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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 06

CSI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I … I …” Rui Chu said in low voice.

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

“Yes, yes!” Rui Chu replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have,” Hai Laogong replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said.

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

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

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

“Very well,” the Empress Dowager replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Old mother, old lady.

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

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

[4] Lit. ‘cool/refreshing’.

[5] Creator of the universe in Chinese mythology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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