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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 09

CSI

Chapter 9
Polishing and refining a rather slanted wall to its completion does not need the intensity that will break a qin into pieces.

After three days, Wei Xiaobao reported to Kangxi that he wanted to go out to investigate the remnants of Oboi’s defeated clique. Going alone, he headed toward the Fresh Water Well Alley on Dongcheng district of central Beijing. There was a wonton seller, with a pair of wonton pots on a carrying pole, stopping at about a dozen zhang away from the mouth of the alley. When the wonton seller saw Wei Xiaobao, he picked up the long bamboo wonton chopsticks and tapped it against the bamboo tube in which he stored his money. ‘Tap, tap, tap’, three times, paused, then ‘tap, tap’, twice, then ‘tap, tap, tap’, three times again. About several zhang away, there was a man with shoulder pole, selling blue radish. The man used the knife, with which he cut the radish, to tap his shoulder pole with the same rhythm.

Wei Xiaobao guessed that this must be Tian Di Hui’s method of transmitting news, so he followed a hawker selling candied fruits dipped in sugar syrup on bamboo skewers entering the alley. They arrived in front of a jet black main gate of a building. There were three men squatting at the door, whitewashing the wall using lime. Seeing Wei Xiaobao, one of them nodded, then tapped the wall several times using the lime brush, the black door immediately opened. Wei Xiaobao walked into a courtyard and entered the main hall, and saw Chen Jinnan had already sat in the hall; immediately he rushed forward and kowtowed.

Chen Jinnan was very delighted, he said, “You are early; nothing’s better than that. Originally I wanted to stay for several days to teach you martial art, but I received news yesterday that Fujian has an important matter that needs my immediate attention. This time I can only stay for a day.”

In his heart, Wei Xiaobao was happy, “Since you don’t have time to teach me martial art, when in the future my training is not good, that will be your problem, you can’t blame me.” But his face showed disappointment.

Chen Jinnan took a rather thin book from his bosom and said, “This is our school’s basic instruction on internal energy cultivation. You must study hard every day.” Opening the book, he showed every page had pictures of human figure training the internal energy, along with the mnemonic, which he taught to Wei Xiaobao. For the time being Wei Xiaobao was not able to comprehend completely, he merely memorized it carefully.

Chen Jinnan spent more than four hours explaining the entire set of internal energy cultivation technique; he said, “Our school’s martial art puts upright heart and good faith first. You, on the other hand, has a heart like a frisky monkey and a mind like a cantering horse, so you are incompatible with our school martial art, training will be doubly difficult for you; you must especially diligent if you want to succeed. Just remember this: if during training your mind is agitated, your head dizzy and your eyes blur, you must stop immediately. You must calm down first, put your distracting thoughts in order, then you practice from the beginning again, otherwise you’ll face a significant danger.”

Wei Xiaobao gave his promise. He received the book and put it inside his pocket. Chen Jinnan asked in details the martial art Hai Tianfu taught him. After Wei Xiaobao demonstrating and explaining everything one by one, Chen Jinnan muttered to himself, “You are aware early on that these martial art skills are bogus, it will be completely useless against a real enemy. I just feel strange, why did Tatar Empress Dowager also teach bogus martial art skill to the Tatar young Emperor?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The old wh0re is not the young emperor’s biological mother, moreover … moreover the old wh0re is not a good person, she is a greatly evil person.” He thought that the implication of the old wh0re killing the young emperor’s mother and so on would be too great, so he could not tell his Shifu about it; besides, this matter had nothing to do with his Shifu.

Chen Jinnan nodded. Then he inquired about Hai Tianfu’s character and behavior; he felt that this old eunuch’s conduct and deeds were enshrouded in secrecy. Wei Xiaobao talked for a while, suddenly ‘Wah!’ he broke into a bawl.

“Xiaobao,” Chen Jinnan gently asked, “What is it?”

Sobbing and sniffling, Wei Xiaobao told him about how Hai Tianfu secretly put poison in the soup. Finally he sobbed and said, “Shifu, the poison is incurable. After I am dead, the Green Wood Hall brothers won’t be able to use the old way again.”

“What old way?” Chen Jinnan asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Oboi killed Yin Xiangzhu, and I killed Oboi, so everybody wanted me to be the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu. The old turtle Hai killed Wei Xiangzhu, the old wh0re killed the old turtle Hai, but everybody cannot ask the old wh0re to be the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu.”

Chen Jinnan burst out laughing; attentively he checked Wei Xiaobao’s pulse and asked detailed questions about the pain on his lower abdomen. He reached out toward Wei Xiaobao’s lower abdomen and using his finger he pressed, sometime lightly, another time heavily, on the acupoints all around his lower abdomen. After muttering irresolutely to himself for half a day, he said, “Don’t be afraid! Maybe Hai Tianfu’s poison does not have any antidote in the world, but I can force the poison out using my internal energy.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he repeatedly said, “Thank you very much Shifu!”

Chen Jinnan took him inside and had him lying on the bed. With his left hand he pressed the Shan Zhong acupoint on the pit of Wei Xiaobao’s stomach, with his right hand he pressed the Da Zhui[1] acupoint on his back. After a while, Wei Xiaobao felt two streams of heat slowly flowed downward and around his stomach; his body felt an unspeakable comfort, he became drowsy and fell asleep. In his blurry state, he suddenly felt an unspeakable pain in his tummy. “Aiyo!” he cried out, and woke up. “Shifu!” he shouted, “I … I want to poop!”

Chen Jinnan led him out to the door of the latrine. Wei Xiaobao had just untied his pants when the excrement spurted straight out, the stench was really unbearable, followed by a lot of vomiting from his mouth.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his bedroom, his limbs felt weak and painful, he was barely able to stand up. Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Good! Eighty, ninety percent of the poison in your system is out, the remaining is not dangerous anymore. Here I have twelve efficacious detoxifier pills; take it for twelve days, the remaining poison will be driven off completely from your body.” From his pocket he took out a small porcelain bottle and handed it over to Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao received it with deep gratitude in his heart. “Shifu,” he said, “Do you still have some more pills for yourself? You give all to me, if you get poisoned …”

With a faint smile Chen Jinnan said, “If others think of poisoning me, it’s not going to be easy.”

The sky darkened, it was evening. Chen Jinnan told the servant to serve dinner, which he ate with Wei Xiaobao. Seeing they were only having four ordinary dishes, Wei Xiaobao thought, “Shifu is a great hero, but the way he eats is so casual.” Since he knew the poison inside his body had been repelled, his heart was free from worry; he ate and served his Shifu with smile on his face, he looked genuinely happy.

After dinner, Wei Xiaobao poured tea for his Shifu. Chen Jinnan took several sips, and then said, “Xiaobao, my wish for you is that you will be a good child. As soon as I have free time, I am coming back to Beijing to teach you martial art.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Alright,” Chen Jinnan said, “You’d better return to the Palace now. The Tatars are very sly, although you are very smart, after all, you are very young; you must be very careful in everything.”

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I feel very stifled living in the Palace, when can I go roaming the Jianghu with you?”

Chen Jinnan stared at his face and said, “You must endure patiently for several more years, and set up several great merits for our Society. By that time … in several more years your voice will change, your facial hair will grow, then you can’t pretend to be an eunuch anymore. By that time you can get out of the Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Whether I do good deeds or bad deeds in the Palace, none of you will know. If you are thinking of deposing me of the Xiangzhu position, it’s not going to be easy. In the future I will be a grown up, my martial art will have been trained well, perhaps by then you won’t want to depose me.” Thinking hither, he was happy. “Yes, yes,” he said, “Shifu, I am leaving.”

Chen Jinnan stood up; holding Wei Xiaobao’s hand he said, “Xiaobao, the Tatars have the situation under control, this great undertaking of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming is very difficult. In the Palace, you are in the face of danger at all times. You are such a young child, you haven’t learned any real ability, actually, I am quite worried over you. It’s just that since we already entered Tian Di Hui, ourselves do not belong to us anymore; as long as it is beneficial to our movement of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming, even if we fully aware there is a pit in front of us, we must still jump in. It’s a pity … it’s a pity that you cannot stay by my side often, so I can teach you well. I only hope that in the future you can spend more time with me. Right now our Society’s brethrens respect you because they are looking at my face, but I cannot look after you for the rest of your life. In the future, whether people will respect you, whether they will look up at you, it all depends on you.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Losing my face is not important, but I must not disgrace Shifu.”

Chen Jinnan shook his head, “You must never lose your face,” he said.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I lose Xiao Guizi’s face is alright. Xiao Guizi is a Tatar eunuch, so if we lose Xiao Guizi’s face, we are losing a Tatar’s face; then we are fighting the Qing restoring the Ming.” Chen Jinnan heaved a deep sigh; in all honesty he did not know how he was going to teach Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao returned to the Palace and went back to his room. Songgotu had handed him several dozens of banknotes, altogether there were four hundred sixty six thousand five hundred taels. Wei Xiaobao looked carefully at these bank notes over and over, in his heart he was very happy. What happened was: in order to curry Wei Xiaobao’s favor, Songgotu had originally promised him four hundred fifty thousand taels; after Oboi’s property was sold, the price was actually higher than the initial estimate by more than ten thousand taels.

Wei Xiaobao looked at the banknotes for quite a while before putting them away. And then fetching out the martial art manual Chen Jinnan gave him, he followed the secret passed on to him by sitting cross-legged and started to practice. When looking at the print of numbers in silver and vermillion ink on the banknotes, his expression was beaming and buoyant, but as soon as he looked at the martial art theory, instantly his interest waned, much less from among hundreds of characters written on the book, he did not recognize even a single one. After practicing for less than an hour he felt his mind blurry and his eyes tired; he dropped onto his bed and fell asleep immediately.

When he woke up the next morning, he went straight to the Upper Study Room to wait on the Emperor. Upon returning to his room, he practiced again; but before long he unexpectedly fell asleep again. The martial art Chen Jinnan taught him was extremely not easy to learn; without an enormous willpower, it would be hard for him to pass the first obstacle. Wei Xiaobao was intelligent and astute, but he lacked the willpower to do anything. As soon as he sat and started to practice, he felt the difficulty was incomparable; he became drowsy and wanted to sleep.

By the time he awoke, it was already in the middle of the night. He thought, “Shifu told me to practice, but his martial art is extremely tedious. But if I goof off and do not practice, next time I see Shifu and he ask me, he would find out I do not make the least bit of progress, and then he would be greatly dissatisfied. Perhaps he would even strip me of my Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu position.”

He got up, picked up the book and looked again, then sat cross-legged and practiced according to the theory. Before long, his eyes grew very heavy again; he was unable to resist his desire to sleep. “They have planned to tear down the bridge after crossing the river anyway,” he thought, “It doesn’t matter if I am a great bridge of blue stone slab, or a rotten wood log bridge, they will still tear it apart. It doesn’t matter if I practice martial art or not.” Since he had found an excuse not to train, his heart was relieved; hence he dropped his head and fell asleep, snoring loudly.

Since he did not have to practice martial art, he passed his days freely and leisurely. When the twelve pills were gone, the pain in his lower abdomen had also disappeared. During the day he would wait on Kangxi at the Upper Study Room for several hours, and whenever he was free, he would throw dice with Wen brothers and the others. Presently he was a rich and powerful person with wealth of several hundred thousand taels, hence he did not need to cheat in throwing dice; however, gambling against these ‘cattle’, he would feel an unspeakable discomfort if he did not cheat. Naturally Wen brothers, Ping Wei, Lao Wu, and the others owed him more and more money. Lucky for them that Wei Xiaobao had never demanded payment, plus Hai Tianfu was no longer alive, so that even though Wen brothers and the others were heavily in debt, they were not too worried.

As for the business of the Catering Department, he had his subordinate eunuchs doing the work. Each month on the second and sixteenth days the eunuch manager would deliver four hundred taels to Wei Xiaobao’s room. At this time Songgotu had already distributed several tens of thousands taels on Wei Xiaobao’s behalf to the imperial concubines, eunuchs with authority, and the imperial bodyguards all over the Palace. Wei Xiaobao’s face, as well as the fact that he was Kangxi’s favorite, was already well-known. In the last several months, he had quite a reputation within the Palace, everybody who met him would smile and greet him.

The autumn passed, the winter came, each day the weather was growing colder. This day Wei Xiaobao went down from the Upper Study Room, when he suddenly remembered, “Shifu says that if I have something, I should go to the Heavenly Bridge and contact the plaster seller, Old Xu. Although I don’t have anything in particular, there is no harm in exchanging those secret dialogue, those ‘The earth shakes high mound, a mountain creek is elegant for all eternity, the gate faces the ocean, the three rivers and the water will flow for ten thousand years’; it would be fun. Hey, you want three taels of gold and three taels of silver for this plaster, that’s too expensive! Will you sell it for five taels of gold and five taels of silver? Ha ha, ha ha …!”

He went out of the Palace gate and wandered around along the streets. Passing in front of a teahouse, he saw a storyteller was doing his presentation, so he strolled in and sat down to enjoy a pot of tea. The storyteller was narrating the ‘Heroic Deed Commentaries’, the part where Zhu Yuanzhang was having the great battle on Lake Poyang against Chen Youliang; how Zhou Dian carried Zhu Yuanzhang to another boat, how Chen Youliang’s battleship bombarded the ship Zhu Yuanzhang was originally riding and blew it up. Wei Xiaobao was very familiar with this story since he had heard it before, plus the storyteller’s rendition was not very good. Nevertheless, once he sat down, he was listening to the story for the most part of an hour. Strolling to the east and visiting the west, it was already dark, he did not get to visit the Heavenly Bridge that day.

The second day and the third day he did not go out at all. Every night just before bed he would promise himself, that the next day he would see that Old Xu. However, he would spend the next day either gambling, listening to the storytellers, or just wandering around the street recklessly wasting his money. These days he simply lived his free and unrestrained, merry life in the Palace. Being a court eunuch was definitely a lot more agreeable to him than being a Tian Di Hui’s Xiangzhu or Chouzhu. He knew this thought was utterly lack of prospect, so he did not dare to indulge in this thought too often. Occasionally he would remember but he always consoled himself, “I do not have anything to report anyway, why should I see the Old Xu? If the secret leaks out, my losing my little life is unimportant, but Tian Di Hui’s great undertaking will be jeopardized.” And so more than a month was passed this way.

This day Wei Xiaobao went to the teahouse to listen to the ‘Heroic Deed Commentaries’ again. The teahouse proprietor knew he was a court eunuch from the Palace, and he always left quite a lot of tips, so the proprietor always reserved the best seat for him, and served him the most fragrant tea. By this time Wei Xiaobao was already used to have people fawning on him; although the teahouse proprietor’s special treatment was not strange to him, the flattering and respectful words were still quite enjoyable to hear.

The storyteller on the stage was narrating the story of the great general Xu Da went into war and completely routed the Tatars troops that they rush back to Mongolia. It was the national capital, there were quite a number of Manchus in the teahouse, naturally the storyteller did not dare to openly use the word ‘Tatars’, he only used the term Yuan troops and Yuan generals; yet he spoke with such a gusto that his spittle flew everywhere. Wei Xiaobao was listening with rapt attention. Suddenly someone said, “Excuse me!” and sat on the empty chair on Wei Xiaobao’s tea table. Wei Xiaobao frowned, he was somewhat impatient.

The man said quietly, “Xiaoren have a very good medicinal plaster, which I want to sell to Gong-gong, would Gong-gong like to take a look?”

Wei Xiaobao turned his head around and saw a medicinal plaster on the table, half blue, half red; his heart was stirred. “What kind of plaster is this?” he asked.

The man replied, “This is medicinal plaster to get rid of virulent poison, to regain vision on both eyes.” Lowering his voice he said, “It has a name, it’s called ‘Drive Qing Restore Ming’ plaster.”

Wei Xiaobao turned his attention to the man; he was around thirty years old, with thriving heroic spirit, not at all like the old man Xu his Shifu had described to him. He became suspicious, so he asked, “How much do you want for this medicinal plaster?”

“Three taels of silver and three taels of gold,” the man replied.

“Would you sell it for five taels of silver and five taels of gold?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Isn’t that a bit too expensive?” the man replied.

“Not expensive, not expensive,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As long as it can really get rid of clear poison and restore clarity, even if I have to work like an ox or a horse for you, it is not expensive at all.”

The man pushed the medicinal plaster toward Wei Xiaobao and said in low voice, “Gong-gong, please step aside to talk.” Finished speaking, he stood up and walked out of the teahouse. Wei Xiaobao tossed two-hundred wen worth coins on the table, took the medicinal plaster, and walked out.

The man was waiting outside the teahouse; he walked toward the east, turned into an alley, and stopped. “The earth shakes high mound, a mountain creek is elegant for all eternity,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The gate faces the ocean, the three rivers and the water will flow for ten thousand years.” Without waiting for the man to reply, he asked him first, “Which hall by the red flower pavilion does Sire live?”

The man replied, “Xiongdi is from the Green Wood Hall.”

Wei Xiaobao asked, “How many fragrant incense sticks are burning in the hall?”

The man replied, “Three fragrant incense sticks!”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. He thought, “Your position is two levels below mine.”

The man cupped his fist and bowed, he said in a low voice, “Gege [‘older brother’ – used in a more intimate way] is the one burning five incense sticks in the Green Wood Hall, Wei Xiangzhu?”

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied; in his heart he said, “You are much older than I am, but you call me Gege; it’s really pleasant to hear, but why don’t you call me Yeye or Shushu [paternal grandfather and younger uncle, respectively]?”

The man said, “Xiongdi is surnamed Gao, called Yanchao, I am Wei Xiangzhu’s subordinate. I have long heard about Xiangzhu’s illustrious name, today we can meet, it is indeed my great fortune.”

Inwardly, Wei Xiaobao was very happy, he laughed and said, “Gao Dage is too kind. We all are brothers, there is no need to be polite.”

Gao Yanchao said, “There is a Dage by the surname Xu in our Hall who sells medicine at the Heavenly Bridge. Today he was beaten and is seriously injured; I came with a specific purpose to inform Wei Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he said, “I was busy in the Palace these days, I haven’t had time to go look for him. How is his injury? Who beat him?”

“This is not a convenient place for a detailed report,” Gao Yanchao said, “Would Wei Xiangzhu please come with me?” Wei Xiaobao nodded.

Passing through seven, eight streets, they reached an alley, where Gao Yanchao entered a drug store. Wei Xiaobao noticed the board above the door had five characters on it, but naturally he did not recognize even a single one, yet he did not need to examine the board carefully, presumably it was the name of the drug store; he simply followed Gao Yanchao into the store.

Behind the counter sat a fat shopkeeper. Gao Yanchao went up to him and whispered something into his ear. The fat storekeeper repeatedly replied, “Yes, yes!” Standing up, he nodded to Wei Xiaobao and said, “Honorable guest wants to buy superior quality drug ingredients, please come in!” He directed Wei Xiaobao and Gao Yanchao toward the inner hall, passed through several doors, then leaned over to lift open a trap door on the floor, revealing a hole with stone steps leading down.

Wei Xiaobao saw the hole was pitch-black, his heart was full of suspicions, “Are these two really Tian Di Hui brothers? I am afraid they are a bit unreliable. If downstairs is a room to slaughter Wei Xiaobao, won’t it be terrible?” But Gao Yanchao was right behind him, he simply could not shrink back, so without any choice he had to follow the shopkeeper walked into the tunnel. Fortunately the tunnel was quite short; after walking only a dozen or so steps, the shopkeeper pushed open a plank door, from which came a lantern light.

Wei Xiaobao walked in. It was a small room about ten chi square, there were five men sitting in that room, plus a man lying on a low couch. With the addition of the three of them, there was barely enough room to turn around. Fortunately the shopkeeper withdrew immediately.

Gao Yanchao said, “Brothers, Wei Xiangzhu has arrived!”

The five men inside the room cheered together; they stood up and bowed to salute. The underground room was too small, they all crowded together. Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the salute. He saw there was a Taoist priest among these people, whom he had met before, it was Priest Xuanzhen. Wei Xiaobao remembered that the priest had cracked a joke, telling Guan Anji to divorce his wife, the ‘100% real gold’. There was another man surnamed Fan, whom he also had met. Seeing these two familiar faces, Wei Xiaobao was relieved.

Gao Yanchao pointed to the man lying on the low couch and said, “Xu Dage is seriously injured, he is unable to get up to pay his respect.”

“You are too kind, you are too kind!” Wei Xiaobao said. He stepped forward to look at the man lying on the couch and saw that on his wrinkled face there was not the least bit trace of blood, his eyes were shut tight, his breathing was weak, and there were spots of blood on his white long beard. “I wonder who has injured Xu Dage?” he asked, “Is it … is it the Tatars’ eagle claws?”

Gao Yanchao shook his head, “It’s not,” he said, “It was people from Mu Palace of Yunnan.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Mu Palace of Yunnan?” he asked, “They … they are on our side, aren’t they?”

Gao Yanchao slowly shook his head and said, “Reporting to Xiangzhu Dage: Just now when Xu Dage was brought here into the Return Of Spring Drug Store, he spoke haltingly that two young men from the Mu Palace, both of them have the surname of Bai …”

“Surname Bai?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Aren’t they the descendant of four great generals of the Mu Palace?”

“Most likely,” Gao Yanchao replied, “Probably they are Bai Hansong and Bai Hanfeng brothers, the so-called ‘Twin Tree[2] of the Bai Clan’.”

“A pair of rotten woods,” Wei Xiaobao muttered to himself, “What’s so special about that?”

Gao Yanchao said, “From what Xu Dage was saying, they had a dispute over supporting Tang or supporting Gui, the more they talked, the more heated the argument, finally a fight broke. It was hard for Xu Dage‘s pair of fists to match four hands, hence he suffered a serious injury.”

“Two against one, it was not the conduct of a hero or a warrior,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What do you mean by Tang and Gui? Could it be … could it be …” He thought that ‘supporting Gui’ might mean they were supporting him, Xiao Guizi, but then he thought it was unlikely, so he did not say anything.

Gao Yanchao said, “The Mu Palace are King Gui’s followers, we Tian Di Hui are the subordinates of the King Tang, the Son of Heaven of the past. Xu Dage must have been arguing with them over the successor of the throne to such an extent as the argument turned into a fight.”

Wei Xiaobao still did not understand, “What King Gui’s followers, King Tang’s subordinates?”

Gao Yanchao said, “King Gui is not the rightful emperor ordained by heaven, our King Tang is the true heir of the Son of Heaven.”

Priest Xuanzhen understood Wei Xiaobao’s background; he knew the amount of information in Wei Xiaobao’s belly was limited, so he chimed in, “Wei Xiangzhu, when Li Zicheng broke into Beijing, he hounded Emperor Chongzhen to his death. Wu Sangui was leading the Qing troops to enter the pass and occupy our beautiful rivers and mountains. One after another loyal ministers and patriots across the country endorsed the descendant of Taizu Huangdi as the King. First it was King Fu who became the Emperor in Nanjing. Afterwards King Fu was harmed by the Tatars, our King Tang became the Emperor in Fujian; he was the one to whom Koxinga, the Zheng family, gave their allegiance to, naturally he was the true heir of the Son of Heaven. Who would have thought that another group of people in Guangxi and Yunnan was endorsing King Gui as the Son of Heaven, and yet another group of people in Zhejiang was endorsing King Lu to be the Emperor. All of them were phony sons of heaven.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “The sky cannot have two suns, the people cannot have two masters. If King Tang has become the Emperor, King Gui and King Lu cannot be the Emperor.”

“That’s right,” Gao Yanchao said, “What Wei Xiangzhu said is very true!”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “But the people of Guangxi and Zhejiang are seeking after riches and honor, in their strive they say that whoever gets their support is the true heir of the rightful emperor, so everybody has been fighting violently.” He sighed, and then continued, “Later on, King Tang, King Lu and King Gui met disaster one after another. Over the last several years, Jianghu heroes do not forget the Ming household, separately they try to find the descendants of these three kings, and regarded them as their masters, while continuing the great undertaking of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. King Gui’s followers supported King Gui’s descendants, King Lu’s followers supported King Lu’s descendants; they are called the Gui faction and the Lu faction; to them, we, Tian Di Hui are known as the Tang faction. All three factions, Tang, Gui, and Lu are fighting the Qing to restore the Ming. But only our Tian Di Hui is legitimate, those Gui and Lu factions are simply usurping the throne.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “I understand,” he said, “Those people from Mu Palace belong to the Gui faction, right?”

“Exactly,” Priest Xuanzhen said, “For the least dozen of years, the people from these three factions are continuously fighting each other.”

Wei Xiaobao recalled that day on the road north of Jiangsu they came across someone from  Mu Palace, who was very arrogant and rude. That man’s surname was also Bai, he wondered if he had any relation with these two rotten woods. At that time he saw how scared Mao Shiba was, so early on he already had dissatisfaction toward the Bai family. He said, “Since King Tang was already made the heir of the throne, they should not vie for it anymore. I heard Mu Gongye [‘master duke] was a very good man, I am afraid after the Senior returned to heaven, the people under his command were creating all these disturbance.”

Everybody in that underground room said together, “Wei Xiangzhu is absolutely right.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “The warriors of Jianghu look at Mu Tianbo, Mu Gongye‘s display of utter loyalty to his death that whenever we come across people from the Mu Palace we are 30% yielding to them. Thus, even any cat and dog from Mu Palace are all arrogant and conceited. You won’t find a better man than our Xu Dage, formerly he served under the rightful emperor King Tang; he is truly loyal and devoted, whenever the late emperor is mentioned, tears would flow from his eyes. It must be that the Mu Palace people were talking one thing or another and have insulted the late emperor. Otherwise, how could Xu Laoge fight those Mu Palace people?”

Gao Yanchao said, “Just before noon Xu Dage came to his senses for a while, he wanted all the brothers to vent his anger. Presently, Wei Xiangzhu is the only Xiangzhu within the Zhili[3] borders; according to our Society’s rules, in important matter such as this, we must report clearly to Wei Xiangzhu before taking any action. It’s not a big deal if we were dealing with Tatars’ eagle claws, the more we kill Tatars and eagle claws the better, our brothers would gladly sacrifice ourselves for our Society. But Mu Palace’s reputation in Jianghu is so resounding, plus they are on our side. If we go to negotiate with them, we might end up waging a war with them. What will the consequences be, it is hard to say.”

“Mmm,” Wei Xiaobao mumbled noncommittally.

Gao Yanchao continued, “Xu Dage said that he has been waiting for Wei Xiangzhu‘s visit; he has been waiting for several months. Sometimes he saw Wei Xiangzhu on the street or in the market buying things, sometimes he saw you sitting in the teahouse listening to stories.”

Wei Xiaobao’s face blushed slightly. “So he has seen me,” he said.

Gao Yanchao said, “Xu Dage said that according to Zongduozhu‘s order, if Wei Xiangzhu has anything he needed, he will go to look for him. Therefore, although Xu Dage has seen Wei Xiangzhu, he did not dare to come forward and introduce himself.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, he cast a glance toward the old man lying on the couch and mused, “Turns out this old fox has been following me in secret. He had early on seen me buying things and eating indiscriminately on the street, spending money recklessly. Damn it, someday he will see my Shifu and will definitely tell tales. It would be best if this old fox won’t recover from his injury and die!”

“We talked about this, and had no choice but to ask Wei Xiangzhu‘s presence and preside over this matter,” Priest Xuanzhen said.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I am but a child, what matter can I possibly preside over?” But seeing these people were so respectful toward him, in his heart he could not help but feeling very proud of himself. When he first joined Tian Di Hui, besides his Shifu, the other nine Xiangzhu were all much more senior than him. Presently, his position was the highest among these people, suddenly he felt his body was as light as a feather.

A thick and solid middle-aged man indignantly said, “We are 30% yielding to the Mu Palace people, it is indeed out of deep respect toward Mu Gongye‘s loyalty and self-sacrifice for the country. Speaking about great undertaking of overthrowing the imperial court, perhaps our Koxinga was ten times better than Mu Wangye.”

The one surnamed Fan, Fan Gang said, “I respect you five chi, you should respect me one zhang. When we are polite to them, how can they be more arrogant instead? If we do not sort this matter clearly, later on when Mu Palace step on our Tian Di Hui’s head, we won’t be able to stand up, how can we lift our head high when dealing with them?”

One said a word, the other said a sentence, everybody was very angry. Priest Xuanzhen said, “How to handle this matter, everybody must listen to Wei Xiangzhu‘s instruction.” If he wanted Wei Xiaobao to imitate the dog and steal the chicken or swindle people, Wei Xiaobao would have come up with some ideas; but facing an important matter like this and his decision was expected, it would be the same as telling him to make a fool of himself on the spot. However, he was indeed a disciple of Chen Jinnan, one of the ten Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui, within the whole region of Zhili, he was the leader of Tian Di Hui brethrens; that old man surnamed Xu and those other people were Green Wood Hall members, subordinates under his personal command. Immediately everybody’s eyes were on his face; he could not help but feeling embarrassed. “Hot piece mama,” he cursed in his heart, “What … what shall I do?”

In his embarrassment, he looked at their faces one by one, trying to look for a clue, perhaps he would find an idea. When his gaze met with that of the sturdy man, suddenly he saw the corners of the man’s mouth showed a faint smile, while his eyes revealed a sly look. This man was raising a clamor just a moment ago, his breast was filled with fury, how could he suddenly be happy? Thinking hard, he suddenly remembered, “Aiyo! Hot piece mama, this bunch of sons of a b1tch does not have good intentions; they want me to carry the rotten wood on my shoulder. They want to fight the Mu Palace people, but are afraid my Shifu would blame them, so they asked me to come and take the initiative for them.” The more he thought, the more he was convinced that he was right. “I am only a teenage child,” he mused, “Although I am the Xiangzhu, how can my idea really surpass theirs? They only want to make me their shield to block the arrow; it’s alright if nothing bad happens, but if thing goes bad, they would push the blame on my head, saying, ‘It was the Green Wood Hall Wei Xiangzhu who leads everybody to do it; Xiangzhu’s order, we did not dare not to obey.’ Humph, they want to find bones in the egg to depose me of my Xiangzhu position. I lead everybody to fight Mu Palace people, regardless of who wins who loses, it is indeed a very big bone. Alright, hot piece mama, laozi will not fall into this trick.”

He lowered his head, pretending to contemplate; after a while, he said, “All Gege, although Xiaodi is the Xiangzhu, it was because accidentally I killed Oboi, I do not have the least bit of talent, let alone any good plan. In my opinion, it is best if we ask Priest Xuanzhen to offer an advice; certainly he is much wiser than me.” This move of his was called ‘pushing the boat with the current’, he wanted to push the rotten wood onto Priest Xuanzhen’s shoulder.

Priest Xuanzhen chuckled; turning toward Fan Gang he said, “Fan San Ge’s [third older brother] brain is a lot more brilliant than mine; what do you think?”

Fan Gang was a straightforward man; he said, “I’ll say there is no other way; we must find the surnamed Bai’s home, if they kowtow to Xu Dage and apologize, we’ll let all matters rest. Otherwise, humph, humph, perhaps we will be forced to use peaceful measures before using force.”

It was precisely what everybody had in their minds; its just that in Jianghu, the Mu Palace’s prestige was quite thriving, plus they were their compatriots in fighting the Qing to restore the Ming, so nobody was willing to be the first to propose the idea. As soon as Fan Gang said those words, several people immediately parroted, “Right! Right! Fan San Ge is right; naturally it will be best if we can avoid violence, otherwise our Tian Di Hui will be bullied by others. Could it be that when people beat us up like this we’ll just let it go?”

Wei Xiaobao turned to Priest Xuanzhen and the other man and said, “What do the two of you think?”

The man said, “This is called ‘forced to climb the beam, we have no choice but to catch up’.” Priest Xuanzhen smiled and nodded, but decline to make any comment.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You don’t want to speak, in the future you can deny any responsibility. I will definitely make you responsible.” Thereupon he asked, “Priest Xuanzhen, you are thinking that Fan San Ge‘s idea is not too appropriate, aren’t you?”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “It’s not that it is inappropriate, it’s just that everybody has to think it through; if we are going to fight the Mu Palace people, first, we must not lose, second, we cannot kill anybody. If someone get killed, this matter will turn very serious.”

Fan Gang said, “So be it. But what if Xu Dage died because of his serious injury?” Priest Xuanzhen simply nodded again.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am asking everybody to propose a plan. All Gege have a lot of knowledge and experience, you have eaten a lot more salt than the rice I ate, you have passed a lot more bridges than the road I walked, the idea you can think of will definitely a lot better than I can come up with.”

Priest Xuanzhen cast a glance at him, he said indifferently, “Wei Xiangzhu is amazing!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Priest, you are not bad yourself.”

They talked over this matter for a while, the basic idea was still according to Fan Gang’s proposal, they asked Wei Xiaobao to lead them in finding the Mu Palace people’s whereabouts and condemn them. They would all bring concealed weapons, but would try to exercise forbearance as much as possible, to have full control of the situation. It would be better if the Mu Palace people start the fight, then they would have the pretext of retaliation.

Priest Xuanzhen said, “There is no harm in us inviting several famous martial art masters in Beijing to come with us, we can ask them to be the witness, to avoid a rumor from spreading, saying that we, Tian Di Hui, are taking unfair advantage of other people. If right or wrong is unclear, I am afraid in the future Zongduozhu will blame us.”

“That’s wonderful,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “We need to invite those with high skill, the more the better.” He recalled how at the restaurant along the way north of Jiangsu that man surnamed Bai from the Mu Palace threw chopsticks one by one and made Wu Sangui’s men fell down on the ground, right now that scene was so vivid in his mind. If once again they do the ‘blowing copper horn and crossing the river, shooting the elephants with rocket’ trick, although within the city of Beijing they could not dispatch the elephant formation, but even with only mice formation, the Green Wood Hall’s Wei Xiangzhu would not be able to escape unscathed. He was just thinking of making an excuse so he would not have to go, but had not found any idea; suddenly he heard Priest Xuanzhen’s suggestion to invite renowned Beijing’s martial art masters to come along, it was exactly what he was hoping for.

With a slight smile Priest Xuanzhen said, “We only invite those masters with respectable reputation, not to ask them to help us fighting; whether they have good martial art skill or not is secondary.”

Gao Yanchao said, “Those with respectable reputation will most likely have high level of martial art skill.” He was in support of Wei Xiaobao. Priest Xuanzhen nodded.

“Which martial art masters will we invite?” Fan Gang asked. They immediately discussed who they were going to ask to come along. The persons invited must have quite a reputation in Wulin, must have had no dealings with the authorities, and must have had somewhat favorable relationship with Tian Di Hui.

After this matter was decided, they were just about to separately invite the people, when all of a sudden the old man Xu groaned, “No … no … must not invite any outsiders.”

Fan Gang said, “Xu Dage, did you say we must not invite any outsiders?”

The old man Xu said, “Wei Xiangzhu serves … serves as a government official in the Palace, this … this matter must not leak out. This … this is a matter of … a matter of life and death.”

Hearing this, they all realized he was right. Wei Xiaobao was a court eunuch in the Palace, naturally it was under Zongduozhu‘s order, there must be a major secret scheme behind it. Once an outsider know about it, it would be difficult to prevent rumors from spreading.

Fan Gang said, “Wei Xiangzhu does not need to personally come with us. We are going to talk reason with those two surnamed Bai men; whatever the outcome, we’ll report to Wei Xiangzhu when we come back.”

At first Wei Xiaobao was rather afraid of the Mu Palace, but since they were going to invite several famous martial art masters of Wulin world to come with them, it was like a guaranteed victory without any possibility of defeat; just like gambling with those ‘cattle’ using mercury-loaded dice, how could he bear to be left out? Thereupon he said, “It won’t be fun if I don’t go. Just don’t tell the outsiders my real name and status.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “If Wei Xiangzhu change his outfit and go in disguise, nobody will know that he works in the Palace …”

Before he even finished, Wei Xiaobao had already clapped and cheered; “Wonderful! Wonderful!” he repeatedly shouted. This idea was exactly what he needed. To visit someone’s house and create trouble was already very amusing, creating trouble after dressing up was even more interesting. Originally everybody else was thinking that if it wasn’t the fact that Wei Xiangzhu was their leader, he would be more of a liability to them; but seeing his enthusiasm and his determination to come along, nobody raised any objection.

The old man Xu said, “Everybody … everybody must be very careful. Wei Xiangzhu, what … what are you going to dress up as?” Everybody turned their eyes toward Wei Xiaobao, waiting to hear his idea.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Shall I dress up as a wealthy family boy, or shall I dress up as a little beggar?” At the brothel, he was quite envious to see the visitors of the courtyard, who were mostly the sons of rich and influential families, were dressed in magnificent and expensive looking clothing and personal adornments, but all along he had never had any opportunity to dress like that. After slight hesitation, he fished three banknotes, worth five hundred taels each, from his pocket and said, “Here I have a thousand five hundred taels; I must bother one Dage to buy me some clothes.”

Everybody was slightly startled; almost together several of them said, “But we won’t need that much money?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have the money, the more expensive the clothes the better, buy some jewelry too, when I wear all that, nobody will know that I am a Palace … a Palace’s little eunuch.”

“Wei Xiangzhu is right,” Priest Xuanzhen said, “Gao Xiongdi, go and buy some clothes for Wei Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao took out another banknote worth a thousand taels and said, “Spend some more money; it doesn’t matter.”

Seeing a little child with that much money in his disposal, everybody was secretly amazed. Whatever people say, nobody could have guessed that he still had more than four hundred thousand taels at home. Based on Wei Xiaobao’s original character, if he had two or three taels with him, he would not feel comfortable until he spent it all; but how would he spend more than four hundred thousand taels? To be able to buy magnificent and expensive clothes and be able to show off was indeed an opportunity that was hard to come by; he was very happy in his heart. Seeing the people’s dumbfounded expression, he put his hand into his bosom again.

When his hand came out, there were banknotes in his palm, worth three thousand and five hundred taels, which he handed over to Priest Xuanzhen, saying, “Today is the first time Xiongdi meets all Dage, I do not have any present for you. I got this money from that Tatars’ place over there, it’s all ill … ill money [Book note: he was thinking of saying ‘ill-gotten gain’ 不义之财, but this phrase was too hard, he was unable to remember the rest.], I am asking everybody to help me spend it.”

Tian Di Hui’s rules were strict; taking other people’s property was strictly prohibited. Fan Gang, Gao Yanchao and the others had been poor for a long time, suddenly seeing Wei Xiangzhu drew out that much banknotes and explicitly stated that it was the Tatars’ ill-gotten wealth, which must be true since he was working in the Qing Palace, everybody could not help but cheering loudly.

Priest Xuanzhen said, “We must separately invite those people; it is too late today. Wei Xiangzhu, all of us will respectfully wait for your honorable self in here, I wonder what time will you be able to arrive.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have work to do in the morning, I will definitely be here in the afternoon.”

“Very good,” Xuanzhen said, “We’ll meet here tomorrow afternoon, and then we’ll leave together to settle the account with those two surname Bai’s.”

That night Wei Xiaobao’s heart was unbearably itchy, he jumped up and down in his room, gesticulating while talking to himself. The next morning, from the Upper Study Room he hurriedly went to a jewelry store to buy a big emerald ring, and asked the shop owner to attach a large piece of white jade and four perfectly round pearls onto his satin cap. Just like that he spent more than four thousand taels. Seeing the rich customer was a court eunuch from the Palace, the shop owner did not have the slightest suspicion, since when people from the Palace bought jewelry, ten times that amount was not uncommon.

Wei Xiaobao hurried back to Hui Chun Tang [Return of Spring Hall] drug store, everybody else had been waiting for him in the basement. They reported that they managed to invite Bejing’s four well-known martial art masters to come with them as their witnesses. Each one of those masters received two hundred taels for their trouble. Wei Xiaobao mused, “Wealth brings people, calamity drives away people; these four martial art masters will have to help us. It’s just that two hundred taels as a thank you gift is too few, it would be better if they receive five hundred taels each. Four martial art masters are too few, it would be better to invite sixteen.”

Gao Yanchao produced some clothes, shoes and socks for Wei Xiaobao to change into, each one was utterly luxurious; the outer long-gown was lined with fire fox fur, the collar and the sleeves were lined with glossy and bright-colored fur. Gao Yanchao said, “I asked them to alter the fur gown into smaller size in the same night, I paid them three taels and six qian extra.”

“Not expensive, not expensive,” Wei Xiaobao repeatedly said. There was an azure-colored satin magua [a buttoned mandarin jacket of the Qing Dynasty]; it had ten buttons made of real gold; yet in spite of this extravagant attire, Gao Yanchao did not even spend half of the money Wei Xiaobao had given him.

Wei Xiaobao had been living in the Palace for close to a year. Residence alters character, nurturing alters body; he ate proper food and gained a lot of knowledge and experience, and for the last half a year he had been the head of the Catering Department, he had more than a hundred eunuchs at his disposal, so for quite a while he was accustomed to be a leader. Presently he was dressing up in fancy clothes; although he still had a rather tacky impression of a nouveau riche, his style was by no means appeared ordinary. With his exuberant manner, he had distinguished himself from Fan Gang, Gao Yanchao and other warriors of the wilderness.

A sedan chair had been prepared, waiting outside the door. They asked Wei Xiaobao to ride on it, so that while traveling on the street in disguise, he would not come across a eunuch or court official from the Palace. Their entourage went to the Wusheng Escort Agency at Dongcheng district first, to rendezvous with the four martial art masters. Of these four martial art masters, the first one was the headmaster of Beijing Tantui[4] School, Old Master Ma Boren, a member of Qingzhen Cult; the second one was a famous physician Yao Chun. When the Old Xu was injured, he was treated by this physician. This man was not only a famous physician, his qinna and close-combat skill was also profound. The third one earned the nickname of ‘Tiger-face Overlord’, Lei Yixiao; his iron-armor skill was very famous. The fourth one was none other than the head escort of the Wusheng Escort Agency himself, the Golden Spear Wang Wutong.

Ma Boren and the others, four people, had already learned that Tian Di Hui’s leader Wei Xiangzhu was very young. When they met, they were very surprised to see that he looked like a teenager from a powerful and wealthy family. However, they all respected Chen Jinnan’s great name, thinking that although the disciple of Tian Di Hui’s Zongduozhu was very young, certainly he had an astonishing skill, hence they did not dare to belittle him.

After drinking some tea at the escort agency office, they continued their journey together to the Willow Tree Lane where the two surnamed Bai men resided. Wei Xiaobao, Ma Boren and Yao Chun three people rode on sedan chairs, while Lei Yixiao and Wang Wutong rode horses; the rest of the entourage accompanied them on foot. Priest Xuanzhen, Fan Gang, and the others were famous characters, Wang Wutong wanted to let them use his horse, but Xuanzhen was afraid they would attract attention, so he adamantly refused.

Finally they arrived outside a vermillion-painted gate of a large house on Willow Tree Lane. Gao Yanchao was about to step forward to knock on the door when suddenly they heard faint weeping sound coming from inside. Everybody was startled, they saw by the main gate there were two white lanterns, a sign that the family was in mourning. Gao Yanchao knocked the knocker ring lightly on the door. After a while the gate opened, an old housekeeper came out. Gao Yanchao presented five name cards, which they had prepared beforehand, and said, “Several friends from Wusheng Escort Agency, Tantui School and Tian Di Hui are here to pay their respect to Bai Da Xia and Bai Er Xia [Great Hero and Second Hero, respectively].”

As soon as the housekeeper heard three words ‘Tian Di Hui’, he raised his eyebrows and shot an angry look while he glowered at everybody. Receiving the visiting cards, without saying anything he went back in.

Although Ma Boren was already old, his temper was actually quite fiery; unable to restrain his anger he said, “This servant is very rude.”

“Ma Laoye [old master/gentleman] is exactly right,” Wei Xiaobao said. He was actually very afraid of the Mu Palace people, he was hoping that Ma Boren, Wang Wutong and the others would stand by his side, so that when the fight broke later on, he would have several capable helpers.

Quite a while later, a man about twenty-six or twenty-seven years old came out. He was very tall, his entire body was covered in mourning garment; his eyes were red as the tears in his eyes had not dried up. Cupping his fist he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, Ma Laoyezi, Wang Zongbiaotou [Head escort], gentlemen, it is an honor to have you here, welcome. Bai Hanfeng pays his respect to you.” Everybody also cupped their fists to return the salute.

Bai Hanfeng led everybody to the main hall. Ma Boren was most impatient; he asked, “Bai Er Xia, you are wearing mourning attire, I wonder which family member of yours has passed away?”

Bai Hanfeng replied, “It’s my older brother Hansong who was unfortunate and died.”

Ma Boren stomped his foot. “What a pity, what a pity!” he said, “The two Bai brothers were Mu Palace’s heroes and brave generals, who were greatly well-known in Wulin. Bai Da Xia was in the prime of his life, I wonder what illness did he suffer?”

They had just entered the main hall and were not seated yet, hearing this, Bai Hanfeng suddenly turned around, it was as if his eyes were shooting fire. “Ma Laoyezi,” he said harshly, “Zaixia regards you as a Wulin senior, and thus has treated you with due respect. You are asking something you already know, are you ridiculing me?”

Wei Xiaobao was taken aback that Bai Hanfeng got so angry suddenly; he was scared and took a step back. Ma Boren stroked his white beard and said, “That’s strange! Laofu [lit. old man – referring to self] did not know, hence I asked. What do you mean asking something I already know? Bai Er Xia‘s older brother has just died, even if your heart is full of sorrow, there is no need to have a fit of temper to this old man!”

‘Humph,” Bai Hanfeng snorted and said, “Please sit down!”

Ma Boren mumbled to himself, “Fine, I’ll sit down, do you think I am scared?” Turning to Wei Xiaobao he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, please take the seat of honor.”

“No, Ma Laoyezi should take the seat of honor!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

When Bai Hanfeng looked at the visiting cards, he knew that among his guests there was a Xiangzhu of the Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall, Wei Xiangzhu; but he had never imagined that this teenager was the Wei Xiangzhu, he was surprised and angry. Reaching out, he grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s left wrist and shouted, “You are Tian Di Hui’s Wei Xiangzhu?”

The force behind this grab was extraordinarily strong, Wei Xiaobao felt the pain penetrated his bone. “Ah!” he screamed, two streams of tear involuntarily flowed down his cheeks.

Priest Xuanzhen said, “Please release your guest, Bai Er Xia took too much advantage of others!” Stretching out his finger, he jabbed Bai Hanfeng’s side.

Bai Hanfeng blocked with his left hand while releasing Wei Xiaobao’s wrist at the same time and took a step backward. “Please forgive my offense,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao looked very distressed; he wiped the tears with his sleeve. It was totally beyond Bai Hanfeng’s expectation; Ma Boren, Wang Wutong, as well as Tian Di Hui people were also surprised. They could see that although Bai Hanfeng’s grab was very swift and fierce, it was not something that cannot be evaded. Yet as the disciple of Chen Jinnan, not only this Wei Xiangzhu did not dodge, he screamed and shed some tears too; it was truly a great marvel in the Wulin world. Xuanzhen, Fan Gang, Gao Yanchao, and the others were blushing to their ears, they were greatly ashamed.

“I am sorry!” Bai Hanfeng said, “Elder brother was unfortunate to be killed under Tian Di Hui’s evil scheme, Zaixia’s heart is grieved …”

“What?” before he could finished, everybody exclaimed one after another, “Bai Da Xia is killed by Tian Di Hui?” “How can there be such thing?” “There is absolutely no such thing.”

Suddenly Bai Hanfeng stood up and loudly said, “You say there is absolutely no such thing, are you saying that my Gege did not die? Come, I want all of you to take a look.” Stretching out his hand, he was about to grab and pull Wei Xiaobao’s left arm. But this time Priest Xuanzhen and Fan Gang were prepared; as soon as Bai Hanfeng’s right arm moved, the two of them, one toward his chest and the other toward his back, attacked simultaneously.

Immediately Bai Hanfeng turned his body sideways and took a step back, while his palms struck out right and left. Xuanzhen raised his left palm and struck with right palm; in the meantime, Fan Gang had already exchange a blow with Bai Hanfeng. Bai Hanfeng turned around and aimed for Xuanzhen’s throat. Xuanzhen leaned sideways to evade. Bai Hanfeng fiercely said, “My Dage died under your hands, I don’t want to live anymore. Tian Di Hui’s dogs, come up together!”

The famous physician Yao Chun sprang up and spread out his arms to block. “Wait, don’t fight!” he said, “There is a misunderstanding here. Bai Er Xia keeps saying that Bai Da Xia was killed by Tian Di Hui, but what had really happened? Please explain to us clearly.”

“All of you come with me!” Bai Hanfeng said, and walked in big strides toward the inner hall. Everybody thought that since their number was greater, they were not afraid he might have any plot or trick, they followed him inside.

As soon as they reached the courtyard, they all halted on the spot. They saw the rear hall was arranged as a mourning hall, with a coffin behind the mourning curtains, and a dead body lying inside the coffin; half of the body’s head, as well as its pair of feet, were visible. Bai Hanfeng raised the mourning curtains and called out in loud voice, “Gege, you died without your eyes closed, Xiongdi is going to kill several Tian Di Hui dogs to avenge you.” His voice was hoarse, obviously because he had been crying for a long time.

Wei Xiaobao went to see the dead person’s appearance and he was shocked. He had seen this person in that little restaurant along the way north of Jiangsu; he was the one striking Wu Sangui’s troops with chopsticks, his martial art skill excelled, it was hard to imagine that he would die in here. Immediately he thought that the opposite party had one less formidable persona; his shock was covered with a feeling a relief.

Ma Boren, Yao Chun, Lei Yixiao, Wang Wutong, four people stepped closer to the coffin. Wang Wutong was an acquaintance of Bai Hanfeng; he sighed and said, “Bai Da Xia has indeed passed away; what a pity!”

Yao Chun was a particularly cautious man, he stretched out his hand to check the dead body’s pulse on his wrist. With a cold laugh Bai Hanfeng said, “If you manage to get my Gege from the grave, I … I will kowtow to you twelve thousand times.”

Yao Chun sighed and said, “Bai Er Xia, the dead cannot come back to life; please restrain your grief. Are you sure it was Tian Di Hui people who harmed Bai Da Xia? Bai Er Xia has not made a mistake?”

“I … I made a mistake?” Bai Hanfeng screamed, “How can I make mistake?”

Seeing his grief was beyond ordinary sorrow, one could see that the brotherly bond between the two of them was very deep; they all could not help from feeling sorry for him, Fan Gang’s anger had subsided considerably, he thought, “His older brother is dead, no wonder he did not realize whether his action was light or heavy.”

With arms on his waist, Bai Hanfeng stood in the middle of the mourning hall and loudly said, “The one who killed my Gege was the old thief surnamed Xu who day by day sells medicinal plaster on the Heavenly Bridge. That old thief’s name is Xu Tianchuan, his bandit nickname is ‘Eight-armed Ape’, he is an officer in the Green Wood Hall of Tian Dihui, am I right? You still want to deny it?”

Fan Gang, Xuanzhen and the others looked at each other in blank dismay; they went to the Willow Tree Lane was actually to confront the two brothers of the Bai family, to inquire them why they injured somebody. Unexpectedly the older brother of the Bai family, Bai Hansong had died under Xu Tianchuan’s hands. Fan Gang sighed and said, “Bai Lao’er, Xu Tianchuan, Xu Dage is our Tian Di Hui brother, that is true, but he … he …”

“He what?” Bai Hanfeng asked harshly.

“He is seriously injured by the two of you, he is on his last breath, I don’t know if by this time he is still alive or already dead. To tell you the truth, the reason of our visit today is to inquire of you, two brothers, why did you beat our Xu Dage like that? Who would have thought … who could have imagined … ay …”

Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “Let’s not talk about this old thief surnamed Xu has not died, even if he has, the life of that old thief who is worse than a dog or a pig is not fit to make up for my Gege’s life.”

Fan Gang was also angry, “Your mouth is so filthy, what kind of Wulin hero are you? So what do you want?”

“I … I don’t know,” Bai Hanfeng screamed, “I want to butcher all of you, Tian Di Hui dog thieves, and make you mincemeat. I will die with you, we all will die together.” Turning around, he pulled a steel blade from the dead body’s side, and then he leaped up like a mad tiger, brandishing the saber wildly, making a loud ‘whoosh, whoosh’ noise. Tian Di Hui’s Fan Gang, Xuanzhen, and the others also unsheathed their weapons, they were prepared to meet the enemy. Wei Xiaobao hastily withdrew behind Gao Yanchao.

Suddenly a loud roar was heard, “Stop fighting!” The voice shook everybody’s ears that their eardrums were buzzing. They saw the ‘Tiger Face Overlord’ Lei Yixiao raised both of his hands, standing in front of the Tian Di Hui group. With a loud voice he said, “Bai Er Xia, if you want to kill people, just kill me first!”

This man had a good surname, his given name was also fitting[5]; his shout indeed had the power of jolting thunder. Bai Hanfeng was grieving of his brother’s death; his mind was somewhat abnormal, as soon as he heard the shout, his brain cleared up slightly. He said, “Why would I want to kill you? It wasn’t you who killed my Gege?”

“These Tian Di Hui friends are not your Gege’s killer either,” Lei Yixiao said, “Besides, all over the world, Tian Di Hui has at least two, three hundred thousand members; can you kill them all?”

Bai Hanfeng was startled, he shouted, “Killing one means one less, killing a pair means a pair less!”

Suddenly from outside the door came a faint noise of hoof beats; it sounded like more than ten riders were rushing their way. Yao Chun said, “Perhaps government soldiers, everybody, hide your weapons!” Seeing Lei Yixiao was blocking in front of them, Fan Gang, Xuanzhen, and the others knew that it would not be easy for Bai Hanfeng to pounce on them with brandished saber; hence they all hid their weapons.

Bai Hanfeng loudly said, “Even if the old man the emperor of heaven himself came, I am not scared.”

The hoof beats were drawing nearer and nearer toward the alley, and then the riders stopped abruptly in front of the main gate, followed by the knocker ring was pounded on the door. Someone outside called out, “Bai Er Di, it’s me!” A shadow flashed, a man jumped over the wall and rushed in.

This man was approximately forty years old, his bearing was imposing, but his expression greatly changed as with a trembling voice he said, “It’s really … really Bai Da Di … Bai Da Di …” [Da Di and Er Di are ‘first younger brother’ and ‘second younger brother’, respectively.]

Bai Hanfeng threw the steel blade in his hand and rushed out to meet him and called out, “Su Si Ge [fourth older brother], my Gege … my Gege …” Unable to continue, he broke in a bawl.

Ma Boren, Fan Gang, Xuanzhen and the others all thought, “Could it be that this man is the Mu Palace’s ‘Divine Physician Hermit’[6] Su Gang?”

At this moment the main gate was opened and about a dozen people, men and women, rushed in and ran straight toward the coffin. Several women immediately raised their voices in loud wailing. One young woman was Bai Hansong’s wife, another young woman was Bai Hanfeng’s wife.

Fan Gang, Xuanzhen, and the others felt awkward, they saw how these people were crying in extreme distress. If they did not leave now, after these people finished crying, even if they did not fight, unavoidably they would throw curses at them. Wei Xiaobao’s wrist was heavily gripped by Bai Hanfeng earlier, right now he felt the pain was still severe. Originally he wanted to take advantage of their number and told Xuanzhen, Fan Gang and the rest to catch Bai Hanfeng for him, so that at least he could kick his damn butt seven or eight times. Unexpectedly, the opposite party now had more people, so that if a fight broke, it would not be too convenient to them; his heart was thumping madly. He saw Xuanzhen was signaling him with his eyes, obviously Xuanzhen wanted to wipe the oil from their soles, by slipping out quietly. It was exactly what Wei Xiaobao had in his mind. Immediately he turned around and walked away, while saying, “Everybody, let’s go buy some yuanbao and candles, and come back here to pay respect to the dead!”

“Want to run away?” Bai Hanfeng shouted, “It’s not that easy.” Rushing forward, he sent his right palm fiercely toward Fan Gang’s back.

“Who wants to run away?” Fan Gang angrily said, while lifting his left arm to block, but he did not retaliate. Xuanzhen and the others halted their steps. But Wei Xiaobao continued running toward the gate; he wanted to make sure one of his feet was across the threshold before seeing what would happen next.

The man surnamed Su asked, “Bai Er Di, who are these gentlemen? Please forgive zaixia for not recognizing them.”

“They are Tian Di Hui dogs,” Bai Hanfeng replied, “My GegeGege was killed by them.” As soon as he blurted those words, the people who were prostrating and crying loudly suddenly leaped up. Continuous ringing was heard, weapons were flashing, instantly the guests were surrounded; even Ma Boren, Yao Chun, Lei Yixiao and Wang Wutong, four people were inside the encirclement.

Wang Wutong laughed aloud and said, “Ma Dage, Lei Xiongdi, Doctor Yao, since when did we join the Tian Di Hui? Based on our morality and conduct, I am afraid in the Tian Di Hui friends’ eyes we are not fit to carry their shoes.”

The middle-aged man surnamed Su cupped his fist. “So gentlemen are not from Tian Di Hui?” he asked, “This Doctor Yao, presumably your given name is Chun. Zaixia Su Gang. As soon as I learned that the older brother of Bai family had met a misfortune and died, from Wanping we rushed over here. In my grief I did not ask for guidance; this is indeed showing my lack in manners.” While saying that, he cupped his fist and bowed.

Wang Wutong also cupped his fist and bowed, “You are too kind, you are too kind,” he said, “Divine Physician Hermit, you have a fully justified reputation; you indeed have the knowledge and experience, and the bearing of a hero.” Right away he presented everybody present, one by one; the first one was naturally Wei Xiaobao. “This is Tian Di Hui Green Wood Hall’s Wei Xiangzhu.”

Su Gang knew that altogether Tian Di Hui had ten halls, each hall’s xiangzhu was a heroic warrior with unsurpassed skill; but this Wei Xiangzhu was obviously a teenager of a rich family whose smell of his mother’s milk had not yet dried, he could not help but was astonished, however, his face remained calm and collected. Cupping his fist he said, “An honor to meet you at last!”

Wei Xiaobao giggled and cupped his fist to return the propriety, from the threshold he walked back in. “Why is it an honor for you to meet me?” he asked.

Su Gang was startled; he said, “It’s an honor for Zaixia to meet Tian Di Hui’s ten Xiangzhu, each one is a hero and a warrior.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded; “So that’s how it is,” he said with a laugh. Seeing his cunning expression and sly tone, the doubt in Su Gang’s heart grew.

Presently Wang Wutong continued his introduction to the rest of the party. Su Gang also introduced the people who had come with him. Two were his two younger martial brothers; the three of them were martial brothers with the two brothers of the Bai family. And then there were several disciples of Su Gang. Madame Bai Hansong was leaning over her husband’s dead body and wept bitterly, Madame Bai Hanfeng was crying and comforting her at the same time. These women did not come over to be introduced.

Yao Chun said, “Bai Er Xia, what has exactly happened? How did the contention between Bai Da Xia and Tian Di Hui started? Would Bai Er Xia tell us?” He coughed, and then continued, “Wulin people are always looking up to the Mu Palace of Yunnan, Tian Di Hui’s internal rules are always very strict, neither one are capricious and unreasonable people. The whole world cannot forego this ‘reason’, the matter of today cannot be settled by fighting or using martial art. Here we have Old Master Ma, Lei Xiongdi, Wang Zongbiaotou, as well as the trivial Zaixia, granted that we have no special friendship with either side, but we always admire both sides’ reputation. Bai Er Xia, would you do it for out sake, how did it all happen?”

Wang Wutong said, “Not trying to conceal anything, I can tell you that the friends from Tian Di Hui really did not know that Bai Da Xia has passed away, otherwise, won’t you say that their visit would be embarrassing?”

“In that case,” Su Gang said, “For what reason did Wei Xiangzhu and other friends come to our humble place?”

Wang Wutong said, “We are not going to lie to you, Tian Di Hui friends said that their Xu Tianchuan, Xu San Ge has been beaten and seriously injured by Mu Palace people, so that he is already unable to speak. Hence they invited us, several old rotten men to accompany them to your respectable place to inquire the reason.”

Su Gang grimly said, “If that so, everybody’s visit here is to condemn us?”

“That we do not dare,” Wang Wutong said, “We make our living by mingling in the Jianghu, we entirely dependent on friends giving us face. Right or wrong, crooked or straight, it’s all a matter of public opinion, nobody can speak blindly against one’s conscience.”

Su Gang nodded. “Wang Zongbiaotou is right,” he said, “Please everybody come to the hall and talk.”

They all went to the main hall. Su Gang told his martial brothers and his disciples to sheathe their weapons. Bai Hanfeng was unwilling to lay down the steel blade in his hand. Su Gang let everybody sit, and then said, “Bai Er Di, what had really happened? Why don’t you tell it to everybody?”

Bai Hanfeng sighed, and then said, “The day before yesterday, in the afternoon …” He only said those words when he could not refrain anger from raising up, that he brandished the steel blade in his hand. Wei Xiaobao was startled and shrank back. Bai Hanfeng realized he had been too ill-mannered; with might he threw the steel blade to the ground. ‘Crash!’, it smashed two of the square bricks. With a heavy breathing he said, “In the afternoon the day before yesterday, Gege and I were having a drink in a wine shop on the Heavenly Bridge, when suddenly in came a government official with his four attendants. Those four attendants’ conduct were loathsome, they asked for wine, asked for dishes, but they were speaking in Yunnan dialect.”

“Oh,” Su Gang said.

Bai Hanfeng continued, “When Gege and I heard them speak, we focused our attention.”

Wang Wutong, Fan Gang, and the others knew that for generations Mu Palace had ruled Yunnan. Su Gang, Bai Hanfeng, and the others grew up in Yunnan. Hearing a local accent in Beijing, naturally they would pay more attention.

Bai Hanfeng continued, “My Gege listened for a while before he exchanged some greetings with the neighbor. Hearing that we are also from Yunnan, the government official invited us over and sit with him. Gege and I have left home for a long time, we wanted very much to hear news from our homeland. Seeing this government official had just arrived from Yunnan, we moved and sat with him. When we talked, the government official called himself Lu Yifeng, turns out he was on assignment, sent by Wu Sangui, to be the county head magistrate of Qujing County. He is from Dali in Yunnan. According to the rules, Yunnan native cannot be a local official in his own province. But this Lu Yifeng said that he was appointed by Ping Xi Wang, so he did not need to pay attention to the rules!”

Fan Gang could not refrain from cursing, “His granny, that big traitor to China Wu Sangui appoints a dog official, what a nerve!”

Bai Hanfeng cast him a glance, then he nodded and said, “This Fan … Fan Xiong said it well, at that time I also had such thought. But in order to hear more about our hometown situation, we flattered him several sentences instead. That dog official was even more complacent; he said that officials appointed by Wu Sangui are called ‘Western Elect’, meaning these officials are elected by Ping Xi Wang. All government officials in Yunnan, big and small, are appointed by Wu Sangui; even in Sichuan, Guangxi, Guizhou, three provinces, the western elects are more popular than those officials appointed by the Emperor himself.”

Hearing Bai Hanfeng was speaking with a labored breathing, Su Gang interrupted by explaining, “If there is any vacant post, the imperial court will appoint an official, Wu Sangui will also appoint an official. Whoever assumes the post first will get the position. Whenever there is any vacant high level position post in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Guangxi, for provinces, naturally Kunming would find out first; and sending someone from Kunming is definitely a lot quicker. As a result, officials from the imperial court always lag behind those ‘Western Elects’.”

Bai Hanfeng took a deep breath and continued, “The official said that Ping Xi Wang has rendered a great service to the imperial court. The Manchus were able to conquer our rivers and mountains, it was entirely due to Ping Xi Wang, therefore, the imperial court shows special favor to him. Whatever memorial to the throne Wu Sangui submitted, it has never been rejected.”

Wang Wutong said, “This official is actually telling the truth. Each time Xiongdi go into escort duty to the southwest provinces, I see it with my own eyes that people in Yunnan and Guangxi only know Wu Sangui, they do not know the Emperor.”

Bai Hanfeng said, “This Lu Yifeng said that according to the imperial court’s rules, all county head magistrates must go to the Capital to have an audience with the Emperor, the Emperor must personally confer the high official post. He came to Beijing, it was exactly to see the Emperor. He said that since Ping Xi Wang has already sealed his appointment, his coming to the Capital to see the Emperor is just a routine business. My Gege said, ‘Official Lu is taking an official post in Qujing, a native become a government official in his own province, naturally you will do the people a lot of good.’ That Lu Yifeng laughed aloud and said, ‘Naturally.’ Suddenly, someone sitting on another table butted in, that old … that old thief … my enmity with him is so deep …” While saying that, he suddenly stood up, his face was bulging and was very red.

Su Gang said, “It was the ‘Eight-armed Ape’ Xu Tianchuan who spoke?”

Bai Hanfeng nodded. “Ex … ex …” in his great anger, his throat choked, he was unable to speak. After a while he continued, “Exactly that old thief. He was sitting on a small table by the window, drinking wine. He butted in, saying, ‘A native become a government official in his own province, it is even more convenient to plunder the land.’ That old thief, we were talking to the official, who told him to be a blabbermouth?”

“Bai Er Xia,” Xuanzhen coldly said, “What Xu San Ge said was not wrong.”

“Humph,” Bai Hanfeng snorted. After a short pause he said, “What he said was not wrong, I did not say that what he said was wrong, but … but … who told him to meddle other people’s business? If he did not butt in, how could all these things happen?” Seeing he was short of breath, Xuanzhen did not say anything anymore.

Bai Hanfeng continued, “Hearing these words, Lu Yifeng flew into a rage; he slapped the table and turned his head, only to see that this old thief was a hunchback old man with wretched appearance. There was a medicine chest on the table, there was a medicinal plaster banner by his chair, so he was an old man who sells medicine. Lu Yifeng shouted, ‘You, old codger, what nonsense are you talking about?’ His four attendants have already scrambled over, they slapped the old thief’s table and rained curses on him. One servant grabbed him by his collar. I was so blind that I could not see that old thief has a profound martial art skill; I was thinking that because of righteous indignation he spoke those words to mock. Afraid that he might get the worst of it, I came over to advise him and in the process pushed those four attendants away.”

Xuanzhen praised him, “Bai Er Xia was thinking of benevolence and righteousness, it was indeed the conduct of a hero.” He thought that Bai Hansong had died, while although Xu Tianchuan’s injury was not light, he would most likely live, so it could be said that their side had had a small advantage. In a lot of things both sides had to make peace, so he flattered Bai Hanfeng a little bit to let him calm down.

Who would have thought that Bai Hanfeng was unwilling to accept his praise; he stared at him and said, “What hero? I am a coward[7]! I have eyes but failed to be a good judge of character, I failed to see that this old thief was treacherous and murderous, and still thought that he was a good man. That Lu Yifeng turned into his official mode, he cursed incessantly, shouting, ‘Rebellion! Rebellion!’ He said that there are indeed many wicked citizens in the Capital that must be punished severely.”

Fan Gang interrupted, “That official is just like a dog threatens based on his master’s power; it’s not enough for him to bully the common people in Yunnan, he also came to Beijing to bully people.”

“It’s not that easy to bully people,” Ban Hanfeng said, “That official shouted repeatedly, telling his attendants to bind the old thief and send him to the authority, to have him beaten by forty big planks, to put him in wooden stocks and expose him publicly. That old thief giggled and said, ‘Da Laoye, why do you shout and make a racket? Aren’t you straining yourself? Let me prepare a medicinal plaster for you.’ From his medicine chest he took a sheet of medicinal plaster, which he pressed between his palms, immediately afterwards he flattened up the herbal plaster, which was originally folded and lumped together. When at first I saw how this old thief was not afraid of the fiendish attendants at all, I had begun to have suspicion, now that I saw the strength of his hands with which he pulled the plaster, Gege and I looked at each other; I finally understood. The lump of ointment in the middle of the plaster was stiff and hard; it has to be baked over the fire for a long time before it can be pulled open. But he only pressed it between his palms for a short moment and used his internal energy to bake it and made the ointment soft, his power must be really extraordinary. When he flattened out the plaster, the ointment was steaming hot. But that Lu Yifeng did not realize it at all; he kept urging his attendants to go forward and arrest the man. I no longer care to stop those official’s lackeys, since they were only asking trouble for themselves. Seeing I stepped out of the way, one of the attendants pounced on that old thief. The old thief laughed and said, ‘Do you want medicinal plaster?’ while putting the plaster on the attendant’s hand. The attendant cursed, ‘Old dog, what are you doing?’ The old thief gave the attendant’s arm a push, the attendant’s body swiveled and ‘slap!’ the steaming hot plaster happened to stick onto that dog official, Lu Yifeng’s mouth …”

Hearing to this part, Wei Xiaobao could not show restraint anymore, he laughed and clapped his hands. Bai Hanfeng snorted and shot him a very fierce glare. Wei Xiaobao was scared and did not dare to laugh. “And then what happened?” Su Gang asked.

Bai Hanfeng said, “That dog official’s mouth was sealed by the plaster, he busily reached up to pull the plaster. The old thief pushed the four attendants away and said, ‘Go help Da Laoye!’ I heard a continuous ‘slap! slap! slap!’; the four attendants were like, I slap once, you slap once, they kept slapping that dog official. Turned out the old thief pushed and steered the four attendants’ arms, while transmitting his own strength, so that those four men’s palms were slapping the dog official. In just a short moment, the dog official’s cheeks were swollen red.” Wei Xiaobao burst out in laughter again, but he turned his head around, he did not dare to look at Bai Hanfeng.

Su Gang nodded, “That Xu Xiong has earned the nickname ‘Eight-armed Ape’. I heard his qin na skill is considered first class in Wulin; his reputation is indeed fully justified.” He thought that since Bai Hansong died in his hands, naturally this old man’s martial art skill was very high. By praising his martial art skill, he was trying to preserve the two brothers of the Bai family’s prestige.

Bai Hanfeng said, “Gege and I were amused; very soon we saw blood dripping from the dog official’s cheeks. There were many onlookers in the wine shop standing to see the excitement. The old thief kept yelling loudly, ‘Don’t hit, don’t hit! Da Laoye must not be hit! You are such brazen servants, underlings defy your superior, how can you beat your own Da Laoye?’ while he skipped and bounced around behind the four attendants, very much like a big monkey. When pushing the attendant’s arm, it looked like he was dodging instead. The onlookers could not see that he was playing a trick. It was not until that dog official fainted and fell down on the floor that he stopped and returned to his table. The four attendants still thought that they had bumped into some demon or meet some ghosts; they simply did not understand how they were beating their own Da Laoye, but the blood on their palms was real. The four of them stared blankly for a moment, and then they carried that dog official away.”

“Delighted, delighted!” Fan Gang said, “Wu Sangui’s lackeys should be punished like that. Xu San Ge beating that dog official thoroughly is precisely to vent the resentment of all common people in the world. Bai Er Xia, why didn’t you help him with several beatings of your own?”

Immediately Bai Hanfeng’s anger rose up again, he shouted loudly, “It was obvious that old thief was flaunting his skill, why would I want to help him? It was he who did the beating, not him taking a beating.”

Xuanzhen said, “Bai Er Xia is right, previously he did not know Xu San Ge knew martial art; didn’t he stand up bravely for the truth by blocking those dog official’s attendants from assaulting him?”

“Humph!” Bai Hanfeng snorted, and then continued, “After that dog official and his attendants left, my Gege called the restaurant’s shopkeeper and told him that he would compensate for all damaged tables, chairs and utensils, he also told him to put the old thief’s bill into our account. The old thief laughed and thanked him. My Gege invited him over to drink wine together with us. In a low voice the old thief said, ‘I have long admired the illustrious name of Song and Feng, virtuous brothers. It’s nice to meet you.’ Gege and I were startled, thinking that it turned out he had already known our origins, but we did not know who he was. My Gege said, ‘I am very ashamed, may I ask Laoyezi‘s respected surname and great given name?’ The old thief said with a laugh, ‘Zaixia Xu Tianchuan. Unable to keep my calm, I have shown off my meager skill in front of virtuous brothers’ expert eyes; it was truly laughable.’ By that time we still did not know what kind of man was this Xu Tianchuan, but we thought that since he had given a dog official some beatings, obviously he was someone who tread the same path as we do. If that dog official did not suffer those trashing, we, two brothers, would certainly give him some beatings ourselves. The three of us drank and chatted, we got along very well with each other. Since it was not convenient to have an in depth conversation in the restaurant, we invited him over here to have a meal.”

“Oh,” Fan Gang said, “So Xu San Ge came here? Was it in your respected abode that the fight started?”

“Who says we fought here?” Bai Hanfeng said, “How can we fight with a guest in our home? Isn’t that we are bullying others?”

Xuanzhen nodded and said, “The Bai brothers have heroic spirit and chivalrous frame of mind, definitely they won’t do such thing.”

Hearing Xuanzhen repeatedly praised him, eventually Bai Hanfeng nodded to him to express his gratitude. He said, “We, brothers invited the old thief to come here, we treated him with utmost respect, we asked him how he recognized us. He no longer conceal anything, he said that he belong to Tian Di Hui, as soon as we, brothers, arrived in Beijing, Tian Di Hui had already obtained the news, and that he longed to make friends with us. He beat the dog official in the restaurant, first, it was because he detests Wu Sangui, second, it was because he wanted to make friends with us. That old thief can talk really well, he deceived us, brothers, into thinking that he was a really good man. Afterwards we were speaking about fighting the Qing to restore the Ming. The more we talked, the three of us, no, two people and a dog, grew more in agreement with each other …”

Wei Xiaobao interjected, “Two people and a dog talked and grew more in agreement with each other is a very rare occurrence.” The others could not help feeling amused, but in front of Bai Hanfeng, they did not dare to laugh loudly.

Bai Hanfeng shouted angrily, “Little demon, you talk rubbish!”

“Bai Er Xia,” Fan Gang said, “Although Wei Xiangzhu is young, he is our Society’s Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu; everybody in our Society, from top to bottom, respects him very much.”

“So what if he is a Xiangzhu?” Bai Hanfeng said.

Su Gang tried to change the subject. “My Bai Xiongdi is deeply grieved by the death of his older brother, his speech is somewhat pressing with rage, I am asking everybody not to take offense. Wei Xiangzhu, please bear with him a little bit.” He thought that in Tian Di Hui, the Xiangzhu status was not a small matter; by calling him ‘little demon’, Bai Hanfeng was clearly in the wrong.

Bai Hanfeng was not a fool, he understood this subtle hint; averting his gaze from Wei Xiaobao he said, “Afterwards, the three of us …”

“No, the two of you and a dog,” Wei Xiaobao butted in again.

“You … you …” Bai Hanfeng angrily screamed. But in the end he was able to control his temper. Taking a deep breath he continued, “When the topic of our discussion reached fighting the Qing restoring the Ming, we talked about after the Tatars are wiped clean, we will support Emperor Hongwu’s descendant to sit of the dragon throne. My Gege said, ‘His Majesty returned to heaven in Myanmar, he was survived by the young crown prince. Contrary to what one might expect, he is actually very intelligent, wise and farsighted, and will make a brave ruler; presently he lives in seclusion in a remote mountain.’ But that old thief said, ‘The rightful emperor ordained by heaven is alive and well in Taiwan.’”

As soon as Bai Hanfeng quoted Xu Tianchuan, Su Gang, Yao Chun, Wang Wutong, and the others knew the disagreement between the two parties was over supporting Gui and supporting Tang. After the Emperor Suizhen hanged himself on Mount Mei and the Qing army crossed the pass, the members of Ming Dynasty’s imperial clan, King Fu, King Tang, King Lu and King Gui separately proclaimed themselves as Emperors in different places, the dispute had already started at that time. After each one of these Kings died, the followers of these kings still harbored hostility toward each other.

Bai Hanfeng continued, “When I heard the old thief spoke those words, I asked, ‘Since when did our young emperor go to Taiwan?’ The old thief said, ‘I was talking about Son of Heaven Longwu’s young emperor, not King Gui’s offspring.’ My Gege said, ‘Xu Laoyezi, you are a hero and a warrior, the two of us brothers admire you very much, it’s just that concerning an important matter of the world, your experience is actually lacking. When the Son of Heaven Suizhen died, King Fu stood on his own feet. When King Fu was taken prisoner by the Qing army, King Tang was unfortunate and died for his country. Our Son of Heaven Yongli was the king over the whole China. After the Son of Heaven Yongli died for his country, naturally his offspring will succeed the throne.’” Longwu was King Tang’s regnal name, Yongli was King Gui’s regnal name. They were all King Tang, King Gui’s former officials, naturally they were addressing their former masters by their regnal names.

Listening to this point, Fan Gang interrupted, “Bai Er Xia, please don’t be offended. After the Son of Heaven Longwu perished, all his other brothers died, he still has a sibling Son of Heaven Shaowu in Guangzhou. Yet King Gui dispatched troops to attack Son of Heaven Shaowu. They were all descendants of Taizu Huangdi, not fighting Manchu Tatars but fighting one’s own, isn’t that a big mistake, a blunder?”

Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “Wasn’t the way that old thief speak identical to yours? In the end, whose dispute is this? Our Son of Heaven Yongli properly sent an envoy to Guangzhou, ordering King Tang to remove his honorific title. Not only King Tang refuse to accept the imperial order, he sent troops to oppose the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ instead. This action of King Tang was obviously in rebellion, a treason and heresy; it can be said that it was the main cause of a disaster.”

With a cold laugh Fan Gang said, “An insignificant Zaixia was also involved in the battle of Sanshui, but I don’t know whose army was completely wiped-out?”

Bai Hanfeng was furious, he stood up and with a stern voice said, “Are you still considering this old debt?”

Listening to the way Fan Gang spoke, Wei Xiaobao knew that apparently in the Battle of Sanshui, King Tang won and King Gui lost; he busily asked, “Fan Dage, what happened in that Battle of Sanshui?”

Fan Gang said, “King Gui has listened to his subordinate’s instigation, a treacherous court official’s, a servant called Lin Guiding, hence he dispatched troops to attack Guangzhou …”

“Fan Dage,” Su Gang interrupted, “That was not the fact. It was King Tang who sent troops first to attack Zhaoqing, our Son of Heaven Yongli had no choice but to rise to take up the challenge.”

Both sides were like, you make a brief remark, I speak one sentence; they all argued over old affair, gradually the swords were drawn, an open fight was about to begin. Yao Chun repeatedly shook his hands and with a loud voice said, “It’s an old affair of many years ago, do you still have to bring it up? It doesn’t matter who won who lost, there’s really no glory or shame in that, in the end it did not wipe out the Tatars.” As soon as they heard this, they stopped arguing, all had ashamed look on their faces.

Su Gang said, “Bai Er Di, justice is to be found everywhere, pledging our lives, we will contend strongly for the source of right and wrong. What happened afterwards?”

Bai Hanfeng said, “What that old thief said is similar to what this … this Master Fan said just now, naturally we, brothers, discussed it in details to make him understand. Both sides were getting louder and louder, nobody was willing to yield. In his anger, my Gege slapped the small side table and broke it into pieces. With a cold laugh the old thief said, ‘After you can’t win the argument using reason, now you want to resort to violence? The Twin-tree of Bai family of the Mu Palace’s fame for fighting prowess shakes the distant land, I am but a peon in Tian Di Hui, yet I am not scared.’ Obviously he was saying that a peon of Tian Di Hui outshines established and well-known characters of the Mu Palace. My Gege said, ‘I broke my own table, what does it have to do with you? On what authority you dare to insult our Mu Palace?’ The argument reached a deadlock, finally we agreed to have a duel that same night on zi hour [between 11pm – 1am] at the Temple of Heaven.”

Su Gang sighed, low-spiritedly he said, “Turns out the dispute started from that.”

Bai Hanfeng said, “That night we went to the Temple of Heaven to keep the appointment. Without saying anything we started fighting with that old thief right away …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Presumably it was two against one. I wonder was it Bai Da Xia who fought first, or was it Bai Er Xia?”

Bai Hanfeng’s face turned red, with a loud voice he said, “We, two brothers, always fight together. Dealing with one person the two of us fought together, dealing with a hundred people the two of us still fought together.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “So that’s how it is,” he said, “Supposing you are fighting with me, a child, the two of you would still fight together.”

Bai Hanfeng roared in rage, he raised his palm, ready to smash it down onto the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head. Su Gang stretched out his left hand to grab Bai Hanfeng’s wrist; he said, “Bai Er Di, don’t!”

Bai Hanfeng shouted, “This … this little demon insulted my deceased brother.”

Wei Xiaobao was only seeking to win a tongue-lashing contest; he had not thought that he had included the dead Bai Hansong. Seeing Bai Hanfeng was raging mad, he was very scared and did not dare to see anything anymore.

“Bai Er Di,” Su Gang said, “Injustice has a reason, debt has its owner. It was the one surnamed Xu who murdered Bai Dage, we can only seek that surnamed Xu to settle the account.”

Bai Hanfeng stared maliciously at Wei Xiaobao. “There will come a day where I will pull your tendon and peel your skin,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue toward him, he thought that with Su Gang around, Bai Hanfeng would not do anything to him. Even if he was going to pull his tendon and peel his skin, it would not be today’s matter.

Fan Gang said, “Su Si Ge, you said that Bai Da Xia was murdered by our Xu Dage, I am afraid you must reconsider the word ‘murder’. Bai Er Xia said that both parties were contending martial art in the Temple of Heaven, Xu Dage fought one against two, there was no conspiracy or treacherous scheming, and it wasn’t relying on number to achieve victory either, it was a just and honorable fight, how can you say that it was ‘murder’?”

Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “Naturally my Gege was murdered by that old thief. Before we, brothers, went to the Temple of Heaven to keep the appointment, we have discussed it over; my Gege said that although this old man was muddle-headed, did not understand the mandate of heaven and unwilling to surrender, he was after all a compatriot in fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. During the duel, we must consider Tian Di Hui’s part and must stop at the touch, we must not injure him for real. The two of us were being lenient, who would have thought that the old thief was so vicious, unexpectedly he launched a killer strike and thus murdered my Gege.”

Su Gang asked, “How did that surnamed Xu murder Bai Da Di?”

Bai Hanfeng said, “We fought for more than forty stances without any clear winner or loser. Suddenly that old thief jumped out of the arena; he cupped his fist and said, ‘My utmost admiration! Today we cannot distinguish victory and defeat, there is no need to continue fighting. Mu Palace’s martial art is world-renowned, it is indeed brilliant.’”

“That’s very good,” Fan Gang said, “Everybody did not need to fight anymore, hence avoided injuring friendship, wasn’t it great?”

Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “You did not see that old thief’s expression when he said that, how can you say that he really had good intention? There was a cold smile on the corners of his mouth, obviously he was saying that with one against two, the Bai Family Twin-tree of the Mu Palace cannot overcome an old man; that ‘world-renowned martial art skill’ was nothing more than a brag. Naturally I was angry, I said, ‘If victory or defeat cannot be distinguished, then we continue fighting until victory and defeat are clearly distinguished.’ Although that old man was agile, his strength could not be compared to us, brothers. In prolonged fight, he would definitely lose. He did not want to fight just so he could slip away. Thereupon we fought again. After fighting for a while, I launched the move ‘dragon soars tiger leaps’, I struck down on him from the air. Sure enough, that old thief leaned sideways to evade. The two of us had practiced this move well, my Gege immediately launched the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, his left leg swept to the right, his right arm struck across to the left, so he would not be able to evade.” Speaking about this part, he demonstrated the move ‘sweeping away a thousand army’.

Priest Xuanzhen nodded and said, “This move is a converging attack, blocking the opponent from dodging either to the left of to the right; it is indeed formidable.”

Bai Hanfeng said, “The old thief pulled his body back, suddenly he struck toward my Gege‘s chest. My Gege flipped his palms and pushed the upper part of the old thief’s torso, while laughing, ‘Ha ha, you lost …’ Right this moment, ‘crash!’ unexpectedly the old thief was very ruthless, he had used a heavy hand. Knowing the situation was disadvantageous, I launched the ‘high mountain flowing water’, with both palms, one after another, striking the old thief’s back. The old thief’s body shook and he retreated a few steps. My Gege spurted a mouthful of fresh blood and fell sitting down on the ground. I was very anxious and busily helped him up. The old thief let out several hollow laughs; limping and dragging his legs he walked away. I was thinking of running after him and giving him several punches to kill him instantly, but I was worried about my Gege‘s injury and did not have time to pay attention to that old thief. I carried Gege back home; on the way home, he only said four words, ‘avenge me’ [gei wo bao chou], then breathed his last. Su Si Ge … if we don’t avenge his death, we would live in vain!” Speaking to this point, tears welling up his eyes.

Priest Xuanzhen turned his head toward a man by his side, “Feng Er Di, let us demonstrate several stances that Bai Er Xia mentioned just now.”

The man surnamed Feng was Feng Jizhong; there was nothing remarkable about his appearance, if anything, he looked rather boorish. Ever since Wei Xiaobao saw him in the basement of the Hui Chun Tang drug store the previous day, he had never said a word; so Wei Xiaobao did not pay him any attention.

Feng Jizhong nodded his head and stood up, then light as a feather, he sent out a palm strike toward Xuanzhen. Xuanzhen raised his left palm to block, then he pulled his body back. Next, he formed a pair of claws with all ten fingers, remarkably alike a monkey’s claws; obviously he was imitating the ‘Eight-armed Ape’ Xu Tianchuan’s style. Pushing the ground lightly with his left foor, Feng Jizhong flew up and then from the air he struck down.

“Good move!” Yao Chun called out, “It’s the ‘dragon soars tiger leaps’!” Before he even finished, Xuanzhen had already leaned sideways to evade.

Right this moment, Feng Jizhong swiftly moved in front of Xuanzhen’s body; with his left leg he swept across to the right, with his right arm he swept across to the left. It was exactly the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ Bai Hanfeng had demonstrated just a moment ago. Feng Jizhong was able to move as if he was two people. He had just finished executed Bai Hanfeng’s ‘dragon soars tiger leaps’, immediately he changed into a different role and attacked Xuanzhen from the front, executing Bai Hansong’s ‘sweeping away a thousand army’. His movements were very fast; it was truly unthinkable. Amid the cheer of everybody present, Xuanzhen shrank back while striking the opponent’s chest. Feng Jizhong pushed with both palms toward the pit of Xuanzhen’s stomach, while saying, “Haha, you lost …” Then right this moment Xuanzhen sent a right punch toward the pit of Feng Jizhong’s stomach, and a left palm strike toward his lower abdomen. As soon as both men’s fists and palms touched each other, they froze.

“Bai Er Xia,” Xuanzhen asked, “Isn’t the situation at that time like this?”

Before Bai Hanfeng could answer, Feng Jizhong flashed toward Xuanzhen’s back; from the right side of his face, both palms hacked down as he made a motion to attack Xuanzhen’s back. “High mountain flowing water!” he said. These two palms did not touch Xuanzhen’s body at all; before everybody realized what had happened, he had already stood up in front of Xuanzhen’s body, with both palms pressed against the pit of Xuanzhen’s stomach, while letting Xuanzhen’s fist to rest on his own lower abdomen, resuming the former position.

These two men come and go so fast just like ghosts. Other than Wei Xiaobao, those who were present were all experienced and knowledgeable, yet they had never seen anything like Feng Jizhong’s unbelievable speed and agility. In their astonishment, they understood the intention of this demonstration. When fighting one against two, Xu Tianchuan was in an extremely dangerous situation; if he was being somewhat lenient toward Bai Hansong, perhaps it would be difficult for him to escape Bai Hanfeng’s ‘high mountain flowing water’ attack on his back.

Xuanzhen said again, “Bai Er Xia, isn’t the situation at that time like this?”

Bai Hanfeng’s face was ash-grey, he slowly nodded. Feng Jizhong’s movements were like diving falcon, his speed made everybody dizzy, but the way he imitated the styles used by the brothers was without any mistake, exactly like the way Bai Hanfeng’s Shifu taught those techniques. The three stances, ‘dragon soars tiger leaps’, ‘high mountain flowing water’ and ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ were well-known styles of ‘Mu Family Fist’, which had spread all over the world, there were many people who knew these styles. It was not strange that Feng Jizhong was able to use it; but one person executing all three stances masterfully and with such speed from beginning to end, was indeed rarely seen. Moreover, each movement was very clear, each technique each style was executed perfectly; even though the two brothers had practiced the ‘Mu Family Fist’ all their lives, they still fell short by a wide margin.

Feng Jizhong pulled back his palms and said, “Priest, please remove your Taoist robe, forgive my offense!”

Xuanzhen was startled, he did not understand Feng Jizhong’s intention, but he followed his instruction anyway. Taking his Taoist robe off, he shook it lightly, and suddenly two piece of cloth, in the shape of a palm, fluttered down from the Taoist robe, as two palm-shaped holes appeared on the pit of the stomach of the Taoist robe. Turned out just now Feng Jizhong had shaken and tore the Taoist robe with his palm strength. Xuanzhen could not restrain his countenance from changing; involuntarily he held up his hand to the pit of his stomach, thinking that since Feng Jizhong’s palm strength had shaken his soft Taoist robe, he himself must have had suffered an internal injury. But after tracing around the pit of his stomach, he did not feel anything unusual.

Feng Jizhong said, “The inherent power carried on Bai Da Xia’s palm was far stronger than mine. Xu Dage had already received serious internal injury on the pit of his stomach; added to that, he also received the two palm blows on his back from the ‘high mountain flowing water’. I am afraid his life is difficult to protect.”

The people saw how Feng Jizhong was using a ‘yin’ and soft palm strength to cut two palm prints on Xuanzhen’s Taoist robe; this kind of power was more astonishing than his ability to simulate two persons at once, attacking from the front and the rear at the same time, which he demonstrated just a moment ago. Without exception they were all overwhelmed with amazement that they even forgot to cheer.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “That day the old turtle Hai also cut a palm print on the chest of my gown, perhaps he was also using the same trick.”

Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng looked at each other with dismayed expressions. They saw how Feng Jizhong’s level of martial art was far above either one of theirs. Also, with this demonstration, it appeared that although Xu Tianchuan had used a heavy hand and killed people, it was out of desperation where he did not have any other choice; he was under a converging attack from the Bai brothers and had to do everything in his power to defend himself, hence he could not be regarded to be in the wrong. Su Gang stood up and said, “This Master Feng has such a superior martial art skill and has really expanded Zaixia’s horizon today. If our Bai Da Di had Master Feng’s level of martial art, he couldn’t be killed by that surnamed Xu.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Bai Da Xia’s martial art skill was extremely high, everyone in Jianghu knows; Su Si Ge does not need to be polite.” Bai Hanfeng shot him a malicious look, but he could not say that his own brother’s martial art skill was no good. Wei Xiaobao also said, “Bai Er Xia’s martial art skill is also very high, everybody in Jianghu knows.”

Fan Gang was afraid Wei Xiaobao might speak more nonsense and would create more side issues; he cupped his fist toward Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng and said, “We have disturbed you enough today, we’ll take our leave.”

“Wait a moment!” Xuanzhen said, “We must go to Bai Da Xia’s presence and kowtow. This matter is indeed … ay, the mention of it will make everybody’s heart grieved; we must not harm the friendship between the Mu Palace and Tian Di Hui.” Finished speaking, he took a step toward the rear hall.

Bai Hanfeng held up his hands to block, and said fiercely, “My Gege died without his eyes closed, I don’t need your hypocritical courtesy.”

“Bai Er Xia,” Xuanzhen said, “Not to mention that it was a slip in a martial art competition and thus Bai Da Xia was accidentally injured, even if it were our Xu Dage’s fault, you cannot hate the entire Tian Di Hui. We are bowing in front of the departed spirit, it is to show yi qi to the fellow Wulin character of the same principle.”

“The Priest is right,” Su Gang said, “Bai Er Di, we must not fail to show courtesy.”

Immediately Wei Xiaobao, Xuanzhen, Fan Gang, Feng Jizhong, Yao Chun, Ma Boren, and the others kowtowed in front of Bai Hansong’s coffin together. While kowtowing, Wei Xiaobao was muttering to himself. He kowtowed three times, and then stood up. Bai Hanfeng asked sternly, “What did you say just now?”

“I was praying quietly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I was speaking to Bai Da Xia’s spirit in heaven, what does it concern you?”

Bai Hanfeng said, “Your words were not clear, what did you pray?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I said, ‘Bai Da Xia, it’s alright for you to depart one step sooner. Zaixia Wei Xiaobao was beaten black and blue by your brother, I won’t live much longer, in a few days I am going to the netherworld and will meet you, Senior.”

“When did I ever beat you?” Bai Hanfeng asked.

Wei Xiaobao pulled up his sleeve to show his right wrist. It was swollen and turned into a black and purple circle, the finger marks were clearly visible. It was precisely the injury from Bai Hanfeng’s pinch a while ago. He said, “Isn’t this from your beating?”

Su Gang cast a glance toward Bai Hanfeng; seeing he did not deny, Su Gang’s face revealed a slight blaming expression. He turned toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, this matter is hard to explain in a few words. Let’s discuss it slowly at a later date.”

“I am afraid my heavy injury is incurable that I will die soon,” Wei Xiaobao said, “There won’t be any later date for me to talk.”

Su Gang could see that Wei Xiaobao could speak freely without any sign of internal injury; he knew Wei Xiaobao was just acting up. He thought, “How could Tian Di Hui have a young rascal like this as a Xiangzhu?” He said, “Wei Xiangzhu will live a long life reaching hundreds of years. When everybody else here has died, you will still live for a few dozen years.”

“Right now my stomach feels as if it was twisted,” Wei Xiaobao said, “My five solid and six hollow organs[8] are all turned upside down; I don’t know if I’ll live until tomorrow. Feng Er Ge, Priest Xuanzhen, if I die, I don’t want you to find Bai Er Xia to seek revenge. In Jianghu, we uphold yi qi above everything else, we must not harm the friendship between the Mu Palace and Tian Di Hui.”

Su Gang frowned, he sent everybody off outside the gate. Xuanzhen expressed his gratitude to Ma Boren, Yao Chun, Lei Yixiao and Wang Wutong, four people; he cupped his fist and took his leave. The Tian Di Hui entourage returned to the Return of Spring drugstore.

As they reached the door, they knew something was amiss; the sales counter collapsed, the hundred plus small drawers in the drug store, as well as the drug ingredients, were scattered all over the floor. They all rushed in and called out several times, but there was no reply. When they reached the inner hall, they saw the fat shopkeeper and two shop assistants were lying dead on the floor. This drug store was located in a remote area, temporarily there were no curious onlookers congregating outside.

Xuanzhen ordered Gao Yanchao, “Bar the door, don’t let unconcerned people come in. We’ll quickly look for Xu San Ge.”

Pulling the trap door on the floor, they rushed into the basement, while calling out, “Xu San Ge, Xu San Ge!” But the basement was completely empty. Xu Tianchuan had disappeared without a trace.

“His granny,” Fan Gang yelled angrily, “We’ll stake everything to fight those thieves from the Mu Palace to the death!”

Xuanzhen said, “Quickly invite Wang Zongbiaotou and the others to come and be our witnesses. If the Mu Palace wanted to kill Xu San Ge, they would have done it here. Since he was taken captive, they would not harm him immediately.” Thereupon they dispatched a messenger to invite Wang Wutong, Yao Chun, and the others, four people, to come.

Seeing the condition at which the fat shopkeeper died, Wang Wutong and the others were angered; they all said, “We mustn’t delay, let’s go immediately to Willow Tree Lane to demand for his return.” Right away they all trooped back to the Willow Tree Lane.

Bai Hanfeng opened the door, “Why are gentlemen back?” he coldly asked.

Fan Gang said in loud voice, “Bai Er Xia, why ask when you already know? This kind of despicable act will only make the Mu Palace lose face even more.”

“Lose what face?” Bai Hanfeng angrily said, “What despicable act?”

Fan Gang said, “Where is our Xu San Ge? Quickly hand him out. You people took advantage of our unguarded moment, you killed three shop assistants of our Return of Spring Hall drugstore; it was truly the lowest of low.”

“Nonsense!” Bai Hanfeng shouted, “What Return of Spring Hall? What Return of Autumn Hall? What three shop assistants?”

Hearing the commotion, Su Gang went out and asked, “Gentlemen have left and now are back, I wonder what instruction do you have for me?”

“Su Si Xia,” Lei Yixiao said, “In this matter, you are in the wrong. Right or wrong cannot escape public opinion, even if you wanted to take revenge, you cannot randomly kill innocent people. If this matter spread out over the Capital, the implication may not be small.”

“What are they talking about?” Su Gang asked Bai Hanfeng.

“Who would know?” Bai Hanfeng replied, “I can’t make head or tail of it.”

Wang Wutong said, “Su Si Xia, Bai Er Xia, in the place where Tian Di Hui took residence, three shop assistants have been murdered, Xu Tianchuan has also been kidnapped. About the right or wrong of this matter, we may talk it over later, but for now, please look at our faces and release Master Xu first.”

Su Gang was puzzled, “Xu Tianchuan has been kidnapped?” he asked, “That’s really strange! You must be suspecting us as the culprit, we were together in here, could it be that we know the technique of doing several things at the same time?”

Fan Gang said, “Naturally you sent someone else to do the job, what’s so difficult about that?”

“There is nothing I can do if you don’t believe me,” Su Gang said, “If you want to come in and search, please be my guest.”

Bai Hanfeng loudly said, “Divine Physician Hermit Su Gang, Su Si Ge always say one as one and two as two; when have he ever said half an empty word? Let me tell you frankly: if that old thief surnamed Xu ever fall into our hands, I will right away cut his body in two; who would have the patience of kidnapping him and nurturing him by wasting our rice?”

Su Gang muttered hesitantly, “I am afraid there is something else behind this. Zaixia is being presumptuous here, but I am thinking of going to your precious Society’s residence to have a look, I wonder if I may?”

Seeing these two people’s expression did not show any deceit, temporarily Xuanzhen and the others were unsure of what to do. Fan Gang said, “Su Si Xia, we all want you to give us your word: is our Xu Tianxhuan, Xu San Ge, in your hands or not?”

Su Gang shook his head, “He is not,” he said, “I can also guarantee that our Bai Er Di has nothing to do with this matter.” Su Gang had a resounding reputation in Wulin, everyone knew he was an upright and just warrior; if he said he did not kidnap Xu Tianchuan, it must be the truth.

Xuanzhen said, “In that case, I invite the two of you to have a look at our humble residence. Wei Xiangzhu, what do you think?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You invited others to have a look first before asking me ‘what I think’.” He said, “Whatever Priest said, let it be done that way. After all, we have three people who were killed; we can ask these two gentlemen to kowtow several times to apologize, that is only proper.”

Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng stared at him; they both thought, “You, little demon, flatly accuse us as the killer of your three people.”

They returned to the Return of Spring drugstore. Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng examined the bodies of the fat shopkeeper and the two drugstore assistants carefully; they were beaten to death, the pit of their stomachs collapsed and their ribs broken. The technique used was ordinary, it was not the work of martial artists of any school.

Bai Hanfeng said, “All of us must investigate this matter and bring it to light, otherwise we will suffer an unredressed injustice.”

“Suffering an unredressed injustice is not a big deal,” Su Gang said, “Someday the truth will come to light. It’s just that Xu Dage has fallen into the enemy’s hands, we must think of a way to rescue him as soon as possible.”

Everybody inspected the drugstore from front to rear, and top to bottom, they also scrutinized the basement, but did not find the least bit of clue. The sky had darkened; Su Gang, Bai Hanfeng, Wang Wutong and the others took their leave to return home. They agreed to separately investigate this matter within the Beijing city walls.

Fan Gang said, “Su Si Xia, Bai Er Xia, have you looked everything clearly? At midnight tonight, we will send someone to set this building on fire, to destroy the bodies and leave no trace.”

Su Gang nodded. “I have looked everything clearly,” he said, “Luckily the neighboring area is uninhabited. It’s good that you are going to burn the store down, to avoid the authorities making any inquiry.”

After Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng left, the Green Wood Hall people had a lengthy discussion, they all agreed that Xu Tianchuan must be kidnapped by people from the Mu Palace; otherwise how could it happened exactly, not too long after, and not earlier than, after he killed someone from the opposite side, Xu Tianchuan disappeared without any trace? At most Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng, two people, did not know about it. Afterwards they discussed how they were going to set the house on fire. When Wei Xiaobao heard they were going to send someone to start the fire, he got very excited.

Xuanzhen said, “Wei Xiangzhu, it’s getting late. You must hurry back to the Palace. We are sending someone to start the fire, it is not an important thing, Wei Xiangzhu does not need to be here to manage the general situation; it may be assumed that nothing will go wrong.”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Priest, we all are brothers, no need to flatter me. Although Wei Xiaobao is filling for the damn Xiangzhu position, in term of martial art skill and knowledge and experience, how can I surpass everybody here, Wulin experts? I want to stay here just to see the excitement, nothing more than that.”

On the surface, these people were polite to him, but seeing his young age and how he made a fool of himself at the Bai family home, in reality they were rather looking down upon him. What he said actually cheer them up; those words had set the people’s hearts free from worry. Although their respect toward this young Xiangzhu did not increase, they felt several notches closer to him than before.

Xuanzhen laughed and said, “It would be in the middle of the night before we start the fire, and we still have to contain the fire so that it won’t spread to neighboring houses. If Wei Xiangzhu does not return to the Palace for the entire night, I am afraid it would not be too convenient.”

Wei Xiaobao thought what he said actually made sense. The Palace gate was closed as soon as it was dark, nobody could get in or out. He was the young emperor’s favorite, everybody in the Palace had their eyes on him, if he violated the prohibition of spending the night outside, the charge against him would not be small. He could only sigh and said, “What a pity, what a pity! It would be extremely fun if I could be the one started the fire.”

In a low voice Gao Yanchao said, “When in the future we burn other people’s house during the daytime, we will definitely respectfully invite Wei Xiangzhu to start the fire.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he grabbed Gao Yanchao’s hand and said, “Gao Dage, a real man gave his words, you … you must not forget.”

Gao Yanchao smiled and said, “The matter that Wei Xiangzhu orders, how can subordinate dare not to obey?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “How about tomorrow we go to the Willow Tree Lane and set the Bai family home on fire?”

Gao Yanchao jumped in fright; he hastily said, “We must give it further thought before making a decision. If Zongduozhu finds out, most likely he would blame us.”

Instantly Wei Xiaobao’s excitement abated; he changed back into his little eunuch attire. Gao Yanchao wrapped his new clothes, shoes and cap into a bundle and handed it over to him. They all looked around carefully, and after ascertaining that there were no people from the Mu Palace spying on them, they went out as a group with Wei Xiaobao in the middle to the side street, and then hiring a small sedan chair they sent him back to the Palace. Wei Xiaobao nodded to the brothers and climbed into the sedan chair. Gao Yanchao put the bundle of clothes and cap into the sedan chair. A Society brother stepped forward to the sedan chair and stuck his head inside; with a low voice he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, early tomorrow morning, it would be best if you could go to the Catering Department kitchen and take a look.”

“Take a look at what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Nothing important,” the man replied, as he pulled his head back and withdrew.

Wei Xiaobao could not remember his name, this man had a pair of rat moustache slanting to the side and a cunning face. The marketplace was full of small traders like this. He did not come with them to the Willow Tree Lane, Wei Xiaobao had always thought that he was one of the shop assistants. He wondered why that man asked him to go to the Catering Department kitchen the next day.

In any case, inspecting the kitchen was precisely his responsibility, so early morning the next day, he just went. As soon as their immediate supervisor arrived, the eunuchs working in the kitchen, from the supervisors down to kitchen workers, were all busy serving him tea and delicacy. Wei Xiaobao ate several pieces of light refreshment and said, “The light refreshments you make in here is not bad, but it will be better if you learn some more from Yangzhou chefs.”

“Yes, yes,” the eunuch supervisor busily said, “If not for Wei Gong-gong giving directions, we may not really understand.” [Translator’s note: I thought up to this moment Wei Xiaobao was still known as Gui Gong-gong, but both the book and the online text have Wei Gong-gong.]

Seeing nothing unusual in the kitchen, Wei Xiaobao was about to go back to his room when he saw the eunuch in charge of purchasing returned from the marketplace, he was followed by a man with a shoulder pole in his hand. The man chuckled and said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, just do whatever Gong-gong says, you can’t go wrong, guaranteed.”

When Wei Xiaobao saw this man, he was shocked, because it was the same man who told him to go to the kitchen. The eunuch in charge of purchasing hurriedly went over to Wei Xiaobao to pay his respect. Pointing to the man, Wei Xiaobao asked, “Who is this?”

The eunuch in charge of purchasing said with a laugh, “This is Boss Qian of the Qian Xinglong Meat Farmstead of Beicheng[9] district. Today he came especially to flatter us by delivering more than a dozen fresh pigs personally to the Palace.” Turning toward Boss Qian, he said, “Old Qian, you are very lucky today. This is Gui Gong-gong, our Catering Department Manager, currently he is the number one favorite of His Majesty. We are serving in the Palace, yet we cannot casually see the Senior’s face. Your three generation ancestors must have had tapped wooden fish[10] that by lucky coincidence you get to see Gui Gong-gong.”

Boss Qian kneeled down and kowtowed several times to Wei Xiaobao, saying, “Gong-gong is the one Xiaoren depends upon for our livelihood; only today by fate I can pay my respect, it is truly because the one surnamed Qian’s ancestor has amassed virtues.”

“No need to be overly courteous,” Wei Xiaobao said, while thinking, “What is he doing, sneaking into the Palace like that? Why didn’t he tell me in advance?”

Boss Qian stood up with a face full of smile, he said, “It is the Gong-gong of the Palace who make my business succeed. My price is especially low, I can’t say that I make any profit; however, serving meat to His Majesty, Princesses, and other royalties has given me an enormous face, when other people heard that even His Majesty ate the meat I offered, naturally my pork became number one in the world, no other meat business is able to surpass it. As a result, in only more than a year serving meat to the Palace, Qian Xinglong Meat Farmstead’s business has grown several times over. It is all due to all Gong-gong patronizing my business.” While saying that he repeatedly bowed to pay his respect.

Wei Xiaobao nodded, he laughed and said, “You must be very rich then!”

The man said, “It’s all due to Gong-gong’s great fortune.” He pulled two banknotes from his pocket, with a grin he said, “Mere trifle, inadequate to show my appreciation; would Gong-gong please keep it to bestow reward to your subordinates.” Finished speaking, he handed the banknotes over to Wei Xiaobao with both hands.

Wei Xiaobao took the banknotes and looked, each banknote worth five hundred taels of silver, altogether there were one thousand taels; it was none other than the money he gave Gao Yanchao and the others the other day. Wei Xiaobao was slightly startled; he saw Boss Qian twisted his mouth toward the eunuch in charge of purchasing. Wei Xiaobao understood his intention; with a laugh he said, “Boss Qian is too polite!” He handed the banknotes over to the eunuch manager and said with a laugh, “Just divide Boss Qian’s present among the boys, no need to give me any share.”

Seeing the thousand taels banknotes, the eunuchs were overjoyed at this unexpected fortune. Normally, the suppliers of pork, lamb, beef, poultry, fish and produce to the Palace would give them commission on a regular basis, and then some more during Chinese New Year or other festivities, but the gift was never more than four, five hundred taels, which the eunuch head of the Catering Department Manager would take more than half first. This time not only the commission was of a substantial amount, Wei Xiaobao also said that he did not want any share. When they divided the money, how could it not be a small undeserved fortune for each of them? However, the eunuch supervisor thought that when Gui Gong-gong in the mouth said he did not want it, it might be that he was only putting on airs in front of outsiders; he was the head, how could he waive his share just like that? Therefore, when he calculated everybody’s share, he set aside the largest share to be given to Wei Xiaobao later.

Boss Qian said, “Gui Gong-gong, you showed this kind of empathy when dealing with the other Gong-gong, it is truly rare. Since you are not willing to accept my gift, it is hard for Xiaoren to feel at ease in my heart. How about this: I have raised two Fu Ling [China root] Hua Diao [Shaoxing yellow wine] pigs; they can be considered famous and incomparably priceless. I am going to slaughter them as soon as I get home. I will present one to Empress Dowager and His Majesty, and will deliver the other one to Gong-gong’s room, so that Gong-gong can sample it.”

“What Fu Ling Hua Diao pigs?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “The name sounds weird, I’ve never heard about if before.”

Boss Qian said, “It is a secret handed down from generation to generation in my family. First we select a good breed pig, then after it is weaned from its mother’s milk, we feed it with Fu Ling, Dang Shen [codonopsis root, poor man’s ginseng], Qi Zi [willow seed] and other tonics. Other than feeding on various tonics, it invariably ate chicken eggs; as for the drink, it only drank Shaoxing yellow wine …”

Before he even finished, the eunuchs roared in laughter; they said, “Where did you get such method of feeding pigs from? Won’t it cost several hundred taels just to fatten one pig?”

Boss Qian said, “The cost is naturally not small, but the most difficult thing is the meticulous care and the time.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I must have a taste of this strange pig.”

Boss Qian said, “I wonder what time this afternoon Gui Gong-gong will be free? Xiaoren will deliver it promptly.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that by the time he came down from the Upper Study Room, it would already be wu hour [11 am – 1 pm]; thereupon he said, “You may deliver it at the end of wu hour or beginning of wei hour [1 – 3 pm]!”

“Yes, yes,” Boss Qian repeatedly replied. Again he bowed and wished for Wei Xiaobao’s well-being before he went out.

“Gui Gong-gong,” the eunuch supervisor approached Wei Xiaobao with a smile on his face, “When you see His Majesty later, you must not mention this matter.”

“Why?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The eunuch supervisor said, “His Majesty is young and curious, if he heard some bizarre thing like Fu Ling Hua Diao pigs, supposing he wanted to have it often, our responsibility as the servants would be too great. Besides, this kind of meat, which require untold hardship to feed and raise, will not come by too often, it won’t be readily available any time. If His Majesty ate it and it suited his taste, he might issue an imperial decree for the kitchen to offer it daily, our share would only be to hang ourselves.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “You have a thorough thought.”

The eunuch supervisor said, “This is the custom of the Catering Department handed down from generation to generation. In the dishes prepared for Empress Dowager and His Majesty, any seasonal fruits and vegetables must not be served.”

Wei Xiaobao was puzzled, “Seasonal fruits and vegetables must not be served?” he asked, “Are you saying that you are serving only out of date or fruits and vegetables that have been kept overnight?” Although he had been the head of the Catering Department for several months, he had never paid any attention to the imperial household’s matter.

The eunuch supervisor laughed and said, “Serving only out of date or fruits and vegetables that have been kept overnight, that we never dare. However, there are fruits and vegetables which are available only for one or two months over the entire year; this, we must not serve. Supposing His Majesty ate it and liked it, he might ask for winter bamboo shoot in the summer, or fresh broad bean in the winter, everybody will have no choice but to hang ourselves.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Empress Dowager and His Majesty are completely enlightened sages, how can there be such thing?”

The eunuch supervisor was apprehensive; “Yes, yes,” he busily said, “Empress Dowager and His Majesty are enlightened sages; of course there is no such thing. I heard that was the custom handed down from generation to generation in the previous Ming Palace. When it got to our Great Qing, His Majesty always communicate his feeling reasonably; it is much easier for us the servants to do his bidding.” In his heart, he was secretly anxious; he regretted that he had said those few sentences earlier.

[1] Lit. ‘mutton’ and ‘big spine’, respectively. If you want to know more about acupoints, I remember wuxiapedia has some explanations, written by Huang Yushi.

[2] The names Hansong and Hanfeng literally mean ‘cold pine’ and ‘cold maple’, respectively.

[3] Old provincial territory during Ming and Qing dynasties, encompassing Beijing, Tianjin, most of Hebei, Henan, and part of Shandong.

[4] Tantui is a northern school of martial art boxing.

[5] Lei Yixiao, ‘lei’ – thunder, ‘yi xiao’ – one hiss or whistle.

[6] FYI: Orig. 圣手居士 [sheng shou ju shi], sheng shou can be translated as either ‘divine physician’ or ‘highly skilled practitioner’. In White Hair Demoness, ju shi was translated as ‘hermit’, but literal translation is ‘resident scholar’.

[7] Play of words: Hero – ying xiong, coward – gou xiong (lit. black bear).

[8] From Faerie Queene’s note in White Hair Demoness: Five Zang, Six Fu, where the 5 Zang organs consisted of the liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidney and are Yin in nature. The gallbladder, small intestine, stomach, large intestine, Urinary Bladder and San-Jian (triple warmers – upper, middle and lower) comprises the 6 Fu organs that are Yang in nature.

[9] Lit. northern city, similar to ‘dongcheng’ [eastern district] at the beginning of this chapter.

[10] Percussion instrument used by Buddhists during rituals.

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