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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 11

CSI

Chapter 11
At the end of spring, a shadow departs the small courtyard; in the night, light garment emitting faint fragrance.

Xiao Junzhu giggled, she lifted the quilt and got down from the bed. “My acupoints have been unsealed early on,” she said with a laugh, “I have been waiting for a long time, why are you back only now?”

Wei Xiaobao was puzzled, “Who unsealed your acupoints?” he asked.

Xiao Junzhu replied, “Sealed acupoints will open after twelve, fourteen hours, no need for someone to open it. I’ll help you to the bed, and then I’ll go.”

Wei Xiaobao was very anxious, “You can’t, you can’t!” he called out, “The scars on your face haven’t healed yet. I must apply some medicine on you before you will be healed completely.

Xiao Junzhu giggled and said, “You are really bad, always deceive people. When did you carve my face? You made me worry for half a day.”

“How do you know?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I was able to get down the bed early on and looked at the mirror,” Xiao Junzhu replied, “There is nothing on my face.”

Wei Xiaobao looked at her face and noticed that it was bright, spotlessly white and soft; the bean paste, lotus seed paste and other things he applied on her face had been washed clean, he felt quite regretful, “I was in such a rush that I did not look at her face first, if I had seen that she had washed her face, whatever it was, I would never come close to her.” he said, “It was because I applied my miracle cure on you, naturally you will be healed. Otherwise, why would I go to buy more pearls for you? I went to jewelry stores all around Beijing before I can find these two strings of pearls. I also bought a pair of exceptionally pretty toys for you.”

“What kind of toys?” Xiao Junzhu asked hastily.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Unseal my acupoints first, then I’ll get it for you.”

“Alright!” Xiao Junzhu said. She was just stretching out her hand to unseal his acupoints when suddenly she saw he was rolling his eyes incessantly; her heart was moved. She laughed and said, “I almost fell into your trick. If I unseal your acupoints, you won’t let me go.”

“Can’t be, can’t be,” Wei Xiaobao busily said, “A real man gave his words, that horse cannot chase it.”

“You mean ‘team of four horses cannot chase it’!” Xiao Junzhu said, “What do you mean ‘that horse cannot chase it’?”

“That horse can run faster than a team of four horses,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “If that horse cannot chase it, naturally a team of four horses cannot chase it even more.”

Xiao Junzhu did not know which horse he was talking about, she was half believing half doubting; she said, “‘That horse cannot chase it’, this is the first time I’ve ever heard it.”

“Now you have learned it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “These toys are very amusing, one is male, the other female.”

“Are they rabbits?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “No, they are not. They are ten times more fun than rabbits.”

“Are they goldfish?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

Wei Xiaobao shook his head vigorously, “What’s so fun about goldfish?” he said, “These toys are a hundred times more fun than goldfish.”

Xiao Junzhu guessed several more toys, all were incorrect. She said, “Take it out quickly! What is it?”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to lure her into unsealing his acupoints first, he said, “As soon as you unseal my acupoints, I will show it to you.”

Xiao Junzhu shook her head, “No, can’t do. I am leaving now, Gege has not seen me, he must be very worried.”

“Your acupoints have been opened for a long time,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why haven’t you left? Why must you wait for me?”

Xiao Junzhu said, “You are kind enough to buy me some pearls, I must thank you first and say goodbye to you. If I simply leave without saying anything, won’t I be too unfair to other people?”

Wei Xiaobao sniggered in his belly, “Turns out this little miss is a little idiot; Mu Palace people are blockheads, they are really not being surnamed incorrectly.” He said, “That’s right, I was so worried that being alone, you might be afraid in here, so I desperately ran along the streets, I wanted to buy the pearls as soon as possible, but looking from store to store, I couldn’t find any that met my satisfaction, I was very anxious in my heart, I tumbled down several times.”

“Aiyo!” Xiao Junzhu cried out softly, “Are you hurt?”

With distressed look on his face Wei Xiaobao said, “One time, I fell and hit a big stone on the pit of my stomach, the pain was unbearable.”

“Are you feeling better now?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

Wei Xiaobao groaned several times, “My injury is not light, it is getting more and more painful. You … you … sealed my acupoints and unwilling to unseal it, my … my … my breath can’t … can’t … can’t come up … I … I …” His voice was getting lower and lower, suddenly his eyeballs rolled until only the white part was visible, as if he fainted, his breathing also stopped.

Xiao Junzhu reached out to feel his breathing, and indeed he was not breathing; she was shocked. “Ah!” she cried out; with a trembling voice she asked, “How can you die?”

Wei Xiaobao said intermittently, “You have … have mistakenly … mistakenly sealed my … sealed my death … death acupoint.”

“It can’t be, it can’t be,” Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “Shifu taught me acupoint sealing technique, it can’t be wrong. I clearly sealed your Ling Xu and Bu Liang, two acupoints, and also Tian Chi[1] acupoint.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You … you were flustered, you sealed … sealed the wrong acupoint. Aiyo! The chi and blood in my body are welling up, the channels of chi are reversed, my world is turning upside down, I suffer from fire … fire …”

“Fire deviation?” Xiao Junzhu said.

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Aiyo! How can you be so muddleheaded? You haven’t properly mastered the acupoint sealing technique, but randomly and blindly use it on my body? You did not seal any Ling Xu or Bu Liang acupoints, but you sealed my death acupoint. I am ninety percent sure it was the death acupoint!” He did not know any acupoint names, otherwise he would have mentioned the name of several fatal acupoints.

Xiao Junzhu was still very young, naturally she had not mastered her family’s martial art skill. Acupoint sealing technique was indeed very difficult and complicated; there are several hundred major acupoints in human body, located only several fen away from each other. In a great rush, it was not uncommon to seal the wrong acupoint. However, she had received directions from good master, and was very familiar with the locations of these three acupoints. Although her strength was somewhat lacking, the acupoints she was sealing was not the slightest bit incorrect. It’s just that it was a new skill and this was the first time she used it, hence she did not have too much self-confidence. With Wei Xiaobao looking so distressed, and his acting was extremely believable, she thought she had indeed mistakenly sealed the fatal acupoint. “Could it be … could it be that I have sealed your Shan Zhong [lit. mutton smell] acupoint?” she asked anxiously.

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s exactly the Shan Zhong acupoint. But don’t be grieved, you … you … you did not do it intentionally. After I die, I won’t blame you. When Yan … Yanluo Wang asks, I won’t say that you sealed my death acupoint … I will say that I was not being careful, that my finger has sealed my own death acupoint that I died.”

Hearing that he was willing to cover her up in front of the Yanluo Wang, Xiao Junzhu felt grateful, but also apologetic; she busily said, “Quick … don’t say anything, quickly unseal your acupoints, perhaps you can still be saved.” Hastily she reached out to massage his chest and armpit.

Since the force with which she seal acupoint was not too strong, only by massaging a little while, Wei Xiaobao was already able to move. He groaned several times and said, “Ay, you have sealed my death acupoint, I won’t live!”

Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “Perhaps I can still save you. I was not being careful and sealed the wrong acupoint. Really … really sorry.”

“I know you are a good person,” Wei Xiaobao said, “After I die, I will bless and protect you from the netherworld; from dawn to dusk, my ghost will always be your side.”

Xiao Junzhu shrieked. “Your ghost will always be my side?” she asked.

“You shouldn’t be afraid,” Wei Xiaobao said, “My ghost will not harm you. It’s just that there is a rule that whoever killed me, my ghost will always follow that person.”

The more Xiao Junzhu thought about it, the more scared she was; “I did not kill you intentionally,” she said.

Wei Xiaobao sighed; he said, “Little Miss, what is your name?”

Xiao Junzhu took a step back. “Why do you ask?” she said. Her face showed astonishment. “You are going to tell on me in the netherworld, aren’t you?” she asked, “I won’t tell you.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “I won’t tell on you,” he said.

“Why did you ask, then?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

“So that when I am in netherworld I can bless and protect you,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I have a lot of ghost friends in the netherworld; I will ask everybody to work hard together to bless and protect you, no matter where you go, several thousand several hundred of ghosts will follow you.”

Xiao Junzhu was so scared that she screamed and hastily said, “No, please don’t! Don’t follow me.”

“How about only me, one ghost, following you around?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Xiao Junzhu hesitated for a moment; she said, “If you … if you won’t scare me, then it’s alright.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Of course I am not going to scare you. When you are sitting down in the day time, my ghost will drive the fly away from you; when you are sleeping at night, my ghost will keep the mosquitoes away from you. When you are bored, my ghost will come to you in a dream, telling you stories that are very, very pleasant to hear.”

“Why do you treat me this good?” Xiao Junzhu asked; sighing gloomily, she said, “It would be better if you don’t die.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There is something you promised me, but you haven’t done it yet. Ay, I won’t die with my eyes closed.”

“What is it? What did I promise to you?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You promised to call me ‘Good Gege’ three times. If before I die I can hear you call, then I will die with my eyes closed.”

Xiao Junzhu was born in the Palace, into a noble family who ruled Guizhou province for generations; her parents, older brother, as well as her elders, all doted on her very much. Although by the time she was born the country was already ruined and the people perished, as a minister’s family whose ancestors had done meritorious deeds, they had numerous slaves and servants who cherished this ‘golden-branch, jade leaves’ Junzhu in every possible way. In all her life, no one had ever lied to her or scared her. Growing up, she always heard that she must never tell even half a word of lies. Consequently, when she heard Wei Xiaobao’s nonsense, at first she accepted every word as the truth. But after a while she saw that the more he talked the more spirited he was, and when talking about her calling him ‘Good Gege’ three times his eyes were gleaming with mischief. She was only naïve and kind-hearted, but not at all an idiot. Realizing that Wei Xiaobao was teasing her, she took a step backward and said, “You deceived me, you are not going to die at all.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily and said, “Even if I am not going to die for the time being, I will die in several days anyway.”

“You won’t die in several days,” Xiao Junzhu said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Granted that I may not die in several days, but in the future I will die. If you don’t call me ‘Good Gege’ three times, my ghost will follow you day and night, I will continuously call you, ‘Good … Mei … Mei … Good … Mei … Mei …!’” He pinched his throat hard that his voice was dragged long and shrill, it sounded like a wretched ill wind, extremely scary. He also stuck out his tongue, pretended to be a ghost who died of hanging.

“Ah!” Xiao Junzhu screamed and turned around to run out of the room. Wei Xiaobao ran after her. Seeing she was stretching out her hand to pull out the door bolt, he hurriedly grabbed and pulled her waist, saying, “You must not go out, there are too many evil spirits outside.”

“Let me go,” Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “I want to go home.”

“You can’t go,” Wei Xiaobao said. Xiao Junzhu hacked down with the edge of her right palm toward his right wrist.

Wei Xiaobao flipped his palm and caught her forearm, Xiao Junzhu pulled back her elbow. Forming a fist with her left hand, she struck down the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head. Wei Xiaobao drew back and down to evade this punch blow, but he grabbed her calf. Xiao Junzhu launched the stance ‘Tiger Tail Scissors’, her left palm hacked diagonally down. Wei Xiaobao was unable to dodge; ‘smack!’ his shoulder was hit. He pulled with all his might, Xiao Junzhu was unable to stand, she was pulled down to the ground. Wei Xiaobao scrambled up to wrestle her, Xiao Junzhu legs flew out with ‘Mandarin Ducks Chain Kicks’ toward his face. Wei Xiaobao rolled away, but he caught and twisted her left arm.

Xiao Junzhu’s punching and kicking skill was taught by a prominent master, it was far more superior to the essence of skill Wei Xiaobao had learned. If the two of them were having a real martial art competition, Wei Xiaobao was not her match. However, the two of them were wrestling on the floor right now, one wanted to go, the other grabbing and twisting her, preventing her from leaving. In this kind of twisting, pouncing and wrestling skill, Wei Xiaobao had undergone an extensive training, he had had martial art competition with Kangxi for almost a year. Although the martial art skill Hai Laogong taught him was half true and half fake, plus he trained carelessly, in the end his body was still trained and he still knew several tricks of qin na.

In these several rounds, although the pit of Wei Xiaobao’s stomach had received two blows, he managed to catch Xiao Junzhu’s right arm, which he bent and twisted backward. “Surrender?” he asked with a laugh.

“No!” Xiao Junzhu replied.

Wei Xiaobao raised his left knee and knelt on her arm, he asked again, “Surrender?”

Xiao Junzhu still said, “No!”

Wei Xiaobao increased the force on his hand to twist her arm behind her back harder. “Ah!” Xiao Junzhu screamed and began to cry.

During Wei Xiaobao’s bouts with Kangxi, no matter how severe the pain those two boys experienced, they had never shown any weakness, much less crying. Whenever one of them was pinned down by the opponent and was unable to move, he would simply called out, “Surrender!” and then he would be considered the loser of that round, before they started wrestling again. Unexpectedly Xiao Junzhu’s attitude was totally different from Kangxi, she cried as soon as she lost. “Pei!” Wei Xiaobao spat, “Useless little girl!” and he let her go.

Right this moment, suddenly they heard a ‘crack!’ on the window lattice. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in a low voice, “A ghost!”

Xiao Junzhu was shocked; she reached out to hug him. They heard some noise on the window frame, the window was shoved open with creaking noise. This time, even Wei Xiaobao was frightened. “It’s really a ghost!” he said in trembling voice. Xiao Junzhu threw herself forward and crawled underneath the quilt; her body was trembling all over.

The window was slowly pushed open, someone in gloomy voice called out, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi!”

At first Wei Xiaobao thought it was Hai Laogong’s ghost coming to demand his life, but the voice was a woman’s voice. “It’s a female ghost!” he said tremblingly, while successively took several steps backwards. His legs grew numb and he fell sitting down on the head of the bed.

Suddenly a gust of wind blew in, the candle in the room was extinguished, something blurring their eyes, there was one more person in the room. The female ghost creepily said, “Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi! Yan Wangye is calling you, Yan Wangye says you killed Hai Laogong!”

Wei Xiaobao was scared out of his wits; he wanted to say, “I did not kill Hai Laogong.” But his mouth was wide open and his tongue tied; how could he speak out? He heard the female ghost said again in shrill voice, “Yan Wangye is going to seize you and take you, going up the mountain of blades, going down into a deep fryer. Xiao Guizi, today you can’t run away!”

Hearing these sentences, Wei Xiaobao suddenly realized, “It’s the Empress Dowager, not a female ghost!” But he did not feel less frightened, he thought, “If it was a female ghost, there is a possibility she can’t catch me, but Empress Dowager will definitely kill me to close my mouth.”

Ever since he knew the Empress Dowager’s secret, at first he was constantly in fear that she would kill him to close his mouth, but all along there was nothing astir. After a long time, his fear gradually diminished, he thought that the Empress Dowager believed him, that he really did not hear what Hai Dafu was saying; or perhaps even if he did, she thought he would not dare to leak the secret, plus since he was promoted to be the head of the Catering Department, he must be very grateful to her, then all was well. How would he know that the reason she did not promptly deal with him was because when she fought Hai Laogong that day, she had suffered a very heavy internal injury? Moreover, she also saw that Hai Laogong’s heavy kick unexpectedly did not kill Wei Xiaobao; she thought this child must have profound internal energy cultivation. If she did not recover completely and have her strength restored, she did not dare to act without careful consideration. This business of killing people to close their mouths simply cannot be delegated to others; she must do it personally. Otherwise, if at the point of death the child spoke several sentences, wouldn’t her important matter go bad?

This important matter carried too great of implications, not to mention that Wei Xiaobao was an insignificant little eunuch; even if it were imperial wives, imperial concubines, crown prince, generals or ministers, as soon as they find out about this secret, if there were a hundred people knew, she would kill a hundred, if there were a thousand people knew, she would kill a thousand.

She had been waiting for too long; although right now her strength had not fully recovered, she thought that if she delayed for a day, the danger of her secret leaking was also increased by a notch, until that night she could no longer wait and decided to act, and thus she went to Wei Xiaobao’s room. As she pushed the window open, she heard Wei Xiaobao said, ‘A ghost’, and so she pretended to be a ghost. She did not know there was another person on the bed; slowly concentrating her strength, she raised her right hand, and step by step walked toward the bed.

Wei Xiaobao knew he could not resist, hence he crawled into the quilt. The Empress Dowager brought down her palm, ‘slap!’ she simultaneously struck Wei Xiaobao and Xiao Junzhu. Fortunately the quilt was very thick, so most of her strength was dissipated.

The Empress Dowager raised her palm again to deliver the second strike, this time she increased her power. Her palm had just touched the quilt when suddenly she felt a severe pain on the center of her palm, like an injury from a sharp object. She cried out loudly and leaped backward.

Suddenly from outside the window she heard three, four people shouting and yelling, “Assassins! Assassins!” The Empress Dowager was stunned, “How did they know?” she thought. The fact that she came personally to kill a little eunuch must not be known to anybody, plus the pain on her palm was so severe that she did not have time to see whether Wei Xiaobao had died or not. Her feet kicking the ground, she flew out of the window. Yet before she landed, two people attacked her from behind. The Empress Dowager sent her palms backward in the move ‘Looking Back Without Any Concern’, both her left and right palms simultaneously hit the two people’s chests. The two people fell straight to the ground.

She heard the ‘Tang! Tang!’ sound of the gong, in a short moment all around her the gongs were sounded. From a distance some people were calling out, “First and Second Guard Units protect His Majesty, Third Guard Unit protects Empress Dowager.” Immediately afterwards, from the eastern end of the rockery someone called out, “Assassin in here!” Empress Dowager knew that these people were the Imperial Bodyguards; immediately she shrank back and hid behind some flowering shrubs. She felt the pain in the middle of her palm was getting worse, she saw indistinctly seven, eight people were fighting fiercely, their weapons collided unceasingly; she thought, “Turns out there really are assassins in the Palace. I wonder if they are Hai Laogong’s friends, or Oboi’s former subordinates?” She heard from the distance the unending voices of people giving orders; the light from torches and Kong Ming lanterns[2] appeared in the darkness, gathering together from all directions. The Empress Dowager realized that if she tarry slightly and did not leave right away, it would be difficult for her to escape undetected. She crouched down and suddenly leaped out from behind the flowering shrubs, and then bolted toward the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.

She was only rushing for several zhang when directly in front of her someone attacked; with the pair of steel awls in his hands he swiftly stabbed the Empress Dowager’s face, while shouting, “Audacious rebel, unexpectedly dare to come to the Palace to create havoc.”

The Empress Dowager slanted her body slightly, her right palm feigned a move, her left palm struck toward his shoulder. The man pulled his shoulder back to evade, then he spun around as the steel awl in his left hand rose up. The Empress Dowager dodged to the left and sent her right palm backhandedly. In an instant the two of them had exchanged several moves.

The man bawled, “Rebel thief, turns out you are a woman.”

The Empress Dowager saw that this Imperial Bodyguard’s martial art skill was not weak; although she could subdue him, she would need more than a dozen moves, by that time perhaps the rest of the Imperial Bodyguards would catch up. In a moment of desperation she called out, “I am the Empress Dowager.”

The Imperial Bodyguard was stunned; he held his hands and asked, “What?”

“Audacious servant,” the Empress Dowager said, “You dare to offend the Empress Dowager?”

The man hesitated slightly, the Empress Dowager sent out both palms, ‘Bang!’ she struck the pit of his stomach. The Imperial Bodyguard was killed instantly. The Empress Dowager gathered her chi and leaped, she ducked away into the flowering shrubs.

When Wei Xiaobao crawled into the quilt, his waist was slapped by the Empress Dowager, he was almost suffocated; in desperation he pulled the dagger in his boot and held it facing up inside the quilt, raising the quilt somewhat higher. When the Empress Dowager sent the second palm strike toward the bulging quilt, due to the extremely sharp dagger and the powerful strike of the Empress Dowager’s palm, the point of the dagger immediately penetrated the quilt and pierced the center of her palm all the way through the back of her hand.

After the Empress Dowager jumped out of the window, Wei Xiaobao raised the corner of the quilt and heard the commotion outside his window. The very first thought that came into his mind was, “The Empress Dowager has sent people to arrest me.” He leaped out of the bed, lifted the quilt, and said, “Hurry, we must run away!”

Xiao Junzhu cried and said, “It hurts … it hurts so much!” What happened was the Empress Dowager’s first strike hit Wei Xiaobao’s waist and Xiao Junzhu’s left leg. Xiao Junzhu bore most of the brunt that unexpectedly the calf bone of her left leg was broken.

“What happened?” Wei Xiaobao asked, while trying to pull her by the collar of her clothes. “Hurry up, hurry up!” he said, pulling her down the bed.

Xiao Junzhu stepped on the floor with her right foot first, but she felt the pain on her left leg was unbearable, her body leaned to one side, and she tumbled down on the floor. “My … my leg is broken,” she said while crying.

In a moment of desperation Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Xiao Niang Pi, why do you have to break your leg not sooner or later …” In his heart he said, “Saving my own life is more important for Laozi; forget that you broke one leg, even if you broke four legs, eight legs into seventeen, eighteen pieces, Laozi won’t care.” Turning around, he rushed to the window and peeked out. He was hoping there wouldn’t be anybody outside so that he could leap out.

But as he looked out, he saw the Empress Dowager struck backward with her palms, followed by two people flew up and fell heavily down on the ground. One person happened to land right in front of his window. In the dark night he saw faintly that this man was dressed in an Imperial Bodyguard uniform; he was extremely baffled, “Why would the Empress Dowager strike the Palace’s Imperial Bodyguard?” He saw the Empress Dowager dodged into a flowering bush; he also saw several zhang away six, seven men were engaged in a close combat, each one had a weapon in his hand, the battle was really intense. He heard people shouting from the distance, “Catch the assassins! Catch the assassins!”

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised, “Turns out there really are assassins in the Palace; they are not here to catch me.” Focusing his attention outside, he saw the Empress Dowager was fighting with another Imperial Bodyguard. The Imperial Bodyguard was wielding a pair of steel awls. Although they were fighting quite some distance away from his window, he could still see the flashing of the steel awls. After fighting for a while, the Empress Dowager killed the Imperial Bodyguard, and then she flew into the darkness and disappeared.

Wei Xiaobao turned his head to look at Xiao Junzhu; she was sitting on the floor, whimpering softly. Since now he knew he was not in any danger, his mood improved considerably. Walking toward her, he said in a low voice, “Does it hurt so much? There are people outside who want to get you. Don’t make any noise.”

Xiao Junzhu was so frightened that she did not dare to make any noise. Suddenly somebody outside the window shouted, “Black feet and dog’s teeth are formidable, go up the Diancang Mountain!”

“Huh?” Xiao Junzhu exclaimed, “Those are our men.”

“They are your friends?” Wei Xiaobao wondered, “How do you know?”

“What they said was our Mu Palace’s code words,” Xiao Junzhu said, “Quick … quickly help me up, I want to look.”

“They are coming to the Imperial Palace to rescue you, aren’t they?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I don’t know,” Xiao Junzhu replied, “Is this the Imperial Palace?”

Wei Xiaobao did not reply; he thought, “If they knew that this little girl is in here and broke into the Palace to rescue her, Laozi’s two fists cannot fight the enemy’s four hands.” He reached out and firmly covered her mouth, while with a low voice he threatened, “You must not make any noise, if they find out, your other leg will be broken, I won’t be able to bear it!”

They heard someone shouting outside, “Ah!” while another voice cheered, “Two assassins are killed!” and yet another voice called out, “The assassins are running away to the east, everybody, pursue them!” The voices gradually went far away.

Wei Xiaobao released his hand and said, “Your friends run away!”

“They did not run away!” Xiao Junzhu said, “They said ‘go up the Diancang Mountain’, that means they are retreating temporarily.”

“What is ‘black feet dog’?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“‘Black feet dogs’ are Tatars warriors,” Xiao Junzhu replied.

The voices in the distance were still faintly heard, people were transmitting orders incessantly, obviously the effort of capturing the assassins was still going on. Suddenly they heard someone was groaning twice below the window, it was a female voice. Wei Xiaobao said, “There’s an assassin that has not died yet, let me stab her twice!” The Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace were all male, so this voice definitely belonged to the assassin.

Xiao Junzhu said, “No … don’t kill her, perhaps she is from our Palace.” Propping herself on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, she stood up and with only her right leg she hopped to the window. She saw two people outside the window. “Southern sky northern land …” she said. Wei Xiaobao stretched out his hand to cover her mouth again. But the female voice outside the window replied, “Under the throne of bright peacock. You … are you Xiao Junzhu?”

Wei Xiaobao thought that since this woman had discovered Xiao Junzhu’s trail, the incoming disaster was not small; raising his dagger, he wanted to throw it down. Suddenly he felt his right wrist tightened as it was being grabbed by Xiao Junzhu, followed by a stabbing pain on his flank so that involuntarily his hand holding down her mouth came loose.

“Is it Shijie [older martial sister]?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

“It’s me,” the woman below the window replied, “What … what are you doing in here?”

“Your granny,” Wei Xiaobao cut her off, “What are you doing in here?”

“Don’t … don’t curse her,” Xiao Junzhu said, “She is my Shijie. Shijie, are you injured? You … please think of a way to save my Shijie. Shijie is very good to me.” She said those words to two different people.

The woman underneath the window groaned and said, “I don’t want to be saved by this kid. He doesn’t even have the ability to save me.”

Wei Xiaobao struggled hard to free himself, Xiao Junzhu then loosened her grip. Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Stinky woman! You said I don’t have the ability to save you? You, this little girl, are just a ninth-class martial artist. Humph, Laozi only needs to stretch my little finger, then I will be able to save twenty, thirty, or even seventy, eighty mothers like you.”

By this time the cry ‘catch the assassins, catch the assassins’ was resounding again from the distance. Xiao Junzhu was greatly anxious, she hurriedly said, “Please hurry, save my Shijie. I … I will call you three times, Good … Good … Gege, Good Gege, Good Gege!” Originally she was unwilling to utter these words, but now in order for him to save someone, she had called him three times in a row.

Wei Xiaobao was very happy; he said, “Good Meizi, what do you want your good Gege do?”

Xiao Junzhu’s entire face turned deep red; she said in low voice, “I am asking you to save my Shijie.”

The woman under the window was extremely obstinate; she said, “Don’t ask him, this kid is powerless; he won’t be able to save even himself.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, “Looking at my good Meizi’s face, I am bent on saving you. Good Meizi, we have said the words, you must not deny; you want me to save your Shijie, later you can’t go back on your own words, you must call me ‘Good Gege’ forever.”

“I will call you whatever you want,” Xiao Junzhu said, “Good Shushu, Good Bobo, Good Gonggong[3]!”

“I only want to be your Good Gege,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you called me Gonggong, I am afraid I am a little lacking.”

“Alright,” Xiao Junzhu said, “I will forever … forever call you ‘Good’ … ‘Good’ …”

“’Good’ what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Xiao Junzhu said, “Good … Gege!” While saying that, she gently pushed his back.

Wei Xiaobao jumped out the window. He saw a woman dressed in black, her body curled into a ball, was lying on the ground. He said, “The Palace’s Imperial Bodyguards are coming to arrest you, they are going to behead you and chop you into mincemeat and use you as the stuffing for the steamed buns.”

The woman said, “What’s so strange about that? Our people will avenge me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You, little girl, are so stubborn. The Imperial Bodyguards won’t kill you right away, they will strip you naked, everybody … everybody will take you as a wife.”

The woman angrily said, “Quickly use your blade to kill your Miss.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Why would I want to kill you? I also want to strip you naked, and then take you as my wife.” Finished speaking, he bent over to pick her up. The woman was extremely anxious, she waved her palm to slap his ear, but she was heavily injured, her hand did not have the least bit of strength, when the palm reached his face, it only felt like a gentle brush.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You haven’t become my wife, yet you tickle your husband first.” Carrying her body, he handed her over the window. Xiao Junzhu was greatly delighted, she stepped forward to receive the woman, and then slowly lay her down on the bed.

Wei Xiaobao was about to follow by leaping into the room when suddenly someone by his feet said in a low voice, “Gui … Gui Gong-gong, this woman … this woman is a rebel thief … an assassin, you must not … must not save her.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked, “Who … who are you?” he asked.

The man replied, “I … I am the Palace’s … Imperial … Bodyguard …”

Immediately Wei Xiaobao understood that he was the Imperial Bodyguard who was hit by the Empress Dowager just a moment ago, unexpectedly he did not die; he lay on the ground, unable to move a single step, his speech was also discontinuous, obviously his injury was very heavy. Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I handed over this woman in black, it would be a meritorious service, but what about Xiao Junzhu? This matter would fall through and stand exposed, than the disaster would be even greater.” Raising his dagger, ‘stab!’ he thrust it into the man’s chest. The Imperial Bodyguard did not even grunt; he died instantly.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Forgive me for this, if just now you did not open your mouth, you would not have to die, but then Gui Gong-gong’s head would not sit smooth and steady on my neck.” He thought further, “Perhaps there are more injured people nearby, I have no choice but kill them all to close their mouths.” Thereupon he looked around the surrounding flowering bushes and rock garden thoroughly; altogether he found five bodies on the ground: three Imperial Bodyguards and two assassins from the outside, they all had breathed their last breath. Wei Xiaobao picked an assassin’s corpse and placed it over the window sill, with head inside and legs outside, and then with his dagger he stabbed the corpse’s back several times.

Xiao Junzhu was startled, “He is our Palace’s man; he is dead, why do you kill him again?”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, “He is dead, I can’t kill him anymore. Try killing a dead man and show it to me! But if you want me to save your stinky Shijie, I have to do this.”

The woman, who was lying on the bed, said, “You are the stinky one!”

“You haven’t smelled me, how do you know I am stinky?” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“This entire room is reeking with stench,” the woman said.

“It was originally very fragrant,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It smells as soon as you came in.”

Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “The two of you do not even know each other, yet quarrel as soon as you meet. Quickly stop bickering. Shijie, how did you come here? Is it … is it to save me?”

“We did not know you are in here,” the woman replied, “Everybody did not see you, we went everywhere to look for you but could not find you …” Speaking to this part, she was already out of breath.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You don’t have strength to talk, you’d better talk a little less.”

“I want to talk, what are you going to do about it,” the woman said.

“If you have the ability, go ahead and talk,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Other people’s Xiao Junzhu is so gentle and refined, not at all like you who are rude and unreasonable.”

“No, no, you don’t know,” Xiao Junzhu busily said, “Nobody’s better than my Shijie. Don’t curse her, then she won’t be mad at you. Shijie, which part of you is injured? Is it heavy?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Her martial art skill is not good, she overestimated her own capabilities, she came to the Palace just to lose face, naturally her injury is heavy. I’ll say she won’t live pass six hours; perhaps before daylight she will return to heaven.”

“She can’t die,” Xiao Junzhu said, “Good … Good Ge … please think of something quickly, save my Shijie.”

The woman angrily said, “I would rather die, I don’t need his help. Xiao Junzhu, this kid is glib-tongued, why do you call him … call him like that?”

“Call me what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The woman did not fall into his trick, “Call you little monkey,” she said.

“I am a male monkey,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are a female monkey.” Bickering and quarreling with women, he had had an extensive practice when he was in Lovely Spring Courtyard; he had experienced major conflicts and major battles, how could he lose against other people? When the woman heard him speaking vulgarity, she no longer paid him any attention, she simply breathed deeply.

Wei Xiaobao raised the candlestick on the table and said, “First we must find where her injury is.”

“Don’t look at me! Don’t look at me!” the woman shouted.

Wei Xiaobao shot back, “Don’t shout loudly! Do you want people to catch you and take you as wife?” Picking the nearby candlestick, he saw half of the woman’s face was covered in blood, she was approximately seventeen, eighteen years of age, she had an oval face, and looked very beautiful; he could not help but praise, “Turns out this stinky Xiao Niang Pi is a beautiful girl.”

Xiao Junzhu said, “Don’t curse my Shijie, she … she is indeed a beautiful girl.”

“Very well!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Now I want to take her as my wife even more.”

The woman was startled, she struggled, wanted to slap him, but she only managed to lift her body a little, then she cried, “Ah!” and fell down on the bed.

Naturally Wei Xiaobao had heard a lot about the matters of men and women in the brothel, but knowing and doing are not the same. He said ‘take her as wife’, but he was still young, and the thought of actually doing it had never crossed his heart; it’s just that he was a natural prankster. When he saw how the woman became very anxious as soon as he mentioned he was going to take her as his wife, he could not help feeling very smug. He laughed and said, “Don’t be impatient, we have not performed the wedding ceremony yet, how can we be man and wife? You think this place is the Lovely Spring Courtyard? As soon as you talk about being man and wife you want to do it immediately. Aiyo! Your wound is bleeding, you are spoiling my bed!” He saw blood continuously seeped out her clothes; her injury was indeed not light.

Suddenly he heard footsteps, a group of people came hurrying, someone called out, “Gui Gong-gong, Gui Gong-gong, are you alright?” After the Imperial Bodyguards repelled the assassins, they sent people to protect the Emperor, Empress Dowager, and comparatively high-ranking imperial concubines, then they also protect department heads and eunuchs with authority. Wei Xiaobao was the Emperor’s favorite, so they sent a dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards to curry his favor.

Wei Xiaobao said in low voice to Xiao Junzhu, “Hide in the bed.” He pulled the quilt to cover the two women, pulled the mosquito net down, and called out, “Come here quick! There is an assassin here!”

The woman was shocked, but she was seriously injured, how could she struggle? Xiao Junzhu anxiously said, “Don’t shout, don’t call people to arrest my Shijie.”

“She does not want to be my wife,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why should I be polite to her?”

While they were still talking, the dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards had already arrived in front of the window. “Aiyo!” one of them cried out, “There is an assassin here.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “That fellow wanted to climb into my room, Laozi finished him off with several stabs of my blade.”

The Imperial Bodyguards raised their torches and saw several cuts on the dead man’s back; there were blood on his clothes, on the window sill, and on the ground. “Gui Gong-gong must be startled.” Another man said, “What do you mean Gui Gong-gong was startled? Gui Gong-gong’s martial art skill is superb, he is able to kill the assassin in just one move. If there were more coming, he would simply kill them all the same.” The rest of the Imperial Bodyguards immediately followed by fawning him; they praised Wei Xiaobao greatly, saying that he had rendered a great merit tonight.

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “The merit is nothing, coping with one or two assassins did not need too much effort. Arresting the Manchu’s Number One Warrior Oboi is a bit harder to do.” The crowd of Imperial Bodyguards naturally seized this opportunity to flood him with flattery.

One of the Imperial Bodyguards said, “Shi Laoliu and Xiong Lao’er [Ol’ Six and Ol’ Second, respectively] died in the line of duty, those assassins were truly very fierce. If it were not Gui Gong-gong, how would he deal with it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s more important for you all to protect His Majesty, in here I am alright.”

Another man said, “Dolong Zongguan is leading more than two hundred brothers to personally guard outside His Majesty’s private chamber. The assassins have either escaped or killed, the Palace is quiet now.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Tomorrow I will ask His Majesty to grant some comfort and aid to the families of those Imperial Bodyguards who died in the line of duty. Everybody has been working hard, His Majesty will definitely grant generous reward.” Everybody was delighted, they all bowed and expressed their gratitude. Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “As long as I don’t have to spend my own money, why not become the mediator between them and the Emperor?” He said, “I do not remember very clearly everybody’s surname and given name; would you all report to me? If His Majesty asks who has exerted himself using extreme force of will, and has rendered great service tonight, Xiongdi will mention your names.”

The Imperial Bodyguards were even more delighted, they hurriedly reported their name and surname. Wei Xiaobao had an extremely good memory, he was able to repeat the full names of those dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards without any mistake. He said, “You all should patrol everywhere, perhaps there are assassins still hiding in some dark and remote places. If you catch one alive, if it’s a man, beat him severely, if it’s a woman, strip her naked and take her as wife.” The Imperial Bodyguards laughed heartily and repeatedly said, “Yes, yes!”

“Would you take away the corpse?” Wei Xiaobao asked. The Imperial Bodyguards compiled; they snatched the corpse and left after paying their respect once more.

Wei Xiaobao closed the window, turned around and lifted up the quilt. Xiao Junzhu laughed and said, “You are so bad, you scared us in a big way … Aiyo …!” She saw blood all over the bedding, her martial sister’s countenance was deathly pale, her breathing was very weak.

“Where is her injury?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Quickly stop her bleeding.”

The woman said, “You … go away, Xiao Junzhu, my … injury is on the pit of my stomach.”

Seeing the blood flowing from her wound was indeed a lot, Wei Xiaobao was afraid she might die from her heavy injury; he did not dare to tease her. Turning his head away, he said, “What’s so good about bleeding wound anyway? Do you think it’s a peep show or something fun to watch? Xiao Junzhu, do you have the medicine?”

“I don’t,” Xiao Junzhu replied.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Stinky mother, do you have any medicine with you?”

“I don’t!” the woman snapped, “You … you are the stinky mother.”

He heard light ripping noise, Xiao Junzhu was undoing the woman’s clothes. “Aiyo!” suddenly she cried out in fear, “What … what should I do?” Wei Xiaobao turned his head around, he saw a cut about two cun long below the woman’s right breast, from which the blood was flowing continuously. Xiao Junzhu was at a loss of what to do; she cried and said, “You … you … quickly help my Shijie …”

The woman was frightened and ashamed; with a trembling voice she said, “Don’t … don’t let him see.”

“Pei,” Wei Xiaobao spat, “You think I’ve never seen one?” Seeing her blood was flowing endlessly, he was unable to restrain being panicked. He looked around the room, trying to find some cotton cloth to stop the blood stream from her wound. He spotted the medicine bowl and saw that he still had more than half bowl of his concoction of ‘mashed lotus seed, bean paste, honey, candy and pearls’. “My miracle medicine can also stop bleeding,” he said happily. Fetching a handful, he applied it on her wound.

This mixture of honey paste was very viscous, as soon as it was applied to the wound, the blood flow stopped. Wei Xiaobao spread the entire bowl of honey paste onto the wound, his fingers were also covered in honey paste. Seeing her nipples shivered, this little urchin restrained his mischievous thought with great difficulty; casually he smeared the paste on her breast.

The woman was ashamed and enraged at the same time, she called out, “Xiao … Xiao Junzhu, quickly … quickly kill him for me.”

Xiao Junzhu explained, “Shijie, he is treating your wound!” The woman was so furious she almost fainted. Unfortunately she could not move.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Quickly seal her acupoints, don’t let her speak or move randomly; otherwise she might bleed again and her life will be in danger.”

“Yes!” Xiao Junzhu complied; she sealed several acupoints on the woman’s lower abdomen, flanks, and legs. “Shijie,” she said, “Don’t move randomly!” By now the pain on her own broken leg was almost unbearable; tears started to gush out of her eyes.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You should also lie down and not moving.” He remembered his childhood in Yangzhou, when he had a fight with the little hoodlums and someone broke an arm or leg, the doctor would use splint to set the bone, and applied herbal medicine on it. Immediately he drew his dagger and cut two legs of a bench and clamped them on either side of her broken leg, and used a piece or cord to firmly tie them together. “Where can I find the medicine for her injury?” he mused.

After pondering for a while, he had an idea; to Xiao Junzhu he said, “The two of you must lie down on the bed, do not make any noise whatsoever.” Releasing the mosquito net, he blew out the candle and pulled the latch to go out.

Xiao Junzhu was startled. “You … where are you going?” she asked.

“To find medicine for your leg,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Please hurry and come back soon,” Xiao Junzhu said.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. Hearing the tone of Xiao Junzhu’s voice, which unexpectedly she regarded him as someone she could depend on, Wei Xiaobao could not help but feeling very proud of himself. He had already turned around to close the door when he thought something was not right; he pushed the door and went in again, bolted it from the inside, and then he jumped out the window and closed it behind him. In this way, other than Empress Dowager and the Emperor, no one in the Palace would dare to enter his room without permission.

He only walked a dozen of steps when he felt a dull pain on the edge of his lower back; he thought, “That Old Whore Empress Dowager dealt me a vicious blow. If I continue living in the Palace, sooner or later laozi’s old life will be difficult to protect; I’d better slip away as soon as possible.”

He walked toward the torch light, which turned out to be several Imperial Bodyguards on patrol duty. As soon as they saw him, they rushed forward to greet him. Wei Xiaobao asked, “How many Imperial Bodyguard brothers in the Palace are injured?’

“Reporting to Gong-gong,” a man replied, “There are seven, eight men heavily injured, about fourteen, fifteen men lightly wounded.”

“Where do they have their injury treated?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Take me there to look.”

The Imperial Bodyguards all said, “Gong-gong is concerned over Imperial Bodyguards brothers, not a single one among us does not feel grateful.” And thus two of the Imperial Bodyguards led the way, taking Wei Xiaobao to the building where the Imperial Bodyguards stay when they were not on patrol duty.

Twenty something Imperial Bodyguards lay down in the hall, four imperial physicians were busy attending to their injuries.

Wei Xiaobao stepped forward to express his sympathy, continuously praised everybody, saying that in order to protect His Majesty, they all dashed on bravely with no thought of personal safety, valiantly fought and kill the enemy. He also inquire the injured names one by one. Immediately the Imperial Bodyguards’ spirit was aroused, as if their wounds did not feel too painful anymore. Wei Xiaobao asked, “To which group do those rebel thieves belong to? Are they that servant Oboi’s follower?”

An Imperial Bodyguard replied, “They seem to be Han people. But I don’t know if we manage to seize a living witness?”

Wei Xiaobao inquired the details of the fighting between the Imperial Bodyguards and the assassins, while his eyes carefully watched the imperial physicians applying the medicine. Among the wounded Imperial Bodyguards, some received external cuts from sabers and spears, some received internal injury from fists and palms, some had their bones dislocated or broken. Wei Xiaobao said, “I’d better have some of those medicines by my side; if the Imperial Bodyguard brothers in the Palace are wounded while there’s not enough time to summon the imperial physicians, I can give everybody good treatment first. Humph, those assassins are extremely vicious and wicked with enormous guts; since we cannot catch everybody in one net today, it’s difficult to say that they won’t come back.”

Several Imperial Bodyguards said, “Gui Gong-gong shows great empathy to Imperial Bodyguard brothers, indeed it is a thorough thought.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A moment ago I was besieged by three assassins, I killed one, the other two fellows ran away. But my waist was also severely hit by the assassin’s palm, at this time it is still sore.” While in his heart he said, “The Old Whore came to assassinate laozi, isn’t she an assassin? This time laozi did not lie.”

As soon as the four imperial physicians heard this, they left the Imperial Bodyguards immediately to attend to him. They untied his gown to examine him, and saw a large purplish black bruise on his lower back; busily they prepared the medicine for him, to be applied externally and taken orally.

Wei Xiaobao asked the imperial physicians to wrap each kind of medicine into a large package, which he then tucked into his bosom, while also asking for directions on the usage of the medicine. He also took two pieces of splint to be applied to the injury. And then again he praised and expressed sympathy to everybody before leaving.

His experience was limited, his words were a mess, and extremely inappropriate; during praising and expressing his sympathy, he used a lot of marketplace obscenities. Although the Imperial Bodyguards mostly came from imperial clan and noble families, but most of them were uncouth military people, who did not care much about ‘his granny’ or ‘eighteen-generation ancestor’. Since they were injured by the assassins, they came to the realization that their skill was still inferior to the intruders. When they saw that His Majesty’s favorite eunuch was also injured in the fight against the assassins, they were even more depressed. But then suddenly they received praises from Gui Gong-gong, which was equal to receiving His Majesty’s imperial decree commending their effort. Even if he rained curses on them, they would have accepted it gladly, much less praises scattered with random words? Their hearts were in full bloom, while wishing that the wound in their bodies was several cun longer.

Returning to his own room, Wei Xiaobao inclined his head and listened attentively outside the window first; after making sure that the room was quiet, he said in a low voice, “Xiao Junzhu, it’s me, I’m back.” He was afraid that if he rashly climbed over the window, the woman would chop him with a saber or stab him with a sword, then he may have to use the several packages of medicine in his pocket first.

Xiao Junzhu happily said, “Um, I have been waiting for you for a long time.” Wei Xiaobao crawled into the room, closed the window, lighted the candle, and raised the mosquito net. He saw the two maidens were lying side by side on the bed. When the woman’s gaze met with his, she closed her eyes immediately. But Xiao Junzhu was looking at him with her bright and clear eyes, her gaze revealed gratitude.

“Xiao Junzhu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me apply to medicine on you.”

“No,” Xiao Junzhu replied, “Treat my Shijie first. Please give the medicine to me, I will apply it on her.”

“What do you mean ‘you’ and ‘I’?” Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s not how we call each other.”

Xiao Junzhu laughed vaguely, “What’s your real name?” she asked, “I heard they call you Gui Gong-gong.”

“They call me Gui Gong-gong, but what should you call me?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Xiao Junzhu closed her eyes slightly and said in a low voice, “In my heart … in my heart I call you Good … Good Gege, but if I keep calling you that with my mouth, this can’t be … can’t be … good.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s make a rule; when there are people around, I call you Xiao Junzhu, you call me Gui Dage. When nobody’s around, I call you ‘Good Meizi‘, you call me ‘Good Gege‘.”

Before Xiao Junzhu replied, the woman opened her eyes and said, “Xiao Junzhu, that’s so sickeningly disgusting, he is taking advantage of you, don’t listen to him.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, “Nobody asked you to call me, why do you have to meddle into other people’s business? You want to call me Good Gege, I don’t want to hear it.”

“What do you want her to call you, then?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

“I only want her to call me ‘Good Husband’, ‘Dear Husband’,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The woman blushed, a look of disdain appeared on her face; she said, “You want to be someone’s husband? You need to be reincarnated.”

“Alright, alright,” Xiao Junzhu said, “You two are not nemesis from the previous incarnation, why do you bicker as soon as you meet? Gui Dage, please give me the medicine.”

“I’ll apply the medicine on you first,” Wei Xiaobao said. Lifting up the quilt, he rolled Xiao Junzhu’s pants up and disassembled the bench legs he used as splint earlier, and then he spread the medicine on the broken calf bone before tying it firmly with the new splint. Xiao Junzhu expressed her gratitude repeatedly, she sounded very sincere.

“What is my wife’s name?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Xiao Junzhu was startled. “Your wife?” she asked. Seeing Wei Xiaobao pouted toward the woman, she smiled and said, “You love to crack jokes; my Shijie is surnamed Fang, her given name …”

“Don’t tell him!” the woman anxiously said.

Hearing that her surname was Fang, Wei Xiaobao immediately recalled the Mu Palace’s Four Great Generals, Liu Bai Fang Su; thereupon he said, “Her surname is Fang, of course I know. That ‘Divine Physician Hermit’ Su Gang and the ‘Twin Tree of the Bai Clan’ Bai Hansong and Bai Hanfeng are all my relatives.”

Hearing him mentioning the names of Su Gang and the Bai Brothers, both Xiao Junzhu and the woman was greatly amazed. “How … how are they related to you?” Xiao Junzhu asked.

“Liu Bai Fang Su, four great generals,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally we are related.”

Xiao Junzhu was even more surprised, “It’s really hard to believe,” she said.

“Xiao Junzhu,” the woman said, “Don’t believe his nonsense. This boy is very bad, he is not my relative. Having a relative like him will only bring bad luck.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily; he gave the medicine to Xiao Junzhu, and then leaned close to her ears and whispered, “Good Meizi, whisper her name to me.”

However, the two young girls were lying next to each other, although Wei Xiaobao was whispering, the woman heard it clearly. “Don’t tell him,” she said anxiously.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It’s alright if you don’t want to tell me, then I must kiss your mouth. I will smell your fragrance on this side of your face first, then smell your fragrance on that side, and then I’ll kiss your mouth. Tell me, you prefer to be kissed, or to tell me your name? My guess is you will definitely choose to be kissed.” Under the candle light the woman look very beautiful, her clothing was thin, his nose smell a faint scent of the woman [alright, I know it is not original, but I think this is the best translation of 女儿体香] . His heart was very happy; he said, “You are indeed very fragrant, I can enjoy smelling you very much.”

The woman was unable to move, she was very angry to be sniffed by this mischievous kid’s nostrils; fortunately he was a young boy, and listening to the Imperial Bodyguards a moment ago, she knew that he was a court eunuch, so he must be only fooling around by saying those naughty things, he would not possibly molest her for real, so there was no real reason for her to be frightened. However, seeing him pursing his lips to really kiss her, she busily said, “Alright, alright, tell my name to this little demon!”

Xiao Junzhu laughed, and then said, “My Shijie is surnamed Fang, her given name is a single character, ‘Yi’ [harmony/joy], the ‘yi’ (怡 ) character with ‘xin’ ( 心 ) radical on the left and ‘tai’ (台 ) on the right.”

Wei Xiaobao simply did not know how to write the character ‘yi’, he just nodded his head and said, “Um, this name is not so bad, but cannot be considered very good either. Xiao Junzhu, what is your name?”

“I am called Mu Jianping [or Mu Jianbing],” Xiao Junzhu replied, “Ping from ‘ping feng’ (standing screen) and not from ‘fu ping’ (duckweed).”

Wei Xiaobao did not know the difference between those two ‘ping’ characters; he said, “This name is comparatively better, but still not a first-class name.”

“Your name must be first class,” Fang Yi said, “I wonder how good is your respected surname and great given name?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, he mused, “I can’t tell them my real name, while there is nothing special about the name Xiao Guizi.” Thereupon he said, “My surname is Wu [I/my (old)], since I am an eunuch in the Palace, everybody call me Wu Laogong[4].”

Fang Yi sneered and said, “Wu Laogong, Wu Laogong, this name is actually very …” Speaking to this point, she suddenly realized that she had fallen into his trick. “Pei!” she spat, “Talk nonsense!”

Xiao Junzhu Mu Jianping said, “You lie again, I heard they called you Gui Gong-gong, you are not surnamed Wu.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Men call me Gui Gong-gong, women call me Wu Laogong.”

Fang Yi said, “I know your real name.”

Wei Xiaobao was slightly startled. “How do you know?” he asked.

“I know your surname is Hu ( 胡 ),” Fang Yi said, “And your given name is Shuo ( 说 ) character written eight different ways ( 八道 )[5].”

Wei Xiaobao burst out in laughter; hearing Fang Yi, his breathing was back to normal. He said, “Good Meizi, apply the medicine on her, don’t let her die of pain. I, Wu Laogong, only have one wife, if this wife died, the second wife cannot live up to the first.”

Mu Jianping said, “Shijie said you talk rubbish (see footnote 5), sure enough, she is right.” Releasing the mosquito net, she raised the quilt to apply medicine on Fang Yi. “Gui Dage,” she asked, “What should I do with the blood-stopping medicine you applied earlier?”

“Has the blood stopped flowing?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“It has,” Mu Jianping replied. Actually, honey is very effective to stop bleeding, it has high viscosity, and will adhere well to the wound, hence unexpectedly her bleeding stopped. As for the lotus seed paste, bean paste and the other ingredients, although they were not medicine, but when applied to the wound, they could also stop the bleeding.

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he said, “The effectiveness of my miracle medicine surpasses Bodhisattva’s magic potion, do you believe it now? With those many pearls in it, when applied to her chest, after the wound is healed, her breast will be exceedingly good-looking, will have the ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ appearance. Too bad only my son will be able to see it.”

“Pfft,” Mu Jianping stifled her laugh. “Your talk is really amusing,” she said, “Why is it only your son can …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “When she nurses my son, naturally my son will be able to see.”

“Pei!” Fang Yi spat. Mu Jianping just stared with her big round eyes; she did not understand why her Shijie would nurse his son.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Gently wipe the blood stopping miracle medicine clean, then apply the cut wound medicine.”

“Yes,” Mu Jianping complied.

Right this moment, suddenly they heard someone outside the door calling out with a loud and clear voice, “Gui Gong-gong, are you asleep?”

“I am,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Who is it? Whatever it is, let’s talk about it tomorrow!”

The man outside said, “Subordinate Officer Rui Dong.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked, “Ah!” he exclaimed, “It’s Deputy Chief Rui, I wonder … I wonder what’s the matter?”

Rui Dong was the Deputy Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards. When he was chatting with the Imperial Bodyguards, he learned that everybody admired this Deputy Chief Rui’s profound martial art skill, which was second only to Dolong, the Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards; he was an extraordinary character among the Imperial Bodyguards. For the last few years he was frequently outside the Palace on official business, so Wei Xiaobao had never seen him.

Rui Dong said, “Subordinate Officer has an urgent business I need to discuss with Gui Gong-gong. My apology for disturbing Gui Gong-gong’s peaceful slumber.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “What is he up to, coming here in the middle of the night? I’m sure he knew I am concealing an assassin in my room, so he came to search; what should I do? If I don’t open the door, he may break it down. These two young girls are injured, it’s too late to run away now. I will have to act according to the circumstance, I’ll trick him to go away.”

Rui Dong continued, “This matter is of great responsibility, otherwise I would not dare to disturb Gong-gong’s dream.”

“Alright, I’ll open the door,” Wei Xiaobao said. Turning toward the bed, he said in a low voice, “You must not make any noise.” He walked to the outer room, closed the door behind him, and braced himself to open the front door. He saw a tall and powerfully built man standing outside the door, the top of his own head was still shorter than the back of the man’s neck.

Rui Dong cupped his fist and said, “Gong-gong, please forgive my disturbance.”

“You are too kind! You are too kind!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He looked up to examine Rui Dong’s countenance, but saw neither smiling expression nor angry look, so he really could not read his intention. “What is the urgent matter, Deputy Chief Rui?” he asked; but he did not invite Rui Dong in.

“Just now I received the Empress Dowager’s imperial order,” Rui Dong replied, “She said that assassins were breaking into the Palace tonight, committing treason and heresy. She ordered me to inquire clearly from Gui Gong-gong.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard ‘Empress Dowager’s imperial order’, four words, he knew the turn of events was not too encouraging. “That’s right!” he said, “I was just about to inquire clearly from you. A moment ago I paid my respect to His Majesty, His Majesty said, ‘This servant Rui Dong is very brazen, as soon as he returned to the Palace, humph, humph …’”

Rui Dong was greatly shocked. “What else did His Majesty say?” he asked.

Actually, Wei Xiaobao was talking nonsense to him to stall for time, while he thought about a way to escape. Seeing those few words had enticed him to take the bait, he said, “His Majesty instructed me to conduct investigation among the Imperial Bodyguards as soon as it is daybreak. He wanted to know who has prompted this servant Rui Dong to lure the assassins to enter the Palace? What is the plot behind it? Who else is involved in this conspiracy?”

Rui Dong was even more shocked; with a trembling voice he said, “His … His Majesty said … said that I lured the assassins to enter the Palace? Which crafty villain has told His Majesty that nonsense? This … isn’t this an enormous injustice?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty instructed me to do the investigation quietly, he said, ‘If that servant Rui Dong heard the rumor, he is bound to come and kill you; you must be very careful.’ I said, ‘His Majesty, please be rest assured, even if that servant Rui Dong has courage as big as the sky, he will not dare to commit murder inside the Palace.’ His Majesty said, ‘Humph, that is not necessarily true. If this servant unexpectedly dared to lure the assassins into the Palace to harm me, what other business he did not dare to do?’”

Rui Dong anxiously said, “You … you talk nonsense! I did not lure the assassins to enter the Palace, His Majesty … His Majesty will not recklessly accuse a good man. Tonight I have personally killed three assassins; a lot of Imperial Bodyguards brothers witnessed it. His Majesty can summon them to be questioned.” While speaking, the blue veins on his forehead suddenly appeared, his hands were clenched into fists.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I must scare him out of his wits first, so that he will be at a loss of what to do, then come daybreak, Laozi will flee from the Palace. But what should I do with that Xiao Junzhu and Fang Yi? Humph, like a clay Bodhisattva fording a river, laozi can’t guarantee my own safety; if I can escape alive, then we’ll talk. I don’t care if she is Xiao Junzhu or Lao Junzhu, Fang Yi or Yuan Yi[6]. Laozi won’t become fake eunuch anymore, won’t become the Xiangzhu of the Green Wood Hall. I am taking that four hundred fifty thousand taels back to Yangzhou, to open Lovely Summer Courtyard, Lovely Autumn Courtyard and Lovely Winter Courtyard.” He said, “So it wasn’t you who lured the assassins into the Palace?”

“Of course not,” Rui Dong said, “The Empress Dowager said that it was you who led them into the Palace. Empress Dowager ordered me not to listen to your graceful words, flowery speech, to execute you with a palm strike.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am afraid the two of us have been framed by some crafty villains. Deputy Chief Rui, don’t you worry, I am going to explain everything to His Majesty. As long as you really did not lure the assassin, although His Majesty is young, he is very wise, plus he trusts me completely, so this matter can be brought to light.”

“Alright,” Rui Dong said, “Thank you very much! Now come with me to see the Empress Dowager.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “In the dead of the night, why would I see the Empress Dowager? It will be better to see His Majesty as soon as possible. I am afraid people are coming to arrest you on imperial orders by now. Deputy Chief Rui, let me tell you this: when the Imperial Bodyguards come to arrest you, you must not resist at all; if you do, it won’t be easy to wash away the criminal charge against you.”

The muscle on Rui Dong’s face trembled continuously; he angrily said, “Empress Dowager said that you like talking nonsense the most, and she was right. I did not commit any crime, why would I want to resist arrest? Come with me to see the Empress Dowager!”

Wei Xiaobao leaned over and said in a low voice, “Look, those who want to arrest you are coming!” Rui Dong’s countenance changed; he turned his head around to look. Wei Xiaobao turned around and bolted into the room.

When Rui Dong saw there was nobody behind him, he knew he was being swindled. Quickly he ran after him into the room; he leaped and stretched out his hand to grab Wei Xiaobao’s back.

Actually, Wei Xiaobao’s threat had frightened Rui Dong very much. If Wei Xiaobao insisted on seeing the Emperor, most likely Rui Dong would not dare to stop him with force. However, Wei Xiaobao had hidden two women in his room, one of them was definitely an assassin who entered the Palace to create trouble. Since the plot had already fallen through and stood exposed, plus the Empress Dowager had personally come to take his life, how could he dare to explain everything to the Emperor? As soon as Rui Dong fell into his trick by turning his head, Wei Xiaobao dashed into the room, hoping that he could escape via the window. He was thinking that the imperial garden was full of fake rocks and flowering shrubs, hiding in the dark of the night, perhaps he would not be too easy to be found. Unexpectedly Rui Dong was very quick; Wei Xiaobao had just reached the door, Rui Dong had caught up with him.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao was inside the room, he jumped toward the window sill, and was about to jump out, Rui Dong sent out a palm strike toward Wei Xiaobao’s back with a strong gust of wind. Wei Xiaobao’s legs buckled and turned soft, and he fell down. Rui Dong reached out with his left hand to grab Wei Xiaobao’s waist. Wei Xiaobao unleashed the full potential of qinna technique he knew, parrying Rui Dong’s hand with both hands; but he was small, and his strength was feeble, his body swayed and ‘splash!’ he fell into a large water tub. The water tub was originally used by Hai Laogong to treat his injury. After Hai Laogong’s death, Wei Xiaobao had not ordered his men to take it out.

Rui Dong laughed aloud and reached down into the tub, but he only grabbed empty space, because Wei Xiaobao had quickly curled his body up. Yet because the water tub was not too big, by the next grab Rui Dong managed to seize the back of Wei Xiaobao’s collar, and raised him up, still dripping wet.

Wei Xiaobao opened his mouth and spurted water into Rui Dong’s eyes, while throwing himself forward to embrace Rui Dong’s chest, and snaked his left arm behind Rui Dong’s neck. Rui Dong let out a loud shout and shook his body several times, his hand holding the back of Wei Xiaobao’s collar gradually loosened. His face was full of water, but his eyes were open very wide, with a mixture of startled, frightened, and perplexed expression on his face. His throat made a gurgling noise, as if he wanted to speak but could not speak. There was a light stabbing noise, the tip of a dagger appeared on his chest and sliced down to his lower abdomen, cutting up a long gash along his torso.

With eyes wide open Rui Dong looked at the dagger, he did not know where the dagger had come from. From his chest down to his abdomen blood was gushing out wildly, suddenly he fell backward. Until his death he still did not know how Wei Xiaobao had killed him.

“Hey!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed; he pulled the dagger with his left hand, while bringing out his right hand from his own long gown. What happened was that when he fell into the water tub, while curling up his body, he extracted the dagger and hid it inside his long gown facing outward. He spurted the water onto Rui Dong’s face that he could not open his eyes, and then Wei Xiaobao threw himself forward. As he embraced Rui Dong, the sharp dagger that can cut iron like slicing mud pierced Rui Dong’s chest. If they were in a real fight, ten Wei Xiaobaos were not Rui Dong’s match, but in the flurry of hasty and strange turn of events, this awe-inspiring, illustrious Deputy Chief Rui had fallen into Wei Xiaobao’s plot.

How Wei Xiaobao and Rui Dong, two people, dashed into the room, how Wei Xiaobao fell into the water tub, Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were able to see everything clearly from behind the mosquito net; but as Rui Dong grabbed Wei Xiaobao out of the tub and was killed immediately, Fang and Mu, two women were unable to make head or tail of what trick Wei Xiaobao had used.

Wei Xiaobao wanted to toot his own horn, he said, “I … I … this … this …” only to head his own voice sounded hoarse, unexpectedly he was unable to speak, but his narrow escape from the death just now had scared him out of his wits.

“Thank Heaven and thank the Earth,” Mu Jianping said, “Unexpectedly you … have killed this Tatar.”

“This Rui Dong’s nickname is ‘Unequalled Iron Palm’,” Fang Yi said, “Tonight he had killed three or our Mu Palace’s brothers. You have avenged us, very good, very good!”

Wei Xiaobao calmed down and said, “He was the ‘Unequalled Iron Palm’, but he could not match me, Wei … Gui Gong-gong, Wu Laogong. I am a first-class martial art expert, naturally it’s not the same.” Stretching out his hand, he groped Rui Dong’s pocket, and took out a booklet full of small characters, and several other documents.

Since Wei Xiaobao could not read, he casually set everything aside. Suddenly he felt some kind of solid object hidden behind Rui Dong’s lower back. Using his dagger he cut open Rui Dong’s gown, and found a package wrapped in cloth. “What kind of treasure is this?” he wondered, “Why did he hide it well like this?” Cutting the silk cord on the package, he opened the cloth wrapper and found a book. Surprisingly, the cover of the book had these five characters on it: ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’. The size of this sutra was identical to the ones he had seen, only the seal was of red silk with white border around it.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out; hastily he put his hands into his pocket and extracted the copy of ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’ he took from Prince Kang’s mansion. Luckily when he jumped into the water tub he was immediately grabbed by Rui Dong so only the outer surface of the envelope was wet, the pages of the book stayed dry.

He placed both copies on the table, the two books were identical except the red silk and the red silk with white border covers. Up to this point he had seen four copies of ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’. Presently, two were in the Empress Dowager’s hands, and two were in his own hands. “There must be something odd inside these sutras, too bad I can’t read” he mused, “If I ask Xiao Junzhu and Miss Fang to take a look, I’m sure I will understand. But if I did, they would look down on me.” Pulling the drawer open, he put the two books away.

He thought, “A moment ago the Empress Dowager personally came to kill me, she must be afraid I would find her secret and reveal it out. Afterwards she also sent this Rui Dong to kill me, on a random accusation that I led the assassins into the Palace. She has been waiting for a while now, if she did not see Rui Dong return, she would send another man over. I might as well strike first and gain the upper hand by immediately going to His Majesty to lodge a complaint. Come daybreak, laozi will flee the Palace and won’t comeback.”

He said to Fang Yi, “I must go out and start a rumor that this Rui Dong has colluded with your Mu Palace people. Good wi … good wi … Miss Fang (he was going to call her ‘good wife’, but realizing the urgency of the situation, he knew he must not fool around and thus fail the important matter, therefore, he corrected himself by calling her ‘Miss Fang’), what was your real intention in entering the Palace tonight? Did you intend to assassinate the Emperor? I urge you not to assassinate the young emperor; that old wh0re the Empress Dowager is not a good thing, it would be much better if you assassinate her.”

“Since you are one of us, it’s not a big deal to tell you the truth,” Fang Yi said, “We disguised ourselves as the subordinated of Wu Yingxiong, Wu Sangui’s son, coming to the Palace to assassinate the Tatar Emperor. If everything went well, of course it would be great, but if not, we hope in his anger the Emperor would kill Wu Sangui.”

“Phew!” Wei Xiaobao let out a breath and said, “Brilliant scheme! Brilliant scheme! But how are you going to implicate Wu Sangui?”

Fang Yi said, “On our undergarments we deliberately leave some marking, the seal of troops under Ping Xi Wang’s command, also our weapons and secret projectiles are engraved with Ping Xi Wang’s Palace inscription. We have several old weapons bearing the inscription ‘Regional Commander Office of Shanhai Pass[7] of The Great Ming’.”

“What for?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Fang Yi explained, “Before that servant Wu Sangui surrendered to the Tatars, he was the Regional Commander of our Great Ming’s Shanhai Pass.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “This scheme is very formidable,” he said.

Fang Yi continued, “We entered the Palace this time, in all likelihood there would be people die for our country, in that case the marking on their clothes will be discovered by the Tatars. Supposing that we were caught, at first we won’t confess, then after the Tatars beat us until we are hovering between life and death, only then will we confess that we have received Ping Xi Wang’s order to come and assassinate the Emperor. As soon as we entered the Palace, we abandoned engraved weapons everywhere, so that if by chance we all are lucky enough to retreat completely, we have already left some incriminating evidence.” She was talking with excitement, her breathing gradually quickened, a blush appeared on her cheeks.

Wei Xiaobao said, “So you came to the Palace not to rescue Xiao Junzhu at all?”

“Of course not,” Fang Yi replied, “We are not immortals, how could we know Xiao Junzhu was unexpectedly in the Palace?”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Do you have any engraved weapon with you?” he asked.

“I do!” Fang Yi replied. From the quilt she produced a sword, but her arm was lacking strength that she was unable to raise the sword up.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Luckily I did not sleep by your side, otherwise you would have killed me with the sword.” Fang Yi blushed, she glowered at him.

Wei Xiaobao took the sword and concealed it in Rui Dong’s dead body’s waist. “I am going to lodge a complaint that this Rui Dong was in cahoots with the assassins; isn’t it enough evidence?” he said.

Fang Yi shook her head and said, “Look at the sword, what characters are engraved there?”

Wei Xiaobao asked her back, “What characters are engraved there?” In any case, even if he looked at the engraving he would not recognize any character, so he would rather not look.

Fang Yi said, “Those are the eight characters ‘Regional Commander Office of Shanhai Pass of The Great Ming’; this Rui Dong was a Manchu, he could not be an officer under the Regional Commander of Shanhai Pass of The Great Ming.”

“Um,” Wei Xiaobao retrieved the sword and put it back on the bed, saying, “What kind of booty should I hide on his body then?” And then he got an idea, “Got it!” he said. He took the two strings of pearls he received as gift from Wu Yingxiong earlier, and the pair of emerald chicken, and also the bundle of gold banknotes, and stuffed everything into Rui Dong’s pocket. He knew the gold banknotes were issued by a Beijing bank, Wu Yingxiong must have sent his men to buy them. They only need to investigate the bank, and then the origin of the banknotes would be found out. This way of framing somebody was truly flawless; he said in his heart, “Heir Apparent Wu, oh Heir Apparent Wu, it’s very important for laozi to save my own life, I have no choice but to offend you.”

Picking up Rui Dong’s body, he was thinking of moving the body into the garden outside, but he only took a single step when suddenly he heard footsteps outside the room. He lay the body back down gently, and heard someone called, “His Majesty’s order: Xiao Guizi to wait upon His Majesty immediately.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted; he thought, “I was worried that I could not see His Majesty tonight, and then everything will go wrong again. Presently His Majesty is summoning me, nothing’s better than that. I can’t move Rui Dong’s body now.” He replied, “Yes, let your servant change clothes, and then I’ll go immediately.”

He gently shoved Rui Dong’s body underneath the bed, and then made some hand signals to Xiao Junzhu and Fang Yi, telling them to stay under the quilt and not make any movement. Then he hurriedly took off his wet clothes and changed into another set of clothing. Although the black silk padded vest was also wet, he did not remove it.

He was about to walk out when he suddenly had a thought, “This little girl surnamed Fang is not too trustworthy, she might steal my belongings.” So he took the two copies of ‘Forty-two Chapter Sutra’ and a large bundle of banknotes and stuffed everything into his pocket before leaving the room, but he forgot to take along the martial art manual which his Shifu had given him.

[1] Lit. Spirit Mound, Stepped Corridor, and Heavenly Pool, respectively.

[2] Paper lanterns supposedly invented by Zhuge Liang (Romance of the Three Kingdoms).

[3] Younger uncle (father’s younger brother), older uncle (father’s older brother), grandpa (or father-in-law), respectively.

[4] From the dictionary: Laogong – 1. Husband (informal), 2. Eunuch.

[5] Together, 胡说八道 means ‘nonsense/rubbish’.

[6] Xiao Junzhu and Lao Junzhu are little and old princess, respectively. The ‘fang’ and ‘yuan’ of Fang Yi and Yuan Yi are ‘square’ and ‘round’, respectively.

[7] Shanhai Pass is the Eastern pass of the Great Wall.

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