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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 04

CSI

Chapter 4
Stealthily seeking the antelope hanging its antlers, forgetting the opportunity to resist the crane combing its plume.

The person walked in. From underneath the table Wei Xiaobao peeked, he saw the boots were not big, so the incoming person must be a boy about the same age as himself, instantly he was relieved. He put the sesame coated cake in his mouth, but he did not dare to chew, he just used his saliva to slowly soak the cake and then when it was soft enough he swallowed it. He heard the sound of munching next to the table, the boy was eating the cake and pastry. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Another food thief. I’ll jump out and scream, this little demon will certainly be frightened and run away, then I can enjoy my food in peace.” He also thought, “I was so stupid, I should’ve put those light refreshments in my pocket and leave. This is not Lovely Spring Courtyard, they will not miss anything, surely they won’t make me responsible for it?”

Suddenly he heard some ‘bang, bang’ noise, the boy was pounding something. Wei Xiaobao’s curiosity was piqued, he craned his neck to look around, and saw the boy, approximately fourteen or fifteen years old, wearing short gown, was punching the sack hanging from the beam. After punching the sack for a while, he turned his attention to the cowhide dummy hanging on the wall and started to attack. The boy punch the pit of the dummy’s stomach, followed by reaching out with both arms to grab the dummy’s waist and pressed it to the floor. The technique the boy used was similar to the Manchurian wrestling technique he saw at the wine shop the previous day.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and jumped out from underneath the table; he said, “Dummy is dead, what so fun about it? I am here to play with you.”

Seeing Wei Xiaobao suddenly appear with his face wrapped in white cloth, the boy was slightly startled, but hearing that he was here to accompany him playing, immediately his face showed a happy expression. “Good,” he said, “Bring it on!” Wei Xiaobao pounced forward, trying to twist the boy’s arm. The boy sidestepped and tripped with his right foot. Wei Xiaobao staggered and fell to the ground.

“Pei,” the boy spat, “You don’t even know wrestling.”

“Says who?” Wei Xiaobao replied. He leaped back up and grabbed the boy’s left leg. The body reached down to grab his back, but Wei Xiaobao dodged, the boy caught an empty air. Wei Xiaobao recalled the technique Mao Shiba used to deal with the seven Manchurians at the wine shop; suddenly he threw a punch with his left hand toward the boy’s lower jaw. ‘Bang!’ it hit the target. The boy was startled, his eyes revealed an angry look. Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Pei,” he spat, “You don’t even know wrestling.”

The boy did not say anything; his hand made a feign move, Wei Xiaobao leaned sideways to evade, the boy suddenly sent out his elbow and hit Wei Xiaobao’s waist. Wei Xiaobao cried out in pain and doubled over. From behind the boy slipped both arms underneath Wei Xiaobao’s armpits and hooked them up; ten fingers grasped each other behind his neck, forcing Wei Xiaobao down lower and lower. Wei Xiaobao kicked backwards with his left foot. The boy abruptly pushed with both hands, flinging Wei Xiaobao out, ‘bang!’ he fell face down like a dog eating dung.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly angered, he rolled over and grabbed the boy’s legs with all his might and pulled him down as hard as he could. The boy could not withstand and fell down; he happened to fall on top of Wei Xiaobao’s body. The boy was comparably bigger and taller than Wei Xiaobao. Right away he used his elbow to press down the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck. Wei Xiaobao could not breathe, he struggled to stand up with everything he had. After a bit of struggling, he finally succeeded to be on top and now he pressed down on the boy’s body. However, Wei Xiaobao was small, his body was light, he was unable to press for long; soon the boy was back on top again.

Wei Xiaobao was very slippery, releasing the boy’s legs, he slipped to his back, and fiercely kicked the boy’s butts. The boy reached backward to grab Wei Xiaobao’s right leg and pulled it hard; Wei Xiaobao fell face up. The body pounced and clutched Wei Xiaobao’s neck with both hands. “Surrender?” he shouted.

Wei Xiaobao hooked his left foot around the boy’s waist, but because the boy’s clothes were slippery, his foot was rubbing the boy’s waist. The boy was ticklish and he giggled, his hands loosened. Wei Xiaobao seized this opportunity to leap up and grabbed the boy’s neck. The boy used a wrestling technique to seize the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck and threw him heavily on the floor. Wei Xiaobao was dizzy and was unable to move a single step. The boy laughed aloud and asked, “Surrender?”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly leaped up and rammed his head against the opponent’s lower abdomen. “Humph!” the boy grunted and staggered several steps backwards. Wei Xiaobao lunged forward, the boy leaned slightly to the side, and swept his leg across. Wei Xiaobao fell down, but managed to grab onto the boy’s thigh with all his life. Both of them tumbled down together.

Sometimes the boy was on top, sometimes Wei Xiaobao was on top; after rolling around for seventeen, eighteen times, finally the two of them were grabbing each other, both were gasping for breath. Suddenly, as if by prior agreement, both of them broke out in laughter, since both thought that this kind of wrestling was very fun; then slowly they let their hands go.

The boy reached out to tear the cloth wrapped around Wei Xiaobao’s face; he laughed and said, “What do you wrap your head for?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled; he was about to reach out and snatch it back, but then he thought the boy had seen most of his face anyway, so trying to conceal it again would be useless. He laughed and said, “I wrapped my face, so that when I come and steal the food, nobody would recognize me.”

The boy stood up and said with a laugh, “Alright, turns out you often come here and steal the food.”

“Not often,” Wei Xiaobao said, while also standing up. He saw the boy’s face had delicate features and a lofty expression, so Wei Xiaobao had a favorable impression on him.

The boy asked, “What’s your name?”

“Xiao Guizi,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “And you?”

The boy hesitated for a moment, then said, “I am … I am Xiao Xuanzi[1]. Which Gong-gong do you work for?”

“I am with Hai Laogong,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Xiao Xuanzi nodded. He used Wei Xiaobao’s wrapping cloth to wipe the sweat from his forehead; picking up another piece of light refreshment, he started eating again. Wei Xiaobao did not want to be outdone, he thought ‘you dare to steal the food, my courage is not inferior to yours’; thereupon he picked up another piece of thousand-layer cake and without the slightest care put it into his mouth.

Xiao Xuanzi chuckled and said, “You haven’t learned wrestling, but your hands and feet are very nimble, surprisingly I am not able to hold you down for a long time. If we fight a bit longer, you will definitely lose.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Let’s try again.”

“Very good,” Xiao Xuanzi said. The two of them started to wrestle again.

Xiao Xuanzi seemed to know some wrestling techniques, plus he was older and stronger than Wei Xiaobao. However, Wei Xiaobao had fought hundreds of fights at Yangzhou marketplace, he had survived countless scuffles against big thugs and little rascals, his ‘battle’ experience was far richer than Xiao Xuanzi. Yet in the end he remembered Mao Shiba’s lecture, plus his wrestling against Xiao Xuanzi was just a game, not a life-and-death fight; and thus he did not resort to the stunts that he was famous of, such as finger twisting, braid pulling, throat biting, eyeball poking, ear pulling, scrotum pinching, and so on. As a result, it was more difficult for him to score a victory.

After wrestling for a while, Wei Xiaobao was pinned down with Xiao Xuanzi riding on his back without he was able to stand up. Xiao Xuanzi laughed and said, “Surrender now?”

“I won’t surrender even to the death,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and jumped up from Wei Xiaobao’s back. Wei Xiaobao leaped up and pounced on him again, but Xiao Xuanzi shook his hand and said with a laugh, “No more fighting today, we’ll do it again tomorrow. But you are not my match, fighting again will be useless.”

Wei Xiaobao refused to give in, he fished his pocket for an ingot, weighed approximately three taels, he said, “Tomorrow we’ll fight again, but for money. You must also bring three taels.”

Xiao Xuanzi was taken aback, he said, “Alright, we’ll fight for a prize. Tomorrow I will bring my stake here. Midday, we’ll fight again in here.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “We have a dead appointment, don’t leave before we meet. A real man gave his words, … some horses cannot pull it back.” For some reason, he could never remember the ‘four-horse team’ part of this saying, so he could only mumble that part.

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and said, “That’s right, a real man gave his words, … some horses cannot pull it back.” While saying that, he walked out the room.

Wei Xiaobao grabbed a handful of light refreshments and put it in his pocket, and then he also left. He remembered Mao Shiba who was having a martial art duel appointment, even though he was in prison, he must escape from prison to keep the appointment. Although he was seriously injured, he still vowed to keep his promises, waiting for the two experts at the foot of the Victory Hill. This kind of spirit had won others’ true admiration. Many times he had heard the storytellers told about heroes, oftentimes he would fantasize himself were a big hero, a real warrior, who was having duel appointment with others, wasn’t it his chance has come now?

Thinking that tomorrow he must come, tonight he must return to Hai Laogong’s residence. Thereupon he retraced his path, slowly looking for the building he had been gambling earlier. Since previously he had taken a right turn, which had led him farther and farther away, this time he took the left turn. Walking past two winding corridors, he vaguely remembered the gardens and the courtyards he had seen before. By looking for familiar landscape, eventually he reached Hai Laogong’s residence.

As he walked through the door, he heard the sound of Hai Laogong’s coughing. “Gong-gong,” he called out, “Are you feeling better?”

“Better your fart!” Hai Laogong’s gloom voice replied, “Get in, quick!”

Wei Xiaobao walked into the room and saw Hai Laogong was sitting on a chair. The broken table had been replaced with a new one. Hai Laogong asked, “How much did you win?”

“I won more than ten taels,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But … but …”

“But what?” Hai Laogong asked.

“But I lent it to Lao Wu,” Wei Xiaobao said. Actually, he won more than twenty taels, other than what he loaned Lao Wu, he still had eight or nine taels, but because he was afraid Hai Laogong would ask him to hand it over, when Hai Laogong asked the account, he unavoidably did not tell the truth.

Hai Laogong’s countenance sank, he said, “What good it is to lend money to that kid Lao Wu? He does not even work for the Upper Study Room. Why didn’t you lend it to the two Wen brothers?”

Wei Xiaobao was unclear of the reason, he said, “The Wen brothers did not ask for a loan.”

Hai Laogong said, “Didn’t ask you for a loan, can’t you think of a way so that they would? Don’t tell me you have forgotten everything I told you?”

“I … I killed that boy last night,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am so scared that I have forgotten everything. Must loan money to the Wen brothers, right, right, you, Senior, did instruct me to do that.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “What’s so great about killing one or two people? But you are still young, you have never killed anybody before, I can’t blame you. That book, you haven’t forgotten about it, have you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That book … book … I … I …”

Hai Laogong snorted again, he said, “So you really have forgotten everything?”

“Gong-gong, I …” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have a terrible headache, I … I am very scared, you are coughing like that, I am really worried, everything … everything is muddled in my head.”

“Alright, come here!” Hai Laogong said.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied, as he walked several steps closer.

Hai Laogong said, “Let me tell you again, if you don’t remember it this time, I am going to kill you.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, thinking, “If you tell me all the way through, I won’t forget it for a hundred years.”

Hai Laogong said, “Win the Wen brothers’ money, when they are out of money, you give them loan, the more the better. After a few days, you then want them to take you to the Upper Study Room. They owe you money, they won’t dare not to comply. If they give you all sorts of excuses, tell them that I will settle the account with the Upper Study Room manager, Wu Laogong. If the Wen brothers still do not want to pay, we may have to bring this to the Emperor’s attention …”

“The Emperor?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“What is it?” Hai Laogong asked.

“No … nothing,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Hai Laogong continued, “They may ask you what do you want in the Upper Study Room. You tell them that people are bound to go to higher place, you wish to see the Emperor by doing some errand at the Upper Study Room. Of course the Wen brothers won’t let you see the Emperor, when they take you there, certainly the Emperor won’t be in the Upper Study Room. That’s when you will try to steal a book.”

Hearing him kept mentioning of the Emperor, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was stirred, “Could it be that this is the Imperial Palace? And not Beijing’s biggest brothel? Aiyo hey, that’s right, that’s right, if this is not the Imperial Palace, how could there be such splendor and majesty? These people must be court eunuchs attending the Emperor.”

Although Wei Xiaobao had heard people mentioning the Emperor, Empress, Crown Prince, Princess, as well as palace maids and court eunuch, he only knew that the Emperor are supposed to wear dragon robe, but how the Emperor actually look like, he had no idea. In Yangzhou he had watched a lot of plays, but the court eunuchs in those plays did not dress like Hai Laogong, Lao Wu or the others at all, the actors’ hands always held a whisk, which they waved here and there. The songs in the play were not pleasant to hear. He had contact with Hai Laogong only for a day, he had gambled with Lao Wu, the Wen brothers and the others for half a day, but he did not know they were eunuchs. This time hearing Hai Laogong’s words, he gradually understood; he thought, “Aiyo, in this case, haven’t I turned into a court eunuch?”

In stern voice Hai Laogong said, “Have you understood clearly what you heard?”

“Yes, yes, very clear,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have to go to the Em … Emperor’s Upper Study Room.”

“To the Emperor’s Upper Study Room for what?” Hai Laogong said, “To play?”

“To steal a book,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Steal what book?” Hai Laogong asked.

“This … this … some book … I … I can’t remember,” Wei Xiaobao stammered.

Hai Laogong said, “I’ll tell you one more time, remember it well. It is a Buddhist scripture, called ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. This book will look very old, there are several copies, I want you to bring them all to me. Do you remember? What’s the book called?”

“It is called the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’,” Wei Xiaobao happily replied.

Hai Laogong detected the happiness in his voice, he asked, “Why are you happy?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as you mentioned it, I then recalled it to mind, therefore I am happy.”

Actually, when he heard that Hai Laogong wanted him to steal a book in the Upper Study Room, the ‘stealing’ part was absolutely not difficult, but the ‘book’ part was actually the real problem for him. He did not know any characters as big as watermelons; wanting him to recognize a book, even if he was beheaded he would be unable to accomplish. As soon as he heard the title of the book to be ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, he could not restrain his heart from swelling in full bloom. ‘Chapter’ and ‘scripture’ he did not know, but ‘forty-two’ three characters [si shi er], he could recognize. Out of five characters [si shi er zhang jing], unexpectedly he knew three, no wonder he was very pleased with himself.

Hai Laogong added, “If you want to steal book at the Upper Study Room, your movements must be clean and in order; if anybody catch you, even if you have a hundred lives, you won’t be able to keep them.”

“I understand this part well,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you steal something and are caught, how could you sing and play trick?” A sudden inspiration struck; he said, “In no way would I mention Gong-gong’s name.”

Hai Laogong said, “Mention my name or not, it has nothing to do with this matter.” He coughed several times, and then continued, “You have done well today, unexpectedly you win some money. Did they get suspicious?”

“Hey hey,” Wei Xiaobao laughed, “No, no, how could they get suspicious?” He wanted to toot his horn a little bit, but in the end he restrained himself.

“Don’t be lazy, idling left and right without doing anything,” Hai Laogong said, “You must practice a lot.”

Wei Xiaobao complied and walked into the room, he saw bowls and chopsticks on the table, plus four dishes of meat and vegetables, and one bowl of soup, but nobody had touched anything. “Gong-gong,” he hastily said, “You haven’t eaten? Let me get some food for you.”

“I am not hungry,” Hai Laogong said, “I don’t want to eat. You go ahead and eat.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. Without taking any rice, he picked a red-cooked pork with his fingers and ate. Although the dishes were already cold, as it entered his stomach, he found it was indescribably delicious. “I wonder who sent this meal over,” he mused, “I’d better not ask this kind of trivial matter, I just have to open my eyes and slowly I will find out.” He also thought, “If this is really the Imperial Palace, then Lao Wu, the Wen brothers, and that Xiao Xuanzi that I’ll have to deal with, are all eunuchs. I wonder what do the old Emperor and Empress really look like? I guess I will have to see to know that. When I return to Yangzhou, hey hey, laozi can tell it with some air. I wonder if Mao Dage can escape from the Imperial Palace? During the gambling nobody mentioned anything about catching anybody, most likely he was able to get out.”

After eating, because he was afraid he might raise Hai Laogong suspicion, he took the six dice and ‘ding ling ling’, he threw them into the bowl continuously. After throwing dice for a moment, his eyelids grew heavier and heavier. He did not sleep at all the previous night, and only now did he finally feel very weary, so in a short while he was already asleep.

He slept until the evening, when a worker eunuch came to deliver their dinner. Wei Xiaobao waited on Hai Laogong as he ate, he also helped him to bed, and then he lay down on the small bed. He thought, “The most important thing tomorrow is the martial art contest with Xiao Xuanzi. It would be best if I can beat him.” Closing his eyes, he recalled the technique Mao Shiba used to fight the Manchu wrestlers at the wine shop, but the picture in his mind was fuzzy; he could not help but feel a tinge of regret, “Mao Dage wanted to teach me martial art, I was not willing to learn. If I had learned it along the way, although Xiao Xuanzi is stronger than me, how can he be my match? If tomorrow he manage to sit on me and I am not able to flip over, losing money is nothing, but losing face is a big thing. I, the Little White Dragon Wei Xiaobao, cannot mingle around in Jianghu anymore.” Suddenly another thought popped up, “The Manchu warriors are not Mao Dage‘s match, but Mao Dage is not the old turtle’s match, why not swindle the old turtle to teach me some skill?” Thereupon he said, “Gong-gong, you want me to go to the Upper Study Room to get the book, but there is a small problem.”

“What problem?” Hai Laogong asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “On my way back from gambling today, I met a little … little eunuch. He stopped me and told me to give him the money. I refused, so we had a duel. He said that if I can beat him, then he would let me go. I fought with him for half a day, that’s why … that’s why I was late for lunch.”

“And you lost, didn’t you?” Hai Laogong said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He is taller and stronger, a lot stronger than I am. He said he wants to have a duel with me every day. The day I can beat him, that will be the day he won’t bother me anymore.”

“What’s this baby’s name?” Hai Laogong asked, “Which building does he belong to?”

“He is called Xiao Xuanzi,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But I don’t know which building he belongs to.”

Hai Laogong said, “Must be because you won some money, your manner appeared disgusting in the eyes of others; otherwise, why would he look for you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I refused to submit to him, I’ll look for him again tomorrow. I just don’t know if I can beat him.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “You want to ask me to teach you martial art. I told you I won’t teach you, so I won’t teach you. It’s useless for you to ask in a roundabout way.”

Wei Xiaobao cursed silently, “This old turtle is smart, he won’t fall into my trick.” He said, “This Xiao Xuanzi also does not know martial art. If I want to beat him, I don’t need to learn any martial art; who ask you to teach me? Today clearly I was able to sit on his body, it’s just that he is strong, he managed to turn me over. Tomorrow I am going to grab him with all my strength, this fellow may not necessarily be able to turn over like a turtle.” For the whole day he had been careful, restraining himself not to speak any vulgar word, but now finally he could not bear not to say one.

Hai Laogong said, “You want to hold him down that he won’t turn over, that is easy.”

“I also think it won’t be difficult,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Tomorrow I will grab his shoulder really hard.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong snorted, “What good is it to grab his shoulder? Whether he can turn over or not depends on the strength of his back. You must use your knee to press against the acupoint on his lower back. Come here, I’ll show you.”

Wei Xiaobao rolled down from his bed and leaped toward Hai Laogong’s bed. Hai Laogong ran his finger on Wei Xiaobao’s lower back, and lightly pressed. Immediately Wei Xiaobao felt his entire body limp and painful, his strength was gone.

“Can you remember it?” Hai Laogong asked.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Tomorrow I’ll give it a try, I just don’t know if it will work.”

Hai Laogong angrily said, “What do you mean it won’t work? That is ‘one hundred shots, one hundred hits, ten thousand times tests, ten thousand times effective’.” He then put out his hand on either side of Wei Xiaobao’s neck, and pressed lightly.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao screamed, he felt the pit of his stomach was choked, his breathing could not flow.

Hai Laogong said, “If you pressed hard these two acupoints, he won’t have any strength to fight you.”

Wei Xiaobao was overjoyed, “That will do,” he said, “Tomorrow I might be allowed to defeat him.” He had just learned the word ‘allow’ during the gambling that day. Returning to his own bed, he fantasized that the following day the ‘Little White Dragon’ Wei Xiaobao would beat Xiao Xuanzi so that he would call ‘surrender’; and he felt very proud of himself.

The next day Lao Wu called him up again to gamble. The Wen brothers’ names were Wen Youdao and Wen Youfang, and today it was these two brothers’ turn to be the banker. Wei Xiaobao used his trick and won more than twenty taels from them. The two brothers’ luck was quite bad that day, in less than an hour, their fifty taels capital was wiped clean. Wei Xiaobao loaned them twenty taels, but by quitting time, the Wen brothers also lost these twenty taels.

Wei Xiaobao’s mind was occupied with his martial art competition against Xiao Xuanzi. As soon as the gambling adjourned, he rushed to that room. He saw the table was still loaded with dishes of light refreshments. He picked several pieces and started munching. Soon he heard the sound of boots. Afraid that the incoming person was not Xiao Xuanzi, he thought it would be better for him to hide underneath the table first. But he heard from outside the door Xiao Xuanzi had already called, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi!”

Wei Xiaobao leaped to the door and said with a laugh, “Appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet.”

Xiao Xuanzi also laughed, “Ha ha … Appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet,” he said as he walked in.

Wei Xiaobao noticed that Xiao Xuanzi was wearing a brand new set of outfit, it looked really gorgeous, so that he could not help but feeling rather jealous. He thought, “Wait till I tear your new clothes, you won’t be so cocky!” With a loud shout he pounced on Xiao Xuanzi.

Xiao Xuanzi also shouted, “Good move!” Grabbing Wei Xiaobao’s arms, he swept with his left leg. Wei Xiaobao could not withstand it, he tottered several steps and tumbled down on the ground, pulling Xiao Xuanzi along that he also fell.

Wei Xiaobao rolled away and leaped up to sit on Xiao Xuanzi’s back. Remembering Hai Laogong’s lesson, he stretched his hand to press on the acupoint on Xiao Xuanzi’s lower back. However, he had never practiced sealing acupoints before, how could he seal the acupoint simply by grabbing it? His grab missed a little bit, Xiao Xuanzi had already turned around and caught Wei Xiaobao’s left arm, which he twisted backward forcefully.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao screamed, “Have you no shame, twisting my arm like that?”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed and said, “Learning wrestling is precisely learning how to twist others’ arm; what do you mean I have no shame?”

Taking advantage while Xiao Xuanzi was still speaking, Wei Xiaobao threw himself as hard as he could toward Xiao Xuanzi’s lower back, ramming his head against his back, while sneaking his right hand underneath Xiao Xuanzi’s armpit, and flung him upward as hard as he could. Xiao Xuanzi’s body flew over Wei Xiaobao’s head and ‘thump!’ he landed on the floor.

Xiao Xuanzi leaped up and said, “So you also know the move ‘antelope hanging its antlers’.”

Wei Xiaobao had no idea what an ‘antelope hanging its antlers’ move look like, he simply moved without thinking and succeeded. Feeling proud of himself he said, “This ‘antelope hanging its antlers’ is nothing, I still have many formidable moves I haven’t used yet.”

Xiao Xuanzi happily said, “Nothing better than that; let’s fight again.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Turns out you have practiced martial art, no wonder I cannot beat you. But you use one move, I learn one move; at most you will throw me down several times, I will be able learn your technique.” Seeing Xiao Xuanzi was pouncing at him, he also threw himself forward forcefully. To his surprise, Xiao Xuanzi attack was a feign one. As Wei Xiaobao pounced forward, he had already held his momentum and sidestepped, while stretching out his hand to push Wei Xiaobao’s back. Wei Xiaobao pounced on an empty air. ‘Bang!’ His own momentum plus Xiao Xuanzi’s push had sent him crashing heavily on the ground.

Xiao Xuanzi cheered loudly and jumped to ride on Wei Xiaobao’s back. “Surrender now?” he asked.

“No!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He was about to straighten his back to stand up, suddenly his waist went numb; the two acupoints on his lower back were pressed by Xiao Xuanzi’s fingers. This acupoint sealing technique was exactly the one Hai Laogong taught him the previous night. Although he had learned it, the opponent had beaten him in using it first. Wei Xiaobao struggled several times, but all along he was unable to free himself. “Alright,” he had no choice but to call out, “I surrender this time!”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and let him stand up. Suddenly Wei Xiaobao extended his foot to trip him. Xiao Xuanzi’s body tilted sideways, he was about to fall. Wei Xiaobao sent a punch toward his lower back. Xiao Xuanzi grunted in pain and doubled over. From behind Wei Xiaobao pounced with both hands grabbed his neck from two directions. Xiao Xuanzi had a spell of dizziness and fell down on the ground. Wei Xiaobao was delighted, without taking his hands away, he asked, “Surrender now?”

Xiao Xuanzi grunted; suddenly both of his elbows struck backwards. Wei Xiaobao felt a severe pain that he thought his ribs were about to break. He screamed and fell face up. Xiao Xuanzi turned around and sat on the pit of his stomach. He had just scored another victory, but he was panting heavily and was feeling very tired that he was unable to breath normally. “Do … do … do you surrender now?” he asked.

“Surrender your fart!” Wei Xiaobao said, “No … no … surrender. A hundred times … ten … ten thousand times no surrender. You’ve just won by chance.”

Xiao Xuanzi said, “If you don’t surrender, then get up and fight again.”

With both hands pushing the floor, Wei Xiaobao wanted to stand up, but the vital acupoint on the pit of his stomach was still being pressed by the opponent, his body was numb and aching that he was unable to exert his strength. After struggling for a long time, he did not have any choice but to surrender one more time.

Xiao Xuanzi stood up, his arms were limp and painful. Wei Xiaobao strived to get up, but his body swaggered; he said, “Tomorrow … tomorrow we’ll fight again, I must … must make you surrender.”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed and said, “Fighting a hundred times more, you will … will … will lose. If you have guts, tomorrow we’ll fight again.”

“I am afraid it’s you who don’t have guts,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why wouldn’t I have guts? Appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet.”

“Alright,” Xiao Xuanzi said, “Appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet.”

Both of them were fired up because of the fight, nobody mentioned anything about the money. Since Xiao Xuanzi did not mention it, Wei Xiaobao was glad to pretend that he forget. If he were the victor, he would definitely want his money.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his room and said to Hai Laogong, “Gong-gong, your technique was useless, it was too sloppy and ordinary.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong snorted, “Hopeless, you lost again.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I had used my own technique, granted that although I may not win, I may not necessarily lose either. But your technique is just too useless, all other people already know how to us it, what’s so special?”

“He also knows this technique?” Hai Laogong wondered, “Show me.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You are blind, you want me to show you, can you see it?” But then he had a second thought, “But I don’t know if he is really blind or just pretending to be blind, I might as well test him.” Immediately both of his elbows struck backward and he said, “He strikes like this and each one of the three-thousand bones in my body was very painful.”

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “You told me he strike like that, how can I see it?” He rose up shakily and said, “Try to do what he did.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly delighted, “The old turtle is really blind.” With his back against Hai Laogong, he thrust his elbows slowly backwards, and said, “He used his elbows like this to strike me.” As soon as his elbow reached Hai Laogong’s chest, he no longer exerted any strength.

“Hmm,” Hai Laogong said, “This is ‘armpit-bottom hammer’; nothing special about it.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Then there is this one.” He pulled Hai Laogong’s left hand and placed it on his right shoulder; he said, “He put forth his strength and flung me, my body then flew over his head.” Actually, it was he who flung Xiao Xuanzi, which he was very proud of, but he intentionally reversed the role to test Hai Laogong.

“It is the ‘antelope hanging its antlers’,” Hai Laogong said.

“So you know that one,” Wei Xiaobao said. Then he pulled Hai Laogong’s arm and slowly twisted it backward.

“Um, that one is the third stance of the ‘Falling Broken Plum’,” Hai Laogong said, “What else?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Turns out all Xiao Xuanzi’s moves have famous names. Then the techniques I used, my random punch and random twist against him should also have some pleasant sounding famous names. I pounced at him, this kid sidestepped, but taking the opportunity he pushed on my back, and I …”

Without waiting for him to finish, Hai Laogong cut him off, “Where did he push?”

“As soon as he pushed, I was thrown and knocked out of my mind, how could I remember where he pushed?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Hai Laogong said, “Try to remember it, did he push here?” He stretched out his hand to push behind Wei Xiaobao’s left shoulder.

“Not there,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Is it here?” Hai Laogong asked.

Wei Xiaobao still replied, “Not there.”

Successively Hai Laogong pressed seven or eight locations, Wei Xiaobao always replied, “Not there.” Hai Laogong stretched out his palm to press Wei Xiaobao’s right waist underneath his ribs and asked, “Is it here?” While saying that, he gently pushed.

Wei Xiaobao staggered and tumbled several steps away. Right away he remembered it was the exact spot Xiao Xuanzi had pushed. “That’s it!” he shouted, “Dead on, that’s the exact spot. Gong-gong, how do you know?”

Hai Laogong did not answer, he was deep in thought for half a day, then said, “I taught you two techniques, yet you say he knew both of them already. Are you telling me the truth?”

“Naturally it’s the truth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Genuine goods at fair prices, treating both the young and the old honestly. Not only this kid can press my lower back, he can also crush the pit of my stomach right here, so that I could not breathe, and thus I was forced to surrender that time. It was called …”

Hai Laogong did not care whatever name Wei Xiaobao was going to mention; he held out his hand and said, “He pressed on the pit of your stomach where?”

Wei Xiaobao pulled his hand and pressed it against the pit of his stomach, right on the spot where Xiao Xuanzi had pressed. “Right here,” he said.

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “This is the zigong [‘purple palace’] acupoint. This child’s Shifu is a martial art master.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s nothing, a real man can submit or can stand tall, living on a green mountain, no need to worry there won’t be cooking firewood (Book note: the actual phrase is ‘firewood to cook with’ but he changed it to ‘cooking firewood’). I … I, Wei … I, Xiao Guizi has lost a fight today, tomorrow I will win it back from him, it’s not a difficult matter.”

Hai Laogong sat back on his chair. He bent his right hand and stretched it out again, then he stretched it out and bent it again. His eyes closed in contemplation. After quite a long time, he said, “He knows ‘little grappling[2] technique’, it’s not so strange; but his palm pushed the yishe [‘desire residence’] acupoint on your right waist, it was exactly Wudang Pai’s ‘Soft Palm’ technique. Afterwards he pressed your jinsuo [‘muscle shrinkage’] acupoint, and then your zigong acupoint. Those are Wudang Pai’s acupoint striking technique. Turns out there is a Wudang master hiding in our palace. Hmm, very good! Very good! Tell me, that Xiao … Xiao Xuanzi, how old is he?”

“He is a lot older than I am,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“How much older?” Hai Laogong asked.

“Several years,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Hai Laogong angrily said, “What do you mean several years? One or two years is several years, eight or nine years is also several years. If he is eight or nine years older than you, do you still want to fight him?”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s just say he is one or two years older than I am. But he is a lot bigger and taller than I am.”

Luckily the opponent was older and bigger, so losing was not considered a major face loss. If not for the fact that he wanted Hai Laogong to teach him some martial art, Wei Xiaobao would have not say anything about his defeat in the duel; when he returned, he would inevitably give an exaggerated account of things, he would say that it was him who scored a big victory instead.

Hai Laogong muttered, “This child is fourteen, fifteen years old. Hmm, how long did you fight him before you were beaten?”

“At least four or six hours [orig. ‘2, 3 sichen’, 1 sichen is 2 hours],” Wei Xiaobao said.

Hai Laogong’s face sack. “Don’t brag!” he barked, “How long?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Perhaps it’s less than 2 hours, but it is more than one hour.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “I am asking you, you’d better answer nicely. This kid knows martial art, you don’t; so even if you lose the fight, you don’t lose your face. It does not matter whether you fought ten times or eight times, even if you lose a hundred times, two hundred times, you are still young, what are you afraid of? So long as the last one time you win, your opponent will not dare to fight with you anymore. Now that is a hero and a warrior.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In the past, Han Gaozu[3] fought a hundred battles and lost a hundred times. Finally in the last battle he beat Chu Bawang [Overlord/hegemon Chu] that he hanged himself by the River Wu …”

Hai Laogong said, “What do you mean he hanged himself by the River Wu? He cut his own throat by the River Wu.”

“Hanging himself or cutting his own throat, it does not matter, he lost and thus he killed himself,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You always want to win every argument,” Hai Laogong said, “Tell me, during your fight with Xiao Xuanzi today, how many times did he beat you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “About one or two times, maybe two or three times.”

“It was four times, wasn’t it?” Hai Laogong said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, I really lost twice, the other two times he was cheating, it didn’t count.”

“Each time how long did you fight?” Hai Laogong asked.

“I didn’t keep track of the time,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Sometimes it was like pooping, sometimes it was like peeing.”

“Rubbish!” Hai Laogong said, “What do you mean sometimes it was like pooping, sometimes it was like peeing?”

“Defecating is somewhat slower,” Wei Xiaobao explained, “Urinating does not take too much time.”

Hai Laogong chuckled, he said, “Although this kid’s analogy is vulgar, what he said is very clear.” After pondering for half a day he said, “You have not learned martial art, this Xiao Xuanzi still need to fight you for a while before he can knock you down, that means his ‘little grappling technique’ is newly learned. Don’t be afraid, I’ll teach you the ‘big grappling technique’. Learn it well, and tomorrow you may challenge him again.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “He is using the ‘little grappling technique’, we are using the ‘big grappling technique’, big will overcome small, we will definitely win,” he said.

“That’s not necessarily true,” Hai Laogong said, “Both big and small grappling techniques have their own strong points. We must take the practitioner into consideration. If he trained better than you do, the little grappling technique will surpass the big grappling technique. This big grappling technique altogether has eighteen moves, each one has seven or eight variations. You won’t be able to remember all, let’s practice one or two moves before we proceed further.”

Right away he stood up and performed the move. Finished with one move, he said, “This move is called ‘Immortal Crane Combing its Plume’. Practice it well, then try it with me.”

Wei Xiaobao only looked one time, and he already remembered. After practicing for seven, eight times, he thought he had mastered it well. He said, “I have mastered it.”

Still sitting on a chair, Hai Laogong stretched out his left arm to grab Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder. Wei Xiaobao raised his hand to ward it off, but he was one step slower, his shoulder was already grabbed.

“Mastered what? Practice again,” Hai Laogong said.

Wei Xiaobao practiced several more times, then he tried it again with Hai Laogong. Hai Laogong stretched out his left arm, he was using exactly the same posture and move as the previous time. This time Wei Xiaobao was prepared, as soon as he saw the hand moved, he raised his hand to ward off; who would have thought that he was still somewhat slower and his shoulder was grabbed again.

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “Little idiot!”

In his heart, Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Old turtle!” And he was back practicing again.

By the third try, his shoulder was still grabbed; he could not help but feeling at a loss, without knowing the reason.

“This grab of mine,” Hai Laogong said, “Even if you practice for three years, you won’t necessarily be able to parry. Let me tell you this: if you cannot evade, when my hand is moving to your shoulder, you must use your palm to chop my wrist. It is called using offense as a defense.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “So that’s how it is, it’s very easy!” he said, “If you have told me earlier, I would have mastered it early on.”

As soon as Hai Laogong’s left hand came to grab him, Wei Xiaobao raised his right palm to chop down on his wrist. Unexpectedly, Hai Laogong did not even withdraw his hand, his palm moved slightly to the side, ‘Slap!’ he heavily slap Wei Xiaobao’s face. Wei Xiaobao was angry, he also tried to slap Hai Laogong’s face. Hai Laogong flipped his left palm to catch Wei Xiaobao wrist and casually flung him away. He laughed and said, “Little idiot, have you remembered it?”

As he was being thrown away, Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder crashed into the foot of the wall. Fortunately in this throw Hai Laogong only used very light force, otherwise his shoulder bones might be broken by the collision. Wei Xiaobao was very angry, the curse ‘Old Turtle’ was already at the tip of his tongue, but in the end he was able to curb it. He thought, “These two techniques are very good, when I fight Xiao Xuanzi tomorrow, I’ll use one of these damn moves, I guaranteed Xiao Xuanzi won’t be able to withstand.” Immediately he crawled up and tried to commit Hai Laogong’s two techniques into his memory, and then practiced it several times.

After practicing it for about a dozen times, Hai Laogong’s mysterious technique did not seem too unfathomable anymore, until finally he was able to evade the grab on his shoulder, but all along he was never able to avoid the slap on his face. It’s just that Hai Laogong did not use as much force as he did the first time, as long as his hand and fingers brushed away lightly on Wei Xiaobao’s face, it was already considered a slap. Although this brush was not painful, each time he was always hit on the same spot. Since Wei Xiaobao was always unable to counter, Hai Laogong did not grab and fling him away like before.

In his heart Wei Xiaobao was dismayed, “Gong-gong,” he asked, “How do I evade this move of yours?”

Hai Laogong smiled faintly and said, “If I want to hit you, even if you practice for ten years you won’t be able to evade. But Xiao Xuanzi won’t be able to beat you either. Let’s practice the second move.” He stood up and demonstrated the second move of the ‘big grappling technique’, called the ‘apes and monkeys pick the fruits’, and then have Wei Xiaobao tried it to him.

By nature, Wei Xiaobao was very lazy; actually, he was unwilling to diligently learn martial art, but his desire to win and outdo others took precedence, he wholeheartedly wanted to master these several ingenious techniques to force Xiao Xuanzi to call ‘surrender’; therefore, he painstakingly practiced these moves. Surprisingly, Hai Laogong was not fed up with him at all.

From afternoon to evening that day, the two of them trained incessantly. Hai Laogong was sitting on a chair, his arm was able to reach anywhere at will. As soon as he made a move, Wei Xiaobao was hit, but on the whole his force was very light, each move did not use much strength. Even so, when he went the bed that night, Wei Xiaobao felt that no part of his entire body, from head to toe, did not ache. For more than half a day, at least he had received four to five hundred hits. As he lying on the bed, he secretly cursed, “Old turtle, you have hit laozi so many times. Tomorrow laozi will beat Xiao Xuanzi; old turtle, even if you kowtow to laozi for three hundred times, laozi will not learn martial art from you again.”

The afternoon the next day, after gambling Wei Xiaobao had another duel with Xiao Xuanzi. He noticed that Xiao Xuanzi was wearing another set of new clothes; he mused, “You, this kid, are wearing new set of clothes every day, are you going to visit a girl in a brothel?” He was very jealous, so as soon as he made his move, he ripped his new clothes. ‘Rip’ a large tear appeared on Xiao Xuanzi’s clothes. But in doing so, he had forgotten the newly-learned skill, so that his waist was punched by Xiao Xuanzi; he screamed in pain.

Xiao Xuanzi seized this opportunity to stretch out his finger and poked Wei Xiaobao’s left leg. Wei Xiaobao’s left leg went numb and he fell kneeling down. From behind Xiao Xuanzi pushed, right away Wei Xiaobao tumbled down. Xiao Xuanzi jumped to ride on his back and pressed his yishe acupoint. Wei Xiaobao had no choice but to concede.

Wei Xiaobao stood up and focused his attention, waiting for Xiao Xuanzi to make his move, then he used the ‘Immortal Crane Combing its Plume’, chopping the opponent’s wrist. Xiao Xuanzi hastily withdrew his hand, while sending out a punch. Wei Xiaobao had anticipated this move; he grabbed the wrist and twisted it around, followed by a left elbow strike toward Xiao Xuanzi’s back. Xiao Xuanzi cried out in pain was powerless to resist. This round belonged to Wei Xiaobao.

Ever since the two of them started this martial art competition, this was the first time Wei Xiaobao scored a victory; his joy was unspeakable. Although he had killed a military officer at the Victory Hill in Yangzhou, and killed Xiao Guizi in the palace, but both times he had been cheating. In all the fights in his life, other than bullying eight, nine years old children, which he always triumphed, he had never won any fight against grownups. Occasionally he gained the upper hand by biting, throwing dirt on their eyes, or other despicable tricks. As for chopping people’s legs from underneath the table at the restaurant, that was not really a honorable thing to do, so it need not be mentioned anymore. Using a real skill to achieve victory, this was the very first time in his entire life.

In his self-satisfaction, unavoidably his ego was inflated and he lost the third round. In the fourth round, Wei Xiaobao gathered his thoughts and used the move ‘apes and monkeys pick the fruits’; he wrestled the opponent for quite a long time, unexpectedly they fell into a deadlock until both of them were depleted of their strengths. Holding each other in their arms, they were panting for breath, and had no choice but to stop fighting.

Xiao Xuanzi was very happy; he laughed and said, “Today your … your skill is progressing. Competing martial art with you is bit more interesting. Who … who taught you?”

Also panting for breath, Wei Xiaobao replied, “I’ve already known this skill long ago, it’s just that I did not use it the previous couple of days. Tomorrow I will show you a more … more formidable technique. Will you or will you not dare to oblige?”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and said, “Naturally I will oblige, most probably it will be the new technique of yelling ‘Surrender!’.”

“Pei!” Wei Xiaobao spat, “Tomorrow it will be you who scream ‘Surrender!’”

Wei Xiaobao returned to his room. Immensely proud of himself, he said, “Gong-gong, your ‘big grappling technique’ is really deathly, I twisted that kid’s wrist, and strike his back with my elbow, this kid did not have any choice but to surrender.”

“How many rounds did you fight with him today?” Hai Laogong asked.

“I fought him four rounds, I won two,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Actually, I could win three rounds, but I was not being careful the third time.”

Hai Laogong said, “You always speak ‘breaking seven fastening eight’; if you say that you fought four rounds, at most you only won one round.”

Wei Xiaobao chuckled and said, “The first round I did not win, the second round I really did win. If I have empty words, may the heaven punish and the earth exterminate. The third round he cannot be considered lost, the fourth round we both fought until we are out of strength, so we agree to fight again tomorrow.”

Hai Laogong said, “Tell me truthfully, every move every style, in great details.”

Although Wei Xiaobao had a good memory, his knowledge of martial art was too little, how these four rounds were unfold by every move and every style, he could not narrate in details; he could only remember the third round where he scored a victory and thus the move he was most proud of. But Hai Laogong was insistent that he have a detailed account on how he was defeated. Wei Xiaobao was thinking of giving him a vague answer to dismiss his inquiry, but in the end he had to tell Hai Laogong the truth. The styles Xiao Xuanzi used to score victory, Hai Laogong was able to spell them out one by one, as if he was personally witnessing the fight, adding ten times the details of what Wei Xiaobao was able to tell. As he mentioned one style, Wei Xiaobao was then able to remember that it was indeed so.

“Gong-gong,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You have eyes that can see a thousand li; otherwise, how can you know clearly which technique Xiao Xuanzi was using?”

Hai Laogong lowered his head in contemplation, he muttered, “He is really a Wudang master, he is really a Wudang master.”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised, “You said this kid Xiao Xuanzi is a Wudang Pai master? And I was able to fight this master evenly? Ha ha …”

“Pei!” Hai Laogong spat, “Don’t show off shamelessly! Who says he was the master? I was talking about the Shifu who taught him punching and kicking.”

“So what Sect [‘Pai’] do you belong to?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Our martial art is matchless under the heavens, naturally it is a lot more formidable than Wudang Pai; that is an obvious fact.” He still did not know which school Hai Laogong belonged to, but he bragged about it first without restraint.

“I belong to Shaolin Pai,” Hai Laogong replied.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, “That’s very good; Wudang Pai’s martial art encounters our Shaolin Pai, of course they will be utterly defeated, they will run away hiding their tails between their legs.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong snorted and said, “I haven’t taken you as my disciple, how can you consider yourself a Shaolin disciple?”

Wei Xiaobao embarrassedly said, “I did not say I was a Shaolin Pai disciple, I only learned Shaolin Pai martial art, is that correct?”

Hai Laogong said, “The technique Xiao Xuanzi was using is indeed Wudang Pai’s orthodox qin na technique, so we must use Shaolin Pai’s orthodox qin na technique to cope with him, otherwise we would not be his match.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “My lost to him is small matter, implicating the prestige of our Shaolin Pai is greatly unworthy.” On how great Shaolin Pai’s prestige really was, he was completely clueless, but if he was somewhat responsible of maintaining Shaolin Pai’s prestige, it must be not a trivial business.

Hai Laogong said, “I passed on those two moves from the ‘big grappling technique’ yesterday with the intention of defeating that kid to get out of a difficult situation, so you won’t be entangled anymore and can go to the Upper Study Room to get the book. But right now the situation is slightly different. This kid is definitely a direct disciple of Wudang Pai. Then the eighteen moves of the ‘big grappling technique’ must be taught to you, each stance and each style, from the start. Do you know the ‘bow-and-arrow step’?”

“Bow-and-arrow step?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Isn’t that the posture an archer takes when he is bending the bow?”

Hai Laogong’s countenance sank, he said, “You want to learn martial art, you must be modest, if you don’t know it, just say so. People who learn martial art must abstain from thinking oneself clever, from believing that oneself is infallible. Bend your forward leg on the knee so that it will look like a bow, that is called ‘bow foot’. Stick out your back leg in an angle so that it will look like an arrow, that is called ‘arrow foot’. When those two are used together, the posture is called ‘bow-and-arrow step’.” While saying that, he demonstrated the ‘bow-and-arrow step’ stance.

Wei Xiaobao copied the stance and said, “What’s so difficult about this stance? I can do it a hundred or eighty times a day.”

Hai Laogong said, “I don’t want you to do it a hundred or eighty times, I just want you to do it once. Now do the stance, if I do not tell you to stand up, you must not move.” While saying that he ran his hands on Wei Xiaobao’s legs to check their positions. He pushed the forward leg further down, and the back leg even straighter.

“It’s so easy,” Wei Xiaobao said. However, keeping the stance without moving like that, in less than half the time needed to burn an incense, his legs were tingling. “Is it enough?” he called out.

“It is far from enough,” Hai Laogong replied.

Wei Xiaobao said, “What’s the use of me practicing this strange posture? Are you saying that by doing this I can knock Xiao Xuanzi down?”

Hai Laogong said, “When you train the ‘bow-and-arrow step’ until your stance is steady, others cannot push you down. Its usefulness is great.”

Wei Xiaobao stubbornly argued, “Even if people push me down, I can always stand back up and not suffer any defeat.”

Hai Laogong nodded slowly, but did not pay any attention to him. Seeing him nodding, Wei Xiaobao straightened up his body and patted his tingling legs. Hai Laogong barked, “Who told you to stand up? Quickly do the ‘bow-and-arrow step’ again!”

“I want to poop!” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You can’t!” Hai Laogong said.

“I want to poop!” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You can’t!” Hai Laogong said.

“My poop is really about to come out!” Wei Xiaobao said. Hai Laogong sighed; he had no choice but to let him go to the toilet to loosen his legs.

Although Wei Xiaobao was intelligent, but to expect him to follow the compass and go with the set square, to follow a prescribed pattern in martial art training, was easier said than done. In the end Hai Laogong did not force him anymore, he only taught him several qin na and wrestling techniques. During the sparring, Wei Xiaobao was required to bend down and turn around, to squat and crouch low on the ground; Hai Laogong did not join him in performing these exercises, he only called out the directions and stretched out his hand to feel whether there was any mistake in Wei Xiaobao’s posture and technique.

The next day Wei Xiaobao had another martial art competition against Xiao Xuanzi. Thinking that the previous day they fought for four rounds, in which he lost two rounds and won one round, with the newly-learned skill, today he should be able to win all four rounds. Who would have thought that as soon as the fight began, when he use several new techniques against Xiao Xuanzi, regardless of how he was using it, one after another Xiao Xuanzi was able to neutralize it. So much so that Wei Xiaobao lost the first two rounds.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked and angry; in the third round he was extra careful, only then did he manage to twist and pull Xiao Xuanzi’s left palm backward that Xiao Xuanzi was unable to turn around and was forced to surrender.

Wei Xiaobao was so immensely proud of himself that he lost again the fourth round. Xiao Xuanzi was able to sit on his head, with both legs astride the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck, so that he was almost suffocated.

After he surrendered, Wei Xiaobao stood up and cursed, “Damn it, you …”

Xiao Xuanzi’s countenance sank. “What did you say?” he asked sternly. Instantly his expression turned cold and imposing.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly alarmed; he mused, “It’s not right, this is the imperial palace, I must not speak vulgar language. Mao Dage warned me that when we get to Beijing, we must not say anything wrong. I said ‘damn it’, that means I say something damn wrong, and thus I am exposing my trickery.” Thereupon he hastily said, “I said my style ‘damn it’ cannot defeat you, so I’d better surrender.”

Xiao Xuanzi’s face showed a smiling expression as he asked, “Your style is called ‘damn it’ [ta ma de – literally ‘his mother’s’]? What does it mean?”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I’m lucky, I am lucky! This little turtle lives in the imperial palace all day long, and does not understand the way people on the outside curse.” Thereupon he made up a wild story, “This style ‘stepping on horse’s hoof’ [ta ma ti] was originally a skill based on the horse loses its front hooves [figuratively: sudden failure through miscalculation or inattentiveness]. As I ‘step on’ [ta], you cannot defend against it, so I turn over and press you down. Who would have thought that you were not fooled, so this ‘ta ma ti’ style was useless.”

Xiao Xuanzi roared in laughter and said, “What ‘ta ma ti’? Even ‘ta niu ti’ [stepping on cow’s hooof] cannot defeat me. Do you dare to fight with me again tomorrow?”

“Do you need to ask?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally I will fight you. Hey, Xiao Xuanzi, let me ask you one question, please answer me truthfully and honestly, don’t conceal anything from me.”

“What is it?” Xiao Xuanzi asked.

“The Shifu who teach you martial art, he is a Wudang Pai master, isn’t he?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Uh, how did you know?” Xiao Xuanzi wondered.

“I can see from the technique you are using,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You know my martial art style?” Xiao Xuanzi asked, “What is it called?”

“Who does not know?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “That is Wudang Pai’s orthodox skill, handed down in direct line from the founder, called the ‘little grappling technique’, considered first-rate martial art in the Jianghu. However, against our Shaolin Pai’s orthodox skill, handed down in direct line from the founder, called the ‘big grappling technique’, it is still one class lower.”

Xiao Xuanzi laughed aloud and said, “What a horn-tooting! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? In our martial art competition today, did you win, or did I win?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Victory or defeat is common in a war, a hero is not measured by victory or defeat.”

Xiao Xuanzi said with a laugh, “A hero is not measured by success or failure.”

“Victory or defeat is the same as success or failure,” Wei Xiaobao said. He had once heard the storyteller mentioning ‘A hero is not measured by success or failure’, but these two words ‘success or failure’ was too difficult, so he could not remember it. However, since Xiao Xuanzi was able to say the correct phrase, he could not help but feeling admiration, “You are only a year or two older than I am, yet you actually know a lot of things.”

Wei Xiaobao returned to his residence and sighed, “Gong-gong,” he said, “The more I learn new technique, the more others also learn new ones; but others’ Shifu is so skillful, he teaches better technique.” He did not say that his own skill was inadequate, but blaming Hai Laogong’s teaching method instead.

Hai Laogong said, “Obviously you lost all four rounds today! Muddle-headed kid, you don’t blame yourself as being useless, but you come here to complain about others.”

“Pei,” Wei Xiaobao spat, “How could I lost all four rounds? At least I would win once or twice, or twice, three times. I have asked him today, his Shifu is indeed a direct disciple of orthodox school Wudang Pai.”

“Did he admit it?” Hai Laogong asked. He sounded rather excited.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I asked him, ‘The Shifu who teach you martial art, he is a Wudang Pai master, isn’t he?’ He said, ‘Uh, how did you know?’ Isn’t that the same as admitting it?”

Hai Laogong mumbled, “Just as I thought, it’s really Wudang Pai.” And then he was lost in thought, seemingly pondering a hard-to-understand matter. After a long time he said, “Let us practice some tripping feet techniques.”

And so every day Wei Xiaobao learned new techniques from Hai Laogong, and had his daily martial art contest with Xiao Xuanzi. During training, whenever he encountered a rather difficult technique, Wei Xiaobao would do it perfunctorily with all kinds of obscure excuses. Surprisingly, Hai Laogong followed his whim; disregarding the fundamentals, he only taught him how to dodge, evade, and various kinds of defensive tricks, anything that would give Wei Xiaobao an immediate benefit. However, during his fight with Xiao Xuanzi, Wei Xiaobao’s technique was advancing, Xiao Xuanzi’s technique was advancing even more. Fighting here and there, out of ten rounds Wei Xiaobao would lose seven or eight times.

Every morning Wei Xiaobao always went gambling with Lao Wu, Ping Wei, Wen Youdao, Wen Youfang and others eunuchs. For the first several days he always had plain white cloth covering his face, but afterwards the covering was getting less and less. Although everybody could see that his facial features were completely different from Xiao Guizi’s, but first, they always met in the heat of the gambling, what Xiao Guizi actually looked like, they only remembered it vaguely; second, Wei Xiaobao was always giving others a loan, so everybody loved this generous friend; third, each day Wei Xiaobao took only a little bit of the wrapping, so the others were slowly getting accustomed to his look, unexpectedly, nobody ask him anything.

When the gambling adjourned, Wei Xiaobao would have his martial art competition with Xiao Xuanzi, and have martial art lesson after lunch. The qin na technique he learned was getting increasingly difficult. Wei Xiaobao was disinclined to memorize it, he was even more disinclined to practice; fortunately, Hai Laogong did not force him or insist on supervising him strictly, he simply let nature take its course.

Day in day out, without realizing it Wei Xiaobao had been in the imperial palace for two months. Every day he had money to gamble. Although it could not be said that his life was free and unrestrained, he was actually quite happy. His only regret was that he must not speak any obscenities, wantonly hurling abusive words to others; he also did not dare to imitate dog and steal chicken[4], or to make a scene and raise havoc in the palace. It was a rather minor defect in an otherwise perfect world. Sometimes he did think about escaping from the palace, but he did not know anybody within Beijing’s city limit; the more he thought about it, the more trepidation grew in his heart, and thus he kept lingering in the palace for ‘yet another day’.

Wei Xiaobao and Xiao Xuanzi had been fighting with each other for two months, they met every day, the friendship between them grew. Wei Xiaobao was getting used to losing, but putting things back in perspective, ‘a hero is not measured by victory or defeat’; his win in the gambling arena offset his lost in the martial art arena, and thus he did not give it further thought. Both he and Xiao Xuanzi felt that if they miss a day of martial art contest, their whole body would be uncomfortable. Wei Xiaobao made a slow progress in martial art skill, but Xiao Xuanzi’s progress was also so-so. Although Wei Xiaobao lost more than he won, he was not entirely in losing streak without any victory.

During these past two months, the Wen brothers lost so much money in gambling that they owed Wei Xiaobao more than two hundred taels. This particular day, before the game was even finished, the two brothers signaled each other with their eyes. Wen Youdao said to Wei Xiaobao, “Gui Xiongdi, we have something we’d like to discuss with you. Let’s step aside and talk.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Do you need some money? No problem.”

“Thank you very much,” Wen Youfang said. The two brothers went out the door, with Wei Xiaobao following behind them. The three of them went to a side room next door.

“Gui Xiongdi,” Wen Youdao said, “You are very young, but you are naturally magnanimous, it is indeed rare.”

Hearing such flattery, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was in full bloom, “There, there! We are brothers here, you lend me, I lend you, why so uptight about it? There are borrowing and there are paying, we are all honest people here.”

In these past two months, he had managed to learn some Beijing accent; although occasionally he would still blurt some Yangzhou slangs, it did not sound too harsh in other people’s ears.

Wen Youdao said, “Our luck these past two months is just not good, we have lost quite a lot of money. Although you, brother, do not mind, in our hearts we are very worried.”

Wen Youfang added, “Our lost is getting heavier and heavier, while your luck is getting better and better, and we owe you more and more money. If this situation continued, we don’t know how many tears it will take us to pay you back. If we continue on living burdened with debt like this, our lives would be tasteless.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Going into debt and not able to pay back is indeed inevitable and all right, the two of you must not bring it up anymore.”

Wen Youfang sighed and said, “Xiao Xiongdi’s character, we need not mention again. Frankly speaking, if we owe only you, Xiao Xiongdi, even if we owe you for a hundred years, we should not be uptight, should we?”

“Exactly, exactly,” Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “But what about two hundred years, three hundred years?”

“Two hundred, three hundred years?” Wen Youfang said, “Everybody will be dead by then.” Speaking to this point, he turned toward his elder brother. Wen Youdao nodded. Wen Youfang continued, “However, we, two brothers, know, that Xiao Xiongdi’s master is very difficult to deal with.”

“You mean Hai Laogong?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Isn’t he?” Wen Youfang said, “You, Xiao Xiongdi, may not pursue this matter, but there will come a day Hai Laogong will not let us, two brothers, off. If he, Senior, extends one finger to us, the Wen family’s Lao Da and Lao Er[5] won’t be able neither to eat nor escape at all. Consequently, we must think of a way to pay the money back.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Here it comes, here it comes, that old turtle Hai Laogong truly able to prophecy with supernatural accuracy. These days I only remember to practice boxing, to have martial art contest against Xiao Xuanzi, but I completely forgot about going to the Upper Study Room to steal the book. I’d better not mentioning it, I want to see what they are going to say.” Thereupon he simply mumbled, “Um,” noncommittally.

Wen Youfang said, “We have thought about it over; there is only one way, we ask for Xiao Xiongdi’s magnanimity, to write off our debt completely, do not mention it to Hai Laogong. Later, when we brothers win, naturally we will return everything with our thanks, not lacking even a wen.”

“Your granny,” Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “You, a pair of stinky turtles, consider me, Wei Xiaobao, as a ‘cattle’? Based on your bastards’ skill, when will you ever win anything back from laozi?” Thereupon with an awkward expression he said, “But I have already told Hai Laogong. The Senior says that this money must be paid back, several days delay is all right.”

The Wen brothers looked at each other, with very awkward expression on their faces; obviously these two brothers dreaded Hai Laogong very much. Wen Youdao said, “In that case, we are wondering if Xiao Xiongdi would be willing to help us? As you win money later, give it to Hai Laogong, just tell him … tell him that we are paying you back.”

Wei Xiaobao cursed again in his heart, “Your words are getting more and more preposterous, do you think I am a three-year old kid?” But he said, “It’s not that I don’t want to do it, but I … my loss will be too great.”

From the tone of his voice, the Wen brothers could hear that he was willing to cut them some slack, instantly their faces showed delight as they cupped their hands and said, “Thank you for your kindness, we owe you a big favor.”

Wen Youfang said, “Xiao Xiongdi‘s kindness, the two of us brothers will never dare to forget as long as we live.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If we do it this way, I want the two Dage to do me a favor, I wonder if you would be willing to?”

“Of course, of course,” the two of them incessantly replied, “Whatever it is, the answer is yes.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have lived in the palace for many days, but even His Imperial Majesty’s face I have never seen. The two of you are serving His Majesty at the Upper Study Room, I wish to ask the two brothers to take me to see His Majesty.”

Immediately the two Wen brothers looked at each other in dismay, with a very distressed expression on their faces. Wen Youdao repeatedly scratched his head. Wen Youfang said, “Ay, this … this … this …” He muttered the word ‘this’ seven, eight times.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I do not wish to present a memorial to His Majesty, I only want to linger at the Upper Study Room for a while, to see His Majesty’s golden face; to slaves like us, that will be our good fortune. If I do not have the good fortune of seeing him, I will not blame the two of you.”

Wen Youdao hastily said, “It can be arranged. Today at the Shenpai hour [ninth hour, 3 – 5 pm], I will come to your place and take you to the Upper Study Room. At that time, His Majesty is always in the study room writing poetry and do calligraphy; most likely you will be able to see him. At other times His Majesty is working at the Palace Hall, it won’t be easy to see him.” While saying that, he tilted his head toward Wen Youfang and gave him a wink.

Wei Xiaobao saw this, and the curse ‘stinky turtles, thief bastards’ was raging in his heart; he pondered over it, “As soon as these two turtles hear I wanted to see the Emperor, their expressions turned very ugly. They said on the ninth hour the Emperor will be at the Upper Study Room, but he most definitely won’t be there. They do not dare to let me see the Emperor, so now I want to see him. His granny, if the Emperor speaks to laozi, how am I supposed to answer? If I said something that will give me away, won’t he order me to be executed along with my whole family to the third generation? Perhaps even laozi’s Ma will be dragged away from Yangzhou and be beheaded here. The old turtle Hai teaches me martial art, but I don’t know if he taught me correctly? How come after so many fights I still cannot overcome Xiao Xuanzi? I’d better steal that book – was it thirty-two-chapter sutra or forty-two-chapter sutra? – from the study room and give it to the old turtle. If his heart is happy, perhaps he would teach me real martial art.” Thereupon he cupped his hands to Wen brothers to express his gratitude, saying, “If we as slaves cannot even see the Lord of Ten-thousand-year’s golden face, when we die, Yan Wang will certainly rain curses on us as turtle bastards.”

After his martial art contest with Xiao Xuanzi, he returned to his residence, and told Hai Laogong only the martial art contest’s situation; he did not mention even a word about how the Wen brothers had agreed to take him to the Upper Study Room. He thought he would steal the book first, so that the old turtle will be enormously pleasantly surprised.

Just before the appointed time, the Wen brothers really came. Wen Youfang let out a soft whistle. Wei Xiaobao slipped out quietly. The Wen brothers signaled with their hands, but did not say anything. They walked to the west, with Wei Xiaobao following on their heels. Based on previous experience, he now keep his eyes open to commit into his memory the shapes of the corridors, gardens and buildings along the way, so that he could retrace his path without getting lost.

Compare to the building where they gambled, the Upper Study Room was farther away from where he lived; they walked for almost the time needed to prepare tea. With a quiet voice Wen Youdao said, “We have arrived at the Upper Study Room, must be more careful now!”

“I understand,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

The two brothers led him circling to the rear courtyard, and entered via a small side door. Passing through two small gardens, they finally entered an enormous room. He saw the room was full with row after row of bookshelves, and each shelf was full of books; he did not know how many thousands or tens of thousands of book were there. Wei Xiaobao sucked a mouthful of cold air and groaned inwardly, “Hot piece mama did not blossom, once blossoms give birth to a little baby! His granny! The Emperor’s room has this many books, all day long he sees books; he sees books in the morning, he sees books in the evening, how will he find time to gamble? Hai Laogong only wants several books, how am I going to find them?”

He grew up in marketplace, he had never seen a study room in all is life, he only knew that if there were seven or eight books in a room, then that room must be a study room. From these seven or eight books, supposedly to find one with the characters ‘thirty-two’ or ‘forty-two’ written on it would not be difficult. At this moment, suddenly seeing thousands or tens of thousands books, he was dazzled and at a loss of what to do. He thought of turning around and running away.

In low voice Wen Youdao said, “Shortly, His Majesty will come into the study room and sit on this desk reading or writing.”

Wei Xiaobao looked at the enormous red sandalwood desk, the tabletop was inlaid with gold and jade. He thought, “The tabletop is inlaid with yellow gold and white jade, certainly it is not a fake. If this thing is scooped out and brought to the jewelry store, it will be sold for quite a bit of money.” He saw a book was spread out on the desk, the ink stone and brush pot to the left were also exquisitely carved. The chair was draped in brocade cloth, embroidered with a golden dragon.

Seeing this kind of imposing style, Wei Xiaobao could not stop his heart from thumping hard. “His granny,” he mused, “This turtle emperor truly lives a happy and prosperous life!”

On the right hand side of the table there was an ancient bronze three-legged pot, where sandalwood incense was being burned. The lid of the pot was shaped like a beast’s head, a wisp of green smoke gracefully curling out from its mouth.

Wen Youdao said, “You may hide behind the bookshelf, looking quietly at His Majesty and that’s it. When His Majesty is reading or writing, no one is allowed to make any noise; you must neither cough nor sneeze. Otherwise His Majesty might get angry and call the Imperial Bodyguard to drag you out and chop off your head.”

“Of course I know I must not cough or sneeze, I must not fart even more,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Wen Youdao’s countenance sank. “Xiao Xiongdi, the Upper Study Room is unlike any other places,” he said, “You must not speak anything disrespectful or irreverent.” Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue; he did not dare to say anything. He saw the two brothers picked up a duster and a cleaning rag, and started dusting and wiping everywhere. The study room was exceptionally clean, untainted by even a speck of dust, but the two brothers were still doing their job attentively.

After the Wen brothers finished dusting, they fetched a piece of snow white plain cloth from the cabinet and started wiping everywhere, and then they looked at the white cloth to see if there is any sign of dark spot. They were even more careful than wiping a mirror. They wiped for more than half a day before they quit.

Xiao Xiongdi,” Wen Youdao said, “If His Majesty is still not here in a little while, chances are he is not coming to the Upper Study Room at all today. Soon an Imperial Bodyguard officer will come over to do an inspection, if he sees you in this place, he will investigate and then everybody will eat the blame.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You can leave first, I want to wait a while before leaving.”

“That won’t do!” the Wen brothers said together. Wen Youdao said, “According to the palace rules, which you are also aware of, wherever His Majesty goes, the ones serving in that area must not have the slightest carelessness. There are several thousands court eunuchs and palace maids, supposing whenever one of them wanted to see His Majesty would simply walk in to His Majesty’s presence, what will become of the propriety?”

“Good brother,” Wen Youfang said, “It’s not that we brothers do not want to help, but we can be in this Upper Study Room for only an hour a day. Finish cleaning and wiping, we must get out immediately. We are not concealing anything from you, forget about you cannot linger too long in the Upper Study Room, even if we, the two brothers, do not leave when it’s time for us to leave, when the Imperial Bodyguard officers investigate and find out, at the most our house will be searched and our possessions confiscated, we will be beheaded, at the least we will be imprisoned with stock over our head.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue. “That fierce, huh?” he said.

Stomping his foot, Wen Youfang said, “The matter of His Majesty’s safety, do you think we would joke about it? Good brother, if you want to see His Majesty, let’s come back tomorrow at the same time to try our luck.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let us go then.”

The Wen brothers felt as if a heavy burden was relieved from their shoulders. With one pulling Wei Xiaobao’s left arm, the other pulling his right, for fear that he would not leave, they walked him out.

Suddenly Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, the two of you have never seen His Majesty, have you?”

Wen Youfang was startled, “How … how did you …” he stammered. It was obvious that he was going to say, ‘How did you know?’. Wen Youdao hastily said, “Why haven’t we seen him? His Majesty reads and writes at the Upper Study Room, of course we often see him.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Every day around this time the two of you are in the Upper Study Room wiping and dusting, naturally His Majesty cannot be here. Could it be that when you two bastards are wiping the dust and chasing the dust’s grandchildren to the east and to the west, His Majesty would love to watch?”

Wen Youdao added, “Xiao Xiongdi agrees to pay Hai Laogong back on our behalf, we brothers will certainly repay your kindness in the future. About seeing His Majesty, that is one’s good fortune in life, one’s karmic reward cultivated in the previous incarnation, by building the bridge and paving the way, by accumulating innumerable secret virtue. If one is not destined to have this good fortune, one will not achieve it even by forcing it.”

While speaking, the three of them exited the side door. Wei Xiaobao said, “In that case, you can take me here again in a few days to try our luck!”

“Excellent, excellent!” the two brothers repeatedly said. And thus the three of them split up.

Wei Xiaobao quickly turned around; passing through two long corridors, he hid behind a sliding door. After a while, he presumed the two brothers already went far away; he came out from the back door and retraced their route back to the study room. When he pushed the side door, to his surprise, the door was bolted from inside. He was startled, thinking, “It was only a short while, the door is already bolted from inside? It seems that the Wen brothers are telling the truth, the Imperial Bodyguard did come to patrol this place. I wonder if they have already left?”

Pressing his ear to the door he tried to listen, but did not hear anything. Then he put his eye to a crack on the door and peeked inside, there was nobody in the courtyard. He thought for a while, and then fished out a very thin dagger from his boots. It was the same dagger he used to assassinate Xiao Guizi the other day. He was hiding in the Imperial Palace, he knew danger was lurking from all directions, since that day, this dagger had never left his body. Presently he inserted the dagger into the crack on the door and gently pushed several times, the door bolt was lifted up. He shoved the door open two cun, and put out his hand through the opening to hold the door bolt, so that it would not fall down and make noise. Then he pushed the door wider and slipped in, lastly, he turned around and reattached the door bolt. After listening attentively and did not hear any noise, he proceeded step by step and poked his head into the study room, luckily there was nobody inside. After waiting for a moment, he went in.

Walking toward the desk, he saw the chair draped in dragon embroidered brocade and had a hard-to-resist sudden impulse. “Damn it, this is the dragon chair the Emperor sit, must laozi sit on it?” Taking a diagonal step forward, he suddenly found himself sitting on the chair. At first his heart was thumping fast, but after a while he mused, “This chair is not so comfortable anyway, being the Emperor is nothing extraordinary.”

But in the end he still did not dare to sit too long; he stood up and went to the bookshelves to look for the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. But the bookshelves were full of books stacked up on top of other books. Among the hundreds of titles, he recognized only one or two characters. He did his utmost to find the ‘four’ character, and found several books that started with the character ‘four’; however, none of the next characters were ‘ten’ or ‘two’[6]. Actually, what he found were the ‘Four Books’[7], the ‘Four-Book Annotation Collection’, the ‘Four-Book Commentary’, and so on. Looking a bit more, he found the ‘Analysis on Thirteen Classics[8] Collection’. He knew the two characters ‘Thirteen’ [shi san], and was delighted for a moment, but ten realized that eventually it was not the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.

While he was still confused, without a clue of what to do, suddenly he heard the sound of boots outside the door on the other side of the study room, followed by the creaking noise of the double-door being opened. Turned out behind the large screen on that side there was another door, from which this person was walking in.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Today laozi will be executed to the third generation.” He was thinking of slipping out from the bolted door from which he came, but in any case he was too late, hastily he flattened his body against the wall, shrinking behind a row of bookshelf. He heard two men enter the study room, dusting, brushing and wiping all around.

Not too long afterwards, another man come in, the first two men then withdrew from the study room. This other man was pacing back and forth slowly in the study room. Wei Xiaobao cried out inwardly, “It’s terrible; must be the Imperial Bodyguard on inspection of this room. Could it be that they found a trace of me entering via the back door?” He could not help cold sweat from soaking his back.

The man was pacing back and forth for a good while, suddenly there was a loud and clear voice from outside the door, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Ao Shaobao has an urgent matter to kowtow in front of Your Majesty, he is waiting outside.” The man in the study room grunted.

Wei Xiaobao was startled and delighted at the same time. “Turns out this man is the Emperor. That Ao Shaobao is the man Mao Dage wanted to have a martial art contest with. This man is considered the Manchurians’ number one warrior, I wonder what mighty appearance he looks like, I must steal a look. Next time I see Mao Dage, I will have something to tell him.”

He heard heavy footsteps from outside the door, a man entered the study room and said, “Servant Oboi kowtows to Your Majesty!” while kneeling down and pressing his forehead to the ground.

Wei Xiaobao quickly poked his head out to steal a look, he saw a tall and sturdy man crawling on the floor, kowtowing. He did not dare to look too long, for fear that as soon as Oboi raised his head he might see him; hastily he pulled his head back, but he shifted his body slightly to be diagonally opposite to Oboi. He mused, “You are kowtowing to the Emperor, also kowtowing to laozi. What First Warrior of Manchuria, or Second Warrior? Nothing special about him, didn’t he kowtow to me, Wei Xiaobao?”

He heard the Emperor say, “Enough!” Oboi rose up and said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Suksaha is harboring disloyalty, his memorial to the throne is filled with treason and heresy, he must receive supreme penalty.”

“Hmm,” the Emperor grunted noncommittally.

Oboi continued, “Your Majesty has just personally guided the government into a new era, this servant Suksaha presented a memorial to the throne, saying something like ‘Now personally encountering the great government, humbly begs the wise reflection to let your servant, state official, to go guarding the late Emperor’s mausoleum, in order to survive the remaining breath, which is like a string of thread’. Isn’t it obvious? Your Majesty has just taken over the government, and he already desires to die. It is the same as saying Your Majesty is treating his servants with cruelty.”

“Hmm,” the Emperor was still grunting.

Oboi continued, “Your servant has had a conference with the princes and dukes, and various ministers; we are all agree that altogether Suksaha is guilty of twenty-four major crimes, he is cherishing treachery, harboring disloyalty, taking unfair advantage of the young master, unwilling to return to government service, indeed he is reeking with treason and heresy. According to our dynasty’s ‘Great Rebellion Law’, he and his eldest son, Internal Minister Chakdan, should be put to death with a thousand cuts, his six foster sons, one grandson, and two brothers should be beheaded. His clansmen, the commander of the vanguard regimen Barhe, and imperial bodyguard Otu, should also be beheaded.”

“For that kind of crime, isn’t the punishment too heavy?” the Emperor said.

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “This emperor’s voice sounds like a boy, in fact it is very similar to Xiao Xuanzi’s voice. That’s funny.”

Oboi said, “Reporting to His Majesty: Your Majesty is still young, perhaps you are still not fully clear about the important matter of the imperial court government. This Suksaha accepted orders from the late Emperor, together with your servant and others to be regents, to assist Your Majesty in guiding the government into the new era; we should be delighted to offer our talents. Yet he submitted this memorial to the throne, slandering Your Majesty, obviously he is harboring evil intentions. I request Your Majesty to allow Chen to deal with this matter, with power to make more serious punishment. Your Majesty has just taken over the government, you should establish power, to make your subjects’ hearts trembled with fear. If you are being lenient to Suksaha, this rebel who harbor treason, someday the other subjects will take advantage of Your Majesty’s young age, will speak disrespects, will behave rudely, then Your Majesty’s business will not be managed properly.”

Listening to the way he speak, Wei Xiaobao thought he was very arrogant, he said in his heart, “You, the old turtle, are the one who speak disrespect and behave rudely. You said the Emperor is young, could it be that the Emperor is a small boy? This is very interesting, no wonder his voice somewhat sounds like Xiao Xuanzi.”

He heard the Emperor saying, “Although Suksaha is wrong, he is an Executive Minister, the same as you, whom the late Emperor held in very high regards. If at the beginning of my taking over the government ZhenZhen [an Emperor addressing himself] kill an important minister whom the late Emperor held in high regards, I am afraid the spirit of the late Emperor in Heaven will not be happy.”

Oboi laughed a loud and said, “Very true, but your words are childish talk. The late Emperor appointed Suksaha as an Executive Minister, to serve Your Majesty well, to handle affairs attentively. If he considered the late Emperor’s benevolence, he should spare no effort to do his utmost, to go through water and tread on fire, to toil just like a dog or a horse; that is the principle of a servant. Yet this Suksaha bears grievance, publicly slanders Your Majesty, asking for rest, begging for life, regarding his own life more important, and set aside the imperial court’s affairs as unimportant. This servant is offending the late Emperor, and not Your Majesty offending this servant. Ha ha, ha ha!”

The Emperor said, “Ao Shaobao, what’s so funny?”

Oboi was startled, and busily said, “Yes, yes, no, nothing.” Wei Xiaobao guessed that right this moment Oboi’s expression must be very awkward.

The Emperor was silent for a long time before saying, “Even if I am not offending Suksaha, but if I kill him like this, I would offend the late Emperor’s spirit. Either the people under the heavens would say that I kill the wrong person, or they would say that the late Emperor was an incapable ignorant. If the imperial court publishes Suksaha’s twenty-four big crimes to the world, the people would think that Suksaha is so guilty of the most heinous crime, is such a scoundrel, yet the late Emperor unexpectedly appointed him as an Executive Minister, to stand alongside you, Ao Shaobao. This … this … isn’t this too much without knowledge and experience?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “This child Emperor’s word makes a lot of sense.”

Oboi said, “Your Majesty only knows one, does not know two. Whatever the people under the heavens like to think, let them indulge in flights of fancy, but they will not dare to speak as they please. Whoever dares to utter a single sentence that the late Emperor is to be blamed, I want to see how many heads they have.”

The Emperor said, “The ancient book said it well: ‘Guarding against the mouth of the people is more than guarding against the river’; blindly chopping people’s heads, not letting the common people speak out their hearts, in the end it will not bring good.”

Oboi said, “The words of the Han scholars are the worst to listen to, if these Han scholars’ words were true, how come Han people’s rivers and mountains fall into our hands, the Manchus? Therefore, let your servant offers a bit of advice to Your Majesty: those many books of Han people, the less you read the better, the more you read, the more your mind will be muddled.”

The Emperor did not reply at all. Oboi continued, “Your servant has followed Taizong Huangdi[9] and the late Emperor in battles on all sides, from outside the Pass to inside the Pass, establishing countless meritorious service against the Han cavalry. I did not know a single Han character, yet I killed not a few southern barbarians. We defeat the world, we protect the world, all using our Manchurian way.”

The Emperor said, “Without a doubt Ao Shaobao’s contribution is enormous, otherwise the late Emperor would not entrust you with such heavy responsibility.”

Oboi said, “Your servant only knows how to serve with body and soul, to handle Your Majesty’s affairs. Ever since Taizong Huangdi, to Emperor Shunzi, it’s all the same. The way we Manchus handle affairs is by paying particular attention to bestow rewards and impose punishments, we reward those who are loyal, and punish those who are treacherous. This Suksaha is a major treacherous court official, he must be punished severely.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Hot piece mama, I only have to listen to your voice and I know that you are the major treacherous court official.”

The Emperor said, “You are determined to have Suksaha killed, in the end, what is your own reason?”

“What reason do I have?” Oboi said, “Could it be that Your Majesty believes your servant has a personal motive?” His voice grew louder, his tone was also growing more stern. After a short pause he said menacingly, “Your servant only has our Manchurian’s realm in my heart. Taizu Huangdi[10], Taizong Huangdi have painstakingly laid out the foundation, we must not let their descendants make mistake. Your Majesty asks your servant this way, your servant really does not understand Your Majesty’s meaning!”

Hearing he speak with such ferocity, Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he could not bear not to stick out his head to look, and saw a fierce-looking big man, his eyebrows were raised straight up, like a monster he stepped forward, his hands were tightly clenched into a pair of fists.

“Ah!” a young man cried out in alarm and jumped up from the chair. The young man turned his head sideways, and Wei Xiaobao could not refrain from letting out an ‘Ah!’ cry of his own. This young Emperor was not a stranger, he was precisely the boy who had martial art contest with him every day, Xiao Xuanzi.

[1] ‘Xuan’ means black/mysterious. ‘Xiao’ – little, ‘Zi’ – child/small thing.

[2] Orig. ‘Xiao Qin Na’ – little grab and capture.

[3] Posthumous name of the first Han emperor Liu Bang (reigned 202-195 BC).

[4] An idiom, it means ‘to dally with women’ or ‘to have affairs’. [Although I don’t understand how he was going to do it, given the fact that he was only about 12, 13 years old.]

[5] Lit. Ol’ First and Ol’ Second, respectively, common terms to denote children ranks in the family.

[6] In Chinese, ‘forty-two’ consists of three characters: ‘si’ – four, ‘shi’ – ten, and ‘er’ – two.

[7] Namely, The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Analects of Confucius, and The Analects of Mencius.

[8] Thirteen Confucian Classics: Book of Songs, Book of History, Rites of Zhou, Rites and Ceremonies, Classic of Rites, Book of Changes, Mr. Zuo’s Annals, Mr. Gongyang’s Annals, Mr. Gu Liang’s Annals, The Analects, Erya, Classic of Filial Piety, and Mencius.

[9] Posthumous name given to second emperor of a dynasty, in this case, Nurhachi’s son, Emperor Hung Taiji.

[10] Founding Emperor, in this case, Nurhachi.

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