as well.

With both hands behind his back, Zongduozhu was walking back and forth in the room, while talking to himself, “Not a single one of our Tian Di Hui’s conducts and deeds was without any precedence. Everything starts with me, why should I care about people being shocked or about public criticism?” This literary-style speech of his was even more confusing to Wei Xiaobao.

The Zongduozhu said, “There are only you and me, two people right now, you don’t need to be afraid to be embarrassed. I don’t care whether the martial art Hai Tianfu taught you was fake or real, perform it and let me see.”

Only then did Wei Xiaobao understand that the reason he sent Guan Anji, four people, out of the room was to avoid him being afraid of making a clown of himself. Seeing he had no other excuses, Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s what the old turtle taught me, it’s none of my business; if it is too laughable, you may curse him good.”

The Zongduozhu smiled and said, “Just go on with your practice, don’t worry!” Thereupon Wei Xiaobao started to perform his style, a small part of the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ Hai Laogong taught him, some of which he had already forgotten, but he still remembered most of it. Zongduozhu watched with rapt attention. After Wei Xiaobao finished performing the style, he nodded and said, “From the way you move, apparently you have learned Shaolin Temple’s ‘big grappling technique’, is that so?”

The ‘big grappling technique’ was the one Wei Xiaobao learned first, naturally he knew his mastery was even worse; actually, he wanted to avoid doing it clumsily to save his own face, but Zongduozhu seemed to know everything. Without any choice he said, “The old turtle also taught me several grappling technique to be used in fighting the young emperor.” And then he performed several moves of the ‘big grappling technique’.

The Zongduozhu smiled slightly and said, “Not bad!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I knew you would laugh when you see it.”

“I am not laughing at you!” the Zongduozhu said with a smile, “I like what I see. I think your memory, as well as your comprehension, are not bad; you are a talented individual. That move ‘white horse kick back’, Hai Tianfu deliberately taught you incorrectly, but you turned it into ‘carp props its gills’; you can make slight change automatically, you did not rigidly adhere to dead moves. That is very good!”

Wei Xiaobao had a sudden inspiration; he thought, “Apparently Zongduozhu’s martial art skill is a lot higher than the old turtle’s. If he is willing to teach me martial art, I, Wei Xiaobao, will definitely become a real hero, no longer a fake hero.” Leaning his head sideways, he stole a glance toward Zongduozhu; it so happened that Zongduozhu’s cold, electric eyes were gazing at him. Wei Xiaobao was always a mischievous person, even in front of imposing Empress Dowager, he still dared to face her up, but in front of this Zongduozhu, he did not dare to be wanton at all. As their eyes met, immediately he averted his gaze.

Zongduozhu said slowly, “What do you think the purpose of our Tian Di Hui?”

“Tian Di Hui is fighting the Qing, restoring the Ming,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Helping the Han people to kill the Tatars.”

Zongduozhu nodded, “Exactly,” he said, “Are you willing to enter our Tian Di Hui and become a brother?”

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “That’s wonderful!” In his mind, each and every one of Tian Di Hui members was a hero and a warrior, he had never imagined that he could become one of the Society’s brothers. He thought further, “Even Mao Dage is not a Tian Di Hui brother, could I be better than him?” He said, “I am afraid … I am afraid I am not good enough.” In that instant his eyes were shining as his heart was swayed between thoughts of personal gains and losses. He felt that it was an out-of-this-world undeserved good luck that most likely it was not real, perhaps Zongduozhu was only joking with him.

The Zongduozhu said, “It is possible for you to enter the Society. It’s just that our business is fighting the Qing, restoring the Ming, regarding our Han people’s rivers and mountains as heavy, and our very own lives as light. Moreover, the rules within the Society are very strict, if you violate it, your punishment will be very heavy. You must think it over very well.”

“I don’t need to think,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Whatever rule you have, I will abide by it. Zongduozhu, if you let me join the Society, I will die happy.”

The smile vanished from Zongduozhu’s face, he said grimly, “This is an extremely important matter, a matter of life and death, it’s not a child’s play.”

“Of course I know,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard people say that Tian Di Hui walks in the way of chivalry, justice and loyalty, its business is startling-the-sky and moving-the-earth kind of great undertakings, how can it be a child’s play?”

The Zongduozhu smiled and said, “It’s good that you know it. When you enter the Society, you must make 36 oaths and have to avoid ten strict prohibitions.” Speaking to this point, his expression turned heavy. He said, “These prohibitions are not applicable to you since your age is still very young, but there is one: ‘toward my brothers, I must be faithful and true, I must not lie and swindle.’ This one prohibition, do you think you can accomplish?”

Wei Xiaobao was slightly startled, he said, “To you, Zongduozhu, naturally I won’t dare to lie. But toward the rest of the brothers, must I tell the truth all the time?”

“Minor matter you may not tell, important matter you must tell,” Zongduozhu said.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But when I gamble with the Society’s brothers, can I or can’t I use tricks and cheat?”

The Zongduozhu had never thought he would ask this kind of question; showing a faint smile he said, “Although gambling is not a good deed, the Society’s rules do not have anything against it. However, if you cheat on them and when they find out they want to beat you, the Society does not forbid it either. Would you like to take a beating and get the worst of it?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “They won’t know. Actually, I don’t need to cheat; my confidence in winning is nine out of ten.”

Tian Di Hui’s members were Jianghu warriors; gambling and drinking were their second nature, nobody ever consider it wrong. Zongduozhu no longer paid him any attention. After staring at him for a while, he said, “Are you willing to do obeisance and take me as your master?”

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic, immediately he threw himself in front of him and kowtowed repeatedly, while calling, “Shifu!”

This time the Zongduozhu did not help him up; after Wei Xiaobao had kowtowed a dozen times, he said, “It’s enough!” Wei Xiaobao happily stood up. The Zongduozhu said, “I am surnamed Chen, called Jinnan. This three-character name ‘Chen Jinnan’ is what I use in Jianghu. Since you have become my disciple, you must know your Shifu’s real name. My original name is Chen Yonghua, ‘yong’ from ‘yong yuan’ [forever/eternal], and ‘Hua’ from ‘zhong hua’ [China].” When speaking about his real name, he lowered his voice.

“Disciple will firmly keep it in my heart, I won’t dare to reveal it,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Chen Jinnan looked at him carefully for half a day, he said slowly, “You and I are master and disciple now, we should not conceal anything from each other. Let me tell you frankly: your glib tongue, your craftiness and your excessive cheating is completely unsuited to your master’s disposition; I do not like it at all. Therefore, the reason I accepted you as my disciple is out of consideration of our Society’s major mission.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Later on disciple will change.”

“Changing rivers and mountains is easy, changing a man’s character is much harder,” Chen Jinnan said, “You won’t change much. You are still very young, your temper is rather unstable, so it’s not that bad. In the future you must always remember my words. I always treat my disciples with strict discipline, if you violate our Society’s rules, scheming against anything upright, break the law and commit crimes, your master will take your life. It is as easy as turning my hand, and I will not show any mercy.” To prove it, he reached out with his left hand. ‘Crack!’ he grabbed and broke a piece of wood from the corner of the table, and rubbed it between his hands. Wood splinters rained down on the floor.

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and did not pull it back for half a day. Presently, the delight in his heart was difficult to be chased away. He said with a laugh, “I am not going to do any bad thing. As soon as I commit an evil deed, Shifu will grab me on my head and rub it. Besides, I only need to do several bad things and Shifu, you won’t have any disciple to whom you can pass on your skill.”

“No need to do several bad things, only one is enough,” Chen Jinnan said, “Then you and I won’t be master and disciple anymore.”

“How about two things?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

With a straight face Chen Jinnan replied, “You must be more serious to me, less smooth talking. One bad thing is one bad thing; do you even need to haggle over it?”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied, but in his heart he said, “What if I do half a bad thing?”

“You are my fourth disciple,” Chen Jinnan said, “And maybe my last one. Tian Di Hui business is arduous, I do not have time to take a disciple. Your three Shixiong, two died in battle against the Tatars, one died in service during the recovery of Guoxing and Guangfu, Taiwan; they all died as real men sacrificing their lives for the country. Your master’s status in Wulin world is not low, my reputation is not shameful, you must not do anything that will cause me to lose face.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that … it’s just that …”

“It’s just that what?” Chen Jinnan asked.

“Sometimes it was not me who want to lose face,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But I ended up losing face anyway, I can’t help it. For example, I could not beat others, so others caught me and closed me up inside a jujube barrel, and was pushed around like some merchandise. Shifu, you must not blame me.”

Chen Jinnan frowned; he was angered, but was also amused. After heaving a deep sigh he said, “Perhaps accepting you as my disciple is the biggest blunder I’ve ever made in my entire life. But for the sake of heavy responsibility over the important matter of the world, I have to brave a risk. Xiaobao, our Society has another important matter at hand, in everything you must listen to my instruction and do as I command, don’t talk nonsense too much, then you will be all right.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said.

Chen Jinnan noticed that he was going to speak but hesitated, so he asked, “What do you want to say?”

“When disciple talks,” Wei Xiaobao started, “I only say something that makes sense to me, I don’t want to talk nonsense at all. Yet you say that I talk nonsense, isn’t that an unjust treatment?”

Chen Jinnan did not want to squabble with him, he said, “Then the less you talk the better,” but in his heart he said, “I don’t know how many heroes and warriors under the heavens are showing respect in front of me, they do not even dare to breathe too loudly, but this cunning, uncouth and weird urchin insists on having this much useless words.” He stood up and walked toward the door. “Come with me,” he said. Wei Xiaobao rushed to the door and lifted the door curtain to let Chen Jinnan go out, then he followed him to the main hall.

There were about twenty people sitting in the main hall, as soon as they saw their Zongduozhu come out, everybody stood at attention immediately. Chen Jinnan nodded, he walked toward the second chair at the head of the hall and sat down. Wei Xiaobao noticed that the chair in the middle was empty, and the chair above his Shifu’s position was also empty; he was bewildered, “Could it be that Zongduozhu is not the highest position?” he mused, “How come there are two people above Shifu?”

Chen Jinnan said, “Brothers, I have received a young disciple today.” Pointing to Wei Xiaobao he said, “It’s him!”

The crowd stepped forward; cupping their fists and bowing, they said, “Congratulations Zongduozhu,” and then they cupped their fists toward Wei Xiaobao and one after another they offered their congratulations as well. Some of them appeared really happy, some looked greatly astonished, some looked like they did not believe it really happened.

Chen Jinnan ordered Wei Xiaobao, “Go greet all Bobo, Shushu[2].” Wei Xiaobao then went to kowtow to everybody. Standing on the side, Li Lishi introduced, “This is Lotus Flower Hall’s Xiangzhu, Cai Dezhong, Cai Bobo.” “This is Great Obedience Hall’s Xiangzhu, Fang Dahong, Fang Bobo.” “This is Latter Family Hall’s Xiangzhu, Ma Chaoxing, Ma Bobo.”

Wei Xiaobao kowtowed in front of these Xiangzhu one by one. Altogether there were nine Xiangzhu from nine Halls. Next he had to greet the people next in command of the various Halls. The nine Xiangzhu returned his kowtow by casual greeting, they said continually, “I don’t dare, Xiao Xiongdi please rise.” But unexpectedly other people did not received his kowtow; as soon as he was about to kneel down, they would reach out and stop him. Wei Xiaobao was quick, sometimes he already knelt down before the other side had time to stop; in this case, the other person would hastily kneel as well to return the propriety. Apparently they did not dare to assume the position as a senior.

There were more than twenty people in the hall, Wei Xiaobao could not remember everybody’s name and duty, he only knew that each one of these people was a leading figure of the Tian Di Hui. He thought, “As soon as I bowed to Zongduozhu and become his disciple, everybody treated me as one of their own, they even told me their real name and capacity within the Society.” In his heart he was very happy.

Chen Jinnan waited until Wei Xiaobao finished greeting the people, and then he said, “Brothers, after taking this young disciple, I also wish for him to enter the Tian Di Hui.”

“Nothing’s better than that,” the crowd replied in chorus.

The Lotus Flower Hall’s Xiangzhu, Cai Dezhong was an old man with white hair and white beard. He said, “From the beginning, great teacher always produces brilliant student. The disciple of Zongduozhu must be a wise, brave, and all-around talented young hero. I believe that he will establish great merit in our Society.”

The Latter Family Hall’s Xiangzhu, Ma Chaoxing was a short and stout man, with sincere smile on his face; he said, “Today we meet Xiao Xiongdi of the Wei family, but I do not have anything as a first meeting gift. The one surnamed Ma has always a man of meticulous planning and careful accounting; let’s do it this way: how about if Cai Xiangzhu and I become Xiao Xiongdi‘s sponsor as he joins the Society, consider it as our first meeting gift. What does Cai Xiong thinks?”

Cai Dezhong laughed aloud and said, “Old Ma’s careful accounting need not be mentioned, it is guaranteed to be a sound planning. This first meeting gift does not involve any money, count me in.” Everybody chuckled and laughed.

Chen Jinnan said, “Two Bobo have enormous faces, and they are willing to be your sponsor. Quickly thank them.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He stepped forward and kowtowed to express his gratitude.

Chen Jinnan said, “According to our Society’s rules, the good and bad words and actions of the brother entering the Society will be the great responsibility of the sponsor. This young disciple of mine is very sharp-witted; I am afraid with his quick-thinking head, he would not do the job abiding by the rules. Since Cai and Ma, two Xiangzhu are his sponsors, later on you will share some of my responsibility. If he ever do anything dishonorable, you must put your hands to discipline him, you must not be too polite.”

Cai Dezhong said, “Zongduozhu is too modest. How can any disciple under Zongduozhu‘s tutelage be a dishonorable scholar?”

“I am not being too modest,” Chen Jinnan replied, “Toward this child, I do not feel at ease; by helping me disciplining him, everybody is sharing my responsibility and taking some load off my mind.”

Ma Chaoxing laughed and said, “Disciplining him, I do not dare, Xiao Xiongdi is young, if you have anything you are not clear, we all are brothers here, of course we will be frank and open-minded, so you won’t have to be uptight.”

Chen Jinnan nodded and said, “Let me thank you in advance.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I haven’t done anything wrong, but Shifu already worry that I will do bad things. Ah, right, he heard me on the trick I used to deal with the old turtle, he is afraid my old illness might flare-up and would treat him the same way. But the old turtle wanted to harm me, plus he was not my Shifu, so I poisoned his eyes blind. You are my real Shifu, you will teach me real skill, how can I fool with you? Yet you talk about it up front, everybody here will discipline me, then I won’t be able to move at all.”

He heard Chen Jinnan said, “Li Xiongdi, please set up a ceremonial hall, we will have a ceremony today to let Wei Xiaobao join our Society.” Li Lishi complied and went out to prepare the ceremony. Chen Jinnan said, “According to the customs of the former days, whenever someone wanted to join our Society, the sponsor must examine and investigate his past history and present conducts, for at least half a year, at most one or two years. When everything has been verified, we then conduct the ceremony and have the person join the Society. However, Wei Xiaobao holds a governmental post in the Qing Palace, he is a very trusted-aide of the young Emperor, which will be very beneficial to our Society. We have to temporarily make an exception here, but not because he is my own disciple.”

The people said, “We, brothers, understand.”

The Great Obedience Hall’s Xiangzhu, Fang Dahong was a big and tall man, his black beard was long and shiny. With a loud and clear voice he said, “We can have such a trusted brother handling matters at the side of the Tatars Emperor, is indeed a Heaven’s blessing. The luck of the Tatars is numbered, the revival our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains is promising. It is called ‘knowing yourself and knowing the enemy, you will emerge victorious in every battle’. Who does not understand Zongduozhu’s intention?”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “So the reason you all treat me very well is to make me a spy by the Emperor’s side. Shall I do it, or shan’t I do it?” Thinking how well Kangxi had treated him, he could not help but feeling quite a bit of hesitation.

Cai Dezhong immediately explained briefly the history and rules of the Tian Di Hui to Wei Xiaobao. He said, “The founder of our Society was Koxinga[3], whose original surname was Zheng, his given name was Cheng at the top and Gong at the bottom. At that time Koxinga was the leader of militia, he attacked Jiangnan [South of Changjiang/Yangtze River] and besieged Jiangning [district, Jiangsu], but he failed within sight of success, and was forced to retreat, back to Taiwan. Accepting Zongduozhu’s recommendation, he founded our Tian Di Hui. At that time, our Zongduozhu was Koxinga’s military leader. Me and Fang Xiongdi, Ma Xiongdi, Hu Xiongdi, Li Xiongdi, as well as the Green Wood Hall’s Yin Xiangzhu and the others, were all military officers and soldiers under Koxinga.”

Wei Xiaobao knew that Koxinga was Zheng Chenggong, whom the Ming Dynasty Emperor bestowed the surname Zhu, therefore, the people addressed him deferentially as Guo Xing Ye. Zheng Chenggong had a resounding reputation in the Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guanghzhou area. He passed away during the first year of Kangxi’s reign. Since he died not too long ago, when mentioning his name, everybody’s tone was very respectful. Mao Shiba had also mentioned his name to Wei Xiaobao.

Cai Dezhong continued, “There were a lot of our soldiers remained in Jiangnan, unable to retreat to Taiwan. Some withdrew to Xiamen, a small part of our army actually; for this reason, Zongduozhu accepted Koxinga’s order to remain in the Central Earth to establish the Tian Di Hui and get in touch with Koxinga’s former subordinates. Everybody who had followed Koxinga in the attack of Jiangsu and Zhejiang automatically became Tian Di Hui member, without any need of neither sponsor nor the probation period. But if any outsider wanted to join the Society, we must thoroughly verify his background, to guard against any spy penetrating our organization.”

Speaking to this point, he paused for a moment, then suddenly his expression brightened as he continued with his narrative, “To think that back then our army embarked from Taiwan, altogether we had one hundred and seventy thousand men: fifty thousand navy, fifty thousand cavalry, fifty thousand infantry, ten thousand supporting guerillas, and ten thousand ‘ironmen soldiers’, each one of them wearing full body armor and wielded long lance in their hands, specially designed to hack the legs of Tatars’ horses, while the enemy’s blade and arrows could not injure them. During the battle of Mount Yang Peng in Zhenjiang, Zongduozhu was in command of two thousand troops, we destroyed the Tatars’ eighteen thousand soldiers. It was truly majestic, the aura of death filled the air. I was an officer in the eighth garrison under Zongduozhu‘s flag, I led my troops to rush and kill the enemy, and I heard the Tatars soldiers cried out, ‘Malu, malu! Qihu, qihu!’.”

Listening to this story, Wei Xiaobao was radiant with delight. “What does that mean?” he asked.

Cai Dezhong said, “In Tatar’s tongue, ‘Malu, malu’ means ‘Mama, Mama’. ‘Qihu, qihu’ means ‘run away, run away!’.” Everybody roared in laughter.

Ma Chaoxing said with a laugh, “When Cai Xiangzhu is telling the story of the capture of Zhenjiang and the big massacre of the Tatar troops, he is in such a high spirit that the story won’t be finished in three days and three nights. As the sponsor, you need to explain our Society’s rules to Wei Xiongdi, if you talk like that, even when Wei Xiongdi‘s beard grew as long as yours, you won’t be finished …” Speaking to this point, he suddenly remembered that Wei Xiaobao was a little eunuch, how could he grow beard? Stealing a glance toward Wei Xiaobao, he saw that Wei Xiaobao was unconcerned, only then did he feel relieved.

At this moment Li Lishi was back, reporting that the ceremony hall was ready. Chen Jinnan led everybody toward the rear hall. Wei Xiaobao saw two memorial tablets set up on an board table. The one in the middle read ‘The Son of Heaven of the Great Ming’, the one next to it read ‘Lord Yan Ping of the Great Ming, Marshall Zheng’. As sacrificial offering on the table were arranged a pig’s head, a sheep’s head, a chicken, and a fish, plus seven incense sticks. Everybody kneeled down together and did obeisance to the spirit table.

Cai Dezhong took a sheet of white paper from the table, with a loud and clear voice he read, “Heaven and earth is universal, recovering the Great Ming, exterminating the barbarians. We all live together and die together, imitating the ancient tale of Peach Garden, we all are brothers, with the surname Hong [great], given name Jinlan [sworn brother], become one family. We bow to the heaven as our father, and to the earth as our mother, the sun is our brother, the moon is our sister. We bow to five ancestors and the founder Wan Yunlong as the guardian spirits of the Hong family. We take the twenty-fifth day of the seventh month of the year Jiayin[4], at the Chou hour [between 1-3 am] as our birth-date. Over the former two capitals and thirteen provinces, wholeheartedly as one body. Present imperial court is not imperial court, generals and marshals are not general and marshals, the hearts of the people waver, as we are called to restore the Ming Dynasty and eliminate the barbarians under the heavens. We all consider Chen Jinnan as our commander, we will go with him thru five lakes and four oceans, to be heroes and warriors. We burn incense and establish an oath, to obey and walk in the way of the Heaven, to recover the Ming Dynasty, to take revenge and erase humiliation. We smear our lips with the blood of a sacrifice and make an oath, may the deities come down and be our witness.”

Finished reading, Cai Dezhong explained, “Wei Xiongdi, within these words there is a reference to the ancient tale of ‘Tying Righteousness in the Peach Garden’, do you know about it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Liu, Guan and Zhang made an oath of brotherhood in the Peach Garden, they were not born in the same year and the same month, but were wishing that they would die in the same year and the same month.”

“That’s right,” Cai Dezhong said, “Now that you have entered Tian Di Hui, everybody becomes brother. We and Zongduozhu are brothers, you bowed to him and enter his tutelage, everybody become your Bobo or Shushu. Consequently, you greeted us by kowtowing. But from now on, we are brothers, so you do not need to kowtow to us anymore.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, but in his heart he mused, “That’s great.”

Cai Dezhong said, “Our Tian Di Hui is also called Hong Men[5]. ‘Hong’ is from Hongwu, the regnal name of Ming Taizu[6]. Surname Hong, given name Jinlan means the brotherhood of the Hong Men. Our Hong Men was founded by Wan Yunlong. Wan Yunlong is another name for Koxinga. First, we brothers do not dare to casually mentioning Koxinga’s real surname and given name; second, it will be inconvenient to us if the eagle claws hear his name too much. Therefore, among the brothers, we refer to Koxinga as Wan Yunlong. ‘Wan’ means ‘thousands and tens of thousands people’, ‘Yunlong’ means a dragon in the cloud. Thousands and tens of thousands people consider the Great Ming as the Son of Heaven, thereupon he strived to regain our beautiful rivers and mountains. Wei Xiongdi, this is our Society’s secret, you must never mention it to an outsider friend. Even if Master Mao Shiba is your good friend, your good brother, you must not tell him this.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “I understand,” he said, “Mao Dage wanted very much to join our Tian Di Hui, can we let him join the Society?”

Cai Dezhong said, “Someday Wei Xiongdi can be his sponsor. After our Society people investigate in detail, naturally he can be admitted.” Cai Dezhong also said, “The twenty-fifth day of the seventh month at the Chou hour was the time when our Society was established. Our Society’s five ancestors were the five marshals who sacrificed themselves for the just cause in Jiangning. The first one was surnamed Gan given name Hui. I remember when our large army attacked Jiangning, I commanded a garrison of troops, I received Zongduozhu’s order to set an ambush outside the Jiangning western city gate, the Tatars army …” When talking about the attack on Jiangning prefecture in the past, he waved his hands continuously, the more he talked, the farther away he was from the topic at hand.

Ma Chaoxing smiled and interrupted him, “Cai Xiangzhu, it won’t be too late if we tell the story of the attack on Jiangning prefecture slowly later.”

Cai Dezhong laughed; slapping his own forehead he said, “Right, right. Once I started on the past events, I can’t stop until the story is finished. Let me read the ‘Three-point Revolutionary Poem’ now. I read a line, you follow by reading one line.” He started reading immediately, “Three-point hidden revolutionary model, those who enter our Hong Men must not disclose. Fostering an acute potential from the feuding days, swearing to exterminate the Qing Dynasty clean in a single sweep.” Wei Xiaobao repeated his reading.

Cai Dezhong said, “The character ‘hong’ in our Hong Men actually came from our Han people’s ‘han’ character. Our Han people’s rivers and mountains being occupied by the Tatars, without land, the character ‘han’ ( 漢 ) minus the character ‘tu’ [earth] ( 土 ) becomes the character ‘hong’ ( 洪 ).” Presently he explained the thirty-six pledges, ten prohibitions and ten punishments, and twenty one rules so that Wei Xiaobao could understand. Major rules include loyalty and brotherhood, filial piety, harmonious relationship with fellow countrymen, fellow members and brothers of the family, helping each other in trials and tribulations, et cetera. For leaking classified information, implicating the brethrens, surrendering to the authority, raping and pillaging, bullying the weak and alone, breaking his promise, embezzling public funds and other offenses, light punishment would be cutting the ear and flogging, heavy punishment would be dismemberment into eight pieces, beheading and dividing the body.

Wei Xiaobao promised to strictly abide by all the rules, one by one, he vowed he would never dare to disobey, and this time he was wholehearted, making the oath without causing any mischief.

Ma Chaoxing fetched a large bowl of wine, with a needle he pricked his left-hand’s middle finger and let his blood dripped into the bowl. Chen Jinnan and the others also pricked their fingers. Finally Wei Xiaobao did the same. Everyone drank a mouthful of blood wine, and the ceremony inducting Wei Xiaobao into the Society was over. Everybody shook his hand and embraced him, it was intimate and warm. Wei Xiaobao felt a warm sensation in his entire body, he felt that from this day onward, he would not be left alone anymore in this world.

Chen Jinnan said, “Altogether our Society has ten Halls, five front houses five halls, rear five houses five halls. Five front houses Lotus Flower Hall, Great Obedience Hall, Latter Family Hall, Greatest Unity Hall, Magnificent Transformation Hall. Five rear houses Green Wood Hall, Scarlet Fire Hall, Western Gold Hall, Mysterious Water Hall, Yellow Earth Hall. The Xiangzhu of nine halls are assembled here. Only Green Wood Hall’s Yin Xiangzhu was killed the year before last, until now it has no Xiangzhu. Brothers of Green Wood Hall, you have repeatedly made an oath in front of Wan Yunlong Dage and Yin Xiangzhu’s memorial tablets that whoever killed Oboi and avenge Yin Xiangzhu, everybody will revere him as our Hall’s Xiangzhu. Is it true that there is indeed such matter?”

“Absolutely,” everyone answered, “Indeed there is such matter.”

Chen Jinnan’s penetrating gaze swept everybody’s face from left to right, he said slowly, “I heard that for the purpose of setting up the new Xiangzhu, the brothers of the Green Wood Hall once have had some disagreement. Although everybody took the big picture into consideration, heavily upholding benevolence and righteousness, and thus did not harm the brotherhood, but if this matter is not properly decided, within the Green Wood Hall there will always be an enormous private concern for me to worry. Green Wood Hall is an important Hall in our Tian Di Hui; it oversees all prefectures, provinces and counties in Jiangnan and Jiangbei. For the past few years it gradually expand its authority over Shandong and Hebei, and this time it has penetrated the city limit of Beijing. Whether Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu is an able person or not, it corresponds directly to the rise and fall of our Society, and bear enormous responsibility toward the success of failure of the great undertaking of overthrowing the Qing. In the event that the brethrens in the Hall are in disagreement and fail to work together for a common purpose, this great undertaking cannot be achieved.” After a short pause he continued by asking, “That treacherous bandit Oboi was killed by Wei Xiaobao, and Green Wood Hall brothers witness this with their own eyes, is this true?”

Almost together Li Lishi and Guan Anji replied, “It is.” Li Lishi also said, “In front of Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet everybody has made an oath. Definitely we cannot say that it doesn’t count. If we made an oath like a fart, in the future, what other oath can we make in front of Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet, what other hope do we have? Although Wei Xiaobao Xiongdi is young, I, Li Lishi, am willing to support him as our Hall’s Xiangzhu.”

Having Li Lishi stole the initiative, Guan Anji thought, “This child is Zongduozhu’s disciple, his status is definitely out of ordinary. Listening to how Zongduozhu said those words, it’s obvious that he wanted this young disciple to be our Hall’s Xiangzhu. Li Lao’er [Ol’ Li the second] and I are vying for the Xiangzhu position, neither one of us is willing submit to the other, we might as well ‘move apart on the beat’. He had already opened his mouth to curry favor with Zongduozhu, I can’t lose to him, since that will make me appear I am harboring a selfish desire.” Thereupon he said, “Li Dage is right, Wei Xiongdi’s sharp-wittedness surpasses others, under Zongduozhu’s instruction, someday he will be a young hero whose prestige will shake the Jianghu. Guan Anji is willing to support Wei Xiaobao Xiongdi as our Hall’s Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao sprang up from fright, waving his hands wildly, he shouted, “Can’t do, can’t do! This … this Xiangzhu [fragrant master] or Chouzhu [stinky master], I can’t do it!”

Chen Jinnan glowered at him, “What nonsense are you talking about?” he barked. Wei Xiaobao did not dare to open his mouth anymore.

Chen Jinnan said, “This child’s blade has killed Oboi, and that is an unalterable fact. We must abide by the oath we made in front of Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet, and have no choice but must let him be the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu. It was because I must let him be the Xiangzhu that I accepted him as my disciple, not the other way around. I didn’t think of making him the Xiangzhu after I accepted him as my disciple. This child’s character is not good, perhaps he will give me several hundred headache in the future.”

Fang Dahong said, “Zongduozhu has taken a lot of trouble, we, brothers understand it. Zongduozhu is neither relative nor kin with Wei Xiongdi, today is the first time you meet each other. Zongduozhu is making an exception by looking upon him with special favor, naturally it is because you are giving thought of our Society’s important matter. Only … only … Zongduozhu does not need to worry. Our Society’s brethrens intermingled with Jianghu people, very few read books, which mouth does not use bad language and common saying? Wei Xiongdi is young, Li Dage and Guan Fuzi are willing to support him with all their might, I am sure there won’t be any catastrophic disaster.”

Chen Jinnan nodded and said, “Therefore, we let Wei Xiaobao to be the Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu because we have sworn an oath in front of Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet, which we cannot simply dismiss. But as long as he has been the Xiangzhu for a day, we can consider it done. If tomorrow he commits outrages, disturbing Green Wood Hall’s affairs, hindering our Society’s great undertaking in fighting the Qing and restoring the Ming, we can immediately strip him from the Xiangzhu position without half a part of tolerance. Li Dage, Guan Erge, I am asking the two of you to attentively help him. If this child does anything improper, I want you to report to me in details, do not conceal anything.” Li Lishi and Guan Anji bowed and complied.

Chen Jinnan turned around and kneeled before the memorial tablet; he picked three burning incense sticks from the censer and held it high with both hands. With a clear voice he said, “Subordinate Chen Jinnan swears before Wan Yunlong Dage’s memorial tablet: if subordinate Wei Xiaobao violates our Society’s rules, or displays insufficient obedience to the rules, subordinate will immediately depose him from Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu duty, without showing even half a part of favoritism. We grant him the Xiangzhu position in compliance with our oath. The day we depose him of his position, is also in compliance with this oath. If subordinate Chen Jinnan does not abide by this oath, the spirit of Wan Dage in heaven will strike the top of my head with thunder, my body will be pulled apart to five sections by horses, I will die under the Tatars’ eagle claws’ hands.” Finished saying that, he bowed several times with the incense sticks still in his hands, and then returning the sticks to the censer, he knocked his head on the floor several times.

Everyone spoke together in praise, “The way Zongduozhu handles this matter is for the common good above everything without regard for personal interests, no one among us does not accept this wholeheartedly.”

In his heart, Wei Xiaobao said, “Just great! I still say that the real reason all of you want me to be some Xiangzhu or Chouzhu is just so that you can use me as a wooden plank to cross the river. After crossing, you’ll tear the bridge apart. Today you grant me to be a Xiangzhu because you want to abide by your oath. Tomorrow you’ll pick a quarrel and depose me so that you’ll still abide by your oath. At that time whether it would be Li Dage or Guan Fuzi, either one will be a logical choice for the new Xiangzhu.” With a loud voice he said, “Shifu, I don’t want to be the Xiangzhu!”

Chen Jinnan was startled. “What?” he asked.

“I can’t do it, and I don’t want to do it,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You can’t do it, but you can learn it slowly,” Chen Jinnan said, “I can teach you, Li and Guan two brothers have already promised to help you. Within Tian Di Hui, Xiangzhu position ranks very high, why don’t you want to do it?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Today I become one, tomorrow you will depose me, then I will be humiliated instead. I don’t want to be Xiangzhu, everything is very obscure. Once I take the office, everybody will look for bones in the egg; in less than half a day, I will fall from power and be extremely disgraced.”

Chen Jinnan said, “There is no bone in the egg, even everybody is looking for it, they won’t find any.”

“The egg will become a chick,” Wei Xiaobao said, “So there is bone in it. Even if there is none, when the people look, they would break my eggshell first, talk later, mixing the egg yolk and the egg white, then the egg will collapse.” Everybody could not help but laugh.

Chen Jinnan said, “Do you think the way we Tian Di Hui handle matters is a child’s play? As long as you do not do any evil deed, everybody will respect you as the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, who will offend you? Even if they don’t revere you, they will still respect you as my disciple.”

Wei Xiaobao thought for a while, then he said, “Alright, let us talk it over clearly first. If in the future you don’t want me to be the Xiangzhu, so be it: I won’t be the Xiangzhu. But you must not randomly add accusation, beat me or curse me, or cut my ears or chop my head, or cut me apart into eight sections.”

Chen Jinnan frowned. “You always love to bargain back and forth,” he said, “If you don’t do any misdeed, who will kill you? If the Tatars beat you or kill you, everybody will avenge you.” Pausing for a moment, he continued earnestly, “Xiaobao, real men dare to do what they dare to say, real men won’t pass on their responsibility to others. Since you already join our Tian Di Hui, you must summon up your courage and determination to strive to be the first, to rid common people of all evil. If you are always scheming for your own good, won’t it be a bad act of a hero or a warrior?”

When Wei Xiaobao heard the words ‘hero and warrior’, he remembered how the storyteller always mentioned those great heroes; the heroic spirit was awakened in his breast. He said, “That’s right, Shifu’s lesson is very true. If my head is chopped, at most it will give me a bowl size scar. Eighteen years later, a hero will appear.” This was the words the Jianghu men often said when they were being tied up on the execution ground. Although the way Wei Xiaobao used it was not very appropriate, he won the applause of everybody in the hall.

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Being a Xiangzhu is a very happy occasion, unlike being tied up on the execution ground ready to be beheaded. There are nine other Xiangzhu in here, every one of them is doing it happily. You should learn to copy their manner.”

Guan Anji walked over toward Wei Xiaobao; he cupped his fist and bowed, “Subordinate Guan Anji pays his respect to our Hall’s Xiangzhu,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao turned his head to Chen Jinnan. “What do I do?” he asked.

“Just return the propriety,” Chen Jinnan replied.

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the propriety. “Guan Fuzi, how are you?” he said.

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “’Guan Fuzi’ is the nickname with which the brothers usually call him. In day-to-day business, you may call him ‘Guan Fuzi’, but in formal setting, you should call him Guan Erge.”

Wei Xiaobao corrected himself, “Guan Erge, how are you?”

This time Guan Anji stole the initiative from Li Lishi. Immediately he also stepped forward to pay his respect. One by one the nine other Xiangzhu stepped forward to congratulate Wei Xiaobao. Then everybody returned to the main hall, leaving Zongduozhu and the ten Halls’ Xiangzhu to discuss official business.

Green Wood Hall was the chief among the five rear houses’ Halls. Within the Tian Di Hui organization, it ranked number six. Wei Xiaobao was seated on the first chair on the right row. Scarlet Fire Hall and other Halls’ Xiangzhu, some had white beard hanging down to their chests, were unexpectedly seated in lower-ranked seats. Li Lishi, Guan Anji, and the others retreated outside the hall, so there were only eleven men left: Chen Jinnan and the ten Xiangzhu, the first echelon of the Tian Di Hui organization.

Chen Jinnan pointed to the empty chair in the middle and said, “This is the Third Prince Zhu’s seat.” Pointing to the other empty chair next to it he said, “This is the Taiwan’s Zheng Wangye’s seat. Zheng Wangye is Koxinga’s son, nowadays he inherited the title Yanping Junwang[7]. When we, Tian Di Hui are having our meetings, although Third Prince Zhu and Zheng Wangye are not present, we always provide empty seats for them.” This explanation was obviously for Wei Xiaobao’s benefit. He then continued by saying, “Brothers, please report the situation in various provinces.”

Within the five front houses, the head house Lotus Flower Hall was in charge of Fujian, the second house Great Obedience Hall was in charge of Guangdong, the third house Latter Family Hall was in charge of Guangxi, the fourth house Greatest Unity Hall was in charge of Hunan and Hubei, the fifth house Magnificent Transformation Hall was in charge of Zhejiang. Within the five rear houses, the head house Green Wood Hall was in charge of Jiangsu, the second house Scarlet Fire Hall was in charge of Guizhou, the third house Western Gold Hall was in charge of Sichuan, the fourth house Mysterious Water was in charge of Yunnan, the fifth house Yellow Earth was in charge of Henan.

The Tian Di Hui was comprised of Koxinga’s former subordinates, their main force was in Fujian, which was the reason the Lotus Flower Hall was the head house; its power was the strongest. Next would be the two provinces Guangdong and Guangxi, followed by the two ‘lakes’ Hunan and Hubei[8], and then Zhejiang, Jiangsu.

Presently Cai Dezhong was the first to report the Tian Di Hui’s affair in Fujian, followed by Fang Dahong recounting the Guangdong’s Society’s affair. Wei Xiaobao listened for a while. First, he did not understand, second, he did not have the least bit of interest. At last he was simply hearing without really listening, in his heart he was thinking about gambling and having fun.

When it was the Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu’s turn to give report, Chen Jinnan said, “Originally Green Wood Hall was in charge of Jiangnan, Jiangning, and Suzhou, dealing with the Tatars in those regions. Afterwards Yin Xiongdi moved the fragrant hall to Jiangbei Xuzhou, progressively entered Shandong, Zhili, straight toward Tatars’ capital. Only, it’s a pity Yin Xiongdi lost his life in Oboi’s hands. The strength of Green Wood Hall is greatly harmed.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, “A few days ago several brothers courageously broke into Prince Kang’s mansion, where by lucky coincidence Xiaobao’s blade killed Oboi and thus avenged Yin Xiongdi‘s great enmity. This major attack by the Green Wood Hall may cause fear and trepidation in the Tatars’ hearts. It’s just that from now on naturally the Tatars will intensify their guard. Hereafter when we work, we must be doubly careful.” Everybody voiced their agreement together.

After this, one after another the Xiangzhu of Scarlet Fire Hall and Western Gold Hall gave an account of the situation around Guizhou and Sichuan, two provinces. Listening to this, Wei Xiaobao could not refrain from yawning, so hastily he reached up to cover his mouth. When  the Mysterious Water Hall’s Xiangzhu, Lin Yongchao, bringing up the situation in Yunnan, his expression was aroused in indignation; he was cursing continually. It was only then that Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was also aroused.

He heard him say, “That traitor Wu Sangui opposes us on every front. From last year all the way to this year, not even ten month yet, there are seventy nine brothers of the Society being killed by that b@stard. Damn that goat, laozi definitely cannot live under the same sky with that dog traitor. Our people have attempted to assassinate him several times, but this traitor to the Han has many able people by his side. Consecutively we tried three times, all have failed …” He pointed his finger to his left arm, which was hanging on his shoulder, and said, “During the attempt last month, his granny, laozi broke my arm. This great traitor has done too many evil deeds. There will come a day when his entire family will be beheaded and chopped into mincemeat by our Tian Di Hui.” As soon as the name ‘Wu Sangui’ was mentioned, everybody had his breast filled with indignation.

In Yangzhou, Wei Xiaobao had already heard people mentioning how Wu Sangui helped the Qing troops crossing the pass and seizing the Han people’s land. The Tatars troops raped, killed and burned in Yangzhou, the main culprit, the main cause of the disaster, was Wu Sangui. After helping the Qing Dynasty conquering China, he was granted the title Ping Xi Wang [King who pacify the West], with the right to guard Yunnan forever. Wei Xiaobao noticed that whenever people mentioning the name Wu Sangui, three characters, nobody did not clench his teeth and show hatred so deep into their bones. Therefore, when this Lin Xiangzhu open his mouth in swearing and cursing, Wei Xiaobao did not think it was strange.

As soon as Lin Yongchao started to curse, the other eight Xiangzhu also open their mouth in curses. These men were originally soldiers who for the last several years had mingled with Jianghu people, so they were accustomed to vulgar language. However, in front of Zongduozhu, with great effort they tried to restrain themselves. As soon as they started cursing, nobody tried to be polite. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; as soon as he heard some cussing, he was like a fish enters the water; he could not stop his own mouth from hurling obscenities. Speaking about cussing, Wei Xiaobao’s finesse were several degree above these nine Xiangzhu; a sentence by a sentence he beat around the bush, each sentence was malicious and mean, the nine Xiangzhu were only shouting curses in their anger, so that compared to Wei Xiaobao their deficiency was obvious.

Chen Jinnan waved his hand and said, “Enough, enough! Even if there are millions more people in the world cursing Wu Sangui, that scoundrel is still nicely holding his Ping Xi Wang position. Cursing will not kill him, assassination won’t be effective either.”

Great Transformation Hall’s Xiangzhu, Li Shikai was short and slim, he was soft-spoken and neither did he curse too much. This time he spoke, “In subordinate’s opinion, even if we launched a large-scale attack against Yunnan and killed Wu Sangui, it won’t give us any big advantage over the general situation. The imperial court would simply appoint another governor-general or inspector-general, the common people in Yunnan will not experience a change of fate. This traitor Wu Sangui has committed grave sin, if we kill him with one stab of a blade, it is rather too easy for him.”

Chen Jinnan nodded. “These words make a lot of sense,” he said, “I wonder what kind of wise opinion does Li Xiongdi have?”

“This is a matter of great importance,” Li Shikai replied, “All of us must take our time in making a decision. Subordinate does not have any good idea, I will submit to Zongduozhu‘s direction.”

“‘This is a matter of great importance, all of us must take our time in making a decision.'” Chen Jinnan repeated, “These words by Li Xiongdi is a wise opinion. There is a good common saying: one man’s planning is short, two men’s planning is long. We are ten people, no, eleven people; if we think calmly, we will come up with an even better idea. By killing Wu Sangui, not only we will avenge Tian Di Hui brothers who were killed by him, we will also avenge millions of our compatriot Han people under the heavens. I have pondered over this matter for a long time. That traitor Wu Sangui is deep rooted in Yunnan, his power is enormous; based on one Society, Tian Di Hui’s power alone, I am afraid we cannot topple him down.”

Lin Yongchao loudly said, “Even if we have to be cut in pieces, we must fight to topple him down.”

Cai Dezhong said, “You have already fought, Wu Sangui has not been toppled down, but you had your arm broken.”

Lin Yongchao angrily said, “Are you mocking me of my incompetence?”

Cai Dezhong realized he had made an indiscreet remark. “I was only joking,” he said with a laugh, “Lin Xiongdi, please do not be angry.”

Seeing Lin Yongchao was still seething with anger, with a gentle voice Chen Jinnan consoled him, “Lin Xiongdi, killing Wu Sangui is the important matter every hero and warrior in the world is dreaming of, how can we let worthy brother Lin and the Mysterious Water Hall bear this heavy burden alone? Even if Tian Di Hui’s several tens of thousands brothers join hands with one heart, we may not necessarily be able to move his hand.”

“Zongduozhu is right,” Lin Yongchao said, only then did his anger subside.

Chen Jinnan said, “In my opinion, if we want to accomplish this important matter, we must make contact with all schools, sects, clans and societies in Jianghu, to plan together on a large scale. That traitor Wu Sangui have several tens of thousands elite troops in Yunnan; the brave soldiers and fierce generals under his banners are no small matter. If we only want to kill him, it might not be an extremely difficult matter, but to kill his entire household, to wipe away the traitors to the Han, the wicked thieves, big and small, his subordinates who help him committing the oppression[9], is entirely beyond our Tian Di Hui’s power to accomplish.”

Lin Yongchao slapped his thigh and shouted, “Exactly, exactly! Our Tian Di Hui’s brothers who had been killed by Wu Sangui are too many, if we only kill that traitor, how can his life make up for theirs?”

Thinking about killing Wu Sangui, along with his household and the evil traitors working for him, everybody was very excited. But not too long afterwards, they all looked at each other in blank dismay, while in their hearts they thought, “This is indeed very difficult.”

Cai Dezhong said, “Shaolin and Wudang two sects have many men and great force, they also have high level of martial art skill, we must make contact with them.”

The Yellow Earth Xiangzhu Yao Bida said doubtfully, “The Shaolin Temple Abbot, Hui Cong Dashi[10] indeed has an extremely high prestige in the Wulin world, but he has always been experienced and knowledgeable, he won’t agree to oppose the authority. These last several years, he even passed a new rule, so that it won’t be easy even for secular disciples to leave the Temple and go down the mountain, for fear that they would stir up trouble and bring disaster to the Temple. If we want to make contact with Shaolin, I am afraid we will be met with many difficulties.”

The Greatest Unity Hall’s Xiangzhu, who was in charge of the Hunan and Hubei territory, Hu Dedi nodded and said, “Wudang Pai is more or less the same. The Abbot of Zhenwu Guan[11], Taoist Yun Yan and his Shixiong Taoist Yun He have been at odds with each other for a long time, the two of them are completely locked in constant strife, they always try to find flaws in each other’s disciples. Asking them to take a risk like killing Wu Sangui, I am afraid … I am afraid …” He did not continue, but it was clear to everybody that most probably Yun Yan and Yun He would not be willing to do.

Lin Yongchao said, “If we cannot reach Shaolin and Wudang, we have no other choice but to deal with it with our own strength.”

“No need to be impatient,” Chen Jinnan said, “Shaolin and Wudang are not the only schools in Wulin.”

One by one they offered their suggestions. Some said that perhaps Emei would be willing to join, some other said that since there were many martial experts from the Beggar Clan joined the Tian Di Hui, certainly they would be willing to collaborate with Tian Di Hui in putting this big traitor to China to death.

After listening for the discussion for quite some time, Chen Jinnan said, “If not ninety percent sure, we must never ever propose this matter to others.”

“Naturally,” Fang Dahong replied, “If people are unwilling to do it, it doesn’t count to have their nose rubbed in the dirt, plus it will damage our Tian Di Hui’s face.”

“Losing face is not important,” Chen Jinnan said, “But if the information leaks out, that thief Wu Sangui will be more vigilant, our job will be a lot thornier.”

Li Shikai said, “To maintain the steadiness of our purpose, whoever wants to propose to any school, sect, clan or society must have Zongduozhu‘s approval first, other people must not casually make any decision.”

“It ought to be so,” the people all replied. They continued their discussion for some time.

Chen Jinnan said, “This time we are not able to draft a definite plan. In three months, everybody will gather again in Changsha, Hunan. Xiaobao, you must return to the Palace. In Green Wood Hall’s affairs, let Li Lishi and Guan Anji act on your behalf for the time being. You don’t have to attend the meeting in Changsha.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, but in his heart he said, “Doesn’t this clearly show ‘tear down the bridge after crossing the river’?”

After all other Xiangzhu had been dismissed, Chen Jinnan pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand back to the side room. He said, “On Heavenly Bridge [Tianqiao] in Beijing there is an old man selling medicinal paste[12] by the surname of Xu. On the other medicinal plaster sellers’ banners, the plaster is black in color, but on this Old Xu’s banner, the plaster is half red half blue. If you want to contact me, just go to the Heavenly Bridge and find Old Xu. Ask him, ‘Do you have plaster for virulent clear poison, a plaster that will restore clarity to blind eyes, a plaster against clear poison to restore clarity[13]?’ He would reply, ‘I do, but the price is too expensive, I want three taels of gold and three taels of silver.’ You say, ‘Will you sell it for five taels of gold and five taels of silver?’ Then he will know who you are.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly amused, he laughed and said, “Others offer to sell it to you for three taels, but you make a counter-offer of five taels; where in the world have you ever heard of such matter?”

Chen Jinnan smiled and replied, “This is to guard against an accident in case someone really want to buy ‘plaster against clear poison to restore clarity’. As soon as he hears your counter offer of five taels of gold and five taels of silver, he would ask, ‘Why is the price so expensive?’ You reply, ‘Not expensive, not expensive; as long as it can really restore clarity, even if I have to work like an ox or a horse for you, it is not expensive at all.’ He would then say, ‘The earth shakes high mound, a mountain creek is elegant for all eternity.’ You say, ‘The gate faces the ocean, the three rivers and the water will flow for ten thousand years.’ He would ask, “Which hall is located by the red flower pavilion?’ You reply, ‘The Green Wood Hall.’ He would ask, ‘How many fragrant incense sticks are burning in the hall?’ You say, ‘Five fragrant incense sticks!’ Five burning fragrant incense sticks indicate that you are the Xiangzhu. He is a brother of our Society’s Green Wood Hall, he is your subordinate. Whatever you want, you can tell him to do it for you.”

Wei Xiaobao committed everything into his heart. Chen Jinnan repeated the dialog two more times, and told Wei Xiaobao to practice one time through until not a single word was wrong. Chen Jinnan also said, “Although this Old Xu is your subordinate, his martial art skill is very profound. You must not be rude toward him.” Wei Xiaobao gave him his promise.

“Xiaobao,” Chen Jinnan said, “We created havoc in Prince Kang’s mansion, the Tatars will definitely send spies riding toward four directions; we can’t stay long in here. When you are back at the Palace today, tell the people there that you were being captured by a powerful group of people, during the night, you use trick to kill a powerful man guarding you, and you escape and return to the Palace. If someone wants you to lead the troops to make some arrests, you may lead the troops here. We will bury that traitor Oboi’s severed head in the vegetable garden at the back. Take the troops there and have them dig; nobody will suspect anything.”

“Apparently everybody will have left by then, haven’t they?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Chen Jinnan said, “As soon as you leave, everybody will disperse, you don’t have to worry. Three days later, I am coming to Beijing to teach you martial art. Go to the Fresh Water Well Alley in the Dongcheng district of central Beijing. There will be a brother waiting for you at the mouth of the alley, he will take you to see me.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Chen Jinnan gently stroked Wei Xiaobao’s head, “You may go now!” he gently said.

Wei Xiaobao immediately went in to see Mao Shiba to take his leave. Mao Shiba did not know that he had joined the Tian Di Hui and had become a Xiangzhu, he asked Wei Xiaobao all kinds of question, showing his utmost concerned. Wei Xiaobao did not expose anything. By this time the dagger and his other personal belongings had been returned. Chen Jinnan asked someone to prepare a horse for Wei Xiaobao to ride, and then he personally walked him out of the gate. Li Lishi, Guan Anji, Priest Xuanzhen and other Green Wood Hall brothers sent him off for three li. Wei Xiaobao asked for direction until he understood clearly, then urging his horse, he galloped toward Beijing. By the time he entered the Palace, it was already evening; he went straight to kowtow to the Emperor.

Kangxi already heard the news that in the prison cell at Prince Kang’s mansion, Oboi was killed by Wei Xiaobao; he assumed that Wei Xiaobao must have been captured by Oboi’s cronies, so most probably he was more unfortunate than being fortunate. As the matter developed, the Qing court immediately made arrest everywhere, seizing the remnants of Oboi’s defeated clique to be interrogated via torture. They had apprehended not a few of people, but could not find any clue.

Kangxi was greatly frustrated and anxious; suddenly hearing Wei Xiaobao had returned, he was pleasantly surprised. Hurriedly he granted an audience, and as soon as he saw him entering the study room, he hastily asked, “Xiao Guizi, you … how did you escape?”

Along the way, Wei Xiaobao had already prepared a major deception, for the part where he was seized by a powerful man and how he was transported away inside a jujube barrel he did not need to lie. Next, he narrated how the clique of traitors, many of them, set up a memorial tablet and prepared to offer sacrifices. But because they were waiting for the arrival of a leading figure, temporarily they did not kill him, but bound him inside a dark room instead. And then how in the middle of the night he rubbed and broke the ropes binding his hands, and how he killed the guard and escaped out; how he hid in the underbrush to evade the pursuing riders, how he stole a horse and returned via a roundabout route. He narrated the story by adding sound effect and acting the part, it was extremely vivid.

Kangxi was listening with keen interest, he repeatedly patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and praised, “Xiao Guizi, you are good.” He also said, “You must be going through a lot of trouble.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This clique of traitors, Oboi’s followers, its power is really not small. When your servant escaped, I memorized the route well; how about if we immediately send troops to capture them?”

“Wonderful!” Kangxi replied happily, “Quickly tell Songgotu to take three thousand cavalry and follow you to catch the criminals.” Wei Xiaobao withdrew and ordered someone to notify Songgotu.

When Songgotu heard that Xiao Guizi was kidnapped by Oboi’s subordinates, he thought that he had lost a major helper in the Palace, and thus he was anxious. Although he managed to embezzle four hundred fifty thousand taels of silver, when all is said and done, this lost was even greater than the gain. When he suddenly heard that Xiao Guizi had escaped and returned to the Palace, immediately his spirit rose. Hastily assembling the troops, he followed Wei Xiaobao to arrest the remainders of Oboi’s party.

They were about halfway when Prince Kang’s messenger caught up with them to deliver Wei Xiaobao’s Jade Flower buckskin horse. Wei Xiaobao mounted the colt. He glanced left and right, feeling unusually pleased with himself.

Upon reaching Tian Di Hui’s gathering place, naturally they did not see any shadow. Songgotu ordered his men to search around. Soon they dug out Oboi’s severed head and headless body in the vegetable garden; they also found a memorial tablet with these words inscribed on it: ‘Memorial Tablet of the Great Qing Junior Protector, Number One Warrior, Official Oboi’, and several rolls of elegiac couplet offering condolences to Oboi. Naturally it was Chen Jinnan who deliberately left these things behind.

Wei Xiaobao and Songgotu returned to Beijing, and presented the memorial tablet and elegiac couplets to Kangxi. Wei Xiaobao’s expression looked like he had just set up a great merit. Kangxi made an effort to say several sentences of praise and encouragement, then he gave an order to have Oboi’s body and head buried properly. He also ordered the two of them to continue the investigation carefully. Wei Xiaobao repeatedly complied with his mouth, his face showed devotion and diligence, but in his belly he was laughing.

[1] Lit. ‘under’; the humble one, referring to self.

[2] Uncles, older than one’s father and younger than one’s father, respectively.

[3] Orig. Guoxing Ye, ‘master of Gouxing [country’s surname]’. From the dictionary: [Zheng Chenggong: Koxinga (1624-1662), south Chinese regional leader during early Qing, fled the mainland and conquered Taiwan from the Ducth.] Guoxing is a township in central Taiwan, however, it literally means ‘the country’s surname’.

[4] Fifty-first year of the 60-year cycle in Chinese calendar. Jiayin corresponds to the Wood Tiger year, the next Jiayin is 2034. I did a quick calculation, but the result did not make any sense to me: 2034 – 360 = 1674. According to wikipedia, Kangxi was born 1654, i.e. he was 20 years old in 1674. This story happened (supposedly) when Kangxi was 14, 15 years old. Wikipedia also lists Oboi’s death in the year 1670 (Kangxi was actually 16 years old). That means the date was in the future? If we take the previous sixty years, i.e. 1614, Koxinga was not even born yet.

[5] ‘Men’ here means family, house, (religious) sect, school (of thought), organization, etc.

[6] First Ming Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398, reigned 1386-1398).

[7] Lit. ‘king over a country/region’.

[8] FYI, ‘hunan’ and ‘hubei’ literally mean southern and northern lakes, respectively.

[9] Orig. ‘helping tyrant Zhou in his opression’.

[10] Lit. ‘great master’. I usually translate it as ‘Reverend’, but this time I want to keep it as ‘Chinese’ as possible.

[11] I want to point out that although I use the same word ‘Abbot’, in Shaolin’s case it was ‘Fang zhang’, while in Wudang’s case it was ‘Guan Zhu’ [guan – Taoist Monastery, zhu – master, the same ‘zhu’ as in ‘xiangzhu’ and ‘zongduozhu’]. Zhenwu is a major Taoist deity, ‘Lord of profound heaven’, or Black Heavenly Emperor.

[12] or ‘plaster’ [orig. Gaoyao], here in the US it is sold as ‘hot/cold patch’.

[13] This passage is hard to translate; to get the not-so-subtle meaning of the original Chinese, simply substitute the word ‘clear’ with ‘Qing (dynasty)’ and the word ‘clarity’ with ‘Ming (dynasty)’.

Chapter 9 Polishing and refining a rather slanted wall to its completion does not need the intensity that will break a qin into pieces.

After three days, Wei Xiaobao reported to Kangxi that he wanted to go out to investigate the remnants of Oboi’s defeated clique. Going alone, he headed toward the Fresh Water Well Alley on Dongcheng district of central Beijing. There was a wonton seller, with a pair of wonton pots on a carrying pole, stopping at about a dozen zhang away from the mouth of the alley. When the wonton seller saw Wei Xiaobao, he picked up the long bamboo wonton chopsticks and tapped it against the bamboo tube in which he stored his money. ‘Tap, tap, tap’, three times, paused, then ‘tap, tap’, twice, then ‘tap, tap, tap’, three times again. About several zhang away, there was a man with shoulder pole, selling blue radish. The man used the knife, with which he cut the radish, to tap his shoulder pole with the same rhythm.

Wei Xiaobao guessed that this must be Tian Di Hui’s method of transmitting news, so he followed a hawker selling candied fruits dipped in sugar syrup on bamboo skewers entering the alley. They arrived in front of a jet black main gate of a building. There were three men squatting at the door, whitewashing the wall using lime. Seeing Wei Xiaobao, one of them nodded, then tapped the wall several times using the lime brush, the black door immediately opened. Wei Xiaobao walked into a courtyard and entered the main hall, and saw Chen Jinnan had already sat in the hall; immediately he rushed forward and kowtowed.

Chen Jinnan was very delighted, he said, “You are early; nothing’s better than that. Originally I wanted to stay for several days to teach you martial art, but I received news yesterday that Fujian has an important matter that needs my immediate attention. This time I can only stay for a day.”

In his heart, Wei Xiaobao was happy, “Since you don’t have time to teach me martial art, when in the future my training is not good, that will be your problem, you can’t blame me.” But his face showed disappointment.

Chen Jinnan took a rather thin book from his bosom and said, “This is our school’s basic instruction on internal energy cultivation. You must study hard every day.” Opening the book, he showed every page had pictures of human figure training the internal energy, along with the mnemonic, which he taught to Wei Xiaobao. For the time being Wei Xiaobao was not able to comprehend completely, he merely memorized it carefully.

Chen Jinnan spent more than four hours explaining the entire set of internal energy cultivation technique; he said, “Our school’s martial art puts upright heart and good faith first. You, on the other hand, has a heart like a frisky monkey and a mind like a cantering horse, so you are incompatible with our school martial art, training will be doubly difficult for you; you must especially diligent if you want to succeed. Just remember this: if during training your mind is agitated, your head dizzy and your eyes blur, you must stop immediately. You must calm down first, put your distracting thoughts in order, then you practice from the beginning again, otherwise you’ll face a significant danger.”

Wei Xiaobao gave his promise. He received the book and put it inside his pocket. Chen Jinnan asked in details the martial art Hai Tianfu taught him. After Wei Xiaobao demonstrating and explaining everything one by one, Chen Jinnan muttered to himself, “You are aware early on that these martial art skills are bogus, it will be completely useless against a real enemy. I just feel strange, why did Tatar Empress Dowager also teach bogus martial art skill to the Tatar young Emperor?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The old wh0re is not the young emperor’s biological mother, moreover … moreover the old wh0re is not a good person, she is a greatly evil person.” He thought that the implication of the old wh0re killing the young emperor’s mother and so on would be too great, so he could not tell his Shifu about it; besides, this matter had nothing to do with his Shifu.

Chen Jinnan nodded. Then he inquired about Hai Tianfu’s character and behavior; he felt that this old eunuch’s conduct and deeds were enshrouded in secrecy. Wei Xiaobao talked for a while, suddenly ‘Wah!’ he broke into a bawl.

“Xiaobao,” Chen Jinnan gently asked, “What is it?”

Sobbing and sniffling, Wei Xiaobao told him about how Hai Tianfu secretly put poison in the soup. Finally he sobbed and said, “Shifu, the poison is incurable. After I am dead, the Green Wood Hall brothers won’t be able to use the old way again.”

“What old way?” Chen Jinnan asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Oboi killed Yin Xiangzhu, and I killed Oboi, so everybody wanted me to be the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu. The old turtle Hai killed Wei Xiangzhu, the old wh0re killed the old turtle Hai, but everybody cannot ask the old wh0re to be the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu.”

Chen Jinnan burst out laughing; attentively he checked Wei Xiaobao’s pulse and asked detailed questions about the pain on his lower abdomen. He reached out toward Wei Xiaobao’s lower abdomen and using his finger he pressed, sometime lightly, another time heavily, on the acupoints all around his lower abdomen. After muttering irresolutely to himself for half a day, he said, “Don’t be afraid! Maybe Hai Tianfu’s poison does not have any antidote in the world, but I can force the poison out using my internal energy.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he repeatedly said, “Thank you very much Shifu!”

Chen Jinnan took him inside and had him lying on the bed. With his left hand he pressed the Shan Zhong acupoint on the pit of Wei Xiaobao’s stomach, with his right hand he pressed the Da Zhui[1] acupoint on his back. After a while, Wei Xiaobao felt two streams of heat slowly flowed downward and around his stomach; his body felt an unspeakable comfort, he became drowsy and fell asleep. In his blurry state, he suddenly felt an unspeakable pain in his tummy. “Aiyo!” he cried out, and woke up. “Shifu!” he shouted, “I … I want to poop!”

Chen Jinnan led him out to the door of the latrine. Wei Xiaobao had just untied his pants when the excrement spurted straight out, the stench was really unbearable, followed by a lot of vomiting from his mouth.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his bedroom, his limbs felt weak and painful, he was barely able to stand up. Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Good! Eighty, ninety percent of the poison in your system is out, the remaining is not dangerous anymore. Here I have twelve efficacious detoxifier pills; take it for twelve days, the remaining poison will be driven off completely from your body.” From his pocket he took out a small porcelain bottle and handed it over to Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao received it with deep gratitude in his heart. “Shifu,” he said, “Do you still have some more pills for yourself? You give all to me, if you get poisoned …”

With a faint smile Chen Jinnan said, “If others think of poisoning me, it’s not going to be easy.”

The sky darkened, it was evening. Chen Jinnan told the servant to serve dinner, which he ate with Wei Xiaobao. Seeing they were only having four ordinary dishes, Wei Xiaobao thought, “Shifu is a great hero, but the way he eats is so casual.” Since he knew the poison inside his body had been repelled, his heart was free from worry; he ate and served his Shifu with smile on his face, he looked genuinely happy.

After dinner, Wei Xiaobao poured tea for his Shifu. Chen Jinnan took several sips, and then said, “Xiaobao, my wish for you is that you will be a good child. As soon as I have free time, I am coming back to Beijing to teach you martial art.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Alright,” Chen Jinnan said, “You’d better return to the Palace now. The Tatars are very sly, although you are very smart, after all, you are very young; you must be very careful in everything.”

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I feel very stifled living in the Palace, when can I go roaming the Jianghu with you?”

Chen Jinnan stared at his face and said, “You must endure patiently for several more years, and set up several great merits for our Society. By that time … in several more years your voice will change, your facial hair will grow, then you can’t pretend to be an eunuch anymore. By that time you can get out of the Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Whether I do good deeds or bad deeds in the Palace, none of you will know. If you are thinking of deposing me of the Xiangzhu position, it’s not going to be easy. In the future I will be a grown up, my martial art will have been trained well, perhaps by then you won’t want to depose me.” Thinking hither, he was happy. “Yes, yes,” he said, “Shifu, I am leaving.”

Chen Jinnan stood up; holding Wei Xiaobao’s hand he said, “Xiaobao, the Tatars have the situation under control, this great undertaking of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming is very difficult. In the Palace, you are in the face of danger at all times. You are such a young child, you haven’t learned any real ability, actually, I am quite worried over you. It’s just that since we already entered Tian Di Hui, ourselves do not belong to us anymore; as long as it is beneficial to our movement of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming, even if we fully aware there is a pit in front of us, we must still jump in. It’s a pity … it’s a pity that you cannot stay by my side often, so I can teach you well. I only hope that in the future you can spend more time with me. Right now our Society’s brethrens respect you because they are looking at my face, but I cannot look after you for the rest of your life. In the future, whether people will respect you, whether they will look up at you, it all depends on you.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Losing my face is not important, but I must not disgrace Shifu.”

Chen Jinnan shook his head, “You must never lose your face,” he said.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I lose Xiao Guizi’s face is alright. Xiao Guizi is a Tatar eunuch, so if we lose Xiao Guizi’s face, we are losing a Tatar’s face; then we are fighting the Qing restoring the Ming.” Chen Jinnan heaved a deep sigh; in all honesty he did not know how he was going to teach Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao returned to the Palace and went back to his room. Songgotu had handed him several dozens of banknotes, altogether there were four hundred sixty six thousand five hundred taels. Wei Xiaobao looked carefully at these bank notes over and over, in his heart he was very happy. What happened was: in order to curry Wei Xiaobao’s favor, Songgotu had originally promised him four hundred fifty thousand taels; after Oboi’s property was sold, the price was actually higher than the initial estimate by more than ten thousand taels.

Wei Xiaobao looked at the banknotes for quite a while before putting them away. And then fetching out the martial art manual Chen Jinnan gave him, he followed the secret passed on to him by sitting cross-legged and started to practice. When looking at the print of numbers in silver and vermillion ink on the banknotes, his expression was beaming and buoyant, but as soon as he looked at the martial art theory, instantly his interest waned, much less from among hundreds of characters written on the book, he did not recognize even a single one. After practicing for less than an hour he felt his mind blurry and his eyes tired; he dropped onto his bed and fell asleep immediately.

When he woke up the next morning, he went straight to the Upper Study Room to wait on the Emperor. Upon returning to his room, he practiced again; but before long he unexpectedly fell asleep again. The martial art Chen Jinnan taught him was extremely not easy to learn; without an enormous willpower, it would be hard for him to pass the first obstacle. Wei Xiaobao was intelligent and astute, but he lacked the willpower to do anything. As soon as he sat and started to practice, he felt the difficulty was incomparable; he became drowsy and wanted to sleep.

By the time he awoke, it was already in the middle of the night. He thought, “Shifu told me to practice, but his martial art is extremely tedious. But if I goof off and do not practice, next time I see Shifu and he ask me, he would find out I do not make the least bit of progress, and then he would be greatly dissatisfied. Perhaps he would even strip me of my Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu position.”

He got up, picked up the book and looked again, then sat cross-legged and practiced according to the theory. Before long, his eyes grew very heavy again; he was unable to resist his desire to sleep. “They have planned to tear down the bridge after crossing the river anyway,” he thought, “It doesn’t matter if I am a great bridge of blue stone slab, or a rotten wood log bridge, they will still tear it apart. It doesn’t matter if I practice martial art or not.” Since he had found an excuse not to train, his heart was relieved; hence he dropped his head and fell asleep, snoring loudly.

Since he did not have to practice martial art, he passed his days freely and leisurely. When the twelve pills were gone, the pain in his lower abdomen had also disappeared. During the day he would wait on Kangxi at the Upper Study Room for several hours, and whenever he was free, he would throw dice with Wen brothers and the others. Presently he was a rich and powerful person with wealth of several hundred thousand taels, hence he did not need to cheat in throwing dice; however, gambling against these ‘cattle’, he would feel an unspeakable discomfort if he did not cheat. Naturally Wen brothers, Ping Wei, Lao Wu, and the others owed him more and more money. Lucky for them that Wei Xiaobao had never demanded payment, plus Hai Tianfu was no longer alive, so that even though Wen brothers and the others were heavily in debt, they were not too worried.

As for the business of the Catering Department, he had his subordinate eunuchs doing the work. Each month on the second and sixteenth days the eunuch manager would deliver four hundred taels to Wei Xiaobao’s room. At this time Songgotu had already distributed several tens of thousands taels on Wei Xiaobao’s behalf to the imperial concubines, eunuchs with authority, and the imperial bodyguards all over the Palace. Wei Xiaobao’s face, as well as the fact that he was Kangxi’s favorite, was already well-known. In the last several months, he had quite a reputation within the Palace, everybody who met him would smile and greet him.

The autumn passed, the winter came, each day the weather was growing colder. This day Wei Xiaobao went down from the Upper Study Room, when he suddenly remembered, “Shifu says that if I have something, I should go to the Heavenly Bridge and contact the plaster seller, Old Xu. Although I don’t have anything in particular, there is no harm in exchanging those secret dialogue, those ‘The earth shakes high mound, a mountain creek is elegant for all eternity, the gate faces the ocean, the three rivers and the water will flow for ten thousand years’; it would be fun. Hey, you want three taels of gold and three taels of silver for this plaster, that’s too expensive! Will you sell it for five taels of gold and five taels of silver? Ha ha, ha ha …!”

He went out of the Palace gate and wandered around along the streets. Passing in front of a teahouse, he saw a storyteller was doing his presentation, so he strolled in and sat down to enjoy a pot of tea. The storyteller was narrating the ‘Heroic Deed Commentaries’, the part where Zhu Yuanzhang was having the great battle on Lake Poyang against Chen Youliang; how Zhou Dian carried Zhu Yuanzhang to another boat, how Chen Youliang’s battleship bombarded the ship Zhu Yuanzhang was originally riding and blew it up. Wei Xiaobao was very familiar with this story since he had heard it before, plus the storyteller’s rendition was not very good. Nevertheless, once he sat down, he was listening to the story for the most part of an hour. Strolling to the east and visiting the west, it was already dark, he did not get to visit the Heavenly Bridge that day.

The second day and the third day he did not go out at all. Every night just before bed he would promise himself, that the next day he would see that Old Xu. However, he would spend the next day either gambling, listening to the storytellers, or just wandering around the street recklessly wasting his money. These days he simply lived his free and unrestrained, merry life in the Palace. Being a court eunuch was definitely a lot more agreeable to him than being a Tian Di Hui’s Xiangzhu or Chouzhu. He knew this thought was utterly lack of prospect, so he did not dare to indulge in this thought too often. Occasionally he would remember but he always consoled himself, “I do not have anything to report anyway, why should I see the Old Xu? If the secret leaks out, my losing my little life is unimportant, but Tian Di Hui’s great undertaking will be jeopardized.” And so more than a month was passed this way.

This day Wei Xiaobao went to the teahouse to listen to the ‘Heroic Deed Commentaries’ again. The teahouse proprietor knew he was a court eunuch from the Palace, and he always left quite a lot of tips, so the proprietor always reserved the best seat for him, and served him the most fragrant tea. By this time Wei Xiaobao was already used to have people fawning on him; although the teahouse proprietor’s special treatment was not strange to him, the flattering and respectful words were still quite enjoyable to hear.

The storyteller on the stage was narrating the story of the great general Xu Da went into war and completely routed the Tatars troops that they rush back to Mongolia. It was the national capital, there were quite a number of Manchus in the teahouse, naturally the storyteller did not dare to openly use the word ‘Tatars’, he only used the term Yuan troops and Yuan generals; yet he spoke with such a gusto that his spittle flew everywhere. Wei Xiaobao was listening with rapt attention. Suddenly someone said, “Excuse me!” and sat on the empty chair on Wei Xiaobao’s tea table. Wei Xiaobao frowned, he was somewhat impatient.

The man said quietly, “Xiaoren have a very good medicinal plaster, which I want to sell to Gong-gong, would Gong-gong like to take a look?”

Wei Xiaobao turned his head around and saw a medicinal plaster on the table, half blue, half red; his heart was stirred. “What kind of plaster is this?” he asked.

The man replied, “This is medicinal plaster to get rid of virulent poison, to regain vision on both eyes.” Lowering his voice he said, “It has a name, it’s called ‘Drive Qing Restore Ming’ plaster.”

Wei Xiaobao turned his attention to the man; he was around thirty years old, with thriving heroic spirit, not at all like the old man Xu his Shifu had described to him. He became suspicious, so he asked, “How much do you want for this medicinal plaster?”

“Three taels of silver and three taels of gold,” the man replied.

“Would you sell it for five taels of silver and five taels of gold?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Isn’t that a bit too expensive?” the man replied.

“Not expensive, not expensive,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As long as it can really get rid of clear poison and restore clarity, even if I have to work like an ox or a horse for you, it is not expensive at all.”

The man pushed the medicinal plaster toward Wei Xiaobao and said in low voice, “Gong-gong, please step aside to talk.” Finished speaking, he stood up and walked out of the teahouse. Wei Xiaobao tossed two-hundred wen worth coins on the table, took the medicinal plaster, and walked out.

The man was waiting outside the teahouse; he walked toward the east, turned into an alley, and stopped. “The earth shakes high mound, a mountain creek is elegant for all eternity,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The gate faces the ocean, the three rivers and the water will flow for ten thousand years.” Without waiting for the man to reply, he asked him first, “Which hall by the red flower pavilion does Sire live?”

The man replied, “Xiongdi is from the Green Wood Hall.”

Wei Xiaobao asked, “How many fragrant incense sticks are burning in the hall?”

The man replied, “Three fragrant incense sticks!”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. He thought, “Your position is two levels below mine.”

The man cupped his fist and bowed, he said in a low voice, “Gege [‘older brother’ – used in a more intimate way] is the one burning five incense sticks in the Green Wood Hall, Wei Xiangzhu?”

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied; in his heart he said, “You are much older than I am, but you call me Gege; it’s really pleasant to hear, but why don’t you call me Yeye or Shushu [paternal grandfather and younger uncle, respectively]?”

The man said, “Xiongdi is surnamed Gao, called Yanchao, I am Wei Xiangzhu’s subordinate. I have long heard about Xiangzhu’s illustrious name, today we can meet, it is indeed my great fortune.”

Inwardly, Wei Xiaobao was very happy, he laughed and said, “Gao Dage is too kind. We all are brothers, there is no need to be polite.”

Gao Yanchao said, “There is a Dage by the surname Xu in our Hall who sells medicine at the Heavenly Bridge. Today he was beaten and is seriously injured; I came with a specific purpose to inform Wei Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he said, “I was busy in the Palace these days, I haven’t had time to go look for him. How is his injury? Who beat him?”

“This is not a convenient place for a detailed report,” Gao Yanchao said, “Would Wei Xiangzhu please come with me?” Wei Xiaobao nodded.

Passing through seven, eight streets, they reached an alley, where Gao Yanchao entered a drug store. Wei Xiaobao noticed the board above the door had five characters on it, but naturally he did not recognize even a single one, yet he did not need to examine the board carefully, presumably it was the name of the drug store; he simply followed Gao Yanchao into the store.

Behind the counter sat a fat shopkeeper. Gao Yanchao went up to him and whispered something into his ear. The fat storekeeper repeatedly replied, “Yes, yes!” Standing up, he nodded to Wei Xiaobao and said, “Honorable guest wants to buy superior quality drug ingredients, please come in!” He directed Wei Xiaobao and Gao Yanchao toward the inner hall, passed through several doors, then leaned over to lift open a trap door on the floor, revealing a hole with stone steps leading down.

Wei Xiaobao saw the hole was pitch-black, his heart was full of suspicions, “Are these two really Tian Di Hui brothers? I am afraid they are a bit unreliable. If downstairs is a room to slaughter Wei Xiaobao, won’t it be terrible?” But Gao Yanchao was right behind him, he simply could not shrink back, so without any choice he had to follow the shopkeeper walked into the tunnel. Fortunately the tunnel was quite short; after walking only a dozen or so steps, the shopkeeper pushed open a plank door, from which came a lantern light.

Wei Xiaobao walked in. It was a small room about ten chi square, there were five men sitting in that room, plus a man lying on a low couch. With the addition of the three of them, there was barely enough room to turn around. Fortunately the shopkeeper withdrew immediately.

Gao Yanchao said, “Brothers, Wei Xiangzhu has arrived!”

The five men inside the room cheered together; they stood up and bowed to salute. The underground room was too small, they all crowded together. Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the salute. He saw there was a Taoist priest among these people, whom he had met before, it was Priest Xuanzhen. Wei Xiaobao remembered that the priest had cracked a joke, telling Guan Anji to divorce his wife, the ‘100% real gold’. There was another man surnamed Fan, whom he also had met. Seeing these two familiar faces, Wei Xiaobao was relieved.

Gao Yanchao pointed to the man lying on the low couch and said, “Xu Dage is seriously injured, he is unable to get up to pay his respect.”

“You are too kind, you are too kind!” Wei Xiaobao said. He stepped forward to look at the man lying on the couch and saw that on his wrinkled face there was not the least bit trace of blood, his eyes were shut tight, his breathing was weak, and there were spots of blood on his white long beard. “I wonder who has injured Xu Dage?” he asked, “Is it … is it the Tatars’ eagle claws?”

Gao Yanchao shook his head, “It’s not,” he said, “It was people from Mu Palace of Yunnan.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Mu Palace of Yunnan?” he asked, “They … they are on our side, aren’t they?”

Gao Yanchao slowly shook his head and said, “Reporting to Xiangzhu Dage: Just now when Xu Dage was brought here into the Return Of Spring Drug Store, he spoke haltingly that two young men from the Mu Palace, both of them have the surname of Bai …”

“Surname Bai?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Aren’t they the descendant of four great generals of the Mu Palace?”

“Most likely,” Gao Yanchao replied, “Probably they are Bai Hansong and Bai Hanfeng brothers, the so-called ‘Twin Tree[2] of the Bai Clan’.”

“A pair of rotten woods,” Wei Xiaobao muttered to himself, “What’s so special about that?”

Gao Yanchao said, “From what Xu Dage was saying, they had a dispute over supporting Tang or supporting Gui, the more they talked, the more heated the argument, finally a fight broke. It was hard for Xu Dage‘s pair of fists to match four hands, hence he suffered a serious injury.”

“Two against one, it was not the conduct of a hero or a warrior,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What do you mean by Tang and Gui? Could it be … could it be …” He thought that ‘supporting Gui’ might mean they were supporting him, Xiao Guizi, but then he thought it was unlikely, so he did not say anything.

Gao Yanchao said, “The Mu Palace are King Gui’s followers, we Tian Di Hui are the subordinates of the King Tang, the Son of Heaven of the past. Xu Dage must have been arguing with them over the successor of the throne to such an extent as the argument turned into a fight.”

Wei Xiaobao still did not understand, “What King Gui’s followers, King Tang’s subordinates?”

Gao Yanchao said, “King Gui is not the rightful emperor ordained by heaven, our King Tang is the true heir of the Son of Heaven.”

Priest Xuanzhen understood Wei Xiaobao’s background; he knew the amount of information in Wei Xiaobao’s belly was limited, so he chimed in, “Wei Xiangzhu, when Li Zicheng broke into Beijing, he hounded Emperor Chongzhen to his death. Wu Sangui was leading the Qing troops to enter the pass and occupy our beautiful rivers and mountains. One after another loyal ministers and patriots across the country endorsed the descendant of Taizu Huangdi as the King. First it was King Fu who became the Emperor in Nanjing. Afterwards King Fu was harmed by the Tatars, our King Tang became the Emperor in Fujian; he was the one to whom Koxinga, the Zheng family, gave their allegiance to, naturally he was the true heir of the Son of Heaven. Who would have thought that another group of people in Guangxi and Yunnan was endorsing King Gui as the Son of Heaven, and yet another group of people in Zhejiang was endorsing King Lu to be the Emperor. All of them were phony sons of heaven.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “The sky cannot have two suns, the people cannot have two masters. If King Tang has become the Emperor, King Gui and King Lu cannot be the Emperor.”

“That’s right,” Gao Yanchao said, “What Wei Xiangzhu said is very true!”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “But the people of Guangxi and Zhejiang are seeking after riches and honor, in their strive they say that whoever gets their support is the true heir of the rightful emperor, so everybody has been fighting violently.” He sighed, and then continued, “Later on, King Tang, King Lu and King Gui met disaster one after another. Over the last several years, Jianghu heroes do not forget the Ming household, separately they try to find the descendants of these three kings, and regarded them as their masters, while continuing the great undertaking of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. King Gui’s followers supported King Gui’s descendants, King Lu’s followers supported King Lu’s descendants; they are called the Gui faction and the Lu faction; to them, we, Tian Di Hui are known as the Tang faction. All three factions, Tang, Gui, and Lu are fighting the Qing to restore the Ming. But only our Tian Di Hui is legitimate, those Gui and Lu factions are simply usurping the throne.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “I understand,” he said, “Those people from Mu Palace belong to the Gui faction, right?”

“Exactly,” Priest Xuanzhen said, “For the least dozen of years, the people from these three factions are continuously fighting each other.”

Wei Xiaobao recalled that day on the road north of Jiangsu they came across someone from  Mu Palace, who was very arrogant and rude. That man’s surname was also Bai, he wondered if he had any relation with these two rotten woods. At that time he saw how scared Mao Shiba was, so early on he already had dissatisfaction toward the Bai family. He said, “Since King Tang was already made the heir of the throne, they should not vie for it anymore. I heard Mu Gongye [‘master duke] was a very good man, I am afraid after the Senior returned to heaven, the people under his command were creating all these disturbance.”

Everybody in that underground room said together, “Wei Xiangzhu is absolutely right.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “The warriors of Jianghu look at Mu Tianbo, Mu Gongye‘s display of utter loyalty to his death that whenever we come across people from the Mu Palace we are 30% yielding to them. Thus, even any cat and dog from Mu Palace are all arrogant and conceited. You won’t find a better man than our Xu Dage, formerly he served under the rightful emperor King Tang; he is truly loyal and devoted, whenever the late emperor is mentioned, tears would flow from his eyes. It must be that the Mu Palace people were talking one thing or another and have insulted the late emperor. Otherwise, how could Xu Laoge fight those Mu Palace people?”

Gao Yanchao said, “Just before noon Xu Dage came to his senses for a while, he wanted all the brothers to vent his anger. Presently, Wei Xiangzhu is the only Xiangzhu within the Zhili[3] borders; according to our Society’s rules, in important matter such as this, we must report clearly to Wei Xiangzhu before taking any action. It’s not a big deal if we were dealing with Tatars’ eagle claws, the more we kill Tatars and eagle claws the better, our brothers would gladly sacrifice ourselves for our Society. But Mu Palace’s reputation in Jianghu is so resounding, plus they are on our side. If we go to negotiate with them, we might end up waging a war with them. What will the consequences be, it is hard to say.”

“Mmm,” Wei Xiaobao mumbled noncommittally.

Gao Yanchao continued, “Xu Dage said that he has been waiting for Wei Xiangzhu‘s visit; he has been waiting for several months. Sometimes he saw Wei Xiangzhu on the street or in the market buying things, sometimes he saw you sitting in the teahouse listening to stories.”

Wei Xiaobao’s face blushed slightly. “So he has seen me,” he said.

Gao Yanchao said, “Xu Dage said that according to Zongduozhu‘s order, if Wei Xiangzhu has anything he needed, he will go to look for him. Therefore, although Xu Dage has seen Wei Xiangzhu, he did not dare to come forward and introduce himself.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, he cast a glance toward the old man lying on the couch and mused, “Turns out this old fox has been following me in secret. He had early on seen me buying things and eating indiscriminately on the street, spending money recklessly. Damn it, someday he will see my Shifu and will definitely tell tales. It would be best if this old fox won’t recover from his injury and die!”

“We talked about this, and had no choice but to ask Wei Xiangzhu‘s presence and preside over this matter,” Priest Xuanzhen said.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I am but a child, what matter can I possibly preside over?” But seeing these people were so respectful toward him, in his heart he could not help but feeling very proud of himself. When he first joined Tian Di Hui, besides his Shifu, the other nine Xiangzhu were all much more senior than him. Presently, his position was the highest among these people, suddenly he felt his body was as light as a feather.

A thick and solid middle-aged man indignantly said, “We are 30% yielding to the Mu Palace people, it is indeed out of deep respect toward Mu Gongye‘s loyalty and self-sacrifice for the country. Speaking about great undertaking of overthrowing the imperial court, perhaps our Koxinga was ten times better than Mu Wangye.”

The one surnamed Fan, Fan Gang said, “I respect you five chi, you should respect me one zhang. When we are polite to them, how can they be more arrogant instead? If we do not sort this matter clearly, later on when Mu Palace step on our Tian Di Hui’s head, we won’t be able to stand up, how can we lift our head high when dealing with them?”

One said a word, the other said a sentence, everybody was very angry. Priest Xuanzhen said, “How to handle this matter, everybody must listen to Wei Xiangzhu‘s instruction.” If he wanted Wei Xiaobao to imitate the dog and steal the chicken or swindle people, Wei Xiaobao would have come up with some ideas; but facing an important matter like this and his decision was expected, it would be the same as telling him to make a fool of himself on the spot. However, he was indeed a disciple of Chen Jinnan, one of the ten Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui, within the whole region of Zhili, he was the leader of Tian Di Hui brethrens; that old man surnamed Xu and those other people were Green Wood Hall members, subordinates under his personal command. Immediately everybody’s eyes were on his face; he could not help but feeling embarrassed. “Hot piece mama,” he cursed in his heart, “What … what shall I do?”

In his embarrassment, he looked at their faces one by one, trying to look for a clue, perhaps he would find an idea. When his gaze met with that of the sturdy man, suddenly he saw the corners of the man’s mouth showed a faint smile, while his eyes revealed a sly look. This man was raising a clamor just a moment ago, his breast was filled with fury, how could he suddenly be happy? Thinking hard, he suddenly remembered, “Aiyo! Hot piece mama, this bunch of sons of a b1tch does not have good intentions; they want me to carry the rotten wood on my shoulder. They want to fight the Mu Palace people, but are afraid my Shifu would blame them, so they asked me to come and take the initiative for them.” The more he thought, the more he was convinced that he was right. “I am only a teenage child,” he mused, “Although I am the Xiangzhu, how can my idea really surpass theirs? They only want to make me their shield to block the arrow; it’s alright if nothing bad happens, but if thing goes bad, they would push the blame on my head, saying, ‘It was the Green Wood Hall Wei Xiangzhu who leads everybody to do it; Xiangzhu’s order, we did not dare not to obey.’ Humph, they want to find bones in the egg to depose me of my Xiangzhu position. I lead everybody to fight Mu Palace people, regardless of who wins who loses, it is indeed a very big bone. Alright, hot piece mama, laozi will not fall into this trick.”

He lowered his head, pretending to contemplate; after a while, he said, “All Gege, although Xiaodi is the Xiangzhu, it was because accidentally I killed Oboi, I do not have the least bit of talent, let alone any good plan. In my opinion, it is best if we ask Priest Xuanzhen to offer an advice; certainly he is much wiser than me.” This move of his was called ‘pushing the boat with the current’, he wanted to push the rotten wood onto Priest Xuanzhen’s shoulder.

Priest Xuanzhen chuckled; turning toward Fan Gang he said, “Fan San Ge’s [third older brother] brain is a lot more brilliant than mine; what do you think?”

Fan Gang was a straightforward man; he said, “I’ll say there is no other way; we must find the surnamed Bai’s home, if they kowtow to Xu Dage and apologize, we’ll let all matters rest. Otherwise, humph, humph, perhaps we will be forced to use peaceful measures before using force.”

It was precisely what everybody had in their minds; its just that in Jianghu, the Mu Palace’s prestige was quite thriving, plus they were their compatriots in fighting the Qing to restore the Ming, so nobody was willing to be the first to propose the idea. As soon as Fan Gang said those words, several people immediately parroted, “Right! Right! Fan San Ge is right; naturally it will be best if we can avoid violence, otherwise our Tian Di Hui will be bullied by others. Could it be that when people beat us up like this we’ll just let it go?”

Wei Xiaobao turned to Priest Xuanzhen and the other man and said, “What do the two of you think?”

The man said, “This is called ‘forced to climb the beam, we have no choice but to catch up’.” Priest Xuanzhen smiled and nodded, but decline to make any comment.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You don’t want to speak, in the future you can deny any responsibility. I will definitely make you responsible.” Thereupon he asked, “Priest Xuanzhen, you are thinking that Fan San Ge‘s idea is not too appropriate, aren’t you?”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “It’s not that it is inappropriate, it’s just that everybody has to think it through; if we are going to fight the Mu Palace people, first, we must not lose, second, we cannot kill anybody. If someone get killed, this matter will turn very serious.”

Fan Gang said, “So be it. But what if Xu Dage died because of his serious injury?” Priest Xuanzhen simply nodded again.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am asking everybody to propose a plan. All Gege have a lot of knowledge and experience, you have eaten a lot more salt than the rice I ate, you have passed a lot more bridges than the road I walked, the idea you can think of will definitely a lot better than I can come up with.”

Priest Xuanzhen cast a glance at him, he said indifferently, “Wei Xiangzhu is amazing!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Priest, you are not bad yourself.”

They talked over this matter for a while, the basic idea was still according to Fan Gang’s proposal, they asked Wei Xiaobao to lead them in finding the Mu Palace people’s whereabouts and condemn them. They would all bring concealed weapons, but would try to exercise forbearance as much as possible, to have full control of the situation. It would be better if the Mu Palace people start the fight, then they would have the pretext of retaliation.

Priest Xuanzhen said, “There is no harm in us inviting several famous martial art masters in Beijing to come with us, we can ask them to be the witness, to avoid a rumor from spreading, saying that we, Tian Di Hui, are taking unfair advantage of other people. If right or wrong is unclear, I am afraid in the future Zongduozhu will blame us.”

“That’s wonderful,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “We need to invite those with high skill, the more the better.” He recalled how at the restaurant along the way north of Jiangsu that man surnamed Bai from the Mu Palace threw chopsticks one by one and made Wu Sangui’s men fell down on the ground, right now that scene was so vivid in his mind. If once again they do the ‘blowing copper horn and crossing the river, shooting the elephants with rocket’ trick, although within the city of Beijing they could not dispatch the elephant formation, but even with only mice formation, the Green Wood Hall’s Wei Xiangzhu would not be able to escape unscathed. He was just thinking of making an excuse so he would not have to go, but had not found any idea; suddenly he heard Priest Xuanzhen’s suggestion to invite renowned Beijing’s martial art masters to come along, it was exactly what he was hoping for.

With a slight smile Priest Xuanzhen said, “We only invite those masters with respectable reputation, not to ask them to help us fighting; whether they have good martial art skill or not is secondary.”

Gao Yanchao said, “Those with respectable reputation will most likely have high level of martial art skill.” He was in support of Wei Xiaobao. Priest Xuanzhen nodded.

“Which martial art masters will we invite?” Fan Gang asked. They immediately discussed who they were going to ask to come along. The persons invited must have quite a reputation in Wulin, must have had no dealings with the authorities, and must have had somewhat favorable relationship with Tian Di Hui.

After this matter was decided, they were just about to separately invite the people, when all of a sudden the old man Xu groaned, “No … no … must not invite any outsiders.”

Fan Gang said, “Xu Dage, did you say we must not invite any outsiders?”

The old man Xu said, “Wei Xiangzhu serves … serves as a government official in the Palace, this … this matter must not leak out. This … this is a matter of … a matter of life and death.”

Hearing this, they all realized he was right. Wei Xiaobao was a court eunuch in the Palace, naturally it was under Zongduozhu‘s order, there must be a major secret scheme behind it. Once an outsider know about it, it would be difficult to prevent rumors from spreading.

Fan Gang said, “Wei Xiangzhu does not need to personally come with us. We are going to talk reason with those two surnamed Bai men; whatever the outcome, we’ll report to Wei Xiangzhu when we come back.”

At first Wei Xiaobao was rather afraid of the Mu Palace, but since they were going to invite several famous martial art masters of Wulin world to come with them, it was like a guaranteed victory without any possibility of defeat; just like gambling with those ‘cattle’ using mercury-loaded dice, how could he bear to be left out? Thereupon he said, “It won’t be fun if I don’t go. Just don’t tell the outsiders my real name and status.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “If Wei Xiangzhu change his outfit and go in disguise, nobody will know that he works in the Palace …”

Before he even finished, Wei Xiaobao had already clapped and cheered; “Wonderful! Wonderful!” he repeatedly shouted. This idea was exactly what he needed. To visit someone’s house and create trouble was already very amusing, creating trouble after dressing up was even more interesting. Originally everybody else was thinking that if it wasn’t the fact that Wei Xiangzhu was their leader, he would be more of a liability to them; but seeing his enthusiasm and his determination to come along, nobody raised any objection.

The old man Xu said, “Everybody … everybody must be very careful. Wei Xiangzhu, what … what are you going to dress up as?” Everybody turned their eyes toward Wei Xiaobao, waiting to hear his idea.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Shall I dress up as a wealthy family boy, or shall I dress up as a little beggar?” At the brothel, he was quite envious to see the visitors of the courtyard, who were mostly the sons of rich and influential families, were dressed in magnificent and expensive looking clothing and personal adornments, but all along he had never had any opportunity to dress like that. After slight hesitation, he fished three banknotes, worth five hundred taels each, from his pocket and said, “Here I have a thousand five hundred taels; I must bother one Dage to buy me some clothes.”

Everybody was slightly startled; almost together several of them said, “But we won’t need that much money?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have the money, the more expensive the clothes the better, buy some jewelry too, when I wear all that, nobody will know that I am a Palace … a Palace’s little eunuch.”

“Wei Xiangzhu is right,” Priest Xuanzhen said, “Gao Xiongdi, go and buy some clothes for Wei Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao took out another banknote worth a thousand taels and said, “Spend some more money; it doesn’t matter.”

Seeing a little child with that much money in his disposal, everybody was secretly amazed. Whatever people say, nobody could have guessed that he still had more than four hundred thousand taels at home. Based on Wei Xiaobao’s original character, if he had two or three taels with him, he would not feel comfortable until he spent it all; but how would he spend more than four hundred thousand taels? To be able to buy magnificent and expensive clothes and be able to show off was indeed an opportunity that was hard to come by; he was very happy in his heart. Seeing the people’s dumbfounded expression, he put his hand into his bosom again.

When his hand came out, there were banknotes in his palm, worth three thousand and five hundred taels, which he handed over to Priest Xuanzhen, saying, “Today is the first time Xiongdi meets all Dage, I do not have any present for you. I got this money from that Tatars’ place over there, it’s all ill … ill money [Book note: he was thinking of saying ‘ill-gotten gain’ 不义之财, but this phrase was too hard, he was unable to remember the rest.], I am asking everybody to help me spend it.”

Tian Di Hui’s rules were strict; taking other people’s property was strictly prohibited. Fan Gang, Gao Yanchao and the others had been poor for a long time, suddenly seeing Wei Xiangzhu drew out that much banknotes and explicitly stated that it was the Tatars’ ill-gotten wealth, which must be true since he was working in the Qing Palace, everybody could not help but cheering loudly.

Priest Xuanzhen said, “We must separately invite those people; it is too late today. Wei Xiangzhu, all of us will respectfully wait for your honorable self in here, I wonder what time will you be able to arrive.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have work to do in the morning, I will definitely be here in the afternoon.”

“Very good,” Xuanzhen said, “We’ll meet here tomorrow afternoon, and then we’ll leave together to settle the account with those two surname Bai’s.”

That night Wei Xiaobao’s heart was unbearably itchy, he jumped up and down in his room, gesticulating while talking to himself. The next morning, from the Upper Study Room he hurriedly went to a jewelry store to buy a big emerald ring, and asked the shop owner to attach a large piece of white jade and four perfectly round pearls onto his satin cap. Just like that he spent more than four thousand taels. Seeing the rich customer was a court eunuch from the Palace, the shop owner did not have the slightest suspicion, since when people from the Palace bought jewelry, ten times that amount was not uncommon.

Wei Xiaobao hurried back to Hui Chun Tang [Return of Spring Hall] drug store, everybody else had been waiting for him in the basement. They reported that they managed to invite Bejing’s four well-known martial art masters to come with them as their witnesses. Each one of those masters received two hundred taels for their trouble. Wei Xiaobao mused, “Wealth brings people, calamity drives away people; these four martial art masters will have to help us. It’s just that two hundred taels as a thank you gift is too few, it would be better if they receive five hundred taels each. Four martial art masters are too few, it would be better to invite sixteen.”

Gao Yanchao produced some clothes, shoes and socks for Wei Xiaobao to change into, each one was utterly luxurious; the outer long-gown was lined with fire fox fur, the collar and the sleeves were lined with glossy and bright-colored fur. Gao Yanchao said, “I asked them to alter the fur gown into smaller size in the same night, I paid them three taels and six qian extra.”

“Not expensive, not expensive,” Wei Xiaobao repeatedly said. There was an azure-colored satin magua [a buttoned mandarin jacket of the Qing Dynasty]; it had ten buttons made of real gold; yet in spite of this extravagant attire, Gao Yanchao did not even spend half of the money Wei Xiaobao had given him.

Wei Xiaobao had been living in the Palace for close to a year. Residence alters character, nurturing alters body; he ate proper food and gained a lot of knowledge and experience, and for the last half a year he had been the head of the Catering Department, he had more than a hundred eunuchs at his disposal, so for quite a while he was accustomed to be a leader. Presently he was dressing up in fancy clothes; although he still had a rather tacky impression of a nouveau riche, his style was by no means appeared ordinary. With his exuberant manner, he had distinguished himself from Fan Gang, Gao Yanchao and other warriors of the wilderness.

A sedan chair had been prepared, waiting outside the door. They asked Wei Xiaobao to ride on it, so that while traveling on the street in disguise, he would not come across a eunuch or court official from the Palace. Their entourage went to the Wusheng Escort Agency at Dongcheng district first, to rendezvous with the four martial art masters. Of these four martial art masters, the first one was the headmaster of Beijing Tantui[4] School, Old Master Ma Boren, a member of Qingzhen Cult; the second one was a famous physician Yao Chun. When the Old Xu was injured, he was treated by this physician. This man was not only a famous physician, his qinna and close-combat skill was also profound. The third one earned the nickname of ‘Tiger-face Overlord’, Lei Yixiao; his iron-armor skill was very famous. The fourth one was none other than the head escort of the Wusheng Escort Agency himself, the Golden Spear Wang Wutong.

Ma Boren and the others, four people, had already learned that Tian Di Hui’s leader Wei Xiangzhu was very young. When they met, they were very surprised to see that he looked like a teenager from a powerful and wealthy family. However, they all respected Chen Jinnan’s great name, thinking that although the disciple of Tian Di Hui’s Zongduozhu was very young, certainly he had an astonishing skill, hence they did not dare to belittle him.

After drinking some tea at the escort agency office, they continued their journey together to the Willow Tree Lane where the two surnamed Bai men resided. Wei Xiaobao, Ma Boren and Yao Chun three people rode on sedan chairs, while Lei Yixiao and Wang Wutong rode horses; the rest of the entourage accompanied them on foot. Priest Xuanzhen, Fan Gang, and the others were famous characters, Wang Wutong wanted to let them use his horse, but Xuanzhen was afraid they would attract attention, so he adamantly refused.

Finally they arrived outside a vermillion-painted gate of a large house on Willow Tree Lane. Gao Yanchao was about to step forward to knock on the door when suddenly they heard faint weeping sound coming from inside. Everybody was startled, they saw by the main gate there were two white lanterns, a sign that the family was in mourning. Gao Yanchao knocked the knocker ring lightly on the door. After a while the gate opened, an old housekeeper came out. Gao Yanchao presented five name cards, which they had prepared beforehand, and said, “Several friends from Wusheng Escort Agency, Tantui School and Tian Di Hui are here to pay their respect to Bai Da Xia and Bai Er Xia [Great Hero and Second Hero, respectively].”

As soon as the housekeeper heard three words ‘Tian Di Hui’, he raised his eyebrows and shot an angry look while he glowered at everybody. Receiving the visiting cards, without saying anything he went back in.

Although Ma Boren was already old, his temper was actually quite fiery; unable to restrain his anger he said, “This servant is very rude.”

“Ma Laoye [old master/gentleman] is exactly right,” Wei Xiaobao said. He was actually very afraid of the Mu Palace people, he was hoping that Ma Boren, Wang Wutong and the others would stand by his side, so that when the fight broke later on, he would have several capable helpers.

Quite a while later, a man about twenty-six or twenty-seven years old came out. He was very tall, his entire body was covered in mourning garment; his eyes were red as the tears in his eyes had not dried up. Cupping his fist he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, Ma Laoyezi, Wang Zongbiaotou [Head escort], gentlemen, it is an honor to have you here, welcome. Bai Hanfeng pays his respect to you.” Everybody also cupped their fists to return the salute.

Bai Hanfeng led everybody to the main hall. Ma Boren was most impatient; he asked, “Bai Er Xia, you are wearing mourning attire, I wonder which family member of yours has passed away?”

Bai Hanfeng replied, “It’s my older brother Hansong who was unfortunate and died.”

Ma Boren stomped his foot. “What a pity, what a pity!” he said, “The two Bai brothers were Mu Palace’s heroes and brave generals, who were greatly well-known in Wulin. Bai Da Xia was in the prime of his life, I wonder what illness did he suffer?”

They had just entered the main hall and were not seated yet, hearing this, Bai Hanfeng suddenly turned around, it was as if his eyes were shooting fire. “Ma Laoyezi,” he said harshly, “Zaixia regards you as a Wulin senior, and thus has treated you with due respect. You are asking something you already know, are you ridiculing me?”

Wei Xiaobao was taken aback that Bai Hanfeng got so angry suddenly; he was scared and took a step back. Ma Boren stroked his white beard and said, “That’s strange! Laofu [lit. old man – referring to self] did not know, hence I asked. What do you mean asking something I already know? Bai Er Xia‘s older brother has just died, even if your heart is full of sorrow, there is no need to have a fit of temper to this old man!”

‘Humph,” Bai Hanfeng snorted and said, “Please sit down!”

Ma Boren mumbled to himself, “Fine, I’ll sit down, do you think I am scared?” Turning to Wei Xiaobao he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, please take the seat of honor.”

“No, Ma Laoyezi should take the seat of honor!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

When Bai Hanfeng looked at the visiting cards, he knew that among his guests there was a Xiangzhu of the Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall, Wei Xiangzhu; but he had never imagined that this teenager was the Wei Xiangzhu, he was surprised and angry. Reaching out, he grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s left wrist and shouted, “You are Tian Di Hui’s Wei Xiangzhu?”

The force behind this grab was extraordinarily strong, Wei Xiaobao felt the pain penetrated his bone. “Ah!” he screamed, two streams of tear involuntarily flowed down his cheeks.

Priest Xuanzhen said, “Please release your guest, Bai Er Xia took too much advantage of others!” Stretching out his finger, he jabbed Bai Hanfeng’s side.

Bai Hanfeng blocked with his left hand while releasing Wei Xiaobao’s wrist at the same time and took a step backward. “Please forgive my offense,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao looked very distressed; he wiped the tears with his sleeve. It was totally beyond Bai Hanfeng’s expectation; Ma Boren, Wang Wutong, as well as Tian Di Hui people were also surprised. They could see that although Bai Hanfeng’s grab was very swift and fierce, it was not something that cannot be evaded. Yet as the disciple of Chen Jinnan, not only this Wei Xiangzhu did not dodge, he screamed and shed some tears too; it was truly a great marvel in the Wulin world. Xuanzhen, Fan Gang, Gao Yanchao, and the others were blushing to their ears, they were greatly ashamed.

“I am sorry!” Bai Hanfeng said, “Elder brother was unfortunate to be killed under Tian Di Hui’s evil scheme, Zaixia’s heart is grieved …”

“What?” before he could finished, everybody exclaimed one after another, “Bai Da Xia is killed by Tian Di Hui?” “How can there be such thing?” “There is absolutely no such thing.”

Suddenly Bai Hanfeng stood up and loudly said, “You say there is absolutely no such thing, are you saying that my Gege did not die? Come, I want all of you to take a look.” Stretching out his hand, he was about to grab and pull Wei Xiaobao’s left arm. But this time Priest Xuanzhen and Fan Gang were prepared; as soon as Bai Hanfeng’s right arm moved, the two of them, one toward his chest and the other toward his back, attacked simultaneously.

Immediately Bai Hanfeng turned his body sideways and took a step back, while his palms struck out right and left. Xuanzhen raised his left palm and struck with right palm; in the meantime, Fan Gang had already exchange a blow with Bai Hanfeng. Bai Hanfeng turned around and aimed for Xuanzhen’s throat. Xuanzhen leaned sideways to evade. Bai Hanfeng fiercely said, “My Dage died under your hands, I don’t want to live anymore. Tian Di Hui’s dogs, come up together!”

The famous physician Yao Chun sprang up and spread out his arms to block. “Wait, don’t fight!” he said, “There is a misunderstanding here. Bai Er Xia keeps saying that Bai Da Xia was killed by Tian Di Hui, but what had really happened? Please explain to us clearly.”

“All of you come with me!” Bai Hanfeng said, and walked in big strides toward the inner hall. Everybody thought that since their number was greater, they were not afraid he might have any plot or trick, they followed him inside.

As soon as they reached the courtyard, they all halted on the spot. They saw the rear hall was arranged as a mourning hall, with a coffin behind the mourning curtains, and a dead body lying inside the coffin; half of the body’s head, as well as its pair of feet, were visible. Bai Hanfeng raised the mourning curtains and called out in loud voice, “Gege, you died without your eyes closed, Xiongdi is going to kill several Tian Di Hui dogs to avenge you.” His voice was hoarse, obviously because he had been crying for a long time.

Wei Xiaobao went to see the dead person’s appearance and he was shocked. He had seen this person in that little restaurant along the way north of Jiangsu; he was the one striking Wu Sangui’s troops with chopsticks, his martial art skill excelled, it was hard to imagine that he would die in here. Immediately he thought that the opposite party had one less formidable persona; his shock was covered with a feeling a relief.

Ma Boren, Yao Chun, Lei Yixiao, Wang Wutong, four people stepped closer to the coffin. Wang Wutong was an acquaintance of Bai Hanfeng; he sighed and said, “Bai Da Xia has indeed passed away; what a pity!”

Yao Chun was a particularly cautious man, he stretched out his hand to check the dead body’s pulse on his wrist. With a cold laugh Bai Hanfeng said, “If you manage to get my Gege from the grave, I … I will kowtow to you twelve thousand times.”

Yao Chun sighed and said, “Bai Er Xia, the dead cannot come back to life; please restrain your grief. Are you sure it was Tian Di Hui people who harmed Bai Da Xia? Bai Er Xia has not made a mistake?”

“I … I made a mistake?” Bai Hanfeng screamed, “How can I make mistake?”

Seeing his grief was beyond ordinary sorrow, one could see that the brotherly bond between the two of them was very deep; they all could not help from feeling sorry for him, Fan Gang’s anger had subsided considerably, he thought, “His older brother is dead, no wonder he did not realize whether his action was light or heavy.”

With arms on his waist, Bai Hanfeng stood in the middle of the mourning hall and loudly said, “The one who killed my Gege was the old thief surnamed Xu who day by day sells medicinal plaster on the Heavenly Bridge. That old thief’s name is Xu Tianchuan, his bandit nickname is ‘Eight-armed Ape’, he is an officer in the Green Wood Hall of Tian Dihui, am I right? You still want to deny it?”

Fan Gang, Xuanzhen and the others looked at each other in blank dismay; they went to the Willow Tree Lane was actually to confront the two brothers of the Bai family, to inquire them why they injured somebody. Unexpectedly the older brother of the Bai family, Bai Hansong had died under Xu Tianchuan’s hands. Fan Gang sighed and said, “Bai Lao’er, Xu Tianchuan, Xu Dage is our Tian Di Hui brother, that is true, but he … he …”

“He what?” Bai Hanfeng asked harshly.

“He is seriously injured by the two of you, he is on his last breath, I don’t know if by this time he is still alive or already dead. To tell you the truth, the reason of our visit today is to inquire of you, two brothers, why did you beat our Xu Dage like that? Who would have thought … who could have imagined … ay …”

Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “Let’s not talk about this old thief surnamed Xu has not died, even if he has, the life of that old thief who is worse than a dog or a pig is not fit to make up for my Gege’s life.”

Fan Gang was also angry, “Your mouth is so filthy, what kind of Wulin hero are you? So what do you want?”

“I … I don’t know,” Bai Hanfeng screamed, “I want to butcher all of you, Tian Di Hui dog thieves, and make you mincemeat. I will die with you, we all will die together.” Turning around, he pulled a steel blade from the dead body’s side, and then he leaped up like a mad tiger, brandishing the saber wildly, making a loud ‘whoosh, whoosh’ noise. Tian Di Hui’s Fan Gang, Xuanzhen, and the others also unsheathed their weapons, they were prepared to meet the enemy. Wei Xiaobao hastily withdrew behind Gao Yanchao.

Suddenly a loud roar was heard, “Stop fighting!” The voice shook everybody’s ears that their eardrums were buzzing. They saw the ‘Tiger Face Overlord’ Lei Yixiao raised both of his hands, standing in front of the Tian Di Hui group. With a loud voice he said, “Bai Er Xia, if you want to kill people, just kill me first!”

This man had a good surname, his given name was also fitting[5]; his shout indeed had the power of jolting thunder. Bai Hanfeng was grieving of his brother’s death; his mind was somewhat abnormal, as soon as he heard the shout, his brain cleared up slightly. He said, “Why would I want to kill you? It wasn’t you who killed my Gege?”

“These Tian Di Hui friends are not your Gege’s killer either,” Lei Yixiao said, “Besides, all over the world, Tian Di Hui has at least two, three hundred thousand members; can you kill them all?”

Bai Hanfeng was startled, he shouted, “Killing one means one less, killing a pair means a pair less!”

Suddenly from outside the door came a faint noise of hoof beats; it sounded like more than ten riders were rushing their way. Yao Chun said, “Perhaps government soldiers, everybody, hide your weapons!” Seeing Lei Yixiao was blocking in front of them, Fan Gang, Xuanzhen, and the others knew that it would not be easy for Bai Hanfeng to pounce on them with brandished saber; hence they all hid their weapons.

Bai Hanfeng loudly said, “Even if the old man the emperor of heaven himself came, I am not scared.”

The hoof beats were drawing nearer and nearer toward the alley, and then the riders stopped abruptly in front of the main gate, followed by the knocker ring was pounded on the door. Someone outside called out, “Bai Er Di, it’s me!” A shadow flashed, a man jumped over the wall and rushed in.

This man was approximately forty years old, his bearing was imposing, but his expression greatly changed as with a trembling voice he said, “It’s really … really Bai Da Di … Bai Da Di …” [Da Di and Er Di are ‘first younger brother’ and ‘second younger brother’, respectively.]

Bai Hanfeng threw the steel blade in his hand and rushed out to meet him and called out, “Su Si Ge [fourth older brother], my Gege … my Gege …” Unable to continue, he broke in a bawl.

Ma Boren, Fan Gang, Xuanzhen and the others all thought, “Could it be that this man is the Mu Palace’s ‘Divine Physician Hermit’[6] Su Gang?”

At this moment the main gate was opened and about a dozen people, men and women, rushed in and ran straight toward the coffin. Several women immediately raised their voices in loud wailing. One young woman was Bai Hansong’s wife, another young woman was Bai Hanfeng’s wife.

Fan Gang, Xuanzhen, and the others felt awkward, they saw how these people were crying in extreme distress. If they did not leave now, after these people finished crying, even if they did not fight, unavoidably they would throw curses at them. Wei Xiaobao’s wrist was heavily gripped by Bai Hanfeng earlier, right now he felt the pain was still severe. Originally he wanted to take advantage of their number and told Xuanzhen, Fan Gang and the rest to catch Bai Hanfeng for him, so that at least he could kick his damn butt seven or eight times. Unexpectedly, the opposite party now had more people, so that if a fight broke, it would not be too convenient to them; his heart was thumping madly. He saw Xuanzhen was signaling him with his eyes, obviously Xuanzhen wanted to wipe the oil from their soles, by slipping out quietly. It was exactly what Wei Xiaobao had in his mind. Immediately he turned around and walked away, while saying, “Everybody, let’s go buy some yuanbao and candles, and come back here to pay respect to the dead!”

“Want to run away?” Bai Hanfeng shouted, “It’s not that easy.” Rushing forward, he sent his right palm fiercely toward Fan Gang’s back.

“Who wants to run away?” Fan Gang angrily said, while lifting his left arm to block, but he did not retaliate. Xuanzhen and the others halted their steps. But Wei Xiaobao continued running toward the gate; he wanted to make sure one of his feet was across the threshold before seeing what would happen next.

The man surnamed Su asked, “Bai Er Di, who are these gentlemen? Please forgive zaixia for not recognizing them.”

“They are Tian Di Hui dogs,” Bai Hanfeng replied, “My Gege … Gege was killed by them.” As soon as he blurted those words, the people who were prostrating and crying loudly suddenly leaped up. Continuous ringing was heard, weapons were flashing, instantly the guests were surrounded; even Ma Boren, Yao Chun, Lei Yixiao and Wang Wutong, four people were inside the encirclement.

Wang Wutong laughed aloud and said, “Ma Dage, Lei Xiongdi, Doctor Yao, since when did we join the Tian Di Hui? Based on our morality and conduct, I am afraid in the Tian Di Hui friends’ eyes we are not fit to carry their shoes.”

The middle-aged man surnamed Su cupped his fist. “So gentlemen are not from Tian Di Hui?” he asked, “This Doctor Yao, presumably your given name is Chun. Zaixia Su Gang. As soon as I learned that the older brother of Bai family had met a misfortune and died, from Wanping we rushed over here. In my grief I did not ask for guidance; this is indeed showing my lack in manners.” While saying that, he cupped his fist and bowed.

Wang Wutong also cupped his fist and bowed, “You are too kind, you are too kind,” he said, “Divine Physician Hermit, you have a fully justified reputation; you indeed have the knowledge and experience, and the bearing of a hero.” Right away he presented everybody present, one by one; the first one was naturally Wei Xiaobao. “This is Tian Di Hui Green Wood Hall’s Wei Xiangzhu.”

Su Gang knew that altogether Tian Di Hui had ten halls, each hall’s xiangzhu was a heroic warrior with unsurpassed skill; but this Wei Xiangzhu was obviously a teenager of a rich family whose smell of his mother’s milk had not yet dried, he could not help but was astonished, however, his face remained calm and collected. Cupping his fist he said, “An honor to meet you at last!”

Wei Xiaobao giggled and cupped his fist to return the propriety, from the threshold he walked back in. “Why is it an honor for you to meet me?” he asked.

Su Gang was startled; he said, “It’s an honor for Zaixia to meet Tian Di Hui’s ten Xiangzhu, each one is a hero and a warrior.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded; “So that’s how it is,” he said with a laugh. Seeing his cunning expression and sly tone, the doubt in Su Gang’s heart grew.

Presently Wang Wutong continued his introduction to the rest of the party. Su Gang also introduced the people who had come with him. Two were his two younger martial brothers; the three of them were martial brothers with the two brothers of the Bai family. And then there were several disciples of Su Gang. Madame Bai Hansong was leaning over her husband’s dead body and wept bitterly, Madame Bai Hanfeng was crying and comforting her at the same time. These women did not come over to be introduced.

Yao Chun said, “Bai Er Xia, what has exactly happened? How did the contention between Bai Da Xia and Tian Di Hui started? Would Bai Er Xia tell us?” He coughed, and then continued, “Wulin people are always looking up to the Mu Palace of Yunnan, Tian Di Hui’s internal rules are always very strict, neither one are capricious and unreasonable people. The whole world cannot forego this ‘reason’, the matter of today cannot be settled by fighting or using martial art. Here we have Old Master Ma, Lei Xiongdi, Wang Zongbiaotou, as well as the trivial Zaixia, granted that we have no special friendship with either side, but we always admire both sides’ reputation. Bai Er Xia, would you do it for out sake, how did it all happen?”

Wang Wutong said, “Not trying to conceal anything, I can tell you that the friends from Tian Di Hui really did not know that Bai Da Xia has passed away, otherwise, won’t you say that their visit would be embarrassing?”

“In that case,” Su Gang said, “For what reason did Wei Xiangzhu and other friends come to our humble place?”

Wang Wutong said, “We are not going to lie to you, Tian Di Hui friends said that their Xu Tianchuan, Xu San Ge has been beaten and seriously injured by Mu Palace people, so that he is already unable to speak. Hence they invited us, several old rotten men to accompany them to your respectable place to inquire the reason.”

Su Gang grimly said, “If that so, everybody’s visit here is to condemn us?”

“That we do not dare,” Wang Wutong said, “We make our living by mingling in the Jianghu, we entirely dependent on friends giving us face. Right or wrong, crooked or straight, it’s all a matter of public opinion, nobody can speak blindly against one’s conscience.”

Su Gang nodded. “Wang Zongbiaotou is right,” he said, “Please everybody come to the hall and talk.”

They all went to the main hall. Su Gang told his martial brothers and his disciples to sheathe their weapons. Bai Hanfeng was unwilling to lay down the steel blade in his hand. Su Gang let everybody sit, and then said, “Bai Er Di, what had really happened? Why don’t you tell it to everybody?”

Bai Hanfeng sighed, and then said, “The day before yesterday, in the afternoon …” He only said those words when he could not refrain anger from raising up, that he brandished the steel blade in his hand. Wei Xiaobao was startled and shrank back. Bai Hanfeng realized he had been too ill-mannered; with might he threw the steel blade to the ground. ‘Crash!’, it smashed two of the square bricks. With a heavy breathing he said, “In the afternoon the day before yesterday, Gege and I were having a drink in a wine shop on the Heavenly Bridge, when suddenly in came a government official with his four attendants. Those four attendants’ conduct were loathsome, they asked for wine, asked for dishes, but they were speaking in Yunnan dialect.”

“Oh,” Su Gang said.

Bai Hanfeng continued, “When Gege and I heard them speak, we focused our attention.”

Wang Wutong, Fan Gang, and the others knew that for generations Mu Palace had ruled Yunnan. Su Gang, Bai Hanfeng, and the others grew up in Yunnan. Hearing a local accent in Beijing, naturally they would pay more attention.

Bai Hanfeng continued, “My Gege listened for a while before he exchanged some greetings with the neighbor. Hearing that we are also from Yunnan, the government official invited us over and sit with him. Gege and I have left home for a long time, we wanted very much to hear news from our homeland. Seeing this government official had just arrived from Yunnan, we moved and sat with him. When we talked, the government official called himself Lu Yifeng, turns out he was on assignment, sent by Wu Sangui, to be the county head magistrate of Qujing County. He is from Dali in Yunnan. According to the rules, Yunnan native cannot be a local official in his own province. But this Lu Yifeng said that he was appointed by Ping Xi Wang, so he did not need to pay attention to the rules!”

Fan Gang could not refrain from cursing, “His granny, that big traitor to China Wu Sangui appoints a dog official, what a nerve!”

Bai Hanfeng cast him a glance, then he nodded and said, “This Fan … Fan Xiong said it well, at that time I also had such thought. But in order to hear more about our hometown situation, we flattered him several sentences instead. That dog official was even more complacent; he said that officials appointed by Wu Sangui are called ‘Western Elect’, meaning these officials are elected by Ping Xi Wang. All government officials in Yunnan, big and small, are appointed by Wu Sangui; even in Sichuan, Guangxi, Guizhou, three provinces, the western elects are more popular than those officials appointed by the Emperor himself.”

Hearing Bai Hanfeng was speaking with a labored breathing, Su Gang interrupted by explaining, “If there is any vacant post, the imperial court will appoint an official, Wu Sangui will also appoint an official. Whoever assumes the post first will get the position. Whenever there is any vacant high level position post in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Guangxi, for provinces, naturally Kunming would find out first; and sending someone from Kunming is definitely a lot quicker. As a result, officials from the imperial court always lag behind those ‘Western Elects’.”

Bai Hanfeng took a deep breath and continued, “The official said that Ping Xi Wang has rendered a great service to the imperial court. The Manchus were able to conquer our rivers and mountains, it was entirely due to Ping Xi Wang, therefore, the imperial court shows special favor to him. Whatever memorial to the throne Wu Sangui submitted, it has never been rejected.”

Wang Wutong said, “This official is actually telling the truth. Each time Xiongdi go into escort duty to the southwest provinces, I see it with my own eyes that people in Yunnan and Guangxi only know Wu Sangui, they do not know the Emperor.”

Bai Hanfeng said, “This Lu Yifeng said that according to the imperial court’s rules, all county head magistrates must go to the Capital to have an audience with the Emperor, the Emperor must personally confer the high official post. He came to Beijing, it was exactly to see the Emperor. He said that since Ping Xi Wang has already sealed his appointment, his coming to the Capital to see the Emperor is just a routine business. My Gege said, ‘Official Lu is taking an official post in Qujing, a native become a government official in his own province, naturally you will do the people a lot of good.’ That Lu Yifeng laughed aloud and said, ‘Naturally.’ Suddenly, someone sitting on another table butted in, that old … that old thief … my enmity with him is so deep …” While saying that, he suddenly stood up, his face was bulging and was very red.

Su Gang said, “It was the ‘Eight-armed Ape’ Xu Tianchuan who spoke?”

Bai Hanfeng nodded. “Ex … ex …” in his great anger, his throat choked, he was unable to speak. After a while he continued, “Exactly that old thief. He was sitting on a small table by the window, drinking wine. He butted in, saying, ‘A native become a government official in his own province, it is even more convenient to plunder the land.’ That old thief, we were talking to the official, who told him to be a blabbermouth?”

“Bai Er Xia,” Xuanzhen coldly said, “What Xu San Ge said was not wrong.”

“Humph,” Bai Hanfeng snorted. After a short pause he said, “What he said was not wrong, I did not say that what he said was wrong, but … but … who told him to meddle other people’s business? If he did not butt in, how could all these things happen?” Seeing he was short of breath, Xuanzhen did not say anything anymore.

Bai Hanfeng continued, “Hearing these words, Lu Yifeng flew into a rage; he slapped the table and turned his head, only to see that this old thief was a hunchback old man with wretched appearance. There was a medicine chest on the table, there was a medicinal plaster banner by his chair, so he was an old man who sells medicine. Lu Yifeng shouted, ‘You, old codger, what nonsense are you talking about?’ His four attendants have already scrambled over, they slapped the old thief’s table and rained curses on him. One servant grabbed him by his collar. I was so blind that I could not see that old thief has a profound martial art skill; I was thinking that because of righteous indignation he spoke those words to mock. Afraid that he might get the worst of it, I came over to advise him and in the process pushed those four attendants away.”

Xuanzhen praised him, “Bai Er Xia was thinking of benevolence and righteousness, it was indeed the conduct of a hero.” He thought that Bai Hansong had died, while although Xu Tianchuan’s injury was not light, he would most likely live, so it could be said that their side had had a small advantage. In a lot of things both sides had to make peace, so he flattered Bai Hanfeng a little bit to let him calm down.

Who would have thought that Bai Hanfeng was unwilling to accept his praise; he stared at him and said, “What hero? I am a coward[7]! I have eyes but failed to be a good judge of character, I failed to see that this old thief was treacherous and murderous, and still thought that he was a good man. That Lu Yifeng turned into his official mode, he cursed incessantly, shouting, ‘Rebellion! Rebellion!’ He said that there are indeed many wicked citizens in the Capital that must be punished severely.”

Fan Gang interrupted, “That official is just like a dog threatens based on his master’s power; it’s not enough for him to bully the common people in Yunnan, he also came to Beijing to bully people.”

“It’s not that easy to bully people,” Ban Hanfeng said, “That official shouted repeatedly, telling his attendants to bind the old thief and send him to the authority, to have him beaten by forty big planks, to put him in wooden stocks and expose him publicly. That old thief giggled and said, ‘Da Laoye, why do you shout and make a racket? Aren’t you straining yourself? Let me prepare a medicinal plaster for you.’ From his medicine chest he took a sheet of medicinal plaster, which he pressed between his palms, immediately afterwards he flattened up the herbal plaster, which was originally folded and lumped together. When at first I saw how this old thief was not afraid of the fiendish attendants at all, I had begun to have suspicion, now that I saw the strength of his hands with which he pulled the plaster, Gege and I looked at each other; I finally understood. The lump of ointment in the middle of the plaster was stiff and hard; it has to be baked over the fire for a long time before it can be pulled open. But he only pressed it between his palms for a short moment and used his internal energy to bake it and made the ointment soft, his power must be really extraordinary. When he flattened out the plaster, the ointment was steaming hot. But that Lu Yifeng did not realize it at all; he kept urging his attendants to go forward and arrest the man. I no longer care to stop those official’s lackeys, since they were only asking trouble for themselves. Seeing I stepped out of the way, one of the attendants pounced on that old thief. The old thief laughed and said, ‘Do you want medicinal plaster?’ while putting the plaster on the attendant’s hand. The attendant cursed, ‘Old dog, what are you doing?’ The old thief gave the attendant’s arm a push, the attendant’s body swiveled and ‘slap!’ the steaming hot plaster happened to stick onto that dog official, Lu Yifeng’s mouth …”

Hearing to this part, Wei Xiaobao could not show restraint anymore, he laughed and clapped his hands. Bai Hanfeng snorted and shot him a very fierce glare. Wei Xiaobao was scared and did not dare to laugh. “And then what happened?” Su Gang asked.

Bai Hanfeng said, “That dog official’s mouth was sealed by the plaster, he busily reached up to pull the plaster. The old thief pushed the four attendants away and said, ‘Go help Da Laoye!’ I heard a continuous ‘slap! slap! slap!’; the four attendants were like, I slap once, you slap once, they kept slapping that dog official. Turned out the old thief pushed and steered the four attendants’ arms, while transmitting his own strength, so that those four men’s palms were slapping the dog official. In just a short moment, the dog official’s cheeks were swollen red.” Wei Xiaobao burst out in laughter again, but he turned his head around, he did not dare to look at Bai Hanfeng.

Su Gang nodded, “That Xu Xiong has earned the nickname ‘Eight-armed Ape’. I heard his qin na skill is considered first class in Wulin; his reputation is indeed fully justified.” He thought that since Bai Hansong died in his hands, naturally this old man’s martial art skill was very high. By praising his martial art skill, he was trying to preserve the two brothers of the Bai family’s prestige.

Bai Hanfeng said, “Gege and I were amused; very soon we saw blood dripping from the dog official’s cheeks. There were many onlookers in the wine shop standing to see the excitement. The old thief kept yelling loudly, ‘Don’t hit, don’t hit! Da Laoye must not be hit! You are such brazen servants, underlings defy your superior, how can you beat your own Da Laoye?’ while he skipped and bounced around behind the four attendants, very much like a big monkey. When pushing the attendant’s arm, it looked like he was dodging instead. The onlookers could not see that he was playing a trick. It was not until that dog official fainted and fell down on the floor that he stopped and returned to his table. The four attendants still thought that they had bumped into some demon or meet some ghosts; they simply did not understand how they were beating their own Da Laoye, but the blood on their palms was real. The four of them stared blankly for a moment, and then they carried that dog official away.”

“Delighted, delighted!” Fan Gang said, “Wu Sangui’s lackeys should be punished like that. Xu San Ge beating that dog official thoroughly is precisely to vent the resentment of all common people in the world. Bai Er Xia, why didn’t you help him with several beatings of your own?”

Immediately Bai Hanfeng’s anger rose up again, he shouted loudly, “It was obvious that old thief was flaunting his skill, why would I want to help him? It was he who did the beating, not him taking a beating.”

Xuanzhen said, “Bai Er Xia is right, previously he did not know Xu San Ge knew martial art; didn’t he stand up bravely for the truth by blocking those dog official’s attendants from assaulting him?”

“Humph!” Bai Hanfeng snorted, and then continued, “After that dog official and his attendants left, my Gege called the restaurant’s shopkeeper and told him that he would compensate for all damaged tables, chairs and utensils, he also told him to put the old thief’s bill into our account. The old thief laughed and thanked him. My Gege invited him over to drink wine together with us. In a low voice the old thief said, ‘I have long admired the illustrious name of Song and Feng, virtuous brothers. It’s nice to meet you.’ Gege and I were startled, thinking that it turned out he had already known our origins, but we did not know who he was. My Gege said, ‘I am very ashamed, may I ask Laoyezi‘s respected surname and great given name?’ The old thief said with a laugh, ‘Zaixia Xu Tianchuan. Unable to keep my calm, I have shown off my meager skill in front of virtuous brothers’ expert eyes; it was truly laughable.’ By that time we still did not know what kind of man was this Xu Tianchuan, but we thought that since he had given a dog official some beatings, obviously he was someone who tread the same path as we do. If that dog official did not suffer those trashing, we, two brothers, would certainly give him some beatings ourselves. The three of us drank and chatted, we got along very well with each other. Since it was not convenient to have an in depth conversation in the restaurant, we invited him over here to have a meal.”

“Oh,” Fan Gang said, “So Xu San Ge came here? Was it in your respected abode that the fight started?”

“Who says we fought here?” Bai Hanfeng said, “How can we fight with a guest in our home? Isn’t that we are bullying others?”

Xuanzhen nodded and said, “The Bai brothers have heroic spirit and chivalrous frame of mind, definitely they won’t do such thing.”

Hearing Xuanzhen repeatedly praised him, eventually Bai Hanfeng nodded to him to express his gratitude. He said, “We, brothers invited the old thief to come here, we treated him with utmost respect, we asked him how he recognized us. He no longer conceal anything, he said that he belong to Tian Di Hui, as soon as we, brothers, arrived in Beijing, Tian Di Hui had already obtained the news, and that he longed to make friends with us. He beat the dog official in the restaurant, first, it was because he detests Wu Sangui, second, it was because he wanted to make friends with us. That old thief can talk really well, he deceived us, brothers, into thinking that he was a really good man. Afterwards we were speaking about fighting the Qing to restore the Ming. The more we talked, the three of us, no, two people and a dog, grew more in agreement with each other …”

Wei Xiaobao interjected, “Two people and a dog talked and grew more in agreement with each other is a very rare occurrence.” The others could not help feeling amused, but in front of Bai Hanfeng, they did not dare to laugh loudly.

Bai Hanfeng shouted angrily, “Little demon, you talk rubbish!”

“Bai Er Xia,” Fan Gang said, “Although Wei Xiangzhu is young, he is our Society’s Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu; everybody in our Society, from top to bottom, respects him very much.”

“So what if he is a Xiangzhu?” Bai Hanfeng said.

Su Gang tried to change the subject. “My Bai Xiongdi is deeply grieved by the death of his older brother, his speech is somewhat pressing with rage, I am asking everybody not to take offense. Wei Xiangzhu, please bear with him a little bit.” He thought that in Tian Di Hui, the Xiangzhu status was not a small matter; by calling him ‘little demon’, Bai Hanfeng was clearly in the wrong.

Bai Hanfeng was not a fool, he understood this subtle hint; averting his gaze from Wei Xiaobao he said, “Afterwards, the three of us …”

“No, the two of you and a dog,” Wei Xiaobao butted in again.

“You … you …” Bai Hanfeng angrily screamed. But in the end he was able to control his temper. Taking a deep breath he continued, “When the topic of our discussion reached fighting the Qing restoring the Ming, we talked about after the Tatars are wiped clean, we will support Emperor Hongwu’s descendant to sit of the dragon throne. My Gege said, ‘His Majesty returned to heaven in Myanmar, he was survived by the young crown prince. Contrary to what one might expect, he is actually very intelligent, wise and farsighted, and will make a brave ruler; presently he lives in seclusion in a remote mountain.’ But that old thief said, ‘The rightful emperor ordained by heaven is alive and well in Taiwan.'”

As soon as Bai Hanfeng quoted Xu Tianchuan, Su Gang, Yao Chun, Wang Wutong, and the others knew the disagreement between the two parties was over supporting Gui and supporting Tang. After the Emperor Suizhen hanged himself on Mount Mei and the Qing army crossed the pass, the members of Ming Dynasty’s imperial clan, King Fu, King Tang, King Lu and King Gui separately proclaimed themselves as Emperors in different places, the dispute had already started at that time. After each one of these Kings died, the followers of these kings still harbored hostility toward each other.

Bai Hanfeng continued, “When I heard the old thief spoke those words, I asked, ‘Since when did our young emperor go to Taiwan?’ The old thief said, ‘I was talking about Son of Heaven Longwu’s young emperor, not King Gui’s offspring.’ My Gege said, ‘Xu Laoyezi, you are a hero and a warrior, the two of us brothers admire you very much, it’s just that concerning an important matter of the world, your experience is actually lacking. When the Son of Heaven Suizhen died, King Fu stood on his own feet. When King Fu was taken prisoner by the Qing army, King Tang was unfortunate and died for his country. Our Son of Heaven Yongli was the king over the whole China. After the Son of Heaven Yongli died for his country, naturally his offspring will succeed the throne.'” Longwu was King Tang’s regnal name, Yongli was King Gui’s regnal name. They were all King Tang, King Gui’s former officials, naturally they were addressing their former masters by their regnal names.

Listening to this point, Fan Gang interrupted, “Bai Er Xia, please don’t be offended. After the Son of Heaven Longwu perished, all his other brothers died, he still has a sibling Son of Heaven Shaowu in Guangzhou. Yet King Gui dispatched troops to attack Son of Heaven Shaowu. They were all descendants of Taizu Huangdi, not fighting Manchu Tatars but fighting one’s own, isn’t that a big mistake, a blunder?”

Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “Wasn’t the way that old thief speak identical to yours? In the end, whose dispute is this? Our Son of Heaven Yongli properly sent an envoy to Guangzhou, ordering King Tang to remove his honorific title. Not only King Tang refuse to accept the imperial order, he sent troops to oppose the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ instead. This action of King Tang was obviously in rebellion, a treason and heresy; it can be said that it was the main cause of a disaster.”

With a cold laugh Fan Gang said, “An insignificant Zaixia was also involved in the battle of Sanshui, but I don’t know whose army was completely wiped-out?”

Bai Hanfeng was furious, he stood up and with a stern voice said, “Are you still considering this old debt?”

Listening to the way Fan Gang spoke, Wei Xiaobao knew that apparently in the Battle of Sanshui, King Tang won and King Gui lost; he busily asked, “Fan Dage, what happened in that Battle of Sanshui?”

Fan Gang said, “King Gui has listened to his subordinate’s instigation, a treacherous court official’s, a servant called Lin Guiding, hence he dispatched troops to attack Guangzhou …”

“Fan Dage,” Su Gang interrupted, “That was not the fact. It was King Tang who sent troops first to attack Zhaoqing, our Son of Heaven Yongli had no choice but to rise to take up the challenge.”

Both sides were like, you make a brief remark, I speak one sentence; they all argued over old affair, gradually the swords were drawn, an open fight was about to begin. Yao Chun repeatedly shook his hands and with a loud voice said, “It’s an old affair of many years ago, do you still have to bring it up? It doesn’t matter who won who lost, there’s really no glory or shame in that, in the end it did not wipe out the Tatars.” As soon as they heard this, they stopped arguing, all had ashamed look on their faces.

Su Gang said, “Bai Er Di, justice is to be found everywhere, pledging our lives, we will contend strongly for the source of right and wrong. What happened afterwards?”

Bai Hanfeng said, “What that old thief said is similar to what this … this Master Fan said just now, naturally we, brothers, discussed it in details to make him understand. Both sides were getting louder and louder, nobody was willing to yield. In his anger, my Gege slapped the small side table and broke it into pieces. With a cold laugh the old thief said, ‘After you can’t win the argument using reason, now you want to resort to violence? The Twin-tree of Bai family of the Mu Palace’s fame for fighting prowess shakes the distant land, I am but a peon in Tian Di Hui, yet I am not scared.’ Obviously he was saying that a peon of Tian Di Hui outshines established and well-known characters of the Mu Palace. My Gege said, ‘I broke my own table, what does it have to do with you? On what authority you dare to insult our Mu Palace?’ The argument reached a deadlock, finally we agreed to have a duel that same night on zi hour [between 11pm – 1am] at the Temple of Heaven.”

Su Gang sighed, low-spiritedly he said, “Turns out the dispute started from that.”

Bai Hanfeng said, “That night we went to the Temple of Heaven to keep the appointment. Without saying anything we started fighting with that old thief right away …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Presumably it was two against one. I wonder was it Bai Da Xia who fought first, or was it Bai Er Xia?”

Bai Hanfeng’s face turned red, with a loud voice he said, “We, two brothers, always fight together. Dealing with one person the two of us fought together, dealing with a hundred people the two of us still fought together.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “So that’s how it is,” he said, “Supposing you are fighting with me, a child, the two of you would still fight together.”

Bai Hanfeng roared in rage, he raised his palm, ready to smash it down onto the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head. Su Gang stretched out his left hand to grab Bai Hanfeng’s wrist; he said, “Bai Er Di, don’t!”

Bai Hanfeng shouted, “This … this little demon insulted my deceased brother.”

Wei Xiaobao was only seeking to win a tongue-lashing contest; he had not thought that he had included the dead Bai Hansong. Seeing Bai Hanfeng was raging mad, he was very scared and did not dare to see anything anymore.

“Bai Er Di,” Su Gang said, “Injustice has a reason, debt has its owner. It was the one surnamed Xu who murdered Bai Dage, we can only seek that surnamed Xu to settle the account.”

Bai Hanfeng stared maliciously at Wei Xiaobao. “There will come a day where I will pull your tendon and peel your skin,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue toward him, he thought that with Su Gang around, Bai Hanfeng would not do anything to him. Even if he was going to pull his tendon and peel his skin, it would not be today’s matter.

Fan Gang said, “Su Si Ge, you said that Bai Da Xia was murdered by our Xu Dage, I am afraid you must reconsider the word ‘murder’. Bai Er Xia said that both parties were contending martial art in the Temple of Heaven, Xu Dage fought one against two, there was no conspiracy or treacherous scheming, and it wasn’t relying on number to achieve victory either, it was a just and honorable fight, how can you say that it was ‘murder’?”

Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “Naturally my Gege was murdered by that old thief. Before we, brothers, went to the Temple of Heaven to keep the appointment, we have discussed it over; my Gege said that although this old man was muddle-headed, did not understand the mandate of heaven and unwilling to surrender, he was after all a compatriot in fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. During the duel, we must consider Tian Di Hui’s part and must stop at the touch, we must not injure him for real. The two of us were being lenient, who would have thought that the old thief was so vicious, unexpectedly he launched a killer strike and thus murdered my Gege.”

Su Gang asked, “How did that surnamed Xu murder Bai Da Di?”

Bai Hanfeng said, “We fought for more than forty stances without any clear winner or loser. Suddenly that old thief jumped out of the arena; he cupped his fist and said, ‘My utmost admiration! Today we cannot distinguish victory and defeat, there is no need to continue fighting. Mu Palace’s martial art is world-renowned, it is indeed brilliant.’”

“That’s very good,” Fan Gang said, “Everybody did not need to fight anymore, hence avoided injuring friendship, wasn’t it great?”

Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “You did not see that old thief’s expression when he said that, how can you say that he really had good intention? There was a cold smile on the corners of his mouth, obviously he was saying that with one against two, the Bai Family Twin-tree of the Mu Palace cannot overcome an old man; that ‘world-renowned martial art skill’ was nothing more than a brag. Naturally I was angry, I said, ‘If victory or defeat cannot be distinguished, then we continue fighting until victory and defeat are clearly distinguished.’ Although that old man was agile, his strength could not be compared to us, brothers. In prolonged fight, he would definitely lose. He did not want to fight just so he could slip away. Thereupon we fought again. After fighting for a while, I launched the move ‘dragon soars tiger leaps’, I struck down on him from the air. Sure enough, that old thief leaned sideways to evade. The two of us had practiced this move well, my Gege immediately launched the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, his left leg swept to the right, his right arm struck across to the left, so he would not be able to evade.” Speaking about this part, he demonstrated the move ‘sweeping away a thousand army’.

Priest Xuanzhen nodded and said, “This move is a converging attack, blocking the opponent from dodging either to the left of to the right; it is indeed formidable.”

Bai Hanfeng said, “The old thief pulled his body back, suddenly he struck toward my Gege‘s chest. My Gege flipped his palms and pushed the upper part of the old thief’s torso, while laughing, ‘Ha ha, you lost …’ Right this moment, ‘crash!’ unexpectedly the old thief was very ruthless, he had used a heavy hand. Knowing the situation was disadvantageous, I launched the ‘high mountain flowing water’, with both palms, one after another, striking the old thief’s back. The old thief’s body shook and he retreated a few steps. My Gege spurted a mouthful of fresh blood and fell sitting down on the ground. I was very anxious and busily helped him up. The old thief let out several hollow laughs; limping and dragging his legs he walked away. I was thinking of running after him and giving him several punches to kill him instantly, but I was worried about my Gege‘s injury and did not have time to pay attention to that old thief. I carried Gege back home; on the way home, he only said four words, ‘avenge me’ [gei wo bao chou], then breathed his last. Su Si Ge … if we don’t avenge his death, we would live in vain!” Speaking to this point, tears welling up his eyes.

Priest Xuanzhen turned his head toward a man by his side, “Feng Er Di, let us demonstrate several stances that Bai Er Xia mentioned just now.”

The man surnamed Feng was Feng Jizhong; there was nothing remarkable about his appearance, if anything, he looked rather boorish. Ever since Wei Xiaobao saw him in the basement of the Hui Chun Tang drug store the previous day, he had never said a word; so Wei Xiaobao did not pay him any attention.

Feng Jizhong nodded his head and stood up, then light as a feather, he sent out a palm strike toward Xuanzhen. Xuanzhen raised his left palm to block, then he pulled his body back. Next, he formed a pair of claws with all ten fingers, remarkably alike a monkey’s claws; obviously he was imitating the ‘Eight-armed Ape’ Xu Tianchuan’s style. Pushing the ground lightly with his left foor, Feng Jizhong flew up and then from the air he struck down.

“Good move!” Yao Chun called out, “It’s the ‘dragon soars tiger leaps’!” Before he even finished, Xuanzhen had already leaned sideways to evade.

Right this moment, Feng Jizhong swiftly moved in front of Xuanzhen’s body; with his left leg he swept across to the right, with his right arm he swept across to the left. It was exactly the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ Bai Hanfeng had demonstrated just a moment ago. Feng Jizhong was able to move as if he was two people. He had just finished executed Bai Hanfeng’s ‘dragon soars tiger leaps’, immediately he changed into a different role and attacked Xuanzhen from the front, executing Bai Hansong’s ‘sweeping away a thousand army’. His movements were very fast; it was truly unthinkable. Amid the cheer of everybody present, Xuanzhen shrank back while striking the opponent’s chest. Feng Jizhong pushed with both palms toward the pit of Xuanzhen’s stomach, while saying, “Haha, you lost …” Then right this moment Xuanzhen sent a right punch toward the pit of Feng Jizhong’s stomach, and a left palm strike toward his lower abdomen. As soon as both men’s fists and palms touched each other, they froze.

“Bai Er Xia,” Xuanzhen asked, “Isn’t the situation at that time like this?”

Before Bai Hanfeng could answer, Feng Jizhong flashed toward Xuanzhen’s back; from the right side of his face, both palms hacked down as he made a motion to attack Xuanzhen’s back. “High mountain flowing water!” he said. These two palms did not touch Xuanzhen’s body at all; before everybody realized what had happened, he had already stood up in front of Xuanzhen’s body, with both palms pressed against the pit of Xuanzhen’s stomach, while letting Xuanzhen’s fist to rest on his own lower abdomen, resuming the former position.

These two men come and go so fast just like ghosts. Other than Wei Xiaobao, those who were present were all experienced and knowledgeable, yet they had never seen anything like Feng Jizhong’s unbelievable speed and agility. In their astonishment, they understood the intention of this demonstration. When fighting one against two, Xu Tianchuan was in an extremely dangerous situation; if he was being somewhat lenient toward Bai Hansong, perhaps it would be difficult for him to escape Bai Hanfeng’s ‘high mountain flowing water’ attack on his back.

Xuanzhen said again, “Bai Er Xia, isn’t the situation at that time like this?”

Bai Hanfeng’s face was ash-grey, he slowly nodded. Feng Jizhong’s movements were like diving falcon, his speed made everybody dizzy, but the way he imitated the styles used by the brothers was without any mistake, exactly like the way Bai Hanfeng’s Shifu taught those techniques. The three stances, ‘dragon soars tiger leaps’, ‘high mountain flowing water’ and ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ were well-known styles of ‘Mu Family Fist’, which had spread all over the world, there were many people who knew these styles. It was not strange that Feng Jizhong was able to use it; but one person executing all three stances masterfully and with such speed from beginning to end, was indeed rarely seen. Moreover, each movement was very clear, each technique each style was executed perfectly; even though the two brothers had practiced the ‘Mu Family Fist’ all their lives, they still fell short by a wide margin.

Feng Jizhong pulled back his palms and said, “Priest, please remove your Taoist robe, forgive my offense!”

Xuanzhen was startled, he did not understand Feng Jizhong’s intention, but he followed his instruction anyway. Taking his Taoist robe off, he shook it lightly, and suddenly two piece of cloth, in the shape of a palm, fluttered down from the Taoist robe, as two palm-shaped holes appeared on the pit of the stomach of the Taoist robe. Turned out just now Feng Jizhong had shaken and tore the Taoist robe with his palm strength. Xuanzhen could not restrain his countenance from changing; involuntarily he held up his hand to the pit of his stomach, thinking that since Feng Jizhong’s palm strength had shaken his soft Taoist robe, he himself must have had suffered an internal injury. But after tracing around the pit of his stomach, he did not feel anything unusual.

Feng Jizhong said, “The inherent power carried on Bai Da Xia’s palm was far stronger than mine. Xu Dage had already received serious internal injury on the pit of his stomach; added to that, he also received the two palm blows on his back from the ‘high mountain flowing water’. I am afraid his life is difficult to protect.”

The people saw how Feng Jizhong was using a ‘yin’ and soft palm strength to cut two palm prints on Xuanzhen’s Taoist robe; this kind of power was more astonishing than his ability to simulate two persons at once, attacking from the front and the rear at the same time, which he demonstrated just a moment ago. Without exception they were all overwhelmed with amazement that they even forgot to cheer.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “That day the old turtle Hai also cut a palm print on the chest of my gown, perhaps he was also using the same trick.”

Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng looked at each other with dismayed expressions. They saw how Feng Jizhong’s level of martial art was far above either one of theirs. Also, with this demonstration, it appeared that although Xu Tianchuan had used a heavy hand and killed people, it was out of desperation where he did not have any other choice; he was under a converging attack from the Bai brothers and had to do everything in his power to defend himself, hence he could not be regarded to be in the wrong. Su Gang stood up and said, “This Master Feng has such a superior martial art skill and has really expanded Zaixia’s horizon today. If our Bai Da Di had Master Feng’s level of martial art, he couldn’t be killed by that surnamed Xu.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Bai Da Xia’s martial art skill was extremely high, everyone in Jianghu knows; Su Si Ge does not need to be polite.” Bai Hanfeng shot him a malicious look, but he could not say that his own brother’s martial art skill was no good. Wei Xiaobao also said, “Bai Er Xia’s martial art skill is also very high, everybody in Jianghu knows.”

Fan Gang was afraid Wei Xiaobao might speak more nonsense and would create more side issues; he cupped his fist toward Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng and said, “We have disturbed you enough today, we’ll take our leave.”

“Wait a moment!” Xuanzhen said, “We must go to Bai Da Xia’s presence and kowtow. This matter is indeed … ay, the mention of it will make everybody’s heart grieved; we must not harm the friendship between the Mu Palace and Tian Di Hui.” Finished speaking, he took a step toward the rear hall.

Bai Hanfeng held up his hands to block, and said fiercely, “My Gege died without his eyes closed, I don’t need your hypocritical courtesy.”

“Bai Er Xia,” Xuanzhen said, “Not to mention that it was a slip in a martial art competition and thus Bai Da Xia was accidentally injured, even if it were our Xu Dage’s fault, you cannot hate the entire Tian Di Hui. We are bowing in front of the departed spirit, it is to show yi qi to the fellow Wulin character of the same principle.”

“The Priest is right,” Su Gang said, “Bai Er Di, we must not fail to show courtesy.”

Immediately Wei Xiaobao, Xuanzhen, Fan Gang, Feng Jizhong, Yao Chun, Ma Boren, and the others kowtowed in front of Bai Hansong’s coffin together. While kowtowing, Wei Xiaobao was muttering to himself. He kowtowed three times, and then stood up. Bai Hanfeng asked sternly, “What did you say just now?”

“I was praying quietly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I was speaking to Bai Da Xia’s spirit in heaven, what does it concern you?”

Bai Hanfeng said, “Your words were not clear, what did you pray?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I said, ‘Bai Da Xia, it’s alright for you to depart one step sooner. Zaixia Wei Xiaobao was beaten black and blue by your brother, I won’t live much longer, in a few days I am going to the netherworld and will meet you, Senior.”

“When did I ever beat you?” Bai Hanfeng asked.

Wei Xiaobao pulled up his sleeve to show his right wrist. It was swollen and turned into a black and purple circle, the finger marks were clearly visible. It was precisely the injury from Bai Hanfeng’s pinch a while ago. He said, “Isn’t this from your beating?”

Su Gang cast a glance toward Bai Hanfeng; seeing he did not deny, Su Gang’s face revealed a slight blaming expression. He turned toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, this matter is hard to explain in a few words. Let’s discuss it slowly at a later date.”

“I am afraid my heavy injury is incurable that I will die soon,” Wei Xiaobao said, “There won’t be any later date for me to talk.”

Su Gang could see that Wei Xiaobao could speak freely without any sign of internal injury; he knew Wei Xiaobao was just acting up. He thought, “How could Tian Di Hui have a young rascal like this as a Xiangzhu?” He said, “Wei Xiangzhu will live a long life reaching hundreds of years. When everybody else here has died, you will still live for a few dozen years.”

“Right now my stomach feels as if it was twisted,” Wei Xiaobao said, “My five solid and six hollow organs[8] are all turned upside down; I don’t know if I’ll live until tomorrow. Feng Er Ge, Priest Xuanzhen, if I die, I don’t want you to find Bai Er Xia to seek revenge. In Jianghu, we uphold yi qi above everything else, we must not harm the friendship between the Mu Palace and Tian Di Hui.”

Su Gang frowned, he sent everybody off outside the gate. Xuanzhen expressed his gratitude to Ma Boren, Yao Chun, Lei Yixiao and Wang Wutong, four people; he cupped his fist and took his leave. The Tian Di Hui entourage returned to the Return of Spring drugstore.

As they reached the door, they knew something was amiss; the sales counter collapsed, the hundred plus small drawers in the drug store, as well as the drug ingredients, were scattered all over the floor. They all rushed in and called out several times, but there was no reply. When they reached the inner hall, they saw the fat shopkeeper and two shop assistants were lying dead on the floor. This drug store was located in a remote area, temporarily there were no curious onlookers congregating outside.

Xuanzhen ordered Gao Yanchao, “Bar the door, don’t let unconcerned people come in. We’ll quickly look for Xu San Ge.”

Pulling the trap door on the floor, they rushed into the basement, while calling out, “Xu San Ge, Xu San Ge!” But the basement was completely empty. Xu Tianchuan had disappeared without a trace.

“His granny,” Fan Gang yelled angrily, “We’ll stake everything to fight those thieves from the Mu Palace to the death!”

Xuanzhen said, “Quickly invite Wang Zongbiaotou and the others to come and be our witnesses. If the Mu Palace wanted to kill Xu San Ge, they would have done it here. Since he was taken captive, they would not harm him immediately.” Thereupon they dispatched a messenger to invite Wang Wutong, Yao Chun, and the others, four people, to come.

Seeing the condition at which the fat shopkeeper died, Wang Wutong and the others were angered; they all said, “We mustn’t delay, let’s go immediately to Willow Tree Lane to demand for his return.” Right away they all trooped back to the Willow Tree Lane.

Bai Hanfeng opened the door, “Why are gentlemen back?” he coldly asked.

Fan Gang said in loud voice, “Bai Er Xia, why ask when you already know? This kind of despicable act will only make the Mu Palace lose face even more.”

“Lose what face?” Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “What despicable act?”

Fan Gang said, “Where is our Xu San Ge? Quickly hand him out. You people took advantage of our unguarded moment, you killed three shop assistants of our Return of Spring Hall drugstore; it was truly the lowest of low.”

“Nonsense!” Bai Hanfeng shouted, “What Return of Spring Hall? What Return of Autumn Hall? What three shop assistants?”

Hearing the commotion, Su Gang went out and asked, “Gentlemen have left and now are back, I wonder what instruction do you have for me?”

“Su Si Xia,” Lei Yixiao said, “In this matter, you are in the wrong. Right or wrong cannot escape public opinion, even if you wanted to take revenge, you cannot randomly kill innocent people. If this matter spread out over the Capital, the implication may not be small.”

“What are they talking about?” Su Gang asked Bai Hanfeng.

“Who would know?” Bai Hanfeng replied, “I can’t make head or tail of it.”

Wang Wutong said, “Su Si Xia, Bai Er Xia, in the place where Tian Di Hui took residence, three shop assistants have been murdered, Xu Tianchuan has also been kidnapped. About the right or wrong of this matter, we may talk it over later, but for now, please look at our faces and release Master Xu first.”

Su Gang was puzzled, “Xu Tianchuan has been kidnapped?” he asked, “That’s really strange! You must be suspecting us as the culprit, we were together in here, could it be that we know the technique of doing several things at the same time?”

Fan Gang said, “Naturally you sent someone else to do the job, what’s so difficult about that?”

“There is nothing I can do if you don’t believe me,” Su Gang said, “If you want to come in and search, please be my guest.”

Bai Hanfeng loudly said, “Divine Physician Hermit Su Gang, Su Si Ge always say one as one and two as two; when have he ever said half an empty word? Let me tell you frankly: if that old thief surnamed Xu ever fall into our hands, I will right away cut his body in two; who would have the patience of kidnapping him and nurturing him by wasting our rice?”

Su Gang muttered hesitantly, “I am afraid there is something else behind this. Zaixia is being presumptuous here, but I am thinking of going to your precious Society’s residence to have a look, I wonder if I may?”

Seeing these two people’s expression did not show any deceit, temporarily Xuanzhen and the others were unsure of what to do. Fan Gang said, “Su Si Xia, we all want you to give us your word: is our Xu Tianxhuan, Xu San Ge, in your hands or not?”

Su Gang shook his head, “He is not,” he said, “I can also guarantee that our Bai Er Di has nothing to do with this matter.” Su Gang had a resounding reputation in Wulin, everyone knew he was an upright and just warrior; if he said he did not kidnap Xu Tianchuan, it must be the truth.

Xuanzhen said, “In that case, I invite the two of you to have a look at our humble residence. Wei Xiangzhu, what do you think?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You invited others to have a look first before asking me ‘what I think’.” He said, “Whatever Priest said, let it be done that way. After all, we have three people who were killed; we can ask these two gentlemen to kowtow several times to apologize, that is only proper.”

Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng stared at him; they both thought, “You, little demon, flatly accuse us as the killer of your three people.”

They returned to the Return of Spring drugstore. Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng examined the bodies of the fat shopkeeper and the two drugstore assistants carefully; they were beaten to death, the pit of their stomachs collapsed and their ribs broken. The technique used was ordinary, it was not the work of martial artists of any school.

Bai Hanfeng said, “All of us must investigate this matter and bring it to light, otherwise we will suffer an unredressed injustice.”

“Suffering an unredressed injustice is not a big deal,” Su Gang said, “Someday the truth will come to light. It’s just that Xu Dage has fallen into the enemy’s hands, we must think of a way to rescue him as soon as possible.”

Everybody inspected the drugstore from front to rear, and top to bottom, they also scrutinized the basement, but did not find the least bit of clue. The sky had darkened; Su Gang, Bai Hanfeng, Wang Wutong and the others took their leave to return home. They agreed to separately investigate this matter within the Beijing city walls.

Fan Gang said, “Su Si Xia, Bai Er Xia, have you looked everything clearly? At midnight tonight, we will send someone to set this building on fire, to destroy the bodies and leave no trace.”

Su Gang nodded. “I have looked everything clearly,” he said, “Luckily the neighboring area is uninhabited. It’s good that you are going to burn the store down, to avoid the authorities making any inquiry.”

After Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng left, the Green Wood Hall people had a lengthy discussion, they all agreed that Xu Tianchuan must be kidnapped by people from the Mu Palace; otherwise how could it happened exactly, not too long after, and not earlier than, after he killed someone from the opposite side, Xu Tianchuan disappeared without any trace? At most Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng, two people, did not know about it. Afterwards they discussed how they were going to set the house on fire. When Wei Xiaobao heard they were going to send someone to start the fire, he got very excited.

Xuanzhen said, “Wei Xiangzhu, it’s getting late. You must hurry back to the Palace. We are sending someone to start the fire, it is not an important thing, Wei Xiangzhu does not need to be here to manage the general situation; it may be assumed that nothing will go wrong.”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Priest, we all are brothers, no need to flatter me. Although Wei Xiaobao is filling for the damn Xiangzhu position, in term of martial art skill and knowledge and experience, how can I surpass everybody here, Wulin experts? I want to stay here just to see the excitement, nothing more than that.”

On the surface, these people were polite to him, but seeing his young age and how he made a fool of himself at the Bai family home, in reality they were rather looking down upon him. What he said actually cheer them up; those words had set the people’s hearts free from worry. Although their respect toward this young Xiangzhu did not increase, they felt several notches closer to him than before.

Xuanzhen laughed and said, “It would be in the middle of the night before we start the fire, and we still have to contain the fire so that it won’t spread to neighboring houses. If Wei Xiangzhu does not return to the Palace for the entire night, I am afraid it would not be too convenient.”

Wei Xiaobao thought what he said actually made sense. The Palace gate was closed as soon as it was dark, nobody could get in or out. He was the young emperor’s favorite, everybody in the Palace had their eyes on him, if he violated the prohibition of spending the night outside, the charge against him would not be small. He could only sigh and said, “What a pity, what a pity! It would be extremely fun if I could be the one started the fire.”

In a low voice Gao Yanchao said, “When in the future we burn other people’s house during the daytime, we will definitely respectfully invite Wei Xiangzhu to start the fire.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he grabbed Gao Yanchao’s hand and said, “Gao Dage, a real man gave his words, you … you must not forget.”

Gao Yanchao smiled and said, “The matter that Wei Xiangzhu orders, how can subordinate dare not to obey?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “How about tomorrow we go to the Willow Tree Lane and set the Bai family home on fire?”

Gao Yanchao jumped in fright; he hastily said, “We must give it further thought before making a decision. If Zongduozhu finds out, most likely he would blame us.”

Instantly Wei Xiaobao’s excitement abated; he changed back into his little eunuch attire. Gao Yanchao wrapped his new clothes, shoes and cap into a bundle and handed it over to him. They all looked around carefully, and after ascertaining that there were no people from the Mu Palace spying on them, they went out as a group with Wei Xiaobao in the middle to the side street, and then hiring a small sedan chair they sent him back to the Palace. Wei Xiaobao nodded to the brothers and climbed into the sedan chair. Gao Yanchao put the bundle of clothes and cap into the sedan chair. A Society brother stepped forward to the sedan chair and stuck his head inside; with a low voice he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, early tomorrow morning, it would be best if you could go to the Catering Department kitchen and take a look.”

“Take a look at what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Nothing important,” the man replied, as he pulled his head back and withdrew.

Wei Xiaobao could not remember his name, this man had a pair of rat moustache slanting to the side and a cunning face. The marketplace was full of small traders like this. He did not come with them to the Willow Tree Lane, Wei Xiaobao had always thought that he was one of the shop assistants. He wondered why that man asked him to go to the Catering Department kitchen the next day.

In any case, inspecting the kitchen was precisely his responsibility, so early morning the next day, he just went. As soon as their immediate supervisor arrived, the eunuchs working in the kitchen, from the supervisors down to kitchen workers, were all busy serving him tea and delicacy. Wei Xiaobao ate several pieces of light refreshment and said, “The light refreshments you make in here is not bad, but it will be better if you learn some more from Yangzhou chefs.”

“Yes, yes,” the eunuch supervisor busily said, “If not for Wei Gong-gong giving directions, we may not really understand.” [Translator’s note: I thought up to this moment Wei Xiaobao was still known as Gui Gong-gong, but both the book and the online text have Wei Gong-gong.]

Seeing nothing unusual in the kitchen, Wei Xiaobao was about to go back to his room when he saw the eunuch in charge of purchasing returned from the marketplace, he was followed by a man with a shoulder pole in his hand. The man chuckled and said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, just do whatever Gong-gong says, you can’t go wrong, guaranteed.”

When Wei Xiaobao saw this man, he was shocked, because it was the same man who told him to go to the kitchen. The eunuch in charge of purchasing hurriedly went over to Wei Xiaobao to pay his respect. Pointing to the man, Wei Xiaobao asked, “Who is this?”

The eunuch in charge of purchasing said with a laugh, “This is Boss Qian of the Qian Xinglong Meat Farmstead of Beicheng[9] district. Today he came especially to flatter us by delivering more than a dozen fresh pigs personally to the Palace.” Turning toward Boss Qian, he said, “Old Qian, you are very lucky today. This is Gui Gong-gong, our Catering Department Manager, currently he is the number one favorite of His Majesty. We are serving in the Palace, yet we cannot casually see the Senior’s face. Your three generation ancestors must have had tapped wooden fish[10] that by lucky coincidence you get to see Gui Gong-gong.”

Boss Qian kneeled down and kowtowed several times to Wei Xiaobao, saying, “Gong-gong is the one Xiaoren depends upon for our livelihood; only today by fate I can pay my respect, it is truly because the one surnamed Qian’s ancestor has amassed virtues.”

“No need to be overly courteous,” Wei Xiaobao said, while thinking, “What is he doing, sneaking into the Palace like that? Why didn’t he tell me in advance?”

Boss Qian stood up with a face full of smile, he said, “It is the Gong-gong of the Palace who make my business succeed. My price is especially low, I can’t say that I make any profit; however, serving meat to His Majesty, Princesses, and other royalties has given me an enormous face, when other people heard that even His Majesty ate the meat I offered, naturally my pork became number one in the world, no other meat business is able to surpass it. As a result, in only more than a year serving meat to the Palace, Qian Xinglong Meat Farmstead’s business has grown several times over. It is all due to all Gong-gong patronizing my business.” While saying that he repeatedly bowed to pay his respect.

Wei Xiaobao nodded, he laughed and said, “You must be very rich then!”

The man said, “It’s all due to Gong-gong’s great fortune.” He pulled two banknotes from his pocket, with a grin he said, “Mere trifle, inadequate to show my appreciation; would Gong-gong please keep it to bestow reward to your subordinates.” Finished speaking, he handed the banknotes over to Wei Xiaobao with both hands.

Wei Xiaobao took the banknotes and looked, each banknote worth five hundred taels of silver, altogether there were one thousand taels; it was none other than the money he gave Gao Yanchao and the others the other day. Wei Xiaobao was slightly startled; he saw Boss Qian twisted his mouth toward the eunuch in charge of purchasing. Wei Xiaobao understood his intention; with a laugh he said, “Boss Qian is too polite!” He handed the banknotes over to the eunuch manager and said with a laugh, “Just divide Boss Qian’s present among the boys, no need to give me any share.”

Seeing the thousand taels banknotes, the eunuchs were overjoyed at this unexpected fortune. Normally, the suppliers of pork, lamb, beef, poultry, fish and produce to the Palace would give them commission on a regular basis, and then some more during Chinese New Year or other festivities, but the gift was never more than four, five hundred taels, which the eunuch head of the Catering Department Manager would take more than half first. This time not only the commission was of a substantial amount, Wei Xiaobao also said that he did not want any share. When they divided the money, how could it not be a small undeserved fortune for each of them? However, the eunuch supervisor thought that when Gui Gong-gong in the mouth said he did not want it, it might be that he was only putting on airs in front of outsiders; he was the head, how could he waive his share just like that? Therefore, when he calculated everybody’s share, he set aside the largest share to be given to Wei Xiaobao later.

Boss Qian said, “Gui Gong-gong, you showed this kind of empathy when dealing with the other Gong-gong, it is truly rare. Since you are not willing to accept my gift, it is hard for Xiaoren to feel at ease in my heart. How about this: I have raised two Fu Ling [China root] Hua Diao [Shaoxing yellow wine] pigs; they can be considered famous and incomparably priceless. I am going to slaughter them as soon as I get home. I will present one to Empress Dowager and His Majesty, and will deliver the other one to Gong-gong’s room, so that Gong-gong can sample it.”

“What Fu Ling Hua Diao pigs?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “The name sounds weird, I’ve never heard about if before.”

Boss Qian said, “It is a secret handed down from generation to generation in my family. First we select a good breed pig, then after it is weaned from its mother’s milk, we feed it with Fu Ling, Dang Shen [codonopsis root, poor man’s ginseng], Qi Zi [willow seed] and other tonics. Other than feeding on various tonics, it invariably ate chicken eggs; as for the drink, it only drank Shaoxing yellow wine …”

Before he even finished, the eunuchs roared in laughter; they said, “Where did you get such method of feeding pigs from? Won’t it cost several hundred taels just to fatten one pig?”

Boss Qian said, “The cost is naturally not small, but the most difficult thing is the meticulous care and the time.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I must have a taste of this strange pig.”

Boss Qian said, “I wonder what time this afternoon Gui Gong-gong will be free? Xiaoren will deliver it promptly.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that by the time he came down from the Upper Study Room, it would already be wu hour [11 am – 1 pm]; thereupon he said, “You may deliver it at the end of wu hour or beginning of wei hour [1 – 3 pm]!”

“Yes, yes,” Boss Qian repeatedly replied. Again he bowed and wished for Wei Xiaobao’s well-being before he went out.

“Gui Gong-gong,” the eunuch supervisor approached Wei Xiaobao with a smile on his face, “When you see His Majesty later, you must not mention this matter.”

“Why?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The eunuch supervisor said, “His Majesty is young and curious, if he heard some bizarre thing like Fu Ling Hua Diao pigs, supposing he wanted to have it often, our responsibility as the servants would be too great. Besides, this kind of meat, which require untold hardship to feed and raise, will not come by too often, it won’t be readily available any time. If His Majesty ate it and it suited his taste, he might issue an imperial decree for the kitchen to offer it daily, our share would only be to hang ourselves.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “You have a thorough thought.”

The eunuch supervisor said, “This is the custom of the Catering Department handed down from generation to generation. In the dishes prepared for Empress Dowager and His Majesty, any seasonal fruits and vegetables must not be served.”

Wei Xiaobao was puzzled, “Seasonal fruits and vegetables must not be served?” he asked, “Are you saying that you are serving only out of date or fruits and vegetables that have been kept overnight?” Although he had been the head of the Catering Department for several months, he had never paid any attention to the imperial household’s matter.

The eunuch supervisor laughed and said, “Serving only out of date or fruits and vegetables that have been kept overnight, that we never dare. However, there are fruits and vegetables which are available only for one or two months over the entire year; this, we must not serve. Supposing His Majesty ate it and liked it, he might ask for winter bamboo shoot in the summer, or fresh broad bean in the winter, everybody will have no choice but to hang ourselves.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Empress Dowager and His Majesty are completely enlightened sages, how can there be such thing?”

The eunuch supervisor was apprehensive; “Yes, yes,” he busily said, “Empress Dowager and His Majesty are enlightened sages; of course there is no such thing. I heard that was the custom handed down from generation to generation in the previous Ming Palace. When it got to our Great Qing, His Majesty always communicate his feeling reasonably; it is much easier for us the servants to do his bidding.” In his heart, he was secretly anxious; he regretted that he had said those few sentences earlier.

[1] Lit. ‘mutton’ and ‘big spine’, respectively. If you want to know more about acupoints, I remember wuxiapedia has some explanations, written by Huang Yushi.

[2] The names Hansong and Hanfeng literally mean ‘cold pine’ and ‘cold maple’, respectively.

[3] Old provincial territory during Ming and Qing dynasties, encompassing Beijing, Tianjin, most of Hebei, Henan, and part of Shandong.

[4] Tantui is a northern school of martial art boxing.

[5] Lei Yixiao, ‘lei’ – thunder, ‘yi xiao’ – one hiss or whistle.

[6] FYI: Orig. 圣手居士 [sheng shou ju shi], sheng shou can be translated as either ‘divine physician’ or ‘highly skilled practitioner’. In White Hair Demoness, ju shi was translated as ‘hermit’, but literal translation is ‘resident scholar’.

[7] Play of words: Hero – ying xiong, coward – gou xiong (lit. black bear).

[8] From Faerie Queene’s note in White Hair Demoness: Five Zang, Six Fu, where the 5 Zang organs consisted of the liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidney and are Yin in nature. The gallbladder, small intestine, stomach, large intestine, Urinary Bladder and San-Jian (triple warmers – upper, middle and lower) comprises the 6 Fu organs that are Yang in nature.

[9] Lit. northern city, similar to ‘dongcheng’ [eastern district] at the beginning of this chapter.

[10] Percussion instrument used by Buddhists during rituals.

Chapter 10 Boastful talk enumerates shortcomings, each one as lofty as gentlemen’s lavatory.

After serving Kangxi, from the Upper Study Room Wei Xiaobao went down to the Catering Department. Not too long afterwards, Boss Qian, leading four helpers, arrived with two big fat pigs, already butchered and cleaned. Each one was more than three hundred catties. “Gui Gong-gong,” he said to Wei Xiaobao, “You will get the most benefit from this Fu Ling Hua Diao pork if you take it as soon as you, Senior, wake up in the morning, it is best to have it cut and roasted immediately. Xiaoren will deliver one pig to your room; early in the morning tomorrow, you, Senior, may cut, roast and eat it immediately. What you can’t finish, you can tell the kitchen to make salt-cured meat.”

Wei Xiaobao knew there must be a profound meaning behind all these, he said, “You are very considerate; come with me then.”

Boss Qian left one pig in the kitchen, and brought the other one to Wei Xiaobao’s room. The Catering Department Head’s dwelling was not far from the imperial kitchen. After the fat pig was delivered to his room, Wei Xiaobao ordered a little eunuch to take the helpers who carried the pig back to the kitchen and wait there. When the three people had left, he closed the door.

“Wei Xiangzhu,” Boss Qian said in low voice, “Is there anybody else in this building?” Wei Xiaobao shook his head. Boss Qian stooped down and gently turned the clean pig over. The pig’s belly was slit all the way to its throat, with the opening stitched together with several crisscrossed pig skin.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “There must be some strange thing hidden inside this fat pig’s belly; perhaps some kind of weapon. Could it be that Tian Di Hui wants to kill people and create havoc in the Palace?” He could not stop his heart from thumping hard.

Boss Qian carefully cut the pig skin and with both hands pulled the pig’s belly apart, then he wrapped his arms around a big chunk of object and gently took it out. “Ah!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in alarm; he saw the big chunk of object was a person. Boss Qian laid the person on the floor. The person was small and slim with long hair; it was a thirteen, fourteen years old girl, wearing light cotton undergarment. Her eyes were tightly closed and she did not move at all, only her chest was fluctuating slightly.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised; he asked in low voice, “Who is this young miss? Why have you brought her here?”

Boss Qian replied, “This is the Mu Palace’s Princess[1].”

Wei Xiaobao was even more amazed; with eyes opened wide he asked, “Mu Palace’s Junzhu?”

“Exactly,” Boss Qian said, “She is the younger sister of Mu Palace’s young master. They kidnapped Xu San Ge, so we kidnapped this Junzhu Niang-niang as a hostage, so that they won’t dare to harm a single strand of Xu San Ge‘s hair.”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised. “Brilliant plan, brilliant plan!” he said, “How did you kidnap her?”

Boss Qian said, “Xu Tianchuan, Xu San Ge was kidnapped yesterday, for the second time Wei Xiangzhu led a group of brothers to the Willow Tree Lane to investigate. Subordinate went out on my own to inquire whether those Mu Palace people have other places where they stay temporarily other than the one on the Willow Tree Lane, perhaps Xu San Ge is being imprisoned in one of those places; I also wanted to know how many people they have in the Capital, so that if we really have to fight, we already have a background information in our hearts. Once the inquiry was made, hey, the number of Mu Palace people who come here is really a lot. The young master of Mu family takes the lead, followed by a large number of martial art experts.”

Wei Xiaobao frowned. “Damn it!” he said, “How many Green Wood Hall brothers do we have in the Capital? Can we fight them ten to one?”

“Wei Xiangzhu does not need to worry,” Boss Qian said, “This time Mu Palace people came to Beijing not to fight our Tian Di Hui. It’s actually because the eldest son of the big traitor Wu Sangui, Wu Yingxiong has arrived in the Capital.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “The Mu Palace wants to assassinate this little traitor surnamed Wu?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Boss Qian said, “Wei Xiangzhu has an incredible foresight. When the big traitor and little traitor are in Yunnan, they can’t make any move. As soon as they leave Yunnan, then the opportunity arises. It’s just that naturally this little traitor has a thorough protection, there are not a few martial art experts by his side, guarding him; to kill him is definitely not an easy matter. Those people from Mu Palace indeed have several other temporary residence, when subordinate went to check it out, those people were not home, there was not a trace of Xu San Ge either. There was only this little girl and two women looking after her left in the house. It was a golden opportunity which is hard to come by …”

“Therefore, you led a goat in passing, you pulled a pig with hands behind your back, and take her away?” Wei Xiaobao continued.

Boss Qian smiled. “Exactly,” he said, “Although this little Miss is young, the Mu Palace treats her as a phoenix; as long as this Xiao Junzhu is in our hands, Xu San Ge is as stable as Mount Tai, we don’t have to worry that they won’t take a good care of him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Qian Dage has indeed rendered a great merit.”

Boss Qian said, “Many thanks for Wei Xiangzhu‘s compliment.”

“Now that we have Xiao Junzhu, what do we do?” Wei Xiaobao asked, while stealing several glances toward the little girl lying on the floor. “This girl[2] looks quite beautiful,” he mused.

Boss Qian said, “If we say this matter is big, it is not, but it is not small either; I must listen to Wei Xiangzhu‘s advice on how to handle it.”

Wei Xiaobao hesitantly asked, “What do you think we should do?” Although his interaction with Tian Di Hui people was only over a short time, he had had a good grasp of their disposition. These people politely called him Xiangzhu, always said with their mouths that they were waiting for Xiangzhu‘s instruction and so on and so forth, in actuality, each one of them had already had an idea in their belly; they only wanted his approval, and thus they could push everything onto Wei Xiangzhu‘s head, so that it would be unlikely that in the future they would assume significant responsibility. His way of countering this was to answer a question with a question, “What do you think we should do?”

Boss Qian said, “At present we only need to find a good hiding place for this Xiao Junzhu, so that the Mu Palace people won’t be able to find her. This time the Mu family came to the Capital in really large number, although they are here to kill that little traitor Wu Yingxiong, we have killed their man, they have kidnapped Xu San Ge, right now they must be watching each one of our Tian Di Hui’s residence and stop-over places closely. As soon as we stop to pee or let out a fart, I am afraid the Mu Palace people will know about it.”

“Pfft,” Wei Xiaobao stifled his laugh; thinking that this Boss Qian’s style of speaking was enjoyable, totally fit his spleen and stomach. “Qian Dage,” he said with a laugh, “Let’s sit down and discuss it slowly.”

“Yes, yes, many thanks Xiangzhu,” Boss Qian said. He sat down on a chair and continued, “The reason subordinate hid Xiao Junzhu inside the pig’s belly and carried her into the Palace was, one, to avoid the Palace’s imperial bodyguards’ strict searching, two, to conceal it from Mu Palace people’s ears and eyes. His granny, I am afraid there are several really formidable characters among Mu Gongye‘s subordinates, we cannot not guard against them. If Xiao Junzhu is not hidden in the Palace, it’s difficult to protect against them snatching her back.”

“So you say Xiao Junzhu ought to be hidden in the Palace?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Subordinate does not dare to say so,” Boss Qian said, “Everything is for Wei Xiangzhu to decide. If she is hidden the Palace, without a doubt she will be in the world’s most secure place. Even if Mu Wangye has more martial art experts, they still can’t stand up against Imperial Palace bodyguards. Xiao Junzhu is unexpectedly in the Palace, not only they would never imagine it, they would never find her. Even if they knew, how could they have the ability to break into the Palace to rescue her? If they could enter the Palace to rescue Xiao Junzhu, then technically they could even abduct the Tatar Emperor. There is no such logic in the world. It’s just that subordinate was too daring, I did not ask for Wei Xiangzhu‘s instruction in advance, without permission I brought Xiao Junzhu into the Palace, placing Wei Xiangzhu in an even greater danger, adding greater inconvenience; indeed I deserve to die.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You have brought her into the Palace, then you say you deserve to die, yet you are not dead yet. Hiding Xiao Junzhu in the Palace is indeed an excellent plan; first, Mu Palace people will never think about it, second, they can never get her out. You are daring, could it be that my courage is inferior?” Thereupon he said with a laugh, “Your plan is very good; I’ll hide Xiao Junzhu in here.”

“Yes, yes,” Boss Qian said, “If Wei Xiangzhu says this is all right, then it is all right. Subordinate thinks that when this matter is over, we can always return Xiao Junzhu to them. When they find out Junzhu Niang-niang has been living in the Palace, it won’t bring disgrace to her status. If she were kept in the basement of my slaughterhouse, and always smelled the stinky stench of cows’ blood and pigs’ blood, unavoidably it would be too unfair for her.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Just feed her Fu Ling, Dang Shen, Shaoxing yellow wine, and chicken eggs, and she will be all right.”

“Heh, heh …” Boss Qian laughed, he said, “Besides, although Xiao Junzhu is very young, she is a woman after all, if she stayed with us, stinky men, unavoidably her reputation would be tarnished. If she stays with Wei Xiangzhu, it won’t matter.”

Wei Xiaobao was baffled, “Why?” he asked.

“Wei Xiangzhu is also young,” Boss Qian said, “Much less you are … you are working in the Palace, naturally … naturally it won’t matter.” He hummed and he hawed, as if it was somewhat inappropriate to talk.

Seeing his embarrassed expression, Wei Xiaobao had to ponder for a moment before he finally understood: “You are saying that because I am a court eunuch, with me guarding Xiao Junzhu, her reputation won’t be tarnished. But you don’t know that I am a fake eunuch.” It was precisely because he was not a real eunuch that he had to think before he understood; otherwise, as soon as Boss Qian spoke the first sentence, he would have understood.

Boss Qian asked, “Is Wei Xiangzhu‘s bedroom inside?” Wei Xiaobao nodded. Boss Qian bent over to pick Xiao Junzhu up and brought her in, and lay her down on the bed. Originally there was a big bed and a small bed in the bedroom. After Hai Tianfu’s death, Wei Xiaobao had the small bed removed. He had too much secret in him that he did not want any little eunuch staying with him to look after him.

Boss Qian said, “When subordinate carried Xiao Junzhu into the Palace, I sealed the Shen Tang and Yang Gang acupoints on her back, and also the Tian Zhu acupoint on the back of her neck, so that she wouldn’t be able to move or say anything. When Wei Xiangzhu wants to feed her, you need to unseal her acupoints; however, it is best if you seal the Huan Tiao[3] acupoint on her leg first, so that she won’t run away. Mu Palace people have very high level of martial art skill; most likely this little Miss does not know much martial art, but we can’t not guard against her.”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to ask him what Shen Tang and Huan Tiao were, or how to seal and unseal acupoints, but changed his mind because he thought that he was the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, plus he was also Zongduozhu’s disciple, if even sealing and unsealing acupoints he did not know, wouldn’t his underlings despise him even more? Besides, dealing with a young girl should not be difficult; thereupon he nodded and said, “I understand.”

Bos Qian said, “May I borrow a knife from Wei Xiangzhu?”

Wei Xiaobao wondered in his heart, “What do you want a knife for?” But he pulled the dagger from his boot and handed it over to him.

Receiving the dagger, Boss Qian made a cut on the back of the pig. He did not expect the dagger to have unmatched sharpness, able to cut pork just like cutting tofu, as soon as the dagger cut, it went down all the way to the hilt. Boss Qian was startled; “Good blade!” he praised. He cut two pieces of meat from the back and two forelegs, he said, “Wei Xiangzhu may roast these and eat, tell the little gong-gong to bring the rest back to the kitchen. Subordinate takes my leave now. If there is anything concerning our Society, subordinate can come anytime to report to Wei Xiangzhu.”

“Good!” Wei Xiaobao said, while taking his dagger back. He cast a glance to the Xiao Junzhu lying on the bed and said, “This girl[4] sleeps so peacefully.” He wanted to say, “If this little miss stayed in the Palace for a long time, it would be extremely dangerous. If somebody found out, it would be really bad.” But he thought: how could a hero and warrior of Tian Di Hui afraid of danger? If those words ever come out of his mouth, unavoidably he would be despised by others.

As soon as Boss Qian left for the kitchen, Wei Xiaobao bolted the door and inspected the window to make sure there was no crack at all, before going to sit by the bedside. Looking at the Xiao Junzhu, he saw she had just opened her big round eyes and was looking at the top of the bed. Seeing Wei Xiaobao walked in, she hastily closed her eyes. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You can’t move, you can’t speak, you can only lying quietly in here, nothing’s sweeter than that.” Looking at her clothes, he noticed it was not soiled at all, he thought Boss Qian must have cleaned the pig’s belly very well that not even the slightest blood stain left; thereupon he pulled the quilt over her body. He saw her cheeks were snow white, without any blood at all; her long eyelashes trembled continuously, apparently she was very scared. He laughed and said, “Don’t be afraid, I won’t kill you. In a few more days, I will let you out.”

Xiao Junzhu opened her eyes and looked at him, but instantly closed her eyes again. Wei Xiaobao mused, “In Jianghu your Mu Palace has great power and prestige. That day along the way north of Jiangsu your family’s Bai Hansong was very arrogant, he did not consider laozi in his eyes at all, but right now he is dead, killed by my subordinate. His granny …” Thinking to this point, he stretched out his hand and looked at his wrist, on which the black purplish circle around it had not vanished, and he could still faintly feel the pain. He mused, “That Bai Hanfeng’s Gege is dead, since he could not vent his anger, he pinched laozi’s bone that it almost broke; who could have thought that Mu Palace’s Junzhu Niang-niang has fallen into my hands? If Laozi wants to hit I can just hit, if I want to curse I can just curse, you can’t move even for half a fen, ha ha!” In his complacency, he could not refrain from letting out an audible laugh.

Xiao Junzhu heard the laughter and opened her eyes to see why he was laughing. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You are a Junzhu Niang-niang, and you feel great, aren’t you? Your granny, in laozi’s eyes you are nothing!” Taking a step forward, he grabbed her right ear and pulled it three times, then he pinched her nose and twisted it twice, while laughing out loud.

Tears flowing out of Xiao Junzhu’s closed eyes, two streaks of pearl rolled down the sides of her face. “Don’t cry!” Wei Xiaobao shouted, “When laozi tells you not to cry, you must not cry!” But Xiao Junzhu’s tears flowed even more. “Hot piece mama, stinky ‘little mother’s skin’, you are so stubborn!” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Open your eyes, look at me!”

Xiao Junzhu closed her eyes tighter, Wei Xiaobao said, “Ha, you still think you are in the Mu Palace, your mama! Your family’s Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, four great generals, what’s so damn special about them? There will come a day when they will fall into laozi’s hands, each and every one of them will be beheaded and chopped into mincemeat.” Raising his voice he shouted again, “Are you going to open your eyes or not?”

Xiao Junzhu strained to keep her eyes closed. Wei Xiaobao said, “Alright, you are unwilling to open your eyes, then what’s the purpose of your pair of eyeballs? I’d better dig them out and eat them to accompany laozi’s wine.” While saying that, he placed the flat edge on her eyelid and dragged it back and forth several times.

Xiao Junzhu’s entire body trembled in fright, but still she did not open her eyes. Wei Xiaobao was at a loss of what to do. He said, “You don’t want to open your eyes, but I want you to open your eyes. We’ll see between the two of us, is it you, Junzu Niang-niang more formidable, or is it me, a little ruffian, the little beggar more formidable. For the time being I am not going to dig your eyeballs; if I do, you will win, since you won’t see me forever. I am going to carve some drawings on your cheeks with the tip of my dagger. Left side will be a little turtle, right side will be a pile of cow dung. After the cut become a scar in the future, when you go out on the street, thousands upon thousands people will surround you and look at you; they will say, ‘Pretty, pretty, come and look at Mu Palace’s young beauty, with a tortoise on her left cheek and a pile of cow dung on the right cheek.’ Are you or are you not going to open your eyes?”

Xiao Junzhu could not move her body at all, the only decision she could make was to open her eyes or not. Hearing Wei Xiaobao’s words, she closed her eyes even tighter. Wei Xiaobao thought aloud, “Turns out this stinky b1tch does not like her own face of being not beautiful, so she wants me to decorate her face. Alright, I will draw the turtle first!” He opened the ink slab on the table and rubbed the ink stick, then dipped the writing brush into the ink. The ink slab and brush used to belong to Hai Laogong. Wei Xiaobao had never touched a pen in all his life, right now he was holding the pen like holding chopsticks. He started to draw a small turtle on Xiao Junzhu’s left cheek.

Xiao Junzhu’s tears flowed down her cheek, leaving a streak mark on the drawing of the turtle.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am drawing with a pen first, then I’ll carve it with the dagger. It’s just like people making stamp. Right, right, Junzhu Niang-niang, when we are done, I’ll take you to the main street of Chang’an’s city gate, I’ll call out, ‘Which guest would like to have a turtle print? Three wen a sheet.’ I’ll apply black ink to your face, and when someone gives me money, I’ll put a piece of white paper on your face, and there’s the turtle, very quick! One day I can print a hundred sheets; that will be three hundred wen of copper, enough for me to splurge.” While chattering, he peeked to see Xiao Junzhu’s expression, and saw that her eyelashes were trembling incessantly; clearly she was angry, but also scared. Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself. “Um,” he said, “A pile of cow dung on the right cheek; but nobody would buy a print of cow dung. I’d rather carve a pig, a fat and stupid pig. Business is going to be good.”

Raising the pen, he made a drawing on her right cheek. Whatever it was, it has four legs and a tail, it could be a cat or a dog. Putting the pen down, he took a pair of silver scissors and gently placed the scissors on Xiao Junzhu’s left cheek. “You don’t open your eyes, I am going to carve the picture!” he shouted, “I’ll carve the turtle first, the fat pig can wait later.”

Xiao Junzhu’s tears gushed out, but clearly she did not want to open her eyes. Wei Xiaobao did not have any choice, since he did not want to admit defeat, he had to gently run the point of the scissors over her face to draw. The point of the scissors was actually very blunt, although Xiao Junzhu’s skin was very delicate, there was no way the scissors would harm her. However, she was so frightened that all she knew was that this evil man was carving her face with a knife. She gasped for breath, and then passed out.

Seeing her different expression, Wei Xiaobao was afraid that he had scared her to death; he was shocked, and hastily held out his hand to feel her breathing. Fortunately she was still breathing, thereupon he said, “Stinky girl, you pretend to die!” He mused, “Even if you have to die you are not willing to open your eyes; will I have to submit to you?” Fetching a wet cloth, he wiped the black ink off her face. He had to wipe it three times before her face was clean.

Seeing her thin eyebrows and long eyelashes, her small mouth and stuck out nose, her exquisite features and beautiful countenance, Wei Xiaobao thought aloud, “You are a Junzu Niang-niang, I am sure you are looking down on a little eunuch like me, but I am also looking down on you; won’t that make us even?”

After a while, Xiao Junzhu slowly regained her consciousness. As soon as she opened her eyes, she saw Wei Xiaobao’s eyes were less than a chi apart from her own eyes; he was staring maliciously at her. She could not help but was shocked and hastily closed her eyes again. Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily and said, “Finally you open your eyes to look at me. Laozi has won, hasn’t he?”

Knowing that he had won, his heart was very happy; however, Xiao Junzhu was unable to speak, so unavoidably he was rather disappointed. He was thinking of unsealing her acupoints, but he did not know how; he said, “Your acupoints were sealed, if they are not unsealed, you can’t eat, won’t you be starved to death then? Actually, I am thinking of unsealing your acupoints. I have learned the unsealing acupoints technique in the past, but now I already forget. Can you? If you can’t, just lie down perfectly still, don’t make any move. But if you can, blink your eyes three times.”

He fixed his gaze on Xiao Junzhu, but she did not move at all. Only after a long time suddenly her eyes slowly blinked three times. Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he said, “I only know that Mu Palace people are all surnamed Mu, so each and every one of you must be a blockhead [surname ‘Mu’ sounds like ‘wood’], with stupid head and stupid brain, don’t know anything. Turns out you, blockhead, still know how to unseal acupoints.”

He carried her off and sat her on a chair; he said, “Pay attention, I will point to various position on your body one by one; if I point to the correct position, blink your eyes three times, if it is incorrect, just open your eyes wide, do not move at all. When I’ve found the sealed acupoint, I will unseal it for you, do you understand? If you do, blink your eyes.”

Xiao Junzhu blinked three times. Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Very good!” he said, “I’ll start pointing.” Wei Xiaobao held out a hand and pointed to the right side of her chest, “Is it here?” he asked.

Immediately Xiao Junzhu’s face blushed deep red, but she kept her eyes wide open. How could she dare to blink even once? Wei Xiaobao pointed to the left side of her chest and asked, “Is it here?”

Xiao Junzhu’s face was even redder; she had opened her eyes for a long time, and now she could not help but blinking one time. “Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed loudly, “It’s here!”

Xiao Junzhu hastily opened her eyes wide; she was ashamed, anxious, and unspeakably distressed. These two people were both about thirteen, fourteen years old; about the matter between a man and a woman, they seemed to understand, but not quite understand. It’s just that girls usually understand human affairs earlier than boys. Wei Xiaobao grew up in a brothel, he observed plenty of indecent interaction between brothel customers and the prostitutes on daily basis. Although did not understand the idea behind it, he always knew that those actions were not appropriate.

Seeing her in such a distressing situation, Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself. He felt that at this moment, the disgrace he experienced at the Willow Tree Lane the previous day had been vented, it had been avenged. He pointed to the east and to the west, all over Xiao Junzhu’s body. Xiao Junzhu struggled with everything she had to keep her eyes open wide, she did not dare to blink ever so slightly, for fear that if she was not careful and blinked unintentionally, the important matter would be spoiled. Not too long afterwards, tiny beads of perspiration were beginning to form on the tip of her nose. Luckily right that moment Wei Xiaobao happened to point to her left underarm, the correct location of the acupoint needed to be unsealed; hastily she blinked three times. Her heart was relieved, she heaved a deep sigh.

“Ha ha,” Wei Xiaobao laughed, “It’s here alright. It’s not that laozi did not know, it’s just that my memory is not good, momentarily I did not remember.” He thought, “After her acupoint has been unsealed, I don’t know how good her martial art skill is, if this little girl started beating people, it would be troublesome.” Turning around, he fetched two waistbands and tied her feet together firmly first, and then he tied her hands to the back of the chair.

Xiao Junzhu did not know how he was going to add to her torment, involuntarily her face showed a panic-stricken expression. “You are scared of me, aren’t you?” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Since you are scared, laozi will unseal your acupoint.” Reaching out toward her left armpit, he gently scratched several times.

Xiao Junzhu felt the itch was very difficult to bear, but she was unable to move, so her face buldged very red.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I used to be an expert in sealing and unsealing acupoints technique, it’s just that laozi is extremely busy lately; I don’t have time to think about trivial things like this, so I kind of forget. Is this how you unseal acupoint?” While saying that, he massaged her armpit several times.

Xiao Junzhu felt another burst of unbearable itch, her face showed a slight anger.

Wei Xiaobao said, “This is my most profound unsealing acupoint technique. The more profound technique is only effective if used on a superior quality person. You, this little girl, are not a superior quality person, if first-class technique is being used on your body, indeed it won’t have any effect. Alright, I will try using the second-class technique.” Stretching out his finger, he poked her armpit several times.

Xiao Junzhu felt itchy and hurt, tears streaming down from her eyes.

“Uh, second-class technique won’t do the job either,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Could it be that you are a third-class girl? I have no choice, I will have to try the third-class technique.” Raising his palm, he slapped her armpit once, still nothing happened.

Sealing acupoint is an advanced skill in the study of martial art. The martial art practitioner must have an extremely strong foundation, must receive clear direction of a master, and must train assiduously for several years before he can master the technique. Sealing and unsealing acupoints are the two sides of a coin, if one knows to seal acupoints, one will also know how to unseal acupoints. One must be able to accurately locate the acupoint, and the finger must have the right combination of hard and soft inner force before one could either seal or unseal another person’s acupoint. Wei Xiaobao did not have any internal energy, and he had never learned how to seal acupoints; with just random guess and trial-and-error, how could he be able to unseal Xiao Junzhu’s acupoint?

Slapping failed, he changed into grabbing. Grabbing did not work, he changed into twisting. Xiao Junzhu was both angry and anxious; she could not stop tears from flowing down her face. By this time Wei Xiaobao no longer had the intention to torment her; he had been busy for half a day, yet failed to unseal her acupoint. His own forehead was wet with perspiration, out of shame, unavoidably he became somewhat angry. “I have even used the eighth-class technique, but it feels like a mouse trying to pull a tortoise; it is completely useless. Could it be that you are a ninth-class girl? Laozi is a man of dignity, a man with a long history, I had determined not to use the ninth-class martial art. However, it seems to me that your Mu Palace people are all damn rotten blockheads, with wooden heads and wooden brains, simple intelligence and simple[5] feeling. Let me tell you this: in spite of my own dignity right now, I am going to try the ninth-class martial art against your ninth-class ‘little mother’s skin’ body.”

Immediately he bent his middle finger and used his thumb to hold it, and then putting forth his strength he flicked it away toward Xiao Junzhu’s armpit, while saying, “This is ‘flicking cotton’.” And then he sang a nursery rhyme, “Clap, clap, clap, flick the cotton. The cotton stinks, fry the black soybean. The black soybean is burnt, mix it with pepper. The pepper’s hot, raise a pagoda. The top of the pagoda is pointy, penetrating the sky. The sky drops the rain, creates a landslide, let your Mu family’s wooden head wooden brain, dog head and dog brain, your great ancestors of eighteen generation, slip!”

As he sang a line, a flicked once; successively flicking for a dozen times. When he sang the last word, Xiao Junzhu suddenly let out an ‘Oh!’, and broke into a cry. Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic, he sprang up and leaped up and down, while laughing and saying, “I told you, Mu Palace’s little girl is indeed a ninth-class little thing, must be dealt with using the ninth-class martial art.”

Crying, Xiao Junzhu said, “You … you are the … the … the … the ninth-class …” her voice was melodious, tender and lovely, with a soft Yunnan accent; it was unspeakably pleasant to the ear.

Using a falsetto, Wei Xiaobao imitated her, “You … you are the … the … the … the ninth-class …” and then he burst out laughing.

What happened was when he randomly flicked, he repeatedly hit the Ye Yuan[6] Acupoint on Xiao Junzhu’s armpit. The Ye Yuan acupoint belongs to the Foot Shaoyang Channel of the Gall Bladder, it is located three cun below the armpit. Various acupoints on human head, such as Si Kong Zhu, Yang Bai, Lin Qi[7], and the others belong to this channel. He had grabbed, twisted, hit and flicked this Ye Yuan acupoint. Although his hand strength was insufficient, but after a long time, the various acupoints on Xiao Junzhu’s head were activated, so then her speech was not obstructed.

Seeing he was unexpectedly able to unseal Xiao Junzhu’s acupoint, Wei Xiaobao was extremely happy; almost instantly his animosity against the Mu Palace was largely gone. He said, “My tummy is hungry, I assume you are not full either, I’d better give you something to eat first.” He was a glutton to begin with, now that he became the head of the Catering Department, all his subordinates in supervisory positions were currying his favor by instructing the kitchen to deliver all kinds of fresh delicacies to him daily. He wandered around on the streets day in and day out, he would buy whatever pastry or candy he saw in the marketplace; therefore, there were countless bottles, jars, small boxes, and small bamboo deep baskets in his rooms, all filled with bits and pieces of delicacies. A teenager with several hundred thousand taels in his hands, a glutton and a spender by nature, how could he resist from buying all these snacks?

He took out the delicacies and said, “This is rose mung bean cake, try it.” Xiao Junzhu shook her head. Wei Xiaobao picked another box and opened the lid, he said, “This is Beijing’s famous delicacy, the yellow pea. I am sure you don’t have it in Yunnan. Try one piece!” Xiao Junzhu shook her head again. Wei Xiaobao wanted to show off his belongings, so he piled all sorts of cakes, pastries and candies on the table. “Look,” he said, “Don’t you think I have a lot of goodies? Even though you are a Junzhu of a palace, most likely you have never had these many delicacies. If you don’t like to eat sweets, try our kitchen’s crispy thin fried onion, it’s a rarity in the world. Even His Majesty loves it. Try one, I guarantee you’ll like it.” Xiao Junzhu still shook her head. In succession Wei Xiaobao presented seven, eight of his best collections, Xiao Junzhu always shook her head.

Wei Xiaobao’s anger shot to the roof. “Stinky girl, your mouth is so picky, you don’t want this, you don’t want that, what is it that you want?” he asked.

Xiao Junzhu said, “I … I don’t want to eat anything …” but she only said those words and broke into a sob.

Hearing her cry, Wei Xiaobao’s heart softened somewhat. “If you don’t want to eat anything,” he said, “Are you going to starve yourself to death?”

“I … I’d rather die of starvation,” Xiao Junzhu replied.

“I can’t believe you really want to starve yourself to death,” Wei Xiaobao said.

At this moment, someone lightly knocked the door. Wei Xiaobao knew it must be the little eunuch delivering his meal. Afraid that Xiao Junzhu might make noise and alert other people, Wei Xiaobao fetched a piece of towel and tied it around Xiao Junzhu’s mouth before opening the door. He told the little eunuch, “Today I’d like to have Yunnan dish; tell the kitchen to make some immediately and have it sent here.” The little eunuch complied and left.

Wei Xiaobao brought the meal into his room. He took off the towel on Xiao Junzhu’s mouth and sat down across from her. He laughed and said, “If you don’t want to eat, then I’ll eat. Mmmm, this is fried beef in thick soya sauce, this is fish fillet pickled in wine, this is sliced beef in garlic paste, and then there’s Zhenjiang salted meat, plain pan-fried shrimp, and a bowl of chicken feet and koumo mushroom soup; all are incomparably tasty. Delicious! Delicious!” He scooped a spoonful of soup, intentionally slurped and smacking his lips noisily. But when he stole a glance at the Xiao Junzhu, he saw tears streaming down her face; she did not show the slightest desire to eat at all.

Wei Xiaobao’s enthusiasm was doused; he said resentfully, “Turns out a ninth-class little girl only loves to eat ninth-class stinky fish, stinky meat, stinky duck egg; here I have first-class dishes and delicacies, which are for first-class people only. Just wait and I’ll have stinky fish, stinky meat, stinky duck egg and stinky tofu delivered here for you to eat.”

Xiao Junzhu said, “I don’t eat stinky duck egg and stinky tofu.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “Um, turns out you only eat stinky fish and stinky meat.”

“You love talking nonsense,” Xiao Junzhu said, “I don’t eat stinky fish and stinky meat.”

Wei Xiaobao ate several chopsticks of shrimp and a piece of salted meat. “The flavor is really good,” he praised. Seeing all along the Xiao Junzhu was unmoved, he lay down the chopsticks, while pondering in his heart how to make her beg for food.

Quite a while later, the little eunuch came back delivering the ordered meal. “Gui Gong-gong,” he said, “The chef told Xiao Ren to report to Gong-gong: this Guo Qiao rice noodle [vermicelli] soup is extremely hot. It doesn’t seem to emit any steam, but it is very hot. This Xuanwei Huo Jiao[8] was cooked in preserved sweet lotus seed; it was cooked in a hurry, perhaps it is not very tender, the chef asked Gong-gong to excuse him. This one is Yunnan’s black big-head vegetable [rutabaga]. This dish is Erhai Lake of Dali’s Gong Yu Gan[9], although it wasn’t fresh, it is still very rare; it was fried in Yunnan’s red flower oil. In this pot is Pu’er tea of Yunnan. The chef said that the famous steamed chicken of Yunnan takes more than four hours to be cooked well, it will be evening before we can deliver it to Senior, Gui Gong-gong.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. After the little eunuch left, he brought all the dishes into his room.

The imperial kitchen had managed to prepare four types of authentic Yunnan cuisine in such a short moment, their skill could be considered first-rate. Actually, with Wu Sangui being the Ping Xi Wang in Yunnan, although he was domineering, still, on Chinese New Year and other festivities, he would pay tribute to the imperial household, and give holiday gifts to various princes and dukes; his generosity was matchless, ten times more lavish than his peers, as a result, the number of people who speak on his behalf in the imperial court was indeed not just a few. When Wu Sangui sent his tribute to the Emperor, other than gold, silver and jewels, ivory, rhinoceros horn and other precious articles, he also sent all kinds of Yunnan local products, everything that was expected to be found in Yunnan. Because of this, it was not difficult at all for the imperial kitchen to prepare tasty Yunnan dishes in such a short time.

Actually, Xiao Junzhu was hungry, seeing these tasty dishes from her hometown, she could not stop her heart from being moved; however, Wei Xiaobao had indeed bullied her really bad, so she was unwilling to yield. She was determined: “No matter how this little vile creature entices me, I am not going to eat.”

Wei Xiaobao picked a piece of bright red and fragrant Xuanwei ham with his chopsticks and held it close to Xiao Junzhu’s mouth; he laughed and said, “Open your mouth!” Xiao Junzhu gnashed her teeth and shut her mouth tight. Wei Xiaobao rubbed the ham back and forth on her lips, so that her lips were covered in grease; he said with a laugh, “Be a good girl and eat this ham, then I will unseal your acupoint.” Xiao Junzhu shook her head with mouth closed tight.

Wei Xiaobao put down the ham, he opened the lid of the hot soup, and maliciously said, “This soup is extremely hot. If you are willing to eat, I am going to wait until it cools down a little, I’ll feed you slowly, a spoon by a spoon. If you don’t want to eat? Humph, humph!” Reaching out with his left hand, he pinched her nose.

Her breathing obstructed, Xiao Junzhu had no choice but to open her mouth. Wei Xiaobao picked a porcelain spoon with his right hand and stuffed it into her mouth, saying, “I will force the hot soup in like this, so it will scald your intestines!” Only after letting Xiao Junzhu gasping for breath for a moment did he take out the porcelain spoon from her mouth with his left hand.

Xiao Junzhu knew that Guo Qiao vermicelli soup was actually half oil, it was several times hotter than ordinary soup; if he really forced the soup into her throat, she might really die of scalding. She cried and said, “You carved my face, I … I don’t want to live anymore, so grotesque …”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Turns out you really believe I carved a turtle on your face.” He smiled and said, “Although you face has an engraving on it, this little turtle is very beautiful, when you go out on the street, I guarantee everybody will cheer and applaud!”

“It’s dead ugly,” Xiao Junzhu said, “I … I’d rather die.”

“Ay, such a pretty little turtle,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You really don’t want it? If I knew, I would not have to put that much thought into carving it on your face.”

“What carving?” Xiao Junzhu said, “I … I am not a blockhead either.”

“But your surname is clearly Mu,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “What do you mean you are not a blockhead?”

“My family’s surname, the character Mu [沐],” Xiao Junzhu said, “is the Mu [木, wood] with three ‘water’ [氵] radical, not the ‘wood’ from the ‘wooden head’ [木头, blockhead].”

Wei Xiaobao could not tell those two ‘Mu’ characters apart, he said, “If you put a blockhead in the water, it’s no more than a piece of rotten blockhead.” Xiao Junzhu cried again.

“Why do you have to cry all the time?” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you call me ‘good Gege’ three times, I will fix your face, I will scrape the little turtle off so that not the least bit of trace will remain.”

Xiao Junzhu blushed. “How can you scrape it off?” she asked, “If you scrape my face again, how will it look?”

“I have an effective cure, miracle medicine,” Wei Xiaobao said, “On a first-class hero and warrior, of course it is rather difficult to fix. But you are a ninth-class little girl, fixing your face is really easy.”

“I don’t believe you,” Xiao Junzhu said, “You just love to deride others.”

“Are you going to call or not?” Wei Xiaobao said. With a blushing face, Xiao Junzhu shook her head.

Looking at her loveable and bashful appearance, Wei Xiaobao was unable to stop his heart from being moved. “The little turtle was carved not too long ago,” he said, “It is really easy to fix. If you wait longer, it is going to be more difficult. If the tail of the turtle remained and can’t be fixed, I am afraid you will regret it later.”

Although Xiao Junzhu was half believing and half doubting his words, she was anxious to try it; supposing he was right, that in the future a turtle tail remained on her face, it would be extremely unsightly. Her face grew even redder as she whispered, “You … you are not deceiving me?”

“Why would I deceive you?” Wei Xiaobao said, “The sooner you call, the sooner I will start, the better the fix on your face will be. Quickly call me!”

Xiao Junzhu said, “What if … what if after I call you, your fix failed?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Then I will reimburse you double, I will call you ‘good Meimei’ six times!”

Xiao Junzhu’s entire face turned deep red. “You are very bad, I won’t call!” she said.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Since you don’t trust me, we’ll make a deal. You call me ‘good Gege’ one time first, then after I fix your face, you call me the second time. I’ll have a mirror so that you can see it for yourself, if really not a scar is left, you are fully satisfied, you call me the third time. Who knows? Perhaps you will be very happy that you’ll call me ten times in a row.”

“No, no,” Xiao Junzhu hastily said, “You said three times, how can you add to that number?”

Wei Xiaobao smiled. “Alright, three times it is,” he said, “Just call me quickly!” Xiao Junzhu moved her lips several times, but each time she could not call.

“What’s so hard about calling me ‘good Gege’?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I did not ask you to call me ‘good husband’, or ‘dear husband’. If you don’t call quickly, my price will go up.”

Xiao Junzhu was afraid he might really force her to call him ‘husband’; stuttering, she said, “I will say the first word, after you really fix my face, I will continue with the next … the next two words.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Ay, you really know how to haggle over the price. Giving the money first or giving the money later is just the same. Alright, you call!”

Xiao Junzhu closed her eyes and softly called, “Good …” This word ‘good’ was so soft that it sounded like a buzzing mosquito, if Wei Xiaobao’s hearing was somewhat lacking, he would not be able to hear it at all. On top of that, her face was blushing very deep red.

Wei Xiaobao muttered to himself, “Calling me like this is very disappointing. Seven losses and eight discounts later, what’s left for me? Besides, I don’t know what words follow the word ‘good’ in your heart; it could be ‘good son of a b1tch’, or it could be ‘good little thief’.”

“No,” Xiao Junzhu hurriedly said, “In my heart, I was thinking of … of those two characters. I am not lying to you, I really am not lying to you.”

“Which two characters?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Is it ‘turtle’ [wugui], or ‘little thief’ [xiao zei]?”

“No, no!” Xiao Junzhu said, “It’s ‘Ge’ …” As soon as the word ‘Ge’ came out, she hastily closed her mouth.

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Very good,” he said, “Let’s just say you still have conscience. In that case, I’ll use the best method to fix your face. When you ask a mason to fix a hole in the wall to let the dog comes in and out, with the first-class price, the mason will use a first-class technique; if the price is too low, the mason will cram several rotten bricks and be done with it, he won’t even whitewash it with lime. Don’t you think it will be extremely unsightly?”

Xiao Junzhu said, “I have already called, you still make fun of me by calling me a dog hole and rotten bricks.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “I was giving you an analogy.” Opening Hai Laogong’s trunk, he took the medicine chest out and placed the dozens of medicine bottles from the chest on the table. He poured out some medicinal powder from each bottle, while acting as if he was deep in thought he mixed everything. Originally Xiao Junzhu was only 30% convinced, but seeing these many medicine bottle, her confidence rose up by 20% more. Wei Xiaobao put the medicine powder mix into a medicinal earthenware mortar, which he then brought outside the room. Once he was outside, however, he poured everything onto a paper wrap, which he hid inside his pocket. He took a piece of mung bean cake, a piece of pea-flour cake, and added a piece of lotus seed, which he dug out of a Guangdong moon cake. After washing the mortar clean, until there was not the least bit of medicinal powder left, he put the lotus seed, mung bean cake and pea-flour cake into the mortar, and then he pounded the cakes into a mush. He added two soup-spoons of honey, and having a sudden inspiration, he spat two mouthful of saliva into the mixture, and mixed everything evenly.

Reentering the room, he said, “This is ‘Sheng Ji Ling Gao’ [Efficacious Ointment to Grow the Flesh/Muscle], effective against countless maladies.” After thinking for a moment he added, “Your face has been carved by me; if I can restore it to its original state, it would only look the same as before, you would not see my true ability.” Taking the cap inlaid with jewels he wore the previous day, he pulled four pearls away from the cap and held them on his left palm. “What do you think of these pearls?” he asked Xiao Junzhu.

For generations Xiao Junzhu’s family had held the title of ‘King’ conferred by the previous Emperor; although by the time she was born the Mu family had been in decline, she was after all, a noble woman of an aristocratic family, her knowledge was vastly different from that of a commoner. Seeing the pearls were of the size of a finger, gleaming with soft pearly luster as they slid smoothly on his palm, she knew they were flawless, perfectly round pearls. “Those are very good pearls,” she praised, “Four pearls, exactly the same size, like that are hard to come by!”

Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself; he said, “I bought these pearls for two thousand nine hundred taels yesterday. They are very expensive, don’t you agree?” Although these four pearls were expensive, they were not worth two thousand nine hundred taels; actually, they were only nine hundred taels, he added two thousand taels to deceive her. Taking another mortar, he put the pearls into the mortar and shook the mortar several revolutions, the pearls and the mortar struck against each other, creating clear ringing sound. Wei Xiaobao picked up a stone pestle and pound the pearls.

“Ah!” Xiao Junzhu exclaimed. “What are you doing?” she asked.

Seeing her serious expression and the astonishment on her little face, Wei Xiaobao was even more spirited. The reason he was showing off his extravagance was exactly to incite such astonishment. Immediately he pounded vigorously, crushing the four pearls, and then repeatedly gyrated the stone pestle until the pearls became powder. He said, “If I only restore your face to its original condition, I won’t show Wei … won’t show Xiao Guizi Gong-gong’s real ability; I must make your face ten times more beautiful than it was, and then you will delighted, without the least bit of reluctance, to call me ‘Good Gege’ ten times.”

“Three times!” Xiao Junzhu said, “How can it change to ten?”

Wei Xiaobao only smiled, he poured the pearl powder into the paste consisting of mung bean cake, pea-flour cake, lotus seed, honey and saliva, mixed everything evenly with the pestle. Xiao Junzhu watched with eyes wide open, wondering what he was doing. Seeing he grind the four pearls into the mixture, she can well imagine that this ointment was very costly.

“Although four pearls are expensive,” Wei Xiaobao said, “it is nothing compared to other priceless treasured medicinal powder. Your face was actually not bad, but we can’t say it was first-rate in the world. After I apply the ointment, most likely it will turn into matchless in the world, ‘bashful moon obstructing the flower’ …”

“Bashful flower obstructing the moon [i.e. beautiful woman],” Xiao Junzhu said. Hearing Wei Xiaobao speak incorrectly, without thinking she blurted out to correct him. But as soon as the words came out of her mouth, she could not help but feeling embarrassed.

To Wei Xiaobao however, using the wrong idiom was just like daily meal; he did not give it the slightest thought. “Right,” he said, “You will turn into a little beauty ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’, now that will be good.” While speaking, he worked on smearing the bean putty mashed lotus seed and pearl paste on her face. Xiao Junzhu did not say anything, she let him randomly daubed her face with the ointment. In just a short moment, her entire face, save her eyes, ears, nose and mouth, was completely covered. She only thought that the sweet and fragrant smell of this medicinal ointment was really strong, not sharp like the smell of medicine at all, she did not feel any discomfort.

Seeing she was duped, Wei Xiaobao desperately tried not to laugh; he said in his heart, “Just consider me being polite for not peeing in this medicinal ointment; I was looking at the great merit of your ancestor, Mu Ying, Mu Wangye. He was an outstanding founding minister, Wei Xiaobao yields to him 30%.”

Finished applying the ointment, Wei Xiaobao washed his hands clean and said, “After the ointment is dry, I am going to use the amazing medicinal powder to wash your face clean. Three application, three washes, it’s impossible for you not to be bashful moon … bashful flower obstructing the moon.”

Xiao Junzhu thought, “What ‘impossible not to be bashful flower obstructing the moon’? This sentence sounds quite awkward.” She asked, “Why must you apply three times?”

“Three times can be considered nothing,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “When people make soy sauce, it has to be steamed and dried out in the sun nine times. Even when cooking dog meat, it has to be boiled three times in a row.”

“You are cursing me again as soy sauce and dog meat,” Xiao Junzhu grumbled.

“I did not say soy sauce and dog meat,” Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Dog meat cooked in soy sauce is simmer-fried dog meat. If no soy sauce is being used, then it is plain dog meat stew.” With chopsticks he picked a piece of ham and brought it to her mouth. “Eat, please!” he said.

First, Xiao Junzhu was really hungry, second, she did not dare to offend Wei Xiaobao; she was afraid of his unpredictable actions, who knows? Perhaps he would leave a turtle tail on her face. Third, she saw how he grind the costly pearls without any reservation, unavoidably she had received his favor. After slight hesitation, she opened her mouth and ate.

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic. “Good Meizi,” he praised, “Now this is what I call good girl.”

“I am … I am not your good meizi,” Xiao Junzhu said.

“Good Jiejie, then,” Wei Xiaobao said. [Meizi and Jiejie – younger and older sister, respectively; used in a more intimate setting.]

“I am not,” Xiao Junzhu said.

“Well, how about good Mama?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Xiao Junzhu giggled. “How … how can I be …” she stuttered.

Since the first time Wei Xiaobao saw her, this was the very first time he heard her laughter. It’s a pity her face was covered in lotus seed and bean paste, so it was difficult for him to see the flower-like dimples when she laughed. However, hearing her silver-bell-like laughter was enough to make his heart feel at ease and his spirit delighted. When Wei Xiaobao said, ‘My good Mama,’ he was actually cursing her as ‘little wh0re’, because his own mother was a prostitute. But hearing her joyous laugher was so unrestrained and tender, he could not help but feeling a bit regretful. He thought, “Nothing wrong with being a wh0re, in the Lovely Spring Courtyard my Mama is earning money, she is not necessarily inferior to damn wooden head wooden brain Junzhu from the Mu Palace.” He picked several more pieces of ham to feed her; he said, “If you promise not to run away, I am going to unseal the acupoints on your hand.”

“Why would I want to run away?” Xiao Junzhu said, “With a little turtle carved on my face, if I run away, I would look so ugly that I would die of shame.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “As soon as you find out there is no little turtle on your face, you will definitely run away. That Boss Qian did not say when he is going to let her out either. If the others find out I am hiding a little girl in the Palace, my responsibility will not be small; what should I do?”

While he was still deep in thought, suddenly from outside the door someone was calling out, “Gui Gong-gong, Xiaoren is an attendant in Prince Kang’s mansion, I have something I’d like to see you about.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao replied; lowering his voice he said, “Somebody’s coming, don’t make any noise. Do you know what place this is?” Xiao Junzhu shook her head. Wei Xiaobao said, “If I tell you, you will jump of fright. All those people want to harm you. Only because I took pity on you that I have given you a temporary shelter. If they knew you are in her, humph, humph …” While in his heart he was thinking hard, “What should I say to frighten her the most? What would scare her the most?” An idea struck him; he said, “Those wicked people will strip you naked, then they’ll spank your butts; it will be exceedingly painful.” Xiao Junzhu’s face turned red, but her eyes indeed showed fear.

Seeing the effect of his threat, Wei Xiaobao went out to open the door. Outside the door was a thirty-something court eunuch. The man paid his respect to Wei Xiaobao, and then respectfully said, “Xiaoren is from Prince Kang’s mansion. Our Wangye said that he has not seen Gong-gong for a long time, and is very concerned. Today he has ordered a theatrical troupe and invites Gong-gong to come to the Prince’s mansion to drink wine and watch the opera.”

Hearing the word ‘opera’, Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was aroused, but a Xiao Junzhu was hiding in his room, he was afraid someone might find out by accident, or perhaps she would make noise and attract other people’s attention, then it would be very inconvenient for him; hence he was rather hesitant.

The eunuch said, “Wangye said that Gong-gong’s presence is very much expected. The Palace is bustling with excitements today. There will be dice, pai gow, and all kinds of gambling.”

When he heard the word ‘opera’, Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was only aroused, but when he heard ‘gambling’, his spirit was greatly aroused. After acquiring the riches, he found that gambling with the Wen brothers, Ping Wei and the others was no longer interesting. He threw dice with them only to kill time. Since Prince Kang setup a casino in his mansion, he would be able to gamble with common people and warriors; how could he pay anymore attention to little princess or big princess? Thereupon he happily said, “Very well, wait here for a moment, I‘ll come with you.”

He went back to his room, loosened the belt strapping Xiao Junzhu, lay her down on the bed, and then bound her hands and feet again. He pulled the quilt over her body, and said in a low voice, “I have to do something outside, I’ll be back in a little bit.” Seeing the doubt on her eyes, he said, “I don’t have enough pearls, I need to buy some more to be ground and applied to your face, only then your face will be perfect.”

“You … please don’t go,” Xiao Junzhu said, “Pearls are expensive.”

“Never mind that,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your good Gege has plenty of money, I must make you bashful flower obstructing the moon; spending several thousand taels is nothing.”

“I … I am scared in here,” Xiao Junzhu said.

Seeing her pitiful but cute expression, Wei Xiaobao almost could not bear leaving her, but to ask him not to gamble, it was useless even if Xiao Junzhu was ten times more pitiful. He picked a piece of Gong fish and fed her, then he picked four pieces of eight-treasure cake and folded the cake over her mouth, saying, “When you open your mouth, a piece of cake will enter your mouth. But be careful, if the cake falls onto the pillow, you can’t eat it anymore.”

“You … please don’t go,” Xiao Junzhu said; but since there were cakes on top of her lips, her voice was barely audible. Wei Xiaobao pretended not to hear, he took a bundle of banknotes from his chest and stuffed it into his pocket. He opened the door, walked out, locked the door from the outside, and then hurriedly followed the eunuch to Prince Kang’s mansion.

When he arrived at the gate of the Prince Kang’s mansion, he saw on either side of the main gate stood two rows of imperial bodyguards, all wearing bright brocade uniform, with either a sword or a saber hanging from their waists. They looked so elegant and imposing; the mansion was a lot more heavily-guarded compared to Wei Xiaobao’s first visit. Obviously because of ‘Oboi’s followers’ had broken into the Palace, the security was elevated.

Wei Xiaobao had just stepped in the main gate, Prince Kang had already rushed out to greet him, half squatting, he embraced Wei Xiaobao’s waist. “Gui Xiongdi,” he said with a laugh, “I haven’t seen you for many days, you are growing taller and taller, and look more handsome than ever.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wangye, how are you?” [lit. ‘are you good?’ read on, you’ll see …]

Prince Kang laughed and said, “What’s so good? You did not come to play at my house too often. It would be good if I get to see you more, it is not good if I rarely see you.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wangye has ordered me to come, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.”

“I will hold you accountable of what you’ve just said,” Prince Kang said, “I am thinking of asking His Majesty to grant you some vacation, so that we can drink wine and watch the opera, to do as we please for ten days, eight days. I am just afraid His Majesty cannot do without you for even a day.” He took Wei Xiaobao’s hand, and the two of them walked in side by side. All the imperial bodyguards bowed to salute.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. Although people were flattering him in the Palace, he was only an eunuch after all, where could he find such an opportunity to walk hand in hand with a prince like this?

When they reached the middle gate, two Manchurian high-ranking officials came out to greet them. One was the newly-appointed Commander of the Inner Imperial Bodyguards, Dolong, usually it was known as the Shiwei Zongguan [Imperial Bodyguard chief manager]. The other was Wei Xiaobao’s sworn brother, Songgotu. Songgotu sprang forward and embraced Wei Xiaobao; he laughed heartily and said, “I heard Wangye was inviting you, so I invited myself too, so the two of us brothers can enjoy the excitement together.” The Shiwei Zongguan Dolong also came forward to fawn on him.

As soon as the four of them set their feet on the veranda in front of the main hall, the musicians played a happy tune. Wei Xiaobao had never received such a grand reception like this, he was radiant with delight, and almost could not stop himself from dancing with joy right then and there. When they reached the second hall, more than twenty officers had already standing in the atrium to welcome them. All these people were high-ranking officials: government ministers, vice ministers, generals, commanders of imperial family’s personal guards, and so on. Songgotu introduced them one by one to Wei Xiaobao.

A court eunuch entered in a hurry, after doing his obeisance, he reported, “Wangye, Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent[10] has arrived.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Very good! Gui Xiongdi, just sit back and relax, I am going out to welcome the guest.” Then he turned around and left.

“Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent?” Wei Xiaobao mused, “Could it be Wu Sangui’s son? What is he doing here?”

Songgotu leaned over, he laughed softly next to Wei Xiaobao’s ear and said, “Good Xiongdi, congratulations, today you are going to get rich.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It depends on my gambling luck.”

Songgotu said with a laugh, “I am sure your gambling luck is good. Other than getting rich on the gambling table, there is another sure way of getting lucky.”

“What’s that?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Songgotu whispered on his ear, “Wu Sangui sends his son to pay tribute, all high-ranking official of the imperial court will not be neglected.”

“Oh,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Sangui sends his son to pay tribute. But I am not a high-ranking official of the imperial court.”

“You are a high-ranking official in the Palace,” Songgotu said, “Your prestige is a lot higher than a high-ranking official of the imperial court. Wu Sangui’s son, Wu Yingxiong is very astute and competent, he is very sensible.” Lowering his voice, he said, “Regardless of what Wu Yingxiong presents to you later, you must not show that you like it, just say lightly, ‘The heir came to Beijing, you must have a tiring journey.’ If he sees that you like the present, nothing will follow it. If you look indifferent, he will think that you do not like the gift, you consider it too little; then tomorrow he will return with big gift to make up for it.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; he said in low voice, “So that’s how you knock the bamboo pole[11].”

Songgotu said in low voice, “It’s foolish not to knock Yunnan’s bamboo pole loudly. His old man [laozi] has been sitting on Yunnan and Guizhou, two provinces; I don’t know how much fat and wealth of the people he has extorted. If we don’t help him spend it, first, we are being unfair to his old man, second, we are being unfair to the common people of Yunnan and Guizhou!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Exactly!” he said.

While they were talking, Prince Kang accompanied Wu Yingxiong coming into the hall. This Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent was about twenty four, twenty five years old, very handsome; he walked with vigorous and nimble steps, carrying an air of the son of a general family. Prince Kang pulled Wei Xiaobao over first; he said, “Xiao Wangye, this is Gui Gong-gong, the Lord of Ten Thousand Years’ most capable Gong-gong. The capture of Oboi at the Upper Study Room was mostly this Gui Gong-gong’s great merit.”

The number of eyes and ears Wu Sangui had sent to Beijing was really numerous. Anything that happened in the Capital, big and small, was duly reported by express courier to Kunming. Kangxi personally capturing Oboi was a first class news in the last several years, naturally Wu Yingxiong knew all the details early on. In fact, Wu Sangui had had a discussion with him, he felt that by successfully eradicating an important power without batting an eyelid, the Emperor had shown his heroic spirit despite his young age. He was afraid that his days as a feudal court official in the future would not be too good. This time Wu Yingxiong came to Beijing on his father’s order to pay his respect to the Son of Heaven, he brought a large number of gifts to bribe the senior ministers, but his main purpose was to observe Kangxi’s character and conducts, as well as to find out what kind of person was his most trusted minister.

Coming to Prince Kang’s mansion to pay a visit today, he did not expect to see Kangxi’s most favorite eunuch; he could not help but was greatly delighted. Busily he reached out with both hands to grab Wei Xiaobao’s right hand and shook it repeatedly, while saying, “Gui Gong-gong, I … zaixia … [book note: he started by saying ‘I’, but felt it was not respectful enough; then he thought of saying ‘junior’ (lit. ‘later generation’), but the other party was too young. If he said ‘Xiongdi‘, he felt he did not know him too well; if he said ‘humble officer’, the opposite party was not a high-ranking official of the imperial court, while he would also held the opposite party at a much higher position than himself. So in the end he decided to simply use a common Jianghu term to address oneself.] in Yunnan has heard Gong-gong’s great name. When speaking with other people, Fu Wang [Father King] always praises His Majesty’s wisdom and decisiveness; he is indeed the brilliant master, the Son of Heaven. He also says that with the holy Son of Heaven on the throne, even a young Gong-gong such as yourself is able to set up this great merit, earning the admiration of others. Fu Wang instructed zaixia to prepare gifts to show respect to Gong-gong. It’s just that according to the Great Qing law, it is inappropriate for an external official to make friends with internal officers; although zaixia has the time and the desire, I do not dare to rashly seek an audience with Gui Gong-gong. Today Kang Wangye has bestowed this good opportunity, truly my delight is unbearable.” He was very articulate, his words were very pleasant to listen to.

Hearing that even such a great personality like Wu Sangui, who was ten thousands li away, unexpectedly had also heard about his name, Wei Xiaobao could not help but was very flattered. Luckily he was used to hearing this kind of flattery, so he was prepared on how to deal with it. “We are only servants,” he said indifferently, “We merely work according to His Majesty’s imperial orders. It’s nothing more than, one, do not fear hardship, two, do not fear death; what great merit is worth mentioning? Xiao Wangye has flattered me too much.” While in his heart he thought, “Songgotu Gege has an incredible foresight; sure enough, as soon as this little traitor see me, he mentioned the word ‘gift’ right away.”

Wu Yingxiong was a guest from afar, he was also the Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent, so Prince Kang pushed him to sit on the seat of honor; and he asked Wei Xiaobao to sit on the next seat. There were a lot of high-ranking officials around the banquet table, government ministers and generals, each one was a dignitary. Although Wei Xiaobao was brassy, he did not dare to sit on the second seat; he declined repeatedly. Prince Kang laughed and said, “Gui Xiongdi, you are the man by His Majesty’s side, everybody reveres you in good faith to show love and respect toward His Majesty, you do not need to be polite.” While saying that, he pushed Wei Xiaobao to sit on the chair.

By this time, Songgotu had been promoted to be the Great Learning Scholar of the Dynastic History Ministry, his rank was above everybody else, so he sat next to Wei Xiaobao. The rest of the civil and military high official sat next to each other according to their rank. Wei Xiaobao had a sudden thought, “Damn it! When the patrons of the Lovely Spring Courtyard were having a dinner party with the singsong girls, Mama would always sit behind the guests, while passing along several pieces of cake and pastry to me. Often times those turtle b@stards caught me and threw me out. At that time I always thought that when laozi has become rich, I will come back to the Lovely Spring Courtyard to have a dinner party with the singsong girls; I would call the old procuress, the turtle b@stards and the girls to accompany me drinking. Who would have thought that today I have a prince, an heir apparent, government ministers and generals to accompany me drinking? Too bad the Lovely Spring Courtyard’s old procuress and the turtle b@stards cannot see laozi in this spirited appearance.”

Everybody sat down to drink. The sixteen escorts Wu Yingxiong brought with him were standing by the long window. They watched attentively at the people toasting each other and eating the dishes around the banquet table, as well as the servants delivering food and serving the wine; every action and each movement did not escape their steady gaze. Wei Xiaobao had to think for a while before he suddenly understood, “Right, they must be the martial art experts from the Ping Xi Wang’s palace, who come here to protect Wu Yingxiong, for fear that someone might assassinate or poison him. I am afraid Mu Palace people are already waiting outside. It would be great if there is a fierce battle later. I want to see if Mu Palace people will win, or Wu Sangui’s men more formidable.” His belly was filled with the desire to take pleasure in others’ misfortunes; he hoped that both sides would fight an exciting battle, until both sides suffer.

Prince Kang himself was aware of this situation, but being the host, he felt it was inappropriate to say anything. The Shiwei Zongguan Dolong was a martial art expert, he was also a straightforward man; after drinking several cups of wine, he said, “Xiao Wangye, these dozen or so escorts you bring must have been chosen from a thousand, those selected must be martial art experts.”

Wu Yingxiong laughed and said, “What martial art do they have? They are just personal bodyguards in Fu Wang’s Palace; they have been following Xiongdi, they know Xiongdi’s temperament very well, so when I go out, I seek people I can use for my convenience. That’s all.”

Dolong laughed and said, “Xiao Wangye is too modest. Just look at those two, their Taiyang [‘Sun acupoint’, located on the temples] acupoints are bulging high, their internal energy must have reached 90% proficiency. Looking at those two, their face and neck muscles are sturdy, they must have been trained in hard, external type of martial art. And those gentlemen with shiny faces and big pigtails hanging on the back of their heads, most likely those are fake. If you tell them to take out their caps, I bet they are bald.” Wu Yingxiong smiled, but did not say anything.

Songgotu laughed and said, “I only know Dolong Zongguan has superior martial art, I did not realize you have another skill, telling fortune by reading people’s facial features.”

Dolong laughed and said, “Suo Daren may not know this. When Ping Xi Wang was stationed in Liaodong peninsula, many military officers under his banner belonged to the Jin Ding School [lit. ‘golden crown of the head’ school] of Jinzhou. Disciples of Jin Ding School train a very formidable type of martial art with their heads. When they have trained to proficiency, their faces shiny, and they do not have a single strand of hair on the top of their heads.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “I wonder if it is possible to ask the Heir Apparent to tell these honored escorts to take off their caps, to let everybody see if Dolong Zongguan‘s speculation is accurate or not?”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Dolong Zongguan‘s vision is like a torch, how can he be inaccurate? Indeed these several personal bodyguards have trained Jin Ding School martial art, but their skill has not reached proficiency yet, they still have quite a number of hair on their heads. If I ask them to take off their caps, they will be disgraced in public. I wish gentlemen officials will excuse us.” Everybody laughed heartily, but since Wu Yingxiong was unwilling to comply, it was inappropriate for them to force him.

Wei Xiaobao could not avert his gaze from those people, his heart was unbearable itching, “I wonder how much hair that tall leader has? It looks like that thin man’s martial art skill is rather lacking, perhaps he has a lot of hair.” Suddenly he remembered something, “Ha!” he laughed.

With a smile Prince Kang asked, “Gui Xiongdi, what’s so funny? Why don’t you tell us?”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “I am thinking that the shifu from Jin Ding School must be very amiable; they won’t fight with other people too much, even more so with people from their own school.”

“How can you tell?” Prince Kang asked.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “When they get angry, they would stare at each other, then they would take their caps off. You count the hair on my head, I count the hair on your head; the one has less hair must have higher skill, the one with more hair will be forced to concede.” Everybody roared in laughter; they all said that Wei Xiaobao’s idea was very amusing. Wei Xiaobao continued, “Presumably all Jin Ding School’s shifu carry an abacus, otherwise it would be rather inconvenient to count the hair on their heads.” Everybody burst out in laughter again.

A government minister was drinking a cup of wine, the wine had not entered his throat, when he heard Wei Xiaobao, the wine in his mouth spurt out; because he was afraid to spurt on the table and thus looked lacking in manners, he lowered his head and let the wine spurt onto the front of his own clothes, while coughing incessantly.

“Kang Wangye,” Dolong said, “Since that servant Oboi’s clique disturbed your mansion the last time, I heard that these past several months you have gathered not a few of martial art masters.”

Prince Kang slowly stroke his beard with his right hand, his face showed that he was very pleased with himself. He slowly said, “Indeed martial art masters with prestige and real skill are not easy to find. Those willing to be hired by government authorities are mostly second or third class personnel.” Pausing for a moment he continued, “On the whole Xiao Wang [‘little king’ – referring to self] eagerly seek people of talent; in addition to offering a large sum of money, I have to help them handle several matters, only then did I manage to invite several real top martial art masters. It’s just that they have to be well-served daily, so it takes a lot of effort. Ha ha, ha ha!”

Dolong said, “Wangye’s secret in engaging very able persons, may you teach me?”

Prince Kang smiled and said, “Dolong Zongguan is himself a martial art master, why do you need to hire martial art masters?”

“Thank you Wangye for your compliment,” Dolong said, “I remember that year when we had a competition among our Manchu military commanders at the presence of senior ranking officers, presided personally by the Prince Regent, Wangye and Xiao Jiang [‘little general’ – referring to self] had obtained the Regent’s commendation. I heard this time the surviving members of Oboi’s clique came to stir up trouble, Wangye did not stop shooting arrows and personally killed over twenty members of the rebel party.”

Prince Kang smiled, but did not say anything. That day he did shoot some arrows and killed two Tian Di Hui members, ‘over twenty’ was obviously an exaggeration by a factor of ten.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I saw this matter with my own eyes. That time my ears only heard the random whishing sound of the arrows, while in front of me people shouting, ‘Aiyo, aiyo!’ and behind me people shouting, ‘Good shot, good shot!’”

A civil minister did not understand the meaning behind Wei Xiaobao’s words, he asked, “Gui Gong-gong, what do you mean by in front people shouting, ‘Aiyo!’ and behind people shouting, ‘Good shot!’?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Kang Wangye’s archery skill is ‘one hundred shots, one hundred hits’. In front, the people hit by the arrows shouted, ‘Aiyo!’, behind were our own men, praising, ‘Good shot!’. But there were several times more ‘Good shot!’ than the ‘Aiyo!’ does Daren know the reason?”

The minister twisted his beard with his finger, he said, “Presumably the number of people on our side was several times greater than that of the rebel party.”

“This time Daren has guessed incorrectly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “At that time the rebel party was carrying out a large-scale assault, Kang Wangye was using the few to defeat the many; there were more people on the enemy’s side. But some members of the rebel party were shot by Kang Wangye on the throat, so when the cry ‘Aiyo!’ reached the throat, it could not come out. Also, Kang Wangye shot arrows like a deity, among the rebel party, there were many who admired him from the bottom of their hearts, so they could not refrain from shouting, ‘Good shot!’ They knew they should not shout, but they just couldn’t bear not to.”

The minister repeatedly nodded his head. “So that’s how it is,” he said.

Wu Yingxiong raised his cup and said, “Kang Wangye’s divine archery, junior extremely admires it. I toast Wangye for a cup.” Everybody raised their cups and drank to toast him.

Prince Kang was delighted, he thought, “This kid Xiao Guizi knows the facts and can find appropriate response to delicate situation, no wonder His Majesty likes him.”

“Wangye,” Dolong said, “You have hired that many Wulin masters in your Palace, how about inviting them out to let everybody look at them?”

Prince Kang had been wanting to show off, so he instructed his chamberlain, “Prepare two more banquet tables over here, invite Shenzhao Shangren[12] and the others to come out and join the banquet.”

Not too long afterwards, more than twenty people came out from the rear hall, led by a man wearing large red kasaya, a fat and tall Buddhist monk. Prince Kang stood up; he laughed and said, “Friends, let us drink a cup!” Seeing Prince Kang stood up, all the guests around the table also stood up to welcome the newcomers.

The one called Shenzhao Shangren clasped his palms together and said with a laugh, “We don’t dare, we don’t dare! All Daren, please sit down.” His voice was like resounding bell. Just by this demonstration of chi, it was obvious that his internal energy cultivation was very profound. As for the rest of the men, some were tall, some were short, some were handsome, some were ugly. They sat around the two banquet tables.

Apart from possessing a good martial art skill, Dolong was also an impatient man; without waiting for the men to finish their first round of drink, he said, “Wangye, Xiao Jiang can see that each of these Wulin masters of your Palace has majestic appearance, they look formidable, their martial art skill must be extremely high; is it possible to ask these friends to display their skill? Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent and Gui Gong-gong are guests of honor whose presence is hard to come by, I presume they would also like to see the skill of Prince Kang Mansion’s people.”

Wei Xiaobao was the first to echo his words. Wu Yingxiong clapped his hands and cheered. The rest of the guests also said, “Absolutely, absolutely!”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Friends, all these honored guests want to see your skill, I wonder if you’d like to spar with each other.”

From the martial art masters’ banquet table on the left a middle-aged man suddenly stood up; with a loud and clear voice he said, “I only know that Kang Wangye loves talented people, that’s why I came here to hire myself to him; who would have thought that he only regards us as the Jianghu people who sell our skill? If all Daren want to see juggling monkey or tight-rope walker, why don’t you go to the Bridge of Heaven? I am taking my leave!” While saying that, he raised his left hand and smashed it down on the back of his chair. ‘Crash!’ the back of the chair broke. He walked out toward the door in big strides. Everybody’s face changed.

A thin and small old man, who was sitting on the same table as the man, suddenly flashed by and cut off in front of him. “Lang Shifu,” the old man said, “What you say is too preposterous. Wangye courteously and respectfully asking us to offer our skill, if Lang Shifu is willing to display your skill, no doubt it it is very good; but if you are unwilling, Wangye can’t possibly force you. In the Palace you make a racket, destroying the Palace’s property, even if in his magnanimity Wangye did not hold you responsible, but for the rest of us, brothers, where should we put our face?”

The man surnamed Lang laughed coldly and said, “Everybody has his own ambitions. Tao Shifu loves to show your skill in the Prince’s mansion, feel free to play as much as you want. Xiongdi cannot accompany you too much.” While saying that he took another step forward.

The old man surnamed Tao said, “If you really want to go, you need to kowtow and say goodbye to Wangye. If Wangye give you a nod, then you can leave.”

The man surnamed Lang said with a cold laugh, “I didn’t sell my body as a slave in the Prince’s mansion, my two feet grew on my own body, I can go whenever I want to go, why do you care?” Finished speaking, he walked forward.

Unexpectedly, the old man surnamed Tao did not move; seeing the one surnamed Lang was about to bump into him, he reached out to grab his left arm, while saying, “Who knows? Perhaps I will be forced to care.”

The one surnamed Lang bent his left arm downward, then suddenly jerked it upward, striking toward the old man surnamed Tao’s waist. The one surnamed Tao’s right leg flew up to kick the pit of his stomach. The one surnamed Lang’s right hand swiftly moved toward the back of old man Tao’s right leg, which by this time was high in the air. Seizing this opportunity, he pushed out, sending the old man surnamed Tao falling backward with his face up. Luckily he was quite nimble, propping himself with his right hand, he leaped back up. Although he did not fall flat on his back, he had already made a fool of himself, his old face turned entirely red. “Hey, hey,” the man surnamed Lang laughed coldly, and bolted toward the door.

Suddenly a thin man appeared on the door of the hall, which was originally empty. The thin man cupped his fist and said, “Lang Xiong, please return.”

The one surnamed Lang was moving so fast that he could not control his own momentum and crashed into the man’s body. The thin man did not evade, the two of them crashed into each other. The one surnamed Lang staggered three steps backwards. He took two steps sideways to the left, but suddenly turned to the right as he dashed toward the long window on the right. As he reached the threshold, the thin man had already blocked in front of him. The one surnamed Lang knew how formidable the thin man was when he collided against him, so he did not dare to have another collision. Hastily he held his steps; his chest was no more than two cun away from the thin man’s chest, the tip of his nose had already touched the thin man’s nose. The thin man did not move at all, he did not even blink. The one surnamed Lang swiftly dodged to the left, but as soon as he regained his footing, the thin man was blocking in front of him.

The one surnamed Lang was furious, ‘whoosh!’ he sent a punch toward the thin man’s face. The two of them stood very close to each other, plus the punch was sent with tremendous strength. The thin man did not lean sideways, he simply lowered his head. But he raised his right palm in front of his face. ‘Slap!’ the punch hit the center of his palm. He bent his palm slightly, the one surnamed Lang was pushed that he had to take several steps backward. The people in the hall cheered; they all praised, “Good skill!”

The one surnamed Lang looked awkward; he was unable to leave, but to go forward and fight, he realized his martial art skill was far too inferior to the opponent. Momentarily he was at a loss of what to do.

The thin man cupped his fist and said, “Lang Xiong please sit down. Wangye instructed us to spar with each other; didn’t the two of us just have a spar with each other?” Finished speaking, he immediately walked back and sat on his original seat, on the banquet table to the right. Everybody applauded again. The one surnamed Lang, with ashamed look across his face, sat down with his head hung low.

When the man surnamed Lang made a disturbance, Prince Kang had lost a considerable face; luckily this thin man returned the honor to him by compelling the one surnamed Lang to return to the martial art masters’ banquet table. Prince Kang instructed his chamberlain, “Go get fifty-tael silver yuanbao and bring them here.”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “This Shifu has an amazing martial art skill; such vicious … vicious … vicious tiger blocking the way [book note: the saying he wanted to say was ‘vicious dog blocking the way’]. That fellow was unable to get away no matter what. I wonder what is his name?”

Prince Kang stroke his sideburns, he could not remember this thin man’s name, or when did this man come to the Prince’s mansion; his mind was completely blank on this matter, so he laughed and said, “Xiao Wang‘s memory is not good, I can’t remember it for the time being.”

Presently the chamberlain reappeared, carrying a large wooden tray, the tray was draped in red silk, with twenty pieces of fifty-tael big yuanbao on it. The silver was gleaming, dazzling the eyes; the tray was then set up by the Prince’s side. Prince Kang laughed and said, “Gentlemen, masters of martial arts have displayed your skill, you deserve some rewards. This friend, please step forward to take one yuanbao.”

The thin man came forward, and after paying his respect, he received a silver ingot from Prince Kang’s hand. Wei Xiaobao asked, “Friend, what is your honorable name? And what is your great given name?”

The thin man replied, “Xiao Ren Qi Yuankai, thank you Daren, for inquiring.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your martial art skill is very high.”

Qi Yuankai said, “Enough to be laughed by Daren.”

“The martial art masters in Kang Wangyeí‘s mansion definitely carries unsurpassed artistry,” Dolong said, “We really wish to experience the skill of martial art masters under Ping Xi Wang. Xiao Wangye, how about selecting somebody to exchange blows with this Qi Shifu?” Seeing Wu Yingxiong was hesitating without replying, he added, “Naturally we will stop at touching, we must not harm our friendship; who win who lose is irrelevant.”

Prince Kang was a man who loved excitement; he said, “Dolong Zongguan has a lofty idea, let the martial art masters of both sides exchange some pointers; the winner will enjoy two big silver yuanbao, the loser will also enjoy one. Put the yuanbao on the table.”

The nineteen yuanbao were placed in front of the banquet table; the candle cast its light upon the ingots, the silver was gleaming against the red lining, it looked even more dazzling.

Prince Kang laughed and said, “My humble palace will have this Qi Yuankai Shifu, I wonder which Shifu will Ping Xi Wang Palace have?”

Everybody was in high spirits, they looked at the sixteen attendants under Wu Yingxiong. They knew that although it was a one on one martial art competition between the martial art masters, in actuality it was a gamble, the two palaces of Prince Kang and Ping Xi Wang contending with each other. Just now the thin man, Qi Yuankai, had displayed his martial art skill, and indeed he was formidable, perhaps none of Yunnan’s warriors would be able to match him.

Wu Yingxiong hesitated, he did not answer. One of the sixteen men under his leadership stepped forward, bowed to Prince Kang and said, “Reporting to Wangye: all of us Xiaoren have very low martial art skill, in no way we can match the Shifu of Wangye‘s Palace. We accompany the heir apparent to Beijing, simply to attend to our heir apparent daily need. Ping Xi Wang has ordered us never to offend the attendants of all Wangye and ministers. This is our Ping Xi Wang’s order, Xiaoren definitely do not dare to disobey.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Ping Xi Wang is very prudent! But today we only practice martial art, not fighting to cause any trouble. If your Wangye ever ask, just tell him that I want you to do it.”

The man bowed again and said, “Please forgive us, Wangye, we do not dare to follow your order.”

Prince Kang was secretly angry, “You only regard Ping Xi Wang in your heart and do not consider me, Prince Kang. Perhaps even if His Majesty issues an imperial decree, you will not follow either.” He said, “Could it be that if others punch you, you won’t hit back at all?”

The man said, “Back in Yunnan, Xiaoren always hear that all civil and military officials, as well as soldiers and common people under the Son of Heaven are all reasonable people. We are only rural folks from faraway border area, as we come to the Capital, in everything we must yield and not offend anybody. Presumably without any rhyme or reason other people will not hit us.” This man was tall and sturdy, his face carried a highly-capable look, his words was sharp; with those several sentences he was saying that if Prince Kang insisted the martial art masters under his command to provoke a fight, then Prince Kang was not a reasonable person.

Prince Kang was even more enraged, he turned his head and said, “Shenzhao Shangren, Qi Shifu, these friends from Yunnan are simply unwilling to do us the honor; there is nothing that we can do.”

Shenzhao Shangren laughed aloud; he stood up and said, “Wangye, these friends form Yunnan are simply afraid of losing, they are afraid of losing their face. I wonder if other people really hit their vital points, they won’t hit back or ward off the attack?” Finished speaking, his body flashed, he had already standing by the man’s side. He laughed and said, “Pinseng[13] only has mediocre palm strength, but compared to that friend surnamed Lang who wanted to leave but fail to leave, maybe just a little bit stronger. Wangye, Pinseng is about to break a piece of brick in your hall, won’t Wangye be offended?”

Prince Kang knew that among his martial art masters, Shenzhao’s martial art skill was the strongest, both his internal and external strength had reached perfection; hearing him said so, it was obvious that he was going to give demonstration of his skill, Prince Kang happily said, “Shangren may do as you wish; even if you break a hundred bricks, it is a trivial matter.”

Shenzhao squatted; his left palm lightly slapped the floor. When he lifted his hand, a large greenish black brick was stuck onto his palm. This greenish black brick was about one chi five cun square [about 17 inches]; although it was not very heavy, it was firmly embedded on the floor. To be able to suck the greenish brick from the floor and stick it flat on the palm without dropping it, his palm power must be very profound. “Good!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed loudly. Everybody else applauded.

Shenzhao showed a faint smile. Raising his left palm, he released the sucking force, immediately the greenish black brick fell down. When the brick was about level with his chest, both of his arms moved from outside to inside, his palms slapped together on the edge of the brick, ‘crash!’ the big greenish black brick was smashed to smithereens; it rained down on the floor. The people cheered loudly again. Only about four, five cun of the greenish black brick’s edge received the palm strike, but the palm power dissipated everywhere and unexpectedly able to crush the brick, with the biggest fragment was no more than one or two cun square; his inner power was indeed not a small matter.

Shenzhao walked toward Wu Yinxiong’s attendant, putting his palms together he said, “What is your respected surname and great given name, Sire?”

The man replied, “Dashi [‘great master’ See note 14 of Chapter 8] has astonishing palm strength, you have really broadened Xiaoren‘s horizon. Xiaoren is a savage person from a remote area, I am just a nameless soldier.”

Shenzhao laughed and said, “So savage people from a remote area do not have name and surname?”

The man raised his eyebrows, an angry look flashed past his face, but immediately he said nonchalantly, “Even if coarse people of the mountains and plains have names, it’s no more than A Mao or A Gou [lit. ‘a cat’ or ‘a dog];’ it’s quite useless for Dashi to find out.”

Shenzhao laughed and said, “Sire has a good self-control skill. Today Prince Kang is having a feast, he is surrounded by distinguished friends, it’s a rare grand meeting within the Beijing city walls. Wangye has ordered us to show off our shortcomings, to bring laughter to Wangye, Heir Apparent, as well as other honored guests. Sire is determined not to grant any instruction, by doing so has swept away Wangye and numerous Daren‘s keen interest; aren’t you placing too much value on your status?”

The man replied, “Zaixia only learned a few years of countryside peasants’ skill, how can I be a match for Shenzhao Shangren of Iron Buddhist Temple of Cangzhou? If Dashi insists on competing, just consider Zaixia has lost, Dashi may just receive the two yuanbao reward.” While saying that, he turned around to return to his place.

“Hold on!” Shenzhao shouted, “Pinseng has decided to try Sire’s skill. With double fists’ Bells and Drums sounding simultaneously, I am going to strike the Taiyang acupoints on both sides of Sire’s head, please hit back!”

The man shook his head. Shenzhao let out a loud shout, the sleeves of his large red kasaya suddenly swelled as he created enough strong gust of wind, his arms swept from the outside and bent swiftly to the inside, his fists, each one as big as the mouth of a bowl, were striking toward the man’s Taiyang acupoints on both sides of his head.

Just a moment ago everybody saw how he broke the greenish black brick with his palm strength; they could not help but gasping in horror, they thought since it was too late for the man to evade, if he did not parry, wouldn’t  his skull be like that greenish black brick, smashed into smithereens? Who would have thought that the man did not move at all? He did not even lift his hand, neither did he lift his foot, nor move his head, nor blink his eyes; he stayed unmoving like a clay figurine or a wooden statue.

When Shenzhao Shangren made his move, he only wanted to force him to retaliate; he did not have any desire to take his life. As his fists were about to land on the man’s Taiyang acupoints, he saw the man was standing with blank expression on his face; his heart was alarmed, “My two fists carry about a thousand catties of force.  Ping Xi Wang Heir Apparent is Prince Kang’s honored guest, if I recklessly killed his attendant, it would be greatly inappropriate.” Therefore, when his fists made contact with the man’s skin, he hastily forced his own fists upwards. ‘Whoosh!’ the fists flitted pass by the man’s temples, while the sleeves of his monk robe brushed against his face. The man smiled slightly and said, “Dashi has an excellent boxing technique!”

The people in the hall all stared blankly at the scene. They thought that this man’s mental strength was indeed extraordinary. If Shenzhao’s fists did not change direction midway but struck the man’s Taiyang acupoints instead, how could he still live at this moment? This man regarded his own life as a child’s play, he was simply insane.

When Shenzhao abruptly redirected his fists, he had shaken his own arms that now his arms were sore; he could not help but staring at the man for half a day, wondering whether this man was actually a madman or an idiot. If Shenzhao went back to his seat, unavoidably he would not be able to lift his head high again. He said, “Since Sire is determined not to give me face, Pinseng has no choice but to offend you. The next punch is the Black Tiger Snatching the Heart, I am going to strike the pit of Sire’s stomach.”

The moves Bells and Drums Sounding Simultaneously and Black Tiger Snatching the Heart were both very rudimentary fist techniques, those who learned martial art for several months would have practiced these moves. Before launching the attack he shouted the name first, it was to show that he intended to score victory by relying on his strength; but by using the shallowest technique, he was also showing contempt toward the opponent.

The man showed a faint smile without answering at all. Shenzhao was inwardly very angry; he mused, “This punch of mine is going to inflict internal injury on you; you won’t die immediately on the spot, but you’ll die three, four days later, so I can’t be considered sweeping away Ping Xi Wang’s face.” Striking a horse stand, he let out a loud shout while sending his right punch with a strong gust of wind. ‘Smack!’ the punch hit the pit of the man’s stomach.

The man’s body swayed, he took a step back as he laughed and said, “Dashi has won. I was forced to take a step back.”

Although Shenzhao did not put forth his entire strength in this punch, the power behind it was very severe; unexpectedly it was as if the man did not feel anything, he spoke those words lightly, without any difficulty at all. Obviously, he did not sustain any injury. The civil officials among the guests did not understand this reasoning, but those who practiced martial art all knew that the man had intentionally yielded to Shenzhao. Wei Xiaobao was neither a civil nor military; he was in between ‘appeared to understand but does not really understand’.

Shenzhao was proud to have quite a prestige in Wulin, how could he accept a victory like this? A faint layer of dark color rose up on his face; he said, “In that case, eat my fist again.” ‘Whoosh!’ he sent another punch, still striking toward the pit of that man’s stomach. This time he was using 70% of his strength. Even if the man were hit and spurted blood from his mouth, it was he who asked for trouble, Shenzhao did not have any choice.

When Shenzhao’s punch reached the front piece of the man’s jacket, the man’s chest suddenly shrank, his body floated backward for about half a zhang, as if he was he was jolted by the power of the punch, while actually he was evading the punch. His attacked hit an empty space, Shenzhao’s anger grew. He rushed forward two steps, and with a loud shout his right leg flew up ferociously to kick the man’s lower abdomen. “Aiyo!” the man cried out, it seemed like the kick was going to hit him.

As if by prior agreement all the people stood up, only to see the man’s body was bent backward; it was like his two feet were being nailed to the ground, his body was bent at the knee, he fell backward with face up, hence most of his body was like a wooden log hanging horizontally in the air, only about a chi away from the floor. Shenzhao’s kick hit an empty air, about several cun above the man’s legs.

Shenzhao was in quandary, he had to either give up, or go through to the end; in Mandarin Duck Chain Kicks style, using the Black Dragon Sweeps the Earth his left leg swept across toward the man’s shinbone. Without changing his posture – he was still in the Iron Panel Bridge position, his feet kicked the ground, his whole body flew up one chi. Shenzhao’s leg swept pass the sole of his feet. The man fell back down steadily, he still had not stood straight.

The people in the hall broke into a thunderous applause. With this turn of events, Shenzhao  realized that his martial art skill was still inferior to that man’s by a considerable margin. If the opponent had hit him back, he would have been beaten silly. Without any choice he put his palms together and said, “Good skill! My utmost admiration!”

The man straightened up, he bowed to return the propriety and said, “Dashi‘s fists and kicks carried tremendous strength, Zaixia did not dare to fend off, and was forced to evade.”

Prince Kang said, “Both gentlemen have an extremely high martial art skill. His Highness Heir Apparent’s attendant is very polite, he was determined not to fight back; hence the martial art competition cannot be continued. Come, both of you take two yuanbao each.”

The man bowed and said, “I don’t get a reward I don’t deserve.”

Seeing the man was unwilling to take the yuanbao, Shenzhao felt it was inappropriate for him to step forward to claim his reward. Prince Kang turned to his chamberlain and said, “Send the reward to both gentlemen.” The man thanked the Prince and accepted the money, Shenzhao also embarrassedly received his.

Prince Kang was fully aware that although the martial art contest a moment ago was not official, actually his side had already lost. He bestowed two big silver yuanbao to Shenzhao was only to cover up Shenzhao embarrassment, and also he stated that neither one win nor lose to conceal his own shortcomings. In his heart was still unwilling to concede, and the fight had not satisfied his craving; he thought, “Admittedly, this tall guy’s martial art skill is not bad, but I am sure the rest of Wu Yingxiong’s attendants are not as good as he is. The martial art masters under my command have astonishing skill, just look at that Qi Yuankai, perhaps his martial art level is almost the same as that Shenzhao monk.” Originally he addressed Shenzhao as ‘Shangren’, after the display of his martial art just now, in his eyes, he had already discounted Shenzhao from ‘Shangren’ to ‘heshang’ [Buddhist monk]. In loud and clear voice he said, “The contest just now cannot be continued, unavoidably it was a little … a little disappointing in something otherwise perfect. Qi Shifu, please invite fifteen martial art masters, everybody take a weapon, sixteen against sixteen, have a spar with sixteen attendants Ping Xi Wang Heir Apparent brought with him. Xiao Wangye, please tell them to show their weapons!”

Wu Yingxiong said, “We come to Wangye’s palace as guests, how can we dare to bring our weapons?”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Heir Apparent is too polite. Your honored father and Xiao Wang were military commanders, throughout our lives we eke out a living amidst the sabers, spears, swords and halberds, we need not observed this old-womanish taboo. Come, get the eighteen weapons, some of each, and bring them here, let the martial art masters of Ping Xi Wang choose.” Prince Kang was a combat general, he fought from outside the Great Wall into the Central Plains; in his mansion there were all kinds of weapons. As soon as he shouted the order, his attendants immediately brought a big pile of weapons, long and short, out, and put them all in front of the sixteen Heir Apparent’s escorts.

Qi Yuankai chose fourteen martial art masters, but he asked Shenzhao to be their leader. Shenzhao wanted to win back his face, so he uttered some polite words, but he did not decline. He thought, “In any case I need to chop and injure some southern barbarians to vent the resentment in my heart.” The fact that Ping Xi Wang was their honored guest and that he must give careful consideration to his face, and so on and so forth, had long ago vanished from his thought.

Shenzhao, Qi Yuankai, and the others got their weapons and followed the attendants returning to the hall. Shenzhao had a pair of blue steel Jie Dao [Buddhist’s saber] in his hands. He went over to Prince Kang’s banquet table and put his palms together in salute. Prince Kang and the others slightly leaned their bodies forward and nodded to return the courtesy.

Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself, “Damn it,” he thought, “These people are all exceptionally skillful in martial arts, they all are big names in Jianghu, yet they still come to laozi to salute. Laozi only sitting haughtily, nodding my head to settle the matter; compared to them, my prestige is ten times more impressive.”

Shenzhao turned around and loudly said, “Friends from Yunnan, go get your weapons!”

The tall man who had received his five moves earlier said, “We have received Ping Xi Wang’s order, we must not fight with anybody inside the city of Beijing.”

Shenzhao said, “When other people’s saber is blowing to your head, will you still not fight back? Other people want to chop your head, you will simply stretch out your neck? Or will you shrink your head into your neck?”

As soon as he said those words, all Ping Xi Wang’s Palace escorts showed an angry look. Saying that they shrink their heads into their necks was just the same as cursing them as turtles. But the tall leader still spoke indifferently, “Ping Xi Wang’s military order is like a mountain. If we disobey the military order, when we return to Yunnan, it will be the same, we’ll have our heads chopped off.”

“Fine,” Shenzhao said, “We’ll see.” He beckoned the other fifteen masters of martial art to gather in a corner of the hall and conversed in low voice. Shenzhao quietly said, “We’ll move our weapons towards their vital points, let’s see if they will still not fight back?”

Qi Yuankai said, “It will be inappropriate if we injure them. We will simply force them to fight back.”

Another man said, “We must be a little more careful.”

Shenzhao shouted, “Alright, let’s fight!” Letting out a long whistle, he brandished his Jie Dao. White rays flashing, as he was the first to charge toward the sixteen Ping Xi Wang’s escorts. The other fifteen men, some using swords, some sticking out their short spears, some brandishing their steel whip, some raising their copper hammer, sixteen different weapons charged together.

Unexpectedly, the sixteen escorts only stood motionless, with arms hanging down and palms kept close to their thighs, their eyes looked straight forward, as if they did not see the attack of those sixteen masters of martial art of Prince Kang’s mansion.

Seeing their opponents were motionless, those sixteen masters of martial art showed off their skill in front of Prince Kang and the guests. Each of them displayed their most ingenious moves of their respective weapons, hacking diagonally, thrusting straight, cutting down, striking horizontally; the blades reflecting the candlelight as the sixteen weapons danced with loud gusts of wind, forming a canopy of light, surrounding the sixteen escorts in the middle.

The civil officials repeatedly said, “Careful, careful!” The military officers noticed that every weapon was threatening the opponent’s vital points, oftentimes it was only several cun away from its target. They only needed to exert a fraction more of their strength, then they would have taken the opponent’s life. The officers were all apprehensive.

The sixteen escorts fixed their gaze forward, they gave no thought to their own life or death; if the opponents really wanted to take their lives, they would have given their lives without a fight.

Shenzhao and the others moved their weapons faster and faster, occasionally the weapons would collide with each other, sparks flew everywhere, clanking sounds were heard, the situation grew more and more dangerous. Although they did not want to intentionally hurt Ping Xi Wang’s subordinates, but as the swords, sabers, whips and hammers collided with each other, not only the weapons carried great forces with them, they were also so close to each other, so it was just a matter of time before the weapons would bounce and injure someone.

Sure enough, ‘smack!’ an iron mace collided with another man’s copper hammer, and ricocheted toward a Ping Xi Wang escort’s shoulder. Following closely, someone’s saber hacked slantingly down, it flitted across, just a few cun away from the right side of an escort’s face, someone by his side happened to cut down with a sword; the saber and sword collided, the saber bounced slightly and cut the escort’s face. Instantly blood flowed from a long cut of his face. The injury of these two escorts was not light, still they did not utter a single groan, still they stood motionless.

Prince Kang realized that if this thing continued, there would be more wounded people, but he was also somewhat disappointed that the martial art contest could not continue. He shouted, “Good martial arts! Good martial arts! Everybody hold your hands!”

Shenzhao let out a loud shout, his pair of Jie Dao swept horizontally across, knocking the hat off of an escort’s head. The rest of his men followed suit, one after another sabers, spears, swords and halberds knocked the escorts’ hats off. The sixteen martial art masters laughed aloud, pulled back their weapons, and then leaped back off.

Wei Xiaobao saw that among the escorts there were seven men who were bald, their shiny heads gleaming under the light; he could not help clapping his hands and laughed heartily, “Dolong Zongguan,” he said, “Your guess is really accurate, they are really a bunch of bald …” before he finished, he took a glance and saw the sixteen escorts of Ping Xi Wang Palace were still standing motionless, but their faces showed an extreme anger, their eyes looked like they were spouting fire.

Since he was little Wei Xiaobao had mingled with people of the marketplace, naturally he was very familiar with the way of hoodlums, he felt that the action of Shenzhao and the others were very inappropriate, they did not leave even half a face to the others. Although the rogues and hoodlums of the marketplace stole, robbed, swindled, and did all kinds of shameless deeds, but when they were fighting, they always left 30% of leeway; north and south of the great river, everywhere was the same. When a patron of the brothel was infatuated with a girl and splurged ten of thousand taels on her, the old procuress would give him back several tens of taels as travel expenses, so that he would not wander destitute in a foreign land, or perhaps in desperation would hang himself or throw himself in the river. It was not because those hoodlums had a really good conscience, but rather to avoid the matter being escalated and might bring trouble in the future.

When gambling, Wei Xiaobao often used tricks to clean up his opponent’s money, but suppose he won one tael, he would in the end let him win back one or two coins, if he won one hundred wen, he would in the end let him win back ten or twenty wen. In one hand, so that next time he would still do business with him, on the other hand, it was to avoid the other party get suspicious, or to avoid the other party became angry out of shame, and drew out his fists to beat him.

Looking at Ping Xi Wang Palace escorts’ expression, Wei Xiaobao felt very apologetic in his heart, so he promptly left his seat and went over to them. He stooped down in front of the tall man to pick up his hat and said, “Lao Xiong is really amazing.” With both hands he put the hat back on him.

The man bowed and said, “Thank you very much!”

Immediately afterwards Wei Xiaobao picked all fifteen hats one by one, he said with a laugh, “By doing this, aren’t they offending friends?” He was not sure which hat belonged to whom, so he held the hats in his hands and let each one of them picked and put it on themselves.

These escorts saw that Wei Xiaobao was sitting by their Palace’s Heir Apparent, he was the honored guest whom Prince Kang invited this time, the Gui Gong-gong who arrested Oboi; seeing that he personally picked up the hats, they all cupped their fists and repeatedly said, “We don’t dare, Xiaoren do not deserve it!”

At first Wei Xiaobao did not have the least bit of favorable impression toward these Ping Xi Wang Palace’s people, he was hoping Wu Sangui’s subordinates would fall flat on their faces, but after being forced repeatedly by Shenzhao and the others, yet all along these people were tolerating them; thus they had aroused Wei Xiaobao’s spirit in wiping out the bullies and help the down-trodden. Seeing their appreciation seemed to be very sincere, he was even happier. Turning his head to Prince Kang he said, “Wangye, I wonder if I can borrow several taels from you.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Gui Xiongdi can use anything freely. Will fifty thousand taels enough?”

Wei Xiaobao replied with a laugh, “Why would I need that much?” Toward a chamberlain of the Prince’s mansion he said, “Quickly go buy sixteen best hats, the faster the better!” The chamberlain complied and left.

Wu Yingxiong cupped his fist and said, “Gui Gong-gong love the house and its crow, zaixia is deeply grateful.”

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the politeness, while saying in his heart, “What love the house and its crow? If there is any crow, wouldn’t it be you, this little turtle?”

When Prince Kang saw Shenzhao and the others knocked down the Ping Xi Wang Palace escorts’ hats, he had already felt that it was a bit too much, he was afraid Wu Yingxiong might be offended, but to open his mouth to apologize, he also felt that it was inappropriate. Therefore, Wei Xiaobao’s action closely resembled his own heart’s desire. He said, “Attendants, reward Heir Apparent Wu’s subordinates fifty taels each.” He then thought, “If I only rewarded the other side, wouldn’t I make my own martial art master subordinates lose face?” So he added, “Our own Palace’s sixteen martial art masters will also receive fifty taels reward each!” The hall was abuzz with joyful noise.

Songgotu rose up and poured drink for everybody on the banquet table, he said, “Xiao Wangye, your esteemed father employs the troops like a deity; today I have seen it, sure enough, the name is not in vain. Your esteemed father’s military order is stern; making everybody always ready to give their lives, no wonder he triumphs in every battle and wins every fight. Come, come, come, let us all toast Ping Xi Wang a cup!”

Wu Yingxiong hurriedly stood up; raising his cup he said, “Junior solemnly drinks the toast on my father’s behalf; thank you gentlemen, for your generous kindness.” Everybody raised their cups and drank. Wu Yingxiong added, “In guarding the southern border, bringing peace and order to the frontier, my father depends on the Holy One’s great fortune and the appropriate arrangement of princes and dukes, as well as the senior ministers of the imperial court, who give directions to do things right. My father only serves to display utter loyalty to His Imperial Majesty; he receives instructions from princes and dukes, as well as the senior ministers of the imperial court, and does not dare to be idle. We do not dare to claim any merit.” After a few more rounds of wine, the Prince’s mansion’s chamberlain returned with sixteen hats, which he held with both hands and presented them in front of Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao turned to Prince Kang and said with a laugh, “Wangye, your Palace’s Shifu have accidentally knocked off other people’s hats; you ought to compensate them with new hats.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “I should, I should. Gui Xiongdi is very thoughtful.” He ordered his chamberlains to present the hats to Wu Yingxiong’s escorts.

The escorts received the hats and bowed, they said, “Thank you Wangye, thank you Gui Gong-gong!” They folded the hats and put them inside their pockets, while still wearing the old hat on their heads. Prince Kang and Songgotu looked at each other, they were aware that these people did not put on the new hats out of respect to Wu Yingxiong.

After another round of drink, the theatrical troupe in the Prince’s mansion came out to present their skill. Prince Kang asked Wu Yingxiong to select a play. Wu Yingxiong chose ‘Man Chuang Hu’ [bed full of tablets, ‘hu’ is tablet held at an audience], a lively story about Guo Ziyi celebrating his birthday, his seven sons and eight son-in-laws came to congratulate him. Guo Ziyi was a man of riches and honor, also a long-lived scholar, he came to a good end by his scholarly achievement in imperial exams, who was extremely revered by the ruler and his ministers. Wu Yingxiong chose this story to congratulate Prince Kang, but also to compare his own father, Wu Sangui, to the character of the story; it was quite a fitting play.

After he chose a play, Prince Kang gave the playlist to Wei Xiaobao. “Gui Xiongdi,” he said, “You also choose a story.”

Wei Xiaobao did not recognize any character on the playlist; he laughed and said, “I can’t choose. Wangye, please select a story for me, a martial art play with fighting and sturdy stick.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Gui Xiongdi loves to watch military vigor. Um, we’ll choose the play about a young hero defeating a grownup, just like Xiao Xiongdi arresting Oboi. Right, we’ll select ‘Bai Shui Tan’ [beach of clear water], the young hero was an eleven years old youth, he fought and completely routed the Green Faced Tiger.”

When ‘Man Chuang Hu’ and ‘Bai Shui Tan’ were over, the third play was ‘You Yuan Jing Meng’ [roaming the garden after awakened from a dream], where two female impersonators singing ‘Ah, Ah’ endlessly. Wei Xiaobao did not understand what they were saying, he got impatient so he stood up and left the banquet table. He saw in the side hall there were several tables where people were gambling, some played cards, some other played dice. The banker on the dice table was a military officer, a subordinate of Prince Kang. In front of him there was a big pile of his winning money. Seeing Wei Xiaobao walked near, he said with a laugh, “Gui Gong-gong, would you like to try your hand?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Alright!” he said. He glanced over and saw the tall man, Wu Yingxiong’s subordinate, was standing on the side. Wei Xiaobao had a rather favorable impression of this man, so he beckoned him to come.

The man rushed forward a step and said, “What instruction does Gui Gong-gong have?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There is no father and son on the gambling table, you do not need to be polite. Lao Ge [old older brother], what’s your honorable surname? With what great name must I address you?”

A moment ago, Shenzhao asked him and he was unwilling to answer, but Wei Xiaobao had given them a lot of face in front of the guests, plus he was asking politely, so he said, “Xiaoren is surnamed Yang, I am called Yang Yizhi.”

Wei Xiaobao did not know the meaning of his name, ‘Yizhi’, but he blurted out what was in his mind, “Good name, good name! The Yang family has the largest number of heroes, Yang Lao Ling Gong, Yang Liulang [lit. ‘Old Honorable Commander Yang’ and ‘Sixth son (or youth) Yang’, respectively], Yang Zongbao, Yang Wenguang, Yang family warriors are all heroes. Yang Dage, let us two boys become partner in gambling!”

Hearing Wei Xiaobao praising Yang family ancestors, Yang Yizhi was very happy; he smiled and said, “Xiaoren does not know much how to gamble.”

“What are you afraid of?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll teach you! Get those two big yuanbao out.”

Yang Yizhi took the two big yuanbao Prince Kang bestowed to him earlier out. From his pocket Wei Xiaobao fished out a banknote; he placed it on the table and said with a laugh, “This Yang Xiong and I are partners, we bet one hundred taels!”

The banker laughed and said, “Good, the more the better!” They were gambling with two dice, one throw to determine the winner. The banker threw first and got ‘zhang hu pai’ [sorry, I can’t find any reference on this], Wei Xiaobao tossed the dice and got seven dots, thus his hundred taels was lost.

Wei Xiaobao said, “We’ll bet another hundred taels!” This time he won.

After throwing for sixteen, seventeen times, come and go, they neither won nor lost. Wei Xiaobao was getting impatient, “It’s not a big deal if I lose several hundred taels, but if I implicate this surnamed Yang that he loses those two yuanbao, I am letting him down.” His next throw produced six dots, he was ninety percent sure he would lose; who would have thought that the banker tossed five dots? Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; hereafter he repeatedly won several times. One hundred taels became two hundred; two hundred taels became four hundred. In three throws of the dice, he won four hundred taels.

The military officer who was the banker laughed and said, “Gui Gong-gong has good gambling luck.”

Wei Xiaobao replied with a laugh, “You say I have good gambling luck? Let’s try again, then!” He pushed the entire four hundred taels to the table and threw the dice; he got four and six, the banker threw and got a long three, so he lost. Wei Xiaobao turned his head and said, “Yang Dage, shall we continue betting or not?”

“I rely on Gui Gong-gong’s idea,” Yang Yizhi replied.

Wei Xiaobao added the original four hundred taels he had to compensate for the four hundred taels he just lost, he put eight hundred taels altogether and said with a laugh, “I want some refreshing gambling experience.” He shouted, “Compensate my loss!”

The dice were tossed; they rolled around chaotically, after a moment, one rolled and became six dots, but the other one was still rolling continuously. Wei Xiaobao had secretly exerted his strength, he wanted the dice to show double-six, which was called ‘the Heaven’. But the dice were not his, his throwing skill had not been brought to the point of perfection. The second die finally stopped, it showed two dots, for the total of eight dots, so most likely he would lose. Wei Xiaobao rained curses, “Straight your mother’s stinky dice, why don’t you help me?”

The banker laughed heartily, “Gui Gong-gong,” he said, “I am afraid this time I am going to eat yours.” He tossed the dice. One showed a five-dot, the other was still rolling continuously.

Wei Xiaobao shouted, “Two, two, two!” If the die showed a one, it would become one five, a three dots would become eight, eight would defeat the eight, the banker won. If four dots, the total would be nine, if five dots, it would become a plum blossom, if six dots, it would become an ‘ox head’. All these combinations would beat his eight; only if it showed two dots would the banker lose. Wei Xiaobao did not stop yelling; but as luck would have it, the die rolled several more times, then stopped inside the bowl, it really showed two dots.[14]

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he laughed and said, “General, your gambling luck today is not too good.”

The officer laughed and said, “Banker’s bad luck, banker’s bad luck. It was because Gui Gong-gong giving the order. Whatever your heart wishes, your hands accomplish; naturally I can’t beat you in gambling.” He paid Wei Xiaobao three banknotes, two hundred taels each, plus two yuanbao, worth one hundred taels each.

Wei Xiaobao rubbed the sweat on his palms, he laughed and said, “I receive the benefit of the light!” To Yang Yizhi he said, “Yang Dage, we lack the prospect of picking up green fruits; let’s stop gambling.” While squeezing eight hundred taels to Yang Yizhi’s hand.

For no rhyme or reason Yang Yizhi received a sudden wealth, his heart was overjoyed; “Gui Gong-gong,” he said, “What is that general’s name?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled; he replied in low voice, “I haven’t asked.” Turning his head over toward the officer, he asked, “Great General, your honorable surname and your great given name?”

The military officer beamed from ear to ear, he stood up and respectfully replied, “Reporting to Gui Gong-gong: Xiao Jiang Jiang Baizheng, Regional Commander of the Office of Record, I have always been serving under Prince Kang’s banner.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “General Jiang, fighting wars you are ever-victorious, but in gambling you are not too successful.”

Jiang Baizheng laughed and said, “When gambling with others, more or less Xiao Jiang can also be considered ever-victorious. It’s just that there will be a stronger hand among the strong, plus today I met Gong-gong, Jiang Baizheng has turned into Jiang Baibai[15].”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and walked away. Suddenly he thought, “Why did that surnamed Yang want me to ask the banker’s name?” While he was pondering, from a distant he watched that fellow Jiang Baizheng’s technique in throwing the dice. He saw how he lifted the dice, shifted his wrist, bending his finger, and threw the dice; it was an extremely skilled technique, truly he was a first-class gambling expert in Jianghu. When gambling with him a while ago, Wei Xiaobao did not pay any attention. Suddenly it dawned on him, “Turns out this fellow was deliberately losing to me, no wonder I had won five times in a row, where have I had such a gambling luck? Damn it, laozi has a lot of money, I don’t care about winning or losing, otherwise once I was at the table, I would have seen it. That Yunnan fellow surnamed Yang also understands the trick, he is not a ‘cattle’ either, he is a ‘sheep killer’.”

He thought further, “Why would a total stranger Regional Commander of the Office of Record wanted to lose money intentionally to me? Naturally it was because I have a face in front of the Emperor, everybody hopes I would say good words on their behalf. Or even if I don’t speak good words, at least I won’t pound on their eggs. F*ck your granny, he spent one thousand four hundred taels just to win laozi’s favor; it’s very cheap!”

Now that he knew people would deliberately lose to him, that victory was easy, he did not want to gamble anymore. Returning to the banquet hall, he ate some dishes and watched the opera. By this time they were playing ‘Si Fan’ [considering the mundane/material world], where a Buddhist nun was acting and singing, while the people on the side constantly cheering and applauding. Wei Xiaobao did not understand what kind of trick she was playing, he felt extremely bored, so he stood up.

Prince Kang laughed, “Xiao Xiongdi, what do you want to play?” he asked, “No need to be polite, do not hesitate to give your instruction.”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am going to find something fun to do myself, please do not be polite.” He saw at the corridor people were shouting noisily, the gambling was very lively, his heart was itching a little bit, but he thought, “What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over; I am not going to gamble today.”

From the last time he visited to Prince Kang’s mansion, he still vaguely remembered the layout of the Palace, so he walked toward the rear hall.

Everywhere in the Palace lanterns and candles were brilliantly lit. When the people of the Prince’s mansion saw him, they would stand up respectfully with hands hanging on their side. Wei Xiaobao strolled leisurely; suddenly he had an urge to urinate, yet he did not wish to ask anybody where the lavatory was. He saw there was a small garden on his left, so he shoved the long window open and walked into a dark corner. He pulled his pants down and was about to urinate when suddenly from the other side of the flower bushes he heard some people spoke in low voices.

Someone said, “Give me the money first, then I’ll take you in.”

Another man said, “Take me in first, after I find that thing, naturally your money won’t decrease the least bit.”

The former man said, “Money first, goods later. If after getting the goods you don’t give me the money, where can I go to find you?”

The other man said, “Alright, here is a thousand taels, I give you a 10% prepayment.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved, “One thousand taels is only 10%? What kind of important goods is that?” Instantly he endured the urge to urinate and bent his ear to listen.

He heard the first person said, “Fifty percent prepayment, otherwise this deal is off. This is a ‘removing-head’ important matter, you think it is amusing?”

The other man hesitated slightly, then he said, “Fine, here are banknotes worth five thousand taels, you may take it first.”

“Thank you very much,” the first person said. There was rustling noise as the banknotes were being counted, and then he said, “Follow me!”

Wei Xiaobao’s curiosity was piqued, he mused, “Whatever ‘removing-head’ important matter it is, I cannot not follow them to take a look.” He heard the footsteps of those two men were heading west, so he slipped out of the flowering bush to follow them from a distance. He saw the back of those two men as they walked evasively among the flowering shrubs and trees; they stopped after every few zhang and looked around to see if anybody saw them. Wei Xiaobao thought, “They are so sneaky, whatever it is they are doing, it must not be a good thing. Prince Kang has treated me really well, I’ll show him my, Gui Gong-gong’s way of doing things by catching two incorrigible thieves for him tonight.” First, he felt the dagger, which could cut iron like mud, hidden in his boot; second, he felt the vest he was wearing, the treasured vest which even sabers and spears could not penetrate, and then his courage was boosted somewhat.

He saw the two men walked through the garden and entered an exquisite looking cottage. Wei Xiaobao walked on tiptoe to come near; he saw lantern light penetrated the flower-carved window lattice. Walking around toward the rear window, he moistened his finger with his saliva to wet the window paper, and then peeked inside with one eye through the hole. He saw the room was a shrine to worship Buddha, with an image of Tathagata Buddha sitting on the offering table, and an oil lantern in front of the image. A man dressed in servant attire said in low voice, “I spent more than a year just to find the location of this thing, your ten thousand taels is not an easy money.”

The other man, whose back was facing Wei Xiaobao, asked, “Where is it?”

“Give it to me first!” the servant said.

The other man turned around and said, “Give you what?” This man had a thin face, he was none other than Qi Yuankai, who a moment ago blocked that martial art master surnamed Lang from leaving the main hall.

The servant said with a laugh, “Qi Shifu is asking something that you already know the answer, naturally I am talking about the five thousand taels.”

“You are really formidable,” Qi Yuankai said. He pulled a bundle of banknotes from his pocket. The servant examined the banknotes one by one under the lamp light.

Wei Xiaobao was very scared; he knew that Qi Yuankai’s martial art skill was very high, plus whatever they were doing must be a shady business with a very heavy responsibility, if his presence was detected, they might kill him immediately to close his mouth. In his fright, his pee flowed out. He thought he might as well let the nature take its course, by letting the pee flowed along his thigh to the ground without making the least bit of noise.

After counting the banknotes, the servant laughed and said, “Correct.” Lowering his voice, he whispered on Qi Yuankai’s ear. Qi Yuankai nodded repeatedly, but Wei Xiaobao was unable to hear even a single sentence.

He saw Qi Yuankai suddenly leaped up vertically onto the sacrificial table. Turning his head around to look, he then reached out to feel around the Buddha image’s left ear. He moved his finger for a while, and then pulled out a tiny object. He jumped back down and raised his hand to look at the object under the candlelight; it was a key, glittering yellow under the light, presumably it was cast from gold. The key was about the length of a small finger, it couldn’t be more than a liang [50 grams] of gold.

Qi Yuankai was beaming from ear to ear. Then he looked down to count the bricks, about a dozen or more bricks horizontally, and a dozen or more bricks vertically. He stooped down to pull a dagger from his boot, and then used the dagger to pry open a square brick; he cheered in a low voice.

The servant said, “Genuine goods at fair prices, I did not swindle you!”

Qi Yuankai did not reply, he gently inserted the golden key downward; presumably there was a keyhole underneath the square brick. ‘Click!’ the lock opened. Qi Yuankai looked stunned, he said, “How come it won’t open? Perhaps it is the wrong key.”

The servant said, “Why can’t you open it? Wangye personally unlocked it, I saw it clearly from outside the window.” While saying that, he bent down and got hold of something and pulled it out.

Suddenly there was a swishing noise, a crossbow mechanism shot up from below, and hit the servant at the pit of his stomach. “Ah!” the servant cried out pitifully and fell backward, the iron lid he was holding in his hand flew up. Qi Yuankai leaned sideways and reached out to catch the iron lid so that it would not fall to the ground and create a lot of noise. Squatting behind the servant, he pressed down the servant’s mouth using his right hand to guard against him crying out and alarm other people, while with his left hand he grabbed the servant’s left wrist and used the servant’s hand to grope around the hole.

Wei Xiaobao was stunned to see this; he thought, “Turns out there is another mechanism in the hole. This man surnamed Qi is really formidable.”

This time the crossbow mechanism no longer shoot any arrows. Qi Yuankai used his own hand to fish out something, it was a bundle wrapped in cloth. With his right hand he flung the servant to the floor; he rose up, lifted his right foot up and stepped on the servant’s mouth to prevent him from making any noise. And then he leaned forward to put the bundle on the sacrificial table and opened it.

Wei Xiaobao took a very deep breath; he saw that the object inside the bundle was a scripture. From the millions scriptures in the world, Wei Xiaobao could only read the title of one scripture, which is the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, and this book was precisely the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. The size and shape of this book was identical to the ones he got from Oboi’s mansion, only the envelope was made of red silk.

Qi Yuankai quickly re-wrapped the scripture in its original cloth wrapper; lifting up his left foot, he stepped forcefully on the arrow’s tail. With a light ‘Puff!’ the crossbow’s arrow went deep into the servant’s chest. The servant was already seriously injured, naturally this arrow killed him instantly. Since Qi Yuankai’s right foot was stepping on his mouth, only a muffled ‘humph’ was heard; his body convulsed a little bit, then he stopped moving altogether.

Wei Xiaobao was so terrified that his heart was thumping hard. Actually he had finished urinating, but this time he could not help but peeing again in his pants.

He saw Qi Yuankai bending down to take the banknotes from the servant’s pocket, which he then put into his own pocket. With a cold laugh he said, “Now you can get rich!” After hesitating for a moment, he placed the golden key in the servant’s dead body’s right palm, and curled the dead body’s fingers to hold the key; only then did he rush out in quick steps.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “He is about to run away, must I raise the alarm now?”

Suddenly a shadow flashed, Qi Yuankai was already on the roof. Wei Xiaobao shrank his body as small as possible, he did not dare to make the slightest move; he only heard the sound of roof tiles being moved around. A moment later, Qi Yuankai leaped down and haughtily walked away.

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao thought, “He is hiding the sutra under the tile, he will be back later to pick it up. Humph, it won’t be that easy.”

He waited for a while, until Qi Yuankai had left far away. He did not have the ability to leap up to the roof, but he could climb up the pillar of the corridor. Pulling himself up the eaves, he managed to flip his body onto the roof. Remembering where the tile noise came from, he overturned about a dozen roof tiles before under the hazy darkness of the night he saw the corner of the cloth-wrapper.

He took out the bundle and put the tiles back in place. “Why is this ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ so valuable?” he mused, “The old turtle, the Empress Dowager, this man surnamed Qi, and then Oboi, Prince Kang; they all treated this book as a priceless treasure. If I, Wei Xiaobao, did not take advantage by seizing this undeserved fortune, I am carrying this surname Wei in vain.” Untying the cloth-wrapper, he stuffed the sutra flat against his waist and tightened his belt over it. His gown was spacious to begin with; surprisingly the book was not visible at all. After throwing the cloth wrapper into the flowering shrubs, he returned to the main hall.

The hall was exactly the same as it had been when he left; those who were gambling were still gambling, those who were listening to the song were still listening to the song, the female impersonator who played the Buddhist nun was still coyly singing endlessly. Wei Xiaobao asked Songgotu, “This woman putting on an act like that, what trick is she playing?”

Songgotu replied with a laugh, “This little nun is thinking about a man in the monastery, she wants to run away, going down the mountain to marry; just look at her face, it is overflowing with the thoughts of love, she is throwing coquettish glances one by one …” Suddenly he remembered that Wei Xiaobao was an eunuch, he must not talk about the matter between men and women too much, or else he would upset him; thereupon he said, “This play is not too interesting, Gui Gong-gong (although the two of them were sworn brothers, in front of other people they must not address each other as brother), let me select another play for you. Um, how about ‘Ya Guan Lou’ [elegant and tasteful upstairs room], Li Cunxiao beats the tiger; a young hero, it was not a small matter. Afterwards we can watch the ‘Zong Kui Jia Mei’ [Zhong Kui[16] marries off his younger sister]. Zhong Kui’s subordinates, the five little demons, doing acrobatic and fighting, it is very lively.”

Wei Xiaobao clapped his hands and cheered. “But I have to return to the Palace,” he said, “I am afraid I don’t have time.”

Casting a sidelong glance, he saw Qi Yuankai was in the middle of playing the finger-guessing game with another martial art master, ‘The Brightest and the Best of Five Confucianism Classics’, ‘Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea’, shouting and yelling noisily. After playing for a while, he asked in loud voice, “Shenzao Shangren, where is that fellow surnamed Lang?”

The martial art masters around the banquet table said, “We haven’t seen him for quite a while, perhaps he has slipped out.”

With a cold laugh Shenzao said, “That man does not know how to appreciate favors, I suppose he doesn’t have any face to stay in the Palace much longer.”

Qi Yuankai said, “Most likely he slipped away; this person is sneaky, it’s good if he did not steal anything before he left.”

A martial art master said, “That would be very difficult to say.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “The way this man surnamed Qi handling matters is very thorough; he made that man surnamed Lang lose face in a big way first, and thus he had no choice but had to sneak out quietly. When the people in the Palace discover a dead body and a missing object, naturally the suspicion will fall onto that man surnamed Lang. Very good, I must learn this clever trick; before doing anything, I must find a good scapegoat first.”

Seeing it was getting late, the Chief of Imperial Bodyguards Dolong got up to take his leave, saying that he was on duty in the Palace. Wei Xiaobao followed by also taking his leave. Prince Kang did not dare to detain them; chuckling, he sent them off the door. Wu Yingxiong, Songgotu, and the others also sent them off to the main gate. Wei Xiaobao had just climbed into a sedan chair when Yang Yizhi stepped forward and presented a bundle with both hands, saying, “Our Heir Apparent presents this little gift to Gui Gong-gong, hoping Gong-gong will not dislike this meager present.”

“Thank you very much,” Wei Xiaobao replied with a laugh, he received the gift with both hands, and then still laughing he said, “Yang Dage, I feel like meeting an old friend when we met for the first time. I consider you as a good friend, if I give you some money, I would be disrespectful to you. When I have free time some other day, I’ll invite you for some drink.”

Yang Yizhi was delighted; he said with a laugh, “Gong-gong has already given me seven hundred taels, isn’t that enough?”

Wei Xiaobao guffawed and said, “That was somebody else who foot the bill, it doesn’t count.”

Not too far after the sedan chair left the alley, Wei Xiaobao was getting impatient; he ordered the porters to halt the sedan chair and raised the lantern on the outside of the chair, and then he unwrapped the bundle to look at the gift. It consisted of three brocade boxes, in one box was a pair of emerald chicken, a rooster and a hen, the craftsmanship was very exquisite. In the second case were two strings of pearls together, each string had a hundred pearls. Although the size of the pearls was not as big as the ones he ground and applied to Xiao Junzhu’s face, it was very rare to find two hundred perfectly round and flawless pearls at the same size. He was delighted, “I lied to Xiao Junzhu, telling her I was going to buy some pearls; Wu Yingxiong has just helped me cover up my lie.” Inside the third brocade box were gold banknotes, each sheet was ten liang of gold, altogether there were forty sheets, worth four hundred liang of gold.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Next time I see Wu Yingxiong, that little traitor, I would coldly and indifferently thank him, so that I would appear dissatisfied with his below average gift; he would definitely try to make up for it. This is the ingenious method Suo Dage taught me. If this little traitor pretends not to understand, laozi would simply look him in the eye, ‘Hey, Xiao Wangye, you gave me a pair of tiny green chicken, what’s so amusing about them? They don’t look like real chicken.’ The little traitor would ask me, ‘Gui Gong-gong, what do you mean they don’t look like real chicken?’ Laozi would simply say, ‘Where in the world can you find rooster and hen that small? Even sparrows are a lot bigger than those chickens. Besides, green parrot, green peacocks, I have seen a lot, but green chicken? I have never seen any. I wonder if you have green chicken in Yunnan.’ The little traitor could only laugh bitterly. Laozi would also say, ‘Even if there is green chicken, shouldn’t the rooster’s cockscomb be red? Anyhow, the hen cannot lay eggs, what kind of treasure is that?’        Ha ha, ha ha …!”

Returning to the Palace, Wei Xiaobao hurriedly went back to his own room. He unlatched the bolt, lighted the candle, opened the bed curtain, and said with a laugh, “Are you tired of waiting?” He saw Xiao Junzhu was still lying motionless on the bed; her eyes were opened wide, with several pieces of cake were still piled up on her mouth, unexpectedly she did not eat even a single piece. He took out the two strings of pearls and said with a laugh, “Look, I buy you these two strings of pearls. I am going to grind it and applied it onto your face. If you don’t become the most beautiful young woman under the heavens, my surname is not … is not Gui! Are you hungry? Why don’t you eat the cake? Let me help you up so you can eat.” Reaching out, he propped her and sat her up; suddenly his flank went numb, followed by a burst of pain on the pit of his stomach.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in alarm, his knees turned soft and he fell sitting down on the floor; his entire body was numb and he was unable to move at all.

Note: The word ‘lavatory’ from the title of this chapter ‘each one as lofty as gentlemen’s lavatory’ means ‘mingle together’. From ‘The Record of the Grand Historian’ by Sima Qian – Cheerful and Staunch Legend: ‘The guests inside the lavatory’.

[1] Orig. 郡主 [Jun Zhu]. I want to distinguish between 公主 [Gong Zhu], Princess, a title denoting blood-relation to the Emperor, and 郡主 [Jun Zhu], Princess, indicating a non-royal relation, such as Duke or Count. Perhaps from now on I’ll retain the title Junzhu. [Side note: Zhao Min of HSDS was also a Junzhu, not a Gongzhu]

[2] Orig. Xiao Niang Pi [小娘皮] – little mother’s skin, perhaps a Yangzhou slang?

[3] Lit. ‘divine hall’, ‘yang [positive] link], ‘pillar of heaven’, and ‘jump the hoop’, respectively.

[4] Xiao Niang Pi, see note 2 above.

[5] Orig. ‘wooden intelligence and wooden feeling’, the dictionary says that the character ‘wood’ can also means ‘simple’, which I feel that in this case it is more appropriate.

[6] Lit. ‘armpit abyss’ or ‘armpit deep pool’.

[7] Lit. ‘silk Chinese yo-yo’, ‘yang/positive white’, ‘just before sobbing’. [The names do not make any sense, I know; I am just translating the names literally.]

[8] Xuanwei is a county level city in Qujing, Yunnan; ‘huo jiao’ is fire foot. [Several paragraphs later, I found Jin Yong changed it to ‘huo tui’, (lit. fire leg/thigh), which is ‘ham’. So I believe it was another typographical error on Jin Yong’s side.]

[9] Gong – work/labor/craft, Yu – fish, Gan – dry. I am not sure what it is.

[10] Orig. 世子 (Shi Zi) – descendant son, crown prince; obviously, I can’t use ‘crown prince’, while another option ‘successor’ sounds rather strange. As much as I do not wish to use Minford’s term, I have to admit that in this case his choice of word is the best; therefore, I will also use ‘heir apparent’.

[11] Knocking on bamboo pole: an idiom meaning ‘extortion by taking advantage of somebody’s weakness’. In those days one’s wealth was usually carried on shoulder pole (although I am sure Wu Yingxiong would use horse-drawn carriage), Wei Xiaobao was ‘knocking’ on their treasure chest, so to speak.

[12] Shenzhao means ‘divine illumination/reflection’, Shangren (lit. upper/above person) is a term of respect to address a Buddhist monk.

[13] Poor or impoverished monk, a humble term used by Buddhist monks to refer to self.

[14] Out of curiosity, I searched the web for dice combinations; I found this one from It is a bit different from the one depicted above. (Unfortunately it’s not in pinyin)

Chák t’ín kau, “throwing heaven and nine,” is played with 2 dice. In this game the 21 throws that can be made with 2 dice receive different names, and are divided into two series, or suits, called man, “civil,” and mò “military.”

The 11 man throws in the order of their rank are:

“Double six,” called t’ín, “heaven.”
“Double one,” called tí, “earth.”
“Double four,” called yan, “man.”
“One, three” called wo, “harmony.”
“Double five,” called múi “plum (flower).”
“Double three,” called ch’éung sám, “long threes.”
“Double two,” caller pán táng, “bench.”
“Five, six,” called fú t’au, “tiger’s head.”
“Four, six,” called hung t’au shap, “red head ten.”
“One, six,” called kò kéuk ts’at, “long leg seven.”
“One, five,” called hung ch’ui luk, “red mallet six.”
The 10 mò throws in the order of their rank are:

“Five, four,” and “six, three,” called kau, ” nines.”
“Five, three,” and “six, two,” called pát, “eights.”
“Five, two,” and “four, three,” ts’at, “sevens.”
“Four, two,” Called luk, “six.”
“Three, two,” and “four, one,” called ‘ng, “fives.”
“One, two,” called sám, “three,” or sám kai, “three final.”
[15] His name ‘bai sheng’ means ‘hundred victories’, ‘bai bai’ mean ‘hundred loses/defeats’.

[16] A mythological figure, supposed to drive away evil spirits.

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