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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 07


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Absolutely!” Wei Xiaobao said.

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

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

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

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good skill!” Prince Kang cheered.

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

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

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

“That’s for sure,” Wei Xiaobao said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes!” the chief of the guards replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Exactly, exactly,” the people responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is it not good?” someone asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know your Ma!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, yes!” Cui Xiazi said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Yama, King of the underworld.

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

[5] Ol’ Qi the third.

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

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

[8] Yama, King of the underworld.

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

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