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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 10

CSI

Chapter 10
Boastful talk enumerates shortcomings, each one as lofty as gentlemen’s lavatory.

After serving Kangxi, from the Upper Study Room Wei Xiaobao went down to the Catering Department. Not too long afterwards, Boss Qian, leading four helpers, arrived with two big fat pigs, already butchered and cleaned. Each one was more than three hundred catties. “Gui Gong-gong,” he said to Wei Xiaobao, “You will get the most benefit from this Fu Ling Hua Diao pork if you take it as soon as you, Senior, wake up in the morning, it is best to have it cut and roasted immediately. Xiaoren will deliver one pig to your room; early in the morning tomorrow, you, Senior, may cut, roast and eat it immediately. What you can’t finish, you can tell the kitchen to make salt-cured meat.”

Wei Xiaobao knew there must be a profound meaning behind all these, he said, “You are very considerate; come with me then.”

Boss Qian left one pig in the kitchen, and brought the other one to Wei Xiaobao’s room. The Catering Department Head’s dwelling was not far from the imperial kitchen. After the fat pig was delivered to his room, Wei Xiaobao ordered a little eunuch to take the helpers who carried the pig back to the kitchen and wait there. When the three people had left, he closed the door.

“Wei Xiangzhu,” Boss Qian said in low voice, “Is there anybody else in this building?” Wei Xiaobao shook his head. Boss Qian stooped down and gently turned the clean pig over. The pig’s belly was slit all the way to its throat, with the opening stitched together with several crisscrossed pig skin.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “There must be some strange thing hidden inside this fat pig’s belly; perhaps some kind of weapon. Could it be that Tian Di Hui wants to kill people and create havoc in the Palace?” He could not stop his heart from thumping hard.

Boss Qian carefully cut the pig skin and with both hands pulled the pig’s belly apart, then he wrapped his arms around a big chunk of object and gently took it out. “Ah!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in alarm; he saw the big chunk of object was a person. Boss Qian laid the person on the floor. The person was small and slim with long hair; it was a thirteen, fourteen years old girl, wearing light cotton undergarment. Her eyes were tightly closed and she did not move at all, only her chest was fluctuating slightly.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised; he asked in low voice, “Who is this young miss? Why have you brought her here?”

Boss Qian replied, “This is the Mu Palace’s Princess[1].”

Wei Xiaobao was even more amazed; with eyes opened wide he asked, “Mu Palace’s Junzhu?”

“Exactly,” Boss Qian said, “She is the younger sister of Mu Palace’s young master. They kidnapped Xu San Ge, so we kidnapped this Junzhu Niang-niang as a hostage, so that they won’t dare to harm a single strand of Xu San Ge‘s hair.”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised. “Brilliant plan, brilliant plan!” he said, “How did you kidnap her?”

Boss Qian said, “Xu Tianchuan, Xu San Ge was kidnapped yesterday, for the second time Wei Xiangzhu led a group of brothers to the Willow Tree Lane to investigate. Subordinate went out on my own to inquire whether those Mu Palace people have other places where they stay temporarily other than the one on the Willow Tree Lane, perhaps Xu San Ge is being imprisoned in one of those places; I also wanted to know how many people they have in the Capital, so that if we really have to fight, we already have a background information in our hearts. Once the inquiry was made, hey, the number of Mu Palace people who come here is really a lot. The young master of Mu family takes the lead, followed by a large number of martial art experts.”

Wei Xiaobao frowned. “Damn it!” he said, “How many Green Wood Hall brothers do we have in the Capital? Can we fight them ten to one?”

“Wei Xiangzhu does not need to worry,” Boss Qian said, “This time Mu Palace people came to Beijing not to fight our Tian Di Hui. It’s actually because the eldest son of the big traitor Wu Sangui, Wu Yingxiong has arrived in the Capital.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “The Mu Palace wants to assassinate this little traitor surnamed Wu?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Boss Qian said, “Wei Xiangzhu has an incredible foresight. When the big traitor and little traitor are in Yunnan, they can’t make any move. As soon as they leave Yunnan, then the opportunity arises. It’s just that naturally this little traitor has a thorough protection, there are not a few martial art experts by his side, guarding him; to kill him is definitely not an easy matter. Those people from Mu Palace indeed have several other temporary residence, when subordinate went to check it out, those people were not home, there was not a trace of Xu San Ge either. There was only this little girl and two women looking after her left in the house. It was a golden opportunity which is hard to come by …”

“Therefore, you led a goat in passing, you pulled a pig with hands behind your back, and take her away?” Wei Xiaobao continued.

Boss Qian smiled. “Exactly,” he said, “Although this little Miss is young, the Mu Palace treats her as a phoenix; as long as this Xiao Junzhu is in our hands, Xu San Ge is as stable as Mount Tai, we don’t have to worry that they won’t take a good care of him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Qian Dage has indeed rendered a great merit.”

Boss Qian said, “Many thanks for Wei Xiangzhu‘s compliment.”

“Now that we have Xiao Junzhu, what do we do?” Wei Xiaobao asked, while stealing several glances toward the little girl lying on the floor. “This girl[2] looks quite beautiful,” he mused.

Boss Qian said, “If we say this matter is big, it is not, but it is not small either; I must listen to Wei Xiangzhu‘s advice on how to handle it.”

Wei Xiaobao hesitantly asked, “What do you think we should do?” Although his interaction with Tian Di Hui people was only over a short time, he had had a good grasp of their disposition. These people politely called him Xiangzhu, always said with their mouths that they were waiting for Xiangzhu‘s instruction and so on and so forth, in actuality, each one of them had already had an idea in their belly; they only wanted his approval, and thus they could push everything onto Wei Xiangzhu‘s head, so that it would be unlikely that in the future they would assume significant responsibility. His way of countering this was to answer a question with a question, “What do you think we should do?”

Boss Qian said, “At present we only need to find a good hiding place for this Xiao Junzhu, so that the Mu Palace people won’t be able to find her. This time the Mu family came to the Capital in really large number, although they are here to kill that little traitor Wu Yingxiong, we have killed their man, they have kidnapped Xu San Ge, right now they must be watching each one of our Tian Di Hui’s residence and stop-over places closely. As soon as we stop to pee or let out a fart, I am afraid the Mu Palace people will know about it.”

“Pfft,” Wei Xiaobao stifled his laugh; thinking that this Boss Qian’s style of speaking was enjoyable, totally fit his spleen and stomach. “Qian Dage,” he said with a laugh, “Let’s sit down and discuss it slowly.”

“Yes, yes, many thanks Xiangzhu,” Boss Qian said. He sat down on a chair and continued, “The reason subordinate hid Xiao Junzhu inside the pig’s belly and carried her into the Palace was, one, to avoid the Palace’s imperial bodyguards’ strict searching, two, to conceal it from Mu Palace people’s ears and eyes. His granny, I am afraid there are several really formidable characters among Mu Gongye‘s subordinates, we cannot not guard against them. If Xiao Junzhu is not hidden in the Palace, it’s difficult to protect against them snatching her back.”

“So you say Xiao Junzhu ought to be hidden in the Palace?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Subordinate does not dare to say so,” Boss Qian said, “Everything is for Wei Xiangzhu to decide. If she is hidden the Palace, without a doubt she will be in the world’s most secure place. Even if Mu Wangye has more martial art experts, they still can’t stand up against Imperial Palace bodyguards. Xiao Junzhu is unexpectedly in the Palace, not only they would never imagine it, they would never find her. Even if they knew, how could they have the ability to break into the Palace to rescue her? If they could enter the Palace to rescue Xiao Junzhu, then technically they could even abduct the Tatar Emperor. There is no such logic in the world. It’s just that subordinate was too daring, I did not ask for Wei Xiangzhu‘s instruction in advance, without permission I brought Xiao Junzhu into the Palace, placing Wei Xiangzhu in an even greater danger, adding greater inconvenience; indeed I deserve to die.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You have brought her into the Palace, then you say you deserve to die, yet you are not dead yet. Hiding Xiao Junzhu in the Palace is indeed an excellent plan; first, Mu Palace people will never think about it, second, they can never get her out. You are daring, could it be that my courage is inferior?” Thereupon he said with a laugh, “Your plan is very good; I’ll hide Xiao Junzhu in here.”

“Yes, yes,” Boss Qian said, “If Wei Xiangzhu says this is all right, then it is all right. Subordinate thinks that when this matter is over, we can always return Xiao Junzhu to them. When they find out Junzhu Niang-niang has been living in the Palace, it won’t bring disgrace to her status. If she were kept in the basement of my slaughterhouse, and always smelled the stinky stench of cows’ blood and pigs’ blood, unavoidably it would be too unfair for her.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Just feed her Fu Ling, Dang Shen, Shaoxing yellow wine, and chicken eggs, and she will be all right.”

“Heh, heh …” Boss Qian laughed, he said, “Besides, although Xiao Junzhu is very young, she is a woman after all, if she stayed with us, stinky men, unavoidably her reputation would be tarnished. If she stays with Wei Xiangzhu, it won’t matter.”

Wei Xiaobao was baffled, “Why?” he asked.

“Wei Xiangzhu is also young,” Boss Qian said, “Much less you are … you are working in the Palace, naturally … naturally it won’t matter.” He hummed and he hawed, as if it was somewhat inappropriate to talk.

Seeing his embarrassed expression, Wei Xiaobao had to ponder for a moment before he finally understood: “You are saying that because I am a court eunuch, with me guarding Xiao Junzhu, her reputation won’t be tarnished. But you don’t know that I am a fake eunuch.” It was precisely because he was not a real eunuch that he had to think before he understood; otherwise, as soon as Boss Qian spoke the first sentence, he would have understood.

Boss Qian asked, “Is Wei Xiangzhu‘s bedroom inside?” Wei Xiaobao nodded. Boss Qian bent over to pick Xiao Junzhu up and brought her in, and lay her down on the bed. Originally there was a big bed and a small bed in the bedroom. After Hai Tianfu’s death, Wei Xiaobao had the small bed removed. He had too much secret in him that he did not want any little eunuch staying with him to look after him.

Boss Qian said, “When subordinate carried Xiao Junzhu into the Palace, I sealed the Shen Tang and Yang Gang acupoints on her back, and also the Tian Zhu acupoint on the back of her neck, so that she wouldn’t be able to move or say anything. When Wei Xiangzhu wants to feed her, you need to unseal her acupoints; however, it is best if you seal the Huan Tiao[3] acupoint on her leg first, so that she won’t run away. Mu Palace people have very high level of martial art skill; most likely this little Miss does not know much martial art, but we can’t not guard against her.”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to ask him what Shen Tang and Huan Tiao were, or how to seal and unseal acupoints, but changed his mind because he thought that he was the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, plus he was also Zongduozhu’s disciple, if even sealing and unsealing acupoints he did not know, wouldn’t his underlings despise him even more? Besides, dealing with a young girl should not be difficult; thereupon he nodded and said, “I understand.”

Bos Qian said, “May I borrow a knife from Wei Xiangzhu?”

Wei Xiaobao wondered in his heart, “What do you want a knife for?” But he pulled the dagger from his boot and handed it over to him.

Receiving the dagger, Boss Qian made a cut on the back of the pig. He did not expect the dagger to have unmatched sharpness, able to cut pork just like cutting tofu, as soon as the dagger cut, it went down all the way to the hilt. Boss Qian was startled; “Good blade!” he praised. He cut two pieces of meat from the back and two forelegs, he said, “Wei Xiangzhu may roast these and eat, tell the little gong-gong to bring the rest back to the kitchen. Subordinate takes my leave now. If there is anything concerning our Society, subordinate can come anytime to report to Wei Xiangzhu.”

“Good!” Wei Xiaobao said, while taking his dagger back. He cast a glance to the Xiao Junzhu lying on the bed and said, “This girl[4] sleeps so peacefully.” He wanted to say, “If this little miss stayed in the Palace for a long time, it would be extremely dangerous. If somebody found out, it would be really bad.” But he thought: how could a hero and warrior of Tian Di Hui afraid of danger? If those words ever come out of his mouth, unavoidably he would be despised by others.

As soon as Boss Qian left for the kitchen, Wei Xiaobao bolted the door and inspected the window to make sure there was no crack at all, before going to sit by the bedside. Looking at the Xiao Junzhu, he saw she had just opened her big round eyes and was looking at the top of the bed. Seeing Wei Xiaobao walked in, she hastily closed her eyes. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You can’t move, you can’t speak, you can only lying quietly in here, nothing’s sweeter than that.” Looking at her clothes, he noticed it was not soiled at all, he thought Boss Qian must have cleaned the pig’s belly very well that not even the slightest blood stain left; thereupon he pulled the quilt over her body. He saw her cheeks were snow white, without any blood at all; her long eyelashes trembled continuously, apparently she was very scared. He laughed and said, “Don’t be afraid, I won’t kill you. In a few more days, I will let you out.”

Xiao Junzhu opened her eyes and looked at him, but instantly closed her eyes again. Wei Xiaobao mused, “In Jianghu your Mu Palace has great power and prestige. That day along the way north of Jiangsu your family’s Bai Hansong was very arrogant, he did not consider laozi in his eyes at all, but right now he is dead, killed by my subordinate. His granny …” Thinking to this point, he stretched out his hand and looked at his wrist, on which the black purplish circle around it had not vanished, and he could still faintly feel the pain. He mused, “That Bai Hanfeng’s Gege is dead, since he could not vent his anger, he pinched laozi’s bone that it almost broke; who could have thought that Mu Palace’s Junzhu Niang-niang has fallen into my hands? If Laozi wants to hit I can just hit, if I want to curse I can just curse, you can’t move even for half a fen, ha ha!” In his complacency, he could not refrain from letting out an audible laugh.

Xiao Junzhu heard the laughter and opened her eyes to see why he was laughing. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You are a Junzhu Niang-niang, and you feel great, aren’t you? Your granny, in laozi’s eyes you are nothing!” Taking a step forward, he grabbed her right ear and pulled it three times, then he pinched her nose and twisted it twice, while laughing out loud.

Tears flowing out of Xiao Junzhu’s closed eyes, two streaks of pearl rolled down the sides of her face. “Don’t cry!” Wei Xiaobao shouted, “When laozi tells you not to cry, you must not cry!” But Xiao Junzhu’s tears flowed even more. “Hot piece mama, stinky ‘little mother’s skin’, you are so stubborn!” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Open your eyes, look at me!”

Xiao Junzhu closed her eyes tighter, Wei Xiaobao said, “Ha, you still think you are in the Mu Palace, your mama! Your family’s Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, four great generals, what’s so damn special about them? There will come a day when they will fall into laozi’s hands, each and every one of them will be beheaded and chopped into mincemeat.” Raising his voice he shouted again, “Are you going to open your eyes or not?”

Xiao Junzhu strained to keep her eyes closed. Wei Xiaobao said, “Alright, you are unwilling to open your eyes, then what’s the purpose of your pair of eyeballs? I’d better dig them out and eat them to accompany laozi’s wine.” While saying that, he placed the flat edge on her eyelid and dragged it back and forth several times.

Xiao Junzhu’s entire body trembled in fright, but still she did not open her eyes. Wei Xiaobao was at a loss of what to do. He said, “You don’t want to open your eyes, but I want you to open your eyes. We’ll see between the two of us, is it you, Junzu Niang-niang more formidable, or is it me, a little ruffian, the little beggar more formidable. For the time being I am not going to dig your eyeballs; if I do, you will win, since you won’t see me forever. I am going to carve some drawings on your cheeks with the tip of my dagger. Left side will be a little turtle, right side will be a pile of cow dung. After the cut become a scar in the future, when you go out on the street, thousands upon thousands people will surround you and look at you; they will say, ‘Pretty, pretty, come and look at Mu Palace’s young beauty, with a tortoise on her left cheek and a pile of cow dung on the right cheek.’ Are you or are you not going to open your eyes?”

Xiao Junzhu could not move her body at all, the only decision she could make was to open her eyes or not. Hearing Wei Xiaobao’s words, she closed her eyes even tighter. Wei Xiaobao thought aloud, “Turns out this stinky b1tch does not like her own face of being not beautiful, so she wants me to decorate her face. Alright, I will draw the turtle first!” He opened the ink slab on the table and rubbed the ink stick, then dipped the writing brush into the ink. The ink slab and brush used to belong to Hai Laogong. Wei Xiaobao had never touched a pen in all his life, right now he was holding the pen like holding chopsticks. He started to draw a small turtle on Xiao Junzhu’s left cheek.

Xiao Junzhu’s tears flowed down her cheek, leaving a streak mark on the drawing of the turtle.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am drawing with a pen first, then I’ll carve it with the dagger. It’s just like people making stamp. Right, right, Junzhu Niang-niang, when we are done, I’ll take you to the main street of Chang’an’s city gate, I’ll call out, ‘Which guest would like to have a turtle print? Three wen a sheet.’ I’ll apply black ink to your face, and when someone gives me money, I’ll put a piece of white paper on your face, and there’s the turtle, very quick! One day I can print a hundred sheets; that will be three hundred wen of copper, enough for me to splurge.” While chattering, he peeked to see Xiao Junzhu’s expression, and saw that her eyelashes were trembling incessantly; clearly she was angry, but also scared. Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself. “Um,” he said, “A pile of cow dung on the right cheek; but nobody would buy a print of cow dung. I’d rather carve a pig, a fat and stupid pig. Business is going to be good.”

Raising the pen, he made a drawing on her right cheek. Whatever it was, it has four legs and a tail, it could be a cat or a dog. Putting the pen down, he took a pair of silver scissors and gently placed the scissors on Xiao Junzhu’s left cheek. “You don’t open your eyes, I am going to carve the picture!” he shouted, “I’ll carve the turtle first, the fat pig can wait later.”

Xiao Junzhu’s tears gushed out, but clearly she did not want to open her eyes. Wei Xiaobao did not have any choice, since he did not want to admit defeat, he had to gently run the point of the scissors over her face to draw. The point of the scissors was actually very blunt, although Xiao Junzhu’s skin was very delicate, there was no way the scissors would harm her. However, she was so frightened that all she knew was that this evil man was carving her face with a knife. She gasped for breath, and then passed out.

Seeing her different expression, Wei Xiaobao was afraid that he had scared her to death; he was shocked, and hastily held out his hand to feel her breathing. Fortunately she was still breathing, thereupon he said, “Stinky girl, you pretend to die!” He mused, “Even if you have to die you are not willing to open your eyes; will I have to submit to you?” Fetching a wet cloth, he wiped the black ink off her face. He had to wipe it three times before her face was clean.

Seeing her thin eyebrows and long eyelashes, her small mouth and stuck out nose, her exquisite features and beautiful countenance, Wei Xiaobao thought aloud, “You are a Junzu Niang-niang, I am sure you are looking down on a little eunuch like me, but I am also looking down on you; won’t that make us even?”

After a while, Xiao Junzhu slowly regained her consciousness. As soon as she opened her eyes, she saw Wei Xiaobao’s eyes were less than a chi apart from her own eyes; he was staring maliciously at her. She could not help but was shocked and hastily closed her eyes again. Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily and said, “Finally you open your eyes to look at me. Laozi has won, hasn’t he?”

Knowing that he had won, his heart was very happy; however, Xiao Junzhu was unable to speak, so unavoidably he was rather disappointed. He was thinking of unsealing her acupoints, but he did not know how; he said, “Your acupoints were sealed, if they are not unsealed, you can’t eat, won’t you be starved to death then? Actually, I am thinking of unsealing your acupoints. I have learned the unsealing acupoints technique in the past, but now I already forget. Can you? If you can’t, just lie down perfectly still, don’t make any move. But if you can, blink your eyes three times.”

He fixed his gaze on Xiao Junzhu, but she did not move at all. Only after a long time suddenly her eyes slowly blinked three times. Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he said, “I only know that Mu Palace people are all surnamed Mu, so each and every one of you must be a blockhead [surname ‘Mu’ sounds like ‘wood’], with stupid head and stupid brain, don’t know anything. Turns out you, blockhead, still know how to unseal acupoints.”

He carried her off and sat her on a chair; he said, “Pay attention, I will point to various position on your body one by one; if I point to the correct position, blink your eyes three times, if it is incorrect, just open your eyes wide, do not move at all. When I’ve found the sealed acupoint, I will unseal it for you, do you understand? If you do, blink your eyes.”

Xiao Junzhu blinked three times. Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Very good!” he said, “I’ll start pointing.” Wei Xiaobao held out a hand and pointed to the right side of her chest, “Is it here?” he asked.

Immediately Xiao Junzhu’s face blushed deep red, but she kept her eyes wide open. How could she dare to blink even once? Wei Xiaobao pointed to the left side of her chest and asked, “Is it here?”

Xiao Junzhu’s face was even redder; she had opened her eyes for a long time, and now she could not help but blinking one time. “Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed loudly, “It’s here!”

Xiao Junzhu hastily opened her eyes wide; she was ashamed, anxious, and unspeakably distressed. These two people were both about thirteen, fourteen years old; about the matter between a man and a woman, they seemed to understand, but not quite understand. It’s just that girls usually understand human affairs earlier than boys. Wei Xiaobao grew up in a brothel, he observed plenty of indecent interaction between brothel customers and the prostitutes on daily basis. Although did not understand the idea behind it, he always knew that those actions were not appropriate.

Seeing her in such a distressing situation, Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself. He felt that at this moment, the disgrace he experienced at the Willow Tree Lane the previous day had been vented, it had been avenged. He pointed to the east and to the west, all over Xiao Junzhu’s body. Xiao Junzhu struggled with everything she had to keep her eyes open wide, she did not dare to blink ever so slightly, for fear that if she was not careful and blinked unintentionally, the important matter would be spoiled. Not too long afterwards, tiny beads of perspiration were beginning to form on the tip of her nose. Luckily right that moment Wei Xiaobao happened to point to her left underarm, the correct location of the acupoint needed to be unsealed; hastily she blinked three times. Her heart was relieved, she heaved a deep sigh.

“Ha ha,” Wei Xiaobao laughed, “It’s here alright. It’s not that laozi did not know, it’s just that my memory is not good, momentarily I did not remember.” He thought, “After her acupoint has been unsealed, I don’t know how good her martial art skill is, if this little girl started beating people, it would be troublesome.” Turning around, he fetched two waistbands and tied her feet together firmly first, and then he tied her hands to the back of the chair.

Xiao Junzhu did not know how he was going to add to her torment, involuntarily her face showed a panic-stricken expression. “You are scared of me, aren’t you?” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Since you are scared, laozi will unseal your acupoint.” Reaching out toward her left armpit, he gently scratched several times.

Xiao Junzhu felt the itch was very difficult to bear, but she was unable to move, so her face buldged very red.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I used to be an expert in sealing and unsealing acupoints technique, it’s just that laozi is extremely busy lately; I don’t have time to think about trivial things like this, so I kind of forget. Is this how you unseal acupoint?” While saying that, he massaged her armpit several times.

Xiao Junzhu felt another burst of unbearable itch, her face showed a slight anger.

Wei Xiaobao said, “This is my most profound unsealing acupoint technique. The more profound technique is only effective if used on a superior quality person. You, this little girl, are not a superior quality person, if first-class technique is being used on your body, indeed it won’t have any effect. Alright, I will try using the second-class technique.” Stretching out his finger, he poked her armpit several times.

Xiao Junzhu felt itchy and hurt, tears streaming down from her eyes.

“Uh, second-class technique won’t do the job either,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Could it be that you are a third-class girl? I have no choice, I will have to try the third-class technique.” Raising his palm, he slapped her armpit once, still nothing happened.

Sealing acupoint is an advanced skill in the study of martial art. The martial art practitioner must have an extremely strong foundation, must receive clear direction of a master, and must train assiduously for several years before he can master the technique. Sealing and unsealing acupoints are the two sides of a coin, if one knows to seal acupoints, one will also know how to unseal acupoints. One must be able to accurately locate the acupoint, and the finger must have the right combination of hard and soft inner force before one could either seal or unseal another person’s acupoint. Wei Xiaobao did not have any internal energy, and he had never learned how to seal acupoints; with just random guess and trial-and-error, how could he be able to unseal Xiao Junzhu’s acupoint?

Slapping failed, he changed into grabbing. Grabbing did not work, he changed into twisting. Xiao Junzhu was both angry and anxious; she could not stop tears from flowing down her face. By this time Wei Xiaobao no longer had the intention to torment her; he had been busy for half a day, yet failed to unseal her acupoint. His own forehead was wet with perspiration, out of shame, unavoidably he became somewhat angry. “I have even used the eighth-class technique, but it feels like a mouse trying to pull a tortoise; it is completely useless. Could it be that you are a ninth-class girl? Laozi is a man of dignity, a man with a long history, I had determined not to use the ninth-class martial art. However, it seems to me that your Mu Palace people are all damn rotten blockheads, with wooden heads and wooden brains, simple intelligence and simple[5] feeling. Let me tell you this: in spite of my own dignity right now, I am going to try the ninth-class martial art against your ninth-class ‘little mother’s skin’ body.”

Immediately he bent his middle finger and used his thumb to hold it, and then putting forth his strength he flicked it away toward Xiao Junzhu’s armpit, while saying, “This is ‘flicking cotton’.” And then he sang a nursery rhyme, “Clap, clap, clap, flick the cotton. The cotton stinks, fry the black soybean. The black soybean is burnt, mix it with pepper. The pepper’s hot, raise a pagoda. The top of the pagoda is pointy, penetrating the sky. The sky drops the rain, creates a landslide, let your Mu family’s wooden head wooden brain, dog head and dog brain, your great ancestors of eighteen generation, slip!”

As he sang a line, a flicked once; successively flicking for a dozen times. When he sang the last word, Xiao Junzhu suddenly let out an ‘Oh!’, and broke into a cry. Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic, he sprang up and leaped up and down, while laughing and saying, “I told you, Mu Palace’s little girl is indeed a ninth-class little thing, must be dealt with using the ninth-class martial art.”

Crying, Xiao Junzhu said, “You … you are the … the … the … the ninth-class …” her voice was melodious, tender and lovely, with a soft Yunnan accent; it was unspeakably pleasant to the ear.

Using a falsetto, Wei Xiaobao imitated her, “You … you are the … the … the … the ninth-class …” and then he burst out laughing.

What happened was when he randomly flicked, he repeatedly hit the Ye Yuan[6] Acupoint on Xiao Junzhu’s armpit. The Ye Yuan acupoint belongs to the Foot Shaoyang Channel of the Gall Bladder, it is located three cun below the armpit. Various acupoints on human head, such as Si Kong Zhu, Yang Bai, Lin Qi[7], and the others belong to this channel. He had grabbed, twisted, hit and flicked this Ye Yuan acupoint. Although his hand strength was insufficient, but after a long time, the various acupoints on Xiao Junzhu’s head were activated, so then her speech was not obstructed.

Seeing he was unexpectedly able to unseal Xiao Junzhu’s acupoint, Wei Xiaobao was extremely happy; almost instantly his animosity against the Mu Palace was largely gone. He said, “My tummy is hungry, I assume you are not full either, I’d better give you something to eat first.” He was a glutton to begin with, now that he became the head of the Catering Department, all his subordinates in supervisory positions were currying his favor by instructing the kitchen to deliver all kinds of fresh delicacies to him daily. He wandered around on the streets day in and day out, he would buy whatever pastry or candy he saw in the marketplace; therefore, there were countless bottles, jars, small boxes, and small bamboo deep baskets in his rooms, all filled with bits and pieces of delicacies. A teenager with several hundred thousand taels in his hands, a glutton and a spender by nature, how could he resist from buying all these snacks?

He took out the delicacies and said, “This is rose mung bean cake, try it.” Xiao Junzhu shook her head. Wei Xiaobao picked another box and opened the lid, he said, “This is Beijing’s famous delicacy, the yellow pea. I am sure you don’t have it in Yunnan. Try one piece!” Xiao Junzhu shook her head again. Wei Xiaobao wanted to show off his belongings, so he piled all sorts of cakes, pastries and candies on the table. “Look,” he said, “Don’t you think I have a lot of goodies? Even though you are a Junzhu of a palace, most likely you have never had these many delicacies. If you don’t like to eat sweets, try our kitchen’s crispy thin fried onion, it’s a rarity in the world. Even His Majesty loves it. Try one, I guarantee you’ll like it.” Xiao Junzhu still shook her head. In succession Wei Xiaobao presented seven, eight of his best collections, Xiao Junzhu always shook her head.

Wei Xiaobao’s anger shot to the roof. “Stinky girl, your mouth is so picky, you don’t want this, you don’t want that, what is it that you want?” he asked.

Xiao Junzhu said, “I … I don’t want to eat anything …” but she only said those words and broke into a sob.

Hearing her cry, Wei Xiaobao’s heart softened somewhat. “If you don’t want to eat anything,” he said, “Are you going to starve yourself to death?”

“I … I’d rather die of starvation,” Xiao Junzhu replied.

“I can’t believe you really want to starve yourself to death,” Wei Xiaobao said.

At this moment, someone lightly knocked the door. Wei Xiaobao knew it must be the little eunuch delivering his meal. Afraid that Xiao Junzhu might make noise and alert other people, Wei Xiaobao fetched a piece of towel and tied it around Xiao Junzhu’s mouth before opening the door. He told the little eunuch, “Today I’d like to have Yunnan dish; tell the kitchen to make some immediately and have it sent here.” The little eunuch complied and left.

Wei Xiaobao brought the meal into his room. He took off the towel on Xiao Junzhu’s mouth and sat down across from her. He laughed and said, “If you don’t want to eat, then I’ll eat. Mmmm, this is fried beef in thick soya sauce, this is fish fillet pickled in wine, this is sliced beef in garlic paste, and then there’s Zhenjiang salted meat, plain pan-fried shrimp, and a bowl of chicken feet and koumo mushroom soup; all are incomparably tasty. Delicious! Delicious!” He scooped a spoonful of soup, intentionally slurped and smacking his lips noisily. But when he stole a glance at the Xiao Junzhu, he saw tears streaming down her face; she did not show the slightest desire to eat at all.

Wei Xiaobao’s enthusiasm was doused; he said resentfully, “Turns out a ninth-class little girl only loves to eat ninth-class stinky fish, stinky meat, stinky duck egg; here I have first-class dishes and delicacies, which are for first-class people only. Just wait and I’ll have stinky fish, stinky meat, stinky duck egg and stinky tofu delivered here for you to eat.”

Xiao Junzhu said, “I don’t eat stinky duck egg and stinky tofu.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “Um, turns out you only eat stinky fish and stinky meat.”

“You love talking nonsense,” Xiao Junzhu said, “I don’t eat stinky fish and stinky meat.”

Wei Xiaobao ate several chopsticks of shrimp and a piece of salted meat. “The flavor is really good,” he praised. Seeing all along the Xiao Junzhu was unmoved, he lay down the chopsticks, while pondering in his heart how to make her beg for food.

Quite a while later, the little eunuch came back delivering the ordered meal. “Gui Gong-gong,” he said, “The chef told Xiao Ren to report to Gong-gong: this Guo Qiao rice noodle [vermicelli] soup is extremely hot. It doesn’t seem to emit any steam, but it is very hot. This Xuanwei Huo Jiao[8] was cooked in preserved sweet lotus seed; it was cooked in a hurry, perhaps it is not very tender, the chef asked Gong-gong to excuse him. This one is Yunnan’s black big-head vegetable [rutabaga]. This dish is Erhai Lake of Dali’s Gong Yu Gan[9], although it wasn’t fresh, it is still very rare; it was fried in Yunnan’s red flower oil. In this pot is Pu’er tea of Yunnan. The chef said that the famous steamed chicken of Yunnan takes more than four hours to be cooked well, it will be evening before we can deliver it to Senior, Gui Gong-gong.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. After the little eunuch left, he brought all the dishes into his room.

The imperial kitchen had managed to prepare four types of authentic Yunnan cuisine in such a short moment, their skill could be considered first-rate. Actually, with Wu Sangui being the Ping Xi Wang in Yunnan, although he was domineering, still, on Chinese New Year and other festivities, he would pay tribute to the imperial household, and give holiday gifts to various princes and dukes; his generosity was matchless, ten times more lavish than his peers, as a result, the number of people who speak on his behalf in the imperial court was indeed not just a few. When Wu Sangui sent his tribute to the Emperor, other than gold, silver and jewels, ivory, rhinoceros horn and other precious articles, he also sent all kinds of Yunnan local products, everything that was expected to be found in Yunnan. Because of this, it was not difficult at all for the imperial kitchen to prepare tasty Yunnan dishes in such a short time.

Actually, Xiao Junzhu was hungry, seeing these tasty dishes from her hometown, she could not stop her heart from being moved; however, Wei Xiaobao had indeed bullied her really bad, so she was unwilling to yield. She was determined: “No matter how this little vile creature entices me, I am not going to eat.”

Wei Xiaobao picked a piece of bright red and fragrant Xuanwei ham with his chopsticks and held it close to Xiao Junzhu’s mouth; he laughed and said, “Open your mouth!” Xiao Junzhu gnashed her teeth and shut her mouth tight. Wei Xiaobao rubbed the ham back and forth on her lips, so that her lips were covered in grease; he said with a laugh, “Be a good girl and eat this ham, then I will unseal your acupoint.” Xiao Junzhu shook her head with mouth closed tight.

Wei Xiaobao put down the ham, he opened the lid of the hot soup, and maliciously said, “This soup is extremely hot. If you are willing to eat, I am going to wait until it cools down a little, I’ll feed you slowly, a spoon by a spoon. If you don’t want to eat? Humph, humph!” Reaching out with his left hand, he pinched her nose.

Her breathing obstructed, Xiao Junzhu had no choice but to open her mouth. Wei Xiaobao picked a porcelain spoon with his right hand and stuffed it into her mouth, saying, “I will force the hot soup in like this, so it will scald your intestines!” Only after letting Xiao Junzhu gasping for breath for a moment did he take out the porcelain spoon from her mouth with his left hand.

Xiao Junzhu knew that Guo Qiao vermicelli soup was actually half oil, it was several times hotter than ordinary soup; if he really forced the soup into her throat, she might really die of scalding. She cried and said, “You carved my face, I … I don’t want to live anymore, so grotesque …”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Turns out you really believe I carved a turtle on your face.” He smiled and said, “Although you face has an engraving on it, this little turtle is very beautiful, when you go out on the street, I guarantee everybody will cheer and applaud!”

“It’s dead ugly,” Xiao Junzhu said, “I … I’d rather die.”

“Ay, such a pretty little turtle,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You really don’t want it? If I knew, I would not have to put that much thought into carving it on your face.”

“What carving?” Xiao Junzhu said, “I … I am not a blockhead either.”

“But your surname is clearly Mu,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “What do you mean you are not a blockhead?”

“My family’s surname, the character Mu [沐],” Xiao Junzhu said, “is the Mu [木, wood] with three ‘water’ [氵] radical, not the ‘wood’ from the ‘wooden head’ [木头, blockhead].”

Wei Xiaobao could not tell those two ‘Mu’ characters apart, he said, “If you put a blockhead in the water, it’s no more than a piece of rotten blockhead.” Xiao Junzhu cried again.

“Why do you have to cry all the time?” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you call me ‘good Gege’ three times, I will fix your face, I will scrape the little turtle off so that not the least bit of trace will remain.”

Xiao Junzhu blushed. “How can you scrape it off?” she asked, “If you scrape my face again, how will it look?”

“I have an effective cure, miracle medicine,” Wei Xiaobao said, “On a first-class hero and warrior, of course it is rather difficult to fix. But you are a ninth-class little girl, fixing your face is really easy.”

“I don’t believe you,” Xiao Junzhu said, “You just love to deride others.”

“Are you going to call or not?” Wei Xiaobao said. With a blushing face, Xiao Junzhu shook her head.

Looking at her loveable and bashful appearance, Wei Xiaobao was unable to stop his heart from being moved. “The little turtle was carved not too long ago,” he said, “It is really easy to fix. If you wait longer, it is going to be more difficult. If the tail of the turtle remained and can’t be fixed, I am afraid you will regret it later.”

Although Xiao Junzhu was half believing and half doubting his words, she was anxious to try it; supposing he was right, that in the future a turtle tail remained on her face, it would be extremely unsightly. Her face grew even redder as she whispered, “You … you are not deceiving me?”

“Why would I deceive you?” Wei Xiaobao said, “The sooner you call, the sooner I will start, the better the fix on your face will be. Quickly call me!”

Xiao Junzhu said, “What if … what if after I call you, your fix failed?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Then I will reimburse you double, I will call you ‘good Meimei’ six times!”

Xiao Junzhu’s entire face turned deep red. “You are very bad, I won’t call!” she said.

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Since you don’t trust me, we’ll make a deal. You call me ‘good Gege’ one time first, then after I fix your face, you call me the second time. I’ll have a mirror so that you can see it for yourself, if really not a scar is left, you are fully satisfied, you call me the third time. Who knows? Perhaps you will be very happy that you’ll call me ten times in a row.”

“No, no,” Xiao Junzhu hastily said, “You said three times, how can you add to that number?”

Wei Xiaobao smiled. “Alright, three times it is,” he said, “Just call me quickly!” Xiao Junzhu moved her lips several times, but each time she could not call.

“What’s so hard about calling me ‘good Gege’?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I did not ask you to call me ‘good husband’, or ‘dear husband’. If you don’t call quickly, my price will go up.”

Xiao Junzhu was afraid he might really force her to call him ‘husband’; stuttering, she said, “I will say the first word, after you really fix my face, I will continue with the next … the next two words.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Ay, you really know how to haggle over the price. Giving the money first or giving the money later is just the same. Alright, you call!”

Xiao Junzhu closed her eyes and softly called, “Good …” This word ‘good’ was so soft that it sounded like a buzzing mosquito, if Wei Xiaobao’s hearing was somewhat lacking, he would not be able to hear it at all. On top of that, her face was blushing very deep red.

Wei Xiaobao muttered to himself, “Calling me like this is very disappointing. Seven losses and eight discounts later, what’s left for me? Besides, I don’t know what words follow the word ‘good’ in your heart; it could be ‘good son of a b1tch’, or it could be ‘good little thief’.”

“No,” Xiao Junzhu hurriedly said, “In my heart, I was thinking of … of those two characters. I am not lying to you, I really am not lying to you.”

“Which two characters?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Is it ‘turtle’ [wugui], or ‘little thief’ [xiao zei]?”

“No, no!” Xiao Junzhu said, “It’s ‘Ge’ …” As soon as the word ‘Ge’ came out, she hastily closed her mouth.

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Very good,” he said, “Let’s just say you still have conscience. In that case, I’ll use the best method to fix your face. When you ask a mason to fix a hole in the wall to let the dog comes in and out, with the first-class price, the mason will use a first-class technique; if the price is too low, the mason will cram several rotten bricks and be done with it, he won’t even whitewash it with lime. Don’t you think it will be extremely unsightly?”

Xiao Junzhu said, “I have already called, you still make fun of me by calling me a dog hole and rotten bricks.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “I was giving you an analogy.” Opening Hai Laogong’s trunk, he took the medicine chest out and placed the dozens of medicine bottles from the chest on the table. He poured out some medicinal powder from each bottle, while acting as if he was deep in thought he mixed everything. Originally Xiao Junzhu was only 30% convinced, but seeing these many medicine bottle, her confidence rose up by 20% more. Wei Xiaobao put the medicine powder mix into a medicinal earthenware mortar, which he then brought outside the room. Once he was outside, however, he poured everything onto a paper wrap, which he hid inside his pocket. He took a piece of mung bean cake, a piece of pea-flour cake, and added a piece of lotus seed, which he dug out of a Guangdong moon cake. After washing the mortar clean, until there was not the least bit of medicinal powder left, he put the lotus seed, mung bean cake and pea-flour cake into the mortar, and then he pounded the cakes into a mush. He added two soup-spoons of honey, and having a sudden inspiration, he spat two mouthful of saliva into the mixture, and mixed everything evenly.

Reentering the room, he said, “This is ‘Sheng Ji Ling Gao’ [Efficacious Ointment to Grow the Flesh/Muscle], effective against countless maladies.” After thinking for a moment he added, “Your face has been carved by me; if I can restore it to its original state, it would only look the same as before, you would not see my true ability.” Taking the cap inlaid with jewels he wore the previous day, he pulled four pearls away from the cap and held them on his left palm. “What do you think of these pearls?” he asked Xiao Junzhu.

For generations Xiao Junzhu’s family had held the title of ‘King’ conferred by the previous Emperor; although by the time she was born the Mu family had been in decline, she was after all, a noble woman of an aristocratic family, her knowledge was vastly different from that of a commoner. Seeing the pearls were of the size of a finger, gleaming with soft pearly luster as they slid smoothly on his palm, she knew they were flawless, perfectly round pearls. “Those are very good pearls,” she praised, “Four pearls, exactly the same size, like that are hard to come by!”

Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself; he said, “I bought these pearls for two thousand nine hundred taels yesterday. They are very expensive, don’t you agree?” Although these four pearls were expensive, they were not worth two thousand nine hundred taels; actually, they were only nine hundred taels, he added two thousand taels to deceive her. Taking another mortar, he put the pearls into the mortar and shook the mortar several revolutions, the pearls and the mortar struck against each other, creating clear ringing sound. Wei Xiaobao picked up a stone pestle and pound the pearls.

“Ah!” Xiao Junzhu exclaimed. “What are you doing?” she asked.

Seeing her serious expression and the astonishment on her little face, Wei Xiaobao was even more spirited. The reason he was showing off his extravagance was exactly to incite such astonishment. Immediately he pounded vigorously, crushing the four pearls, and then repeatedly gyrated the stone pestle until the pearls became powder. He said, “If I only restore your face to its original condition, I won’t show Wei … won’t show Xiao Guizi Gong-gong’s real ability; I must make your face ten times more beautiful than it was, and then you will delighted, without the least bit of reluctance, to call me ‘Good Gege’ ten times.”

“Three times!” Xiao Junzhu said, “How can it change to ten?”

Wei Xiaobao only smiled, he poured the pearl powder into the paste consisting of mung bean cake, pea-flour cake, lotus seed, honey and saliva, mixed everything evenly with the pestle. Xiao Junzhu watched with eyes wide open, wondering what he was doing. Seeing he grind the four pearls into the mixture, she can well imagine that this ointment was very costly.

“Although four pearls are expensive,” Wei Xiaobao said, “it is nothing compared to other priceless treasured medicinal powder. Your face was actually not bad, but we can’t say it was first-rate in the world. After I apply the ointment, most likely it will turn into matchless in the world, ‘bashful moon obstructing the flower’ …”

“Bashful flower obstructing the moon [i.e. beautiful woman],” Xiao Junzhu said. Hearing Wei Xiaobao speak incorrectly, without thinking she blurted out to correct him. But as soon as the words came out of her mouth, she could not help but feeling embarrassed.

To Wei Xiaobao however, using the wrong idiom was just like daily meal; he did not give it the slightest thought. “Right,” he said, “You will turn into a little beauty ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’, now that will be good.” While speaking, he worked on smearing the bean putty mashed lotus seed and pearl paste on her face. Xiao Junzhu did not say anything, she let him randomly daubed her face with the ointment. In just a short moment, her entire face, save her eyes, ears, nose and mouth, was completely covered. She only thought that the sweet and fragrant smell of this medicinal ointment was really strong, not sharp like the smell of medicine at all, she did not feel any discomfort.

Seeing she was duped, Wei Xiaobao desperately tried not to laugh; he said in his heart, “Just consider me being polite for not peeing in this medicinal ointment; I was looking at the great merit of your ancestor, Mu Ying, Mu Wangye. He was an outstanding founding minister, Wei Xiaobao yields to him 30%.”

Finished applying the ointment, Wei Xiaobao washed his hands clean and said, “After the ointment is dry, I am going to use the amazing medicinal powder to wash your face clean. Three application, three washes, it’s impossible for you not to be bashful moon … bashful flower obstructing the moon.”

Xiao Junzhu thought, “What ‘impossible not to be bashful flower obstructing the moon’? This sentence sounds quite awkward.” She asked, “Why must you apply three times?”

“Three times can be considered nothing,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “When people make soy sauce, it has to be steamed and dried out in the sun nine times. Even when cooking dog meat, it has to be boiled three times in a row.”

“You are cursing me again as soy sauce and dog meat,” Xiao Junzhu grumbled.

“I did not say soy sauce and dog meat,” Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Dog meat cooked in soy sauce is simmer-fried dog meat. If no soy sauce is being used, then it is plain dog meat stew.” With chopsticks he picked a piece of ham and brought it to her mouth. “Eat, please!” he said.

First, Xiao Junzhu was really hungry, second, she did not dare to offend Wei Xiaobao; she was afraid of his unpredictable actions, who knows? Perhaps he would leave a turtle tail on her face. Third, she saw how he grind the costly pearls without any reservation, unavoidably she had received his favor. After slight hesitation, she opened her mouth and ate.

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic. “Good Meizi,” he praised, “Now this is what I call good girl.”

“I am … I am not your good meizi,” Xiao Junzhu said.

“Good Jiejie, then,” Wei Xiaobao said. [Meizi and Jiejie – younger and older sister, respectively; used in a more intimate setting.]

“I am not,” Xiao Junzhu said.

“Well, how about good Mama?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Xiao Junzhu giggled. “How … how can I be …” she stuttered.

Since the first time Wei Xiaobao saw her, this was the very first time he heard her laughter. It’s a pity her face was covered in lotus seed and bean paste, so it was difficult for him to see the flower-like dimples when she laughed. However, hearing her silver-bell-like laughter was enough to make his heart feel at ease and his spirit delighted. When Wei Xiaobao said, ‘My good Mama,’ he was actually cursing her as ‘little wh0re’, because his own mother was a prostitute. But hearing her joyous laugher was so unrestrained and tender, he could not help but feeling a bit regretful. He thought, “Nothing wrong with being a wh0re, in the Lovely Spring Courtyard my Mama is earning money, she is not necessarily inferior to damn wooden head wooden brain Junzhu from the Mu Palace.” He picked several more pieces of ham to feed her; he said, “If you promise not to run away, I am going to unseal the acupoints on your hand.”

“Why would I want to run away?” Xiao Junzhu said, “With a little turtle carved on my face, if I run away, I would look so ugly that I would die of shame.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “As soon as you find out there is no little turtle on your face, you will definitely run away. That Boss Qian did not say when he is going to let her out either. If the others find out I am hiding a little girl in the Palace, my responsibility will not be small; what should I do?”

While he was still deep in thought, suddenly from outside the door someone was calling out, “Gui Gong-gong, Xiaoren is an attendant in Prince Kang’s mansion, I have something I’d like to see you about.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao replied; lowering his voice he said, “Somebody’s coming, don’t make any noise. Do you know what place this is?” Xiao Junzhu shook her head. Wei Xiaobao said, “If I tell you, you will jump of fright. All those people want to harm you. Only because I took pity on you that I have given you a temporary shelter. If they knew you are in her, humph, humph …” While in his heart he was thinking hard, “What should I say to frighten her the most? What would scare her the most?” An idea struck him; he said, “Those wicked people will strip you naked, then they’ll spank your butts; it will be exceedingly painful.” Xiao Junzhu’s face turned red, but her eyes indeed showed fear.

Seeing the effect of his threat, Wei Xiaobao went out to open the door. Outside the door was a thirty-something court eunuch. The man paid his respect to Wei Xiaobao, and then respectfully said, “Xiaoren is from Prince Kang’s mansion. Our Wangye said that he has not seen Gong-gong for a long time, and is very concerned. Today he has ordered a theatrical troupe and invites Gong-gong to come to the Prince’s mansion to drink wine and watch the opera.”

Hearing the word ‘opera’, Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was aroused, but a Xiao Junzhu was hiding in his room, he was afraid someone might find out by accident, or perhaps she would make noise and attract other people’s attention, then it would be very inconvenient for him; hence he was rather hesitant.

The eunuch said, “Wangye said that Gong-gong’s presence is very much expected. The Palace is bustling with excitements today. There will be dice, pai gow, and all kinds of gambling.”

When he heard the word ‘opera’, Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was only aroused, but when he heard ‘gambling’, his spirit was greatly aroused. After acquiring the riches, he found that gambling with the Wen brothers, Ping Wei and the others was no longer interesting. He threw dice with them only to kill time. Since Prince Kang setup a casino in his mansion, he would be able to gamble with common people and warriors; how could he pay anymore attention to little princess or big princess? Thereupon he happily said, “Very well, wait here for a moment, I‘ll come with you.”

He went back to his room, loosened the belt strapping Xiao Junzhu, lay her down on the bed, and then bound her hands and feet again. He pulled the quilt over her body, and said in a low voice, “I have to do something outside, I’ll be back in a little bit.” Seeing the doubt on her eyes, he said, “I don’t have enough pearls, I need to buy some more to be ground and applied to your face, only then your face will be perfect.”

“You … please don’t go,” Xiao Junzhu said, “Pearls are expensive.”

“Never mind that,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your good Gege has plenty of money, I must make you bashful flower obstructing the moon; spending several thousand taels is nothing.”

“I … I am scared in here,” Xiao Junzhu said.

Seeing her pitiful but cute expression, Wei Xiaobao almost could not bear leaving her, but to ask him not to gamble, it was useless even if Xiao Junzhu was ten times more pitiful. He picked a piece of Gong fish and fed her, then he picked four pieces of eight-treasure cake and folded the cake over her mouth, saying, “When you open your mouth, a piece of cake will enter your mouth. But be careful, if the cake falls onto the pillow, you can’t eat it anymore.”

“You … please don’t go,” Xiao Junzhu said; but since there were cakes on top of her lips, her voice was barely audible. Wei Xiaobao pretended not to hear, he took a bundle of banknotes from his chest and stuffed it into his pocket. He opened the door, walked out, locked the door from the outside, and then hurriedly followed the eunuch to Prince Kang’s mansion.

When he arrived at the gate of the Prince Kang’s mansion, he saw on either side of the main gate stood two rows of imperial bodyguards, all wearing bright brocade uniform, with either a sword or a saber hanging from their waists. They looked so elegant and imposing; the mansion was a lot more heavily-guarded compared to Wei Xiaobao’s first visit. Obviously because of ‘Oboi’s followers’ had broken into the Palace, the security was elevated.

Wei Xiaobao had just stepped in the main gate, Prince Kang had already rushed out to greet him, half squatting, he embraced Wei Xiaobao’s waist. “Gui Xiongdi,” he said with a laugh, “I haven’t seen you for many days, you are growing taller and taller, and look more handsome than ever.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wangye, how are you?” [lit. ‘are you good?’ read on, you’ll see …]

Prince Kang laughed and said, “What’s so good? You did not come to play at my house too often. It would be good if I get to see you more, it is not good if I rarely see you.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wangye has ordered me to come, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.”

“I will hold you accountable of what you’ve just said,” Prince Kang said, “I am thinking of asking His Majesty to grant you some vacation, so that we can drink wine and watch the opera, to do as we please for ten days, eight days. I am just afraid His Majesty cannot do without you for even a day.” He took Wei Xiaobao’s hand, and the two of them walked in side by side. All the imperial bodyguards bowed to salute.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. Although people were flattering him in the Palace, he was only an eunuch after all, where could he find such an opportunity to walk hand in hand with a prince like this?

When they reached the middle gate, two Manchurian high-ranking officials came out to greet them. One was the newly-appointed Commander of the Inner Imperial Bodyguards, Dolong, usually it was known as the Shiwei Zongguan [Imperial Bodyguard chief manager]. The other was Wei Xiaobao’s sworn brother, Songgotu. Songgotu sprang forward and embraced Wei Xiaobao; he laughed heartily and said, “I heard Wangye was inviting you, so I invited myself too, so the two of us brothers can enjoy the excitement together.” The Shiwei Zongguan Dolong also came forward to fawn on him.

As soon as the four of them set their feet on the veranda in front of the main hall, the musicians played a happy tune. Wei Xiaobao had never received such a grand reception like this, he was radiant with delight, and almost could not stop himself from dancing with joy right then and there. When they reached the second hall, more than twenty officers had already standing in the atrium to welcome them. All these people were high-ranking officials: government ministers, vice ministers, generals, commanders of imperial family’s personal guards, and so on. Songgotu introduced them one by one to Wei Xiaobao.

A court eunuch entered in a hurry, after doing his obeisance, he reported, “Wangye, Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent[10] has arrived.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Very good! Gui Xiongdi, just sit back and relax, I am going out to welcome the guest.” Then he turned around and left.

“Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent?” Wei Xiaobao mused, “Could it be Wu Sangui’s son? What is he doing here?”

Songgotu leaned over, he laughed softly next to Wei Xiaobao’s ear and said, “Good Xiongdi, congratulations, today you are going to get rich.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It depends on my gambling luck.”

Songgotu said with a laugh, “I am sure your gambling luck is good. Other than getting rich on the gambling table, there is another sure way of getting lucky.”

“What’s that?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Songgotu whispered on his ear, “Wu Sangui sends his son to pay tribute, all high-ranking official of the imperial court will not be neglected.”

“Oh,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Sangui sends his son to pay tribute. But I am not a high-ranking official of the imperial court.”

“You are a high-ranking official in the Palace,” Songgotu said, “Your prestige is a lot higher than a high-ranking official of the imperial court. Wu Sangui’s son, Wu Yingxiong is very astute and competent, he is very sensible.” Lowering his voice, he said, “Regardless of what Wu Yingxiong presents to you later, you must not show that you like it, just say lightly, ‘The heir came to Beijing, you must have a tiring journey.’ If he sees that you like the present, nothing will follow it. If you look indifferent, he will think that you do not like the gift, you consider it too little; then tomorrow he will return with big gift to make up for it.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; he said in low voice, “So that’s how you knock the bamboo pole[11].”

Songgotu said in low voice, “It’s foolish not to knock Yunnan’s bamboo pole loudly. His old man [laozi] has been sitting on Yunnan and Guizhou, two provinces; I don’t know how much fat and wealth of the people he has extorted. If we don’t help him spend it, first, we are being unfair to his old man, second, we are being unfair to the common people of Yunnan and Guizhou!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Exactly!” he said.

While they were talking, Prince Kang accompanied Wu Yingxiong coming into the hall. This Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent was about twenty four, twenty five years old, very handsome; he walked with vigorous and nimble steps, carrying an air of the son of a general family. Prince Kang pulled Wei Xiaobao over first; he said, “Xiao Wangye, this is Gui Gong-gong, the Lord of Ten Thousand Years’ most capable Gong-gong. The capture of Oboi at the Upper Study Room was mostly this Gui Gong-gong’s great merit.”

The number of eyes and ears Wu Sangui had sent to Beijing was really numerous. Anything that happened in the Capital, big and small, was duly reported by express courier to Kunming. Kangxi personally capturing Oboi was a first class news in the last several years, naturally Wu Yingxiong knew all the details early on. In fact, Wu Sangui had had a discussion with him, he felt that by successfully eradicating an important power without batting an eyelid, the Emperor had shown his heroic spirit despite his young age. He was afraid that his days as a feudal court official in the future would not be too good. This time Wu Yingxiong came to Beijing on his father’s order to pay his respect to the Son of Heaven, he brought a large number of gifts to bribe the senior ministers, but his main purpose was to observe Kangxi’s character and conducts, as well as to find out what kind of person was his most trusted minister.

Coming to Prince Kang’s mansion to pay a visit today, he did not expect to see Kangxi’s most favorite eunuch; he could not help but was greatly delighted. Busily he reached out with both hands to grab Wei Xiaobao’s right hand and shook it repeatedly, while saying, “Gui Gong-gong, I … zaixia … [book note: he started by saying ‘I’, but felt it was not respectful enough; then he thought of saying ‘junior’ (lit. ‘later generation’), but the other party was too young. If he said ‘Xiongdi‘, he felt he did not know him too well; if he said ‘humble officer’, the opposite party was not a high-ranking official of the imperial court, while he would also held the opposite party at a much higher position than himself. So in the end he decided to simply use a common Jianghu term to address oneself.] in Yunnan has heard Gong-gong’s great name. When speaking with other people, Fu Wang [Father King] always praises His Majesty’s wisdom and decisiveness; he is indeed the brilliant master, the Son of Heaven. He also says that with the holy Son of Heaven on the throne, even a young Gong-gong such as yourself is able to set up this great merit, earning the admiration of others. Fu Wang instructed zaixia to prepare gifts to show respect to Gong-gong. It’s just that according to the Great Qing law, it is inappropriate for an external official to make friends with internal officers; although zaixia has the time and the desire, I do not dare to rashly seek an audience with Gui Gong-gong. Today Kang Wangye has bestowed this good opportunity, truly my delight is unbearable.” He was very articulate, his words were very pleasant to listen to.

Hearing that even such a great personality like Wu Sangui, who was ten thousands li away, unexpectedly had also heard about his name, Wei Xiaobao could not help but was very flattered. Luckily he was used to hearing this kind of flattery, so he was prepared on how to deal with it. “We are only servants,” he said indifferently, “We merely work according to His Majesty’s imperial orders. It’s nothing more than, one, do not fear hardship, two, do not fear death; what great merit is worth mentioning? Xiao Wangye has flattered me too much.” While in his heart he thought, “Songgotu Gege has an incredible foresight; sure enough, as soon as this little traitor see me, he mentioned the word ‘gift’ right away.”

Wu Yingxiong was a guest from afar, he was also the Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent, so Prince Kang pushed him to sit on the seat of honor; and he asked Wei Xiaobao to sit on the next seat. There were a lot of high-ranking officials around the banquet table, government ministers and generals, each one was a dignitary. Although Wei Xiaobao was brassy, he did not dare to sit on the second seat; he declined repeatedly. Prince Kang laughed and said, “Gui Xiongdi, you are the man by His Majesty’s side, everybody reveres you in good faith to show love and respect toward His Majesty, you do not need to be polite.” While saying that, he pushed Wei Xiaobao to sit on the chair.

By this time, Songgotu had been promoted to be the Great Learning Scholar of the Dynastic History Ministry, his rank was above everybody else, so he sat next to Wei Xiaobao. The rest of the civil and military high official sat next to each other according to their rank. Wei Xiaobao had a sudden thought, “Damn it! When the patrons of the Lovely Spring Courtyard were having a dinner party with the singsong girls, Mama would always sit behind the guests, while passing along several pieces of cake and pastry to me. Often times those turtle b@stards caught me and threw me out. At that time I always thought that when laozi has become rich, I will come back to the Lovely Spring Courtyard to have a dinner party with the singsong girls; I would call the old procuress, the turtle b@stards and the girls to accompany me drinking. Who would have thought that today I have a prince, an heir apparent, government ministers and generals to accompany me drinking? Too bad the Lovely Spring Courtyard’s old procuress and the turtle b@stards cannot see laozi in this spirited appearance.”

Everybody sat down to drink. The sixteen escorts Wu Yingxiong brought with him were standing by the long window. They watched attentively at the people toasting each other and eating the dishes around the banquet table, as well as the servants delivering food and serving the wine; every action and each movement did not escape their steady gaze. Wei Xiaobao had to think for a while before he suddenly understood, “Right, they must be the martial art experts from the Ping Xi Wang’s palace, who come here to protect Wu Yingxiong, for fear that someone might assassinate or poison him. I am afraid Mu Palace people are already waiting outside. It would be great if there is a fierce battle later. I want to see if Mu Palace people will win, or Wu Sangui’s men more formidable.” His belly was filled with the desire to take pleasure in others’ misfortunes; he hoped that both sides would fight an exciting battle, until both sides suffer.

Prince Kang himself was aware of this situation, but being the host, he felt it was inappropriate to say anything. The Shiwei Zongguan Dolong was a martial art expert, he was also a straightforward man; after drinking several cups of wine, he said, “Xiao Wangye, these dozen or so escorts you bring must have been chosen from a thousand, those selected must be martial art experts.”

Wu Yingxiong laughed and said, “What martial art do they have? They are just personal bodyguards in Fu Wang’s Palace; they have been following Xiongdi, they know Xiongdi’s temperament very well, so when I go out, I seek people I can use for my convenience. That’s all.”

Dolong laughed and said, “Xiao Wangye is too modest. Just look at those two, their Taiyang [‘Sun acupoint’, located on the temples] acupoints are bulging high, their internal energy must have reached 90% proficiency. Looking at those two, their face and neck muscles are sturdy, they must have been trained in hard, external type of martial art. And those gentlemen with shiny faces and big pigtails hanging on the back of their heads, most likely those are fake. If you tell them to take out their caps, I bet they are bald.” Wu Yingxiong smiled, but did not say anything.

Songgotu laughed and said, “I only know Dolong Zongguan has superior martial art, I did not realize you have another skill, telling fortune by reading people’s facial features.”

Dolong laughed and said, “Suo Daren may not know this. When Ping Xi Wang was stationed in Liaodong peninsula, many military officers under his banner belonged to the Jin Ding School [lit. ‘golden crown of the head’ school] of Jinzhou. Disciples of Jin Ding School train a very formidable type of martial art with their heads. When they have trained to proficiency, their faces shiny, and they do not have a single strand of hair on the top of their heads.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “I wonder if it is possible to ask the Heir Apparent to tell these honored escorts to take off their caps, to let everybody see if Dolong Zongguan‘s speculation is accurate or not?”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Dolong Zongguan‘s vision is like a torch, how can he be inaccurate? Indeed these several personal bodyguards have trained Jin Ding School martial art, but their skill has not reached proficiency yet, they still have quite a number of hair on their heads. If I ask them to take off their caps, they will be disgraced in public. I wish gentlemen officials will excuse us.” Everybody laughed heartily, but since Wu Yingxiong was unwilling to comply, it was inappropriate for them to force him.

Wei Xiaobao could not avert his gaze from those people, his heart was unbearable itching, “I wonder how much hair that tall leader has? It looks like that thin man’s martial art skill is rather lacking, perhaps he has a lot of hair.” Suddenly he remembered something, “Ha!” he laughed.

With a smile Prince Kang asked, “Gui Xiongdi, what’s so funny? Why don’t you tell us?”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “I am thinking that the shifu from Jin Ding School must be very amiable; they won’t fight with other people too much, even more so with people from their own school.”

“How can you tell?” Prince Kang asked.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “When they get angry, they would stare at each other, then they would take their caps off. You count the hair on my head, I count the hair on your head; the one has less hair must have higher skill, the one with more hair will be forced to concede.” Everybody roared in laughter; they all said that Wei Xiaobao’s idea was very amusing. Wei Xiaobao continued, “Presumably all Jin Ding School’s shifu carry an abacus, otherwise it would be rather inconvenient to count the hair on their heads.” Everybody burst out in laughter again.

A government minister was drinking a cup of wine, the wine had not entered his throat, when he heard Wei Xiaobao, the wine in his mouth spurt out; because he was afraid to spurt on the table and thus looked lacking in manners, he lowered his head and let the wine spurt onto the front of his own clothes, while coughing incessantly.

“Kang Wangye,” Dolong said, “Since that servant Oboi’s clique disturbed your mansion the last time, I heard that these past several months you have gathered not a few of martial art masters.”

Prince Kang slowly stroke his beard with his right hand, his face showed that he was very pleased with himself. He slowly said, “Indeed martial art masters with prestige and real skill are not easy to find. Those willing to be hired by government authorities are mostly second or third class personnel.” Pausing for a moment he continued, “On the whole Xiao Wang [‘little king’ – referring to self] eagerly seek people of talent; in addition to offering a large sum of money, I have to help them handle several matters, only then did I manage to invite several real top martial art masters. It’s just that they have to be well-served daily, so it takes a lot of effort. Ha ha, ha ha!”

Dolong said, “Wangye’s secret in engaging very able persons, may you teach me?”

Prince Kang smiled and said, “Dolong Zongguan is himself a martial art master, why do you need to hire martial art masters?”

“Thank you Wangye for your compliment,” Dolong said, “I remember that year when we had a competition among our Manchu military commanders at the presence of senior ranking officers, presided personally by the Prince Regent, Wangye and Xiao Jiang [‘little general’ – referring to self] had obtained the Regent’s commendation. I heard this time the surviving members of Oboi’s clique came to stir up trouble, Wangye did not stop shooting arrows and personally killed over twenty members of the rebel party.”

Prince Kang smiled, but did not say anything. That day he did shoot some arrows and killed two Tian Di Hui members, ‘over twenty’ was obviously an exaggeration by a factor of ten.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I saw this matter with my own eyes. That time my ears only heard the random whishing sound of the arrows, while in front of me people shouting, ‘Aiyo, aiyo!’ and behind me people shouting, ‘Good shot, good shot!’”

A civil minister did not understand the meaning behind Wei Xiaobao’s words, he asked, “Gui Gong-gong, what do you mean by in front people shouting, ‘Aiyo!’ and behind people shouting, ‘Good shot!’?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Kang Wangye’s archery skill is ‘one hundred shots, one hundred hits’. In front, the people hit by the arrows shouted, ‘Aiyo!’, behind were our own men, praising, ‘Good shot!’. But there were several times more ‘Good shot!’ than the ‘Aiyo!’ does Daren know the reason?”

The minister twisted his beard with his finger, he said, “Presumably the number of people on our side was several times greater than that of the rebel party.”

“This time Daren has guessed incorrectly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “At that time the rebel party was carrying out a large-scale assault, Kang Wangye was using the few to defeat the many; there were more people on the enemy’s side. But some members of the rebel party were shot by Kang Wangye on the throat, so when the cry ‘Aiyo!’ reached the throat, it could not come out. Also, Kang Wangye shot arrows like a deity, among the rebel party, there were many who admired him from the bottom of their hearts, so they could not refrain from shouting, ‘Good shot!’ They knew they should not shout, but they just couldn’t bear not to.”

The minister repeatedly nodded his head. “So that’s how it is,” he said.

Wu Yingxiong raised his cup and said, “Kang Wangye’s divine archery, junior extremely admires it. I toast Wangye for a cup.” Everybody raised their cups and drank to toast him.

Prince Kang was delighted, he thought, “This kid Xiao Guizi knows the facts and can find appropriate response to delicate situation, no wonder His Majesty likes him.”

Wangye,” Dolong said, “You have hired that many Wulin masters in your Palace, how about inviting them out to let everybody look at them?”

Prince Kang had been wanting to show off, so he instructed his chamberlain, “Prepare two more banquet tables over here, invite Shenzhao Shangren[12] and the others to come out and join the banquet.”

Not too long afterwards, more than twenty people came out from the rear hall, led by a man wearing large red kasaya, a fat and tall Buddhist monk. Prince Kang stood up; he laughed and said, “Friends, let us drink a cup!” Seeing Prince Kang stood up, all the guests around the table also stood up to welcome the newcomers.

The one called Shenzhao Shangren clasped his palms together and said with a laugh, “We don’t dare, we don’t dare! All Daren, please sit down.” His voice was like resounding bell. Just by this demonstration of chi, it was obvious that his internal energy cultivation was very profound. As for the rest of the men, some were tall, some were short, some were handsome, some were ugly. They sat around the two banquet tables.

Apart from possessing a good martial art skill, Dolong was also an impatient man; without waiting for the men to finish their first round of drink, he said, “Wangye, Xiao Jiang can see that each of these Wulin masters of your Palace has majestic appearance, they look formidable, their martial art skill must be extremely high; is it possible to ask these friends to display their skill? Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent and Gui Gong-gong are guests of honor whose presence is hard to come by, I presume they would also like to see the skill of Prince Kang Mansion’s people.”

Wei Xiaobao was the first to echo his words. Wu Yingxiong clapped his hands and cheered. The rest of the guests also said, “Absolutely, absolutely!”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Friends, all these honored guests want to see your skill, I wonder if you’d like to spar with each other.”

From the martial art masters’ banquet table on the left a middle-aged man suddenly stood up; with a loud and clear voice he said, “I only know that Kang Wangye loves talented people, that’s why I came here to hire myself to him; who would have thought that he only regards us as the Jianghu people who sell our skill? If all Daren want to see juggling monkey or tight-rope walker, why don’t you go to the Bridge of Heaven? I am taking my leave!” While saying that, he raised his left hand and smashed it down on the back of his chair. ‘Crash!’ the back of the chair broke. He walked out toward the door in big strides. Everybody’s face changed.

A thin and small old man, who was sitting on the same table as the man, suddenly flashed by and cut off in front of him. “Lang Shifu,” the old man said, “What you say is too preposterous. Wangye courteously and respectfully asking us to offer our skill, if Lang Shifu is willing to display your skill, no doubt it it is very good; but if you are unwilling, Wangye can’t possibly force you. In the Palace you make a racket, destroying the Palace’s property, even if in his magnanimity Wangye did not hold you responsible, but for the rest of us, brothers, where should we put our face?”

The man surnamed Lang laughed coldly and said, “Everybody has his own ambitions. Tao Shifu loves to show your skill in the Prince’s mansion, feel free to play as much as you want. Xiongdi cannot accompany you too much.” While saying that he took another step forward.

The old man surnamed Tao said, “If you really want to go, you need to kowtow and say goodbye to Wangye. If Wangye give you a nod, then you can leave.”

The man surnamed Lang said with a cold laugh, “I didn’t sell my body as a slave in the Prince’s mansion, my two feet grew on my own body, I can go whenever I want to go, why do you care?” Finished speaking, he walked forward.

Unexpectedly, the old man surnamed Tao did not move; seeing the one surnamed Lang was about to bump into him, he reached out to grab his left arm, while saying, “Who knows? Perhaps I will be forced to care.”

The one surnamed Lang bent his left arm downward, then suddenly jerked it upward, striking toward the old man surnamed Tao’s waist. The one surnamed Tao’s right leg flew up to kick the pit of his stomach. The one surnamed Lang’s right hand swiftly moved toward the back of old man Tao’s right leg, which by this time was high in the air. Seizing this opportunity, he pushed out, sending the old man surnamed Tao falling backward with his face up. Luckily he was quite nimble, propping himself with his right hand, he leaped back up. Although he did not fall flat on his back, he had already made a fool of himself, his old face turned entirely red. “Hey, hey,” the man surnamed Lang laughed coldly, and bolted toward the door.

Suddenly a thin man appeared on the door of the hall, which was originally empty. The thin man cupped his fist and said, “Lang Xiong, please return.”

The one surnamed Lang was moving so fast that he could not control his own momentum and crashed into the man’s body. The thin man did not evade, the two of them crashed into each other. The one surnamed Lang staggered three steps backwards. He took two steps sideways to the left, but suddenly turned to the right as he dashed toward the long window on the right. As he reached the threshold, the thin man had already blocked in front of him. The one surnamed Lang knew how formidable the thin man was when he collided against him, so he did not dare to have another collision. Hastily he held his steps; his chest was no more than two cun away from the thin man’s chest, the tip of his nose had already touched the thin man’s nose. The thin man did not move at all, he did not even blink. The one surnamed Lang swiftly dodged to the left, but as soon as he regained his footing, the thin man was blocking in front of him.

The one surnamed Lang was furious, ‘whoosh!’ he sent a punch toward the thin man’s face. The two of them stood very close to each other, plus the punch was sent with tremendous strength. The thin man did not lean sideways, he simply lowered his head. But he raised his right palm in front of his face. ‘Slap!’ the punch hit the center of his palm. He bent his palm slightly, the one surnamed Lang was pushed that he had to take several steps backward. The people in the hall cheered; they all praised, “Good skill!”

The one surnamed Lang looked awkward; he was unable to leave, but to go forward and fight, he realized his martial art skill was far too inferior to the opponent. Momentarily he was at a loss of what to do.

The thin man cupped his fist and said, “Lang Xiong please sit down. Wangye instructed us to spar with each other; didn’t the two of us just have a spar with each other?” Finished speaking, he immediately walked back and sat on his original seat, on the banquet table to the right. Everybody applauded again. The one surnamed Lang, with ashamed look across his face, sat down with his head hung low.

When the man surnamed Lang made a disturbance, Prince Kang had lost a considerable face; luckily this thin man returned the honor to him by compelling the one surnamed Lang to return to the martial art masters’ banquet table. Prince Kang instructed his chamberlain, “Go get fifty-tael silver yuanbao and bring them here.”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “This Shifu has an amazing martial art skill; such vicious … vicious … vicious tiger blocking the way [book note: the saying he wanted to say was ‘vicious dog blocking the way’]. That fellow was unable to get away no matter what. I wonder what is his name?”

Prince Kang stroke his sideburns, he could not remember this thin man’s name, or when did this man come to the Prince’s mansion; his mind was completely blank on this matter, so he laughed and said, “Xiao Wang‘s memory is not good, I can’t remember it for the time being.”

Presently the chamberlain reappeared, carrying a large wooden tray, the tray was draped in red silk, with twenty pieces of fifty-tael big yuanbao on it. The silver was gleaming, dazzling the eyes; the tray was then set up by the Prince’s side. Prince Kang laughed and said, “Gentlemen, masters of martial arts have displayed your skill, you deserve some rewards. This friend, please step forward to take one yuanbao.”

The thin man came forward, and after paying his respect, he received a silver ingot from Prince Kang’s hand. Wei Xiaobao asked, “Friend, what is your honorable name? And what is your great given name?”

The thin man replied, “Xiao Ren Qi Yuankai, thank you Daren, for inquiring.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your martial art skill is very high.”

Qi Yuankai said, “Enough to be laughed by Daren.”

“The martial art masters in Kang Wangyeí‘s mansion definitely carries unsurpassed artistry,” Dolong said, “We really wish to experience the skill of martial art masters under Ping Xi Wang. Xiao Wangye, how about selecting somebody to exchange blows with this Qi Shifu?” Seeing Wu Yingxiong was hesitating without replying, he added, “Naturally we will stop at touching, we must not harm our friendship; who win who lose is irrelevant.”

Prince Kang was a man who loved excitement; he said, “Dolong Zongguan has a lofty idea, let the martial art masters of both sides exchange some pointers; the winner will enjoy two big silver yuanbao, the loser will also enjoy one. Put the yuanbao on the table.”

The nineteen yuanbao were placed in front of the banquet table; the candle cast its light upon the ingots, the silver was gleaming against the red lining, it looked even more dazzling.

Prince Kang laughed and said, “My humble palace will have this Qi Yuankai Shifu, I wonder which Shifu will Ping Xi Wang Palace have?”

Everybody was in high spirits, they looked at the sixteen attendants under Wu Yingxiong. They knew that although it was a one on one martial art competition between the martial art masters, in actuality it was a gamble, the two palaces of Prince Kang and Ping Xi Wang contending with each other. Just now the thin man, Qi Yuankai, had displayed his martial art skill, and indeed he was formidable, perhaps none of Yunnan’s warriors would be able to match him.

Wu Yingxiong hesitated, he did not answer. One of the sixteen men under his leadership stepped forward, bowed to Prince Kang and said, “Reporting to Wangye: all of us Xiaoren have very low martial art skill, in no way we can match the Shifu of Wangye‘s Palace. We accompany the heir apparent to Beijing, simply to attend to our heir apparent daily need. Ping Xi Wang has ordered us never to offend the attendants of all Wangye and ministers. This is our Ping Xi Wang’s order, Xiaoren definitely do not dare to disobey.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Ping Xi Wang is very prudent! But today we only practice martial art, not fighting to cause any trouble. If your Wangye ever ask, just tell him that I want you to do it.”

The man bowed again and said, “Please forgive us, Wangye, we do not dare to follow your order.”

Prince Kang was secretly angry, “You only regard Ping Xi Wang in your heart and do not consider me, Prince Kang. Perhaps even if His Majesty issues an imperial decree, you will not follow either.” He said, “Could it be that if others punch you, you won’t hit back at all?”

The man said, “Back in Yunnan, Xiaoren always hear that all civil and military officials, as well as soldiers and common people under the Son of Heaven are all reasonable people. We are only rural folks from faraway border area, as we come to the Capital, in everything we must yield and not offend anybody. Presumably without any rhyme or reason other people will not hit us.” This man was tall and sturdy, his face carried a highly-capable look, his words was sharp; with those several sentences he was saying that if Prince Kang insisted the martial art masters under his command to provoke a fight, then Prince Kang was not a reasonable person.

Prince Kang was even more enraged, he turned his head and said, “Shenzhao Shangren, Qi Shifu, these friends from Yunnan are simply unwilling to do us the honor; there is nothing that we can do.”

Shenzhao Shangren laughed aloud; he stood up and said, “Wangye, these friends form Yunnan are simply afraid of losing, they are afraid of losing their face. I wonder if other people really hit their vital points, they won’t hit back or ward off the attack?” Finished speaking, his body flashed, he had already standing by the man’s side. He laughed and said, “Pinseng[13] only has mediocre palm strength, but compared to that friend surnamed Lang who wanted to leave but fail to leave, maybe just a little bit stronger. Wangye, Pinseng is about to break a piece of brick in your hall, won’t Wangye be offended?”

Prince Kang knew that among his martial art masters, Shenzhao’s martial art skill was the strongest, both his internal and external strength had reached perfection; hearing him said so, it was obvious that he was going to give demonstration of his skill, Prince Kang happily said, “Shangren may do as you wish; even if you break a hundred bricks, it is a trivial matter.”

Shenzhao squatted; his left palm lightly slapped the floor. When he lifted his hand, a large greenish black brick was stuck onto his palm. This greenish black brick was about one chi five cun square [about 17 inches]; although it was not very heavy, it was firmly embedded on the floor. To be able to suck the greenish brick from the floor and stick it flat on the palm without dropping it, his palm power must be very profound. “Good!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed loudly. Everybody else applauded.

Shenzhao showed a faint smile. Raising his left palm, he released the sucking force, immediately the greenish black brick fell down. When the brick was about level with his chest, both of his arms moved from outside to inside, his palms slapped together on the edge of the brick, ‘crash!’ the big greenish black brick was smashed to smithereens; it rained down on the floor. The people cheered loudly again. Only about four, five cun of the greenish black brick’s edge received the palm strike, but the palm power dissipated everywhere and unexpectedly able to crush the brick, with the biggest fragment was no more than one or two cun square; his inner power was indeed not a small matter.

Shenzhao walked toward Wu Yinxiong’s attendant, putting his palms together he said, “What is your respected surname and great given name, Sire?”

The man replied, “Dashi [‘great master’ See note 14 of Chapter 8] has astonishing palm strength, you have really broadened Xiaoren‘s horizon. Xiaoren is a savage person from a remote area, I am just a nameless soldier.”

Shenzhao laughed and said, “So savage people from a remote area do not have name and surname?”

The man raised his eyebrows, an angry look flashed past his face, but immediately he said nonchalantly, “Even if coarse people of the mountains and plains have names, it’s no more than A Mao or A Gou [lit. ‘a cat’ or ‘a dog];’ it’s quite useless for Dashi to find out.”

Shenzhao laughed and said, “Sire has a good self-control skill. Today Prince Kang is having a feast, he is surrounded by distinguished friends, it’s a rare grand meeting within the Beijing city walls. Wangye has ordered us to show off our shortcomings, to bring laughter to Wangye, Heir Apparent, as well as other honored guests. Sire is determined not to grant any instruction, by doing so has swept away Wangye and numerous Daren‘s keen interest; aren’t you placing too much value on your status?”

The man replied, “Zaixia only learned a few years of countryside peasants’ skill, how can I be a match for Shenzhao Shangren of Iron Buddhist Temple of Cangzhou? If Dashi insists on competing, just consider Zaixia has lost, Dashi may just receive the two yuanbao reward.” While saying that, he turned around to return to his place.

“Hold on!” Shenzhao shouted, “Pinseng has decided to try Sire’s skill. With double fists’ Bells and Drums sounding simultaneously, I am going to strike the Taiyang acupoints on both sides of Sire’s head, please hit back!”

The man shook his head. Shenzhao let out a loud shout, the sleeves of his large red kasaya suddenly swelled as he created enough strong gust of wind, his arms swept from the outside and bent swiftly to the inside, his fists, each one as big as the mouth of a bowl, were striking toward the man’s Taiyang acupoints on both sides of his head.

Just a moment ago everybody saw how he broke the greenish black brick with his palm strength; they could not help but gasping in horror, they thought since it was too late for the man to evade, if he did not parry, wouldn’t  his skull be like that greenish black brick, smashed into smithereens? Who would have thought that the man did not move at all? He did not even lift his hand, neither did he lift his foot, nor move his head, nor blink his eyes; he stayed unmoving like a clay figurine or a wooden statue.

When Shenzhao Shangren made his move, he only wanted to force him to retaliate; he did not have any desire to take his life. As his fists were about to land on the man’s Taiyang acupoints, he saw the man was standing with blank expression on his face; his heart was alarmed, “My two fists carry about a thousand catties of force.  Ping Xi Wang Heir Apparent is Prince Kang’s honored guest, if I recklessly killed his attendant, it would be greatly inappropriate.” Therefore, when his fists made contact with the man’s skin, he hastily forced his own fists upwards. ‘Whoosh!’ the fists flitted pass by the man’s temples, while the sleeves of his monk robe brushed against his face. The man smiled slightly and said, “Dashi has an excellent boxing technique!”

The people in the hall all stared blankly at the scene. They thought that this man’s mental strength was indeed extraordinary. If Shenzhao’s fists did not change direction midway but struck the man’s Taiyang acupoints instead, how could he still live at this moment? This man regarded his own life as a child’s play, he was simply insane.

When Shenzhao abruptly redirected his fists, he had shaken his own arms that now his arms were sore; he could not help but staring at the man for half a day, wondering whether this man was actually a madman or an idiot. If Shenzhao went back to his seat, unavoidably he would not be able to lift his head high again. He said, “Since Sire is determined not to give me face, Pinseng has no choice but to offend you. The next punch is the Black Tiger Snatching the Heart, I am going to strike the pit of Sire’s stomach.”

The moves Bells and Drums Sounding Simultaneously and Black Tiger Snatching the Heart were both very rudimentary fist techniques, those who learned martial art for several months would have practiced these moves. Before launching the attack he shouted the name first, it was to show that he intended to score victory by relying on his strength; but by using the shallowest technique, he was also showing contempt toward the opponent.

The man showed a faint smile without answering at all. Shenzhao was inwardly very angry; he mused, “This punch of mine is going to inflict internal injury on you; you won’t die immediately on the spot, but you’ll die three, four days later, so I can’t be considered sweeping away Ping Xi Wang’s face.” Striking a horse stand, he let out a loud shout while sending his right punch with a strong gust of wind. ‘Smack!’ the punch hit the pit of the man’s stomach.

The man’s body swayed, he took a step back as he laughed and said, “Dashi has won. I was forced to take a step back.”

Although Shenzhao did not put forth his entire strength in this punch, the power behind it was very severe; unexpectedly it was as if the man did not feel anything, he spoke those words lightly, without any difficulty at all. Obviously, he did not sustain any injury. The civil officials among the guests did not understand this reasoning, but those who practiced martial art all knew that the man had intentionally yielded to Shenzhao. Wei Xiaobao was neither a civil nor military; he was in between ‘appeared to understand but does not really understand’.

Shenzhao was proud to have quite a prestige in Wulin, how could he accept a victory like this? A faint layer of dark color rose up on his face; he said, “In that case, eat my fist again.” ‘Whoosh!’ he sent another punch, still striking toward the pit of that man’s stomach. This time he was using 70% of his strength. Even if the man were hit and spurted blood from his mouth, it was he who asked for trouble, Shenzhao did not have any choice.

When Shenzhao’s punch reached the front piece of the man’s jacket, the man’s chest suddenly shrank, his body floated backward for about half a zhang, as if he was he was jolted by the power of the punch, while actually he was evading the punch. His attacked hit an empty space, Shenzhao’s anger grew. He rushed forward two steps, and with a loud shout his right leg flew up ferociously to kick the man’s lower abdomen. “Aiyo!” the man cried out, it seemed like the kick was going to hit him.

As if by prior agreement all the people stood up, only to see the man’s body was bent backward; it was like his two feet were being nailed to the ground, his body was bent at the knee, he fell backward with face up, hence most of his body was like a wooden log hanging horizontally in the air, only about a chi away from the floor. Shenzhao’s kick hit an empty air, about several cun above the man’s legs.

Shenzhao was in quandary, he had to either give up, or go through to the end; in Mandarin Duck Chain Kicks style, using the Black Dragon Sweeps the Earth his left leg swept across toward the man’s shinbone. Without changing his posture – he was still in the Iron Panel Bridge position, his feet kicked the ground, his whole body flew up one chi. Shenzhao’s leg swept pass the sole of his feet. The man fell back down steadily, he still had not stood straight.

The people in the hall broke into a thunderous applause. With this turn of events, Shenzhao  realized that his martial art skill was still inferior to that man’s by a considerable margin. If the opponent had hit him back, he would have been beaten silly. Without any choice he put his palms together and said, “Good skill! My utmost admiration!”

The man straightened up, he bowed to return the propriety and said, “Dashi‘s fists and kicks carried tremendous strength, Zaixia did not dare to fend off, and was forced to evade.”

Prince Kang said, “Both gentlemen have an extremely high martial art skill. His Highness Heir Apparent’s attendant is very polite, he was determined not to fight back; hence the martial art competition cannot be continued. Come, both of you take two yuanbao each.”

The man bowed and said, “I don’t get a reward I don’t deserve.”

Seeing the man was unwilling to take the yuanbao, Shenzhao felt it was inappropriate for him to step forward to claim his reward. Prince Kang turned to his chamberlain and said, “Send the reward to both gentlemen.” The man thanked the Prince and accepted the money, Shenzhao also embarrassedly received his.

Prince Kang was fully aware that although the martial art contest a moment ago was not official, actually his side had already lost. He bestowed two big silver yuanbao to Shenzhao was only to cover up Shenzhao embarrassment, and also he stated that neither one win nor lose to conceal his own shortcomings. In his heart was still unwilling to concede, and the fight had not satisfied his craving; he thought, “Admittedly, this tall guy’s martial art skill is not bad, but I am sure the rest of Wu Yingxiong’s attendants are not as good as he is. The martial art masters under my command have astonishing skill, just look at that Qi Yuankai, perhaps his martial art level is almost the same as that Shenzhao monk.” Originally he addressed Shenzhao as ‘Shangren’, after the display of his martial art just now, in his eyes, he had already discounted Shenzhao from ‘Shangren’ to ‘heshang’ [Buddhist monk]. In loud and clear voice he said, “The contest just now cannot be continued, unavoidably it was a little … a little disappointing in something otherwise perfect. Qi Shifu, please invite fifteen martial art masters, everybody take a weapon, sixteen against sixteen, have a spar with sixteen attendants Ping Xi Wang Heir Apparent brought with him. Xiao Wangye, please tell them to show their weapons!”

Wu Yingxiong said, “We come to Wangye’s palace as guests, how can we dare to bring our weapons?”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Heir Apparent is too polite. Your honored father and Xiao Wang were military commanders, throughout our lives we eke out a living amidst the sabers, spears, swords and halberds, we need not observed this old-womanish taboo. Come, get the eighteen weapons, some of each, and bring them here, let the martial art masters of Ping Xi Wang choose.” Prince Kang was a combat general, he fought from outside the Great Wall into the Central Plains; in his mansion there were all kinds of weapons. As soon as he shouted the order, his attendants immediately brought a big pile of weapons, long and short, out, and put them all in front of the sixteen Heir Apparent’s escorts.

Qi Yuankai chose fourteen martial art masters, but he asked Shenzhao to be their leader. Shenzhao wanted to win back his face, so he uttered some polite words, but he did not decline. He thought, “In any case I need to chop and injure some southern barbarians to vent the resentment in my heart.” The fact that Ping Xi Wang was their honored guest and that he must give careful consideration to his face, and so on and so forth, had long ago vanished from his thought.

Shenzhao, Qi Yuankai, and the others got their weapons and followed the attendants returning to the hall. Shenzhao had a pair of blue steel Jie Dao [Buddhist’s saber] in his hands. He went over to Prince Kang’s banquet table and put his palms together in salute. Prince Kang and the others slightly leaned their bodies forward and nodded to return the courtesy.

Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself, “Damn it,” he thought, “These people are all exceptionally skillful in martial arts, they all are big names in Jianghu, yet they still come to laozi to salute. Laozi only sitting haughtily, nodding my head to settle the matter; compared to them, my prestige is ten times more impressive.”

Shenzhao turned around and loudly said, “Friends from Yunnan, go get your weapons!”

The tall man who had received his five moves earlier said, “We have received Ping Xi Wang’s order, we must not fight with anybody inside the city of Beijing.”

Shenzhao said, “When other people’s saber is blowing to your head, will you still not fight back? Other people want to chop your head, you will simply stretch out your neck? Or will you shrink your head into your neck?”

As soon as he said those words, all Ping Xi Wang’s Palace escorts showed an angry look. Saying that they shrink their heads into their necks was just the same as cursing them as turtles. But the tall leader still spoke indifferently, “Ping Xi Wang’s military order is like a mountain. If we disobey the military order, when we return to Yunnan, it will be the same, we’ll have our heads chopped off.”

“Fine,” Shenzhao said, “We’ll see.” He beckoned the other fifteen masters of martial art to gather in a corner of the hall and conversed in low voice. Shenzhao quietly said, “We’ll move our weapons towards their vital points, let’s see if they will still not fight back?”

Qi Yuankai said, “It will be inappropriate if we injure them. We will simply force them to fight back.”

Another man said, “We must be a little more careful.”

Shenzhao shouted, “Alright, let’s fight!” Letting out a long whistle, he brandished his Jie Dao. White rays flashing, as he was the first to charge toward the sixteen Ping Xi Wang’s escorts. The other fifteen men, some using swords, some sticking out their short spears, some brandishing their steel whip, some raising their copper hammer, sixteen different weapons charged together.

Unexpectedly, the sixteen escorts only stood motionless, with arms hanging down and palms kept close to their thighs, their eyes looked straight forward, as if they did not see the attack of those sixteen masters of martial art of Prince Kang’s mansion.

Seeing their opponents were motionless, those sixteen masters of martial art showed off their skill in front of Prince Kang and the guests. Each of them displayed their most ingenious moves of their respective weapons, hacking diagonally, thrusting straight, cutting down, striking horizontally; the blades reflecting the candlelight as the sixteen weapons danced with loud gusts of wind, forming a canopy of light, surrounding the sixteen escorts in the middle.

The civil officials repeatedly said, “Careful, careful!” The military officers noticed that every weapon was threatening the opponent’s vital points, oftentimes it was only several cun away from its target. They only needed to exert a fraction more of their strength, then they would have taken the opponent’s life. The officers were all apprehensive.

The sixteen escorts fixed their gaze forward, they gave no thought to their own life or death; if the opponents really wanted to take their lives, they would have given their lives without a fight.

Shenzhao and the others moved their weapons faster and faster, occasionally the weapons would collide with each other, sparks flew everywhere, clanking sounds were heard, the situation grew more and more dangerous. Although they did not want to intentionally hurt Ping Xi Wang’s subordinates, but as the swords, sabers, whips and hammers collided with each other, not only the weapons carried great forces with them, they were also so close to each other, so it was just a matter of time before the weapons would bounce and injure someone.

Sure enough, ‘smack!’ an iron mace collided with another man’s copper hammer, and ricocheted toward a Ping Xi Wang escort’s shoulder. Following closely, someone’s saber hacked slantingly down, it flitted across, just a few cun away from the right side of an escort’s face, someone by his side happened to cut down with a sword; the saber and sword collided, the saber bounced slightly and cut the escort’s face. Instantly blood flowed from a long cut of his face. The injury of these two escorts was not light, still they did not utter a single groan, still they stood motionless.

Prince Kang realized that if this thing continued, there would be more wounded people, but he was also somewhat disappointed that the martial art contest could not continue. He shouted, “Good martial arts! Good martial arts! Everybody hold your hands!”

Shenzhao let out a loud shout, his pair of Jie Dao swept horizontally across, knocking the hat off of an escort’s head. The rest of his men followed suit, one after another sabers, spears, swords and halberds knocked the escorts’ hats off. The sixteen martial art masters laughed aloud, pulled back their weapons, and then leaped back off.

Wei Xiaobao saw that among the escorts there were seven men who were bald, their shiny heads gleaming under the light; he could not help clapping his hands and laughed heartily, “Dolong Zongguan,” he said, “Your guess is really accurate, they are really a bunch of bald …” before he finished, he took a glance and saw the sixteen escorts of Ping Xi Wang Palace were still standing motionless, but their faces showed an extreme anger, their eyes looked like they were spouting fire.

Since he was little Wei Xiaobao had mingled with people of the marketplace, naturally he was very familiar with the way of hoodlums, he felt that the action of Shenzhao and the others were very inappropriate, they did not leave even half a face to the others. Although the rogues and hoodlums of the marketplace stole, robbed, swindled, and did all kinds of shameless deeds, but when they were fighting, they always left 30% of leeway; north and south of the great river, everywhere was the same. When a patron of the brothel was infatuated with a girl and splurged ten of thousand taels on her, the old procuress would give him back several tens of taels as travel expenses, so that he would not wander destitute in a foreign land, or perhaps in desperation would hang himself or throw himself in the river. It was not because those hoodlums had a really good conscience, but rather to avoid the matter being escalated and might bring trouble in the future.

When gambling, Wei Xiaobao often used tricks to clean up his opponent’s money, but suppose he won one tael, he would in the end let him win back one or two coins, if he won one hundred wen, he would in the end let him win back ten or twenty wen. In one hand, so that next time he would still do business with him, on the other hand, it was to avoid the other party get suspicious, or to avoid the other party became angry out of shame, and drew out his fists to beat him.

Looking at Ping Xi Wang Palace escorts’ expression, Wei Xiaobao felt very apologetic in his heart, so he promptly left his seat and went over to them. He stooped down in front of the tall man to pick up his hat and said, “Lao Xiong is really amazing.” With both hands he put the hat back on him.

The man bowed and said, “Thank you very much!”

Immediately afterwards Wei Xiaobao picked all fifteen hats one by one, he said with a laugh, “By doing this, aren’t they offending friends?” He was not sure which hat belonged to whom, so he held the hats in his hands and let each one of them picked and put it on themselves.

These escorts saw that Wei Xiaobao was sitting by their Palace’s Heir Apparent, he was the honored guest whom Prince Kang invited this time, the Gui Gong-gong who arrested Oboi; seeing that he personally picked up the hats, they all cupped their fists and repeatedly said, “We don’t dare, Xiaoren do not deserve it!”

At first Wei Xiaobao did not have the least bit of favorable impression toward these Ping Xi Wang Palace’s people, he was hoping Wu Sangui’s subordinates would fall flat on their faces, but after being forced repeatedly by Shenzhao and the others, yet all along these people were tolerating them; thus they had aroused Wei Xiaobao’s spirit in wiping out the bullies and help the down-trodden. Seeing their appreciation seemed to be very sincere, he was even happier. Turning his head to Prince Kang he said, “Wangye, I wonder if I can borrow several taels from you.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Gui Xiongdi can use anything freely. Will fifty thousand taels enough?”

Wei Xiaobao replied with a laugh, “Why would I need that much?” Toward a chamberlain of the Prince’s mansion he said, “Quickly go buy sixteen best hats, the faster the better!” The chamberlain complied and left.

Wu Yingxiong cupped his fist and said, “Gui Gong-gong love the house and its crow, zaixia is deeply grateful.”

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the politeness, while saying in his heart, “What love the house and its crow? If there is any crow, wouldn’t it be you, this little turtle?”

When Prince Kang saw Shenzhao and the others knocked down the Ping Xi Wang Palace escorts’ hats, he had already felt that it was a bit too much, he was afraid Wu Yingxiong might be offended, but to open his mouth to apologize, he also felt that it was inappropriate. Therefore, Wei Xiaobao’s action closely resembled his own heart’s desire. He said, “Attendants, reward Heir Apparent Wu’s subordinates fifty taels each.” He then thought, “If I only rewarded the other side, wouldn’t I make my own martial art master subordinates lose face?” So he added, “Our own Palace’s sixteen martial art masters will also receive fifty taels reward each!” The hall was abuzz with joyful noise.

Songgotu rose up and poured drink for everybody on the banquet table, he said, “Xiao Wangye, your esteemed father employs the troops like a deity; today I have seen it, sure enough, the name is not in vain. Your esteemed father’s military order is stern; making everybody always ready to give their lives, no wonder he triumphs in every battle and wins every fight. Come, come, come, let us all toast Ping Xi Wang a cup!”

Wu Yingxiong hurriedly stood up; raising his cup he said, “Junior solemnly drinks the toast on my father’s behalf; thank you gentlemen, for your generous kindness.” Everybody raised their cups and drank. Wu Yingxiong added, “In guarding the southern border, bringing peace and order to the frontier, my father depends on the Holy One’s great fortune and the appropriate arrangement of princes and dukes, as well as the senior ministers of the imperial court, who give directions to do things right. My father only serves to display utter loyalty to His Imperial Majesty; he receives instructions from princes and dukes, as well as the senior ministers of the imperial court, and does not dare to be idle. We do not dare to claim any merit.” After a few more rounds of wine, the Prince’s mansion’s chamberlain returned with sixteen hats, which he held with both hands and presented them in front of Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao turned to Prince Kang and said with a laugh, “Wangye, your Palace’s Shifu have accidentally knocked off other people’s hats; you ought to compensate them with new hats.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “I should, I should. Gui Xiongdi is very thoughtful.” He ordered his chamberlains to present the hats to Wu Yingxiong’s escorts.

The escorts received the hats and bowed, they said, “Thank you Wangye, thank you Gui Gong-gong!” They folded the hats and put them inside their pockets, while still wearing the old hat on their heads. Prince Kang and Songgotu looked at each other, they were aware that these people did not put on the new hats out of respect to Wu Yingxiong.

After another round of drink, the theatrical troupe in the Prince’s mansion came out to present their skill. Prince Kang asked Wu Yingxiong to select a play. Wu Yingxiong chose ‘Man Chuang Hu’ [bed full of tablets, ‘hu’ is tablet held at an audience], a lively story about Guo Ziyi celebrating his birthday, his seven sons and eight son-in-laws came to congratulate him. Guo Ziyi was a man of riches and honor, also a long-lived scholar, he came to a good end by his scholarly achievement in imperial exams, who was extremely revered by the ruler and his ministers. Wu Yingxiong chose this story to congratulate Prince Kang, but also to compare his own father, Wu Sangui, to the character of the story; it was quite a fitting play.

After he chose a play, Prince Kang gave the playlist to Wei Xiaobao. “Gui Xiongdi,” he said, “You also choose a story.”

Wei Xiaobao did not recognize any character on the playlist; he laughed and said, “I can’t choose. Wangye, please select a story for me, a martial art play with fighting and sturdy stick.”

Prince Kang laughed and said, “Gui Xiongdi loves to watch military vigor. Um, we’ll choose the play about a young hero defeating a grownup, just like Xiao Xiongdi arresting Oboi. Right, we’ll select ‘Bai Shui Tan’ [beach of clear water], the young hero was an eleven years old youth, he fought and completely routed the Green Faced Tiger.”

When ‘Man Chuang Hu’ and ‘Bai Shui Tan’ were over, the third play was ‘You Yuan Jing Meng’ [roaming the garden after awakened from a dream], where two female impersonators singing ‘Ah, Ah’ endlessly. Wei Xiaobao did not understand what they were saying, he got impatient so he stood up and left the banquet table. He saw in the side hall there were several tables where people were gambling, some played cards, some other played dice. The banker on the dice table was a military officer, a subordinate of Prince Kang. In front of him there was a big pile of his winning money. Seeing Wei Xiaobao walked near, he said with a laugh, “Gui Gong-gong, would you like to try your hand?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Alright!” he said. He glanced over and saw the tall man, Wu Yingxiong’s subordinate, was standing on the side. Wei Xiaobao had a rather favorable impression of this man, so he beckoned him to come.

The man rushed forward a step and said, “What instruction does Gui Gong-gong have?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There is no father and son on the gambling table, you do not need to be polite. Lao Ge [old older brother], what’s your honorable surname? With what great name must I address you?”

A moment ago, Shenzhao asked him and he was unwilling to answer, but Wei Xiaobao had given them a lot of face in front of the guests, plus he was asking politely, so he said, “Xiaoren is surnamed Yang, I am called Yang Yizhi.”

Wei Xiaobao did not know the meaning of his name, ‘Yizhi’, but he blurted out what was in his mind, “Good name, good name! The Yang family has the largest number of heroes, Yang Lao Ling Gong, Yang Liulang [lit. ‘Old Honorable Commander Yang’ and ‘Sixth son (or youth) Yang’, respectively], Yang Zongbao, Yang Wenguang, Yang family warriors are all heroes. Yang Dage, let us two boys become partner in gambling!”

Hearing Wei Xiaobao praising Yang family ancestors, Yang Yizhi was very happy; he smiled and said, “Xiaoren does not know much how to gamble.”

“What are you afraid of?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll teach you! Get those two big yuanbao out.”

Yang Yizhi took the two big yuanbao Prince Kang bestowed to him earlier out. From his pocket Wei Xiaobao fished out a banknote; he placed it on the table and said with a laugh, “This Yang Xiong and I are partners, we bet one hundred taels!”

The banker laughed and said, “Good, the more the better!” They were gambling with two dice, one throw to determine the winner. The banker threw first and got ‘zhang hu pai’ [sorry, I can’t find any reference on this], Wei Xiaobao tossed the dice and got seven dots, thus his hundred taels was lost.

Wei Xiaobao said, “We’ll bet another hundred taels!” This time he won.

After throwing for sixteen, seventeen times, come and go, they neither won nor lost. Wei Xiaobao was getting impatient, “It’s not a big deal if I lose several hundred taels, but if I implicate this surnamed Yang that he loses those two yuanbao, I am letting him down.” His next throw produced six dots, he was ninety percent sure he would lose; who would have thought that the banker tossed five dots? Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; hereafter he repeatedly won several times. One hundred taels became two hundred; two hundred taels became four hundred. In three throws of the dice, he won four hundred taels.

The military officer who was the banker laughed and said, “Gui Gong-gong has good gambling luck.”

Wei Xiaobao replied with a laugh, “You say I have good gambling luck? Let’s try again, then!” He pushed the entire four hundred taels to the table and threw the dice; he got four and six, the banker threw and got a long three, so he lost. Wei Xiaobao turned his head and said, “Yang Dage, shall we continue betting or not?”

“I rely on Gui Gong-gong’s idea,” Yang Yizhi replied.

Wei Xiaobao added the original four hundred taels he had to compensate for the four hundred taels he just lost, he put eight hundred taels altogether and said with a laugh, “I want some refreshing gambling experience.” He shouted, “Compensate my loss!”

The dice were tossed; they rolled around chaotically, after a moment, one rolled and became six dots, but the other one was still rolling continuously. Wei Xiaobao had secretly exerted his strength, he wanted the dice to show double-six, which was called ‘the Heaven’. But the dice were not his, his throwing skill had not been brought to the point of perfection. The second die finally stopped, it showed two dots, for the total of eight dots, so most likely he would lose. Wei Xiaobao rained curses, “Straight your mother’s stinky dice, why don’t you help me?”

The banker laughed heartily, “Gui Gong-gong,” he said, “I am afraid this time I am going to eat yours.” He tossed the dice. One showed a five-dot, the other was still rolling continuously.

Wei Xiaobao shouted, “Two, two, two!” If the die showed a one, it would become one five, a three dots would become eight, eight would defeat the eight, the banker won. If four dots, the total would be nine, if five dots, it would become a plum blossom, if six dots, it would become an ‘ox head’. All these combinations would beat his eight; only if it showed two dots would the banker lose. Wei Xiaobao did not stop yelling; but as luck would have it, the die rolled several more times, then stopped inside the bowl, it really showed two dots.[14]

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he laughed and said, “General, your gambling luck today is not too good.”

The officer laughed and said, “Banker’s bad luck, banker’s bad luck. It was because Gui Gong-gong giving the order. Whatever your heart wishes, your hands accomplish; naturally I can’t beat you in gambling.” He paid Wei Xiaobao three banknotes, two hundred taels each, plus two yuanbao, worth one hundred taels each.

Wei Xiaobao rubbed the sweat on his palms, he laughed and said, “I receive the benefit of the light!” To Yang Yizhi he said, “Yang Dage, we lack the prospect of picking up green fruits; let’s stop gambling.” While squeezing eight hundred taels to Yang Yizhi’s hand.

For no rhyme or reason Yang Yizhi received a sudden wealth, his heart was overjoyed; “Gui Gong-gong,” he said, “What is that general’s name?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled; he replied in low voice, “I haven’t asked.” Turning his head over toward the officer, he asked, “Great General, your honorable surname and your great given name?”

The military officer beamed from ear to ear, he stood up and respectfully replied, “Reporting to Gui Gong-gong: Xiao Jiang Jiang Baizheng, Regional Commander of the Office of Record, I have always been serving under Prince Kang’s banner.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “General Jiang, fighting wars you are ever-victorious, but in gambling you are not too successful.”

Jiang Baizheng laughed and said, “When gambling with others, more or less Xiao Jiang can also be considered ever-victorious. It’s just that there will be a stronger hand among the strong, plus today I met Gong-gong, Jiang Baizheng has turned into Jiang Baibai[15].”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and walked away. Suddenly he thought, “Why did that surnamed Yang want me to ask the banker’s name?” While he was pondering, from a distant he watched that fellow Jiang Baizheng’s technique in throwing the dice. He saw how he lifted the dice, shifted his wrist, bending his finger, and threw the dice; it was an extremely skilled technique, truly he was a first-class gambling expert in Jianghu. When gambling with him a while ago, Wei Xiaobao did not pay any attention. Suddenly it dawned on him, “Turns out this fellow was deliberately losing to me, no wonder I had won five times in a row, where have I had such a gambling luck? Damn it, laozi has a lot of money, I don’t care about winning or losing, otherwise once I was at the table, I would have seen it. That Yunnan fellow surnamed Yang also understands the trick, he is not a ‘cattle’ either, he is a ‘sheep killer’.”

He thought further, “Why would a total stranger Regional Commander of the Office of Record wanted to lose money intentionally to me? Naturally it was because I have a face in front of the Emperor, everybody hopes I would say good words on their behalf. Or even if I don’t speak good words, at least I won’t pound on their eggs. F*ck your granny, he spent one thousand four hundred taels just to win laozi’s favor; it’s very cheap!”

Now that he knew people would deliberately lose to him, that victory was easy, he did not want to gamble anymore. Returning to the banquet hall, he ate some dishes and watched the opera. By this time they were playing ‘Si Fan’ [considering the mundane/material world], where a Buddhist nun was acting and singing, while the people on the side constantly cheering and applauding. Wei Xiaobao did not understand what kind of trick she was playing, he felt extremely bored, so he stood up.

Prince Kang laughed, “Xiao Xiongdi, what do you want to play?” he asked, “No need to be polite, do not hesitate to give your instruction.”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am going to find something fun to do myself, please do not be polite.” He saw at the corridor people were shouting noisily, the gambling was very lively, his heart was itching a little bit, but he thought, “What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over; I am not going to gamble today.”

From the last time he visited to Prince Kang’s mansion, he still vaguely remembered the layout of the Palace, so he walked toward the rear hall.

Everywhere in the Palace lanterns and candles were brilliantly lit. When the people of the Prince’s mansion saw him, they would stand up respectfully with hands hanging on their side. Wei Xiaobao strolled leisurely; suddenly he had an urge to urinate, yet he did not wish to ask anybody where the lavatory was. He saw there was a small garden on his left, so he shoved the long window open and walked into a dark corner. He pulled his pants down and was about to urinate when suddenly from the other side of the flower bushes he heard some people spoke in low voices.

Someone said, “Give me the money first, then I’ll take you in.”

Another man said, “Take me in first, after I find that thing, naturally your money won’t decrease the least bit.”

The former man said, “Money first, goods later. If after getting the goods you don’t give me the money, where can I go to find you?”

The other man said, “Alright, here is a thousand taels, I give you a 10% prepayment.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved, “One thousand taels is only 10%? What kind of important goods is that?” Instantly he endured the urge to urinate and bent his ear to listen.

He heard the first person said, “Fifty percent prepayment, otherwise this deal is off. This is a ‘removing-head’ important matter, you think it is amusing?”

The other man hesitated slightly, then he said, “Fine, here are banknotes worth five thousand taels, you may take it first.”

“Thank you very much,” the first person said. There was rustling noise as the banknotes were being counted, and then he said, “Follow me!”

Wei Xiaobao’s curiosity was piqued, he mused, “Whatever ‘removing-head’ important matter it is, I cannot not follow them to take a look.” He heard the footsteps of those two men were heading west, so he slipped out of the flowering bush to follow them from a distance. He saw the back of those two men as they walked evasively among the flowering shrubs and trees; they stopped after every few zhang and looked around to see if anybody saw them. Wei Xiaobao thought, “They are so sneaky, whatever it is they are doing, it must not be a good thing. Prince Kang has treated me really well, I’ll show him my, Gui Gong-gong’s way of doing things by catching two incorrigible thieves for him tonight.” First, he felt the dagger, which could cut iron like mud, hidden in his boot; second, he felt the vest he was wearing, the treasured vest which even sabers and spears could not penetrate, and then his courage was boosted somewhat.

He saw the two men walked through the garden and entered an exquisite looking cottage. Wei Xiaobao walked on tiptoe to come near; he saw lantern light penetrated the flower-carved window lattice. Walking around toward the rear window, he moistened his finger with his saliva to wet the window paper, and then peeked inside with one eye through the hole. He saw the room was a shrine to worship Buddha, with an image of Tathagata Buddha sitting on the offering table, and an oil lantern in front of the image. A man dressed in servant attire said in low voice, “I spent more than a year just to find the location of this thing, your ten thousand taels is not an easy money.”

The other man, whose back was facing Wei Xiaobao, asked, “Where is it?”

“Give it to me first!” the servant said.

The other man turned around and said, “Give you what?” This man had a thin face, he was none other than Qi Yuankai, who a moment ago blocked that martial art master surnamed Lang from leaving the main hall.

The servant said with a laugh, “Qi Shifu is asking something that you already know the answer, naturally I am talking about the five thousand taels.”

“You are really formidable,” Qi Yuankai said. He pulled a bundle of banknotes from his pocket. The servant examined the banknotes one by one under the lamp light.

Wei Xiaobao was very scared; he knew that Qi Yuankai’s martial art skill was very high, plus whatever they were doing must be a shady business with a very heavy responsibility, if his presence was detected, they might kill him immediately to close his mouth. In his fright, his pee flowed out. He thought he might as well let the nature take its course, by letting the pee flowed along his thigh to the ground without making the least bit of noise.

After counting the banknotes, the servant laughed and said, “Correct.” Lowering his voice, he whispered on Qi Yuankai’s ear. Qi Yuankai nodded repeatedly, but Wei Xiaobao was unable to hear even a single sentence.

He saw Qi Yuankai suddenly leaped up vertically onto the sacrificial table. Turning his head around to look, he then reached out to feel around the Buddha image’s left ear. He moved his finger for a while, and then pulled out a tiny object. He jumped back down and raised his hand to look at the object under the candlelight; it was a key, glittering yellow under the light, presumably it was cast from gold. The key was about the length of a small finger, it couldn’t be more than a liang [50 grams] of gold.

Qi Yuankai was beaming from ear to ear. Then he looked down to count the bricks, about a dozen or more bricks horizontally, and a dozen or more bricks vertically. He stooped down to pull a dagger from his boot, and then used the dagger to pry open a square brick; he cheered in a low voice.

The servant said, “Genuine goods at fair prices, I did not swindle you!”

Qi Yuankai did not reply, he gently inserted the golden key downward; presumably there was a keyhole underneath the square brick. ‘Click!’ the lock opened. Qi Yuankai looked stunned, he said, “How come it won’t open? Perhaps it is the wrong key.”

The servant said, “Why can’t you open it? Wangye personally unlocked it, I saw it clearly from outside the window.” While saying that, he bent down and got hold of something and pulled it out.

Suddenly there was a swishing noise, a crossbow mechanism shot up from below, and hit the servant at the pit of his stomach. “Ah!” the servant cried out pitifully and fell backward, the iron lid he was holding in his hand flew up. Qi Yuankai leaned sideways and reached out to catch the iron lid so that it would not fall to the ground and create a lot of noise. Squatting behind the servant, he pressed down the servant’s mouth using his right hand to guard against him crying out and alarm other people, while with his left hand he grabbed the servant’s left wrist and used the servant’s hand to grope around the hole.

Wei Xiaobao was stunned to see this; he thought, “Turns out there is another mechanism in the hole. This man surnamed Qi is really formidable.”

This time the crossbow mechanism no longer shoot any arrows. Qi Yuankai used his own hand to fish out something, it was a bundle wrapped in cloth. With his right hand he flung the servant to the floor; he rose up, lifted his right foot up and stepped on the servant’s mouth to prevent him from making any noise. And then he leaned forward to put the bundle on the sacrificial table and opened it.

Wei Xiaobao took a very deep breath; he saw that the object inside the bundle was a scripture. From the millions scriptures in the world, Wei Xiaobao could only read the title of one scripture, which is the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, and this book was precisely the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. The size and shape of this book was identical to the ones he got from Oboi’s mansion, only the envelope was made of red silk.

Qi Yuankai quickly re-wrapped the scripture in its original cloth wrapper; lifting up his left foot, he stepped forcefully on the arrow’s tail. With a light ‘Puff!’ the crossbow’s arrow went deep into the servant’s chest. The servant was already seriously injured, naturally this arrow killed him instantly. Since Qi Yuankai’s right foot was stepping on his mouth, only a muffled ‘humph’ was heard; his body convulsed a little bit, then he stopped moving altogether.

Wei Xiaobao was so terrified that his heart was thumping hard. Actually he had finished urinating, but this time he could not help but peeing again in his pants.

He saw Qi Yuankai bending down to take the banknotes from the servant’s pocket, which he then put into his own pocket. With a cold laugh he said, “Now you can get rich!” After hesitating for a moment, he placed the golden key in the servant’s dead body’s right palm, and curled the dead body’s fingers to hold the key; only then did he rush out in quick steps.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “He is about to run away, must I raise the alarm now?”

Suddenly a shadow flashed, Qi Yuankai was already on the roof. Wei Xiaobao shrank his body as small as possible, he did not dare to make the slightest move; he only heard the sound of roof tiles being moved around. A moment later, Qi Yuankai leaped down and haughtily walked away.

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao thought, “He is hiding the sutra under the tile, he will be back later to pick it up. Humph, it won’t be that easy.”

He waited for a while, until Qi Yuankai had left far away. He did not have the ability to leap up to the roof, but he could climb up the pillar of the corridor. Pulling himself up the eaves, he managed to flip his body onto the roof. Remembering where the tile noise came from, he overturned about a dozen roof tiles before under the hazy darkness of the night he saw the corner of the cloth-wrapper.

He took out the bundle and put the tiles back in place. “Why is this ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ so valuable?” he mused, “The old turtle, the Empress Dowager, this man surnamed Qi, and then Oboi, Prince Kang; they all treated this book as a priceless treasure. If I, Wei Xiaobao, did not take advantage by seizing this undeserved fortune, I am carrying this surname Wei in vain.” Untying the cloth-wrapper, he stuffed the sutra flat against his waist and tightened his belt over it. His gown was spacious to begin with; surprisingly the book was not visible at all. After throwing the cloth wrapper into the flowering shrubs, he returned to the main hall.

The hall was exactly the same as it had been when he left; those who were gambling were still gambling, those who were listening to the song were still listening to the song, the female impersonator who played the Buddhist nun was still coyly singing endlessly. Wei Xiaobao asked Songgotu, “This woman putting on an act like that, what trick is she playing?”

Songgotu replied with a laugh, “This little nun is thinking about a man in the monastery, she wants to run away, going down the mountain to marry; just look at her face, it is overflowing with the thoughts of love, she is throwing coquettish glances one by one …” Suddenly he remembered that Wei Xiaobao was an eunuch, he must not talk about the matter between men and women too much, or else he would upset him; thereupon he said, “This play is not too interesting, Gui Gong-gong (although the two of them were sworn brothers, in front of other people they must not address each other as brother), let me select another play for you. Um, how about ‘Ya Guan Lou’ [elegant and tasteful upstairs room], Li Cunxiao beats the tiger; a young hero, it was not a small matter. Afterwards we can watch the ‘Zong Kui Jia Mei’ [Zhong Kui[16] marries off his younger sister]. Zhong Kui’s subordinates, the five little demons, doing acrobatic and fighting, it is very lively.”

Wei Xiaobao clapped his hands and cheered. “But I have to return to the Palace,” he said, “I am afraid I don’t have time.”

Casting a sidelong glance, he saw Qi Yuankai was in the middle of playing the finger-guessing game with another martial art master, ‘The Brightest and the Best of Five Confucianism Classics’, ‘Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea’, shouting and yelling noisily. After playing for a while, he asked in loud voice, “Shenzao Shangren, where is that fellow surnamed Lang?”

The martial art masters around the banquet table said, “We haven’t seen him for quite a while, perhaps he has slipped out.”

With a cold laugh Shenzao said, “That man does not know how to appreciate favors, I suppose he doesn’t have any face to stay in the Palace much longer.”

Qi Yuankai said, “Most likely he slipped away; this person is sneaky, it’s good if he did not steal anything before he left.”

A martial art master said, “That would be very difficult to say.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “The way this man surnamed Qi handling matters is very thorough; he made that man surnamed Lang lose face in a big way first, and thus he had no choice but had to sneak out quietly. When the people in the Palace discover a dead body and a missing object, naturally the suspicion will fall onto that man surnamed Lang. Very good, I must learn this clever trick; before doing anything, I must find a good scapegoat first.”

Seeing it was getting late, the Chief of Imperial Bodyguards Dolong got up to take his leave, saying that he was on duty in the Palace. Wei Xiaobao followed by also taking his leave. Prince Kang did not dare to detain them; chuckling, he sent them off the door. Wu Yingxiong, Songgotu, and the others also sent them off to the main gate. Wei Xiaobao had just climbed into a sedan chair when Yang Yizhi stepped forward and presented a bundle with both hands, saying, “Our Heir Apparent presents this little gift to Gui Gong-gong, hoping Gong-gong will not dislike this meager present.”

“Thank you very much,” Wei Xiaobao replied with a laugh, he received the gift with both hands, and then still laughing he said, “Yang Dage, I feel like meeting an old friend when we met for the first time. I consider you as a good friend, if I give you some money, I would be disrespectful to you. When I have free time some other day, I’ll invite you for some drink.”

Yang Yizhi was delighted; he said with a laugh, “Gong-gong has already given me seven hundred taels, isn’t that enough?”

Wei Xiaobao guffawed and said, “That was somebody else who foot the bill, it doesn’t count.”

Not too far after the sedan chair left the alley, Wei Xiaobao was getting impatient; he ordered the porters to halt the sedan chair and raised the lantern on the outside of the chair, and then he unwrapped the bundle to look at the gift. It consisted of three brocade boxes, in one box was a pair of emerald chicken, a rooster and a hen, the craftsmanship was very exquisite. In the second case were two strings of pearls together, each string had a hundred pearls. Although the size of the pearls was not as big as the ones he ground and applied to Xiao Junzhu’s face, it was very rare to find two hundred perfectly round and flawless pearls at the same size. He was delighted, “I lied to Xiao Junzhu, telling her I was going to buy some pearls; Wu Yingxiong has just helped me cover up my lie.” Inside the third brocade box were gold banknotes, each sheet was ten liang of gold, altogether there were forty sheets, worth four hundred liang of gold.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Next time I see Wu Yingxiong, that little traitor, I would coldly and indifferently thank him, so that I would appear dissatisfied with his below average gift; he would definitely try to make up for it. This is the ingenious method Suo Dage taught me. If this little traitor pretends not to understand, laozi would simply look him in the eye, ‘Hey, Xiao Wangye, you gave me a pair of tiny green chicken, what’s so amusing about them? They don’t look like real chicken.’ The little traitor would ask me, ‘Gui Gong-gong, what do you mean they don’t look like real chicken?’ Laozi would simply say, ‘Where in the world can you find rooster and hen that small? Even sparrows are a lot bigger than those chickens. Besides, green parrot, green peacocks, I have seen a lot, but green chicken? I have never seen any. I wonder if you have green chicken in Yunnan.’ The little traitor could only laugh bitterly. Laozi would also say, ‘Even if there is green chicken, shouldn’t the rooster’s cockscomb be red? Anyhow, the hen cannot lay eggs, what kind of treasure is that?’        Ha ha, ha ha …!”

Returning to the Palace, Wei Xiaobao hurriedly went back to his own room. He unlatched the bolt, lighted the candle, opened the bed curtain, and said with a laugh, “Are you tired of waiting?” He saw Xiao Junzhu was still lying motionless on the bed; her eyes were opened wide, with several pieces of cake were still piled up on her mouth, unexpectedly she did not eat even a single piece. He took out the two strings of pearls and said with a laugh, “Look, I buy you these two strings of pearls. I am going to grind it and applied it onto your face. If you don’t become the most beautiful young woman under the heavens, my surname is not … is not Gui! Are you hungry? Why don’t you eat the cake? Let me help you up so you can eat.” Reaching out, he propped her and sat her up; suddenly his flank went numb, followed by a burst of pain on the pit of his stomach.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in alarm, his knees turned soft and he fell sitting down on the floor; his entire body was numb and he was unable to move at all.

Note: The word ‘lavatory’ from the title of this chapter ‘each one as lofty as gentlemen’s lavatory’ means ‘mingle together’. From ‘The Record of the Grand Historian’ by Sima Qian – Cheerful and Staunch Legend: ‘The guests inside the lavatory’.

[1] Orig. 郡主 [Jun Zhu]. I want to distinguish between 公主 [Gong Zhu], Princess, a title denoting blood-relation to the Emperor, and 郡主 [Jun Zhu], Princess, indicating a non-royal relation, such as Duke or Count. Perhaps from now on I’ll retain the title Junzhu. [Side note: Zhao Min of HSDS was also a Junzhu, not a Gongzhu]

[2] Orig. Xiao Niang Pi [小娘皮] – little mother’s skin, perhaps a Yangzhou slang?

[3] Lit. ‘divine hall’, ‘yang [positive] link], ‘pillar of heaven’, and ‘jump the hoop’, respectively.

[4] Xiao Niang Pi, see note 2 above.

[5] Orig. ‘wooden intelligence and wooden feeling’, the dictionary says that the character ‘wood’ can also means ‘simple’, which I feel that in this case it is more appropriate.

[6] Lit. ‘armpit abyss’ or ‘armpit deep pool’.

[7] Lit. ‘silk Chinese yo-yo’, ‘yang/positive white’, ‘just before sobbing’. [The names do not make any sense, I know; I am just translating the names literally.]

[8] Xuanwei is a county level city in Qujing, Yunnan; ‘huo jiao’ is fire foot. [Several paragraphs later, I found Jin Yong changed it to ‘huo tui’, (lit. fire leg/thigh), which is ‘ham’. So I believe it was another typographical error on Jin Yong’s side.]

[9] Gong – work/labor/craft, Yu – fish, Gan – dry. I am not sure what it is.

[10] Orig. 世子 (Shi Zi) – descendant son, crown prince; obviously, I can’t use ‘crown prince’, while another option ‘successor’ sounds rather strange. As much as I do not wish to use Minford’s term, I have to admit that in this case his choice of word is the best; therefore, I will also use ‘heir apparent’.

[11] Knocking on bamboo pole: an idiom meaning ‘extortion by taking advantage of somebody’s weakness’. In those days one’s wealth was usually carried on shoulder pole (although I am sure Wu Yingxiong would use horse-drawn carriage), Wei Xiaobao was ‘knocking’ on their treasure chest, so to speak.

[12] Shenzhao means ‘divine illumination/reflection’, Shangren (lit. upper/above person) is a term of respect to address a Buddhist monk.

[13] Poor or impoverished monk, a humble term used by Buddhist monks to refer to self.

[14] Out of curiosity, I searched the web for dice combinations; I found this one from http://www.gamesmuseum.uwaterloo.ca/Archives/Culin/Dice1893/chaktinkau.html. It is a bit different from the one depicted above. (Unfortunately it’s not in pinyin)

Chák t’ín kau, “throwing heaven and nine,” is played with 2 dice. In this game the 21 throws that can be made with 2 dice receive different names, and are divided into two series, or suits, called man, “civil,” and mò “military.”

The 11 man throws in the order of their rank are:

  • “Double six,” called t’ín, “heaven.”
  • “Double one,” called tí, “earth.”
  • “Double four,” called yan, “man.”
  • “One, three” called wo, “harmony.”
  • “Double five,” called múi “plum (flower).”
  • “Double three,” called ch’éung sám, “long threes.”
  • “Double two,” caller pán táng, “bench.”
  • “Five, six,” called fú t’au, “tiger’s head.”
  • “Four, six,” called hung t’au shap, “red head ten.”
  • “One, six,” called kò kéuk ts’at, “long leg seven.”
  • “One, five,” called hung ch’ui luk, “red mallet six.”

The 10 mò throws in the order of their rank are:

  • “Five, four,” and “six, three,” called kau, ” nines.”
  • “Five, three,” and “six, two,” called pát, “eights.”
  • “Five, two,” and “four, three,” ts’at, “sevens.”
  • “Four, two,” Called luk, “six.”
  • “Three, two,” and “four, one,” called ‘ng, “fives.”
  • “One, two,” called sám, “three,” or sám kai, “three final.”

[15] His name ‘bai sheng’ means ‘hundred victories’, ‘bai bai’ mean ‘hundred loses/defeats’.

[16] A mythological figure, supposed to drive away evil spirits.

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