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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 03

CSI

Chapter 3
Talisman tucked inside the sleeve encircles and divides the room, unexpected success of an auger out of the sack.

One day they reached Beijing, by the time they entered the city, it was already afternoon. Mao Shiba warned Wei Xiaobao to be careful in everything he say or do, it was the capital, government’s eyes and ears were numerous, they should not expose any mistake. “What mistake?” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are the one who should not expose any mistake. Aren’t you here to challenge Oboi to a duel? Just go out and find him.”

Mao Shiba let out a forced laugh without answering. When he said he was going to find Oboi and challenge him the other day, it was on an impulse while his frame of mind was in rage. Although he was a hot-headed and crude warrior, after all, he had been wandering the Jianghu for more than twenty years, how could he not know that Oboi was an important official in command of tens of thousands of men? How could he have a martial art competition with an ordinary Jianghu man? His own martial art skill was only a second or third class, if Oboi was indeed the Manchu’s number one warrior, most likely Mao Shiba was not Oboi’s match. However, he had boasted in front of Wei Xiaobao, he simply must go to Beijing. He was thinking he would take this child strolling around Beijing for about ten days or half a month, enjoying the scenery of the capital, merrily drinking and eating, and then he would send the child back to Yangzhou. Undoubtedly Oboi was unwilling to have a martial art contest, so he did not have any choice, it was not because he did not dare, so Wei Xiaobao could not mock him as gutless. In a very slim chance that Oboi agreed to have a duel, Mao Shiba would definitely stake his old life to fight him.

The two of them reached a small wine shop in the western part of the city. Mao Shiba ordered some food and wine. While he was drinking, two men entered the wine shop, one old, the other young. The old one was roughly sixty years old, while the young one looked around twelve or thirteen. Both were wearing strange looking attire. Wei Xiaobao did not know what kind of people they were, but Mao Shiba was aware that those two were eunuchs from the Imperial Palace. The old one had a sickly complexion, his back was bent at the waist, and he did not stop coughing, as if he was suffering from a serious illness. The young one was helping him, slowly walking to sit at a table.

With a shrill and raspy voice the old eunuch said, “Bring me some wine!” The wine shop attendant responded repeatedly and hastily took out some wine. The old eunuch took out a package wrapped in paper from his pocket and opened it. Very carefully he used the tip of his fingernail to scoop a little bit of its content and dissolved it into the wine. He put the medicine package inside his pocket before picking up the wine cup and slowly drank the wine. A short moment later he went into convulsion; his body shook continuously.

The wine shop attendant panicked. “What is it? What happened?” he asked.

“Get out of the way!” the little eunuch shouted, “It’s none of your business!” The wine shop attendant bowed and forced a smile; he walked away, but did not stop looking at the two.

The old eunuch used both hands to prop himself on the table, his teeth chattered, his body shook more and more violently. A moment later, even the table was shaking that the chopsticks on the table fell down to the floor.

The little eunuch panicked, “Gong-gong[1],” he said, “How about another dose?” while reaching out to fetch the medicine package from his pocket. He was about to open the package when with a shrill voice the old eunuch said, “No … no … I don’t want …” His expression looked pressing. The little eunuch held the medicine package in his hand, he did not dare to open it.

Right that moment they heard footsteps outside the inn’s door, seven big men walked in. They all naked on top, but wore leather pants on the bottom; their hair braided into pigtails on top of their heads. Their entire body was greasy, glistening under the light, very unsightly; it seemed like their bodies, from head to toes, were smeared with some kind of oil. All seven of them had sturdy muscle like young dragon, their chests were hairy, and their mouth were covered in black mustache; when they stretched out their arms, all their palms were huge with thick fingers. Seven men sat on two tables and shouted in their mumbling speech, “Bring out the wine and some beef and fat chicken, the quicker the better!”

“Yes, yes!” the wine shop attendant replied, while busily setting up chopsticks. “Master Guest,” he asked, “What would you like to eat?”

“Are you deaf?” one of the men bellowed. Another man suddenly reached out and grabbed the wine shop attendant on his waist, raising his arm straight up, he brought the attendant up in the air. The wine shop attendant’s hands and feet flailing randomly, he cried out ‘Wah! Wah!’ in fright. The men roared in laughter. The one holding the attendant flung him outside the shop, ‘Bang!’ the attendant hit the ground. “Aiyo! Mommy!” the wine shop attendant cried out. The men laughed even louder.

In low voice Mao Shiba said, “What they are doing is a wresting technique. The victim must be thrown far away; if he fell close by, he could spring up and counter-attack.”

“Do you know any wrestling?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I haven’t learned it,” Mao Shiba replied, “This kind of ‘hard’ skill is useless against a martial art expert.”

“Can you beat them, then?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Mao Shiba said with a laugh, “What good is it for me to beat those boorish men?”

“But you are alone against the seven them, you will definitely lose,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“They are not my match,” Mao Shiba said.

Wei Xiaobao suddenly raised his voice, “Hey, big men, my friend here says he alone can beat the seven of you.”

“Don’t create trouble!” Mao Shiba sternly said. But Wei Xiaobao liked nothing better than creating trouble. Seeing without any reason those seven men tossed the wine shop attendant that he was half-dead half-alive, his heart was angered; hearing Mao Shiba said that he alone could beat the seven of them, he deliberately provoked them, with the hope that Mao Shiba would teach them a lesson.

The seven big men turned their gaze toward Mao and Wei, two people. “Little baby,” one of them said, “What did you say?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “My friend here says, you bullied the wine shop attendant, you cannot be considered hero or warrior. If you have guts, come and fight him.”

One of the men glowered and said to Mao Shiba, “Son of a b*tch, did you say that?”

Mao Shiba knew those seven men were Manchurian wrestlers; at first he did not want to create any trouble, but first of all, he was angry just by looking at a Manchu, secondly, the Manchu was cursing him. Lifting up the wine pot, he threw it toward the man’s face. The man reached out to catch the pot; to his surprise, however, in this throw Mao Shiba had used his internal strength. ‘Crack!’ the wine pot hit the man’s arm. “Aiyo!” the man cried out for he felt severe pain on his arm. Another man pounced on Mao Shiba, which he responded by a flying kick. Manchurian wrestlers very seldom used their legs, the man was unable to dodge this kick, his lower abdomen was squarely hit, he was sent flying backward.

The other five men cursed, “Scoundrel bastard!” and pounced together. Mao Shiba was quick and agile, unleashing his qin na [grab and capture, grappling technique] skill, his elbow struck his palm hacked, in a short time he managed to knock down four men. The last one slanted his body sideways to take Mao Shiba’s palm on his shoulder, while he reached out to grab Mao Shiba’s lower back and lifted him up. He was about to turn Mao Shiba’s body around to dash his head against the stone steps; Mao Shiba suddenly launched a chain kick, ‘puff! puff!’ twice his feet landed on the pit of that man’s stomach. The man’s mouth opened, blood spurted out wildly, his grab loosened instantly.

The man fell face up, Mao Shiba followed and kicked him hard with both feet on the pit of his stomach, then with both palms he launched the ‘tornado brushing the willow’, hacking diagonally down toward the back of the first man, the one hit by the wine pot. ‘Crack!’ several of the man’s ribs were broken; he scrambled onto a table.

With one hand Mao Shiba pulled Wei Xiaobao and said, “Little demon, you really know how to get into trouble, let’s go quickly!’

The two of them dashed toward the door of the shop. But they only took two steps when they saw the stooped-down old eunuch was standing at the door. Mao Shiba reached out to lightly push his right arm, he only wanted him to push him aside. To his surprise, as his palm touched the old eunuch’s shoulder, Mao Shiba felt a violent jolt; he could not help but stagger and fell several steps sideways, his right waist bumped into a table, immediately the table toppled over.

The momentum of the fall had brought Wei Xiaobao along. Wei Xiaobao yelled, “Aiyo hey, Mommy, it hurts! I am dead!”

Mao Shiba quickly held on to the table and only then was he able to stand. He felt his entire body was boiling, as if he was roasted alive. Inwardly he was greatly shocked. Looking at the old eunuch; he saw the old eunuch was still bending down at the waist and did not stop coughing, seemingly oblivious of what had just happened. Mao Shiba knew that he had met an expert today, most likely the opponent was using sorcery; otherwise, even if one had a much higher level of martial art skill than himself, one could not possibly turn his light push into a tremendous force like that. Although there existed skill such as ‘borrowing force to counter-attack’ within the martial art study, this kind of ‘with four tael pulling a thousand catty‘ technique needs opponent’s large force to produce a large force reaction; there has never been any skill turning a light force into a large one.

Mao Shiba turned around; grabbing Wei Xiaobao, who was still screaming and yelling, he bolted toward the rear of the shop. Yet after taking only three steps, he heard a coughing and saw the old eunuch had already stood in front of him. Mao Shiba was startled, exerting all his strength into his feet, he leaned forward as if he wanted to pounce of the opponent, but just as quick he sprang backward. Before his feet even touch the ground, he felt a light force on his back. Hastily his left hand struck backhandedly, but it hit an empty air. His body was thrown forward and landed on the bodies of two men. It was a heavy fall, fortunately the men were fat and sturdy, with their thick flesh as cushion, they did not suffer any injury.

Those two men’s legs were broken, they were unable to stand; however, their hands were unaffected. Immediately they used their wrestling skill to grab Mao Shiba firmly. Mao Shiba wanted to struggle free, but his limbs were devoid of any strength; turned out the acupoint on his back was sealed by the old eunuch.

Mao Shiba fell face down, he was unable to see what was happening behind his back, he only heard the old eunuch was coughing continuously, and blaming the young eunuch with weak voice, “You want me to take another dose, aren’t you deliberately trying to kill me? Just another half of a dose more, then my old life would be gone. (Cough … cough … cough … cough.) You, little kid, really want to create trouble.”

The young eunuch said, “Child really did not know; next time I will not dare.”

“Will there be next time?” the old eunuch said, “Ay, I don’t even know if I will live in a few days. (Cough … cough … cough … cough.)”

“Gong-gong,” the little eunuch said, “Where did this man come from? I am afraid he is a rebel thief.”

“Friends,” the old eunuch addressed the men, “Which palace are you from?”

“Reporting to Gong-gong,” one of the men replied, “We are from Zheng Wangye‘s Palace. If not for Gong-gong’s help by catching this rebel thief, we might lose a lot of face today.”

“Humph,” the old eunuch said, “Just … just consider it a coincidence. (Cough … cough … cough.) You don’t have to raise any alarm, just send this man and that child to the catering department of the Imperial Palace, tell them they are wanted by Hai Lao-gong [lit. ‘Old eunuch’].”

The men responded with one voice. The old eunuch said, “Why haven’t you called a sedan chair? Looking at my condition, do you think I can still walk?” The little eunuch complied and dashed out the door. The old eunuch bent down on a table, while still coughing nonstop.

Seeing Mao Shiba was captured, Wei Xiaobao remembered a storyteller once said, “Living on a green mountain, no need to fear there won’t be any firewood to cook.” Must smear some grease on the soles of the feet, execute the thirty-sixth stratagem, if all else fails, retreat! Creeping quietly along the wall, he wanted to slip away from the back of the shop. Seeing that nobody was paying attention, he was feeling very happy inwardly when the old eunuch flicked his finger, sending a chopstick flying toward Wei Xiaobao. The chopstick stabbed the back of his right knee.

Wei Xiaobao’s right leg went numb and he toppled down on the floor, unable to move another step. His mouth immediately went into assault mode, “Tuberculosis sickly old turtle demon …” But then he saw one of the big man was glowering at him fiercely, he was scared and the next ten malicious sentences went back into his belly.

Not too long afterwards, a sedan chair arrived outside the door. The little eunuch walked in and announced, “Gong-gong’s sedan chair is here!”

Still coughing incessantly, supported by the young eunuch, the old eunuch entered the sedan chair, which was lifted by two porters and carried away, with the little eunuch following behind. Among the seven men, four only suffered light injury. These four men tightly bound Mao Shiba and Wei Xiaobao with rope. While doing that, they did not stop punching and kicking Mao Shiba. Wei Xiaobao could not stop his mouth from hurling dirty words, but two hard slaps on his ear left him with no choice but quietly accept his fate without making any noise.

The men also called for two sedan chairs. They squeezed a piece of cloth on Mao Shiba and Wei Xiaobao’s mouths, and used a piece of black cloth to cover their eyes before loading them onto the sedan chairs and took them away. When he was seven, Wei Xiaobao had ridden on a sedan chair with his mother on their way to burn incense. This time, without any better option, he consoled himself, “Damn it, laozi had not ridden a sedan chair for a long time; today filial sons are taking a good care of laozi by letting laozi riding on a sedan chair. What a good son, what a good grandson!” But thinking about whether he was accompanying Mao Shiba to the execution ground, he could not help shuddering in fear.

Inside the sedan chair, Wei Xiaobao was completely blinded, he only felt the sedan chair was always moving. Sometimes they stopped and he heard someone would ask a question, and the man accompanying the sedan chair would always reply, “Catering Department, on Hai Laogong-gong‘s order.” Wei Xiaobao did not know what kind of place the Catering Department was, but that Hai Laogong was definitely a person of authority. With the man escorting them, the sedan chair proceeded unhindered. Once the person asking question uncovered the curtain of the sedan chair; he peered inside and said, “It’s only a baby!” Wei Xiaobao wanted to say, “It’s your ancestor!” It was a pity that his mouth was stuffed with the cloth, so that he was unable to say anything.

The journey was long and uneventful that Wei Xiaobao almost fell asleep. Suddenly the sedan chair stopped, and someone said, “The people wanted by Hai Gong-gong are here.”

A boy’s voice replied, “Right, Hai Gong-gong is resting, just leave them here.” Hearing the voice, Wei Xiaobao recognized the speaker as the boy he came across at the wine shop.

He heard the first voice said, “We are going back to report to Zheng Wangye, I am sure Wangye will send someone to thank Hai Laogong.”

“Very well,” the boy replied, “Please tell Wangye Hai Laogong sends his respect.”

“We don’t deserve it,” the man replied.

And then Mao Shiba and Wei Xiaobao were dragged out of the sedan chairs, brought into the room, and laid down on the floor. They heard voices and footsteps were getting further away, but they could hear old eunuch Hai’s coughing quite clearly.

Wei Xiaobao smelled an extremely strong medicinal smell, he thought, “This old demon is so sick that he is about to die soon, too bad he did not die several days earlier. It seems that he wanted me and Mao Dage to be the herald announcing his arrival to the Yan Wang [Yama, King of Hell].”

It was very quiet all around them, other than old eunuch Hai occasional coughs, they did not hear anything else. Wei Xiaobao’s limbs were bound, his fingers and toes grew numb; his discomfort was unbearable, it was as if old eunuch Hai had forgotten all about them and did not take any notice of them.

After a very long time, they finally heard old eunuch Hai’s soft voice calling out, “Xiao Guizi [lit. ‘little cassia/cinnamon/laurel’]!”

“Here!” the little boy replied. Wei Xiaobao mused, “Turns out this stinky kid is called Xiao Guizi. Your name also has the same ‘Xiao’ character as your grandpa.”

He heard the old eunuch Hai said, “Untie those two, I want to question them.”

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi replied.

Wei Xiaobao heard some scraping noise, presumably Xiao Guizi used a knife to cut the rope binding Mao Shiba’s hands and feet. A moment later, the rope tying his own hands and feet was also cut, followed by the cloth covering his eyes were taken away. As he opened his eyes, Wei Xiaobao could see that they were in a large room, which was sparsely furnished. There was only a table and one chair, with a teapot and teacup on the table. The old eunuch Hai was sitting, half-reclining, on the chair; his cheeks were very deep, his eyes were half-open half-closed. By this time the sky had turned dark. There were two flaming candles on the wall, held by a couple of copper candle holders. The flame swayed, making old eunuch Hai’s sallow face flicker between light and dark. Xiao Guizi took the cloth stuffed inside Mao Shiba’s mouth out.

“This child’s mouth is unclean, let him be gagged a while longer,” old eunuch Hai said.

Wei Xiaobao’s hands were free, but he did not dare to take the cloth out himself. Perhaps the obscenities he hurled in his heart were ten times worse than the old eunuch Hai could ever imagined.

The old eunuch Hai said, “Go get a chair, let him sit down.” Xiao Guizi went into the next room and brought back a chair, which he set next to Mao Shiba. Mao Shiba sat down immediately. Seeing he was not given any chair, without any care Wei Xiaobao sat down on the floor.

Laoxiong,” old eunuch Hai addressed Mao Shiba, “May I know your honorable surname and your great name? Which family or school do you belong to? Your qin na technique is not bad, apparently not part of our northern style martial art.”

“My surname is Mao,” Mao Shiba replied, “I am called Mao Shiba. I belong to the Five Tigers Breaking the Gates Saber School of Taizhou, Jiangbei.”

The old eunuch Hai nodded and said, “Mao Shiba, Mao Laoxiong, I have heard about your reputation. I heard around the Yangzhou area Laoxiong has plundered and killed some officers to escape from prison. It was quite an accomplishment indeed.”

“That’s right,” Mao Shiba said. He could not help but to admit defeat to this sickly, tuberculosis old eunuch’s astonishing martial art skill, so he did not dare to openly contradicting him.

The old eunuch Hai said, “What is the purpose of your visit to the capital, Sire? Do you care to share it with me?”

Mao Shiba said, “Since I am already fallen into your hands, you want to kill, you want to hack, I am entirely at your disposal, the one surnamed Mao is a Jianghu man, I won’t wrinkle my brows. If you want to extort a confession, you are misjudging me.”

The old eunuch Hai showed a faint smile as he said, “Who does not know that Mao Shiba is a firm, real man? I would not dare to extort your confession. I heard that Sire is Pingxi[2] Wangye‘s trusted aide …”

He had not finished speaking when Mao Shiba’s anger rose, he shouted, “Who has anything to do with this big traitor Wu Sangui? By saying such thing, you are smearing Mao Shiba’s reputation as a patriot.”

The old eunuch Hai coughed several times, with a faint smile he said, “Pingxi Wangye has rendered great merit to the Great Qing, His Majesty has a really high regard of him. If Sire is Pingxi Wangye‘s man, by looking at Pingxi Wangye‘s face, such a trivial offense need not be haggled over.”

“I am not, I am not!” Mao Shiba shouted loudly, “Mao Shiba and that stinky thief Wu Sangui do not have any relation whatsoever, the one surnamed Mao is unwilling to receive any favor from this big traitor to China. If you want to kill just kill, if you say I was this Wu thief’s trusted aide, surnamed Mao’s ancestors were all rotten and moldy.”

Wu Sangui had led the Qing army entering the pass, to the extent that the Ming Dynasty was subjugated to the foreign power. At the marketplace, whenever the name Wu Sangui was mentioned, Wei Xiaobao always heard the phrases ‘traitor to China’, ‘stinky thief’, or ‘his mother thief’ added to his name; he thought, “From this old turtle’s tone, if only Mao Dage is willing to admit that he is Wu Sangui’s trusted aide, the old turtle would let us go. Too bad that Mao Dage‘s bones are too stiff and he is unwilling to pretend to be one. But his bones are stiff, his skin and flesh will suffer. The common saying is right, ‘A real man won’t be at a disadvantage from the outset’, naturally those who are disadvantaged are not hero or real men. There is no harm for us to speak nonsense, saying Wu Sangui regards the two of us with such care. When we escape alive, it won’t be too late to curse Wu Sangui’s eighteen generations ancestors.”

Gradually the blood in his hands and feet was able to flow again; quietly he brought his sleeve to cover his face as he take away the cloth gagging his mouth. The old eunuch Hai’s gaze was focused on Mao Shiba’s expression, he did not see Wei Xiaobao playing trick in secret.

Seeing Mao Shiba’s stern expression, the old eunuch Hai smiled and said, “I thought Sire was sent to the capital by Pingxi Wangye; turns out I was wrong.”

Mao Shiba thought, “This time I am being captured in Beijing, the footstool of the Emperor himself, obviously I won’t escape with my life. A dead leopard leaves behind its skin, a dead man leaves his name. Mao Shiba’s death is nothing, but I must not be an obscure person.” He noticed Wei Xiaobao was looking at him helplessly, he loudly said, “Let me be honest with you, in the south I heard a rumor in Jianghu that Oboi is Manchu’s number one warrior, that he is able to kill a wild bull with his palm, that he is able to kick tigers and leopard; people always give an exaggerated account of things. The one surnamed Mao refuses to accept; therefore, I came to Beijing with the special purpose of challenging him to a duel.”

The old eunuch Hai sighed. “You want to have a duel with Oboi?” he said, “Oboi has reached the highest rank of officialdom. In Beijing, he is inferior only to the Emperor and Empress Dowager. Even if laoxiong waits in Bejing for eight years, ten years, you might not necessarily be able to see him, how can you have a duel with him?”

At first Mao Shiba believed the old eunuch Hai was using some kind of sorcery, afterwards the acupoint on his back was sealed, and only now did it gradually become unsealed; he knew he was facing an expert in internal energy cultivation. Looking at the old eunuch’s expression and the tone of his voice, Mao Shiba guessed the old eunuch was a Manchu. If he was not an old, sickly Manchu’s match, what chance did he have against the Manchu’s number one warrior? When he fought Shi Song and his troops at the Victory Hill of Yangzhou, although the situation was critical, he was not in the least bit desperate; but now, facing this ghost eunuch suffering for tuberculosis, unexpectedly his heroic spirit disappeared completely. In the end, he could only heaved a deep sigh.

The old eunuch Hai asked, “Do you still want to have a duel with Oboi, Sire?”

“May I ask, how is that Oboi’s martial art skill compared to Your Excellency?” Mao Shiba asked.

The old eunuch Hai smiled faintly as he said, “Oboi is a great minister who has both military and civil talents, with matchless glory and splendor. I am but a cruel-fated, despicable person. While Oboi is high in the sky, I am low on the earth, how can we be compared?” He was speaking only about the difference in two people’s status, unexpectedly not one sentence about martial art ability was even mentioned.

Mao Shiba said, “If that Oboi has half of your martial art skill, I am definitely not his match.”

The old eunuch Hai said with a smile, “Laoxiong is too modest. Tell me, with my shallow martial art skill, if I want to compare it to Chen Jinnan’s, how do you think I will fare?”

Mao Shiba sprang up and said, “You … you … what did you say?”

The old eunuch Hai said, “I am talking about your respected society’s Zongduozhu, Chen Jinnan. I heard Chen Zongduozhu practices ‘Blood Clotting Divine Claw’, his internal energy cultivation is unfathomably deep. It’s a pity we are not destined to see each other; I am a despicable person, I do not have the fortune to pay Chen Zongduozhu a visit.”

“I don’t belong to Tian Di Hui, and I don’t have the fortune to pay Chen Zongduozhu a visit either,” Mao Shiba said, “I only heard Chen Zongduozhu‘s martial art skill to be very high, how high or what his technique looks like, I can’t possibly know.”

The old eunuch Hai sighed and said, “Mao Xiong, I have known from the start that you are a good man. With this kind of good skill, why don’t you serve the imperial household? You may be a provincial governor in the future, or even a general won’t be out of question. If you follow Tian Di Hui starting a rebellion, ay …” He shook his head, and then continued, “You won’t have a good end. Let me give you an advice, you’d better rein the horse at the edge of the precipice, withdraw from Tian Di Hui.”

“I … I … I am not a Tian Di Hui’s member,” Mao Shiba said. Suddenly he raised his voice and said, “It’s not that I am denying that I am one of them. The one surnamed Mao wishes to become a member of the Tian Di Hui, it’s just that I do not have anybody to sponsor me. There is a saying in Jianghu: ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain’. Hai Laogong, I believe you have also heard this saying. The one surnamed Mao is definitely a Han, although I haven’t joined the Tian Di Hui, I am determined to fight the Qing and restore the Ming; how can you advise me to serve the Qing and become a traitor to Han instead? Just kill me quickly; the one surnamed Mao has killed and burned, my crimes are too great, I should have died early on. It’s just that I have never seen Chen Jinnan, so there’s a part of me which does not want to die with closed eyes.”

The old eunuch Hai said, “You, Han people, refuse to accept Manchu’s rule over the land under the heaven, there’s nothing wrong with that. I respect you as a real man, so I won’t kill you today. I am going to let you see Chen Jinnan first, so that you can die with your eyes closed. The earlier you see him the better. When you see him, tell him that Hai Laogong wants to see him very much, I want to try his ‘Blood Clotting Divine Claw’, I want to see how formidable it really is. I wish for him to come to the capital as soon as he can. Ay, the old man don’t have too many days left, if Chen Zongduozhu does not come to Beijing soon, I won’t be able to see him at all. Hey, hey, ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain’! I want to see what kind of hero Chen Jinnan really is, why does he have such a big reputation in the Jianghu?”

Hearing that the old eunuch Hai unexpectedly agreed to let him go, Mao Shiba was taken aback. He stood motionless and did not walk out immediately. “What are you waiting for?” the old eunuch Hai said, “Why haven’t you left?”

“Right!” Mao Shiba said. He turned around and pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand along. He wanted to say something nice, but did not know what to say.

The old eunuch Hai sighed. “In vain you have been wandering around the Jianghu for a long time, even a little bit of custom you do not understand. You just want to walk away without leaving anything?”

Mao Shiba clenched his teeth. “You’re right, the one surnamed Mao is negligent. Little brother, lend me your knife, I’ll cut my left hand for you,” he said, while pointing to the dagger by the little eunuch, Xiao Guizi. The dagger was approximately eight cun [cun is a unit of length, approximately an inch or a thumb], it was the dagger Xiao Guizi used to cut the rope binding their hands and feet.

“Just a left hand is not enough,” old eunuch Hai said.

Mao Shiba’s face turned ashen. “Do you want me to cut my right hand as well?” he asked.

The old eunuch Hai nodded. “That’s right,” he said, “Both hands. Actually, I also want your pair of eyes, (cough … cough …) but I figure you want to see Chen Jinnan. If you don’t have any eyes, you won’t be able to see him. Let’s do this: gouge your left eye, you may keep the right eye!”

Mao Shiba took two steps back and let Wei Xiaobao’s hand go. His left palm raised, his right hand slanting with palm down, in the ‘Rhinoceros Gazing at the Moon’ stance, thinking, “You want to gouge my left eye, and break my both hands, why would I want to live as a cripple? I’d rather stake everything to fight you, if I die in your palm, that will be the end of it.”

The old eunuch Hai did not even look at him; he coughed repeatedly, his coughing was getting more violent, until at last he could not breathe at all. His originally sallow face had turned red and swollen.

“Gong-gong,” Xiao Guizi said, “How about another dose?”

The old eunuch Hai shook his head repeatedly, but his coughing did not stop. A moment later he could not take it anymore, he stood up and grabbed his own neck with his left hand, his expression showed extreme pain.

“If I don’t leave now, what am I waiting for?” Mao Shiba mused. With a leap he pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand and bolted toward the door. The old eunuch Hai pinched the table with his right hand’s thumb and index finger, immediately a piece of wood broke off. ‘Swish!’ he flicked it out. Mao Shiba was a large stride away from the door, the piece of wood struck the futu [crouching rabbit] acupoint on his right leg. Immediately his right leg went numb and he fell kneeling down on the floor. Another ‘Swish!’ was heard as another piece of wood flew and struck the acupoint on Mao Shiba’s left leg. Amidst the old eunuch Hai’s coughing, taking Wei Xiaobao along, Mao Shiba rolled down on the ground.

“Take half a dose,” Xiao Guizi said, “It won’t do you any harm.”

“Alright, alright,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Just … just a little bit. Too much … it’s too dangerous.”

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi replied, while reaching out to get the medicine pouch from his pocket. He turned around toward the other room, and went back out with a cup of wine. Opening up the pouch, he took a little bit of powder with the nail of his little finger. “Too … too much,” old eunuch Hai said.

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi said, returning some of the powder on his nail back into the pouch, his eyes were at the old eunuch Hai. The old eunuch Hai nodded. He bent down again and started coughing; suddenly he threw his body forward, he crawled on the floor and did not stop twisting and turning.

Xiao Guizi was greatly alarmed, he rushed forward and cried out, “Gong-gong, Gong-gong, what happens?”

Gasping for breath, the old eunuch Hai said, “Hot … it’s hot … help … help me … to water … water tub to soak … soak …”

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi replied, as he struggled to help him up. The two of them staggered together into the inner room, followed by splashing noise of the water.

All of these did not escape Wei Xiaobao’s eyes. He got up quietly and tiptoed to the table. Stretching out his little finger, he took three fingernails full of medicinal powder and dumped it into the wine. Afraid it was not enough, he took two more fingernails, and then folded the medicine pouch and re-opened it, and thus erasing the fingernail mark from the powder.

He heard Xiao Guizi in the inner room said, “Gong-gong, is it enough? Please don’t soak too long.” “Hot … I’m hot …” the old eunuch Hai said, “It feels like I am being roasted.” Seeing the dagger lying on the table, Wei Xiaobao took it in his hand, and went back toward Mao Shiba and lay down on the floor.

Not too long afterwards, the splashing noise diminished. Dripping wet, the old eunuch Hai came out of the inner room, supported by Xiao Guizi. He had not stopped coughing. Xiao Guizi took the wine cup from the table and brought it to his mouth. The old eunuch Hai was still coughing and did not drink immediately. Wei Xiaobao felt his heart was about to jump out his throat.

The old eunuch Hai said, “If I can not take … it’s best if I not … not take the medicine.”

“Yes!” Xiao Guizi said, putting the wine cup back on the table. He wrapped the medicine pouch securely and put it back into the old eunuch Hai’s pocket. But the old eunuch Hai’s coughing was getting worse. He pointed to the wine cup. Xiao Guizi picked up the wine cup and brought it to his mouth. The old eunuch Hai drank it in one gulp.

Mao Shiba was unable to remain calm and let out a cry, “Ah!”

The old eunuch Hai said, “You … if you think … you can escape alive …” Suddenly with a crash the chair collapsed. The old eunuch Hai crouched on the table, but he was leaning with such a tremendous force that, with two loud crashes, the table and the person collapsed together.

In great alarm Xiao Guizi screamed, “Gong-gong, Gong-gong!” as he rushed forward to help the old eunuch Hai up, his back was facing Mao Shiba and Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao lightly sprang up, raising his dagger he drove it ferociously on Xiao Guizi’s back. Xiao Guizi let out a low groan and died instantly. The old eunuch Hai was still twisting and turning on the floor. Wei Xiaobao raised his dagger and aimed it at the old eunuch Hai’s back, ready to drive it down again. Right this moment, the old eunuch Hai lifted up his head and said, “Xiao … Xiao Guizi, something’s wrong with the medicine.”

Wei Xiaobao was scared out of his wits, how could he dare to drive his dagger down? The old eunuch Hai turned around and reached out, he grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s left wrist as he said, “Xiao Guizi, the medicine just now, haven’t you made a mistake?”

“No … no mistake,” Wei Xiaobao mumbled his response. He felt as if his left wrist was clamped with an iron hoop, the pain penetrated his bone. In his fright, he withdrew the dagger in his right hand about a cun.

With a trembling voice the old eunuch Hai said, “Quick … quickly light the candle, it’s so dark in here, I can’t … can’t see anything.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly puzzled, the candles were burning bright, why did he say it was so dark? “Could it be that he is blinded?” Thereupon he said, “The candle is still burning, Gong-gong, you … can’t you see?”

Both he and Xiao Guizi still had their children’s voice, but Xiao Guizi spoke with Manchurian Bannerman[3] official’s accent, which Wei Xiaobao could not learn in such a short time, and thus he was mumbling with the hope that the old eunuch Hai would not discover it.

The old eunuch Hai said, “I … I can’t see a thing, who says the candle is burning? Quickly light it up!” While saying that, he let Wei Xiaobao’s wrist go.

“Yes! Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said. He walked away hurriedly toward the candle-holder hanging on the wall. Reaching up, he fiddled the copper ring of the candle-holder, creating some clinking noise, and said, “It’s lighted!”

“What?” the old eunuch Hai said, “Nonsense! Why haven’t you lighted the candle …?” He had not finished speaking when his body twisting and he fell face up on the floor.

Wei Xiaobao gestured anxiously to Mao Shiba, telling him to run away quickly. Mao Shiba waved back at him, wanting him to escape together. Wei Xiaobao turned toward the door, but he heard the old eunuch Hai whispering and groaning, “Xiao … Xiao Guizi, Xiao … Xiao Guizi, you …”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Yes, I am here!” His left hand beckoned Mao Shiba to escape first, since he must find a way to deal with the old eunuch Hai. Mao Shiba struggled to stand up, but the acupoints on both of his legs were sealed. Reaching down, he tried to massage the acupoints, but after exerting all his strength, nothing happened at all. He thought, “My legs are incapable of moving, I must crawl out. This child is as crafty as a ghost, besides, he is only a child, nobody will pay him any attention, it won’t be difficult for him to escape. If he is coming with me and we come across an enemy, he may be implicated instead.” Therefore, he waved toward Wei Xiaobao and put his hands down to quietly crawl out.

The old eunuch Hai’s whispering and groaning was sometimes soft, sometimes audible. Wei Xiaobao did not dare to leave for fear that the old eunuch Hai found Xiao Guizi was dead and thus raised an alarm; if his subordinates started to surround them, it would be difficult for Mao Shiba and him to escape. He thought, “I caused all these disasters. Mao Dage cannot walk, I don’t know how long will it take for him to escape, I’d better stay here to stall a little bit. As long as the old turtle would not discover that I am an impostor, I will be alright. This old turtle is so sick that his mind is muddled, I’ll wait till he pass out, then I’ll kill him with a stab, and then I can escape.”

A little while later, he heard the distant ‘de du de du dang, de du de du dang’ of the night watchman, indicating it was the first watch of the night [11 pm – 1 am]. Wei Xiaobao saw the candle sparkled, it suddenly brightened; the candle on his left had been burned to the very end, it would soon die out. He saw Xiao Guizi’s body curling up and was very scared. “I killed him,” he mused, “When he turns into a ghost, will he come back to demand his life back from me?” He also thought, “If I wait till daybreak, it will be more difficult to escape, I must run away in the middle of the night when it is still dark.” But the old eunuch Hai was still groaning, he had not lost his consciousness at all. He was lying face up on the floor. Even if Wei Xiaobao had more guts, he would not dare to raise his dagger and plunge it toward the old eunuch Hai’s pit of the stomach or perhaps his lower abdomen, knowing that this old man’s martial art was extremely formidable; as soon as the dagger hit his flesh, he would regain consciousness, if he strike with his palm, Wei Xiaobao’s brain would definitely be dashed out.

After another while, the other candle also died out. In the darkness, Wei Xiaobao was thinking that Xiao Guizi’s corpse was within reach; he was terribly scared and his only hope was that he could escape as early as possible. But as soon his body moved, the old eunuch Hai called out, “Xiao … Xiao Guizi, you … are you here?”

“I am here!” Wei Xiaobao did not have any choice.

More than an hour later, he tiptoed toward the door. The old eunuch Hai called out again, “Xiao Guizi, where are you going?”

“I … I want to go pee,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

The old eunuch Hai asked, “Why … why not pee inside?”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He went to the inner chamber, the one he had never been in before. He had just walked into the door and took a couple of steps when ‘bang!’ his kneecap bumped into the corner of a table.

Outside, the old eunuch Hai asked, “Xiao … Xiao Guizi, what … what are you doing?”

“No … nothing!” Wei Xiaobao replied. Stretching out his arm he groped around the table to find a fire knife or a flint. Hastily he struck the flint and lighted a fire paper. He saw several dozens of candles on the table, immediately he lighted one and plugged it into a candlestick. He saw a large bed and a small bed in the room, which he presumed must be the old eunuch Hai and Xiao Guizi’s. There were also several chests, a table and a cabinet; other than that, there was nothing else. On the east end there was a large tub, which looked extremely tall to him, underneath the tub the water splashed everywhere.

He was contemplating whether he could run away from the window, when the old eunuch Hai called out from the outside, “Why haven’t you peed yet?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Why doesn’t he stop calling me? Could it be that he heard something wrong in my voice and grew suspicious? Otherwise, whether I pee or not, it is not a fart business of his.” Thereupon he answered at once, “Yes!” From underneath the small bed he groped out a chamber pot. He peed while looking at the window. He saw the window was tightly shut, each window panel was covered with silk paper; he thought it must be because the old eunuch Hai’s coughing was so severe that he was afraid of catching cold, therefore, not a draft of cold air was allowed to come in. If he opened the window by force, the old eunuch Hai would definitely hear it. Most probably before he could even get out, he would be captured. He looked everywhere around the room, looking for a place where he could escape, but even a hole in the wall to let the dog or the cat in and out was non-existent. If he escaped from the front room, the old eunuch Hai would definitely find out. Suddenly with the corner of his eyes he caught sight of a set of new clothes by the corner of Xiao Guizi’s bed; he had an idea. Hurriedly he shed his own clothes and put the new set on.

From the outside the old eunuch Hai called again, “Xiao Guizi, what … what are you doing?”

“I am coming, I am coming!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He walked out while fastening his buttons. He picked up Xiao Guizi’s hat and put it on his own head, while saying, “The candles died out, I’ll light another one.” Returning to the room, he picked two candles and lighted both.

The old eunuch Hai heaved a sigh and in a low voice asked, “Have you really lighted the candles?”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Don’t tell me you cannot see?”

The old eunuch Hai was silent for half a day. He coughed several times before answering, “I was fully aware the medicine must not be taken too much, but the coughing was really … was really … too painful. Ay, although each time I only take a little, but accumulated over a long period of time, the toxicity is too heavy, until finally … finally my eyes failed.”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao felt relieved, “The old guy did not know I added medicinal powder into his wine; he thought it was because he had taken the drug for a long time that the effect accumulated and flared out just now.”

He heard the old eunuch Hai asked again, “Xiao Guizi, how did Gong-gong usually treat you?”

Wei Xiaobao had no idea how the old eunuch Hai usually treated Xiao Guizi, he quickly said, “Very good, actually.”

The old eunuch Hai said, “Um, now that Gong-gong … is blind, in this whole world, only you alone will take care of me. You wouldn’t leave Gong-gong, wouldn’t … wouldn’t ignore me, would you?”

“I … of course I won’t?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You are not telling me lie?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

“Naturally not the least bit of lie,” Wei Xiaobao said. He replied without the slightest hesitation, in addition, his tone was so sincere that it was impossible for the old eunuch Hai not to be moved. He added, “Gong-gong, you have no one to keep you company, if I don’t keep you company, who will? I think your eyes will get well in a few days, you don’t have to worry.”

The old eunuch Hai sighed and said, “They won’t get well, they won’t get well!” After a moment, he asked, “Has that one surnamed Mao run away?”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Did you kill the child he brought along?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping wildly, he answered, “Yes! His … his body; what should we do with it?”

The old eunuch Hai contemplated for a while, and then said, “We have a dead body in our room, if people find out, they will ask questions, very troublesome. You … get my medicine box out.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He entered the inner room, but did not see any medicine box, so he opened the cabinet drawers one by one to look for it.

Suddenly the old eunuch Hai said angrily, “What are you doing? Who … who told you to randomly open the drawers?”

Wei Xiaobao sprang up in fright, he thought, “Turns out I am not supposed to open these drawers,” he said, “I am looking for the medicine box, I don’t know where it is.”

“Rubbish!” the old eunuch Hai said, “How come you don’t know where the medicine box is?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I killed someone … I am very afraid. You … Gong-gong … is also going blind. I … I am completely confused.” Speaking to this point, unexpectedly he broke into a loud bawling. He did not know where the medicine box was, and was afraid that based on this fact alone he would give himself away, thereupon he cried as soon as he spoke, which, for him, was not difficult at all.

“Ay, this child,” the old eunuch Hai said, “What’s so frightening about killing people? The medicine box is inside the first chest.”

Sobbing and sniffling, Wei Xiaobao said, “Yes … yes … I … I am very scared.” He saw both chests were locked with copper padlocks, and he did not know where the key was. Reaching out to the lock, he tried to pull it, and the padlock immediately opened. Turned out it was not locked at all. “I am in luck!” he cheered inwardly, “If I did not know the trick of this padlock, the old turtle would be greatly suspicious.” Setting the lock aside, he opened the chest and saw that it contained mostly clothes. On the left there was a medicine box like the one used by the doctors. He picked it up immediately and took it outside.

The old eunuch Hai said, “Take some ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’ to melt the body.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, pulling the small drawers of the box one by one. He saw the drawers were full of porcelain bottles of all colors, shapes and sizes, no two bottles were alike. He did not know which one was the ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’, so he asked, “Which bottle?”

“This kid,” the old eunuch Hai said, “How come you are confused about everything today? Are you really frightened that you lost your head?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I’m scared. Gong-gong, your eyes … can … can they get well?” His voice sounded full of concern over the old eunuch Hai’s eyes, truly it was incomparably earnest.

The old eunuch Hai seemed to be quite moved; he reached out and gently caressed Wei Xiaobao’s head. He said, “It’s the triangular bottle, greenish-blue in color, with white dot on it. This powder is very precious, only a tiny bit is enough.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. Picking up the greenish-blue with white dot bottle, he pulled the cork, picked a sheet of white paper from the medicine box, and poured a little bit of powder out, and then scattered it onto Xiao Guizi’s body. But half a day later, nothing happened.

“What is it?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

“I don’t see anything,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Did you scatter it on the blood?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

“Ah, I forgot!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed. He took some more powder and sprinkled it on the corpse’s wound.

“Something’s really weird with you today,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Even your voice is greatly different.”

Right this moment, they heard the wound on Xiao Guizi’s corpse started to sizzle, a thin smoke appeared, followed by yellowish liquid flowing out from the wound. The smoke was getting thicker, the yellow liquid also flowed more and more, producing a very strong acid stench. The corpse’s wound decomposed bigger and bigger. As the flesh made contact with the yellow liquid, it emitted smoke and slowly turned into liquid. Even the clothes were turning into liquid.

Wei Xiaobao watched with his tongue stuck out; he took his old clothes and threw it onto the corpse. Seeing his own shoes were torn at the toes, he hastily pulled Xiao Guizi’s shoes and put them on his feet, and then threw the worn-out shoes onto the yellow liquid. Approximately two hours later, Xiao Guizi’s body, including his clothes and Wei Xiaobao’s shoes and socks, everything disappeared; only a pool of yellow liquid was left on the floor.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If the old turtle pass out now, nothing can be better. I’ll put poisonous liquid into him, then a moment later he would melt that even his skeletons would not remain.” But the old eunuch Hai did not stop coughing, did not stop sighing, without any sign that he would pass out anytime soon.

He saw the paper panes on the window gradually turned brighter, it was already dawn. Wei Xiaobao thought, “I have changed clothes, I can simply go out in grandiose, nobody will recognize me, I have nothing to worry about.”

“Xiao Guizi,” the old eunuch Hai suddenly said, “It is dawn, isn’t it?”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The old eunuch Hai said, “Fetch some water and mop the liquid on the floor clean, this odor is nasty.” Wei Xiaobao complied; he returned to the inner room and fetched several ladles of water from the water tub and flushed the liquid on the floor.

The old eunuch Hai also said, “After breakfast, you may go gambling with them.”

Wei Xiaobao thought it was very strange, he expected the old eunuch Hai was joking; thereupon he said, “Gambling? I am not going! Your eyes are not well, how can I go alone and play?”

The old eunuch Hai angrily said, “Who said anything about playing? I have taught you for the last several months, you have lost several hundred taels, coming and going, everything is for this great cause; aren’t you going to obey me anymore?”

Wei Xiaobao did not understand his intention, he had no alternative but to mumble his response, “No … it’s not that I don’t want to obey you, but you are not well, your coughing is so severe. I do care about … about this cause, but nobody is taking care of you.”

“You are helping me in this matter, it is better than anything else,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Try throwing it again.”

“Throw it again, throw … throw what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Go get the dice!” the old eunuch Hai angrily said, “Always decline with all sorts of excuses. Not willing to make an effort to practice. Has learned for a long time, has never made any progress.”

Hearing it was ‘throwing the dice’, Wei Xiaobao was shaken inwardly. In Yangzhou, other than listening to stories, he spent most of his time throwing dice with other people. Although he was young, in the streets and alleys of Yangzhou, he could already be considered an expert. It was just that he did not know where the dice was kept, therefore, he said, “This day made my head spins, I don’t know where those dice are kept.”

“Useless creature,” the old eunuch Hai cursed, “Hearing the words ‘throwing dice’ you get scared out of your wits. The money you lose is not yours anyway. Aren’t those dice nicely kept in the chest?”

“I don’t know,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He went back into the inner room and flipped around in the chest. In a brocade box he indeed saw a small china bowl, in the bowl were six dice. It was as if he had met an old friend far from home; he could not refrain from cheering. Picking up the six dice, he cheered again. Turned out, not only he met an old friend, he met a very close old friend. As soon as he held the six dice, he immediately knew that the dice were cheating dice; they were filled with mercury.

Bringing the bowl and the dice to the old eunuch Hai he said, “Are you sure you want me to go gambling? You will be alone in here with nobody taking care of you, is that alright?”

“Just cut the crap,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Let’s see if within ten throws, you can give me one ‘Heaven’.”

In those days, gamblers could use either four or six dice. If six dice were used, four of the dice must show the same number of dots, with the remaining two dice became dominoes. Two ‘sixes’ was ‘Heaven’, two ‘ones’ was ‘Earth’, otherwise the winner was determined by the number of the dots, large or small.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “These dice are loaded with mercury, you want me to throw ten times to get one ‘Heaven’, you are belittling laozi too much.” But cheating with dice loaded with mercury is a lot more difficult than using dice loaded with lead. He threw four, five times and failed to get the desired numbers. By the sixth throw, he got two ‘sixes’, three ‘threes’, and one ‘four’. If this ‘four’ were ‘three’, then he would have gotten a ‘Heaven’. With the tip of his pinkie he pushed lightly and the ‘four’ turned into ‘three’. He clapped and exclaimed, “Good! Good! Isn’t this a ‘Heaven’?”

“Don’t cheat on me just because I cannot see,” the old eunuch Hai said, “Bring it here, let me feel it.” He ran his finger inside the bowl and sure enough, out of six dice, four were ‘threes’, two were ‘sixes’. “Your luck is good today,” he said, “Now give me a ‘Plum Blossom’.”

Wei Xiaobao lifted the dice, and was about to throw when suddenly a thought occurred to him: “From the way he speaks, that little turtle Xiao Guizi’s skill in throwing dice was extremely lacking. If I can throw whatever I want, I will definitely raise this old turtle’s suspicion.” Thereupon he shifted the strength of his hand and successively threw seven, eight times without the desired result. After the next throw, he heaved a sigh.

“What did you throw?” the old eunuch Hai asked.

“It’s … it’s … ” Wei Xiaobao stammered.

“Humph,” the old eunuch Hai snorted, he reached out to the bowl and felt four ‘twos’, one ‘four’ and one ‘five’, which made it a ‘nine’. “Reduce your hand’s strength a little bit,” he said, “Your ‘Plum Blossom’ turned into a ‘nine’. But a ‘nine’ is not bad either. Try again.”

Wei Xiaobao threw seventeen, eighteen times. He got one ‘long three’, which was only a level below ‘Plum Blossom’. After running his fingers on the dice, the old eunuch Hai was quite happy; “You are making some progress,” he said, “Now go and try your luck. Today you may take fifty … fifty taels.”

When he was looking for the dice earlier, Wei Xiaobao had already seen a dozen or so yuanbiao. Speaking of gambling, it was his most favorite activity; it’s just that first, he did not have the capital, second, he loved to cheat too much, within the marketplace of Yangzhou, he was known as the little swindler, other than out-of-town people, nobody was willing to gamble with him. This time from the state of panic he suddenly could go gambling, not only that, he even had fifty taels gambling capital; not even in his wildest dream he would imagine he could enjoy an unrestrained gambling like this. Moreover, he had the loaded dice in his hand; truly it was hell turning into heaven. Even if he were to be beheaded after gambling, he would not be willing to escape. Only he did not know who the opponent was, or when he was supposed to go gambling. If he asked every detail, he would definitely give himself away. Currently, these were his greatest concerns.

He opened the chest and took two yuanbao, each worth twenty five taels. While he was still busy thinking of a way to extract the information from the Old eunuch Hai, suddenly he heard someone outside the door loudly calling, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi!”

Wei Xiaobao walked out into the outer hall and called back. In low voice Old eunuch Hai said, “They are here to get you, just go.” Wei Xiaobao was about to go out happily when suddenly he came to this realization: “These gambling ghosts are not blind, as soon as they see me, they will know I am not Xiao Guizi. What should I do?” He heard the person outside was calling again, “Xiao Guizi, come out! I want to talk to you.”

“Coming!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He returned to the inner room at once and took a piece of white cloth, which he wrapped around his head and face, leaving only his eyes and mouth exposed. “I am leaving!” he told Old eunuch Hai, and walked out the door quickly. He saw outside the door there was a thirty-something man, who asked him in low voice, “What happened to you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Lost some money, Gong-gong beat my eyes blue and my nose swollen.”

The man chuckled; he did not suspect anything. In low voice he asked again, “Do you dare to win your money back?”

Wei Xiaobao pulled his sleeve and took him several steps farther, and then also with a low voice he said, “Don’t let Gong-gong hear it; of course I want to win my money back.”

The man raised his thumb and said, “Good boy, you have guts. Let’s go!”

Wei Xiaobao walked alongside the man. He noticed the man had a small head and pointy forehead, his complexion looked greenish white. After walking several zhang the man said, “The two Wen brothers and Ping Wei are already there. Your luck may be good today.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I don’t win today, that … that will be really bad!”

They walked along winding corridors, passing through courtyards and gardens         . “Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “The owner is really rich, this is such a big house.” He saw the hanging eaves were brightly painted, the ridgepoles and beams were carved with decorative patterns. In all his life, he had never seen such a rich, beautiful and luxurious big house like this. He thought, “Our Lovely Spring Courtyard in Yangzhou can be considered the most beautiful, or at least the second most beautiful, large courtyard, but compared to this place it falls too short. If managed well, we can open a courtyard in here, the brothel patrons will be very happy. It’s just that a courtyard this big, if not filled with hundreds of young ladies, it may look unseemly.”

Wei Xiaobao followed the man for quite some time before they finally entered a side room of a building. Passing through two rooms, the man knocked at the door. ‘Knock, knock, knock’ three times, ‘knock knock’ twice, then ‘knock, knock, knock’ three times again. The door creaked open, he heard ‘ding ling ling’, ‘ding ling ling’, the rattling of dice in the bowl; it was such an unspeakable music to Wei Xiaobao’s ears.

Inside the room there were five, six people, all dressed in similar outfits, their attention was focused on the dice. A twenty-something man asked, “What happened to Xiao Guizi?”

The man who brought Wei Xiaobao in replied with a laugh, “Lost some money, got beaten by Hai Laogong.”

“Heh, heh …” the man laughed while clucking his tongue.

Standing behind these men, Wei Xiaobao saw they were placing their bets. Some put down one tael, some other five taels, they all used bamboo stick as the bargaining chips. One man said, “Xiao Guizi, how much stolen money are you going to lose today?”

“Pei!” Wei Xiaobao spat, “What do you mean ‘stolen money’? ‘Win’ or ‘lose’? So unpleasant to hear!” Actually, he had wanted to shoot curses like ‘son of turtles’ and ‘son of a bitch’, but he realized his accent greatly differed than theirs; if he swear too much, he would only give himself away, so he thought the less he speak the better, while at the same time trying to learn their accent.

The man who take him in picked some chips, he looked somewhat uncertain. Another man by his side said, “Lao Wu [Ol’ Wu], the banker is rotten, bet a bit more.”

“Alright!” Lao Wu said. He put down two taels. “Xiao Guizi,” he said, “What about you?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I must not let them pay too much attention to me; I must not win too much, I must not lose too much, I must not bet too much either.” Thereupon he put down five qian. Nobody paid him any attention.

The man acting as the banker was a fat man, whom everybody called Ping Dage. Wei Xiaobao remembered Lao Wu mentioned the name Ping Wei as one of the gamblers, so this Ping Dage must be Ping Wei. He saw Ping Wei was picking up the dice and shaking them in his palm; “Last bets!” he shouted, and tossed the dice into the bowl. Wei Xiaobao attentively watched his hand movement, and immediately felt relieved. “This man is a cattle [orig. ‘yang gu’ (羊牯) – sheep and bullock/cow],” he thought. In his book, a gambler who cannot cheat was a ‘cattle’.

Ping Wei threw six dice, and got an ‘ox head’, which was the weak side of ‘large’. Subsequently one by one they all threw the dice; some won, some lost. Lao Wu threw an ‘eight’, so he lost. Each time he saw someone throw the dice, Wei Xiaobao would cry out in his heart, “Cattle!” And so he cried out “Cattle” seven times in a row; instantly he was very relieved.

Wei Xiaobao had planned to use the old eunuch Hai’s mercury-loaded dice in his pocket halfway through the game; he would switch the dice and after winning some money he would try to switch again. Throwing loaded dice involved an extremely-difficult-to-train technique, switching it also required sharp eyes and quick hands, very much like performing magic tricks. First he must divert other people’s attention, such as suddenly kicking a stool, spilling a cup of tea, and so on. When people’s eyes were on the stool or the tea cup, then the real and fake dice were switched. For a real expert, however, there is no need for any inferior trick like kicking stool or spilling tea, usually the expert would conceal the six dice on his wrist, as the fingers grab the dice and throw, the dice fallen into the bowl would be the ones concealed on his wrist, while the six dice among his fingers would switch into his left palm. The gods were unaware, the ghosts did not realize, the real dice would go into his pocket. But Wei Xiaobao had not mastered this skill yet.

There is a saying, ‘Dice loaded with lead, to win money is not difficult; dice loaded with mercury, touching iron will turn it into gold’. Both mercury and lead are heavy, one side of the dice would be light, the other side would be heavy, so the dice would be steered at will. However, lead is a solid, while mercury is constantly flowing, therefore, throwing lead-loaded dice is easy, throwing mercury-loaded dice is extremely difficult. Lead-loaded dice is easy to detect; beside, if you can throw a large number, the opponent can also throw a large number. But if the dice were loaded with mercury, the desired number cannot be achieved without excellent technique; a common cheater would not be able to perform this trick.

Wei Xiaobao had about 60-70% confidence in throwing dice loaded with lead, but only about 10 or 20% confidence throwing dice loaded with mercury. Although his confidence was only 10-20%, in ten throws he only need to win once or twice, within several hours of playing, he would definitely win big. A real first-class master would be able to throw ordinary dice and get whatever number his belly desired, without fail; there is no need to load the dice with lead or mercury. However, this kind of master may not necessarily exist one in ten thousand. Wei Xiaobao had never seen this kind of master. Even if he had, he might not necessarily be able to tell.

Seeing his opponents were all ‘cattle’, Wei Xiaobao thought switching the dice would be completely safe, so there was no need to hurry. When he started, he had two yuanbiao worth twenty-five taels each; he exchanged one for bargaining chips, and now he put the other one on his left, with the intention of using it as diversion when he switch the dice later. He also thought, “Since Xiao Guizi often lost money, I’d better lose first and win later, to avoid drawing people’s suspicion.” Throwing several times, he only got a measly ‘six’, naturally he lost.

In this way he lost some, won some, but he kept playing, until he lost five taels of silver. After gambling for half a day, the stake was growing higher and higher, but Wei Xiaobao kept his bet at five qian. Banker Ping Wei refused to take his bamboo stick, “At least one tael,” he said, “Five qian is not accepted.” Wei Xiaobao immediately added another bargaining chip. The banker threw a ‘Man’, and thus ate down the others’ bets.

Wei Xiaobao was angry the banker was not willing to take his bet, this time he was determined to win. He mused, “You don’t want to take my five qian and insist on I lose one tael. Good chap, you have guts, your scheming is exquisite. If I beat you with a ‘Heaven’, I am not a hero.” With his left hand he grabbed the dice, his left elbow stuck out, and bumped the big yuanbao that it fell down. ‘Thud’ it landed on his left foot. “Aiyo! It hurts!” he screamed loudly, while jumping up and down.

His fellow gamblers roared in loud laughter and watched him stooping down to pick the yuanbao. Wei Xiaobao lightly and easily switched the dice, which he promptly threw. Four dice had three dots, two dice had one dot; it was an ‘Earth’, which happened to be a notch above the ‘Man’.

“Damn it!” Ping Wei cursed, “Little demon is lucky today!”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Not right!” he thought, “if I win this way and the others start paying attention, they will know I am not Xiao Guizi.” So the next time he threw, he lost a tael. Right away everyone started to raise their stake, some put down three taels, some two taels, while Wei Xiaobao himself put down two taels, and won two taels. The next time he lost one tael.

Gambling all the way thru noon, Wei Xiaobao accumulated twenty taels, only each bet was very small, so nobody paid any attention. Lao Wu had lost his entire capital of thirty taels, and was looking very dejected. Spreading out his hands he said, “Today my luck is not good, I quit!”

When Wei Xiaobao gambles, nine times out of ten he would always cheat, yet toward his fellow gamblers he was exceedingly forthright. Normally people threw insults at him and beat him, nobody has had any regard of him; yet when there was someone who lost everything, he would lend money to that person. Of course the person would be grateful, and would see him with special fondness. In all his life, Wei Xiaobao has had several opportunities to be a hero by loaning gambling capital to people like this. Even if the person did not pay him back, he did not really care. Putting things back in order, he realized that the money was not his to begin with.

This time, seeing Lao Wu had lost everything and was about to walk away, he grabbed some bargaining chips, worth about seventeen, eighteen taels, which he stuffed into Lao Wu’s hand and said, “Take this to recover your capital, pay me back when you win!”

Lao Wu was ecstatic at this turn of events. Gamblers had never be willing to lend money to others; first, they were afraid the lenders would not pay it back, second, they thought that as the money leaves their hands, their good luck will turn into a bad one, their initial win might turn into loses. Seeing Wei Xiaobao to be so generous, he was greatly delighted. Repeatedly patting Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, he praised, “Good Xiongdi, you are a real friend.”

The banker Ping Wei was in a winning-streak; he was most afraid people lose their all and leave the game, thereupon he was also full of praise over Wei Xiaobao’s ‘magnanimous act’. He said, “Ha, Xiao Guizi has turned his way, you are not so stingy today!”

The game continued, Wei Xiaobao won another six, seven taels; suddenly someone said, “Lunch time, we will continue playing tomorrow.”

As they heard the words ‘lunch time’, everybody stopped immediately and hurriedly exchanged their bargaining chips into money. Wei Xiaobao did not have enough time to switch the mercury-loaded dice back, but thinking that these ‘cattle’ would not be able to see through it anyway, he set his heart at ease.

Wei Xiaobao followed Lao Wu out, thinking, “I wonder where the lunch is being served?”

Out of more than a dozen taels he borrowed, Lao Wu had lost almost all; he said, “Xiao Xiongdi, I will have to pay you back tomorrow.”

“We are brothers,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Why so strict?”

“Heh heh,” Lao Wu laughed, “You are such a good brother. Hurry on back, Hai Laogong is waiting for you for lunch.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied; he mused, “Turns out I’ll have to eat with the old turtle. If I don’t make my getaway now, what am I waiting for?” Seeing Lao Wu enter a hall, he considered, “There are halls, gardens and corridors in here, I wonder where the main gate is?” Without any choice he simply walked blindly; oftentimes he came across people who dressed like himself, but he did not dare to ask where the main gate was.

He walked farther and farther away, gradually his heart began to panic, “I’d better return to old turtle Hai’s place first.” But by now he had already lost even the way back to the old eunuch Hai’s place, he was at places he had never been before. Oftentimes he saw a horizontal inscribed board above the hall or above the door, but since he did not know any characters, he did not bother to look.

Walking a moment longer, he did not even see anybody else. His belly was growling from hunger. Passing a moon gate, he saw a building on the left with an unlatched door. Passing by the door, a whiff of food aroma suddenly assaulted his nostrils; he could not refrain himself from drooling. Pushing the door lightly, he poked his head inside.

He saw a dozen or so dishes of light refreshments, cakes and pastries spread on a table. Seeing there was nobody inside, he tiptoed in, picked a piece of ‘thousand-layer’ cake, and put it in his mouth. Several chews later, he could not help but secretly praised. This thousand-layer cake was made of layers of flour, honey, sugar and lard, flavored with osmanthus flower’s fragrance; it was light and sweet.

Weiyang district of Yangzhou city was renowned for its light refreshments in the whole China; to entertain their patrons, the brothels always had the light refreshments exquisitely made. Wei Xiaobao frequently preceded the patrons to have a taste of the snacks; despite the beating and scolding from the old procuress and mistresses, he still stole the foods without any care. This time eating the cake, it was obvious that the quality of the light refreshments here was much finer than the ones in the brothels. He thought, “This thousand-layer cake is made really well; I think I am most likely at the number one brothel in Beijing.”

Finished with the piece of thousand-layer cake, he still did not hear anybody coming, so he picked a shumai[4] and stuffed it into his mouth. He had a vast experience in stealing food; he knew he must not take too much from a plate or a dish, only then it would not be easily detected. After having eaten the shumai, he took a piece of pea-flour cake; taking care to rearrange the cakes and pastries in the dish to remove any sign that it had been stolen.

While he was still eating, suddenly he heard the sound of boots outside the door, someone was coming; hastily he picked a mince meat cake coated with sesame seed. He saw the room was bare; there were several human shapes cut out of cowhide hanging on the wall, and several large cloth sacks hanging from the beam, presumably filled with rice, wheat or perhaps some sandy soil. Other than those, there was only this table, with a piece of table cloth hanging in front of it. Almost without thinking he crawled underneath the table.

[1] Term to address a court eunuch.

[2] Lit. ‘peaceful west’. Ping Xi Wang – king who pacifies the west.

[3] Refers to the Manchurian Eight Banners. We’ll see more about it later.

[4] Steamed dumpling, with pork, shrimp, etc. filling (Incidentally, this is my favorite ‘dimsum’. 🙂 )

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