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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 13


Chapter 13
Overturning family and heaven by borrowed hand, seizing prosperity and decline, replacing the old with the new.

Wei Xiaobao’s residence was west of Qian Qing Gate [Gate of Heavenly Purity], south of the southern warehouse, to the side of the Imperial Catering Department. Heading north, winding around the Yang Xin Hall [Hall of Mental Cultivation], Wei Xiaobao turned abruptly to the west, walking passed Western Three Places, Yang Hua [Magnificent Nurturing(?)] Gate, Shou An [Longevity Peace] Gate, to the north passed Shou An Palace, by the side of Ying Hua [Heroic Splendor] Palace Hall, turning east passing Xi Tie [Western Iron] Gate, and then turning north again out of Shen Wu Gate [Gate of Divine Might]. Shen Wu Gate was the Imperial Palace’s back door, as he walked out the Shen Wu Gate, he was practically out of the Imperial Palace, and he went straight away to the Gao Sheng Teahouse.

As soon as he sat down, the teahouse proprietor served him tea. He saw Gao Yanchao was slowly walking in and signaling him with his eyes. Wei Xiaobao nodded. When he saw Gao Yanchao was leaving the teahouse, he took several sips of the tea, then threw a coin on the table, while saying, “The story today is not worth hearing.” And then he leisurely strolled out. He saw Gao Yanchao was waiting on a street corner. Walking several steps further, he saw two sedan chairs.

Gao Yanchao let Wei Xiaobao sit on one, while he walked behind the sedan chairs for a short section of the street. After making sure that nobody followed them, he climbed into the other sedan chair.

The porters ran as fast as flying. After travelling for the time needed to cook rice, they stopped. Wei Xiaobao noticed that the sedan chairs stopped in front of a tiny courtyard house. He followed Gao Yanchao in. As soon as they entered the main gate, he saw Tian Di Hui brothers came out to welcome him by bowing and cupping their fists. This time Li Lishi, Guan Anji, Qi Biaoqing and the others had all rushed in from Tianjin, Baoding, and other places. In addition, Fan Gang, Feng Jizhong, Priest Xuanzhen, as well as Boss Qian were also present.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and asked, “Qian Laoban [Boss Qian/Money], what is your real honored surname and great given name?”

“I don’t dare,” Boss Qian replied, “Subordinate’s real surname is Qian, my real name is Laoben, ‘ben’ from ‘ben lai’ [originally/initial/at first], not ‘ban’ from Laoban [boss], the idea is that doing business will eclipse the initial capital.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily and said, “You are very astute, if you are really doing business, you will turn other people’s initial capital to be your profit.”

Qian Laoben smiled and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, you praise me too much!”

They let Wei Xiaobao walked ahead to the main hall and be seated. Guan Anji was most impatient, he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, please look at this.” While saying that, he handed over a large gilded red card, filled with several lines of characters written in black ink.

Wei Xiaobao did not take it; he said, “These characters, they recognize me, but I do not have any friendship with them, so this is the first time that we meet each other, I do not recognize them.”

Qian Laoben said, “Wei Xiangzhu, it is an invitation, we are invited to have dinner.”

“That’s very good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Who has done us the honor?”

“The name on the card is Mu Jiansheng,” Qian Laoben said.

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “Mu Jiansheng?” he asked.

Qian Laoben said, “He is the Xiao Gongye [young duke] of the Mu Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “Fu Ling Hua Diao pig’s Gege,” he said.

“Precisely,” Qian Laoben said.

“Is he inviting all of us to come?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Qian Laoben said, “On the invitation, he is writing very politely: inviting Green Wood Hall’s Wei Xiangzhu, to lead Tian Di Hui’s heroes to come for a banquet. It is tonight, at the South Bean Sprout Lane of Chaoyangmen district in Beijing.”

“This time it’s not at the Willow Tree Lane?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“That’s right,” Qian Laoben replied, “Doing business in Beijing, it’s only right to change the lodging place frequently.”

“What do you think he wants?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Do you think they would put damn drug in the food and drink?”

Li Lishi said, “It is reasonable to say that, one: Mu Palace has such a big reputation in Jianghu, two: with his capacity as the young duke, Mu Jiansheng is a great personality who stand and sit at the same level as our Zongduozhu, they could not possibly resort to this kind of third-rate shady business. However, there is no such thing as a good meeting, there is no such thing as a good banquet; there is no harm in guarding against Wei Xiangzhu’s concern.”

“Shall we go to the feast or not?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Humph, humph, Xuanwei ham, Guo Qiao rice noodle, Yunnan’s steamed chicken, those are enough to make a festive occasion.”

Everybody else looked at each other in dismay, nobody made any noise. After a long while, Guan Anji said, “We all want to ask Wei Xiangzhu to decide.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Nice wine, good food, everybody will have some in your tummy tonight. If you want just average, peaceful dinner, let me play the host, we can go to a restaurant. After dinner, we can play Pai Gow and gamble, or call on some pretty girls, Xiongdi will foot all the bills. But if you all want to save my money, then we all go to harass that man surnamed Mu.” He sounded so magnanimous, but actually he was being very sly; whether they were going or not, he did not make the decision.

Guan Anji said, “Wei Xiangzhu is inviting the brothers to eat, drink and be merry, indeed that is the happiest thing, but if we did not answer the surnamed Mu’s invitation, Tian Di Hui’s reputation will unavoidably take a dip.”

“So you say we should go?” Wei Xiaobao asked, his gaze swept Li Lishi, Fan Gang, Qi Biaoqing, Xuanzhen, Feng Jizhong, Qian Laoben, and Gao Yanchao’s faces. He saw everybody was slowly nodding his head.

Wei Xiaobao said, “If everybody say we should go, then we’ll go eat his food, drink his wine. We’ll counter soldiers with arms, counter water with an earth weir. When the tea is served, we’ll hold out our hands, when the rice is served, we open our mouths; but what if poison is being served? We’ll simply swallow and take the damn poison into our bellies. It is called ‘hero does not fear death, those who fear death are not heroes’.”

Li Lishi said, “We’ll have to be careful, always on the lookout for some clues. Let’s discuss it over, some of us will drink tea, some won’t drink, some will drink wine, some won’t drink, some won’t eat meat, some won’t eat fish. Even if they put poison, we won’t let them catch everything in one net. But if everybody did not do anything, we would be their laughingstock.”

After reaching decision, they chatted for a while. When it was close to the ninth hour [3-5pm], Wei Xiaobao took off his eunuch uniform and took the appearance of a pampered son of an official. He rode on a sedan chair, with everybody else crowded around him as they walked toward the South Bean Sprout Lane. Wei Xiaobao mused, “In the Palace, day in and day out I am always very scared and on edge, afraid that the old wh0re will come to kill me. How can it be compared to the free and unfettered, happy life of the Xiangzhu of the Green Wood Hall? It’s just that Shifu ordered me to be a spy in the Palace. If I get out on my own initiative, I might not be the Xiangzhu anymore, then I don’t know if I can keep my little life. I guess we’ll just have to ride the donkey and read the songbook; we’ll wait and see!”

The South Bean Sprout Lane was less than two li away. The sedan chair had just stopped, they already heard the beating of drums and the sound of bamboo flute. Wei Xiaobao got out of the sedan chair and heard the sound of suona[1]; he thought, “Are they having a wedding? It’s so lively.”

He saw the main gate of a large house with a courtyard opened, a dozen or so men in uniform stood outside the door to welcome them. A young man of about twenty five or twenty six stood on the front, his stature was tall and slim, with exuberant heroic spirit. The young man said, “Zaixia Mu Jiansheng, respectfully welcome Wei Xiangzhu’s honorable self.”

These days Wei Xiaobao had made friends with royalties, nobilities and high-ranking officials, so he was accustomed with this kind of etiquette and the respectful aspect of greeting each other. As the saying goes, “Residence alters the manner, nurture alters the body.” He was with the Emperor every day, he constantly met princes, nobles, high officials, and generals, they were almost nothing to him; as a result, although he was young, he had already automatically acquired dignified air. Although Mu Jiansheng had quite a reputation, he could not be compared to people like Prince Kang or Wu Yingxiong. Presently he cupped his hand in salute and said, “Xiao Gongye is overly courteous, Zaixia does not dare to accept.” Seizing up Mu Jiansheng’s appearance, Wei Xiaobao noticed his countenance was rather dark; in general, there was a faint resemblance between his facial features and those of Mu Jianping’s.

Mu Jiansheng was already aware that Tian Di Hui’s leader in Beijing, Wei Xiangzhu, was a child, he also heard from Bai Hanfeng that this child’s martial art skill was very low, and that he was a smooth talker, in short, a little rascal. Presumably he could be a Xiangzhu only because of his Shifu, Chen Jinnan’s support. But presently he saw Wei Xiaobao’s calm demeanor, his unrestrained and indifferent manner, and thought, “Perhaps this child has a little bit of martial art school background after all.” Immediately he led them all in.

The chairs in the hall were covered in red satin sheath, with brocade cushions on them. Each one was assigned his respective side, as the host and the guest. ‘Divine Physician Hermit’ Su Gang, Bai Hanfeng, and about a dozen or so men stood behind Mu Jiansheng with hands hanging by their sides.

Mu Jiansheng and Li Lishi, Guan Anji and the others introduced themselves one by one, they all exchanged conventional pleasantries like ‘I have been looking forward to meeting you for a long time’ and so on and so forth. Li Lishi and the others thought, “This Xiao Gongye of the Mu Family does not show arrogance at all, the way he speaks actually follows Jianghu’s customs.”

The servants served fragrant tea, the musicians by the hall entrance started to play again; it was a grand ceremonious courtesy in welcoming honored guests. Amid the sound of music, Mu Jiansheng gave his order, “Let the banquet begin!” while inviting everybody to enter the inner hall. His subordinates promptly closed the hall door behind them.

There was a large Eight-Immortal table[2] in the middle, draped in embroidered table cloth, with two smaller tables on the left and right. Although the utensils on the table were not as grand and extravagant as the ones in Prince Kang’s mansion, they were quite exquisite. Mu Jiansheng bowed slightly and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, please take the seat of honor.”

Looking at the current situation, Wei Xiaobao knew this seat of honor was prepared especially for him. “This time,” he said, “We have no choice but to be impolite.” Mu Jiansheng took the seat on his right-hand side as the host.

After everybody was seated, Mu Jiansheng said, “Please invite Shifu.”

Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng went into the inner chamber and reappeared with an old man. Mu Jiansheng stood up to welcome him and said, “Shifu, Wei Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall honored us with his presence today, he truly gives us a lot of face.” Turning toward Wei Xiaobao, he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, this is Liu Shifu, the benevolent master under whom Zaixia has studied.”

Wei Xiaobao stood up, cupping his fist across his chest he said, “It’s an honor to meet you at last.” This old man was big and tall, his face ruddy, with long white beard hanging from his face; he must be over seventy years old, but he was full of vigor, his eyes were shining lively.

The old man’s gaze swept on Wei Xiaobao once, then he laughed and said, “Recently Tian Di Hui’s reputation is growing …” His voice was really loud, the words he just said sounded like an ordinary person shouting, “… it’s because a large number of heroic people with talent come forth. Wei Xiangzhu is this young, truly a rare genius of the Wulin world.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am young, that is true, but am not heroic person with talent, let alone a genius; in fact, I am only a fool. That day my hand was twisted by Bai Shifu, I was unable to move a single step, even the cry ‘Mommy!’ almost came out. Zaixia’s martial art is really poor and extremely ordinary. Ha ha, it’s laughable! Laughable, ha ha!”

The others were stunned to hear this, their countenances changed. Bai Hanfeng’s expression was even queerer.

The old man burst out laughing, and then said, “Wei Xiangzhu is frank, it is indeed a hero’s true quality. Lao Fu [the old man] may have 30% admiration on you.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “30% admiration is a bit too much. 10% or even 5%, as long as you don’t regard Zaixia as hopeless little beggar, little acrobat or little monkey, that is enough.”

The old man burst out in laughter again. He said, “Wei Xiangzhu loves to crack jokes.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “Senior’s prestige has shaken the southern sky, in Wulin you are known as Iron Back Blue Dragon, Old Hero Liu, is that right?”

The old man laughed and said, “That’s right, Priest Xuanzhen actually know the old man’s lowly name.”

Priest Xuanzhen’s heart shivered, “I haven’t introduced myself, he has already known my name. The Mu Family this time is very well-prepared. The Iron Back Blue Dragon Liu Dahong has made his name a long time ago, I heard even Mu Tianbo also had deep respect to him. When the Qing army attacked Yunnan, with all his might Liu Dahong rescued the children of Mu Family, and so Mu Jiansheng became the first disciple whom he personally teaches, and other than Mu Jiansheng himself, he became Mu Palace’s number one character.” Thereupon Priest Xuanzhen bowed and said, “In those days Old Hero Liu put the three tyrants of Nujiang[3] to their deaths and killed Qing troops at Tengchong, your chivalry spread out all over the world. When the younger generation and young men mentioned the Old Hero, nobody is not awed with respect.”

Liu Dahong said, “Hey, hey, that was the matter of many years ago, why do you have to mention it?” But his countenance looked very pleased.

“Shifu,” Mu Jiansheng said, “You, Senior, accompany Wei Xiangzhu over here.”

“Alright!” Liu Dahong said, and sat down next to Wei Xiaobao.

The side facing outward of this Eight-Immortal table was empty. On the head position were Wei Xiaobao and Liu Dahong, on the left were Li Lishi and Guan Anji, on the right were Mu Jiansheng and an empty seat of honor. The Tian Di Hui warriors were wondering in their hearts, “Which formidable character your Mu Palace is going to invite next?”

They heard Mu Jiansheng said, “Help Xu Shifu out to sit, let these good friends see him and set their hearts at ease.”

“Yes!” Su Gang responded. He went in and returned supporting someone in his hand.

As soon as Li Lishi and the others saw the man, they were pleasantly surprised, and called out together, “Xu San Ge [Third Older Brother]!” This man had a bent back, he was none other than the Eight-Armed Ape Xu Tianchuan. His complexion was wax yellow, apparently he had not recovered from his injury, but his life was obviously not in danger. The Tian Di Hui warriors crowded around him and greeted him noisily, they could not hide their delight.

Mu Jiansheng pointed at the seat above his own and said, “Xu Shifu, please sit right here.”

Xu Tianchuan took a step forward, he bowed and cupped his fist toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, how are you?”

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the salute and said, “Xu San Ge, how are you? The medicinal plaster business is not too good lately?”

Xu Tianchuan sighed and said, “Practically there is no business. Subordinate was captured by Wu Sangui’s dogs and narrowly lost my old life. Fortunately Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye and Old Hero Liu appeared to rescue me from danger.”

The Tian Di Hui warriors were stunned. “Xu San Ge,” Fan Gang said, “Turns out the affair that day was that traitor Wu Sangui’s people’s doing.”

“Exactly,” Xu Tianchuan said, “Those bunch of traitors broke into the Return Of Spring Drug Store, seized me, and that dog thief Lu … Lu Yifeng cursed me and pasted a medicinal plaster on my mouth, saying that he wanted to starve me, and old monkey, to death.”

Hearing that Lu Yifeng was involved in this, they knew it must have had happened just like he said. Fan Gang, Priest Xuanzhen and the others turned toward Su Gang and Bai Hanfeng and said, “That day we have offended you, yet the heroes take yi qi very seriously, our Tian Di Hui can’t thank you enough.”

“We don’t dare,” Su Gang said, “We only followed Xiao Gongye’s order, we do not dare to claim credit for ourselves.” Bai Hanfeng snorted; obviously the rescue of Xu Tianchuan was greatly against his wish.

Guan Anji said, “After Xu San Ge was captured, we went looking for him everywhere, but did not find any clue; obviously our anxiety needs not be mentioned. Unexpectedly your honored Palace has rescued Xu San Ge, making us quite admire you.”

Su Gang said, “The Yunnan’s dog officials under Wu Sangui are Mu Family’s archenemy, naturally we always follow them up very closely. It’s not strange that we found out about this dog official offending Xu San Ge.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “This Xiao Gongye is very astute, his Meizi is being locked up by me, he rescued old man Xu first so that he can ask me to release his Meizi. I’d better pretend I don’t understand, see what else he is going to say.” He said to Xu Tianchuan, “Xu San Ge, you were heavily injured by Bai Er Xia, the strength of his hands was very fierce, are you going to live? You are not going to return to heaven, are you?”

Xu Tianchuan said, “Bai Er Xia was acting with leniency that day, after recuperating these past several days, subordinate feels a lot better.” Bai Hanfeng glowered at Wei Xiaobao, but Wei Xiaobao simply chuckled, as if he was completely oblivious.

The servants poured the wine and served the dishes, it was a very sumptuous banquet. Tian Di Hui warriors thought that since the Mu Family had rescued Xu Tianchuan, and with the presence of renowned old hero such as the Iron Back Blue Dragon Liu Dahong, they could not possibly put poison in the food; all anxiety had left their hearts, they drank the wine and ate the dishes to their hearts’ content.

Liu Dahong drank three cups of wine; stroking his beard he said, “Brothers[4], within the capital district[5], which brother is in charge of your precious society?”

Li Lishi said, “In our humble society in the capital district, the one with the most revered position is Wei Xiangzhu.”

Liu Dahong nodded. “Very good, very good!” he said, and drank another cup of wine. He asked, “But I wonder if this little brother is able to somehow take responsibility in the dispute between your precious Society and our Family?”

Laoyezi[6],” Wei Xiaobao said, “Whatever instruction you have, there is no harm in telling us here. I, Wei Xiaobao, am small in stature and have narrow shoulder. Small matter, I can take care of 10% or 5%, big matter may crush me flat.”

The Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace warriors could not help but frowning slightly; they thought, “This child talk hoodlum talk; as soon as he opens his mouth, he speaks like a rascal, not like a hero or a warrior talks.”

Liu Dahong said, “If you cannot take responsibility, while we cannot simply let the matter drop, then we will have no choice but to have little brother pass on to your revered master, asking Chen Zongduozhu to rush over and deal with it.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “What is it that Laoyezi wanted me to pass on to my Shifu? Just write a letter, and we will deliver it to him.”

“Hey, hey,” Liu Dahong laughed, “This matter concerns the death of Bai Hansong, Bai Xiongdi, in the hands of Xu San Ye [third master]. I wonder how we are going to settle this, I want to ask Chen Zongduozhu to say a few words about it.”

Xu Tianchuan suddenly sprang up and boldly said, “Mu Xiao Gongye, Old Hero Liu, you have snatched me back to life from the hands of the traitors, you have spared me from the humiliation from those wicked men, Zaixia is deeply grateful. Bai Da Xia was accidentally injured under Zaixia’s hands. Zaixia will pay a life for a life, my old life to compensate his; why would you make things difficult for Chen Zongduozhu and Wei Xiangzhu? Fan Xiongdi, let me use your blade.” While saying that, he held out his right hand toward Fan Gang. His meaning was very obvious, he wanted to cut his own throat right there and then to bring this contentious issue to completion.

“Slow down, slow down!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Xu San Ge, please sit down, don’t be this impatient. You are already old, how come you still have such temper? I am the Xiangzhu of the Green Wood Hall, am I not? If you do not obey my order, you are not giving me a face at all.”

In the Tian Di Hui, ‘not following order’ was a major offense, Xu Tianchuan hastily bowed down and said, “Xu Tianchuan understands his offense, I am obeying Wei Xiangzhu’s order.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Now that’s only proper,” he said, “Bai Da Xia is dead, nothing we can do about it. Even if Xu San Ge pay with your own life, human’s life cannot be transferred. No matter what it is a lose-lose situation, it’s not a good business sense at all.”

Everybody’s gaze was fixed on his face, nobody knew what nonsense he was going to say next. Tian Di Hui warriors were especially anxious, they all thought, “Our Society’s reputation in Wulin simply cannot be ruined by this ‘do-not-understand-anything’ little Xiangzhu. If he continues speaking rubbish and this matter is known throughout the Jianghu, we won’t have any face left to see other people in the future.”

“Xiao Gongye,” they heard Wei Xiaobao continue, “This time from Yunnan you come to Beijing, do you only bring along these several friends? It seems like a little bit is missing, is that right?”

“Humph,” Mu Jiansheng snorted and asked, “What is Wei Xiangzhu saying?”

“Nothing,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Xiao Gongye is such a respectable figure, you are totally different from me, Wei Xiaobao. You came to the Capital, if you don’t have a bit more escorts, and you are not being careful, some might be arrested by the Tatars’ running dogs; won’t that be greatly not worthwhile?”

Mu Jiansheng raised his long eyebrows as he said, “It’s not that easy for the Tatars’ running dogs to get me.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Xiao Gongye’s martial art is astonishing, in this world … hey, hey … perhaps very few people can be your match, naturally the Tatars won’t be able to catch you. It’s just that … it’s just that not necessarily the rest of the friends from Mu Palace would have Xiao Gongye’s level of skill. If the Tatars are leading away a goat in passing, taking away an ox with hands behind their backs, they were inviting several friends over to their place, that won’t be too amusing.”

While Wei Xiaobao was giggling and talking frivolously, Mu Jiansheng had been listening with calm face. When Wei Xiaobao finished, he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, are you mocking Zaixia?” When he spoke those words, his expression became even more unsightly.

“No, no, I did not,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In all my life, I have always been bullied by others, I have never bullied other people. Others have grabbed my hand, look, the black and blue has not gone yet, it was so painful that I hovered between life and death. This Bai Er Xia, hey, hey, his hand strength is really extraordinary. Those two moves, ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’ are amazing, surely they will be effective to be used to rescue your friends that are captured by the Tatars. No matter what, you will win a victory on raising the flag, it will be an instant success.”

Bai Hanfeng’s countenance turned ashen, he was about to speak, but in the end he struggled to endure it. Liu Dahong shot a look at Mu Jiansheng before saying, “Xiao Xiongdi, your speech is immeasurably tall and deep. We don’t quite understand it.”

Laoyezi is too polite,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Immeasurably low and shallow is possible, but immeasurably tall and deep? I do not dare to accept. It is extremely low and shallow, extremely low and shallow.”

Liu Dahong said, “Xiao Xiongdi is saying that some people from our Mu Palace were arrested by the Tatars, I wonder what you mean by that?”

“I don’t have the slightest meaning,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Xiao Wangye, Liu Laoyezi, my drinking capacity is immeasurably low and shallow, most likely it’s because I have drunk the wine that I talked nonsense; damn it, I must not say anything.”

“Humph,” Mu Jiansheng snorted, he was trying hard to control his anger. He said, “Turns out Wei Xiangzhu was only chatting to kill time.”

Xiao Gongye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You want to chat to kill time? Have you taken a stroll around Beijing?”

“What do you mean?” Mu Jiansheng’s voice was threatening.

“Beijing is very big,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your Kunming in Yunnan is not as big as Beijing, is it?”

Mu Jiansheng sounded angrier. “What do you mean?” he shouted.

Hearing Wei Xiaobao was rambling incoherently, was getting more and more unreasonable, Guan Anji interrupted, “Beijing is very beautiful, it’s a pity it is being occupied by the Tatars. We, people with slight courage and uprightness, are angry and full of grievances.”

Wei Xiaobao ignored his remark, he kept rambling, “Xiao Gongye, you invited me to drink wine, Zaixia does not have anything to repay you. When you have a spare time, I’ll take you for a stroll around Beijing. With a friend guiding your way, you won’t go astray. Otherwise, if you rush and wander aimlessly, and not being careful, you might enter the Imperial Palace. Although Xiao Gongye has high level of martial art, it might not be too convenient for you.”

Liu Dahong said, “Xiao Xiongdi, there must be another meaning beyond your words. If you regard me as a friend, may I ask that you speak a little bit clearer?”

“I can’t speak any clearer than this,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Friends from the Mu Palace all have high level of martial art. Those moves, ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’, nothing is more formidable than those. It’s a pity that within the Beijing’s city wall, everything is unfamiliar. When you roam around the street in the depth of the night, you can’t look everything clearly; confused and muddleheaded, you might end up entering the Forbidden City.”

Liu Dahong shot Mu Jianzheng another look; he asked Wei Xiaobao, “What do you mean?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard there are so many gates and so many palaces in the Forbidden City, if you walked in carelessly, without the Emperor or Empress Dowager to show the way, it is so easy for you to get lost, and then you won’t be able to get out forever; it has happened before. Zaixia does not have enough face, I don’t know if the Emperor or Empress Dowager will have a free time to show me around, daytime or nighttime. Perhaps Mu Palace’s Xiao Gongye has a lot of face, your subordinate friends may bring Xiao Gongye’s reputation and may scare the young Emperor and the Empress Dowager, that old wh0re, away. It’s really hard to say.”

Hearing him calling the Empress Dowager ‘the old wh0re’, everybody was quite amused. Guan Anji, Qi Biaoqing, and the others could not help laughing. In his belly, Wei Xiaobao often cursed the Empress Dowager as ‘the old wh0re’, unexpectedly this time, in front of a big crowd of people, he was able to say it out loud; the delight in his heart was unspeakable.

Liu Dahong said, “The people under Xiao Gongye’s leadership are all cautious, they can’t possibly enter the Imperial Palace recklessly. I heard that traitor Wu Sangui’s son, Wu Yingxiong, is also in Beijing. He might send people into the Imperial Palace to do some shady business, we don’t know.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “Liu Laoyezi is right,” he said, “Zaixia has a friend with whom I play dice, he is a servant to the Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace. He said that they have captured several assassins in the Palace last night, the assassins confessed that they are Xiao Gongye of Mu Palace’s subordinates …”

“What?” Mu Jiansheng was shocked. His right hand trembled, the wine cup in his hand fell down, ‘crash!’ it broke into several pieces.

Wei Xiaobao said, “At first I was convinced, thinking that the Mu Family is a greatly devoted subject of the Great Ming, they must have sent some people to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, indeed … indeed that is the conduct of a great hero and warrior. But now, listening to Liu Laoyezi, I know that they were the subordinates of that traitor Wu Sangui, we must never spare them. I will go to that friend immediately and tell him to think of a way to fix those assassins. Damn it, the subordinates of big traitor, what good are they? I must have them suffer some more.”

Liu Dahong said, “Xiao Xiongdi, what is your friend’s honored surname and great given name? Which post does he hold in the Tatars’ Palace?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “He is only a little servant to the Imperial Bodyguards, sweeping the floor, making them tea, cleaning their chamber pots, it’s really embarrassing just to mention him. Others call him Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi[7]. What honored surname and great given name? Those assassins are being tied up, originally I was going to ask Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi to sneak something good for them to eat. But now that Liu Laoyezi said that they are the traitor’s men, I am going to tell him to take a knife and poke several holes on their thighs, so that those turtle bastards cannot escape.”

“I was just guessing,” Liu Dahong said, “I cannot ascertain. But since they dared to enter the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, they must be real great hero. If Wei Xiangzhu can ask your noble friend to look after one or two of them, that is also showing the yi qi of Jianghu.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi is very good to me, when he lost in gambling, I always lend him ten taels, eight taels, and I have never asked him to pay me back. Whatever instruction Xiao Gongye and Liu Laoyezi have, I will ask Xiao Sanzi to do it for you, he won’t dare to make excuses.”

Liu Dahong let out a relieved sigh, he said, “In that case, I wonder if you could tell me how many assassins were captured, and what their names are. Those assassins’ courage is not small, we admire them very much, at present I wonder if they have already suffered very much. If your precious Society can inquire for us, Zaixia will be very indebted to Wei Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao struck his own chest and said, “That’s easy. Too bad those assassins are not Xiao Gongye’s subordinate brothers; otherwise, I will try to get one out and hand him over to Xiao Gongye, a life for a life, then the matter of Xu San Ge accidentally harmed Bai Da Xia can be written off in one stroke.”

Liu Dahong turned his head to look at Mu Jiansheng; he nodded slowly. Mu Jiansheng said, “We don’t know who those assassins are, but since they dared to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, they are men with lofty ideals, our compatriots in fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. Wei Xiangzhu, if you can find a way to save them, regardless of whether you will succeed or not, Mu Jiansheng will be eternally grateful. Naturally the matter of Xu Sanye and Bai Dage needs not be mentioned anymore.”

Wei Xiaobao turned to look at Bai Hanfeng and said, “Xiao Gongye won’t mentioned it, but I am afraid Bai Er Xia is not willing to let the matter drop. Next time he will grab my hand again and crush it until I cry; now that will be very upsetting.”

Bai Hanfeng suddenly stood up and said loud and clear, “If Wei Xiangzhu can rescue our … our … can rescue those chivalrous patriots who have fallen into the enemy’s hands, and the one surnamed Bai offended Wei Xiangzhu, I will cut off my own hand as my apology to Wei Xiangzhu.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “No need, no need,” he said, “You give me your hand, what shall I do with it? Besides, that Lai Li Tou brother of mine has no skill whatsoever to save people in the Palace, so it will be very hard to say. These men have come to assassinate the Emperor, that was a major criminal offense, I don’t know how many fetters and shackles are binding their bodies, I also don’t know how many guards are watching over them. I said I was going to save people, I was only bragging; just consider we all are chatting to kill the time.”

Mu Jiansheng said, “Naturally we know that entering the Imperial Palace to save people is extremely difficult, we do not dare to hope for any success; but as long as Wei Xiangzhu is willing to give your all in trying, it does not matter if you succeed nor not, you can get them out or not, everybody will be grateful all the same.” After a short pause, he added, “There is one more thing, my sister suddenly went missing the other day, Zaixia is very concerned. Tian Di Hui friends’ network of friends in the Capital is extensive, your informers numerous; if you could help us inquire around and find a way to rescue her, Zaixia simply can’t thank you enough.”

“That’s easy,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Xiao Gongye may put your hundred and twenty hearts at ease. Very well, we have drunk enough wine, I am going to look for that Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi to talk it over. Damn it, I’ll play two rounds with him and make him bankrupt.” He put out his hand and groped something from his pocket and threw it onto the Eight-Immortal table. Surprisingly, it was four dice. The dice rolled for a moment, then four red dots faced upwards. Wei Xiaobao clapped and said, “Success across the board, success across the board [lit. ‘Hall full of red’], it’s extraordinary good luck! Ay, it would be good if they all were not beheaded, not killed that the hall is full of red.” Everybody looked at each other with changed expression, they were completely stunned.

Wei Xiaobao picked up the dice, cupped his fist and said, “Thank you for your hospitality, we are taking our leave. Xu San Ge is coming back with us, can he?”

“Wei Xiangzhu is too polite,” Mu Jiansheng said, “Zaixia will send Wei Xiangzhu, Xu Sanye, and Tian Di Hui friends off.”

And thus Wei Xiaobao, Xu Tianchuan, Li Lishi, Guan Anji, and the others left the banquet tables and walked out. Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong and the others sent them off outside the main gate; they did not return back to the house until Wei Xiaobao had climbed onto the sedan chair.

The warriors returned to the small courtyard house. Guan Anji was most impatient, he asked, “Wei Xiangzhu, were there assassins in the Palace last night? Looking at their expression, most likely they were sent by the Mu Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Exactly. The assassins entered the Palace last night, nobody dared to leak this secret. No one outside the Palace knew about it, yet they did not seem to be surprised, naturally it was their doing.”

Xuanzhen said, “They dared to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, they can be considered extremely daring, indeed they deserved other people’s admiration. Wei Xiangzhu, their men were captured, did you say you could rescue them? I’m afraid this is an extremely difficult matter.”

When talking with Mu Jiansheng and Liu Dahong at the banquet table, Wei Xiaobao had already hatched a plan. To save the captured assassins was definitely not a possibility, but in his own room, one Xiao Junzhu and one Fang Yi were lying down nicely on the bed. Xiao Junzhu was not an assassin; she was kidnapped by Tian Di Hui and brought into the Palace, so her release did not count. Fang Yi, on the other hand, was an assassin who broke into the Palace; he thought that finding a way to smuggle her out should not be a difficult matter. As he heard Xuanzhen’s question, Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “To save all is impossible, but to get one or two out, most probably it is still manageable. Xu San Ge only killed Bai Hansong one person, we only need to get one person out to be returned to them. One life for one life, they do not suffer any loss. Much less not only they will get both the capital and profit, they will also get the interest; we will return to them that little miss Boss Qian has kidnapped, what else can they say? Boss Qian, early tomorrow morning, bring two dead pigs to the Catering Department, we will pack the people inside, then I’ll throw a fit in the kitchen, scolding, swearing and berating you [orig. ‘pour dogs blood on you’], saying that those two pigs are not good, and will force you to take them out of the Palace at once.”

Boss Qian clapped his hands and laughed. “Wei Xiangzhu’s idea is marvelous,” he said, “The dead pig for fixing Xiao Junzhu is not a problem, but the other one must be a jumbo size.”

Wei Xiaobao uttered several words of encouragement to Xu Tianchuan; he said, “Xu San Ge, don’t you worry, that dog thief Lu Yifeng offended you, I have told Wu Yingxiong to break his dog legs.”

“Yes, yes,” Xu Tianchuan replied, “Thank you Wei Xiangzhu.” But in his heart he did not believe him, “This child is babbling nonsense again. Wu Yingxiong is the Heir Apparent of Ping Xi Wang, he is extremely arrogant, how could he listen to you?” Wei Xiaobao was helping him settling the intractable problem of unintentional killing of Bai Hansong. Although Xu Tianchuan was deeply grateful, he was not completely convinced that Wei Xiaobao would be able to accomplish this important matter.

Wei Xiaobao returned to the imperial palace. He had just entered the Shen Wu Gate when he saw two eunuchs meeting him and said together, “Gui Gong-gong, quick, quick, His Majesty is summoning you.”

“What important matter is it?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“His Majesty has been asking for you several times,” one of the eunuchs said, “There must be a very important matter. His Majesty is at the Upper Study Room.”

Wei Xiaobao rushed toward the Upper Study Room. Kangxi was pacing up and down the room, seeing Wei Xiaobao come in, his face revealed a happy expression. “Damn it,” he cursed, “You died and went to where?”

“Reporting to His Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant was thinking that the assassins were so daring; if we do not catch everything in one net, I am afraid it won’t be too good for us, perhaps they will come back to cause us trouble and make His Majesty worry. We must find the leader who managed that operation in secret. Therefore, just now I changed into civilian clothes and went to great streets and small alleys everywhere; I wanted to try to find out who is the assassins’ leader, is he in the Capital?”

“Very good,” Kangxi said, “What did you find?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I say that as soon as I wanted to find out and immediately find something, it would sound too much of a coincident.” Thereupon he said, “After walking around for half a day, I did not see any suspicious person. I am thinking of going out again tomorrow.”

Kangxi said, “You wander around aimlessly and groping blindly, it may be useless. I have an idea.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “Your Majesty’s idea must be very good,” he said.

Kangxi said, “Just now Dolong came to report that the three captured assassins kept their mouths tightly shut; no matter how much flogging and swindling, they keep saying that they were sent by Wu Sangui. Apparently, we cannot get a sentence of truth by torturing them. I am thinking of simply letting them go.”

“Let them go?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “This … won’t that be too easy for them?”

“These assassins are following orders,” Kangxi said, “Although they rebelled against the authority, killing them is of little significance, what’s more important is to find the master mind behind them, eliminating them in one fell swoop, so that we won’t have future trouble.” Speaking to this point, he smiled and said, “If the wolf cub is released, won’t the wolf cub go find the mother wolf?”

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic, he clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “Wonderful, wonderful! We release the assassins while scooping them up in secret, they will go to meet with the rebellious thieves’ ring-leader. Your Majesty’s divine strategy really surpasses three Zhuge Liang.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “What do you mean surpasses three Zhuge Liang? Your boot-licking is excessively over the top. The problem is how to scoop the assassins without them knowing it; it won’t be too easy to do. Xiao Guizi, I am sending you on an assignment: you pretend to be the good person, rescue them from the Palace, then those assassins will regard you as one of their own, naturally they will lead you to their leader.”

Wei Xiaobao hesitated. “This …” he muttered.

“Naturally this is a dangerous mission,” Kangxi said, “If they find out, they would immediately want to take your little life. It’s a pity I am the Emperor; otherwise, I am seriously considering doing it myself. It would be very exciting.”

“Your Majesty is giving me order, naturally I will do as you bid,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Even if it was a more dangerous mission, I am not afraid.”

Kangxi was delighted, he patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said with a laugh, “I already knew that you are smart, and brave, and is most willing to do the job for me. You are but a child, the assassins won’t suspect you. I originally wanted to send two Imperial Bodyguards with high level of martial art to do it, but the assassins are not stupid, they might not be easily fooled. If the first try failed, we can’t try it again the second time. Xiao Guizi, when you are doing this, it will be the same as if I am doing it myself.”

After learning martial art, Kangxi was very eager to give it a try, all along he wanted to do some dangerous things, but as the Emperor, he could not afford to take any risk. By sending Wei Xiaobao to do the job for him, Kangxi regarded him as a substitute. Even if an Imperial Bodyguard could handle this matter better, he would still prefer to send Wei Xiaobao. He thought that in term of age, Xiao Guizi was comparable to his, in term of martial art skill, he was inferior, in term of intelligence, he was also inferior; if he was successful, then Kangxi would definitely be successful as well. Therefore, by sending Xiao Guizi, it was more or less the same as if he personally doing it. Although he could not personally experience it, he could imagine it.

Kangxi also said, “You must be as convincing as possible; it is best if you can pretend to be one of the assassins, kill one or two Imperial Bodyguards on guard duty, let these assassins do not have the slightest doubt toward you. I will order Dolong to relax the check-points to let you take them out of the Palace.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied, he said, “But those Imperial Bodyguards’ martial art is good, I am afraid I can’t kill them.”

Kangxi said, “You’d better adapt to the situation, but you must be careful, don’t let the Imperial Bodyguards kill you first.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and said, “If I get killed by the Imperial Bodyguards, that means I would die without knowing the rhyme or reason, Xiao Guizi became rebellious traitor’s collaborator instead.”

Kangxi rubbed his palms together in extreme excitement, he said, “Xiao Guizi, if you successfully accomplish this mission, what reward do you want from me?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I successfully accomplish this mission, Your Majesty will be happy. As long as Your Majesty is happy, any reward is good. Next time Your Majesty is thinking about something fascinating, something fun but dangerous thing to do, you will send me again, and that will be very good.”

Kangxi was delighted. “Certainly, certainly!” he said, “Ay, Xiao Guizi, too bad you are an eunuch, otherwise I will definitely make you a high-ranking official.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” but in his heart he thought, “The day will come when you will discover that I am a fake eunuch; at that time I don’t know how angry you will be.” He said, “Your Majesty, I am asking you for one favor.”

Kangxi smiled, “Do you want to be a high-ranking official?” he asked.

“No!” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I will do whatever you want me to do with red-bellied devotion, if I came across a misfortune, and provoked Your Majesty’s anger, I am asking you to spare my life and do not take my head.”

Kangxi said, “As long as you serve me with utter devotion, your melon-shaped head will sit steadily on your neck.” Finished speaking, he burst into loud laughter.

Coming out of the Upper Study Room, Wei Xiaobao mused, “I was thinking of freeing Xiao Junzhu and Miss Fang for the Mu Palace, but based on what His Majesty said a moment ago, the release of the assassins has become an imperial order, so there is no hurry to let those two young ladies go. About the assassins’ true leader, Laozi has just had a drink with them a while ago; shall I let the Emperor know and have that little turtle Mu Jiansheng and that old fellow Liu Dahong arrested? But if Shifu knew I did it, he would never forgive me. Damn it, in the end, do I still want to be a Tian Di Hui Xiangzhu?”

In the Palace, everybody fawned on him, plus Kangxi doted on him and trusted him very much. In that instant, he was really thinking of staying in the Palace and be an eunuch for the rest of his life. But then he thought about the Empress Dowager and could not stop his heart from trembling, “That Old Wh0re is determined to seek my demise, Laozi will not last for too long in the Palace.”

He arrived at the Imperial Bodyguards’ compound west of the Palace of Heavenly Purity. The leader of the Imperial Bodyguards on duty was precisely Zhao Qixian. The previous night he had already distributed money, and today from the Imperial Bodyguards Chief Dolong he received some more rewards; he found out it was because Wei Xiaobao had spoken words of praise in front of the Emperor. As soon as he saw Wei Xiaobao arrived, his delight was unspeakable; he sprang up to greet him, saying with a laugh, “Gui Gong-gong, what good wind has blown your honorable self’s presence in this place?”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “I am here to take a look at those brazen rebellious thieves.” Stepping closer to his ears, he said in a low voice, “His Majesty sends me here to help with the interrogation, he wants to know who the master mind behind their action.”

Zhao Qixian nodded. “Yes,” he said, and continued in low voice, “These three rebellious thieves are so tight-lipped, we have already broken two leather whips, they still stick to their original statement, that Wu Sangui sent them here.”

“Let me try to ask them,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Entering the western hall, he saw three men were tied to the wooden pillars, their naked upper bodies had already been badly mutilated by flogging. One was a big man with beard like a young horned-dragon, the other two were twenty-something young men, one was fair-skinned, the other had tattoo all over his body, he had a fierce looking tiger head tattooed on his chest. “I wonder if one of these two young men is Liu Yizhou?” Wei Xiaobao mused. Turning his head toward Zhao Qixian he said, “Zhao Dage, I am afraid you have caught the wrong persons. Please go out for a moment.”

“Yes,” Zhao Qixian replied; he turned around and left, closing the door behind him.

Wei Xiaobao asked, “May I know your honored surnames and great given names?”

The one with dragon-beard opened his glowering eyes, “Dog eunuch,” he cursed, “Do you think you are worthy to ask Laozi’s name?”

Lowering his voice, Wei Xiaobao said, “I received a request from someone to save a friend by the name of Liu Yizhou …” As soon as he said those words, astonishment appeared on the three men’s faces as they cast a glance toward each other.

The dragon-bearded man asked, “Who requested it?”

“Is there any Liu Yizhou among you or not?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “If there is, I have something to say; if not, that’s all I can say.”

The three men were looking at each other again, they looked doubtful, afraid that they might be duped. The dragon-bearded man asked again, “Who are you?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The two friends who asked me, one is surnamed Mu, the other is surnamed Liu, ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’. Do you know him?”

The dragon-bearded man loudly said, “Who does not know the ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ Liu Dahong in the Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan region? Mu Jiansheng is Mu Tianbo’s son, he is wandering destitute in Jianghu, at this moment nobody knows whether he is dead or alive.” While saying that, he repeatedly shook his head.

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “Since the three of you do not know Xiao Gongye and Liu Laoyezi, you can’t be their friends, so it may be assumed that you do not know these styles.” While saying that, he struck a posture, and then demonstrated the two moves of the Mu Family fist technique; naturally it was the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’ and ‘high mountain flowing water’.

“Ah!” the young man with tiger head tattoo on his chest exclaimed. Wei Xiaobao halted, “What is it?” he asked. “Nothing,” the man replied.

“Who taught you those styles?” the dragon-bearded man asked.

“My wife taught me,” Wei Xiaobao replied with a laugh.

“Pei!” the dragon-bearded man spat, “What wife does a court eunuch have?” While saying that, he was constantly shaking his head. At first he cursed Wei Xiaobao as ‘dog eunuch’, after hearing the strange thing he said and the unusual way he behaved, he dropped the ‘dog’ character.

“Why can’t a court eunuch have a wife?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Others are willing to marry, why do you care about it? My wife is surnamed Fang, with the single character given name Yi …”

The fair-skinned young man suddenly bellowed, “Nonsense!”

Wei Xiaobao saw blue veins suddenly stuck out on his forehead, his eyes were spouting fire, his anxiety had reached its extreme point, so he presumed this man must be Liu Yizhou. He had a rectangular face, quite handsome; it’s just that under his violent rage, unavoidably his appearance looked rather fearsome. Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “What nonsense? My wife is the later generation of the surnamed Fang of the Mu Family four great generals, Liu Bai Fang Su. The one acting as our matchmaker is surnamed Su, his name is Su Gang, nicknamed ‘Divine Physician Hermit’. There is also another matchmaker surnamed Bai, his older brother Bai Hansong was recently killed. That Bai Hanfeng is extremely poor, so he is acting as a matchmaker to earn money, to prepare for his older brother’s funeral …”

The more that young man listened, the angrier he got. “You … you … you …” he roared.

The dragon-bearded man shook his head and said, “Xiongdi, don’t make noise.” To Wei Xiaobao he said, “You seemed to know a lot about the Mu Palace’s affairs.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am Mu Palace’s son-in-law, how could I not know the affairs of my old man father-in-law? Originally Fang Yi, Miss Fang was unwilling to marry me, she said she was engaged to her Shige Liu Yizhou. But then she heard that this surnamed Liu did not make any progress, he threw himself under the leadership of the big traitor Wu Sangui, and entered the Imperial Palace as an assassin. Just think … that big traitor Wu Sangui …” Speaking to this point, he lowered his voice and continued, “… colluding with the Tatars, surrendering our beautiful Great Ming’s rivers and mountains to the dog thieves Manchurian Qing with both hands. Not one of our Han people does not want to peel this fellow Wu Sangui’s skin and eat his flesh. Why would that fellow Liu Yizhou rely on a bad master, Wu Sangui? Naturally Miss Fang’d face is downcast, she does not want to marry him anymore.”

“I … I … I …” the young man anxiously said.

The dragon-bearded man shook his head, “Everybody has his own ambition,” he said, “Sire became a court eunuch in Qing Palace, which not a very honorable thing.”

“Right, right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally it is not a very honorable thing. My wife is anxious over her old flame, she wanted me to investigate clearly, whether that Liu Yizhou has died or not. If he is really dead, she will marry me with a clear conscience, henceforth does not have to worry over the deceased. She only wants to set up a memorial tablet for her Liu Shige, and burn some ritual paper money for him. Friends, there is no Liu Yizhou among you, is there? Then I shall return to Miss Fang, tonight we are going to bow to the Heaven and Earth to get married.” Saying that, he turned around to leave.

The young man said, “I am …” But the dragon-bearded man shouted, “Don’t be fooled!” The young man struggled a moment, he said angrily, “He … he …” suddenly he spat toward Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao dodged sideways. He saw that the hands and feet of those three were firmly bound to the pillars using thick ox tendon, it was definitely very hard for them to struggle free. He mused, “This man is obviously Liu Yizhou, he was about to confess, but was stopped by that bearded man.” After thinking for a moment, he had another idea; he said, “You wait here, I am going to ask my wife again.”

Returning to the outside, he said to Zhao Qixian, “I have found a clue. Don’t beat them anymore; I will be back in a moment.”

By this time the sky had darkened, Wei Xiaobao thought that Fang Yi and Mu Jianping should be very hungry by now, so he did not go straight back to his room, but stopped by the Catering Department instead, to instruct his subordinate eunuchs to deliver a sumptuous banquet to his room, saying that he wanted to invite the Imperial Bodyguards who had set up some merits the previous night to a banquet to congratulate them, that they were going to discuss some confidential matter on capturing the assassins during the banquet, therefore, he did not need any little eunuchs to wait upon them.

He unlocked his room and lightly pushed the door to the inner room. Mu Jianping cried out lightly and sat up. “What took you so long to come back?” she asked in soft voice.

“I made you very anxious waiting for me, didn’t I?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have good news.”

Fang Yi lifted her head from the pillow and asked, “What good news?”

Wei Xiaobao lighted the candle on the table, he saw Fang Yi’s eyes were red, apparently she had been crying. He sighed and said, “This good news is for you, but for me it is a very bad news. I have just succeeded in obtaining a good wife, now she flew away into the thin air. Ay, that fellow Liu Yizhou unexpectedly has not died.”

“Ah!” Fang Yi let out a cry, her voice was brimming with joy.

Mu Jianping happily asked, “Is our Liu Shige safe and sound?”

“He has not died all right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But it might not be easy for him to stay alive. He was captured by the Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace, and stated decisively that he was sent by the big traitor Wu Sangui to assassinate the Emperor. With his capital crime, no doubt it will be difficult for him to escape, but if this news ever spread out, the Jianghu heroes and warriors will all say that he has become Wu Sangui’s lackey, after he is beheaded, his reputation will stink very much.”

Fang Yi raised her upper body and said, “Before entering the Imperial Palace, we have already considered this possibility, but in order to topple this traitor Wu Sangui and avenge the bitter hatred and deep enmity of the late emperor and Mu Gongye, we have already abandoned any thought to our own lives and our reputation after we died.”

Wei Xiaobao raised his thumb, “Good,” he said, “You have moral backbone! Wu Laogong [see footnote 4 of Chapter 11] admires you very much. Miss Fang, we have an important matter we need to discuss. If I can save your Liu Shige’s life, what would you do?”

The light in Fang Yi’s eyes flickered, her cheeks blushed, she said, “If you can seriously save my Liu Shige’s life, no matter what difficult or dangerous thing you want me to do, Fang Yi will not knit my brows.” She said those words with determination in her voice, it was extremely straightforward.

“What if we make a deal?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Xiao Junzhu can be our witness. If I can save your Liu Shige and get him out, and hand him over to Xiao Gongye Mu Jiansheng and ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ Liu Dahong …”

“You know my Gege and my Shifu?” Mu Jianping interrupted.

“The Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye and ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ have grand reputation,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Who does not know them? Who has never heard of their names?”

“You are a good person,” Mu Jianping said, “If you save Liu Shige’s life, everybody will be very grateful of your kindness.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “I am not a good person,” he said, “I am simply making a deal. This man Liu Yizhou is not a small matter, he is a criminal who came to assassinate the Emperor himself. By wanting to save him, I am placing my own life in great danger, am I right? If the government authority found out, not only my own head would roll, my grandpas, grandmas, papa, mama, my three Gege, four Meizi, plus my uncles, aunts, cousins[8], everybody at home would lose their heads, am I right? This is called ‘execution of the whole family unto the third generation’. The gold, silver, house, pots and pans, pants, shoes, everything in my home would belong to the government official, am I right?”

Each time he asked, ‘am I right?’ Mu Jianping nodded her head.

“Exactly right,” Fang Yi said, “The implication of this matter is too great, I can’t simply ask you to do it. In any case, if my … my … my Shige died, I don’t want to live. Let’s just resign to our fate.” While saying that, tears flooding down on her face.

Wei Xiaobao said, “There’s no hurry to grieve, there’s no hurry to cry. You are such a ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’, as soon as your tears flow, my heart turns soft. Miss Fang, I’ll do anything for you. I will definitely save your Liu Shige’s life and get him out. Let’s settle this now: if I cannot save and get your Liu Shige out, I will become your ox or your horse, your slave for the rest of my life; if I can save and get your Liu Shige out, you will be my wife for the rest of your life. A real man gave his words, some horses cannot chase it, and that’s that.”

Fang Yi looked at him in a daze, the color on her cheek gradually vanished, until her face turned deathly pale. “Gui Dage,” she said, “In order to save Liu Shige’s life, whatever … I am willing to do whatever you want me to. If you really can rescue him to safety and he is safe and sound, and you want me to serve you … to serve you for the rest of my life, it won’t be impossible. It’s just that … It’s just that …” She had just spoken those words when there were footsteps outside, and then someone called out, “Gui Gong-gong, the food and wine is here.” Fang Yi stopped talking immediately.

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said. He walked out the room, locked the inside door, and open the front door.

Four eunuchs carried food, bowls and cups on a shoulder pole. They entered the room and set up the table in the front room. There were twelve large bowls of vegetable and meat dishes, plus one pot of Yunnan’s steamed chicken. The four eunuchs arranged eight set of bowl and chopsticks, and then respectfully said, “Gui Gong-gong, is there anything else you need?”

“This will do,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You may go back.” Each person received one tael tip. The four eunuchs returned, pleased with the heaven, happy with the earth.

Wei Xiaobao bolted the front door, and brought the food into the inner room. He pulled a table to the front of the bed, poured three cups of wine and scooped three bowls of rice. “Miss Fang,” he said, “Just now you said, ‘It’s just that … It’s just that …’, what was it that you were going to say?”

By now Mu Jianping had helped Fang Yi to sit up, the color on her face had returned. She lowered her head and was silent for half a day before finally spoke in a low voice, “I was going to say that you are an officer in the Palace, how can you marry? But no matter what, if you can save my Liu Shige’s life, I will accompany you for the rest of my life.”

Her countenance was sparkling and translucent like jade, shining pink under the candlelight, so out-of-the-worldly tender and beautiful. Although Wei Xiaobao was very young, he looked at her as if his soul had left him. He laughed and said, “Turns out you wanted to say that I am an eunuch, and thus cannot take a wife. Whether I take a wife or not, it’s my business, it’s none of your concern. I just want to ask you: are you or are you not willing to be my wife?”

Fang Yi’s delicate eyebrows were slightly wrinkled, a faint trace of anger appeared on her face. After half a day she made up her mind and said, “Let alone be your wife, even if you sell me to the pleasure house to be a prostitute, I am also willing.”

If any other man were to hear it, he definitely would not be happy, but Wei Xiaobao grew up in a brothel, so he did not feel anything strange. With a chuckle he said, “Alright, it’s a deal. Good wife, Good Meizi, let the three of us drink a cup.”

At first Fang Yi did not even regard this little eunuch as someone worthy of her attention, and then she saw how he personally stabbed the Imperial Bodyguard Deputy Chief Rui Dong and dissolved his body with some strange medicine. She also saw how the Imperial Bodyguards and his fellow eunuchs were very respectful toward him; now she believed definitely nothing was ordinary about him. Liu Yizhou was the man she fell in love with, although they had not formalized their engagement, their two hearts already beat as one; one would not want to take another as husband [orig. ‘lord’], the other would not love another as wife. The previous night the two of them entered the Palace on mission together, Fang Yi saw with her own eyes Liu Yizhou slipped and was captured by the Imperial Bodyguards, while she herself suffered an injury, so that she was unable to help. She thought that her boyfriend had given his life for their common cause; who would have thought that this little eunuch said that not only her lover did not die, he even said that he could find a way to rescue him. She thought, “As long as Liu Lang[9] can escape from danger, although I have to suffer hardship for the rest of my life, I will still thank the Heaven for not treating me badly. How can this little eunuch take me as his wife anyway? He’s just oily-mouthed and a smooth-talker, he only wants to win the argument, I might as well play along with him.” As she thought about this reasoning, she showed a faint smile as she raised the wine cup with both hands, saying, “I will drink this cup of wine with you, but if you do not save my Liu Shige, you won’t escape being a ghost by my sword.”

Seeing her flowery dimples, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was very happy; he also raised the wine cup with both hands and said, “May our words be like striking nail through the foot, there will be no denial. If I save your Liu Shige, but you go back on your words and marry him, then what? With the two of you join hands and feet, I won’t be your match; he sweeps his saber across, you hack your sword down, I, Gui Gong-gong, will immediately turn into four pieces. I simply cannot not guard against this thing.”

With a smile on her face Fang Yi solemnly said, “By the Emperor of Heaven above and the Queen of Earth below, if Gui Gong-gong can rescue Liu Yizhou and bring him to safety, the lowly woman Fang Yi will be willing to be Gui Gong-gong’s wife, and will be loyal and dependable to my husband with singleness of heart for the rest of my life, even if Gui Gong-gong cannot take me as wife for real, I am dead set on taking care of him for a lifetime. If I am double-minded, let me be cut into ten thousand pieces and will not be reincarnated.” Finished speaking, she poured the wine to the floor. She also said, “Xiao Junzhu is my witness.”

Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic, he turned to ask Mu Jianping, “Good Meizi, do you have any sweetheart you want me to rescue?”

“Of course I don’t!” Mu Jianping replied, “How can I have any sweetheart?”

“What a pity, what a pity!” Wei Xiaobao said.

“What a pity what?” Mu Jianping asked.

“If you have a sweetheart,” Wei Xiaobao explained, “I will also rescue him and get him out, then won’t you also be willing to be my wife?”

“Pei!” Mu Jianping spat, “You already have one wife and it’s not enough? What an endless greed[10]!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “The toad wants to eat the swan’s flesh! Hey, Good Meizi, other than your Liu Shige, there are two other men being captured, one with jaw full of whiskers …”

“That must be Wu Shishu [martial (younger) uncle],” Mu Jianping said.

“The other has tattoo all over his body,” Wei Xiaobao said, “With a tiger head on his chest.”

“That must be Blue Haired Tiger Ao Biao,” Mu Jianping said, “He is Wu Shishu’s disciple.”

“What is that Wu Shishu’s name?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Wu Shishu’s name is Wu Lishen,” Mu Jianping replied, “His nickname is Shaking-head Lion.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “That nickname is very appropriate, whatever other people say, he always shakes his head.”

“Gui Dage,” Mu Jianping said, “Since you are going to rescue Liu Shige, you might as well try to rescue Wu Shishu and Ao Shige.”

“Do your Wu Shishu and Ao Biao also have ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ women?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I don’t know,” Mu Jianping replied, “Why do you ask?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am going to ask their good-looking women first, to see if they would be willing to let me take an advantage, otherwise, won’t I be staking my life to save others in vain?” Suddenly a dark shadow flashed before his eyes, some kind of object flew toward his face. Wei Xiaobao hastily ducked, but he was too late. ‘Crash!’ that object smashed right in the middle of his forehead. It was a wine cup.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao and Mu Jianping cried out together. Wei Xiaobao leaped three steps backward, and crashed into a chair. Blood streamed down from his forehead, wine blurred his vision that all he saw was a vast expanse of whiteness.

He heard Fang Yi shouted harshly, “Go and kill Liu Yizhou immediately, your miss does not want to live anymore, so that I won’t receive this kind of senseless humiliation from you all day!” Turned out the wine cup was thrown by Fang Yi. Luckily, due to her severe wound, she lost the strength of her hand. Wei Xiaobao’s forehead was hit by the wine cup, but the scratch was only skin deep.

Mu Jianping said, “Gui Dage, come here, let me look at your wound, don’t let the broken porcelain pieces remain in your flesh.”

“I am not coming near you,” Wei Xiaobao said, “My own wife wants to murder her husband.”

“Who told you to speak nonsense?” Mu Jianping said, “You want to take advantage of other women. Even I was angry to hear it.”

Wei Xiaobao burst into loud laughter. “Ah, I get it,” he said, “Turns out the two of you are drinking vinegar. Hearing that I was going to take advantage of other women, my first wife, my second wife, are drinking vinegar in a big way.”

Mu Jianping picked up her wine cup and said, “What did you call me? See if I don’t throw this wine cup on you.”

Wei Xiaobao used his sleeve to wipe his eyes. Seeing Mu Jianping pretend to be angry, but with a slight smile at the tips on her brow and the corners of her eyes, also Fang Yi look apologetic, although his forehead was painful, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was very happy. He said, “My first wife threw a wine cup, if my second wife did not throw, it would be unfair.” He took a step forward and said, “Second wife may throw the wine cup!”

“Alright!” Mu Jianping said. Raising her hand, she splashed the half-cup of wine onto his face.

Unexpectedly Wei Xiaobao did not evade; the half-cup of wine trickled down his face. He stuck his tongue out and licked the blood and wine on his face, saying, “Delicious, delicious! The first wife cut the blood, plus the second wife splashed the wine. Aiyo! I die tasty, I die tasty!”

Mu Jianping was the first to laugh, followed by a ‘pft!’ from Fang Yi; she could not restrain her laughter. “Rascal!” she cursed. From her bosom she produced a handkerchief and gave it to Mu Jianping, saying, “Wipe his face.”

Mu Jianping laughed and said, “You are the one who hurt others, why do I have to wipe it?”

Covering her mouth, Fang Yi said, “Aren’t you his second wife?”

“Pei!” Mu Jianping spat, “You promised yourself to him just a moment ago, I did not promise him anything.”

Fang Yi laughed and said, “Who said you haven’t promise him anything? He said, ‘Second wife may throw the wine cup’, and you raised your wine cup and splashed him; isn’t that the same as you agree to be his second wife?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “That’s right, that’s right!” he said, “My first wife is hurt, my second wife is also hurt. The two of you may set your hearts at ease; I am not going to fool around with other women.”

Fang Yi told Wei Xiaobao to come over; seeing there was no porcelain fragment in his forehead wound, she wiped the blood from his face.

The three of them could not drink wine anymore, their stomachs were hungry, so they ate quite a lot of food. Chatting and joking, gaiety filled the room.

Finished eating, Wei Xiaobao yawned and said, “Shall I sleep with the first wife tonight, or the second wife?”

Fang Yi’s countenance was grim, she sternly said, “You should stop cracking jokes; if you ever get into the bed, I’ll … I’ll kill you with a sword.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and said, “There will come a day when my old life will be delivered in your hands.” Moving the food to the outside hall, he fetched a woven mat and spread it on the floor, and slept fully clothed. At this time he was really weary, so in just a short moment he fell fast asleep.

The next morning when he woke up, he felt his body was nice and warm. When he opened his eyes, he saw that his body was covered with a quilt; he also felt a pillow under his head. He sat up and noticed the muslin curtain above the bed was hanging down. Through the mosquito net he could faintly see Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were sleeping side by side.

Quietly he stood up and opened the curtain. He saw Fang Yi was tender and beautiful, Mu Jianping was exquisite. The two beautiful women’s smart faces were reflecting each other, they looked like bright pearl or beautiful jade; his heart was unspeakably moved by their beauty. Wei Xiaobao could not bear the desire to give each one a kiss on the mouth, but he was afraid he might awaken them. “Damn it,” he cursed in his heart, “If these two young ladies truly became my first wife and second wife, Laozi will be very happy. There is no young lady as charming as they in the Lovely Spring Courtyard.”

As quietly as possible he opened the door. The door hinge creaked, Fang Yi immediately opened her eyes; she smiled and said, “Gui … Gui … Good morning.”

“Gui what?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “You did not even call me Good Husband.”

“But you have not rescued him yet,” Fang Yi replied.

“Don’t worry,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am going to rescue him.”

Mu Jianping also woke up, “What are you talking about this early in the morning?” she asked.

“We did not sleep at all,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The two of us talked heart to heart the entire night.” He yawned, patted his mouth, and said, “I am so sleepy, I am so sleepy! I want to sleep now.” And then he stretched.

Fang Yi blushed, she said, “How can I talk anything good with you? How can it be considered the entire night?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Good wife,” he said, “We were talking decently. Please write a letter, I am going to give it to your Liu Shige, so that he will believe me and follow me out of the Palace. Or else he would become Wu Sangui’s son-in-law …”

“He pretends to be Wu Sangui’s son-in-law’s nephew,” Mu Jianping said.

“Since Miss Fang is going to be my wife, Liu Yizhou won’t have any choice but to be Wu Sangui’s son-in-law,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Don’t prattle!” Fang Yi said, “Writing a letter is good. But … but what should I write?”

“Anything is alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just write that I am your husband, the number one good person in the world, one with most yi qi, one who accepted your commission to come and rescue him. Genuine goods at fair prices, a hundred percent real gold.” He found Hai Dafu’s writing brush and ink stone, and some paper. He rubbed the ink, placed a sheet of white paper on the small table, and pushed the table to the front of the bed.

Fang Yi sat up and received the writing brush. Suddenly tears gushing out of her eyes; sobbing, she said, “What should I write?”

Seeing her cute but pitiful appearance, Wei Xiaobao’s heart suddenly turned soft. “You may write whatever you want to write,” he said, “I am illiterate anyway. You don’t need to write that you have become my wife, otherwise your Liu Shige will get angry and won’t want me to save him.”

“You are illiterate?” Fang Yi asked, “You are lying.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I know how to read, I am a turtle bastard, and not your husband; I am your son, your distant descendant.”

Fang Yi took up the pen, she hesitated, feeling that it was hard to put the pen to the paper, she sobbed and sniffled, and finally broke into crying again. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was filled with heroic spirit, which was hard to suppress; he said in a loud voice, “Alright, alright! After I rescue Liu Yizhou and take him out, you can marry him, I don’t want to fight with him over you. Besides, even if you followed me, you would still want to be together with him anyway. Rather than wearing a green cap[11] in the future, becoming a cuckold, I’ll let you go free and happy, marry that damn Liu Yizhou. Just write whatever you love to write. Damn it, Laozi won’t care.”

With a pair of big eyes still brimming with tears, Fang Yi looked at him, and then she lowered her head, her gaze revealed a happy expression mixed with gratitude. She wrote several lines of characters on the paper, and then folded the paper into a square. “Please … please give it to him,” she said.

Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “Damn it, now you don’t even call me Dage. Tear down the bridge after crossing the river, after setting off the flame, the monk is not needed anymore.” But since he had flaunted his heroic spirit, he had to put an air of hero, he could not force Fang Yi to be his wife anymore. He took the folded paper, put it into his pocket, and left without looking back. He mused, “Want to be a hero, one must suffer losses. Such a nice wife, and I have to present it with both hands to another man.”

By this time, the leader on duty at the Imperial Bodyguards’ compound by the Palace of Heavenly Purity was Zhang Kangnian. The previous night he had received the order from Dolong to give assistance to Gui Gong-gong who was on rescue mission to take the assassins out of the Palace, but he had to do it discreetly, without rousing the assassins’ suspicion. Seeing the arrival of Wei Xiaobao, he busily stepped forward to greet him. He gave an eye signal to Wei Xiaobao as he took him to the rockery outside. “Gui Gong-gong,” he said in low voice, “How are you going to rescue them?’

Seeing his friendly attitude, Wei Xiaobao thought, “His Majesty told me to kill one or two Imperial Bodyguards on this rescue mission, so that Liu Yizhou and the others won’t be suspicious. But this Zhang Laoge [‘Ol’ older brother Zhang’] is very good to me, I can’t bear to kill him. Luckily I have that stinky girl’s letter, that ‘deserved-to-die’ surnamed Liu will believe me a thousand times, ten thousand times.” After slight hesitation he said, “I’ll go in and interrogate these three sons of a turtle again, and then I’ll act accordingly.”

Zhang Kangnian laughed while cupping his fist and said, “Thank you very much Gui Gong-gong.”

“Thank me for what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Zhang Kangnian replied, “Xiaoren simply handling matters following Gui Gong-gong’s suggestion. In the future I am sure Gong-gong will enjoy unceasing promotion. Xiaoren will get promoted and enjoy riches, I won’t fail in everything I do.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “You only need to serve His Majesty with utter devotion, and then in the future you will have only one thing to fear.”

Zhang Kangnian was stunned. “What thing?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “That the storage in your home is too small, you can’t store more money.”

Zhang Kangnian laughed aloud. And then he lowered his voice and said, “Gong-gong, about a dozen of us have made a secret agreement that all of us will do our best to help Gong-gong to accomplish your missions. Whatever happens we will support Gong-gong to achieve the Head Court Eunuch position in the Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled, “That would be wonderful!” he said, “Let’s wait until I am a few years older before we talk about it again.” Recalling how Qian Laoben delivered a live pig to patch a loophole, he asked, “Where did Deputy Chief Rui Dong go? Dolong Zongguan and all of you are very busy, how come I do not see Deputy Chief Rui?”

“Most likely the Empress Dowager sends him on a mission outside the Palace,” Zhang Kangnian replied.

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “When you see Deputy Chief Rui, tell him to come to my room,” he said, “His Majesty wanted me to ask him some questions.” Zhang Kangnian promised to do that.

Wei Xiaobao entered the Imperial Bodyguard building and went straight to the room where Liu Yizhou and the others, three people, were bound. He did not see them for only one night, but their spirits seemed to be weakened a lot. Although they did not receive any more beating, but two days and two nights without any food and drink, even a man made of iron would not be able to withstand. The seven or eight Imperial Bodyguards keeping watch over them stood up and paid their respect to Wei Xiaobao; their manner was very respectful.

Wei Xiaobao loudly said, “His Majesty has issued an imperial decree: these three rebellious thieves committed treason and heresy, they are to be immediately beheaded in public. Quickly get some wine, meat, rice and vegetables, let them eat until they are full, so that when they die, they won’t be hungry ghosts.” The Imperial Bodyguards complied with one voice.

The dragon-bearded man Wu Lishen said in loud voice, “We will be loyal to Ping Xi Wang to the death, we are leaving a good name for hundreds of generation, ten thousand times better than you, animals who become the lackeys of the Tatars.” One of the Imperial Bodyguards raised his whip and lashed it down, while cursing, “That rebellious thief Wu Sangui will be executed soon, along with his entire family to the third generation.”

Liu Yizhou looked agitated, his eyes were staring at the ceiling, his lips were trembling slightly, but nobody knew what he was saying.

The guards brought in three large bowls of rice and three large bowl of wine. Wei Xiaobao said, “When these three rebellious thieves heard they are going to be beheaded, they are shaking from fear all over. I am afraid that the wine, they won’t be able to drink, the rice, they won’t be able to swallow. I must bother three Xiongdi a little bit, please feed each of them two mouthful of wine, I don’t want them to drink too much. About the rice, please feed them. If they are drunk, they won’t feel the pain on their neck when their heads roll, it would be too easy for them. When they get to the underworld and Yanluo Wang sees three drunk ghosts, he will be very angry, and then each drunken ghost will get three hundred floggings with the stick. That means we are giving them too much of a bad time.” The Imperial Bodyguards laughed; then they fed the three prisoners the wine and the rice.

Wu Lishen gulping the wine and gobbling the rice, his expression was calm and composed. With each mouthful of rice he ate, Ao Biao uttered a curse, “Dog servant!” Liu Yizhou looked deathly pale, he could not swallow his food, only less than half a bowl later he shook his head and did not want to eat.

“That’s enough,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Everybody out. His Majesty ordered me to ask them some questions. After that, the beheading.”

Zhang Kangnian bowed and said, “Yes!” He led the Imperial Bodyguards out of the room and closed the door behind him.

When Wei Xiaobao heard the sound of their footsteps were far enough, he coughed and then leaned his head toward Wu Lishen, three people, sizing them up; his face showed a furtive smile.

“Dog eunuch,” Wu Lishen cursed, “What’s so funny?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am laughing on my own, what does it have to do with you?”

“Gong-gong,” Liu Yizhou suddenly said, “I … I am Liu Yizhou!”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, but before he could respond, Wu Lishen and Ao Biao shouted together, “What nonsense are you talking about?”

“Gong-gong,” Liu Yizhou said, “I am asking you to save me, please … please save us.”

Wu Lishen shouted loudly, “Greedy for life, afraid of death; what kind of hero or warrior are you? Why should you open your mouth asking for help?”

Liu Yizhou said, “He … he said Xiao Gongye and my Shifu asked … asked him to save … to save us.”

Wu Lishen shook his head and said, “He’s just trying to swindle us, and you believe him?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Shaking Head Lion Wu Laoyezi [old master], when you look at my face, could you shake your head a little less?”

Wu Lishen was startled, “You … you …” he said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “And this gentleman Blue Haired Tiger Ao Biao, Ao Dage, is your proud disciple, isn’t he? Famous master must produce outstanding disciple; my utmost admiration.” Wu Lishen and Ao Biao’s countenance changed greatly; they were so surprised that they were at a loss.

From his pocket Wei Xiaobao produced the folded letter Fang Yi wrote. He unfolded it and held it in front of Liu Yizhou’s face. He laughed and said, “Look, who wrote this letter?”

As soon as Liu Yizhou looked, he was overjoyed; with a trembling voice he said, “It’s really Fang Shimei’s [younger martial sister] handwriting. Wu Shishu, Fang Shimei said that this … this Gong-gong came to rescue us, she is telling me to obey him in everything.”

“Bring it here, let me look,” Wu Lishen said.

Wei Xiaobao held the letter in front of Wu Lishen; he thought, “I wonder what words of love are written on it; my first wife has no sense of shame, she only wants to snatch a husband, she would write any overly romantic words of love.” He heard Wu Lishen read: “‘Liu Shige, Gui Gong-gong is one of us, his righteousness reaches the clouds and the sky, his action braves strange dangers, he has come to save, you must listen to Gui Gong-gong’s directives to escape from the tiger’s mouth. Younger sister Yi stated with her own hand.’ Um, there is special mark of our Mu Palace at the top; it’s actually not a fake.”

Hearing in the letter Fang Yi praised him with the words ‘his righteousness meager[12] to the clouds and the sky’, Wei Xiaobao was puzzled; he thought that the thicker the righteousness the better. When the righteousness is meager, it would only disappear into the air, what else there is to be left? But he had heard people saying those words several times before, so he knew it must be very good words of praise. He also heard that in the letter Fang Yi did not write any overly romantic words of love, he was even more delighted. “What do you mean it’s fake?” he asked.

“Gong-gong,” Liu Yizhou asked, “Where is my Fang Shimei?”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao said, “In my room.” But with his mouth he said, “At this moment she is hiding in a very safe place. After I save you and take you out, I’ll find a way to save her, so that you can meet her.”

Tears streaming down from Liu Yizhou’s eyes, sobbing, he said, “I don’t know how to repay Gong-gong’s great kindness and benevolence.” When a moment ago he heard Wei Xiaobao said that they were going to be beheaded right after eating and drinking, he was originally brave; but suddenly confronted with life juncture, his fear could not longer be restrained, and he blurted out that he was Liu Yizhou with the hope that in the face of imminent peril[13] he could somehow save his life. By the time he saw Fang Yi’s letter, he found that the chance of survival looked promising, his joy was beyond description.

Yet when facing death Wu Lishen was without any fear; he still wanted to investigate thoroughly. “May I know Sire’s honorable surname and great given name?” he asked, “Why are you willing to lend a hand?”

“I might as well explain everything clearly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “All my friends call me Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi. Don’t feel strange, I used to have skin disease and dysentery, but now I am healed. I have a good friend, the Xiangzhu of Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui, his name is Wei Xiaobao. He said that there is an old fellow in Tian Di Hui by the name of Eight-Arm Ape Xu Tianchuan, because of a dispute involving supporting Tang, supporting Gui, whatever, he killed your Mu Palace’s Bai Hansong. The Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye and Bai Hanfeng are unwilling to let the matter rest, but the dead can’t come back to life. Without any other option, that Wei Xiaobao came and asked me to rescue the three of you, to compensate the Mu Palace, giving careful consideration to the yi qi between the two sides.”

Wu Lishen was fully aware of the dispute with Tian Di Hui, his suspicion gone instantly, he shook his head continuously, and then nodded, saying, “So that’s how it is. Just now Zaixia said some offensive words, I have offended you.”

“You are too kind!” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that we must think of an ingenious way of escaping from the Palace.”

“Whatever way Gui Gong-gong thought must be ingenious,” Liu Yizhou said, “We will obey your instructions.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I haven’t thought of any plan.” He asked Wu Lishen, “What strategy does Wu Laoyezi have?”

“There are too many dog Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace,” Wu Lishen said, “We can’t break out in the daytime, we’ll wait until night, you try to cut off the ox tendon binding our hands and feet, let us rush out and kill the enemy under the darkness.”

“This plan is wonderful,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But I am afraid it is not extremely certain.” He paced back and forth in the room, pondering the best solution.

Ao Biao said, “We’d better just make a dash out, if we fail, the worst that can happen is we die anyway.”

“Ao Shige,” Liu Yizhou said, “Don’t interrupt Gui Gong-gong’s train of thought.” Ao Biao glared angrily at him.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “It would be best to use some drug; if the Imperial Bodyguards are drugged, I don’t have to harm any human life.” Walking out the room, he said to Zhang Kangnian, “Zhang Dage, I want to use some drug, I wonder if you could fix some for me immediately?”

“Sure, sure,” Zhang Kangnian said with a laugh, “Zhao Er Ge [second older brother] has some ready-made knockout drug; I’ll get it right away.”

“Zhao Er Ge has some ready-made knockout drug?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Whatever for?”

Lowering his voice, Zhang Kangnian said, “Not concealing anything from Gui Gong-gong; the day before yesterday Deputy Chief Rui ordered us to arrest somebody, he told us to do it quietly, not to make it known publicly. This man’s martial art skill was profound, we were afraid that to fight him openly with saber and spear would mean sacrificing a lot of human lives; not only that, we would not be able to capture him alive, so Zhao Er Ge fixed some knockout drug to do the trick.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Unable to defeat others, you use a dirty trick.” He asked, “Was it a great success?”

“Stretch a hand and grab it,” Zhang Kangnian replied.

Hearing it was Rui Dong who sent them on a mission, Wei Xiaobao probed further, “Who was it that you were supposed to arrest? What did he violate?”

“It was the Commander of the Bordered Red Banner Hochabo,” Zhang Kangnian replied, “I heard he offended the Empress Dowager. After the Deputy Chief Rui arrested him, he forced Hochabo to hand over some kind of scripture; afterwards, he pasted a sheet of mulberry bark paper on his mouth and nose, and thus suffocated him to his death.”

Hearing this, Wei Xiaobao was secretly terrified, “Turns out that old wh0re is after that Forty-two-chapter Sutra again. After obtaining the sutra, why didn’t Rui Dong give it to the old wh0re immediately, but hid it on his body instead? Was he thinking of embezzling it for himself?” But then he immediately thought that in no way would Rui Dong dare to embezzle the sutra for himself. “Ah, right, as soon as the old wh0re saw Rui Dong, she did not have enough time to inquire about the sutra, because she immediately sent him out to kill me. Rui Dong was thinking of killing laozi first before handing over the sutra. In the end, it turned into the opera of the ‘Battle of Chang Ban Po’ [Long Sloping Hillside], in which that clown [lit. Little Flowery Face] named Xiahou-something died and lost his treasured sword. Doesn’t that turn laozi into Zhao Zilong of Changsan, who charged in and out of enemy formations seven times in succession?”[14] He casually asked, “What kind of sutra was that? It sounds very important.”

“We do not know,” Zhang Kangnian replied, “Let me go get the knockout drug.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll have to bother you some more: please tell the Catering Department to deliver two tables of top-notch feast here. I want to invite all brothers for a banquet.”

Zhang Kangnian happily said, “Gong-gong wants to reward us with food and wine. As long as we follow Gong-gong, we won’t have to worry about the lack of food and drink for the rest of our lives.”

Not too long afterwards, Zhang Kangnian was back with the knockout drug. It was packaged in a very large bundle, perhaps it was more than half a catty. In a low voice he said, “This large bundle of drug is enough to put several hundred people to sleep. For only one person, take a little bit with a finger nail like this, mix it with tea or wine, it should be enough.” He then ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to move the table and arrange the stools, telling them it was Gui Gong-gong who bestow them the wine. The Imperial Bodyguards were delighted, they busily do the bidding.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Set the banquet in the prisoner room. We are having a good time, let those three damn assassins watch and be jealous, I want them to drool.”

The banquet table set up, the eunuch manager of the imperial kitchen, leading several little eunuchs and ‘sula’ [Book note: The low-level, odd jobs servants in the Qing Palace were called ‘sula’ in the Manchu dialect.] arrived, carrying boxes of food on shoulder poles. They set the dishes and wine pots on the table.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You, three rebellious thieves, have committed treason and heresy, your death is imminent, yet you still reluctant to admit your mistake. Right now you may watch your masters eating and drinking, if you can’t endure your appetite, just bark like a dog, laoye will reward you with a piece of meat.” The crowd of Imperial Bodyguards burst out in laughter.

“Dog Imperial Bodyguards, stinky eunuch,” Wu Lishen cursed, “Our Ping Xi Wang will soon dispatch troops from Yunnan all the way to attack Beijing, he will seize all of you, Imperial Bodyguards and a bunch of eunuchs, and will throw you into the river to feed the tortoises.”

Wei Xiaobao’s right hand entered his pocket, his palm grabbed half a handful of knockout drug. With his left hand he picked up the wine pot, and walked toward Wu Lishen. Raising the wine pot he laughed and said, “Rebellious thieve, do you want to drink wine?”

Wu Lishen did not understand Wei Xiaobao’s intention, he said loudly, “Drink or not, I don’t care! When Ping Xi Wang’s troops arrive, it will be difficult for you, little eunuch, to escape alive.”

With a cold laugh Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s not necessarily true!” Raising the wine pot high, he tossed his head backward, and poured the wine from high in the air into his open wide mouth. He swallowed a mouthful of wine and praised, “Nice wine!” He positioned the wine pot in his left hand level with his chest and pushed the pot’s lid aside with his right-hand’s forefinger, and then spilled the knockout drug in the palm of his right hand into the pot, and quickly pushed the lid back. He raised the pot in his left hand again, and shook it continuously in the air, while saying with a laugh, “Good rebellious thieve, death is near at hand, you still talk nonsense.” When he dropped the knockout drug into the pot, his body was covering the wine pot; other than Wu Lishen, nobody else saw him doing it. He shook the wine pot to mix the knockout drug with the wine.

Wu Lishen looked at Wei Xiaobao’s eyes; he understood immediately, and was secretly delighted. With a loud voice he said, “Real man looks at death in the eye, if I open my mouth to beg forgiveness, I am not a real man. Just give that pot of wine to me, laozi will drink it without a moment’s hesitation.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You want to drink wine, I am not going to give you any, ha ha, ha ha!” Turning around, he walked back to the banquet table and filled the Imperial Bodyguards’ cups to the brim.

Zhang Kangnian and the guards all stood up, saying, “We don’t dare; how can we let Gong-gong pour the wine?”

“We are all brothers,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why be so polite?” Raising his own cup, he said, “Please, please!”

The Imperial Bodyguards were just about to drink the wine when suddenly there was a shout from the outside, “The Empress Dowager summons Xiao Guizi. Is Xiao Guizi here?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “In here!” he replied, and put the wine cup down. He thought, “The old wh0re is looking for me? What does she want?” as he walked outside to meet the newcomers. He saw four eunuchs; the leader was a big man with both his chest and belly sticking out, he looked rather impressive. Wei Xiaobao kneeled down immediately and said, “Servant Xiao Guizi receives the imperial decree.”

The eunuch said, “The Empress Dowager has something important for you; you are to report to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful immediately.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He stood up, while thinking, “The drugged wine is already poured. As soon as I leave, naturally the Imperial Bodyguards will drink it immediately, then my trickery will be exposed. Nothing I can do about it. But I must not go to Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Do you think Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful is Lovely Spring Courtyard? Where the old wh0re invites moneybags, young and old?” Right now he had numerous Imperial Bodyguards by his side, so he was not afraid at all. He laughed and asked, “Gong-gong, what’s your honorable surname? How come we have never met before?”

“Humph!” the eunuch snorted; he said, “My name is Dong Jinkui. Let’s go now. The Empress Dowager is waiting, we have been looking for you for half of the day!”

Wei Xiaobao stepped forward and got hold of the eunuch’s wrist, saying, “Dong Gong-gong, come and see something interesting.” He pulled the eunuch toward the inside room.

Hearing it was something interesting, Dong Jinkui followed him inside. But as he entered the inner hall, he saw two banquet tables. “Good!” he said in a loud voice, “You live a very happy and prosperous life. Xiao Guizi, the Empress Dowager appointed you to be in charge of the Catering Department, yet you use your official authority for private interest, you are squandering the Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s money.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “These Imperial Bodyguards brothers have rendered great service by capturing the thieves, His Majesty ordered me to reward all of them, from top to bottom. Come, come, come, Dong Gong-gong, and these three Gong-gong, please sit down and drink a cup.”

Dong Jinkui shook his head and said, “I don’t drink! The Empress Dowager summons you, why don’t you quickly go?”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “These Imperial Bodyguards officers are all good friends, if you do not even want to drink a cup with them, you will look down on them too much.”

“I don’t drink wine,” Dong Jinkui said.

Wei Xiaobao turned to Zhang Kangnian and gave him a wink; he said, “Zhang Dage, this Dong Gong-gong’s arrogance is not small, he does not want to drink with us.”

Zhang Kangnian raised a cup and pushed it toward Dong Jinkui’s hand; he said with a laugh, “Dong Gong-gong, we all enjoy this reward together.” Dong Jinkui did not have any choice, he dried up a cup.

“Now that’s what I call a good friend,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “The other three Gong-gong must also drink a cup.” The three eunuchs received three cups from the Imperial Bodyguards’ hands, they also drank the wine.

“Good!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Now everybody accompany them by drinking a cup.” He poured wine into four more empty cups. The Imperial Bodyguards raised their cups and drank their wine.

When raising his cup, Wei Xiaobao used the sleeve of his left hand to cover the wine cup, when he tossed the cup, he poured the wine into his sleeve. Afraid that one cup was not potent enough, he wanted to pour another cup for everybody, but an Imperial Bodyguard took the wine pot from him and said, “Let me pour!”

Dong Jinkui frowned and said, “Gui Gong-gong, when we heard the Empress Dowager summons us, everybody would be on our feet and rush to answer. Why do you leisurely mind your own business by drinking wine? Aren’t you being too disrespectful?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Of course I have my reason. Come, come, come, everybody drink another cup, and then I’ll explain.”

Zhang Kangnian raised his cup toward Dong Jinkui and said, “Dong Gong-gong, please.”

“I don’t have time to drink wine,” Dong Jinkui said, but when he said that, his body swayed slightly.

Wei Xiaobao knew the knockout drug in Dong Jinkui’s stomach was about to take effect; he stooped down suddenly and cried out, “Aiyo, my tummy hurts!”

The Imperial Bodyguards felt dizzy; someone cried out, “What happened? Something’s wrong with the wine!”

Wei Xiaobao shouted angrily, “Dong Gong-gong, you received order from the Empress Dowager to reward us with poisonous wine, didn’t you? Why did you put poison in the wine?”

Dong Jinkui was greatly shocked, with a trembling voice he said, “There … there’s no such thing.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your method is quite ruthless, you dare to poison the wine? Brothers, let us stake our lives to fight him.”

The Imperial Bodyguards were dizzy and light-headed, they were already at the brink of losing their consciousness. ‘Crash! Bang!’ Two of the eunuchs were already unable to withstand the power of the drug, they fell down first, followed by Dong Jinkui, Zhang Kangnian, the rest of the Imperial Bodyguards and the remaining eunuch crashed down one after another onto the tables and the chairs; it was very chaotic.

Wei Xiaobao rushed forward and landed a kick on Dong Jinkui’s body. “Ugh!” Dong Jinkui grunted, his hands and feet twitched, but he was unable to open his eyes. Wei Xiaobao was ecstatic; he rushed to close the door first, and then pulling his dagger, he stabbed Dong Jinkui and the three eunuchs on the chest. “Ah!” Liu Yizhou cried out in great surprise. Wei Xiaobao used the dagger to cut off the ox tendon binding Wu Lishen, Liu Yizhou and Ao Biao’s hands and feet. His dagger could cut iron like cutting mud, it cut the ox tendon like cutting noodles. Wu Lishen and the others, three people’s martial art skill was not weak, especially Wu Lishen whose skill was very profound. Although they were tortured, it was no more than skin and flesh wound, their muscles and bones were not harmed at all.

“Gui Gong-gong,” Liu Yizhou said, “How … how are we going to go out?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Laoyezi, Ao Shixiong, find Imperial Bodyguards whose statures are similar to yours, wear their uniforms. Liu Shixiong, you don’t have any facial hair, you may disguise yourself as an eunuch, take this surnamed Dong’s clothing.”

“Can I disguise myself as an Imperial Bodyguard?” Liu Yizhou asked.

“No, can’t do! You must dress as an eunuch,” Wei Xiaobao said. Liu Yizhou did not dare to argue, he simply nodded. The three of them quickly changed their clothes.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Come with me. No matter who talk with you, just act dumb, do not reply anything.” From his pocket he took out the dissolving powder. He pulled Dong Jinkui’s body to the corner of the room. Using his dagger, he stabbed several times on the upper and lower parts of the corpse, and then sprinkled some powder on each hole to dissolve the body quicker. Only then did he open the door and led the three people out.

Once they were out of the Imperial Bodyguard building, he closed the door behind him, and walked directly toward the Catering Department.

The Catering Department was located east of the Heavenly Purity Palace, it was very close to the Imperial Bodyguard building, so they arrived in almost no time at all. They saw Boss Qian had already been waiting respectfully, his men were carrying two big pigs, already washed out and very clean.

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance sank, “Old Qian,” he shouted harshly, “You are very unreasonable! I told you to bring several good pigs, not thin and dry like this, some old sows that look like they have given birth to seventeen, eighteen litters to skimp on Laozi. You … you … damn it, do you still want to eat?”

As he prattled on, Boss Qian bowed down in fear and repeatedly said, “Yes!”

The eunuchs of the imperial kitchen saw that the two pigs Boss Qian brought were actually big and fat, but the details in which the goods was delivered was actually the only way the eunuch manager of the imperial kitchen took a cut. It did not matter if the cattle, sheep, chicken or duck you delivered was extremely superior, in the mouth of the eunuch manager of the imperial kitchen it all turned into a spoiled, low quality goods that even if it were given as alms to the beggars, nobody would want it. Only if the delivery was accompanied by a bag of money the spoiled, low quality goods would then turn into high-quality goods fit to be eaten by the Emperor or Empress Dowager. When the eunuchs heard Wei Xiaobao, it dawned on them what was going on; they echoed Wei Xiaobao, “Take them out! These two pigs are stinky and rotten, they are only good to be used as fertilizer in the vegetable garden.”

Wei Xiaobao grew angrier, he waved his hand and said to Wu Lishen and the others, three people, “Imperial Bodyguard brothers and Gonggong, please escort this fellow out, kick them out of the Palace altogether and don’t let them come back in.”

Boss Qian did not know Wei Xiaobao’s intention; showing his concern, he said, “Gong-gong, please forgive me for this incident, Xiao … Xiaoren will come back with fatter and bigger pigs, plus some meager … meager gift for Gong-gong. This time … I am asking Gong-gong to bear with me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I want pork, I will send someone to get you. Now go, get lost!”

Bowing deep, Boss Qian said, “Yes, yes!”

The eunuchs of the imperial kitchen looked at each other with a smirk on their faces, they thought, “If you have brought a gift, naturally Gui Gong-gong won’t drive you away.”

Wu Lishen, Liu Yizhou and Ao Biao, three people followed behind Boss Qian, busily pushing him out of the kitchen. Wei Xiaobao also went out after them. When they reached the corridor, he looked around and after ascertaining that nobody else was around, he said in low voice, “Qian Laoxiong [old brother], these three gentlemen are Mu Palace’s heroes; the first one is none other than the renowned Shaking-head Lion Wu Laoyezi.”

“Ah!” Qian Laoben exclaimed, “It’s an honor to meet you at last,” he said happily, “Zaixia did not turn my head to greet the three gentlemen, please do not hold it against me.”

Hearing that he was Wei Xiaobao’s companion, Wu Lishen was delighted, and said busily, “We are in a dangerous place, this ought to be so.”

“Qian Laoge [old brother],” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please tell your honorable society’s Wei Xiangzhu that Lai Li Tou Xiao Sanzi has accomplished the mission, please take these three good friends to see Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye and Liu Laoyezi. As soon as these three friends left, the Palace will pursue the assassins immediately, you might not be able to enter the Palace anymore.”

“Yes, yes,” Qian Laoben said, “My humble society, from top to bottom, is highly indebted to Gong-gong’s kindness.”

Wu Lishen asked, “So this Qian friend is from Tian Di Hui?”

“Exactly,” Boss Qian replied.

The five of them quickly walked toward the Shen Wu Gate. The guards on the gate saw Wei Xiaobao and respectfully asked his well-being, “Gui Gong-gong, how are you?”

“Everybody, how are you?” Wei Xiaobao replied. Although the Imperial Bodyguards did not recognize Wu Lishen and the others, three people, seeing Wei Xiaobao was pulling Wu Lishen’s right arm, nobody dared to ask anything.

The five of them left the Shen Wu Gate and walked several dozens more steps. Wei Xiaobao said, “Zaixia will have to return to the Palace, I’m sure we will meet again someday. You don’t need to be overly courteous.”

Wu Lishen said, “We do not dare to hope for repaying your kindness in saving our lives. Hereafter if Tian Di Hui has any urgent business, the Old Wu and Old Ao, master and disciple, will go through water and tread on fire without hesitation.”

“I don’t dare,” Wei Xiaobao said. He saw that Liu Yizhou, who was walking ahead in big strides, turning his head to look at them, as if blaming Wu Lishen for not walking quicker; this place was not far from the Palace Gate, they were not out of danger yet.

Wei Xiaobao smiled slightly, and walked back toward the Shen Wu Gate. He said to the Imperial Bodyguards at the Gate, “That Gong-gong is the Empress Dowager’s trusted aide, he said he is being sent on mission by the Empress Dowager, he asked me to personally escort those few men out of the Palace. Damn it, don’t they know the way out?”

“They are so arrogant!” the Imperial Bodyguards replied, “How can they dare to tire out Gui Gong-gong? Who do they think they are? The Prince[15]?”

Another Imperial Bodyguard said, “Even the Prince will not ask Gui Gong-gong to personally escort him out.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “They are the Empress Dowager’s envoy, they action is unfathomable, I have suspicion in my heart, but that eunuch showed me a decree in the Empress Dowager’s personal handwriting, so we as the servants won’t dare not to obey, right?”

“Yes, yes!” the Imperial Bodyguards replied, “What can we do about it?”

Wei Xiaobao returned to the Imperial Bodyguard building and saw everyone was still unconscious, nobody awoke yet. He scooped a pot of cold water and splashed it onto Zhang Kangnian’s head. Zhang Kangnian slowly woke up, he smiled and said. “Gui Gong-gong, how could I be drunk that easily?” He was embarrassed as he sat up. As he saw the condition of the room, he was greatly shocked. “How … how … those assassins … are they gone?” he said with a trembling voice.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Empress Dowager sent that surnamed Dong eunuch to drug us all, and took the three assassins away.”

The knockout drug was clearly coming from Zhang Kangnian who had personally fetched it and given it to Wei Xiaobao. When he heard this, he did not believe it the least bit, but the effect of the drug had not vanished completely, his mind was still muddled, he did not know how to reply.

“Zhang Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Chief Dolong secretly told you to let the assassins out, didn’t he?”

Zhang Kangnian nodded. “Chief Dolong said that it was His Majesty’s secret order; after the assassins are released, we are to investigate who the rebellious thief boss is.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “That’s right. But when the assassins escape from the Palace, are the guards watching over them guilty or not?”

Zhang Kangnian was startled. “That … that … naturally we are guilty, but … but it was Chief Dolong himself who gave us the order. We are the subordinates, we only followed orders.”

“Did Chief Dolong give you any written order?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Zhang Kangnian was even more startled. “He … he did not,” he replied, “He said it with his own mouth, why should … why should I need a written order? Chief Dolong said it was His Majesty’s order.”

“Did Chief Dolong show you His Majesty’s imperial edict in his own handwriting?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“No … he did not,” Zhang Kangnian’s voice trembled, “Could it be … could it be that Chief Dolong did not tell the truth?” His entire body trembled, his teeth chattered, making a ‘click, click’ noise.

“Not that he did not tell the truth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am only afraid Chief Dolong would not want to admit mistakes, at the last moment he might shift the blame on you; won’t that be terrible? Zhang Dage, why did His Majesty want to set the assassins free?”

Zhang Kangnian said, “Chief Dolong said that we want to extract the information on who is the mastermind behind this from the three assassins.”

“That is the truth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that when the assassins escape from the Palace, and this matter is not investigated, even the assassins won’t believe it. And then the mastermind behind them could not be found. Perhaps His Majesty would execute several people and announce it publicly, so that the assassins won’t get suspicious.”

By saying this, Wei Xiaobao was not slandering the Emperor; Kangxi did order him to kill several Imperial Bodyguards to make the assassins believe him.

Zhang Kangnian was so frightened that he fell on his knees and cried out, “Gong-gong, please save me!” While repeatedly kowtowed to Wei Xiaobao.

“Zhang Dage is overly courteous,” Wei Xiaobao said. He reached out to help him up, and said with a laugh, “We have some friends readily available to take the blame. We’ll shift the blame onto those four eunuchs’ heads. We’ll say they used knockout drug to drug us all and set the assassins free; won’t that clear you from responsibility? When His Majesty hears that these four eunuchs were sent by the Empress Dowager, naturally he won’t investigate it further. His Majesty did not really want to kill you, as long as there is someone to take the blame, we will cover up this matter of escaping assassins. His Majesty may even reward you.”

Zhang Kangnian was ecstatic, “Wonderful, wonderful!” he cried out, “Thank you Gong-gong, for your kindness in saving my life.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Even if I did not save your life, but by not killing you with a stab when you were unconscious, I have actually shown you mercy. With his own golden mouth the Emperor has ordered me to kill several Imperial Bodyguards.” He said, “Let us quickly awaken the brothers, we’ll tell them that those four eunuchs have come to set the assassins free.”

“Yes, yes!” Zhang Kangnian replied, yet he was still unsure whether he could really escape the responsibility. In his frightened state, his limbs felt weak. He scooped up some cold water and revived the Imperial Bodyguards.

When they all heard that eunuch Dong Jinkui had drugged them, killed the other three eunuchs, and rescued the three assassins, they all broke into cursing and swearing. But in their hearts they all wondered, “Why did the Empress Dowager want to release the assassins? Could it be that those assassins were sent by the Empress Dowager?” But since it involved the Empress Dowager, they only dared to ponder it in their hearts, nobody dared to voice their doubt publicly. By this time Dong Jinkui’s body, as well as his clothes, had already vanished completely, they all assumed that he had led the assassins out of the Palace.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his own residence. As soon as he entered the inner room, Mu Jianping busily asked, “Gui Dage, do you have any news?”

“Gui Dage does not have any news,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But Good Gege has some.”

Mu Jianping smiled and said, “It’s not me who is anxious about the news. The one who is anxious is the one who should call you Good Gege.”

A burst of redness appeared on Fang Yi’s face. “Good Xiongdi[16]!” she said in a low voice, “You are younger than I am, I’ll just call you Good Xiongdi, is that alright?”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “My good wife has turned into my good Jiejie[17], in an instant the hen has turned into a duck. It’s alright. I have rescued him!”

Fang Yi sat up abruptly. With a trembling voice she said, “You … did you say my Liu Shige has been rescued out?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A real man gave his words, some horses cannot chase it. I promised you I would rescue him, naturally I did.”

“How … how did you save him?” Fang Yi asked.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “A recluse sage possesses a brilliant scheme. Next time you see your Shige, he can tell you in person.”

Fang Yi heaved a deep sigh, she raised her head toward the ceiling and said, “Thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, it is indeed Bodhisattva’s blessing.”

Seeing Fang Yi’s expression, which clearly showed her delight from the bottom of her heart, Wei Xiaobao was enraged, he snorted softly, and no longer said anything.

Mu Jianping said, “Shijie, you thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, and thank Bodhisattva, how come you did not thank the Good Xiongdi?”

Fang Yi said, “Good Xiongdi‘s great benevolence and kindness cannot be repaid by simply saying one ‘thank you’.”

Listening to her, Wei Xiaobao’s cheerful mood returned; “You don’t need to repay me,” he said.

“Good Xiongdi, did Liu Shige say anything?” Fang Yi asked.

“He did not say much,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He only asked me to save him.”

“Um, did he ask about us?” Fang Yi asked.

Wei Xiaobao cocked his head to think, then he said, “He did not. I told him that you are in a very safe place, and that he doesn’t have to worry, soon I may send you out to meet him.”

Fang Yi nodded. “Yes!” she said. Suddenly two lines of tears flowing down her cheeks.

Shijie,” Mu Jianping said, “Why are you crying?”

Fang Yi said with a sob, “I … I am so happy in my heart.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Damn it, for that pretty boy[18] Liu Yizhou you are this happy, laozi does not like to look at this tumultuous wave too much. Xiao Xuanzi told me to investigate the mastermind behind the assassination attempt, I’d better go out to fool around a little bit, then come back to report to him.”

Leaving the Palace immediately, he strolled leisurely around the Heavenly Bridge area.

[1] Chinese shawm, a double-reed woodwind instrument, similar to modern day Oboe.

[2] An old fashioned square table to seat eight people.

[3] Nujiang river, south of Tibet and northwest of Yunnan, the upper reaches of Salween river, forming border of Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand.

[4] Orig. ‘Lao di’ – old younger brother. Also in subsequent paragraphs. Liu Dahong always refer to Tian Di Hui people as ‘lao di’.

[5] Orig. Jing Cheng Zhili, i.e. Ming and Qing dynasty provinces directly administered by Beijing, including Beijing, Tianjin, most of Hebei, Henan, and part of Shandong.

[6] Lit. Old Master. The online text has ‘Laobobo’ – Old Uncle (someone older than one’s own father), or Grandpa, a polite form of address for old man.

[7] Lit. ‘scabies/skin disease dysentery little third’. Xiao Sanzi can also mean ‘the other man (or woman), someone who is romantically involved with married woman/man.

[8] I just want to point out that Wei Xiaobao’s list was a lot longer than this: paternal and maternal grandparents (yeye, nainai, waigong, waipo), maternal uncles and aunts and their spouses (yizhang, yimu, jiujiu, jiumu), paternal aunts and their husbands (guzhang, gumu), maternal cousins, male and female, younger and older (biaoge, biaodi, biaojie, biaomei). Interestingly, he did not mention other relatives from his father’s side (paternal uncles and their spouses and paternal cousins).

[9] Lit. ‘youth’; it is also a term of endearment to address one’s husband (or in this case, husband-to-be).

[10] Orig. ‘coveting Sichuan once Gansu has been seized’.

[11] Wearing green cap – one’s spouse is having an affair behind one’s back.

[12] Orig. 义薄云天. Only in formal Chinese does ‘薄’ mean ‘approach/reaches’; thus, it’s very natural for Wei Xiaobao to interpret it as meaning ‘thin/meager’, which is what ‘薄’ usually means. (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

[13] Orig. ‘a thousand pounds hangs by a thread’.

[14] The battle of Chang Ban Po was one of the most famous battles in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in large part due to the heroics of Liu Bei’s general Zhao Yun, also known as Zhao Zilong. In the battle, Zhao Zilong slew Xiahou En [whom Wei Xiaobao called ‘Xiaohou-something’) and took the precious ‘Qinggang Sword’, which actually belonged to Cao Cao himself, from Xiaohou En’s corpse. With the Qinggang Sword, his own spear, and while carrying Liu Bei’s only son Liu Shan, Zhao Zilong charged in and out of Cao Cao’s formations seven times in succession, slaying over 50 of Cao Cao’s commanders, before finally being able to break through and escape with Liu Bei’s child. Cao Cao, witnessing his valor, had ordered his archers not to shoot at Zhao Yun, hoping to take him alive and sway him to his own side. (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

[15]Orig. 亲王贝勒 (qin wang bei lei) 亲王, meaning ‘royal prince’, and 贝勒, which is a Mongolian title which means much the same thing; i.e., a prince with blood ties to the royal family, usually a son of an Emperor. (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

[16] Reminder: Xiongdi is a generic term for ‘brother’, as opposed to Gege, which is a term of endearment (sometimes even carries romantic notion) to address a male older than oneself.

[17] Jiejie is the female counterpart of Gege. See note 18 above.

[18] Orig. Xiao Bai Lian – little white face.

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