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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 14

CSI

Chapter 14
Exiles willing to perish for the hatred of a nation, seasons change the grieve for suffering people.

The area nearby the Heavenly Bridge of Beijing was full of peddlers selling all kinds of goods and street performers, it was also the place where Jianghu wanderers congregate. Wei Xiaobao had not come near the area when he saw twenty officers from the yamen with two bailiffs on the lead, dragging an iron chain, in which five shabby-clothed peddlers were locked. The officers were carrying seven or eight poles made of straw bundled together, the straw poles were full of candied fruits on sticks [bing tang hu lu, see previous chapter], so those five peddlers were obviously selling candied fruits.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved, he dodged to the side; as he watched the five peddlers locked by the officers passed by, he heard from among the crowd an old man said with a sigh, “These years, even selling candied fruits is violating the law of heavens.”

Wei Xiaobao was just about to inquire when suddenly he heard a cough, someone was coming close to him, the man had bent waist and hunched back, all the hair on his head was white, he was none other than the Eight-Armed Ape Xu Tianchuan. He signaled Wei Xiaobao with his eyes, and turned around to leave. Wei Xiaobao followed behind him. When they were in a secluded spot, Xu Tianchuan said, “Wei Xiangzhu, great news!”

Wei Xiaobao smiled slightly, he thought, “So you knew about I rescued Wu Lishen and the others out.” He said, “It was nothing.”

Xu Tianchuan stared at him. “Nothing?” he said, “Zongduozhu is here!”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “My … my Shifu is here?” he stammered.

“Exactly,” Xu Tianchuan said, “He arrived last night, he wanted me to try to contact Wei Xiangzhu, and have you meet the Senior immediately.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said. He had not seen his Shifu for more than half a year, and had not practiced martial art at all. When Shifu saw him, he might inquire the progress of Wei Xiaobao’s training, and he would have had to turn in a blank exam paper, how would it be good? Trying to stall, he said, “I am on an errand from the Emperor, I must return and report immediately. Let me finish this mission, and then I’ll see Shifu.”

Xu Tianchuan said, “Zongduozhu instructed me that he cannot stay in Beijing for long, he is asking Wei Xiangzhu to see him immediately no matter what.”

Seeing he could not make any more excuses, Wei Xiaobao did not have any choice but to brace himself and follow behind Xu Tianchuan toward Tian Di Hui’s temporary lodging. He mused, “If only I knew, these days I would simply stay inside the Palace and do not go out. Shifu can’t possibly come into the Palace and grab me out.”

Before they even entered the alley, he had already seen Tian Di Hui brethrens scattered around on the side of the street and at the mouth of the alley, acting as lookouts for their Zongduozhu. As he entered the building, he saw more people standing on guard by the doors.

When they reached the rear hall, he saw Chen Jinnan was sitting in the middle, talking to Li Lishi, Guan Anji, Fan Gang, Priest Xuanzhen, Qi Biaoqing, and the others. Wei Xiaobao rushed forward and kneeled down on the floor, calling out, “Shifu, you, Senior have arrived, now you may bring your disciple to a stop.”

“Good, good, good child,” Chen Jinnan said with a laugh, “Everybody praises you very much.”

Wei Xiaobao stood up; seeing his Shifu’s expression was very warm, half of the load in his heart was gone. “Shifu, are you well?” he asked.

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “I am very well. How is your martial art training? Is there any area which is not clear to you?”

Wei Xiaobao had already considered how he was going to offer excuses when his Shifu investigate his martial art training. Shifu was very astute, he would not be easily fooled, Wei Xiaobao would have to change according to the situation; he said, “There are a lot of areas not clear to me, I was hoping Shifu would come so I could ask Shifu for directions.”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Very good, this time I want to stay with you for a few days so that I can instruct you well.”

As he was saying this, the brother guarding the gate hurried came in, bowed and said, “Reporting to Zongduozhu: some people are paying a visit, they say they are from Mu Palace of Yunnan, Mu Jiansheng and Liu Dahong.”

Chen Jinnan was greatly delighted; he stood up and said, “Let’s greet them quickly.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Disciple has not changed my attire, it’s rather inconvenient to meet them.”

“You’re right,” Chen Jinnan said, “Wait for me in the back.”

Tian Di Hui people flocked out to greet the guests, Wei Xiaobao turned around toward the back of the hall, pulled a chair, and sat down.

Before long, he heard Liu Dahong’s loud and clear laughter, saying, “Zaixia’s lifelong aspiration is to see the world-famous Chen Zongduozhu. Today my desire is fulfilled, I am truly delighted.”

Chen Jinnan said, “To received Old Hero Liu’s respected affection, Zaixia is ashamed and dare not accept the honor.” They were entering the hall as they talked, and sat in their respective places as guests and hosts.

Mu Jiansheng said, “Is your honorable Society’s Wei Xiangzhu not here? Zaixia wants to personally thank him. Not one in my humble home, from top to bottom, does not appreciate Wei Xiangzhu’s great benevolence and kindness.”

Chen Jinnan had not known the reason, he was puzzled. “Wei Xiaobao is a very young child, Xiao Gongye holds him in such a high regard, you are praising the little kid too much.”

Someone said with a loud voice, “Zaixia, master and disciple, along with this Liu Shizhi [martial nephew Liu], our lives are saved by Wei Xiangzhu. Wei Xiangzhu’s righteousness reaches the clouds and the sky. Zaixia has told your honorable Society’s Qian Shifu, if honorable Society ever has any urgent business, the one surnamed Wu, master and disciple, will receive the orders any time.” From his voice, Wei Xiaobao knew he was the ‘Shaking Head Lion’ Wu Lishen.

Chen Jinnan was still unclear, he asked, “Qian Xiongdi, what matter was that?”

Qian Laoben accompanied Wu Lishen and the other, three people, to Mu Jiansheng’s residence, and was invited to enjoy meat and wine together with them. Afterwards, Mu Jiansheng and Liu Dahong personally took their people, asking Qian Laoben to lead the way, to Tian Di Hui’s temporary lodging to express their gratitude. They did not expect Zongduozhu to be there. Presently, hearing Chen Jinnan’s question, he briefly narrated what had happened. He said that Wei Xiangzhu had a good friend, who was an eunuch in the Qing Palace. This friend had accepted Wei Xiangzhu’s request, in spite of the danger, he had rescued Wu Lishen, three people, and had them out of the Palace.

As soon as Chen Jinnan heard the story, he knew that this good friend of Wei Xiangzhu was none other than Wei Xiaobao himself. He was very pleased, and said with a laugh, “Xiao Gongye, Liu Laoyezi, Wu Dage, the three of you are too polite. Our humble Society and your Mu Palace are working on a common cause. When one of our own is in trouble, we ought to lend a hand, that is only proper; how can you consider it as some benevolence or kindness that needs to be repaid? That Wei Xiaobao is Zaixia’s young disciple, he is young and does not understand much, it’s just that concerning yi qi, these two characters, he holds it in such a high regard …” Speaking to this point, he hesitated, “Xiaobao mingling in Qing Palace is actually a top secret, I hope he can pry into important classified information in the Palace to the benefit of the great undertaking of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. Since he had accomplished this major mission, sooner or later this news will spread in the Jianghu. If I conceal it from the Mu Palace, it will mean I am not regarding them as friends.”

Wu Lishen said, “We really want to see Wei Xiangzhu to express our gratitude in person.”

Chen Jinnan laughed and said, “We are all good friends, although the implication of this matter will not be small, I can’t conceal it from you. The one mingling in the Palace and became a little eunuch is my young disciple Wei Xiaobao himself. Xiaobao, come out and greet these Seniors.”

From behind the wall of the hall Wei Xiaobao replied, “Yes!” He turned around and came out, cupping his fist to salute everybody.

Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong, Wu Lishen, and the others stood up simultaneously, they were greatly amazed. They did not expect Wei Xiangzhu to be a little eunuch. Wu Lishen, Ao Biao, Liu Yizhou, three people did not expect the little eunuch who saved their lives was Wei Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui.

With a giggle Wei Xiaobao said to Wu Lishen, “Wu Laoyezi, just now in the imperial Palace, junior was telling you a fake name, would Senior please don’t blame me.”

Wu Lishen said, “We were in a dangerous place, it ought to be so. I was just talking to Ao Biao, that young hero handles the matter neatly, he has guts, he has lofty quality, he is truly an extraordinary character; how can there be such distinguished person in the Tatars’ womb? We were feeling strange. Turns out he is a Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui. That’s … hey, hey, no wonder, no wonder!” While saying that, he raised his thumb and did not stop shaking his head, his face showed his great admiration.

‘Shaking Head Lion’ Wu Lishen was Liu Dahong’s younger martial brother, his reputation in Jianghu was quite resounding. Hearing him praising and commending his disciple, Chen Jinnan was greatly delighted. He laughed and said, “Wu Xiong should not praise him too much, you are spoiling a little child.”

Liu Dahong tossed his head backwards and laughed aloud, he said, “Chen Zongduozhu, you alone can occupy the most prestigious position in the Wulin world. Your martial art skill is profound, your reputation is resounding, Tian Di Hui prospers like this under your leadership, moreover, you have received such a disciple who adds glory to you.”

Chen Jinnan cupped his fist and said, “Liu Laoyezi, by saying that, you are spoiling me.”

Liu Dahong said, “Chen Zongduozhu, in all my life, the number of people whom the one surnamed Liu admires is not that many. Your elegant manner has made me admire you from the bottom of my heart. Someday when the Tatars have been driven away and our Fifth Prince Zhu ascends the dragon throne, there won’t be a better person to be the Prime Minister other than yourself.”

Chen Jinnan smiled slightly and said, “Zaixia is without virtue and without ability, how can I dare to accept such an eminent status?”

Qi Biaoqing interrupted, “Liu Laoyezi, after the Tatars are driven away, the Third Prince Zhu will become the Emperor, he will restore the Great Ming. Everybody will definitely invite you, Senior, to hold the Grand Marshal position over the soldiers and horses.”

Liu Dahong’s eyes grew wide, he said, “You … what did you say? What Third Prince Zhu?”

Qi Biaoqing said, “When the Son of Heaven Longwu died for his country, he left behind the Third Prince Zhu, who is temporarily taking his residence in Taiwan. When our rivers and mountains are restored, naturally he will become the ruler.”

Liu Dahong sprang up, he said fiercely, “This time Tian Dihui saved my Shidi [younger martial brother] and his disciple, we have received great favor from you. But about the legitimacy of the Great Ming’s Son of Heaven, we must not make the least bit of mistake. Qi Laodi [old younger brother], the rightful Emperor ordained by heaven is clearly the Fifth Prince Zhu. Emperor Yongli was the rightful Emperor of the Great Ming, everybody in the world knows. You must not speak nonsense.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Liu Laoyezi, please don’t lose your temper. There is an important task in front of us, namely contacting Jianghu heroes; together we will oppose the Manchurian Qing. As for whether it will be the Third Prince Zhu or Fifth Prince Zhu who will become the Emperor in the future, it is still too early to mention, we should not harm the friendship between us. Naturally who will be the legitimate Emperor of the Great Ming is an important matter, but it is not for us as the officers to understand clearly for a short while. Come, come, come, let’s have some wine, we’ll drink and be merry first. As long as everybody work together for a common purpose, namely to wipe out the Tatars, what matter cannot be discussed slowly?”

Mu Jiansheng shook his head and said, “Chen Zongduozhu is wrong here! When the man is not just, the words will be unfavorable, when the words are unfavorable, the endeavor will not succeed. We are supporting the Fifth Prince Zhu not to covet any glory and riches. If only Chen Zongduozhu understood the ‘Mandate of Heaven’, you would display utter loyalty to the Fifth Prince Zhu. We from the Mu Palace, from top to bottom, exhort Chen Zongduozhu to the greatest extend not to dare to disobey.”

Chen Jinnan smiled and shook his head. “The sky cannot have two suns, the people cannot have two rulers. The Third Prince Zhu is alive and well in Taiwan. Taiwan’s several hundred thousand troops, Tian Di Hui’s more than a hundred thousand brothers, have already vowed loyalty and devotion to the Thirds Prince Zhu long ago.”

With glowering eyes Liu Dahong loudly said, “Chen Zongduozhu is talking about several hundred thousand troops, more than a hundred thousand brothers, are you trying to rely on numbers to gain victory? But the millions of common people all know that the Son of Heaven Yongli perished for his country in Myanmar, he was the last emperor of the Great Ming. If we do not stand up for the Emperor Yongli’s offspring, won’t we let this Son of Heaven of the Great Ming, who had suffered untold hardships, and finally died a horrible death, down?” If his voice was originally sounded like a mighty bell, this loud speech was even more ear-splitting; but at the end of his speech, his heart ached and his voice unexpectedly turned hoarse.

Chen Jinnan’s visit to Beijing this time was actually to learn more about Xu Tianchuan, who because of the dispute about the legitimacy of King Tang over King Gui had had a fight with the Bai Family Brothers of the Mu Palace, to such an extent as to accidentally kill Bai Hansong. Chen Jinnan was wholeheartedly devoted to the great undertaking of fighting the Qing, restoring the Ming. If the Tatars had not been driven out, yet there was a struggle between partners of the common goal, the great endeavor of fighting the Qing would face severe obstacle. Therefore, as soon as he learned about it, he rushed in that same night from Henan to the Capital, hoping that by exercising extreme forbearance he would be able to obtain Mu Palace’s forgiveness.

Upon his arrival in Beijing, he inquired right away and found out that the situation was much better than he anticipated. Tian Di Hui people in Beijing, under the leadership of Wei Xiaobao, had already met face to face with the head of the Mu Palace, neither side dishonor each other, there was hope yet for the better. After learning that Wei Xiaobao had saved Wu Lishen and the others, three people, he had no doubt that the unintentional killing of Ban Hansong by Xu Tianchuan would be settled. Unexpectedly Qi Biaoqing and Liu Dahong raised the subject of Tang-Gui’s strive for the throne; the situation had once again become gradually tense [lit. ‘with swords drawn and bows bent’].

Seeing Liu Dahong shedding tears when talking about Yongli losing his life for his country, he could not help his own heart from hurting; he said, “His Majesty Yongli died for his country, man and heaven were angered. The people of old said, ‘Although Chu has only three households, when the Qin perishes, Chu must rise[1]’, much less our Han people, who are a hundred times more numerous than the Tatars? Although the Tatars’ power is great, our Han people must be ‘millions of people all of one mind’, there’s no need to worry about not able to drive out the barbarians and restoring our rivers and mountains. Mu Xiao Gongye, Liu Laoyezi, our hatred is unavenged, why do we have a dispute among ourselves first? Today we make a plan, we ought to work together with our heart and soul, to kill that servant Wu Sangui, to avenge His Majesty Yongli, and to avenge Mu Lao Gongye [old duke Mu].”

Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong, Wu Lishen, and the others stood up and said together, “Very true, very true!” Some people had tears streaming down their faces, some people shook all over their bodies, they were all overwhelmed with excitement.

Chen Jinnan continued, “In the end, whether it will be Long Wu or Yongli on the throne, we need not haggle over it now. Mu Xiao Gongye, Liu Laoyezi, heroes all over the world, whoever kill Wu Sangui, everybody will accept his orders!”

Mu Jiansheng’s father, Mu Tianbo, was killed by Wu Sangui; day and night he always considered how to kill Wu Sangui. Hearing Chen Jinnan, he was the first to call out, “Exactly, whoever kills Wu Sangui, the heroes all over the world will accept his orders.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Mu Xiao Gongye, my humble Society will make a pledge to your honorable Palace, if your honorable Palace’s hero kills Wu Sangui, Tian Di Hui, from top to bottom, will accept Mu Palace’s orders …”

Mu Jiansheng caught on and said, “If Tian Di Hui’s hero kills Wu Sangui, Mu Family of Yunnan, from Mu Jiansheng to the next in line, each and every one will accept Chen Zongduozhu’s orders!” The two of them stretched out their hands and ‘clap!’ they struck each other palm.

In Jianghu, an oath set up by three strikes of palms means neither side could renege on their words.

The two of them had just about to strike their palms the second time when suddenly from the roof came a long laugh and a voice said, “What if I killed Wu Sangui?”

From the east and west corners of the house some people shouted, “Who’s there?” Tian Di Hui people on guard duty rushed in to question the newcomer. There was a light clapping noise as someone leaped from the top of the house to the courtyard, the long window of the hall opened without any blowing wind, with speed beyond imagination, a dark green shadow flashed and entered the hall. From the east Guan Anji and Xu Tianchuan, from the west Liu Dahong and Wu Lishen, simultaneously stretched out their arms to block. The man lightly leaped up and flew over the top of the four men’s heads, and stood in front of Chen Jinnan and Mu Jiansheng.

With Guan, Xu, Li and Wu, four people cooperating, unexpectedly they still failed to block. The man’s one foot barely landed on the floor, four people’s fingers had already grabbed his body. Guan Anji grabbed his right shoulder, Xu Tianchuan grabbed his left flank, Liu Dahong pinched his left arm, Wu Lishen wrapped his arms around his lower back. All four had used high-level qin na technique.

The man did not resist at all, he laughed and said, “Is this the way Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace treat a good friend?”

They saw this man was wearing a dark green long robe, his age was about twenty five, twenty six, his stature was tall and slim, his appearance looked like a feeble scholar.

Chen Jinnan cupped his fist and said, “May I ask Sire’s honored surname and great given name? Are you a good friend?”

The scholar said with a laugh, “If not a good friend, I won’t be here.” Suddenly he shrank his body as if he turned into a lump of meat. Guan Anji and the others, four people’s grip suddenly loosened, they grabbed empty air. Amidst the ripping noise of the silk, a dark shadow rose upward. Chen Jinnan let out a long laugh as he grabbed with his right hand. The scholar escaped from the four people’s clutch, but suddenly he felt his left ankle was grabbed as if it was bound with an iron hoop. Swiftly he moved his right foot to kick Chen Jinnan’s face. It was a powerful kick; with one swift motion Chen Jinnan picked up a small table beside him and raised it to block. ‘Crash!’ the mahogany table was smashed. Chen Jinnan swung his right hand to throw him to the ground. The scholar’s buttocks landed on the floor, but like a skater, his body slid several zhang on the dark green brick floor. Straightening up his waist, he stood up leaning against the wall.

There was a piece of cloth remained in each of Guan Anji, Xu Tianchuan, Liu Dahong and Wu Lishen, four people’s hands; it was the piece they pulled from the scholar’s long gown. This turn of events was as swift as a falcon swooping on a rabbit, it was unbelievably fast and nimble. The six of them moved with such agility and clarity that the spectators on the side could see everything clearly, they all could not help but broke in loud cheer. The one cheered the loudest was still the ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ Liu Dahong, while Wu Lishen shook his head repeatedly; his face showed part ashamed, part full of admiration.

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Since Sire is a good friend, why don’t you sit down and drink some tea?”

The scholar cupped his fist and said, “I’ll drink the tea to thank you for your hospitality.” With slow and measured steps he walked toward the row of chairs, cupped his fist toward everybody to salute, and then sat down on the last chair. If they did not see him demonstrating his agility just now, nobody would believe this gentle scholar possessed such a profound martial art skill.

Chen Jinnan laughed and said, “Sire, why too modest? Please take the seat of honor!”

The scholar shook his hand, “I don’t dare, I don’t dare!” he said, “That Zaixia can sit together with gentlemen, the heroes, is already the biggest good fortune in my entire life, how can I dare to take the seat of honor? Chen Zongduozhu, just now you asked my name, but I have not replied; it was very disrespectful. Zaixia surnamed Li, my given name is Xihua.”

When Chen Jinnan, Liu Dahong and the others heard him announcing his name, they all thought, “I have never heard of Li Xihua in Wulin world, most probably it’s a fictitious name. But among the young generation heroes, I have never heard someone with such excellent martial art skill either.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Zaixia is ignorant and inexperienced. That there is such excellent hero in Jianghu, unexpectedly I have not heard, I am indeed ashamed.”

Li Xihua laughed aloud and said, “People say that Chen Zongduozhu of Tian Di Hui treats people with sincerity, and sure enough, it is a fully justified reputation. When you heard my lowly name, if you had said, ‘It’s an honor to meet you at last’, then unavoidably in my heart I would have a thirty percent lack of respect. Zaixia has just made my debut[2], I have not made the least bit of name in Jianghu. Even I won’t greet myself with ‘It’s an honor to meet you at last’, much less other people? Ha ha, ha ha …!”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Now that we meet, Li Xiong‘s great name will spread throughout the Jianghu; after this, whoever meet Li Xiong will have to greet you with ‘It’s an honor to meet you at last’!” Indeed it was the highest praise, everybody could hear it. Four high-level martial art experts from Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace unexpectedly failed to block and hold him down. Chen Jinnan exchanged two moves with him, but he barely gained the upper hand. In a matter of days everybody near and far would naturally hear about such skill.

Li Xihua shook his hand and said, “Not so, the style Zaixia displayed just now was no more than minor skill, unavoidably it is considered somewhat heretical. This old gentleman used ‘Claw Appears from the Cloud’, he grabbed my arm until it nearly broke. This bearded friend who loves to shake his head wrapped his arms around my waist, presumably it was the move ‘Seizing-Rabbit Hand’, his grab made me neither cry nor laugh. This white-bearded grandpa used the moved ‘Ape Fetches the Peach’, he really grabbed my flank as if it was a Pantao[3], he grabbed so firmly and was not willing to release again. This long-bearded friend used the technique … um, um, it was a very ingenious move, wasn’t it the ‘Cheng Huang[4] Pulls Little Demon’?”

Guan Anji raised his left thumb, acknowledging that he was right. Actually, the move was called the ‘Little Demon Pulls Cheng Huang’; by reversing the name, i.e. calling himself ‘liitle demon’, he was being modest.

From the time Guan Anji and the others, four people, made their move together to grab his body to the time he struggled free and leaped was only a moment, yet he unexpectedly was able to name the moves these four people had used without the slightest mistake; apparently his knowledge and experience was above his martial art skill.

Liu Dahong said, “Li Xiong, you skill is profound, your insight is even more profound.”

Li Xihua shook his hand and said, “Laoyezi praises me too much. The moves the four gentlemen used on my body, any one of those is able to take my life. But the four gentlemen were careful not to overdo it, hence did not harm Zaixia the slightest bit. The four Seniors were being lenient, Zaixia is very grateful.”

Liu Dahong and the others were very pleased in their hearts. Each one of the four moves ‘Claw Appears from the Cloud’, ‘Seizing-Rabbit Hand’, ‘Ape Fetches the Peach’ and ‘Little Demon Pulls Cheng Huang’ could turn into extremely fierce killer strike just by adding a little bit more force to it. By pointing out this fact, Li Xihua had considerably increased the four people’s face.

Chen Jinnan said, “Li Xiong has honored us with your presence, I wonder what instruction do you have for me?”

“I am here to admit my guilt first,” Li Xihua replied, “Zaixia always admires Chen Zongduozhu. This time, quite by accident, I learned about Chen Zongduozhu‘s arrival in Beijing. No matter what, I have to come to express my admiration. It’s just that I do not know anybody who would present me to you. Without any better option, I took the liberty to come uninvited, eavesdropping the gentlemen’s conversation on the rooftop. Zaixia hates that traitor Wu Sangui to the bones, I wish to dismember his body into ten thousand pieces, thus I could not bear not to open my mouth. I hope gentlemen would forgive me.” While saying that, he stood up and bowed to salute.

Everybody also stood up simultaneously to return the salute. Several leaders of Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace introduced themselves. Although Wei Xiaobao was a Tian Di Hui leader, and presently his rank was second only to Chen Jinnan, but since all along Li Xihua’s gaze had never landed on his face, Wei Xiaobao did not say anything.

Mu Jiansheng said, “Since Sire is the enemy of that thief Wu, we share a common enemy, which means we are of the same principle; there is no harm in us joining hands, in scheming together to punish this big traitor.”

“Absolutely, absolutely,” Li Xihua said, “Just now Xiao Gongye and Chen Zongduozhu were making an oath by striking your palms three times, but Zaixia brazenly interrupted it. After the two gentlemen finished the three strikes, may Zaixia also strike your palms three times?”

Liu Dahong said, “Sire is saying that if you killed Wu Sangui, all heroes and warriors of Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace should accept your orders?”

“I absolutely do not dare,” Li Xihua said, “Zaixia is just a kid of younger generation, I will be perfectly contented to follow the heroes here; how can I dare to say I want to hold command over all of you?”

Liu Dahong nodded and said, “In that case, in Sire’s mind, which one is the Late Emperor’s legitimate successor to the throne of the Great Ming, Longwu or Yongli?”

In the past, Liu Dahong followed Emperor Yongli and Mu Tianbo fled to the southwest, entering Myanmar from Yunnan, experiencing inexhaustible hardships and perils; the result was Yongli was still killed by Wu Sangui. For this reason he made a blood oath to assist Yongli’s descendant to ascend the dragon throne. In general, Chen Jinnan was more thoughtful toward their goal, he was unwilling to let internal strife damage their mission, but unexpectedly this hot-blooded old hero could not forget this matter.

Li Xihua said, “Zaixia has something that might be offensive to you, I am asking everybody’s forgiveness first.”

Liu Dahong’s countenance changed slightly; he blurted out, “Sire is King Lu’s former subordinate?” After Ming Dynasty’s Emperor Chongzhen died, independent resistance against the Qing arose in various regions. There was King Fu, and then King Tang, King Lu and King Gui. As soon as Liu Dahong said that, he realized he was speaking incorrectly. Looking at Li Xihua’s age, he was most likely born after the Qing troops entered the pass, so he could not possibly be King Lu’s former subordinate. He asked, “Was Sire’s former generation King Lu’s former subordinate?”

Li Xihua did not answer his inquiry, he said, “When the Tatars are driven out in the future, any descendant of Chongzhen, King Fu, King Tang, King Lu and King Gui could become the emperor. Actually, as long as he is a Han, who cannot be the Emperor? Why can’t Mu Xiao Gongye or Liu Laoyezi be the Emperor? Zheng Wangye from Taiwan, even Chen Zongduozhu himself, not necessarily cannot be the Emperor. When the Great Ming’s Taizu Huangdi [founder emperor] drove out Mongolian Emperor, he did not ask any descendant of the Song Dynasty’s Zhao family to be the Emperor, but he himself ascended the great throne, yet everybody was delighted and sincerely willing to accept him.”

Nobody had ever heard such reasoning before, without exception their countenance changed.

Liu Dahong slapped a small table by his side with his right hand, “Your speech can be considered treason and heresy,” he said in stern voice,  “We are the remnant of the Great Ming, lone officials and unfilial sons; we only strive to revive the Ming Dynasty, how can we store this kind of ambition of the wild wolves in our hearts?”

Li Xihua was not angry, he showed a faint smile and said, “Liu Laoyezi, there is one thing Junior does not understand, I’d like to consult you about something we have just talked about. During the last years of the Great Ming, the Mongolian Tatars took possession of our Han people’s beautiful rivers and mountains, our Great Ming’s Emperor Hongwu rose to the dragon throne by popular support. After the Tatars were driven out, why didn’t he set up a descendant from Zhao family to be the Emperor?”

“Humph,” Liu Dahong snorted and said, “Zhao family descendants were already exhausted; these rivers and mountains were won by Taizu Huangdi with bloody battle, naturally he could not possibly pass it on to the Zhao family? Moreover, in the driving out the Tatars, the Zhao family descendants did not have any merit. Even if Taizu Huangdi was willing to hand it over, the common people of the world, along with all the generals and soldiers would definitely not want to accept.”

“That’s exactly right,” Li Xihua said, “Whether the descendants of the Zhu family will have merit in the future or not, at present nobody knows. If they make major contribution, everybody will endorse them as the leader, then other people will not be able to snatch away the throne. But if they do not make any contribution, even if they ascend onto the dragon court, I am afraid their position will not be steady. Liu Laoyezi, the undertaking of fighting the Qing is very complicated, there are things that need to be done quickly, there are things that have to be done slowly. Killing Wu Sangui needs to be done quickly, setting up the new emperor can be done slowly.”

Liu Dahong was agape and tongue-tied, he was unable to answer. “What quickly or slowly?” he muttered, “I want everything to be done quickly; I wish everything is already accomplished, only then would it be good.”

Li Xihua said, “Killing Wu Sangui must be done quickly, because that traitor Wu is already old. If we don’t kill him soon, he might die of old age, won’t it be a lifelong regret to people of the world with lofty ideals? Setting up the new ruler is a matter we need to address after the Tatars are driven out. My concern is that we are not able to defeat the Tatars. As for setting up learned and virtuous lord, we can always find one.”

Observing his assurance and composure, and hearing his sensible and reasonable speech, Chen Jinnan was full of admiration. “Li Xiong,” he said, “What you said is very reasonable, but on how we are going to assassinate Wu Sangui, I want to hear Li Xiong’s well-informed opinion.”

“I don’t dare,” Li Xihua said, “Junior was about to ask everybody’s advice.”

Mu Jiansheng said, “What brilliant idea does Chen Zongduozhu have?”

“In Zaixia’s opinion,” Chen Jinnan said, “That traitor Wu’s sin is too great, just by killing him absolutely will not make up for his crime. We must make him losing his standing, his entire family, old and young, must be killed, not a blade of grass must be spared, even the troops under his command who followed him breaking the law and committing crimes must be eliminated in one stroke, and thus the hatred in millions of common people’s hearts will be appeased.”

Liu Dahong slapped the table and shouted, “Very true, very true! Chen Zongduozhu’s words really touch the bottom of my heart. Laodi, hearing you talked, my heart is unbearably itchy. What ingenious plan do you have, so that we can kill that traitor Wu and his entire family, and not leaving even his chicken and dogs?” He grabbed Chen Jinnan’ arms and repeatedly shook him, saying, “Say it quickly, say it quickly!”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “This is everybody’s wish, Zaixia does not have any ingenious plan to deal with Wu Sangui.”

“Oh,” Liu Dahong said, he released Chen Jinnan’s arms, while disappointment appeared on his face.

Chen Jinnan stretched out his palm to Mu Jiansheng and said, “Xiao Gongye, we still have two palm strikes we haven’t finished.”

“Precisely,” Mu Jiansheng said, he stretched out his hand and struck Chen Jinnan’s palm twice.

Chen Jinnan turned toward Li Xihua and said, “Li Xiong, what about we also strike our palms three times?” While saying that, he held out his palm.

Li Xihua stood up and respectfully said, “If Chen Zongduozhu can kill that traitor Wu, the old Li will accept Tian Di Hui’s orders, I will not dare to disobey. If by luck the old Li can put to death with my own hand this devilish wicked traitor, I only wish for Chen Zongduozhu to do me the honor to become the old Li’s sworn brother, let Zaixia reveres you as the elder brother. Apart from this, I do not dare to request anything else.”

Chen Jinnan laughed and said, “Li Xiandi [worthy younger brother], you esteem me too much. Very well, a real man gave his words, a team of four horses cannot chase it.”

Watching from the side, Wei Xiaobao saw the heroes’ fervent expression, he could not help but feeling very excited[5]; he really wished he could grow up right then and there, his martial art skill would reach high level immediately, just like this Li Xihua, who created quite a stir in front of all these heroes. Hearing Shifu said ‘a real man gave his words, a team of four horses cannot chase it’, he could not refrain from muttering to himself, “A team of four horses cannot chase it, a team of four horses cannot chase it.” While thinking, “Damn it, what kind of horses are a team of four horses anyway? How can they run that fast?”

Chen Jinnan instructed his subordinates to prepare a banquet table to have a feast with these outstanding heroes. During the banquet, Li Xihua talked and laughed cheerfully, his knowledge was indeed extensive, but all along he never revealed his martial art school, family background, or his origin.

Li Lishi and Su Gang introduced the rest of their groups to Li Xihua. Seeing Wei Xiaobao was young, yet held the position of the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, Li Xihua could not hide his astonishment; when he was told that Wei Xiaobao was Chen Jinnan’s disciple, he thought, “So that’s how it is.” He drank several cups of wine, and then took his leave.

Chen Jinnan walked him to the door, and in a low voice said, “Li Xiandi, just now your humble brother did not know whether you were a friend or a foe, I have offended you. When I grabbed your ankle, I have surreptitiously used special power. It will flare-up after four hours. You must not use the slightest bit of internal energy to defuse it. You must dig a hole in a muddy ground, and bury your entire body in it, revealing only your mouth and nose to breathe. Every day you must be buried for eight hours, for seven days in a row, then there won’t be any future trouble.”

Li Xihua was shocked. “I was hit by your ‘Blood Clotting Divine Claw’?” he said in loud voice.

Xiandi must not be alarmed,” Chen Jinnan said, “By treating it according to the prescribed method, there should not be any major problem. Your humble brother was reckless and has offended you, I am asking Xiandi not to blame me.”

Immediately the panic-stricken expression on Li Xihua’s face subsided. He laughed and said, “Indeed Xiaodi [little brother] suffers the consequence of my own action.” He sighed, and then said, “Only today I know there is heaven outside the heaven, there is an expert above the expert.” He bowed to salute, and then floated away.

“Chen Zongduozhu,” Liu Dahong said, “Did you use the ‘Blood Clotting Divine Claw’ on him? I heard that people who got hit by this divine claw will have the blood in his entire body slowly clotting after three days, turning into paste just like starch paste; there is no medicine to cure it. Is that so?”

Chen Jinnan said, “This skill is extremely sinister and ruthless, usually Xiaodi does not dare to recklessly use it, but seeing his formidable martial art skill, plus he was eavesdropping on our secret, I was unclear whether he harbors any evil intention, so I took this drastic action. It’s not a straightforward and upright thing to do, I am ashamed just to mention it.”

Mu Jiansheng said, “If this man is Tatars’ falcon or dog, or perhaps Wu Sangui’s troop, and Chen Zongduozhu did not control him, our secret may be leaked out, then the disaster won’t be small. Chen Zongduozhu is able to control the enemy in one move, damaging the other side without him knowing it. This kind of divine skill deserves the admiration of other people.”

Chen Jinnan reiterated his deep apology on the death of Bai Hansong to Bai Hanfeng. “Chen Zongduozhu,” Bai Hanfeng said, “Let this matter rests and do not raise it again. My late brother has died, he can’t come back to life. Wei Xiangzhu has rescued Wu Shishu and the others, three people, Zaixia is very grateful.”

Mu Jiansheng was concerned over his missing little sister’s whereabouts, but since Tian Di Hui warriors did not say anything, he felt it was inappropriate for him to inquire, so as not to appear that he doubted the opposite party’s intention. After drinking several more rounds of wine, Mu Jiansheng and the others stood up to take their leave.

Xiao Gongye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It would be best if you move from your lodging, sooner or later the Tatars will dispatch troops to harass you. Although you are not afraid of them, the Tatars might send more and more troops. I am afraid you cannot kill them all.”

Liu Dahong laughed aloud and said, “Xiao Xiongdi is right, thank you very much for your reminder, we will move immediately.”

Mu Jiansheng said, “Chen Zongduozhu, Wei Xiangzhu, friends, the green hills will not change, the clear water will always flow, I’m sure we will meet again someday.”

After the Mu Palace people left, Chen Jinnan said, “Xiaobao, come with me. I want to see the progress of your martial art training these past several months.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping madly, his countenance changed immediately. “Yes, yes,” he replied, and followed his Shifu into a room in the east wing. “Shifu,” he said, “The Emperor sends me to investigate the assassins’ whereabouts, disciple may have to hurry back and report.”

“What assassins’ whereabouts?” Chen Jinnan asked. He had just arrived the previous night, so he only heard bits and pieces about the assassins in the Palace. Thereupon Wei Xiaobao told him how the Mu Palace warriors entered the Palace to assassinate the emperor, with the intention of shifting the blame onto Wu Sangui.

Chen Jinnan let out a breath, “Is there such thing?” he said. Although he had gone through many storms, he was rather shocked to learn about this matter, he said, “Those friends from Mu Family are courageous and forthright, unexpectedly they carried out a large-scale operation into the Palace. I only knew that three of their people went to assassinate the Emperor, and thus were captured; turns out it was to deal with that traitor Wu Sangui. You have rescued Wu Lishen, three people, and now you want to return to the Palace, aren’t you afraid of the danger?”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to flaunt his heroism, naturally he did not say that he released the assassins under the Emperor’s order, so there was absolutely no danger in him returning to the Palace. He bragged, “Disciple has dragged several scapegoats, I shifted the blame on them. Looks like for the time being the suspicion will not fall onto your disciple. Shifu told me to spy for news in the Palace, if for the sake of saving three of Mu Palace’s people disciple henceforth cannot return to the Palace, wouldn’t I have harmed Shifu’s important mission?”

Chen Jinnan was very happy. “That’s right,” he said, “We have struck palms three time with Mu Jiansheng to seal our oath. It is reasonable to say that Mu Palace does not have too many people left, so they can’t possibly match Tian Di Hui. I made that agreement with them, first, to avoid the argument about the legitimacy of King Tang versus King Gui, and thus harming the friendship between two families. The Tatars have not been wiped out yet, if we, Han people, massacre each other first, how can we accomplish the great undertaking? Second, if we can get the Mu Palace under our Society, it will enormously increase our Tian Di Hui’s power. The fact that they dared to enter the Palace and create havoc shows that in order to topple that traitor Wu, they would stop at nothing. We also must spare no effort to accomplish this goal, otherwise, if they gain the initiative, Tian Di Hui must accept Mu Palace’s orders, won’t everybody be ashamed then?”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Xiao Gongye does not have any real skill, he only relies on his good Papa. If I re-enter the womb of his mother, I could be born as the Xiao Gongye. For such a great hero like Shifu to be forced to take orders from him, if it were me, I would be angry too.”

In all his life Chen Jinnan had heard countless flattering words, but since this time it came from a teenage kid, it sounded so sincere and encouraging; he could not help but showing a faint smile. He did not know that Wei Xiaobao’s natural disposition was quick-witted and clever, plus he had lived in both a brothel and the Palace, two most hypocritical and devious places in the world. By living in these places, Wei Xiaobao had early on acquired craftiness, which was far above ordinary grownups. Chen Jinnan was used to dealing daily with heroes and warriors of Tian Di Hui, who treated one another with absolute sincerity, how could he know that this little disciple say something without meaning it? That in ten sentences, perhaps there were five or six sentences that can’t be trusted? He patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said with a smile, “What does a child like you understand? How do you know Mu Xiao Gongye does not have real skill?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “By sending assassins to the Palace, he has delivered many of his subordinates’ lives for nothing, without really doing any damage to Wu Sangui. Not only he does not have any real skill, I can say that he is a big idiot.”

“How do you know he is not doing any damage to Wu Sangui?” Chen Jinnan asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “This Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye used a very stupid strategy. He had the assassins who entered the Palace to wear undergarments with ‘Ping Xi Wang Mansion’ written on it, and use weapons with ‘Ping Xi Wang Mansion’ or something like ‘Regional Commander Office of Shanhai Pass of The Great Ming’ carved on it. The Tatars are not stupid, naturally they can think, if they were really Wu Sangui’s men, why would they want to use such weapons?”

Chen Jinnan nodded, “You are right,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Wu Sangui’s son Wu Yingxiong is in Beijing right now, carrying a large quantity of jewels and precious objects as a tribute to the Emperor. If Wu Sangui really wanted to assassinate the Emperor, he would not pick this time. Besides, why would he want to assassinate the Emperor? Unless he wants to dispatch troops to revolt and set himself up as the Emperor. But as soon as he dispatch his troops, the Tatars will immediately kill his son; why would he send his son to Beijing to die?”

Chen Jinnan nodded again. “That’s right,” he said.

Actually, although Wei Xiaobao was very astute, his age was still too young, his knowledge of military and government affairs, as well as the ways of the world, was very limited, he could not possibly come out with even half of the logic he had just presented. Luckily Kangxi had told him everything, which, in front of his Shifu, he pretended to see those logic himself.

When listening to him, Chen Jinnan thought that this disciple could see things clearly. Tian Di Hui did not lack martial art masters, but people with such clear brain were not many. Initially he let this little child to be the Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu just to avoid the friction between the two rivaling factions, he needed to comply with everybody’s oath first, and then slowly seeking a talented person to replace him. Since Wei Xiaobao was his own disciple, he could always ask him to abdicate his position honorably. By now, as he listened to him, he mused, “This child has both courage and insight, even now he is quite amazing, after several more years of discipline, he could be a real Green Wood Hall’s Xiangzhu, which is not necessarily inferior to the other nine Xiangzhu.” He asked, “Did the Tatars know it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Presently they are not very clear yet, but the Emperor seems to have suspicion already. This morning he summoned several Imperial Bodyguards and ordered them to demonstrate the martial art the assassins had used. Some Imperial Bodyguards performed the moves, and then everybody discussed it. Disciple was watching on the side, I remembered two moves.” And thus he immediately demonstrated the ‘sweeping away a thousand army’, and ‘high mountain flowing water’, two moves.

Chen Jinnan sighed and said, “Mu Palace really does not have talented people anymore. These moves are obviously Mu Family Fist technique; there are not a few martial art experts among the Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace, how could they not recognize the moves?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Disciple has seen Feng Jizhong, Feng Dage and Priest Xuanzhen demonstrated these moves, I expect the Tatar Imperial Bodyguards would also recognize them. I was afraid the Tatars would search and arrest people, therefore, just now I urged the Mu Family’s Xiao Gongye to move out of town to avoid the trouble.”

“Very true, very true!” Chen Jinnan said, “You’d better go back to the Palace to report, come again tomorrow, I will teach you martial art some more.”

Hearing his Shifu was not going to check his martial art right away, Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; hastily he saluted and took his leave, thinking, “Tonight I need to clasp the Buddha’s feet[6]; I will ask Xiao Junzhu to read Shifu’s martial art manual to me, good or bad I will remember some, and then when Shifu ask tomorrow, whatever little things I know I can recite. Shifu can only blame me of not training correctly, but he can’t blame me for being lazy and not want to work hard. Who told him not to have time to teach me? If he wants to blame somebody, he can only blame himself.”

Wei Xiaobao returned to the Palace and went straight to the Upper Study Room. Kangxi was reviewing some memorial to the throne; as soon as he saw him, he laid down his pen and asked, “Have you found any information?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty predicts with supernatural accuracy, you were not wrong at all, the rebel mastermind is indeed the Mu Family of Yunnan.”

“Is that so?” Kangxi happily asked, “That’s wonderful. Looking at Dolong’s expression, he still does not believe it. What did you find?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Those three captured assassins stuck to what they initially say, that they were Wu Sangui subordinates, Dolong Zongguan beat them until they were hovering between life and death, but no matter what, they were unwilling to change their statement.”

“Dolong’s martial art skill is not bad,” Kangxi said, “But he is a boorish fellow.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Under Your Majesty’s imperial edict, your servant has used knockout drug to drug the Imperial Bodyguards, just when the Empress Dowager was sending four eunuchs over, saying that the assassins must be executed immediately. Your servant gathered my courage and acted according to the strategy Your Majesty planned, I killed the four eunuchs in front of the assassins and led the assassins out of the Palace. Those three rebellious thieves did not suspect anything at all.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “A moment ago Dolong came to report that an eunuch leader under the Empress Dowager has set the assassins free; I was feeling strange, turns out it was your trick.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty must not tell the Empress Dowager, otherwise your servant’s lowly life will be difficult to protect. The Empress Dowager has scolded me for showing utter loyalty to His Majesty, but not utterly loyal toward the Empress Dowager. Actually, what’s the difference between Your Majesty and the Empress Dowager? Besides, the sky cannot have two suns, the people cannot have two rulers; in the end, only Your Majesty’s imperial decree counts. Without asking Your Majesty, the Empress Dowager has ordered the assassins to be executed; what kind of logic was that?”

Kangxi did not bother that Wei Xiaobao was trying to drive a wedge between him and the Empress Dowager, “I won’t say anything to the Empress Dowager,” he said, “About those three assassins, what happened next?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I took them out of the Palace, without my asking they told me their real name and surname. Turns out the old man is called the ‘Shaking Head Lion’ Wu Lishen, the two younger ones, one is Ao Biao, the other Liu Yizhou. They thanked me profusely, but in the end your servant managed to swindle them, they took me to their leader. Sure enough, it is as Your Majesty expected, the mastermind behind all these is a young man, whom the rebellious thieves call Xiao Gongye, his real name and surname is Mu Jiansheng, he is Mu Tianbo’s son. Under his command there is an old man whose martial art skill was very high, he is called something like ‘Iron Back Dragon’ Liu Dahong. And then there are also ‘Divine Physician Hermit’ Su Gang, the second hero of the Bai Family Two Heroes, Bai Hanfeng, and so on. They are staying separately at Willow Tree Lane and South Bean Sprout Lane, two places.”

“Did you see both places?” Kangxi asked.

“I did,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “They said that common people all over the world all say that although the Emperor is young, he is a matchless enlightened sage, a good emperor that is hard to come by in several thousand years. They said that even if they had guts as big as the sky, they would not have dared to harm the Emperor. Therefore, the night before last

they entered the Palace to deliberately create trouble, it was completely to frame Wu Sangui, to avenge their big hatred because he killed Mu Tianbo.”

Unavoidably some of these words of flattery hit its target. Kangxi had not personally taken over the government for too long, the common people of the world could not possibly sing praises over his meritorious deed or virtue, but as the saying goes, ‘anything gets through me except flattery[7]’. Hearing the common people praise him as ‘a good emperor that is hard to come by in several thousand years’, he could not help but feeling very pleased. He smiled and said, “I haven’t produced any benevolent policy to the benefit of the people yet, ‘matchless enlightened sage’ and so on is your own fabrication, isn’t it?”

“No, no!” Wei Xiaobao said, “It came straight from their own mouths. Everybody says that that big treacherous official Oboi cruelly harmed common people, they all hated him to the bones. When Your Majesty decided to put him to his death, it was a very, very good decision. They speak highly of you as some raw bird [niao sheng] or some fish soup [yu tang]. Your servant did not understand, I assumed it was words of praise, so I was very happy to hear it.”

Kangxi was taken aback, but then he understood immediately and broke into loud laughter. “It’s ‘Yao Shun Yu Tang’,” he said, “Damn it, what do you mean ‘niao sheng yu tang’?” He thought that Wei Xiaobao could not possibly come up with ‘Yao Shun Yu Tang’, therefore, the compliment must be real. He did not know that when telling the story of ‘Heroic Deed Commentaries’, the storyteller mentioned that the crowd continuously praised Zhu Yuanzhang[8] as ‘Yao Shun Yu Tang’. Wei Xiaobao heard the story often. Although he did not understand the meaning of it, he knew that ‘Yao Shun Yu Tang’ was words of praise to flatter the emperor; it was said that each time Zhu Yuanzhang heard it, his ‘dragon countenance looked very pleased’.

This time Wei Xiaobao used the same flattery toward the young Emperor, and sure enough, Kangxi’s his ‘dragon countenance looked very pleased’, his laughter was very joyous and free, so he knew the bootlicking was right on target. “Your Majesty.” he asked, “What exactly is ‘niao sheng yu tang’?”

Kangxi laughed and said, “You still say raw bird and fish soup? This kid really does not have the least bit of literary knowledge. Yao Shun Yu Tang[9] were four learned and virtuous wise monarch of the ancient times, great sages with great knowledge, due to their benevolent integrity, they are recognized as good Emperors of the land under the heavens.”

“No wonder, no wonder!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Those rebellious thieves are not completely ignorant of reasons.”

“Even so,” Kangxi said, “We must not let them escape. Quickly summon Dolong over.”

Wei Xiaobao complied; he went out to summon the Imperial Bodyguard Chief Dolong into the Upper Study Room. Kangxi instructed Dolong, “The rebellious thieves are really Mu Family’s people from Yunnan. Take the Imperial Bodyguards and arrest them immediately. Xiao Guizi, why don’t you tell Dolong the background of those rebellious thieves’ group?”

Wei Xiaobao immediately told Dolong the names of Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong, and the others. Dolong was startled; he said, “Turns out it is the ‘Iron Back Blue Dragon’ who manage this operation in secret, these bunch of thieves’ background is indeed not small. That ‘Shaking-Head Lion’ Wu Lishen, your servant has also heard his name; I did not expect him to be locked up in the Palace for a day and a night, yet I could not obtain any real information from him. If your servant is a little bit smarter, seeing him always shaking his head, I should have guessed it early on. If not for the Sage’s wise judgment, we in the Imperial Bodyguard building would still think that those people were sent by Wu Sangui.”

Showing a faint smile, Kangxi said, “I am afraid they have already gone by now, this time you may not necessarily able to arrest them.” After a short pause, he continued, “Since we already know the mastermind, it’s not a big deal even if this time we can’t arrest them. I am just afraid that we will be kept in the dark[10]; we still don’t know that we have fallen into other people’s trick.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong said, “Your servants are muddle-headed, fortunately our Master is wise, otherwise it would be disastrous.” He kowtowed and took his leave, immediately selected some of his men to arrest the rebels.

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “I am going to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to pay my respect, come with me.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied; but thinking that he was going to see the Empress Dowager, he could help but trembling with fear and appeared apprehensive.

Kangxi said, “Why are you frowning and look distressed? I am taking you to see Empress Dowager is exactly to preserve your head.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Arrived at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, Kangxi paid his respect to the Empress Dowager, reporting clearly the assassins’ background, telling her that it was he, personally, who ordered Xiao Guizi to release the assassins and finally ascertained the actual facts.

The Empress Dowager smiled and said, “Xiao Guizi, you can work very well!”

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down and kowtowed, “It was due to His Majesty’s ability to prophecy with supernatural accuracy, everything has been calculated beforehand,” he said, “Your servant was only bidding His Majesty’s order, nothing more than that. Although it was your servant who did the legwork, from head to tail I was just following His Majesty’s order, your servant did not have the least bit of idea of his own.”

The Empress Dowager cast a glance at him, snorted, and then said, “You are naughty, and it was not His Majesty who orders you to fool around! A little kid who left home to enter the Palace must want to play everywhere. Have you been to the Heavenly Bridge to see some acrobats? Have you bought some candied fruits?”

Wei Xiaobao recalled seeing government officials arresting candied fruits peddlers, he guessed they must be sent by the Empress Dowager; she was afraid the man would transmit the information to Rui Dong on Wutai Mountain, therefore, without distinguishing red-blue or black-white, she had all candied fruits peddlers around the Heavenly Bridge arrested. Wei Xiaobao was sure that without distinguishing red-blue or black-white, they would all be beheaded. Thinking about her ruthlessness, he could not help but shiver. “Yes, yes!” he said.

The Empress Dowager smiled and said, “I am asking you, have you bought some candied fruits lately?”

“Reporting to the Empress Dowager,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your servant heard people on the street say that the Heavenly Bridge is not really safe these days, the Nine-Gate provincial governor office has arrested the candied fruits peddlers, saying that there are many bad men among them. Therefore, those who originally sell candied fruits now change their professions; some sell cool cakes, some sell peanuts, some change their professions to sell sour dates, sell sweet cookies. Your servant has often seen many of these people, I am somewhat familiar with their faces, they say they are not going to sell candied fruits anymore. One of them was really funny, he said he was going to go to some Wutai or Liutai[11] Mountain to sell some plain steamed buns to the monks.”

The Empress Dowager raised her eyebrows in anger; naturally she understood that by saying that, Wei Xiaobao was telling her that the man who was supposed to transmit information had not been arrested, and that she could forget about arresting him later. With a cold smile she said, “Very good, you are very good, you are really competent. Emperor, I want to have him by my side, doing things for me. What do you think?”

These days Kangxi always sent Wei Xiaobao to do errands for him, and Wei Xiaobao was very efficient, so Kangxi started to rely on him like his own left and right hands. The purpose of his visit to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful this time was exactly to explain to the Empress Dowager that Wei Xiaobao killed the four eunuchs she sent under his order, so he would ask that the Empress Dowager did not blame him. Suddenly hearing that the Empress Dowager wanted Wei Xiaobao, he could not help but was startled. He was very filial to her. Although the Empress Dowager was not his own mother, but she raised him up from childhood until he grew up, so she was no different than his own mother. Not daring to disobey, he smiled and said, “Xiao Guizi, the Empress Dowager is promoting you, why haven’t you thanked her for her favor?”

Hearing the Empress Dowager wanted to take him from the Emperor, Wei Xiaobao was already scared out of his wits, in that instant his mind went blank, he only wanted to flee; this time he wanted to run away from the Palace and never come back. Hearing Kangxi, he busily replied, “Yes, yes!” And then he kowtowed and said, “Thank you Empress Dowager for your grace, thank you Your Majesty for your grace.”

“What is it?” the Empress Dowager said with a cold laugh, “You only want to serve His Majesty and do not want to serve me, is that it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Serving the Empress Dowager and serving His Majesty are the same, your servant will do it with the same loyalty and devotion, I will strive hard to do your bidding.”

“That’s good,” the Empress Dowager said, “You don’t need to take care of the Catering Department’s business anymore, you will concentrate on doing the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful’s business.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Thank you Empress Dowager for your grace.”

Seeing the Empress Dowager wanted to take over Wei Xiaobao, Kangxi was unhappy; he made some small talk, and then quickly took his leave. Wei Xiaobao followed him out.

The Empress Dowager said, “Xiao Guizi, stay here. Let other people escort His Majesty back. I have something I want you to do.”

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao replied. In a daze he watched Kangxi’s back as he left the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, thinking, “This time you leave, I will be in big trouble. I don’t know if I can see you again in the future.” He almost could not hold his desire to cry aloud.

The Empress Dowager drank her tea slowly, while her gaze had never left Wei Xiaobao, sizing him up. She noticed that he was very scared. After a long time she asked, “The man who is going to Wutai Mountain to sell plain steamed buns, when is he going to return?”

“Your servant does not know,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“When are you going to see him again?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Wei Xiaobao said whatever came into his head, “Your servant has agreed to meet him in a month, but it won’t be at the Heavenly Bridge anymore.”

“Where is it?” the Empress Dowager asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “He said that when the time comes, he will find a way to notify your servant.”

The Empress Dowager nodded, she said, “In that case you may stay in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, waiting for his news.” She gently clapped her hands, and from the inner chamber a palace maid appeared.

The palace maid looked like she was thirty five or thirty six years old, very fat, yet her footsteps were very lithe. Her face looked like a full moon, with small eyes and big mouth; she giggled while bowing to pay her respect to the Empress Dowager.

The Empress Dowager said, “This little eunuch is called Xiao Guizi, he is audacious and is a trouble maker, but I like him very much.”

The palace maid smiled and said, “Yes, this Xiao Xiongdi looks very clever. Xiao Xiongdi, my name is Liu Yan, but you can just call me Jiejie.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Damn it, you are a fat pig!” But he laughed and said, “Yes, Liu Yan Jiejie, your name is very appropriate, your figure looks like a willow tree, your steps are light and quick, just like a little swallow [Liu – willow, Yan – swallow].” In front of the Empress Dowager, no other eunuch or palace maid had ever dared to say even half a frivolous word like that, but Wei Xiaobao knew he was doomed anyway; there was no difference whether he said it or not, but even if he did not say it, he would not be spared anyway.

Liu Yan giggled and said, “Xiao Xiongdi, your mouth is sweet indeed.”

The Empress Dowager said, “His mouth is sweet, his feet are quick. Liu Yan, think of a way to keep him from running this way and that, wandering and rushing aimlessly around the Palace.”

Liu Yan said, “Empress Dowager may hand him over to your servant, let me look after him well.”

The Empress Dowager shook her head and said, “This little monkey is very slippery, you can’t continuously keep your eyes on him. I sent Rui Dong to summon him, he smooth-talked him so that that coward ran away. I sent four eunuchs to summon him, he colluded with the Imperial Bodyguards and killed those four eunuchs. I sent four more eunuchs; I don’t know what kind of trick he had, unexpectedly Dong Jinkui and the others, four people, were also killed.”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Liu Yan clucked her tongue repeatedly; she laughed and said, “Aiyo, Xiao Xiongdi, you are too naughty, aren’t you too difficult to be dealt with? Empress Dowager, if we chopped both of his legs and just let him lie down nicely, won’t we enjoy a lot more of peace and quiet?”

The Empress Dowager sighed and said, “I’ll say it might be the only way.”

Wei Xiaobao sprang up and bolted toward the door. His left leg had just stepped over the threshold, suddenly he felt his scalp tightened, someone pulled his pigtail. His head was jerked backward, his body refused to obey him and he fell flat on his back, there was a severe of pain on the pit of his stomach as a foot stepped on his chest. It was a big and fat foot, wearing red satin shoe embroidered with golden flower; Liu Yan’s foot had landed on him. In desperation Wei Xiaobao’s mouth rained curses, “Stinky mother, take your stinky foot off!”

Liu Yan added more force into her foot, a dozen or so ribs in Wei Xiaobao’s chest were making random cracking noise, he could not even breathe. He heard Liu Yan said with a laugh, “Xiao Xiongdi, your pair of feet is very fragrant, I really want to chop them down and have a smell.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that the Empress Dowager hated him to the bones; she would not hesitate to chop both of his feet, and then have him carried up to see the man who was supposed to transmit the news to Rui Dong. She might also dispatch a martial art master to follow the man going up Wutai Mountain in secret, and had Rui Dong killed. But Rui Dong was no longer on the world of the living, so his trick would eventually be exposed. The most important matter right now was to save his legs; since a threat would be useless right now, he could only try to entice her with something she wanted. Thereupon he coldly said, “Empress Dowager, it’s not a big deal for you to chop my legs; even if you chop my head, Xiao Guizi will only getting a bit shorter; there is nothing special about it. Too bad about the Forty-two-chapter Sutra. Hey, hey, hey, hey …”

As soon as the Empress Dowager heard the words ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, she stood up immediately and asked, “What did you say?”

“I said, unavoidably it will be too bad about that book ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

The Empress Dowager said to Liu Yan, “Let him get up.” Liu Yan lifted her left foot from Wei Xiaobao’s chest; inserting her foot underneath Wei Xiaobao’s body, she kicked Wei Xiaobao’s back that his body shot up. Stretching out her left hand, she grabbed Wei Xiaobao by the back of his collar, lifted him up high in the air, and then put him down heavily on the floor. All along Wei Xiaobao was unable to neither resist nor struggle free, as if he was merely an infant. The curse ‘stinky mother’ was already on the tip of his tongue, but he was so scared that he swallowed it back into his belly.

The Empress Dowager asked, “About the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, where did you hear it from?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You are going to chop my two legs anyway, I won’t say anything, we are all going to go our own way[12], I won’t have any legs any head, you won’t have the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’.”

Liu Yan said, “I advise you to answer the Empress Dowager’s question nicely.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I answer, I will die, if I don’t answer, I will also die; why would I want to answer? At most you will punish me heavier, I am not afraid.”

Liu Yan picked up his left hand; she said with a laugh, “Xiao Xiongdi, your fingers are slim and long, they look exceptionally good.”

“At most you can cut off my fingers,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Nothing special about it …” before he finished speaking, he felt severe pain on his finger. “Ah!” he screamed, as Liu Yan’s two fingers held his left-hand forefinger and pinched it hard, that his bone was nearly broken. The fat woman had a smiling, affable face, but they way she made her move was very ruthless, the power of her fingers was even more astonishing, her pinch felt like a pair of iron pliers.

This time Wei Xiaobao suffered a major pain, tears flowing continuously from his eyes. “Empress Dowager,” he called out, “Kill me quickly, that book ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, the one called ‘the old cat smelling salted fish’, just smell the wine-preserved pomfret, just smell the fish!” [Book note: the word ‘smell the wine-preserved pomfret’ (xiu xiang – 嗅鲞 ), sounds alike ‘don’t even think about it’ (xiu xiang – 休想 )]

“Just tell me the truth about the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, I’ll spare your life,” the Empress Dowager said.

“I don’t need you to spare my life,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am determined not to say anything about the book.”

The Empress Dowager frowned slightly, she was actually at a loss of how to deal with this stubborn child. After half a day, she slowly said, “Liu Yan, if he does not want to talk, you may dig out his two eyeballs.”

Liu Yan laughed and said, “Very good, I will dig out one eyeball first. Xiao Xiongdi, your eyeballs grew to be very pretty, they are black and round, and can spin and roll around. But after I dig them out, they won’t look too pretty anymore.” While saying that, she placed the thumb of her right hand on his right eyelid and pushed it slightly.

Wei Xiaobao felt a stabbing pain on his eyeball, he had no choice but to surrender. “I surrender, I surrender!” he cried out, “Don’t dig my eyeballs out, I’ll talk.”

Liu Yan let off her hand; she said with a smile, “Now that’s a good child. Just talk nicely, the Empress Dowager will love you very much.”

Wei Xiaobao reached up to rub his eye, blinking the hurting eye several times. He closed the other eye, cocked his head and looked at Liu Yan for a moment, and then he shook his head and said, “It’s not right, it’s not right!”

“What’s not right?” Liu Yan asked, “Don’t put on an act, the Empress Dowager is asking you a question, quickly give her an honest answer.”

“You have damaged my eyeball,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The things I look at change shapes. I see you as having a human body, but on your neck grew a big fat pig head.”

Liu Yan was not angry; she giggled and said, “That sounds fun. I must damage your left eyeball too.”

Wei Xiaobao took a step back and said, “Please excuse me this time, thank you very much.” He shut his left eye and looked at the Empress Dowager, and then he shook his head.

The Empress Dowager thought, “This little demon looked at Liu Yan with one eye and said a pig’s head rested on her neck. Now he looked at me the same way; although his mouth did not say anything, I don’t know how he is cursing me in his heart, he must be saying that he saw some animal’s head resting on my neck.” She said coldly, “Liu Yan, you’d better dig his eyeball now, so that he won’t look to the east and to the west.”

Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “If I don’t have any eyeball, how am I going to get the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ for you?”

“You have a ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’?” the Empress Dowager asked, “Where did you get it from?”

“Rui Dong gave it to me,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He asked me to take a good care of it, to keep it in a very secret place. He said, ‘Xiao Guizi Xiongdi, there are a lot of people in the Palace who want to harm you. If in the future you have some unfortunate things happen to you, like taking your eyeballs out or chopping your legs, this book henceforth will not see the light of the day. The person who harms you, although his eyeballs are not blind, he won’t see this treasured scripture, so he won’t differ from someone whose eyeballs are blind. This is called ‘acting for oneself and suffer the consequences’. Empress Dowager, the scripture has a red silk envelope with white border around it. I don’t know if it is the one you want.”

The Empress Dowager did not believe Rui Dong said those words, but it was a fact that she sent Rui Dong on a mission to put to death the leader of the Bordered Red Banner Hochabo and took the copy of Forty-two-chapter Sutra hidden in his mansion. When Rui Dong came back to report that day, she was anxious to have Wei Xiaobao killed to close his mouth, hence she did not have time to inquire about the sutra. This time she heard Wei Xiaobao said so, she was angry and happy at the same time; angry because unexpectedly Rui Dong handed over the sutra to this little demon, happy because finally she found the sutra’s whereabouts. “Since that’s the case,” she said, “Liu Yan, go with this little demon to fetch the sutra and give it to me. If the sutra is not fake, we will spare his life, and return him to the Emperor. Afterwards we won’t allow him to enter the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful forever, to avoid I seeing this little demon and get angry.”

Liu Yan pulled Wei Xiaobao’s right hand and said with a laugh, “Xiao Xiongdi, let’s go!”

Wei Xiaobao shook her hand away, he said, “I am a man, you are a woman, what do you want holding and pulling my hand like that?” Liu Yan seemed to hold his palm only gently, who would have thought that it was as if there a very strong suction force from her fingers? Wei Xiaobao’s palm was firmly stuck onto her hand, he was unable to shake her hand away.

Liu Yan said with a laugh, “You are an eunuch, how can you be regarded as a man? Even if you are a real man, you, this little demon, is still too young to be my son.”

“Is that right?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “You want to be my mother? I think you look exactly like my mother.”

How would Liu Yan know that in a roundabout way, Wei Xiaobao was cursing her as a wh0re? “Pei!” she spat, and then she laughed and said, “Your Miss is a virgin, don’t talk nonsense!” Pulling his hand, she took him out.

As they reached the long corridor, Wei Xiaobao was frantically trying to find an ingenious way to escape from her clutch. The extremely sharp dagger was inside his right boot, if he could stretch out his right hand, he could pull it out, but as soon as he made a move, she would detect it immediately. This woman’s martial art skill was very profound, even if he had a very sharp weapon in his hand, he might not necessarily able to exchange three moves or two styles with her. He muttered under his breath, “Damn it, where did this fat pig come from? Why didn’t Boss Qian deliver a good pig? When he sent that fat pig, I already felt something inauspicious. When the old wh0re fought the old turtle, I am sure this fat sow was not in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful yet; otherwise, as soon as she came out to help, the old turtle would die immediately. This sow must have arrived in the Palace within the last couple of days, otherwise, a few days ago the old wh0re would have sent her to kill me, she did not have to personally do the job.” Thinking to this point, he had a sudden idea, he led her eastwards, toward the Upper Study Room next to the Palace of Heavenly Purity. He figured out that all he need to do was to ask Kangxi to save his life. This fat pig had not been in the Palace for too long, she might not necessarily know the pathways around the Palace.

He only took one step to the east, the second step had not been taken, the back of his collar tightened, Liu Yan had seized him. With a giggle she said, “Good Xiongdi, where are you going?”

“To my room to fetch the scripture of course,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Why are you heading toward the Upper Study Room, then?” Liu Yan asked, “You are thinking of asking His Majesty to save you?”

Wei Xiaobao could not bear not to curse, “Stinky pig, you know the way around the palace.”

Liu Yan said, “Other places I might not know, but around the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, and your, Xiao Xiongdi‘s dwelling, I can’t be wrong.” She exerted her strength to the right, Wei Xiaobao’s body was twisted westwards. She said with a laugh, “Just walk obediently, don’t waste other people’s time.” Her voice was gentle, but the power with which she twist Wei Xiaobao was really heavy. Wei Xiaobao’s neck bones made some cracking noise, he yelled in pain, he thought that his neck bone had been wrenched apart by her.

There were two eunuchs ahead, when they heard his scream, they turned their heads around. Liu Yan said in a low voice, “The Empress Dowager ordered me to kill you immediately whenever you want to run away or make noise to call people.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that even though he cried for help and alarmed the Emperor, Kangxi would not possibly defy the Empress Dowager’s order. Although the Emperor was good to him, in no way would he anger his mother for the sake of a little eunuch. It would be best if they could come across several Imperial Bodyguards, so that he could instigate them to kill Liu Yan. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain on his waist as with her elbow she struck him hard; he heard her saying, “Thinking of using some trick?”

Wei Xiaobao had no choice but to walk toward his own room. He mused, “When we get to my room, although I will have two helpers, both Fang Yi and Xiao Junzhu are injured; even if we fight three to one, we still cannot overcome this big fat pig. If she saw any sign of those two girls, I would only deliver those two people’s lives in vain.”

When they reached the front door, Wei Xiaobao took out the key to unlock the door. He deliberately bumped the key to the lock, making a loud clinking noise. “Stinky mother,” he said loudly, “Big fat pig, you torment me like this, I’ll say that there will come a day that you will not die a good death.”

Liu Yan laughed and said, “You can’t even tell if you will die a good death or not, yet you meddle into other people’s business.”

‘Bang!’ Wei Xiaobao shoved open the door, he said, “Whether I give the scripture to the Empress Dowager or not, you will kill me anyway. Do you think I am a fool, thinking that I will be lucky enough to escape with my life?”

“The Empress Dowager already said she will spare you,” Liu Yan said, “Most likely she will spare your life, at most she will dig your eyeballs and chop off your legs.”

Wei Xiaobao cursed, “You think the Empress Dowager is treating you very well? After you kill me, the Empress Dowager will definitely kill you to shut your mouth.” These words seemed to echo the load in Liu Yan’s mind. She stared with blank expression for a moment, but then she exerted her strength to give Wei Xiaobao’s back a push. Wei Xiaobao could not stand his ground, he crashed into the room. He talked a lot outside the room with the hope that Fang Yi and Xiao Junzhu would hear and know that an extremely ferocious enemy was coming, so that they could withdraw inside the quilt and not dare to breathe too loud.

Liu Yan laughed and said, “I don’t have time to wait for you, get it a little quicker please.” And she pushed heavily on his back again. Wei Xiaobao stumbled several steps into the inner room. Liu Yan followed him in.

Wei Xiaobao took a glance and saw two pairs of women’s shoes arranged neatly in front of the bed. It was already dark outside, there was neither lantern nor candle lighted in the room. Having entered the room later, Liu Yan did not immediately see the shoes. “Not good!” Wei Xiaobao cried out inwardly. Seizing the opportunity he threw himself forward and pushed the two pairs of shoes underneath the bed, while he himself also crawled inside, thinking that perhaps this time he would be able to kill the fat pig the same way he killed Rui Dong. As soon as he was in, he pulled his right leg in so that his right hand could reach and pull the dagger inside his boot. Unexpectedly, his right ankle tightened, it was grabbed by Liu Yan.

“What are you doing?” he heard Liu Yan asked.

“I am getting the book,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I keep it under the bed.”

“Alright!” Liu Yan said; thinking that he would not be able to run anywhere from under the bed, she released her grip. Wei Xiaobao shrank his body as small as possible, while pulling the dagger and held it in his hand. “Take it out!” Liu Yan shouted.

“Uh, there must be some rats in here,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Aiyo, aiyo, it’s really bad, why did they chew the book into pieces?”

“It’s useless for you to play any trick in front of me!” Liu Yan said, “Give me the book!” She stretched out her hand to grab, but she grabbed an empty air, because Wei Xiaobao had withdrawn and leaned against the wall. Liu Yan crawled two chi forward, the upper part of her body was already under the bed, again she stretched out her fingers to grab.

Wei Xiaobao turned around slightly, without making any noise he stabbed the dagger forward. The tip of the dagger had just touched the back of her hand, Liu Yan had already detected it; her reaction was extremely fast and nimble, flipping her right hand over, she grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s wrist and squeezed it hard. Wei Xiaobao entirely lost the strength in his hand, and had no choice but to let the dagger dropped.

Liu Yan laughed and said, “You want to kill me? I’ll dig out your eyeballs first.” With her right hand she grabbed his throat, with her left fingers she was about to dig his eyes.

“A snake!” Wei Xiaobao cried out.

Liu Yan was startled. “What?” she said. Suddenly, “Ah!” she screamed, the hand grabbing Wei Xiaobao’s throat slowly loosened, her body twisted several times, and then she dropped down to the floor.

Wei Xiaobao was startled but happy; quickly he crawled out from under the bed, only to head Mu Jianping said, “Are … are you injured?”

Wei Xiaobao lifted the mosquito net open and saw Fang Yi sitting on the bed, holding the sword’s hilt with both hands, continuously gasping for breath. The sword blade penetrated the mattress to the bottom of the bed, right up to the hilt. Turned out she heard Wei Xiaobao’s desperate situation and thrust the sword down from above the bed, passing through the cotton-padded mattress and the bed frame strung with palm fiber, straight into Liu Yan’s back.

Wei Xiaobao kicked Liu Yan’s buttocks. Seeing she did not move at all, he was very happy. “Good … Good Jiejie,” he said, “You saved my life.”

Based on Liu Yan’s martial art skill, Fang Yi’s sneak attack would not easily succeed; but since seeing Wei Xiaobao unlocking the door, Liu Yan had never thought that there was someone else in the room. Moreover, the sword had come from above the mattress, stabbing down, so that she did not have the slightest indication of the incoming attack. By the time she realized it, the sword had already pierced her heart. Even if her martial art skill was ten times stronger, she would still be incapable to evade. But then a real martial art master of her rank would not crawl underneath the bed to grab others. Wei Xiaobao was afraid she had not died completely, he pulled the sword and thrust it through the mattress two more times.

“Who is this wicked woman?” Mu Jianping asked, “She was quite vicious, she wanted to dig out your eyeballs.”

“She is the old wh0re Empress Dowager’s subordinate,” Wei Xiaobao replied. Turning to Fang Yi he asked, “Is your wound painful?”

With a crease of her eyebrows Fang Yi replied, “Tolerable!” Actually, she had exerted an enormous effort in thrusting the sword a moment ago that her wound was affected; the pain was so severe that she nearly fainted, beads of perspiration were dripping from her forehead.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Very soon the old wh0re will send someone else here, we have to think of a way to escape immediately. Um, you two girls change into men’s clothing, disguise yourselves as eunuchs, we’ll sneak out of the Palace. Good Jiejie, can you walk?”

“I can force myself to,” Fang Yi replied.

Wei Xiaobao took out two sets of his own clothing. “Put these on,” he said.

Dragging Liu Yan’s body from under the bed, he stabbed it several times with his dagger, and then sprinkled some ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’ on the wounds. Hastily he packed his banknotes, gold, silver and jewels, two copies of the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, as well as the martial art manual from his Shifu into a bundle. Naturally he also brought along the large bundle of knockout drug and the ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’.

Mu Jianping finished changing her clothes and she got out of the bed first. “What a smart-looking little eunuch,” Wei Xiaobao praised, “Let me help you with the braid.”

A moment later, Fang Yi also got out of the bed. Her stature was slightly taller than Wei Xiaobao, the clothes she wore was stretched tight, it was not a good-fitting at all. When she looked at the mirror, she could not help laughing.

Mu Jianping said with a laugh, “I let him helped me with my braid, let me help Shijie with your braid.”

Wei Xiaobao took Mu Jianping’s long hair and carelessly braided big pigtail. Mu Jianping looked herself in the mirror and said, “Aiyo, it’s so ugly, I have to redo the braid.”

“We don’t have time to redo it right now,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s already dark, we can’t go out the Palace. When the old wh0re realizes the fat pig is not coming back, she will send someone else to get me. We must find another place to hide, early in the morning tomorrow we will sneak out of the Palace.”

Fang Yi asked, “Won’t the old … the Empress Dowager send people to investigate all gates of the Palace thoroughly?”

“We have no choice but to take it one step at a time,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He remembered the room where he used to have martial art and wrestling contest with Kangxi was very quiet, he had never seen a third person come over there, thereupon he helped the two girls walking out of his residence.

Mu Jianping’s leg was broken, she took the door bolt[13] and used it as a crutch. Fang Yi took a step, but her chest was hurting. Wei Xiaobao wrapped his right arm around her waist, half lifting and half pulling, he helped her walk. Luckily it was already dark outside, plus he picked the most secluded pathway. They came across several eunuchs, but nobody paid them any attention. When they reached the room, all three of them breathed a sigh of relief. Wei Xiaobao turned around and bolted the door, and then helped Fang Yi sitting on a chair. He said in a low voice, “We must not talk in here, there is a corridor outside, it’s not as secluded as my room.”

The night grew darker, at first they could still see each other’s facial features, afterwards all they could see was dim silhouette of each other. Mu Jianping did not like the pigtail braided by Wei Xiaobao, she untied it and redid it herself. Fang Yi pulled her own pigtail and rubbed it in her hands and played with it. “Ah!” suddenly she exclaimed softly.

“What is it?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Nothing,” Fang Yi replied, “I dropped a silver hairpin.”

“Ah,” Mu Jianping said, “It was me. When I untied your hair, I put that silver hairpin on the table, after I finished braiding your pigtail, I forgot to give that silver hairpin back to you. Oh no, it was a gift from Liu Shige, wasn’t it?”

“Only a hairpin, it doesn’t really matter,” Fang Yi said.

Although she said it did not matter, Wei Xiaobao could hear the extreme disappointment in her voice; he thought, “I must be a good person to the end, I’ll go quietly and get the hairpin back for her.” But he did not say anything for the time being. After a while, he said, “I am very hungry, if I have to wait until tomorrow, I am afraid I won’t have the strength to walk. I’ll go out to find something to eat.”

“Come back quickly,” Mu Jianping said.

“I will,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He went to the door and listened, after making sure there was nobody outside, he opened the door and walked out.

He quickly returned to his room. Afraid that the Empress Dowager might send someone to wait for him, he circled to the back of the room and listened for quite a long time. When he was sure there was nobody inside and outside, he pushed the window open and climbed in. Sure enough, under the moonlight he could see the silver hairpin lying on the table. The workmanship of this silver hairpin was very crude, at most it only worth one or two qian. He thought, “Liu Yizhou is very poor, he presented Miss Fang with such an ugly gift.” He spat on the hairpin before putting it inside his pocket. From tin cans, wicker baskets, drawers, shelves above the bed, and so on he carelessly took some cakes, pastries and other snacks and stuffed everything into a cardboard box and put it inside his pocket.

He was about to climb out the window when suddenly he saw a pair of red shoes embroidered with golden thread in front of the bed, unexpectedly, there was a foot in each shoe.

Wei Xiaobao jumped up in fright. It was indeed terrifying to see under the dim moonlight a pair of cut off feet wearing a pair of bright-colored red shoes. But he understood immediately: when Liu Yan’s body was dissolved by the ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’, the ground in front of the bed was uneven, the corpse turned into yellow liquid and flowed toward the bottom of the bed, leaving behind a pair of feet that did not melt. He turned around, wanted to kick the pair of feet into the yellow liquid, but the yellow liquid had dried out. His ‘Corpse Transforming Powder’ was in the bundle by Fang Yi and Mu Jianping’s side. Racking his brain, suddenly his childish mind was aroused, “Damn it, this time laozi leave the Palace and won’t see the old wh0re anymore. Laozi will throw these two feet into her room to scare her half dead.” Fetching a long gown, he took the pair of feet complete with the shoes and wrapped everything firmly before he finally climbed out the window and quietly walked toward the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.

As he approached the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, he did not dare to walk straight into it but circled around the flowering bushes instead. For each step he took, he stopped and listened for a while; thinking, “If I am not careful, the old wh0re might get me; won’t that mean I am walking into a trap?” He was excited, but scared at the same time. Step by step he crept toward the Empress Dowager’s personal chamber. His palms were sweating more and more, he mused, “I’ll put these pig hooves on the step stone in front of the door, she will definitely find it tomorrow, it’s too dangerous to sneak into the courtyard.”

He quietly took two more steps forward, suddenly he heard a man’s voice saying, “What’s wrong with Ah Yan? Why she has not come back by now?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised, “How can there be a man in the room?” he thought, “The voice does not belong to an eunuch. Is it possible that the old wh0re has a lover? Ha ha, laozi must catch these adulterous lovers.” Although in his heart he wanted to ‘catch these adulterous lovers’, he would not dare to do it, even if he had ten times more courage. But his curiosity was greatly piqued, he was unwilling to simply put down the cutoff feet and leave.

He tiptoed toward the voice for several steps, with each step he carefully lifted up his foot and even more carefully put it down, to guard against stepping on a deadwood and thus make a noise. He heard the man snorted and said, “Perhaps something has changed. Since you already knew this little demon is very crafty, why did you let Ah Yan went with him alone?”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Turns out you are talking about laozi.” He heard the Empress Dowager said, “Ah Yan’s martial art skill is ten times higher than his, she is also very astute, very vigilant in each step she takes, how can she meet with any mishap? Most likely the sutra is kept far away from here, so Ah Yan has to go with that little demon.”

The man said, “Naturally it is very good if we can get the sutra; otherwise, humph, humph!”

The tone of his voice was very stern, speaking like that to the Empress Dowager was indeed extremely rude. Wei Xiaobao was getting more and more puzzled, “Who in the world can talk to her like that? Could it be that the Old Emperor is back from Mount Wutai?” Thinking that Emperor Shunzhi was back at the Palace, he was very excited; he thought he was going to see some good action very soon. What he found very strange was that there was not a single palace maid or eunuch around; presumably the Empress Dowager had sent them all away.

He heard the Empress Dowager said, “You know I have done everything possible. With my capacity right now, I can’t personally go back and forth around the Palace with a little eunuch. As soon as I took a step out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, a large entourage of palace maids and eunuchs will follow me around, how can I manage to get anything done?”

The man said, “Can’t you wait until it was dark to send him out? Or just notify me, let me go with him to fetch the sutra.”

“I do not dare to toil your honorable self,” the Empress Dowager replied, “We must not reveal any trail of your presence here.”

With a cold laugh the man said, “Coming across an important matter like this, why do we care? I know, you did not want to notify me for fear I would snatch away your meritorious service.”

“What is there to be snatched away?” the Empress Dowager asked, “So what if I have meritorious service or not? I only hope to go through one year in peace and security, without any problem.” The tone of her voice was brimming with grudge and hatred.

If it were not for the fact that Wei Xiaobao knew it clearly that it was the Empress Dowager’s voice, he would have thought it was an old palace maid complaining because someone was blaming her. The two of them were speaking in very low voices, but Wei Xiaobao was very near, plus there was no other noise in the calm night, hence he was able to hear everything clearly. Hearing those two talking about ‘snatching away some meritorious service’, he knew the man was definitely not Emperor Shunzhi.

Wei xiaobao could not suppress his curiosity anymore, slowly he crawled to the window and peeked inside from a crack on the window. He had already had enough experience standing outside the window and peeping inside like this at the Lovely Spring Courtyard; he mused, “Before I was peeping the brothel patrons chasing my mother, tonight I am peeping the old wh0re receiving a patron.”

He saw the Empress Dowager was leaning sideway, sitting on a chair, and a palace maid was pacing back and forth in the room with hands behind her back; other than these, there was no other person inside. “Where did that man go?” he thought.

He saw the palace maid turned around and said, “I can’t wait, I am going out to look.” As soon as she opened her mouth, Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright, because the palace maid had a male’s voice, it was she who had just spoken. From the crack on the window Wei Xiaobao could only see her chest, but not her face.

“I am coming with you,” the Empress Dowager said.

With a cold laugh the palace maid said, “You don’t feel at ease.”

“Why wouldn’t I feel at ease?” the Empress Dowager said, “I suspect Ah Yan is doing something strange, by working together, it will be easy for the two of us to control her.”

“Hm, we can’t not guard against that,” the palace maid said, “Don’t let the boat capsize in the gutter. Alright, let’s go.”

The Empress Dowager nodded, she walked toward the bedside, lifted the bedding open, and pulled a piece of wooden board. There was a flicker under the candle light, a dagger appeared in her hand. She insert the dagger into its sheath and put it inside her pocket. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out the old wh0re has such a secret compartment. To guard against assassination, she did not have the dagger inside the sheath, so that with one grab she could make a kill, no need to pull the dagger from its sheath. In such a critical moment, she would not lose precious split seconds.”

He saw the Empress Dowager and the palace maid walked out of the bedroom, unlatched the palace gate, and left the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, but the candle in the bedroom was not extinguished. Wei Xiaobao thought, “I’ll put these pig’s feet in that secret compartment on her bed, when she returned the dagger, she would grope this pair of pig’s hooves. I guarantee she will be scared out of her wits.”

Thinking that this plan was indeed ingenious, he sneaked into the room, lifted the bedding up, and saw a small copper ring on the bed board. He reached down and pulled, a wooden plank, about one chi wide and two chi long, rose up smoothly. Underneath he saw a rectangular secret compartment. Astonishingly, there were three books inside, the books were precisely the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ that he had seen before. The first two were the copies he got from Oboi’s mansion, only the jade box where the books were originally kept was missing. The other copy had a white silk envelope. From what he heard that night when Hai Laogong was talking to the Empress Dowager, he mentioned that Emperor Shunzhi gave a copy to Consort Donggo as a gift; the Empress Dowager must have took it after she killed Consort Donggo. Wei Xiaobao decided it must be this copy.

He was greatly delighted. “I don’t know what the fart these books are for,” he thought, “But everybody seems to regard it so highly. Laozi might as well leading away the goat in passing, so that the old wh0re will be angered to half-dead.” Immediately he took the three sutras and stuffed them inside his pocket. And then he shook Liu Yan’s feet from the long gown to let the feet fall into the secret compartment. He put the wooden plank back and replaced the bedding. Kicking the long gown underneath the bed, he was about to turn around and leave when he suddenly heard the creaking noise of the door; someone was pushing the door and coming in.

This time he was really scared out of his wits, he did not expect the Empress Dowager and that palace maid to be back this quickly. Having not enough time to think, he ducked and crawled under the bed, while groaning in his heart. He only hoped that the Empress Dowager had simply forgotten something and came back to get it, and would quickly go out again to look for him, he also hoped that whatever it was that she had forgotten was not kept in the secret compartment under the bedding.

He heard the footsteps were light and quick, one person was entering the room, it was a woman. The woman was wearing a pair of light green shoes, her pants were also light green. Looking at the style of the pants, it seemed to him that she was a palace maid. “It must be the palace maid who is waiting on the Empress Dowager,” he thought, “She knows martial art, so she can’t be Rui Chu. If she does not leave immediately, I might have to kill her. It will be best if she came to the front of the bed.” Drawing the dagger quietly, he waited for the palace maid to come to the bed. With one thrust up from below, he could stab her lower abdomen, then he could guarantee that she would lose her life without knowing any rhyme nor reason.

He heard her opening the drawers, opening the cabinet doors, moving and turning things, as if she was looking for something, yet all along she did not come near the bed. Then Wei Xiaobao heard some ripping noise, apparently she had used some sharp weapon to cut open two chests. Wei Xiaobao was startled. “This woman is not an ordinary palace maid; she came to the Empress Dowager’s room to steal something. Could it be that she is here to steal that ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’? She has a sword or a saber in her hand, looks like her martial art skill can’t be inferior to laozi; if I go out, not only I can’t kill her, I am afraid I will be killed first by her.”

He heard the woman was randomly rummaging the chest, she also cut open three more chests on the west and searched around. Wei Xiaobao did not stop cursing her in his belly, “If you are not leaving, the old wh0re may come back soon. I don’t care if you want to deliver your life away, but you might drag Wei Xiaobao along to return to the heaven together; you think you have that much face?”

Failing to find whatever she was looking for, the woman was very anxious, she rummaged the chest even faster. Wei Xiaobao was thinking of surrendering, “It would be better for me just to toss these sutras to her, so that she would leave in a hurry.”

Right this moment, there were footsteps outside the door, he heard the Empress Dowager said in low voice, “I say that s1ut Liu Yan took the sutra and left.”

The woman also heard the voice; it was too late for her to escape, she quickly entered the wardrobe and closed the door.

The palace maid with a man’s voice said, “Did you really send Liu Yan to fetch the sutra? How would I know you are not lying to me?”

“What did you say?” the Empress Dowager said angrily, “Did you say I did not send Liu Yan to fetch the sutra? So what did I send her out for?”

The palace maid said, “How would I know what trick you are playing? Perhaps you were following Liu Yan closely and killed her.”

The Empress Dowager snorted angrily, she said, “Aren’t you ashamed, being my Shixiong yet say some brainless thing like that? Liu Yan is my Shimei, you think I have such guts to kill her?”

The palace maid coldly said, “You are indeed brazen, vicious and merciless, what matter you can’t do?”

The two of them spoke in very low voice, but in the quiet night every word could be heard clearly. Hearing the Empress Dowager called the palace maid her Shixiong and Liu Yan her Shimei, Wei Xiaobao was even more puzzled. The two of them were talking as they entered the room. As soon as they saw the chests were cut open and various objects scattered over the floor, ‘Ah!’ they cried out in shock together.

“Someone was here to steal the sutra,” the Empress Dowager shouted. She rushed toward the bed, flipped the bedding over, and pulled the wooden board. Seeing the sutras were gone, she cried out, “Aiyo!” And then she saw Liu Yan’s pair of cutoff feet. “What is that?” she cried in alarm.

The palace maid reached out and picked the feet. “These are women’s feet,” he said.

The Empress Dowager was scared, “It’s Liu Yan, she … she has been killed,” she said.

With a cold laugh the palace maid said, “I wasn’t wrong, was I?”

The Empress Dowager was startled and angry at the same time, “What do you mean you weren’t wrong?”

The palace maid said, “You are the only one in the world who know the secret hiding place of these books. If it was not you who killed Liu Shimei, how can her feet end up here?”

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “You are still accusing me blindly in here? The sutra thief can’t leave too far, let’s quickly pursue him.”

“Correct,” the palace maid said, “Perhaps this person is still in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. You … are you sure you are not playing trick?”

The Empress Dowager did not reply, she turned around and looked at the wardrobe. Step by step she walked toward it, apparently she began to have suspicion toward the wardrobe.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart almost jumped out of his throat; the dagger in her hand reflected the flickering light from the candle, the reflection flitted across the floor, presumably the Empress Dowager was opening the wardrobe door with her left hand, while holding the dagger in her right hand. If the dagger was thrust into the wardrobe, undoubtedly the palace maid inside would not be able to evade.

He saw the Empress Dowager was taking a step closer that she was now less than two chi away from the wardrobe. Suddenly ‘crash! bang!’ the wardrobe toppled over toward the Empress Dowager. The Empress Dowager was caught off guard, hastily she leaped backward, quite a few clothing of every color flew out of the wardrobe, some landed and wrapped around her head. The Empress Dowager hastily reached out to grab, a piece of clothing was thrown onto her body, suddenly she screamed pitifully, while a dagger, dripping with blood, appeared from within the clothing. Turned out someone was hiding inside the bundle of clothing. The palace maid inside the wardrobe threw clothing to the Empress Dowager so that she was at a loss, and then with one strike she succeeded in stabbing her.

At first the palace maid with a man’s voice seemed to be watching with blank expression on his face, only after hearing the Empress Dowager’s miserable scream did he send a palm strike toward the bundle of clothes. Wei Xiaobao saw the bundle of clothes rolled away rapidly, the palace maid wearing green clothes leaped out of the bundle of clothes, with a blood-soaked dagger in her hand she pounced toward the palace maid with a man’s voice. The palace maid with a man’s voice sent out another palm strike, the palace maid wearing green clothes leaned sideways to evade, and then immediately pounced on the enemy again.

From under the bed, Wei Xiaobao could only see those two persons’ four feet. The palace maid with a man’s voice was wearing grey pants and black satin shoes. The feet wearing green shoes were swiftly advancing and swiftly retreating, the feet wearing black shoes only occasionally took one step forward, and one step backward. The two people were engaged in an intense battle, but Wei Xiaobao did not hear any clashing of the weapons, obviously the palace maid with a man’s voice did not have any weapon. Wei Xiaobao cast a sideways glance toward the Empress Dowager; he saw her lying on the floor, motionless, apparently she had died.

He heard the whooshing noise of the palms. After the fighting had been going on for a while, suddenly he saw the room grew darker; one of the three candles had been blown out by the palm wind. Wei Xiaobao mused, “As soon as the other two candles are blown out, I am going to dash out in darkness.”

‘Whoosh!’ another candle was extinguished by the palm wind. The two palace maids were fighting in silence, neither one dared to make the least bit of noise, as if both were afraid of alarming people on the outside. Actually, there were a lot of eunuchs and palace maids in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, the ruckus had been going on for quite a while, somebody should have had come to check early on, but obviously these people were always under the Empress Dowager’s strict order, without her summon, nobody dared to come over and spy on her.

Wei Xiaobao heard ‘Crack! Crack!’ as table and chair’s fragments flew everywhere, secretly he was apprehensive, “This palace maid who talks like a man seems to have a profound martial art, the wind from his palms are everywhere, the table and chair that got hit are smashed.”

Suddenly there was a light shout, followed by a flash of white light, and ‘pop’; the palace maid wearing green clothes’ weapon flew up from her hand and nailed itself on the roof. And then the two of them fell to the ground, wrestling each other into a tangled heap.

Now Wei Xiaobao could see clearly, the two combatants were unleashing their qin na skills, attacking and defending from each other within an area of several chi wide, each move was extremely dangerous. Wei Xiaobao’s knowledge of other type of martial art was very limited, but his training in qin na was quite extensive, he had enough daily sparring with Kangxi. He saw the two palace maids were moving very fast, each attack was ruthless and fierce: gouging the eyes, pounding the chest, twisting the neck, locking the throat, sealing acupoints, cutting off arteries, hooking the wrist, striking with their elbows, not a single move was not attacking the enemy’s vital point. Wei Xiaobao was secretly flabbergasted, “If it were me, I would have cried out ‘surrender’ long ago!”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was beating in sync with the two people’s palms and hands movement, his only thought was, “Why hasn’t that candle gone out yet?” He was fully aware that those people were entangled in a very tight battle, even if he was crawling out from under the bed in full view, walking out the door with grandiose, the two palace maids would have been no more than stunned to a certain degree, nobody would try to stop him; it’s just that he could not muster enough courage to do just that.

Suddenly the last candle flickered, a female voice grunted, the candle flickered back to light, he saw the palace maid wearing grey pants was pinning down the palace maid wearing green pants, her right elbow was pressing down the palace maid wearing green pants’ throat. The palace maid wearing green clothes’ left arm was suppressed by the enemy that it was hard for her to attack, her right hand made repeated attempts to hook, hit, seize and jab, but was always parried by the opponent’s left hand. Her throat was crushed by the enemy, she was gasping for breath with difficulty, the movement of her right hand gradually slowed down, both of her legs kicked up frantically, it looks like very soon she was going to be strangled to death by the enemy.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “As soon as this grey-clothes palace maid strangled the opponent, she would look under the bed to find the sutra. Wei Xiaobao will turn into Wei Sibao[14]!” Without giving himself any time to think, he sprang up from under the bed, raising the dagger in his hand, and thrust it into the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ back, and pushed it upward, slicing a very long gash, and then leaped back immediately.

The palace maid wearing grey clothes shouted loudly and sprang up, pouncing on Wei Xiaobao, her hands grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s neck and tightened the grip as hard as she could. Clutched by her hands, Wei Xiaobao’s tongue stretched out, bursts of blackness appeared in his eyes. The palace maid wearing green clothes flipped over and jumped up, her right palm fell ferociously down on the left side of the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ neck, and then using her left hand she grabbed her hair and pulled it backward. Suddenly her hand felt loose, she had pulled the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ entire hair away, revealing a bald head. Turned out it was only a wig. Right this moment the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ hands came loose, off of Wei Xiaobao neck. Her own neck twisted several turns, and then she fell to the ground in a heap, while blood gushing out of her back, right away her life had left her.

Still gasping for breath, the palace maid wearing green clothes said, “Thank you Xiao Gong-gong, for saving my life.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. He was still shaking from fear, while stroking his own neck. With his left hand he pointed to the palace maid wearing grey clothes’ bald head and said, “She … she …”

The palace maid wearing green clothes said, “This man dressed as a woman and mingled in the Palace.”

Suddenly someone was shouting outside the door, “Help, there’s assassin in here!” The voice was half male, half female, it was a eunuch.

With her right hand the palace maid wearing green clothes seized Wei Xiaobao, broke the window and leaped out. Her left hand waved, ‘puff!’ followed by a miserable ‘ah!’, the eunuch was hit by a secret projectile and fell down on the ground.

The palace maid wearing green clothes wrapped her left hand around Wei Xiaobao’s waist to lift him up off the ground and take him rushing northward, going passed the Western Three Places and entered the Yang Hua Gate. By this time Wei Xiaobao was quite a lot taller than when he first entered the Palace, he was quite heavier too. This palace maid in green clothes was more or less the same height as he was, and she was slim, but when rushing forward while carrying him, it was as if she was carrying a baby, she did not show that she was expending the slightest effort. “Good skill!” Wei Xiaobao praised.

The palace maid carried him via a small path winding around the Yuhua Pavilion, Baohua Palace Hall, and arrived at the bank of burning ground by the Fujian Palace[15], before she finally let him down. The burning ground was near the Xi Tie [Western Iron] Gate, it was where the trash and waste from the Palace was incinerated, it was extremely secluded in the evening.

“Xiao Gong-gong,” the palace maid in green clothes asked, “What’s your name?”

“I am Xiao Guizi!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, “You are the Xiao Guizi Gong-gong who personally arrested Oboi, the Emperor’s most favorite Gong-gong.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled. “I don’t dare!” he said. Although he had seen this palace maid in the Empress Dowager’s bedroom, it was such in a rush that he did not have time to look at her carefully. He thought vaguely that she looked around forty years old. “Jiejie,” he said, “How must I address you?”

The palace maid hesitated slightly, then said, “You and I share fortune and calamity together, I can’t conceal it from you. My surname is Tao, people in the Palace call me Tao Gong’e. What were you doing under the Empress Dowager’s bed?”

Wei Xiaobao said whatever came into his head, “I am under the Emperor’s imperial edict to catch the Empress Dowager’s fornication!”

Tao Gong’e was slightly startled. “Did His Majesty know that palace maid was a man?” she asked.

“His Majesty knew a little bit, but he is not too sure,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“I … I killed the Empress Dowager,” Tao Gong’e said, “Very soon the commotion will turn the sky and the earth, the Palace gates will be shut, there will be great search. I must leave the Palace immediately. Gui Gong-gong, we’ll meet again someday.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “The old wh0re finally went to the netherworld to become a wh0re, now I can live in peace and quiet in the Palace, but if they close the Palace gates and launch a great search, Fang and Mu, two girls will face certain disaster; what shall I do?” A bright idea suddenly occurred, “Tao Jiejie,” he said, “I have an idea. I am going to report to His Majesty immediately, I will say that I witnessed that fake palace maid killed the Empress Dowager, but the Empress Dowager had also killed the fake palace maid; the two of them fought until they perished together. The Empress Dowager is dead anyway, she could not testify, you don’t have to escape from the Palace.”

Tao Gong’e hesitated for a moment, then she said, “This idea just might work. But what about that eunuch? Who killed him?”

“I will say it was the fake palace maid who killed him,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Gui Gong-gong,” Tao Gong’e said, “This matter is very dangerous. Although His Majesty likes you, he will most probably kill you to shut your mouth.”

Wei Xiaobao shivered. “His Majesty also wants to kill me?” he asked, “Why?”

Tao Gong’e said, “His mother had illicit relation with a man, if the rumor leaks out, how do you think His Majesty would react? Even if you guard your mouth like a closed bottle, each time His Majesty sees you, he would unavoidably feel ashamed. Sooner or later he would have to kill you.”

Wei Xiaobao was scared. “He … is he that ruthless?” he asked. But in his heart he knew Tao Gong’e was right, he must never say anything about this to the Emperor.

Right this moment, from the south came several sounds of gong, followed by other gongs all around. It was the Palace’ alarm system whenever there was fire or some other emergency; immediately all the Palace’s Imperial Bodyguards and eunuchs were being dispatched.

“We can’t get out now,” Tao Gong’e said, “You go and pretend to join the hunt for the assassins, I will go back to my room and sleep.” Stretching out her left arm, she wrapped it around Wei Xiaobao’s waist and took him off westward, toward the Yinghua Palace Hall, and put him down by the Palace. “Be careful!” she said in soft voice. Turning around, she disappeared behind a corner.

Wei Xiaobao was worried over Fang Yi and Mu Jianping, hastily he went toward the room where the two of them were hiding. He heard the sound of gongs was getting increasingly urgent, followed by the clamor of people shouting everywhere. Desperately he ran toward the room. “It’s me!” he shouted.

Fang and Mu, two girls were already frightened that their faces were drained of blood. “What’s that gong?” Mu Jianping asked, “Are they coming to arrest us?”

“Not that,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The old wh0re is dead! People are shouting and jumping over everywhere. We’d better return to my room, it’s relatively safer there.”

“Return to your room?” Mu Jianping said, “We … we killed someone there …”

“Don’t be afraid,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They don’t know about it. Quickly go!” He bent down to help Fang Yi; grabbing his bundle with his left hand, he rushed outside.

The three of them staggered along as they rushed forward for a while, they saw from a fork on the pathway several Imperial Bodyguards were rushing toward them. The leader raised up his torch and shouted, “Who’s there?”

“It’s me,” Wei Xiaobao shouted back, “You must go quickly to protect His Majesty. Is there a fire[16]?”

The guard recognized Wei Xiaobao, hastily he handed the torch over to the guard beside him. With hands by his side he respectfully said, “Gui Gong-gong, I heard something bad happened at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You go first, I’ll come soon after.”

The Imperial Bodyguard bowed and said, “Yes!” Leading his men, he left.

Mu Jianping said, “They seem to be very afraid of you. And just now I said we were bad.” While saying that, she struck her own chest repeatedly.

Wei Xiaobao wanted to crack some jokes, to toot his own horn, but he was concerned over the disturbance caused by the Empress Dowager’s death, he wondered what would the aftermath be, he was panic-stricken and could not think of any joke. Along the way they met another group of Imperial Bodyguards before finally arrived at his own residence. Luckily Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were wearing eunuch attire, plus the Imperial Bodyguards were such in a frantic mode that nobody paid any attention to them.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The two of you stay here, whatever happens, do not change your clothes.” Putting his bundle into the chest, he left after locking the door behind him, and rushed to the Palace of Heavenly Purity, where Kangxi’s personal chamber was located.

[1] Chu – a kingdom during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States (722-221 BC), Qin – Qin dynasty (221-207 BC).

[2] Orig. ‘coming out of the thatched cottage’.

[3] The peaches of immortality, kept by Xi Wangmu.

[4] Cheng Huang (Shing Wong) is a deity in Chinese mythology, a City God, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_god

[5] Orig. ‘hundreds of arteries and veins open up brightly’.

[6] Idiom ‘to clasp the Buddha’s feet without ever having to burn incense’, meaning ‘to profess devotion only when in trouble’.

[7]Orig. 千穿万穿,马屁不穿 [qian chuan wan chuan, ma pi bu chuan] – lit. ‘thousand times bore through, ten thousand times bore through; horse’s fart does not bore through’. Horse fart is an idiom for ‘flattery’ or ‘boot-licking’.

[8] Founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, with regnal name Hongwu.

[9] Yao (c. 2200 BC) – one of five legendary emperors of ancient China, Shun (c. 22nd century BC) – mythical sage and leader, Yu (c. 21st century BC) – mythical leader who tamed the floods. Tang refers to King Tang of Shang (1675 BC -1646 BC) who was the first ruling king of the Shang dynasty in Chinese history. He overthrew Jie, the last ruler of the Xia dynasty. Tang’s reign was regarded as a good one by the Chinese. He lowered taxes and the conscription rate of soldiers. His influence spread to the Yellow River, and many outlying tribes became vassal states. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[10] Orig. ‘kept hoodwinked inside a drum’.

[11] Reminder: ‘wu’ and ‘liu’ means ‘five’ and ‘six’, respectively.

[12] Orig. ‘yi pai liang san’ – one strike, two parts, meaning separation/breaking up of marriage or business partnership.

[13] Door bolts in those days are long pieces of wood placed across the door.

[14] Xiao Bao means little treasure, Si Bao means dead treasure.

[15] Yuhua – Rain Flower Pavilion. The pavilion here is usually two-storied. Baohua – maintaining/guarding splendor (different ‘hua’ character from Yuhua). Fujian – Established Prosperity, same character as Fujian Province.

[16] Orig. ‘Has the water flowed?’ [是走了水吗] Many people consider saying 失火 [catch a fire] a taboo so they use 走水 instead. (Courtesy of Forgot Pasword)

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