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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 12


Chapter 12
With comical words I play charade, thus defeating Qing like a deity.

Wei Xiaobao went out the front door and saw four eunuchs standing outside, but he did not recognize a single one.

The leader said, “Gui Gong-gong, very late at night His Majesty wanted to see you, tsk tsk tsk, the way His Majesty is treating you needs not be mentioned. Where is Deputy Chief Rui? His Majesty also sends for him, so he can have audience together with Gui Gong-gong.”

Wei Xiaobao shivered inwardly, he said, “Has Deputy Chief Rui returned to the Palace? I have never seen him.”

“Is that so?” the eunuch said, “Let us go first then.” Finished speaking, he turned around and walked off.

Wei Xiaobao was inwardly bewildered, “Why did he ask me about Deputy Chief Rui? How did His Majesty know that Deputy Chief Rui came to see me?” He also thought, “I am a Vice Manager eunuch, my rank is a lot higher than yours, how can you walk in front of me? You are not a young eunuch, could it be that you don’t understand the Palace’s custom?” He asked, “Gong-gong, what’s your honorable surname? We haven’t seen each other often in the past.”

The eunuch replied, “I am only a low-level eunuch having no fixed duties, naturally Gui Gong-gong does not remember me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty is sending Gong-gong to summon me, that’s not the job of a low-level eunuch having no fixed duties.” While talking, he noticed that the eunuch was turning westward, while the Emperor’s personal palace was on the northeast side. “Are you lost?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“No,” the eunuch replied, “His Majesty is paying his respect to the Empress Dowager. With the disturbance of the assassins just now, he was afraid it startled the Compassionate One. We are going to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard that they were going to see the Empress Dowager, he was shocked and instantly halted his steps. From the three eunuchs walking behind him, two suddenly moved to the side and stood to the left and right of him, so that the four people surrounded him in the middle.

Wei Xiaobao was even more alarmed; he cried inwardly, “Bad, bad! It’s not His Majesty who sent for me, clearly it is the Empress Dowager who wants to get me.” Although he did not know whether these four people knew martial art or not, with one against four he would not be able to achieve a short victory, as soon as the fight started, the Imperial Bodyguards would hear and would rush in, how could he escape? His heart was thumping madly, but with a chuckle he said, “So we are going to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful? That’s great! Each time the Empress Dowager sees me, she always bestows me, if not money, then candy, cakes and pastries. The Empress Dowager treats her servants very well. She said I am a gluttonous little child, she always bestows me a lot of things to eat.” While speaking, he started walking again toward the winding corridor leading to the Empress Dowager’s personal palace. Seeing him heading toward the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful just like he said, the four eunuchs resumed their former position of one in front and three behind.

“Last time I saw the Empress Dowager, my luck was really good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager said that by arresting Oboi, my meritorious service was not small, so she bestowed me five thousand taels of gold and twenty thousand taels of silver. My strength is indeed too small, how could I move them all? Empress Dowager said: ‘If you can’t move them all, move them slowly. Xiao Guizi, what are you going to do with your money?’ I said, ‘Reporting to Empress Dowager: your servant loves to make friends the most, now that I have gold and silver in my possession, whichever eunuch comes to your servant, your servant will simply give them some. Let everybody become rich and spend the money together!’” His mouth was blabbering nonsense, his brain was racing with thoughts of escape plan.

One of the eunuchs behind him said, “How could she bestow you that much?”

“Ha, you don’t believe me?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Look at me.” From his pocket he fished a large bundle of banknotes; some were five-hundred tael denominations, some were a thousand tael denominations, and some were two-thousand tael denominations.

Under the lantern light, the banknotes looked genuine. The four eunuchs were breathless, they all halted their steps.

Wei Xiaobao pulled four banknotes, and said with a laugh, “His Majesty and Empress Dowager unceasingly bestow me with money, how can I spend everything by myself? Here I have four banknotes, two-thousand taels and one-thousand taels worth, four brothers may try your luck, each of you draw out one banknote.”

Four eunuchs did not believe him, where in the world would there be anybody who handed several thousand taels of money casually like that? Nobody reached out to draw.

“I have too much money with me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “And I have nowhere to spend it, sometimes I am not too happy. Right now I am going to see Empress Dowager and His Majesty, I don’t know how much more money they are going to bestow me.” While saying that, he held the banknotes high above his head that the banknotes fluttered in the wind, while with the corner of his eyes he looked around at the surrounding terrain.

One of the eunuchs laughed and said, “Gui Gong-gong, are you really going to give the banknotes to us? You are not joking, are you?”

“Why would I joke?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Which brother in our Catering Department has never received a thousand or eight hundred taels from me? Come, come, come, try your luck. Which brother will draw first?”

Giggling, the eunuch said, “I’ll draw first.”

“Wait a moment,” Wei Xiaobao said, “All of you, look clearly.” He held the four banknotes under the lantern light. The four eunuchs looked distinctly, the banknotes were really of one-thousand tael and two-thousand tael denominations, they could not restrain their faces from changing. Eunuchs cannot take wife and raise a family, they cannot serve in the army or take official post; therefore, they are twice more fond of gold, silver and other belongings than ordinary people. Although these four men had been serving in the Palace for a long time, they had never seen a one-thousand tael or two-thousand tael banknotes.

Wei Xiaobao raised his hand and let the banknotes fluttered in the wind, he laughed and said, “Alright, this Dage can draw first!”

The eunuch reached out, but before his finger touched the banknotes, Wei Xiaobao let go, four banknotes were blown by the wind, lightly fluttered in the air, and flew toward the cluster of flowers. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out, “Why didn’t you grab firmly? Hurry, hurry, whoever grabs the banknote, it will belong to him.” The four eunuchs leaped to run after the banknotes.

“Grab it quick! Don’t let it fly away!” Wei Xiaobao called out. He ducked down and quickly slipped into an opening between the fake rocks, which he had already picked beforehand. He knew that the fake rocks in this area of the imperial garden were extremely numerous, with series of winding caves. Once he entered in, he would not be easy to find in a short time.

The four eunuchs ran after the banknotes, two picked one banknote each, one caught two banknotes, but one was left empty-handed. These two immediately broke into an argument. One eunuch said, “Gui Gong-gong says that whoever grabs the banknote, it will belong to him, so these two banknotes are mine.”

The other one said, “We have agreed on one banknote per person, quickly give my share of one banknote to me. I’ll be happy to take the one-thousand taels note.”

“What one-thousand taels note?” the other eunuch said, “It’s easy for you to say. You won’t get even one tael.”

The one who did not get any banknotes grabbed him by the chest, saying, “Are you or are you not going to give it to me? We’ll ask Gui Gong-gong to be the judge.” But when he turned around, Wei Xiaobao had already disappeared. The four eunuchs were shocked; they cried out together and looked for him everywhere. The one who did not get any banknote was unwilling to give up; he grabbed the one who had two banknotes by the front of his jacket and demanded him to give his share.

Wei Xiaobao had already a dozen of zhang away inside the cave, hearing the two people shouting and arguing, he was secretly amused; he thought, “I am going to hide until daybreak, then I’ll slip out of the Palace from the side door, and never to come back.”

He heard one of the eunuchs said, “Empress Dowager has ordered us that whatever happens we must summon Gui Gong-gong and Deputy Chief Rui immediately. He … he … where can he hide?”

Another eunuch said, “He is in the Palace, he can’t hide too far. Only, we must not say anything about him giving us banknotes. Hao Xiongdi, you’d better give one of your two banknotes to Xiao Lao, otherwise he might reveal it, then we all cannot get the riches, that will be really bad.”

Suddenly Wei Xiaobao heard footsteps, there were people coming from the west. One of them said, “With the disturbance of the assassins in the Palace tonight, I am afraid everybody will receive disciplinary action tomorrow.” As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard this, he knew they were Palace Imperial Bodyguards.

Another man said, “I hope Gui Gong-gong will speak several words of praise in front of His Majesty.”

Yet another man commented, “Although Gui Gong-gong is young, he really treasures friendship with other people; someone like him is truly rare.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he slipped out of the cave and said in a low voice, “Brothers, please be quiet.”

The two leading Imperial Bodyguards raised their lanterns. “Gui Gong-gong,” they called softly.

Wei Xiaobao saw there were about fifteen, sixteen Imperial Bodyguards, they were precisely the group of men who came to his window a moment ago. He remembered some of their names. “Zhang Dage, Zhao Dage,” he said, “The four eunuchs over there are colluding with the assassins, quickly arrest them, your meritorious service won’t be small.” He then proceeded by calling several other names, “He Dage, E Dage, please seal those four people’s mute acupoints first, or strike their chin first, don’t let them shout loudly and thus disturbing His Majesty.”

Hearing it was only four eunuchs, the Imperial Bodyguards thought nothing of it; they made hand signal and blew out the lanterns. Crouching down low, they slowly crept forward. Out of the four eunuchs, two were busy looking for Wei Xiaobao in the caves, while the other two were still bickering over the banknotes, nobody paid any attention to their surroundings. The Imperial Bodyguards closed in from all directions; with a low whistle everybody come out, three, four men rounded up one eunuch, very soon the four eunuchs were pinned to the ground. These Imperial Bodyguards did not have high level of martial art skill, nobody knew how to seal acupoints; some of them used qin na technique, some used their palms and fists, they all struck and dislodged the four eunuchs’ chins. The eunuchs tried to open their mouths, but were unable to make any noise. Not knowing what had happened, they were extremely frightened.

Wei Xiaobao pointed toward a building off to the side. “Drag them in and interrogate!” he shouted. The Imperial Bodyguards dragged the eunuchs on the ground toward the front hall of the building. Somebody lighted the lantern and raised it high. Wei Xiaobao sat in the middle of the hall, the Imperial Bodyguards dragged the eunuchs and made them kneel down in front of him.

These four eunuchs had received the Empress Dowager’s order to arrest Wei Xiaobao, how could they be willing to kneel down in front of him? The Imperial Bodyguards punched and kicked and made them kneel.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Just now the four of you were sneaky, what were you fighting about? Saying one-thousand taels is yours, two-thousand taels is mine? You also said something about the luck of the friends from the outside was not good, that a lot of them were killed by the dogs Imperial Bodyguards. Who are these ‘friends from the outside’? Why did you call Imperial Bodyguards the ‘dogs Imperial Bodyguards’?”

The Imperial Bodyguards were angry, they kicked these four people’s backs. In their belly the four eunuchs cried out, ‘Injustice!’ but how could they utter anything?

Wei Xiaobao continued, “I was following behind you, I heard one of you said, ‘It was me who lead the way, those two banknotes were given to me, how can I share it with you?’” While saying that, he pointed to the eunuch who caught two banknotes, and then he pointed to the eunuch who did not get anything and said, “You said, ‘We all did this important matter together, beheading or confiscation of property, the criminal charge is the same, why can’t you share it with me? That won’t do, you must share.’” And then he pointed to another eunuch and said, “You said, ‘Hao Xiongdi, you’d better give one of your two banknotes to Xiao Lao, otherwise he might reveal it, then we all cannot get the riches, that will be really bad.’ You did say that, didn’t you? What important matter did you do together? Why is there any criminal charge of beheading or confiscation of property? What banknotes have to be shared?”

The Imperial Bodyguards said, “They guided the assassins into the Palace, naturally the criminal charge is either beheading or confiscation of property. As for the banknotes to be shared, let’s just search their bodies.” As soon as they searched, immediately those four banknotes were found. Seeing such a huge amount of money on the banknotes, the Imperial Bodyguards were shouting and yelling. One ordinary eunuch’s monthly salary was only four to six taels of silver; suddenly each of them had a huge sum of money in their possession, how could the accusation be false?

The Imperial Bodyguard by the surname Zhao asked the eunuch who had two banknotes, “Are you surnamed Hao?” The eunuch nodded. The Imperial Bodyguard surnamed Zhao also asked the eunuch who did not have any banknote, “And you are surnamed Lao?” The eunuch’s countenance turned ghastly pale, but he also nodded.

Another Imperial Bodyguard said, “Alright, the assassins gave you this much money, and you led them in. You call them ‘friends from the outside’ and call us ‘dogs Imperial Bodyguards’. Your granny!” He lifted his foot and kicked as hard as he could, the eunuch surnamed Hao’s eyes were bulging, while his mouth repeatedly made a ‘heh, heh’ noise.

“Don’t be rude and hasty,” the Imperial Bodyguard surnamed Zhao said, “We must interrogate well.” Stooping down, he reached onto the eunuch surnamed Lao’s jaw and fixed his chin.

Wei Xiaobao shouted, “What you did was a big thing, who actually prompted you? How dare you! Quickly confess!”

“Injustice! Injustice!” the eunuch cried out, “It was the Empress Dowager who ordered us …”

Wei Xiaobao leaped forward and closed his mouth; “Nonsense!” he shouted, “You dare to say such thing? If you talk too much, I’ll kill you immediately.” With his right hand he drew the dagger, turning over the hilt, he knocked the crown of the eunuch’s head twice so that he fainted. Turning his head toward the Imperial Bodyguards, Wei Xiaobao said, “He said they received the order from the Empress Dowager. This … this … we are facing an imminent catastrophe.”

The Imperial Bodyguards’ countenances immediately changed, they said, “The Empress Dowager ordered them to let the assassins entering the Palace?” They all knew that the Emperor was not the Empress Dowager’s son, the Empress Dowager was always astute and firm, could it be that the Emperor had offended the Empress Dowager, and thus … and thus

there was a constant strife within the Palace gates? It was such a dreadful intrigue, and unexpectedly they were now being implicated, which was really a matter of life and death.

Wei Xiaobao asked another eunuch, “Was it really the Empress Dowager who sent you to do this thing? This a matter of great responsibility, you must not talk nonsense. Was it really the Empress Dowager?” The eunuch was unable to speak, he could only nod his head repeatedly.

“These several banknotes,” Wei Xiaobao asked again, “Did the Empress Dowager give you?” Three eunuchs shook their heads together. “Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You only received order, it was not your own idea at all, was it?” The three eunuchs repeatedly nodded their heads. “Do you want to live, or do you want to die?” Wei Xiaobao asked. This question was not easy to answer by simply nodding their heads. Of the three eunuchs, one nodded his head, one shook his head, another one nodded first, then shook his head, but thinking it was not the right answer, he nodded his head vigorously again.

“So you want to die?” Wei Xiaobao asked. The three men shook their heads. “So you want to live?” Wei Xiaobao asked again. The three men quickly nodded their heads.

Wei Xiaobao pulled away the two Imperial Bodyguard leaders, they walked outside the room. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “Zhang Dage, Zhao Dage, I am afraid our livelihood has just been taken away.”

The one surnamed Zhang was Zhang Kangnian, the one surnamed Zhao was Zhao Qixian, they were both Han people, and both were already scared out their wits. “What … what should we do?” they both asked.

“I don’t have the slightest idea,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Zhang Dage, Zhao Dage, do you have any idea?”

Zhang Kangnian said, “If this matter is known, I don’t know how big the uproar it will create, it would be best if we can cover it up.”

“That’s right,” Zhao Qixian said, “It would be better if we can just let these four eunuchs go, and everybody simply pretend it never happened.”

Zhang Kangnian said, “But I am afraid the human did not harm the tiger, the tiger has the intention to harm the human.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It is indeed fabulous if we can let them go, but we must tell them not to report anything to the Empress Dowager. Otherwise, in her anger the Empress Dowager would kill people to close their mouths; these four eunuchs would not live, but most likely the seventeen of us here would also turn into thirty four pieces.”

Zhang and Zhao, two people shivered. Zhang Kangnian raised his right palm and made a hacking motion. Wei Xiaobao looked at Zhao Qixian. Zhao Qixian nodded, he asked, “What about those four banknotes?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You may divide these six thousand taels among the brothers. I am scared out of my wits, I only hope that I won’t be implicated in this matter, I don’t want the money.”

Hearing there would be six thousand taels to be divided among them, which translated to more than three hundred taels per person, Zhang and Zhao’s hesitation was gone. They went back into the room, and whispered something to their four trusted aides’ ears. The four men nodded; they pulled the four eunuchs up and said, “Since you are Empress Dowager’s men, we’ll take you back!”

The four eunuchs were delighted, they left the room with the four Imperial Bodyguards following behind them. Suddenly they heard a series of blood-curdling screams from the outside, followed by an Imperial Bodyguard shouted, “Assassins, assassins!” Another Imperial Bodyguard cried out, “Aiyo, not good, the assassins killed four eunuchs.”

The four Imperial Bodyguards returned to the room, and reported to Wei Xiaobao, “Gui Gong-gong, there were assassins outside, they killed four Gong-gong.”

Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh and said, “It’s a pity, it’s a pity! The assassins ran away and could not be apprehended?”

An Imperial Bodyguard replied, “We can’t even see the assassins’ shadow.”

“Um, there’s nothing we can do then,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You’d better report this matter of four Gong-gong assassinations clearly to Dolong Zongguan!”

Suppressing their smile, the Imperial Bodyguards replied together, “Yes!” Wei Xiaobao could not hold his laugh anymore, he burst into loud laughter. The Imperial Bodyguards also broke into continuous laughter. “Brothers,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Congratulations on your newfound wealth. I will see you tomorrow.”

Wei Xiaobao hurriedly returned to his dwelling. When he reached the front door, a cold voice from the flowering shrub greeted him, “Xiao Guizi, how are you?”  Wei Xiaobao recognized it as the Empress Dowager’s voice; he was shocked. Turning around, he started to run, but after only five, six steps, a hand had touched his left shoulder, and his entire body went numb, as if a several-hundred-catty large boulder was pressing down on him that he was unable to take another step. Hastily he stooped down to withdraw the dagger, but his fingers had just touched the hilt when his right arm was hit by a palm. “Ah!” he could not bear not to scream.

He heard Empress Dowager’s chilly voice said, “Xiao Guizi, you are young, yet have really good ability. Without lifting a finger you managed to kill my four eunuchs and still planted some booty to shift the blame on someone else, you even dare to plant false evidence against me. Humph, humph …”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao groaned bitterly, he was desperate, thinking that the Empress Dowager hated him to the bone, so no matter how he plead with her, it would be useless. He could only gamble with his life, trying desperately to scare her so that he could gain a little time, and thus thought of an idea to escape. “Empress Dowager,” he said, “If you kill me now, it would be too late. It’s a pity, it’s a pity.”

The Empress Dowager coldly said, “Pity what?”

“You want to kill me to shut my mouth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s a pity you are one step too late. Just now what those Imperial Bodyguards have said, presumably … presumably you have heard everything.”

The Empress Dowager grimly said, “You said I sent those four useless eunuchs to lead the assassins into the Palace. Humph, why would I do that?”

“How would I know?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But most likely His Majesty would know.” In all honesty he already felt that he was ninety percent dead, so he might as well swindle her to the end.

The Empress Dowager was furious; with a cold laugh she said, “Once I send away my palm, your life will be gone immediately. Unavoidably it will be too easy for you, this little thief.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as you exert strength on your palm, you would kill Xiao Guizi. By tomorrow everybody would know, ‘How did Xiao Guizi die?’ ‘Naturally the Empress Dowager killed him.’ ‘Why did the Empress Dowager kill him?’ ‘Because Xiao Guizi accidentally expose Empress Dowager’s secret.’ ‘What secret?’ ‘This matter is complicated and not easy to explain succinctly; come, come, come, you come to my room, I’ll tell you everything. But you must never tell it to anybody else, this matter is … is of an utmost importance.’”

The Empress Dowager was so angry that her hand on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder did not stop trembling; after taking a slow breath she said, “At worst it’s only those dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards. After I killed you, I will order Rui Dong to arrest those dozen fellows and put them to death immediately, and then what else should I worry about?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. The Empress Dowager said, “Death is imminent, and you can still laughing.” Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager, you said you wanted Rui Dong to kill those people? He … he … ha ha …”

“He what?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He has already …” Originally he wanted to say, ‘he has already been killed by my blade,’ but suddenly he was hit upon an inspiration, he laughed ‘ha ha’ several more times.

The Empress Dowager asked again, “He has already what?”

“He has already listened to me, he won’t obey your orders anymore,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The Empress Dowager laughed coldly and said, “You are but a little demon yet you think you have that kind of ability, you can tell Deputy Chief Rui not to obey my orders anymore.”

“I am only a little eunuch,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally he is not afraid of me. But the one Deputy Chief Rui is afraid of is another person.”

With a trembling voice the Empress Dowager said, “He … he is afraid of His Majesty?”

“We all are servants,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally we are afraid of His Majesty; you can’t blame him for that, can you?”

“What else did you tell Rui Dong?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“I told him everything,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“He told him everything,” the Empress Dowager muttered to herself. After a half day of silence, she said, “He … where is he?”

“He went far away,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Very, very far away, and he won’t come back. Empress Dowager, if you want to see him, naturally that’s a good thing, very, very good thing; however, I am afraid it won’t be that easy.”

The Empress Dowager was startled. “Has he left the Palace?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao pushed the boat with the current. “Exactly,” he said, “He said that he was afraid of His Majesty, but he was also afraid of you. Pressed between the two, he felt it would be hard for him to conduct himself as a human being, he is also afraid he will have his own life to be worried about. Before facing the calamity of losing his life, it would be better for him to take the high road and fly away.”

“To fly high and run far[1],” the Empress Dowager corrected.

“That’s it, that’s it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager, how did you know? Have you heard him saying those words? He has flown high and run far!”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager snorted, “He doesn’t even want to be an officer anymore?” she asked, “Where is he going?”

“He … he is going …” he had another idea, “He said he is going to some Tai mountain, some Liu Tai, Qi Tai, or Ba Tai mountain.”

“Wu Tai[2] Mountain!” the Empress Dowager said.

“That’s right, that’s right! It’s Wutai Mountain,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager, you know everything.”

“What else did he say?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“He did not say much,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Just that … just that this matter that I entrusted to him, he will accomplish no matter what, he even put himself under a heavy oath, that even if he is to be chopped to pieces, he would definitely have his son and grandson to do it.”

“What matter you entrusted to him?” the Empress Dowager asked.

“Nothing much,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Deputy Chief Rui actually said that it’s not a big deal to him not being an officer, but he is to go on a journey without any traveling allowance, plus it is not a matter that can be accomplished in a year or half a year. Thereupon I gave him banknotes worth twenty thousand taels.”

The Empress Dowager said, “You suddenly become very wealthy, where did the money come from?”

“Those are gifts from others,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Prince Kang gave me some, Songgotu Daren gave me some, Wu Sangui’s son also gave me some.”

“The way you act is forthright, naturally Rui Dong is grateful and he is seeking to repay your kindness,” the Empress Dowager said, “Actually, what did you want him to do?”

“Your servant does not dare to speak,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Are you going to speak or not?” the Empress Dowager asked with a stern voice. She increased the pressure of her palm, which was resting on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out. The Empress Dowager relaxed her grip somewhat. “Quickly speak!” she shouted.

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Deputy Chief Rui promised me, if your servant is killed inside the Palace, he will immediately report everything clearly to His Majesty. He said he is going to write a memorial to the throne, which he will carry with him. He and your servant have agreed that every two months, your servant … your servant will …”

The Empress Dowager’s voice was trembling when she asked, “What is it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Every two months, your servant will go to the Heavenly Bridge, looking for someone … a man selling candied fruits[3]. I should ask him, ‘Do you have jadeite cornelian candied fruits?’ He will reply, ‘I do, it’s a hundred taels per skewer.’ I’ll say, ‘That expensive? Will you sell it to me for two hundred taels?’ He will say, ‘No, I will not. You haven’t returned to the heaven?’ And then I’ll say, ‘Go tell that old man then!’ And then he would report to the Deputy Chief Rui.” In this desperate situation, he did not have time to fabricate a fresh story, so he simply modified the code words taught by Chen Jinnan if he wanted to communicate with Xu Tianchuan.

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager snorted, “That’s the way the network of people and warriors of Jianghu communicate with each other, I believe a little thief like you won’t come up with stuff like that yourself. It was that coward Rui Dong who taught you that, wasn’t it?”

Wei Xiaobao faked a surprised look. “Uh!” he exclaimed, “How did you know it was Deputy Chief Rui who taught me? I get it, when he taught me that, you must be eavesdropping.”

He felt the Empress Dowager’s hand on his shoulder was trembling continuously. It was after a long time that she finally asked, “When the time comes and you do not go to find that candied fruits seller, what will happen then?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Deputy Chief Rui said that he will wait for ten more days. If I still do not show up, then that means your servant’s little life has gone. He … he will think of a way to report to His Majesty. By that time your servant is already dead, so there is nothing to be gained actually, but your servant is loyal to His Majesty, I want to warn His Majesty to be really careful, to requite any wrongdoings, to avenge any enmity, and to guard against others’ evil scheme, which are actually Deputy Chief Rui and your servant’s primary devotion anyway.”

“To requite any wrongdoings, to avenge any enmity,” the Empress Dowager muttered to herself, “That’s very good.”

“These days,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “When your servant is waiting on His Majesty, I have never revealed anything. As long as your servant is alive and well, I am serving His Majesty by his side, I will forever not let His Majesty know about this matter; why would I want to worry His Majesty?”

The Empress Dowager let out a breath and said, “You are actually a very good boy.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty treats your servant very well, the Empress Dowager also did not treat your servant badly. Your servant is loyal to the Empress Dowager. Who knows? Perhaps when the Empress Dowager is happy, she would reward your servant something; won’t everybody be good?”

“Hey, hey, hey,” the Empress Dowager let out a cold laugh, “You still want me to reward you? Your face indeed has a very thick skin.” Surprisingly, there was a hint of delight in her cold laugh; by the tone of her voice, she also seemed to be greatly relieved.

Hearing the change in her tone, Wei Xiaobao knew the tension was greatly relaxed; he said hurriedly, “What else does your servant covet? As long as Empress Dowager and His Majesty are safe and sound, everybody’s getting along politely and amiably, that will be great fortune for us as servants. Empress Dowager, I wish you, Senior, ten thousand good fortune and peace like gold, your servant will go to the Heavenly Bridge tomorrow, I’ll find that man, and will tell him to inform Deputy Chief Rui as soon as possible, telling him to guard his mouth like a closed bottle. Your servant … wants to bring him three thousand taels, I will say that it is a gift from the Empress Dowager.”

“Humph,” the Empress Dowager said, “This man did not do his job to the best of his ability, he abandoned his duty and fled away. He is lucky that I don’t chop off his head, and you want me to reward him?”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally your servant will have to foot the three thousand taels bill myself, how can the Empress Dowager still reward him some money?”

The Empress Dowager slowly released her grip on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, and she slowly asked, “Xiao Guizi, are you really loyal to me?”

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down on the ground and kowtowed repeatedly, saying, “Your servant is loyal to the Empress Dowager, and will enjoy countless benefits, if I am not loyal, let my melon-seed-shape head be removed. Although Xiao Guizi is muddleheaded, this head is still very important to me.”

The Empress Dowager nodded; she said, “Very good, very good, very good!” As she said one ‘very good’, her palm struck his back once, repeatedly she struck three times. Immediately Wei Xiaobao felt dizzy, and had a strong urge to vomit, his throat emitted continuous ‘eh eh eh’ noise. The Empress Dowager said, “Xiao Guizi that night Hai Dafu, the old thief said that in this world there is a martial art skill called ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’, which if trained to perfection, when it hit a body, it can make the bones in the entire body broken. This martial art skill is very difficult to learn, naturally I can’t do it. But since you are a very smart child, very intelligent child, I am thinking that trying three palm strikes on your back will be very interesting.”

The chi and blood in Wei Xiaobao’s chest and abdomen bubbled up, finally he could not repress it anymore. ‘Wah!’ he vomited a big mouthful of blood and water. He thought, “The old wh0re did not believe me, she is striking me with such a vicious blow.”

“You don’t have to be afraid,” the Empress Dowager said, “I am not going to kill you. If you died, who would go to the Bridge of Heaven to find that candied fruits seller? I only want to injure you a little bit, to show you that the way you handled this matter is not particularly clever.”

“Thank you for the Empress Dowager’s kindness,” Wei Xiaobao said. He stood up slowly, but his body swayed and he fell back sitting down, and vomited several mouthfuls of water and blood again. The Empress Dowager laughed aloud, turned around, and disappeared into a flowering shrub.

Wei Xiaobao struggled to stand up, then slowly circled toward the rear window of his room. He leaned against the window frame, gasping for breath for a few moments before finally crawling into the room over the window.

“Gui Dage,” Xiao Junzhu Mu Jianping asked in low voice, “Is that you?”

Wei Xiaobao was not in a good mood, “F*ck your mother,” he cursed, “It’s not me.”

Fang Yi interjected, “Xiao Junzhu asked you nicely, why did you curse her?”

Wei Xiaobao had just crawled over the window opening, he said, “I …” but before he could finish, ‘Bang!’ he fell from the window onto the floor, and was unable to get up again.

“Aiyo!” Fang Yi and Mu Jianping cried out together. “What … what happened?” they asked in alarm, “Are you injured?”

Wei Xiaobao’s fall was really not light, but hearing the deep concern in the voices of these two women, his mood improved considerably. He laughed aloud and gasped several times while thinking, “I don’t know if the Old Wh0re’s strike was ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ or not, maybe she has not trained it proficiently. Laozi is wearing the treasured vest, also my bones are hard; whatever it is she wanted to transform, I don’t think she can transform laozi’s bones …” He said, “My Good Meizi and Good Wife are both injured, if I don’t receive some injury, how can we be called ‘fortune we enjoy together, disaster we face together’?”

“Gui Dage,” Xiao Junzhu asked, “Where is your injury? Is it painful?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Good Meizi is conscientious, asking me if it is painful. Actually, it was very painful, but hearing your concern, suddenly it is not painful anymore. Tell me, isn’t it strange?”

Mu Jianping laughed and said, “You are cracking jokes again.”

Propping himself on the table and gasping for breath, Wei Xiaobao got up. He thought, “Right now I still have my old life, but it depends entirely on Deputy Chief Rui’s friendship, whether he is willing to support me or not. If the Old Wh0re knew Deputy Chief Rui is dead, Wei Xiaobao’s old life will not stay for more than an hour.” From the medicine chest he fetched the triangular greenish-blue with white dot medicine bottle. Hai Laogong’s medicine chest was full of medicinal powder and pills, but he only recognized this one bottle of ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’. Pulling Rui Dong’s corpse from underneath the bed, he took back the banknotes and the precious knick-knacks he stuffed into Rui Dong’s pocket earlier.

Mu Jianping said, “All along when you were away, this dead man was lying under our bed, the two of us were so scared that we might die ourselves.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If he scared the two of you the death, won’t this dead man have two bashful flower obstructing the moon female companions?”

“Pei!” Fang Yi spat, “Xiao Junzhu, don’t talk to him too much.”

“I have a magic trick,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Do you want to see it?”

“I don’t want to,” Fang Yi replied.

“If you don’t want to look, then close your eyes,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Fang Yi immediately closed her eyes. Following her example, Mu Jianping also closed her eyes, but immediately she opened her eyes again.

Wei Xiaobao took a small silver spoon from the medicine chest, he pulled the wooden cork from the bottle, and took a small amount of the ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’ with the silver spoon, and poured it on Rui Dong’s wound. A moment later, smoke started to rise from the wound, followed by strong odor. A few moments later, the wound emitted yellow liquid, while it rotted bigger and bigger. “Eek!” Mu Jianping cried out.

Fang Yi’s curiosity was piqued, she opened her eyes. As soon as she saw this scene, her eyes opened very wide, she did not want to close them anymore.

As the corpse came in contact with the yellow liquid, it started to rot. The more the yellow liquid was produced, the faster the corpse rotted.

Seeing the frightened expression on these two women, Wei Xiaobao said, “When one of you is being disobedient to me, I will sprinkle a little bit of this precious powder on your face, then you will immediately rot like this.”

“You … don’t scare people,” Mu Jianping said. With glaring eyes Fang Yi stared at him, but her frightened expression was difficult to conceal. With a grin Wei Xiaobao took a step forward, he shook the medicine bottle twice in front of her face before he put it back into his pocket.

Not too long afterwards, Rui Dong’s corpse had rotted into two sections. Wei Xiaobao picked up a chair, and using the legs of the chair he pushed the two sections of the corpse toward the yellow liquid. In less than an hour, everything had turned into yellow liquid. Wei Xiaobao let out a deep breath, thinking, “Even if the Old Wh0re sends a million troops to Wutai Mountain, they won’t find Rui Dong.” He went to the water jar to fetch a bucket of water to wash away the yellow liquid from the corpse. But only after several buckets of water, his body skewed, he fell onto the bed, and in utmost exhaustion he fell asleep immediately.

When he awoke, the sky was already bright. His chest felt nauseous, so he tried to vomit, but nothing came out. He heard Mu Jianping’s concerned voice asked, “Gui Dage, are you feeling better?”

Wei Xiaobao sat up, and only now did he realize that for the rest of the night he had been sleeping, fully clothed, by Fang and Mu, two women’s feet. Seeing it was not early morning anymore, he hastily jumped down from the bed and said, “I have to hurry to see the Emperor, you two just lie down and don’t move.” He wanted to crawl out from the window, but the pain on his lower back was so severe that he had no choice but open the front door and locked it behind him.

Wei Xiaobao only waited for less than an hour at the Upper Study Room, Kangxi returned from his morning court. He said with a laugh, “Xiao Guizi, I heard you killed an assassin last night.”

Wei Xiaobao paid his respect by saying, “May Your Majesty has good health.”

Kangxi said with a laugh, “Your luck was good, you get to fight with an assassin. I did not even see the assassin’s shadow. How was the martial art skill of the one you killed? What move did you use to kill him?”

Wei Xiaobao did not fight with any assassin at all, the Emperor’s martial art skill was not weak, he simply could not speak thoughtlessly. A bright idea suddenly occurred, he recalled the fight between Feng Jizhong and Bai Hanfeng at the Bai family residence on the Willow Tree Lane the other day; he said, “It was dark, I only entangled him blindly. Suddenly his left leg swept across to the right, his right arm swept across to the left …” He was narrating and giving demonstration at the same time.

Kangxi clapped his hands, “Exactly right, exactly right! It’s exactly this move!” he said.

Wei Xiaobao was startled; “Your Majesty,” he asked, “Do you know this move?”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Do you know the name of this move?”

Wei Xiaobao knew it was called the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, but he said, “Your servant does not know.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Let me tell you, so you’ll know: this move is called the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’!”

Wei Xiaobao was very amazed, he said, “This name is very pleasant to the ears!” He was startled not because of the name, but because unexpectedly Kangxi also knew.

Kangxi said, “When he attacked you using this move, how did you deal with it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “For a split second I panicked, I was unable to deal with it instantly, suddenly I recalled when you and I were having martial art competition, I remember you used an extremely clever move when you flung me down from the top of your head. I think you said that it was Wu Dang Pai’s martial art, ‘Immortal Crane Combing its Plume’.”

Kangxi was delighted, he called out, “You used my martial art to break his move ‘sweeping away a thousand army’?”

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “My martial art training is actually not too superior, fortunately the two of us have had martial art competition, we have fought a lot, so I remember more than half of the techniques you used. I remember how you attacked, how you parried …”

“Right, right,” Kangxi said, “This is ‘Purple Cloud Hand’ and ‘Snapping Plum Flower Hand’.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Since I am licking his boot, I might as well go all out!” He said, “I then copied your style, I hastily grabbed his hand, and I did grab it, it’s just that my strength was not enough, plus my position was not too accurate, he shook his left hand forcefully and thus managed to free himself.”

“What a pity, what a pity,” Kangxi said, “Let me teach you: you ought to grab here, in between the Hui Zong and Wai Guan [lit. reservoir assembly and outer pass, respectively] acupoints. No matter what, he wouldn’t be able to shake himself free.” While saying that, he grabbed the acupoints on Wei Xiaobao’s wrist.

Wei Xiaobao struggled as hard as he could, but as expected, he was unable to struggle free. He said, “If you taught me earlier, the following dangerous situation would not have happened.”

Kangxi let go of his hand, he asked with a laugh, “What happened next?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as he was free, he circled around behind me, and struck my back with both of his palms …”

“High mountain flowing water!” Kangxi called out.

“So this move is called ‘high mountain flowing water’?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “At that time I was so afraid I might be completely routed by him, in my desperation I used another one of your moves.”

“You are useless!” Kangxi said with a laugh, “How come when you fight with others you did not use the move your Shifu taught you, but always use my moves instead?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “During training, the moves taught by Shifu are clear and logical, but when one is in a life and death fight, how would one know which move will be effective? On the other hand, those moves of yours just jumped out from the bottom my heart. Your Majesty, at that time the edge of his palms had already hit my back, I was already scared out of my wits, how could I think about which move to use? Borrowing the momentum, I threw myself forward, then I turned around from the right side.”

“Very good!” Kangxi said, “That is the ‘circling wind step’!”

“Is that right?” Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as I evaded his attack, I seized the opportunity to draw my dagger and stabbed him backhandedly with the blade, while crying out, ‘Xiao Guizi, do you surrender now?’”

Kangxi laughed heartily. “Why did you call him ‘Xiao Guizi’?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant was desperate, I don’t know what came into me, unexpectedly it was your technique that I remembered completely. The backhand stab was originally your backhand palm strike, when it hit my back and you called out, ‘Xiao Guizi, do you surrender now?’. Without thinking I used that technique, while my mouth also called out. He grunted; without having enough time to call ‘surrender’, he died right away.”

Kangxi laughed. “Wonderful, wonderful!” he said, “My backhand palm strike is called ‘lone cloud coming out of mountain peak’. I did not think that you changed it into a sword move and with one strike you succeeded.” After starting martial art training, Kangxi had fought only with Wei Xiaobao, he had never had the satisfaction on being in a seriously desperate fight against an enemy. And now hearing that Wei Xiaobao had killed an enemy with his own hand, with the technique that he learned entirely from him, Kangxi was very happy and excited. He thought that if he personally went into action, he would be ten times more brilliant than Wei Xiaobao. He said, “Those assassins’ guts were not small, but their martial art skill is sloppy and ordinary.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The assassins’ martial art skill is not that bad, there are several Imperial Bodyguards in our Palace who suffer injury in their hands. On the whole it was Xiao Guizi’s good luck that he had once served Your Majesty practicing martial art for so long that I managed to steal your three moves two styles. Otherwise, Your Majesty, today you would have issued an imperial edict, comforting and aiding the bereaved family of loyal subject who died in the line of duty, little eunuch Xiao Guizi, by one thousand taels of fine silver.”

Kangxi laughed, “How can one thousand taels be enough?” he said, “At least ten thousand taels.” The two of them burst into loud laughter together.

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “Do you know who are these assassins?”

“I don’t know,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your Majesty recognizes their martial art style, most likely you already have a guess.”

“At first I still cannot ascertain,” Kangxi said, “But your demonstration just now has added another layer of proof.” He clapped his hands, ordering the eunuch on duty at the Upper Study Room to summon Songgotu and Dolong, two people.

Those two have been waiting outside the Study Room, as soon as they were summoned by the Emperor, they came in and kowtowed.

Dolong was a military officer of the Manchurian’s Plain White Banner, during the invasion inland he had established not a few of outstanding military service, his martial art ability was also very profound, but all along he was pushed aside by Oboi, so he was very dissatisfied with his position in the officialdom. It was only after Oboi’s demise recently that Kangxi promoted him to be the Imperial Bodyguards Chief, in charge of protecting the Qian Qing Gate[4], Zhonghe Palace, Taihe Palace[5], and other living quarters within the Palace. There were altogether six Imperial Bodyguard Chiefs inside the Palace, two from each banner: Plain Yellow, Plain White, and Bordered Yellow. But the ones with real power were the Imperial Bodyguard Chief and Deputy Chief in charge of the imperial living quarters. Dolong was newly appointed to this key job, suddenly assassins appeared in the Palace. He did not sleep the entire night, his heart was weighed down with anxiety, he did not know whether the Emperor and the Empress Dowager would place the blame on him.

Seeing his bloodshot eyes, Kangxi asked, “Have you interrogated clearly the captured assassins?”

Dolong said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: altogether there are three revolting thieves that are captured alive. Your servant has interrogated them separately. At first they rigidly refused to speak, afterwards they could not endure the torture and confessed. As expected … as expected they are Ping Xi Wang … Ping Xi Wang Wu Sangui’s subordinates.”

Kangxi nodded. “Hmm,” he said.

Dolong continued, “The weapons those revolting thieves left behind have the inscription ‘Ping Xi Wang Palace’ engraved on them. On the undergarments of the killed revolting thieves, there are also the markings of Ping Xi Wang. We have conclusive proof that the revolting thieves who came to invade and harass the Palace last night were Wu Sangui’s subordinates. Even if Wu Sangui did not personally send them, he … he simply cannot escape the responsibility.”

Kangxi asked Songgotu, “Have you also investigated clearly?”

Songgotu said, “Your servant has examined the revolting thieves’ weapons and undergarments. Dolong Zongguan has recorded the revolting thieves’ confession; that is indeed their confession.”

“Go get those weapons and undergarments, I want to see,” Kangxi said.

“Yes,” Dolong complied. He knew that although the Emperor was young, he was very astute, plus this matter carried great responsibility, hence he had already prepared various exhibit packages, which he had his trusted aides, the Imperial Bodyguards, to carry as they waited outside the Upper Study Room. He stepped out and returned immediately; untying the cloth wrapper, he put everything on the table, then immediately took several steps back. The Manchurian Qing had fought hundreds of battles all over China, from the founding Emperor to the current one, all practiced martial art, and thus did not avoid weapons. However, inside the Study Room, for a government official to expose any weapon in front of the Emperor was still a taboo. Dolong was simply being careful; hence the reason he withdrew first.

Kangxi stepped forward, he picked up the sabers and swords and looked at them closely. He saw the inscription ‘Regional Commander Office of Shanhai Pass of The Great Ming’ on the saber’s hilt. He smiled slightly and said, “Trying to hide it makes it more conspicuous, no doubt something is not right. By deliberately lighting the fire to play trick, they actually raised other people’s suspicion.” Turning to Songgotu, he said, “If Wu Sangui was to send assassins to the Palace to rebel against his superior, he would have had deep plans and distant thoughts, his plan and preparation would be comprehensive, he knew such sabers and swords cannot be used, why would they want to carry weapons with inscriptions? How could they not know these sabers and swords could be lost in the Palace?”

“Yes, yes,” Songgotu said, “Holiness has seen it clearly, your servant admires it extremely.”

Kangxi turned toward Wei Xiaobao and asked, “Xiao Guizi, tell me, what moves did the revolting thief that you killed used?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “He used the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, and also ‘high mountain flowing water’ moves.”

Kangxi asked Dolong, “What kind of martial art are they?”

Although Dolong was a noble official of the Manchus, he had an extensive knowledge of various martial arts of different schools and sects; these ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ were not unfamiliar moves to him, he replied, “Reporting to Your Majesty: those are apparently former Ming’s Mu Palace of Yunnan’s martial art.”

Kangxi clapped his hands, “That’s right, that’s right,” he said, “Dolong, your knowledge is extensive.”

Dolong was elated by this favor from his superior, a thread of smile appeared on his face as he kneeled down and kowtowed. “Thank you for Your Majesty’s compliment,” he said.

“Think about it carefully,” Kangxi said, “If Wu Sangui sent people to the Palace to commit assassination, he could not have chosen the time when his son is in Beijing. Assassins can come at any time, why did he have to pick the time when his son is having an audience with the Emperor? This is my first suspicion. Wu Sangui is adept at military strategy, the way he handled affairs is thorough. Sending these revolting thieves to do his work, the number of people was small, their martial art skill was not high, he should know it would be hard to succeed, why bother? This matter is incompatible with Wu Sangui’s character. This is my second suspicion. Moreover, even if he sent people to assassinate me, what would his benefit be? Could it be that he wanted to raise a rebellion? If he wanted to rebel, why did he send his son to Beijing? Isn’t that the same as deliberately sending his son so that we can behead him? This is my third suspicion.”

When Wei Xiaobao listened to Fang Yi’s explanation on how they were scheming on framing Wu Sangui, he felt that it was an excellent plan; however, as he listened to Kangxi’s analysis, he now felt that the scheme had flaws everywhere. He could not help but was full of admiration, and repeatedly nodded his head.

Songgotu said, “Your Majesty is an enlightened sage, your wisdom is not within reach of your servants.”

Kangxi continued, “Think about it again, if the assassins were not sent by Wu Sangui, but carried Ping Xi Wang Palace’s weapons, what was their real intention? Naturally it was to frame him. Wu Sangui has helped out Great Qing to pacify the land under the heaven, his merit was really big, the number of people who hate him is indeed not small. In the end, who prompted these revolting thieves? You must investigate it well.”

Songgotu and Dolong complied together. Dolong said, “Your Majesty is an enlightened sage. If Your Majesty did not give direction and straighten things out, your muddleheaded servant will fall into their trick, and unavoidably wronged good people.”

Kangxi said, “Wronged good people? Hey, hey!”

Seeing the Emperor did not have further instruction, they kowtowed and took their leave.

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “Can you guess how do I know those two moves ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’?”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping madly, he said, “I was wondering myself, how did Your Majesty know?”

Kangxi said, “Early in the morning today, I already summoned a lot of Imperial Bodyguards, I asked them about the fight with the assassins last night, trying to investigate the martial art the assassins used. There are unexpectedly some from the Mu Family of former Ming. Just think, for generations the Mu Family ruled in Yunnan, after my Great Qing’s dragon rose, we bestowed Yunnan to Wu Sangui, how could the Mu Family not angry? Much less the last of the Mu Family, Duke Mu Tianbo of Guizhou province, died under Wu Sangui’s hands. I asked my men to demonstrate Mu Family’s most formidable moves, among which were these two moves ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty truly able to prophecy with supernatural accuracy.” But in his heart he was anxious, “I am hiding two women of the Mu Family in my room, I wonder if he knew about it.”

Kangxi laughed and asked, “Xiao Guizi, do you want to be rich?”

Hearing the words ‘to be rich’, Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was immediately aroused, his anxiety gone. With a giggle he said, “Your Majesty did not order me to get rich, I do not dare to get rich; Your Majesty ordered me to get rich, Xiao Guizi did not dare not to get rich.”

“Alright,” Kangxi said with a laugh, “I order you to get rich! Take these sabers and swords, and the undergarments taken from the assassins, along with the assassins’ written confession, give everything to certain person, and then the great wealth will come to you.”

Wei Xiaobao was stunned, but he immediately understood. “Wu Yingxiong!” he called out.

Kangxi laughed, “You are so smart,” he said, “Just go!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This kid Wu Yingxiong’s luck is really good this time, his entire family’s lives has been rewarded by Your Majesty.”

“What are you going to say to him?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll say: The one surnamed Wu, our Majesty’s insight spans ten thousand li, whatever you, father and son, did in Yunnan, not a single one is missed by His Majesty. You did not revolt, His Majesty can see it clearly, but if, hey hey, you are having ‘three hearts and two intentions’, ‘two-faced, three knives’ [both idioms mean ‘double-cross/double dealing and back stabbing’], His Majesty will also see it clearly. Damn it, you, father and son, better be nice to me.”

Kangxi burst out in laughter, he said, “You are very clever; although you did not go to school, your words are coarse and vulgar, in the end you still capture my intention. Damn it, you, father and son, better be nice to me. Ha ha ha ha …”

Hearing the Emperor unexpectedly learned to say ‘damn it’, Wei Xiaobao could not refrain his heart from blooming. He also burst out in laughter. Taking the sabers, swords, and other objects, he left the Study Room and returned to his own room.

He had just about to unlock the door when he felt a stabbing pain on his back, his head spun and he felt he was about to vomit. Forcing himself to unlock the door, he sat on a chair, and continuously gasping for breath.

Mu Jianping said, “You … you are not feeling well?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Seeing your ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ appearance, I am feeling well already.”

Mu Jianping laughed and said, “My Shijie is the one with ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ appearance, I have a little turtle on my face, I am so ugly, extremely ugly.”

Hearing she was bantering with him, Wei Xiaobao’s mood brightened immediately; he laughed and said, “How can there be any little turtle on your face? Ah, I know, Good Meizi, your face is bright and smooth, it is fair and clear, almost like a mirror, therefore, it may have a little turtle on it.”

Mu Jianping was puzzled. “How come?” she asked.

“Who are you sleeping with?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Your face is like a mirror, so it reflected that person’s appearance. Naturally there will be a little turtle on your face.”

“Pei!” Fang Yi spat, “Just come over and look, then there will be a little turtle on Xiao Junzhu’s face.”

“If I come over and look,” Wei Xiaobao said, “A handsome and vigorous big master will appear on Good Meizi’s face.”

Fang and Mu, two women laughed. Fang Yi said, “Little turtle big master, which one is the big master?”

The three of them laughed together. “Hey,” Fang Yi said, “We must escape from the Palace, you need to think of a way.”

These days wherever he went, Wei Xiaobao was always flattered by other people, but as soon as he returned to his own room, he would be extremely lonely and bored. Now that he suddenly had Fang and Mu, two young women to accompany him, although there was the danger that someone else might find out any minute, in all honesty he hated to have them leave him; thereupon he said, “We need to think about it slowly, you are both injured, as soon as you take a step out of the door, you might be caught instantly.”

Fang Yi sighed gently, she asked, “Among our people who entered the Palace last night, I wonder how many have died, and how many were captured? Would you possibly know the names of the people who ran into misfortune?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “I don’t know,” he said, “But since you are concerned, I may be able to find out for you.”

“Thank you very much,” Fang Yi said in a low voice. Ever since he met her, Wei Xiaobao had never heard her speaking politely like this, he was very astonished in his heart.

Mu Jianping said, “Especially we wanted to ask whether a certain man surnamed Liu was able to escape safely or not.”

“Surnamed Liu?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “What’s his name?”

“He is our Liu Shige [martial (older) brother],” Mu Jianping replied, “He is called Liu Yizhou. He … he is my Shijie’s sweetheart, so … so …” Suddenly she squealed, since Fang Yi had tickled her armpit, she did not want her to continue.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, “Liu Yizhou, hmm, this … this might be bad.”

Fang Yi was unable to restrain her emotions; she asked hastily, “What is it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Isn’t he a tall, fair-complexion, approximately twenty some years, handsome young man? This man’s martial art skill is really good, is he the one?” Naturally he did not know what kind of person Liu Yizhou was, but thinking that this man was Fang Yi’s sweetheart, he must be a handsome young man. And since he was their older martial brother, he could not be wrong if he said the man’s martial art was really high.

Sure enough, Mu Jianping said, “That’s right, that’s right, it is he. Fang Shijie said that when she was wounded last night, she saw Liu Shige was being overthrown by three Imperial Bodyguards, one Imperial Bodyguard was holding him down, most likely he was captured. I wonder what happened to him?”

“Ay,” Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Turns out this Liu Shifu is Miss Fang’s sweetheart …” He did not stop shaking his head and heaving sighs.

Fang Yi showed concern on her face. “Gui Dage,” she said, “What happened to that Liu … Liu Shige?”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Stinky girl, you have never talked amiably with me, as soon as mentioning your Liu Shige, you call me Gui Dage. I’d better scare her a bit.” He heaved a deep sigh again and shook his head as he said, “What a pity, what a pity!”

Fang Yi was alarmed. “What happened?” she asked, “Is he … is he … is he injured, or … or is he dead?”

Wei Xiaobao burst into loud laughter; he said, “Laozi has never seen any Liu Yizhou or Liu Liangpi[6], how would I know if he is dead or still alive? You call me ‘Good husband’ three times, I’ll find out for you.”

When Fang Yi saw him shaking his head, heaving a sigh and repeatedly saying ‘What a pity’ earlier, she thought that the chance of Liu Yizhou being unfortunate was greater than the chance of him being fortunate. Hearing what Wei Xiaobao suddenly said, she was delighted in her heart, but with her mouth she spat and said, “You never said anything serious. Are you telling the truth, or was it a lie?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If this Liu Yizhou fell into my hands, humph, humph, I will tie him up first, and give him a good flogging, until his butts turned into four pieces. I’ll ask him what graceful words, flowery speech he used to win my wife’s heart. Afterwards I’ll raise my blade and chop down, whoosh …”

“You are going to kill him?” Mu Jianping asked.

“No,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will cut off his balls, turning him into a eunuch.”

Mu Jianping did not understand what he was saying. But Fang Yi understood, her face turned deep as she cursed, “Little smart-aleck, always talks rubbish!”

“Most likely your Liu Shige has been captured,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Whether I want him to be eunuch or not, as soon as I, Gui Gong-gong, say the word, not a few people will be willing to listen. Miss Fang, are you or are you not going to ask me to help?”

Fang Yi’s face blushed deep red again, she mumbled intelligibly. Mu Jianping said, “Gui Dage, if you are willing to help, you need not wait for others to ask you, then you are a true chivalrous hero.”

Wei Xiaobao waved his hand and said, “Wrong, wrong! I like it the most when people are asking me. The more intimate they call me ‘Good Husband’, ‘Dear Husband’, the more spirited I will do things to help them.”

After hesitating for half a day, Fang Yi said, “Gui Dage, Good Dage, I am asking you to help.”

With a straight face Wei Xiaobao said, “Must be ‘Husband’!”

“You are wrong here,” Mu Jianping said, “My Shijie is going to marry Liu Shige, Liu Shige is her husband, how can she call you ‘husband’?”

“That won’t do,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If she marries Liu Yizhou, laozi will drink vinegar, I will be seriously jealous.”

“Liu Shige is a very good man,” Mu Jianping said.

“The better he is, the more I will drink vinegar,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Aiyo! It’s so sour, it’s so sour! I drank too much vinegar, ha ha ha ha …!” Amidst his laughter, he picked up the bundle, went out of the room, and locked the door behind him. And then bringing along four eunuch attendants, he rode a horse to West Chang’an Street, where Wu Yingxiong stayed during his visit to Beijing.

On the horseback, his right hand did not stop punching the air while he yelled, “Bang bang bang, bang bang bang!” His attendants did not understand his meaning, and how could they know that this time Gui Gong-gong had received an imperial edict to get rich? Naturally the ‘bang, bang, bang’ was the sound of knocking onto Yunnan’s bamboo shoulder pole [See note 11, Chapter 10].

Hearing about the arrival of the Emperor’s personal envoy, Wu Yingxiong hurriedly went out to kowtow and greet, and then he took Wei Xiaobao to the main hall.

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty ordered me to take these stuffs to show to you. Xiao Wangye, do you have big guts or not?”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Humble officer’s guts is the smallest, I am easily terrified.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, and then he laughed and said, “You are easily frightened? What about staging a rebellion? You must be very bold!”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Humble officer does not understand Gong-gong too clearly, please explain it to me.” At Prince Kang’s mansion the previous night, he referred to himself as ‘zaixia’, today Wei Xiaobao came on imperial orders, and he saw how arrogant he was, he had a faint feeling that things did not look too good; thereupon he repeatedly called himself ‘humble officer’.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Altogether, how many assassins did you send to the Palace last night? His Majesty sent me here to ask.”

Wu Yingxiong had heard some news about some assassins creating disturbance in the Palace the previous night; hearing Wei Xiaobao suddenly said those words, his shock was indeed not small. Immediately he fell down on his knees and kowtowed again and again toward the courtyard, saying, “Your Majesty treats your humble servants, father and son, with kindness as heavy as the mountain, even if your humble servants, father and son, became oxen or horses, we still cannot repay Your Majesty’s grace. Your humble servants, Wu Sangui, Wu Yingxiong, father and son, are willing to give up our lives for Your Majesty, we have never been double-minded.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Stand up, stand up, it won’t be too late to kowtow later. Xiao Wangye, let me show you something.” While saying that, he untied the cloth wrapper and spread the contents on the table.

Wu Yingxiong stood up and looked at the weapons and clothes in the bundle; he could not restrain his hands from trembling, as with a trembling voice he said, “This … this … this …” Picking up the written confession, he read it clearly that the assassins were sent by Ping Xi Wang Wu Sangui, they entered the Palace to commit assassination, they were determined to kill the Tatars Emperor, and set up Wu Sangui as their master, and so on and so forth.

Despite his ability to adapt to the circumstances and his extensive knowledge, Wu Yingxiong could not help but was scared out of his wits. His knees buckled and he kneeled down again, this time in front of Wei Xiaobao. He said, “Gui … Gong … Gong … Gong, this … this is not true, humble officers, father and son, are being … framed by crafty scoundrels. I beseech Gong-gong to present a memorial to the Holiness, to … to … make clear …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “These weapons belonged to the revolting thieves who entered the Palace, who conspired against the law, who committed treason and heresy. The weapons actually bear the insignia of your precious palace.”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Humble officers, father and son, have a lot of personal enemies; this must be our enemies’ sinister plot.”

Wei Xiaobao was doubtful. “What you said has a thirty percent truth in it, but I don’t know if His Majesty would believe it or not.”

Wu Yingxiong said, “Gong-gong’s great kindness and great favor are clearly understood by humble officers, father and son. Humble officers, father and son’s bodies, family and lives are all due to Gong-gong’s graciousness.”

Xiao Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Stand up. Last night you sent me some gifts first, presumably you have anticipated early on that this matter would happen. Hey, hey, hey, hey.”

Actually, Wu Yingxiong was about to stand up, but hearing this serious accusation, he hastily kneeled down again and said, “As long as Gong-gong explains everything clearly to His Majesty on behalf of humble officers, father and son, His Majesty is an enlightened sage, he will definitely believe Gong-gong.”

“This matter is already made public,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Songgotu, Suo Daren, and Imperial Bodyguard Chief Dolong, Duo Daren, have already seen His Majesty to report the assassins’ written confession. You know, a matter as big as rebellion, who would have a gargantuan guts and try to hush it off? Explaining everything clearly to His Majesty on your behalf is not impossible. I have an excellent idea, although not extremely certain, most likely I can clear up the criminal charge against the two of you, father and son. It’s just that it will be troublesome.”

Wu Yingxiong was delighted, “We are relying on Gong-gong’s help,” he said.

“Please stand up, let’s talk,” Wei Xiaobao said. Wu Yingxiong stood up, but still repeatedly bowed with cupped fist.

“You really did not send those assassins?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Absolutely not!” Wu Yingxiong replied, “How can humble officer do something so heinous and unpardonable, a crime deserving ten thousand deaths?”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am considering you as a friend, so I believe you this time. If the future investigation proves that the assassins were sent by you, I will be buried alive, but I will make sure your whole family unto the third generation will accompany me.”

“Gong-gong, rest assured,” Wu Yingxiong said, “Please set your hundred and twenty hearts at ease, there is absolutely no such thing.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Then in your opinion, who sent these assassins?”

Wu Yingxiong hesitatingly said, “Humble officers, father and son, indeed have a lot of enemies, it is really hard to determine which one in this short moment.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You want me to clear up the charges against you in front of His Majesty, you must identify an enemy to take the responsibility, only then will His Majesty believe.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Yingxiong said, “For the Great Qing to subdue the land under heaven, the number of rebels my father exterminated is truly not just a few. The remnants of these rebel groups extremely hate my father; such as that rebel Li Chuang[7], followers of former Ming’s King Tang, King Gui, and the remnants of Mu Family of Yunnan. They all harbor a grudge against my father, they would do anything to rebel against the authority.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded; he said, “Those remnants of rebel Li Chuang, Mu Family, and so on, what kind of martial art do they have? Show me some moves, I will demonstrate it in front of His Majesty, I’ll say that I saw it with my own eyes last night, I’ll say that these are the moves that the assassins used. Genuine goods at fair prices, guaranteed it won’t be wrong.”

Wu Yingxiong was delighted, he hurriedly said, “Gong-gong’s idea is very clever. Humble officer only know one school of martial art, my understanding is truly limited, I must ask my subordinate to help me. Gong-gong, please sit down for a moment, humble officer will be back very soon.” Finished speaking, he bowed and cupped his fist again, then hurriedly went in.

A moment later, he brought someone into the hall, it was the leader of his attendants, Yang Yizhi, whom Wei Xiaobao helped to win seven hundred taels the previous night. Yang Yizhi stepped forward to pay his respect to Wei Xiaobao; his face showed deep anxiety, apparently Wu Yingxiong had told him the reason of Wei Xiaobao’s visit.

“Yang Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “No need to worry, during the martial art practice at Prince Kang’s mansion last night, you have created quite a stir, many civil and military ministers witnessed it with their own eyes, they cannot possibly say that you entered the Palace to commit murder. I can also bear witness on your behalf.”

“Yes, yes! Thank you very much Gong-gong,” Yang Yizhi said, “But I am afraid the crafty scoundrel will frame us up, they could say that Heir Apparent took us to Kang Wangye‘s Palace as an alibi, to have various civil and military ministers witnessed it with their own eyes, while surreptitiously sent another group of people to commit treason and heresy.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “We can’t not guard against people saying that,” he said.

Yang Yizhi said, “Heir Apparent said that Gong-gong is willing to uphold justice, to clear up the charges against us in front of His Majesty, truly you are out great benefactor. Ping Xi Wang’s enemies are indeed numerous, each one’s martial art is very mixed, only Mu Palace’s martial art style is unique, very easy to recognize.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Um, what a pity we can’t find Mu Palace’s people, otherwise we can have him to demonstrate several moves and styles that we can see.’

Yang Yizhi said, “Mu Family Fist and Mu Family Sword have been around in Yunnan for a long time, Xiaoren also remembers some. Let me demonstrate some moves, I am asking Gong-gong to give directions. The assassins entered the Palace carrying sabers and swords, how about Xiaoren demonstrate the ‘circling wind sword’?”

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “So you know Mu Family martial art, nothing better than that. I know nothing about sword technique, I won’t be able to learn it in a short period of time. I’d better learn from you the Mu Family Fist.”

“I do not dare,” Yang Yizhi replied, “Gong-gong has the power to capture Oboi, your name became famous over the four seas, your fist and kick skill must be very high, Xiaoren cannot reach that level, Gong-gong, please advice.” Finished speaking, he moved to the middle of the hall, and started demonstrating each move and each style slowly.

This particular Mu Family Fist was handed down from Mu Ying’s hands, generation to generation for over three hundred years. The successive generations were all martial art masters who, in turn, taught it to their disciples. It could be regarded as ‘thousand-time forged, hundred-time refined’ skill, its practitioners in Yunnan was indeed very numerous. Although Yang Yizhi was by no means an expert in this fist technique, his own martial art skill was very high, his knowledge extensive, as he demonstrated move by move, his bearing was very dignified, his style was exquisite.

Seeing the move ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, Wei Xiaobao praised, “This move is fabulous!” Afterwards he also saw the ‘high mountain flowing water’, and praised again, “This move is also amazing!” After Yang Yizhi finished demonstrating the Mu Family Fist set, Wei Xiaobao said, “Very good, very good! Yang Dage, your martial art is indeed very profound. Of those martial art masters at the Prince Kang’s mansion, ten of them against you alone, they still are not your match. In this short period of time, I won’t be able to learn too much, perhaps I can learn only one or two moves that I can demonstrate in front of His Majesty. When His Majesty will summon martial art experts within the Palace to identify, do you think they can recognize the origin of this martial art?” While saying that, he moved his hands and feet in imitation of the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ styles.

Yang Yizhi happily said, “Gong-gong’s comprehension of the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ is very deep, when those experts see, they will know immediately that it is Mu Family Fist technique. Gong-gong has an outstanding intelligence, you can do it just by looking at it one time. Our Wu Family will be saved.”

Wu Yingxiong repeatedly bowed with cupped fist and said, “Hundreds of Wu Family members depend on Gong-gong’s help to save our lives.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “There are gold and silver mountains in Wu Sangui’s household, I don’t need to negotiate the price with him.” Immediately he bowed to return the propriety and said, “We all are good friends. Xiao Wangye, why do you keep talking about benevolence and saving your lives, and thus considering me as an outsider? Besides, though I will try my best, I don’t know whether it will be effective.”

“Yes, yes!” Wu Yingxiong repeatedly said.

Wei Xiaobao rewrapped the bundle and tucked it on his side, he thought, “There’s no hurry for me to give this bundle to him.” Suddenly he remembered something; he said, “Xiao Wangye, His Majesty ordered me to ask you something: there is a government official from Yunnan who is coming to Beijing, a certain Lu Yifeng; do you know such person?”

Wu Yingxiong was startled; he thought, “Lu Yifeng is just a petty officer [orig. ‘mung bean and sesame seed petty officer’] who came to Beijing for an audience, but has not seen the Emperor yet, how did His Majesty know?” He said, “Lu Yifeng is a newly appointed county magistrate of Yunnan’s Qujing prefecture, presently he is in Beijing, waiting to kowtow to His Holiness.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty ordered me to ask you: a few days ago that Lu Yifeng bullied common people in a restaurant, he tolerated his wicked servants beating people, I wonder if his temperament has improved recently?”

To get Wu Sangui appointed him as the county magistrate of Qujing prefecture, Lu Yifeng had spent more than forty thousand taels in bribe, from which Wu Yingxiong had drawn his share of three thousand taels. Hearing what Wei Xiaobao said, he was shocked and busily said, “Humble officer will definitely give him a good lesson.” Turning his head to Yang Yizhi he said, “Go get that Lu Yifeng, give him fifty flogging first before we speak further.” To Wei Xiaobao he said, “Gong-gong, please report to His Majesty: humble officer Wu Sangui failed to understand people and has recommended unsuitable candidate, we ask His Majesty not to blame us. This Lu Yifeng will be deposed immediately, and forever will not be employed anymore; we ask that the Official of the Ministry of Appointments entrusts another able person.”

“Does he need to be punished that heavily?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Wu Yingxiong said, “This servant Lu Yifeng is audacious, he dared to usurp higher authority, his crime must not be tolerated indeed. Yizhi, beat him heavily for me.”

“Yes!” Yang Yizhi replied.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I am afraid the life of this official surnamed Lu cannot be guaranteed.” He said, “Xiongdi is going to return to the Palace to see His Majesty, it would be best if I can demonstrate these two moves ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ as close to the original as possible.” Finished speaking, he took his leave and headed toward the door.

Wu Yingxiong took out a large pouch from his sleeve pocket, which he presented with both hands and said, “Gui Gong-gong, your great kindness and great favor are not easy to repay, but I must show a little respect to Dolong Zongguan, Suo Daren, as well as numerous Imperial Bodyguards. Here is a tiny bit of my token of appreciation, I will have to bother Gui Gong-gong to pass it on to them on behalf of humble officer. If His Majesty asked, everybody will help put some good words for us, then the unjust treatment of the humble officers, father and son, will be wiped out.”

Wei Xiaobao received the gift, he said with a laugh, “You want me to do a favor for you? This errand is not difficult to do.” He had been living in the Palace for more than a year, and had learned enough of court eunuch’s lingo and Beijing accent, so that not even half a part of Yangzhou accent was left. If right now he pretended to be Xiao Guizi, perhaps the blind Hai Laogong would not easily discover his masquerade.

Wu Yingxiong and Yang Yizhi respectfully sent him off outside the mansion’s gate. On the sedan chair, Wei Xiaobao opened the pouch to take a look; unexpectedly it was banknotes worth a hundred thousand taels. “His granny,” he thought, “Laozi will take half as my share first,” and took fifty thousand taels and put it into his pocket. The remaining fifty thousand taels he returned to the pouch.

Wei Xiaobao went to the Upper Study Room first to see Kangxi, reporting that the mission had been accomplished, that Wu Yingxiong had been informed that the Emperor was an enlightened sage, that the injustice against father and son had been clarified, and that they were grateful beyond description.

Kangxi laughed and said, “We have given him a big scare this time.”

Wei Xiaobao also laughed, “Only scared him till he piss in his pants,” he said, “Your servant has repeatedly warned him that this kind of matter will most likely happen again in the future, I told him to pass on to Wu Sangui that to repay your kindness, he has to be completely loyal and devoted in rendering his service to Your Majesty.” Kangxi repeatedly nodded.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “After I thought that he is scared enough, I told him that the Emperor is able to see ten thousand li, that he examined the assassins’ martial art and found out that it belonged to the Mu Family rebel thieves. That Wu Yingxiong was startled but also happy, from his buttocks all the way to his eyes he was all smile, while did not stop praising Your Majesty’s sage-like brilliance.” Kangxi smile slightly.

From his pocket Wei Xiaobao took out a pouch and said, “He was exceedingly grateful that he took a lot of banknotes, fifty thousand taels altogether, saying that ten thousand taels is for me, the other forty thousand taels is to be distributed to the Imperial Bodyguards who have exerted themselves last night. Your Majesty, look, we are indeed getting rich.”

Those banknotes were of five-hundred-tael denomination, so it was a thick pack of one hundred notes. Kangxi laughed and said, “You are just a little kid, you won’t spend the entire ten thousand taels in your lifetime. The rest of the money you may distribute to the Imperial Bodyguards.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Although His Majesty is an enlightened sage, there is no way he would know that I, Wei Xiaobao, still have several hundred thousand taels at home.” He said, “Your Majesty, I am with you, what else I am lacking? Why would I need this money? Your servant will serve you with devotion for the rest of my life, you are going to look after me. It would be better for all this fifty thousand taels to be distributed to the Imperial Bodyguards. I will tell them that it’s a reward from Your Majesty, why should we let Wu Yingxiong buy the hearts of the people?” At first Kangxi did not want to pretend he was giving rewards while in fact he was not, but hearing the words ‘buy the hearts of the people’, he could not help but was moved.

Seeing Kangxi was hesitating without saying anything, Wei Xiaobao added, “Your Majesty, Wu Sangui sent his son to Beijing. The amount of gold and money he brings is indeed not small, as soon as he sees someone, he would give gifts, not necessarily with good intentions. From the ancient of times, all the gold, silver and jewels of the common people everywhere in your realm actually belong to you, the Emperor. But this old fellow Wu Sangui is extremely perverse, he treats Yunnan as his Wu family’s own.”

Kangxi nodded and said, “You are right. You may say that this monetary reward is from me.”

From the Upper Study Room, Wei Xiaobao went to the Imperial Bodyguards compound. To the Imperial Bodyguards Chief, Dolong he said, “Duo Zongguan, His Majesty instructed that those Imperial Bodyguards who set up meritorious deed in protecting the Palace last night are to be rewarded fifty thousand taels of silver.” Dolong was ecstatic, he quickly kneeled down to express his thanks for the reward. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Right now His Majesty is very happy, why don’t you go yourself and say thanks?” While saying that, he handed the fifty thousand taels banknotes to him.

Dolong followed Wei Xiaobao back to the Upper Study Room; he kneeled down and kowtowed to Kangxi and said, “Your Majesty bestowed the money, your servant Dolong and the Imperial Bodyguards thank you for the reward.” Kangxi laughed and nodded his head.

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty instructed: you must distribute these fifty thousand taels to those who have meritorious deed in killing the thieves, those who summoned up courage and determination and thus were wounded are to have a little bit more.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong said, “Your servant will obey the Emperor’s decree.”

Kangxi thought, “Not only is Xiao Guizi loyal, he is not greedy either, it’s really hard to come by. Unexpectedly he really gives away all fifty thousand taels to the Imperial Bodyguards, without taking a single qian for himself.”

Wei Xiaobao and Dolong withdrew together. Dolong pulled a stack of banknotes, ten thousand taels worth, and said with a laugh, “Gui Gong-gong, just consider this the Imperial Bodyguards’ filial piety, please take it and hand it over to the little Gong-gongs.”

“Aha, Duo Zongguan,” Wei Xiaobao said, “By saying that, you do not consider me as a friend. In all my life, I, Xiao Guizi, most revere friends who are exceptionally skilful in martial arts. If His Majesty bestowed these fifty thousand taels to the civil officials, if I, Xiao Guizi, did not take ten thousand taels, I would at least take eight thousand. But since he bestowed it to you, Duo Zongguan, even if you share with me one tael, I can’t take it. I consider you as my good friend, so it’s only proper that you also consider me as your good friend.”

Dolong laughed and said, “The Imperial Bodyguards brothers all say that among many Gong-gong with office duty in the Palace, Gui Gong-gong is the youngest, but reaching to friends the most, indeed it is a fully justified reputation.”

“Duo Zongguan, I am asking you to investigate for me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “See if among the rebel thieves that were captured last night there is a certain Liu Yizhou. If there is one, we may find out from him the ins and outs[8] of the rebel thieves.”

“Yes, yes!” Dolong promised, “The rebel thieves naturally will give us false names. I will investigate carefully.”

Wei Xiaobao went back to his residence. As he arrived at the front door, he saw a little eunuch from the imperial kitchen was waiting by the pathway. The little eunuch came up to meet him and said in a low voice, “Gui Gong-gong, that Boss Qian is delivering another pig, this time it is called something like ‘bird’s nest ginseng pig’, he says he wants to show filial respect to Gong-gong. Right now he is waiting for Gong-gong’s arrival at the imperial kitchen.”

Wei Xiaobao frowned; he thought, “That Fu Ling Hua Diao pig [see end of Chapter 9, beginning of Chapter 10] has not been properly taken care of, and now he is sending another ‘bird’s nest ginseng pig’. You think here in the Palace is a pig pen?” But since that man had already come, he could not think of a way to send him away.

Arriving at the imperial kitchen, Wei Xiaobao saw Boss Qian’s beaming face as he said, “Gui Gong-gong, Xiao Ren’s Fu Ling Hua Diao pig has really done you unusually good, after Gui Gong-gong ate it, look, your spirit is clear and your chi bright, your complexion is ruddy. Xiaoren appreciates it that Gong-gong took care of it, so I send you a ‘bird’s nest ginseng pig’.” While saying that, he pointed toward a live pig by his side. This pig was covered in white hair; it looked very beautiful as it constantly moving in a circle inside the bamboo cage. Wei Xiaobao did not know what kind of trick Boss Qian was playing, so he only nodded.

Boss Qian came closer and held Wei Xiaobao’s hand as he said, “Tsk, tsk tsk! After eating the Fu Ling Hua Diao pork, Gui Gong-gong’s pulse is strong, it is substantially different from before.” Wei Xiaobao felt a piece of paper in his hand, but since there were too many people around the imperial kitchen, he felt it was inconvenience to ask.

Boss Qian said, “This bird’s nest ginseng pig’s feeding is not the same, please tell Gong-gong’s subordinates to feed distiller’s grain for ten days. Ten days later, Xiaoren will personally come over to prepare it and will have Gong-gong enjoy it.”

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows and said, “That Fu Ling Hua Diao pork has raised my internal heat, it is unbearably uncomfortable. Whatever ginseng pork, bird’s nest pork, Boss Qian, you’d better enjoy it yourself, I don’t want to eat it.”

Boss Qian laughed heartily and said, “This is just Xiaoren’s way of showing a little bit of appreciation. Next time I won’t dare to bother Gong-gong anymore.” He then said several good wishes and took his leave.

Wei Xiaobao thought there must be some characters written on that piece of paper, but he could not recognize any character even if it was the size of a watermelon. He instructed the kitchen manager to take care of the pig well, and then returned to his residence alone, thinking, “This Boss Qian is really smart. The first time he concealed a living person inside a dead pig and carried it into the Palace. The second time, if he delivered another dead pig into the Palace, unavoidably he will draw suspicions; therefore, he delivered a live pig and have it fed in the imperial kitchen. There is no pattern here, even if someone was originally suspicious, the suspicion would have gone. That’s right, in using trick to scam people, not only I have to give it thorough thought in advance, subsequently, I also have to patch any hole.” He also thought, “I have no choice but to ask Xiao Junzhu to have a look at this note. Damn it, why didn’t he simply tell me what he wants? Why did he have to write a damn note?”

As he entered his room, Mu Jianping said, “Gui Dage, there was someone on the door, he was probably delivering the meal. Seeing the door was locked, he left without knocking.”

“How did you know he was delivering our meal?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Hey, you must be smelling the delicious aroma and were very hungry, weren’t you? Why didn’t you eat the cakes and the pastries?”

Mu Jianping giggled and said, “We are really impolite, we already ate long ago.”

Fang Yi said, “Gui … Gui Dage, have you …” Speaking to this point, she stammered slightly.

“I have not found out anything about your Liu Shige,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace said that they did not capture anybody by the surnamed of Liu.”

“Thank you very much,” Fang Yi said in low voice, “I wonder if he has been killed by the Tatars. Besides, even if Liu Shige was captured, he would not say that his surname was Liu. We have agreed that he would pretend to have the surname of Xia. Wu Sangui’s son-in-law is surnamed Xia, Liu Shige could confess that that surnamed Xia man was his uncle.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Won’t that make you Wu Sangui’s relative?”

“He was only pretending,” Xiao Junzhu hastily said.

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “But even if Miss Fang wanted to be the wife of Wu Sangui’s grandnephew, she could not. Let’s say that your Liu Shige has escaped out of the Palace, outside he is thinking about you, inside the Palace you are thinking about him. For the rest of your lives you would think about him, he would think about you, a pair of passionate older brother and older sister won’t be able to see each other, wouldn’t it be hard to bear?”

Fang Yi’s face turned red as she said, “How can I live in the Palace for the rest of my life?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Once the young women entered the Palace, where can they see the day they can go out? A bashful flower obstructing the moon elder sister like you, for example, as soon as I, Xiao Guizi, saw you, I want to take you as my wife. If the Emperor saw you, it’s impossible if he did not bestow you the title Huang Hou Niang-niang [empress/imperial consort]. Miss Fang, I advise you to be the Huang Hou Niang-niang!”

Fang Yi anxiously said, “I don’t want to talk too much to you. Everything you say always irritates me, you always tease me and make me worry.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. He handed over the note in his hand to Mu Jianping. “Xiao Junzhu,” he said, “Can you read this note?”

Mu Jianping took the note and read, “Gaosheng Teahouse, Legend of Heroic Deeds. What is this?”

Wei Xiaobao understood immediately, “Tian Di Hui people want to see me, they ask me to go to the teahouse to meet them.” He laughed and said, “It’s useless for you to be the Mu Family’s later generation, you don’t even know the ‘Legend of Heroic Deeds’?”

“Of course I know the Legend of Heroic Deeds,” Mu Jianping said, “That is the story of Taizu Huangdi’s dragon rose as he founded the country.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There is a chapter called ‘Mu Wangye Subdued Yunnan with Three Arrows, Gui Gong-gong embraces beautiful women with his pair of hands’, have you heard about it?”

Mu Jianping spat and said, “Our Qian Ning[9] Wangyeye pacified Yunnan, naturally it is recorded in the Legend of Heroic Deeds, but where did the Gui Gong-gong’s pair of hands … pair of hands come from?”

With a straight face Wei Xiaobao said, “Are you saying that there is no chapter about ‘Gui Gong-gong embraces beautiful women with his pair of hands’?”

“Of course not,” Mu Jianping said, “You are making it up.”

“Let’s have a bet,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What if there is? What if there is not?”

“I have heard the Legend of Heroic Deeds until I am very familiar with the stories,” Mu Jianping said, “I am sure there is not. You can bet anything. Fang Shijie, there is no such thing as the story he mentioned, is there?”

Fang Yi had not answered, Wei Xiaobao already leaped into the bed and crawled into the quilt, with shoes and all, and then he lay down in between the two women. With his left hand he embraced Fang Yi’s neck, with his right hand he embraced Mu Jianping’s waist. He said, “I say, there is!”

“Ah!” Fang Yi and Mu Jianping cried out in alarm, but it was too late for them to evade, Wei Xiaobao had already held them firmly in his arms. Mu Jianping stretched out her right hand and pushed him as hard as she could. Wei Xiaobao seized this opportunity to lean sideways and stole a kiss on Fang Yi’s mouth. “Smells good!” he praised.

Fang Yi was about to struggle, but as soon as she moved ever so slightly, she felt a shot of severe pain from the wound on the pit of her stomach and her broken rib. With the back of her left hand she slapped Wei Xiaobao’s face. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Murder of your own husband! Murder of your own husband!” Rolling down, he jumped out of the quilt, with Mu Jianping still in his arm. He also kissed her and praised, “Smells as good!” Laughing heartily, he snatched a bundle of his clothes, dashed out of the room, and locked the door behind him.

[1] ‘Gao Fei Yuan Zhou’ (高飞远走), Wei Xiaobao said, ‘Gao Zhou Yuan Fei’ (高走远飞).

[2] Wu, Liu, Qi and Ba are five, six, seven and eight, respectively. See Chapter 6.

[3] Orig. ‘bing tang hu lu’ – a common Chinese snack; candied fruits dipped in sugar syrup, usually on bamboo skewers.

[4] ‘Qian’ is one of the Eight Trigrams (Ba Gua), ‘Qing’ refers to either ‘Qing’ Dynasty, or simply ‘clear’ or ‘pure’.

Courtesy of Ace High: It’s better known as Gate of Heavenly Purity, which connects to the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the residence of the Emperor, by a raised walkway to its north. It is also the main gate of the Inner Court. In front of the gate, there is a courtyard which is 200 meters long from east to west and is 30 meters from north to south. This courtyard both separates the Outer Court and the Inner Court and integrates them.

[5] Zhonghe means ‘neutralize/counteract’, Taihe is the central pavilion of the Forbidden City, commonly called ‘Hall of Supreme Harmony’ in English.

Courtesy of Ace High: Hall of Complete Harmony (中和殿; Zhōng Hé Diàn) is used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies. It is one of the three halls of the Outer Court and the smallest of the three.

Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿; Tài Hé Diàn) is the largest hall within the Forbidden Palace. In the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held court here to discuss affairs of state. During the Qing Dynasty, Emperors held court far more frequently. As a result, the location was changed to the Inner Court, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings.

[6] Yizhou and Liangpi mean ‘one boat’ and ‘two farts’, respectively.

[7] His real name was Li Zicheng, a real historical character, the leader of peasant rebellion at the end of the Ming Dynasty, he called himself ‘The Roaming King’ (Chuang Wang).

[8] Orig. ‘mountain has a connecting pulse throughout like a dragon’, an idiom from fengshui, meaning the sequence of events, cause and effects, the whys and wherefores, where something comes from and where it goes … you get the idea.

[9] Guizhou and Ningxia, respectively. Here Mu Jianping said Wang Yeye (grandfather king).

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