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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 05

CSI

Chapter 5
Golden spear to dispel the society, a book in jade box to keep the fantasy.

Seeing the Emperor, even if his appearance was like a demon or a ghost, it was unlikely that Wei Xiaobao would cry out or make any noise; but seeing it was Xiao Xuanzi, his shock was really not mild. As soon as the cry escaped his mouth, he knew he was in deep trouble. He turned around at once, thinking to escape, but then he had a second thought, “Xiao Xuanzi’s martial art skill is higher than mine, but that Oboi is even more formidable, when all is said and done, I still cannot escape.” He also had a sudden inspiration, “Our valuables are already down on the table! Either we make a kill or we get killed, it’s time to roll the dice.”

Leaping out, he stood in front of the Emperor, and shouted to Oboi, “Oboi, what are you doing? You dare to be rude to His Majesty? You want to beat people, kill people, you must go over me first.”

Oboi had fought hundreds of battles, rendered great many services, he had little regard of the young Emperor Kangxi. Kangxi’s [Book note: Kangxi was an era name (subdivision in the reign of an emperor), but it is a common practice in popular fiction not to call him by his original name Xuan Ye (‘xuan’ – black/mysterious, ‘ye’ glorious/blaze of fire), instead, he was only known as Kangxi.] scorning his desire to kill Suksaha as stemmed from selfish intention had been exposing his painful sore. This man was a warrior who used to charge and break through enemy lines, in his anger, he was going to let his fist do the talking against Kangxi, he had never thought about rebelling or defying his superior. When he suddenly saw a little eunuch jumping out from behind the bookshelf and blocking in front of the Emperor, reproaching him, he could not help but was startled and only then did he remember that as a subject, he was making a fist and threatening the Emperor. Hastily he retreated several steps and sternly said, “What nonsense are you talking about? I was only going to make a report to His Majesty; who dares to be rude to His Majesty?” While speaking, he took two more steps backward, with hands hanging on his sides.

The Xiao Xuanzi who had martial art match with Wei Xiaobao every day was indeed the current emperor of the Great Qing, Emperor Kangxi. His given name was Xuan Ye. Realizing that Wei Xiaobao did not recognize him and asked for his name, in his childish innocence, he blurted out his name as ‘Xiao Xuanzi’. Inheriting Manchurian’s habit, he loved to wrestle. It’s just that when one is in training of this kind of skill, one must scuffle and tumble, pull the neck and bend the waist. Although the imperial bodyguards taught him the wrestling technique, who would dare to treat the Emperor in this rude, uncouth manner? Who would dare to pull his dragon head or clutch his imperial neck forcefully? When they were compelled, they would put on a good act. When the Emperor’s imperial leg swept, they would immediately tumble over; when the Emperor’s hand twisted theirs, they would immediately kneel down to surrender. When they were forced to retaliate by a move or half a style, they would only touch the edge of the Emperor’s clothing before stopping instantly.

Kangxi repeatedly urged them to fight for real, but none of the imperial bodyguards had this kind of guts. At most they would make some effort to act better. Even in playing chess with the Emperor, they might make a convincing act of giving a fierce resistance, by making some killing or lock the pieces in inextricably positions, until at the final juncture, they would inevitably lost the game [Book note: reportedly, during the final years of the Qing Dynasty, Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) was playing Chinese chess with certain eunuch; the eunuch captured Cixi’s horse (or knight) and said, ‘Your servant has captured one of Old Buddha’s horses’. [In late Qing Court, the term ‘Old Buddha’ refers exclusively to Empress Dowager Cixi]. Angered by his rude remark, Cixi immediately ordered him to be dragged out and beaten to death].

Actually, it was extremely difficult to pretend in wrestling. Granted that they had to lose eventually, but during the match, who would dare to grab the emperor and fling him away? Kangxi had a very high interest in wrestling. He always saw the imperial bodyguards staking everything they had and displaying hundreds of brilliant techniques when wrestling with each other, but when they wrestled against him, they would immediately shake with fear, their competency dead and their spirit subdued; he was extremely dissatisfied. Later, he took the court eunuchs as his opponents, but every one of those eunuchs only love to take a beating and none dare to retaliate, just like he was fighting dead people.

Being an emperor means he could do whatever he wanted to do, but to find a genuine opponent in martial art match proved to be a very difficult matter to accomplish. Sometimes he really wanted to leave the palace incognito, to find a commoner with whom he may fight, to find out the level of his own martial art skill level. But this kind of action was extremely dangerous, in the end it was no more than a fantasy, which the young emperor indulged in his heart once in a while.

That day when he met Wei Xiaobao, he had a really good fight. Wei Xiaobao was fighting with everything he had, yet in the end he lost. Kangxi was extremely happy, he felt this fight was the most satisfying he had ever had in his entire life. Wei Xiaobao challenged him to have another match the following day; it was exactly his heart’s desire. Henceforth the two of them had a martial art contest every day. From the very beginning, Kang Xi had never exposed his own status. During the match, he also prohibited other eunuchs from coming too near, so as not to let them divulge the secret. As soon as this little eunuch knew the opponent was the Emperor, the match would be not in the least interesting anymore.

There were thousands of court eunuchs in the Palace, those who had never seen the Emperor was also not a few. But when they first entered the Palace, they had to learn all kinds of customs and regulations of the Palace, as well as the color of the clothes to distinguish the relative superiority of the workforce. No one but the impostor Wei Xiaobao see the Emperor’s clothes Kangxi was wearing yet failed to recognize him. To Kangxi however, this muddleheaded little eunuch worth more than ten thousand taels of gold, indeed it was a rare opportunity and extremely valuable to him.

Hereafter Kangxi’s martial art skill gradually progressed; unexpectedly Wei Xiaobao was also able to keep up with him. The two of them fighting back and forth, all along they were like two armies of equivalent banners and drums. Moreover, Wei Xiaobao was only a notch inferior to him, and thus Kangxi must strive to train harder, so that he would not be defeated. He was a very competitive and always-eager-to-outdo-other type of person, the more he progressed, the higher his interest grew; while his favorable impression toward Wei Xiaobao was also greatly increased.

This day Oboi went up the Upper Study Room to present a memorial, petitioning the Emperor to kill Suksaha. Kangxi was already aware that because of internal power struggle between Oboi’s Bordered Yellow Banner and Suksaha’s Plain White Banner, Oboi harbored an enmity against Suksaha. Therefore, his insistence today that Suksaha be executed was because of personal grudges, consequently, he played slowly, unwilling to grant the petition. Who would have thought that Oboi was aggressive and domineering; in his raging temper, he exhibited the bad habit of a man of war; stroking his sleeves and made a fist, he was about to charge forward.

Oboi was a huge man with ferocious look; seeing him coming up aggressively, Kangxi was unavoidably shocked. His imperial bodyguards were waiting outside the study room, so even if he shouted they would be too late to help; besides, most of the imperial bodyguards were Oboi’s trusted aides and cannot be relied on. While he was at a loss of what to do, by lucky coincidence Wei Xiaobao leaped out of his hiding place.

Kangxi was greatly delighted, he thought, “If I join hands with Xiao Guizi, we might be able to fight this Oboi.” But then he saw Oboi retreated, so he was even more relieved.

Wei Xiaobao was unable to restrain his emotion and gave out a cry of alarm, and thus revealed himself. He had no choice but to take a chance, to gamble, by dashing out and barking at Oboi. To his own surprise, Oboi backed off; this made him really happy. He loudly said, “To kill Suksaha or not, naturally it’s His Majesty’s decision. You are being rude to His Majesty, by making fist and was about to hit him, aren’t you afraid to be beheaded and your possessions confiscated?”

His words had touched Oboi’s heart; immediately his back was wet with cold sweat, knowing that just now his action was indeed too reckless. At once he said to Kangxi, “Your Majesty must not listen to this little eunuch’s nonsense. Your servant is a greatly loyal minister.”

Since Kangxi had just taken over the government, he was actually very afraid of Oboi. Seeing Oboi withdrew and yielded, he thought that this was not the right moment to confront him face-to-face; thereupon he said, “Xiao Guizi, step aside.”

Wei Xiaobao bowed and replied, “Yes!” He retreated to one side of the desk.

“Ao Shaobao,” Kangxi said, “I know you are a greatly loyal minister. You are used to charge and break through the enemy lines, and not a refine man like those scholars, I am not going to blame you.”

Oboi was greatly delighted. “Yes, yes,” he hastily said.

Kangxi said, “About Suksaha, I’ll leave it you to handle. You are a greatly loyal minister, he is a greatly treacherous minister. Naturally I will reward loyalty and punish treachery.”

Oboi was even more delighted; he said, “Your Majesty has understood the truth. Hereafter your servant will loyally and devotedly let Your Majesty handle the government affairs.”

“Very good, very good,” Kangxi said, “I will petition Empress Dowager during the morning audience tomorrow, to reward you heavily.”

“Thank you very much, Your Majesty,” Oboi happily said.

“Anything else?” Kangxi asked.

“No, your servant asks to be excused,” Oboi replied. Kangxi nodded. With smile across his entire face, Oboi withdrew.

Kangxi waited until Oboi was out of the room before he jumped out of the chair and said with a laugh, “Xiao Guizi, now you know my secret.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty, I … I really deserve to die, I did not know you are the Emperor, and have exchanged blows and kicks with you; that was really too bold.”

Kangxi sighed and said, “Ay, now that you know, you won’t dare to fight with me for real, that will be extremely boring.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “As long as you are not offended, there is no harm in me fighting you for real.”

Kangxi was delighted. “Alright,” he said, “Once you’ve made a promise, if you don’t fight for real, you are not a true man.” While saying that, he held out his hand.

First of all, Wei Xiaobao did not know any court customs, secondly, he was a mischievous person who was afraid of neither the heavens nor the earth; he also held out his hand to grasp the extended hand and said with a laugh, “From now on, if I don’t fight for real, I am not a true man.” Grabbing each other’s hand, the two of them broke into a laughter.

As soon as the crown prince leaves his mother’s womb, he is doomed to be the future emperor. The instructions with which he was nurtures are completely different from those of the average man. His cry, his laugh, his action, his movement, none was not scrutinized by lots of eyes; in fact, he did not even have half a part of freedom. The prisoner locked up in jail can still talk as he wishes; he can still move at will in the confinement of his prison cell. The restriction the crown prince must abide by is actually a hundred times more strict. The ‘master guardian’[1] in charge of teaching him to read, the court eunuchs and palace maids in charge of his day-to-day necessities, were afraid the Crown Prince would befall any mishap, they all lived in constant fear, as if they were facing a bottomless abyss, as if they were treading on thin ice. If the Crown Prince ever utters half a word of wantonness, the master would earnestly advise him, for fear that the Emperor would be provoked to anger. If the Crown Prince wishes to wear a little less clothing, the court eunuchs and palace maids would act as if they were facing imminent catastrophe, for fear that the Crown Prince would catch cold. If any man lives this kind of life since childhood, day and night suffers this kind of strict surveillance, he really miss out a lot of life pleasures. Throughout history, there were a considerable number of muddle-headed monarch and tyrants; this is one of the reasons. After the individual attained the freedom of action when he became the emperor, he would immediately want to vent the depression and anger accumulated over the years, by doing all kinds of misdeed, which other people see as unreliably repulsive, but mostly was nothing more than excessive venting of pent-up energy.

Kangxi also received this kind of strict treatment since childhood. It was not until he took over the government that he often ordered the court eunuchs and palace maids to keep some distance from him, and need not following him left and right. However, in front of his mother and various senior ministers, he still had to follow the rules, to act the part of a youngster with mature disposition. In front of the court eunuchs and palace maids, he still had to display the air of the Emperor, he did not dare to be negligent. In all his life, the number of occasions he was able to laugh heartily was only a handful.

However, young people always love to play and enjoy festivities, which is human nature, there is no difference between an emperor or a beggar. In common people’s homes, any boy can shout and jump randomly, can fight and make a ruckus with their playmates daily. But if this young emperor wanted to enjoy this kind of opportunity, he would need ‘good fortune’ and ‘karma’. Only when he was with Wei Xiaobao did he enjoy true freedom, abandoning his emperor’s persona and wrestled to his heart’s content. Indeed he had never experience such happiness in all his life. During these days, even in his sleep he would often dream of wrestling and frolicking with Wei Xiaobao.

Holding Wei Xiaobao’s hand, Kangxi said, “In front of other people, you call me ‘His Majesty’, but if nobody’s around, we are still like before.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Nothing better than that. Even in my wildest dream I would never thought that you are the Emperor. I always thought that the emperor is an old man with white beard.”

Kangxi mused, “When Father Emperor passed away, he was no more than twenty four years old, not any old man with white beard. Don’t you, this little kid, know anything?” He asked, “Could it be that Hai Laogong has never told you about me?”

“Never,” Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “He only taught me how to practice martial art. Your Majesty, who taught you martial art?”

Kangxi laughed and said, “We said when nobody’s around, we are still like before; why do you call me ‘Your Majesty’?”

Wei Xiaobao also laughed, “That’s right,” he said, “I am a bit nervous.”

Kangxi sighed, he said, “I knew it, as soon as you know I am the Emperor, you won’t fight me like you used to do.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “I will definitely fight you like I used to, it’s just that I am afraid it won’t be easy. Hey, Xiao Xuanzi, who taught you martial art?”

“I can’t tell you that,” Kangxi replied, “Why do you ask?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That fellow Oboi thinks that his own martial art skill is superb, so he wanted to crush you with his fist and wipe you with his palm, he seemed eager to beat people. I am thinking that your Shifu’s martial art skill must be very high, let’s invite your Shifu to deal with him.”

With a faint smile Kangxi shook his head and said, “That won’t do; how can my Shifu do such thing?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Too bad my Shifu Hai Laogong is blind, otherwise we can ask him to beat Oboi, most likely he will be able to defeat him. Ah, I know, tomorrow the two of us join hands to fight him, what do you say? Although this Oboi is Manchurian’s number one warrior, but with the two of us fighting together, we might not necessarily lose.”

Kangxi was ecstatic; “Wonderful, wonderful!” he called out; but immediately realized that this plan would be difficult to execute. He shook his head and sighed, “The Emperor fights his senior minister, that doesn’t make any sense.”

“It would be better if you are not the Emperor,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Kangxi nodded; for an instant he was envious of this little eunuch Wei Xiaobao, who was able to do anything he liked. Although he was in the Imperial Palace, he was still free and unrestrained. He also recalled Oboi’s furrowed brows and blazing eyes just now, his aggressive bearing as he strode toward him, and could not stop his heart from thumping fast. He thought, “This man was so rude to me, whoever he wanted to kill, he would simply kill, without giving me any consideration at all. Who is the real emperor? Is it he, or I? But all Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace are under his command, the Eight Banners troops’ movement is also under his control. If I issue an imperial decree ordering his execution, he might raise an upheaval and perhaps he would kill me first. I must replace the Imperial Bodyguard Chief first, and then take away his military leadership; next I must remove him from his Executive Minister position, and lastly push him out of the Wu Men [Meridian Gate], and behead him publicly; only then will I vent the hatred in my heart.”

But then he had a second thought that this plan was not appropriate, since as soon as he replaced the Imperial Bodyguard Chief, Oboi would immediately know that he was about to deal with him. This man wielded enormous power; if he managed to strike first and gain the upper hand, Kangxi himself would suffer calamity. Thereupon he decided not to make any move for the time being, and waited until he could think of a proper method before making his move.

He did not want to appear clueless in front of Wei Xiaobao, thereupon he said, “Go back to Hai Laogong’s place, practice your martial art well, tomorrow we still have a martial art match over there.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied.

Kangxi added, “Don’t say anything about you seeing me and Oboi.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “There is no one else here, if I want to leave I can just leave, I don’t have to pay respect and kowtow to you.”

Kangxi laughed aloud; he waved his hand and said, “No need, tomorrow we still have an appointment to the death, don’t leave before we meet.”

Although Wei Xiaobao had failed to steal the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, but he discovered that the person he had martial art match with every day was unexpectedly the Emperor, so he was extremely excited. Fortunately Hai Laogong was blind, so he was unable to see anything different on Wei Xiaobao’s expression; yet he felt that Wei Xiaobao was especially talkative that day, only he did not know what matter had made him very cheerful, so he tried to probe him with several questions, but Wei Xiaobao was alert, he did not slip even half a word.

The next day Wei Xiaobao went to have a martial art match with Kangxi. He had every intention to fight just like he always did; however, since he was aware the opponent was the Emperor, although while he managed to give a tight defense, his offense was involuntary weak and powerless. Kangxi understood his kindly feelings, so he also reduce his power in his offense, thinking that since the opponent was damped by his own conscience, if he launched an all out attack, the victory he earned would be an unfair one. They only fought for a short moment and Wei Xiaobao had already lost two rounds.

Kangxi sighed and said, “Xiao Guizi, why did you go to my study room yesterday?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wen Youdao had a fever yesterday, and could not get up. His brother asked me to help him clean up and tidying the Upper Study Room. I have never done it before, so I was a bit slow; I did not expect to meet you.” He spoke those words seriously, not only his face did not change, he himself was also convinced that that was what actually happened.

Kangxi said, “After you find out that I am the Emperor, we cannot have any real fight anymore.” There was disappointment in his voice.

“I also felt that I don’t have any strength to fight today,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Suddenly Kangxi remembered something, he said, “I know what to do. Since we cannot fight anymore, I can watch you fight with other people. At least that will satisfy my craving. Come, let us change our clothes, we’ll go to the clothes warehouse.”

“What kind of place is the clothes warehouse?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Is it the place where you store the fabric?”

Kangxi laughed, “No,” he said, “The clothes warehouse is where the warriors train martial art and wrestling.”

Clapping his hands, Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s wonderful!”

Kangxi changed his clothes, Wei Xiaobao followed behind him. When he finished changing his long gown, accompanied by sixteen court eunuchs, the ones in front shouting his arrival, the ones in rear escorting him, he went to the clothes warehouse to see the warriors wrestling. His expression was stately, he no longer chit-chatted with Wei Xiaobao.

Seeing the arrival of the Emperor, none of the warriors did not strive to excel the others. Kangxi watched for a while, then he called a big and fat warrior over and said, “I have a little eunuch here, he had learned a bit of wrestling. I want you to teach him some tricks.” Turning his head to Wei Xiaobao he said, “I want you to learn from him.” As he said this he signaled him with his left eye. The two of them had seen that although this warrior was big and tall, he was quite clumsy, it looked like he was not Wei Xiaobao’s match.

The two of them went down the arena and wrestled several rounds. Wei Xiaobao launched the ‘push the boat with the current’ move, intending to push the warrior away. Unexpectedly, the warrior’s body was too heavy, whatever he did, he simply could not push him away. The warriors’ chief turned around and winked several times. The big fat warrior understood, he pretended to stumble and fell down on the floor, and did not crawl back up for quite some time.

The crowd of warriors and eunuchs broke in loud cheers. Kangxi was very happy, he ordered a nearby eunuch to reward Wei Xiaobao with a silver ingot. Kangxi thought, “Xiao Guizi’s martial art skill is inferior to mine, if he can push this fat fellow down, so can I.” His heart was unbearably itching to give it a try, but he was the Lord of Ten-thousand Years, and must not go down the arena to fight. He sighed and said to the nearby eunuch, “Choose thirty little eunuchs, around fourteen, fifteen years of age, tell them to come over here to train every day. Whoever makes the fastest progress like Xiao Guizi here, will receive a reward.” With a smile on his face the eunuch complied, thinking that the Emperor still had his childish nature, and wanted to have some new toys to play with.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his room. Hai Laogong asked him the result of his martial art match with Xiao Xuanzi today. Wei Xiaobao narrated the fight dramatically, as if it was a great war, with both sides involved in an extraordinarily intense battle. But under Hai Laogong’s interrogation, he soon revealed some flaws in the story. With a straight face Hai Laogong asked, “What happened to Xiao Xuanzi? Is he ill today?”

“He isn’t,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But he is not in a good spirit.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong said, “Tell me everything, from beginning to end, every move and every style.” Wei Xiaobao knew he could not conceal anything from him; having no other choice, he gave him a truthful account of what actually happened.

Hai Laogong raised his head and slowly said, “With this move you clearly can pull his head to the left, but you wrapped your arms around his body instead, to such an extent that you lost. It’s not that you cannot do it, but rather, you were deliberately yielding to him; why is that?”

“I was not deliberately yielding to him,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “It’s just that he did not hit me too hard, so I was also being lenient to him. He and I have become good friends, naturally we both did not use too much force.” Thinking that he had become a good friend of the Emperor, he could not help but was feeling very proud of himself.

“You and he have become good friends?” Hai Laogong said, “Humph, it’s not that you were being lenient to him, but you did not dare to knock him. Finally … finally you know?”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart skipped a beat, with a trembling voice he said, “Know … know what?”

Hai Laogong said, “Did he tell you himself, or did you guess?”

“What are you talking about?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t understand.”

Hai Laogong sternly said, “Just tell me truthfully! (Cough, cough … Cough, cough …) How did you know Xiao Xuanzi’s identity?” He reached out and grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s left wrist.

Immediately Wei Xiaobao felt severe pain enter his bone marrow, with the bones of his hand cracking, as if it was about to snap. “I surrender, I surrender!” he called out.

“How did you know?” Hai Laogong asked, his grip was getting tighter instead.

“Hey, hey, you … you … don’t you understand the rule?” Wei Xiaobao cried out, “I already shouted ‘surrender’ and you still haven’t let go?”

“I am asking you, you’d better answer me nicely,” Hai Laogong said.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “If you knew long ago who Xiao Xuanzi really is, I will talk reason with you. Otherwise, even if you pinch me to death, I will not tell you.”

“What’s so strange about it?” Hai Laogong said, “Xiao Xuanzi is His Majesty; when I started teaching you the ‘big grappling technique’, I was already aware of it.” While saying that he let Wei Xiaobao go.

“Turns out you already knew,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “I had a hard time hiding it from you. In that case there is no harm in me telling you.” Thereupon he narrated how he met Kangxi and Oboi by accident in the Upper Study Room the previous day, he also talked about how he knock down a big fat warrior at the clothes warehouse today; he spoke with his eyebrows dancing around. Hai Laogong was listening attentively, he constantly interrupted the story with questions.

Finished telling the story, Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty ordered me not to say anything to you, if you reveal this secret, our two heads will roll.”

Hai Laogong coldly said, “His Majesty is your good friend, he won’t kill you, he’ll kill me.”

Immensely proud of himself, Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s good that you know.”

Hai Laogong was deep in thought for half a day, then he said, “His Majesty wants thirty little eunuchs to train martial art together, what’s his intention? Most probably his hands are itching, fighting with you did not satisfy his craving, so he is looking for some little eunuchs to receive his beatings.” Standing up, he walked in circle around the room for ten times, he then said, “Xiao Guizi, do you want to flatter the Emperor?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “He is my good friend; making a friend happy is also a principle of being friends.”

Hai Laogong sternly said, “I have something to tell you, I want you to remember it well. From now on, whenever the Emperor says you are his friend or what have you, you must never accept it. Who do you think you are, that you can be the Emperor’s friend? Today he is only a child, and he said that in a cheerful mood; how can you take it seriously? If you keep speaking nonsense, just be careful with the head above your neck.”

Actually, Wei Xiaobao also realized that this kind of matter should not be spoken thoughtlessly or randomly; as soon as he was reminded by Hai Laogong with such hasty words and stern countenance, he stuck out his tongue and said, “Later I won’t say it even if my head is chopped. It’s just that after the head rolls to the ground, whether the mouth can still speak or not, perhaps we need to pay particular attention.”

“Humph,” Hai Laogong snorted, “Do you want to learn high quality martial art or not?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “If you want to teach me high quality martial art, that’s truly what I’ve been looking for. Gong-gong, you have such a good martial art skill, but you did not take a single disciple to pass it on, isn’t that a pity?”

Hai Laogong said, “There are too many sinister and deceitful people in the world, while those who are honest, considerate and sincere are a few. If I took a bad disciple and let him conspire against his Shifu, why bother?”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was stirred, he mused, “I made his eyes blind, I wonder if he had a bit of suspicion in his heart? This is a matter of life and death, I simply must investigate it clearly.” But looking at Hai Laogong’s wooden face, he could not see any trace of anger; thereupon he said, “That’s right, one who is trustworthy and loyal to you, is not easy to find. I am afraid in this whole wide world there is only Xiao Guizi one person. Gong-gong, why do you think I went to the Upper Study Room? I brave the danger, risking my head, to steal that ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ for you. It’s just that in His Majesty’s study room the books number in thousands and ten thousands, and I don’t know too many characters …”

“Um,” Hai Laogong interrupted, “You don’t know too many characters!”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart jumped. “Aiyo, not good!” he cried out inwardly, “I don’t know if Xiao Guizi knew many characters or not, if he knew a lot of characters, what I said might give me away.” He said hastily, “I looked everywhere, but did not find that ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. But don’t worry, later I can go to the Upper Study Room often, I will then be able to snatch this book like leading away a got in passing[2], or plucking the peach away while the leaves are falling.”

“You haven’t forgotten,” Hai Laogong said, “That’s good.”

“How can I forget?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Gong-gong’s kind treatment to me need not be mentioned. If I cannot think of something to repay you, in my entire life, I would have become a man in vain.”

“Hmm,” Hai Laogong mumbled, “If I cannot think of something to repay you, in my entire life, I would have become a man in vain.” These words were said in icy cold tone. Listening to this, Wei Xiaobao could not restrain the hair on his back from rising up. But when he stole a glance toward Hai Laogong’s face, he could not read the slightest bit of clue of what he was thinking.

“The old turtle is very formidable,” Wei Xiaobao thought, “He knew early on that Xiao Xuanzi is the Emperor, but never revealed it the least bit. I must be very careful; if he knew that I caused his blindness, if I, Wei Xiaobao, can keep my own eyes, then surely the Heavens do not have eyes.”

The two of them faced each other silently. Half-step by half-step Wei Xiaobao crept toward the door. As soon as he saw Hai Laogong’s face show ill-expression, he would bolt out the door and escape from the Palace, this time he would never come back. But he only heard Hai Laogong said, “Later on you must not use the ‘big grappling technique’ against His Majesty. If the training of this kind of martial art continued, it would become a tendon-tearing, bone-snapping technique, it could dislocate joints and break people’s muscles and bones; how can it be used against the Emperor?”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Hai Laogong continued, “Starting today, I am going to teach you different skill, it is called the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’.”

“The name is so strange,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have heard the ‘great compassion great sorrow, helping the distress, Guanshiyin Pusa’ [Goddess of Mercy, Avalokitesvara].”

“Have you seen the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’?” Hai Laogong asked.

“The ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Yes, I have. Guanyin Pusa has so many hands. Each hand is holding different object, there is water bottle, there is a twig, and then a basket, a bell, it’s very interesting.”

“Did you see it in the temple at Yangzhou?” Hai Laogong asked.

“The temple at Yangzhou?” Wei Xiaobao said. This time his shock was really not a small matter. Like an arrow he darted toward the door, and was about to run outside.

Hai Laogong said, “In all the world, the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’ can only be found in the temple at Yangzhou. If you have never been to the temple at Yangzhou, how can you see the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’?”

Wei Xiaobao silently let out a deep breath, thinking, “Turns out only the temple at Yangzhou has the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’; you scared the piss out of me.” Hastily he said, “How can I go to Yangzhou? What kind of place is Yangzhou? Whatever the ‘Thousand-hand Guanyin’ is, I only heard it from others, I have never seen it. I was thinking of blowing my horn in front of you, Senior, bragging my knowledge, who would have thought you are experienced and knowledgeable, and was able to see through my big talk.”

Hai Laogong sighed and said, “To expose a little smart-aleck’s[3] big talk like yours is really not easy.”

“It’s easy, it’s easy,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If I say a sentence of lie, you, Senior, will expose it in less than an hour.”

“Mmm,” Hai Laogong mumbled, “Are you cold?” he asked, “Why don’t you wear more clothes?”

“I am not cold,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Then how come your voice is a bit trembling?” Hai Laogong asked.

“There was a cold draft just a moment ago,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But now it’s all right.”

“The wind is strong by the door,” Hai Laogong said, “Don’t stand at the entrance.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied, and walked several steps inside, but all along he did not dare to come close to Hai Laogong.

Hai Laogong said, “The ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ is a Buddhist martial art, when used in a fight, it can control the opponent, but will not kill or harm people; this is the most benevolent martial art in the world.”

“This style of martial art will not kill or harm people,” Wei Xiaobao said, “To be used in a fight against the Emperor, nothing is better than this.”

“But this martial art is very difficult to learn,” Hai Laogong said, “There are many outstanding styles, it won’t be easy to memorize it thoroughly.”

“Since there are many outstanding styles,” Wei Xiaobao argued, “It doesn’t matter if I cannot remember all; even if I have forgotten most, the remaining ones will still be not a few.”

“Humph, lazy kid,” Hai Laogong said, “You haven’t even started, yet you are already nurturing the idea of laziness. In all your life, you can forget of ever mastering any excellent martial art skill.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “If I want to learn such a formidable martial art like you, Senior, have, in all my life naturally I will be like an old cat smelling a hanging salted fish, smells good, smells good[4].” While in his heart he said, “Even if I train so that my martial art skill is exactly the same as yours, in the end your eyes were still blinded by other people, and you old turtle are very happy about it?”

“Come over here,” Hai Laogong said.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied, and took several steps forward, but he stopped several feet[5] away from Hai Laogong.

“Are you afraid I am going to eat you?” Hai Laogong said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “My flesh is sour, it does not taste good.”

Hai Laogong raised his left hand, suddenly he sent out a palm strike. Wei Xiaobao was shocked, he wanted to evade to the right, but suddenly, ‘whack, whack!’ his back was slapped twice, immediately he knelt down and was unable to move. He frantically thought, “This is it, he … he is going to take my life away.”

Hai Laogong said, “This is the first move of the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’, it’s called ‘South Sea Worships Buddha’. The two acupoints on your back are being sealed. But sealing acupoint is a very difficult technique to learn, plus you have to have good internal strength foundation. When fighting against His Majesty, you can’t possibly seal his acupoint for real and force him to kneel down in front of you. Just remember the technique, and go through the motion, performing the style, that should be enough.” As he said that, he reached down on Wei Xiaobao’s back and pressed on the two acupoints.

Immediately Wei Xiaobao’s limbs were able to move again. Calming his heart, he slowly stood up, while thinking, “Turns out the old turtle is teaching me martial art. He scared the wits out of me, I wonder if I will ever get it back.”

That day Hai Laogong taught him three moves, he said, “The first day is especially hard. Later on if you are diligent, you can learn many more moves.”

The next day Wei Xiaobao did not go gambling, shortly before noon he went to the small room where he usually have martial art match, and waited for Kangxi there. Knowing that the cakes, pastries and light snacks were supposed to be for the Emperor, he did not dare to pick up anything anymore. But after waiting for more than an hour, Kangxi still did not show up. “That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “Since fighting with me has lost its flavor, he does not want to play anymore.” Thereupon he went to the Upper Study Room.

The imperial bodyguard on duty outside the study room had seen Kangxi brought Wei Xiaobao to the clothes warehouse the previous day, he was familiar with Wei Xiaobao’s appearance, knowing that he was the little eunuch whom the Emperor favored, and thus he did not stop him.

Entering the study room, Wei Xiaobao saw Kangxi was kicking a leather stool. He kicked again and again, with anger across his face, while repeatedly shouted, “Kick you to death, kick you to death!”

“Is he practicing a kicking skill?” Wei Xiaobao wondered in his heart. Not daring to interfere, he stood quietly on the side with hands hanging down.

After kicking for a while, Kangxi raised his head and saw Wei Xiaobao; with smile on his face he said, “I felt stifled, come play with me.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Hai Laogong taught me new martial art technique, called the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’, it is fiercer than the one he previously taught me, the ‘big grappling technique’. He said when I have mastered it, you won’t be my match for sure.”

“What kind of martial art is that?” Kangxi asked, “Show it to me.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am going to attack you!” Both of his palms flew up, ‘South Sea Worships Buddha’, ‘Gold and Jade Roof Tiles’, ‘Breath of Life’ altogether three moves were performed, fast and nimble, toward Kangxi’s back, shoulder, left side of his torso, right leg, and his throat, five points, which Wei Xiaobao lightly pat with his fingers. The changes of ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ were quite peculiar, it was entirely different from the ‘big grappling technique’. Kangxi was caught off-guard and was not able to dodge a single move. Wei Xiaobao was using a very light force, so naturally Kangxi did not feel any pain. Actually, with Wei Xiaobao not having any internal energy, his physical strength was also very weak, even if they fight seriously, several hits would not bring any harm. However, with one attack he successfully hit five times; it had never happened before.

“Ah!” Kangxi cried out in astonishment, “This martial art is very amazing. Come again tomorrow, I am going to ask Shifu to teach me an excellent martial art as well. We’ll have another match.”

“Excellent, excellent!” Wei Xiaobao said.

Returning to his residence, he recounted what Kangxi had said. Hai Laogong said, “I wonder what kind of martial art will his Shifu teach him. Today you are going to learn several more moves from the ‘Thousand-Leaf Hand’.”

That day Wei Xiaobao learned six moves, namely ‘Watching Reflection in the Mirror’, ‘Catching the Moon in the Water’, ‘Floating Clouds Coming and Going’, ‘Water Bubble Vanishing and Reappearing’, ‘A Very Clear Dream’, ‘Emptiness After Realization’. These six moves were all very mysterious; they seemed to be hidden, yet in plain sight, the changes were unpredictable, without clear pattern, many fake attacks, a few real ones. Hai Laogong only wanted Wei Xiaobao to memorize the motion, without explaining the subtlety of the style, so much so that he did not even verify whether the execution of the style was proper, or the position of the move was perfect. First, Hai Laogong could not see, second, he hardly paid any attention.

Seeing how Hai Laogong was so casual in teaching him, Wei Xiaobao was secretly delighted. He mused, “You teach me carelessly, I also learn sloppily; the two of us can be considered going through this muddle-headedly together. If you want to take it seriously, laozi does not have idle time to accompany you playing.”

The next day Wei Xiaobao went to the Upper Study Room, and saw there were four guards, which he had not seen before, standing outside the door. While he was hesitating, one of the guards said with a smile, “Are you Gui Gong-gong? His Majesty ordered you to come in immediately.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “What Gui Gong-gong?” he mused, but then understood immediately, “Laozi is Gui Gong-gong! This imperial bodyguard knows I am the Emperor’s trusted aide, so he is particularly polite to me.” Thereupon he laughed and nodded his head, saying, “Fortunate meeting, fortunate meeting. May I ask the surnames of the four of you?” The four imperial guards told him their surnames and given names. Wei Xiaobao exchanged some pleasantries with them.

The guard surnamed Zhang laughed and said, “You’d better go in quickly, His Majesty has been asking about you several times.” Wei Xiaobao walked in.

Kangxi sprang up from the chair and laughed, “Your three moves yesterday, my Shifu has taught me how to counter them. Let us try it.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Since your Shifu said you are going to counter it, naturally you will counter it; there is no need to try.”

“We must try it!” Kangxi said, “You go quietly to our martial art match hall first, don’t let anybody know, I will come shortly.” Wei Xiaobao complied, and went to the small room. Kangxi had just learned a new set of skill, he was impatient to test it out, therefore, he arrived shortly afterwards.

The two of them fought immediately. Kangxi did indeed use ingenious technique, he managed to neutralize the three moves Wei Xiaobao launched the previous day, but still, Wei Xiaobao managed to land a palm strike on the back of his shoulder.

Seeing the brilliant moves Kangxi was displaying, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was also full of admiration; he asked, “This set of technique you are using, what is it called?”

Kangxi replied, “This is the ‘Ba Gua[6] Roaming Dragon Palm’. My Shifu said, your ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ has too many styles, and is very troublesome to memorize. Our ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’ only has eight times eight, sixty-four styles, but changes repeatedly, so when used to the greatest extent, it may match your ‘Thousand-leaf Hand’.”

“Which one is superior?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I also asked the same thing,” Kangxi said, “Shifu said that these two are equally excellent palm techniques, so it’s hard to say which one is superior. Whoever has profound power, and able to use it ingeniously, will win.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Yesterday I learned six more moves. You may try it.”

Right away he launched the six moves he learned yesterday. Although the second and third moves were completely forgotten, and the fifth move was executed incorrectly, Kangxi was still hit seven, eight times. Kangxi nodded and said, “These six moves of yours are amazing, I must learn how to counter them.”

Wei Xiaobao returned to his residence and told Hai Laogong how Kangxi had learned the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’. Hai Laogong nodded his head and said, “As a matter of fact, our Shaolin Pai’s ‘Thousand-Leaf Hand’, only Wudang Pai’s ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’ can be its match. His Shifu was not wrong. The palm techniques of our two Sects have their respective advantage; whoever master it better will be the more formidable one.”

“He is the Emperor,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can I surpass him? Of course I’ll have to let him learn a good deal better.” He was unwilling to assiduously train martial art, and thus had arranged a good excuse for his falling behind.

Hai Laogong said, “If you are too disappointing, His Majesty won’t have any interest to spar with you.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There is a saying: brilliant teacher will produce superior student, there are no poor soldiers under a capable general. You are a brilliant teacher, and also a capable general; the person you teach cannot be too disappointing. You are the Old Wang’an, releasing a hundred and twenty kind-hearted men!” [I am not sure about this, can’t find any reference.]

Hai Laogong shook his head, he said, “Don’t boast too much, the dishes on the table are getting cold, eat the bowl of soup first!”

“Let me serve you, Senior, the soup,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“I don’t eat the soup,” Hai Laogong said, “Each time I eat, I am coughing.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said. He took the soup by himself and mused, “I, the Senior, ate the soup and am not coughing.”

For the next several months, Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao learned their styles and had martial art contest. The two of them did not have any real fight, neither one of them exerted their full potential and strived with all their hearts to score victory, unavoidably the delight in fighting with everything they had had diminished greatly. The styles they were learning were getting more and more complicated, as were the techniques to counter them, and the variations within the styles. However, the match had turned into a cultured contest, just like a game of chess, not resembling any fight at all. Kangxi knew perfectly well that Wei Xiaobao would not dare to kick his butt fiercely, nor would he be comfortable to deliver a heavy blow on his head.

Wei Xiaobao only learned martial art to keep the Emperor company, he himself had no interest at all. He would learn new moves, and forget the previous ones. It was obvious that Kangxi’s Shifu was also rather negligent in teaching him. The two of them made an extremely slow progress, their interest in having a match was also greatly reduced. Later on, several days would pass before Kangxi would exchange a move with Wei Xiaobao.

During this time, other than having martial art match with Wei Xiaobao, Kangxi often took Wei Xiaobao to the study room to accompany him studying. The imperial bodyguards and the court eunuchs in the Palace all knew that the little eunuch from the Catering Department, Xiao Guizi, was now the Emperor’s most favorite person. When they saw him, nobody dared to call his name ‘Xiao Guizi’ straight out, they always addressed him as Gui Gong-gong this and Gui Gong-gong that, and were very respectful and affectionate towards him.

Wei Xiaobao still wanted to win Hai Laogong’s favor, each time he went to the Upper Study Room, he was always looking for the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ for him, but after looking around everywhere, he was still unable to find it.

One particular day, after having a martial art match with Wei Xiaobao, with a serious expression Kangxi said in low voice, “Xiao Guizi, tomorrow we have a very important thing to do, come a bit earlier to the study room and wait for me.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied. He knew the Emperor did not like to talk too much, if he did not say what important thing was, he must not ask too much questions.

The next day he arrived at the study room early and waited. Kangxi said in low voice, “I want you to do something for me, do you have the courage?”

“You want me to do something, what is there for me to be afraid of?” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“This is a matter of utmost importance,” Kangxi said, “If not handled properly, you and I will have our lives to worry.”

Wei Xiaobao was rather alarmed, he said, “At most it is my life we are talking about; you are the Emperor, who dares to harm you? What’s more, with you watching over me, whatever I say will not put my life in jeopardy.” He thought that he must state it up front, that if I, Wei Xiaobao, has my life in jeopardy, you as the Emperor must be responsible, you cannot ignore me.

Kangxi said, “This Oboi is harsh and unreasonable, he is a rude bully, his heart has different scheme. Today we are going to deal with him, do you dare?”

Wei Xiaobao had lived in the Palace for quite a long time. Other than practicing martial art and accompanying Kangxi, he had very little time to enjoy himself. For the last several months Hai Laogong forbade him to gamble with the Wen brothers and the others, only occasionally did he manage to steal a game or two. Besides, his martial art match against Kangxi was getting more and more boring. While he was feeling stifled, hearing that they were going to deal with Oboi, he could not help but was delighted.

“Wonderful, wonderful!” he said, “I told earlier that the two of us join hands should take him. Even if he is the number one warrior of Manchuria, you and I have trained so much that our skill is not too bad, definitely we are not afraid of him.”

Kangxi shook his head, “I am the Emperor,” he said, “I can’t fight with him personally. This Oboi is holding two consecutive jobs, he is a minister, but also the commander of the internal imperial bodyguards. All the imperial bodyguards in the Palace are his men. If he knew I am going to arrest him, most likely he would revolt. If all the imperial bodyguards join the action, you and I won’t be able to protect our lives, even the Emperor’s Grandmother and Empress Dowager may run into misfortune. Thus, this matter is really dangerous.”

Striking his chest with his hand Wei Xiaobao said, “In that case I am going to wait for him outside the Palace, I’ll catch him off-guard, and stab him dead with a dagger. If the stab did not kill him, he wouldn’t know it was your idea.”

“This man’s martial art skill is superb,” Kangxi said, “Plus you are still little, you are not his match. Moreover, outside the Palace gate his bodyguards are numerous, you will have difficulty just to be near him. Even if you succeed in assassinating him, I am afraid you will also be killed by his bodyguards. I have another idea.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Kangxi continued, “Let’s wait until he come over here to present his memorial, I will arrange several little eunuchs in advance to wait in here. When you see the teacup in my hand falls down, pounce on him and twist his hands behind his back. More than ten little eunuchs will then attack together, pulling his hands and legs, stopping him from using his martial art. If that is still not enough, I will have to come forward and help.”

“This is a wonderful idea,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Do you have a knife? We must not mess up this matter; if we fail to arrest him, I will simply kill him with the knife.”

At first, after killing Xiao Guizi, he always kept a dagger in his boot; later on he found out that Xiao Xuanzi was the Emperor. During the exchange of palm strikes, oftentimes he had to jump and dodge, he was afraid the dagger would fall from his boot. Other than imperial bodyguards on duty, if anybody else was found carrying any blade, the crime was punishable by beheading; therefore, he did not dare to carry his dagger anymore.

Kangxi nodded, he pulled his desk drawer and took out a couple of golden-handled daggers. He gave one to Wei Xiaobao, and inserted the other one into his own boot. Wei Xiaobao also hid the dagger into his boot. He felt his blood surged, his body grew hot and his breathing quickened. “Good fellow,” he said, “We’ll deal with him!”

Kangxi said, “Go get twelve little eunuchs here.” Wei Xiaobao complied and went out to get the eunuchs.

These little eunuchs had been practicing tumbling and wrestling at the clothes warehouse for the last several months. Although they did not know any martial art, their skill in pulling hands and holding onto legs was not too bad. Kangxi said to the twelve little eunuchs, “You all have trained for several months, I don’t know whether you are making progress or not. In a moment a senior minister will come in. This man is our dynasty’s expert in tumbling and wrestling. I will let him testing your skill. As soon as you see me throwing down the teacup, attack him together. Catch him unaware with twelve against one. If you can hold him down and render him immovable, I will reward you heavily.” After saying that, he pulled the drawer and drew out twelve yuanbao, worth fifty taels each. He said, “If you win, each one will receive one yuanbao, but if you lose, twelve heads will roll together. This bunch of lazy, useless fellows, why would I want to spare?” The last two sentences were said with stern voice and expression.

The twelve little eunuchs knelt down together and said, “Your servants will do our best to handle this matter for Your Majesty.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Handle what matter? I am only testing you, I want to see which one is diligent, which one is lazy.”

Wei Xiaobao secretly admired him, “He did not reveal anything in front of the little eunuchs, to guard against these little demons lose their patience and reveal the secret plan in Oboi’s presence.”

After the little eunuchs withdrew, Kangxi picked up a book from the desk and started to read. Wei Xiaobao could hear him reciting in low voice; unexpectedly his voice did not tremble, his hands did not shake. Confronted with an important event, he was as calm as ever; while Wei Xiaobao felt his hands were clammy, and his body was hot. He cursed himself secretly, “Wei Xiaobao, you are a son of a b1tch, this time you prove yourself to be inferior to Xiao Xuanzi. Your martial art skill is not as good as his, your mental power is also inferior to him.” But then he thought, “He is the Emperor, naturally his courage is greater than mine. Nothing so special about it. If I were the Emperor, naturally I will surpass him.” yet in the deepest part of his heart he knew it was hard to justify what he had just told himself.

A good half a day later, there was sound of boots outside the door, an imperial bodyguard announced, “Ao Shaobao desires to have an audience with the Emperor, wishing His Majesty ten thousand good fortune and peace like gold.”

“Ao Shaobao, come in!” Kangxi said. Oboi raised the curtain and walked in. He knelt down and kowtowed.

Kangxi said with a laugh, ” Ao Shaobao, you are just in time. I have here more than ten little eunuchs who have practiced wrestling. I heard that you are our Manchuria’s warrior with number one martial art skill. How about you give directions to them for several stances?”

With a smile Oboi said, “Your Majesty has the desire, the Minister will serve with my ability.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Xiao Guizi, tell the imperial bodyguards outside to go take a break. They do not need to come back unless summoned.” As he said that, he laughed toward Oboi and made a face. Oboi laughed aloud. Wei Xiaobao went out to do the bidding.

In a low voice Kangxi said, “Ao Shaobao, you advised me not to read Han people’s books, I think you are very right. We’d better spend our time in the study room wrestling and having fun, but don’t let other people hear about it. If the Empress Dowager finds out, she will force me to study.”

Oboi was delighted. “That’s right, that’s right, that’s right!” he repeatedly said, “Your Majesty’s idea is very brilliant. Those Han people books, what’s the use of reading them?”

Wei Xiaobao returned and said, “The imperial bodyguards thank Your Majesty for your kindness, they all have withdrawn.”

“Good,” Kang laughed, “Let us play. Little eunuchs, twelve of you form six pairs, spar with each other.”

The twelve little eunuchs rolled their sleeves and tightened their belts, they split into six pairs and attacked each other. Oboi watched with smile on his face; seeing these little eunuchs’ skill was only so-so, he shook his head and laughed. Kangxi picked up the teacup and drank a mouthful. He said with a laugh, “Ao Shaobao, do you think these children’s skill is useable?”

Oboi laughed and said, “To put up a show, they are passable!”

Kangxi laughed, “Compared to you, Ao Shaobao, naturally they are inadequate!” he said. He leaned sideways, his hand loosened, ‘crash!’ the teacup fell to the floor. “Aiyo!” he cried out.

Oboi was startled, he said, “Your Majesty …” the two words had just come out of his mouth, behind him the twelve little eunuchs pounced at him at the same time, pulling his hands and climbing onto his arms, wrapping their arms around his waist and holding on to his legs, attacking him from all sides.

Kangxi laughed aloud and said, ” Ao Shaobao, pay attention!”

Oboi only knew the young Emperor was inciting the little eunuchs to test his martial art skill; with a smile he flung his arms, four little eunuchs fell down to the ground. He still did not dare to use too much force, for fear that he might injure the little eunuchs. His left leg lightly swept, two more little eunuchs were swept down. He roared in laughter. The remaining little eunuchs remembered the Emperor’s words, ‘if you lose, twelve heads will roll together’; with everything they had they firmly hold on to Oboi’s waist and legs.

Wei Xiaobao had already slipped behind him, aiming for the ‘sun acupoint’ on Oboi’s temple, he sent out a ferocious punch. Oboi only felt a burst of dizziness in his brain; he was slightly angered, “These little eunuchs are very rude,” he thought. With a swift sweep of his left arm he threw three little eunuchs away. But when he turned around, his chest was hit by Wei Xiaobao’s fist. Although Wei Xiaobao’s two sneak attacks could be considered very quick, his strength was lacking, so that although Oboi was hit on vital points, he did not suffer any serious harm.

Seeing the one launching the sneak attack was unexpectedly the little eunuch close to the Emperor, he had a vague feeling that things were worse than he thought, yet in the end he refused to believe that the Emperor was using these children to apprehend him. Stretching out his left palm, he pressed down on Wei Xiaobao’s left shoulder. Wei Xiaobao used the move ‘Emptiness After Realization’, his left palm feigned two attacks in front of Oboi. As Oboi ducked, ‘bang!’ the pit of his stomach was squarely kicked. “Ah!” but it was Wei Xiaobao who cried out. What happened was that when his kick landed on Oboi’s chest, he felt as if he was kicking a brick wall, he felt severe pain on his own leg instead.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao repeatedly using killer stances against him, Oboi was startled and angered. In the heat of the battle, he did not have time to think the Emperor’s real intention; he only thought that as soon as he was able to extricate himself from the little eunuchs’ entanglement, he would deal with Wei Xiaobao first. But the little eunuchs were holding fast to his waist and legs, as soon as he managed to throw several eunuchs, the rest were pouncing at him.

Kangxi clapped his hands and laughed. “Ao Shaobao,” he said, “I am afraid you are going to lose.”

Oboi was about to crush the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head with his fist, hearing Kangxi, he said in his heart, “So you just want to joke with me; how can I lower myself to these little children’s level?” Deflecting his arm slightly and reducing his power, ‘whack!’ his punch landed on Wei Xiaobao’s right shoulder with only one-tenth of his strength. But Oboi’s strength was inexhaustible, it was said that during the battle with the Ming army, with his bare hands he was able to grab Ming’s officers and soldiers and hurled them away randomly, just like a tornado sweeping away everything in its path.

Wei Xiaobao only learned martial art casually for several months, plus he was only a child; although he had a throng of little eunuchs to help him, how could he overcome him? When the punch landed, Wei Xiaobao staggered and tumbled forward. Seizing this opportunity, he sent out his left elbow to strike the small of Oboi’s back.

Oboi laughed and cursed him, “You, this baby, are very crafty!” while lightly pushing Wei Xiaobao’s back with his right hand. Wei Xiaobao hit the ground head first, but when he stood up, there was a dagger in his hand. Turning around swiftly, he pounced on Oboi.

Suddenly seeing the shining dagger in Wei Xiaobao’s hand, Oboi was taken by surprise, he stared blankly for a moment then called out, “You … what are you doing?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I use dagger, you use your bare hands, let us fight!”

“Quickly put the knife down!” Oboi barked, “In the presence of His Majesty, must not use any murder weapon.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “You want me to put it down, I’ll put it down.” Stooping down, he inserted the dagger into his boot.

By this time there were still seven, eight little eunuchs holding on firmly onto Oboi. Suddenly Wei Xiaobao dropped down, as if he had lost his footing; his body bumped into Oboi, the dagger went straight up, he wanted to stab Oboi’s belly. Unexpectedly Oboi had a quick reaction in facing danger; swiftly he shrank backward and the dagger stabbed his thigh. With a loud roar Oboi flung three little eunuchs and seized Wei Xiaobao’s neck.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao and the little eunuchs failed to hold Oboi down, Kangxi knew their situation was dire; circling toward Oboi’s back, he pulled his dagger and stabbed it toward Oboi’s back. Feeling the sting of pain on his back, Oboi quickly contracted the muscle on his back, Kangxi’s stab slipped; it did not hit any vital point. Without too much trouble Oboi flung Wei Xiaobao away, and turned around as swift as a whirlwind; he saw a young man before his eyes, which was precisely the Emperor.

Oboi was stunned; Kangxi jumped two steps back. Oboi let out another roar; at last he understood that the Emperor wanted to take his life. Shaking his fist in the air he pounced on Kangxi. Kangxi sidestepped, Oboi grabbed two little eunuchs and smashed their heads against each other. Two skulls immediately split open. Oboi sent out his left fist straight toward a little eunuch’s chest, followed by a fierce kick with his right leg, sending four little eunuchs crashing onto the wall. Their muscle torn, their bones broken; without even a grunt they all died instantly. Right away he raised his left leg to trample the abdomen of a little eunuch holding on to his right leg, the little eunuch’s stomach burst open and his intestines spilled out. In a split second he had successively killed eight eunuchs. The remaining four little eunuchs were so scared that they stared blankly without knowing what to do.

With dagger in his hand Wei Xiaobao lunged forward. Oboi met him with his left fist. Wei Xiaobao felt a strong gust of wind assaulting his face so that he could not breathe. Brandishing the dagger, he attacked Oboi’s arm. Oboi slightly turned his arm to evade the dagger, immediately he sent another punch and hit Wei Xiaobao on the left shoulder, sending him flying over the desk and landed on the incense burner. Immediately the ashes from the censer flew up to the air.

From the beginning Kangxi was very calm and collected, he used the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’ to fight Oboi, but Kangxi’s power in using this palm technique was rather limited, plus he was fighting Oboi, a valiant military leader who was divinely brave by nature; in all honesty the palm technique did not have too much usefulness. Oboi was hit twice by Kangxi’s palm, but he seemed hardly noticed it. Oboi sent out a left kick toward Kangxi’s right leg. Kangxi staggered and fell forward. Oboi roared like thunder, he shouted, “Let us all die together!” Both fists came down on Kangxi’s head.

Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao had been fighting each other for quite a long time, his ability to adapt to changes in the small room where they spar had been trained that he was able to react fast. Seeing Oboi’s fists came, he dropped down at once and rolled away underneath the desk. With his left leg Oboi kick the desk, while with his right leg he repeatedly kicked on Kangxi’s body. Suddenly a cloud of dust rose upward, a layer of ash covered Oboi’s eyes.

Oboi let out a ‘wah! wah!’ cry, while frantically rubbed his eyes with both hands. His right leg kept kicking forward at lightning speed, for fear that the enemy would seize this opportunity to attack.

What happened was that when Wei Xiaobao saw the urgency of their situation, he grabbed two handfuls of ashes from the incense burner and threw it toward Oboi. The particles of ashes from the incense was very fine, as soon as it made contact with Oboi’s eyes, it quickly dispersed.

Suddenly Oboi felt a stabbing pain on his left arm; it was Wei Xiaobao’s dagger that he threw, it was aimed toward the vital point on the pit of his stomach, but it hit his arm instead.

By this time the table in the study room was overturned and the stools lying on their sides, it was a complete chaos. Wei Xiaobao saw a chair behind Oboi, it was precisely the dragon chair the Emperor used on day-to-day basis. With all his might he picked up the bronze censer using both hands, jumped onto the dragon chair, aimed the censer on the back of Oboi’s head, and smashed it down as hard as he could.

The censer was an object from the Tang dynasty, at least it weighed about thirty catties. Oboi’s eyes were blinded, he could not evade. ‘Bang!’ the top of his head was hit. Oboi’s body swayed and he tumbled down on the ground, fainted. The incense burner was cracked, unexpectedly Oboi’s head remained intact.

Kangxi was ecstatic. “Xiao Guizi,” he called out, “You’ve done it.” He had prepared some cow tendon rope, which he busily took out from the drawer of the overturned desk. Together with Wei Xiaobao he bound Oboi’s hands and feet.

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his whole body was soaked in cold sweat, his limbs trembled, he pulled the rope, but felt that his strength was completely gone. Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao looked at each other, their joy was unspeakable.

Not too long afterwards Oboi came to his senses, he shouted, “I am a loyal minister, I am innocent! This is a conspiracy to harm me, I refuse to accept even to my death!”

“Traitor!” Wei Xiaobao sternly said, “You brought knife to the Upper Study Room, for that crime alone you deserve to die ten thousand times.”

“I did not bring any knife!” Oboi shouted.

Wei Xiaobao also shout harshly, “Aren’t those two knives on your body? One on your back and the other on your arm. You still dare to say you did not bring any knife?” With Wei Xiaobao forcefully pushing his twisted logic, how could Oboi debate him? Much less the top of his head was smashed heavily with the bronze censer, his back and his arm were pierced by the knives; although his injuries were not life-threatening, they were not light either. In a moment of desperation, all he could do was shouting and screaming exasperatedly.

Seeing out of the twelve little eunuchs only four were left alive, Kangxi said, “You have seen it with your own eyes, this Oboi is rebelling against his superior, he is planning on assassinating me.”

The four little eunuchs were still shaken, their faces were ashen. One of them repeatedly agreed, “Yes, yes!” The other three could not even utter a single word.

Kangxi said, “Get out now, proclaim my decree, summon Prince Kang Giyesu and Songgotu to come over here. Do not mention even one word of what has just happened. If there is any rumor leaked out, just watch your heads.” The four little eunuchs complied and went out.

Oboi was still shouting defiantly, “Injustice, injustice! The Emperor is personally trying to kill me, a loyal minister. If the former Emperor found out, he would never spare you!”

Kangxi’s countenance sank, he said, “Think of a way, don’t let him sprout nonsense!”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied. He walked over and stretched out his left hand to pinch Oboi’s nose. Oboi opened his mouth to take a breath, with his right hand Wei Xiaobao tore off the dagger from Oboi’s arm and stabbed randomly into Oboi’s mouth several times. He also grabbed two handfuls of incense ashes from the ground and stuffed it inside Oboi’s mouth. Oboi’s throat created some gurgling noise, he was chocked and was barely able to breathe, how could he say another word?

Wei Xiaobao also pulled the dagger piercing Oboi’s back and stuck both daggers side by side on the desk, while he himself stood guard by Oboi’s side. If he saw the Oboi making the slightest movement, he would immediately pull out the dagger and stab him several times.

Seeing the important matter had reached its conclusion, in his heart Kangxi was very happy. To see Oboi’s impressive build and his mean and ferocious expression with bloodstain all over his face, he could not help but secretly alarmed and scared; he realized now that he had been too reckless, by only relying on he and Xiao Guizi, who had learned martial art for only so long, plus twelve little eunuchs, who had just started training wrestling, he was determined to deal with Oboi. He had never thought that dealing with a genuine warrior, several children would be completely useless; besides, his own martial art skill, as well as Xiao Guizi’s, was nowhere near the expert level. If it was not for Xiao Guizi’s ruse, right now he would have been killed by Oboi. Once Oboi made his move, he would stop at nothing; most likely he would also harm the Emperor’s Grandmother and the Empress Dowager. All the ministers of the dynasty, as well as the imperial bodyguards inside the Palace, were his trusted aides. If Oboi set up another young ruler, no one would dare to inquire about his crime. Thinking to this point, he could not help but shivered.

After waiting for quite some time, Prince Kang and Songgotu who were summoned by the four little eunuchs came in. As soon as they entered the Upper Study Room, they saw dead bodies sprawled all around with bloodstain scattered everywhere; to say that they were mildly shocked was definitely an understatement. They knelt down immediately and kowtowed repeatedly, while proclaimed together, “Wishing Your Majesty ten thousand good fortune and peace like gold.”

Kangxi said, “Oboi committed treason and heresy, he brought a blade into the Palace, he dared to assault me. Fortunately our ancestors protected me; the little eunuch Xiao Guizi, with the help of other eunuchs, strenuously resisted the ominous rebel, and arrested him. On how to deal with the aftermath, I leave it to you to do as you see fit.”

Prince Kang and Songgotu had never gotten along well with Oboi, they had been under Oboi’s oppression for a long time; suddenly seeing a big change in the Palace, they were pleasantly surprised. After paying their respect to the Emperor again, they admitted that they had neglected to take precautions, that they had committed grave offense, that fortunately the Emperor was blessed with flood of good fortune filled the heavens, that the Emperor was cherished by hundreds of deities, such that Oboi’s vicious scheme was thwarted.

Kangxi said, “This matter of assassination attempt, you do not need to mention it to outsiders, to avoid Empress Grandmother and Empress Dowager being startled. If this matter is spread out, the Han officials and the common people will laugh at us. Oboi’s crime is great, even without today’s matter, he deserved to be punished a long time ago.”

Prince Kang and Songgotu kowtowed again, “Yes, yes!” they said. Yet in their hearts they had doubts, “Oboi is divinely brave by nature, he is our Manchu’s number one warrior. If he really wanted to assassinate the Emperor, how could several little eunuchs capture him? There must be something else in this matter.” Luckily the two of them were eager to heavily punish Oboi, so they did not see any reason to inquire deeper into the story. Much less the Emperor had said so, who would dare to question him?
Prince Kang said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Oboi has too many henchmen, we must spread the net and capture them all, to guard against another rebellion. Let Official Songgotu stay here to protect Your Majesty; he must not leave your Holy Self even for half a step. Your servant will relay the decree, all Oboi’s henchmen must be arrested at once. What does Your Majesty think?”

Kangxi nodded. “Very well!” he said. Prince Kang withdrew.

Songgotu looked up and down Xiao Guizi, sizing him up, he said, “Xiao Gong-gong, your meritorious deed in protecting His Majesty today is indeed not small.”

“It was His Majesty’s good fortune,” Xiao Guizi said, “As slaves, what meritorious service can we possibly do?”

Kangxi was very pleased to see Wei Xiaobao did not claim credit for himself at all, and did not mention even a word of the violent battle just now; he thought that if his personal involvement by stabbing Oboi from the back was ever spread outside, as the ruler, he would lost considerable respect. He also mused, “Xiao Guizi’s merit today big beyond compare, it could be said that he had saved my life. It’s a pity that he is an eunuch, no matter how I promote him, he will always be an eunuch. Our ancestor has set up a strict rule that an eunuch must not be involved in politics; apparently I can only reward him generously with money.”

Prince Kang handled the matter very rapidly; he was back in a short time, leading several trusted royalties and senior ministers to pay their respect to the Emperor, reporting that most of Oboi’s party had been arrested, all guilty imperial bodyguards inside the Palace had been sent outside on imperial orders, not even one was left. Then he requested the Emperor to assign another minister to preside over the imperial bodyguards, and to elect another trusted team of personal bodyguards.

Kangxi was greatly delighted, “You have managed it very well!” he said.

The several Princes and civil and military ministers saw the devastation in the Upper Study Room, how Oboi had killed the eight little eunuchs that their skulls disintegrated and their brains scattered, their intestine spilled and their bones broken; no one was not horrified, they all raised up their voices to curse Oboi’s treason and heresy. Immediately the head of the Ministry of Justice personally led Oboi away to be detained. The Princes and Ministers also said many other praise and respectful wishes to the Emperor before taking their leave to discuss among themselves what to do with Oboi’s crime.

Prince Kang Giyesu conveyed Kangxi’s intention by urging them, “His Majesty is benevolent and filial, he does not wish to massacre too many people and alarm the Emperor’s Grandmother and the Empress Dowager; therefore, the matter of Oboi committed treason and heresy does not need to be exposed outside the imperial court. He will only be charged with dominating the government, with being illegally harsh and unreasonable, so we must make a list of detailed charges.” All the princes, dukes and ministers raised their voices to praise the sage’s virtue.

Assassinating the Emperor was not a small matter, without a doubt Oboi would have been put to death by dismemberment[7], along with his entire family, young and old, women and children, as well as the family members of those associated with him, and all his clansmen; no one would be lucky enough to escape with their lives. If this major case was pursued down, the implication would be widespread, at least several thousand people would have to die. Although Kangxi hated Oboi’s dominance, he did not wish to heap random accusation on his head, he was even more unwilling to implicate the innocents.

Kangxi’s days of being personally in-charge of the government was not lacking, however, all government affairs, big and small, were handled by Oboi; all along the court officials were only doing what Oboi directed them to do. Today he had arrested Oboi; he saw that the princes, dukes and ministers’ expression was different all of a sudden, he could see that they were a lot more respectful and submissive to him. It was only this time that Kangxi finally felt the joy of being the ruler. He also took a glance at Wei Xiaobao, and saw that he had withdrawn into a corner, without saying anything. Kangxi thought, “This kid does not talk too much, he is very perceptive.”

After the Ministers had all withdrawn, Songgotu said, “Your Majesty, the Upper Study Room must be cleaned up properly. May I suggest Your Majesty take the trouble of withdrawing to your personal palace [orig. ‘palace to lie down’] to rest?”

Kangxi nodded. Accompanied by Prince Kang and Songgotu he headed toward his personal palace. Wei Xiaobao was unsure if he should follow; while he was hesitating, Kangxi nodded to him and said, “You may come with me.”

Prince Kang and Songgotu took their leave several hundred steps outside the personal palace. Other than imperial wives and concubines, princes, court eunuchs and palace maids, outer ministers must not set their feet into the inner courtyard of the Imperial Palace.

Wei Xiaobao followed Kangxi inside. At first he thought that the Emperor’s personal palace would be filled with gold and jade in glorious splendor, that everything would be inlaid with emerald and white jade, that there would be at least two, three thousand pearls on the wall so that there would not be any need of lantern at night. Who would have thought that as he entered the personal palace, it looked like an ordinary room, only the bedding and pillow cases were made of yellow silk, embroidered with dragon and phoenix, nothing more than that. He was quite disappointed, thinking, “Compared to the rooms in our Yangzhou’s Spring Courtyard, the style here is far too inferior.”

Kangxi drank a bowl of ginseng soup presented by a palace maid; he let out a long sigh and said, “Xiao Guizi, come with me to see the Empress Dowager.” By this time Kangxi had not married yet, his personal palace was not too far away from the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful where the Empress Dowager resided.

When they reached the Empress Dowager’s personal palace, Kangxi went in alone, he told Wei Xiaobao to wait outside. Wei Xiaobao waited for a long time and was bored; he mused, “I learned the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ Hai Laogong taught me, His Majesty learned the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’, but when we fought Oboi today, any ‘Thousand-Leaf Hand’ or ‘Roaming Dragon Palm’ were all useless. It was only because of Little White Dragon Wei Xiaobao’s third-class trick of scattering the incense ash and smashing the censer did we accomplish our mission successfully. There won’t be any more fun in continuing learning those martial art skills. I always pretend to be an eunuch in the imperial palace, kowtowing to Xiao Xuanzi; it’s really boring. Oboi is already arrested, Xiao Xuanzi does not need my help anymore. Tomorrow I’ll slip out of the palace and won’t be coming back.”

While he was contemplating on how to leave the Palace, an eunuch came out and said with a laugh, “Gui Xiongdi, Empress Dowager orders you to come in.”

“His granny,” Wei Xiaobao cursed in his belly, “More kowtow! Why don’t you, hot piece mama Empress Dowager, kowtow to laozi?” But he said respectfully, “Yes!” and followed the eunuch inside.

Passing through two big courtyards, the eunuch stopped outside a door curtain and said, “Reporting to Empress Dowager: Xiao Guizi is here for an audience.” Gently lifted the curtain, he puckered his mouth.

Wei Xiaobao walked in; there was another curtain ahead. This time the curtain was made entirely of strung pearls, it emitted a soft glow. A palace maid lifted up the pearl curtain. Wei Xiaobao went in with bowed head, but he raised his eyelids slightly, and saw a noble looking woman, approximately thirty years of age, was sitting on a chair. Kangxi was standing by her side. Obviously this woman was the Empress Dowager. Immediately he knelt down and kowtowed.

The Empress Dowager smiled and nodded, “Arise!” she said. Waiting for Wei Xiaobao to stand up, she said, “I heard from the Emperor that in the arrest of that rebel minister Oboi today you have rendered a great merit.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Reporting to Empress Dowager, your servant only knows of red-bellied devotion in protecting my master. Whatever His Majesty commanded, your servant would simply follow the imperial order. Your servant is young, he does not understand anything.” He lived in the Palace for only several months, but during the gambling he often heard the eunuchs mentioning the rules and customs of the Palace and imperial court, which he memorized it one by one; he knew masters were most jealous of slaves who claim credit for himself. The bigger merit you render, the least credit you should pretend to claim, then your master would be very pleased with you. Supposing the servant showed a somewhat haughty attitude, the master might bestow a fatal disaster. If the master was irritated and thus loathe the servant, it would not be difficult at all for the servant to lose the favor and the good fortune from the master.

The way he replied had pleased the Empress Dowager very much; she said, “Your age might be young, yet you are sensible, you are better than that Junior Protector [Shao Bao], who was granted the title first class martial artist, Oboi. Child, what do you think we should reward him with?”

Kangxi said, “Empress Dowager, please give your instruction.”

The Empress Dowager muttered, “In the Catering Department, you don’t have any rank, do you? Hai Tianfu, Supervisor Hai is an eunuch of the fifth grade, so I grant you the sixth grade, I promote you to be Eunuch Leader, you may serve as the Emperor’s attendant!”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Hot piece mama’s sixth grade, seven grade, is the same as making me a grade of eunuch, laozi does not want it.” But his face was all smiles as he knelt down and kowtowed, “Thank you for Empress Dowager’s grace, thank you for His Majesty’s grace.”

The Qing Palace’s common practice was to have fourteen Eunuch Managers, eight Eunuch Assistant Managers, a hundred and eighty nine Eunuch Leaders, and unlimited number of ordinary eunuchs. At the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, there were more than a thousand eunuchs, later, the number grew to more than two thousand eunuchs. The highest level of eunuch with managerial duty was fourth grade, the lowest was eighth grade, ordinary eunuchs did not have any rank. Wei Xiaobao was promoted from without any grade to the sixth grade eunuch; within the Palace, it could be considered a very rare honor.

The Empress Dowager nodded and said, “Do your duty well.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao repeatedly declared. He stood up and withdrew by walking backward. When the palace maid raised the pearl curtain, Wei Xiaobao stole a glance toward the Empress Dowager. He saw her complexion to be extremely pale, her eyes were bright, but her eyebrows were creased, as if she was concerned about something, or perhaps she had a load on her mind; he mused, “She is the Empress Dowager, what makes her unhappy? Ah, that’s right, her husband is dead, even if she is the Empress Dowager, with her husband dead, naturally she is not happy.”

Returning to his residence, he recounted everything that happened that day to Hai Laogong. Unexpectedly Hai Laogong did not show the least bit of surprise; he said drily, “I suspected he would make his move within these two days. His Majesty’s patience is much better than the late emperor’s.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly astonished, “Gong-gong,” he asked, “You already know?”

“How can I know?” Hai Laogong said, “I have my suspicion for some time. His Majesty learning wrestling can be considered a child having some fun, but when he wanted thirty little eunuchs to also learn wrestling, what was he trying to do? His Majesty attentively learned the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’, obviously he had some other reason behind it. If these two different paths martial art, the ‘Great Compassion Great Sorrow Thousand-Leaf Hand’ and the ‘Ba Gua Roaming Dragon Palm’ were trained for ten years, eight years to the point of proficiency, with the two of you join hands, there is a chance you could cope with Oboi. But what good is such tactless and impulsive person who learned only for two, three months? Ay, young people are courageous, but do not know the immensity of heaven and earth. Today’s matter was too dangerous.”

Wei Xiaobao leaned over to look at Hai Laogong, his heart was brimming with amazement and respect, “This old turtle’s eyes are blind, but he has foresight in everything.”

“Did His Majesty take you to see the Empress Dowager?” Hai Laogong asked.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, he thought, “You know about it too.”

“What reward did the Empress Dowager bestow to you?” Hai Laogong asked.

“It was nothing,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “She only gives me a sixth grade, promoting me to be Eunuch Leader.”

Hai Laogong chuckled and said, “That’s very good, you are only a grade lower than me. To be promoted from little eunuch to Eunuch Leader, I had to toil for no less than thirteen years.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “One of these days I am going to leave. You have taught me not a few of martial art skill, yet it was me who blinded your eyes. Unavoidably I owe you something, so I have to steal those several sutras for you. I cannot not steal it.”

Hai Laogong said, “You have rendered a great merit today, hereafter it will be easier for you to go to the Upper Study Room …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s right, it will be easier for me to take that ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. Gong-gong, your eyes are greatly inconvenienced, why do you want to have this sutra?”

Hai Laogong gloomily said, “You’re right, I am blind, I cannot read the sutra, you … you can read it for me, you can keep me company for the rest of your life, for … for the rest of your life you can read this ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ for me …” As he said that, he suddenly coughed violently.

Seeing the way he stoop down and cough violently, Wei Xiaobao could not help having pity on him, he mused, “This old … old man is really strange.” Originally he had always referred to Hai Laogong as the ‘old turtle’, but this moment he could not bear to call him ‘old turtle’.

That night Hai Laogong did not stop coughing, so that even in his dream Wei Xiaobao was still hearing his cough.

The next day Wei Xiaobao went to the Upper Study Room to wait upon the Emperor. He noticed that the imperial bodyguards on duty outside the study room were all new. As soon as Kangxi arrived, Prince Kang Giyesu and Songgotu also came in to submit a report, saying that the team of princes, dukes and senior ministers who were handling this case had already investigated and found that Oboi was guilty of thirty charges.

Kangxi was rather taken aback. “Thirty charges?” he said, “That many?”

Prince Kang said, “Oboi has committed grave offenses; actually, he did not stop at these thirty, however, your servants have received Your Majesty’s sacred command, so we managed this investigation leniently.”

“So be it,” Kangxi said, “What are those thirty?”

Prince Kang produced a sheet of white paper and read, “Oboi took unfair advantage of his mater and arrogate power, crime one. He appointed a clique of traitors, crime two. He formed a clique to control politics, crime three. He amassed wealth to support rebellion, crime four. He manipulated statement of confession, crime five. Without authority he promoted people like Marsai, whom the late emperor would not employ, crime six. Without authority he murdered Suksaha and the others, crime seven. Without authority he murdered Sunahai and the others, crime eight. He protected his cronies of the same Banner, by forcefully taking over land, crime nine. He was irreverent to the Holy Mother, crime ten.” He continued reading down one by one, until reaching the thirtieth major crime, which was ‘because other people’s grave was obstructing his own house’s fengshui, he ordered it to be moved’.

Kangxi said, “Turns out Oboi has committed these many evil deeds. How do you propose he should be sentenced?”

Prince Kang replied, “Oboi’s crime is great, his evil is extreme, he should be executed by lingering death, yet the ministers are considering Your Majesty’s sacred desire to show benevolence and mercy, thus we are proposing to depose him and execute him by beheading. Other members of his clique, Ebilun, Bambursan and Asiha[8], should also be beheaded.”

Kangxi pondered over it and said, “Although Oboi’s crime is great, he was an executive minister who has served for many years; he may be exempted from execution. He will be deposed and held in custody without parole, his family properties will be confiscated. As for the other members of his clique, you may do according to your proposal, execute them by beheading.”

(Book note: According to the ‘Draft History of the Qing Dynasty (compiled under Zhao Erxun in 1927 during the Northern Warlords period), Divine Ancestor’s biographic sketch of an emperor’: In his eighth year, Kangxi was already aware of Oboi’s despotic corrupt politics, especially considering his far-reaching power which was difficult to control; and thus he picked Bai Tang’a, a vigorous young imperial bodyguard, to do the pouncing and striking. The day Oboi appeared, he led a group of imperial bodyguards to strike and bind him; hence completely subdued him and took him under control of the inner ministerial circle. In the year 1680 Minister Wang suggested that Oboi be imprisoned and charged with thirty major crimes, and asked that his entire family be executed. The imperial edict said: ‘Oboi rebelled out of ignorance, he deserves to have his entire clan exterminated. Considering his long duration of service and repeated outstanding military merit, he is pardoned from death, but will have his properties confiscated and he is taken into custody.’)

Prince Kang and Songgotu knelt down and kowtowed, “Holiness[9] is benevolent and merciful, even the Ming rulers of old all fall short.”

That day the cabinet ministers appeared before Kangxi; they were busy dealing with Oboi and the members of his clique. The ministers presented to Kangxi in details the power struggle between the Bordered Yellow Banner and the Plain White Banner. Wei Xiaobao was listening, but he did not have any clue what was happening. All he knew was that Oboi was the Banner Commander of the Bordered Yellow Banner, while Suksaha was the Banner Commander of the Plain White Banner. The two banners had been fighting over fertile and beautiful land, just like water against fire. After Suksaha was put to death by Oboi, a lot of wealth, estate and farmlands affiliated with the Plain White Banner were merged into the Bordered Yellow Banner’s property. And now the Plain White Banner ministers beseeched the Emperor to restore everything to the original state.

Kangxi said, “You may reach an agreement among yourselves and report to me afterwards. Bordered Yellow Banner is one of the three upper banners, although Oboi is guilty, I cannot let the entire banner suffer the setback. In everything we must be fair and just.”

The ministers kowtowed and said, “Your Majesty is enlightened sage, all the people of Bordered Yellow Banner have received holy graciousness.”

Kangxi nodded, “You may leave,” he said, “I want Songgotu to remain, I have another instruction for him.”

When everybody else had left, Kangxi said to Songgotu, “After Suksaha was put to death by Oboi, was all his family property seized by Oboi?”

Songgotu replied, “Suksaha’s farmland and estate have not entered into the inner warehouse, but Oboi has personally led his men to search Suksaha’s home; gold, silver, jewels and valuable things had all entered Oboi’s personal pouch.”

“I expect as much,” Kangxi said, “I want you to go to Oboi’s home and take a look, verify his family property, if there is anything that originally belongs to Suksaha, return it to his heir.”

“Your Majesty’s holy graciousness is vast and mighty,” Songgotu said. Seeing that Kangxi did not say anything else, he slowly drew back toward the study room’s door.

Kangxi said, “The Empress Dowager has an order: the Senior likes to pray to Buddha and read sutras, we heard that both the Banner Commanders of Plain White Banner and Bordered Yellow Banner have a copy of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ in their possession …”

As soon as he heard the five words ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, Wei Xiaobao was jolted. He heard Kangxi continue, “These two Buddhist texts are sheathed in silk pouches, the Plain White Banner’s copy in plain white silk, the Bordered Yellow Banner’s copy in yellow silk with red border. The Empress Dowager says the Senior wants to see if these two copies are identical to the Buddhist text in the Palace. When you are going through Oboi’s family property, see if you can find it.”

“Yes, yes,” Songgotu said, “Your servant will see to it.” He knew the Emperor was young, yet he had a strong filial piety to the Empress Dowager. In important matters of the court politics, if the Empress Dowager had something to say, the Emperor would not disobey even a single one of her order. The Empress Dowager’s order is more urgent than the Emperor’s business. Looking for two Buddhist books was certainly easy, he thought he should be able to manage it quickly.

Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, come with him. When you find the sutras, the two of you can bring them back together.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted and hastily complied, he thought how Hai Laogong had wanted him to steal the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, but it had been more than half a year, in the end not only he had never seen what kind of sutra the book was, he had not even seen half a shadow of the book. This time he was under the imperial order to fetch the sutras, he was confident he would find the sutras. It would be best if Oboi had three copies at his home, then he would be able to fish in troubled water and embezzle a copy to be given to Hai Laogong; that would make him very happy.

Songgotu noticed that Xiao Guizi was the little eunuch close to the Emperor whom he doted very much, who, in the arrest of the traitor this time, had rendered great merit. He thought that fetching two copies of Buddhist sutras was not a big deal, so there was no need to send this eunuch. But then he had another thought and it suddenly dawned on him: “Of course, His Majesty wants to give him some benefit. Oboi has been in power for many years, the amount of gold, silver and valuables in his home must be beyond counting. His Majesty is sending me to search and confiscate his home, that is indeed a very lucrative assignment. In this matter I did not have the slightest contribution, why would he want me to get rich? His Majesty is sending Xiao Guizi to accompany me fetching the sutras, in reality he wants him to take a look. Searching and confiscating Oboi’s property is this little eunuch’s business, the Ol’ Songgotu is just secondary. If this business went awry, I would be greatly inconvenienced.”

Songgotu’s father was Sonin, the chief of four Executive Ministers when Kangxi fist took over the government. After Sonin’s death, Songgotu was promoted to be a junior minister in the personnel office. At that time Oboi was domineering the court, Songgotu did not dare to oppose him, hence he resigned from his post at the personnel office and took position as a first class imperial bodyguard. Kangxi knew that he and Oboi did not get along with each other, and thus this time he send him on a very serious assignment.

The two of them went out the Palace gate, Songgotu’s attendant pulled a horse for him to ride on. Songgotu said, “Gui Gong-gong, please mount the horse first!” He assumed this little eunuch did not know how to ride, so he was prepared to look after him a bit, making sure that he would not fall and break his neck. Who would have thought that after several months of martial art training in the Palace, although Wei Xiaobao did not make any real progress, his hands and feet became very agile; plus in the past Mao Shiba had taught him some riding technique, so this time he no longer was ‘Zhang Guolao riding donkey, Wei Xiaobao riding a horse’[10], he nimbly leaped onto the horseback and unexpectedly his riding was very stable.

The two of them arrived at Oboi’s mansion. Oboi’s entire household, from top to bottom, no exception, had been arrested early on. The gates, front and rear, were under strict guard. “Gui Gong-gong,” Songgotu said to Wei Xiaobao, “If you see anything interesting, do not hesitate to take it. His Majesty is sending you here to fetch Buddhist sutra, it is to reward your great merit, no matter what you take, His Majesty will not ask about it.”

Wei Xiaobao saw in Oboi’s mansion, jewels, treasures and amusing things were everywhere, his eyes were dazzled. He felt that each object was better than the other. Compared to the utensils, curios or furniture in the Lovely Spring Courtyard at Yangzhou, it was as far as the heavens from the earth. At first he wanted to take everything, but looking at this thing he thought it was very amusing, looking at that thing he found it was more fascinating, he could not decide which one was better. He also recalled that in a few days he would slip away from the Palace anyway, if he took too many things, it would only inconvenience him to carry it, so he decided to take only a few especially valuable things.

Songgotu’s clerk started to take inventory of the articles, he duly noted every single one on his list. When Wei Xiaobao picked up a pearl to look at it, the clerk would strike this pearl from his list, to state that in Oboi’s mansion there was no such pearl existed. When Wei Xiaobao shook his head and put the pearl down, the clerk would add the pearl back into the list.

When they were still going through the inspection, suddenly they heard an officer’s quick steps coming out. After paying his respect to Songgotu and Wei Xiaobao, he said, “Reporting to two Daren: we found a secret treasure-trove inside Oboi’s bedroom; lowly officer did not dare to open without authority, please two Daren take the trouble to inspect it.”

“Secret treasure-trove?” Songgotu happily asked, “That’s strange indeed.” He also asked, “Have you found those two sutras?”

The officer replied, “We did not find a single book in this house, only several dozens of accounting books. lowly officer are still searching diligently.”

Pulling Wei Xiaobao’s hand along, Songgotu entered Oboi’s bedroom. He saw tiger skin and leopard skin spread on the floor; the walls were packed with bows, arrows, sabers and swords, it was a typical rough Manchurian warrior’s bedroom. The secret treasure-trove was actually inside a hole beneath the floor, with an iron panel covering it. A tiger skin lay on top of the iron panel. By now the tiger skin and the iron panel had been opened, two guards were standing on either side of the hole. Songgotu said, “Take it out so we can take a look.”

The two guards jumped into the hole and hauled the hidden things inside up. Two clerks took them over and carefully lay them down on a piece of leopard skin. Songgotu laughed and said, “Oboi’s best treasure is obviously hidden inside this hole. Gui Gong-gong, you should pick your most beloved treasure here, I guarantee you won’t make a mistake.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “There is no need to be polite,” he said, “You yourself should also choose some.” He had just finished speaking when suddenly “Ah!” he exclaimed, as he saw the guard handed over a large white-jade box, five cinnabar red large characters were inscribed on top of the box, the first three characters were ‘forty-two’ [si shi er]. Wei Xiaobao hastily received the box, open the jade lid, and saw a thin book inside. The book was inside a white silk envelope, the same five characters were written on the seal. “Suo[11] Daren,” he asked, “Is this the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’? I know the word ‘forty-two’, but I don’t know the characters ‘chapter’ and ‘sutra’.”

“Yes, yes,” Songgotu happily replied, “This is the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “These two characters ‘chapter’ and ‘sutra’ are very difficult to recognize. Actually, I don’t need to think hard to recognize the characters, as long as there are five characters together, and the first three are ‘forty-two’, then the last two characters must be ‘chapter’ and ‘sutra’.”

Songgotu mused, “That’s not necessarily true,” but with a smile on his face he said, “Exactly.”

Then the guard handed over another jade box, with a book inside, but the envelope was made of yellow silk, with red silk border on the side. Both books looked very old. But inside the treasure-trove there was no third jade box, Wei Xiaobao was secretly very disappointed.

Songgotu delightedly said, “Gui Gong-gong, the two of us completed this task, Empress Dowager will be very happy, she will reward us handsomely.”

“What kind of sutra are those?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “I want to have a look.” As he said that, he opened one of the envelopes.

Songgotu’s heart was stirred, “Gui Gong-gong,” he said with a laugh, “I have something to say, but please don’t be angry.”

Ever since he was little, at the brothel Wei Xiaobao had always been bossed around; names like ‘little animal’ or ‘little turtle’ had never ceased being thrown at him. But when he obtained Kangxi’s favor, whenever somebody, no matter who, saw him in the Palace, they were exceptionally polite to him. He was only a thirteen, fourteen years old boy, yet in all his life, when did he ever receive such respect? Here was Songgotu at Oboi’s mansion, his prestige was spread over eight directions, whenever any civil or military officer see him, they were all trembling with fear, yet this man was so courteous toward him; Wei Xiaobao could not help but greatly enjoy it and he had an even better impression of Songgotu. He said, “Whatever instruction Suo Daren has, please just say it.”

Songgotu laughed and said, “I don’t dare to have any instruction, it’s just that I suddenly remember something. Gui Gong-gong, these two sutras are wanted by the Empress Dowager and His Majesty, Oboi kept them in a secret treasure-trove, apparently they are not ordinary books. Just how important they are, we may not understand. I also very much want to take a look, but I am afraid there is something of utmost importance, involving great responsibility, written in them. The Empress Dowager may not like it if we as the servants see it. This … this … hee hee …”

As soon as he said that, Wei Xiaobao realized immediately. He was secretly frightened. Hastily he put the book back on the table and said, “You are extremely right, you are extremely right! Suo Daren, thank you for your direction. I did not understand this logic before, and almost attract great calamity.”

Songgotu laughed and said, “Why did Gui Gong-gong say such words? His Majesty sends the two of us together to handle this matter. Your business is also mine, why do you make such distinction between you and me? If I do not consider Gui Gong-gong as one of my own, I would not dare to casually say those words.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You are a high-ranking official, I … I … am a little … little eunuch, how can you consider me as one of your own?”

Songgotu waved his hand to the numerous officers in the room and said, “Wait for us outside.”

The numerous officers bowed and said, “Yes, yes!” and they withdrew outside.

Songgotu pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand and said, “Gui Gong-gong, you must never ever said those words again. If you would consider me, Ol’ Songgotu worthy, what do you say the two of us pay obeisance and become sworn brothers?” He said those words very earnestly.

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “I … I become sworn brother with you?” he said, “How … how can I deserve it?”

“Gui Xiongdi,” Songgotu said, “If you say those words again, you are clearly deriding me. I don’t know why, but as soon as I saw you, I feel there is a predestined affinity. The two of us go to the worship hall and swear brotherhood, and then we will become like real siblings. You and I will not announce it to outsiders, as long as nobody else know, what’s the harm in doing it?” Gripping Wei Xiaobao’s hand tightly, his eyes showed a fervent expression.

Actually, Songgotu was an extremely shrewd person; seeing the fall of Oboi, he knew there would be great power shift among the senior ministers of the imperial court. This time the Emperor seemed to be very well-disposed to him, it appears that someday he would get a promotion. To be an official in the imperial court, if he wanted to be in the Emperor’s good graces, he must understand the Emperor’s temper and mood. This little eunuch was by the Emperor’s side from morning to evening, if he could say a few good words on his behalf, he would benefit infinitely. Even if he could not say any good words on his behalf, as long as he could disclose to him what make the Emperor happy, what make him disgusted, what he was thinking of doing next, then he could plan accordingly with half the work, twice the effect, and win the Emperor’s favor.

He grew up in a government officer’s family, his father Sonin was the head of the Executive Ministers, he should know that ‘to figure out the superior’s intention’ was the high-ranking official’s sole secret, while it was also the most difficult thing to do. Before his very own eyes was one golden opportunity, so long as he could win this little eunuch over, someday the ‘divine steed Huang will flash past’ [figuratively means a meteoric rise in one’s career]; appointment as the prime minister would not be a difficult matter. Therefore, he was hit by an inspiration and wanted to be sworn brothers with him.

Although Wei Xiaobao was clever, he did not, after all, have the slightest understanding of the government bureaucracy of the imperial court; he only knew that this high-ranking official was very fond of himself, so he could not help but feeling very proud. “This … this is really beyond my expectation,” he said.

Songgotu pulled his hand. “Come, come, come!” he said, “Let us go to the worship hall.”

Manchu people were devout Buddhists; in all civil and military officers’ mansions there would be a Buddhist worship hall. The two of them entered the worship hall. Songgotu lighted incense and pulled Wei Xiaobao down to kneel together in front of the Buddhist image. He bowed and worshiped several times, and then said, “Today, disciple Songgotu and … and … and …” He turned his head and asked, “Gui Xiongdi, what is your great name? I haven’t consulted you, it’s truly preposterous.”

“I am called Xiao Guizi,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Songgotu smiled and said, “Your honorable surname is Gui, isn’t it? But by what great name are you called?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I … I am called Gui Xiaobao.”

Songgotu laughed, “Good name, good name,” he said, “You are indeed a jewel[12] among men!”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “In Yangzhou, people always call me ‘That little turtle Xiaobao’. What’s so special about this name ‘Xiaobao’ anyway?” He heard Songgotu said, “Today, disciple Songgotu with Gui Xiaobao, Gui Xiongdi, swear to be brothers[13]. Hereafter blessings will be enjoyed together, sorrows will be endured together. We cannot be born on the same year, same month and same day, but wish that we will die on the same year, same month, and same day. If disciple does not uphold yi qi, let me be punished by heaven and extinguished by the earth, forever will not raise my head to see the sun.” Finished speaking, he kowtowed and worship some more, then he said, “Xiongdi, you must also worship Buddha and make your vow!”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You are a lot older than I am; if I really die on the same year, same month, and same day with you, my loss will be too great.” But then he changed his mind, he had idea, “I am not Gui Xiaobao anyway, what is there to be feared to speak nonsense just for once?” Therefore, he also kowtowed before the image of Buddha and said in a loud and clear voice, “Disciple Gui Xiaobao came to the Emperor’s Palace to be a little eunuch earlier, everybody calls me Xiao Guizi, with Songgotu, Suo Daren, Suo Laoge [‘Lao’ – old, ‘ge’ – older brother], swear to be brothers, blessings will be enjoyed together, sorrows will be endured together. We cannot be born on the same year, same month and same day, but wish that we will die on the same month, same month, and same day. If Xiao Guizi does not uphold yi qi, let Xiao Guizi be punished by heaven and extinguished by the earth. When Xiao Guizi die, let Xiao Guizi be banished to the eighteenth level of the underworld and seized by the Ox-head and Horse-Face[14], and for a thousand years, for ten thousand years will not be reincarnated.”

He shifted all disasters to Xiao Guizi; he also mentioned the words ‘same month’ twice, and thus changed the phrase ‘die on the same year, same month, and same day’ became ‘die on the same month, same month, and same day’, but he said it very quickly so that Songgotu did not catch it. Wei Xiaobao thought, “To die on the same month and same day with you is not a big deal; if you die on the third day of the third month, and I return to heaven a hundred years later on the third day of the third month, I won’t suffer any loss.” As for saying that after Xiao Guizi die, let Xiao Guizi be banished to the eighteenth level of the underworld and for ten thousand years will not be reincarnated, it was actually his real wish. Xiao Guizi had died under his hands, if his ghost returns for revenge, it would not be fun; but if in hell Xiao Guizi was detained securely by the Ox-head and Horse-face, in the world of the living Wei Xiaobao would enjoy peace and security very much.

When Songgotu heard Wei Xiaobao had finished speaking, the two of them bowed and kowtowed eight times before standing up together, and burst in loud laughter. Songgotu said with a laugh, “Xiongdi, now we are sworn brothers, we must be ten times closer to each other than blood-brothers. From now on, whatever you want your Gege to do for you, do not hesitate to open your mouth, no need to be polite.”

“Do you need to say it?” Wei Xiaobao also laugh, “Ever since I came out of my mother’s belly, I do not understand the meaning of the word ‘polite’. Dage, what does ‘polite’ mean?” They looked at each other and roared in laughter.

Xiongdi,” Songgotu said, “The fact that we have sworn brotherhood must not be told to others, to avoid other people use it against us. According to the imperial palace’s regulations, we, external ministers, must not be too close to you, Xiongdi, internal officers. As long as we know it in our hearts, that should be enough.”

“Right, right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “The mute eat the wonton, he counts it in his heart.”

Seeing how smart and witty Wei Xiaobao was, how when ‘the head was pointed to him he immediately knew the tail’, Songgotu was even happier. “Xiongdi,” he said, “In front of other people, I still call you Gui Gong-gong, and you call me Suo Daren. In a few days, come to my home, your Gege is going to accompany you drinking wine and watching the opera; we, two brothers, will have fun for a while.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he did not drink too much wine, but as soon as he heard the words ‘watching the opera’, his delight was incomparable. He clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “Wonderful, wonderful! I like watching the opera the most. When is it?”

Yangzhou’s salt merchants lived extravagant lives, when they get married or given their daughters in marriage, or when a baby was born or they celebrated birthdays, oftentimes they would have the opera play for several consecutive days. Whenever Wei Xiaobao came across such occasion, naturally he would take advantage of the excitement and squeeze himself to the front of the stage to watch the opera. The host was celebrating an auspicious day, naturally they would not seriously deal with little rascal like him; oftentimes they would serve him a bowl of rice, with pieces of meat piled high on top of the rice. Whenever there was a folk festival, even more opera groups would perform around town. As soon as the words ‘watching opera’ was mentioned, his heart was in full bloom.

Songgotu said, “Since Xiongdi loves opera, I will invite you often. Whenever Xiongdi has some free time, do not hesitate to let me know.”

“How about tomorrow?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“That’s great!” Songgotu said, “Tomorrow youshi hour [the tenth earthly branch, 5 – 7 pm] I will wait for you outside the Palace gate.”

“Is it all right for me to leave the Palace?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Of course it is all right,” Songgotu replied, “You serve the Emperor during the day; come evening, nobody has any right to interfere with your business. You have been promoted to be an Eunuch Leader, and you are very successful in the presence of His Majesty, who would dare to mess with you?”

Wei Xiaobao was beaming from ear to ear; originally he was thinking of slipping away from the imperial palace and would not come back, but listening to Songgotu, he realized his status was different now; he could come in and go out the imperial palace freely, he did not have to slip away hastily. “Alright,” he said with a laugh, “It’s a deal. We, two brothers, blessing we enjoy together, opera we watch together.”

Songgotu pulled his hand and said, “Let’s go back to Oboi’s room and pick some treasures.”

The two of them returned to Oboi’s bedroom. Songgotu carefully look over various objects taken out of the hole on the ground. “Xiongdi,” he asked, “Which one do you like?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Which one is the most valuable? I don’t understand anything. Please pick one for me.”

“Alright!” Songgotu said. He picked a double-string of pearls and a jade horse and said, “These two items are very valuable. Will Xiongdi take it?”

“Very well!” Wei Xiaobao said; he put the pearls and jade horse into his pocket. Casually he picked a dagger, and felt it to be unusually heavy. The dagger, including the hilt, was no more than a chi and two cun[15]; the sheathe was made of dried shark skin, at a glance it looked no different than an ordinary long knife or a sword. Wei Xiaobao grabbed the hilt with his left hand and pulled it out; he felt a burst of cold air hit his face, his nose itched and ‘Ah-choo!’ he sneezed. When he looked at the dagger again, he saw that the blade was as black as ink, without the least bit of glossiness. At first he thought that since Oboi hid this dagger in the secret treasure-trove, it must be a treasured dagger; who would have thought that the dagger looked this ugly? It looked like a wooden dagger. Slightly disappointed, he tossed it casually to the side. He heard a light ‘swish’ noise; the dagger penetrated the floor straight to its hilt.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao and Songgotu exclaimed; they were quite amazed. Wei Xiaobao tossed it casually, without exerting the least bit of strength, yet surprisingly the dagger could penetrate the floor by itself. The blade must be fantastically sharp that it was able to penetrate the floor like mud.

Wei Xiaobao stooped down to pick up the dagger and said, “This short sword looks rather strange.”

Songgotu had vast experience and knowledge, he said, “Apparently this is a treasured sword, let us test it.” From the wall he took a saber, unsheathed it, and held it horizontally across his chest; he said, “Xiongdi, use the dagger to chop on this saber.”

Wei Xiaobao raised the dagger and chopped it down on the saber. ‘Tchak!’ the saber was smoothly cut into two. “Good!” both of them exclaimed as if by prior agreement. Without a doubt this dagger was indeed a treasured sword which was rarely seen in the world. What was amazing was that it cut the saber like a piece of wood, without producing any metallic clanking noise at all.

Songgotu laughed and said, “Congratulation, Xiongdi, for obtaining such a treasured sword. Among Oboi’s family’s treasure, this sword must be the chief.”

Wei Xiaobao was really happy, “Dage,” he said, “If you want it, I’ll give it to you.”

Songgotu shook his hand repeatedly, “Your Gege came from a military official family, afterwards, I became a civil officer, and left the military service behind. It would be better if Xiongdi take this treasured sword to play with.”

Wei Xiaobao put the dagger back into its sheathe and tied it on his belt. Songgotu laughed and said, “Xiongdi, this sword is so short, it’s better to keep it inside your boot, so when you enter the Palace, nobody would see it.” According to Qing Palace regulations, other than imperial bodyguards on duty, nobody else was allowed to enter the Palace carrying weapons.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied; he inserted the dagger into his boot. Based on his stellar reputation, as he enter and exit the Palace gate, it was unlikely that the imperial bodyguards would do a body search to see if he carried any prohibited materials.

After acquiring this dagger, Wei Xiaobao lost interest in any other treasures. A moment later, he was unable to bear it and pulled the dagger out again. He took down an iron spear from the wall, ‘Tchak!’ the iron spear was cut into two. He brandished the dagger and randomly cut and sliced around. Without exception all kinds of solid objects in the room were cut smoothly. Next he used the point of the dagger to draw a turtle on the sandalwood tabletop; he had just finished drawing when ‘thud!’ a sandalwood turtle fell down, while a hole in the shape of a turtle appeared on the tabletop.

“Old fellow Oboi!” Wei Xiaobao shouted, “You, Senior, are good! Ha ha!”

Songgotu meticulously inspected the other articles found in the secret treasure-trove. He noticed among the pile there was a shiny black sleeveless garment. He picked it up and found it to be very light. The fabric was exceptionally soft, it was made of neither silk nor wool, in fact, he did not know any material that felt like it. His sole purpose right now was to curry favor with Wei Xiaobao, thereupon he called, “Xiongdi, this vest must be very warm. Take out your outer garment and put this on.”

“What kind of treasure is this?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I don’t know either,” Songgotu said, “Just put it on!”

“It’s too big,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“It’s very soft,” Songgotu replied, “It is a bit bigger, but by making a fold like this, it will fit.”

Wei Xiaobao took it; it was indeed very light and soft. He remembered the previous year he asked his mother to make a silk cotton-padded jacket, his mother was busy for several days, but did not have enough money that in the end she could not make the jacket. This vest was obviously incomparable to the silk cotton-padded jacket; for one, the color was not too fresh and bright. He thought, “Fine, when I get back to Yangzhou later, I’ll have mother look at it.” Thereupon he took out his outer garment and put the vest on, before putting back the outer garment on top of it. The vest was rather big, fortunately it was very soft and thin, so it was not uncomfortable.

Finished inspecting Oboi’s treasures, Songgotu called his subordinates to come in. Looking at the rough list of Oboi’s valuables, he could not help but sticking out his tongue and said, “Oboi certainly know how to extort people; his wealth is many times greater than I anticipated.” He waved his men out of the room again and then said to Wei Xiaobao, “Xiongdi, the Han people have a saying: ‘A thousand li of officialdom is all wealth.’ In his vast and mighty benevolence, His Majesty is sending the two of us on this assignment, it is actually so that we may find an undeserved fortune. About this list, I can always alter it. We have more than two million taels of silver here, how much do you say we should announce it as?”

“I don’t know anything about it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll leave it to Dage to decide.”

Songgotu chuckled and said, “According to this list, altogether we have two million three hundred fifty three thousand four hundred and eighteen taels. The remaining digits can be kept as is, but we can erase one horizontal line and change the amount[16] to one million three hundred fifty three thousand four hundred and eighteen taels. That missing horizontal line can be split fifty-fifty [orig. ‘one half equals zero point five’] between you and me. What do you think?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “You … you are saying …” he stammered.

Songgotu laughed, “Xiongdi thinks it is not enough?” he said.

“No, no!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I am just not too clear.”

Songgotu said, “I said, about that one million taels, we split it equally between the two of us, brothers, each one get five-hundred thousand taels. If Xiongdi thinks it is too little, we can always recalculate it.”

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance changed. Growing up in a the brothel in Yangzhou, he had never had more than one or two taels in his hands. An undeserved fortune like this, gambling in the Palace, even when he won big, it was a matter of only several dozen taels, or perhaps one or two hundred taels of silver. Suddenly hearing that his share was five hundred thousand taels, he nearly did not believe his own ears.

The real reason Songgotu kept pushing this riches into his hands was actually to close his mouth, so that in front of the Emperor he did not mention the truth about the real value of Oboi’s wealth. Otherwise, if he ever revealed anything in the Emperor’s presence, not only he would have to spit the ill-gotten wealth he had just swallowed, he would also ruin the future prospect of his career, plus inevitably he would also be charged with committing a major crime.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao countenance changed, Songgotu hastily said, “If Xiongdi has another thought, I will listen to your idea.”

Wei Xiaobao let out a deep breath and said, “I have said that I’ll leave it to Dage to decide. It’s just that five hundred thousand … five hundred thousand taels as my share it’s a bit … a bit … too … too much.”

Songgotu felt a heavy burden was lifted up from his shoulder, he laughed aloud and said, “It’s not too much, it’s not too much, not too much at all. Let’s do it this way then: we have people helping us managing this business, everybody must enjoy some profit. From your Gege‘s five hundred thousand taels share, I will take fifty thousand taels to be distributed among my subordinates. Xiongdi should also take fifty thousand taels and presented the money to the imperial concubines and to the eunuch managers, so that everybody can have a little benefit. This way, nobody will have any loose tongue.”

“It sounds good,” Wei Xiaobao anxiously said, “But I don’t know how to divide it.”

“Just leave this matter to your Gege,” Songgotu said, “I guarantee I will take care of everything, we won’t offend anybody. They all will say that Gui Gong-gong is young, but he really know how to reach out to his friends. Money will open doors, from now on you and I will enjoy smooth sailing; we will have other people in all places helping us along the way.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said.

Songgotu added, “About this one million taels, there won’t be enough cash in Oboi’s house, we must sell off his property as soon as possible, and everything must be with ‘dry hand and clean foot’, do not let other people have a handle on this. Xiongdi, in the Palace, you won’t have any place to store all these gold yuanbao, silver yuanbao, am I correct?”

Suddenly obtaining a four hundred and fifty thousand taels of unexpected wealth, Wei Xiaobao was momentarily dizzy and light-headed, and was at a loss of what to do, whatever Songgotu said, he could only reply, “Yes, yes!”

Songgotu laughed and said, “In a few days, I am going to have several banks issue gold banknotes and silver banknotes, a hundred taels and fifty taels each, which Xiongdi can carry with you. Whenever you need it, you can go to the bank and exchange it to gold and silver, it’s more convenient, and more reliable. Unless someone is groping your pocket, nobody knows that Xiongdi is this young, yet you are one of the rich men within our Beijing city wall. Ha ha, ha ha, ha ha!”

Wei Xiaobao followed by several ‘Ha ha!’, but his heart was filled with: “I really have four hundred and fifty thousand taels? Really four hundred and fifty thousand taels?” and “I have four hundred and fifty thousand taels, how am I going to spend it? Damn it, even if I eat pig’s front legs and simmer-fried whole chicken every day for the rest of my life, I won’t spend the entire four hundred and fifty thousand taels. Hot piece mama, laozi will open ten brothels in Yangzhou, each one is ten times more beautiful than the Lovely Spring Courtyard.”

Ever since he was little, he had been cherishing the ‘lofty aspiration’ that when he grew up and flourished, he would open a brothel that was bigger and more luxurious than the Lovely Spring Courtyard, something that would raise others’ eyebrows, something better than everybody else’s. Whenever he had a quarrel with the proprietress of the Lovely Spring Courtyard, he would often say, “Hot piece mama, what’s so great about your Lovely Spring Courtyard? In a few years laozi will flourish and will open a Lovely Summer Courtyard across the street from you, a Lovely Autumn Courtyard on your left, and a Lovely Winter Courtyard on your right; I am going to snatch the light from your business. Brothel customers will visit my three courtyards, no one will visit yours, and you will drink the northwest wind.” He wanted to open ten brothels at once, each one would be extravagant, so that nobody in Yangzhou would not see him in a new light; he could not help but was very elated.

Naturally Songgotu was not able to guess the major undertaking Wei Xiaobao was planning in his heart, he said, “Xiongdi, His Majesty instructed us to return Suksaha’s property that was confiscated by Oboi to Suksaha’s heir. We’d better take sixty or seventy thousand taels and give it to Suksaha’s family. This is His Majesty’s benevolence, the Suksaha family will be moved to tears, how can they dare to argue that it is too little? Moreover, if we give too much to Suksaha’s family, it would appear that before his death Suksaha was a corrupt official, and then his descendants’ face would not be honorable, would it?”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied, while in his heart he mused, “Aren’t we, the two brothers, dishonest officials? Our faces won’t be necessarily disgraced, will it?”

Songgotu said, “The Empress Dowager and His Majesty clearly instructed us to get these two sutras, this is most important, we must deliver the books right away. It won’t be too late if we slowly make inventory of Oboi’s property later.” Wei Xiaobao nodded his approval.

Immediately Songgotu fetched a couple of satin brocade to wrap the jade boxes. The two of them carried one box each as they returned to the Palace to see Kangxi. Seeing they managed to complete the assignment given by the Empress Dowager, Kangxi was very happy. He told Wei Xiaobao to follow him with the sutras toward the Empress Dowager’s Palace. Songgotu could not enter the Palace, he took his leave to return to put Oboi’s family property in order.

Along the way Kangxi asked, “How much is Oboi’s family property worth?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Suo Daren‘s initial estimate is about one million three hundred fifty three thousand four hundred and eighteen taels.” He made sure that the number came from Songgotu; in case the Emperor verify the actual facts in the future, he would have the leeway of denying and shifting the blame to others.

In this kind of shady business of committing fraud for personal gain, imitating the dog to steal the chicken, Wei Xiaobao could be considered a rare talent. When he was five, one of the prostitutes gave him five wen to buy some peaches on the street; he swindled one wen to buy candy and used the other four to buy peaches for the prostitute. Unexpectedly the prostitute did not suspect anything; she even gave him a peach. In Wei Xiaobao’s mind, when some money passed through his hands and he gained some profit, it was heaven’s law and earth’s principle; it’s just that in case somebody inquire, he must come up with some explanation. Because of this his head had been the recipient of several explosions of anger, and his butt suffered countless forceful kicks; therefore, he gained quite a few of valuable experience.

“Humph,” Kangxi snorted, “B@stard!” he said, “He extorted that much fat and wealth of the people! More than a million three hundred thousand taels. Hey, hey, it’s unbelievable.”

Wei Xiaobao smirked inwardly, “And a million more, split in halves.” Walking and chatting, they reached the Empress Dowager’s Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.

The Empress Dowager was very pleased to hear that two sutras had been retrieved; she reached out to take the jade boxes from Kangxi’s hands and unwrapped the satin brocade. Seeing the envelope, her smile was even wider. “Xiao Guizi,” she said, “You handle this assignment very well!”

Wei Xiaobao knelt down to pay his respect; he said, “It’s all thanks to the Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s great fortune.”

The Empress Dowager turned toward a little palace maid by her side and said, “Rui Chu, take Xiao Guizi to the back room, get some sweet preserved fruits and gave it to him.”

Rui Chu was a little palace maid around twelve, thirteen years of age with pretty facial features; she smiled and complied, “Yes!”

Wei Xiaobao paid his respect again and said, “Thank you for the Empress Dowager’s reward, thank you for Your Majesty’s reward.”

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “Finish eating, you may return alone, I am staying here to accompany Empress Dowager to dine, you don’t need to wait on me.”

Wei Xiaobao acknowledged and followed Rui Chu to the inner all, where they entered a very small side room. Rui Chu opened a screened cabinet, inside the cabinet were more than a dozen types of cakes, pastries and candies. She laughed and said, “You are called Xiao Guizi, so you’ll have to eat osmanthus[17] flavored pine-nut candy first.” As she said that, she picked small box of pine-nut candy. The aroma of pine-nut mixed with the aroma of osmanthus flower, the smell was very good.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Jiejie [older sister] should also eat some.”

Rui Chu said, “The Empress Dowager is rewarding you with something to eat, she is not rewarding me. As slaves, how can we steal food?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You can eat quietly, nobody will see it, why so tight?”

Rui Chu blushed and shook her head repeatedly, she smiled and said, “I am not eating.”

“I am eating alone, you are watching from the side, it’s just improper,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Rui Chu smiled. “This is your good fortune,” she said, “I only serve the Empress Dowager, I don’t serve even His Majesty, but today I am serving you some delicacy.”

Seeing her sweet and captivating smile, Wei Xiaobao also laughed and said, “I am serving His Majesty, but I also serve you delicacies, so we are even.”

“Pfft,” Rui Chu stifled a laugh, she brought her hand up to cover her mouth, and said with a smile, “Hurry up, eat something. If Empress Dowager knew we are chatting and joking in here, she might be angry.”

When he was still in Yangzhou, he saw beautiful women coming and going the Lovely Spring Courtyard all the time; upon entering the Palace, however, this was the first time he had ever seen a young woman about his age who was keeping him company. He was very pleased, and suddenly had a bright idea. “How about this,” he said, “I will take some delicacies back with me, when you are done serving the Empress Dowager, you can come out and we can eat together.”

Rui Chu showed a slight blush, “That won’t work,” she said, “By the time I am done serving the Empress Dowager, it will be very late at night.”

“So what if it is very late at night?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Will you wait for me here?”

Serving the Empress Dowager as a palace maid, Rui Chu’s colleagues were mostly women who were considerably older than she was; ordinarily, they could not talk congenially with each other. Now that Wei Xiaobao was determined to eat candy with her, she could hear the sincerity in his voice and was quite moved.

“How about outside the flower garden?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Midnight, third watch of the night [between 11pm – 1 am], nobody will know.” Hesitantly Rui Chu nodded her head.

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, “Good, that’s settled then,” he said, “Quickly give me some preserved fruits, a bit more of the ones you love to eat.”

Rui Chu smiled, “I won’t eat it all by myself,” she said, “Which ones would you like?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Whatever Jiejie loves to eat, I’ll eat the same,” he replied.

Hearing his sweet-talking, Rui Chu was very happy, immediately she chose about a dozen kinds of dried fruits, candy, cakes and pastries, and put it all in a small paper carton.

In a low voice Wei Xiaobao said, “Tonight, third watch of the night, I will wait for you in the flower garden pavilion.”

Rui Chu nodded, in a low voice she said, “You must be careful.”

“And so must you,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He took the paper carton and returned to his residence, full of joy and expectations.

When he first jostled with the Emperor, who feigned to be Xiao Xuanzi, he was very excited, but when the secret was exposed, he could not play with him anymore. These past few days in the Palace, everybody seemed to fawn on him. Although he was pleased, he did not have the excitement of enjoying himself. This time he was having a rendezvous with a little palace maid in the middle of the night, there was three-part danger in the fun; he thought it was most exciting. After all, he was still very young; although as a child he grew up in a brothel, on the matter between men and women, he only saw a lot, but did not have any personal understanding.

[1] Orig. ‘Shi Bao’, same ‘shi’ character as in ‘Shifu’.

[2] An idiom, meaning ‘to steal something under cover of an emergency’.

[3] Orig. ‘little slippery/smooth head’.

[4] Orig. 嗅鲞 (xiu xiang) – smell of wine-preserved pomfret, it sounds similar to 休想 (xiu xiang), i.e. don’t think of it, or give up any idea of.

[5] Orig. ‘chi’ –Chinese foot, approximately 1/3 of a meter (a little over 1 US foot).

[6] Eight trigrams.

[7] Or ‘death by a thousand cuts’ or ‘lingering death’.

[8] Songgotu, Ebilun, Bambursan were real historical characters, however, I could not find anything on Asiha (or Asahe).

[9] Orig. 圣上 – sheng shang, from the dictionary: courtier’s or minister’s form of address for the current Emperor.

[10] Zhang Guolao was one of the Eight Immortals who was usually depicted by riding a donkey backwards.

[11] FYI, Songgotu’s name in Chinese is ‘Suo E’tu’.

[12] Reminder: Xiaobao means ‘little jewel/treasure’.

[13] Orig. ‘golden orchid’, meaning profound friendship or sworn brotherhood.

[14] Ox-head and Horse-face are the two guardians of the underworld in Chinese mythology.

[15] About 1 ft 2 inches.

[16] In Chinese, the character for one and two are ‘一’ and ‘二’, respectively. The original says ‘erase one ‘one’ character and change the amount …’

[17] ‘Gui’ of Xiao Guizi means cassia/laurel, but ‘gui hua’ means osmanthus flower.

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